Vintage Nurse Pattern

Dress-up clothes:  creative fun, instructive play and one of the most inexpensive “toys” out there.

To make your own, gather old curtains, sheets, dresses, flannel blankets, etc from the attic, thrift store or garage sales. An old white sheet and scarlet curtain became Rosalind’s vintage Red Cross nurse outfit.

Dress-up clothes are great for fledgling sewers like me because they don’t have to be perfect. After all, they are dress-up clothes! Thankfully, she wasn’t too worried about minor imperfections, and woke up in the middle of the night asking if she could play nurse again yet!

These are the simple “patterns” I used to make an apron, cape, hat and accessories.

To keep this from becoming a dreadfully long post, I posted the patterns separately.

Vintage American Red Cross Nurse Cap

Little Girl’s Cape

Medical supplies: Of course, no nurse outfit is complete without medical supplies. Sew a red cross onto a little white bag and fill with medicine and bandages.

Medicine jar: Remove the label from a vitamin bottle. Create a new label with a permanent marker. Cover with clear packaging tape and fill with mints or their favorite treat.

For vintage bandages, use little strips of gauze.

Child’s Cape Pattern

Capes are so versatile: a nurse, princess or fairy can all share the same one. And they are ever so easy to make!

This is the simple pattern I used to complete Rosalind’s nurse outfit.

    1. For cape: Cut out a rectangle that is 26 inches X the desired length.
    2. For band: Cut out a 16 X 2 1/2 inch rectangle. Iron under 1/2 inch on the short edges of the band and down one long side.
    3. For tie: Cut out two 12 inch pieces of coordinating ribbon.
    4. Iron under 1/2 inch along the sides and bottom of the cape. Fold under again and sew.

    1. Baste 1/2 and 3/4 inches along the top edge of the cape. Gather until it is 15 inches wide.

    1. With right sides together, sew band to cape. Turn out and iron.

  1. Fold the band over the raw edge. Pin ribbon to each side. Sew in place.

Vintage Nurse Cap

At one time caps were a mandatory part of a nurse’s outfit. No vintage nurse outfit is complete without one. This is the simple pattern I used for Rosalind’s Red Cross Nurse dress-up outfit.

Nurse’s Cap:

    1. Measure your child’s head.
    2. For cap: using a large pot or bucket lid, trace and cut out an 8-10 inch (diameter) circle.

  1. Baste 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch around the outer edge. Gather to form a “puffy hat” the circumference of your child’s head.
  2. For flap: Cut out 2 semi-circular “flaps” approx 7 inches long.
  3. For red cross: If desired, cut out 2 thin strips of red material (approx. 1 X 2 1/2 inches), iron sides under and sew onto the right side of the outer flap.
  4. With right sides together, sew along the curved edge. Turn right side out. Iron.
  5. Iron the pointed edges back.
  6. For rim: Cut out a rectangle that is 1 inch longer than your child’s circumference and 2 1/2 inches wide.
  7. Sew right side of rim to right side of cap with the flap in between. Turn right sides out.
  8. Iron under 1/2 inch on the loose edge of the rim. Fold over the raw edge and slip stitch in place.

Thriving in Small Places: the Nursery

Just before sitting down to continue this series, as I got Rosalind ready for her nap, she asked “Why don’t we have a little house?” She pressed her fingers together to make an ant’s sized home, then spread her arms wide, “We have a bi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-g house. Right?”

Yes, it is a big house.

Compared to what we need, our home is big. Compared to 90% of the world, our home is big. Compared to the homes that many are grateful for, ours is a mansion.

Some days children have as much to teach us as we them, don’t they?

Now that we have established the fact that my title is false, this is how our big nursery works for us.

Keep the floor space clear: Avoid big bulky toys and focus on a simple selection of toys that store well and keep children entertained for hours. Duplos, dress up clothes and puzzles slide under the bed or fit in a toy chest easily. This leaves most of the room open for actually playing.

