Thursday, March 24, 2011

Play Eats: Etsy rules

Of course to finish off Play Eats, Project: Project saves the best for last with Etsy. These awesome felt foods are from DogBoneArt. When Z was tiny tiny, Laura and I traded loot because her sister was having a baby. I've also bought from her several times because her prices are good and she is awesome. Laura designs and hand prints all of the stuff in the shop herself. I love stuff that has faces on it.

We also love faces that have a mustache. I was looking through the play foods today and found this hilarious carrot from Flaky Friends. I can't vouch for the quality or anything but that carrot is great.

I was planning on doing a link list to shops on Etsy that sell either play foods or patterns for play foods but there is so much cool stuff from crochet or felt to wood or cotton, I think I will just give some words of advice: 1) acrylic felt is going to pill. There is no way to avoid this.  2) wood is hard. Your kids are going to whack each other upside the head with it.  3) acrylic yarn also pills. 4) Read the descriptions carefully.  5) Look closely at the photos for craftsmanship. 6) Finally, remember that actual people are making this stuff. Ask questions if you have them; if they don't respond, buy from someone else.

Here is a good way to search for just play foods on Etsy, click here. That should give you just food and a few mistagged items.

And click here to search Etsy for just patterns.

For all of the Play Eats posts, click here. I will probably add random posts here and there as new and wonderful stuff appears.

Play Eats: Green Toys play dishes review

Green Toys is a newer company whose products are totally eco-friendly, made from recycled plastic. They're known for being kid-safe and durable.

Play Eats correspondent Carolyn (of almost half of Play Eats) has one of these sets and gives us a full report:

"This past Christmas yet another family friend sent Eloise even more play kitchen gear. Even though we already had more than enough play kitchen gear, I was thrilled with this gift -- the Green Toys Cookware and Dining Set. All Green Toys are made from recycled plastic, this particular product is made from high-density polyethylene or HDPE sourced from recycled milk jugs. Some of their other toys are made from recycled plastic bags. Their products are BPA, phthalate and PVC free and made in California. This set is safe for food contact and dishwasher safe. If Eloise wants to actually eat or drink from this set I am OK with that. I love that these dishes are dishwasher safe, especially during cold and flu season! They get lots of use.

In terms of construction, the Green Toys set has a cleaner, more simple design and feels heftier than the other plastic sets, the plastic is a little thicker and less likely to snap or break. Overall, the Green Toys set feels higher quality and is better finished, the molded seams are not as pronounced and all of the pieces are one solid piece of plastic -- compared to other sets, which are each made from 2 pieces of plastic that have been fused together and as a result seem like they may eventually break apart. The surface of this set has a slight texture, it's not completely smooth, which makes the pieces a little easier to grip, and makes it easier to wash crayon and marker off of them. It goes without saying that the Green Toys set is more gender neutral.

All the Green Toys Cookware and Dining set lacks is a teapot. If the set had a teapot it would be a complete play kitchen set. Green Toys also makes a tea set and there is a separate chef set that has 2 cooking utensils with the skillet and lidded pot. Green Toys should consider selling a total kitchen set with all of their various kitchen pieces packaged together in one box (made out of recycled cardboard naturally!)."

The verdict: Although the Green Toys play cookware sets are at a slightly higher pricepoint than others, the quality and safety of the products outweighs all of that. I love that they are toys you can actually use. How fun to take them outside in the Summer and have a real tea party!

Special thanks again to Carolyn for her thorough reviews and the photo!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Play Eats: Ikea play food and dishes review

I love Ikea. I have had a long-standing affair since junior high when a friend of mine had the catalogs at her house. As most people know, their stuff is super cheap, usually durable (depending on what it's made out of), and looks good. When Z was a baby, I drooled over the duktig dishware but didn't buy it right away. Fortunately, it was still around some time later and I was able to pick up a set of the cups and glasses (now in colors, ours are clear), and a set of the very cute teacups. My sister-in-law awesomely shared some silverware with us as they had plenty.

So far, the stuff has held up very well. It's suffered many a drop to our hardwood floors without a knick (yet). And at the price point, it wouldn't be the end of the world if we lost a saucer.

