Month: February 2016

Family Introductions: The Hopper Family

Hopper Family

Father Harold is Crabapple Crossings’ postmaster. He prides himself on sorting and delivering the mail with peak efficiency. It’s always fun to see the variety of stamps from places other than Sylvania. He’s always sure to ask if the recipient is willing to bring him the stamp once the letter has been read so that he can add it to his collection. When not indulging in his passion for philately, he enjoys ballroom dancing and playing drums for the town band or in jam sessions with his family.

Mother Harriet owns Fabric and Frocks, Crabapple Crossings’ sewing and dress shop. She loves choosing all the latest cloth and fripperies; both to sell to the townsfolk and for designing lovely dresses to sell. When not sewing, she likes to play piano with her family, participate in the town’s softball team, dance with her husband, and sketch out her clothing design ideas.

Older Daughter Hannah is a bit quiet and bookish and loves spending time at the town’s library reading anything she can get her paws on. Her love of reading and writing has driven her interest in reporting for the Crabapple Crossings Chronicle. Although sometimes shy at first, her personality helps people feel comfortable talking to her about town news and issues for the paper. She also enjoys helping her mother with sketching clothes, playing violin with her family, and eating lots of candy! When she grows up, she wants to be a professional writer.

Younger Daughter Heather is less bookish than her older sister. She is a very active girl, participating in softball, swimming, and any other sport she can find. She is pretty good in softball, but she excels at and prefers swimming. She tried ballet for a while, but found it too boring – she is happiest when spending time outside. Her other hobbies include playing her trumpet (either with the family band or just as loud as she can. Mom has told her no more loud practice sessions in the house!) jumping rope, and teaching the younger children all sorts of fun outdoor games. She wants to be a gym teacher when she grows up.

Son Henry loves working with his paws, especially cooking. Despite his age, he is a whiz in the kitchen with a natural knack for combining ingredients and flavors in new and exciting ways. He loves trying new techniques and foraging for interesting local ingredients in the lands around Crabapple Crossings. He is a pretty good student and is especially talented at math. He also loves playing xylophone with his family, hiking, and (of course) eating. He wants to be a chef when he grows up.

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Greengrocer Display Tutorial

Here are directions on how to build Mrs. Goat’s greengrocery display. I’m admittedly not the best at doing tutorials, so please let me know if any part of this needs more clarification! This display is made for these crates from about.com. Other items may fit on this display as well, but it was designed with those particular crates in mind.

Supplies:

  • Bass or balsa wood sheets, 1/16″ thick (mine was 4″ wide by 24″ long, so I only needed part of one sheet)
  • Balsa wood sticks, 3/16″ x 3/8″ (I needed two 36″ long sticks)
  • Balsa wood stick, 1/8″ square
  • Self-healing cutting mat or other cutting surface
  • Xacto knife
  • Metal ruler
  • Glue appropriate for wood. I use Aleene’s Fast Grab Tacky Glue (a PVA glue)
  • Toothpicks
  • Paint of your choice. I use multi-surface acrylic paint
  • Paintbrush

Directions:

