Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: school supplies

Is it too early to be thinking back-to-school?  Some may think so, but if you want to find some neat school supplies and educational aids, NOW is the perfect time to hunt them down in thrift stores!  I usually find the best, most unique supplies and learning aids right after school ends, and right before the new school year begins. 

Typical finds (and usually pretty good buys) . . .
  • flash cards / learning aids
  • paper supplies
  • classroom visual aids / posters
  • craft supplies
  • dry erase / chalk boards
  • cork boards
  • classroom decoration
  • construction paper
  • binders

(And as for books -- that's a given.  Everyone knows you can find awesome books, workbooks and even text books at the thrift store!)

When I first started homeschooling our children about 10 years ago, I had a very limited budget, was overwhelmed, and didn't even know where to start.  So, I started at the thrift store, so my investment would be minimal, and could start out slow.  I was amazed at how many school supplies and educational materials I found!  I've been picking up supplies for our homeschool from there ever since.

Probably the most common find. . . .

Flash cards.  Math, ABCs, time, money, spanish.  You name it, we probably have (or had) it.

I'm loving the roll of handwriting stickers!

Some more common (and recent) finds. . .

. . . plus the cool storage basket to put them in! 

I'm always hunting for classroom aids, bulletin board borders and decorations, educational posters, and maps.  Always the maps. . . .

We seem to go through a lot of maps.
Perhaps because SOMEONE keeps renaming oceans and such.

School supplies I DON'T recommend buying from the thrift store:  
  • microscopes
  • telescopes
  • science kits
  • puzzles
  • math manipulatives
  • board games
  • electronic learning toys (such as Leap Pad systems)  
  • anything smelly or stained 
These items are usually missing key parts or just don't work.  I would use great caution, and closely inspect them first before purchasing.

If you're looking to supplement your homeschool curriculum, offer some enrichment activities for your child or round out your classroom, you might want to check out some thrift stores before school starts up!

Have you ever used (or would you use) educational materials from the thrift store with your child or in your classroom?

hey -- wouldn't YOU want to learn your numbers with an awesome vintage pirate??

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Easy t-shirt tote tutorial

This is such an easy project, it barely qualifies for a tutorial.  Probably THE easiest tote you can make.  These t-shirt totes are strong, roomy, durable. . . washable!  We've been using t-shirt totes for a few years now, for shopping (when I remember to bring them in the store,) for picnics, hiking, day trips.  If they can haul lunch for a gaggle of hungry Monkeys, you know these suckers are roomy and tough.

This is also an inexpensive project, as you can use t-shirts you have on hand, like those less-than-perfect t-shirts that might otherwise be destined for the rag pile or trash.  I like to pick them up at thrift stores, usually for less than $1.  (One thrift store in the Dallas area would sell 10 shirts for $3.00.  Crazy!)  You can use any size t-shirt you like, but I find that a men's XL works best for our needs.  Anything bigger than that gets a little... wonky.  Too stretchy.  But use whatever you like -- experiment!  Now, on to the tutorial. . . .

Pick a shirt.  This one is a men's Medium.  Nice!

Cut the shirt.
of course, I have to save the scraps for another project.  ;)

Sew along the bottom hem of the shirt.

You can stop now if you like.  I prefer to do one more step, as it makes a very strong seam along the bottom of the tote.  Plus, I can brag that I put in a fancy french seam.  ;)

Turn the tote inside out.

Now sew another seam along the bottom, encasing the edge of the t-shirt (and the first seam) inside this new seam.  It doesn't have to be exact.  Just go on feel.  You can feel the hem of the shirt along the bottom, so just sew the second seam along that.

There.  You just made a french seam! 

Turn the bag right-side out. . . 

Aaaand done.  Easy!

not even half-full. . .

holding 2 lbs of pasta, 2 cans of soup, and almost 3 lbs of oatmeal,
with plenty of room to spare!

Easy, cheap, fun, and versatile!   Whip up a few of these and see what you think.  I bet you'll enjoy using the totes as much as I do!  :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: sewing notions

The thrift store is an excellent place to source sewing notions!  I usually find notions in lots, done up in plastic bags, or sometimes in boxes or baskets.  (Always peek inside shoe boxes at the thrift store.  Always.)  I usually find these lots priced very cheaply.  If the price of the lot is about the retail price of one or two of the items inside the bag, I buy it.* 

Like zippers.  Once in a while, I find a giant ziploc bag stuffed with zippers for around $2 or $3. If I were to shop at Joann's, a couple of zippers would easily cost me $3.  This batch of zippers was a mere $2.  BOOM.  Bargain.

and the cute wire basket was $1.99... it's going to become another project soon!

