Friday, May 1, 2015

Backtracking a bit

Laura had only a corncob wrapped in a hankerchief, but it was a good doll.  It was named Susan.  It wasn't Susan's fault that she was only a corncob.  -Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 1

I wasn't going to do this one, because it's in "My Little House Craft Book," and it's so darn straightforward, but I find that my next few projects are stalled out waiting for yarn/fabric, and I want to post something in the meantime . . .

When I was younger, I found so much pathos in the idea of a little girl who is so poor that she only has a corncob to play with.  As I got older, I found it slightly comical - it has that air of a grandparent telling children, "When I was your age, we didn't have all these fancy toys!  We played with dirt, and we liked it!"

Now that I have a toddler, I can understand why a parent might hold off on giving a small child a toy with potentially small parts like button eyes or bits of yarn hair that can be yanked off and choked upon, and why 'upgrading' might be delayed when you have three small children and a house to take care of with absolutely no modern conveniences.

The retired blog Our Pioneer Homestead had an example of how the hankerchief idea can make quite a perfectly respectable, if limbless, doll.  The picture can still be seen on Pinterest, but the tutorial is gone.  Little House Living has one, just tie the hankerchief higher and fluff the 'skirt' out more to get the Pioneer Homestead look.

You can push the corncob idea even further and build a doll with legs and arms, or you can chuck the cob altogether and make a doll from the husks instead, or indeed, make a doll from just the hankerchief.

According to the tutorial, hankerchief dolls have a long history as an economical, quiet toy for children to play with, often made from the hanky of a loved one who had been lost or was far away.  My hankerchief came from a rummage sale, so the sentimental value is lost, but while it won't keep my exuberant three year old quiet for longer than a few seconds, it certainly has the virtue of falling silently to the floor.

Unlike Ma Ingalls I don't really have a lot of hankerchiefs or corncobs at my disposal - but I do have lots of cheap yarn (lots and lots and lots).  There are a few different ways to make a simple yarn doll, but this is how I learned, probably from the same doll book that I traced my paper dolls from.  Should you find yourself with one or more small children trapped in your house on a rainy or cold day, it's an easy, quick, kid-friendly craft so you can all play dolls like Mary and Laura.

 You'll need:

-Yarn (any weight or fiber will do, I'm using worsted-weight acrylic)
-A book or a piece of cardboard a little taller than you want your doll to be

Working lengthwise, wrap the yarn about 70-100 times around the book, then cut the end (all numbers are approximate; wrap more times for thinner yarn or if you want a plumper doll, fewer for thicker yarn or a thinner doll).

Cut about a 8" length of yarn from the ball.  Tie it very tightly around the wraps to hold them together (it is not necessary to trim the ends of the tie), and then slide the bundle of yarn off of the book

Cut another piece of yarn at least 10" long.  Holding the bundle about two inches below where you tied it, so that the tie is at the top and the knot is inside the bunch, wrap another piece of yarn around the whole bundle.  This will be the neck.  Wrap it around at least twice and knot it tightly. Set aside.

Working widthwise this time, wrap the yarn around the book about 50-75 times and cut the end.  Carefully slide the bundle off of the book.  This will be the arms.

Cut two 6" lengths of yarn.  Tie one around each side of the shorter yarn bundle about an inch in from the ends to make hands.

Place the arms inside the loop of the larger bundle just below the neck.  Tie another 10" length of yarn around the body below the arms to hold them in place and make the waist.

Cut open the bottom of the bundle.

Trim the ends and fluff out for a skirt . . .

. . .Or divide it in half, left and right, and tie with short pieces of yarn to make legs.  You can trim the ends of the hands or leave them as loops.

Sweep up all your little yarn ends, and play!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Some things I cannot do

Every evening before he began to tell stories, Pa made the bullets for his next day's hunting. -Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 3

Every night he was busy, working on a large piece of board and two small pieces . . . He made the tiniest shavings, cutting very slowly and carefully, making whatever he thought would be pretty. At last he had the pieces finished and one night he fitted them together.  When this was done, the large piece was a beautifully carved back for a smooth little shelf across its middle.  The large star was at the very top of it.  The curved piece supported the shelf underneath, and it was carved beautifully, too. -Chapter 4

Now we find Pa doing some crafting of his own, and here I hit a roadblock. As I don't have to hunt game to feed my family, I have never felt the need to make bullets, and though whittling intrigues me, I don't currently own an appropriate knife, much less a whetstone and strop to keep a knife sharp enough for such an undertaking.

I suggested to my brother, a fellow fan of the Little House franchise, that he might venture to try these crafts (and send me some pictures), but in the meantime, here are some links:

This website claims you can have free bullets for life if you start making your own.

The Art of Manliness has an article on getting started with whittling that implies it could be the new yoga.

Our Little Corner found a kid-friendly way to do some carving by using Ivory soap. Reading about it gave me a powerful sense-memory of carving soap, just the smell and the texture of the soap as it flaked. It took me a while to connect those memories with what I was actually making and why - they were 'arrowheads,' and we were learning about Native Americans.  I had entirely forgotten about having done that until I read that article.

