Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crochet Market Bags

My crafty Christmas gifts this year were these market bags. I started well ahead of the holidays trying out many different patterns, and in the end, I came up with this one. I suppose it's a mash-up of elements I found in the different patterns, but they're basic crochet concepts, so I don't feel bad claiming this one as my own.

Overall, I think I made eleven basic bags and then the two other modified bags shown a bit farther down. 

I'll post my directions at the bottom. I don't know how to write a true crochet pattern, but I can do my best to explain how I made them.

The key to this pattern is using a large crochet hook. I used a size P (10mm). I also used cotton yarn (Sugar’n Cream by Lily), which I also consider key to the look and feel of these bags. But the size of the hook is essential. A small hook would make a small bag with no obvious mesh. The large hook also makes the project go really fast!

It was a fun pattern to play around with variegated yarn, see what kind of stripes and patches of color were formed.

I also experimented with stripes. two, three, or four rows, sometimes depending on how much yarn I had.

Before I get to the "pattern," here are a couple variations:

I made this slightly smaller bag for my best friend for her birthday. I realize it doesn't look any smaller. For the picture, I filled it with heavy groceries instead of the yarn balls used with the bigger bags. Oops! These bags stretch!

My husband pointed out his favorite colors at the store and "hinted" that my pattern could make a really nice disc golf bag. I made the bag smaller and the strap much, much longer--longer than I needed, then folded the excess over and stitched around the edge to make a padded strap.

On to the "pattern" . . .

chain 4, connect

chain 2, make 11 double crochets into the center, so it’s 12 posts counting the chain 2.

connect, chain two and turn piece (I’m not sure if this is necessary, but I read it in at least one pattern, and I did it for all my bags—too nervous to experiment with that aspect, I suppose).

The next two rows are increase rows, so the very next row you do two double crochets in each space (you'll have 24 stitches, turn piece). The row after that, you do every other. So, two double crochets in one space, one double crochet, back to two, and so on (you'll have 36, turn piece).

Put a double crochet in the first space of these two rows (with the chain 2) but not the first space of any other row. At least one pattern I read suggested putting a double crochet in the first space of every row (if I was reading the pattern correctly). This looks a bit weird. It creates an obvious seam down the side.

The next eight rows are simply double crochets in each space (turning piece every row).

Then I started adding in a few decrease rows. This was very unscientific and I’m sure there’s a better way.

But . . . I put two decrease stitches in each decrease row, equidistant from each other. In the first row, I chained two, did one double crochet in the next space, then did one decrease stitch—where you start doing the stitch in one space but half way through skip to the next stitch and finish it there. Double crochet until the next decrease. With my design, I’d count the spaces till around 17, then do my second decrease stitch. Double crochet till the end, and there should be another 17 spaces. I wasn’t super strict about the counting. If I counted 16 and 18 spaces on either side of the decreases, that was fine (turn piece).

The next row is regular double crochet (turn piece).

The next row is another decrease row. This one is even less scientific. I wanted to space out my decrease stitches—I didn’t want them to line up vertically—so I’d start the double crochets and try to place my decrease stitch in between the decrease stitches two rows below. I’d count 7 or 8 spaces after one decrease stitch and place my decrease stitch in my new row above. I’d do the same thing for the next decrease stitch. between 7 or 8 stitches of the first decrease row, or 16 stitches from the other decrease stitch in this row. I wasn’t too strict about counting on this row either, but it worked out to 16 and 16 spaces if I was careful to make it even.

The next row is regular double crochet (turn piece).

One more decrease row. This one’s easy because I do my decrease stitches directly above my first decrease stitches. If even, there will be 15 spaces on both sides of the decrease stitches (turn piece).

One last row of double crochet stitches and you’re done! . . . with the bag part.

For the straps, it’s important that the opening of the bag has an even number of spaces between crochets so the straps will be even and the space between the straps is even. My bags ended up with 30 spaces around. If I ever messed up and had one less or one more stitch (I never had more, only less, but I suppose this could happen), I’d just add another stitch. It looks better to have a stitch crammed in at that point than to have unevenly spaced straps.

Stripe: I always went back to the main bag color for the last two rows, so if I wanted to do 4 rows of stripe, my first decrease row was the beginning of the stripe color. If I wanted to do 3 rows of stripe, I’d change to the stripe color after my first decrease row.

Straps! I liked this style of strap most because it looks so well integrated into the body of the bag. They also add a bit to the total capacity of the bag, so take that into account. I always centered the seam in the middle of one of my straps, but I’m wondering now if having the seam in-between the handles might look more natural. It’s a personal choice.

