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I’ve kicked the plastic bag habit, but there’s always the occasional plastic bag that gets into my house. I swear, it’s like an infestation or something, I don’t know how those things get in! Anyway, instead of just carting them off to the grocery store to be recycled, I thought maybe I could cut them into strips and crochet something out of them.

I’ve been needing a new bathmat in the bathroom, and I thought this would work perfectly. Easy to make, easy to clean, it would dry fast, it would be free, and best of all, it would divert something out of the waste stream.

It’s really quite easy to prepare plastic bags to be crocheted. There’s even a nifty way to hook the bag strips together without having to tie any bulky knots.

First, take your plastic bag and fold or roll it so the handles are at one end, and the bottom at the other.

Then, cut it into strips 1-2 inches wide, like this. Each strip will open up to a loop, and that’s exactly what you want. Don’t cut the loops open! You will have to discard the handles and the sealed strip at the bottom of the bag.

Open up the loops, and pull one through the other one, about halfway, so now you have two small loops.

Take one of the ends of the loop and pull it through the one on the other end. Basically, loop it through itself. It will look like this:

Pull it tight, and there you have it!

Continue the process by looping another one on the end, and in no time, you’ll have a giant ball of plastic, ready to be made into something new.

So I started crocheting. And….I blew through my stash of plastic bags. This thing has been quite a while in-the-making, since I just don’t accumulate plastic bags that quickly. That’s a good thing, but this half-finished rug lying around my living room has been starting to annoy me.

Enter: Madeline, my cat.

Something I have to tell you about Maddie: I don’t know why, but apparently, she loves plastic, and she’s been absolutely loving my rug-in-progress. Seriously. Husband and I were laying in bed the other night and wondering about the rustling sound we were hearing from the living room, along with cat howls. In the morning, we found my plastic rug, in a pile in the dining room. She drags it around at night and howls (with joy??). Since I didn’t have enough plastic to make a rug anyway, I went ahead and just finished it as a cat-sized little square for her.

Behold, the happiest cat ever, pictured with her new bed.

But I still don’t have a rug! So when we took down all the plastic window sealer, I started cutting that up into strips and crocheting with it. (As a side note, I hate that we have to seal our windows with plastic every year, but that’s the best solution for us right now. As much as I’d love to just replace all the windows, that’s a task for our landlord.) That clear plastic film in rug form actually looks nice! It gives off a bit of silvery shine and makes a thick mat. But given that I used all the plastic from all the windows and it’s not nearly as big as I want, it might take me about 3 years to finish it 🙂 And in the mean time, I just have to get my cat to NOT steal it….

This was a bit more time-consuming to work with, because when you cut it up it doesn’t make nice loops that you can hook together. I tried cutting it into a spiral shape, and that didn’t work at all. The plastic tore apart at every curve or corner. So I ended up cutting each piece into the longest strips possible and just tying them together. Yeah, it was a bit of a pain, but it gives another use to something that we usually throw away every year. And that makes it worth the trouble.

Here it is as I was just starting out:

And here it is now. Madeline comes running every time the camera comes out, and the fact that I brought my other plastic rug out of the closet was an added bonus. This was the best I could do, a blur of a cat running to get in the picture:

And a few of the happy kitty, just for good measure. She does try so hard to be in every picture, after all.

 

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An umbrella is truly an item that has been designed for the dump in every possible way. If you don’t like being wet when it’s raining, you need to have one. But they don’t really work all that well to begin with, the slightest wind will turn them inside out, they bend/break painfully easily, and wet umbrellas are often left outside of places by accident. They are so cheap and easy to replace, there’s not much incentive to make an umbrella last. Even if something small and simple breaks on an umbrella (like one arm bends just a little), it affects the way the whole thing works. It doesn’t open up all the way and won’t fold up anymore. Umbrellas aren’t really fixable, which is a shame when only one arm is broken or something. So the whole thing ends up being trashed when there’s only a small problem with it.

