Tag Archives: Travel

I Heart Cinco de Mayo

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First heart I made!

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! I’ve had this project in my back pocket for months, but I decided to wait until today before sharing it, because, you know, it’s Cinco de Mayo.

Way back in mid February, we took a trip to Tulum, Mexico with friends. We had an amazing time. We relaxed on the beach, snorkeled in beautiful cenotes (freshwater limestone pools and caves), visited Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, and ate lots of good food. We spent a couple of evenings in the town of Tulum, where I couldn’t resist doing a little shopping in the market stalls. Not only were there pom pom garlands in all sorts of fun colors (and I’m a sucker for pom poms), there were these adorable hearts, made of felt and hand embroidered. Needless to say I became a little obsessed with them. I ended up buying two hearts and a pom pom garland the night before we flew home to stuff in my suitcase as keepsakes. I love ’em!

A pom pom cart in Tulum, Mexico.

Well, those hearts soon became the inspiration for this cute project. I love making these hearts for so many reasons. One, they allow me to use up some of the scraps from thrift store sweaters I bought a few years ago and felted for various projects. Two, embroidery is so easy to pick up and tinker away at whenever you have a spare moment. Three, this project is also small, so it’s perfect for stuffing in a tote or purse and taking along to soccer games or public transit commutes. And four (this is my favorite reason), they provide the perfect use for all that polyfil my dog pulls out of her chew toys…reusing and recycling at its best!

Heart Instructions

To make your own hearts, you’ll need the following.

  • Wool sweaters or felt, in any color
  • Large heart cookie cutter (the one I use measures 5 inches across)
  • permanent marker
  • small embroidery hoop
  • crewel embroidery yarn in a variety of bright colors
  • embroidery needle
  • scissors
  • polyfil stuffing
  • pom pom
  • tassel

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Using the cookie cutter and permanent marker, trace two heart shapes on the wool or felt.

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Center one of the hearts in the embroidery hoop, pulling it as taut as possible.

Use different colors of crewel embroidery yarn to embroider a design of your choosing. (Before you begin stitching, practice drawing possible designs on paper if that helps you solidify a design.)

As you stitch, try not to get too hung up on your embroidery skills or worry about how your design is coming along; Keep adding to it until you like what you see. (Need to brush up on embroidery stitches? Check out this site. )

Once you’re happy with your design, remove the embroidery hoop and cut out the two hearts (the one you embroidered and the one you did not).

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Stack the embroidered heart on top of the unstitched heart. Sew a quarter inch seam along outside edge of the hearts, but leave a 2 inch section along one of the sides unsewn. This is where you’ll add the stuffing.

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Push the polyfil stuffing through the hole. Use enough to give a puffy dimension to the entire heart.

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Stitch the opening closed.

Chose a complementary color of yarn to create a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge of the heart. Here’s a quick how-to.

 

Use yarn to sew a pom pom and tassel to the bottom of the heart. Here are instructions for making a tassel

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Sew a loop to the top of your heart for hanging.

 

Last but not least, find the perfect place to hang your heart. I love how they look on door nobs, window closures, or as Christmas ornaments. Or better yet, give them to a friend!

Happy heart making! If you like this project, then definitely check out the other cool crafts made from recycled sweaters in the Craft-A-Day Book!

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For the Love of Lanterns

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My favorite traveling companions indulged me in a photo in front of  just a few of the lanterns we saw in Hoi An. 

It’s been a week since my family and I returned from an epic trip to Vietnam. In a span of 10 days we covered a lot of ground, traveling from Saigon to the Mekong Delta, jumping up to the central coast towns of Hoi An, Danang, and then over the mountains to the imperial city of Hue, and then flying on to Haiphong in the north to catch a junk boat tour through Lan Ha/Halong Bay before traversing over to Hanoi for the final day of our stay. Everything, from the delicious food and kindness of the people to the breathtaking scenery and colorful cities with their frenetic pace, was entirely unforgettable. So to narrow down the experience to a single favorite moment seems nearly impossible. Instead I’m going to pick the one memory that makes my craft-loving soul sing: making silk lanterns at the Handicraft Workshop in Hoi An.

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The Handicraft Workshop, Hoi An.

My youngest son found mention of the Workshop in a guidebook and added it to his list of things to do in Hoi An. Hoi An, an ancient port city, was part of the Silk Road long ago. The port eventually silted up, but the architectural and cultural influences brought to the city from traders throughout Asia and beyond remain. The result is a perfectly charming old town–narrow lanes divide the ancient store fronts that are home to shops, coffee houses, and restaurants today.

By night, colorful silk lanterns brighten the streets, transforming Hoi An into an outdoor party (with plenty of tourists in attendance!).

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Hoi An street at night.

Just before dusk on our first night there, we found a restaurant with a second story balcony and ordered dinner. Then we watched as the daylight began to fade and the lanterns came to light. On the river below us, row boats filled with tourists floated candles on the surface of the water. It was nothing short of enchanting.