So, if you center your seam, attach yarn with a slip knot, chain two, and make a decrease stitch. If you start from the seam, you can continue from where you are (no extra ends to weave!), chain two, then do a decrease stitch. Double crochet along and finish with another decrease stitch. The number of spaces filled needs to equal half the total spaces available. Unless you want a bigger gap between your straps. I was happy with very little gap and a wider strap.

chain two and turn, decrease stitch, double crochet until the last two spaces where you will do another decrease. Do this until the strap is the thickness you’d prefer for the rest of the strap. I liked mine to be 9 crochets or 8 spaces wide.

chain two and turn, 8 double crochets and do it again.

I like 8 rows of double crochet for the strap. Make a knot and leave a nice long end.

Do the second strap exactly like the first starting directly in the next open space.

I joined the straps by tightly wrapping the ends through the crochet spaces. I liked to do it tight, so when I threaded the ends through the wrapped yard, they’d be held there tight.

And, we're done! Sweet market bag.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lydia's Animal Party!

Lydia turned two! So we threw our little animal lover an animal party! Everyone had a blast, and I wanted to share the details of our decorations and craft projects. Maybe they will inspire someone else!

Along with all our awesome friends, Everett and Lydia's "stuffies" were invited to the party! 

It was quite quick and easy to make party hats for them using half circles of scrapbook paper taped into cones. I hot glued pom poms to the tops and taped the hats on the animals with twine (taped the twine to the insides of the hats).

We also decorated with our flags and balloons. The kids love balloons (of course). I usually buy a small helium tank at Michael's using a 50% off coupon.

Everett thought his pirate party could have used more traditional party games and activities (a treasure hunt alone didn't cut it!), so I planned some "classic" party fun.

We played pin the tail on the fox! I thought about making my own, but the price of pin the tail games on Oriental Trading Company is unbeatable, $3.99! I had to get more tails copied onto card stock because the set only came with 8. I used 3M putty to attach the tails to the wall and then to the game.

It's funny how some kids were excited to participate and others just wanted to watch, maybe half and half. But everyone had fun! 

A monkey/banana beanbag toss! I sewed the wonky bananas using thick yellow cotton, filled them with rice, and painted the ends brown. I put tape on the carpet every 2 feet. We didn't lead a game. The kids did their own thing, and I saw some tossing beanbags and having a good time.

Brian helped a lot with this project. He cut the plywood and designed and built the stand (two strips of plywood attached with hinges).

I painted the monkey with acrylic paints, leftover house paint and craft paint. We sprayed it with clear matte spray paint for protection and to even out the different sheens of the paints. 

Individual pull-string fish piñatas!

Since it was a two-year-old's birthday with lots of little kids, and I'm not a big fan of traditional piñatas anyway, I thought it would be nice to do individual pull-string piñatas. It was a bonus that they were great decorations! 

But I bit off a tad more than I could chew with this project. There were lots of little steps, and it was very time consuming. I'm not going to say I regret making the fish piñatas (they really did look awesome), but I will try to avoid projects like this in the future.

In our collage box I found a deck of animal flashcards (pretty thick card stock). I cut the animals out in circles and punched two holes in each. I glued these circles on larger tissue paper circles.

I poked holes in the bottom of large drink cups and strung ribbon through. I'd recommend tying a knot at whatever point makes sense to you. You don't want the ribbon coming out. We (Everett helped) filled the cups with gummy bears, suckers with a dog and cat on the wrapper, butterfly party horns, animal stickers, tattoos, stamps, finger puppets, and probably some other stuff.

I strung ribbon through the circles (again, tie a knot) and packing-taped the tissue paper circle to the cup. After a test run, I found out the tissue was too strong (the ribbon ripped through the cardboard circle instead of detaching the circle from the cup). So I made little cuts with an x-acto knife around the circle, perforated the tissue basically. To make the scales, I cut circles of tissue (in as thick a stack as possible) and then cut the circles in half. Starting from the opening of the cup, going around and down, I attached the scales with white glue. I spaced out the scales as far as possible to save time and materials. I tied my knots close to the openings and glued the tails over the knots. The tails were four scales made into a "V." Two "V's" glued together. I curled all the ribbon.

I had envisioned having the kids open the piñatas one at a time, so they could collect all their loot individually. But Brian convinced me that 16 or so kids going one at a time would take too long. One adult stood at one end of the rope and another stood at the other end, and all the kids went together. Some of the bigger kids rushed to get as much as they could off the floor, but the little kids seemed happy with the stuff they collected, and they all got to pull their own piñata!

I had Everett write the kids' names on brown paper lunch bags (to hold the piñata goodies) and decorate them with animal stickers. As you can see, Lydia decorated her own.

