Felt Hobby Horse

IMG_6430So, I am here. Really. I’ve just been taking a loooong off-screen break. I guess I just needed it. But with the new year, naturally I thought I might be a good time for a blog reboot. A just over year ago I was frantically packing my bags down to the last ounce to prepare to head back to Galapagos.

But this year, I have no immediate travel plans. In fact, we might not board  flight the whole year. But that’s okay. We’ve entered a new phase of our lives as a family of five, and we’re settling into it, for the next little while, at least. Anyways, enough talk. Here is a project that I started a year ago, and I’ve just now finished it up. Some scrappy felt hobby horses. IMG_6426 IMG_6400 IMG_6411 IMG_6416 IMG_6419 IMG_6422 IMG_6426Oh, you say you’ve seen this before? Well, you have. But, in case you were interested in making your own, I made a second one (well, I had to anyways, because I pretty much have to make two of everything these days; luckily sweet girl number three hasn’t demanded too much crafting from me yet) and decided to make a tutorial for you guys. 

(Just so you know, it took much longer than I expected it would to put this tutorial together, and I’m sorry if there are any errors; pattern-making isn’t my forte.)

Here we go.


  • Felt scraps (a whole lot, in squarish shapes, are best; of course, you can always use whole pieces of felt or really any material you’ll want) You’ll need enough to make approximately a 2-foot square piece of material to cut your pattern pieces out of.
  • Stuffing (I prefer wool for quality reasons, but whatever you want is fine)
  • Thread (you’ll want some heavy-duty stuff, especially for hand stitching on the eyes, ears, and finishing the closure)
  • Buttons for the eyes
  • A 1-inch thick dowel, about 3 to 5 feet long, depending on how tall you want your horse to be.
  • Yarn in a coordinating color
  • Freezer paper (for tracing your pattern, it’s my favorite way to cut out felt)


  • Scissors and/or rotary cutter
  • Sewing machine
  • Cutting mat
  • Iron
  • Stiff cardboard or a book, about 5 inches wide and 8 inches long.

Make your scrappy piece of felt (if you are using a solid piece of fabric or felt, you can skip this part)

  1. Basically, you will be butting up two pieces of felt together and zigzagging over both sides so that the two pieces become one. (See this post for a better explanation)
  2. As you go along, continue building up your scrappy piece with more pieces. I like to make several scrappy blocks and then sewing this big blocks to each other to make your big piece of fabric.

IMG_3149 Cut out your pieces.

  1. Print the template. Click on these links for the four pages of the template: gusset gusset 2 horse neck 1 horse neck 2
  2. You’ll need to choose “print” under the tools menu. I am not a professional pattern maker, so these may look a little rough, but hey, it’s a free tutorial.
  3. Cut out you’re pieces and assemble the ones that are in segments.
  4. Then, you’ll want to trace your pattern pieces onto freezer paper (ignore the big notch in the horse’s head down in that picture, I was just using a scrap of freezer paper and it didn’t all fit). The long gusset piece is a little extra long to give you some wiggle room when finishing off the opening for the stick, so just keep that in mind.
  5. Arrange your pieces on your felt. I only drew out one horses head, and cut two the same way, since there is not “wrong” side to my felt piece, I could just flip the cut piece and it was fine. If you are using material with a right and wrong side, make sure to do a reverse side of the horses head, too. When arranging your pieces, try to leave about 1/2-inch in between the pieces for your seam allowances.
  6. Once you like the arrangement, iron one of your freezer paper pieces down to the felt.IMG_3164
  7. Baste stitch all the way around your first piece. This is  your way of transferring your pattern to your fabric.
  8. Cut out your first piece, leaving a 3/8ths inch margin around your basting for seam allowance. You don’t need to be too careful about getting perfect seam allowances; you will use the basting to guide your final stitching, not the seam allowances. The gusset piece includes the seam allowance, so just skip the basting and cut right along the pattern piece. IMG_3175
  9. Continue this process of iron-baste-cut for your other pieces.

Now for the mane.

  1. Wrap your yarn around some stiff card board, or a book. It should be about 5 inches wide and at least 7 inches long.
  2. Wrap it a lot, but if you find you still need more yarn for your mane, you can always wrap more, so don’t worry about it too much. IMG_3178
  3. Now cut the yarn along to top. IMG_3184
  4. Then cut along the bottom. This will give you a bunch of yarn approximately the same length for the mane.IMG_3186
  5. This picture is to show you about where on your gusset piece to start sewing the mane.IMG_3195
  6. Now sew the yarn down. Start with about an inch bunch of yarn. IMG_3200
  7. Using a small stitch length, start sewing the yarn, about 3/4ths of an inch in from the edge of the gusset. Continue to add more yarn, a couple inches at a time, and sew all the way down till about 4 inches from the bottom of the gusset piece. You’ll want to use about 2/3rds of your cut yarn for this. IMG_3206
  8. Then sew down the other side of the gusset over the yarn, about 3/4ths inch from the left side. IMG_3209
  9. Now finish by sewing 1-inch bunches of yarn right down the middle of the gusset.IMG_3213
  10. When you are done sewing, it will look like this:IMG_3217
  11. Yes, not very mane-like, but never fear. Just start to mess it up with your fingers, and hey-presto, you’ve got a nice full mane going on. IMG_3223

Sew your horse head together.

