Friday, August 10, 2012

Charlie Horse

By special request, a toy horse with long human hair

I finally got around to working on another project this week. I haven't written anything for the past couple weeks because we've had a hard time and I just haven't been ready to put it all down yet. On July 24th my grandmother died. This is my mother's mother, the one we moved home to live with after my father died.

I've really been missing my grandmother since before Christmas, because around then she stopped being herself and has been going downhill rapidly ever since. She had gotten to the point that she hoped to die, and so I am happy for her that she is at peace and somewhere better now. But, as always in a case such as this, I still can't help wishing I could go back in time when all my grandparents were alive and well and I could go home again. This last trip is the last time we will stay in my grandparents' house, with all its familiar furniture and paintings and everything uniquely theirs. Now they are all gone. It is nearly impossible to believe.

My grandparents lived on this lake.

I know we have been lucky. My oldest child can remember all but one of his great-grandparents. Our middle one can remember two of them, and our youngest may be able to remember one. We had them for many years longer than most people can hope to live, and they were healthy until the very end, or close to it. Really, my grandmother was only very sick for a few months before she was able to go. I'm also not sure they really are completely gone. On the day of my grandmother's funeral, as we drove to the church, an old man wearing a car cap rode past on his bicycle and gave us a jaunty salute. I burst into tears. My grandfather, my mother's father, rode his bike all around town every day, including the morning of the day he died, always wearing his car cap. I can't help feeling he sent that man across our path.
It was actually wonderful to be back home again, despite the sad circumstances. Ohio in summer is one of the loveliest places I've ever been. We were home in time for the Lake Festival, and got to watch the fireworks as they burst over the lake, duplicated in the water. The light lasts so long up there, it was after 10:30 at night before the fireworks could start. The air was so cool, in the 60s. Far across the water we could hear the music and festivities. Earlier in the evening I was able to see one of my favorite flowers, chicory, blooming. I always think chicory in bloom looks like pieces of heaven fallen to earth.

Chicory in bloom
I hated to leave, but of course we hadn't planned on a vacation at this time and so Jerry only had so much time off work. We made the long trek home, and on the way my niece, who has a virus, infected everyone. So we spent the past week coughing and napping.

North Carolina, as seen from the Virginia mountains.

Since my grandparents invested much more of their riches in children than material goods, there isn't much to divide. I took home the Viking ship plaque they kept over the fireplace, and my daughter got a tiny ceramic mermaid, the Little Mermaid from Copenhagen. I remember when my grandparents brought it home from a long trip to Norway to stay with cousins and around Scandinavia. I loved it at the time and thought it so beautiful, and I am happy to find my daughter loves it too. That made me think of the wool horse they brought me from Iceland, a souvenir of the same trip. Horses are important in Scandinavian art, and they all seem to have a certain look, from the Swedish Dala horse to my little wool pony.

It was a funny coincidence that I thought of that, because my sister called with a strange request a few days later. If we had a difficult trip, my sister's was epic. It happened that the day before my grandmother's funeral was her husband's grandmother's 90th birthday party. Her trip involved driving to Baltimore, flying out of D.C. to Dayton, flying back to D.C. and then driving back to North Carolina with their two young sons in tow, all in around four days' time! Even worse, my nephew, Charlie, has only one soothing mechanism: holding on to his mother's hair. So my sister had to ride the whole way down 95 leaning over her seat so Charlie could grasp her hair!

My sister hoped to find a toy with long hair for Charlie. She thought it would need to be human hair so it feels right, and it would need to be safe enough for an infant under the age of one year. A tall order! She decided on a horse and asked if I thought I could find human hair to use. Well, I already have human hair extensions in several colors, the upside of making dolls! I use hair extensions that are wefted, the kind you get from beauty supply stores. I had my sister buy some wool felt in the color she wanted and then I got on Pinterest and looked for inspiration.

I had my little Icelandic pony in mind. That horse has the same straight lines as a Dala horse, but big long eyes and a very fuzzy mohair mane and tail. I wanted a little more whimsical look so the hair would fit in better. I eventually found a free giraffe pattern from Woman's Day, and I adapted that template so it looked like a horse. You can find the template at

The original pattern was a giraffe.

After I redrew the pattern and cut the pieces out I wanted to add features. I wanted the horse to have a smiley mouth, red cheeks, and black button eyes with long lashes. However, since this is a toy for an infant it is not a good idea to sew on buttons or other things which could dislodge and choke the baby. So, I decided to needle-felt the features. You can see step-by-step needle felting instructions on some of my other entries, including the Loving Lenci post. Here, I used wool roving for the eyes and red wool crewel yarn for the mouth and cheeks.

Needle felting the features
To make the eyes look like they have long lashes I just didn't felt the black roving all the way down on the upper edges of the eye. If my sister has to wash the horse those will just felt down  into the eyes, but for now it's really cute!

Eyelashes are made by leaving the roving at the top unfelted.

I wanted to sew the whole horse inside-out and turn it, the way you normally would. However, when I tried to turn it the fabric was too thick and it was tearing. For safety's sake I sewed the wefted hair inside and turned the horse right side out. I sewed everything else with blanket stitch. I hope the small size will be perfect for Charlie's little hands to grasp.

The horse is small for infant hands.
I hope he likes it. I showed it to my niece, who is only a couple months older, and she wasn't sure about it! It does have a lot of hair for Charlie to hold, and it has the look of my little wool pony. Now I am full of ideas for more wool animals!

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