Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tutorial: Flowers in Winter

I have always been prone to the after-Christmas blahs. This year, they seem to be setting in earlier than usual. I know it's not even New Year's Eve yet, but I'm already a little bummed about our schedule returning to the hectic pace of school, activities, and work in a few days. Plus, it's cold. Really cold. Have I mentioned how cold it is? The cold weather really affects my mood, I think. Not the dark, which I kind of like, but the cold. Brrrr!

I need something to remind me of being warm, to get me excited about the prospect of spring (which arrives here pretty quickly - March, at the latest). What says SPRING more than FLOWERS? And what says COZY more than PILLOWS? So I combined the best of both worlds (you go, Hannah Montana!), the lingering winter when I need to be cozy and the upcoming spring when I'm looking forward to seeing flowers, and made something to tide me over.

I was inspired by these kinds of pillows:

The last two photos above are from Pier 1, where I haven't been in years (four little hands + lots of fragile stuff = NO!) but where we were the other day to look at their Christmas ornaments. These can easily be made from almost any fabric, including upcycled goodness or stuff in your stash. My white rose, on the left in my picture, is made from fleece that came from a giant thrifted bag of fabric we scored last spring (bonus: fabric stores are running sales on fleece lately, practically giving it away, so you'll be able to find some on the cheap). The carnation, on the right, is made from more thrifted fabric from that bag - I'm pretty sure it's the sheer fabric that filmy curtains are made of (you know - the kind of curtains that people without small kids and hyperactive dogs have, the kind of curtains that puddle gently on the floor and let soft light filter into the room, the kind of curtains that people probably have time to wash regularly. But I digress). I bet you could even use regular old cotton, or jersey, or even a t-shirt of two - whatever you have, use it!

Materials Needed:

  • fabric of your choice (see above)
  • 2 12"-round circles for the pillow base and backing (again, another perfect use for upcycled fabric). I used cotton curtains. You could even use the same material you're using to make your petals, which would result in an even cleaner finish, so if you have enough of it to make 2 12" circles, go for it!
  • pillow stuffing (I was so eager to finish the project that I ALMOST took apart one of our gently-used bed pillows to finish stuffing the carnation when I ran out of new Poly Fil last night, but I held back and made myself wait until I could get to the fabric store to get some more pillow stuffing. My husband would thank me, if he knew)
  • coordinating thread
  • sewing machine and serger (the serger is not absolutely necessary, but I love the way it finishes the edges on the carnation)
Time required: 1-2 hours

The tutorial is written for the carnation pillow on the right, and the pictures are from that process; however, after each step, I've indicated how you would alter the instructions if you've chosen to make a fleece rose (which I hope you will...why not make an entire pillow bouquet?)

What to do:

Step 1:

Cut your fabric into 3"-wide strips. Depending on the width of your fabric, you'll have to cut several to total about 72" when all is said and done. You'll be piecing them together to make one long, continuous strip, so sew the short ends together on your machine or serger . I cut 3 strips of sheer fabric to make a strip totaling 72" when I was done sewing them together.

For the fleece rose: same as above, but you only have to make your strips 2" wide. Fleece won't fray, so there's no need to serge it or to leave fabric for that purpose.

Step 2:


Serge all four edges of your long strip. I usually keep four neutral-light colors on my serger because I hate re-threading it, but whatever colors you have in your serger at the time are fine. In fact, I think brighter, contrasting colors would look awesome on the edges and would add dimension to your flower.

When you're done, you'll have one long serged strip and pile of serged remnants (which you don't need at all, but which I love - just seeing it makes me feel productive).

For the fleece rose: no serging necessary. Carry on and be happy that you get to skip a step!

Step 3:
Fold your whole strip in half lengthwise, and iron it. If your fabric is sheer, like mine was, use a low setting your iron so you don't melt the fabric and/or ruin your iron.

Don't forget, your strip is pretty long, so it might take a while. But it's worth it!

For the fleece rose: no ironing necessary. Are you happy again that you chose the rose instead of the carnation?