I always try my best to take good care of my umbrella (I’ve had the same one for about a year and a half now, which really says something considering I walk everywhere), but there are lots of people who just toss an umbrella on the sidewalk when it breaks. It’s been a rainy past few days in the Boston area, which means it has been a great time for me to go out and scrounge for broken umbrellas. I know, I know, that sounds totally weird, but go with me here for a minute. Broken umbrellas make for a great source of free fabric. And I love free fabric.

With a bit of washing, this fabric makes nice and easy lightweight grocery bags, sandwich wrappers, or lunch bags. It would also make a nice travel bag for toiletries. Really, the possibilities are endless. I’m even currently pondering the possibility of an umbrella skirt….that would take some of the edge off walking home in the rain wouldn’t it? Hmm…and it could have maybe two different layers of two different colors or be pieced together from various colored umbrellas…..

Ok, back on topic, focus. This is supposed to be a tutorial.

Making a grocery bag from an umbrella is surprisingly simple. I just used a regular plastic grocery bag as a pattern and made one just like it out of the umbrella fabric. They roll up into a tiny little package, so I can carry one with me at all times and never have an excuse to ever bring another plastic bag home. And they make fantastic gifts. I made about fifteen of these suckers last year, and everyone in my entire family got one for Christmas.

First, find a plastic grocery bag to use as a pattern. Cut the bottom melted seam off and the top melted seams out of the handles. Next, slice open the two sides, so you have two separate pieces that look like this:

These will be your pattern pieces, but they’re not quite ready yet. Fold the pieces in half up the center, matching up the sides. Trim down as necessary so your pattern piece is symmetrical. I folded them together and cut them both at the same time to ensure they’d both be identical. That’s important too.

Now on to the umbrella. Get your seam ripper out and carefully cut all the threads that attach the fabric to the metal frame. Check the very top of your umbrella. There is usually a button up there you can unscrew to free the fabric rather than cut a hole to get it off. Also, if your umbrella has a Velcro or snap strap, carefully take your seam ripper to this as well and set the strap aside. You’ll need it later.

Fold your umbrella fabric and both of your pattern pieces in half. If you have a really enormous piece of fabric, you might be able to match the folds of both pattern pieces with the folds on the fabric, but generally, I can get one to fit and end up piecing together the other one.

If you’re having trouble getting the pieces to fit, keep in mind that it makes a difference how you fold the fabric in half. If you’ve got it folded on a seam, try folding it between two seams to see if that works any better. Sometimes a change even that small makes the difference between having the pattern fit on the fabric or not. If the fabric piece is on the small side, you might have to piece both sides, or use a different umbrella for the other side of the bag.

Here is what mine looks like: one side fits on the fold, and one side will need the two halves sewn together up the middle. This is pretty standard for the umbrellas I pick up, and will likely be how yours will fit too.

It’s hard to get them pinned down straight on the curved dome shape of the fabric, but don’t worry about it. Pin them as best you can, and once you make a few cuts, the fabric will lay flat so you can readjust pins as necessary.

Here’s what the pieces will look like when they’ve been all cut out.

 

Match the right sides together of the two partial pieces and sew up the middle. Now, you’ve got two full pieces to work with.

Next, find the strap you set aside and pin it on the right side of one of the fabric pieces with the fold lined up with the edge of the fabric, about 6 inches in from one side. It doesn’t have to be exact or anything, an estimation is fine.

Match the other piece on top of the first one, right sides together, with the small strap in the middle. Pin the whole length of the bottom, making sure to pin the strap too. Don’t forget to remove the pin that was under the top layer, holding the strap in. Sew along the bottom. Then, pin the sides and top of the handles and sew these sections too. Yes, that is hideous, non-matching white thread that you see. That’s what was in my machine and I was too lazy to change it. I mean…I used white thread so it would show up in the photos. And you’re welcome for that.

You now have a bag, but it’s not quite finished yet. To add a bit of width expansion, take each of the sides and fold them over about 3 inches. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise. Actually, it should fit the measurement of folding the strap in half. So fold and pin the strap, and follow the fold line all the way to the bottom of the bag and pin the flap down on each side. Sew along the bottom again, with the sides folded in.