  1. Using an Xacto knife and metal ruler, begin by cutting the wooden sheets into the two flat parts of the display. Each flat should be 4-1/4″ by 1-3/4″. Since my sheet was only 4″ wide, I first cut the 4-1/4″ length, then subdivided it into the two 1-3/4″ widths (plus a little bit left-over.)tuto1tuto2tuto3tuto4
  2. Cut the 3/16″ x 3/8″ wood into eight lengths, each 4-1/4″ long. If lucky, you can get all eight lengths out of one stick. However, balsa wood is prone to splitting and/or breakage, so having more on-hand than you think you will need is a good practice.
  3. Cut two lengths of the 1/8″ square wood, each 4-1/4″ long.
  4. You should now have:
    • 2 wood sheeting flats, each 4-1/4″ x 1-3/4″
    • 8 pieces of 3/16″ x 3/8″ wood, each 4-1/4″ long
    • 2 pieces of 1/8″ x 1/8″ wood, each 4-1/4″ longtuto5
  5. You have two options at this point. 1) Paint all pieces with 2 coats of acrylic paint OR 2) continue onto Step 6 for assembly. If you want the painting to be easier, paint now. If you want the construction to be easier, construct now. For the purposes of this tutorial, I pre-painted all of the materials. But if I had to do it again, I would assemble first and paint later. It’s really up to you.
  6. Assemble the stand with the glue, using toothpicks for application. Apply glue all over the 3/16″ width of one of your lengths of wood. Carefully line up and apply along the long length of one of the flats.tuto6tuto7
  7. Apply glue to one of the 1/8″ square lengths. Apply to the front edge of the flat.tuto8
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 with other flat.
  9. Apply two of the 3/16″ x 3/8″ strips to the bottom side of each flat.tuto9
  10. Choose one of the two units to be the back tier. Add the two remaining 3/16″ x 3/8″ strips to the bottom of the previously glued strips, doubling the heighttuto10
  11. Add lots of glue to the back of the bottom tier. Really give it a nice coating, like frosting a cake. Bring the two tiers together and very gently join them together.tuto11
  12. If you did not paint the pieces for the display in step 5, allow the glue to dry and give it two coats of paint.
  13. Allow the glue and paint to dry completely before placing handmade crates or other items on top. In general, be very gentle with your display, as it is quite delicate.

tuto12

Mrs. Goat’s Greengrocery Display

Local citizen Mrs. Gail Goat is helping to spearhead a campaign to get the youth of Crabapple Crossings to embrace good nutritional habits. As a purveyor of fresh vegetables to the town, she is in a unique position to encourage healthy eating.

“I know that with my children, they sometimes turn up their noses at the veggies on their plates, afraid to try new things. At least with my kids, I have found that offering vegetables for them to taste without pressure, especially in their raw form seems to make the veggies less scary and more an exciting undertaking. So I decided to offer this to all the children of the village. After school, I will offer the children tastes of what vegetables I have available at no cost. I think the children of the town will be excited to get a free snack.”

While I was interviewing Mrs. Goat, several village children stopped by. Mrs. Goat offered Hugh Holstein some broccoli.

grocer story 2

At first Hugh wasn’t sure. “I’m not sure I like broccoli,” he said.

“That’s okay,” said Mrs. Goat. “But if you change your mind, I’ll be happy to give you some.”

“What do you think, should I try it?” Hugh asked his companion, Martin Mouse.

“I love broccoli!” Martin said. “I think you should at least taste it.”

grocer story 3

“Okay,” Hugh said. “I’ll give it a shot.” He bit into the broccoli. “Ooh, it’s a bit peppery. But it’s pretty good! Thank you, Mrs. Goat.”

“You’re welcome, Hugh” she replied.

grocer story 4

Meanwhile, Wesley Whitetail was peeking into the bin of pumpkins. “I don’t think you’ll like those so much, Wesley,” Mrs. Goat told the tot. “They need to be cooked to taste yummy. Why don’t you try this carrot instead? It’s orange like the pumpkins.”

grocer story 5

Wesley happily accepted the carrot and crunched happily on it. “Normally Wesley doesn’t like to eat his veggies,” said his older sister Winnie Whitetail. “But I guess he’s enjoying his carrot a lot!” she said as he finished. “I’m sure mama will be so happy to hear that Wesley has gained a new appreciation for a healthy snack!”

Mrs. Goat is already quite pleased with the success of her program. “If it gets just one child to discover a new favorite vegetable, I’ll call it a success. And I think today proved that it can work.”

Mrs. Goat’s greengrocery is open daily from 9 to 5. She offers seasonal vegetables at this time and hopes to offer a variety of fruits in the future.

The theme for the third round of Iron Craft was “G is for…” Our projects had to relate to a skill, material, or subject that begins with the letter “G.” I decided that Mrs. Goat’s Greengrocery would certainly fit this alphabet-based theme.