Step 4:
My favorite part: ruffle! Open up your ironed strip. On your sewing machine, set your stitch length to the longest setting and your tension to the highest setting, and sew a line right down the center crease of your strip. If your fabric is sheer, watch it ruffle up quickly! When you're done, your fabric strip will be significantly smaller than it was - it will probably decrease in length by 1/2 to 2/3.


For the fleece rose: You also get to ruffle! Follow the same directions, but sew your stitch close to one edge, not down the middle. You won't see a lot of ruffling because the fleece is so thick, but it will be just enough to give your pillows some dimension.

Step 5:

Cut two 11" circles out of your fabric. I used dinner plates (yep, they're Mary Engelbreit, and I love them). One circle will be the base onto which you sew your ruffles, and one will be the back of your pillow.

For the fleece rose: Also cut two 11" circles.

Step 6:
Pin your ruffles in a concentric circle on your fabric, following that stitching line right down the middle pf the ruffle. Whether you start in the middle and work out or start on the outside and work in is up to you. Just be sure that each layer overlaps enough that you don't see the fabric circle underneath. Also, make sure your strip doesn't twist. All of the pinning will be worth it!

For the fleece rose: The same. But you'll pin close to the edge of your strip, right where you sewed your ruffling stitches, not in the middle of your strip.

Step 7:


Sew down your ruffles! This was, by far, the most time-consuming step, because there are SO many ruffles it's easy to lose your place, or have something twist, or have ruffles get jammed under your presser foot. If it's easier to NOT pin down all of your ruffles at once, it might be better to pin several inches at a time, sew, pin again, and sew. Regardless of how you do it, just take your time. I started on the outside and worked my way in. Just make sure you're not sewing down the frilly ruffles on your previous layer. Try not to sew your finger and get blood all over your sister's belated Christmas gift, either, and if you do bleed on it, make sure the ruffles cover up the blood spots. That's just sound sewing advice.


For the fleece rose: The same. Sew in a line over your ruffling stitches, so your "petal" edges are free to stand up.

Step 8:

Put your finished ruffle piece on your other 11" circle, right sides together. Sew around the edges, close to the last row of ruffles but not sewing down any of the ruffles into your seam. Leave a 2" opening, and turn it right side out. Stuff it, and sew the opening closed with a hand needle.

For the fleece rose: The same.



That's all! Now snuggle up with your new creations and dream of spring. It's almost here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Surprises

Sometimes when I upload pictures from the camera, I'm surprised by what's on there. There may be pictures I forgot I took. Before I began to upload pictures fairly frequently, sometimes weeks or even a couple months might go by before I attached the camera to the computer (yes, I constantly felt guilty, worried that I would lose the camera or that it would break before I had the opportunity to get the precious pictures of my children safely onto my frequently-backed-up hard drive). But sometimes, especially now that the kids are old enough to pick up the camera and take pictures of random things, I upload a picture like this one:


I cannot make out what this is. I'm assuming that J took it on Thursday, sometime while I was slaving away in the kitchen and he was watching football with his dad in the living room. What are those weird graphics at the bottom of the screen? Are they part of the ever-distracting graphics displayed by networks during every single program? Did he manage to capture a photo right at the exact second when the network was switching from a tv show to a commercial?

Let the Season of Perpetual Surprises begin.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Awesomeness that is the day after Thanksgiving

I have always loved the day after Thanksgiving.

LOVE it.

I am not a Black Friday shopper. I don't storm the mall at midnight. I don't plan on doing much holiday shopping at all; in fact, the little that I do will be done in locally-owned, small stores, to the largest extent possible. I saw some of the commercials last night for American Express, which is making a big push for local shopping tomorrow, and I plan on participating. I will also look online, shop local on Etsy, and do as much mail-order shopping as possible (you go, USPS!). So my day-after-Thanksgiving thing is not because of shopping. I just love being home. It's where I need to be on this day.

There's nothing monumental going on. It's not a big day. Today we're getting out Christmas decorations and watching Michael Jackson videos. We might rent a movie. I don't even know if we'll get in the car. Maybe I'll do a little sewing. Tonight we'll put up our tree (an artificial, pre-lit one, which I absolutely love, in every way I can love a tree. More on that another day).