  1. Okay, here’s where I apologize for the lack of great explanation and pictures for this step. But hey, it’s a free tutorial, so you get what you pay for, right? (nervous laugh) Generally, you are going to sew all the pieces together, right sides together, leaving the bottom of the neck open, and then turn the whole thing out. This is how I did it. I pinned the one side of the horse’s head  to the gusset. The pointy part of the gusset will sit about where the little notch is at the bottom of the mouth, and the rest just follows along the top part of the horses head. Make sure when you pin, that you have the side piece facing up, because you will want to sew along your basting stitch. Also, make sure you have all the yarn from the mane tucked out of the way where you are going to be stitching.
  2. Sew from the tip of the gusset to the bottom of the horse’s head, but don’t sew all the way to the end of the gusset piece. Try to follow your basting line as close as possible. IMG_3228
  3. Now line up the other head side so that it is in about the same position as the sewn side of the head, in relation to the gusset piece, pin, and sew. (Again, follow the basting stitch, and make sure to keep the yarn from being trapped underneath your stitching.
  4. Now, pin the bottom side of the horses muzzle and neck together, feeling to see that the basting stitches of the two sides line up as closely as possible. Sew from the point of the nose gusset down to the bottom of the neck. Actually, I started by sewing about an inch from the end of the nose gusset, up to the point, because starting the stitching with all those layers is hard on my machine. It’s easier for me to get the machine going before powering into that thick part. Then I turned the piece around, and sewed down the bottom of the muzzle to the end of the neck. IMG_3232
  5. Leave about a 4-inch opening in the bottom of your horse head. This is approximately what you’ll have:IMG_3235IMG_3238
  6. Now reach in, grab the horse by the nose and gently turn it right-side out.IMG_3249
  7. Here’s your horse all sewn up.IMG_3254

Finishing your hobby horse. This part happened right before we moved back to the states, so the pictures didn’t really happen as much.  Sorry about that.

  1. First, I transferred the pattern pieces for the ears to the felt using the basting technique I mentioned before. IMG_3241IMG_3242
  2. Remove the freezer paper. Then zig-zag stitch all the way around the piece. Then cut it out right next to the zig-zag stitch. IMG_3247
  3. Now here is where you have options. You can leave your ears flat and stitch them on, or you can stitch the bottom corners together and then whip stitch them on kind of sticking out, like I did.
  4. Sew the eyes on like you would any button. Make sure to make it really strong, because little hands will be rougher than you expect.
  5. Stuff that thing. I mean really stuff it. I filled mine with some wool, but you can use fiberfill or whatever you like. I packed the wool in really tightly. Once you get fill to about in line with the bottom of the chin, go ahead and stick the, well, stick, up in there, and pack the stuffing around it. I didn’t use any adhesive or special tricks to get the stick to stay stuck, I just packed the filling tight. Yes, your kid can get it out, but you just stuff it back in, if that happens. If you’ve packed it tight enough, a hollow space for the stick will remain if the stick is removed, as long as you don’t crush the head down after removing the stick. Does that make sense? Hope so.
  6. Finally, you’ll want to slip stitch up the bottom. I just tucked any loose ends in around the stick (if the end of the gusset piece is really long, you can trim it down). Then I slip stitched with heavy-duty sewing thread up and down both sides of the opening to make sure it was really secure. (For some pictures and further explanation of the slip stitch I used, see this post.)

Here they are, ready to ride. You may notice those dandy little felt bridles (my favorite part of the whole project, go figure). Well, those are just some long pieces of felt that I magic braided (but really, you can just regular braid some felt and stitch the end so it stays braided) and then fashioned into a simple loop and halter piece. The d-shaped loops are optional, but they sure add a feeling of authenticity. IMG_6425 IMG_6406Enjoy! Seriously, you might want one for yourself. You’ve been warned. IMG_6412 IMG_6418 IMG_6429

Have a great Wednesday!

Tutorial: Toddler Tote

My little almost 2-year-old is going through a phase. An incredibly cute but sometimes irksome phase. You see, she is a little bit of a hoarder. More like a magpie, I guess. Lately, anything that catches her interest, shiny or otherwise, is quickly tucked into a random shopping bag that she drags around with her everywhere. Like I said, super cute, but a little difficult sometimes, when said shopping bag breaks. It causes a slight meltdown. Because of this, I’ve been meaning to make a little bag for her to “guarda” (that’s her Spanish word for putting things in her bag) anything she wants. And since her birthday is this week, I thought I had better do it, already.

So here it is, a little toddler-sized tote (and one for big sister, because you can’t make something for just one of your kids, people!). I roughly measure my bigger little girl (2nd child was sleeping) and then went with a 10 by 7 inch design, with an extra inch and a half for seam allowances (since every seam gets folded over twice).

Oh, I forgot to mention the second reason I decided to make these bags. A year ago, when I was stockpiling supplies for my first year in Ecuador, I purchased yards and yards of this lovely organic cotton grosgrain ribbon (because I love grosgrain ribbon, but hate that most of it is made of polyester or some other artificial material).

So, I also measured this ribbon to make the handles. I just draped it over my daughter’s shoulders and decided where I wanted to cut to make it the right length. Then I cut two pieces of ribbon that length.

The bag construction was pretty straight forward. I started by doing the top (opening) seam. I ironed over a quarter inch (please ignore the fact that I don’t currently own an ironing board and that I’m using an old towel instead). Then I ironed that seam over another half an inch to make a nice finished edge.

Then I tucked the ribbon under this seam, pushed up right to the crease in the fabric. Make sure you don’t twist your ribbon when you put it in.

Sew an 8th of an inch in from the bottom fold. Then flip your ribbon up and sew an 8th of an inch in from your top fold. When you’re done, your inside top seam will look like this. And the outside will look like this. Isn’t that nice?

And the outside will look like this. Isn’t that nice?

