It's planting season!

Jackson watering the seedlings

'Tis the season to roll up your sleeves and start digging in the dirt. Spring is finally here, and that means it's gardening time! I've been sowing seeds indoors for a couple weeks now, based upon this seed starting chart found on yougrowgirl.com. Lettuce, pepper, eggplant, and tomato seedlings have already emerged in a combination of Jiffy peat pots and cardboard tubes from rolls of toilet paper. Last spring, I used only organic potting mix because I couldn't find organic seed starting mix. I had a lot left over, so this year I've planted some seeds in regular organic potting mix and some in the organic seed starting mix. I'm curious to see what difference, if any, it makes. I had very good success with the potting mix last year. This year, seeds planted in potting mix seem to be sprouting just as well as those in the seed starting mix. I think next year I will be brave and try making my own seed starting mix and see how that compares. Just as last year, I'm using mostly clementine crates to contain all my seedlings, and they are perfect for the job -- sturdy yet lightweight and easy to move as needed for watering and sunshine.

This week, we'll be starting basil seeds indoors and planting spinach seeds out in the garden. We seem to have everything we need -- compost, organic garden soil, good existing dirt, nice weather, seeds -- except the time to plant. Between everyday work tasks, potty training our son, OB appointments for my current pregnancy (our second baby), home projects, and more, we are keeping awfully busy these days. I'm hoping for a return to our normal, more relaxed schedule soon.

With Jackson turning 3 in a couple of months, he has become very interested in learning and helping and loves to be given small jobs that make him feel included. I try to find ways he can help me cook, clean, sort laundry, or whatever we're doing. Gardening has proved to be another great activity for him to learn, play, and help Mommy, and I'm so happy to be able to include him this year. He has helped me mix soil with water, fill up pots with dirt, plant seeds, and water them as needed. He talks to the "seedling babies" and delights in seeing how they've grown. He helped my husband rake and clean up the garden and discovered lots of wiggly earthworms in the dirt. We talked about how the worms help our garden grow, and we always talk about what types of vegetables will grow from which seedlings. I can't wait to go through the transition of indoor planting to outdoor planting and then harvesting with him. He may not remember these activities down the road, but they are so good for his development and so much fun, too.

Here's what my gardening schedule looks like for spring/summer 2012:
This week: Plant spinach seeds in garden and start basil seeds indoors
3/29-4/05: Transplant lettuce to garden
4/05-26: Start cucumber seeds indoors
4/12-19: Plant carrot seeds in garden, start watermelon seeds indoors
4/12-26: Start zucchini seeds indoors
5/3-10: Transplant cucumbers to garden
5/3: Transplant tomatoes to garden, move basil container outdoors
5/10: Plant green bean seeds in garden, transplant peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and watermelon to garden

These dates are approximate and will vary as needed. Also, I will likely stagger some of these plantings, such as the beans, this year to avoid an all-at-once harvest like we experienced last year.

I'll update on our garden progress as it unfolds. Stay tuned for more gardening adventures (and hopefully more adorable pictures of my toddler in the garden)!

Happy planting!


DIY: No-Sew Roman Shade-style Fabric Blinds

When we bought our house about 2 1/2 years ago, we were thrilled that the previous owners left us custom-made curtains for every room in the house. We were first-time parents to a 2-month-old as well as first-time home buyers, so one less thing to worry about was a big deal. But we didn't exactly share the same style as the previous owners. Over time, as we settled into our home and parenthood -- and the baby began to sleep at night -- we started to care about things like "style" again, and it became apparent that our home didn't feel like it was truly ours yet. It felt more like an extended stay in someone else's house.

As time and money permit, we are slowly taking steps to change that and make our house feel like home. The day the rooster wallpaper border came down from the dining room walls was one of our happiest days in recent memory. The country-style curtains paired with old plastic mini blinds were the next to go.  But what to replace them with?

