Recycled Book Clutches

PairA

I’d been eyeing this zipped clutch tutorial from See Kate Sew for months. Then when I made brunch plans with a few friends for last Saturday (which happened to be February 13th), my inner Leslie Knope kicked in, and I decided to DIY some Galentine’s Day gifts.

giphy (1)

Source: Giphy


I stopped by Salvation Army to pick up some old hardback books. Playing off the Valentine’s Day theme, my initial hope was that there would be some comically cheesy oldtimey erotica, with like, a shirtless Fabio type on the cover. That would be funny, no? Sadly, there was no such thing.

Amongst the books I did find, however, was a cloying novel entitled How to Meet Cute Boys. Usually the idea of destroying books hurts me a little bit, but I rather enjoyed ripping this one apart. If I hadn’t already recycled the pages, I would read a bit to you now. You would laugh and cringe and then cry, probably.

1A

Then I had a crisis of self-doubt—I thought it was hi-larious, but would a recipient find the book title insulting? I saw it as subversion—a repurposing of chick lit for more practical and stylish ends… but that didn’t necessarily mean said friend would feel that way.

So I chickened out… and decided to keep this one for myself. Everyone wins!

1B

I basically followed the See Kate Sew instructions to the letter. I did use hot glue instead of the specified glue, because it was what I had on hand, and it seemed to work ok.

I am also now OBSESSED with Heat ‘n Bond. It has made me realize that there are a lot of things around me that probably need to have fabric stuck to them.

1C

Anyway, the nice thing about this project is that it can make a strong visual impact without requiring much fabric—it’s a good stash buster. The fabric for Cute Boys is a bright, mod floral—I found it in a bargain bin in a vintage clothing store in Lugano, Switzerland.

3D

3A

3B

3C

3E

3G

For Novel Destinations, I used these complementary bold botanical prints—canvas-type fabrics—that I found at my Salvation Army here in Chicago a while back.

3H

2C

For Left Bank, I chose not to add fabric to the front and back covers; the Parisian street scenes are charming as they are. For the lining and zippered portions, I used complementary floral oilcloths that I coincidentally also picked up in Switzerland, though these were purchased in a little boutique in Bern.

2B

(Side note: the oilcloth holds its shape really well, doesn’t fray, and doesn’t require the Heat ‘n Bond—but the shiny/slick side also does not stick to hot glue very well. I ended up using bias tape to bind the edges, then gluing the bias tape).

2G

2F

I also lined each book with a single piece of fabric across both inside covers and the inside spine—it looked a little neater than in the tutorial. And I added an extra piece of fabric to create a couple of pockets: one to fit standard IDs/credit cards, and one for cash.

2D

2E

To complete the gifts, I added these Galentine’s-Day-appropriate pocket mirrors from Paper Source. And I couldn’t resist—and totally splurged on—these adorable mini notebooks from Ted Baker. I am such a sucker for anything that comes with a teeny, tiny pen attached—possibly because it reminds me of a dance card (I say that like I totally remember dance cards from real life and not just movies).

Source: First Impressions


Happy belated Galentine’s Day!

PairC

Holiday Gift: Fleece Pullovers

Ok, it’s been ages since I’ve written. It may seem backwards, but when Life-things are going well and I’m busy, updating this blog is the first thing that gets postponed… and postponed… until basically it’s cut out altogether. But when Life-things are not going so well, it’s comforting to show-and-tell about creating—probably because it feels like proof of purpose and therefore validation—even if only two people are still reading (Hi Kara! Hi Michael!)

Anyway. Amateur psychology aside, this is one of those tougher times. My grandmother, or as we called her, Mommy Jane, passed away last week. Both of my grandmothers were creative forces: Grandma Joyce is my Sewing Grandma; Mommy Jane was my Knitting Grandma. While Grandma Joyce showed me how to stitch up calico yo-yos, it was Mommy Jane who taught me to chain crochet and finger knit.

MommyJaneBeach

So stylish and elegant.

When I was in high school, Mommy Jane wanted to make me a sweater; she sent me a catalog of knitting patterns and asked me to choose one. Being the snot-nosed, generally self-absorbed teenager that I was, I selected what, looking back on it, was probably the most complicated, time- and labor-intensive sweater I could possibly have asked for. It was a hefty, oversized, cable-knit Aran pullover, complete with hood (if it was here with me now, I would show you a photo, but unfortunately it’s at my parents’ house). It took her months, if not years to complete, and the final product was nothing short of stunning. It is truly an heirloom. That sweater, along with a quilt made by my Grandma Joyce (quilted by hand, mind you), is probably the most important and irreplaceable item I possess.

