The Upcycled Book Box

October 26th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind.  If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele.  If you are a kid, your job is to play.

Childhood is a short season.  There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind).  Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.

But, adventures can get messy.  And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.

I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.

My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets.  They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling.  These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely.  For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.


To complete this simple project, you will need the following:

An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)

Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)

Paint brush

Utility knife



Plastic wrap


This requires an old hardcover book.  Choose it wisely.  Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation.  Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.”  Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread.  You will not ever get to read this book again.

Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf).  Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box.  With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife.  Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time.  After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book.  Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.”  Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges.  Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.

With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together.  Make a cup of tea.  Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten.  Drink your tea.  Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal.  Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted.  Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat.  Paint all surfaces inside the box.

Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box.  Fill the box with a small book.  Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book.  Close the book.  Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.

Remove the plastic wrap.  Check to be sure the book is dry.  Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions.  Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase.  We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint.  Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover.  Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.

A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things.  It promotes stillness.  And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos.  Which, at our house, is most of the time.




The Last Tomato

August 17th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big.  I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez!  Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.

Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto.  It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.

Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato.  I feel it.  Now it is here.  The time of change.  The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns.  Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.

Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness.  This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday.  If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing.  And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.

Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:


I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting.  So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.






The Science of Felting

March 18th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

Tiny Felted BirdhousesSeveral folks have expressed interest in the actual felting process—Geez, Mossy, how does it all work?

Here’s what I know.  Felt is a mass of dense wool and/or fur.  It is not woven, but rather pressed and manipulated in a centuries-old process using heat, moisture and pressure or agitation.  The result is the strongest, smoothest, most water-resistant natural fabric known.  Soap helps in the felting process.  Heat and moisture cause the outer overlapping scales along the wool fiber to open, and the soap allows the fibers to slide easily over one another, thereby causing them to become entangled.  Wool fibers are made up of a protein called keratin.  The keratin in the fibers becomes chemically bound to the protein of the other fibers resulting in a permanent bond between the fibers.  The felting process is irreversible.  Sometimes this is unfortunate if you are like me and have several unintentional child-sized sweater casualties on hand as silent reminders.

Since wool felt is not woven and doesn’t require a loom for its production, it can be made rather easily.  Because of this, felt is the earliest known form of fabric.   The true origin of felt is unknown, though I am aware of several cultures that take credit for the discovery of felt.  One Sumerian legend tells of Saint Clement, a wandering monk, who cleverly wrapped flax fibers between his shoes and feet to prevent blisters.  Upon arrival at his destination, he removed his shoes and discovered that the flax had, in fact, felted due to the heat, pressure and perspiration.  Saint Clement became the patron saint for hat makers.

The steps included in making felt have changed little over time.  Felted fabric is produced using heat, moisture and pressure to mat and interlock the fibers.  While machinery can be used today to accomplish many of these tasks, the processing requirements remain unchanged.  One exception is that until the late nineteenth century mercury was used in the processing of felt for hatmaking.  Mercury was discovered to have debilitating effects on the hatter, causing a type of poisoning that led to tremors, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms—hence the term “mad hatter.”

What makes a good sweater to felt?  When looking for a thrifted sweater or two to upcycle for a felting project, I usually choose 100% wool.  Other animal fibers will work as well—mohair, cashmere, alpaca, etc.  Be sure the tag is not labeled “superwash,” since this “washable wool” will have been chemically treated to avoid shrinkage (felting).  Remove all buttons, ribbons, labels, etc. from the sweater, cut it apart at the seams (completely cutting away the seams), and throw it in the hot-water wash and cold-water rinse with the (relentless) laundry pile.  Often, I wash and dry twice.

Felt made with a thrifted sweater has all the benefits of wool—stability, durability, earthy texture—and has the eco-friendly attributes of being natural and second-hand.  Hurrah!


On a Home

February 28th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Fairy HouseSometimes a house is more than just a house. Sometimes it’s a home.  Right when you walk in.  No matter what it looks like, how big it is or how meticulously it’s maintained, it’s a home.

What makes a house a home?  Did it become a home the moment a newborn is carried over its threshold, or the smoke alarm is first set off, or the beloved hamster is buried in its back garden, or a wobbly toddler’s height is marked on its kitchen wall, or the sapling planted begins to shade it, or friends’ laughter begins to fill it?

Our house is a home because it’s where stories are made.  It’s a home because we live here. And because we are not perfect.  And because we are loved.

When does a house become a home?  An acquaintance become a friend?  A job become a cause?  A flicker become a flame?

What makes your house a home?