I decided not to buy the foods on our last visit to the nearest Ikea. We already have so much I couldn't justify spending anymore at that point. But luckily, Carolyn who reviewed the Pottery Barn Kitchen, has a couple of sets and offered some information:

"Like most things Ikea, the play foods are very affordable. As much as I would love to have all upcycled handmade wool felt food, I could buy all of the Ikea food for about $30 and I can throw it in the washing machine without worrying about it. Because it is fabric, it makes it easier to "eat" sandwiches than the hard wood or plastic play foods. The coolest part about the Ikea food is that some of the pieces such as the banana and lettuce have velcro on them so they can peel apart. The cake also comes apart into slices. The only letdown is the ice cream."

The verdict: Ikea play food is well priced for what you get so go for it if you are near the store. I'm not sure it's going to be a value if you have to pay for shipping. The duktig dishware is an amazing deal and worth the hour and 30 minute drive to go get it. It's cheaper than almost any other play sets out there and lovely.

Special thanks to Carolyn again! For the rest of Play Eats, click here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Play Eats: Target's Play Wonder play food review

We now have a couple of these Target Play Wonder sets. We have gotten them on clearance for around $7.50/set, sometimes more, sometimes less. Target is always changing their packaging so you can get these cheap at least once a year.

The construction of the foods is quite nice. We haven't really had any problems with the paint chipping off or the fabric wearing. However, the "fabric" is so synthetic it's almost gross to touch it. I'm sure they made it out of this stuff so that it will stick to the hook side of velcro without pilling like acrylic felt. But it just feels cheap.

That said, these sets are super cute. We have had a lot of fun making different pizzas with the toppings (and they have faces!). The little pizza cutter has been a huge hit as well. The pancake set came with some fakin' and two pats of butter so there's a lot of realism without being over the top. I love the little jar of maple syrup.

The verdict: Definitely pick these up if you see them on sale. You can get a lot of pieces to stock your kitchen. Don't buy them full price unless you have to. The quality just isn't there and you can get the Melissa and Doug stuff for around $15 and it will last longer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Play Eats: Melissa and Doug play foods review

We have several sets of Melissa and Doug foods. We started with the Cutting Fruits box and then split the Cutting Foods box with my niece (I mentioned before the carrot that I thought was a hot dog creeping me out). While their products are now made in China (some people have a problem with that), I do trust that this company is safe. Everything in these two sets is wooden and I did expect some of the paint to wear off (although it's really not bad at all considering how much use these have gotten). The velcro that holds the sections together is strong and we haven't had any problems. I don't have any problems with either of these sets (or any other Melissa and Doug items we have). I do see different levels of quality with different items, however. The watermelon seems to be made of a much softer, lighter wood and some of the foods have much less detail than others. Overall, for the price, these sets can not be beat. Some craft stores even carry this brand. Top a 40% or 50% off coupon to that and you can really get a bargain. Also check stores like TJ Maxx.

Our favorite set, by far, is these Bake and Decorate cupcakes. I got these from Amazon this Christmas during one of their daily deals for $10. They are awesome. The little icing tops are made of plastic and the tubes of icing are actually dry erase markers. These have kept the toddler busy for hours. As long as you erase with a paper towel shortly after decorating, these clean very easily. The first time we used them we left the marker on overnight and we had to really rub to get it off. The velcro patches hold wooden candles but we never use them. I had thought I might sew some felt berries to use instead but, well, that hasn't happened yet.

The Verdict: Melissa and Doug foods are good quality toys at an excellent price point. If you can catch these on sale, even better. They hold up well to heavy play and are good for a variety of ages. Most of the food sets come in a little crate which is excellent for storing other stuff.

For the rest of Play Eats, click here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Play Eats: Garden Fresh Fruits and Veggies play food review

We bought this set (brand uncertain) because they are called "peel-able." We really liked the idea of being able to learn about how the fruits and veggies have layers and the peas seemed cool. While the pea pod certainly is one of the best parts of this set, the veggies aren't "peel-able." You can pull apart the pieces but the plastic is hard, and peeling implies some flexibility.