Mommy Jane taught me at an early age the value of craftsmanship, of working with your hands. She showed me by example how, when you hand-make a gift for someone you love, you give a little bit of yourself in the process. It’s so much more humble and simple than most of the trappings of gift-giving today—but it’s also scary: it’s an offering, an extension of you. It’s both vulnerability and connectivity. That’s what I aspire to, anyway.

There’s also something so wonderfully tactile about gifting a homemade sweater. From your hands to someone else’s back—as corny as it sounds—it’s a hug incarnate.

I am not a knitter. Knitting is magic to me—it feels like conjuring clothing out of thin air, and I am constantly in awe of those who have mastered the art. I’ve never had the patience to learn, and, for now at least, it’s completely beyond my abilities.

But when I saw this pullover from Madewell before Christmas, I was inspired: maybe it would be possible to sew—instead of knit—a simple raglan-sleeve sweater, as a holiday gift for friends.

Madewell Pullover


The Madewell website indicates that this is made of a wool/poly/acrylic blend, and it was very thick and kind of scratchy when I touched it in the store. But… it kind of looks like fleece… right?

Fleece is great, because it’s super soft and inexpensive and easy to work with. But it’s also kind of cheesy.

So I tried to be super careful with both fabric and pattern selection, hoping to end up with something that, in addition to being warm and cozy, was visually appealing.

The pattern :

PatternC


I struggled a bit with the sizing—this pattern is intended for lightweight fabrics, so I ended up having to go up a couple of sizes  to account for the extra thickness of the fleece.

BUT this pattern has pockets! Oh the joy therein!

I chose three different combinations of fleece:

PulloverC5

PulloverC6

PulloverB3

PulloverB2

PulloverB4

PulloverB1

PulloverA1
PulloverA3
PulloverA2

And while each version turned out slightly different from the others, I’m pretty happy with them. I will definitely be returning to this pattern for warm and cozy gifts in the future. Hopefully Mommy Jane would approve.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

This super awesome 80s 2-piece dress was $2 at a garage sale. 2 legit 2 quit. Although I guess it’s actually three pieces if you count that magnificent belt.

Before: Those are serious shoulder pads.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Even with my hipster glasses on (yes, they are prescription lenses), I can’t really pull this off. It feels like I’m jumping the gun on my Wacky Old Broad persona, into which I fully hope to evolve over the next 30 years, but which sadly is premature at this moment.

The first thing I did was rip out the shoulder pads. It felt great, let me tell you. Then I cut out the weird black choker of a collar and widened the neckline. Lastly, I cropped the top.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Definitely better.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

The collar-to-calf black-and-white print is still kind of overwhelming though. Like… it’s a bit much. I’m trying to resist my natural instinct to cut several inches off the bottom of the skirt, because I really like its length when it’s worn without the matching top.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

A crop top is a tricky garment to pull off in real time—as a general rule, I believe that 30-year-old belly buttons should retire from public life. So, apart from the matching skirt, I was skeptical that this top could be mixed/matched into my wardrobe as a garment in its own right. Luckily, it goes just fine with my high-waisted, pleated MOM PANTS.

CropTop

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

I think the belt, sadly, is beyond salvaging. RIP belt.

Thrift Store Couture: 2-Piece 80s Dress

Custom Fabric

Remember my July sketches? I modified the art slightly and had custom fabric printed!

CustomFabricA

It was a total experiment—I had no idea what to expect. I uploaded my art to Green Park Studios, paid $40, and less than one week later, I was holding two yards of midweight cotton printed with my very own design . It couldn’t have been simpler.

CustomFabricB

My initial plan was to use this fabric as a lining. But now that I see how well it turned out (if I do say so myself), I want it to be more visible. A skirt maybe?

CustomFabricC

I think if I printed this on a lighter, gauzier fabric, it would make a great summer scarf. Or picture rows and rows of coats for winter. This whole print-your-own thing could be a very addictive discovery…

 

For Baby: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

Ok. Surprise. I broke my own rules.

