Recycled Book Clutches

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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).

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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.

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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!

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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

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

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

The Year of the Blanket

The entire month of December was—as seems to be the case every year—a hectic scramble to get Christmas gifts made, purchased, wrapped and delivered. Hence my complete lack of posts during the holiday season.

When pressed for time, I also unfortunately tend to forget about and/or skip taking photos of gifts I’ve made. I just give them away, and they’re gone.

But I did manage to snap a few photos of my main gifting project this Christmas: patchwork throws.

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My grandma recently moved, and I knew she was looking for a blanket or throw to match her new cool-toned family room decor. Finding myself in the sale section at Anthropologie as I often do, I dug through the linens on the off-chance that I would unearth something beautiful and also miraculously marked down to my price range. I did not.

I DID however find an assortment of lovely dinner napkins in greens, violets, and grays—at less than $4 a pop. I scooped up nine of them (three of each color), and decided to make my own throw. I created a patchwork front out of the napkins, and added a gray fleece backing. Voila. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this one. But it was so easy to work with the napkins—they’re substantial, won’t fray, and of uniform, workable sizes—that I made several more napkinblankets. Napkets. Blankins?

Anyway, for the throw shown below, I also used napkins from the Anthropologie sale section, and navy blue fleece. This was probably my favorite—the geometric pattern and bright colors seemed well-suited for my little sister, and it looks like something you could buy at Urban Outfitters. Though I’m not convinced that that’s a good thing.

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With a couple of these napkin-based blankets under my belt, I became a little more ambitious with my material sourcing. I decided I wanted to make a throw for my mom out of vintage Vera Neumann napkins, and I trolled Etsy and Ebay, searching for the perfect combination of patterns and colors. Because I am a planner, I took screenshots of sellers’ photos and created a few mock-ups in Photoshop before committing to any purchases.

Photoshop comps of what the throw could look like:

PhotoshopMockup.

The finished throw:

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And finally, a blanket made from CB2 napkins (thank you, holiday sales) and red fleece for a gift exchange. More neutral and modern than the others, but still festive.

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From now on, I’m going to keep my eye out for interesting table linens at thrift stores—I think not just repurposing but also recycling would make this project that much more satisfying.

In the meantime, I’m grabbing a book and a hot cup of tea and camping out under a blanket of my own. See you in the Spring.

Picnic Tote

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I took a lot of photos of this one, but I think I will spare you the detailed process story—I’m kind of picnicked out. Especially given that it is most emphatically Fall now.

This was a birthday gift for a friend, a picnic tote to take to outdoor concerts, movies and shows.

And my inspiration? Ballet boxes, with separate bottom compartments to carry dance shoes. Like so:

BALLET-BOXa. Ballet Box, Lowprice Dancewear
b. Vintage Ballet Box, WhimzyThyme Shop at etsy.com
Vintage Ballet Box, ivorybird Shop at etsy.com

By the same principle, giving a wine bottle its own separate pocket means that nothing else in your bag gets smushed—or damp, if you’re toting a sweating bottle of white.

I bought a plain tote bag at a craft store, and created a separate wine pocket, just by adding a seam and a zipper to the bottom section:
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I also attached a zippered inside pocket to hold the corkscrew:
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To make it personal, I created my own stencil by xacto-cutting letters out of contact paper:
Stencil Xacto Stencil_2 Stencil_3Finished_Tote

Final product. I threw in a bottle of wine, and then we were ready to picnic!
Picnic_Labels a. reusable solo cups
b. favorite snacks
c. battery-powered tealights
d. corkscrew
e. hand sanitizer
f. homemade napkins
g. tote bag with zippered wine pocket

Why You Shouldn’t Invite Me to Your Wedding

Picnic for Two

Yeah. There are a few of you out there with save-the-dates floating around who should probably be paying attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I love weddings as much as—nay, more than—the next person. Because I, unlike many of my peers, have (so far) avoided exposure to that sickly-sweet redolence of excess that seems to be snaking through the wedding industry these days. $600 bridesmaid dresses. Destination bachelorette parties more exotic and extravagant than the honeymoons of our parents’ generation. A dozen weddings of obscure relatives in as many weeks. It’s easy to see why some—burnt out, worn down and slightly nauseous—are very much over it. But me? Nope. All of the weddings I’ve attended have been for dear friends and close family—events radiant with joy and sincerity, beautiful and meaningful and full-ful, and all of the other nice, warm, glowing, lovely, heart-achy, happy things. I love weddings.

I also—fingers crossed—have yet to be that girl at a wedding. No pounding of tequila, fistfights over the bouquet, or random groomsman hookups on my record as of yet. So you need not fear that I’ll over-enjoy your wedding either.

