Saturday 28 April 2018

Making a Weighted Blanket

In case you haven't heard about them, Weighted Blankets are taking the (sensory) world by storm.

They are a type of quilt which has some kind of material sandwiched between the layers to give weight.  The idea behind this is that many people (often on the Autism Spectrum, but not only!) find it calming to have something like this either on their lap or over their whole body.

The weights can be from a number of materials, but a common option is the use of Poly Pellets, the same as those used for stuffing toys, especially Beanie Toys.

A dear friend of mine has been researching these as options for her child, but they are quite expensive.

So I volunteered to make one for her.

Sharing what we did in case it's useful for anyone else.

In all honesty, weighted blankets are worth what you pay for them.  The materials are not overly expensive, however, there is a LOT of work involved in making them.  It probably took us a total of 2 days to complete ours, with lots of help.  It could have been done a little bit quicker, but not much.

In addition to the work involved, the shipping of something heavy is expensive!  For our person, we calculated that we needed 5kg of beads.  They weren't particularly expensive, but the shipping cost more than the beads.
The Poly Pellets - everyone liked playing with them!

If you are someone who is handy with a sewing machine and likes problem solving, then this is what we did.

I browsed a few tutorials online, and found this one to be the most helpful - Mama Smiles Tutorial

I liked that there were explanations for how she approached it, and she has also incorporated suggestions from others who've made a blanket.

We bought a quilt cover from Ikea, because that saved us measuring and cutting (if you recall, I'm not so good at the straight line thing....).  This was the one we chose - I just love the fabric.  It nearly didn't make it to its intended owner ;)

Edit:  we chose this because it's 100% cotton, and from experience we like how the Ikea fabrics wash and wear.  It's worth checking what your recipient prefers, because many people have strong reactions to the feel of particular fabrics.  100% cotton is usually a good choice, but sometimes tricky to find so it's worth checking before you buy!

It may also be checking what to wash it with before you commence too - lots of people react to different laundry detergent, so use the one they prefer.  These blankets are washable, but they are going to be heavy to do, and it's always a good idea to pre-wash fabric before sewing!

We pre-washed it. and once we laid it out to compare to it's recipient, we decided that half a single quilt would be adequate.  This would suit a small adult, for handy reference.

We cut the quilt in half, finished off the edging on the raw edge (turned it under twice and stitched).

We left the bottom seam intact, and reinforced it by topstitching along that edge.

Then the measuring began.  I had my favourite Tailor's Chalk pencil with me - it has 3 colours, which was very useful for keeping track of which lines to follow!

We aimed for 10cm / 4 inch square pockets for the beads to go into.

We measured the vertical channels first.  These were spaced at 10 cm apart, and were simple straight lines to sew from top to bottom of the quilt.

This left the top of the channels open for pouring in the beads.

Before we began, more measuring!  We measured the horizontal lines, spaced at 10 cm, marking at intervals across the quilt.  Ideally, it would be good to use a rotary tailors' chalk to draw the lines, or use a long ruler & chalk.  But I was happy to eyeball it using the marks to keep the lines straight.

We considered partially sewing the horizontal top of each pocket, leaving an inch for filling. But we decided this was a lot of fiddling for minimal benefit.  At this point we didn't have the beads, so we weren't sure how tricky it would be to get them into the pockets!

Calculating weights.
Once we had measured, we had 15 channels, and 10 rows, giving 150 pockets in total.
We had ordered 5 kg of beads (using estimates on the tutorial for blanket weight vs body weight).

This meant we needed to divide 5000g by 150, which gave us 33.3 g per pocket.

Once the beads arrived, we started measuring and pouring!  This became a family affair with everyone helping out.

Based on tips from the tutorial, we fashioned a long funnel out of a cardboard roll (paper towel inner) & a toilet paper roll, which we cut to fit & to have a narrower tip.

It wasn't pretty, but the cardboard worked really well for this, allowing the beads to get to the bottom of the quilt more easily.  I wasn't sure if the Poly Pollets would become static using a plastic tube.

For the first few rows, it was best to measure in the beads for every channel, and then sew from one side to the other, sealing all the channels at once.

We needed to keep shaking the beads into their pockets, by lifting the quilt - they did try to escape, but it wasn't a big problem!

Once the row was complete, we repeated, filling each pocket with 33g of beads, then sewing off at the 10 cm marks.

As we got closer to the top of the quilt, the channels became shallower.

This meant it was more effective to fill one pocket and sew at a time.  Then I reversed the machine to allow for manoeuvring the quilt to allow the beads to 'fall' into the pocket.

Sewing the pockets - the beads look like shimmering pearls!
By the end of the quilt, it had become quite heavy.  I definitely had aching arms ! I would recommend using gloves to make it easier - light weight grippy gardening gloves (quilters use this trick). It was handy to have a large work area and helpers around to help shift the weight.  We worked at the kitchen bench - the added height did seem to make it easier!

Once it was finished, I added an extra row of triple-stitching to ensure the beads were safely contained!

We were very happy with the end result.  Everyone tried it out.  It's definitely heavy, but the pockets spread out the weight which will be quite soothing. Playing with the beads through the fabric is also quite rewarding!
The finished result!

