Tag Archives: Crafts

Making a Knotted Fleece Blanket

For a long time I resisted the urge to be crafty.  I liked the art things I did, like throwing pottery and making mosaics, but I didn’t “do crafts.”  I’m not sure what my issue was with being crafty, maybe I was too mired in graduate school to be allow myself the freedom to do fun creative things.  They had to be serious art, not fun.  Bleh!  Whatever the reason, soon after moving to Iowa and after Little Man’s birth I was invited to join a Mom’s Club and I started to notice that a number of the moms in our group were not only crafty, but made some truly beautiful things.  One was crafting a fantastic quiet book for her daughter with hand sewn pages of button flowers, and tie up shoes, etc.  Another was getting into felting and made phenomenal dolls and toys.  Most importantly, as beautiful as these pieces were, what made them the most special and unique was that the crafts were made for a specific person (or child) by someone who loved them.  I started to rethink my bias against craftiness.

I already knew that I loved throwing pottery and making mosaics, but neither one was really useful for Little Man the infant.  While I did throw some special bowls and plates for him, the fact that I made these specifically for him will be lost on Little Man for awhile yet.  I wanted to make something for him that he could have and use now.  I wanted it to be crafty, but functional at the same time.  I decided that I wanted to make him a knotted fleece blanket.

Of course I had no idea about how to go about doing such a thing, other than the fact that I’d need some fleece and scissors, but a little Pintrest research solved that issue.  I wrote down the things I would need, went to my local warehouse store, bought my supplies, and then proceeded to do nothing for weeks.  I watched the calendar move forward towards Christmas and dust gather on my plastic bags of goodies, but couldn’t bring myself to actually do anything with them.  One evening while I sat there and contemplated my bags of unfulfilled craftiness, I finally put words to my dragging feet.  I didn’t want to do the craft alone, but with friends.  Not because I needed any help, this craft is superbly simple, but I just wanted to share in the camaraderie of being crafty.  So I invited the members of the Mom’s Club over to my house with the caveat that each woman bring a craft that she wanted to work on.  I would provide snacks and a cocktail, and we’d see how much we got done.

In the end, I don’t think I accomplished much beyond laying out my fleece and getting it pinned together.  Not a single cut was made or knot tied that evening, but I had a wonderful time.  And after that, the knotted fleece blanket became something that I worked on in the evenings when Little Man was sleeping but we hadn’t yet gone to bed.  It didn’t take long to finish once I’d actually started it, and for Christmas Little Man got a soft, snuggly, fleece blanket that is still on his bed today. Looking back, that first Crafty Night was one of the moments that made Iowa feel like home, though it was far from family and anything but familiar.  In fact, it was the friends that I made through the Crafty Nights who I knew I would miss the most when we moved.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Then last Fall we needed a blanket to send with Little Man for his day care while I was teaching at the University of Victoria.  This was a big step for us all, since before in Iowa his day care had been in a lovely woman’s home with his best buddy and just a couple other children.  Here in Nanaimo day care would be much larger, and I really wanted to send him with something that felt like a big hug.  So off to the local fabric store I went, Little Man in tow to pick out his fleece.  Then the week before he was to start day care I pulled out the materials and went online to refresh my memory of how to put the whole thing together, only to find that the original post was gone.  Luckily it didn’t take me long to remember the few tricks involved, and I quickly had it all laid out, cut and knotted well in advance of the blanket being needed.

The night before Little Man was to start day care we read the Kissing Hand story about a racoon who is getting ready to go to school for the first time.  In the story the little racoon’s mom kisses his hand and tells him that the love of that kiss will stay with him all day long at school, and any time he needs to feel the warmth of that kiss he just has to lay his hand to his cheek.  Then we pulled out his new knotted fleece blanket and talked about how Mommy and Daddy’s hugs stayed with the blanket and that whenever he got to use the blanket at day care our hugs and love were with him.  Sappy, yes, but such is the life of parents of wee little ones.  Embrace it and move on.  😉

If you would like to make your own knotted fleece blanket, here are the instructions:
20140915_071904

Knotted Fleece Blanket Craft
This was my introduction into the world of being crafty. It’s a great place to start for someone who would like to make something for a loved one, but may not yet be ready to tackle something that involves machinery or needles. The soft fleece is machine washable and snuggly as a hug.

