Recently in Toys Category

I guess it's feast or famine around here at my blog these days, nothing for months and then three posts in three days.  But I found something so wonderful, at least for those of us of a particular era, when I was shopping last night that I can't not talk about it.  

No, your eyes do not deceive you, it's a real live gen-u-ine Spirograph.  This (along with my Lite Brite) ranks as one of my all time favorite toys ever.  A year or so ago I started looking for one so that I could add one to Ms. Z's collection (when she was old enough to use one), only to find that they simply weren't made any more and that stalking eBay was going to be the only way I'd ever find one again.   I was more than a little heartbroken that it was going to be so hard to share one of my favorite toys ever with my daughter.

So imagine my surprise when I took a trip to Learning Express in Ann Arbor (a most fabulous independent toy store that you should definitely visit if you are in the area) and found a real live Spirograph set.  I snagged one without a second thought.  And when I went up to the register mentioned that I was so excited to see them back and was getting one for myself.  

Which is when I got the wonderful story that goes along with them.

Apparently, the folks at Kahootz Toys, which is also based on Ann Arbor, MI, wanted to license the Spirograph product from Hasbro and manufacture this retired toy, which they also missed.  Hasbro didn't have a problem licensing, but the molds for many of the gears just didn't exist any more.  So Kahootz went to eBay and bought several vintage Spirographs and reverse engineered the pieces from these vintage kits and started manufacturing the sets.  Learning Express got their first batch (and probably the first batch of them that was delivered to anyone) of them on December 17, 2012.

Aside from a lack of thumb tacks (this new kit uses a tacky putty to hold the wheels down) its just like what I remember as a kid.  The case is much improved (the old box was easy to break down) and the front panel serves as a work surface but the wheels are all what I remember and the manual includes all the wonderful old designs as well as much more information about how the Spirograph wheels work.  

Those wheels are just about as much happiness as I can imagine from hard plastic gears! 

When I asked if it was selling well, I was told that they had sold 500 of them since they put them out, many to people like me who were past their peak toy using years...  I guess I am not the only one who loved this toy when I was small!

Although it looks like this toy is available from pre-order on Amazon... if you want it right now, I'm pretty sure you could call Learning Express and order it since they take phone orders.  That would make my heart sing extra loud since buying local and from small unique businesses is one of the causes I really try to get behind and this is a toy revived by an Ann Arbor company and sold at a local Ann Arbor business (at least right now). 
Pattern: Elijah, by Ysolda Teague
Yarn: RYC Cashsoft Baby
Needles: US 2.5 (3 mm)

I have finished the sweetest little elephant.  And he definitely has kid appeal, because the second I finished seaming the second ear, Ms. Z wanted to make him her own. 

By now, I'm getting pretty accomplished with French knots -- and I almost feel good about how mine look.  In the past, I've considered French knots to be my embroidery nemesis.  I think I will be less concerned about them in the future. 

Elijah, like Sophie and Otto, comes from a well written pattern.  The only tricky bit,  in my opinion, is picking up the stitches for the ears since there are no easy to follow guide stitches.  My Elijah's ears are a bit off-center from each other, but I don't think the average toddler would notice, and I like to think it gives him a little extra charm.

Of the three patterns, I would rate the difficulty (from easiest to hardest) as Sophie, Elijah and Otto.  Most of the difficulty has little to do with the knitting, and all to do with proper stuffing and the embroidery.  That said, all of them are very approachable and knit up relatively quickly if you need a present for a special child in a hurry.

20091022_ElijahOtto&Sophie.jpg Here are my trio of toys enjoying a brief respite from the rain on my deck this afternoon.  Soon they will be making their journey to Madison, WI where they will be keeping company with a sweet, tiny new person.  What more could a toy ask for?

I'm pretty sure that I have enough yarn left to make at least one of these toys for Z.  I've been thinking about doing Sophie in some kind of patchwork manner (I don't have enough of one color left to make a whole toy), but have to think about how to do it so that it comes out cute and not just rag-bag looking.

Otto, Elijah and Sophie

20090903_OttoSophieElijah.jpgWow, you're all thinking,  another picture of yarn in a bowl.  Certainly she can come up with something different to post about than more yarn.