Bottom line?  Unless you like making things and a bit of problem solving, I do think it's worth the price of purchasing the completed blankets.  However, we enjoyed the process, and the children practised a lot of maths skills in the process.  It also enabled us to make a full sized blanket for a fraction of the cost.  The Ikea Quilt was $20, and the beads around $30 (check this).  An equivalent quilt would have cost at least $150.

So we thought it was a success!

Have you had experience with making similar resources?   Share your tips if you like!

Happy recipient - I think it matches those red shoes, don't you?

Friday 23 February 2018

Swifts and Yarn Winders

Kris Kringle was very kind to me this past Christmas.
My love of yarn-y things was indulged and I received some wished-for yarn-y equipment

I can't pick a favourite part of my present, because it was all awesome.

But I do love my Swift, and my Yarn Winder, and some people have been asking about them, so here goes...

As a child, I remember helping mum wind yarn into skeins to be washed, then from skeins into balls again.

It involved holding the yarn stretched between my hands for as long as it took her to wind up the ball.

Recently when I have purchased gloriously beautiful skeins of hand-dyed yarns, I've been revisiting my childhood skein-winding experiences.

However, my children get bored before I've had a chance to wind the yarn, so I have been using upside-down chairs or my knees (good excuse to sit and relax).

Those days are now over and my kids are interested in helping again!  Playing with spinny things is way more fun than just holding some wool and staying still.

In fact, my daughter is more proficient at using the Swift & Yarn Winder than I am.  I'm very grateful to her aunt for getting her into training quickly!

Here's some pictures of the Swift, the Ball Winder , and the final pretty cake of yarn.  yes, really, it's called a cake.

The Swift opens like an umbrella to the right size for the skein of Yarn.  It holds the yarn securely and spins freely to allow the winder to pull the yarn evenly onto the cake.

The winder in action - you turn the handle at the bottom to turn the spindle which the ball is on. The metal loop keeps the tension even.

Yarn is wound!

And a video of my dude winding the yarn onto the winder so you can see how it works. I generally run the winder a bit faster than that, but hey, he's only little.  And the yarn was 'sticking' a bit.

Skiing with Kids

Our favourite time of the year is when it gets chilly enough for the mountains to be coated in a glittering layer of snow.

Our best family memories have been created on our ski trips.

We have discovered that we love to be in that glorious environment, nature made magical with a covering of snow.

Skiing has given us much both individually and as a family, and so we make a point of planning to ski every year.  We are thankful that we're able to do so, although we also choose not to do other things so that we can!

Skiing is the best mental health strategy I know.
There is no option BUT to be mindful when I'm skiing.  It could be because I'm not overly talented...  I really have to concentrate - where I'm going, how I'm going to get there, are there gaps / bumps / moguls, people?  I have to pay attention.

This leaves me zero mental space for worrying about all the usual things that I worry about.  Really all I have to do is (more-or-less) know where I'm going, and how to find a way back (although seeing as I cannot read a map to save my life, I usually rely on my husband or another skiing buddy for that bit...  Returning to the same place over and over has been beneficial for me to understand how the runs and lifts connect to each other!

Oh, and what I'm going to eat.  And there is something doubly yummy about eating when you're skiing:  it's cold, you're expending tremendous energy, and all the fabulous things are just soooo good to eat when it's cold and you're hungry (none of this summer 'it's-too-hot-to-cook-or-eat' business).  Plus, there seems to be a fabulous German alpine food vibe:  Pretzels, schnapps, Gl├╝hwein, and throw in a curry for good measure and everyone is happy...  Of course, the fact that you're expending all that energy means you can eat more, right?  Oh wait...

The other benefit - we play together.  This is such a great way to be outside and actually play together. No distractions, no technology (well, apart from photos).  We're building family memories with our rituals (It is now compulsory that we sing the Sound of Music soundtrack on our drive to the snow each year).  It's giving our children a chance to learn a skill they'll keep for life.  And with a child with vision issues that will prevent his ever being great at catching a ball, we're keen to give him a sporting ability (that might even earn him some cred ;) )

Here's some tips for you if you're considering a family snow holiday.

How do we organise ourselves?
We have developed a bit of a system over the years.  A lot of this is from experience now, having done this a few times with the children.  Obviously needs have changed as the children change each year, but here is what we have learned!  You can benefit from what we have learned through bitter experience.... (without any suffering on your part.  You're welcome.)

Take Your own Food
Food up the Mountain is expensive.  Understandably so - they have to get it transported up there in difficult conditions, and staff the services that provide it.  While we always buy food up there, we take a lot with us, and have friends who manage without buying much at all.
Some suggestions:
Pack an insulated grocery bag with snacks, drinks, and some hot foods.  Here are some things we've done over the years:
* Taco meat (in Thermos) + mini bags of corn chips
* Macaroni cheese (in Thermos)
* Spring Veg Dip & cob loaf
* Shredded BBQ Chicken in wraps (these can fit in a jacket pocket too)

A thermos of hot water is also a great idea - you can easily make a hot chocolate or tea which will keep you going.