Greengrocer

This project was not as intensive as my last one, but I really should learn not to make so many projects that need to be “filled”!

I began this project by creating the crates based on this tutorial from about.com. They came together pretty easily, although I now see that I didn’t actually follow the tutorial particularly well. They turned out pretty nicely despite my apparent inability to follow directions.

I then built the stand. I wanted the crates to be on an angle, so I played around with different thicknesses of balsa wood. I eventually settled on a 3/8″ riser. I also used 1/8″ wood to create a little lip or stop at the fronts of the risers to keep the crates from sliding off. The entire project is made of these two widths of wood and 1/16″ wood sheets. After assembly, I painted it a fresh spring green.

Then I had to fill the crates (why do I keep doing this to myself!?) As it is winter here, I decided to primarily make winter vegetables. I also wanted a variety of colors to make the display more appealing. I use Premo Sculpey, because I have heard that it is one of the more stiff clays. I always have very warm hands, so I chose a clay that could withstand that. I also work on tile that I keep in the refrigerator when I’m not working on it. I realize I am very much in the minority with my hot hands, so it’s worthwhile doing some research to find what will work best for you.

I used a whole bunch of tutorials as a guideline for my veggies. Most of these tutorials are very involved and result in hyper-realistic veggies. I am not that much of a stickler for super-realism – my village inhabitants are anthropomorphic animals; a little cartoonishness is okay with me. (And I’m kind of lazy.) So these links are just guidelines – I definitely did not follow every step!

  1. Carrots (video)
  2. Eggplant/aubergine
  3. Parsnip (pretty much the same as carrots)
  4. Broccoli (video)
  5. Butternut squash (video)
  6. Potatoes (video)
  7. Beets (for general shape)
  8. Pumpkin (video; and see butternut squash video)

Some of the items I made enough to fill the crate; others I didn’t. For those that didn’t look full enough, I added some small bits of crumpled tissue paper on the bottom of the crates to give them a fuller look. I then made mini signs with some scrap paper and used a 01/.25 mm micron pen to write the signs. I used Scotch tape to stick them on. It’s really not sticking well, so I will need to find some other solution.

Greengrocer stand

This project was really fun. I truly enjoyed creating all the veggies and working with polymer clay. I’ve only done maybe one or two other projects with the clay, so this has been a great learning experience. Figuring out how to mix the clays I had to get the right colors was really interesting. I always had a reference image available for color matching and shaping. Are my items amazing? No, but they are effective-enough for my taste. And I can see why people are enthusiastic about polymer clay; it really is fun!

Around Town: Making Valentines

For our new “Around Town” feature, we’ll be publishing pictures of daily life around Crabapple Crossings. These are simply slice-of-life photos to document our village!

valentines1

We captured Miss Millie Mouse making valentines for her family and friends.

valentines2

She would like to wish everyone in Crabapple Crossings and beyond a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Furniture Cleaning Tutorial

As I mention on my “About Me” page, I was first introduced to Sylvanian Families when I was a kid back in the ’80s. When I was maybe 3 or 4, I received a wonderful handmade wooden dollhouse and a variety of the furniture sets. When I became reacquainted with the toys as an adult, I was pleased to find that my original sets were still in storage at my parents’ house. However, I was a bit disappointed to find that as a child I had done some “decorating” of my own on a couple of pieces. (I actually find this quite surprising. As far as I can remember, I generally took pretty good care of my toys.) A kitchen counter piece had especially taken the brunt of my “artistic” endeavors, so I decided that I would try to clean it off. And it actually was quite easy, so I thought I’d put together this super quick tutorial to share my findings!

fix before

You can see that I seem to have colored on this kitchen countertop with a black crayon.

I’m pretty sure that it had undergone repeated previous attempts at cleaning, scrubbing, etc. But now I have a new (new since the ’80s at least) tool in my arsenal: a “Mr. Clean Magic Eraser“.

fix tool

Magic Erasers are, according to the wikipedia page, made of melamine foam. I have bought melamine foam from the dollar store for much cheaper than the name-brand seen above, but have found that they don’t seem to work as well and crumble very quickly. I’m always up for saving money, but I do prefer the name-brand product in this case.