So it made perfect sense to seek out the Handicraft Workshop and make lanterns on our second day in Hoi An. The process was pretty straightforward and we had plenty of help from the instructors. My two boys, who are 13 and 11, had no problem making a lantern on their own. Each of us selected a color and we were given pieces of silk, a bamboo lantern frame, a tassel, and two finishing tapes in the color of silk we’d chosen.

To make the lanterns, first we applied a thin layer of glue (later investigation revealed it was a heavy duty shoe glue) to three of the lantern slats. Then we used scraps from the silk clippings to rub away most of the glue, leaving the bamboo tacky, but not dripping with glue.

Next we took pieces of silk, patterned-side up, and stretched them between the glued slats, making sure the pattern was straight and the fabric was taut. The instructors checked our work, tugging and adjusting  a little bit more as needed.

Then we repeated the process of applying the glue for the next three slats. Once we’d covered the entire lantern frame in fabric, we used a scissors to trim the excess silk along the edges of the slats.

To finish, we applied a finishing tape along the top and bottom and added a tassel to the base. Voila!

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Ta-da! The finished lanterns.

These lanterns are the perfect keepsake from our time in Hoi An…they actually compress into a narrow tube, making them easy to stuff in a backpack!

Now that I’m home, I’m working on gathering the supplies I need to light these babies up in a corner of my house. And, I really want to find a way to make lanterns in different shapes using patterned fabrics. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out the projects for luminaries and paper lanterns in my latest release, The Craft-A-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials. Keep crafting!

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Jumping the Pond…With Kids

   

We did it! Remember back in January when I mentioned that a family adventure abroad was on my 2017 bucket list? Well, one big checkmark is in the books. We just returned from an 11-day jaunt around the south of England, and it was so much fun I immediately wanted to plan the next trip. (Truth be told, I actually did plan the next trip…but that won’t be happening anytime soon.)

 

This trip to England was totally a case of the stars aligning. We found a great deal on airfare and happened to have friends who’ve been living just north of London for the past couple of years. So we set up a time to Skype and talked about the possibilities. It turned out their spring break coincided with ours and they would be leaving for Cornwall the day we arrived, but they were fine with us staying at their place while they were away. We ended up arriving a couple of hours before they left, which gave us enough time to say hello and gather any details about caring for the flat. We planned to stay three nights before heading west ourselves to Winchester, Salisbury, Bath, and the Cotswolds. Then we would meet up with our friends in Stratford upon Avon to see Shakespeare sites, catch Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and tour nearby Warwick Castle before driving back into London to spend the weekend at their place.

I won’t go into the day-to-day details, but I will say that traveling with kids made for a very different trip than those we’d taken in our pre-parenting days. But in a good way. I tend to be an over-ambitious traveler, who tries to pack as much as possible into each day. I knew this approach would not work this time around, so we purposefully planned light, flexible itineraries. Even at that, there was always one thing that dropped off the list each day, and we were okay with that.

Inevitably, we would become engrossed in the first museum or site we were visiting and spend more time there than we expected. When I say engrossed, I mean the kids were into it too. So we got in the habit of visiting the must-see site on the list first. Then we took the approach we learned when the boys were young–if they are happy playing at the park, or building with legos, or doing any other activity, relax and allow them time to enjoy it instead of rushing on to the next thing. This worked like a charm (for all of us!).

Our favorite sites? The Jane Austen house just outside of Winchester (see the boys clowning in hats above), the Tower of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Stonehenge at sunset, the Roman Baths in Bath, and the walk between Upper and Lower Slaughters in the Cotswolds. We found that a little decompressing time at the park or on a walk helped break up the day and gave the kids the freedom to run around. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the museums did an excellent job of providing hands-on activities and scavenger hunts to keep the kids engaged. This wasn’t as crucial for my 12-year-old, but it was key for my 10-year-old, who seemed to thrive on finding every item on the list, giving us time to enjoy nearby exhibits (and maybe actually read about them!).

  

The days were long, so we always had breakfast before leaving the flat/airbnb, and grabbed food on the run for lunch BEFORE the kids had time to get hungry. If I were to do it all over again (and I’d love to), I’d pack sandwiches in the daypack for lunch. Buying lunch from food stands and restaurants got to be pricy, and the timing wasn’t always ideal. Plus, going to a grocery store should be a must on any trip…it’s a great way to see and try local food specialties.

And whenever we could, we tried to make our way back “home” early enough to spend time relaxing before bed. We started watching The Crown on Netflix before we left the States, and continued catching episodes at the flat or Airbnb in England. This was a fun “British” thing to do that still gave us the sense of comfort we get from cozying up to watch shows or movies together as a family at home. In fact we just watched the last two episodes in our own TV the other night. It’s good to be back, but I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. Any recommendations? I’d love to hear about your favorite places to visit, especially with kids. Happy Trails!