 

Now the bag itself is done, except for the raw edges. If you like turning edges in, you can just hem the top and handle holes. I don’t like doing that sort of thing, so I usually just fold bias tape or ribbon over the edges and sew it down. If you’re really ambitious, you can make your own edging out of your umbrella scraps. Or you can just dig around and see what you’ve got in your sewing scraps: some ugly brown bias tape I’ll never use. I was hoping it would be something a little brighter, but I’m too lazy to make something in a nicer color. So here goes. I’ll have to sew it down with some bright thread. Fun colored thread always makes it better.

 

And for the last step, fold the straps in half and sew them down, a length of about 2 inches across the top of the handle.

Now you have a nice bag that will roll up into a little ball and fit anywhere!

I mentioned saving something from the landfill, but really, it’s only the fabric I’ve found uses for, which makes a difference, but only a small one.

So….what can you do with the rest of the umbrella?

I haven’t really figured that one out yet. Mostly, I strip it down and separate out recyclable metal pieces and recyclable plastic pieces from the parts that have to go to the landfill. Occasionally I save a few spare parts, but most of the umbrellas I pick up do not have interchangeable parts and would be nearly impossible to repair.

Occasionally, I use pieces for various artistic endeavors, such as my lottery sculpture, and if they have a long wooden post in the middle, I’ll save that. I can usually find a use for a good-quality dowel stick.

Recently, I used a few of them to make a giant indoor tree. In my mind, it’s sort of the equivalent of making a giant fort out of sheets like I used to do with my sisters as a kid. (Actually, I still do that when I hang laundry to dry…What can I say? Forts are just fun!) And having an indoor tree is just awesome. What kid (or grownup!) wouldn’t love to play with a tree for a while? I have to be honest and say I’ve had lots of fun with the tree over the past week. It provides a nice place to sit and read, to do homework, or to change up the eating routine with an indoor picnic; it just provides an endless source of fun and creativity. And it will really let you know just how much excess green fabric you have lying about. I really should do something with all that fabric. Wait….I made a tree with it!

So I’ve used the actual umbrella mechanism for a few different things, but I’ve mostly only been able to prolong its eventual trip to the landfill. Anyone have other ideas? What else productive might we make out of broken umbrellas?

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When Husband and I got married 3 years ago, friends and relatives at the time were mortified to hear I was planning to cut up my wedding dress. “Don’t you want to preserve it?” “Why would you want to cut up something so nice?” or “What if someday one of your daughters or granddaughters wants to wear it?” were some of the most common desperate pleas.

I finally started returning to the askers, “Well, where’s YOUR wedding dress?”

Mostly, nobody could really remember, it hadn’t been gotten out in ages, or it had been ruined in storage, turned yellow, never been worn again. I explained that I was going to remake mine into a nice cocktail dress and then make my husband take me somewhere nice on our anniversary so I could wear it every year.

It took me three years to finally dig in and actually DO it, but I was (finally) motivated by this year’s upcoming anniversary to get it finished. Husband took me out on a 3-hour Boston Harbor dinner cruise, and I got to wear my newly refashioned wedding dress!

It was mostly simple, really. I cut off the dress at my desired length. That was the hardest part, the first actual cut. From there, it was easy! I had to take in the back a bit because the extra fabric for the train/bustle looked really weird when it was short. I replaced the ivory colored trim at the top and waist with hot pink, leaving a big bow in the back instead of cutting it off like the ivory had been. It still needed a little something extra, so I put the remaining pink trim around the bottom, and sprinkled in some hot pink seed beads amongst the beading.

Here are a few before and after shots.

My dress went from this….

  

  

To this!

I made a matching bracelet/necklace set from all the extra pink beads I had.

Another closeup of the beadwork

I really like this picture, even though it came out a little blurred

Another shot of the back

And I had so many extra beads, I decided to make myself a matching necklace!

There’s a bracelet in one of the photos, but it got dismembered when I realized those large pink beads would be better used as earrings. They’re nothing special, so I didn’t take photos. Just a big pink bead and a small one mounted on a pin and hooked on an earring finding.

So to my married female readers out there: Where’s YOUR wedding dress? What are your plans for it?

