Cedar Gnomes!

Last year I introduced our new holiday friends: Nils and Thom. This year I had grand plans to spend a balmy autumn afternoon in the backyard with my craft supplies and camera to give you a detailed and artfully photographed tutorial to show you how I made my gnomes. Unfortunately, winter came to the greater Toronto area early and with guns blazing. I was running out of time so I had to work on this project within the tight confines of our small kitchen on a grey snowy day.

If you want to make some of your own, here’s what you need to get started:

Basic Wire Tomato Cages

I used a 30 inch and a 42-inch cage but if you can’t find multiple sizes you can always prop one up on a stool or crate to give the look of varied heights.

Evergreen Boughs

I used cedar because I have a backyard full of overgrown cedar trees but garden centers have other options that I’m sure would work just as well. As far as quantity, it would depend on the size of your tomato cages and the fullness of the greenery. I had about 40 boughs but my cedars are a bit spindly this year. The branches at the garden center were much more robust and uniform so you’d probably need less if you’re going that route.

1 yard of red felt (or colour of your choice for the hats) 

½ yard of grey felt (or colour of your choice for the mittens)

OR

Child-Sized Mittens

I made mine from felt because I had a lot of it in my fabric stash but a much easier solution would be to get a few pairs of small mittens from a thrift store. 

Knee-high Hose (for the nose)

Last year I made noses made from unbleached cotton but the fabric was too heavy and I wasn’t happy with the shape so this year I tried something a little different.

Cotton or Polyester Stuffing

Floral wire

I think the kind I’m using is about 20 gauge but it really doesn’t matter. P

Needle-Nose Pliers

Scissors

Needle and thread or sewing machine

To make the hat, I’m not going to re-invent the wheel here and instead, I’m going to direct you here to this tutorial. Just make sure to measure the circumference of your cages at the first rung and then the length from the rung to the top point of the cage and add an inch. The seam of my large lat was 21 inches and my small hat it 18 inches high.

For the mittens, I traced one of my own mittens and adjusted the size a little so they were slightly smaller. I cut 2 pieces of felt for each mitten and then added a little loop on one side of each for the wire. Then, I sewed around the edges, leaving a small gap for the stuffing, added a small handful of polyester stuffing to each and then sewed them shut. I have happen to have a huge stash of felt and in the interest of not buying more stuff, this worked best for me. However, if I wasn’t a fabric hoarder I would have popped by the dollar store or maybe thrift store and picked up a few pairs of kid-sized mittens.

To make your bodies, turn your tomato cage upside down so that the pokey parts are at the top and tie them together with floral wire.

Attach your boughs to the top ring with floral wire, working your way around the cage and fill in any gaps.

Next, you need a nose.

Cut your knee-high nylon sock in half. Knot one end and fill with a handful of stuffing. Knot the other end and then tie the two knotted ends together.

Slide a piece of wire through the loop behind the nose and attach it to the top ring of your cage.

When you slip the hat on it should cover the nose by about an inch.

At this point, you could call them done but I added a few little embellishments to mine. I’d had these vintage ice skates in my craft cupboard for years waiting for the right project. I didn’t want to leave Thom empty-handed, so I made him a little sign out of a little chalkboard from Dollarama.

Voila! Let me know if you have any questions. Happy crafting!

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Our Playhouse Makeover

I spent quite a bit of time last summer trawling the various buy and sell platforms, trying to find the perfect pre-loved playhouse for Little B.

There were plenty of houses to choose from, but there was always a catch – the buyer was responsible for picking it up and getting it home. Fair enough, but for us that wasn’t really an option. We didn’t have access to a vehicle that could move a 4×6 foot structure, nor did we have the time or energy to do so. I was beginning to think we were out of luck until one morning a local family listed a house AND they offered to deliver!

I called dibs, followed by a few emails and an e-transfer and then this landed in our driveway!

It looked a bit haunted.

It stayed there for a few weeks. It was quite a conversation piece among neighbours and visitors. We had to wait until we could move our travel trailer that we keep tucked between the house and a fence before we could relocate it to the backyard.

Eventually, we moved it to the back corner of the yard, but by this time I was getting really busy with work projects. The days were also getting shorter and colder, so I didn’t get a chance to start any of the repairs or painting I’d planned before winter.

In the spring, my dad removed the front door and replaced a missing board on the bottom panel. I unscrewed the rest of the windows and shutters, transforming it from haunted to just derelict.

Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly plugging away at it, as time and weather have permitted (it’s been exceptionally rainy this summer). The exterior is done, for the most part.

We choose the colours to match the house – Benjamin Moore’s Yorkshire Tan, with Newburyport Blue for the door and shutters.

I’m embarrassed to admit, those are artificial flowers in the planters. I tried to grow some annuals but the boxes didn’t drain as well as they should. With all the rain we had this year, the real plants just didn’t do well.

