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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?

Pumpkin Obsession: Extreme Edition

In honor of the season, I thought it would be nice to revisit a popular post from the past:


My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

I Love Yarn Day

Happy I Love Yarn Day, everyone! It’s like Christmas for knitters, crocheters, weavers, felters and anyone who enjoys working or playing with yarn.

I am a yarn-a-holic.

The first clue? As a kid my favorite Dr. Seuss book was A Big Ball of String. (Second runner up: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.) What can I say? I never liked eggs or ham.

What do I love so much about yarn? Aside from obvious things like textures and colors, I love how each skein of yarn holds multiple possibilities.

Some yarns tell you what to make with them. Others sit there a while before you think of the perfect uses for them. Sweater. Scarf. Throw pillow. Afghan. Mittens. Hat. Wrist warmers. Cowl. Headband. Shawl. Lacy curtains. Toys. Bedspread. Table runner. Place mats. Socks. Dishcloth. Decorations. Even jewelry.

Yarn can be made of nearly any fiber. Some are natural fibers – cotton, wool, alpaca, soy, silk, even bamboo – others are man made. Some are blends. There are even yarns made of recycles fibers.

Along with macrame-ing the pool table pocket nets from worsted wool, here are a few things I’ve made from yarn in the last year or so:

Wavy scarf (Alpaca blend)

Dan’s hockey socks

Felted Easter eggs (worsted wool)

Barbie’s “mink” (made of extra long fun fur / eyelash yarn)

My favorite afghan, then on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

Reese’s hat & scarf (bulky wool roving)

A pile of Bohemian shawls (acrylic-wool blend medium weight roving)

Aidan’s knitted/woven toy ball (self-patterning acrylic yarn)

Sweater coat I’m wearing as I write this (super bulky acrylic)

Yarn is incredibly versatile stuff. No wonder I love yarn.

What are some of your favorite things made from yarn?

Pink Sock Monkey Assembly

For those of you who are playing along and making a Pink Sock Monkey… Do you have your pieces cut and turned right-side out?

You do? Great. The next part is simple – filling them.

I used good old polyester fiberfill, but you can fill it with old nylons, yarn scraps, anything soft – and preferably washable. If you have an old throw pillow you don’t care for anymore you can even use that stuffing to fill your sock monkey – call it creative up-cycling.

I like to include a red felt heart, but no one will notice if you don’t.

When stuffing your monkey bits, adding the filling a little at a time can help avoid lumps. A chopstick or pencil (eraser end, so you won’t accidentally poke through the sock) helps work the filling into arms, legs and ears.

Filling the ears doesn’t take much stuffing.

After the ears are filled, fold in the open ends and close them up with a couple of quick stitches.

I use matching pink thread, but off-while or even white should blend with the pink & white socks.

After your final stitch, make a knot by taking another stitch and pulling the needle through the loop just before you pull it tight, then push the needle through the monkey – in any direction, just don’t let go of the needle before you pull it out the other side – tug slightly, snip the thread close to the monkey and the loose end will disappear into the stuffing. Magic! (This trick will come in handy when assembling your monkey.)

Set the ears aside – we’ll attach those later. Let’s move onto the body.

I prefer to fill the body before filling the legs, but either way is fine. The tricky part here is having enough stuffing so there aren’t any gaps while still allowing enough space to sew the opening closed. If you’re using fiberfill, add a little more than you think you’ll need because you’ll be able to push it around a bit and it will bounce back fairly well.

There’s not much material left to tuck under when closing the sock monkey’s inner thigh.

Since there’s not as much material here to fold in like you did when closing the ears, I like to slip the needle in one full stitch from the cut edge on either side. If any stitches look like they might unravel, I loop some thread through those for a bit of added security before stitching that spot closed.

With the body stuffed and closed, it’s time to attach the mouth. The mouth needs to be filled, too, but you have to stuff it while attaching it. Tuck some fiberfill (or material of your choice) into the mouth, fold in the top edge so there’s no pink showing, then decide where you want to place it.

You might want the nose higher or lower, but the toe seams are a good guide to help you center the mouth.

For this monkey, I tried to line up the outer white corners of the mouth as close as possible to where the toe seams (in the white portion of the head) meet the pink part of the body of the sock.  It helps to use a small safety pin to hold the opposite side of the mouth in place while sewing. Where the top of the nose meets the face I use off-white or white thread, since pink thread would stand out.

When you work around to the lower lip, you don’t have to be as careful about folding all of the pink inside since it will be attached to the pink part of the main body. This is when you can pull out any excess filling or tuck a bit more in to get the look you want.

