Category Archives: Craftiness

Bit of Whimsy Dolls–Lessons Learned

I’m not much of a seamstress. I’ve been able to sew a straight(ish) line since I was pretty young, but I’ve never really improved my skills too much beyond that. Nothing like my amazing friend, Alina, who has taught herself everything from upholstering to fancy dressmaking and has now moved onto making HER OWN JEANS (like, from start finish, and they look BETTER than professionally done…hashtag awe-inspiring).

Even so, I’ve managed to crank out window treatments–both short and long–pillow covers, a skirt or three, some easy tailoring fixes, some baby shoes, and other simple tasks.

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Still, when I purchased the Bit of Whimsy doll pattern–cough–three years ago, I knew that I would be using all of my meager skills. Not that it requires a great deal of seamstressing (made up words for the win). But–for me, at least–sewing feels a bit like the opposite of riding a bike. At least ’til I really get back into it. Every time it’s been a while since I’ve done it, I’m all: “Bobbin? What’s THAT? Oh, yeah.” And don’t even ask me to adjust the thread tension. Things start getting ugly fast.

ANYhoo, despite my various and sundry inadequacies, I decided that this (well, last…I decided it when it was still “this”) year was going to be the year that I finally whipped out those darn Whimsy dolls for my girls.

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Honestly, it’s a good thing I waited as long as I did. The twins would have been too little to fully appreciate them (they kind of still are), and, well, being 41 weeks pregnant like I was last year is not a good time to attempt to not put a sharp shiny metal object through your finger multiple times at high speeds.

Of course, in true Abbie fashion, I procrastinated a bit (in my defense, I got all of my supplies bought and in order the week BEFORE the week of Christmas and sat down multiple times to sew, but the distractions…I mean, the children…would have none of it).

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And, of course, in true Abbie fashion, I decided to sew not three but nine of those little buggers.

3 for us, 2 for my nieces, and 4 for friends’ daughters.

Did I finish all of them in time for Christmas?

Er, Nope.

Did I finish them all in time to give them to each little girl who needed them at that time? (Several of which were, mercifully, after Christmas?)

Yes. Barely.

How long did all of this doll-making business take?

I don’t honestly know, but I did a rough tally, and it was in the neighborhood of 30 hours, all told. A fast doll-maker, I am not. Although, I was feeling especially slow until I posted a pic on Instagram, and several people responded with, “Those take FORever!” (Lots of little steps).

So! Would I recommend making 9 handmade dolls on the week of Christmas? Not really. But I actually ended up enjoying it in some sort of perverse way, and the boys were able to help a bit one morning (with the arm and leg stuffing), so it was kind of a fun family project while we watched a marathon of Christmas movies + The Princess Bride (what??).

And the results?

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{In case you’re wondering, the girls’ shirts, and the twins’ skirts are from Old Navy–fairly recently}

Pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.

In case you’re wondering how I managed to keep all of this doll-making a complete secret from my girls, the answer is: I didn’t. I had planned to. But after staying up until 1 AM 3 nights in a row and feeling positively sick by day 4, I resorted to daytime sewing shenanigans, which definitely drew Della’s attention. She practically hovered over me asking questions that I refused to fully answer (I never actually told her they weren’t for her, but I never told her they were either).

But she’s no dummy.

The very first thing she did on Christmas morning was to hug me and say sleepily: “Merry Christmas, Mama. Thank you for making my doll for me. I love her.” Before she had ever even SEEN her doll, y’all. Or knew for sure she was getting one. Oh goodness. I just teared up. What a softie I’ve become. But it was pretty dang precious.

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{I feel like this is going to be one of those pics down the road where Nola–center– is like, “Really, mom? That one?” Sorry, girl. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad}

My biggest concern was that the girls would take one look at the dolls and then discard them for something “better” (after all, I could have bought them better dolls–in many ways–for $10 from Target), and the twins sort of fulfilled that. Which didn’t surprise or disappoint me too much. They’re only 3–too little still to really get how much love Mama poured into those dolls.