A great tip from a facebook fan -- be sure to do a sniff test before you purchase your notions!  They're unusable (and therefore not a bargain) if they stink like smoke, mildew, mothballs or the crazy cat lady.  I don't purchase them if they smell funny.  These notions, however, passed the sniff test with flying colors.  :)

don't you love the packaging?  and 30¢ for a zipper?!

The most common type of sewing notions that I tend to find are bundles of bias tape, hem tape and lace.  I use these in sewing, but also for packaging, art projects, collages, and crafts with the kids.  Multi-purpose!

these notions + basket = $1.00

Not as common. . . bundles of trim, like this adorable micro rick rack.  Loooove the rick rack.

Sadly, I almost never find buttons.  I'm jealous of you lucky people that find jars and buckets and crates of Granny's vintage button collections.  So not fair.  But I'll keep hunting for them anyway.  And you should, too!  Save money, score some uncommon notions, and get sewing with your new-to-you thrift store finds!

*OK... I totally sound like a hoarder.  I should clarify -- I buy it IF it's something I can and will use, and IF I don't already have a bajillion of them.  For example, I found a shoe box full of new, in-the-package knitting needles last week for a few bucks, but passed on it.  I don't knit.  See?  Not a hoarder.  Or is it WILLPOWER OF STEEL?

What is your favorite or best thrift store notion find?  Brag away in the comments below!  :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I must have made God laugh. . .

. . . because I made some plans.  Simple plans, like "do school," or "sew," or "take a bath."  The Littlest Monkey has been sick for about a week now, and demanded to be held 24/7.  (I wouldn't mind so much if my arms didn't cramp up from holding the chunky little guy, and an occasional hour of sleep would have been nice....)  He's still not 100%, but no more fever, no more puking in the past 48 hours, so I'll take a little crankiness and be grateful.

While I've been in a sleep-deprived daze, my girls have been busy. . . .

These 15-pound boxes arrived a couple of weeks ago.  They contain a never-ending wellspring of silky fabric goodness!  I opened the boxes, and more and more and more colorful, gorgeous fabric scraps ooooozed out.  They were all medium- and large-sized pieces, too, and so many lovely colors.

The cutting of circles has begun. 
These are the scraps of the scraps. 

We received this fabulous stash from an awesome gal that makes flags for high school flag corps.  (Sorry, but what is the plural of "corps??")  She didn't want to trash them, and of course I jumped at the chance to take them off her hands!  YAY for not going to the landfills (and YAY for going right into my hoard stash!)

even the scraps' scraps are pretty.

The Monkeys are planning to make themselves some bright hair pins and headbands, using my oldie-but-goodie tutorial.  We never seem to tire of singeing fabric with a candle.  ;)

you can find the tutorial HERE

I'll try to remember to post pictures of their creations, but I'm not making any plans.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thrifty Thursday: cloth napkins

Welcome to my new weekly feature, Thrifty Thursday!  Every Thursday, I'm going to post either a cool thrift store find, or share a thrifty, eco-friendly tip you can try.  Today's post is both thrifty and a thrift store find!

Several months ago, I blogged about our dependence on paper towels.  And I don't use the word "dependence" lightly.  We were using a case of paper towels every few weeks!  We used them to clean up messes large and small, as dinner napkins, baby wipes... everything.  I committed to using fewer paper towels, and set out to make some cloth napkins, using this great tutorial.  I sewed dozens of cloth napkins. . .

. . . and my family actually loves using them.  In fact, each of my kids has their own favorite print, and some are quite protective of "their" napkins!  ;)

Then I started noticing bundles of cloth napkins at my favorite thrift store.  High-quality fabrics in interesting prints, and never-before used, for maybe a buck or two -- per set!  So for about $10, my family of 11 now has an abundant supply of eco-friendly cloth napkins.

some cute summery prints... I'm loving the double-sided set!

I've found them in all different sizes, from a petite 10" x 10" to the large 20" x 20".  I've also found some in large quantities (like the green and white print above -- more than thirty!)  Sometimes, I find small sets, like the cute orange poppy print (and my favorite) -- only four.   Good quality, "new" cloth napkins seem to be pretty common at thrift stores, so if you're interested in giving them a try, you hould have no trouble in rounding up some awesome prints for your own family!  

Oh, and another cool thing:  I don't remember the last time I bought paper towels.  Paper towel addiction -- BUSTED.

What's your favorite thrift store find that you use regularly in your household, or has made your life easier or greener?

(And if you have a great thrift score, or thrifty tip, and would like to share it with my readers, shoot me an email!  I'd love to have some guest bloggers!)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Happy Cloud Baby Toy Tutorial

Finally!  A tutorial!  (And a cute one, at that!)  I like this little plush cloud and rainbow because it can be a toy, a teether, or even a nursery decoration for boys or girls.  It's easy to make, and great for using up little scraps of fabric!  I made this one from 100% stash fabrics and scraps.