Speaking of sewing, I completed a pretty quick refashion on Wednesday night. I'm sure lots of other people were peeling potatoes and making stuffing and preparing turkey, but I had a project that wouldn't leave my mind, thanks to the Greenstitch podcast, and I had to get it done. There was no point in trying to concentrate on food when an upcycled sewing project was beckoning.

Before:

Two years ago, a co-worker gave me several giant bags of her gently-used clothes. Many of them I wear as is - they're from Ann Taylor and other places too pricey for my budget. And, ironically, even two years ago I was not refashioning or cutting up clothes like I am now. My, how a couple of years can change things. Anyhoo, this dress is cute as is, but it's a lot longer than I would normally wear. I had just planned on chopping it off at the bottom, hemming it, and wearing it as a summer dress (which was clearly not a priority, since, like I said, she gave this to me over two years ago, and it's been in my closet ever since). But then I saw a project for the ruffle scarf at Greenstitch, which reminded me of Dana's tutorial several months ago on MADE, which made me feel like I was receiving a sign to make the project. So I did. Can't ignore a sign.

Now it's this:

(Picture courtesy of an enthusiastic 8-year-old who does not have the patience for auto focus to work).

Here's a close-up of the scarf:

The dress is 100% rayon, so it was the perfect lightweight material for the scarf. I did not do anything with the edges besides serge them, because of lazy (but, bonus, I think it makes it more lightweight and bouncy with no hem, and I like the deconstructed look in nearly everything, so win-win). I am often cold, year round, so this scarf is perfect. I wore it all day yesterday.

After chopping off the bottom of the dress to make the scarf, the original garment was too short to hem into a shorter dress, so now it's a tunic shirt, which I love. Today I'm wearing it layered over a white shirt, since it's cool, but it will be nice in the summer with a denim skirt. Two refashioned items from one original (which was free). That's a good return.

Now I have a whole day ahead of me of...doing nothing. At all. I am beyond excited.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Banner Day

Over the summer, Kate's Primary teacher called with a request. For an end-of-year gift last school year, I made her a PEACE banner from fabric scraps and pieces of an upcycled wool blanket. Of course, I finished it the night before we were going to give it to her, so I didn't take pictures. But I knew it went with the whole philosophy of her school, since it was recycled, simple, and promoted peace. I loved it. Kate said her teacher loved it and actually screamed when she opened it, and she hung it up right away.

So I was thrilled when she called over the summer and wanted to know if I could make her another one. This time, she wanted to know if I could make one that read "The Children's House" so they could hang it in the entryway to the Primary hall in her school. Of course I could! This is what I made:




The design and styling were totally up to me, and I added a tree at one end and a house at the other. It now hangs in a prominent place in her school; Kate sees it every day as she walks down the hall to her own classroom. I know it makes her feel good to know it was made in our dining room. She even told one of her friends, "My mom and I made that." Unfortunately, she said her friend just looked at her blankly and said nothing, so I don't know what she thought....I prefer to think her friend's thought was, "Wow! That is so amazing that I am not sure what you mean when you say you and your mom made it. Is such a thing possible? Are you also saying that you can make ponies and rainbows and butterflies from scratch on your dining room table, too?"

Anyhoo, I loved it so much, and I had so much of the blanket left over, that I made a similar one for our own living room a couple weeks ago:



I absolutely love the way the banners make something ordinary look festive and special. And I adore the way they can easily be made from upcycled and recycled materials.

Last night, I made a traditional collegiate-style banner using stuff from the scrap basket:


The "ribbon" is a piece of a sheet; I cut it about 3" wide and folded it like bias tape to enclose the flags, which are pieces from other sheets or my scraps from other projects. The back of each flag is a piece of upcycled white fabric that came in a giant bag we got from a thrift store in the spring.