On to the baking!!

Just some fun/easy Pinterest ideas. Vanilla cupcakes, cream cheese frosting, circus animal cookies, marshmallows, and sprinkles make everything more fun! 

I even did the sprinkle cake thing for Lydia. Sprinkles everywhere!! 

I didn't take a single picture of the delicious turkey chili my father-in-law made. We had chili dogs--hot dogs for an animal party, right?! And all the salads and sides my parents and in-laws made. Oh well. Imagine delicious food. We're always so grateful for their help at our kids' parties. 

That was a lot of fun! Thank you for reading!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Neverland Pirate Party

We had a pirate party!! No, not just a pirate party, a Neverland Pirate party!

At the time, Everett was really into Jake and the Neverland Pirates. I wasn't too inspired by the idea of pirates, but when I started thinking about Peter Pan and Neverland, my creativity was sparked. There's so much to work with in that world: pirates, fairies, lost boys, mermaids, etc. It's very whimsical and magical and fun!

We encouraged kids and parents to dress as a Neverland inhabitant of their choice, and we had a great turn-out of little pirates, fairies, a combination Michael/Tigerlily, and even an octopus!

Yes, we actually built a pirate ship! With a "working" cannon and a ships wheel! Very cool. But more about that later.

First I want to talk about the food. I was obsessed with the food. 

Before the party, I searched the internet for pirate parties, and the food shown was always candy and "kid food"--adorably labeled and modern. Not at all what actual pirates would have eaten! So I brainstormed and researched what an old timey pirate might have stuffed in his face. Maybe they were at port and they used their spoils for a feast!?!

I didn't worry about being historically accurate, but I got food I know people have been noshing on for a super long time: bread, cheese, spreads, cured meat, eggs, olives, pickles, and lots of fruit! The hard boiled eggs were surprisingly popular! 

We spent a decent amount of money on the feast, but no more than we regularly spend on food for a party. I'd guess less, amazingly. And the leftovers were awesome! 

I didn't get a picture, but the utensils and plates were silver, from Oriental Trading Company. I was pleasantly surprised how nice the utensils looked. I got clear plastic tumblers with facets and white napkins with shell embossment from the supermarket. The kids party version of feast tableware!

Cake was pineapple upside down cake, Joy of Cooking recipe. SO YUMMY! Such a crowd pleaser. Pineapple upside down cake is a family tradition. My maternal grandmother liked to make it. My mom usually makes it for my birthday, and she started using dried cranberries because I hate maraschino cherries. I thought they'd look good in this situation too, even though Everett loves maraschino cherries. Selfish mom!

Since we're inside, I'll continue talking about the interior decorations.

Yes, that's a velvet painting of (pirate?) ships. And it was not moved. That is where it lives every day. Perfect.

I considered the area of the house with the food "Hook's Grotto" and decorated accordingly. I remembered my grandmother collected antique floats, and I was happy to learn my parents had kept a good number of them. We suspended them from the ceiling with decorative fish net from the dollar store. I dyed the fish net a greyish green since they're only available in off white and bright green.

Tick Tock Croc and his clock! Croc is a puppet I borrowed from my parents. Clock from World Market. Boy! With an unlimited budget, a person could beautifully decorate for a pirate party solely form World Market!

In my dreams, I moved the piano into "Hook's Grotto" along with all the dark and red furniture, draped the windows in red velvet and other dark and luscious fabrics, and filled every surface with tarnished candle holders with drippy flickering candles. Violin and harpsichord music accompanied the scene.

Oh wait, this is a kid's party?!? Please excuse my fantasies.

The other side of the living room was "Pixie Hollow." We (my husband--Brian) strung Christmas lights across the ceiling and covered them with sheets of muslin for a "fairy light" look.

We used the large, tissue paper flowers from Lydia's shower to add to the natural whimsy of "Pixie Hollow."

The above picture shows Everett wearing his "Jake" headband for the one and only time. I never once got him in his full costume.

Here he is in the vest he also refused to wear most of the time. It's the vest from his Bilbo costume embellished with gold. Apparently there were too many buttons? Anyway, par for the course with a 4-year-old.

Game time!!

The one "game" was a treasure hunt!

I drew up a little treasure map. Pretty cheesy, but I promised myself I would keep it simple and not put much time into it.

The map is based on our property, plus a little inspiration from the maps of Neverland. The main island is our house plus some of the side yard, and the small islands and locations are other spots in our yard.

Treasure clues in bottles! The bottles were Modelo Especial beer bottles. I watered down white glue and Mod Podge (a mix of whatever I had on hand) and added some white paint, poured a bit into the bottle, and turned it around to cover the inside. As they dried, I'd set them down and come back and move them to a different side to avoid clumps and pools.

