Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Snack Sacks and What to Put in 'Em

The new snack bags are in!  And, as promised, I’m including here a list of great ideas of what to put in them. Perhaps there are a few snack ideas listed that you haven’t thought of yet. If I’ve missed a favorite in your house, please share it in the comments!

I’d also like to point out that using these just for lunch would be so, so sad. AM uses hers for makeup organization in her purse, I’ve seen them used for carrying little toy cars around, and what a life saver they’d be for holding little game or puzzle pieces to bring on the plane, in the car, or just to have on hand in your purse for boring moments like waiting at restaurants. We use them to bring snacks on airplane rides and then reuse them at our destination rather than stopping to purchase expensive snacks all the time. Oh! I just thought of another great one! What about feminine products? So be sure to think outside the lunch box.

One more thing to point out. These bags are much more time consuming to make than you’d think. Sewing that pretty little border on, which I have to do twice for each one, is a slow process. It involves a set of tweezers. There are easier ways to make these bags, including just turning them inside out and sewing up the seams that way, but I really think there is something special about that border. Actually, I think it’s what makes the bags suitable to carry more than just lunch. And I also think there is value in having functional items look beautiful. Maybe it’s my German husband’s influence, or maybe it’s the Waldorf people I hang out with so much, but I do like that a lowly lunch sack can reach such heights if you want it to. Which I do.

My no-peanut lunch ideas list includes things you could put in your bags by themselves. I often bring four or five bags with me on an outing filled with different things, and none of them is a large “entree”-type item. I just nibble on all the small items and that works. It’s a super fast way to get out the door. So I haven’t listed all the millions of kinds of sandwiches or wraps you could make, but if you or your family has a favorite, do add it to the comments.

raw veggies
carrot, cucumber, kohlrabi, green beans, sugar & snap peas, sweet peppers, celery, radishes, grape tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, jicama 

Add dips in a separate little container: hummus, ranch dressing, tzatziki, almond butter, onion dip, salsa, or sunflower seed butter. These tend to make the veggies more appealing to many little people.

not-too-squishy fruits
apple slices, orange sections, grapes, dried fruit and raisins, dates

snacky-type things
cheerios and other cereals, sunflower seeds, trail mix, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), non-peanut nuts (macadamias, cashews, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts), rice cakes, pretzels, pita chips, crackers (and cheese in a separate bag), bagel chips, pancakes (yes! pancakes!), potato or tortilla chips, kale chips, savory muffins

sweet muffins, yogurt raisins, cookies

Summer camp is coming up for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere. Many day camps are requesting waste-free lunches, so snack bags are a real help there. Do let me know if you’d like to purchase several snack bag sets so I can offer you a volume discount.

Some feedback on my snack sacks from real people:
  • “I LOVE the bags and I use them a lot.”
  • “Items of the highest quality. Shipped quickly!”
  • “Beautiful fabric and quick shipping. Can't wait to use them!”
  • “Opening my package was like opening a special gift. The quality is fantastic and fabrics are even better in person. I love using these in my lunch and my daughter's lunch.”
  • “LOVE!”

Happy eating!

Friday, April 11, 2014

This is Not a Duck

Ah, but it is duck cloth. Sorry, Magritte. And it's what my new snack bags will have as their lining. This is 100% organic undyed cotton duck cloth. The cotton was grown and woven into cloth in India. I bought it from a US company that sells only organic fabrics.

What is duck cloth, you ask? Cloth for ducks? Um, no. I did some research. Turns out "duck" cloth was originally a linen fabric called "doek" in Dutch, which refers to a heavyweight canvas once used as sailors' clothing. Those Dutch were always travelling the world by ship, conquering lands, and needing good outerwear, but that's another story. Duck cloth is strong stuff. It has a special weave and uses thick threads in the weaving process. The heavier weight varieties have been used in hammocks, sails, tents, and sand bags, while a lighter weight version, which is what I bought, is perfect for snack bags! Besides being tough and rip-resistant, it also (drumroll, please) resists water just a bit! In the photo below you can see some water droplets beading up on it. I took the photo myself after splattering the water, so it was several seconds between when I splattered the water and when I focused the camera and took the shot.

The combination of the strength of the fabric, the fact that it is organic, and this slight water resistance is what drove me to switch from using the uncoated nylon I had been using previously in the snack bags. I am very, very happy not to be working with the nylon anymore. It worked well enough in the bags, but over time was prone to ripping, and sewing with it is a big pain. It's slippery, you can't iron it properly because it will melt, can't put pins in it because nylon doesn't recover, blah blah blah. The fact that our food can now all be protected by organic material is also a huge plus. And the new bags feel soft but substantial.