The Toolbox

February 21st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Card CatalogA child with his or her own toolbox is a rare thing.  While it’s not usually wise to provide your little person with a supply of two-part epoxy, a 13-piece Allen wrench set and Teflon grease, it is important to provide workshop space and easy access to age-appropriate gadgets for important projects.  After our girls reached the age when they stopped eating glue sticks, we set out to keep our craft supplies in a modified kid-level card catalog cabinet.  Drawers are labeled with names of contents—ribbon, fabric, buttons, glue, scissors—and the girls have a few communal rules that seem to keep everyone safe and busy.  It’s not fancy, and most supplies are simply remnants from past projects, but it’s a place to go and tinker with things alone—to work independently, responsibly and thoughtfully.  These skills take practice.  Real practice.  I’m quite certain that these are the foundations of creativity and perseverance—necessary elements of a competent adult, and some of the most challenging to master in a school setting.

ToolsIf our goal in life is to make the world a better place than it was when we arrived here, how better to do that than to grow and encourage self-sufficient competent kids?

Holy Moly! A Giveaway!

February 18th, 2011 § 66 comments § permalink

Hairband giveawayI can’t remember what made me look, but I just checked behind the scenes for the first time in a while and Holy Moly! there are a lot of visitors checking in to this little blog.  But, why so quiet?  I didn’t even know you were here.

And so, I invite you to join me. You may secretly think you don’t have much to offer, but you do.  Write to me.  Say hello and help me plan my spring.  (It’s coming, you know!)  Tell me what projects interest you, what you want to hear about, what you already know or want to know about.  I want to hear from you.

So here’s the deal.  You may submit your “Hello” several ways:

1) via the Mossy Facebook page

2) via Comments to this post

3) or via Contact link with “Hello” as the subject

Submissions must be received by Friday, March 4th.   Readers will be able to “like” their favorites on Facebook if they choose, but ultimately, a team of highly qualified experts (my small, insightful design team) will decide on a winner.  The winner will be announced on Friday, March 11th.  And, get this:  The winner will walk away with two handmade Mossy hairbands (very similar to the one pictured above, but different, and carefully wrapped and tied with a bow).

Ask, tell, share.  Your comments mean so much to me.  Can’t wait to hear from you.  And good luck!

Felted Hairbands

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Felted HairbandWhen the snow is fresh and giant feathery snowflakes twist and twirl and can be caught or rolled into snowballs or snow forts or snow people, it’s time to bundle up and head out the door and get some pink cheeks.  But if it’s coming up on March and the effects of the first season’s storm are still visible and you’re facing the third morning of what they call a “wintry mix,” and you’re wondering if Lordy, is it too early for a drink? it may be time to regroup.  Inside.

We’ve had a zillion snow days since the end of December.  (Really, that’s the actual number.)  Because of this, we’ve been forced to be resourceful.  During this special bonding time (I suppose some might call it that), my design team and I have become really good at a few things, including completely dismantling the house.

Not to brag, but we’ve also gotten to be experts at making these Felted Hairbands.  It turns out that, once we got the Felted Wool Ball thingy down, we were itching for some sort of practical application of our newfound skill and Voila!  Note: we don’t attempt perfection.  As with all our other projects, we prefer quirky outcomes over conventional.  That said, we remind ourselves that, in nature, some flowers are more delicate, some are plumper, some grow to the right, some to the left, and some even lose a few petals.  Of course, this uniqueness should be celebrated.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, an elastic hair tie, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.

Zigzaggy Strips

First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets or monster collars.  More on that later.

Hairband Sewing 1

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.

Hairband Sewing 2Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.

Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Hairband Sewing 3Next, and this is optional, use a felting needle, felting pad and wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.

Attach a hair tie on the leaf bottom with needle and thread.  Ta da!  Project complete.

Now you are ready to fill fields with felted flowers.  Or to, at least, wear one proudly.

Felted Wool Finger Puppets

February 7th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Felted Finger PuppetsOnce you’ve perfected the Felted Wool Ball and your design team is ready to rally, see if you have the technical adroitness to make something super crafty—The Felted Finger Puppet.

For this project, you will need bowl of hot, slightly soapy water, a bowl of cold soapless water, carded wool, scraps of 100% wool felt, a needle and thread, warm water and warm hands.  As posted previously, carded wool (or “wool roving”) can be purchased at local farms, craft stores or online (e.g. Local Harvest, Etsy, Halcyon Yarn, or Peace Fleece).  Peace Fleece offers a “Rainbow Felting Pack” that is perfect for this project.

As with the Felted Wool Ball, pull off a small length of wool and divide it into many thin longish strips.—multiple thin layers will produce the sturdiest felted material.  Wrap one strip as you would wind a ball of string—in thin layers around your index finger making sure you cover the fingertip.  Wrap the remaining wool strips around the first, adding layers until you can no longer feel your knuckle. The wool should be snug, but not too tight (about 1/8 in thick when pressed).