So this set was not used for the first year we had it because it was just a hot mess for chubby hands. Now that Z is almost 3, it's getting a lot of use. The only odd thing is that the scale of these pieces, while play scale, is not relative to the other pieces in the same set. They are otherwise very realistic: the peach has a pit (painted), and the orange has sections.

The verdict: We paid almost $20 for this set. It's now down to just over $15 at Amazon and eligible for free prime shipping so an excellent deal. It comes with a knife and an adorable little canvas bag. In a year of heavy use, nothing has broken and everything is still looking quite new.

Play Eats: Haba play food review

Overall, I'm impressed with the quality of Haba play foods.  I bought these "dog dogs" for Z for Christmas. I also bought a cute set of biscuits for my niece (also ten bucks).  Both sets are very nice and the tins are a nice bonus. I've also seen Haba foods at fancypants toy stores in the bigger cities that we visit and they are well made, some of felt, some of wood.

But seriously? These sets were ten bucks.  Each. 10 bucks? I photographed these with the quarter so you can see how small they are. Amazon sells a potato for 5 dollars. One potato. That's just not in my budget.

The fault isn't entirely on Haba, however. The website I bought them from (a site that has a bunch of similarly overpriced kids stuff) did not include the size. But I've never seen play foods this small so in my mind, they were much larger. (Note: The Haba foods not in tins seem to be more realistic to a play food scale).

The verdict: I feel that there are a lot of companies making play foods that are at much much better price points with similar quality and better scale. But if you are looking for quality over price or any other factor, go for Haba.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Play Eats: Beautiful Felt Eggs

Katie of Hippos and Dinosaurs brings Play Eats to the next level today with a Felt Egg tutorial. You can "decorate" them for Easter or just make them white for your kitchen. She has even uploaded a pattern that you can print out. Katie is super talented and her blog is full of great projects that you can make for your kids.

I know that a lot of readers don't have sewing machines (or don't want to lug them out of the closet) and this is a project that can all be done by hand. In our kitchen we just have a couple of plastic eggs from last Easter and although they are cheap and easy (I even included them in the repurposing post), they are really hard for Z to open and close. I'm thinking when I make these, I might leave a seam open but finished so that we can hide things inside. What do you think?

Click over to Hippos and Dinosaurs for the full tutorial and pattern. Don't miss this play loaf of bread or the rest of her felt food tutorials.

Thanks so much to Katie for stitching up this awesome post. Of course, all photos are courtesy of Hippos and Dinosaurs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Play Eats: Whip up a batch of fabric pretzels

Today's awesome guest post is courtesy of Jess from Craftiness is Not Optional. She has done some amazing tutorials on her blog so I was so excited that she agreed to design something new for Play Eats.

These fabric pretzels look super cool but look how easy she makes it. They are a really great idea. My kid is starting to get into junk food (we've been lucky enough to hide it from her for a long time) so these are on the radar.

Click over for the full tutorial.

Thanks so much to Jess for baking up this batch. Make sure you check out her other play food tutorials here and these awesome upcycled kitchen canisters. She is super talented.

All photos courtesy of Jess.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Play Eats: Sew Some Pots and Pans!

Today the amazing Sabra of Sew a Straight Line brings you a tutorial on how to sew a set of pots and pans for your play kitchen. I seriously don't know how she comes up with these clever ideas. She does such a good job writing tutorials that her projects become super easy.

Check out these action shots! Clearly, her boys are psyched to have such a fabulous and talented mom.

It makes me want to have a boy. Maybe.

For the complete tutorial, click here. I think I might just make some of these to store stuff!

Photos courtesy of Sabra and her boys (who appear to be wearing cooking related shirts!). Thanks so much for participating in Play Eats!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Play Eats: PBK Play Kitchen review

There are a ton of play kitchens out there and in every price range imaginable. PROJECT : project correspondent, Carolyn, who you know from her amazing nursery furniture rehab project (original post here), has offered up her Pottery Barn Kids play kitchen for review:

My daughter's play kitchen began with one consignment store purchase made by my mom, before my daughter was a year old.  She picked up the Pottery Barn Kids Classic Kitchen Stove for $40 and it came with pots, utensils and oven mitts and potholders.  It is the perfect size for smaller kids- my daughter was able to pull up and play on it before she was walking and she still loves it at 3 years old. It is very sturdy and all of the knobs turn and the timer/clock clicks when you turn it. My parents added to her kitchen collection the following Christmas and bought her the matching fridge. It was very exciting for Eloise to have such a large package on Christmas morning and the fridge was an immediate hit.