Supplies and Equipment:
2 pieces (1 – 1 ½ yards) of fleece. One patterned and one solid.
Scissors
Yard (or meter) stick
Lots of large safety pins

Directions:

  1. Machine wash and dry both pieces of fleece.
  2. Lay one piece of fleece face (or presentation side) down on a large, flat surface, such as a kitchen table. If the fabric has any sort of pattern or picture, the “pretty” side should be down and the dull side facing up.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

  3. Lay the second piece of fleece face up on top of the first piece. Make sure that all edges line up. If one is larger than the other, trim the larger piece to fit the smaller. You may find that the person who cut your fleece at the store did not use a very steady hand with the scissors. This is your chance to clean up those edges, but don’t drive yourself crazy about it. Once cut and knotted most such inaccuracies will be invisible.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the "pretty" side is visible.  I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the “pretty” side is visible. I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

  4. Using the safety pins, pin the two pieces of fabric together about 4 ½-5 inches in from the border. This will keep the two pieces of fabric together as you move it around to cut and knot the fringe.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins.  The more the merrier.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins. The more the merrier.

  5. Cut an approximate 4 inch square out of each of the four corners of your blanket. This is an important step so that your pieces fit together nicely.

    Could my cuts have been smoother?  Yes.  Do I care?  No.  Once knotted the messy edges disappear.  Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful.  So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

    Could my cuts have been smoother? Yes. Do I care? No. Once knotted the messy edges disappear. Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful. So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

  6. Lay your yard (or meter) measuring stick down along one straight side of the fleece about 4 ½ inches deep from the border. Use this as your guide as you cut the fringe incisions along the four sides of your fleece. Make 4 inch deep incisions through both layers of fleece at 1 inch intervals down the length of your fleece to create the fringe. Don’t panic if your incisions are not exactly at 1 inch intervals, just do your best. If you go too much thicker than that, then the knots can be a bit messy. If you do much thinner than that, and the knots look too small. Repeat this for all four sides of the blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

  7. Starting at one corner edge, loop both pieces of one section of fringe around your finger and tie a single knot as high up on the incision as possible. You should see the color of your bottom fabric at the base of the knot. Tie the knot tightly so that it does not unravel later. Some people pull the two layers of fleece apart and tie them in a knot that way, but I think the looping method of both pieces together looks nicer. Continue this until all fringe pieces are knotted.
    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn't loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn’t loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted.  This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted. This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

  8. Remove all safety pins from the blanket, and let the snuggles begin!

    The finished blanket.

    The finished blanket.

Click here for a printable version of the Knotted Fleece Blanket craft.

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Crystal Planets

I’ve been on a bit of a planetary kick recently, with the theme of Little Man’s birthday party and with us redecorating his bedroom.  But since I’ve started on this path, let’s continue.  🙂  This Crystal Planets craft is something that Little Man and I did last Autumn, but I haven’t had a chance to share here until now.

I was initially inspired for this craft by a post about making sparkly crystal Easter eggs to hang in the window.  The pipe cleaner eggs,however, were crystallized using Borax to form the crystals.  While they were beautiful, I didn’t feel comfortable using a substance that I wouldn’t want Little Man to handle.  As I thought about the craft more, even if Little Man didn’t touch the Borax crystals themselves, I was concerned about what would happen if the crystals flaked off and he (or our cats) found little sparkling bits on the floor.  In one of the comments on that post another parent expressed concern for the toxicity of the Borax and wondered if sugar crystals could be used to do the same thing. That was my “ah ha!” moment, and I started working on ways to use sugar to create sparkly, crystal planets.

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

Before I go further, I want to be clear that while kiddos can help with the beginning of this craft, the making and pouring of the sugar solution should only be done by adults.  Hot sugar solutions are quite dangerous if spilled or splashed, so little hands should not be involved in those parts.  Little Man loved helping me shape and initially sugar the planets, as well as checking on the planets daily to look at their growth.  He also loved hanging the planets in the window, and even took one (Mars) to day care for show and tell.  So while little hands cannot be a part of every step of this craft, the process and the final product are totally worth it.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar. Notice the little water hand print on the table as well.