Dip your wooly finger into the bowl of hot, slightly soapy water.  Remove your wooly finger from the water and gently press the wool with the fingertips of your other hand, squeezing gently.  Continue to re-wet and squeeze the wool until you feel the fibers become entangled and you feel the fabric becoming firmer (you will notice this within a few minutes).  When the fabric is very firm, submerge your wooly finger into the bowl of cold (soapless) water to set the fibers and rinse.  Remove excess water by gently squeezing your wooly finger.  Like the Felted Wool Ball project, if your hands are perpetually cold like mine, you will find this project somewhat challenging.  Carefully remove the wool from your finger.

After air-drying the wool for several hours, you and your starry-eyed design team must envision the outcome— cow, wolf, librarian, martian—the brainstorming starts now.  The puppets can be embellished with needle felting (e.g. bumblebee stripes, eyes, nostrils), cut wool sweaters (e.g. lion mane, dragon wings) and embroidery thread.

These little friends, as seductive as they are, often are central to my operation.  With their cheerful banter, they lure my girls into unappealing household tasks such as eating veggies, washing dishes or brushing their teeth.  These little friends are known to appreciate clean plates and good attitudes.  As well, they provide teeny shoulders for us all to cry on after challenging days.

Wool felt is the earliest known form of fabric—therefore the process of felting has been around much longer than any of us—including supertalented felt artists Marjolen Dalinda, Renata Kraus, and Irena Rudman.  Additional tutorials and inspiration for felting projects like the ones we have made here can easily be found on many blogs and craft sites like Wee Folk Art, Rhythm of the Home, Laura Lee Burch and Martha Stuart.  For those in a hurry, finished products can be found on Chickadee Swing, and in many Waldorf catalogs.

Wet Felting: The Wool Bead Bracelet

January 23rd, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Felted wool bead braceletIf you have perfected the felted wool ball and have a collection of them gawking at you (that are still wet), and now have a somewhat unhealthy confidence in your felting abilities, you and your design team may feel the sudden urge to transform the balls into useful beads.  Now is the time.  Measure a wrist.  To make a bracelet, you will need just enough wool balls to go around it.

You will need the following: your cherished collection of (still damp) felted wool balls, a sharp sewing needle, a large needle with a large eye (a doll-maker’s needle is perfect for this job), and a thin elastic cord.  Pierce a hole through the ball with the sharp needle and insert a toothpick through the hole.  Allow the bead to air dry with the toothpick inside it (rusty old radiators are advantageous for drying).  After completely dry (this will take a day or two), the beads are ready to be assembled into a bracelet.  Thread the thin elastic cord on the long big-eyed needle.  String the beads on the needle, and then onto the elastic cord.  Tie several square knots in the elastic cord and conceal the knot in the hole of a bead.  C’est fini!  Feel free to incorporate smaller beads, buttons, ribbon, etc. into your design to make it flashy.

Felted wool caterpillar

In the end, your innovative design team may have its own ideas concerning final products.  This is fine.

Wet Felting: The Wool Ball

January 19th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Felted Wool BallsMaking a felted wool ball is incredibly easy.  This project requires no more than dishwashing liquidwarm waterwarm hands and carded wool.  Often called “wool roving,” carded wool can be purchased at local farms, craft stores or online through local or national distributors.  Wool is either carded by machine or by hand—the fibers are cleaned, separated and prepared for spinning or felting.  To find a local farm or folks who card wool, plug your zip code into LocalHarvest or search Etsy.  Remnant wool roving may be purchased online from Peace Fleece and  Halcyon Yarn—check out their “Bagettes” and “Babooshka Soup”—a random mix of remnant wool batts and pencil (thin) roving.

With carded wool in hand, pull off (don’t cut it with scissors) a small length of wool (maybe 8 inches) and divide it into four thin strips.  Wrap one strip as you would wind a ball of string.  Wrap the remaining strips around the first, winding the ball of wool until it is at least 1/3 larger than you’d like the finished product to be (don’t bite off more than you can chew—start fairly small).  Place a drop of dish detergent in your hands.  Dip your wool ball into a bowl of hot water until it is thoroughly wet.  Gently (very gently at first) roll the ball into shape with your hands.  When the fibers become entangled and the ball becomes firmer (you will notice this within a few minutes), rub and press harder, rewetting and adding a drop or two of soap as necessary.  When the ball is very firm, rinse it in cold water to remove the soap. Remove excess water by rolling the ball on a towel, and roll it tightly in your hands to make the final shape (but don’t squeeze).  If you are like me and your hands are perpetual icicles, you will find this project somewhat challenging—warm temperature is the key.

At this point, you must make a decision.  If you’d like to enjoy as is, that is fine.   Some folks may be content with that.  Allow to air dry for a few days until dry.  If you are unusually ambitious and would like to refine your abilities, feel free to polish your talents and build on this foundation.

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