The sengi, aka elephant shrew, is a small mammal native to the forests, grasslands, and rocky outcroppings of south-eastern Africa. They have a long, flexible snout that allows them to use their amazing sense of smell in any direction without moving their eyes, and it is from this feature’s similarity to the elephant’s trunk that they received their rather fanciful English common name.
Genetic studies have revealed that the sengi is, in fact, more closely related to elephants than to true shrews, despite being only a few inches long and having a lifestyle more typical of rodents than ruminants.
The tiny rufous sengi, one of the smaller varieties of sengi, is less than 4″ long but can run at speeds over 8mph, making it the fastest terrestrial animal on earth relative to its size (it’s about twice as fast as a cheetah). Each individual maintains a complex network of pathways through the grass and scrub of the savanna which it uses to hunt for food– mostly insects, but also seeds in the right season– and escape danger.
The rufous sengi is also basically Elvis for my children right now. We were watching a BBC nature documentary about small animals (Hidden Kingdoms, it’s streaming on Netflix right now and I highly recommend it) when they first discovered it, and for the last month, sengis have been EVERYWHERE in their art, play, and imaginations.
Here’s a knitting pattern for a toy rufous sengi, suitable for an advanced beginner. She measures about 3.5″ from tip of nose to rump, with her tail about the same length as her body, and she stands a petite but powerful ~2″ tall on her specially-adapted long back feet (for zooming) and bitty front feet (for batting obstacles out of her paths in a dismissive manner). Her white “socks” mark her as an adult– juveniles have brown legs and feet. She is perfect for a stocking or an Easter basket, fits in a pocket, and is equally at home racing along the highway or just doing chores!
The sengi’s body is knitted from tip of nose to tip of tail in the round, starting and ending with I-cord. Her ears and front legs are picked up and knit from the body, and her hind legs are knitted separately in the round starting with I-cord and then sewn on.
dk yarn, about 40 yards, in light brown, tan, or rust (MC)
dk yarn, less than 10 yards, in white or cream (CC)
dk yarn, less than a yard, in chocolate or dark brown
two 8mm round black beads for eyes
small amount of stuffing (I used wool)
double-pointed needles, size US 5
using MC yarn, cast 3 sts onto a single needle
working as an I-cord, knit three rows
k1, kfb, k1 (4 sts)
knit one round
*kfb* all around (8 sts)
at this point I arranged my stitches on 3 needles, with 2 sts on the first needle and 3 on each of the others– this arrangement makes it easier to predict the shaping in the head
knit one round
k3, kfb, k1, kfb, k2 (10 sts)
knit one round
k4, kfb, k1, kfb, k3 (12 sts)
knit one round
k3, kfb, k2, kfb, k1, kfb, k2, kfb, k1 (16 sts)
knit one round
kfb, k15 (17 sts)
knit one round
s1k2tog psso, *k2tog* to end of round (8 sts)
knit two rounds
*kfb* around (16 sts)
knit in stockinette until the piece measures about 3″ from the base of the snout (about 3.5″ from the tip of the snout)
*k2tog* around (8 sts)
knit one round
stuff body and head firmly with the stuffing of your choice, remembering to add a little extra if you’re using wool or another stuffing that compacts a lot over time
*k2tog* around (4 sts)
knit 1 round
k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)
slide all sts onto a single needle and work I-cord until tail is about 2″ long
k2tog, k1 (2 sts)
continue in I-cord until tail is about 3″ long
k2tog (1 st)
break yarn and pull through remaining stitch to cinch closed
On the underside of the torso, just after the neck shaping, pick up 5 sts in a ring
with MC yarn, knit 1 row
k2, k2tog, k1 (4 sts)
switch to CC
knit 1 row
k1, k2tog, k1 (3 sts)
knit 1 row
break yarn and thread end through remaining 3 sts, cinch closed
repeat to place a second front leg next to the first
using CC yarn, CO 3 sts and work I-cord
knit 4 rows
k1, R-inc, k2 (4sts)
knit 1 row
switch to MC
knit 2 rows
k1, R-inc, k2, R-inc, k1 (6sts)
knit 1 row
k1, R-inc, k4, R-inc, k1 (8 sts)
knit 2 rows
*k2, k2tog* around (6 sts)
*k1, k2tog* around (4sts)
*k2tog* around (2 sts)
leaving a generous yarn tail, break yarn, bring end through remaining sts, cinch to close.