While I shaped the pipe cleaners to make planet shapes, like I mentioned above the original post I saw used the cleaners to make Easter egg shapes.  I’ve since seen posts for the Borax crystals to make heart shapes, shamrocks, and the list goes on. It could be fun to shape the pipe cleaners into letters to form a child’s name, or to make butterflies.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination… and the size/depth of your mason jars.

This same “craft” can also be used by suspending food safe chopsticks (I recommend bamboo since its more environmentally friendly) in the sugar solution to create rock candy sticks.  Some day if I feel like completely wiring up Little Man’s birthday guests, we’ll make these as part of the goodie bag.

Enjoy!

Making Crystal Planets
Equipment and Ingredients
:
Assorted colorful pipe cleaners
2 bowls and 1 plate
Stock pot
4 large (1 liter) canning jars
4 wooden chopsticks or other sticks
Kitchen string
Assorted food coloring
18-20 cups white sugar

Directions:

  1. Coil 1-2 pipe cleaners to make your planet shape. Don’t make it too fussy since you need to have room for the sugar crystals to grow. My favorite shape was a circle with a small curlicue across the equator to give it depth. Make sure that the “planet” can easily fit into and out of the mouth of your jar with extra room. It will be wider than it is now once the crystals have formed.

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into "planets."

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into “planets.”

  2. Measure a length of string so that once it is tied to the top of one of your “planets” and  suspended from your chopstick, the planet does not touch the bottom of the jar. If it touches, crystals will form and adhere your planet to the bottom of the jar, and you’ll have to destroy your planet to get it out.  Make sure that your chopstick (or other stick) is long enough to rest both edges on top of your jar. The chopstick will suspend your planet in the sugar mixture, so it’s good to have a bit of overhang to ensure that your “planet” doesn’t fall inside.
  3. Tie one end of the string to the top of your planet and the other end to your chopstick. Suspend the planet in your empty jar and make sure that it fits well, adjusting as necessary. Remove the planet from the jar and repeat this for the number of planets that you want to create. Set them all aside.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

  4. Pour about ½ cup of sugar into a bowl and place a bowl of cool water next too it.  Working one at a time, briefly dip the pipe cleaner planet into the cool water, and then press the planet into the sugar on the plate. Flip it over and press it in again. Gently take the sugared planet and place it on a plate to dry completely. Repeat this with all of the planets and then set them aside until you are ready to proceed.
    Planets ready for sugaring.

    Planets ready for sugaring.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process.  Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar... and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process. Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar… and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man's mouth.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man’s mouth.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man's reach, to dry.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man’s reach, to dry.

  5. In a stock pot add 8 cups of water and begin to heat it. Do not bring it to a boil, since you want to create a sugar solution not sugar taffy. Be careful since hot sugar can be dangerous. No boil overs or burns, please!
  6. Once the water is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the sugar. You want a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of sugar to water. If you need a refresher on your high school ratios, feel free to look them up on the internet. 🙂  In short, you want 2-3xs more sugar than water. Start adding your sugar a few cups at a time, stirring carefully until the sugar dissolves and the water becomes clear again. Go carefully and slowly here. After you add a good amount of sugar (aka an obscene amount), it should start taking longer for the sugar to completely dissolve. This means you are reaching saturation and that’s what you want. You want the sugar solution to be so full of sugar that it can’t hold any more (aka saturation). This may look like you have a few grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of your pot, or some cloudiness.
    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn't quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn’t quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    So I upgraded to this one.  Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our "cauldron."

    So I upgraded to this one. Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our “cauldron.”

  7. Line up your four (or more) one-liter canning jars on a heat resistant surface (I used my cutting board) and carefully ladle in enough sugar solution to fill the jars to just below their shoulders. Leave some room at the top for the planets to be added without causing an overflow.

    One jar ready to go.  Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task.  I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn't make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

    One jar ready to go. Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task. I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn’t make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

  8. Carefully add a few of drops of good quality food coloring to each jar to create the color that you would like. If you add too much color the solution may become so opaque that you cannot see the crystals form. However, if you don’t add enough color the crystals will not take the color. My planets do not have much color to them beyond the color from the pipe cleaners, but they looked pretty in the window while they were forming.Once the sugar solution is dyed to your liking in the jars, carefully insert the planets using another chopstick to submerge the planets in the liquid. Let the jars cool until safe enough to handle.
    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    One down...