We still need to paint and decorate inside, but between the rain and humidity, it’s been hard to find ideal days for working inside a tiny unairconditioned structure. I’m not in a big hurry though. In typical toddler fashion, despite our hard work, Little B has been indifferent to the house. She’s only two though, so I hope over the next few years she will discover and get some enjoyment out of it. In the meantime, it’s a great little shed to store her other backyard toys.

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Dryer Balls

Back in May, we took a vacation. Or more accurately, enjoyed a temporary change of scenery. The term vacation would imply we were relaxing while sipping cocktails somewhere. We were travelling with a two-year-old, so we were really just going to unfamiliar places, trying to prevent her from harming herself others, while attempting to deflect public tantrums.

One of the many stops on our itinerary was Kings Canyon National Park. We’ve been going to Califonia annually for over a decade and we still hadn’t seen a giant Sequoia. In retrospect, this wasn’t the best adventure with a toddler in tow. I really need to remember that when I start planning our next holiday.

Anyway, we saw some big ass trees. Then, we decided to take the scenic route back to our hotel in Bakersfield, where we were stopping for the night before heading to Palm Springs the following day. It was scenic indeed as we wound our way down from the High Sierras, going back and forth, making sharp turns every mile or so.

Suddenly, we heard some strange noises from the backseat. Little B still sat rear facing then, so we couldn’t immediately see what was up- literally. Until the smell hit us. Trying not to panic (or dry heave), we kept driving until we found a turnout where we found our poor baby absolutely covered in regurgitated milk and crackers – her snack of choice earlier that day. Of course, we felt like the shittiest parents in the world because it never occurred to us that a drive like this might cause her motion sickness. Not only that, but there really wasn’t much we could do up there. We were on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with limited cleaning resources in our rental car. We stripped her down, wiped her up the best we could with some take-out napkins and put her back in the seat with one of Jeremy’s t-shirts between her and the mess. Next, we gave her some fresh water and continued on the two-hour drive to our destination.

Later at the hotel, we cleaned the seat and aired it out of the balcony overnight. Thankfully, we were headed to our friend’s house where we could properly machine wash our soiled clothes.

Two things of note about my friend’s laundry situation.

First, she had the most fabulous homemade laundry detergent. You can find the recipe here.

Seriously – it was AMAZING. It only took one cycle to get the barf smells and stains out of our stuff and in my (thankfully) limited experience with baby puke, it usually takes at least two washes to completely get that odour. PLUS, these clothes had been marinating for nearly 24 hours in a plastic bag in the trunk of a hot car!

Second, she had wool dryer balls.

For the uninitiated, dryer balls are a greener alternative to dryer sheets for adding scents to your clothes and reducing static cling. They also help cut down on dryer time absorbing some of the dampness and by creating more space between your clothes.

They’re not expensive, so this is one of those crafts that if you had to go out and buy supplies you would likely spend way more than it would cost to just go out and purchase them already made. However, if you’re like me and have a bunch old wool sweaters tucked away for felting projects you’ll probably never get around to, then this is a great project to use up that stash.

I started by cutting my sweaters into long continuous strips and rolled them into balls in the same way you would wind yarn into a ball, tucking in the loose ends as I went along. Your balls should be about a bit larger than a softball or and they will shrink to about a baseball. I used four small women’s sweaters to get this size.

These look pretty messy, but that’s ok because they’ll be covered with a layer of worsted to tidy them up.

I bought two of these from a clearance rack at Micheals, keeping this project at about $6.50 – still well below the cost of buying them.

There. Much better.

If you were born after the baby boom, you might not have any pantyhose around, but this is what you need for the next step. I had some because despite being born in the mid-70s, I’m a bit old-school when it comes to foundation garments. Sure, I’ll do bare legs in a dress the hot summer, but for the rest of the year if I’m getting really dressed up I believe a slip and a pair of very good quality sheer nude nylon hose makes one look polished. If you don’t want to take my word for it, just ask Kate Middleton.

So, I shoved the balls into the leg of my old stocking tying each one in tightly. (I suppose tights would probably work too). This is going to help with the felting process.

Next, I soaked the balls in a bucket of very, very, hot water. A few tutorials I’ve seen recommend just throwing the balls in the washing machine on a hot cycle, but our high-efficiency front loader doesn’t use enough water to effectively bind the fibers. After wringing them out the best I could, I dried them (with a load of bed sheets) on the highest heat setting. Then, for good measure, I repeated the process.

All finished!

As you can see, some red from one of the old sweaters bled through one of the balls. I won’t use that one with my whites, obviously.

There is a downside to dryer balls. They’re noisy as heck. It sounds a bit like a herd of bison are charging through the laundry room when they’re in motion, but since they cut down on drying time at you don’t have to listen to it for very long.

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