Pottery Barn Kids had discontinued making the Classic Kitchen pieces, but brought them back for the 2009 Holiday Season.  We live very close to a PBK store my mom bought it there when it initially went on sale and then had the price adjusted after it was marked down again to $99. Which I don't think is a bad price for a new non-plastic/non-particleboard play kitchen piece. I love that it came fully assembled!

I had looked into having a fridge made by someone on Etsy and the total cost including shipping would have been more than $99. Even though PBK is not a local business, they do have a store less than 5 miles from our home, which serves as a great pit-stop/play area when we have to go to the mall.  Both pieces are very sturdy and well made.  I like that the pieces are heavy and stable enough to withstand being pulled up onto by smaller children.  The fridge came with a "tip resistant kit" so I guess if we were better parents we could have attached it to the wall, but we have never had any mishaps.  The doors have magnetic closures and both have withstood being pushed upon and are still very sturdy. The appliances are constructed from wood for the frames, handles, knobs, etc. and MDF for the panels. It would be great if they were all wood, but the MDF is definitely nicer than plastic and particle board that many play kitchens are constructed from. The pieces are very simply designed and don't have any extra decoration, which is nice. Even though there is a lot of pink on the icebox and a few pink touches on the stove the boys that visit our house love to play in the kitchen.

The stove was in good condition when my mom bought it, but there was some wear on the faucet. The stove with its knobs, faucet and stove elements has been exposed to a lot more play than the fridge. I have noticed that that kitchen sets now sold at Pottery Barn Kids have metal faucets, not wood. The use of metal pots on the stove has probably added to the wear. Overall we have been very pleased with both pieces.

Thanks so much to Carolyn for this very thorough review! Of course, all pictures are courtesy of Carolyn and her son who is demonstrating that even boys can play with a kitchen too. Even though the set is discontinued, it attests to the quality of a PBK piece and all will help as these kitchen sets are going to be popping up on Craig's List all the time as kids grow out of them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Play Eats: Play Kitchens

A couple of years ago we made a play kitchen. I drew a sketch of what I wanted in the car on the way to Ikea. Our plan was to hit AS-IS and gather as much as possible. Then we toured around the store picking up a few other things. As we constructed it, I bought stuff at Lowe's, Target, and several of our local dollar stores, of which we have many. The whole thing cost us $68. You can check out the flickr set here and the previous post here.

I could do a round-up of amazing DIY kitchens but why waste all that time with Ohdeedoh has already done it. Check their search here.

If you want some other inspiration, there is an amazing group on flickr called, surprisingly, Play Kitchens. Eye candy, people, eye candy. Some really great stuff.

And since we're on a flickr kick, find some great inspiration for play foods in the Play Food group organized by Robert Mahar of the awesome Junior Society blog.

And here's the deal: don't beat yourself up if you go to the store or Craigslist and buy a play kitchen. Most of next week will be dedicated to reviewing cool play food and play kitchen accessories that you can buy. Not everyone is crafty and not everyone has time. I'm just trying to keep this series organized.

Hey, thanks for all the emails and comments so far! I am so glad people are liking these posts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Play Eats: Thrift it and repurpose it

One of the best things about having a kid is getting to buy silly drinks at street fairs. I would never spend half a million dollars on super sweet juice and crushed ice for myself, no! But if Z wants it, I tend to indulge every now and again, especially if we can reuse it. So this pineapple wasn't half a million dollars but it was at least twice as much as all of the other overpriced street fair grub but I knew that we would remember our fun day way longer if I bought this. This has been a huge hit in the play kitchen (even though the drink was so syrupy we didn't even finish it).

Yes, this is a shot glass. But it is a Dinosaurland shot glass. Yeah sure, the first thing I want to do around realistic (what do I know?) fiberglass dinosaurs from 50 years ago is get wasted so why not buy a shot glass to make that easier (I'm joking). Anyway, it's a cool play size tumbler and another memory of a fun day. And it has yet to break.