Stick with a simple wardrobe: Determine what you need to keep your children in clean clothes and then don’t stuff the closet and dresser with extra. A simple selection of quality outfits you (and the munchkins) like makes getting them dressed easy, keeps the clothes manageable and doesn’t take up much room!

Go outside: It’s more fun and healthy than staying cooped up inside. A game of tag or afternoon at the park doesn’t take an inch of space in a small (or bi-i-i-i-i-i-g) bedroom.

Stick with a neutral theme: At least if it’s a “nursery.” Trains, teddy bears or plaids in neutral colors work well for sons and daughters. Rosalind’s room was green and pink until William came along. Simply moving the pink to just around her bed and adding in chocolate as an alternate accent made it much more boy friendly (not that he really cares yet!)

What do you do to make the nursery more practical?

Part of Frugal Friday at Life as Mom

Photo by Eva Schuster

P.S. This weekend I’m finishing the switch from “girl’s room” to nursery, and will have before and after pictures up next week!

Thriving in Small Places, Kitchen Edition

Welcome to my little kitchen!

A kitchen with barely three feet of counter space may work well for a bachelor, but when you have a family and make all your meals and breads and snacks from scratch, the limited space presents a challenge.

Besides the three feet of counter space, a washing machine, fridge, oven and table fill up the rest of the room snugly. At first, our new kitchen felt claustrophobic to me, but with a bit of creativity and organization, anyone can thrive in the little space.

Think up: Shelving is a great way to “add space” in a small kitchen. Joshua added a couple shelves above our table and it transformed the kitchen! Big decorative boxes are perfect for storing less used items like paper goods or snack foods, plus they add charm to the kitchen.

Glasses, jars of food and dishes all are pretty stored on shelves and free up cupboard space.

Limit the gadgets: Sort through your appliances and kitchen extras and only keep the items that are regularly useful.

Whenever possible, find multiple uses for items. For example, my big bowl doubles as the washing bowl. The large pot serves as a compost bucket when not full of soup.

Keep the counters cleared: Of course, the kitchen is the center of much of the domestic life. It is supposed to be used. But don’t permanently store items on the counters. Find an easily accessible spot for items (like the coffee maker) that are used consistently and put them away in between uses. It only takes a few seconds, but makes the kitchen more useable the rest of the day.

Do you have a small kitchen? How do you make it work for you?

$5 Bridal Shower or Graduation Gift Idea

Just hours before one of my student’s graduation party I realized my original gift idea was out of stock in town. (Yes, I’m a procrastinator!)

Panicked, I racked my brain for a new idea: a personalized cookbook.

All you need is a photo album and recipe cards.

Copy out your favorite recipes on recipe cards (or pretty cardstock) and organize them in a photo album. If you have time, collect recipes from her family and friends. Slip the blank cards into the back of the album for her to fill up with new recipes.

Spice it up with a few kitchen utensils or spices and some homemade cookies for a cute, inexpensive gift!

This idea works especially well if you know the recipient and her tastes, but with many high school graduates heading to live on their own for the first time, tried, true and easy recipes are sure to be a hit.

Now that the graduation flurry is just about over, we’re ready to enter the season of wedding showers. Wouldn’t this make a fun little gift?

Radical Frugality with Radical Rewards

While we were up in Missouri, Joshua’s sister Crystal and her husband John Mark closed on a new home: a lovely nice home that you would not expect a young couple to be able to afford.

Especially a young single income family that have never earned more than 30,000 a year.

Yet in just under six years, they saved enough money to buy the home of their dreams with more than half down. They plan to finish paying it off in five years.

How did they do it? By always spending less than they earned.

John Mark began his job making minimum wage. They saved then. When his income rose, they saved more.

Pulling up into the driveway of their home filled me with inspiration. If they can do it, so can the rest of us.

They gave up expensive meals, date nights, new clothes and all the extras that we come to consider necessities. For years they went without cell phones and even internet.

Crystal is an avid garage saler and few things in her home (that weren’t gifts) cost more than a tenth of the retail value.

