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Happy Independence Day!

On this Independence Day, I encourage all Americans take a few minutes to remember the sacrifices our forefathers—and foremothers—made in order to create a more perfect union dedicated to providing liberty and justice for all.

Flags, fireworks, and patriotic afghans are pretty, but to a writer like me, the Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution are even more beautiful.

I hope every elected official, in every party, spends at least one hour today to remember how and why our nation was founded. Perhaps they’d realize they were elected to represent We The People—not one political party or another. The only way our elected officials can truly represent all Americans is by working together for the greater good. The gamesmanship of today’s partisan politics is not, and will never be, in the best interest of the people.

Happy Birthday, United States of America!

Pink Sock Monkey Sisters Update

I’m thrilled to announce that our favorite pink sock monkey sisters, Cupcake and Endura, are now happily ensconced in their new homes!

Once my sister, Lisa, got her hands on the girls, she dolled them up with some jewelry and added notecards introducing each monkey to her new caretaker.

Endura brought her new person some fun laces for her running shoes, while Cupcake gave hers some pretty pink cupcake liners. Thoughtful little monkeys, aren’t they?

I hope Cupcake and Endura will bring their new people plenty of comfort and cuddles for many years to come!

Pumpkin Obsession: Extreme Edition

In honor of the season, I thought it would be nice to revisit a popular post from the past:

 

My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

One Pink Sock Monkey’s Hairy Situation

Look at classic sock monkeys and you’ll notice some are bald and some have tufts of hair – usually made of red worsted-weight yarn. I always thought the short red ‘dos made them look like clowns. That’s why I left the brown sock monkeys bald, and let my niece and nephew decide if they wanted their monkeys to have hair or not. They opted for bald monkeys.

When I asked my sister if she wanted hair for the first pink sock monkey — which is going to a friend of hers who’s about to complete chemo for the second time —Lisa said, “Someone undergoing chemo will want a monkey with hair. Long hair.”

I raided my not-so-humble yarn stash looking for a color that would work with the pink monkey’s complexion. Magenta? Pink? Rose? Purple? Nothing seemed quite right until I spotted a bag of yarn I picked up at a neighbor’s garage sale a couple months ago. It’s silky soft and has all those colors and more.

Cupcake modeling her new ‘do.

That’s a sock monkey with attitude!

I don’t want to brag, but I think she turned out pretty cute (still need to trim those eyelashes a bit!). Getting there took some effort.

Initially I tried stitching the strands in by hand, thinking I’d knot them as I did the eyelashes. Only this particular yarn – silky as it is – isn’t very smooth. It has nubs here and there that wouldn’t pull through the sock very easily. I was afraid it would distort poor Cupcake’s head.

Then it hit me: make a wig!

When I told my sister about the wig, she said to make it a long wig, since Cupcake’s soon-to-be-owner has a long, flowing wig of her own.

Then I had to figure out how to make a wig. Or would it be a weave?

I started by mapping out where the hair should go. Then took a piece of muslin (any thin fabric roughly the same color as the “scalp” will do) and sewed sort of a bean-shaped circle just large enough to cover that area, leaving room to turn it inside out.

Don’t sew it all the way closed

It looks odd, but you’ll stitch the left side closed

Once you tuck the open edge in and stitch it closed, it looks sort of like a lopsided heart with the bottom trimmed off. The indented area is to make it look like the hair has a natural part.

Next, I cut at least 30 strands of yarn to start – and made them a bit longer than twice the desired length. Why? 1) They’ll be folded over, and 2) she can have a haircut later.

I set a few strands flat across the “scalp,” positioning the center of the strands near one side.

Notice how the first row is folded over to the right? That makes room for the second row of hair – once the remaining strands are added. Try to sew them all down in one line.

Let’s see that again, with another row:

Just another row or two to go!

Don’t worry if the sewing machine pushes the strands around or misses a strand or two. You can always hand stitch in “hair plugs” later.

Once the wig was made, I used off-white thread to whip stitch it onto the monkey. It may try to shift around on you, so you might want to secure it – with stitches or pins –  on one side, than the other to keep the balance right.

Finally, I used “plugs” to help hide the hair line. I simply cut a strand of yarn, folded it in half, and used two or three little stitches to attach it exactly where it needed to go. If there are any bald spots, you can fill them the same way.

So, which look do you prefer?

Before (not her most flattering angle), or

…after?

I Love Yarn Day

Happy I Love Yarn Day, everyone! It’s like Christmas for knitters, crocheters, weavers, felters and anyone who enjoys working or playing with yarn.

I am a yarn-a-holic.

The first clue? As a kid my favorite Dr. Seuss book was A Big Ball of String. (Second runner up: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.) What can I say? I never liked eggs or ham.

What do I love so much about yarn? Aside from obvious things like textures and colors, I love how each skein of yarn holds multiple possibilities.

Some yarns tell you what to make with them. Others sit there a while before you think of the perfect uses for them. Sweater. Scarf. Throw pillow. Afghan. Mittens. Hat. Wrist warmers. Cowl. Headband. Shawl. Lacy curtains. Toys. Bedspread. Table runner. Place mats. Socks. Dishcloth. Decorations. Even jewelry.