Stitch the top of the sengi’s little drumstick securely to the side of her rump with the bind-off edge oriented directly to the top.
Repeat for other hind leg.
All shaping is done on the OUTSIDE edge of the ear– the round begins at the inside.
Starting about one stitch away from the top midline of the head and moving outward along the same row of knitting, pick up four sts on one needle, then pick up four sts directly behind those sts on the head (8 sts)
Using MC, knit 2 rows
k3, L-inc, k2, R-inc, k3 (10 sts)
knit one row
k3, k2tog, k2tog, k3 (8sts)
*k2tog* around (4 sts)
break yarn, lace through remaining sts, pull to cinch.
Repeat for second ear on the other side of the midline of the top of the head.
With CC yarn, stitch a shallow “V” shape on each side of the sengi’s nose to frame her eyes.
With dark brown yarn, stitch two short lines from just in front of each her ear about 1-2 stitch lengths forward.
Sew the beads in place securely– between the endpoint of the dark brown line and the angle of the CC “V”– on either side of the head to make eyes. I sewed on both eyes at the same time, securing them with a figure-8 stitch through the inside of the face to help nest the beads into the face more realistically.
Weave in and trim all your yarn and thread ends, and your sengi is ready for whatever fast-paced adventures life sends your way!
I was all set to do WIP Wednesday this week, and then life happened.
So here it is, a little belated.
start date: 8 January 2017 time elapsed: 3 days completeness: 80%
Númenor has a January birthday. It’s tough, having a birthday a few short weeks after Christmas, because everyone is kind of over buying presents and eating to excess. And your poor parents are likely feeling glutted for toys and books, not that I would know.
People can’t spend the kind of money and time on January presents as they could on summer birthday presents, but you are just as special to them as you would be if you were a Gemini.
So the things you get are simpler, more likely to be homemade, more likely to be experience-based than object-based, but life is still good. For one thing, a January birthday is a great excuse to get new add-ons and accessories for your favorite Christmas presents– a sequel to your new favorite book, perhaps, or an extra set of wheels for your fancy new building set.
And, of course, everyone is ready for a little deviation from the usual winter flavors, too. A strawberry cake in November might seem unseasonable and strange, but a banana cake in January is refreshing and novel.
And so is ice cream.
This knitted and crocheted ice cream, for the smalls’ play kitchen, is high in fiber (alpaca and wool!) and warm to the touch, making it perfect for winter. And it’s festive enough to be a gift for the happiest of birthdays, of course!
Project details on Ravelry. The ice cream sections are my own improvised patterns.
This very easy method makes realistic, conical strawberries, resembling the prized Hood variety grown in Oregon.
wool or wool-blend felt in red and green
thread or embroidery floss in yellow, green, and red
Cut a freehand half-circle from the red felt. I find that a radius of more than 1″ but less than 3″ makes a convincing strawberry. It’s preferable if it’s not perfect– strawberries aren’t perfect!
Using yellow thread, cover the red felt piece sparsely with tiny stitches. Try to orient all of your stitches so they point to the middle of the straight side of your half-circle.
Fold the half-circle in half, right sides OUT, lining up the straight edges. Sew JUST the straight edges together with a small whipstitch using red thread to make a cone.
Stuff the cone nearly to the top and pretty firmly. If you’re using wool stuffing, remember to add another pinch after you think you have enough to allow for compacting over time.
Sew a small running stitch around the top edge of your cone. It doesn’t matter what color thread you use for this because it won’t show in the finished product. Gently but firmly pull both ends of your thread to gather this seam as tightly as you can and fasten securely.
Cut a five-pointed star from the green felt. The center of your star needs to be big enough to cover the gap left in the top of your gathered cone. Again, it’s preferable if this shape isn’t perfectly regular.
Using the green thread, sew a ring of stitches to secure the center of your green star to the top of your cone, covering the gap left in step 5.
