Category Archives: sewing

Remnants to the Rescue

One of the first things my sister and I did after she gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2015 was hit the fabric store.

The first place I like to stop in any fabric shop is the remnants area. You can find small amounts of expensive fabric for a fraction of the price. On that trip we found a lot of remnants to turn into throw pillows. We both loved a silky muted blue-green fabric with copper-colored French knots.

I like the back as much as the front of this fabric.

I thought it would be perfect to replace the faded fabric inserts in the shutters in the back bedroom. Fortunately there were two pieces of that fabric so we didn’t have to fight.

To underscore the cost-savings of buying remnants: this “designer” fabric was originally priced at a ridiculous $29.99 per yard, but was only $5 per yard as a remnant. The $5.63 piece was 1.125 yards (just enough for this project), and the $9.76 piece was 1.952 yards. I should be able to cover a couple pillow forms with the larger piece.

Yes. I know. I sure took my time before using any of those remnants. Probably because I didn’t realize how badly faded the old fabric was until I removed all eight inserts from the shutters. They’ve been getting the afternoon sun for the better part of a decade, so I’d say the plain cotton quilting fabric held up very well, despite the sun bleaching.

Originally a dark muddy green, the fronts of the inserts faded to an olive green while the backs were sun-bleached nearly white.

The first thing I did was measure the old inserts and the new remnants. Having replaced these inserts before, I knew the upper and lower shutters were different lengths, and the old inserts were each about eight inches wide, roughly double the width of each shutter. While the front of the fabric doesn’t appear to have an up-and-down direction to it, the back does, so I wanted to cut all eight panels in the same direction.

Of course, it was only after cutting the shorter panels that I realized I forgot to allow the extra two inches needed to form pockets for the small tension rods that hold the top and bottom of each panel in place.

Luckily I had the second remnant. No worries, either. The four mis-cut panels should still work well for the pillow covers.

After all the pieces were properly cut, it was pretty much an assembly line process:

  • Press a quarter-inch fold, towards the back, on all of the long edges. (On the old inserts, I folded the fabric twice for a clean, finished edge, but the French knots in this fabric create more bulk, and would be difficult to sew over when sandwiched between two layers of cloth.)
  • Sew the side hems.
  • Form pockets for the tension rods on one end of each panel, starting with a quarter-inch fold for a clean edge, then fold again, approximately one inch. Press and pin.
  • Sew the pockets.
  • Next is the only fussy part: figuring out the right length for the second pocket. I knew the four upper panels needed to be 24-1/2″ and the lower ones 27-1/2″. I folded, and measured carefully before pressing, pinning, and sewing.

Once all of the panels were sewn, it was time to slip them on the tension rods and into the shutters. How cool that the copper rods coordinate so well with the fabric!

Uh-oh. Time for the embarrassing photo. But I need it to show you how the panels fit into the shutters, so try really hard to ignore the fact that I never painted the back side of the shutters.

Only two of the panels were a little tight. But my dad made these shutters long ago, so the spaces for the little rods are no more precise than the lengths of the new inserts. I just tried the tight ones in different openings and they all fit without needing any of the pockets to be ripped out and re-sewn.

Once all eight panels were in, I noticed a happy accident: Shadows of those cool ribbons I love show through in daylight, creating a whole new look.

By day.

By night.

It’s like getting two looks from one project.

In a few years, once the sun has done its damage, I wonder what kind of patterns those ribbons on the back will have created.

What d-i-y projects have you done lately?

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My Sofa Has Gone to the Dog(s)

My curved, two-piece sofa needs to be recovered, but because it’s eight-and-a-half feet long it would cost a small fortune to have it reupholstered. It’s also about nine inches longer than conventional sofas, so finding a slip cover that will fit is easier said than done.

For the past few years my sofa has been covered either with an ill-fitting, second-hand slip cover or a pair of thick, white, twin-size bedspreads. Years of abuse from dogs has left stains and small holes in both of those covers, so I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months looking for another option.

One day I realized I had about 8 yards of a nice decorator fabric stashed in a closet. I bought it several years ago to make a duvet cover for an old comforter, but wound up buying a new comforter instead. The golden-tan color works well enough in the living room, so a few weeks ago I pulled out the fabric and realized I had just enough to cover the couch.

I started by folding the long piece of fabric in half to make sure there was enough fabric. There was. I cut it in half, into two long sections—about 12 feet each—and seamed them together lengthwise.

As luck would have it, I’d seamed about two feet before I realized the fabric—which should be right sides together—was wrong-sides together. In my defense the front and back look a lot alike. Can you tell which is which from the side-by-side photo below?