Yarn can be made of nearly any fiber. Some are natural fibers – cotton, wool, alpaca, soy, silk, even bamboo – others are man made. Some are blends. There are even yarns made of recycles fibers.

Along with macrame-ing the pool table pocket nets from worsted wool, here are a few things I’ve made from yarn in the last year or so:

Wavy scarf (Alpaca blend)

Dan’s hockey socks

Felted Easter eggs (worsted wool)

Barbie’s “mink” (made of extra long fun fur / eyelash yarn)

My favorite afghan, then on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

Reese’s hat & scarf (bulky wool roving)

A pile of Bohemian shawls (acrylic-wool blend medium weight roving)

Aidan’s knitted/woven toy ball (self-patterning acrylic yarn)

Sweater coat I’m wearing as I write this (super bulky acrylic)

Yarn is incredibly versatile stuff. No wonder I love yarn.

What are some of your favorite things made from yarn?

It’s American Craft Week!

Just a quick post to say Happy American Craft Week, everyone!

Maybe you’re participating in our Pink Sock Monkey Craft-along for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or perhaps you’ve got a woodworking project going or you’re busy making spooky Halloween decorations.

If you’re not making something yourself, you can celebrate American Craft Week by purchasing something made by a local craftsman. What a great way to inspire people to keep producing their handmade wares!

What fun (or challenging) things are you working on this week?

Join the Pink Sock Monkey Craft-Along for Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Happy October! You know what that means, it’s officially Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and time to kick off the Pink Sock Monkey Craft-Along!

Think the Ru-Paul-meets-Lady-Ga-Ga eyelashes are a bit much? (No worries – they can be trimmed.)

My mom died of breast cancer when I was little, and my sister Lisa is a 13+ year breast cancer survivor, so this is an important month for our family.

Lisa’s taken a (triple) negative and done something really great: She became a peer counselor and uses her own experiences and insights to help other young women dealing with disease navigate their way through testing, treatment, recovery – and figuring out what to do if your health insurance company bails on you. (That’s a whole different story.)

So I wasn’t surprised when Lisa saw the sock monkeys I made for our niece and nephew and asked if I could make one — using pink socks — for a friend of hers who’s currently undergoing treatment for her second bout with breast cancer. When Lisa realized each 2-pair package of Rockford Red Heel Socks can make two sock monkeys, she asked if I could make one for another friend. That’s when I decided we should try a craft-along.

The project is pretty simple since the socks are really forgiving. Precision is not required, so don’t be scared off if you don’t sew. I’m not a great sewer, either, but see how darn cute Pink Monkey #1 turned out?

Get your pink socks, fiberfill and thread ready! Tomorrow we’ll start making a twin for the monkey above.

Who’s in?

Spools on Display

While my sister and our friends bought lots of little things at The Pec Thing flea market this weekend, I only found one thing I couldn’t live without:

The thread was included, too!

Not only do I love the rich patina of the aged wood, but it’s an item that makes you say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It’s basically a piece of varnished wood with 24 evenly-spaced small-headed nails, plus one hole drilled at the top for hanging. (There’s also a larger nail at the bottom – not quite sure what that’s for.)

Do you have any sewers on your gift-giving list? Why not make them their own decorative spool holders? You could customize them in any shapes or sizes you like.

You know why I love flea markets? My big purchase was only $3. The thread that came with it is worth more than that!

What great deals have you found at flea markets lately?

Face Off with Inspiration

Anyone else addicted to Syfy’s reality competition show, Face Off? (Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen this week’s episode yet.)

The contestants’ interpersonal dramas don’t interest me; their extreme level of creativity does.

Love them or hate them, the competitors are all highly skilled artists taking on incredible challenges with next to no time for second guessing their choices. With each challenge they have to dream up wild designs on the spot and get right to work sculpting, molding and painting everything needed to turn gorgeous models into monsters, aliens or whatever that week’s assignment may be. Their inventiveness is astounding.

Last night’s episode was a lesson in making the most with what you have. When the ears broke off the molded mask of Ian’s bat-like creation — the cowl piece tore as well — he turned those flaws into battle wounds, adding layers of character to the creature and impressing the judges in the process. The pressure was on, too, considering one of the judges was the man whose designs the contestants were bringing to life.

Ian's Bat Lady

Photo courtesy NBC Universal, Inc.

When the judge/designer said Ian’s design improved on the original, it was pretty clear who the winner of the Alien Interpreters episode would be.

Watching true artists tackle creative challenges by using their own inventiveness and problem solving skills is both fun and inspiring. I can hardly wait for next week.

Are you watching Face Off, too?

If not, it’s well worth a look. Watch previous episodes at the link above, then tune in Wednesdays at 10:00 ET/ 9:00 CT on Syfy.

Starting From Scratch

As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved the idea of making something from nothing. Well, maybe not from nothing, but by taking disparate elements and combining them into new and wonderful things.

Baking. Knitting. Writing. Felting. Crocheting. Scrap quilting. I enjoy all kinds of creative challenges, even when things don’t turn out precisely as planned. After all, creativity is a fluid thing so there’s always something to learn from a failed attempt.

I want this blog to be a place where we can share our creative pursuits, whatever they may be. I’ll post updates on my various projects and hope you’ll discuss yours as well.

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