But Della? She has cherished her doll from the moment she opened her and christened her Elizabeth (Della’s and my middle name and what she names ALL her dolls). She sleeps with her, carries her around all day, and gets slightly panicked when she can’t find her (which is sweet, in a maddening sort of way).

And I’m not going to lie. I love it.

Now. Down to brass tacks. Or stitches and fabric, as the case may be.

After making 9 of these, I have a few tips for you, should you decide to tackle one (and only one, right?) yourself.

  • Use the right fabric. Part of the reason that I had all of my supplies in order “early” was that I mostly used what I had. Which…turned out to be a mistake. The muslin that I used for their bodies/faces turned out to be too thin, and I probably spent an unnecessary 4 hours, babying that fabric and restitching places where the seams pulled through the fabric on all of those little arms and legs. Even with all of that effort, I’ve had to repair Elizabeth multiple times already, and, while she’s been holding steady for a while now, with how much Della loves/handles her, I don’t know how long she will last. The twins play with theirs when they remember they exist or randomly find them in one of the toy bins, and they are fairing considerably better for wear.
  • Likewise for the felt for the hair. It calls for wool felt. I only had craft felt, but I did stop by Hancock Fabrics to get the wool…only to discover that they had none. What? Every fabric under the sun, and no wool felt??! So. I went with the synthetic, and it was a mistake. Their hair is pilling something fierce already, something that wouldn’t happen nearly as much with a natural fiber.
  • I don’t know WHAT measurements she’s using for the skirts that you make to go on the dolls, but it says to cut 21″ in length (if I remember correctly) to make them, and every single time, I only ended up needing about half of that.
  • It’s better to slightly under-stuff the arms/legs/torso. You don’t want them limp and saggy by any stretch, but if they have too much stuffing (as can happen with overzealous little boy help), then it puts a lot of undue strain on the seams and makes it that much harder to smoothly attach them to the body.

So! Would I recommend making these dolls as gifts? Strangely, yes. Even after all of that fight with the fabric and late nights. They’re just so sweet and cute and squishy. And different. You have the ability to customize them in multiple ways, but what I really mean is that they’re not the norm that you would find in a box store.

And, if you’ve got a little girl who is old enough to understand that all of that time spent at the sewing machine must mean that her mama really loves her, then it’s hard to imagine a better gift.

Just don’t call me when you have trouble refilling your bobbin.

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Transforming Lampshades from Blah to Beautiful (AKA: How to Recover a Lampshade)

I feel like the title of this post belongs on the cover of some 1940′s Gibson Girls magazine right next to: “How to Achieve the Perfect Finger Wave.”

But regardless of any retro vibes, I dare any 1940′s woman to wield a glue gun with as much modern day panache as…someone besides me.

Me? I burn myself a lot.

ANYhoo, as a quick refresher, here’s what this corner of my living room looked like not too long ago (when I shared my tufted couch coup with you).

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Nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all. I see my dream couch, fun pillows, my favorite chalkboard that I refuse to erase because I do not think I will ever create a better one (not saying it’s that great…just good for my limited skills).

But, if you’ve been following along for any amount of time…you might be a little thrown off by one thing: there’s not much color.

I mean, yes. There’s lots of yellow in the pillows, but the couch, curtains, and lamps are all pretty monochromatic, which is quite unusual for me.

And which I was determined to remedy.

I’ve had those lamps for years now, and I still love them, but long periods of dust accumulation (in between their yearly dusting…ahem) plus some kidhandling (similar to “manhandling” but worse) had left the white shades a little worse for wear.

Plus, they were just a little…blah (hence my throwback post title).

So, what did I do? I dug into my trusty (read: likely to swallow you alive) fabric stash, selected a winner, got my craft on, and came up with this:

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I say that as if I cranked it out during one nap time session, while “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” blared in the background, but the honest-to-goodness truth is that I limped along with 15 minutes here or there until I finally managed to finish them off and grab some pictures last night while my kiddos watched the Aristocats for “family movie night” (Shaun’s traveling, so it was more like Kid’s Movie Night/Mom’s Craft Frenzy).