    One down…

    20140821_105400

    Three more to go.  I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth "planet."  I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a "comet."  Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

    Three more to go. I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth “planet.” I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a “comet.” Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

  9. Once the jars have cooled until safe to handle, place them in a sunny window or tall shelf where they can sit and slowly, slowly, slowly grow crystals. If after a few weeks you do not see crystal growth, then you may need to individually pour the solution back into a pot, heat it again, add more sugar and repeat the process. It took my planets awhile to form the crystals, but they did.
  10. Hang your planets in a window for a sparkly decoration.
"Jupiter"

“Jupiter”

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

"Mars"

“Mars”

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged.  The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day.  Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged. The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day. Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

Click here for a printable version of the Crystal Planets craft.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Party Animals: A Child’s Animal-Themed Birthday

As mentioned in a recent post (Birthday Party Food for Kiddos…), Little Man has finally reached the stage where he can understand that a party is being thrown for him, and he can have a blast celebrating with his friends. He will “remember” the event through the stories he is told and the pictures he sees, but not likely through any true, long term memories.  So we wanted to throw him a fun party, but not one that would hurt (or even dent) our bank accounts.

After trolling various internet sites and Pintrest boards, I knew what I didn’t want.  I didn’t want something based on television, movie or comic book characters.  Little Man has his favorites, but none that are really shared with his friends and we wanted this to be fun for all not just for those “in the know.”  Then my list of “do not want” started to grow…  No guns or camo, not based on cars or construction since I wanted all his friends (boys and girls alike) to have fun, nothing based on junk food (see the Birthday Party Food for Kiddos post), and the list went on.  I started to get nervous that I was being too picky.

Then I started to see a number of posts and websites focusing on animal-themed birthday parties.  Within the broader animal theme some parties focused on woodland animals, barnyard animals, wild animals or zoos.  We decided to keep the party focused on favorite animals, so that I could personalize the party to Little Man’s guests, as well as to him.  This would not have been possible if the party had been a large one, but our goal was to keep the number of kids close to 4… then we couldn’t resist expanding for a few more good friends and ended up with a total of 6 buddies for Little Man at his party.

The decorations were from a dollar store, the food was all home made, but the special part about Little Man’s party were the animal masks.

What does the Little Man Fox say?  More Cheezies, please...

What does the Little Man Fox say? More Cheezies, please…

A very happy Red Fox with his very cool Blue Cat cousin.

A very happy Red Fox with his very cool Blue Cat cousin.

Each mask was personalized for a specific friend based on her/his favorite animal.

Each mask was personalized for a specific friend based on her/his favorite animal.

These masks were very simple to make and the cost is quite low; just the felt and embroidery floss needed.  I don’t have a working sewing machine, so everything was done by hand.  If you have a sewing machine this can go much faster, but just like making bread you don’t need the fancy machine to make these.

Red Fox mask

Red Fox mask

I don’t have any patterns to upload since I basically free-handed the shapes, but I can share the pictures with you and let you know what I did.  Then if you want to try your hand on the masks, just keep the ideas that you like, and improvise where you think I went astray… and I’m sure there are many places where that happened.  🙂

Blue Cat mask

Blue Cat mask

In the evite we sent out for Little Man’s party, I asked that in the response parents specify a favorite animal for their child.  Then I did a Google image search for children’s masks of that animal and basically picked and chose my favorite ideas and features from multiple images to create the look that I wanted. The basic shape of each mask is the same,with the more or less bean-shaped profile that covers the child’s forehead and stops just above the nose.  Then it’s just a matter of tweaking small features to make one animal unique from another.  For example the cat and dog masks are actually quite similar in shape, but the cat has a little “fluff” accent to the sides and the dog’s ears droop.  It is amazing how these slight adjustments can make very different animals apparent in your masks.

Brown Bear mask

Brown Bear mask

The body of each mask is comprised of two complementary colors of felt, one cut slightly larger than the other.  The background color then peeks out around the edges of the mask, adding a little more color fun.  The stitching around the eyes was done with a blanket stitch, and then the edges were done with a simple running stitch, as were the various felt embellishments.  There are a number of great websites out there with instructions for how to do these different stitches.