Bury your thread ends and admire your strawberry!
I made 20 strawberries to fill a punnet, varying the size, the yellow thread (I used butter yellow and goldenrod), and the green felt (I used a tightly-felted grass green sweater and a sheet of apple green felt) to give each of my berries individual character.
Super-easy blueberries for a play kitchen: seriously, it doesn’t get easier than this!
blue felt (a heathered indigo felt– if you can find such a thing– would be ideal)
blue thread (it doesn’t have to be a good match as it shouldn’t show much in the end)
Cut a small circle (1″ to about 3″ in diameter) from the blue felt. It’s better if it’s slightly irregular.
Sew a small running stitch around the edge of the circle, leaving both ends unfastened.
.Place the trimmed scraps from cutting your circle into the center. On larger berries, you may want to put a little pinch of stuffing behind the scraps for more plumpness, but for small berries, the scraps are likely all you’ll need.
Pull on both ends of your thread to gather as tightly as you can around the stuffing. Fasten off.
Bury your thread ends and use a finger or a small tool to neaten the appearance of the blossom end, if necessary.
I made 35 berries in two colors– a navy blue 100% wool felt sheet, shown here, and a smoky royal blue felted wool sweater– to fill my mini-punnet. I found that the wool felt sheet was much easier to cut and gather, but the thicker felted sweater makes a more convincing blossom end.
start date: 14 November 2016 time elapsed: 2 days
After finishing Númenor’s coat and hoodie, I needed some color in my hands. Normally I love gray and black and have no issue with working with them, but with everything happening in the world lately, I needed a bit of a boost.
So I’m putting together a cupcake-making kit. In felt. Cheery and colorful felt. Scraps of felt from other projects. Bits of old sweater waiting for a new life.
And between the bright colors and the small, modular pieces, I started to feel a bit better almost right away. Now that I have more of the elements finished and can play with decorating cupcakes and making whipped cream and frosting, the whimsy is giving me life, too.
As you can see, I made cylindrical cupcakes. They’re obviously easier to make, but they’re also more versatile– it’s easier to imagine them as tiny cakes, or cheesecakes, or soufflés, instead of just cupcakes/muffins. I’m making one white, one yellow, one light brown, and one dark brown, for a variety of flavors.
My muffin cups are made from sweater ribbing. With the edge cuffed a little, they look like ramekins. With it at full-length, they look more like paper baking forms.
This will be a great addition to the smalls’ play kitchen. I’m excited to finish up the layer cake for them as well– add in a couple cookies, some bread, and a pie crust and we’ll have a full play bakery.
100% wool felt in various colors from Material Evidence (closed) and CraftyWoolFelt. Natural cream 100% wool felt from JoAnn. Barnyard Red 20% wool felt from JoAnn. White 35% wool felt from JoAnn. Various cashmere and wool sweater scraps from DoDadChick. Various vintage threads, stuffing scraps, and bamboo polyfill from my stash.
“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
—Through the Looking-Glass
My five-year-olds spent the weekend with their grandparents so that Robert and I could get in some quality couple time before the new baby comes and we descend into complete chaos and madness for a few sleepless, teary weeks.
To our credit, we did housework. And nesting work. We also ate sushi and watched foreign films, though, because that’s what grown-ups do. But when our sweet babes were returned to us by grandparents who had unwisely taken them to the zoo even though animals defecate (which fact five-year-olds are THE BEST at remembering, pointing out, and discussing at length), I was met with a moment of total panic.
My mother handed me a sheet of notepaper with the explanation that it was “Númenor’s presents list”. Apparently he’d demanded that she take dictation for this critical manifesto.
That’s right, folks.
My kid came home from grandma’s house with a Christmas wishlist.
Why is this a problem, you might ask?
Um, because it was December 5th when this happened, and I had already compiled the wishlists and distributed them through the family network weeks prior, not to mention that I had also long finished the shopping I was intending to do. Because we plan ahead in this family, at least when lists are involved. And in my defense, the wishlist I had was based on things I thought Númenor would like. I pay attention to the smalls’ interests and research toys and games and books constantly, and moreover, I asked them explicitly what they wanted for Christmas and they were both totally uninterested in telling me.