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Recently, I embarked on the exciting journey of making a handmade book. The finished product came out beautifully, but in my true fashion, I neglected to take pictures of various stages or document in any way what I did: you know, the sorts of things that would be helpful for a tutorial. But there are lots of good ones already on the web, so I’ll be linking to the ones I used and offering my own advice and suggestions along the way.

The first thing I did was tear apart my old phonebook and make the paper myself, but that’s definitely a post for another time.

Cut your paper down to be twice the size you want your book to be, so when you fold it in half, it will be the right size. Fold each piece in half, and stack them inside of each other in groups. Press the back of a spoon over the folds to make sure they are evenly creased. My paper was thick, so I had only 3 sheets inside each other, so when folded there was 6 pages that looked like their own little book. If you’re using regular printer paper, you could probably fold 5-8 pages together in a set, called a signature. Make as many signatures as you need to get your desired book thickness. Mine had only 3, again, since my paper was so thick.

Next, you’ll need to prepare your signatures to be stitched by poking holes in them. You’ll need either an awl or a hammer and nail as well as a piece of cardboard, and a phonebook. This site shows a great technique for getting the holes just right.

Once you’ve gotten the holes punched, then you’ll need to stitch them together. Most sites advise against using cotton thread or embroidery floss and strongly suggest linen thread. I used some kind of thread I had on hand from beading. It had the texture of thin, yet strong dental floss. I have no idea what it was made of, but it worked ok. I  double-layered it, just in case. Actually, I imagine just waxed dental floss would be fine to use too. As long as you don’t mind a little mint-y scent in your book :). I used this site as a guide for stitching the signatures.

From here, I started following this tutorial. Put a layer of glue along the spine of your book block, to firmly hold the binding and ensure there are no large gaps between certain pages. I used tabs like in this tutorial, except I forgot to place them under the stitching, so they were glued on top instead.

That same tutorial site has helpful instructions for making your cover as well, unless you have an old hardcover book you are refilling with something new. I used an old shoebox and cut a front and back slightly larger than the inner pages, and a spine the width of my book block. To attach the three pieces of the cover, I used some sort of fabric tape I had around. I actually liked the texture of the tape so much I covered my whole book in it. You could probably use duct tape, and I bet it would be fine. Or glue pieces of fabric, as the tutorial suggests. And instead of coating the cover with one layer of the same paper, I decoupaged mine with brightly colored paper scraps, thin enough for the fabric texture from the tape to show through, so it looks like I used fabric pieces instead of paper.

Then, taking my finished book block and finished cover, I trimmed two pieces of cardstock to serve as the end papers. The cardstock gets folded in half, just like the book pages, except one half is glued to the inside of the cover, and the other half is glued to the first page in the book block. The other piece goes in the back, between the last page and back cover. Check out the pictures here in steps 4-5 for a visual.

And finally, the results of my work: a really cool homemade journal, made mostly with junk from my recycle bin.

Side view

Top view

Handmade paper inside

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So I recently decided to try again with crocheting. I learned the basic stitch, with the goal of cutting down on the crushing amount of t-shirt scraps that fill my fabric box. Goal achieved! It’s crazy, spontaneous, and colorful, just like me!

And though it’s not nearly as nice as the one my mom made me, I’m working on it. This one is good enough to wipe my feet on at the door and is a much better use for all those scraps than just being stuffed in my fabric box.

 

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I have (well, used to have) lots of t-shirts that I don’t wear anymore, but didn’t want to get rid of because of their memories. Shirts from college, high school, family vacations, shirts I loved when I was a kid, you know what I mean. Everyone has shirts like that they don’t want to get rid of. Well, it came to the point where I was running out of space to store them all. So…..I cut them up and made patchwork quilts out of all the logos from the front.

As far as putting the quilt itself together, there really aren’t any rules and no right or wrong way to do it. But I do have a few helpful tips.