Green Lizard mask

Green Lizard mask

For each mask I started by stitching the felt embellishments, like the insides of the ears or the noses, to the front piece of mask felt.  For instance with the Green Lizard mask, I first stitched the light green ovals where the eyes would be, as well as the rectangular shapes down the nose, to the dark green front piece of the mask.  Once those were in place, I pinned the two pieces of the mask together and then cut the eye holes through both pieces of felt.  In the first two masks I made the mistake of trying to “eye ball” the eye openings.  I eventually came up with the idea (slow to the uptake) of cutting an eye hole stencil out of stiff paper, then using that to cut out the holes for the remaining masks.

Pink Elephant mask

Pink Elephant mask

Once the eye holes were cut, I then blanket stitched to fix the front and back pieces together.  Then I used a running stitch around the outer edges of the front and back pieces to fix them together, and the masks were complete.

Grey and Pink Dog mask

Grey and Pink Dog mask

The last thing I did was to stitch either elastic or ribbons to the back side of the masks to allow them to be worn.  My planning was off here, and I did not have enough elastic for all of the masks.  For those masks without elastic, I took lengths of red ribbon and attached them to the back of the mask so that it could be tied on.  For the most part the two ribbons worked well, but there was the added issue long hair getting stuck in the tied ribbons.  Sorry girls!

Yellow and Brown Giraffe mask

Yellow and Brown Giraffe mask

The party started with letting the kids play and the parents chat.  Then we ate.  Once the little bodies were full of Mac n Cheese, we were ready for the dance party.  Before the dancing started, Little Man gave each of his friends the animal mask that had been made especially for him or her.  Then they all donned their masks and danced away with DJ Daddy to a few of Little Man’s favorite Imagination Movers songs.

All in all the masks were a great hit, and I have to say I’ve felt a little bereft since the masks have been completed and my hands have been idle for the last couple of evenings.  But now that I’ve had a bit of a break from the masks, there are a couple of other projects that I need to finish up so that I can share them here too.  Who knew that felt could be so cool, or that I’d love being  crafty?

The animal masks on a tray of Goodie Bag items including personalized bags and homemade cookies.

The animal masks on a tray of Goodie Bag items including personalized bags and homemade cookies.

Playing in the Mud – Part 2

I stepped into the Bowen Park pottery studio with the intention of throwing a few bowls, doing some slab work, and overall just getting my hands dirty again.  I imagined that the other people there would be like me, relative novices or people playing with pottery.  Maybe some nice grandmotherly ladies rolling out clay like cookie dough to cut out shapes for Christmas ornaments.  As I turned the corner into the studio, the first woman I saw was doing exactly that.  Her little frilly apron completed the picture.  Then I looked beyond her, and felt a wave of inadequacy wash over me.

The room was filled with predominately senior-age women, which was to be expected since seniors get free or very inexpensive access to a fantastic array of classes and activities at Bowen Park, ranking from lawn bowling to language classes to dance to pottery.  These women, however, were not dabbling.  They are artists.  One was crafting an amazing clay mask wall piece that was around two feet in diameter.  Another was doing slab work on a series of massive platters.  To my left were a couple of women dipping their bisque wares (pottery that has gone through one firing, but still needs a glaze before a second firing) into glaze, but their pieces were gorgeous.  Applique star fish on a series of mugs, bowls and casseroles.  Another had tall narrow pieces that are incredibly difficult to throw.  To my right was the wheel room with three women at pottery wheels throwing pieces that were taller, wider, and all around more stupendous than I had ever been able to do even when I was practicing multiple times a week.

A quick selection of some of my pottery created here in Nanaimo.

A quick selection of some of my pottery created here in Nanaimo.

Anyone who has thrown pottery can tell you that the more clay you have on your wheel, the bigger a piece you can make, but also the more you have to muscle the clay into submission.  I had gotten proficient with smaller pieces of clay, ranging from 1 ½ to 3 lbs. at a time.  Once I had tried a 5 lb. piece of clay and it just about threw me across the room.  A nice, petite, grandmotherly woman dropped what looked like a good 8 to 10 lbs. of clay on her wheel and almost immediately had it centered and was pulling up an amazing deep, wide bowl.  The idea of sitting with these women and practicing my “skills” that hadn’t been dusted off in years was daunting.

This bowl originally was a fail.  I pinched the top right off of it while trying to draw it higher.  A carved leaf vein in the bottom and some good glaze, and it is reborn as a lily pad bowl.