Packing a lunch for work is the obvious frugal thing to do, but when John Mark learned that a meat and cheese sandwich cost 25 cents compared to 10 cents for a pb&j, he said he didn’t need the meat sandwiches. He wanted to save the 15 cents.

15 cents a day won’t buy you a home, but radical frugality in all areas will.

They are radically frugal and have already reaped radical rewards.

part of Thrify Thursday and Frugal Friday

photo by Oliver Gruener

Thriving in Small Places

Disclaimer: Of course, it is practically impossible to pinpoint a definition for a small house. A tiny home in modern America would be extravagant to medieval peasants or many around the world today.

Here I mean small in the American sense: a duplex with two little bedrooms and living room, a tiny bathroom and a kitchen with just barely enough room to squeeze in a few chairs and a table.


That’s how I felt when we first moved into this little duplex so that Joshua could attend law school. With just barely three feet of counter space, the kitchen was especially bad.

But over the past two years I’ve come to realize the blessings of less space: the impulse to accumulate stuff is balanced by the lack of room to store it and you are forced to be creative. Plus, limited space encourages communication and makes holding a grudge nearly impossible.

Before digging into specifics for each room, there are a few principles that work for the entire house.

Be content: Enough room is mostly a matter of the heart. We have way more than we need. Discontentment with a small home won’t disappear with a move. Choosing contentment makes even a small home seem big.

Gratefully accepting the room you have encourages you to be creative with it. Almost the moment I accepted the kitchen, I thought of simple (and obvious) ideas to make it more functional.

Simplify, simplify: Whether it’s the decorations or the children’s toys-keep it simple. Even when stuff is cheap or free evaluate whether it will really add to the peace and charm of the home. By keeping it simple, you are able to enjoy the things you truly love.

Continually evaluate what you have: pretend to be a visitor walking through the front door. Looking at the stuff through someone else’s eyes highlights things you don’t use anymore, the toys that really could be given away or sold … and the dust on top of that old shelf.

Keep things picked up: Homes are to be lived in. No home with little ones is always tidy, but unabated clutter wreaks havoc in small spaces. Determine a place for everything that you really love (and ruthlessly get rid of the rest!) and then make sure it gets put away. Even little children are able to put their own toys and clothes away. Tidiness not only makes the home more peaceful, it makes it feel roomy.

Do you live in a small home? How do you make it work for your family?

And no, that is not our house, isn’t it cute thought? Photo by Eva Schuster

Gardening on a Dime

The garden blossomed while we were gone and the sunflowers are almost big enough for a toddler to hide behind now! I could scarcely believe my eyes.

We had fresh salad to accompany dinner the past few nights and it looks like before long the squash will attempt to take over the entire the kitchen. Today Rosalind tried her first taste of fresh mint and begged for more of the “candy.”

Even if gardening didn’t save money it would be worth it. Playing in the dirt is fun, but the teaching opportunity is invaluable. Food doesn’t magically appear on the shelves in Wal-mart, but starts as little seeds and with water and sunshine and the blessing of God grows into tomatoes and mint and spinach. Eating salad from seeds you’ve planted and tended helps dispel the divorcement of food from its source that is so easy to fall prey to.

But most of us garden to save money. Building a beautiful garden on next to nothing is definitely possible, especially if you work with others and “scrounge.” In addition to the small garden behind our house, a couple neighbors and I started a community garden by the apartment complexes.

It is beautiful and thriving and cost very little to start.

Soil: If my limited gardening experience (and failures) has taught me anything it is that soil is key.

Good soil equals a good garden.

But improving the soil doesn’t have to cost much. Borrow a roto-tiller from a friend or “rent” one on Craigslist.

Make your own compost or if local colleges have an agriculture department chances are they have a source for inexpensive compost. We were able to get rich compost for $10 a truckload from the University.

Farmers or owners of horses often have aged manure you can pick up for free.