I had my dad sand the outside of the bottles to weather them even more. I'm sure he'd like me to mention: anyone trying this should be really careful, use eye protection, and make sure there are no kids around. Working with glass is serious business.

Before the treasure hunt, Brian and another parent hid the clues. The clues were numbered, and placed at the "x" locations on the map in order. 

One of these clues was in each bottle:

Under a yellow sun and a sky of blue,
a shinning treasure waits for you.

Run and seek and search and toil,
to find a box nestled in rich soil.

To keep the wealth from bandits and thieves,
I found it a home beneath bark, branches, and leaves.

Due South by the compass rose,
Don't venture as far as a croc creek flows.

Tramp down the hill and finally behold,
A shimmering tree with boughs of gold.

And by the end, the kids figured out where the treasure was! 

Treasure box half pilfered by mini-pirates.

A friend opening his treasure! Behind him you can see egg carton pieces painted and strung so the kids knew our dying (orange) conifer was definitely the "Golden Tree" from the map.

Here's a close up of the treasure box. Pirate doubloons were from Oriental Trading Company. Brian drilled a hole in each one so they could be tied to the burlap bags (3"x 6" - ordered on amazon). The box came to us full of delicious Zingerman's products (a gift from awesome relatives), and I aged it with the steel wool/vinegar mixture I'll talk about in the pirate ship section.

Here's an example of what was in the treasure bags: chocolate coins from World Market, beads from Oriental Trading Company, and jewels from the flower arranging (?) section of Dollar Tree.

Along with treasure bags and all the doubloons the kids could collect, the little pirates also got spyglasses! Painted with brown acrylic paint and adorned with strips of gold paper. Hot glued on, of course.

One of the stops during the treasure hunt was "Tigerlily's Village." My mom volunteered to make this awesome teepee!

Taking some artsy shots.

Ship time!

This isn't a tutorial, but it may inspire someone else's creativity. 

I had this crazy idea to build the bow of a pirate ship in front of our garden so the garden would suggest the back of the ship. And it turned out even better than I imagined!

I assume that if a person is crazy enough to consider a project like this, they'll understand the basic concept of what we did from a few pictures.

The cannon is a 4 inch ABS tube we had left over from a toilet install, bolted on. It moves side to side.

We actually had old crib parts hanging around outside, getting all weathered and disgusting, perfect for the ship railings.

Thanks to the internet, I learned you can age wood by soaking steel wool in vinegar, then just rubbing the mixture on! For this to work, we had to sand the parts that were previously finished. You also need to test the mixture on a place that won't show. I had to dilute (with water) my mixture a ton to get the color I wanted. But it turned out so great and was fast, cheap, and easy (all things I really appreciated as the party approached).

Brian had an ingenious idea to make the cannon fire. He glued a conditioner bottle to a piece of PVC, drilled a hole in the PVC, and ran stretching tubing stuff from bolt through holes to bolt. The kids had to load the balls from the front. But that lead to some fun teamwork.

I bought smooth styrofoam balls and wiffle balls to shoot. They both flew well. I painted them with black acrylic paint, and the styrofoam took the paint much better. The paint was chipping off the wiffle balls during the party, while the styrofoam balls just are black now.

We broke down and bought a 24" ships wheel from Amazon. We couldn't find a good DIY example, and the more we brainstormed, the clearer it was that it would be worth the expense. It's attached to a post, which goes through a hole in the deck and into the ground.

The mast and crows nest. Besides maybe Everett's costume, this the the element most inspired by the Jake and the Neverland Pirates television show. If I was going to build a mast, it may as well look like Bucky's (Jake's ship). 

The frame is all PVC. The crows nest is a small bucket attached with rope and hot glue above and below the hole cut in the bottom of the bucket. I mixed an acrylic color close to the brown/grey of the ship. The end caps are gold, also acrylic. 

The sails are heavy blue fabric, white stripes were spray-painted (using painters tape and any left over white and primer cans I could find). The medallion is gold acrylic paint. Sail was attached with natural twine. Rope was added to complete the "Bucky" look.

In the picture bellow, you can see we decorated the front of the ship with "driftwood." It was the roots of a massive rosemary plant we ripped out.

So there it is! Our amazing, spectacular Neverland Pirate party! It was a production and a blast! Looking back, I feel so grateful that I had the time, energy, and creative inspiration to pull something like this off. It really was a luxury. As our family grows and our lives become busier and more scheduled, I may never be able to plan a party like this again. And that's ok. That's actually really exciting.