I was disappointed that I wasn't able to find any examples online of anyone trying to recreate the bracket that was so intricately described in the book. I suppose that whittling isn't an especially popular hobby among the typical Little House fan, but surely someone got creative with the scroll saw? Oddly enough, the magic word was 'whatnot.' Pa may not have heard the term until Mrs. Boast explained it four books later, but he and Uncle Henry had the same concept in mind that would make whatnots "all the rage in Iowa", the Victorian love of bricabrac.

Both of these were described on Pinterest as Victorian whatnot shelves. If the simpler one were topped with stars instead of tulips, it would almost be the bracket we're looking for, though I imagine Pa's as being prettier.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Paper dolls

After the day's work was done, Ma sometimes cut paper dolls for them.  She cut the dolls out of stiff white paper, and drew the faces with a pencil.  Then from bits of colored paper she cut dresses and hats, ribbons and laces, so that Laura and Mary could dress their dolls beautifully.

-Little House in the Big Woods, chapter 2

I got lucky with the very first craft; my work is already done for me.  When I was nine or ten I checked out a book from the school library about making dolls, and on one page there was a template to trace to make paper dolls.  I traced the templates carefully onto printer paper, and ended up with four dolls with comically misshapen limbs and odd proportions, because printer paper is not an ideal tracing medium if you're not using a lightbox.  I cut around the dolls, pasted them to cardstock, and cut them out again.

The original blond daughter met with an unfortunate accident, and was later replaced by the adopted redhead here, and then the family adopted a baby from China

If you're good at drawing people, you can skip most of these steps and draw the dolls right onto cardstock and cut them out, as Ma did.  Using an X-acto knife is neater and won't cause the edges to curl, but scissors work just fine, too, and can be wielded by children, if yours are of age to be handling them.

I made the wardrobes for my dolls out of more printer paper, tracing the basic outline right around the dolls and adding details and tabs with a pen, and then coloring them in with crayons.  For a different look more along the lines of what Ma made, you could cut the clothes out of construction paper or patterned scrapbook paper (just don't forget the tabs).

This is seriously only half of the clothes. I was very productive.

 I used to study catalogs and the ads from the newspaper to find outfits to copy.  The mother's wardrobe in particular is very K-Mart and JC Penny of the 90's, though much more fitted (it's easier to keep the clothes on that way).  My parents were impressed by the pains I took to copy every detail; my goal was to have a set as varied and exact as the expensive storebought paper dolls that I coveted.*

If you really don't trust your drawing or tracing skills, there are many printables available for free online.

Pioneer Dress-up Doll

Nellie, wearing much the same expression as the Little House character of the same name, has a wardrobe suited to style Laura wore in her teens when her family was finally settled in De Smet.

Wee Wonderfuls has a very cute, more modern doll

These don't have interchangeable clothing, but I love Gingermelon's designs.

*I did eventually obtain a few storebought sets; the American Girl Kirsten set and the Little House in the Big Woods, and the Dover collection of Medieval Costumes, all of which are still available online if you really want to cheat - but you'll still have to cut them out yourself!

Getting Started

Ma had blown out the lamp because she did not need its light.  On the other side of the hearth she was swaying gently in her rocking chair and her knitting needles flashed in and out above the sock she was knitting.

-Little House in the Big Woods

I may be a child of the late eighties and nineties who fully embraces modern plumbing and my iPod, but my heart has often wandered to the prairie and played alongside Mary and Laura (and Rose, Caroline, Charlotte, and Martha) as I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books and their later sequel/prequel series about the other women in her family.  I've always loved pioneer stories, historical fashion, and making things from scratch, the old-fashioned way.  As I've gotten older, busier, and had children of my own, I've begun to appreciate my microwave, the internet, and shortcuts more and more, but I still love to revisit the world in these beautifully vivid stories.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote with such detail about the way things were made when she was growing up, that it's really disappointing that there isn't a book of Little House crafts akin to The Little House Cookbook.  There is My Little House Craft Book, which has a small sampling of things made in the series, but it's an odd mix and there is no knitting.  There's also My Little House Sewing Book, but there's definitely no omnibus.

I am not setting out to write that book, but as I was collecting ideas for knitting patterns inspired by the books, it occurred to me that there are lots of things in the books that I'd like to make, certainly enough to create a blog around.  I'm not much of a designer, and my research resources (and time) are limited, but gosh, wouldn't it be fun to do?

So here's the plan so far; I'm going to work my way through the books, and every time a craft is presented, I'm going to try to make it myself, or at least a close version of it or something inspired by it, and if it's something that I can feasibly make, I'll gather up links and images and whatnot, for your inspiration.  I'm skipping the food, because someone has already done it.

Fair warning for the journey ahead:  I have a toddler and an infant and a full-time job (and a dozen other things I'm trying to knit already), so posting may be erratic.  I'm not an expert at anything, though I'm pretty competent at knitting, so expect a few crooked seams.  Also, I'm a clumsy photographer, so please bear with me. I'm doing this for fun, I don't want to drive myself crazy with deadlines or trying to sew a prize-winning quilt or take perfect photos.

Have ideas?  Want to join in?  Let me know in the comments!