Magic Erasers are an abrasive, like a very fine sandpaper, so they can really only be used on hard surfaces. Luckily for me, my scribbles were on the hard plastic of a toy countertop. Melamine foam will damage fabrics, easily scratched items, many painted surfaces, and other soft materials (don’t even think about trying it out on your Sylvanians!)

To use the Magic eraser you wet it down with water (I just stick mine under the faucet for a few seconds) and then squeeze out as much of the water as you can. Then you scrub your surface. The crayon markings had been on this toy for nearly 30 years, so it did take a lot of “elbow grease.” Rubbing in a variety of directions seemed to be the best technique – up and down, side to side, and in little circles. After maybe 2 or 3 minutes of scrubbing, the vast majority of the crayon was successfully removed.

fix after

The Magic Eraser may leave a powdery residue on your object; if so, just wipe it off with a damp cloth or paper towel.

Isn’t it a wonderful fix?

fix before and after

Like it’s brand new!

Now that I know that the melamine foam works well for hard plastic toys like this, I will be much more likely to buy similarly damaged items in the future (if the price is right, of course!)

 

Family Introductions: The Goat Family

Goat Family

Father Gary is a jack of all trades, working as the town’s plumber, garbage collector, and all-around handyman. Everyone in town knows that if something is broken, Gary can fix it. When not helping his fellow critters, Gary enjoys taking apart interesting things to learn how they work, which helps him understand how to fix them later. When he has down time, Gary enjoys organizing the Crabapple Crossings Community Theater as actor, set builder, and often director. His enthusiasm for the theater is so infectious that even critters who otherwise never thought they’d be brave enough to get up in front of their friends and neighbors have found themselves auditioning for several of Gary’s productions. Gary also enjoys spending time with his daughters coloring, making mud pies, or having imaginary tea parties.

Mother Gail is Crabapple Crossings’ greengrocer. She always has a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available for sale. Many of the town’s children love to stop to visit with her after school because she almost always has something yummy for the children to taste. She has found that allowing the children to taste fruits and veggies on their own time helps them grow to love the healthy parts of their diets. Her hobbies are cooking, tending to her own vegetable patch, and applying to sweepstakes. She has won many wonderful items through the years and is always so excited when she receives a victory letter or telegram.

Older daughter Grace does not fit her name very well. She has a tendency to be forgetful, uncoordinated, and a bit of an all-around goof. She loves being the class clown and getting the other children to laugh at her silly antics. She tries not to be mean with her tricks and pranks, only pranking people who like practical jokes. Her grades are not the best and she does try for the most part – when she’s not planning silly japes. She loves to send away for magic tricks, joke books, and funny toys. So needless to say, when the mail arrives at the Goat house, it can be a competition over who gets the most letters and packages. Grace also enjoys playing hide and go seek, climbing trees, and performing in her father’s plays – especially if she gets to be the center of attention.

Baby sister Gabby is quite the opposite of her older sister. Whereas Grace is loud and daring, Gabby is shy and calm. She is a common sight at her mother’s grocery where she loves to help sort and stack the fruits and veggies. She loves going to nursery school with the other tots and enjoys playing house and clean-up time. Her family likes to joke that baby Gabby is the tidiest member of the Goat family – and she’s just a little tyke.

Miniature Lavender Tutorial

As promised, here is the tutorial for the lavender from Mrs. Mouse’s flower cart.

Lavender 7

I discovered this super simple craft completely by chance. I’m always wandering the aisles of the local craft store, looking for cute mini things for the village. But I never think to go down the baking supply aisle. I’m not really a baker, so I thought I wouldn’t find anything that would work. Well, was I wrong! I definitely need to make that aisle part of my usual route. Because I found these:

Lavender 1

Wilton Flower Stamens. These are items for making the centers of frosting flowers. They seem to be made of very thin wire, paper, and in the case of the kind I used, tiny bits of foam. I seriously hesitated about buying them. For $3.50, I thought they were kind of expensive, but after going back and forth about it, I decided to give them a try. And I’m glad I did. The package contains three different types: a glitter style, a pearl style and a fluffy style.