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I know, right?

The hardest part of this project was keeping control of such a massive piece of fabric. That meant flipping it over and realigning the edges wasn’t much fun, but I did it. Here it is, properly layered and pinned.

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I sewed a straight line from one end to the other, leaving a generous seam allowance. (When the cover is on the sofa, this long seam will be tucked and hidden under the sofa cushions.)

The next step was to trim the ends of the newly-formed piece into straight lines. With both sides together, I folded one cut end to the other, using several large binder clips to keep it properly aligned.

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Oops! The ends were a more than a little off, so on each end, I set a right-angle straight-edge over the shorter piece and carefully trimmed the ends so they would be as straight as possible.

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After that, all I needed to do was hem all four sides of the massive piece of fabric. Because I wanted a neat and durable finish, I folded the edge over itself so the raw edges wouldn’t show, then pinned it into place.

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I quickly realized it would have been easier if the pins were running in the opposite direction.

If the fabric weren’t so cumbersome, I would have pressed the seams flat before sewing, but it worked out fine anyway.

To recap, I:

  • cut a long bolt of fabric (approximately 24 feet) into two 12 foot sections
  • pinned the right sides together (after noticing I’d done it the wrong way first)
  • sewed one long straight line
  • folded it end-to-end and trimmed the ends in straight lines
  • double-folded the hem and sewed around the entire piece

The only thing left was to try it on the sofa.

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Yes, it’s a bit wrinkled, but the fabric had been piled up on the table several days as I pinned and stitched away. The wrinkles will come out in the wash. Between my dog Sadie, who’s napping on the sofa at this very moment, and our frequent guest dog Stanley, this new sofa cover will be washed quite often.

 

 

 

New Month, New Project

While it’s still tricky to do any knitting with Puppy Sadie trying to get my double-pointed needles, I’m hoping the sound of the sewing machine will keep her at a safe distance from my next project: Throw pillow covers.

I haven’t sewn in a couple years because my beloved Old Reliable is no longer so reliable. The power cord has an unusual three-pronged connection where it meets the base of the machine, so of course the wires frayed and created a shock hazard. The folks at the local sewing machine repair shop said the manufacturer only used those particular cords for a few years, making it difficult to find replacements. The repairman hoped he could find one through one of their online resources for old sewing machine parts, but after a year passed without any cords turning up I decided it was time to turn Old Reliable into a very sturdy door stop.

My sister gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas, and a few days later we spotted some great remnant fabrics. Since we both have puppies who love tearing up throw pillows, we knew one day the fabric would be perfect for new throw pillows.

I bought the gold fabric years ago to make a duvet cover, but bought a comforter instead. The other fabrics are new.

My fabrics.

Years ago I bought some gold fabric to make a duvet cover, but bought a comforter instead. I plan to turn that into a new and much-needed slip cover for the sofa (you’ll understand the “much-needed” part when you see the photo below). I loved seeing how well it picks up the gold tones in the geometric pattern in one of the new fabrics. Some of the silky cloth on the top of the pile may also be used to replace the shutter inserts in one of the bedrooms.

Just a few of the pillow forms I've purchased.

Just a few of the pillow forms I’ve already purchased—all on sale.

I may have gone overboard buying pillow forms when my favorite fabric store in town had a going-out-of-business sale. In total I now have four 27-inch, two 18-inch, one 14-inch, one 12×16-inch, and two 12-inch forms. My sister wanted several of the largest pillows, but we’ll figure out how to divvy them up once we see how far our fabrics will go.

Lisa's going to need more fabric!

Not sure Lisa has enough for even two big pillows!

I’ll have to wash and press most of the fabrics before I sew a stitch. Why? Because I plan to make removable, washable pillow covers. If the fabric shrinks, the covers will still fit the pillow forms. The only one escaping the laundry? Lisa’s grayish-blue velvet.

Of course, before any pillow-making commences, I’ll need to learn how to use the newfangled sewing machine.

 

For the Love of Remnants

I can sew well enough to make simple things with straight lines, and do a little fabric piecing (it’s like puzzles with fabric!), but sewing isn’t really my thing. Yet when I walk into a fabric store, I usually head straight for remnants.

Remnants are great for quick projects. You can get small pieces of expensive fabric for a tiny fraction of the original price. Good drapery and upholstery fabric can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 a yard, maybe more, but remnants of the same fabric might only be $5 per yard. I happened to stop in on a day when the $5 drapery and upholstery fabric remnants were on sale for $4 per yard. I spotted this thick, textured fabric in colors that work with my hodgepodge of a living room:

It was three-eights of a yard – exactly wide enough for a pillow form I’ve wanted to recover for a while now. I knew I could get a smaller pillow out of the remainder, too.

