Friday, April 25, 2014

Crochet Pattern: Princess Fleurette of Cork

A few weeks ago, I fell in love with this adorable and easy pattern for Cork and Crochet Knights by LucyRavenscar. Immediately, I decided that they needed some princesses to protect!
I am very happy with what I came up with: with a few scraps of yarn and little practice you'll be able to crochet one up during a single episode of your favorite show, and the shape and size of the finished item is just perfect for little fingers - not to mention just plain fun!
The designer was kind enough to give me her go-ahead to publish my pattern, which is derived directly from her knights. Like her patterns, please feel free to make for your own use, or to raise money for a good cause.


Small amounts of medium-weight yarn in two colors, designated "Hair" and "Dress" in the pattern
Crochet Hook (The original designer suggests an F / 4 mm hook; I found I needed to use an E)
Wine Cork
Permanent marker for drawing features
(Optional) Scraps of narrow ribbon or tulle, embroidery floss, or etc.

Materials Notes and Tips 
I have come to love the look and feel of 100% cotton yarn such as Lily Sugar N' Cream, and use it for much of my crocheting. However, it is comparatively stiff and unyielding. The first few rows of the hat will be much easier if you use acrylic yarn.

If you struggle with the hat, rest assured that it doesn't have to be perfect: minor mistakes will not show, much! I frequently end up making my stitches in the front loop or back loop only at the beginning, simply because the work is too small and dense to get the hook into both loops. You could also try going down a hook size for the hat only, switching back to your E (or F) hook when you begin the hair.

Also note that corks vary a bit in height. Try your princess on for size before the last couple of rows to see if you need to omit or add one.

Stitches: (US Terms) ch - chain
dc - double crochet
sc - single crochet
sl - slip stitch

The Pattern

Pattern is worked in continuous rounds. Do not join with sl
Begin with dress color
Round 1. 4 sc in magic circle
Round 2. 2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next 3 sc - 5 sc
Round 3. 1 sc in next sc, [2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next sc] 2 times - 7 sc
Round 4. 1 sc in next sc, [2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next 2 scs] 2 times - 9 sc
Round 5. 1 sc in next sc [2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next 3 scs] 2 times - 11 sc
Change to hair color
Round 6. 1 sc in next sc [2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next 2 scs] 3 times, 2 sc in next sc - 15 sc
Round 7. 1 sc in next 11 sc,
Ch 1, turn
Row 1: 1 sc in next 11 scs, ch 1, turn
Row 2: 1 sc in next 11 scs
switch to dress color, chain 4
Round 8: Sc into 1st sc of row 2, sc in next 10 sc, 4 sc over ch5 - 15 sc.
Round 9-11: 1 sc in each sc around - 15 scs
Round 12: [2 sc in next sc, 1 sc in next 4 scs] 3 times - 18 scs
Round 13: skip next sc, [sc, dc, sc in next sc, skip next sc] 6 times. Sl in next stitch, fasten off. (Not a complete round.)

Braid: Cut 3 lengths of yarn in hair color about 6 inches. Attach with slip-knot to three central stitches
in back of head. Braid and tie with scrap of yarn in dress color.
Or, consider "Princess Leia" braids: lengths of chain stitch coiled and sewed to side of head

Embellish hat as desired with scraps of ribbon or tulle.

And for decorating your princess, here are

Three quick embellishments

I worked mine in embroidery floss with a C or size 0 steel hook

Tiny flower: 
In magic circle, 
sc, [dc, hdc, sl, ch1,] 4 times, dc, hdc, sl. 
Tiny Butterfly: 
As the tiny flower, but omit fifth petal and wrap tail of yarn around the center a couple of times - or use a contrasting color. 
Tiny heart:   
In magic circle 
sc, hdc, dc, hdc, sc 5 times, hdc, dc, hdc. Join with slip stitch through magic loop. 

I hope you enjoy crocheting up a bevy of princesses as much as I have. My 3 year old daughter Loves playing with them, and I'm looking forward to giving a whole set to her cousin on her 5th birthday! 

Just for fun, here are couple of photos of Fleurette's friends and family. 

The knights are made with LucyRavenscar's pattern as written, although I did go ahead and close the bottom with a few decreases - my little ones are awfully tempted to take out the corks otherwise! Unfortunately, the fancy border on the princesses' dress makes it less workable for them. Oh, fancy buttons as shields are a lot of fun too! 
The king is a simple combination of the knight and the gnome patterns from LucyRavenscar, with a simple cape in double crochet sewed on. The queen is crocheted for a non-standard cork, and I just eyeballed the increases and improvised a slightly showier overdress. 
I can write up the pattern for the dragon if there is interest! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Practical Lacing Activities for Boys

My almost 5-year-old has been asking me to teach him to sew lately. It started when his little sister got a "build-a-bear" project for her birthday in which the kid was supposed to sew up several seams on the animal. Both kids got quite a kick out of helping to make something actually functional, but for James it really made an impression.
I've tried a couple of ideas I found online with plastic canvas and safety needles, but our materials haven't been ideal, and neither of us has been quite patient enough. More to the point, I suspect, there was no actual product produced.  Sewing a line for the sake of a line simply isn't that exciting.
This afternoon he grabbed a shallow cardboard box that had been kicking around and asked for tape in order to make the flaps stand up. This proved frustrating: he just isn't coordinated enough to get everything in the right place before the tape goes on. He asked for another solution, and to make a long story short, I ended up putting holes in each edge of the flap and helping him "sew" them together.  Voila, an activity that made sewing not just fun, but practical!