Lavender 2

Lavender 3

The stamens I used for this project have the “fluffy” texture at both ends. I didn’t want double-ended flowers, so I trimmed off one end. Unfortunately, I wanted long stems, so I was only able to get one flower from each. If you want shorter stems, you can cut them in half and end up with two blooms each. At least I kept the extra bits – they may make great bunches of grapes!

Lavender 4

I then painted the stems in the green that I wanted. I’m not especially particular about accuracy, more about overall look, so I just picked some green paint I had on-hand.

Lavender 6

I then used purple craft paint (actually the color I chose was called lavender!) to paint the bloom ends.

I’m so glad that I took a chance on this product. Out of all the flowers I made for the flower cart, these were by far (BY FAR) the easiest. And I think that when gathered all together in a container, they make a great, colorful impression.

Do you have a favorite material or craft supply that you use in a new or unconventional way? I’d love to hear about it!

Mrs. Mouse’s Flower Cart

Crabapple Crossings has become a little more colorful this week with the debut of a new flower cart. Mrs. Mitzi Mouse, president of the local gardening club has always been enthusiastic about sharing her floral expertise with the town. Her flowers and arrangements are highly sought after as a cheery addition to homes and businesses.

Cart Mouse

“I’ve been doing most of my flower arranging at the kitchen table or outside on my potting bench. My customers knew me mostly by word-of mouth, so they had to take the initiative to seek me out. Now with my cart, I’m much easier to find!”

Cart

Mrs. Holly Holstein agrees with Mrs. Mouse’s sentiments. “I can’t say I’ve ever thought to buy flowers from Mrs. Mouse before. But when I was walking by, I couldn’t help but take a look at her gorgeous specimens. It’s so nice to be able to buy a lovely bouquet on my way home from the market.”

Cart Sale

Mrs. Holstein’s daughter, Hazel Holstein is also excited about the cart. “Mrs. Mouse gave me some lavender to take home. It will smell so nice next to my bed, and is sure to bring me lots of good dreams!” she said.

Mrs. Mouse’s flower cart will frequently be found in the town square, weather permitting, of course. Mrs. Mouse also encourages anyone with an upcoming special occasion to contact her. “I love doing weddings and other big events, so please don’t hesitate to let me know what you have in mind.” She’d also like to remind everyone that Valentine’s Day is coming up soon, so order early if you “have something special in mind for your special someone.”

This flower cart has been my project for the past couple of weeks. The Iron Craft Hearts and Flowers theme was so perfect for me. I have been mulling over this flower cart idea for a while now (you can see that Mrs. Mouse has a flower cart in her bio that I wrote almost a month ago.) But I hadn’t taken the steps to actually make it happen. 

Cart Side 1

I don’t always have a solid plan going into my projects; I often start on one thing and see where it leads. So for this project, I actually started by making the buckets. I printed off the 1/12 version this pattern from about.com (seriously a great resource for minis, there will be several more links to them in this post). I wasn’t a big fan of the particular designs on the pattern, so I very carefully cut out one of the larger bucket patterns and traced it onto gray cardstock. I then followed the assembly instructions. I wanted to give the buckets a more weathered zinc-look, so I applied white paint. To get the streaky look of the white, I used a dry-brush technique, wiping most of the paint off my brush before adding it to the buckets.

While I was making my buckets, I had a series of paper punches out, primarily to see if one in my stash was the right size for the bottoms of the bucket – nope. But I did discover that although my 3/4″ circle punch was just slightly too big, a finished bucket could be suspended in the hole quite effectively. This discovery became crucial to making this project work.