Thus ends my contribution of helpful pictures to this tutorial-ette. From here, is just got too caught up in sewing (and entertaining kids while I sewed) that I didn’t take any more pictures until I was done. Here’s what I did. I sewed the bag with French seams all the way around (Google French seams if you need help with this; it’s pretty straightforward, so don’t be scared off by the word French. You can refer to them as freedom seams if that’s your boat). Then I cut off the corners, and did those as French seams too. The cut of the corners part is hard to explain, but if you’ve ever made a boxed corner bag (my own term, sorry) of any sort, you probably know what I mean. If not, check out this great tutorial for the run-down on boxing out your corners. Of course, this step is just optional; the tote works fine without boxed corners. The benefit of boxed corners is that the bag will stand upright when you set it down, which is a big plus when you’re a little person trying to fill a bag as full as you can by yourself.

Here’s what the French seams business looked like on the inside. Lovely, right?

And here’s the finished tote. I did a little nuno-felted initial, but I’m not entirely satisfied with the freehand felt typography here. Oh well, my little girl loves it. So I’m happy. Of course, I should have a picture with the little model, because she sure is cute with her little tote. Sorry about that.

Have a great day!

How to Make a Scrappy Felt Clipboard: Mini Tutorial

Here’s a quick little project that I whipped up in a little over an hour. I’ve been wanting to make something like this for a while, and  time, materials, and ideas all met in perfect alignment last week, so I just whipped it up. What is it, you may ask? A scrappy felt clip “board.”

It was super simple. I just zig-zag stitch (with the widest stitch width possible) the pieces of felt together. Don’t overlap the edge, just make sure they are cut straight, and then butt them up together as you feed them through the machine. This is made with some scraps of beautiful 2 mm 100% merino wool, but it would probably work just fine with whatever kind of felt you use.

I then used my pinking rotary cutter (I thought it echoed the stitching nicely, but you could use a regular rotary cutter, or pinking shears) to even out the edges. Then I sewed a strip down the middle, and tacked it down at intervals, so there was a place for the clips to go. To hang it, I added some loops of felt and then put a nice piece of driftwood through them, then tied them with a little string and hung it on a nail. Sweet and simple.

Here it is load up with the material I intended it for: some of the things I’m using to teach the little girls.


Good luck with your own clipboard. Have a great day!


Passion Fruit Juice: How to

Because you all have you’re own passion fruit vines, or at least access to a farmers market where they sell them in large bags for a dollar, right? Well, just in case, here’s a quick how-to, in photos, of course.

1. Cut.

2. Scoop

3. Blend with water.

4. Strain.

5. Add more water and sweetener, if desired.

6. Enjoy!

ps. If you haven’t voted for my fabric design (“Rebecca Rendon Circles”) over at spoonflower, please do. Today is the last day to vote. Nothing in it for you, but it would be really cool if you did. Thanks!

Tutorial: Sewing Fabric “Block” Animals

***Just a reminder, the giveaway for the 3-piece nativity set is still going on, and there are a few full copies of the nativity template left and you can now purchase the full template in my brand new Etsy shop. Be sure to leave a comment on that post to get a chance to win and to get your free template.***

So, you’ve got your Nativity template, and you’ve been happily stitching away, and now you want to make those little guys into fabric block animals (like wood block animals cut out with a jig saw). Well, it’s a pretty simple process, so for all you seasoned sewers out there, just scroll down to admire the finished product. But if you’re like me, still feeling my way around the sewing thing, then you might want a quick tutorial to get you on track.

First things first, I got a question a little while ago about what kind of fabric I used, and my answer is a medium weight 100% natural colored linen from Joann’s. Nothing special (but if I had unlimited resources, I would have liked a nice, expensive, made specifically for embroidery linen). I also think a good cotton (Kona is my preferred choice) would work perfectly well, too.

  1. Once you have your image embroidered, you are going to want to remove any marks you may have used to create the pattern, then iron your piece flat (I use a scrap of muslin when I iron my embroidery to protect it).
  2. Then lightly trace an outline about 3/4th’s of an inch around your piece. I like to keep my border fairly well-rounded, because tight curves are much harder to sew (maybe that’s just me, though).
  3. Cut around this traced line. You can use a good, sharp pair of scissors, or lay your fabric down on a self-healing mat and then carefully cut around it with a small rotary cutter.
  4. Lay your cut-out piece on top of your back embroidered piece, or just on another piece of fabric if you don’t want your block to be double sided, right sides together. Make sure to line up the two designs as closely as possible ( I feel for the “ridges” made by the embroidery).
  5. Trace the outline on your back piece of fabric and cut it out. If you are using a rotary cutter, you can skip the tracing step, and just follow the outline of your top piece as you cut out the back.

  6. Cut a long strip of fabric, making it the width you want your finished block to be, plus a 1/4 inch seam allowance on both sides. The length will vary depending on which figure you are sewing, but you’ll probably need at least 18 inches, to be safe.
  7. Sew the long strip all along the right-side edge of one side of your piece.
    You can pin it if you wish, but I found it easier to just manipulate the fabric around as I went.
    Leave at least a 1-inch tail at the beginning and end of the strip, and leave a slight gap between the beginning and end of your stitching so you’ll have enough room to turn it out later.
    (I didn’t leave extra room, so my fabric tore a little when I turned it out. p.s. I didn’t mean this to be a close-up of my pomegranate-stained finger. Sorry about that!)
  8. Pin you other side to the edge of your strip, with the right side facing in. You’ll want to make sure you’re laying over the other side in mirror position so the sides will be straight look right (sorry if that’s a little confusing. I couldn’t figure out a better way to word it, so just look at the picture.)
  9. Sew all along the edge, with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Your stitching will be parallel to your previous stitching along the side strip.
  10. Turn your piece out. If you are using hemostats or any pinging implement, try not to grab your embroidery, go for a blank piece of fabric.
  11. Stuff your piece with little pieces of poly fill, wool, or cotton. I like to stuff mine pretty firmly.
  12. Leave a little room in the bottom to pack in your weighting implement. This can be a few fishing weights, some beans, rice, or anything heavy, small, and nonperishable. If you want, you can sew a narrow weight “pouch” out of a scrap piece of the side strip and fill it with your weighting device, then stuff the pouch into the bottom your piece; this method helps keep all the weights at the bottom. Something to keep in mind: the bigger your piece, the more weight you’ll want right at the bottom to keep it upright. I didn’t get quite enough weight in my donkey to keep it really stable, so it’s a little wobbly, but it works.
  13. Once you have your weight inside, sew up the opening with a ladder stitch (see my tangram tutorial for an example of that—I think I called it slip stitch there,  or just google it).

