Thursday, May 24, 2012

Little Green Monster (Crochet)

I have a new nephew on the way, due to arrive sometime in the next couple of weeks, or (his mother dearly hopes) even sooner!
His father, my brother Michael, is an artist and musician who is currently making a lot of what I'll call - to coin a phrase - "benign monster art."  (Check that link for samples.)  Cute, fuzzy little guys in bright colors, many with an interesting story to coordinate.
So when I saw these booties from Stella & Henry, I knew I needed to make something similar for the baby-to-be. (I used this pattern from Crochet Dreamz, and improvised teeth, eye, and horns.)
But then I started thinking that a little monster rattle really needed to be part of the set.  Not feeling like following another pattern, I improvised my own.

  • 1 ball (more like 1/2 a ball) of light / sportweight yarn.  I used moss-green "Sheepish" brand.
  • Optional: small amount of contrasting color in *exactly the same weight* as monster's body for his mouth.  I just used the body color.  
  • Scraps of yarn in white, black, and your choice of accent colors. I used bright orange, just because. 
  • Crochet hook, size F or your choice.  (Smaller hooks are better for Amigurumi style crochet because you want a nice, tight fabric so the stuffing doesn't show through.) 
  • Yarn needle
  • A handful of fiber-fill stuffing. 
  • Optional: Small, sturdy plastic container (such as a tiny pill bottle) and some beans or popcorn for a rattle insert. 
  • Optional: 1 plastic safety eye. (I just used a french knot!) 
Here are the stitches we will use (American definitions.)
Chain (CH)
Slip Stitch (ST)
Single Crochet (SC)
Single Crochet 2 together (SC2TOG)
Half-Double Crochet (HDC)
Double Crochet (DC)

This first bit is going to be written in "semi-formal" crochet language. Rather than writing out  every stitch, I'll just describe how to make a flat circle, which is the basis for the monster's body and mouth.
Note: Subsequent rows are crocheted in continuous rounds: do not join with slip stitch, but DO mark initial stitch with a stitch marker (I use a paper clip!)
Base: SC 6 in magic circle.
Row 1: 2 SC in each SC around (12 total)
Rows 2 - 5: Increase every "n" stitches where "n" is the row number.
If you find that a bit confusing...
On row 2, SC in first stitch, then 2 SC in the next stitch.  Repeat around for a total of 18 stitches.  In row 3, SC in first 2 stitches, than 2 SC in the 3rd stitch.  Repeat around for a total of 24.  And so forth and so on, until on row 5 you are increasing every fifth stitch, and finish the round with 36 stitches total.

Rows 6-11: (No increases these rows) 1 SC in each SC around, for a total of 36 stitches)
Row 12: (Mouth row) 1 SC in each of first 18 SCs. (1/2 of the circumference).  Then chain (loosely) 18, and slip stitch end of chain into first stitch in the row.  You have just created an 18-stitch "gap" in your monster's body, where the mouth will go.
Row 13: 1 SC in each SC, then 1 SC in each CH.  Total 36 stitches.
Row 14-15: 1 SC in each SC.
Row 16 (Decrease row): 1 SC in first 4 SC, then SCTOG in stitches 5 and 6.  Repeat around.
Row 17-20: Decrease with SCTOG in every 4th stitch, then every 3rd, etc.
Finally, slip-stitch a couple of times across to close the gap in the crown of the head.  Fasten off and weave in ends.
(Optional) Turn body inside out.  I found I prefer the "wrong" side of the stitching.  But this is completely up to you!
Monster's body is complete!

Using body color or contrasting color in same weight as body, repeat rows 1-5 from body to make a flat circle or disc with circumference of 36 stitches.  Tie off, leaving long tail for stitching into mouth.
Fold Disc in half.
Using yarn needle, sew bottom half of circle to bottom half of gap created in row 12, and then continue around sewing top half of circle to top half of the gap.  *Leave at least 8 or 10 stitches un-sewn* so you can reach inside for attaching embellishments and stuffing.

Base: In White, HDC 6 in magic circle.  Join with slip stitch, leaving long tails on each end for sewing in place.

TEETH (made 2)
In White, Chain 3.
Turn, 1 SC in same stitch.  SC across.  (Total of 3 stitches.)
Tie off leaving long tail for sewing to mouth.

In Contrast Color
In Magic Circle, SC 2, DC 3, SC 2.  Join with slip stitch.  Tie off, leaving long tail for sewing to center of mouth "disc."

HORNS (make 2)
In Contrast Color
Base: SC 4 in magic circle
Rows 1-2: SC in each SC.
Tie off, leaving long tail for sewing to monster's head.

Leaving long tail for sewing, In body color, CH 3
Row 1-4: CH 1, turn, and SC in each SC across.
Row 5: Join Contrast Color and SC in each across. Tie off.

Sew horns, teeth, and tail to body using photo as guide.

If using plastic safety eye, attach through center of right side of eye and through monster's "face."
Otherwise, using a heavy black yarn, tie a french knot on the right side of the eye to form the eyeball.  Thread ends through monster's face and tie off.  Stitch eye in place using yarn needle.