Total cost of fabric: $1.50 (plus 12¢ sales tax).

I only had to make one cut – I folded the fabric right sides together, ensured I had enough to cover the pillow form and allow about half an inch for seams, then made a straight cut. I pinned the edges, leaving a gap to turn it right side out and insert the pillow form.

See the white pins? I should have left a little more space to fit the pillow form in. I had to pull out a few stitches to get it in.

For a cleaner look, I sewed along the folded edge, too. Once it was turned right side out and the pillow form was in place, I folded the raw edges in and hand stitched the opening closed.

Once that pillow was made, I folded the small remaining piece – the remnant of the remnant – to see if I wanted a long, thin pillow or a fatter rectangle. I chose the fatter rectangle and followed the same procedure as the first pillow, only filling it with fiberfill (leftover from the pink sock monkeys) instead of a pillow form.

I might add some of those silky pre-made tassels at a later date, but I think my $1.50 was pretty well spent.

I wish you could feel the texture. I love my new pillows. Imagine what I could have done with a full yard of that fabric!

Similar deals can be found in the remnant bins of your local fabric store, so why not recover a tired old throw pillow or two?

What good bargains have you found lately?

Make a pink sock monkey for breast cancer awareness month

After seeing the sock monkeys  I made for my niece and nephew, my sister asked if I could make one more. In pink. It’s for a sock monkey loving friend of hers who is battling breast cancer, so how could I refuse?

Since the official Rockford Red Heel socks also come in pink, it makes a pink sock monkey a great project to start now to give to someone battling breast cancer or to your favorite breast cancer survivor in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October!

Instructions are inside the label.

The socks are sold in two-pair packs, so I have another pink monkey to make.

Anyone up for an unofficial craft-along?

Sock Monkey Invasion!

On a really hot day last month my sister-in-law, niece, nephew and I went to Midway Village Museum. One of the first things my niece noticed was a banner for the museum’s annual Sock Monkey Madness. She said, “I love sock monkeys!” Inside, the gift shop was filled with all sizes and colors of sock monkeys imaginable. Even my nephew wanted one. Unwilling to strike a deal with their mom to earn the bigger sock monkeys by doing extra chores – helping weed their garden, for instance – they had to settle for the smallest monkeys. That’s when I knew I’d be making sock monkeys for their birthdays!

(Yep. That’s what I had Old Reliable out for a couple weeks ago.)

It all started with two pair of original Rockford Red Heel socks. One pair per primate. The Sock Monkey directions are inside the label.

The scary bit for any knitter is cutting the socks, but the trick is sewing the simple seams before cutting. Then the live stitches don’t unravel.

One monkey body with legs stitched and cut, the other stitched and ready to be cut.

The second sock of each pair is then stitched and cut to make the tail, arms, mouth and ears. The ears were the trickiest for me since I didn’t have an actual monkey on hand to gauge the size and curve of the ears.

I used good old fiber fill to stuff the monkeys, but added little red felt hearts in each torso – because the monkeys were made, and given, with love.

The secret ingredient is always love!

Perhaps the trickiest bit was attaching the arms, tail, mouth and ears. Mostly because you need to fold the live edges under and stitch the pieces on at the same time, but also because the directions don’t say exactly where to position the bits. Were the ears to high? Too low? Does the tail go on the brown part of the sock? The white? (Surely not the red.)

By the end of day one I had two faceless monkeys with gigantic ears. One friend who saw them at this stage quipped, “I didn’t know you were making the sock elephants.” (To be fair, I hadn’t shaped the ears by stitching in half circles yet.)

The next day I cut eyes from black felt and adhered them with fabric glue. When I stitched in the ear circles, I did a little sock monkey plastic surgery by repeatedly pulling the thread crosswise through the stuffing of the ears and tugging them closer to the body.

Right ear done, left ear yet to go.

My favorite part was adding a bit of personality with a few quick embroidery stitches. I started behind the ear, stitched the lips, dimples, nostrils, and then ran the floss through the stuffing and back out behind the opposite ear. The sock monkey plastic surgeon strikes again!

One down, one to go!