To be fair, that was in October. And when you’re only a few years old, the subjective time-dilation is extreme. Númenor probably genuinely couldn’t fathom wanting things for Christmas when I asked him about it with a jaw-dropping 11 weeks to spare.
And he has NEVER made a wishlist before. We don’t do Santa, so we never write letters to Santa, which means my children had to be developmentally capable of picking up this idea from fiction, and even then, they hadn’t previously shown interest in the activity.
But the fact is, he came home with a Christmas list.
And three things on it were alive, one thing was impossible, and two things flew right in the face of our standards for toys. Which left only one item. Which, to be fair, I already knew he wanted and had plans to make. One out of seven, I thought, would likely disappoint him.
Perhaps the worst part of this debacle was not the list itself, in fact, but that I found non-living, non-impossible work-arounds for things and Pinterest projects for cardboard versions of other things until I felt that I had satisfied his list, and only then did I realize that only ONE of my TWO five-year-olds came home with a list.
Which meant I had to ask the other one what he wanted.
And he wanted one impossible thing, one alive thing, one thing he already has (?!?), two things that don’t meet our guidelines, and that same item from the first child’s list that I was already making anyway.
You love them, and you do your best to give them a well-balanced, fulfilling, and overall positive life experience, and they go around asking for impossible things and exotic pets all the time, like that’s any way to behave.
Of course, that’s what children do; it’s their simultaneously inconvenient and inspiring function in society to be the ones tilting at windmills and dreaming the impossible dreams and riding off to brave adventures with their parents as their loving but often flummoxed squires.
And someday, soon enough, they will come to the inevitable end of their quests. Laid low by a reality that did not go away when they stopped believing in it, they will grow up. In twenty years, they may be making business plans instead of drawing a picture of the storage system for their happy rainbow dreams. In ten years, they’ll almost certainly be more concerned with the opinions of friends and external authorities than with quoting imaginary advice from a well-worn teddy bear.
But today, Númenor wants a Star Destroyer and a rectangle tank of deep-sea jellyfish, and Ithilien wants a pet baby talking opossum and a self-driving car that transforms into a self-flying plane. They never doubted for a second that these were things they could ask for and hope to receive.
There is a wild power in not knowing the bounds of reality or accepting the limits of possibility.
Honestly I’m a little jealous.
But mostly, I’m nervous about my ability to fulfill these requests.
This is an installment in a series on mending techniques. For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.
Tutorials for stitches and knots and other techniques not illustrated below can be found here.
Unless otherwise noted, these repairs are best suited to a doubled thread and a sharp sewing needle.
A broken seam when you have access to the seam side of the object is possibly the easiest mending task. Find the broken ends of the threads on both sides of the gap– note that if the original threads were doubled, you are looking for TWO ends on each side of the gap– join your doubled thread ends with the broken end(s) and replicate the original seam across the gap until you reach the broken end(s) on the other side, then join the thread again. Trim thread ends.
If the seam is broken and you cannot access the seam side of the piece, the best choice is usually ladder stitch. Find the broken ends of the threads on both sides of the gap, and pick out the seam until the broken ends fall on the wrong side of the seam before joining your thread ends with them. Work a ladder stitch across the gap until you reach the broken ends on the other side, and join the thread again, making sure this knot will also fall on the wrong side of the seam. Now bury the ends inside the piece.
A gaped seam is an easy fix, but is often evidence of a more serious problem somewhere along the length of the thread. Often, if you carefully check the whole seam, you will find a break in the thread further along.
Sometimes, however, a seam will gape without the thread being compromised. This most often happens in seams along firmly-stuffed sections of soft toys– the problem is that the original stitching was too loose or became too loose when the object was stuffed or washed. The best approach is to leave the gaping seam in place and simply add a new, tighter seam just to the outside of it, enclosing the too-loose original stitches into the seam allowance. It is extremely important to ensure that the knot you use to start your repair is hidden– you might be tempted to use a quilter’s knot, but in my experience they are not secure enough for this task. Instead, I recommend placing a tailor’s knot on what will become the new seam allowance. When you have finished working your new seam, bury your thread ends inside it. For most instances of a gaped seam, ladder stitch is the best choice, but sometimes a whipstitch or other decorative stitch may be used instead.