Tip:  buy a good quality Thermos (Thermos brand or similar) - they make a difference in keeping things hot!

Also, look out for "Happy Hours" - hot chocolate at the Perisher Mid Station is cheaper at certain times (before 10.30 and if the major lift is on windhold).

Take More Food:  Food in the Car
On one memorable evening driving down the mountain in bad conditions, the usual 45 min drive turned into 4+ hours.  We were lucky because we didn't slide off the road in the snow (see Safety First below).  We had desperately hungry and bored kids - again, we were thankful to be warm and dry.

Since that adventure, we always keep extra food & drinks in the car, as well as charged up iPads/entertainment.

Pack a spare fleece, trackies & uggies in the car for everyone.  That way you can get out of wet/heavy ski gear, and get warm & comfy for the way home. Learn the art of changing in the car/car park ;)  Pretty much everyone does it, and you've got thermals under everything, so it's all good :D

Pack a garbage bag / ikea bag to take all the wet gear/boots.  An old towel is also handy to protect the back of the car while getting organised.

Yep!  Yet more Food:  Pocket Snacks
One of our weird family rituals is Pocket Snacks.  We've converted friends to them too...
A ziploc bag with high energy food that fits in your pocket.  It's easy to get to something if you need a boost. The kids particularly need these, as the cold & the strenuous activity are exhausting.  Hungry kids are cranky kids.
The kinds of things we pack? Kit kats (we only eat these at the snow, must be some clever marketing going on there), nuts, dried fruit, chocolate coated biscuits, snakes lollies, protein bars, muesli bars

Warm+Dry = Happy
Cold + Wet is another way to have cranky kids. And therefore, cranky parents.
For the warmest, happiest peeps:
* thermals
* proper ski socks (cheap at aldi)
* mid layer (like a long sleeve tee, or a skivvy, but get technical fabrics that wick the moisture away - the old cotton skivvy from your childhood will just get sodden)
* fleece
* Ski pants - In our experience, the Bib & brace style is great for children, because it protects them from having snow go down their pants in their many tumbles
* Ski jacket - it's worth getting the gear, they have pockets in the right places for the right things (eg. your Lift Ticket)
* Buff/fleece cowl:  again, cheap at Aldi - great for pulling up over mouth/face/nose while on the lifts
* Balaclavas - these have been excellent in bitter conditions - again, lightweight fleece ones from Aldi have been great.  Husband & I wear some lightweight silk ones (again from Aldi), or I have a fleece one that's good for really cold days
* Helmets - Ski helmets keep kids (and you!) safe and warm.  They are compulsory for kids in lessons, and can usually be hired free with any other gear.  We wear them too, and I am certain I've been saved from some concussions by my helmet in a couple of nasty tumbles I've taken.
* goggles - again, Aldi has cheap reliable ones - you really can't manage without these

Load up those pockets!
Lip balm
lens cleaning cloth - often attached to one of the pockets of your coat
Ziplock bag to put your phone in.  Oh, and zip your phone in, every time.  I've learned this one through bitter experience.

Safety First (even though I put it last, it really should be first!)
* Ski/Board Lessons - for everyone!!  See below!
* Driving - Living in Australia, we don't often experience the hazardous conditions of driving on black ice or snow.  You need to know how to handle the car, especially if something goes wrong and you start sliding on the snow & ice.
An excellent video for identifying & handling black ice can be found here - seriously it's 1 minute to watch, and could save your life.
Other great tips can be found here and here (including planning ahead)

Random stuff
At our ski fields in NSW this is what you need:

National Parks Pass - if you drive up to the resort, you need to purchase 1 for your car.  You can book ahead online, or purchase in Jindabyne at their office.
- if you catch the Skitube or a bus up to the resort, it is included in the fare.

* Chains - if you are driving into the National Parks you must have chains, unless you have a 4WD.  There will be bays at the side of the road where you will be directed to put your chains on in difficult conditions.  Whether you hire or buy them, do a practice run before you are up there in bitter, snowy conditions.  There are also youtube how-to videos.  Chains are sized according to the wheel/tyre size, so you do need to know which car you're going to use them for.

* Lift pass If you want to ski/board down a slope, you have to get up it first.  To ride a chairlift you need a pass.  Of course, you could always trudge up the mountain but that would be tedious and tiring.  Choose the fun option and buy a pass.  The pass is worn in the sleeve of your jacket, and you scan it to enter the lift queue.  The resorts (Thredbo, Selwyn, Perisher) have a range of deals you can check out online.  Costco also sells some discounted deals that include lessons.

Lessons Everyone should do lessons! We put our kids into day programs, in which they learn to ski and are also given hot meals. It gives us a chance to have some fun together and cover more ground than we can with kids.  As the kids' skills are going to surpass ours soon, we may not put them in the full day programs as often, but we still enjoy the time together!
Adults should also have ski lessons, especially if you are a beginner or a bit rusty. There really should be a basic skills test that everyone has to pass before being allowed on a lift.  We've rescued a number of people on difficult slopes that didn't actually know how to stop or turn.
As a minimum you need to know how to:
* snowplough to slow, stop & turn,
* get on & off a lift safely. (I won't get started on the number of people who've nearly taken my eye out because they aren't following the instructions to safely carry their poles).
You should also be familiar with the Alpine Responsibility Code which you can find here  - it lists your responsibilities on the slopes, and includes things like who has right of way.