Another awesome part about life with a child is getting to dig through bins of toys at thrift stores. I was raised at yard sales so I feel like I have a trained eye. But I think it is a skill that can be achieved through lots of practice. You just have to keep an open mind and use hunter's vision. The orange juice was a quarter; the eggs are from Easter last year; that round thing is a piece of bologna (weird -- one random slice in a bin of dinged up Happy Meal toys); and the tea set pictured is part of a larger set that came in a little basket. The basket was trashed and some of the pieces are missing but I figure that they could just as easily get lost at my house.

Dig deep, people and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Play Eats: Make more play foods

Not all handmade food has to be super involved or time consuming. This ravioli just requires pinking shears and an iron.

First, iron your Wonder Under to the dough colored felt. Cover the whole project with a cotton dishtowel or you'll melt the felt and ruin your iron.

Next, cut your felt into strips and then squares. I found it easier to make these one at a time. Peel off the paper backing to your interfacing and place a triple size cotton ball right in the middle of the square. Put another square on top (interfacing together) and iron each side. Don't forget your dishtowel! Don't worry about being neat because you'll trim your edges.

Snip snip with the pinking shears and you have some easy no-sew ravioli. If you didn't do a good job with your ironing, you can always pull apart where it didn't fuse, dab some glue stick on it, and iron it back up. To make the cute jar, I just hot glued some vintage ribbon to a Christmas container from the Dollar Store.

These peas and carrots are even easier. Buy some tiny pom poms and you have peas. The orange carrots are made from polymer clay rolled into a cylinder and sliced and baked.

Tomato slices take a bit more time. Embroider some veins onto your solid and stitch to your backing fabric RST (right sides together) leaving a gap for turning. Stuff with a smidge of polyfill. Turn them inside out and handstitch up the little gap.

There are several different tutorials out there on this bowtie pasta. But it does take a long time to stitch each one together. They look really cool though so the effort is worth it.

We eat lots of wrap around here. This is just some thick cotton fabric from the clearance bin at JoAnn's. I took some Tupperware from the cabinet and traced around it. Sew them together RST just like the tomato and clip the edges because you want nice round wraps. Stitch up your opening. Since these are flat, I just used the machine to finish them off.

And for the final step, I put all those painting skills that I got with that BFA to make char marks with the edge of a flat brush. I actually put a real tortilla on the table and copied it for the highest realism.

Let me know if you make any of these fun foods. Put some pics in the flickr pool.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Play Eats: Make some food

These cherries are super easy to make. The original idea is courtesy of Catherine Hug of Hyggelig. Instead of the rope, we used brown pipe cleaners, cut them to size and sealed them in the holes of the wood beads with some hot glue. To make painting the beads easier, we stuck them on the ends of chopsticks and just painted half at a time. The tin is from Michael's and those are just stick-on letters. Super quick and easy project. My sister-in-law helped with making most of the play foods so the other part of that "we" is her. I do recommend tackling these projects with a friend, you'll get a lot more done and it's a fun way to spend the day.

Now these strawberries were a lot more difficult. The pattern can be found here. I was not about to do any hand-stitching out of sheer laziness so I added a seam allowance to the whole thing and used the sewing machine to create the shape. My sister-in-law and I both stuffed them and closed up the top (by hand, there was no other way) and I hot glued on the leafy top.

I think the tiny polka dot print is what really makes these work. It's from Jo Ann's. Oh, and we just cut the tops freehand so they would look more realistic. That's green fleece.

And don't forget, you can reuse your container from the grocery store for some realism (although I think blueberries or tomatoes came in this). Now, if only we can find the rogue strawberry that's been missing since Christmas...

These tea bags were one of the most difficult play foods to make but certainly worth the effort. I stole the idea from my amazing friend Nikole of A Happy Nest.

I used some muslin I keep around for well, muslins (test garments), and cut up some Beatrix Potter scrapbook paper to make the tags. What was difficult was folding the tops in and stitching them up so they look nice and neat. We filled them with quinoa but I think lentils would work better. They are bigger so you won't have to worry about them spilling out if your sewing is crap. We were thinking it would be nice and fragrant to put some actual tea in each bag but I had already finished them by then.