While poking around some craft sites one day, I found this no-sew fabric blind tutorial, which was perfect for our space. The existing blinds helped with the blinding sunlight while still allowing some natural light into the room. But they didn't do much for ambiance, and many of the slats were broken from hasty yanking on the cords. Using this tutorial, we were able to use the original blinds (with all but 4 slats removed) and retain their functionality while giving the room an all-new look.

Opting for a more sophisticated style, we chose a burgundy/gold damask fabric that we were able to purchase 40% off with a coupon at a certain craft store that distributes coupons every month. Marking and cutting the slats was easy-peasy. Next, we had to glue the fabric in place. The tutorial suggests using Goop adhesive to glue the fabric to the slats, and I second that. I had Goop all-purpose adhesive left over from a prior project, so we used that, and it worked perfectly. It is strong, dries quickly, and does not leave marks on the front of the fabric. A note of caution, though: Goop comes with some pretty strongly worded warnings about inhalation as well as a Prop 65 warning about birth defects. If you do some research on products with Prop 65 warnings, you'll find that so many things have them and they may not be as scary as they seem. But since I'm now pregnant with baby #2 (if anyone didn't know: surprise!), I figured it was worth being cautious and had my husband do all the gluing this time (while wearing a dust mask, just in case).

Overall, this was an easy, straightforward, and inexpensive project. We used blinds and glue we already owned and bought fabric on sale, keeping the costs to a minimum. Even if you have to buy new blinds for this project, the cost shouldn't go up much; the original author said she found plastic mini blinds at Target for about $3 each. You can save even more on fabric by shopping at discount fabric stores.

We are so happy with our new blinds! Check 'em out!

with the sun shining through before dark
in the evening, with no sunlight coming through

Happy crafting!


How-to: Old T-shirts Into Prefold Diapers

Before I start the tutorial, I'd like to announce to the blog readers that I am 27 weeks pregnant! It's a healthy, active little boy and he's due April 17. Yay!! Now on to the diapers I made for him...

Ashley is the one who originally introduced me to the cloth diaper revolution. (I wasn't even aware I had a choice) I've done a lot of research on the subject and decided to try out several different kinds before making an investment. One of the most cost-efficient types are prefolds. These are cloth diapers that can be folded and placed inside a diaper cover or even used as a doubler or insert for pocket diapers. I found a great tutorial from fernandfaerie.com on upcycling old t-shirts into diapers. Since my husband's time with the Marine Corps has come to an end, I found us left with piles upon piles (I'm not exaggerating) of olive drab undershirts.

Supplies you'll need for one diaper:

-2 t-shirts
-sewing machine
-"snappi-able" fabric (optional)

I started by cutting off the bottom hem and a straight line across from armpit to armpit to create a square.

Seperate the square into 2 separate squares of fabric and repeat with the second shirt so you have 4 squares. Put your squares into stacks of two and fold each in half.

With folded edges toward each other, overlap the two sides so that it creates 3 equal columns of fabric that are 4x8x4 layers thick.

Sew along each center folded edge. If you want to add the snappi fabric, now is the time to do so. I chose to conserve the fabric I got and placed mine as follows.

The final step is to either serge around the edges or you could trim them all to make sure they are even and carefully zigzag stitch. Here is the final product.

For me, this project was virtually free. We already had the shirts available and I spent 3.50 on a remnant fabric for use with the snappis. There's still a LOT left so the amount I used on one diaper was a minute amount of change.

There are many ways to fold and use these diapers and I've found YouTube to be a great source of instruction.

In February, I am taking a class at my local Joann's on making a waterproof cloth diaper cover which is one option to use in conjunction with the prefolds. Stay tuned for a tutorial after I learn how!