Having sewn three stuffed sea turtles in as many months, the thought of making another left me completely uninspired. So for my last baby shower gift of the summer, I undertook what eventually amounted to a much more ambitious and time-consuming project: making burp cloths, bibs and a hooded towel for baby.

I know, I know. I deviated from the registry. I’m basically the worst. I justified it to myself by making necessary items—items of which new parents, so I’m told, can never have enough.

Relying on the wisdom of others—as is my wont—I did a fair amount of interneting and found this easy burp cloth tutorial and this towel set on The Homes I Have Made. Which then led me to this towel tutorial and then this bib tutorial from Sew4Home—both of which include PDF patterns that you can download and print on standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper. The internet truly is a magical place.

Next: the fabric store. The nursery for the baby-boy-to-be in question was already decorated in green and gray, so I knew I wanted to work within that palette. I also carefully noted the bibs, burp cloths and bath towels on my friends’ registry:

TrendLabLaurenNurserySet
Top to Bottom:
Trend Lab Bib Set, Green, Lauren, 4 Count
Trend Lab Lauren Burp Cloth Set, Green, 4 Count
Trend Lab nursery bouquet set-lauren-hooded towel & wash cloth

Clean. Minimal. Elegant. With those qualities in mind, my plan was to use printed flannel for the fronts of the bibs and burp cloths as well as the hood of the towel, and solid white terrycloth for the backs of the bibs/burp cloths and the towel itself.

Immediate curve ball: there was no white terrycloth to be had at Joann. I called an audible and went with green terrycloth instead. (Yes, I know I’m mixing my sports metaphors. To the penalty box with ye!)

As for the flannels, I found quiet, neutral, green and gray prints quite quickly.

BUT ALSO ROBOTS. And MONSTERS. And TRUCKS.

Fabric_Options

Conundrum: do I choose the safe, registry-complementary fabrics? Or the riskier but vastly more entertaining kid-centric prints?

I spent forty-five minutes stomping up and down the aisle, dragging around different combinations of bolts and bolts of fabric, trying to make up my mind. I even called my mom, imploring her to bestow her impartial parental sagacity on my situation.

Ultimately (and probably obviously by this point), I indulged in my own preferences and picked the more vibrant, interesting fabrics. Because when CAN you use monster fabric, if not whilst making burp cloths? “Roar! No naps!”

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

First, the bibs: here is the Sew4Home tutorial again. A few production notes/modifications:

  • Deferring to the closure style of the bibs on my friends’ registry, I opted for velcro rather than snaps. Velcro also seemed like the easier solution, both in application and in use. If you’d like to try something similar, I recommend applying the velcro before sewing the fronts and facings together—that way the velcro stitching isn’t visible on the reverse side.
  • I used the more traditional method of applying the bias tape binding (sewing twice) rather than the tutorial’s approach of simply encasing the raw edges in the binding (sewing only once). It took FOREVER. I can’t at all explain why I dug my heels in over this particular shortcut—since it was a gift, I guess I was feeling unusually adamant about Doing It Right. Honestly, I’m not sure that there would have been a noticeable difference in the final product either way.
  • Applying the bias tape binding around the narrower arms of the bib back was a STRUGGLE. I don’t know if there is a trick to keep the tape from bunching, but I really could have used some more detail shots in the original tutorial. Mine turned out a little rumpled and puckery—by no means perfect—but for wiping up applesauce drool, I guess they’ll do. Perspective, people. (The image below is a little blurry, but hopefully you can see what I mean. You can also see the velcro tabs.) If anyone has binding tips for future reference, please share.

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

The burp cloths were BY FAR the easiest and quickest of the pieces. No bias tape binding!!

I followed this tutorial from The Homes I Have Made almost down to the letter. The only significant modification I made was adjusting the final size to 10 x 13 —matching the dimensions of the burp cloths that were on my friends’ registry, just to be safe. Disclaimer: I really have no idea if there is an ideal size or shape cloth for dealing with Baby Spew. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

Lastly, the towel and washcloth. Here is the Sew4Home tutorial again. SO MUCH BIAS TAPE BINDING. That is all I have to say.

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

All together, the pieces make quite a nice set, don’t they?

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

As a finishing flourish, I bundled the pieces and affixed little tags to them with baker’s twine and mini clothespins. When in doubt, distract with Presentation.

DIY Baby Shower Gifts: Bibs, Burp Cloths and Bath Towels

And there you have it! Hopefully my friends will find this gift useful in the coming months—even if it’s not exactly what they expected!