I hope this answers a few questions and gives you encouragement to give the snow a go as a family holiday.  If you're not quite certain yet, a great way to have a taster is to stay somewhere in the area with other attractions, such as a farm stay, so you can try a day on the slopes, and have fun things to do otherwise.  The whole Snowy Mountains area is just so beautiful!

Sunday 19 November 2017

Traveling with Kids: Advice from Wise Chatters

It's been a while....

All the things keep happening (illness, deadlines, birthday parties, ballet concerts, work, you name it!).

In the meantime, I'm popping in to share a goldmine I have found...

We are planning a very exciting trip to Europe next year, and I have been gleaning all the wisdom I can from friends who've done long haul flights, and planned and packed for a medium length holiday abroad.

Of late, my life has been greatly enriched by a bunch of people known as "Chatters".  They are fans of the Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales podcast, Chat 10 Looks 3, which I highly recommend if you want to listen in on some friends who chat about life, books, and TV, amongst other things.  The group has formed on Facebook, and has been a tremendous source of knowledge on an astounding range of topics.

My new glasses are awesome (and didn't break the bank).  I only found out about them through the Chatters.

I have discovered books, TV, events, friends, and much other fabulous information through this group.

In particular, the group has been wonderful at advice for Traveling Chatters, whether solo or accompanied.

I've been looking closely at all the information relevant to traveling with children, and have summarised it below so that I (and others) can remember it, and trawl its depths for tips that will help them out.

Here's the first edition of useful travel info, with thanks to the Chatters.  I am sure I will be updating it as more information is forthcoming.  What else would you add?

Suggestions for Bags & Packing Strategies
  • Kids share a suitcase
  • wheeled/backpack hybrid:…
  • Avoid 1 suitcase each = 4 suitcase adults are trying to manage if kids can’t/won’t
  • Stick to two suitcases so adults can manage & have hands free for kids hands
  • 1 Lg & 1 Med suitcase checked… 2 Lg carry on cases.  = Heaps of luggage
  • Eg. Two checked in cases, 1 large carry on backpack, handbag, small backpacks for kids.
  • Packing cubes! (people love or hate them:  good organisation esp for sharing bags, but fewer nooks & crannies)
  • Large ziplock bags can work like packing cubes
  • Pillowcases (1 clean clothes, 1 dirty) work better than cubes bc not rigid
  • 1 backpacker style backpack + roll on carry on for 2A, 2C (under 4).
  •  Nest a suitcase inside another - extra return luggage space
  • pack a folded duffel bag – good for laundry / extra return space
  • Carry on only, eg Kathmandu backpacks for adults, Kathmandu roller bags for kids (5 & 7). No waiting luggage at airports; easier to get around.  This amount means adults can wheel the kids bags / carry up stairs.
  • OR wheeled carry on case + backpack
  • One parent + child per suitcase and small backpack
  • 2A + 2C (4yo):  2 Osprey backpack/wheelies (one larger).  Shoes & toiletries to minimum. Kids had small backpacks for travel (trains & planes).
  • 1 case + 1 small carry on per adult; Kids = shared suitcase.
  •  Rule:  if you buy something it has to fit in your carryon
  •  2A + 2C (11, 9).  2 60 L wheeled backpacks.  2 carry on (kids).  Day pack (mostly empty) w plane amusements & for sightseeing 
  • 2A + 2C (>9 yo): 2 bags for parents; 1 smaller combined kids bag.  1 able to be a backpack
  •  2A & 2C (11yrs, 20 mths): Osprey Sojourn or meridian (60L) & 2 x 35L day packs (osprey & black wolf) OR 35L + 9L Kids. Needed 2 x 35L bc of Work (clothes, laptop)
  • 1-2 ripcurl f-light bags because they have zip mesh dividing them nicely in half to quarantine belongings for each person  + 2 large daypacks for carryon
  • Depends on travel:  Lots of travel, use fewer bags (1 big case, 1 light backpack carry on). Staying in one place, more luggage fine.
  • You need less than you think. Can always buy more
  • UK:  use opshops for bags & clothes – if you don’t want to keep them, drop them off somewhere else

Suggestions for Carry-on Bags

Suggestions for Kids’ carry-on Bags
  •  7 &10 yos can manage a backpack or roll along cabin bag each
  • Kids wheely carry on bags
  • 6 yo - Trunki Ride-on carryon. It was great! She pulled it after herself like a little puppy when she wasn’t riding on it, using it as a spare seat, packing and repacking her 4 little things (pillow, change of clothes, warm top, book). And when she was tired, we could pull her along on it. 6 was the upper end age bracket