You may have to smoosh it around a bit to get it to sit right.

You’re done! (Only 23 to go. . . .) If you don’t have a nativity template, go get one here, or use whatever design you want for your fabric blocks. Enjoy!
ps. I’m linking this up at the weekend wrap-up party and at skip to my lou.

Tutorial: Lacing Softies

My little girl always asks to “sew” when she sees me doing my embroidery. If she finds my hoop, she will often make a few giant stitches of her own. She’s a little too young to handle a real hoop and needle, so I wanted to make something she could work on, too.

I’ve seen those sewing cards, but since I don’t have access to power tools, little wooden things are not an option. My solution: make it out of fabric.

Would you like to make your own lacing softies for your little ones? It’s pretty simple and straight-forward, but it does require some specific tools and some time. The results are totally worth it, though.


  • Hammer
  • Eyelets/grommets (if you check the definitions, the distinction is rather fuzzy, but in the store the box I got said “eyelets”). I used 5/32″ eyelets.
  • Fabric and whatever you need to put your design on it, (thread, ink, stamps, etc.)
  • Batting
  • Cardboard
  • Hole punch (the kind you hold with one hand and hammer with the other hand)
  • Sewing implement (yarn, blunt needle, shoelace, ribbon, etc.)
  1. Design your softie. You can use whatever means you want to get an image for your softie—a freezer-paper stencil, stamps, silk screening, large printed fabrics, etc; for this one I embroidered the image I wanted (a fox** in this case).
    You can do a front and back image, like I did, or just a front image if you like. If you do a front and back image, you’ll need to make them mirror images so that they’re not backwards.
  2. Turn your image over. If you can’t see it on the back (i.e., the back of the stitches), then place your fabric over a light table, window, and trace the outline with a fabric marker or pencil.
  3. Set some 1/4 in grommets around the outside of of your image where you intend to have them, about 3/4 in apart.
  4. Trace an outline around the grommets with a fabric marker or pencil  (I used a pen so you could see the line). This outline is the line you will sew on, so you do not need to include seam allowances. 
  5. Layer the two pieces of fabric with your design on them together, right sides facing. Use a light table or window to see that your front and back design match up. Pin these two layers together, with a layer of batting behind them.
  6. Sew all the way along the line (I used a free motion foot, but a regular foot might work fine, depending on the design), leaving an opening for turning out.
    (I wasn’t going to show you this, because my free-motion stitching is bad, but it worked okay, so don’t worry about it too much.)
  7. Cut your piece out, leaving 1/4 in seam allowance.
  8. Clip and curves/trim corners if your design has them, and then turn your piece right-side out.
  9. Tuck in the opening and slip stitch it closed. If you need help with slip-stitching, I’ve got some instructions on it in my fabric puzzle tutorial.
  10. Add the eyelets. (If you’ve used eyelets/grommets before, you can skip these instructions, but this was pretty much my first time, and I learned some things that might be good to know before you try it.)
  11. Use a punch to cut a small hole for each eyelet. You will want a cutting board, scrap piece of wood, or piece of thick cardboard underneath you fabric to make sure you don’t make holes in your work surface. (ahem.) I’m using a punch that was about half the diameter of my eyelet hole. Not ideal, but when I tried the punch that was the same size as the eyelet hole, I found that the fabric did not always get caught by the eyelet’s edge when it was pounded down, so it’s better to have to push and wiggle to get the eyelet to fit through a snug hole than to have too much room. I also tried punching a hole and then doing half another hole, overlapping the first one, to make the diameter a little bigger, and that seemed to work pretty well.
  12. I quickly learned that a tap tap tap tap approach worked much better than thud thud thud. I ended up with a few misshapen eyelets before I learned this lesson.
    Also, be sure to tap directly perpendicular to your eyelet setting tool, or it will go on at an angle and not catch all of your fabric (I also learned this lesson the hard way).
  13. Try to push your eyelet through the hole without fabric overlapping the edge of the eyelet, this will help the back stay neater.
  14. Keep setting eyelets all the way around until you’ve done them all.
  15. Choose your sewing implement. I went with yarn and a large, dull needle, but you could use a thin ribbon on a needle, a shoelace, etc.With the yarn, I started with a pretty long piece, and sewed it all the way around to make sure it would be long enough before I cut it off.

Once you have your sewing implement, you’re done. I couldn’t wait to share this with my little sewer (yes, it’s a word).

I don’t know about you, but there is something about those chubbly little fingers holding an oversized needle that is just too adorable (and yes, my daughter is sporting a snow hat at the end of July).

I’m not going to lie, putting in all 26 eyelets was kind of a pain because of the aforementioned problems that I had to work through. But I really liked the result, so I think I’ll definitely have to make a couple more of these.
**If you would like to embroider you’re own fox, leave a comment with your email address, and I will send you the embroidery template.

Have a great weekend!

ps. I’m linking this up on skip to my lou.

Another Fabric Box Tutorial

So, did I mention that I really like my tangram puzzle? A lot. But I knew as soon as I finished the project I would need some way to store the whole thing. Because a neat little stack doesn’t stay neat very long.
I thought I would do a bag at first, like what I used in my chess set, but my sister suggested a box, and after thinking about it, I decided to go with it.