Often a thread in a hem will snap because the original hem stitching was not elastic enough (knit garments are especially prone to this), in which case the best approach is to unpick the whole hem and redo it with a more elastic stitch. In order of decreasing elasticity, the options for hems are: raw edge, serger or overlock, “stretch” stitch (an option on many newer sewing machines), zig-zag, whipstitch (press the hem as usual, and use a whipstitch to attach the fold to the garment), blanket stitch, running stitch, and finally backstitch. If you can’t choose a more elastic stitch, decrease the tension or use a more elastic thread.
In other cases, the hem has deteriorated as the seam allowance or the pressed edge slowly frays, which requires the addition of trim or a guard, and is no longer a needle and thread repair. This will be covered in amendments and additions.
Sometimes, especially in children’s clothing, the original hem is still in fine condition, but nonetheless must be replaced to let the garment out or take it in. If you are replacing a hem to let out a garment, unpick the original hem and apply a new one at the required length. If you are taking in a garment, leave the original hem intact and simply hem again to achieve the required length. This way, if you need to let out the hem again to restore the item to its original length, all you must do is unpick the new stitches.
Linings and Appliqués
This kind of repair is more about artistry than technique. The key is to take small stitches and be clever about hiding them. I use a single thread for these repairs.
Start by anchoring your thread with a quilter’s knot or tailor’s knot. Which one you use is a matter of personal preference and also the specific task at hand– quilter’s knots are a great way to start repairing a lacy appliqué on a formal gown, whereas I tend to use a tailor’s knot tucked into the interface between outer and lining to anchor my thread when I am touching up a lining.
To repair a topstitched lining or appliqué, use a running stitch or backstitch. Most other repairs in this category, such as a loose lining on a jacket, will be best suited to a ladder stitch.
Lately I’ve seen several blogposts about taking away your children’s toys, and how much they benefit from the freedom and lack of distraction and clutter.
But I’ve noticed that nobody actually takes away ALL their children’s toys. And for good reason! Play is the work of childhood, for one thing, but more importantly, where would you stop? Cardboard boxes are toys. Craft supplies, board games, playing cards, books, sticks, rocks, recycling materials, pillows, and furniture can all be part of a game, too.
Obviously there is wisdom in limiting the playthings available to a child to what they can reasonably use and enjoy– too many toys cause chaos and clutter instead of fostering learning– but I don’t think it’s really necessary (or desirable!) to take ALL, or even most, of a child’s toys away.
Instead of taking things away, I focus on having the best things in the first place. But that presents a problem of definition: how do you tell if a toy is really the best it could be? Is it about carbon footprint? Price? Ethical manufacture? Subject? Do you follow Montessori guidelines? Waldorf? Froebel? What about that pesky cardboard box?
Robert talks about measuring the usefulness of toys in milisticks (one-thousandth the usefulness of a stick), as if you could calculate such a number.
I once tried to make a list of Platonic ideal toys, not unlike Friedrich Froebel’s list of gifts:
The stick about as long as your arm and two fingers thick (toy swords, magic wands, hobby horses, and fishing poles also fall into this category).
The collection of smooth pebbles that each fit nicely in the palm of your hand (marbles, small beanbags, little wooden figures).
The piece of string about as long as your armspan (dress-up belt, horse reigns, garland, necklace, clothesline).
The bit of wood about the size of your hand (the toy car, the bathtub boat, building blocks, play food, small board books).
The scarf big enough to wear as a cape (dress-up cape, doll blanket, fort-building sheet, bag).
The box just big enough to sit inside (rocket ship, car, cave, fort).
The avatar (doll, action figure).
But then how many of each is appropriate? And is that really an exhaustive list? And is there an advantage to differentiation– is it better to have a wheeled car AND a bathtub boat rather than just a block of wood that you could pretend is either a car or boat?