Blooming Champagne Shift Dress

I am hooked on making simple, easy dresses right now. I would like to think that this is because I actually really want to wear simple, easy dresses and not because I’m lazy, but in reality, it’s probably a combo meal.

This shift dress was a cinch to make, and it feels surprisingly lovely and sophisticated, if I do say so myself.

FloralDressA

That lovely-and-sophisticated impression is owed in large part to the fabric, I think—my mom picked up 1.5 yards secondhand at a quilt fair for $4. Given the limited yardage and the scale of the print, I had to be pretty strategic about flower placement. I really didn’t want to have an Adam and Eve moment.

FloralDressB

FloralDressBack

The pattern is from Simple Modern Sewing by Shufu To Seikatsu Sha, a great resource for creating your own wardrobe basics. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, and I also appreciate that the accompanying diagrams are big-picture oriented.

SimpleModernSewing

SimpleModernSewingDresses

FloralDressD

Detail of the lapped shoulder—a new design element for me. I’m a fan.

detail

FloralDressC

Yeah, I don’t know. A dress can only do so much for one’s loveliness and sophistication.

MontageA

 

The Yes-I’d-Like-to-Sample-All-the-Flavors Dress

0615_title

When I first saw this fabric on the clearance table at JoAnn, it weirdly reminded me of Henry van de Velde’s Tropon ad from 1898. Only instead of using Cadbury-esque swirls to sell a processed egg product, these pretty pastels could be pushing saltwater taffy. Or macarons. Or gelato. I might have been very hungry while I was shopping. Regardless, I ended up buying the limited yardage that was left.

fabric_swatch

It’s definitely a wacky—or shall we say unique?—abstract cotton print. And I struggled a bit with what to do with it. After sitting in my stash for a couple of years (yes, years), a project started to take shape in my head. I wanted it to be an easy, breezy throw-on dress for summer—sort of oversized and shapeless to (hopefully) balance the saccharine print. Hurrah for this summer’s Return of The Caftan!

0615_dressE
(This is more of a drop-waist dress than a true caftan I guess—but it’s still flowy and effortless.)

0615_dressC

Anyway, with a half-formed direction in mind, I pored through my terrifyingly vast collection of patterns—but I couldn’t find quite what I was looking for. So I decided to wing it.

A gentle reminder to my future self: you always say you will wing it. The process that inevitably follows can be described as “winging it” inasmuch as a 5oz European swallow tied to a 1lb coconut “wings it.” Or, if you’re more of a visual person, it’s akin to this.

Cut first, ask questions later, amiright? Nervous laughter. Just kidding, guys! (Kind of.)

As you are probably imagining, I took several wrong turns, with lots of seam-picking and re-stitching. There was some dallying with facings, which were eventually discarded in favor of bias tape binding. But I found this tutorial on faking plackets invaluable—perhaps you will too.

Eventually I got there—I was actually pleasantly surprised by the final result. Hence the abundance of photos of this one.

IceCream

0615_detail

0615_back

One change I would make, however: I’d address the back neckline differently, probably using a more shallow curve. From this angle, it looks a little like I’m wearing the dress backwards. Meh.

0615_hair

0615_dressF
I can throw it on to run errands, but I can also dress it up and hit the town. And by town, I mean the local fro-yo place, obvi. See you there!

Montage

Dress
Jumping

Table Runner T-shirt

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

I found these pretty linens at a grade school yard sale a few weeks ago. Some are embroidered, some are crocheted, and I got the entire assortment of table runners, tea towels, napkins and doilies for less than $10.

Vintage linens

They aren’t in the best condition—there are holes, tears or stains on most of the pieces—but they all have salvageable sections. Perfect for a little upcycling.

Vintage linens

Inspired by a top that I saw at Anthropologie, I made my mom an embellished t-shirt for Mother’s Day.

I started with a blue and white lace table runner and a generic, basic white t:

T-shirt: before

First thing’s first: I cut off the uncomfortable crew neck, creating a wider, boatneck shape. Then I cut a panel out of the top back section of the tee and replaced it with a segment of the table runner. I placed the finished edge of the table runner along the neckline—the scallops look lovely, and it was nice and easy not to have to worry about additional finishing!

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

And I used blue single-fold bias tape to finish the front of the neckline.

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

That’s all there was to it! Easy peasy!

