New Sprouts Picnic Set Review

Today, my children have played with the Learning Resources New Sprouts Picnic set. It is a very complete play food set for 2 small people; plastic basket, 2 plates, 2 hamburgers, 2 watermelon wedges, 2 cupcakes and 2 condiment bottles. The manufacturer’s recommended age group is from 2 years old upwards, so it’s safe for toddlers as well as older children.

learning-resources-05

My kids aren’t really into hamburgers; on first sight, they decided the burger patties were giant cookies! However, for pretend eating, they’re happy to stack the patties in the bun halves. The condiment bottles were much admired for the ketchup and mustard strings – when you tip the bottles upside down, the string slides out; when you turn the bottle back up and hold the string up, the string slides back in. As the bottles aren’t actually labelled, my daughter promptly repurposed them as icing for the “cookies” and cupcakes!

A neat feature of the plates is: they’re divided into thirds, with raised borders. For an older child, this might be an opportune maths lesson – division and fractions. For a younger child, it simply means any play food sits easily and doesn’t fall off as soon as you pick up a plate. (The photos, below, show some Learning Resources play food and some of our own play food pieces.)

learning-resources-07 learning-resources-08

I love how versatile the picnic pieces are. While a child’s imagination knows no limits, it can only be helped by the simple shapes and lack of rigid direction. Kids don’t need play instructions - they know instinctively! It’s also great that there’s 2 of everything. Whether you’re playing with a sibling or a friend, or you’re hosting a teddy bear tea party, the extra serving encourages sharing without squabbles.

The basket itself is ideal for storing the set neatly. Plastic is, of course, easy to clean and durable for both indoor and outdoor play. I think this will have real longevity and is a super cute imaginative play set.

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To keep the picnic role-play fresh, I might add some of my own play food, in due course. (This is a great tip for any toy losing that nouveau sparkle – mix in one new item and the entire thing becomes “new” again e.g. a dress for a doll or a prop for dressing up clothes.) In the meantime, I would definitely recommend the New Sprouts Picnic set for ages 3-7. Younger children must be careful around the condiment bottle strings.

The New Sprouts Picnic set is available on Amazon UK at £18.66 (correct as of July 29, 2014) or direct from Learning Resources at £23.94 (inc VAT).

Free amigurumi play food knitting and crochet pattern designs by FC Knits: Mini Gingerbread Man, Play Food Cherry Cake Slice and Play Food Sandwich.

Mirror, Mirror Site

Due to unfortunate web hosting downtime issues, over the weekend, I’ve set up an official mirror site: FC Knits (Mirror). It won’t be as comprehensive as this site (which is, after all, the original website) but it will contain copies of my free knitting and crochet patterns and links to all my paid patterns on Ravelry. Anytime this site experiences downtime issues (I’m talking: more than 5 minutes of admin updates), you will also see any relevant status updates on the mirror site.

Hopefully, this will provide more stability and security to your FC Knits experience and ensure you are never caught in the middle of a knitting or hooking drama! :)

The mini crisis means I will be considering my options for web hosting and the viability of the current setup. I will, of course, keep you updated.

In the meantime, do add FC Knits (Mirror) to your bookmarks and happy crafting to you all. <3

Amigurumi Owl Adaptation

My daughter recently requested that I make her something Harry Potter themed. Inspiration saved me at the last-minute, when I decided my Mini Amigurumi Penguin would adapt very nicely into a speedy amigurumi owl!

Pigwidgeon

To make this version, you will need 8mm (US: L) and 5mm (US: 8/H) crochet hooks and assorted DK (US: worsted) yarns. I used a mix of white, cream and brown yarn colours to create some visual texture depth. The original pattern includes feet but I omitted those entirely. Instead, I’ve added some ear tufts. The amigurumi owl directions, below, reference the original pattern, which is available here: Mini Amigurumi Penguin.

Body

Use the larger hook and 3 strands of DK yarn. Do not change yarn colours midway.

Wings

Use the larger hook and 3 strands of DK yarn. Blanket stitch the edges of each wing and use blanket stitch to attach the wings to the body. (I used brown along the top edge of the wings and white along the other edges.)

