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Probably the last thing I should be doing right now is sitting down in an office chair in front of a computer screen to blog.  I’ve been sitting in 10″ high molded plastic or wood veneer chairs all morning, followed by an afternoon of sitting in an office chair that someone else’s butt broke in already.  Now I’m seated in a wheelie chair (fun!) that unfortunately has lost all its padding (not fun) in the six years I’ve owned it.  Has Oprah done an exposé on when you should replace your office chair?  She should.  Her masses will listen.  Then I spent the last couple of hours alternatively crouched over a mini-ironing board that’s definitely the wrong height for ironing, and a sewing machine that’s definitely the wrong height for sewing.  Or maybe the non-sewing chair I was sitting in is the culprit.  I’d hate to blame my new toy

I’m making some more I Spy Bags for some friends and customers, a task I had not been looking forward to.  I’d cut out all the pieces, assembled all the toys, and purchased the PVC pellets I use to fill them.  Yet they sat unassembled on my sewing machine because of vinyl.  Sewing vinyl is a torturous task.  I will try to describe it in a way that non-sewers can understand.  Remember the vinyl seats in my parents’ 1978 Buick station wagon?  Of course you don’t, but you had a car with vinyl seats, or you sat in a rental truck that had them, or you sat at a diner with a vinyl booth once.  And I know you’ve ridden a school bus.  Cue the vinyl.  Now cue summer time.  And you’re wearing shorts.  It’s hot and sticky because the rental truck didn’t come with A/C or the A/C in the Buick doesn’t reach the “way back” (as we called the 3rd row), or because someone driving feels that having the windows open is better.  But you’re trapped.  And so are your thighs.  Channel that friction between your naked skin and the sticky PVC (aka vinyl) as you peel your thighs up from the seat they’ve somehow glued themselves to.  Now imagine trying to glide your school bus seat through the gears of  a sewing machine.  It’s like pretending your car seat is a slip-n-slide.  It’s just not working.  It’s a no-go.  Until now, I’ve churned out I-Spy bags using an arduous process my mother taught me: tissue paper.  So I used to save scraps of tissue paper and use them to sandwich the vinyl between layers so it never actually touched the sewing machine.  Afterward I had to carefully tear the tissue away and cut myself another scrap to do the next seam.  Others on craftster have suggested using Vaseline, dropping down the presser foot, or buying a Teflon foot. 

Being cheap, I never even looked to see if my old machine had an accessory Teflon foot I could buy.  But my new machine came with a plastic foot with a magical surface on the bottom I can only assume is the famed Teflon.  All I can say, after churning out two I Spy bags tonight as if I were sewing regular cotton, is that I’m throwing the tissue paper out.  And it’s very hard for me to throw anything out; just ask Mr. Apron.  I’m a complete convert.  I told my machine I was sewing leather/vinyl (seriously, there’s a button), and it automatically sets the stitch length for me and suggests a foot and a needle.  I took the extra time to put in the heavy duty needle and the new foot, and it was magic.  Like switching to Corinthian leather seats on my rental car.  I hope you’re a convert, too.

I wrote yesterday about the Craft Fair, and how many adult-like people asked me “What are they?” about the I Spy bags.  Aside from having no signage and having one woman repeat after me, “Ice Pie?  You mean you put it in the freezer?”, it occured to me that my readers (are there 2 of you yet?) might not know either. 

I shall elucidate.  The classic I Spy game is based on one person naming an object in clue form, “I spy with my little eye, something luminescent, radiant, and electric” to which the other person, upon scanning the room, says, “Is it a lightbulb?”  Kids probably say, “I spy…something blue” and then stare directly at it, waiting for you to name the dog’s water dish, while you give chase, naming all the other minutia in the room that is blue.  An I Spy bag is also a hide and seek game. 

I fill a 9″x9″ pouch with doll beads (PVC pellets) and 40-someodd small dollar-store toys (baby shower supplies are choice, small plastic animals, GI Joe figurines, party favors, hair clips) and junk-drawer mess (paper clips, bread tags, binder clips, foreign coins, buttons, puzzle pieces, bottle caps).  Then I seal it up and attach a tag listing the contents.  Here’s what my bags look like:

An I Spy bag

An I Spy bag

You can see I attached a laminated tag with a picture of all the contents.  My contents tags have a word list on one side, and a picture map on the other side.  I love the pictures because pre-literate kids can match what they find to the pictures, or go looking for an item on the card without needing a grown up to read it to them.  “Mom what’s this?  What’s it say?  Mom, what should I find next?  Mom?  Mom!”  Here’s what a picture map looks like:

I Spy bag contents

I Spy bag contents

The grid is an added “feature”.  Kids can challenge themselves or others to find all the items in box 7.  They’re grouped in some sort of order, by farm animals, round objects, vehicles, buttons, or beads. 