They were an easy project, but just in case you’ve never recovered lampshades yourself, I thought I’d share a blow-by-blow. Because I’m helpful like that.

First up, here’s what you’ll need.
  • Lampshades to recover (duh)
  • Fabric to recover them (double duh)lamps8
  • Scissors (I’d say duh again, but I’m guessing I’ve already worn that one out?)
  • Pencil
  • Large piece of tracing paper for making a pattern
  • Clothespins or some kind of clamps (maybe; I took a picture, but I didn’t actually end up using mine; theoretically, they’re for holding the fabric to the lampshade while the adhesive dries, but I didn’t find this necessary)
  • Spray adhesivelamps10
  • Hot glue gun/glue
::STEP 1::

Place your lampshade on its side on a large piece of white tracing paper. I happen to have a huge roll of this, but you might need to tape several printer sheets together if you don’t.

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Place your pencil on the bottom of the lampshade, right on the seam (so that you have a starting/stopping point), and roll the shade along the paper, following the edge of it with your pencil to trace its trajectory. When you’re done rolling it all the way back to the seam/starting point, you’ll have a long, gently curving line.

THEN, start back at the beginning pencil point (again on the seam), and do the same thing again, tracing fromTHE TOP of the shade this time.

Now, you’ll have TWO parallel, gently curving lines.

Confession: this part made me nervous. It all seemed so vague and inexact. Turns out, it doesn’t really matter. My traced shade ended up being much longer than it needed to be, but all I did was trim down the ends because the widths were good enough to work just fine.

::STEP 2::

Place your traced paper shade on top of your fabric of choice, and then cut out the shape, taking care to leave at least 1/2″ of extra (for folding under). I didn’t measure, just eyeballed. But if you’re a perfectionist, I say measure away!

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Okay, so this picture is deceptive. Because of my aforementioned dawdling through the first half of this whole shindig, I cut out my tracing paper and my first round of fabric, and then the tracing paper got ruined by a rather impressive water glass snag + dump maneuver on Theo’s part.

So! This picture is of my cutting around my original piece of already measured fabric (hence why I am NOT leaving a 1/2″ border for folding under).

Clear as mud? Feel free to leave exasperated comment/questions full of bared teeth emojis if this is not making sense.

::STEP 3::

Match your fabric shade cover to the shape of one of your lampshades and, spraying the back of six inch sections of fabric at a time, start to smooth it over the lampshade.

Honestly? I didn’t use very much spray adhesive. Both my shades and my fabric were grippy enough that I only needed it in sparing amounts to make everything stick.

THEE most important thing here is to take your time and carefully stretch and smooth the fabric as you (slowly) go to make sure there are no bubbles or wrinkles.

It takes some adjusting, but it can be done.

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See the 1/2″ border sticking up above the lampshade? That’s what you will fold over the edge to get a nice clean finish.

:: STEP 4::

Working as quickly as possible, run a bead of hot glue in the inside edge of the lampshade borders (top and bottom) in 6″ sections, and then fold down the excess fabric, smooshing/smoothing as you go and making every effort not to fricassee your fingers in the process (not that I would know anything about that).

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::STEP 5::

To get a nice clean edge where the two ends of your fabric meet at the back of the lampshade, glue down the first, and then fold under the second before gluing it down on top of the first.

Like so:

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::STEP 6::

Step back and admire your newly awesome lampshades!

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…Upside down pattern and all. Whomp, whomp. (Okay, honestly, it doesn’t bother me too much that the flowers are reaching down rather than up, but I would say that this is a pretty strong argument for why you shouldn’t craft while making lunch for 6).

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Also? Meet my new favorite print ever.

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I’ll tell you more about it…including how you can get your hands on it…soon.

Until then…

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YIPPEE for pretty upside down lampshades!

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