Let's get started!

You'll need:

  • pattern (free download!)
  • felt, fleece or minky fabric for the cloud - 10" x 14"  (25.4 cm x 35.6 cm)
  • fabric scraps* for rainbow strips
  • fabric marker
  • embroidery thread
  • needle and thread
  • sewing machine
  • stick for turning
  • iron
  • stuffing (I prefer Premium Poly-fil, as it's non-allergenic and made from recycled materials)
* You can also use ribbons cut to 8" (20.3 cm) lengths, or bias tape, or rick rack....
~ Seam allowance - 1/4" (.6 cm)

Print. . . .

~ Print and cut out pattern pieces.  Be sure to print pattern at "actual size," and allow for printing outside printer area.

Prepare. . . .

~ Trace and cut out pattern from fabrics.

~ On one of the cloud pieces, mark the circles for the stuffing opening, and mark where you want the face features to go.

Embroider. . . .

~ On the right side of one of the cloud pieces, embroider your cloud's face.  I used 6 stands of embroidery thread.

I backstitched the mouth and eye outlines, and filled the eyes with a satin stitch.  Set aside for now.

Make the rainbow. . . .

~ Fold one strip of the rainbow's fabric in half lengthwise.
~ Stitch along that long edge, using a 1/4" seam allowance. . .

. . . and at the end, turn and sewing along the short edge.  You'll now have a tube with one end open, and one end closed. 

~ Clip the corners close to the stitching for nice, crisp corners. 

~ Turn the tube right-side out, using your turning stick (I use a skinny paintbrush, since all of my turning sticks / chopsticks have somehow become little boy drumsticks or weapons.) 
~ Press.
~ Repeat for the 5 remaining fabric strips.

Connect. . . .

~ Now take your embroidered cloud piece, and place the rainbow strips on the face, matching the raw edges of the strips with the bottom edge of the cloud.

~ Space them evenly if you like, leaving ~1" of cloud fabric on either side of the strips.

~ Pin the strips in place.

~ Sew the strips to the cloud, sewing very close to the edge. (~1/8")

~ Remove pins.
~ Now, fold the attached strips down, and pin them away from all other edges of the cloud.  (This is so the strips don't get caught in the seams when we sew the cloud pieces together.)

~ Place the remaining cloud, right side down, on the cloud-and-strip assemblage.

~ Pin in place.  Be sure to remember (and re-mark, if needed) the opening between the circles!

Sew. . . .

~ Sew the two cloud pieces together, starting at one circle (with a few reinforcing /back-and-forth stitches,) and stitching 1/4" from the edge. 
~ Go slowly around the curves and pivot carefully at the indentations and corners. 
~ Stop at the other circle, with a few reinforcing stitches here, too.

~ Stitch once more along the flat edge of the cloud, to reinforce the strips.

Clip. . . .

~ Clip notches inside the seam allowance along the curves, being careful not to clip the seam threads.  Cut notches into the deeper cloud indentations, and clip the corners along the cloud's bottom edge.  This will make all the difference in your cloud being bunchy and wrinkled, or smooth and properly puffy!

Turn. . . .

~ Reach inside -- carefully! -- and remove the pins from the strips.

~ Now, turn the cloud right-side out.  Take your time, as it's a little bit of a squeeze to get it all out of the opening. 
~ Run your turning stick gently along the inside of the cloud along the seams, pushing out stubborn corners and edges.

Stuff. . . .

~ Stuff your cloud with stuffing.  I used a lot of poly-fil to make it firm, but you can have it as squishy or plump as you like.  I meant to add a little core of lavender, but forgot... and that would have been a nice addition, I think!

Close. . . .

~ Pin the opening closed, making sure to tuck all the stuffing nicely inside.

~ Hand-stitch the opening closed with your needle and thread.  I use a ladder stitch, as it's pretty much invisible, but any stitch you're comfortable with will do.

Knot. . . or not. . . .

~ You can knot the ends of the strips of you'd like.  I think a teething baby would probably prefer it this way.  Donovan didn't care one way or the other.  He just wanted to roll around and chew on it. . . .


I hope you enjoyed the tutorial, and please - if you have any questions at all, leave them in the comments below.  I'd love to hear what you think!  :)

And the fine print stuff -- Feel free to make these for personal or charitable use.  Please do not sell my pattern, or post it without permission.  As with all toys, supervise your child during play, and look for signs of wear and tear.

ps... I haven't forgotten about the anniversary giveaway!  Stay tuned and I'll post later this week with the details!  :)