Eyes

Use the smaller hook. After working the magic loop, do not fasten off - work a second round as 2dc (US: 2sc) in each st and then fasten off. Sew French knots for normal pupils or use satin stitches to create crazy winking pupils.

Beak

Do not crochet the beak. Use satin stitches to fill in a sewn, triangular, beak area.

Ears

With a darning needle or fine hook, pull 3 to 5 short lengths of yarn through the head – where you’d like to place an ear. Firmly knot all the yarn together and trim the ends, so they are about an inch long. Gently unravel the yarn plies, so the ear looks nice and fluffy. Repeat for the second ear.

The finished amigurumi owl reminded me strongly of Pigwidgeon but my daughter assured me that it looks like Hedwig. Who am I to argue? The main thing is: my daughter loved her new stuffed owl. :)

Rustic Jingles (Handbells)

I’ve been browsing through percussion instruments on Amazon (one of my favourite websites) and marvelling at the cost of such delights as wooden sticks (claves) and empty boxes (cajons). Okay, I’m sure these things are expertly crafted and, in the hands of actual percussionists, sound really beautiful. However, my percussionists are small children and it occurred to me that it might be fun to try making some instruments myself! :) So… this is my plushie version of Handbells (also known variously as Jingle Bells or Sleigh Bells).

Rustic-Jingles

Rustic Jingles (Handbells) Pattern

Needles: 4mm (US: 6) and 5mm (US: 8) crochet hooks, darning needle
Yarn: DK (US: light worsted) and Aran (US: worsted)
Materials: Toy stuffing, 4 jingle bells

Handle

Use a 5mm (US: 8) crochet hook and Aran (US: worsted) yarn. Stuff the handle very firmly, as you go.

Rnd 1: magic loop of 5 dc sts [5 dc]
Rnd 2: ch1, 2dc each st [10 dc]
Rnds 3-16: ch1, dc10 [10 dc]
Rnd 17: ch1, dc2tog [5 dc]

Cut the yarn with a long tail and use the tail to sew the opening closed.

Strap

Use a 4 mm (US: 6) crochet hook and DK (US: light worsted) yarn. Leave a long tail, when making your slip knot. (This will be used for sewing, later on.)

Row 1: ch4
Rows 2-35: ch1, dc4

Fasten off with a long tail.

Assembly and Jingle Bells

Securely sew 4 jingle bells, evenly distributed, along the middle of the strap. Use the long tails to sew the strap to either end of the handle. Hide and trim tail ends.

Hold your Handbells by the handle and start jingling away! Alternatively: give up and buy one from Amazon. :p

Percussion Plus Handbells
Percussion Plus Handbells (as sold on Amazon UK)

Abbreviations:
ch = chain
dc = double crochet (US: single crochet)
dc2tog = dc 2 sts together (US: sc 2 sts together)
st(s) = stitch(es)

Challenge & Liebster Love

So, my liebe readers, I’ve sent a bunch of random novelty yarns to a knitting Liebste, by way of a friendly challenge! Una is a pro at upcycling weird yarn so, if she can’t save it, I won’t feel the slightest guilt if it just gets recycled. :) If nothing else, let this be a lesson to you all: do not buy yarn on a whim! (I can’t decide what is worse – the brittle tweed yarn or the entangling ladder lace.) Here’s a photo of the horror package, awaiting Una’s judgement:

Balls of Yarn

Liebster Blog Award

I was kindly nominated for the Liebster Blog Award by Lori of Little Knittle, last year, and never got around to doing anything about it – besides saying “thank you”. (To the best of my knowledge, the Liebster Blog Award was created by Jasmin of Bird of a Paradise, in 2010, to act as a blogger PR campaign. Every nominee, taking part, nominates 3-5 of their favourite blogs – to create a chain of blog love.)