Originally I planned to use only the serger to construct the bags rather than using that nice strip of white binding you're familiar with:

Old style bag with nylon inside and pretty white binding along edges.
I spent the better part of two whole work days refining the new snack bags on the serger, trying to master that lovely curve around the front of the envelope, getting the threads to be just the right length and width on both the front and back of the fabric, and experimenting with different snack bag shapes. I used more duck cloth and more beautiful mill fabric than I wanted in this effort. It was not fun and I nearly cried with frustration. The serger was not being nice to me. Or rather, my inexperience with it was showing. It kept getting tangled and needing rethreading, and it made some very unhappy noises. Once it broke a needle clean off in the middle. Good thing I was wearing my glasses!

Practicing curves on some random linen.
First attempts at bags with serged edges. nope, ugly!

Oh my gosh, no.

Finally I got the machine figured out and was able to sew some decent seams. I did come up with three different bags that I was mostly happy with but which did not excite me. They were serviceable and well made but I found I missed the very clean look of that white binding from the old style. So I went back to using the binding and sewing that on with the conventional sewing machine, which has always been difficult because of the thickness of the fabrics. Now the fabrics are even thicker and my machine is really showing its age, but I find that trim look just cannot be replicated with even the most perfect serger stitches. It does take longer to sew the binding on than to use the serger, but I find value in a functional object that is also beautiful and I hope you do too.

One serviceable bag. But see the little fabric bits poking out? I don't like 'em!!
So this is where we are: new snack bags with 100% organic cotton lining, bound securely with bias binding, with beautiful hand screened fabrics on the outside. I will make several sets before posting them all in  my Etsy shop. When I've got them ready for sale I will let you know and I will give you a pile of ideas of what to put in them. I know I am always looking for new things to send to school, and I don't know any parents who aren't.
Ahhhh, now this is more like it!!

Happy sailing!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

15 Things to Do After Your Nature Walk

Just a quick note to let you know that the promised Nature Walk Bags are now posted here in my shop. You can read more about the bags and how people use them here. Below are photos of some of the new ones. My model was extremely accommodating this last photo shoot. Hooray!

Now, if you remember from this post, I am one of those product people. Just going for a walk for the sake of a walk is not all that easy for me. I need a purpose, even if I don't share that purpose with my kid. Could be exercise, could be getting to a particular destination, could be simply checking out the new house they're building down the road from us. With this need in mind, and figuring there must be others out there like me, I developed a list of activities to do after a walk with all the things a child has collected. This helps me get out the door, even if we don't end up doing any of those activities. I don't think HG needs any of this kind of help, but it's nice for me to know that if we want to, we've got a bunch of possible projects already thought up. Below is the list. If you have more ideas, by all means add them in the comments section!
  1. Make leaf rubbings with crayons. Cut out the rubbings and use them for gift cards or frame them in multi-photo frames.
  2. Sort the findings by color or shape or number. Make a little chart and tally them up.
  3. Use Mod Podge to glue leaves to old jars. Add a tealight and watch the glow! Make a lantern by wrapping a wire around the top as a handle.
  4. Paint rocks (or seashells)!
  5. Make little sculptures with hot glue and the collected items. Add yarn or twine or felt or other materials to enhance the sculptures or to make people or animals (think acorn caps for hats, ginko leaves as skirts...).
  6. Make a mobile with your findings. Hang items from an embroidery hoop or a twig.
  7. Make placemats or coasters. Iron leaves between pieces of waxed paper. Be sure to use a towel between the iron and the waxed paper.
  8. Glue items to wooden craft store picture frames.
  9. Look up your findings in a nature book or online and make a little display with labels for each item. Use a shoebox or a shadow box frame.
  10. Using jewelry wire and cord, make necklaces or bracelets. Wrap wire around the items and make a loop at the top. String the cording through the loop.
  11. Write poems or stories about the items.
  12. Press flowers to make bookmarks or gift tags or decorations. Glue the flowers to paper, then cover with clear contact paper.
  13. Make a journal or book of pressed items. Keep the book for future walks, and record the items' names and where you found them and anything else you like.
  14. Make bird feeders from pine cones and peanut butter. Add bird seed to the sticky peanut butter and hang outside a window.
  15. Make pencil sketches of the items. 

And here's a final photo of HG wearing her own bag when she was about two. Now get yourself--and your kids--outside! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

There's No Fabric Like Mill Fabric

beach cover up pattern from Scientific Seamstress, fabric by Lotta Jansdotter
Yesterday I made a beach cover-up for HG for her birthday. I bought some completely delicious Lotta Jansdotter fabric for it. I have been coveting her fabric for quite a while. I really, really like her patterns. You can see them here. She sells all kids of fantastic things in addition to fabric. Anyway, I was thrilled to have an excuse to purchase a little bit to make into this coverup (pattern by the awesome Scientific Seamstress). And I think it came out very well. I serged all the internal seams! Even the curvy sleeve attachments! Yay for me!