Here's what we used
1. Good-sized, fairly heavy cardboard box with flaps
2. yarn
3. half a pipe cleaner (A yarn needle or even a twist tie would also work.)
4. Single hole punch

First, I punched an equal number of holes on each of the adjacent flaps, perhaps an inch and a half apart.

Prior experience has taught me that both kids have no end of trouble just keeping the yarn / thread in the needle. The seemingly simple strategy of pinching both ends of the yarn between thumb and forefinger before pulling is more than they can master, and there it would go. Every. Single. Stitch. Unsurprisingly, very few stitches actually get made: all our patience is exhausted up front!
Therefore, I looked for a new strategy.

I made a "needle" by bending a pipe cleaner in half, placing the length of yarn through an "eye," and then twisting it together. The idea is for the yarn to be held fairly tightly so it will take more than a light tug to get it off.

(By the way, my 3-year-old has also successfully used this technique to string fruit-loop necklaces. Much easier than tape around the end of the yarn! A twist-tie also does the trick, and may be more appropriate to smaller beads or cereal)

Finally, I threaded the needle through the first hole and tied a knot, then helped him pull the needle in and out of the holes, sewing up the seam.
Our improvised needle worked very well, only coming unthreaded once.
More importantly, with an actual end product in mind, James' attention held nicely through two full seams.

Parent Tips: 
As usual, I was internally conflicted about how strongly I ought to suggest / insist on doing things "correctly" vs. letting him figure it out for himself.  Not that I'm a perfectionist or anything, but there is apparently nothing particularly innate about repeatedly going in one side and out the other. 
I started out trying to get him to do a modified ladder stitch: needle goes in from the outside on the left flap, comes up in between the two flaps, and then back in the outside of the right flap. (See title photo.) 
This turned out to be Way Too Complicated. 

On our second seam, I had him do a far simpler "hemming" stitch: needle goes in on the outside of the left flap, and then travels through the hole on the inside of the left flap. 
For an older child, I would suggest numbering the holes. He's not solid on his numerals yet, so I made it even easier: I drew a green circle around the holes on the outside of the left flap, and a red circle around the holes on the inside of the right flap.  Needle starts at the green and ends at the red, just like when we're doing tracing practice

This made a lot more sense to him, and then I had the sense to (almost) ignore the crossed stitches near the end of the seam.  :)

If he's interested in finishing the third and fourth seams sometime in the future, I will probably draw and red and green circles as before - but only if he asks for help. Otherwise I'll just start him at the top and let him go. Unlike handwriting, I am not terribly concerned about bad habits to be unlearned later. The exercise of figuring out where the needle needs to enter and exit will itself be a large part of the value.

So, there's our practical sewing for boys.
What sort of practical sewing (or other learning) activities have worked for your kids?

Cooties Revisited - Simplified Rules for Sanity

What is it with those classic childhood Milton Bradley games? They're terrible! Seriously, what's more frustrating than setting up "Hi-Ho Cherry-O," trying to hammer out those pieces in "Don't Break the Ice," or roll all those sixes in "Cooties?" And "Don't Spill the Beans?" Arrgh!
Honestly, I don't think I liked these games when I Was a kid, even though we had them all.  As an adult, I shudder and try every avoidance tactic I know when the kids ask for one.  "Oh, you want to play Hi-Ho Cherry-O? Well... uh... Hey, look! Ice Cream!"
Well, I think I can at least help you with "Cooties." My almost 5-year-old was so excited when he found the game at a garage sale this morning that I just didn't have the heart to refuse him the opportunity to spend two of his hard-earned quarters on it.

But I did have a brainstorm to make it less tedious.  All I did was add a second die. (We rolled both inside a small, clear Rubbermaid container to avoid spills.)  Whenever Either die showed a number the kid needed to complete his or her bug, it could be claimed. Moreover, whenever the dice added up to a number they needed, it too could be claimed. (Hey, look, a subtle insertion of some basic addition practice!) Obviously, the latter mostly came into play on the sixes. But then, when have you ever played a game of Cooties where everyone wasn't sitting there waiting for sixes?

One more little change: the official rules allow a player to continue rolling until he or she rolls something that cannot be used. Neither kid really understood this, so I just arbitrarily limited the extra rolls to 1. I think they'd have been just as happy had there been no extras at all, since the surprisingly non-trivial task of actually plugging in the acquired body part immediately consumed all of their attention.

These modifications allowed us to complete the game with two players in about 10 minutes, which is a good match for their attention spans at this age.  I highly recommend it for your sanity and your kids'!

If you find this post helpful, you may also be interested in my modifications to Hi-Ho Cherry-O, or our homemade customizable game board system for making your own games, plus a bunch of ideas of things to play using it.