Monday, May 20, 2013

Super Simple Balloon Car

A few days ago, I came across a post from Steve Spangler Science detailing how to build your very own balloon-powered car.

Although my oldest is only four and rather too young for the building part of the project, I knew we had to try this. I was lacking a few of the pieces the project called for, though, and I hated to make a run to the store with my three small children just to pick up a package of wooden skewers.  Suddenly, I had a brainstorm: use one of the kids' Duplo train car bodies as the platform!
It was as easy as it sounded, and both of my older kids had a blast playing with the end product.


  • Balloon
  • Drinking Straw, preferably with a bend in it
  • Rubber Band
  • Tape
  • Scissors

As the inspiring blog post suggested, I cut off the rolled neck of the balloon so it would be easier to seal to the straw.  I then slipped the bent end of the straw into the balloon, folded the excess around the straw, and sealed with a small piece of tape.

Finally I laid the straw down the center of the Duplo car and attached it with a rubber band looped around the body. I bent the straw so that the balloon would point up: otherwise it drags on the ground until it deflates.
That's literally all there is to it.
To use, inflate the balloon by blowing into the straw. Pinch it shut with your fingers, set the car down on a hard surface, and let it go.

Neither really has the combination of lung power and coordination to inflate the balloon, pinch the straw, and let the car go before losing all the air, although James eventually was able to make it work a little - much to his delight.

I made several using the various Duplo cars that we found in our stash.  The fancy one with the metal axles (it came with a fire truck body just this Christmas) worked much better than the traditional train cars, simply because it has a lot less rolling resistance.

Although the bent-neck straw was an elegant solution to the problem of the balloon dragging on the ground, the small diameter of these straws did not allow air out fast enough to get much speed on the car. It would probably work fine with a lighter vehicle.
A large diameter straw such as the ones from McDonalds made the balloon easier to inflate and drove the car farther.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scrapbooking Tip: Loading post-bound albums

Maybe "normal" (that is, paper) scrappers never do this: maybe they faithfully insert each page into their scrapbook as it is finished, and never find themselves wrestling, as I do, with a dozen or more slippery plastic pages that will Not stay put while I try to ram them onto the never-quite-tall-enough post.
Maybe, but I'm guessing not! So today's scrapbooking tip is unique for this blog in that it will apply to just about every scrapper out there. Hope it helps!

Soothie Pacifier Keeper

Third time's the charm, right?  After two babies in a row who had little to no interest in the pacifier, new baby Lucy actually finds them - well - pacifying! It's wonderful!
However, it's no fun chasing them down when she - intentionally or otherwise - spits 'em out and they land on the floor, roll under a chair, and pick up every bit of dust or fluff they come near.
We're using the "Soothie" brand pacies that we got from the hospital, which are all one piece with no handle or large loop through which a traditional clip-on pacifier holder can attach, although they do have two small holes.
A friend mentioned that her daughter used a "WubbaNub:" a small, slightly weighted stuffed animal attached to the pacifier, which helps keep the thing in place on baby's chest, and from falling out and hitting the floor as well. It also makes it much harder to lose!
I have plans to make something in this line - no animals, 'cause those are Work! - but a simple bean bag out of PUL fabric with some fun ribbon taggies to play with or suck on as she gets older. It'll have velcro so I can detach the paci for cleaning and generally be very cool.  Sadly, my sewing machine is broken, so this project is on hold.  (Hand-sewing PUL is no fun at all.  Trust me, I tried!) But it suddenly occurred to me this morning that it needn't be that complicated!
Enter the "Pacifier Snake!"
Lucy, making her very first appearance on Mommy's blog

I found an orphaned baby sock and filled it with a handful of rice.  I then threaded some ribbon through the holes, and inserted the free ends into the top of the sock. Five minutes of hand-sewing later, I had my end product. And let me just say, it Works.  I haven't had the baby spit it on the floor once all day, nor have I lost it in the baby sling or etc. She's been able to get it back in her mouth a time or two after losing it while rocking, and she even accidentally grabbed onto it this evening.
My only concern is that the sock Will get damp. I'd be more comfortable in this instance with plastic fill beads, because I suspect the rice will get nasty after a while.
Still, I can always take out the seam, dump the rice, wash everything, and put it back together: it's a low labor project.

Here are another couple of pictures to show off my baby product

Hope you find this useful!

Hybrid Crochet & Sewn Butterfly Toy

Today's project is inspired by this cute little butterfly toy from Sew Mama Sew.
But first, a little philosophizing...
How do you decide what to create, and once decided, how do you decide which medium(s) to use? How important is it that you "can't compete with China?" That is, that you will most of the time end up spending more money on what you create than an analogous item purchased from the store, and that's without calculating your time investment?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately and if you're interested you can see some of my processing on the subject here. In summary, however, I've been working on being very intentional about what I create and how, making sure that I'm not wasting money *or* time on something that will be worthless by the time it's complete.