While we’re working on the head, let’s add the ears.

Again, you can position them however you like.  I set the ears of this monkey just behind the same seam lines I used to position the mouth, and tried to keep the top half of each ear on the white part of the head and the lower half on the pink part of the body. You might want the ears on your monkey slightly lower, higher, further forward or further back.

Because the ears are fairly flat, I stitch them along the front and back for a little extra security.

It’s starting to look more like a sock monkey, isn’t it?

Now it’s time to attach the arms. I like to place them fairly high on the torso, leaving a little neck space in case the recipient wants to put a scarf or necklace on the monkey. You might prefer them a little lower.

Step one: tuck the raw edges in so you’ll have a clean edge to attach to the body.

Don’t over-fill the arms (and tail) because you need space to tuck the raw edges in.

Step two: safety pin the arms on at various spots to see where they look best.

Have you decided where  you want the arms? Good. There’s a third thing to consider before making your first stitch. Remember the seams you sewed before cutting the pieces? They usually aren’t that obvious, but I try to hide those seams in the monkey’s arm pits, which is where I start stitching.

A few stitches made, just continue around the arm.

Last up – the tail. When I made my first sock monkeys, I wasn’t sure where, exactly, the tail should go. The official instructions don’t specify if it’s on the white or colored part of the sock. I knew it wouldn’t look right on the red. I thought it looked cute close to the white, but still on the pink part of the body.

This monkey’s tail is about half an inch above the white. The previous monkey’s tail was barely a quarter of an inch above the white. The important thing is to center it on the back.

Now that the mouth, ears, arms and tail are all attached, you shouldn’t have any spare parts lying around. (If you do, you may be making a mutant monkey.)

Congratulations! You’ve just completed the hardest part of making your own sock monkey. At least it’s the hardest part for me – I’m not a big fan of all that hand sewing. But it’s worth the effort to make a sock monkey.

Cute, huh? Just wait until next time when we personalize it with a face – and even hair if you like.

Questions, anyone?

It’s American Craft Week!

Just a quick post to say Happy American Craft Week, everyone!

Maybe you’re participating in our Pink Sock Monkey Craft-along for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or perhaps you’ve got a woodworking project going or you’re busy making spooky Halloween decorations.

If you’re not making something yourself, you can celebrate American Craft Week by purchasing something made by a local craftsman. What a great way to inspire people to keep producing their handmade wares!

What fun (or challenging) things are you working on this week?

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?

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?

Crochet Away

In case you weren’t aware, March is National Craft Month. It also happens to be National Crochet Month.

Too bad I didn’t realize it was National Crochet Month until after I’d gotten about 12″ into my latest knitted project (more on that in a later post).

Any other crocheters out there?

I knitted long before I learned to crochet. Back then crochet seemed mysterious to me, maybe a little dangerous. Not only is it worked with a single hook, there isn’t anything there to hold the stitches. Wouldn’t the work unravel? Then I realized that unlike knitting — where all unworked stitches are “live” (meaning they can easily unravel if they’re not on a needle or stitch holder) — with crochet there’s only one live stitch at any given time. Suddenly it wasn’t so scary.

Once I got the hang of crocheting I realized it’s faster and easier than knitting. It’s not that crochet isn’t challenging in its own right — learning where to start and stop rows can be tricky at first — it’s just not quite as fussy as knitting. Knitting uses dropped stitches, slipped stitches, yarn overs and the like to create lacy material. In crochet, lace patterns are made by combining things like chains, stitch heights and clusters.

It’s easier to crochet large pieces, like afghans, since you’ve only got one live stitch to worry about and there’s not much weighing down your hook. Here’s an afghan I crocheted a few years back — the field was worked as one giant piece, and I made the flouncy border separately and attached it:

Anastasia Afghan

Anastasia Afghan

When knitting something large, you generally wind up using circular needles – basically two knitting needles connected by a thin cable (lengths vary) — and the work can be heavy to hold. In some cases, it can be pretty cozy, too:

I'm somewhere under the Cushy Smocked Throw I was working on in this photo!

I'm somewhere under the Cushy Smocked Throw I was working on in this photo!

Depending on the yarn and pattern, crocheted fabric is usually a little thicker while knitted fabric is often smoother. I find intricate work easier in crochet, but sometimes it’s worth investing the extra time for a luscious knitted piece.

Fellow crocheters, do any of you knit, too? If so, which craft did you learn first? Which do you prefer, and why?

Even if you’ve never picked up needles or a hook in your life I’m sure there’s some creative pursuit you can do to celebrate National Craft Month! What is it?

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