Once I made my discovery, I sketched out a plan for the cart. I wanted a stepped-look to the cart, and dithered back and forth about the length of the cart and number of buckets. I’m not a huge stickler for scale, but I didn’t want things to be too out of proportion, so I did have a critter on-hand to check heights and such. That helped me decide that four buckets in width would be way too long. The cart is made out of a combination of bass and balsa woods, along with paper. I won’t get into the details of specific measurements for everything unless someone wants it; if so, just leave a comment.

Cart Side 2

I cut all the wood with an X-acto blade. This kind is my favorite, as I can’t stand the usual type where the collar that holds the blade is where I grip; it constantly gets loose. With this type, the collar is at the back end. I also use a metal ruler to ensure clean (enough) cuts. All the wooden parts were then painted with multi-surface acrylic paints that matched the cardstock I wanted to use. It was a happy coincidence that I had a pretty close match with cardstock and paint already in my stash. Also, the green is almost identical to the original 1980s Sylvanian Families furniture, which I found a bit amusing. The cart itself was a pretty quick project – from concept to completed structure it was probably only a couple of hours max – and that’s including letting the paint and glue dry!

Compared to the quickness of building the structure, actually filling it was a serious undertaking. I estimate I spent a good 20+ hours working on the flowers; they are definitely not for the impatient!

FlowersFrom left to right, top to bottom: red roses, black-eyed susans, pink roses, pink delphinium, lavender, calla lilies, white daisies, orange daisies, irises.

So. Flowers. There are nine different “types” of flowers in the cart to create some variety in color and shape. All (but the lavender) were made with thin floral wire for the stems. Some of the flowers have paper-wrapped wires and some do not. I think I used 22- and 24-gauge wires (a couple of my packages have lost their labels.) For the flowers with traditional petals, I used simple colored tissue paper. I purchased some of my tissue at a craft store and some of it at a party supply store. Each package was 99 cents and came with eight sheets of 20″x 20″ tissue. I used less than half a sheet for each set of flowers, so this is a great deal! All the leaves were made using acrylic-painted copy paper and small punches or cutting freehand.

So I’ll go into a little detail for each flower, starting with the roses. I used this tutorial from about.com. There are some spots where I got confused, so I kind of did some guessing. I used a mini leaf punch from Punch Bunch for the rose leaves.

For the black-eyed susans and daisies, I used this tutorial from 1-inch Minis from Kris. I used this flower punch from Punch Bunch (between 3 and 4 per flower) for the petals of the blacked eyed susans and white daisies. Unfortunately, that punch jammed (there’s probably tiny tissue bits stuck in the spring…) so for the orange daisies I used this other punch, two per bloom. For the centers of the black eyed susans and orange daisies I used black flocked paper. I can’t find a source online, but I bought it from Joann for around $2. It’s about the thickness of normal cardstock with a velvety flocked side. I used a 1/8″ punch. The centers for the white daisies are yellow cardstock. I wet the cardstock and then pulled the layers apart for a rougher texture.

For the delphinium I used this tutorial from Tudor Dollhouse Project. Instead of using bugle beads for structure, I dipped the stems into acrylic paint. Each stem used between 30 and 50 blooms. Yikes! I also used a white gel pen to add detail after applying the blooms.

For the calla lilies I used yet another about.com tutorial. I chose not to add texture to the centers. The petals are simply white copy paper. I punched the paper with this heart punch from Stampin’ Up, then cut the hearts in half.

The irises were made using this tutorial from Joann Swanson. For the petals, I used the same mini-heart punch as I did for the roses, but carefully cut them in half. I also chose not to add the yellow paint to the petals (I found it too difficult.)

Finally, the lavender. I actually came up with my own technique for these, so I posted a quick tutorial.

Overall, I am very, very happy with my flower cart. I feel a huge sense of accomplishment about it. I find it so cool to think that it started out as just some wood, paper, glue, and paint. I don’t know if I’ll ever undertake this many miniature flowers again. I still have so much tissue paper and floral wire, but it was really very tedious. Maybe an arrangement or pot here or there, but probably never again the 200-some stems I made for this project!