But, and this is an important but, the fabric itself--the cotton--was simply not as nice as what I am used to from the textile mill near me. Nothing is. I have worked with plenty of fancy designer fabrics (Marimekko, Moda, now Jansdotter) and they just don't hold a candle to the luscious stuff the mill produces.

This made me think that perhaps you'd like a tour of the mill to see where the cotton comes from, their printing process, meet some nice people who work there, etc. etc. Well, me too! So I've asked the mill's manager if I could come and take a tour. Very, very sadly, he said no. There are apparently safety/insurance issues. I am also not permitted to tell you the name or exact location of the mill, because the fabric designers do not like it to be widely known that their fabrics can be purchased directly from there. So I can't send you to their website.

I can, however, repost some of the photos from their website, paraphrase some of the content of their blog and some videos they have, and try to summarize what Jack the manager has told me about the place. Below is the mill's building. The little red add-on building at the bottom is where they have their retail shop.

The mill has been a family company since 1937. It is one of a very, very few handscreening mills in the United States. They work with both established and emerging textile artists. They have low minimum yardage requirements, which means people who are new to textile design can have small amounts printed there and then go off and do whatever they want with their few yards of printed fabric--sell it, sew things themselves, whatever. They silkscreen all the fabrics by hand. They work mostly with cotton, linen, and cotton/linen blends. The linen all comes from Belgium and the cotton comes from a variety of places. Some of it is grown in the USA, but not all. Occasionally they do something in silk or even acrylic. You'd use acrylic for an outdoor application like patio furniture pillows.

They work with the fabric from start to finish. That means that once that extremely high quality, high thread count cotton or linen arrives at the mill they have to prepare it for dyeing--prewashing it, removing natural waxes in the fabric, stuff like that.
The prewashing stage.
Then they do the silkscreening. In the silkscreening process, two people walk 50 yards from one end of the building to the other with a single screen, which is that flat box between the two employees in the photo below (I think they need some new aprons from me, don't you?). Each screen places a different color on the fabric, so each screen is a different section of the whole pattern. I think I learned that they can print up to 30 colors on a single fabric. For each section of the fabric they pull the dye across the screen with a kind of wand-like thing, then lift the screen and do it again. And again! The screens themselves live at the mill, so when the designer wants a new run of the fabric, or wants a different colorway, the screens are all there.

The silkscreening stage.
Here is some Lulu DK fabric going up to the next step in the printing process.
After the dye goes on, there is a finishing stage which will either give the fabric a kind of luster or a matte look, and which will soften the material. This must be the stage that is important to me, because it's the softness and the creaminess of the fabric that makes me so happy. If you go to the regular fabric store, even ones selling the very popular, higher-end designers like the Lotta Jansdotter I bought, you just don't get fabric that feels this good. That feeling is called the "hand" of the fabric, by the way.

The inspection stage, maybe? I am not sure.
When I purchase the fabric from the little red building, it is on rolls a little smaller than the one you see above. We take it off the rack and cut it at the big wooden cutting table they have there. Then I take it home!  Even though they have preshrunk the fabric before printing it, I put it through my washer and dryer as well. I use plant-based detergent. I take it out, iron it, and it's good to go for a project.

I love, love going over there and taking a browse. The people are extremely nice and helpful, the fabrics are usually way too gorgeous to pass up, and even when I'm ironing it I'm happy. Sorry Lotta. Love your patterns, but there's no fabric like mill fabric!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Explorer Bags Coming Soon!

Keep your eyes peeled for a bunch of new explorer bags coming to my Etsy shop in the next several days. I designed these for toddlers to wear across the shoulder, but they do work for older kids and I've even seen an adult wearing one. That particular adult said she'd use it for a small, easy diaper bag. They are intentionally very lightweight--unlined--so your kid can barely tell she's wearing it. They also have no clasps because little hands can get frustrated with those, especially if they are wearing mittens. I've been waiting for the Big Thaw before posting these, partly because photos taken of collecting bags when all there is is snow in the background doesn't really help people to understand the product.

When we go on walks we always take ours with us. I first made HG's bag because I was frankly getting rather tired of all the pinecones and rocks ending up in my pockets. Other small people like to just tote things around the house, like little cars or finger puppets. Slightly bigger people find that their ballet shoes and tutus fit just great. They are durable, washable, and, as always, feature some great fabric combos. 

Here's what a couple of customers have said about these:

"Arrived today and fits my 5-year-old perfect! I'm so happy her little "treasures" won't end up in my pockets or purse anymore. Thanks for this great product!"
"The nature walk bag is just the right size for small child. The use of colorful fabrics is imaginative and will encourage a child's curiosity about her or his surroundings. This granny approves!"

When I list all these bags in the shop I will write about some things you can do with your child after your nature walk. I find that reading other people's ideas for outdoor activities really helps me to get motivated to go outside, which we all should be doing more of with our kids!