The Wonderful World of Sock Monkeys!

vintage craft kits

Christmas Jump Start – an ornament for Emily

Every year I have this grand idea that I’m doing a HANDMADE CHRISTMAS! complete with beautiful embroidered ornaments, stockings using my stash of vintage fabrics, baked goods, home-canned jams, jellies and pickles, tote bags, pot holders, knitted scarves and other amazing stuff that will inspire me to create things I haven’t even thought of yet. The problem with this plan is I always start thinking about it the day after Thanksgiving, which means I’m doomed to failure as I’m usually working 50+ hours/week on some holiday show that’s just gone into tech rehearsals and I don’t have a minute to think about what I’m doing, let alone make it.

Well this year is different! I finished up some really cute little beaded and sequined angel ornaments in August that have been in the “To Be Completed” pile for several years, and it’s lit a fire under me to keep on it. And so begins the tale of Emily’s ornament.

Every year since they’ve been born, I give my nieces and nephews a Christmas ornament. Remembering back to after college graduation and finally being on my own, I was flat broke and had absolutely no money to buy ornaments for a tree of my own. I figured if I gave each kid an annual ornament, by the time they left home they’d at least have enough to decorate something, even if it was just a tree branch. I also stick with one theme for each, so one has angels, another snowmen, reindeer, Circus, and Emily gets Santas.

I love old vintage craft kits, and even though I have a large box of unstarted/unfinished pieces, it didn’t stop me from picking up a little cross stitched and beaded Santa/Father Christmas face for $.99 at the thrift store earlier this summer. I’ve actually never done any cross stitch as I prefer embroidery, but thought this would be a quick and easy way to dip my toe in the water. My problem isn’t just that I buy too many of these things, it’s that my idea of how long it takes is way off. I’m always sucked in by the “Simple, easy-to-follow instructions with just a touch of embroidery/beading/crochet” ad banner on the package and figure I’ll just crank these things out in a couple of hours.

So at least I take the time to read the instructions, and after separating the floss and beads, the thing just sat on my desk. It suggested making an “X” on the hole-punched base to find my center point, but I didn’t get any farther than that. My pal EJ does lots of cross stitch and she said “The easiest way to start is to make a cross with a basting thread to divide your work into sections.” Bingo! That little tip suddenly made the whole thing easier to get moving. I also used a highlighter to divide the instruction graph without covering the pattern, and I got to work.

This particular kit is made in two pieces – a hat and then face. I started with the smaller hat piece first. I realized as I got going it was easier to do the cross stitch before the embroidery, especially since the beads were so tiny. If nothing else, this project demonstrated to me that I NEED NEW GLASSES (and I’m heading over to the eye doctor after I finish writing this to order a pair). It didn’t occur to me to take some progress pics until I’d done quite a bit of the hat, but here you go:

I used an easily visible lime green thread to divide the canvas into sections. I used a highlighter to separate the pattern into a corresponding grid. This made things WAY EASIER!

I used a bright lime green thread to divide the canvas into sections, then a highlighter to separate the pattern into a corresponding grid. This made things WAY EASIER!

The hat with cross stitch and some beading complete.

The hat with cross stitch and some beading complete.

Almost done - I still need to add bugle beads to outline the sections in the top part.

Almost done – next I’ll add bugle beads to outline the sections in the top part.

The finished hat, cut to shape and ready to be attached to the face.

The finished hat, cut to shape and ready to be attached to the face.

I’m getting a little bit done every night – it doesn’t make me feel like a complete slug while watching a bit of television. And until I get those new glasses, it’s easier on the eyes!

Stay tuned for the creation of Santa’s face…

Vintage Angel Ornaments for Christmas

I needed several little projects to fill down time backstage during my recent stint on Wagner’s RING Cycle, especially during the 5+ hours each of Siegfried and Gotterdamerung – oy! My strategy was to work on several unfinished projects, which was part of my GRANDER scheme of getting my basement back under control. I heard this great quote by Dr. Phil (yeah, I know), that was something like “…to be a better person, finish what you start…” or something to that affect. I took that to mean cleaning and organizing my basement by finishing up the multitude of craft/sewing projects overflowing from boxes and surfaces. So I made a list of the projects I wanted to work on, but in the general disarray could only find one of them. Anyway….

Another funky, kitschy kit perfect to work on backstage -

Another funky, kitschy kit perfect to work on backstage –

You know how much I love the old embroidery and craft kits from the ’60s and ’70s, right? Well I’d picked up this particular little gem about four years ago because it was one of my favorite styles – felt ornaments with a little embroidery and tons of bling with sequins, beads and braid trim. These old kits have great felt colors (and it’s not crappy polyester felt), they’re graphically cute and silly, they’re easy to pick up and put down when I’m at work, and I can give them as gifts, use them as package ties or on occasion, keep them for myself. When I find these kits at yard sales and thrift stores, they’re often opened with some of the contents missing. Using/substituting my own materials, trim, and sometimes even pattern pieces, is part of the challenge and fun of working on the stuff, and these little angels fit the bill.

