Archive for the ‘Sewing Projects’ Category

I thought I’d fill you all in on what I’ve been doing, since I haven’t been posting all that often anymore. So here it is, a little glimpse into my hobby of making mini quilts.

In Flight, 13 x 19 inches

Snowflake, 13″ x 13″

Harbor Light, 13″ x 9″

Birch Trees, 14″ x 9″ (adorned with real birch leaves, dipped in copper and gold plated)

A Walk in Capitol Square, 17″ x 14.5″

“Tin Goose over South Bass Island” 12 x 12

And a few unfinished works in progress:

Dancer, 11″ x 10″

Violet, 10″ x 14″

Maddie even let me take 2 whole pictures before jumping into the frame!


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Husband’s work had a gift exchange this year, but it was something a little different. They had a Yankee Swap, but instead of buying a gift, everyone was supposed to bring a handmade, homemade gift they made themselves.

In addition to being less commercial and (likely) more eco-friendly, it was a great way to showcase everyone’s talent (or lack of talent, as some of the gag gifts suggested). And it was just plain cool.

Gifts ranged from knitted scarves, bookmarks, screen-printed pillowcases, framed photographs, baked goods, mini clay sculptures, mix CDs, and so much more. What a cool idea, and so completely obvious. It seems like just one more thing to have to do in an already busy time, but I had so much fun making my gift, and I imagine others did too. What a great way to bring some meaning back into gift giving. I usually try to make most of my gifts anyway, but it was fun to know that everyone had made theirs too. Usually, I’m the rogue crazy environmentalist offering homemade lip balm and vanilla extract, wrapped up in a reusable bag made from an old umbrella, and it felt good to not be the odd one out for a change.

So what did I make? I wasn’t sure where to start, but I wanted to definitely make something fun and whimsical. Then husband asked, “what’s a Yankee Swap without a Yankee to swap?” And it was all over from there. I had to make a Yankee. Uncle Sam was my inspiration (whom I have now decided bears the surname Yankee).

And here he is, himself. Uncle Sam Yankee.


Did anyone else give or receive cool handmade gifts this year?

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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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I got a new couch a while back, and it’s a long story, but I ended up with two sets of cushions with it. The fabric from the extra set has long since been used, but what about the extra foam pieces themselves? They had been hanging around for way too long, getting passed around among various family members, each thinking they might have a use for them. Well, they recently rotated back to me (they were mine originally anyway), and a good idea finally came to me for what to do with them. I ended up refashioning them into a tri-folding futon mattress that folds up into a chair. While the mattress is a little on the narrow side, it works well enough for a guest to crash on for a night. Family often come to stay with us, which means we really can’t have too many places for people to sleep. We already have a queen-size futon in one room, the couch I got was a sofa sleeper, but when people come to visit, we often still end up with someone begrudgingly having to set up camp on the hardwood floor. That can’t be comfy.

So I sat down and came up with a design for remaking my old couch cushions into a tri-fold futon.

Here’s what I came up with.

Homemade futon chair

And here it is folded out into a bed.

The tricky part was in figuring out that it mattered whether the folding joints were at the top of the cushion or the bottom. One joint has to be at the top and one needs to be at the bottom for it to fold properly. Also, other chairs I’ve seen like this didn’t have all 3 cushions the same size, which makes it easier for it to fold up into a chair. I had to leave a gap about the size of the height of the cushion to accommodate the back folding vertically and resting against the other two cushions.

I didn’t really think ahead about offering a tutorial, I was just in the zone and powering through without stopping to take pictures (I always DO that, sorry!), but I’ll do my best to describe what I did.

There are 3 cushions: the foot, the middle, and the head.

For the foot, I cut two rectangle pieces that fit the sides of the cushion (don’t forget to allow for seams!), and one long one cut the width of the cushion that started at the top and wrapped all the way around the cushion to meet itself again at the top corner. I sewed the small rectangles to the large piece, leaving the last short side open so I could get the cushion in. It should look like this but with the edge left open, so you can turn the edges inside. Note that the un-sewn part is at the top. This is important.

Turn the raw edges in but don’t sew it shut just yet

Now, onto the middle cushion. Cut two more rectangle pieces to fit the sides of the cushion, and two pieces for the middle. Each piece should cover the length and fold over to cover the height too.

Sew the pieces to the sides, making sure to leave the “tabs” on the outside. There should be one set of raw edges on the floor side, and one set of raw edges on the upper side. I hand basted them closed with the raw edges on the outside like this so they were easier to work with later.

One side should look like this

And the other end should look like this

And for the head, also cut one more set of rectangles to fit the sides, and a long piece that wraps all the way around the cushion, like the foot cushion, but with about 18” inches extra in length. You’ll need it to look like this when it’s done.

That extra length should measure to be the height of the cushion, plus seam allowance

And now for the hand sewing part: the assembly.

The middle cushion has two sets of raw edges on the outside, one at the top, and one along the floor. Tuck that raw edge on the top side (not the floor side) of the seam into the slot on the foot cushion (where you tucked the edges in earlier) and sew it together. Your finished joint should look like this.

Middle to foot joint, lying flat

And here’s what it looks like as it folds

Then, turn the raw edges in on the head cushion, tuck the other raw edge from the middle cushion into the open slot from the head cushion, and sew that one as well.

Here’s what it should look like.

Middle to head joint

That gap is important because it allows you to fold the back up vertically, but if you don’t care if it folds up to be a chair, you don’t need that space.

And finally, you might want to add some Velcro tabs to hold the back up in a sitting position and some Velcro between the head and middle cushion to keep them from migrating apart when someone’s sleeping on it. Or you could be lazy like me and just push it up against the wall and hope the fitted sheet keeps the mattress from migrating apart where the gap is. That works too.

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Save those cherry pits!

Here in Boston, the weather has really been warming up. You would think that makes it the wrong time of year to be thinking about making a heating pad, but I’m here to tell you that now is the perfect time to start working on this project. Why? Because cherries are in season.

I know this sounds really strange, but go with me here for a minute. You see, cherry pits do something awesome when you put them in the microwave: they will stay warm for like 3 hours. And they smell wonderful.

So start collecting cherry pits. Save them, clean them up, and sew a little cloth bag to put them all in. And come winter, when you need a little warmth or have a headache, this will be the best thing in the world.

This will also work well as an ice pack too if kept in the freezer. Just make sure to keep it in a Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get dried out.

You can use any number of things to hold heat or cold for long periods of time: corn (not popcorn of course!), soybeans, rice. But of all of them, the cherry pits definitely smell the best. Corn would be a close second, but it’s hard to find good dried corn outside of a farm town. (That’s what I used to make them when I lived in Ohio.) And when you do find it, it usually comes mixed with those animal feed pellets that you have to sift out.

An old cloth placemat makes a great heating pad

The downside (or upside!) is that you’ll need to eat a lot of cherries. And I mean a lot. The standard size bag I like to make is with a cloth placemat folded in half lengthwise and sewn shut. A bag that size takes about 5 cups of filler. And a 2 lb. bag of cherries will yield about ¼ cup of pits. So it will take a while. But if you like cherries as much as I do, it’s a good excuse to eat them.

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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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