I'll make a Christmas one for our house. The simple, uncluttered design of it is soothing to me. I want to say CHRISTMAS without being gaudy or overdone or glam. Like Kate said today, the best part of holidays is spending time together. I want a flag that reflects that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

An embarrassment of riches

We've had a great day. There's no school for me or the kids today. We had a couple of parent/teacher conferences (I was the parent, not the teacher), and all is well. We made it to two different thrift stores, and both outings were massive successes. At the first, I picked up two pillowcases, two (brand new) Vera Bradley make up bags, and some sort of car racing, spring-loaded contraption that Joseph had his eye on. All for less than $5, total. I was feeling good. But then we went to the next store, killing a little time between conferences, and we spotted this:

What could be in the box? Someone's old bills? A severed head? It is, after all, almost Halloween, so anything seemed possible.

But it was even better.

I opened the box and discovered this:

Can you tell yet what it is? How about now?

Yep. It's a file box of over 60 (61, to be exact) vintage sewing patterns ranging from 1955 to 1990.

But it gets better.

ALL of the patterns are exactly my size. Every single one.

But it gets better.

The tag on the box said, "ALL IN BOX, $2.00."

Really? REALLY? I took it to the register to be sure. Just to make sure I was reading it right. The woman at the register said, "I think that's what it says, and that's what I'm going with." And to top it all off, I got a free Baby Ruth candy bar with my purchase, since it's almost Halloween.

So I got an entire box of vintage sewing patterns, all complete, all in my size, for only $2.00. And a candy bar, which I really appreciated, since I skipped breakfast. Plus, there's the bonus file box, which might come in handy for the bills I'm trying to organize. But that's neither here nor there right now. What's important here is my enormous, gigantic, fortuitous box of sewing patterns. Some of them have notations, in someone's actual handwriting, that say, "Pants fit great" or "Really uses 2 yards." The styles start out younger-looking with the styles from the 1960s and 1970s; as the patterns go through the 1980s, they look more like career wear, with more jackets and skirts and styles an older woman might wear. I feel like I've been given the opportunity to leaf through someone's whole life, via her sewing pattern catalog. What a privilege.

What a great afternoon.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Something new from something old: Mom & Me Circle Skirts

It's a balmy 80+ degrees here today. We went house hunting (!) for a new place in an old, old section of town, closer to the kids' schools and my husband's job. We stocked up on organic food at Costco. And, in continuing my love affair with the circle skirt tutorial over at MADE, I made matching Mommy and Me skirts for me and K, using a sheet I bought at Goodwill just yesterday.

Sigh. It has been a good day.

K and I have never had matching outfits. Ever. As similar as we are in so many ways, we've never done it. Until today.

We twirled


And laughed
And created something new from something old.

Yep. It was a good day.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Folks Just Called Her "Yellow"

(It's true...although I know you'd never guess it from outward appearances, I am a closet Kenny Rogers fan. In a big way. Thanks for the inspiration for the title of this post, Kenny)

If you've not yet checked out MADE, please do yourself a favor and do so, ASAP. It's a treat for all of your senses, with awesome photography, inspiring projects, and, most importantly for me, honest and detailed and humorous (but not snarky and sarcastic) writing that never fails to impress me.

Dana's latest tutorial is for this circle skirt, which, true to her word, I whipped up in no time - in between last night's bedtime chores and planning for J's 8th birthday today and (kind of) cleaning up the kitchen, in fact. Mine is made from a vintage sheet which, completely coincidentally, is in YELLOW, which just happens to be the very color being celebrated over at MADE.

In fact, this whole project was fortuitous, in every way:

1. I have a quickly-growing pile of vintage sheets on my shelves, and since this project takes a good bit of fabric, the sheets were perfect. I love looking at those sheets, but I love working with them - and wearing them - even more.

2. Dana also provides a great tutorial for dyeing elastic...it provided the opportunity for one of those "Duh! I can't believe you didn't think of this yourself, Michelle!" moments for me, but in a good way. I've been looking for wide (2" - 3") elastic in any color OTHER than white or black for months, and it never once occurred to me to dye my own, even when I absolutely could not find any other colors, even though I have used fabric dye for many other projects in the past. I wanted to make a gathered skirt with exposed elastic for quite a while, but my lack of elastic options was holding me back...well, that and my lack of motivation, and the fact that I don't have enough time to complete the hundreds of projects floating around in my head, and the fact that I promised to make two dresses for K's school auction last week, and the fact that the bathroom needs to be scrubbed. But I digress. Dyed elastic, you've opened up a whole new world for me. I thank you. My grungy bathroom, not so much.