The problem I have (and the problem you’ll have with me) comes down to your wedding registry. See, I believe that “The Wedding Registry” (along with the convenience store gift card aisle) has ruined gift-giving forever. Ah, how convenient! I can sit at my computer, click a few buttons, and within seconds, that $125 heart-shaped cheese grater—which I can only assume will be the centerpiece of your marriage—is on its way to being gift-wrapped, shipped and dropped on your doorstep. Zero thought or effort on my part required.

Now, before you give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is an altruistic streak somewhere within all this ranting—she’s wants to be considerate and select something personal and meaningful!—let me assure you: there is not. “Gift-giving is an opportunity for me to tell other people what they should want.” I’ve quoted myself so many times to various friends and family, that if I were ever to cross-stitch a pillow (and let’s be real, it might happen some day), that’s what would be on it .

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Utensil Roll

In continuing the picnic theme, I also made a sleeve/roll for transporting utensils. This is again very easy, and could be modified to fit anything from silverware to art supplies.

For this particular version I used a cotton print. I’ve also made a sturdier version out of faux leather (pinking the edges instead of fraying them) that I used as fancy gift wrap for a set of bar utensils.

Utensil Roll Steps 1–9

See fraying tips here. Because this was part of a wedding gift—a picnic set for two—I only created two utensil sleeves, and put two forks in one sleeve and two knives in the other. This is totally flexible though, and can change to suit your needs.

All wrapped up, with places to go:

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Picnic roll and matching set of frayed-edge napkins:

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Picnic Napkins

Picnic Napkins

These napkins are incredibly easy. I started by selecting a few coordinating prints in bright colors from the fat quarters section of the fabric store. I used the same fabric for both sides of each napkin, but you could use two different fabrics for each, and voila—reversible!

To make each napkin, cut two squares. Mine were approximately 9″ x 9″, but you could make larger dinner napkins or smaller cocktail napkins. Be careful to cut along the grain and to keep the corners as square as possible. This REALLY helps down the road when you fray the edges. Some of mine—those that (ahem) maybe weren’t so square—turned out worse than others. You learn as you go, you know?

Pin the two squares together back-to-back, with right sides facing out. Sew around all four sides, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance. I used a zig-zag stitch, because why not. You can use thread that matches your fabric, or, assuming you are confident in your ability to sew a straight line, choose a bright, contrasting color for some drama. Gettin’ crazy here.

Then comes the never-ending fraying. Use a pin to remove individual threads along the edge of the fabric. The best way for me to describe it is to not describe it at all, but to instead show you a very close up picture:

Fraying Edges

Yeah. Thread by thread. You will do this to both squares of fabric, along all four sides. It will take a long time. I suggest you pop in a movie or two, depending on how many napkins you’re making. I find that BBC’s 6-episode Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful go-to for just such an occasion.

Anyway, this is the thread pile that was accumulating on my couch. And my coworkers wonder why I have bits of thread stuck to my clothes all the time…

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And then you are done!

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Thrift Store Couture: Sweater-Sleeve Coat

We’re reaching that time of year when I am absolutely sick of all of the cold weather articles of clothing I own—especially coats. Unfortunately in Chicago, it’ll be coat weather for a few more weeks at least. Time to mix it up a bit.

Lately I’ve been coveting the kind of slouchy, menswear-inspired silhouettes that I’ve seen the occasional blue-line hipster girl wear—like so:

slouchy coats

Clockwise from left: Philip Lim sweater sleeve maxi coat, Asos textured blazer coat, Asos vest in longline, To Be Adored coat, Clariana fleck wool drape coat by Theory

But the last thing I want to do in April is spend a bunch of moolah on a coat. My solution? Try to find this 90s-reminiscent silhouette at a thrift store.

I forgot to take a picture of the jacket before ripping the sleeves off the jacket—but you get the idea

I forgot to take a picture of the jacket before ripping the sleeves off—but you get the idea

I loved this coat (left)—it was less than $10 at Salvos—but it was slightly too big through the shoulders. Since I was going to take it apart anyway to work on the fit, I decided to Frankenstein it with a sweater (right).

Pattern pinned to coar

I used an old coat pattern that WAS my size as a rough guide for re-cutting the armholes.

I stitched the sweater sleeves to the coat—lining and all. So no, I didn’t really fix the lining the way I’m sure you’re supposed to. Instead I just made my own binding out of some ribbon to cover the raw edges.

Jacket Lining

You can see the raw edges on the wearer’s left armhole; the right armhole is finished.

Finished.

Finished.

sweater sleeve coat

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I wore this outfit to a jazz club with some friends—one of them told me I looked very Ralph Lauren, and another likened me to Katharine Hepburn. Not quite the look I was going for, but I’ll still take it!

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