When it came to the design of the box, I wanted to do something a little different. I knew it had to be a fabric box (unsmashable) since my girls would be using it, but I wanted it to have some sort of lid, too. As is often the case, I thought back to my college studies for some ideas (I picked up a lot of DIY skills during my art major). I decided to use an overlapping flap closure from the portfolios I used to make for my printmaking class.

I originally thought a tie closure would be nice, but in the end I decided to go with buttons, because I love hand-sewn buttonholes. Don’t you?

Would you like to make your own fabric box with flap closures (in case you’ve already made up a set of tangram pieces you need to store, or you have something else you want to store with style)? It’s pretty much the same process as making a regular fabric box like the cute ones here and the ones I made here, but the flaps are added in as you are sewing the box up.

  1. Cut out the pieces of your fabric basket. The sizes of each piece will depend on the dimensions of what you’re putting in the box, but you will need to have four side pieces and a bottom piece in the outside fabric, four side pieces and a bottom piece in the inside fabric, and eight pieces for the flaps.
  2. Now you’re going to be sewing your box together. Start by sewing the side pieces to the bottom piece for both the inside and outside parts of the box. You’ll end up with something that looks like a “+” sign.
  3. Then sew up the sides of the box.
  4. For each flap, put your two pieces of fabric right sides together, and sew the flaps on three sides. Clip the corners, and then turn them right sides out. (If you want, you can do some fun little label, stamp, embroidery, or other embellishment on your flaps to identify the contents.)
    (I also did rounded corners, just for fun.)
  5. Clip the corners of your box outside and inside.
  6. To assemble the box, start with the outside box part wrong side out, and then lay the flaps in the box, arranging them face down and pin them in place.
    Then place the inside box piece (right side out) in the outside box piece, so the right sides are facing each other, with the flaps sandwiched between the two.
  7. Sew all the way around the top edge, leaving an approximately 5-inch opening for turning out.
  8. Turn the box out with the flaps.
  9. Top stitch around the top edge of the box to seal the opening.
    This is a little tricky with the flaps, but if I can do it, I think you can too.
  10. The closure method is really up to you.
    I put the buttons on the inside flaps, and put the buttonholes through the two top flaps, but you could put the buttons on the top and the loops on the side of the box. Or sew ribbon into the flaps to tie at the side. Be creative. If you are going to do machine-stitched buttonholes, you should probably sew those on the flaps before you sew the box together.

You’re done. Congratulations. You now have a cute little box for storing your tangrams, or anything else, really. I thought these boxes might be nice for storing photographs, collectible items, memorabilia, felt food, or other handmade toys, or as extra-special gift wrapping for a special gift.

ps. I’m linking this up at skip to my lou and here:
Visit thecsiproject.com

Tutorial: Tangram-esque Fabric Puzzle

This is one of those projects that’s been on my mental to do list for a while, like before I had my Pinterest boards, or I would be able to tell you exactly when and where I saw it. (Oh Pinterest, how did I ever get along without you?) I did pin a similar project as soon as I saw it, but this was months after the original inspiration struck me.

Curious yet? After tumbling the idea around in my head, I finally cracked down and did it, and rather than trying to work backwards to make a tutorial in the event that others might be interested in make their own fabric puzzle, I actually planned ahead on sharing the how-to with you (thoughtful, huh?). And now that it’s done, I’m so glad I took pictures because (a) it is way too cool not to share and (b) I’m not going to be making another set of these things for a while (yes, that means this is a tad labor intensive, but what do you expect when this, this, and this, are my typical project?).

I’m calling these tangram-esque because Merriam-Webster’s definition actually specifies the little Chinese puzzle with seven specifically shaped pieces in the definition of tangram, and this isn’t quite that. But it’s in the spirit of the tangram puzzle.

These are addictingly fun to play with, and I don’t just mean for the kids. My photo sessions got rather drawn-out because I was so into coming up with different designs.

It’s basically a open-ended puzzle that you make up as you go, and I love it. I’m not sure how age-appropriate it is for my toddler and 9-month old, but they pieces are soft, stackable, and colorful, so at the very least they make excellent teething toys and safe projectiles.

I think my older daughter was getting into them, but if not, I’m sure she’ll love them as much as I do in a few years.

Do you want to make your own set of tangram-esque puzzle pieces? Great. Let’s get to work.

The process is pretty simple. You’ll be making a bunch of half-square triangles, sewing a backing and batting to it, turning it right side out, and slip-stitching the opening closed. Here’s the details:

  1. First, choose your fabrics. You don’t need much of each color. I used seven different colors, and only used about 1/6th of a yard each color, and about a third of a yard of the white.
    Really, you can use whatever fabric you want, with as many different colors as you want, and make as many pieces as you want.
  2. Each color is paired with every other color once (7 colors, so the math is 6 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 21; I think this works with whatever number of colors you have: take the number of colors, minus one, then add all the numbers to that number and on down), and by cutting the pieces in half (you’ll see later) you get a total of 42 tile pieces.