When my niece and nephew were trying to convince their mom to buy sock monkeys for them, I suggested making them. My niece shrugged off the idea, her brother didn’t seem to hear it. So I decided to fake them out. When it was time to open presents, I had them open theirs at the same time. They each had a smaller gift on top to open first: Red Heel socks. I said, “You know what those are for, right?” My nephew was first to answer, “To make sock monkeys!”

Then they finally got to open their real gifts. Both kids kept their monkeys close at hand the rest of the day, one being hugged, the other being tossed in the air. Just so they won’t fight about which monkey is which, I pointed out the subtle differences – one has a small notch on one ear, one has a leg where the sock rows didn’t align (not me – it was the actual sock).

Now the hard part: they need to name their new sock monkeys!

Do you have, or have you ever made a sock monkey? If so, what do you like most about it?

Why I Only Sew Straight Lines

I’ve heard that my mom used to sew a lot of her own clothes, but I only remember seeing her old purple dress form gathering dust in the basement. (Until  my sister-in-law brought it back to life and gave it a much nicer home.)


When Mom wanted to sew, she usually borrowed Grandma’s old black enameled sewing machine with the fancy gold swirls. It was pretty, but too heavy for a kid to carry. It was extremely convoluted to thread, too. I don’t recall her sewing a lot when I was little, but I clearly remember helping Mom fill bobbins and her making me thread the machine. Through this, around that, through the wire loop, down into the metal ring and finally into the needle itself.

On rare occasions when Grandma needed her machine, we’d borrow Aunt Freda’s slightly newer New Home sewing machine. It was just as heavy, just as tricky to thread, but wasn’t decorated with gold scrolls. I eventually inherited the powerhouse of a sewing machine and still use it to this day.

Is there a suitcase on the table?

I swear it really is a sewing machine.

But I don’t sew clothes. I make pillows, quilts, simple curtains and one time I even made bedroom drapes. I used commercial pleating tapes, but they had incomplete instructions clearly written by someone for whom English was not a first – or possibly even second – language. A friend who’s an experienced sewer came over to help me figure out the pleats. She looked at Aunt Freda’s sewing machine — which only does straight line stitching; no zig-zags, no buttonholes, no zipper attachment, and no alternating stitch lengths unless you manually adjust the lever – and said, “Does it backstitch?”

Yes, it can backstitch. It’s electric, too!

(I’m not sure how old the sewing machine is, but on an episode of Mad Men, Betty’s sewing machine looked ultra modern compared to this one.)

Even if Aunt Freda’s very old New Home can’t compete with modern machines and their fancy stitches and special attachments, it’s the machine I’ll keep using until one of us dies. Sure, it’s next to impossible to find replacement bobbins (a worker at one place I checked exclaimed, “I’ve never seen a bobbin like that!”), but I’m not a seamstress. All I need to do is sew straight lines, and maybe a few gentle curves.

In a future post you’ll see why Old Reliable was out and running.

What old appliances or tools do you still use – and would you ever dream of replacing them?

Any guesses as to how old this New Home is? I honestly have no clue. (Apparently Aunt Freda didn’t believe in saving owner’s manuals.)

Heirlooms in the making

On Easter Sunday my family did more than celebrate the holiday. My brother Brice, cousin Mark and his wife Mary all kindly came over early to help me with some home repairs.

While Brice, Mary and I were scraping the exterior window trim and prepping it for painting, Mark somehow turned this crumbling 92-year old porch rail that was literally falling apart….

Old porch railing

….into this sturdy new porch rail that’s ready for a couple coats of fresh brown paint:

new porch rail

Somehow Mark beefed it up a bit without losing the Craftsman look and feel of the original design. He had to cut curves to fit around the pillar, which couldn’t be easy since the pillar is slightly tapered.

As if the new porch rail along with Brice, Mary and Mark’s much-appreciated help on the windows wasn’t already enough, the day got even better when the rest of the family came over. We had a really fun raclette dinner and an egg hunt plus a little co-birthday celebration for a cousin (whose birthday was a few weeks earlier) and for me (whose birthday is yet to come).

My sister-in-law Jeanne made a rather fitting carrot cake, but also made us both some really cool birthday gifts. My cousin got a hand-knitted water bottle cozy, and I got these adorable embellished towels….

…..and the perfect gift for a Christmas freak who’s an obsessive knitter:

Yep. A wreath made of yarn! How cool is that?

Someone in the family is always working on something special. (One of these days I’ll get Mark to guest blog about some of his woodworking projects!) It’s especially great knowing a lot of our handmade projects will likely become family heirlooms one day.

I’m lucky to be part of such a talented and creative family. What are some handmade heirlooms from your family? Who made them and why do you love them?

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