What to pack for kids how to entertain kids in flight
  • ·       DO NOT - I repeat - DO NOT get on when they start boarding - that is at least 20 minutes in a confined space no one under the age of 16 needs. Get kids to run around, play, make noise during that time. 
  • ·       In their own bags:  reading books coloured pencils
  • ·       A4 ring-bound sketch pad to draw or write about the trip.
  • ·       Wrapped presents (small things) – open one per hour
  • ·       Pack snacks. In case small human not keen on plane food
  • ·       Play doh! (2-3yo - even a new colour  = refreshed enthusiasm)
  • ·       Mix of favourite toys and books & some new stuff
  • Wrap toys for added excitement
  • Overnight flights work well:  routine – get into pjs, watch movie to chill out.
  • New toys. Unseen before trip. Will keep attention.
  • in flight entertainment can be pretty good. Go online to check at airline website
  • pre-book children’s meals online for each leg there and home (not always automatic)
  • the magic bag cheap & new things eg. twistable crayons, notepad, small play doh tubs, magnetic puzzles... when kid gets bored, something comes else comes out. We’ve used it many times and it never loses its magic. PS kids aren’t allowed to see what’s in the magic bag because then it loses its power.
  • Chuppa chup lollipops/ lollies for take off and landing (descent can be worse)
  • travel jigsaws, colouring books and iPad, in flight movies without sounds (had headphones but she didn’t like them).
  • iPads need to be turned off during take off/landing
  • kids meals can be loaded with sugar, take snacks
  • I was saved by a roll of sticky tape!! We taped fingers together and explored properties and possibilities of the tape. We survived. Mind you, can’t imagine that this could be planned or anticipated. Nonetheless, I suggest pack a roll, JUST IN CASE.
  • washi tape
  • Magnadoodle / etch a sketch
  • proper kids earphones, lots of stickers, washi tape, triangle crayons (don't roll off the tray), craft paper books.
  • Draw a road on paper & stick on the tray, made some paper trees, and he drove the toy car around for ages.
  • toy car on a piece of wool so it could be fished back if it fell on the ground. 
  • 'man down' rule on the crayons, if any fall, they stay there. I wasn't ferreting around on an airplane floor for a crayon.
  • Boogie Board(bit like a magnadoodle)
  • Magnetic activity board
  • box of cereal in carry on for ultra fussy eater (wouldn’t eat unfamiliar food)
  • keep pulling out new books, games, new games and movies on the ipad.
  • Eye masks - Kmart have animal themed sleep eye masks- really comfy and novelty.
  • Balloons are good for the airport, don't take up too much space.
  • Remember every song, hand game (round and round the garden) for when no screens possible
  • Drugs if you need to - test first as some make kids hyper.  (Phenergan, Vallergan)
  • My policy is to waive normal rules around screen time. Watch lots of movies &  programmes,
  • Colouring/puzzle books and pencils, a cuddly
  • walks around the cabin.
  • walking and dancing in the plane, who cares as long as they are entertained
  • Make friends with the attendants ;) they might even take the kids for 10 min
  • Not too much screen as it will keep them awake
  • Panadol handy for sore ear
  • Lots of quiet toys, lots of snacks, drawing stuff.
  • Spare clothes for everyone essential! In a ziplock bag
  • Mini UHT milks
  • One grown up order a special meal - they're brought out first & so there's always a pair of grown up hands free.
  • pipe cleaners and cellophane
  • A plastic slinky
  • My motto travelling long haul with two little people is "some of it will be crap but most of it will be fine".
  • To fast track jet lag get as much natural day light as possible

Washing considerations
  • Consider weather for washing:
  • Winter in Europe / UK – washing hard to dry (lines no good, check for tumble dryers)
  • In Winter kids likely to get wet / muddy – may need more clothes
  • Check if you can wash / tumble dry at accommodation. May need to pack more than 3 days’ worth if not.
  • Washing 3-4 days works
  • Scrubba bags
  • waterproof bag for wet/dirty washing
  • Pillowcase for dirty clothes

Traveling with littlies
  • order groceries online to have bulky things like nappies delivered on arrival

Littles & Sleeping on the Plane
  • Travel overnight
  • Travel to arrive at night so they go straight to bed
  • Try to get them to sleep when it’s their night time.
  • Bring a pillow so they can lie across Dad comfortably (for both)
  • sleep mask
  •  ignore the routine/naps. Night time is a bit different but don’t force sleep. Mine always stuff up sleep plans by napping in the car to or from airport anyway...
  • scheduling sleeps may not work due to excitement: try your best to help her rest / sleep however you can.
  • Don't try and force the sleep, if it happens, it happens.
  • plane pal- laying flat so much easier (check website for airlines that allow).  Ages - depends on 1 or 2 kids & how tall. Could have kids lie horizontally across them so that one was lying across 2 seats in the space where legs go, & other lying across two seats. (tall kids, were comfortable, but max age would be 6-8?? Depends on height, they rest on you). We had a window row of 3 so didn’t bother anyone. See Plane Pal Facebook page
  • Sleep when they sleep
  • Try to make them sleep every 2 to 3 hours

Wednesday 2 August 2017


I just got off the phone from a conversation with one of my Besties. We've known each other for a *ahem* long while now, been through lots of stuff together, figuring out how to mother our kids without screwing them up too much, you know the usual kind of stuff.

So it's always awesome to talk with her. And it's EPIC when there are no small humans around to interrupt us....  It was epic today.