    If you want to end up with 42 finished squares like I did, you’ll need to cut six 4″ squares in each color, including the white (if you are using a different number of colors, the number of squares you’ll need to cut will be one less than the number of colors you have). For the backing, you’ll need forty-two 3 3/4″ squares in whatever combination of colors you want; I used 18 squares in white and 4 squares of every other color.
  3. Match up one of each color with one of every other color, red with orange, red with yellow, red with green, and so on. If you’re using fabric with a pattern, make sure to keep right sides together.
  4. Use a pencil or a disappearing fabric marker to draw a line from one corner to another.
  5. Sew from one corner of the square diagonally to the opposite corner, using the line you made as the guide for your presser foot.
  6. Turn the square around and sew down the opposite side of the line in the same manner. You will now have to parallel lines of stitching.
  7. Cut each square in half along the diagonal line you marked in step 4.
  8. Press the squares open with the seam pressed toward the darker fabric.
    (I’m sure there are lots great tutorials about how to do half-square triangles. Calli from Make It Do just did a very nice little tutorial about how to do half-square triangles, and it looks very similar to the way I did it, so if you need another tutorial on how to do half-square triangles, check it out.)
  9. Cut out 42 3 3/4″ squares of batting (I cut out twice that because the batting I had was very thin, and I wanted it to have a little more heft.
  10. Lay each pieced square on top of a 3 3/4″ square, right sides together.
  11. Lay your matched pieces on top of one piece of batting.
  12. Sew all the way around your square (1/4″ seam allowance), leaving a 1 1/2″ opening for turning out.
  13. Clip off the corners (sorry, I didn’t show this step, but basically you want to trim to as close to the corner as possible without cutting through the stitching).
  14. Using a turning tool of some sort (I used hemostats, which I read about here), turn out each piece, making sure to push the corners nicely.
  15. Tuck in the open seam, and slip stitch the opening closed. I don’t really know how to describe the slip stitch, I stitched through both sides of the fabric as closely as possible so the thread doesn’t show, then I pulled the thread back through half an inch, made a knot, and “popped” the knot through the fabric to bury it inside (that’s how it was described to me when I was first learning to sew as a teenager, so please forgive my lack of eloquence). Perhaps the pictures will help the description.Repeat 41 times, and you’re done. Now go enjoy your finished work.

They’re great for throwing,


sucking on,


and undesigning.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do; I’m telling you, hand stitching 42 seams closed is worth it for this little toy. If you make your own, I’d love to see them!

Have a great Monday!

ps. I’m linking this up at skip to my loutatertots and jello, and here:

Visit thecsiproject.com.

Tutorial: Paper Mache Maracas

As promised, here’s a little tutorial for how to make these colorful maracas. We’ve already had lots of fun with them, both in making them and using them, and I’m sure you will too. Don’t be put off by the length of this tutorial, it’s not difficult, but it is somewhat time consuming. That’s why I like that I can do it with my kids, so I don’t have to find a bunch of extra time when they’re sleeping to do some paper mache. There are several steps to this process, including some drying time, so don’t expect to get it done all in one day.


  • cornstarch
  •  water
  • saucepan and stove top
  • paper for making the egg (newspaper, copy paper, etc., nothing too stiff)
  • decorative paper (paste paper, scrapbook paper, etc., again, not too stiff)
  • water balloons
  • scissors or xacto knife
  • ruler
  • bone folder
  • white glue
  • beans, rice, or other dry grains, for filling the maracas with
  • glitter, puff paint, ribbons, stickers, etc., for embellishing (optional)

How to Make the Paste

What makes this project really child-friendly is the paste (not glue). If you swear by Mod Podge, you could probably use that instead of paste, but I’ve never touched the stuff, so I don’t know for sure. I use an all natural paste that I make myself, and I love it. I got the recipe in a handout in my book binding class, and it’s what I use for all my paper mache projects.

It’s easy to make, only two ingredients: cornstarch and paste. And you can make as much or as little as you want, just remember to use the 1:10 cornstarch:water ratio. When I make this, I find that 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 10 tablespoons of water makes a good amount. You don’t want to make too much, because the stuff only stays good for about 2 days in the fridge.

Cornstarch Paste

1 part cornstarch
10 parts warm water

  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a small sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a boil on medium heat and boil for 5 minute, and then remove from the heat. The mixture will go from milky/cloudy to thick and translucent.

The paste will only stay runny for a little while, and then it will start to thicken and gel. This isn’t a problem, it works both runny and thick, you just have to work a little harder to moisten the paper and spread it on when the paste is thick. So it’s usually best to be ready to use the paste as soon as you make it.

The advantages of using this paste over other adhesive options is that it is very affordable (practically free) and that it is completely nontoxic and washable, so you don’t have to worry about your kids getting on their hands and everywhere else (though I’d try to keep it out of your carpets).

Of course, if you have another paper mache paste you’d prefer, feel free to use that instead.

Making the Egg Shapes

Sorry, I was a little sparse on the pictures for this step.

  1. First you’ll need a form to paper mache onto to give you the shape you want. In this case, I used water balloons (inflated with air, not water).
  2. You don’t need this many, but my little girl loved playing with them, rubbing them on her hair and making them stick to the wall, so you may want a few extra, for entertainment purposes.
  3. (This is the only picture I have of making the initial egg shape.) Basically all you do is moisten little squares of paper in the paste (don’t have it globby or thick, you only want a thin layer) and stick it onto the balloon. Make sure to overlap the edges of each piece of paper a little.
  4. Once you’ve cover the whole balloon, leaving only a nickel-size whole where the balloon is tied, you’ll want to do another layer. You’ll want at least 2 layers, depending on the thickness of your paper. I used a paper that was a little thicker than printer paper, so two layers was fine, but if you’re using newspaper I’d do 4 or 5 layers. Also, if you are not using another layer of paper to decorate your maraca, you may want to do one more base layer.
  5. You don’t have to let it dry before putting on the decorative outside, but I did, just to make sure it was strong enough. If there are weak (soft) spots when your egg dries, add another layer or two.

Once you are sure you egg is hard enough, you’re ready to decorate.

Decorating the Egg Shapes

I chose to decorate the top part of my maraca before filling, sealing, and attaching the handle because I wanted to make sure no moisture would seep in and spoil the grain/beans inside. You can use whatever you want to decorate your maraca. You can paint them or dye them, but I chose to use more paper. You can use any kind of decorative paper, as long as it’s not too stiff (really stiff paper will have trouble conforming to the curve of your maraca).