This bowl originally was a fail. I pinched the top right off of it while trying to draw it higher. A carved leaf vein in the bottom and some good glaze, and it is reborn as a lily pad bowl.

I mentally put on my “big girl pants,” sent up a quick prayer that I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself, grabbed my bag of clay and other tools, and sat down.  Then I proceeded to get up and sit down again a good three or more times as I remembered a different tool I needed, or couldn’t get the bin around the machine on correctly, or forgot a board for my clay, or forgot to wedge my clay before throwing it… the list goes on.  The lovely women on either side of me offered kind advice so that my brain slowly wrapped around the process again.  Now every time I go, I am excited to see these women working too.  They are a wealth of advice and inspiration with what they do.  I learn so much from getting muddy with them.

A butter dish or spoon rest.

A butter dish or spoon rest.

As I’ve now been throwing in Nanaimo long enough to have finished pieces (thrown, set, dried to greenware, fired to bisque, dipped in glaze, and then fired again), it’s been fun to look at the differences in my pottery between Indiana and now here in Nanaimo.  In Indiana (pre-Little Man) much of what I did was based on having friends over for dinners or parties; small dishes with ringed bases that are great for oil and balsamic bread dipping, appetizer plates with a circle cut out to hold a wine glass, fancy serving dishes that look like giant tropical leaves.  Pieces are largely still packed away in boxes from our move in order to protect them from Little Man.  They are the type of pretty, fragile pieces that he could quickly turn into thousands of pottery sherds for a future archaeologist.

It may be hard to tell in this shot, but this is a clam shell plate with a raised portion at the back for dip.

It may be hard to tell in this shot, but this is a clam shell plate with a raised portion at the back for dip.

The pieces that I have been making here in Nanaimo show that I’m trying to get my feet wet (or my hands dirty) again, sort of slowly flexing my pottery muscles as my brain remembers what my hands haven’t quite forgotten yet.  In all honesty my thrown work has been a bit shaky, but I’m just now catching my stride.  My slab work has been better.  The pictures included in this post show my most recent work here in Nanaimo, while the previous Playing with Mud post shows pictures of my Indiana work.  Instead of being inspired by dinner parties, I’m trying to think of what types of things we can use now with Little Man.  For example, he LOVES the planets, the Moon and the stars, so I’ve started a little “series” of planet and moon plates.  They aren’t anything special in terms of technique, but I hope they are fun for him to eat off of at meal times, and that they inspire his imagination in other ways.  I’ve also been making more piggy bowls that I first created in Indiana.

One of Little Man's planet plates... maybe Neptune?

One of Little Man’s planet plates… maybe Neptune?

Another one of Little Man's planet plates...  maybe Uranus?

Another one of Little Man’s planet plates… maybe Uranus?

When I first made a piggy bowl, I had been inspired by an old pottery piggy bank that a fellow student at the studio brought in.  The face looked so cute, and more importantly easy to replicate.  I also quickly learned that any bowl that goes a bit wonky on the wheel can be immediately saved through the transformative powers of a piggy face.  When I throw pottery, unless the piece absolutely implodes on the wheel (which does happen, but less frequently the longer I practice) I don’t want to waste it.  Sometimes you can slap on a handle and a slightly wonky bowl can become a nice mug.  Other times, a piggy face is just what is needed to salvage an otherwise unattractive piece.  The first couple bowls I threw needed some salvaging, so piggys they became.  I’m planning on throwing some bowls next week at the studio, so I should probably look into expanding my animal face repertoire.  Our cupboards are getting a bit full of piggys, but luckily these small bowls make great presents for little ones and a number of my friends have new additions that will be receiving piggy bowl presents soon.  Little Man loves his piggy bowl, and gets to use it often at meal times (with some supervision) for soups, bread rolls, hummus/dips, cereal/oatmeal, and the like.  I’ve been wanting to make some from scratch chocolate pudding, and I have to admit that his piggy bowl is the inspiration for that.  I think it would be the perfect thing for that special treat.

The piggy bowl tradition continues in Canada.  It's amazing what a piggy face and some good glaze does to fix an otherwise so-so bowl.

The piggy bowl tradition continues in Canada. It’s amazing what a piggy face and some good glaze does to fix an otherwise so-so bowl.