But we did have a minor challenge. I have no voice.  You know, like laryngitis....  keeps dropping in and out like a dodgy phone connection.

But, being the generous friend I am, I remained committed to keeping up my side of the conversation.  I'm determined, if nothing else.

Being the generous friend that she is (which may be more pertinent in this case), she also persevered.  And let me tell you, her end of the deal was much tougher...

Filling in the gaps, adding in the words and syllables that just didn't come out .... Like those "you're a certified genius if you can read this" memes with all the gaps.

If you could ask her right now, she would be able to tell you that it was, well, somewhat exhausting.  Nothing to do with my charming personality and sparkling wit, of course.  Just the strain of having to predict, and infer what the heck I was rambling on about.

I got to thinking about how similar it is to having a hearing impairment.

I was born with a 20% hearing loss. Nothing much to be done about it in my day.  I don't think it even occurred to my parents to let my teachers know that it might be relevant.  These days, a 20% hearing loss is a marker that a child is at risk of reading difficulties (if you can't hear the sounds, it's going to be hard to link them to those pesky letters).

For some reason that didn't happen in my case.  In fact, as I grew older I think it enhanced my ability to get lost in a good book (I certainly was able to block out the sound of mum telling me to set the table...)

But it also meant that I struggled to keep up with a group conversation.  By the time my brain had filled in the gaps, things had moved on.

Whispering with friends at a sleepover? No chance... No friends?

Someone discreetly giving me information in an undertone?  Well, let's say it was definitely discreet - because I never heard it.

TV?  A tiresome struggle.  We now use subtitles constantly.  I sure am thankful for that crazy speed reading program we all did in primary school - all of us sitting in a darkened hall while the words flicked up faster and faster - I always loved that challenge.  So glad that skill has translated to something useful in my adult life!

Movies? Not a chance.  You may think that the theatre sound is ear-splittingly loud.  Yes, it is. The music, the sound effects etc. But the speech?  Usually the clarity is so poor, that despite the deafening (pun intended) volume, I have no idea what is going on.

And those are just the fun things...

Public announcements?  If I'm lucky I'll understand them (jokes about City Rail announcements aside)

Quiet conversations with an upset child or a friend.  Heartbreakingly frustrating to say, "I'm so sorry, I didn't hear that, can you tell me again?"

Professional training...  No, we didn't bother to use microphones or they just don't work in this echoing hall.  Or even have the speaker stand up.  Discrimination?  Sorry?  I didn't quite catch that?

Daily life has been exhausting at best, isolating and soul-crushing at worst.

But I'm lucky, because I know I have a hearing loss.  So at least I understand why I experience those things.  And my hearing loss is minimal.  I also have Hearing Aids now, which have made me wonder how on earth I was coping without them.  The cost of Hearing Aids is so prohibitive that again, this makes me part of a privileged few.

What about the percentage of the population which doesn't realise they have a hearing loss?  That this is their normal.  Particularly children.

Do you want to know what it could be like to have a hearing impairment?

I've listed some great simulators here, here and here.  They're all a bit different - it's worth checking them out if you have the time.

I think we can do better. What can we do?

* look at people when we speak to them.

* have options like subtitles available on every program - you have no idea how many programs leave me crying with frustration when I've tried to watch them - even though they would have had a subtitle track when they were aired somewhere, sometime.

* speak clearly when announcements are made and have visuals attached

* make sure amplification works.

* have speakers stand up and face the group when contributing to a group discussion

* use apps to check whether your work environment is too loud (there are free decibel readers like this one), and wear the protective equipment - once it's gone, its gone!

If you think your hearing is changing, go see an Audiologist.  Right now!  They can figure out what will help you the most, and help your brain to keep connections healthy.  And truly, the miracle of modern hearing aids is worth exploring.  The technology has changed astoundingly in the last 20 years (when all they did was make everything loud) to now when they can be tailored to your specific losses, and be controlled by your mobile phone!  Amongst all the fabulous features I can control with my phone (no I'm not texting in your meeting, I'm shutting out the sound of all the annoying people behind me who won't. shut. up), my favourite is the 'off' setting.  Nope, can't hear you at all! La La La La La

Be awesome, like my Besties, who have cried with me over my frustration and isolation (although that may be because a particular Madonna movie that shall remain unnamed was really that awful), and make sure I know what's going on.

Have you got tips for making sure you can be heard by others?

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Sewing: Making a BYO Mug Bag #waronwaste

It's been fabulous to see people responding to the War on Waste program that ran on the ABC recently.  What a great job he's done making us see the monster we are creating.  And in propelling us to make simple, yet powerful, changes.

I've been pondering why I don't take my own mug more often.  I'm quite keen to, but just don't remember.  I realised one of the problems is that it would be rolling around in my bag.  After some serious tea consumption and despite my best efforts, there may be a drop or two left.  As well as being a crying shame (to waste tea) it would also mess up the highly organised and streamlined crazy dumping ground that is my bag.

I've come up with a solution! A BYO Mug bag that can contain any drips, and be easily cleaned.

I have some laminated fabric taking up space in my stash of fabrics.