Liebster Blog Award

So… I duly nominate the following fabulous blogs, in no particular order, for the Liebster Blog Award and suggest you start reading them immediately:

  1. Great Balls of Wool by Una
  2. The Move to America by Molly
  3. Awesome Parenting Is Not What I Do by Char
  4. Women in the Scriptures by Heather

By way of disclaimer, the blogs are a tad diverse, to say the least. However, they are well worth reading and are authored by some stellar ladies. If you admire patience, kindness and ability to admit shortcomings while still overcoming life’s little challenges (neatly tying this into my post topic) then you’ll find something to amuse and uplift your spirits on a regular basis. :)

Finally, a special shout-out to:

  1. Handmade Blog by Susan

Susan Penny, author of many fab books such as Quick Knits Small & Pretty, loves all things handcrafted and is now blogging regularly on knitting, sewing, baking and everything homemade. One of these days, I’m going to find time to guest blog for her… Of course, that may be after my kids have grown up and left home! :p

And, on that note, I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging much recently and I accept, as my own personal challenge, to find more time to design, write and blog in the future. ;)

Simple Tree Mittens

These Christmas tree decorations are designed to resemble baby mittens. They measure about 2 by 2.5 inches – great for hanging on your tree or stuffing a tiny treat inside. The original pattern for Simple Tree Mittens was a seamed, knitted design. However, in honour of their popularity, I’ve reworked them to include 2 new flavours: Original (Knitted), Seamless (Knitted) and Crochet.

The photo (below) shows the crochet version on the left and the seamless knitted version on the right. The crocheted Simple Tree Mittens use a sideways ribbed cuff, so they are a great way to practice crochet ribbing if you haven’t tried it before. The knitted Simple Tree Mittens use a standard ‘rib 2′ for the cuffs.

The Simple Tree Mittens work well individually or as traditional pairs, using small amounts of DK (US: worsted) in 2 colours. The mini pompoms are entirely optional; I’d suggest the ‘fork’ method, which makes an ideal size pompom. If you are attaching pompoms, leave a long tail to attach the pom-pom and make a hanging loop. Otherwise, crochet a single chain or use some scrap yarn or ribbon for the hanging loops.

Simple Tree Mittens

Simple Tree Mittens (Original – Knitted)

With yarn A, cast on 24 stitches using 4mm (US: 6) knitting needles.

Rows 1-5: (k2, p2) to end [24 sts]
Row 6: k24
Rows 7-16: change to yarn B and work 10 rows of st st (beginning with knit row)
Row 17: (k2tog tbl) to end [12 sts]
Row 18: p12
Row 19: (k2tog tbl) to end [6 sts]

Cut yarn with long tail, cinch tight through the remaining 6 stitches and pull tight. Use the yarn tail to sew up the side seam. Weave in ends. Attach hanging loop and mini pompoms.

Simple Tree Mittens (Seamless – Knitted)

With yarn A, cast on 24 stitches and distribute across 4mm (US: 6) double-pointed needles.

Rnds 1-5: (k2, p2) to end [24 sts]
Rnd 6: k24
Rnds 7-16: change to yarn B and knit all sts
Rnd 17: k2tog to end [12 sts]
Rnd 18: k12
Rnd 19: k2tog to end [6 sts]

Cut yarn with long tail, cinch tight through the remaining 6 stitches and sew securely on wrong side. Weave in ends. Attach hanging loop and mini pompoms.

Simple Tree Mittens (Crochet)

Use a 4mm (US: 6) crochet hook and work from the bottom up (versus ‘top down’ for the knitted versions).

Rnd 1: magic loop of 4 dc sts with yarn B [4 dc]
Rnd 2: (2dc) to end [8 dc]
Rnd 3: (2dc, dc1) to end [12 dc]
Rnd 4: (2dc, dc2) to end [16 dc]
Rnd 5: (2dc, dc3) to end [20 dc]
Rnds 6-8: dc20

Change to yarn A to work the mitten cuff, sideways.

Row 9: ch4
Row 10 (and all even rows to Row 24): ch1, dc4 BLO, dc2 (into mitten body edge)
Row 11 (and all odd rows to Row 27): skip 2 sts, dc4 BLO
Row 28: ch1, slst4 BLO into adjacent edge of mitten cuff (to close the cuff)

Fasten off and weave in all ends, on wrong side. Attach hanging loop and mini pompoms.