After a few years of trying to verbalize what the difference was between toys that were “good”(perennial favorites with the smalls, pleasing to me) and those that were gimmicky or just not well-designed, I finally came up with a satisfactory method for screening our collection. All our toys have to have SOUL.
Playthings should be:
Simple: A minimum of fuss, function, and automation. Ease of production, repair, and disposal should also be considered.
Operational: No missing parts, not broken, not too complicated for the children to use at their current stage of development, not too dangerous/limited for use in the area where it is found.
Useful: Strengthens a necessary skill through play (e.g., lacing cards, button snake), or provides an outlet to explore something of unlimited interest (e.g., dolls), or can be used in infinite ways (e.g., blocks, marbles).
Loved: If your child wouldn’t miss it, your child doesn’t need it.
Simple. Operational. Useful. Loved. SOUL.
Yes, sometimes they talk about wanting a specific toy. They aren’t often exposed to ads and we don’t go to toy stores or toy departments (talk about a mecca of the pink/blue dichotomy), so this usually takes the form of Númenor rattling off a list of specifications for a hypothetical toy he would like to have. My answer is always the same: How can you make a toy like that for yourself? Sometimes I offer suggestions for materials or offer to help him design or build. Sometimes it’s as simple as pretending one of the simpler toys we have already has those advanced features (lights up, fires lasers, etc.) with the help of sound effects.
Yes, we do limit toys coming into the house. We ask for very specific things for the children for gift-giving occasions, only about half of which are toys, and we intercept and donate or return unacceptable things before they are added to our collection.
Yes, I do sometimes pick up the toys for my children. But more than 90% of the time, we work together to do it or I supervise while they do it. We have built the habit of helping to put their own things away correctly and cheerfully since they were babies, and now it is second nature and I only have to step in when a tantrum or an unexpectedly early bedtime interrupts the usual night routine.
Yes, sometimes my children do squabble over turn-taking related to toys– but sometimes they squabble over turn-taking for sticks, rocks, or bits of recycling they have made into playthings. Anyone who tells you that their kids never fight about turn-taking now that they don’t have storebought toys is being less than truthful or has alien podlings instead of human children.
Yes, every few months we rotate the toys that we have out, and as part of that rotation, we pull out toys that are outgrown, broken, or don’t adhere to the SOUL criteria. But I don’t feel burdened by using half an hour of my time every three months and couple of 18-gallon storage containers in our garage to make our toy collection manageable.
Obviously, as with all parenting advice, this is simply what works for us, and it might not work as well (or at all!) for other families.
The soft mice and their sleeping bag were handmade by a member of my extended family, the train is from Melissa & Doug, the rods and connectors are Tinkertoys, and Bitey the plastic shark (currently Ithilien’s favorite toy) was a gift.
Sometimes, as parents, we get swept up in the day-to-day struggle of life with bills, and work, and rainstorms, and living with small humans both unpredictable and strange. We get overwhelmed. We put all our spoons into just getting through the day without major incident, and are glad when it’s over.
Sometimes, you start the same simple project over and over again– you mistake navy thread for black and don’t catch it until the seam is nearly finished, you try to sew a French seam with the right sides facing out of habit, you make a measuring error– and suddenly, what was supposed to be so easy is impossible.
And invariably, while you are in the depths of this everyday depression, your irrepressible little children will ask to do something outrageous. Something involving paint, and limited supplies, and relying on the inconstant spring weather to stay clear for a few more hours.
And, for reasons you don’t totally understand, you might say yes.
Yes to the mess.
Yes to the chaos.
Yes to the inevitable bath that will have to follow.
Yes to the memories that you are making.
Yes to the mini-lesson on secondary colors, and the demonstration of printing with the cardboard palettes you improvised.
Yes to the seemingly thousands of trips to the bathroom sink to wash a brush so you can use another color.
Yes to scrubbing paint off the deck afterward, and leaving a weird clean spot in years of dust because seriously, who washes their deck?
Yes to the children, who are so much work and so very worth it.
Yes to being the kind of parent who is okay with supervising painting projects, even on a difficult Tuesday you wish was going better.
And then, against all the odds and absolutely all reason, you find your kairos moment for the day. In the paint. And the mess. And the nuturing of small souls.