The little tin is something my sister in law picked up at Ikea and more sticker letters for the top.

Finally for today, some peanut butter and jelly. My mother in law made these. She said they are just a simple single crochet and she reduced and increased whenever it felt right. Each one takes less than 20 minutes. I just traced a piece of our play bread and asked her to do whatever she wanted. These have yet to be used as peanut butter or jelly though. Z likes to put them in the blender, in her tea cups, on the pizza...

Monday, March 07, 2011

Play Eats: Make a shopping cart

So we'll begin our little segment called Play Eats with a shopping cart tutorial. You should probably shop and pay for your groceries before you begin cooking, right?

This project is a great way to reuse that perfectly good walking toy that your kid hasn't played with in ages and turn it into an awesome shopping cart.

thick canvas fabric (or home d├ęcor weight. I used that cheap stuff from Ikea)
cool cotton fabric from Spoonflower (or whatever quilting cotton you love, really. I used Paper Sparrow for this)
Pellon 809 heavyweight fusible interfacing
denim needle (or similar heavy duty needle)
The amounts will depend on the size of your walker.

1. Measure your walking toy. The Melissa and Doug alligator will need a basket 9.5 wide and 11” long. You’ll need a bottom too. Don’t forget to add seam allowances!  I like to use 3/8” because that’s the width from my needle to the edge of my favorite foot.

2. Cut your fabric. You’ll need two pieces of each shape.
Left side
Right side
Straps:  Our pieces were 3.25” X 2.5”  (That includes a ¼” seam allowance). The diameter of the bar is 1”.
You’ll need 4 of the print and 4 of the solid.
Cut your interfacing to the size of your basket. No seam allowances!
It is important to be very careful with this. If your interfacing is too small, your basket won’t stand straight (guess how I learned this!). You also don’t want to be sewing over that extra layer.

3. Iron your interfacing onto the Spoonflower fabric. Tip: Lightly press the interfacing to the back of the cotton, then turn it over to press more firmly. My iron does not like the Pellon at all.

4. Draw lines on your solid. I used a disappearing ink pen. The lines started to disappear before I was finished sewing so if you can, do one piece of fabric at a time.

I used my 1” and 2” rulers to make it easy. Start at one edge and use the 1” ruler to make your horizontal lines and the 2” ruler to draw your vertical lines.

5. Stitch. 

I used a reinforced straight stitch so that it would stand out and have a nice texture to it.  You might want to change your needle now. All that probably dulled it.

6. Sew together your four outer sides RST (right sides together). Then carefully pin your bottom on. Clip the bulky corners.

7. Do the same thing for your inner layer but make your seam allowance just a smidge wider so that it will nest inside the outer a bit better.

8. Pin your boning into the seam allowance of the canvas solid and stitch it in place. You can skip this step if you want. The basket will still stand on its own. The boning will just help it to last longer.

9. Stitch your straps RST, leaving one short edge open, clip corners, turn inside-out and press.

10. Pin your straps into the seam allowance as shown. (There is an additional image with the Velcro step that may be helpful). The straps need to be stacked. Keep your solid sides down and the patterned sides up. Stitch ¼” from the edge of the seam allowance. That way they’ll get reinforced.

11. Stitch the baskets together. There are two options:
a. Place your baskets WST just as they will be when finished. Turn your entire seam allowance in and top stitch the whole top edge closed.  If you choose this option, you can also cut a piece of cardboard to stuff in the bottom between the layers for support. This would not work for the Melissa and Doug toy – only one with a flat bottom (those pesky gators!).
b. Place your baskets RST and stitch 3 sides closed and about 1” in to the fourth side on each end. Turn inside-out through that opening. This can be difficult with the boning and can wrinkle up your fabric.

12. Cut your Velcro and sew it to the straps where needed.

13. Admire your upcycled creation! 

Please let me know if there are any mistakes in these instructions. I’ve tried to make them simple. If you’ve never sewn on canvas or denim before, don’t worry. The needle is what makes it happen. And definitely upload photos of your shopping carts to the Project: Project flickr group.