Fork Pompoms

If you’ve never heard of the ‘fork’ method for making mini pompoms, then it’s really self-explanatory. Basically, you use a fork – a regular fork from your cutlery drawer – to wind the yarn around because it’s an easy way to measure for really tiny pom-poms.

Fork Pompom

Put a length of yarn vertically between the middle tines, wind the yarn horizontally round all the tines and tie the vertical yarn around your wound yarn. Slide the tied yarn off the fork tines and use embroidery scissors (or any sharp scissors) to snip the loops at the side edges. Fluff up your mini pom-pom and trim any sticking out bits. Either leave the long, dangling, yarn to use when attaching your pompom to a project or trim it off.

Abbreviations:
BLO = back loop only
ch(s) = chain(s)
dc = double crochet (US: single crochet)
k = knit
k2tog = knit 2 stitches together
p = purl
slst = slip stitch
st(s) = stitch(es)
st st = stocking stitch
tbl = through back loop

Simple Tree Mittens (original knitted version) were first published on December 11, 2012.

Angel Ornament

I designed this angel ornament because I was thinking of a friend’s mom, who died around Christmas. I wrote the poem, Angels, at the same time.

You’ll need a 4mm (US: 6) crochet hook, some DK (US: light worsted) yarn, a darning needle and some toy stuffing. A few assorted angel ornaments would be cute Christmas tree decorations, if you’re planning ahead.

Angel Ornament

Angels

Angels walk among us
In every darkened place.
Angels come upon us
And touch us with their grace.

Each blessed guiding star.
Kindness acts from afar.

Angels with their beauty,
They beautify our lives.
Angels do their duty;
Their loving sacrifice.

Strangers that hold our hands.
Family with us stand.

Together we are one:
Angels we become.

Head and Body

Rnd 1: magic loop of 4 dc sts
Rnd 2: 2dc to end [8 dc]
Rnd 3: (2dc, dc1) to end [12 dc]
Rnds 4-5: dc12
Rnd 6: (dc2tog, dc1) to end [8 dc]

At this point, stuff the head. You can also change yarn colour for the body, if you wish.

Rnd 7: (2dc, dc3) to end [10 dc]
Rnd 8: (2dc, dc4) to end [12 dc]
Rnd 9: (2dc, dc3) to end [16 dc]
Rnds 10-11: dc16
Rnd 12: (dc2tog, dc3) to end [12 dc]
Rnds 13-14: dc12

At this point, stuff the body.

Rnd 15: dc2tog to end [6 dc]

Fasten off with a long tail and sew opening closed with tail.

Wings

Row 1: ch3
Row 2: ch1, (2dc) to end [6 dc]
Row 3: ch1, 2dc, dc4, 2dc [8 dc]
Row 4: ch1, 2dc, dc6, 2dc [10 dc]
Row 5: ch1, 2dc, dc8, 2dc [12 dc]
Row 6: ch1, 2htr, htr3, 2htr, htr3, 2htr, htr2, 2htr [16 htr]

Fasten off and weave in ends.

Halo and Angel Ornament Assembly

Sew wings securely to body, using photo as guide. Sew on yarn, for hair, if desired. (Use a darning needle to pull a short length of yarn through the scalp and then do a double knot with the ends, to create 2 strands of hair.) Chain 12 sts and join together in a loop, for the halo. Sew the halo to the head. Attach a length of yarn as a hanging loop.

Abbreviations:
ch(s) = chain(s)
dc = double crochet (US: single crochet)
dc2tog = double crochet 2 stitches together
htr = half treble (US: half double crochet)
st(s) = stitch(es)

Amigurumi Tooth

For emergency Tooth Fairy gifts, this amigurumi tooth makes a cute – and FAST – mini plushie friend. You only need oddments of yarn and a very small amount of toy stuffing. Size it up or down with different needles or substitute toy stuffing with scraps of yarn! This is perfect for knitting, while the Tooth Fairy waits for your child to fall asleep… :)

Amigurumi Tooth knitted in white DK yarn

Amigurumi Tooth Pattern

Cast on 6 sts using 4mm (US: 6) needles and DK (US: light worsted) yarn.