I'm sure there is something terribly bad for the environment about this fabric, but seeing as I already have it, I might as well put it to good use so it can redeem itself.

If you're interested in making one yourself, here's my tutorial.  This is a pretty simple project, as I designed this to simplify tricky sewing manoeuvres (basically, I'm lazy)  If you can sew a straight line, you can do this!

Step 1:  Make a cup of tea:
You'll spend the rest of your project-making time trying to avoid knocking it over while you wrangle fabric and sewing machines, but it will fortify you.  Do not skip this step!

Step 2:  Collate your resources:
Laminated fabric  - I bought mine years ago at Spotlight, it's pretty lightweight so I will line it with fleece to protect the mug a little (I will have a breakable mug because I can't bear drinking out of plastic.  Now I really sound like a tea snob...).  Oilcloth is another funky alternative that comes in some fabulous designs.  I've also heard it's possible to get an iron-on laminate for cotton fabric.

Laminate - Cut one 8 inch x 44 inch strip 
(this was the width of my fabric which was easy, and it's perfect for a Keep Cup, but if you have a taller mug, I think an 8 x 46 inch strip would be even better!)

Fleece - this was to provide a bit of padding for my mug, as well as to reinforce the outer fabric a little.  You could also use interfacing or flannelette for strength instead, just take care with ironing the laminate!

Fleece - Cut one 8 inch x 22 inch strip (or 8 x 23 if you do the longer length) - half the length of the laminate

Elastic - a narrow braided elastic is probably best.  I tried with Hat Elastic but it slipped out of the stitching.

Elastic - Cut one 15 inch length

Sticky Tape - the magic tape kind - Laminated Fabrics don't play nice with sewing machines, so you will use this on the bottom of the presser foot (the bit on the sewing machine that holds down the fabric as it goes through.  You only need to do this when the laminate is right side out.  Putting some paper over the project would also help here.

Sewing machine 

Seam allowances are 1/2 inch

Step 3:
Fold your laminated fabric so it has right sides together with the short edges matching

Place the fleece / interfacing on top of it, aligning with the edges of the laminate

Fold your elastic in half, and place between the right sides of the laminate, with the ends sticking out slightly (the loop is sandwiched between the laminate).  It needs to be in the middle (see the photo) - you can use pins to keep in place, but they will make holes in your fabric (not a big deal).  I avoid pinning at all costs
Elastic in between the right sides of the laminate.  The fleece will go on top once the laminate is placed back down

Sew a straight seam.
See where the elastic is poking out? Go back & forth over that a couple of times 

When you sew over the elastic, use your sewing machine reverse function to back up & go over this again to strengthen it.

Continue on your merry way sewing until you reach the edge.

Step 4
Turn the sandwich out the right way - the elastic loop will now be on the outside, and the laminate will face out.

The fleece will be inside the sandwich.
Right way out - laminate is wrapped around the fleece, and the elastic has been sewn into the seam you just made (it's hard to spot, but it's sticking out at the end)

Trim the edges if yours looks like a dog's breakfast (like mine) and /or you can be bothered.

Now for some tricks.

Step 5 
Remove your presser foot, and place a small piece of magic sticky tape on the base of it.
Once you have your sticky tape on the underside of the presser foot, trim the excess

Make sure it doesn't cover the hole in the foot that the needle goes through.
Pop the presser foot back onto the machine.

Take your sandwich, and fold it in half, lining up the short edges.

If you prefer one side to the other have it facing inwards (so it becomes the outside of the bag) - but really it shouldn't matter as both sides are the same.

This can be a bit tricky because of the laminate - you may have to push it through the machine a little.

Sew down each side of the bag.

Step 6:  Making a base for the bag

While it is still inside out.

Pinch one side seam and make it match to the crease at the bottom of the bag.
Underneath that seam, I have pressed the crease of the base of the bag.

Measure from the point of the triangle 1.5 inches along the base (crease) of the bag, mark, and draw a line across the bag (see picture)
That may not look like 1.5 inches, but trust me, it's supposed to be!

Repeat on the other side.
Those are the lines you will sew along. It takes a little bit of fiddling to line up each corner with the sewing machine.  Take your time!  It's like magic when it works

Keeping the side seam pinched to the base crease sew along the line you drew for both sides.

It can stand up all by itself!

Trim the corners off.

Voila!  A base to hold the cup in place

Step 7:
Turn the bag right side out.

Pop in your favourite travel mug.

Loop the elastic around to close it, and there you are.

Step 8:
Don't forget to take it with you!

And don't forget to take the sticky tape off your presser foot, or it will mess with other sewing projects you do!

Alternative Method
If you don't like the exposed seams on the inside, you could alter the process by cutting
four 8 x 22.5 inch strips of the laminate fabric, and two 8 x 11.5 inch fleece linings.

Or, you could cut two 8 x 22.5 inch strips of the laminate, and two 8 x 11.5 flannelette or fleece linings (which would absorb any drips, but not be quite so easy to clean)

Follow a similar process, starting with sandwiching the elastic between short ends of 2 of the laminated pieces along with a piece of fleece.

Repeat (sans elastic) for the other laminate & fleece.