I used paste paper, because I love it and I have lots of it. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make some paste paper using my tutorial here. It’s a fun project all by itself.

  1. I tore my paper into strips and then into squares as I went. You only need to make one layer with your decorative paper.
  2. I added the white accent papers at the very end, but you can do all of the decorating now, just remember that you will be covering over a small area near the opening in your egg when you attach the handle, so don’t put anything there that you don’t want covered up.

Once you get it all covered, let it dry.  

Filling the Maracas

  1. If you have a funnel, you can just use that. But if you’re like me and have only limited kitchen supplies, you can make a quick funnel out of a scratch piece of paper by rolling the paper into a cone, leaving a small opening at the end, and taping the side so it keeps its cone-shape.
  2. Insert the small end of the funnel into the opening in your egg, and pour about a tablespoon of some dry grain or beans into your egg. I used a different substance in each of my maracas.From left to right: garbanzo beans, popcorn, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and rice.
    I thought the popcorn and the rice made the best sounds, but you can use whatever you have, as long as it’s not perishable.
  3. Once you have your material inside your egg, keep it propped upright in a cup or a jar so the beans will keep away from the moisture in the next step.
  4. To seal your egg, cover the whole with a square of paper coated in paste. Make sure not to tip your egg or let the beans come in contact with the wet paper.

Attaching the Handles

I used a rolled triangle of cardboard to make my handle. I waned a good, solid handle, and this shape seemed to work pretty well.

  1. Start by cutting out a long rectangle from o thin piece of non-corrugated cardboard (you could use an empty cereal box or the like). Draw vertical lines that divide the rectangle into 4 equal strips, and score the cardboard along those lines.
  2. Fold the rectangle along those lines, and form a triangle (the cardboard will overlap on one side). 
  3. Glue (not paste) along the side that overlaps, and let the handle dry.
  4. When you’re ready to attach it to the egg shape, wrap a piece of paper moistened with paste around one end of the handle so half is on the handle and half extends off the edge of the handle. Snip down  each of the three corners of the triangle on the paper to where it is on the handle, and fold the sniped paper back (see the picture, sorry this is confusing!) so it forms a flat end on the handle.
  5. Stick this were you sealed the egg (you may need to apply a little more paste if it has started to dry at this point). Again, try to keep your beans or rice away from the moist area.
  6. Lay more paper down over the flaps of the handle and up the side of the handle to reinforce the joint. You’ll want 2–5 layers of paper here, as before, plus one decorative layer.
  7. Cover the rest of the handle (including the open end) with paper and decorative paper.

Finishing Touches

You may want to add more decorative elements after your maraca is assemble, but remember not to get the egg part wet enough that moisture will seep through to the beans on the inside.

Here’s a few examples of how I decorated mine. There are so many possibilities, so be creative.

Now you’re ready to make some music.

Have fun!

ps. I’m linking this up at tatertots and jelloskip to my lou, and sun scholars.

Bookbinding Basics: How to Prepare the Text Block

Most all sewn books have a two basic components: a text block and a cover. Though the way a book is sewn and covered varies quite dramatically from binding to binding, the text block for a sewn book is quite similar.

This is meant as  reference for anyone wanting to make their own books. I decided to make some fairly detailed instructions for some steps that are commonly used in all kinds of binding methods. For example, you can use these instructions as you complete a soft cover Coptic book. Here’s what you’ll need to prepare the text block:


  • paper
  • bone folder
  • metal ruler
  • teasing needle (or T pins)
  • book press, weights, or heavy books
  • X-acto knife (optional; not necessary if you want a torn edge on your signatures)
  • punching tray (or a stiff cardboard box)
  • something heavy to press your signatures with (like a big book)

Planning the text block

  1. Start by deciding the dimensions of your book. Try to use your sheet of paper wisely to get the most pages out of a piece of paper with the least amount of waste. But if you do end up with substantial end cuts, consider making some little matchbox size books. For example, if my text block paper comes in sheets of 26 × 40  inches grain long (meaning the grain runs parallel to the 40 inch side), I may decide to do my signatures 8 inches × 11 inches, and I would get 6 leaves per sheet of paper with only a few inches of waste.
  2. Once you have determined the dimensions of your signature, you will need to tear the large sheets of text block paper down to rough size. Yes, you will need to start out with pieces that are slightly bigger than your finished signature; you will cut the signatures to final size after they have been folded together.
    The rough-size pieces will need to be 2 times the width of your finished signature + 1 inch (if you want a torn edge on your signatures, this needs to be +2 inches) by the height of your finished signature +2 inches (if you are tearing your signatures you will want this to be + 3 inches). So if I want my finished signature to be 5 inches × 8 inches, I would want my pieces to be approximately 11 inches × 12 inches for a cut edge, or approximately 12 inches × 13 inches for a torn edge.If you are trying to save paper, you may go a little less with the size of your end cuts, but it will make trimming your signatures more difficult, so be prepared for that. IMPORTANT: Make sure your pieces are torn so that the grain of the paper is running parallel to where the spine will be once they are folded.

Tearing down the text block

Generally, you will be starting with a rather large piece of paper and will be tearing it down to individual leaves for your book.The way you tear down your paper will depend on how many pieces you are tearing it into, so this is just a general guide.In this example, I will be tearing down a 24 × 38-inch piece of paper into 8 pieces (leaves).

  1. To tear your paper, fold it in half, lining up the  edges and pressing the fold down with your fingers. Crease with your bone folder (when I did these pictures, I could not find my bone folder, so you’ll have to imagine me using that to crease and tear the paper).
    (Creasing the folded edge of the paper)
  2. Slide the edge of your bone folder in between the two halves of the paper, along the fold, to tear the paper in half. I tear gradually, in pieces about the length of the bone folder, rather than slitting it all at once like you would to open an envelope.
    (In my example, I have used the edge of the ruler, which is an okay substitution for a bone folder in a pinch, but it may create badly torn edges.)
    (Why you should use a bone folder)
  3. Continue folding and tearing your paper in this manner until you have your leaf-sized pieces (which will be twice as wide as your signatures).