For some reason the crafty, creative designers at Bucilla billed this charmer as:

Novel “MOBILE” may be hung from Mantel, Chandelier, Archway; or in windows and doorways – handsome decoration for Foyer or any room in the home. So gay, so cheerful, so decorative for the Holiday Season. A real conversation piece!

OK, let’s just examine that for a moment. Yes, it’s definitely gay, which is a good thing, because the cheerful kitschy quality is a conversation piece. However, there’s no way I could hang this from my mantel as the plastic ring the angels swing from is about 8″ across, so it would hardly hang “freely”.  And the only chandelier I could see this dangling from is the crappy piece of junk in my dining room, which I definitely do not want to draw attention to.  Add to this the fact that the tinsel garland and “velvetex” ribbon used for hanging were flattened beyond use after 40+ years in their package. So mobile was out, but ornaments were on.

The helpful instructions! But really, it's not that difficult to attach beads and sequins to felt...

The helpful instructions! But really, it’s not that difficult to attach beads and sequins to felt…

I had to pick out some beads for those that were missing and some braid trim. I added purple beads to the original “color palette”, and I scrapped the directions to cut out and use this hard, gold vinyl to fill the opening of the skirts – I just couldn’t figure out how I’d attach it to the dress – hand sewing with felt isn’t really the easiest thing because the felting process makes it come apart when it’s manipulated too much. So I just ended up stuffing the body and sewing the skirt closed.

The ornaments filled up lots of time (although there was still plenty of time to read, write letters, do some clothing repairs, work on my magazine and make a SOCK MONKEY, which I’ll share in an upcoming blog) and they turned out so cute. My friend Anne wanted one (and I forgot to photo), and after deciding to keep the blue for myself, decided to give the hot pink to my awesome college pal LeAnn, and the green will go to my niece Nicole.

Hark! The gay, cheerful, decorative felt, blinged-out angels sing!

Hark! The gay, cheerful, decorative felt, holiday blinged-out angels sing!

Oh, and the basement is back to a functional state! I owe this more to LeAnn’s help in the last few weeks, than decluttering by completing a few little angel ornaments, but I can actually work on stuff again and I see a busy fall of completion ahead! I’ve already found the other projects I wanted to do this summer that were MIA, and the parts for a few more Christmas ornaments that I’ll share soon – snowmen and some ginger boy and girls. Time to get crafting!

Green for Nicole...

Green for Nicole…

...and hot pink for LeAnn!

…and hot pink for LeAnn! for me to keep...

…blue for me to keep…

Nothing to do with a sock monkey

I am great at starting projects, and I’m great at shopping. This is not always a great combination as I find “must have” new fabric, patterns, vintage craft kits, etc. It often feels like the new project has barely gotten underway when another new thing acquired on a shopping trip takes its place. This results in a dresser full of things to finish – granted it’s organized into project bags and well labelled, but it’s still a constant reminder about how easily I can get distracted.

This little hedgehog pincushion is something I started four or five years ago. It began as a vintage 1970s craft kit I found unopened at a yard sale for $2. I loved the sweet and happy look to it, plus I needed a pincushion, so I felt that purchasing it was OK as it had a function and wasn’t another project to work on that I had no idea what I’d do with once it was finished. And I liked it for the fact that it was embroidery and then assembling, so it was “multi-dimensional” skill usage.

The embroidery went quickly, even though some of those flower centers proved tough to keep sewing into with the wool crewel yarn as the thickness built up. I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time, so I thought I’d just hand sew the pieces together, and that’s when the project started to fall apart – I just couldn’t get the seams lined up well enough so they wouldn’t show when I turned it inside out to stuff it. It went in and out of the unfinished project drawer for a couple years, until I tried a new approach at finishing – buying the perfect stuffing! This was emery sand for weight and to keep pins and needles sharpened, but it didn’t move me any closer to finishing, so back to the drawer.

Fast forward to my present avoidance of working on the five different sock monkeys I have started, and I decided to hit the temple of unfinished business. Not just for something to work on, but to hopefully inspire sock monkey sewing again. I started by taking out all my hand sewing, and put the hedgehog together by machine sewing. It didn’t go right the first time, but it was much faster and easier to whittle down that seam allowance mark by machine, rather than by hand. Next I made a couple “pillows” of emery sand to pop in his nose and tummy. I used a double layer of muslin so the sand wouldn’t leak out. Finally, I stuffed fiberfill around the pillows and sewed him up.  

Finished result: adorable and functional! And one less piece of unfinished business in my craft zone. But as I’ve come to learn all too well, nature abhors a vacuum, and garage sale season is about to be in full swing – time to reload!