  • Measure, measure, measure. Draw a diagram of the layout and make a plan. Don’t forget about leaving allowances for seams. Using 1/2-inch seams makes the math easy, so you only need to add one inch to the size you want your blocks. For example, if you want to use 15×15 blocks, cut them 16×16.
  • Precise cutting of t-shirt fabric is just about impossible. Not to mention machine sewing it without having it get all bunchy. I find it much easier to iron fusible innerfacing onto the back and then cut it. This will keep the fabric from stretching, curling up, and moving around while you’re trying to cut and sew it.
  • Don’t scrimp on the batting: if you don’t use batting, your blanket will seem empty, even if you back it with the quilted stuff with the batting built in.
  • You can back it with just about anything. I’ve used old sheets, other throw blankets I had lying around, fleece, and other shirts to make a reversible t-shirt quilt (not recommended, as the logos on the inside feel cold when you try to cuddle up with it, and it makes for twice as much work to only be able to enjoy one side at a time. Didn’t really think that one through all the way….). I suppose you could just back it with the backs of the shirts, but that would be a whole lot of extra work and take lots more innerfacing. Anyway, just about anything goes for the backing.

Here are pictures of some of the ones I’ve done:

The only downside is that after about 1-2 quilts or so, you’ll start running out of things to do with all the backs and sleeves of the shirts. At first, it’s great to have lots of extra rags, but now that I’ve got enough rags, the scraps are really starting to pile up.

Enter: great idea from Mom.

She took all the backs of all the shirts leftover from a quilt I made my sister, cut them into strips, and used them to crochet a rug.

I can’t offer any advice on how she did it, as the only thing I know about crocheting is that I suck at it. But for something this cool, I will definitely have to try my hand (again) at crocheting. I’m pretty sure I have enough scraps to carpet my whole apartment if I wanted to, and the rugs we have in the kitchen are really old, stained, and just really in need of replacing.

Pretty cool, huh? Now you all know where I get it from!

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A while back I bought a couple of hard-cover books at the Goodwill to make into hollow book boxes. More details on the books I picked out can be found here. Though I think my efforts started off as a perfect “what not to do when making a hollow book” tutorial, I eventually figured it out, and the books turned out great.

What I started doing first was gluing pages together one at a time, starting at the back of the book. After about 25 pages or so, I decided that was going to take waaaaaaay too long, so I just started painting with Elmers glue along the outside of the pages of the closed book. But when you do it, you should make sure to put a piece of plastic between the cover and the rest of the pages so as not to glue your book shut. I actually caught this one before the glue dried, so it was ok, but using a bit of plastic would prove to be a well-thought-out “I’m being proactive” step. Also, if you’re thinking about lining your book with something or putting some kind of clasp on it to keep it closed, don’t glue the last page to the back cover just yet; slide a piece of plastic between the last page and the back cover. And if you want to line the bottom of the box with the title page or something, this is also a good thing to pull that page out before you glue all the pages on the outside. I did ok salvaging the title page, but again, it might have looked a bit nicer if I had thought it all the way through before gluing. I made two books: the first one using basic Elmers glue, and the second one using mod podge, and they both came out fine. You’ll eventually need the mod podge to finish the inside though, so you’ll need to have some on hand for later steps anyway.

So after you glue or mod podge the heck out of the outside (with the plastic in place first, of course), then comes the waiting part. Put something really heavy on top of it and leave it until it’s dry. Overnight would definitely do it, but if you’re impatient like me, a few hours might be ok.

Then comes the fun part: the cutting. You’ll need a small exacto knife and maybe a box cutter too. I used both, but you could get it all done with just the exacto. Use a ruler and mark about 3/4 inches from the outside of the book on all sides. Take your exacto knife and start cutting into the pages and removing them a few at a time. It will take a long time to do this, so be patient. Keep going until you get all the way through to the last page, but be careful not to cut through into the back cover.

Once you cut all the pages out, slide your title page under the cut pages but on top of the back cover and glue it down. Glue the cut pages onto your title page and let it dry. Then, you can mod podge the inside of the box with a thick layer. Leave it open to let it dry completely on the inside, and you’re done!

Here’s how mine turned out. Not too bad, I think!

The glued edges of my books, and one with a ribbon closure

The inside of my dictionary, with the title page in the bottom

A close-up of the inside

The inside of my other book (soon-to-be pencil case). The book title page says "Better Than Life," and I had husband add above it "Art Is"

Anyone else ever attempted making a hollow book have any other tips to share?

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