Posts Tagged ‘Sewing’

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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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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Christmas Presents!

It’s been such a challenge for me to not share all the wonderful sewing projects I’ve made for my family members, but now that they’ve all been opened, I can share them!

For mom, a wall hanging quilt incorporating scraps from her curtains, and one of her old sheets, among other things.

For my sister, who likes blue, and green, and things that sparkle, a small wall hanging of a pond scene with lots of sequins, glitter, and beads.

For my other sister, a set of coasters stuffed with spices, so they release wonderful smells when you set your hot mug on them.

For my dad, who’s working on restoring a ford tri-motor airplane, a patch. He collects patches to sew on his work overalls.

For my niece, a little stuffed cat. I used the towel cat pattern, but with scraps of old t-shirts. She LOVED it!

For Husband, I made a balaclava, but don’t have a picture of that one. Sorry. It came out really cool though.

And I already shared the Chaos game.

And I passed on my hundred dollar holiday challenge, clocking in at about $45. Woo hoo!

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Pack or Purge?

I’ve never been much of a packrat. I’ve always been a purger. If I don’t absolutely need it or have a use for it currently, I donate it, freecycle it, lend it, repurpose, recycle, compost, or trash it. I don’t keep things around that I don’t need so as not to accumulate excess stuff. I also feel strongly that if I have something I don’t need or don’t use, I should pass it on so someone else can make use of it. It’s not fair to sit on something I don’t need when someone else might use it.

But sometimes, I concede that being a packrat can come in handy. Like with sewing projects. I’ve been on a major sewing kick lately, and I haven’t bought much of anything for any of these projects, which is awesome. And I’ve made quite a lot of stuff, considering I’ve only been cutting up old stuff I have around here. But you’d think that with all the sewing I’ve been doing lately, I’d be using up more fabric, and needing less space to store my sewing materials. Or at least that the stuff I already have should now start to fit in my big box of fabric-y goodness without spilling out. The opposite is the case, however. I’m finding that the more I sew, the MORE space I need to store all those little scraps I don’t want, but know I shouldn’t trash. I can’t work that out in my head, but you can come to my house and see for yourself….I need to invest in another “creativity box” for all my extra sewing materials, and it’s making me crazy to save all this stuff I don’t really have room for and don’t know what to do with. And I’ve never ever been one to save stuff I might use sometime eventually, maybe. I’m really fighting the urge to get rid of all these little scraps, especially since I’m running low on ideas of what to do with them all. Any sewers have thoughts about this? Do you save or purge your scraps?

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Games are really expensive. But they can sometimes be easy to make. I just made one that came out really cool, and since I’m pretty sure my little nephews and niece don’t read this, I can share with you their Christmas gift. When my sisters and I were kids, digging around at grandmas house, we came across an old game called Chaos. I’ve searched for it lots of times, and I’m pretty sure it’s not available or not made anymore. It was a lot of fun, though, and since it was a pretty simple gameboard with simple pieces, I decided to try to make a version of it.

The idea of the game is to be the first one to get all of your pieces from one side of the board to the other. BUT, all the pieces look the same on one side, and you’re not allowed to flip any pieces over to make sure they’re yours until you’ve reached the other side of the board, your “home.” So, it’s sort of a memory game, as well as a strategy -type game.

We buy a lot of Juicy Juice here, and so we started saving the caps, because, since they’re all identical, they would make great game pieces.  Colored permanent markers worked well to mark the inside for each player’s set.

Then, I got to work making a checker-type board, but with all the squares the same color. I used old scraps of orange and yellow, with some 1/4 inch batting for the middle. For the yellow squares, I used double-sided iron-on inner facing (the kind with the paper that peels off the back) and then top stitched them all on.

Here’s what the game board looks like set up for four players, and with one piece turned over to show the colored mark inside:

With four players, the game can get pretty crazy!

And here is what it looks like when all the pieces make it home. I just used colored Sharpies, but stickers or paint might work too. Red, yellow, green, and blue, one set for each player.

I also made a pouch to keep the directions in, the pieces, and the game board. Here’s a close-up of the bag.

And the full directions I typed up and laminated for the bag, if you’re interested:

Chaos Directions

General Rules: Chaos is a unique game of mental skill that calls upon its players to recall previous moves and positions of playing pieces that all look identical. The skill of the game lies in remembering which piece belongs to whom as you attempt to move your entire set from one side of the board to the other.

Equipment: The equipment consists of one playing board and 24 playing pieces. The playing pieces, when placed face down, are identical, but when turned over (face up) reveal color.

Preparation: Each player takes 6 playing pieces of the same color and shows the other players. These pieces become the player’s set. The set is The set is placed face down on the first row of the board nearest that player. The player who has the green set moves first with play rotating to the left thereafter.

Object: The object of Chaos is to be the first player to move your entire set across the board to the opposite side.

Moves: During a turn, a player can move a piece in either one or two ways, but always forward, sideways, or diagonally. The player can move it along the board one circle per turn, or jump any piece directly next to it, as long as there is an empty circle to land on after the jump. Player 1 can continue to jump as long as there is a piece directly next to theirs and a circle to land on. Before any player can move any playing piece across the center of the board (which is indicated by a black line) their entire set must be moved out of their original positions, either forward or diagonally.


  • When a player reaches the opposite side of the playing board, the piece is turned over (face up) to reveal its color. If the color is correct, the piece remains there and may not be moved for the remainder of the game. If, however, the color belongs to another player, the playing piece is turned back over and the player to whom the piece belonged must move it from that position in the following turn. The game then continues with the next player’s turn.
  • If player 1 suspects that player 2 is moving a piece that is not hers, player 1 may challenge player 2 as soon as the piece is moved. The piece is then turned over revealing its color. If the challenged player has moved the wrong piece, the piece must be moved back to where it was before the turn, and the player forfeits that turn. If the move was correct and the challenger was wrong, the challenger forfeits his next turn.

Winner: The first player to get their entire set on the last row of the opposite side of the board wins the game.


Two-Player Game: Beginner’s Game:
To make a two-player game more interesting, each player should play 2 colors (12 playing pieces each). The playing board should be placed kitty-corner on the table, each player using two adjoining sides as his base rows. Each player makes 2 consecutive moves, moving one playing piece of each of the two colors.  All other rules for a four-player game apply. Play according to the above rules, but with each player using only 3 pieces. As skill increases, add more pieces until you are able to keep track of all 6.



And there you have it. A new game for free! Hopefully my nephews and niece will enjoy it.

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