Alternate way:

It is possible to fold a single piece of paper into a signature; this is how most commercially made books are bound. You will likely still need to tear your  large sheet of paper down a bit before you can fold it into a signature. Your piece of paper will need to be twice the height of your text block, plus 2 inches (more for torn edges), and 4 times the width of your text block plus 4 inches (more for torn edges). Make sure your grain is parallel to the spine (in this case, the shorter side of your piece of paper.

  1. Fold your paper in half perpendicular to the direction of the spine (hot-dog style). Crease well.
  2. Insert your bone folder in between the sheets of paper and tear along the fold until a few inches past halfway. The purpose of this is to release tension when you fold the paper in half two times, so the paper will lay flat. 
  3. Now fold your paper in half, parallel to the spin (hamburger style). Crease well.
  4. Now fold your paper in half again (hamburger style). Crease well.  
  5. Press these signatures and then trim them to the correct size as you would with normally prepared signatures.

Folding and pressing the signatures

  1. After you have torn your pieces to rough size, stack 3–4 pieces of paper together (3 if your paper is really thick like watercolor paper, 4 if it is average thickness).
  2. Fold the stack of paper in half with the fold parallel to the spine of the book. Crease first with your fingers and then crease well with the bone folder.
  3. Once you have folded all your signatures, stack them with half the spines facing one side and half facing the other side.
    (Stacked signatures)
  4. Place in a book press or under a heavy flat object (I use old textbooks) and press for half an hour or more to set the creases.
  5. (Pressing the signatures. This is my go-to pressing book; a nice size and heavy—the inside is pretty good, too.)

Trimming your signatures

  1. Tear or cut the signatures down to the final size. If you don’t have a board shear, you can use a metal ruler and an X-acto knife to trim the edges. If you are tearing your signatures, you will want to tear along the edge of a metal rule; be sure to press down firmly on the ruler so it doesn’t shift and make your tear crooked.
  2. Start by cutting or tearing about 1 inch off the bottom of each signature; this does not need to be an exact measurement because you’ll be finalizing the height with the third cut, but you do need to make sure the tear or cut is perpendicular to the spine (it helps to use a grided mat to guide your cuts/tears).
    Be sure to keep track of which edge of the signature you have cut (i.e., lay all the cut signatures the same way so you know which side needs to be cut still).
  3. Cut/tear the amount off the for-edge necessary to make your signature the desired width. This cut does need to be exact and perfectly parallel to the spine in order for your signatures to be even and square.
  4. Cut/tear the remaining excess off the top (uncut) side of your signature, being sure to make this cut/tear perpendicular to the spine.
    (The trimmed signature. This kind of shows what not to do: you really want to leave a wider margin to trim off than I had in this picture.) Your signatures should all be very close to the same size. Be as exact as possible.

Punching sewing holes in the signature

Every sewn binding has rules about the placement of holes for sewing. Know these rules for the binding you are doing, then make a template that shows where the holes will be for your signatures. There are many ways to do this, but here is the way I’ve worked out.

  1. Start with a narrow strip of paper that is exactly the height of your signature. Mark the location of the holes along one edge. For exposed bindings like a Coptic binding, I would measure out each hole location to be exact, but for bindings where the spine is hidden, like a flat-back or case bound book, you can use approximate hole placement.For the latter case, if you need 4 evenly spaced sets of holes, fold the narrow strip of paper in half and then in half again. Then unfold and mark where the folds are. You can now indicate any additional holes in relation to these 4 evenly spaced holes (e.g., kettle stitches at the head and tail of the book, or a second hole next to each of the 4 holes in between which your linen tape will be sewn).
  2. You have two options for transferring these hole placements to your signatures. I’ll tell you how I was taught to do with, then I’ll show you how I do it (the first way may be more correct and is easier, but I just like the way I do it, so whichever works for you is fine).The way I was taught:
    (a) Draw lines on your narrow strip of paper perpendicular to the long edge at every place you marked a hole.
    (b) Fold the narrow strip of paper in half.
    (c) Lay your signature open in a V-shaped punching tray (something like this) with the narrow strip of paper lying in the center fold of your signature, lined up perfectly with the head and tail of your signature.
    (d) Using your teasing needle or T pin, punch straight down along the center fold at each place you indicated a hole.The way I do it: (a) start with your lines marked out on a paper ruler that is the same height as your signature.
    (b) Stack your signatures together and make sure they are all jogged together so the line up well. I made a handy little tray with one right corner that lines up my stack of signatures, but you could also use jumbo butterfly clips to hold them in place.
    (c) Weight the stack  down with a book weight, smooth rock, or a can of beans so the stack won’t shift (sorry, I didn’t take a picture of this step).
    (d) draw a line straight down along the spine of your stack of signatures at each point where you marked a hole on the paper ruler.
    (e) When you are done, your stack of signatures will have perfectly lined-up marks to indicate where to punch the holes. also make a light mark along one end of the stack to show which side is the top of the text block.
    (f) Lay one signature at a time, fore edge down and open, over the edge of a firm cardboard box or an inverted-V punching tray. Punch holes straight down with a teasing needle, T pin, or awl where you marked along the spine, being sure not to make the holes too big (holes for a Coptic binding will probably be larger than for a flat-back or case-bound book). (This example shows holes for a Coptic-bound book. This would look very different for a case-bound book.)

Once you have punched all the holes, stack you signatures together, making sure you have them all facing the same direction (i.e., all the tops facing the same way) and set them aside, ready to be sewn together in whichever binding you have chosen.