Row 1: kfb, k4, kfb [8 sts] [RS]
Row 2: pfb, p7 [9 sts] [WS]
Row 3: kfb, k7, kfb [11 sts]
Row 4: pfb, p10 [12 sts]
Row 5: k12
Row 6: p2tog, p8, p2tog [10 sts]
Row 7: k8, k2tog [9 sts]
Row 8: p2tog, p5, p2tog [7 sts]
Row 9: kfb, k5, kfb [9 sts]
Row 10: pfb, p8 [10 sts]
Row 11: kfb, k8, kfb [12 sts]
Row 12: p12
Row 13: k10, k2tog [11 sts]
Row 14: p2tog, p7, p2tog [9 sts]
Row 15: k7, k2tog [8 sts]
Row 16: p2tog, p4, p2tog [6 sts]

Bind off and weave in or trim the yarn ends. Make a second tooth.

Tooth Assembly

Sew optional features to RS of one tooth piece; I used French knot eyes and a running stitch smiling mouth. Arrange your teeth pieces, WS together, and whip stitch edges – leaving a small gap of about an inch. Fill your amigurumi tooth with toy stuffing and then continue to whip stitch the gap and fasten off the ends.

By way of variation, you could blanket stitch the edges in a contrasting colour or use different colours for the front and back tooth pieces. The amigurumi tooth is worked sideways so, if you want to use multiple colours or self-striping yarn, any stripes will run vertically. If you’re not fond of sewing, you could crochet the edges together and use scraps of felt for the optional facial features.

Abbreviations:
k = knit
k2tog = knit 2 stitches together
kfb = knit through front and back loops
p = purl
p2tog = purl 2 stitches together
pfb = purl through front and back loops
RS = right side
st(s) = stitch(es)
WS = wrong side

Crochet Heart Keyring

Stuck for last-minute gift ideas? How about a little Crochet Heart Keyring? :) You only need a small amount of Aran or DK yarn plus a keyring finding and it takes minutes to make! Ideal as a stocking filler or stocking stuffer for most ages.

Crochet Heart Keyring in Red and Green

Use a 5mm (US: 8) hook for Aran (US: worsted) yarn or a 4mm (US: 6) hook for DK (US: light worsted) yarn.

Crochet Heart Keyring Pattern

1. magic loop of 5 dc sts [5 dc]
2. ch1, 3dc, 3dc, 2dc, 2dc, 2dc and join with a slst [12 dc]
3. ch1, (dc, htr), (htr, dc), slst, (dc, htr), (htr, dc), dc3, 2dc, dc3 and join with a slst
4. ch1, (dc, 2htr), 2htr, (htr, dc), slst, (dc, htr), 2htr, (2htr, dc), dc5, ch1, dc5 and join with a slst

Fasten off and then make a second heart. Stack the two heart pieces, wrong sides together, and either crochet slip stitch, or use a darning needle to blanket stitch, around the edges. You can lightly stuff the heart, before completely sewing or crocheting the edges together, if you wish. Add a hanging loop with a short length of yarn or a crocheted chain and attach your heart to a keyring finding. (The photo shows the Crochet Heart Keyring in Aran weight yarn; the red heart was crocheted together and the green heart was blanket stitched.)

You could also use this pattern to make a heart applique for another project, such as my Rhianna Bucket Bag.

Crochet Heart Applique on Rhianna Bucket Bag

The photo shows a simple pin brooch, made with 2 crochet hearts sewn together with a heart-shaped button and a brooch finding on the back. The larger heart used a 5mm hook and the smaller heart used a 3.5mm hook.

Abbreviations:
ch(s) = chain(s)
dc = double crochet (US: single crochet)
htr = half treble (US: half double crochet)
slst = slip stitch
st(s) = stitch(es)

The Croods Review

The Croods is a 3D computer-animated adventure comedy featuring a plethora of voice talent such as Emma Stone and Nicolas Cage. It’s set in a fictional prehistoric era and focuses on a family of cavemen: father (Grug), mother (Ugga), teen daughter (Eep), middle son (Thunk), toddler daughter (Sandy) and maternal grandmother (Gran). It’s a U rated kid-friendly movie but, as with many children’s films these days, there is an extra layer of complexity for the adults.

The Croods on DVD; released Monday 9 December 2013!