Plants: When at all possible, plant from seeds. Rare Seeds sells heirloom seeds for a reasonable price and if you just want a couple plants, many hardware stores let you purchase individual seeds for a few pennies.

Although it’s too late to start many of the summer vegetables from seed, quick growing plants like cucumbers and squash could still be started from seed and it will soon be time to plant seeds indoors for a fall garden.

Established gardeners often are willing to give you starts of herbs (and lots of helpful advice!) if you ask.

Weed control: An appealing weed-free garden doesn’t have to cost a dime or take hours of work. Discarded bricks scrounged from construction sites and friends work perfectly to divide the plants from walking areas and form pretty beds.

Pine needles, straw or grass clippings are free (or very cheap) and work well to keep the weeds at bay in the walking areas. Depending on the type of plant, they can also be used in the beds to check the growth of weeds, retain moisture and keep the soil from eroding.

Pest Control: Thankfully we haven’t had to deal with many pests yet this year. Companion planting, or the strategic planting of certain herbs, flowers and vegetables next to each other, helps repel many bugs. Some of the most common are garlic and marigolds. Wikipedia has a very cool table of companion plants.

If (or rather when) the bugs arrive, we plan to use a homemade bug spray made of garlic and cayenne pepper. I’ve heard it works great.

part of Thrify Thursday and Frugal Friday

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

There are at least a million different ways to make a sourdough starter. It is worth making.

I wanted a starter that used just water and flour and didn’t force me to toss out gallons of extra starter in the process, so this is how I made mine.

How to Make a Sourdough Starter

Supplies needed:

  • Glass jar with a lid
  • Spoon (preferably not metal or plastic)
  • Flour
  • Filtered water

Day 1: Clean a glass jar. Add ½ cup flour and ½ cup water. Mix well. Set it on the counter. Cover lightly with cheesecloth if you want.

Day 2: Depending on how warm your home is, the starter may have started to lightly bubble and may have even formed a thin layer of liquid on top. The liquid is called hooch and is the alcohol from the fermenting grain (that will be baked out of the sourdough later). Just mix it back in.

Now, it’s time to feed the starter. Dump out half of the mix (unless you want to end up with cups and cups and cups of starter). Add ½ cup flour and ½ cup water. Mix well. Set on counter and cover if desired

Day 3: Repeat day 2

Days 4+: The starter is ready when bubbles pervade it within eight hours of a feeding and it has a nice, slightly sour scent. The warmth of your home makes a big difference in how quickly this happens. Keep feeding daily until it does.

Once you have an established starter it’s quite simple to care for. If you bake constantly leave it on the counter, use all but ½ a cup of the starter daily and add ½ cup each of water and flour and stir.

If you don’t want sourdough dominating the kitchen, give it a light feeding and store it in the fridge loosely covered to keep any unwanted fridge odors out. It will contentedly eat the flour you gave it for a week or two. If you still don’t need it after that time, take it out, dump half of the starter, give it a fresh feeding and put in back in the fridge.

Random tips and comments:

  • Contrary to what I first thought, the more sourdough starter you use in a recipe, the less sour flavor you get because it takes less time to rise. The longer the dough rises, the more the flavor permeates the dough.
  • Once you’re done with a jar, spoon or anything else that’s come into contact with the sourdough, wash it. The longer you wait, the more persistently the starter clings to the surface.
  • I’ve yet to find an authoritative consensus on where the wild yeast comes from. Many claim that it comes from the air, but others say that it must be present in the yeast since you can cover the starter with a lid and it still works. What do you think?

Make Your Own Starter (or Not!)

Making your own sourdough starter feels like conquering a new adventure. It’s fascinating and fun.

Update: I have a confession to make. I let my starter die. A friend gave me a new start and it’s amazing. My sourdough bread turns out moist, delicious, and just a wee bit tangy.

So if you’re up for the adventure, try making your own starter. Otherwise, buy or beg a starter and get baking!

Here are a few other sourdough starter “recipes”:

Sourdough: benefits, catching and care

How to make sourdough starter