Weave in ends, tie off on inside of toy, and clip or just leave hanging  out of sight.
If desired, join body yarn to crown of head and chain 10-15, joining again with a slip-stitch to form a loop (for hanging toy on plastic link.)
If desired, insert "rattle" in monster's body.
Stuff with a good hand-full of fiber-fill, being certain not to over-stuff: the mouth should remain indented.
Finally, sew last 8-10 stitches of mouth disc to monster and tie off.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Easy DIY Peg-Board

Easy DIY Peg-Board for your Toddler

I've seen several versions of the Peg-Board Toy out there in the blogosphere.  These fun, creativity- and geometry-inspiring toys consist at the base level of a board containing pegs mounted in a regular grid pattern.  The lucky toddler uses string, yarn, rubber bands, or whatever is handy to make pictures and shapes on the board.
However, most versions of the toy I saw involved starting with a bare piece of wood, doing a lot of measuring and marking, and then hammering or screwing in hardware.  Mine does not!  In fact, if you are OK with a double-sized board, you don't even need a saw!

March 2014 Update: See what I changed a year later

Here's the parts list 
1. A piece of pegboard from the home improvement store.  I found it with the lumber at Home Depot.  It only came in one size - roughly 24 x 48 inches - and cost about $7.50
2. Wooden dowel pegs, 1/4 inch diameter.  These were also at the hardware store, but I had to ask where as they were pretty hidden.  Mine were 72 to a package for somewhere under $3.  You may want two packs.
3. Wood glue
4. Poster board or thin plywood cut to size of pegboard (Optional)
5. An assortment of bright, multi-sized rubber bands. (See below for additional options and our experience.)
We made two boards, and our rough cost each (not counting rubber bands or glue) was $6.50

Step 1
I didn't want to mount this thing permanently on a wall, and I didn't want my kid carrying around something taller than he was, so I cut it in half to a near-square, about 24 inches to a side. (When I say "I," I actually mean my kids' Grandpa.  He's the one with the power-tools!)
This gave me two pieces, one of which I turned into a pegboard for his similarly-aged cousin.

Step 2
Count your holes and decide how frequently to place the pegs.  With only 72 pegs to work with, I calculated that I needed to skip two holes in between each peg.
Ensuring that your work surface is protected, glue pegs into holes.
I found it easiest to apply glue to the peg near the base and slip it into the hole.
Definitely use wood glue: I used plain Elmer's on my first attempt, and my toddler was gleefully pulling out pegs within a day.

Step 3 (Optional) 
Cut a piece of heavy poster board to the same size as the pegboard and glue down to the backside, using plenty of glue.  This should help secure the pegs a little better, and make it look a little cleaner too.

Step 4 (Optional) 
Mount on a wall at your toddler's eye level, or prop on his easel.  We just lean ours against the wall, although we monitor to make sure that it doesn't end up flat on the ground where someone could trip and fall onto the pegs.

Step 5
Provide your toddler with some rubber bands and let him go crazy!

Experience notes:
We've tried standard rubber bands, regular sized hair ties, and the large headwrap sized hair bands I couldn't resist at the Dollar Tree.  We've also tried yarn.
Neither the hair ties nor the headwraps are very good, especially for younger ones.
The standard sized ones are too small: they have very little stretch.
The headwrap ones are better, but because they're intentionally made slippery (so as not to pull your hair), they don't grip the pegs either. I was able to arrange them for my photo-shoot, but I don't think my 3-year-old can manage it.
If you Insist on using hair bands, do yourself a favor and at least avoid the ones with metal joins on them: I can imagine them flying away at speed...
We also didn't use yarn for very long.  It's a lot more complicated: you need to have either clips to attach it to the pegs, or tie loops in the end.  He's not coordinated enough for (finger pinching!) clips, and loops are complicated too: the length has to be just right.  We'll try these options again later, but for now, plain ol' rubber bands are best.

Update 3/2014
It didn't take long before the dowels started coming out all over the place. Apparently tugging on them was simply irresistible to little toddler fingers, and Elmer's wood glue was simply not up to the task. (Have I mentioned that I Hate Glue?!)
After collecting the darned things off the floor for weeks, I finally gave up and put away the board.
Over a year later I found someone who'd made the same basic board, but with 1/4 inch width nuts and bolts instead of wooden dowels. Visit the Crayon Box Chronicles version here.
The hardware cost a bit over $10, but it does actually Work, unlike the glue.  Of course, my now 4-year-old could take the nuts off if he chose, but I've threatened him with permanent loss of the toy should he do so, and thus far he's cooperating.
This same brilliant mommy also used fabric potholder loops instead of rubber bands. While these have some disadvantages - namely that they stretch out eventually and come in just one size - they do have a safety advantage that outweighs any downsides for us at this time.
He really enjoys making shapes on the board, and last night he had an elaborate story concerning what he'd made. He also is beginning to make (or at least ask me to make) letters in addition to geometric shapes. I'm glad I didn't give up on the thing: it really is a good toy!