3. I happened to have 2" wide white elastic, right here at the house, which meant I didn't have to go out to the fabric store (always a good thing, according to my husband). I also happened to have just one package of RIT dye in...you guessed it, yellow.

4. I made a skirt like this last fall for K, based on a project I saw on Stylelicious (you are sorely missed, HGTV favorite) a couple of years ago. I made a wrap-around, reversible version, which I really liked, but I wanted to simplify the project before I made another. Lo and behold, I came across the exposed-elastic tutorial, and I knew it was meant to be.

I am in love with it. Love, I say! I plan to make a couple more this weekend. I love the swing of it, the fact that I can use vintage sheets (or any upcycled, lightweight fabric) to make it, the retro look...everything. We're driving right past the fabric store tomorrow, which means I can pick up more elastic and more dye, too.

Some things are just meant to be.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's still summer (and saying otherwise will make me not want to buy your brand of notebook when the time comes)

I have been avoiding like the plague sales entitled Back to School. I have a week and a half before I go back to school, and my kids have two and a half weeks. I am not yet ready to even think about getting up when it's dark outside, packing lunches, making sure homework is done, and all of the other things that go along with the start of school. When I was a student, I used to absolutely love the start of school; I vividly remember all of the smells (new pencils, waxed floors, minty paste) and feelings (cool fall weather, anticipation in my stomach). I have always loved the routine that goes with school, and by the time the day rolls around, I'm ready for summer's carefree we-can-do-whatever-we-want days to come to an end. But I'm not ready for that until the school year actually gets here. Don't try to sell me on it in early August, when it's still hot outside and we still have some time left to be lazy. Don't rob me of that time.

One thing I've done, ironically, during all of this "lazy" time is to create the outfit that K will be wearing on the first day of school. She'll be wearing this camisole (which won last month's Carefree Clothes for Girls Sew Along - thank you!) as well as this skirt:

I made it all from repurposed materials. The main fabric, a pink and white gingham, started out as this dress, from my favorite antique store:

It was $2. It has no tags in it, so it's obviously handmade, and it has (had) a giant yellowish stain all the way up the back, which is why it only cost $2. I tried everything I knew how to get out the stain, including washing it with eco-friendly detergent in our front loader and letting the sun try to work its natural bleaching magic by hanging outside, but nothing worked. Still, I was determined to use it somehow, since someone put time into making this dress in a time long ago and I did not want her hard work to come to an end in 2010.

I cut it off at the waist, cut off the stained part of the skirt, and re-sewed the edges to form another tube. Then I just formed a casing in the top and inserted elastic. The trim at the bottom is a gorgeous two-layer trim (cotton and lace) that was part of a huge bag of textiles I bought at the thrift store last spring. It adds a nice little weight to the bottom of the skirt (and some length, which means K can wear this skirt for at least two more years). It's perfect!

She'll wear it with a cute pair of rose-embroidered knee highs I found at a kids' consignment shop this past weekend. I love that the whole outfit is girly and cute, but not matchy-matchy at all. I can't believe her back-to-school ensemble is already complete. It was, I must confess, a complete accident on my part, as I was just so excited to sew each piece that it never occurred to me that I was sewing her First Day Outfit. Still, I'm going to pat myself on the back for a job completed well ahead of deadline.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tutorial: Lighter Than Air Peasant Top

It's still really warm here. It is, after all, early August in North Carolina, and I'm not complaining; if I wanted cool weather, I'd live in a different part of the country. But my mind has been wandering more frequently to the quickly-approaching end of summer, when I'll go back to school and will have to wear more subdued, school-appropriate clothing, and fewer strappy dresses and summery frocks. Determined, however, that "professional" doesn't have to mean "boring," I wanted to come up with something that I could wear now (when it's hot and I'm more casual) and then (when it's cooler and I have to look more..with-it). So I came up with The Lighter Than Air Peasant Top.