Make a Felt Animal Plushie

I recently discovered the joys of crafting with felt. Craft felt is relatively easy to work with, and so inexpensive! My son received two amazing books from his uncle and auntie for his birthday - How Loud is a Lion? and Hidden Hippo - featuring hand-stitched felt illustrations by Clare Beaton. After reading the stories to him, I found myself flipping through the books with admiration long after he had moved on. I was so inspired by the felt jungle scenes in these books that I began to plan a felt jungle project of my own. At first I envisioned a felt board, but ultimately fell in love with the idea of a collection of plushies for play and bedtime snuggling. I found this felt penguin tutorial and used it as a guide for my own plushie.

Here's how I did it:

1.  Lots of google image searching. I searched for simple animal illustrations, stock photos, and coloring book pages with a cute, trace-able jungle animal that would translate well into a plushie. Finally, I picked this lion:

2.  A template. I could have drawn this image and blown it up on a copy machine (if the size needed to be adjusted), but my hubby is a Photoshop wiz, so I employed his help in creating a template using the image above. We traced individual shapes in the image, tweaked them to get the size I wanted, and printed them out. I then cut these shapes out.

3. Cardboard stencils. I traced the shapes onto cardboard and cut them out to create stencils for the felt.

4. Cut out felt. I used binder clips to hold the cardboard stencils in place while I cut the shapes out of craft felt sheets. Since the plushie is two-sided, I doubled up felt sheets for the mane, body, and hair tuft on the tail.

5. Attach face pieces to mane and hair tuft to tail. I selected an orange thread for the bulk of this project, and black thread for the eyes and nose. I decided to hand-stitch the whole thing for more of a handmade look. I used a running stitch for the cream-colored piece, eyes, and nose. I used a blanket stitch for everything else. I had never sewn a blanket stitch before, and I found this video very helpful in getting started. I used a running stitch to add a smile and whiskers to the lion's face. I added Poly-fil to the face before closing the stitch, using a pencil to fill out all the corners. I stitched the tail hair tuft closed and stitched it over the ends of the tail pieces (front and back), overlapping slightly.

6. Stitch and stuff the body. I stitched the body pieces closed using a blanket stitch, adding Poly-fil with a pencil before closing the stitch.

7. Attach the head to the body. I stitched the back piece of the mane to the body.

8. Stitch and stuff the head. I stitched the mane pieces closed using a blanket stitch, adding Poly-fil with a pencil before closing the stitch.

9. Enjoy!

I am pleased with how this adorable little guy turned out. He's cute and cuddly, and closely resembles my photo inspiration. I considered saving the plushie for a Christmas gift, but was too excited to wait to see how Jackson liked him. I was thrilled to see that he adores him, too.

Next, I am planning a felt plushie for my niece for Christmas, and many more in the future. I am thinking of applying the same concept to a crib mobile as well. I hope you'll take this idea and make it your own, too!

Happy crafting!


DIY: Pajama / Lounge Pants

 I have owned a functional sewing machine for over a year now, but I'm still very much a novice in the sewing world. Granted, this has a lot to do with having a very energetic toddler and not much free time, but it's also due to a lack of confidence in my abilities and not really knowing where to start. I have successfully repaired elastic on my gDiaper liners, repurposed some bed linens into an apron, and some other simple projects, but sewing my own clothes (or clothing for others) was too intimidating. But sewing my own clothes has always been my dream, so recently I managed to muster up the courage to dip my toe in with a very newbie-friendly project - pajama pants. I figured something with an elastic waistband worn in the privacy of your own home is a good place to start. Hubby needed a new pair, so I was able to justify the purchase of some flannel and matching thread to make him some comfy pants for his birthday. I must confess that his birthday was actually in March, and he ended up getting the promise of some pants for his birthday. But he didn't really need them until this fall anyway, so hubby waited patiently until I was ready to tackle the project.

Internet research led me to this Instructables tutorial, which I studied for quite awhile until I became convinced I could do it. I was a little freaked out about making my own pattern instead of buying one, but the tutorial explained it in detail and provided really helpful photos. It turned out to be pretty simple and straightforward. I took the author's advice and used wrapping paper to make the pattern. It was perfect for the job, and best of all, it didn't cost me anything since I had leftover Christmas wrapping paper in the basement. Tracing the waist was a little tricky, as you have to stretch the elastic completely out and trace that length, then connect it to the leg (which is traced without the elastic stretched out). I wasn't sure I'd done it right, but the pants actually fit perfectly when they were all done!