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

T-shirt refashion using vintage linens

Plaid Pencil Skirt

Springtime in Chicago tends to be a long, steep climb, with lots of switchbacks and speed bumps and ruts along the way. It’s hard to overcome winter—either mentally or sartorially—when you have a stiff wind in your face.

But—praise to the powers that be—we’ve had a very mild spring so far. Consequently, this post feels horribly out of season right about now. My apologies.

I completed this skirt about a month ago, partially to cheer myself through potential April snow showers, and partially to overcome the rut I’ve found myself in lately. I’m not sure whether it’s an attention thing or what, but I have about a half a dozen projects in progress right now and seemingly zero intention of finishing any of them.

To try to snap myself out of it, I decided to go back to something very basic: Simplicity 2906.

plaid_skirt_pattern

plaid_skirt_flat

This is about as simple as it gets: two pieces of fabric, a zipper, a strip of twill tape and a hook and eye.

plaid_skirt

plaid_skirt_triptych

So, to compensate for the overall yawniness of this post, I thought I’d share what was on the back of my mind while I was making this: The Cape.

I bought a glorious, vintage, Made-In-Austria, wool cape at a charity consignment sale last fall for a mere $5. It’s beautiful—and I didn’t wear it once all winter.

Basically every movie and TV show I’ve ever seen affirms that ladies in capes embrace living on a grand scale. They go to masquerade balls and have their own couturiers and sing in the streets and leave home to have adventures only to discover that happiness was in front of them the whole time. No demure and shrinking wallflowers they—they are confident, brassy and never afraid to speak their minds.

That’s a lot of pressure.

CapesShelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills | Source
Leighton Meester in Gossip Girl | Source
Megan Follows and Schuyler Grant in Anne of Green Gables | Source

As I was finishing up this skirt, it occurred to me that it might be a great match for my cape—and perhaps the impetus I needed to actually leave my apartment in it.

cape_triptych

Alas—The final proportions are a little more matronly than I would like. I should probably pair the skirt either with a calf-length trench, or with a jacket that’s cropped at the waist. Likewise, I would wear a shorter skirt with the cape—maybe channeling the Blair Waldorf look and adding fishnets.

Hopefully by the time cape season rolls around in the Fall, I’ll have it all worked out, with capeworthy confidence to boot. Perhaps it doesn’t take a certain type of person to pull off a cape—perhaps the wearer draws her powers from the cape itself?

What do you think? Aside from a Sound of Music sing-along, is there such a thing as a cape-appropriate occasion in real life?

For Baby: Soft and Fuzzy Sea Turtle

Stuffed Sea Turtle
I just finished making this stuffed turtle for my cousin’s new baby boy. Isn’t he the sweetest? The turtle, I mean (although the kid IS actually the sweetest). I used a PDF pattern from RainingSugar’s etsy shop which you can purchase and download here. It was by far the cutest turtle option I found—he’s simple and sleek, but still manages to have a personality. He seems wise, perhaps lost in existential meditations.

stuffed_turtle_collage

What are you thinking, Sea Turtle?

Stuffed_Turtle_A

The instructions were relatively straightforward—the step-by-step photos really helped—and I think anyone with fairly basic sewing skills (like me!) could pull this off. It took me a couple of days to finish, but with some focus and determination, it could be completed in an afternoon.

I used black felt for the eyes, green fleece for the back, gray fleece for the belly, and a very very soft, fuzzy fabric for the shell. Yep, I just looked it up and Joann literally calls it Soft  N Fluffy Fabric. Very descriptive.

Stuffed_Turtle_C

It kind of seems like I woke up one day and everyone and their brother was pregnant. Suddenly I foresaw many, many baby showers in my future. I know I have ranted obnoxiously in the past about my general denunciation of gift registries. But baby registries are different. Babies have expensive needs. Babies have a demanding lifestyle. Eschew the precious, the impractical and the quickly outgrown: the baby clothes. Frothy lace-and-ruffle confections for girls; earnest, dapper duds for boys. Resist! Thou shalt honor the gift registry.

I was able to purchase all of the materials for this project for less than $20—and I probably have enough supplies left over to make a half a dozen more turtles. Throw in the cost of the pattern, and it’s still less that $5 per turtle. So I can spend the bulk of my gift budget on registry items, but I can still afford to include a homemade, personal toy. I think it’s a nice compromise.