How does all this tie into a post about a quick n' easy baby toy?
Well, when I saw the "Sew Mama Sew" project on Pinterest, I was immediately attracted because it is adorable, and based on my last two kids, I could easily imagine a baby wanting to play with it - especially if it crinkled and had interesting textures. I also knew that it wouldn't be a terribly time consuming project, and that I could improve a bit on store-bought toys by making mine (a) cuter, (b) machine washable and (c) in this case actually cheaper than China.
However, the face the original artist used is not really my style. More importantly, I am often frustrated with my inaccuracy when trying to sew complicated shapes that small.  I've been crocheting a lot lately, so it's on the brain.  Suddenly it occurred to me that a crocheted body and sewn wings might be a perfect hybrid.

Here is what I ended up creating

Crochet Hook: E (go up or down a size depending on how tightly you crochet.)
Yarn: Cotton, such as Lion Cotton Ease or Lilly Sugar n' Cream. You'll use very little: this is perfect for your left-overs.
Fabric: Cotton fat quarter (or rather less!) or similar amount of fabric of your choosing - i.e. polar fleece, felt, or etc.
Optional, depending on finishing technique: small amount of fiberfill or cotton batting, scraps of "crinkly" material salvaged from a cereal or potato chip bag, small jingle bell. 

Instructions for Caterpillar Body 
If you have done any amigurumi-style crochet, you may already be familiar with the basic technique for crocheting a ball or sphere.  If so, all you need to know is that I crocheted an approx. 1.5 inch ball starting with 6 stitches and increasing to 18.  I then attached a crochet spiral created by chaining a long tail off this ball, then turning and inserting 3 DCs in each chain stitch.
If you're not familiar with these techniques, here is is written out formally.

Stitches used
CH: Chain
SC: Single Crochet
DC: Double Crochet
SC2TOG: Single Crochet 2 together (tutorial)

Row 1: Create a magic circle (Google for a tutorial if this is an unfamiliar concept), and SC 6 stitches in it.  Do not join with a slip stitch.  Mark the last stitch of each row with a marker, or just keep good count: this is small!
Row 2: 2 SC in each SC around.  12 SC in all
Row 3: *1 SC in first SC, 2 SC in next SC* Repeat around, total of 18 SC.
Row 4: 1 SC in each SC around, total of 18 SC
Row 5: *1 SC in first SC, SC2TOG in next 2 SC* Repeat around, total of 6 SC and 6 SC2TOG
Row 6: 1 SC2TOG in each SC around, total of 6 SC2TOG.
At this point (if not just after Row 5), you will want to take the opportunity to stuff in a little fiber fill or scrap yarn.  I also added a jingle bell as suggested in the original tutorial.
I then sewed shut the small hole remaining: my SC2TOG stitches are always looser than my SCs, so there's a bit of extra room at the bottom.

Row 1: Without fastening off yarn from head, CH 15 to 20, loosely. You now have a "tail" trailing from  the center bottom of the butterfly's head
Row 2: DC in 3rd CH from hook and turn. 2 more DC in same CH stitch, then 3 DC in each of the next CH stitches all the way up.  You will get a nice, tight spiral.
Sew the end back into the bottom of the head and tie off.
I also left a long tail which I threaded through the body spiral and attached again at the tail end: this keeps the spiral tight and "body shaped," but is not technically necessary.

Add details to the head as desired.  In a contrasting color I created antennae in chain stitch (about 4 each and a good knot at the end: baby will pull and chew!)  I also chain stitched a 2-3 inch loop at the center top to hang the toy from a plastic loop.
You could make french-knotted eyes (or even plastic safety eyes) and backstitch a smile: just keep in mind someone will almost certainly be pulling and chewing on this, so it's got to be attached Very well.

I now refer you to the Sew Mama Sew tutorial.
I drew my own wing template, but the basic technique is the same.

Ideas for Customization
After running up a couple of these, I realized again that I am Really bad at sewing small things.  I hate ironing, don't really understand the importance of and technique for clipping seams, and even have trouble just following a curve on the machine. So I started brainstorming ways to retain the cuteness and usefulness factor while avoiding most of those unpleasant steps. Here's what I came up with:
  • Make front and back of wings in different fabrics; choose a fleece, satin, or minky fabric for one side (OK, that still requires good sewing techniques. But it'll be fun for baby!) 
  • Make both front and back of wings with non-fray fabric such  as fleece; sew wrong sides together (with any crinkly material inside) and do not turn inside out.  If desired, clip a fringe in the seam allowance for visual and texture interest. 
  • Using flannel, sew wrong sides together as above which will leave a raw edge on the outside. Clip a fringe 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, then wash your finished project a time or two to create a soft. interesting texture.  (Google for "Flannel Rag Quilt" if you're not familiar with this technique.)
  • Use three layers of felt. Hand-stitch with embroidery floss, using a variety of stitches such as blanket, back stitch, etc.