As for the sewing, everything was also fairly easy and beginner-friendly. The photos were awesome here too. I felt the hardest part was sewing the two legs together, as my only experience with this was making a pair of shorts in my middle school home ec class, and I have no memory of assembling those. It took some time for me to figure out exactly how to tuck one leg into the other, but now that I've done it, this will be a breeze in the future. Since I had a bunch of leftover fold-over elastic from diaper repairs, I decided to use that to minimize costs. Figuring out exactly how to sew the elastic together and insert it into the waistband was time-consuming, but again, this is a skill I will retain for future projects and it'll get easier with time.

I'm so glad I decided to do this project! The pants turned out great, hubby loves them, and I learned some very useful sewing 101 skills that I will be able to apply to future projects. I am already planning some pants for my son as well as Christmas gifts for the family. Check out my finished product - modeled by husband, with special appearance by my son, Jackson - below.

He's a good sport.

I was ecstatic that the plaid print is actually straight.

Perfect for work-at-home parents!

Happy sewing!


Cloth Baby Wipes

With all the innovations of cloth diapers, why are we still using disposable wipes?! I found a great tutorial at My Happy Crazy Life and decided to give it a try. I got a few different prints of soft flannel (which is on sale at Jo-Ann's right now!). You can cut them to any size you like and you can do just one layer or two. It is up to you and what will work. I decided to do 2 layers.

If you do 2 layers, I highly recommend either putting pins in the middle or doing a crossed basting stitch to keep the layers from sliding while sewing. Next I took it to the serger and sewed around the edges. I wanted my corners rounded and sergers apparently only like straight lines, so I will just keep practicing. (and I also realized it's okay if it isn't perfect, it's just going to wipe up poop, anyway) If you are working on a regular sewing machine, the zig-zag stitch will work just as well. Here's my final product.

These make great shower gifts or to keep for your own children. The previous link above with the original pattern also has a recipe to make your own wipe solution, or you can just use water.


DIY: Wool Dryer Balls

Dryer balls are such a simple, inexpensive solution for softening laundry and controlling static, it's a wonder more people don't know about them. They're a great alternative to softeners for those with sensitive skin or allergies. As a bonus, they also significantly cut drying time, which is especially exciting to those of you using coin-operated laundry machines. To cloth-diapering families, wool dryer balls are a godsend in a world of products that aren't "CD-safe." As I mentioned previously on this blog, most laundry detergents on the market aren't good for diapers, and fabric softeners/dryer sheets are also a no-no. Even using these products on other loads of laundry can cause diaper issues due to softener build-up in the machines.

Of course, line-drying is always a good option, or you could dry with no softeners at all. But it is always nice for the laundry to come back soft and fluffy (without the waxy stuff), and if you're like me, your kid is wearing his very last clean diaper while the others are being laundered, so time is of the essence. (This is when you will pat yourself on the back for cutting that drying time!)

You can purchase wool dryer balls online from a variety of sources, or you can follow this super easy tutorial over at goodmama. There are multiple methods for making wool dryer balls; Acacia and I experimented with hand-felting some over my kitchen sink, and they came out pretty nice if I do say so myself. But you will want at least six dryer balls in your collection, and I knew that my carpal tunnel syndrome would prevent me from making as many as I needed by hand. Because hand-felting is rather tedious and labor-intensive, I'd recommend the wool yarn method unless you are experienced in working with wool.

Making felted balls is actually a great skill to have -- they not only make nice gifts as dryer balls, they can entertain pets and young children for hours! Personally, I was amazed (and grateful) at how long and the creative ways in which my 2-year-old played with them while I was sick in bed one week. He was so enamored with them that I'm thinking of making another set just for him.

Happy crafting!