The film starts with Eep’s teenage litany of complaints about their home cave being really boring. To be fair, it is a tad boring spending several days in a dark cave with brief emergences to hunt down food. She’s desperate to hang out in the sunshine and, one night, sneaks out to find the source of some intriguing light. Of course, that turns out to be a cute caveboy, Guy, who gives her a shell ‘phone’ and asks her to call him. Doubly of course, the phone gets confiscated (read: utterly smashed to pieces) and Eep gets grounded. So far, so modern!

Unfortunately for dad, that’s when things go pear-shaped. In line with real prehistory, their world, as they know it, is about to end – ground-shaking, ash-spewing, creature-chasing, chasm-caving end of an era stuff. Fortunately for Eep, her new boyfriend knows the way to ‘Tomorrow’ and a brighter future for all of them.

The film tracks the family’s journey from their home cave to a new safe haven. It charts the highs and lows of typical family interaction, acquiring new pets and the huge changes that Grug makes, adapting from a stone-age ‘me, head of family, nothing I can’t solve with my fists’ mentality to a modern embracing of new ideas and an ‘okay, maybe my daughter’s boyfriend isn’t that bad’ acceptance.

Last Thursday, I watched a preview copy of The Croods on DVD with my two young children. The first few minutes passed a little more slowly for my 4-year-old son than his 6-year-old sister, partly because there’s a very good differential between the dull, bland, cave-life and the exciting, colourful, adventure that follows; it reminded me of the contrast in The Wizard of Oz, between black and white home-life and colourful Oz. The second low point was the large, scary, bear owl chasing the family from their home. (Yes, a ‘bear owl’; the Croodaceous creatures are mostly all inventive hybrids, that suggest prehistoric creatures. One of the exceptions is the macawnivore; it could be a macaw-carnivore hybrid but it’s actually a machairodont and, as we have no idea what their skin would be like, it could easily have been macaw coloured!)

As soon as we got rid of the bear owl (“Yay!”), both kids perked up and really got into the film. My goodness, it was hilarious; both the plot, and the bits where my kids suspiciously asked ‘why are you laughing’. How I sympathised with Grug’s parental frustrations and the recurring mother-in-law jokes! I also really liked the use of shells as phones. (Grug: “Why do [the kids] need their own [phones]?!” He’s definitely my favourite character in the film.) My children really liked the strange Croodaceous creatures – particularly the pets – and the exotic scenery; they loved guessing which real animals were components of the invented ones.

I don’t want to spoil the ending but there was one last, hairy, moment, where my kids were tempted to wail and run away; however, I persuaded them to wait for the happy ending that they craved – and they were duly rewarded within a few minutes. In fact, the ending was my daughter’s favourite setting and she wished there could have been more of that location in the film. When pressed for an opinion, my son seemed a bit obsessed with Belt, Guy’s pet sloth; he said his favourite part was Belt’s catchphrase of doom: “Dun dun daaaahh!” And repeated it many times. Many, many times. Belt may need to meet some tar… By way of parental revenge, I set them both to reviewing the movie as part of our homeschool activities. By way of filial emphasis, my son drew a picture of Belt saying: “Da da daaaahh!” I may have lost that round… But if you’d like to grab a copy of my film review worksheet, just click on the photo below.

Reviews of The Croods by my children!

In conclusion, The Croods are very likeable and watchable on a great many levels; I definitely recommend this as a family film to just about anyone and would rate it at 4.5 out of 5 (with half a point reluctantly knocked off for the bear owl because it caused my kids to shriek right into my ears). I can’t write enough good words about The Croods… so I’ll leave you with a few made up words instead! Look out for the Croodaceous mousephants, turtle doves, bear pears and piranhakeets. It’ll be so worth it, I promise! :)

The Croods was released on DVD and Blueray, today (9 December 2013), and would be an excellent Christmas stocking filler or anytime gift. Some very young kids may find a few scenes mildly scary but that passes quickly and anyone 6 years or older will roll in laughter.


This DVD review article is part of a blog hop, set up by Mumsnet and powered by Linky Tools; click here to view the full list of fabulous ‘The Croods’ reviews. ;)