Here is the value:

Waiting in a doctor’s office, sitting quietly in church, riding in a shopping cart, enduring an endless car ride, children can entertain themselves quietly, with no lost pieces, no noisy buttons, and no need for adult support, even for young kids. 

Therapeutically, I can see speech language pathologists using them to build vocabulary, practice articulation targets (imagine a bag filled with just /s/ words!), follow directions (“Find the pig, then the dragon.”), teach language concepts (“Where’s the big round bead?”), or use them as a reward for doing other work.  I also work with occupational therapists, so I now understand the value of an I Spy bag in this field as well.  First, they’re weighted.  They provide sensory feedback to kids who crave it.  They also require manual manipulation to move around the pellets.  You can use one hand to strengthen it, or both hands to learn coordination.  You can squeeze it, poke it, shake it, etc, trying to find the objects and you’re not even thinking about therapy.  I received an e-mail today from a woman on craftster.org who made one for her 4 year old who has vision challenges.  With her I Spy bag, she is working on tracking, visual discrimination, focusing, matching, and never realizing it’s therapy. 

Did I mention how awesome these things are?  I think they’re worth far more than the $18 I’m offering them for.  I just need to figure a way into the market.  I know it’s a great toy.  Kids do, too.  Their parents just need to realize it.  And then pay me money for my creations.  And then all will be well in the world.

Today was the 2nd annual Library Craft Fair.  Last year I went as a spectator, and said to myself (of the presenters), “I could do this!”  I nudged Mr. Apron and asked him to remind me about what I said at some later point in time.  He did, and I sewed my pants off these last few weeks, and lo and behold — I did it!  My first craft fair.

pennwynne11

Here (if I figured out how to imbed a picture in my blog — wordpress makes things complicated) is my setup. 

I offered”I spy” bags (pouches filled with tiny treasures to locate), zippered pouches (like a coin purse), potato-stamped onesies, retro purses, reversible tote bags, sock monkeys, and baby jumpers.  I actually sold 2 onesies, 2 sock monkeys, 3 zippered pouches, 1 I-spy bag (stock), and 1 I-spy custom order.  The funny thing is, my mother-in-law works at the library, and has a tote bag similar to the ones I brought with me.  My mother made it for her as a birthday gift, and she received so many compliments (and covets) that the Library Ladies begged me to make and sell some.  No one bought them.  Alas, I digress.

I had many positive interactions with adults and children, inviting the kids (who were constantly being told “Don’t Touch”) to come and play with the I Spy bags.  Teens were interested in the zippered pouches but spent an inordinate amount of time with the I Spy bags.  People in general gave me good feedback about my wares, lamenting they did not have babies to buy for.  (Though one grandma about to buy a jumper for her almost-3-year-old was told abruptly by her 5 year old grandson, “She never likes anything you pick out.”) They were impressed that I made everything myself and seemed to be drawn to the colorful (if a bit chaotic) table, even if they did not buy anything. 

I learned many things today. 

Here is a short list (oh, how I love lists!):

  • Cluster all baby items together.  I think many people thought all my stuff was for babies, so they didn’t even see all the lined tote bags.
  • Use more signage.  I got many “What is this?” questions about the I Spy bags.  Kids were quick to figure them out, but adults need help. Other things which did not scream, “I Am A Tote Bag!  Buy Me”! need signage, too. 
  • Play up the therapeutic angle of the I Spy bags.  My friend the fellow SLP bought one to use in therapy.  Adults remarked they’d be good for OT (yes, I agree).  Parents can often be Wolves (see post “Girl Crush”), and don’t see the inherent value of quiet self-entertaining play.  Next time I’ll emphasize the language and occupational therapy uses. 
  • Figure out how better to display the jumpers and onesies.  I like the clothesline idea, but it was shaky at best, and the jumpers were just pinned to the tablecloth, making them inaccessible for people to fondle. 
  • Make signage to make it clear I am not just making baby clothes.  really.  Make more adult clothes to emphasize this point.

All in all, it wasn’t a resounding success, but a good first try.  My friends came to support me.  Mr. Apron stood/sat by my side.  I sold some things.  I took a custom order for an I Spy bag.  I gave out many business cards, which will hopefully turn into business!  I may be so inspired as to give it another go at the upcoming Philadelphia Independent Craft Market fairs this spring/summer.

Have you done a craft fair?  What have you learned?  What would you buy?  What do you look for?