Well, actually, I probably could. But at this point, I don't think of this as a bowl of pastel yarn, I think of it as Elijah, Otto and Sophie (from top to bottom).  A good friend of mine is expecting her second son to arrive in the next couple of months, and while I would love to knit the impending arrival something similar to what I made for his older brother, I decided that it might be nice to make the new little guy something that was special and all his own. 

I haven't made very many toys.  Z got a Baby Bobbi Bear and a Doddy and my nephew received Celestine, but those are the only three I've ever started and finished.  Generally, when I've tried to knit toys, I find them kind of fiddly and get frustrated when joins and closures don't look as clean as I want them to.  But after watching Z with her ball and after knitting Celestine and realizing that it's very important to have a pretty tight gauge, I've been thinking about giving it another try.  And Ysolde's adorable little creatures kept popping back into my browser.

So, Monday night, I purchased all the patterns, ordered the yarn and was pleasantly surprised when it showed up lightning fast and the colors were what I expected them to be.  Because I'm knitting for a little boy, I tried to select colors that fit into a little boy's palette -- except for the white.  Otto is a polar bear, and I just couldn't see that one in any other color.  Fortunately, this is Cashsoft Baby and the yarn is machine washable, so all the toys will be able to get a bath here and there when they need them and will still be incredibly soft. 

The other big reason I'm posting that yarn picture is because it's a commitment -- I will get these toys done before the child is too old to be interested in them!    

To all of you in the States, may you have a lovely long Labor Day weekend (I will be enjoying mine in Ann Arbor with a Georgia Reuben from Zingerman's and the company of family).  To everyone else, I wish you a lovely weekend as well, even if it's only two days instead of three. 

Conroy the Friendly Ami Dragon


20090108_ConroyTheMagicDrag.jpgAt long last I can unveil my most significant amigurumi project yet!  This is Conroy, a fierce, but really friendly dragon -- the pattern is on Craftster, and I found him via Ravelry.  You may remember that my sister-in-law loves dragons (the original "Here There Be Dragons" socks were made for her).  So, in addition to the Hemlock Ring Blanket, I wanted to make my beautiful new nephew a toy and guardian symbol.  This Amigurumi project was definitely more complicated than anything I had done previously, but it was still do-able with my modest crochet skills. 

He's been complete for quite some time, but because he was meant to be a special surprise gift (dragons seem to like to make sure their guardian roles will be accepted before they make grand public announcements) he didn't make it up onto the blog after I finished him.  And then, of course, since I wasn't feeling well the night he was packed up to head down to Houston, I forgot to take any pictures of him.  Fortunately, my dad snapped a few photos of him stretching out his wings in the sun after his trip from the north country.

Conroy is made up of quite a few pieces, making him a toy with moving arms and legs.  I encourage you to check out the link to the project to see the pieces and the construction process.  Probably the hardest part for me was embroidering on his eyes.  Since my nephew is a brand new human I didn't want Conroy to have any parts that could be chewed off and ingested by accident.  But my free hand embroidery skills are weak, and I haven't done much embroidery on a crochet surface, which complicates the process a little bit.

He was constructed using Lion Brand Vanna's Choice acrylic yarn and stuffed with acrylic polyfil so that he could be washed if necessary.  Ms. Z picked out the colors (I showed her the yarn and asked her which one she liked best) since I wanted her to have a hand in the project as well. 

This is a fun project and the instructions are very good.  I am always pleasantly surprised when something that probably took a long time to write out as a pattern is available for free.  Of all the dragon patterns I found on the web, for free and for payment, this one was certainly the nicest.

My understanding from my brother is that Conroy was a big hit, so my only disappointment was not being there when he announced his intentions to be my nephews winged buddy.  I hope he has a long and happy future looking out for the sweetest little nephew ever -- and that he is a constant reminder that even though his Ciocia* is far away, she is with him in spirit.

*Ciocha (pronounced like cho-cha) is "Aunt" in Polish.  I'm "Ciocia Theresa" to my nieces and as I've heard it more and more I've come to like it more an more. 


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