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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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.

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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:

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PulloverC6

PulloverB3

PulloverB2

PulloverB4

PulloverB1

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PulloverA3
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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.

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.

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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!

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

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.

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What are you thinking, Sea Turtle?

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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.

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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.

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.

BlanketStack

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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MomBlanket2

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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CHCBlanket1

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.

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…

Loose_Threads

And then you are done!

Picnic_Napkins

Skyline Tote Bag

Every year, my friends have an intensely festive Christmas party that involves the exchange of Secret Santa gifts. A lot of thought is put into these gifts—recipient names are usually drawn about a month in advance. Expectations run high, and those who fail to measure up are never allowed to forget it. Good-humored but merciless mocking is as much a holiday tradition as the exchange itself.

This year, I played Santa to a friend who is originally from St Louis but who now lives in Chicago—she loves the two cities. Inspired by pillows on Etsy, I decided to create something that incorporated both skylines.

This gift exchange also has a strict budget. I bought a large button-down shirt at a thrift store for $3 and used that as the primary material. I zig-zag stitched the skyline effect and then sewed up a tote bag loosely based on this tutorial.

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Chicago on one side…

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St Louis on the other. I also added the pocket from the button-down shirt as an external pocket. Crazy easy.

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Detail of stitching.