While the laminate still has right sides facing (i.e. wrong sides facing out) stitch down the long sides of both sandwiches (one with elastic, one without).

Turn right way out.

Join at the short edge (that has no elastic) - that way only your base will have a raw edge. (You'll need the magic tape from this step)

Follow the rest of the process from Step 6.

Saturday 13 May 2017

The Right Stuff!*

I wanted to share with you this beautiful shawl designed by Meg Gadsbey (who I had the privilege of meeting at the Show recently, and she is as beautiful as her designs!):  Midnight in Sydney

My version:  Midnight Ocean Glimmers shawl

I also wanted to share the process I went through to knit it, because I learned such a lot about having another go, and about having the right tools for the task with this project.

I have been reflecting recently that I really love how the knitting podcasters I listen to share their mistakes and the way they need to re-do things.  Because then I know that mistakes and re-doing is perfectly normal, even for really experienced knitters.

I'm far less experienced, so it really helps me take it in my stride and understand it as a learning process.

Recently the Knitmore Girls had an interesting discussion about having the right tools for the project, and how much difference that can make.  I *think* it was episode 426.

I attempted and gave up this pattern last year.

I could not seem to master it.

This year, I had the chance to test knit the pattern because Meg has re-designed the layout.  I wa.s ready to give it another go

I love the new layout.  Meg's patterns are always clear and easy to follow, but this version is even better than the first.  All of the pattern instructions are on one page, including any of the abbreviations.
The chart also has the chart codes on the same page, right next to the chart.

I'm not a confident chart knitter, but I am steadily becoming converted - I love working from visual cues that mean I don't have to wade through lots of words to find where I'm up to!

If you haven't tried knitting from a chart (instead of reading the instructions) this would be a great pattern to start with!

This time, I knit the pattern in a miraculously short time! Just a few weeks (for me, that's miraculous).

I had such a lovely time knitting it, and realised a few things that had made the project so much easier.  I wanted to share them with you in case it helps you in your knitting adventures.

The pattern is really not that tricky, however, it does have a fiddly knit-4-together manoeuvre that takes a bit of patience.

Now the first time I tried this, I was using a completely different yarn

It is a beautiful yarn but it has now told me that it never wanted to be a shawl in the first place.  It really wants to be socks.

How do I know that?

It's quite a tough yarn.  I've tried to knit it into a couple of different shawls now, with no success (probably not the yarn's fault really...perhaps more to do with limited concentration...).  Every time I've ripped it out, the yarn has bounced back, sturdy and strong!  Impressive really.

It's a merino / nylon blend.  The Nylon means that the yarn will wear well for socks - no holes!

But not the best for this pattern.  This pattern really needed a yarn that had a bit of give in it.

When I tried again with the Dingo Dyeworks it was a totally different experience.  I used Fair Dinkum in Mandalay, which is 100% Merino.

So when I was trying to get the needle into those 4 stitches at once, there was enough give in it for the stitches to loosen up while I created the stitch


Last year I used my beloved Symfonie Knit Pro needles.  I just love knitting with these - they are bamboo so they are so nice to work with.  They have a good tip for most projects and they are pretty too!

They simply don't compare to the needles you can get a Spotlight (which I just can't bear to use now...) and they cost a similar amount.

But I think that the needle just wasn't sharp enough to get through the 4 stitches.

This year I was using my Karbonz carbon fibre needles - they have a metal tip, and they are a little sharper than the Symfonie.  It wasn't a deliberate choice, they were just the needles I could find at the time!

I did order some finer tip Chia goo lace needles but they didn't arrive until after I'd finished the project.  They may have helped more, but I suspect that the very fine tip may have resulted in my splitting the yarn more (I was already doing it a bit!).  They came from Yay for Yarn which has cheap shipping on needles!

I get most of my needles from Tijuana Alpacas - they also have a great Ebay store.
Blocking out the lace - it's like Magic!

Stitch Markers & Knit Tink
Did I mention my limited concentration abilities?  Knitting is my down time, and usually happens when I'm sitting on the couch, watching TV.  I may or may not also be sipping wine.  I'm not telling.  Either way, I'm usually shattered, and not so great at keeping track of things.
So, I made sure I put stitch markers in between each lace repeat - that's the set of stitches that is going to make once section of lace.  Every lace pattern is different.
It meant that each time I came to a stitch marker I knew it was time to start the lace stitches again.
Because I'm still learning how to 'read' my more complex knitting, it meant I didn't have to keep trying to figure out where I was up to.
It also meant that I could 'fudge' an error - by finding a way to get back to the correct number of stitches (yes, I'm all for cheating!  I know I did this a few times, but even I can't find where I did it).  That way a mistake in one section didn't throw out the whole row of lace.

In all my projects I use a row counter to keep track of where I'm up to in a pattern.  The one I use at the moment is an app called "Knit Tink" - I'm using the free version.  I can set up 3 different patterns, enter the number of rows in a section and how many times the section repeats.  Then I just tap the app each time I finish a row.  There's lots of apps available.  I quite like this one.

* there may or may not be a dreadful 80s song that had this name... I'm not saying I ever listened to it though