It's made from an upcycled t-shirt, so it's cheap, eco-friendly, and comfortable. Plus, the options are endless, which means you can make it all yours. Here's how you do it!

Materials Needed:

  • upcycled man's t-shirt (I used a size L)
  • 1/4" elastic, in a length to be determined (I used about 29", which let the top have a gather of about 1/2 of the original shirt size when all was said and done)
  • safety pin
  • coordinating thread
  • sewing machine
Time required: 1-2 hours

Just like with the Heat Wave Halter, I've given instructions for optional or alternative steps, so you can pick and choose to make the kind of shirt that's ideal for you, based on your preferences and the amount of time you have to spend on the project.

What to do:

Step 1:
Start with a t-shirt that's about 2 sizes too big for you.

Tip: This would even work with a printed t-shirt, so it's a great project to give new life to one of your husband's old tees...as long as you love it and it's not really gross from yard work and other Manly Responsibilities, as most of my husband's are. If you don't have a shirt big enough to use, it's time to hit the thrift store, where the selection is huge. Huge. A long-sleeved shirt would make a great alternative for cooler, winter weather; you could make 3/4-length sleeves.

Step 2:

With chalk (you can kind of see the light-purple chalk line in the picture above), draw a chalk arc right below the neck of your shirt, extending about 2"-3" down on the shoulder on each side. Cut off this top part.

Step 3:
Cut off the edges of the sleeves, right inside of the existing stitching lines. Do the same thing on the bottom hem of the shirt, being sure that you DON'T cut into the stitching, especially on the bottom tube. Set these aside, as you'll use them later.

When you're through with these steps, your shirt will look like this:

Step 4:
Cut a vertical 3-inch slit at the top of the neckline of your shirt. We'll work more on this later.

Step 5:


This next step is fun. It's magic, like shirring ;-). On the hem, sleeves, and collar, which are all cut, raw edges now after you sliced them off, you're going to make them into lettuce edges. Basically you're going to make them a little ruffly and finish them at the same time. So set your machine for a normal zig zag stitch, normal stitch length and width with regular tension, stretch the fabric gently as you feed it through the machine. When the needle comes down on the left, it will land on the fabric, and when it comes down on the right, it will land just off of the fabric. Do this on all of those edges. When you're done, the edges will be a little ruffly (bonus: when you wash your shirt, those edges will be less likely to roll). Be sure not to sew over that slit in the front. We want that little gap for later.

Step 6:

Take what was once the waistband, which you cut off earlier. Cut open the loop, so it is now one long piece of fabric (but don't cut through those existing stitches that actually make it a long tube of fabric). Iron it so that the raw edge (the edge that you cut) is on the bottom, and you have a smooth tube on top. It's hard to see in the picture, but basically you'll have a smooth casing, with the sewn/cut edge ironed on the bottom.

Step 7:
Stretch this tube gently so that it fits all the way around the neckline of your shirt, and pin it down on the outside of the shirt, about 1/2" from your newly-ruffled top edge of your shirt.

Edge stitch down both sides of your tube to attach it to your shirt. This will be the casing for your elastic.

Step 8:
Using a safety pin, thread your elastic through this casing. My elastic was about 29" long, or the width of the front of my shirt from shoulder to shoulder. This was a great length for me and it gathered the shirt just enough, but you might want to play around with the measurement to get a length you like. Sew each end of the elastic down at the edge of the slit you cut in step 4.

Tip: don't let it slip all the way through the casing, or you'll lose the ends of the elastic and have to fish for it with a safety pin and you'll poke yourself and get blood all over your newly-created shirt. Not that I know anything about that. Or that I did that here. But it could happen.

Step 9:
Take the arm bands that you cut off and cut off the stitching line. Cut open the tube so you have one longer piece of fabric, stretch it gently, and tie a small knot close to the end of each of them.

Step 10:
Using a zig zag stitch, sew one of these strips to each side of that slit in the front, just under (or just in or even on top of, if you don't have room otherwise) the casing. They will be ties for the front of the shirt.

You're done!

You might want to adjust the length when you're done. If you do, just cut off the shirt and re-ruffle it, the way you did in step 5.


Another one done!