Cushion making

In 2015 I was on a mission to acquire sewing skills that would enable me to produce clothes more ethically. I completed a number of evening classes which took me to the heady heights of producing my own (lined and pretty fancy) party dress, which I wore with pride on Christmas Day. I didn’t even care that I was the most overdressed person in the family(when did everyone start dressing down for December’s main event?!)

However, while I do well at sewing under the instruction of an experienced teacher, I drop back a few leagues when I’m sitting by myself at home with my own sewing machine…

A few months ago, I decided to replace the cushions on a sofa – to clarify, I mean the scatter cushions, not the actual big cushions that make up the sofa! I decided that this should be a task within my capabilities but, alas, when I got out my beginners sewing book, even altering the measurements of the cushion in the book to the size I wanted to make, sent me into a bit of a panic so…I signed up for another short course.

As a result I replaced the cushions (my kids chose the fabric):

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I made another for a different seat:

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and I even managed to make some as Christmas presents in this fabric:

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I’m fairly delighted with my progress for the following reasons:

  • While party dresses are all well and good, in my life they are of limited use! What I need to be doing is using my sewing skills to avoid relying on chain stores. My issue is that these shops generally fail to inform me who sews their products, or what conditions their employees are working in.
  • To be able to allow my children to pick fabrics adds more meaning to the items in our home, plus I hope it shows the kids one of the benefits of making your own things. (I have a grand plan that in several years’ time when they leave home they will take with them some basic skills – including sewing).
  • I have increased the repertoire of gifts that I am able to make. I’m keen to get away from purely consumer-driven culture of just throwing money at things, in an attempt to show someone how much you care. The more time and thought that you can demonstrate has gone into a gift, surely the more meaningful that offering actually becomes?
Plus
  • Sewing cushions is really quite satisfying and (now that I know how) very simple!
Hmmm…what will I sew next?
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Bunting for Zero Waste Week

It’s Day 7 of Zero Waste Week and I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both the writing side of the reuse theme, as well as the creative side. Although today’s post is the last of this week, I’m sure that this is a topic I’ll be writing about again soon on the blog – I certainly have enough fabric at home from old clothes to use up, plus I now have a list of things I’d like to make. The project I’m sharing today is still a work in progress but I’m hopeful that this post will be enough to inspire and instruct, should you be tempted to do something similar.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

One of my children is surprisingly fussy about the clothes they wear. There are key pieces in the wardrobe that are firm favourites, and said child will wear them whenever possible, whatever the occasion. Inevitably, of course, eventually those outfits stop fitting and (unlike toys which I have almost a 100% success rate of sneaking out of the house without anyone ever noticing) those favourite outfits carry on being requested.

For a while I’ve been trying to come up with ways that I can upcycle the outfits for other children in the extended family so that they are still useful, and so that my wee one knows they haven’t just disappeared. Nothing was acceptable though until yesterday (perhaps inspired by Friday’s bunting birthday card), when I suggested that we used the material to make bunting to hang around the bed.

Bingo! My wee one loved the idea, and so I’ve been working away on a mock-up, to ensure I get the bunting right when cutting up the precious outfits. I actually really love the idea that the bunting can be added to over the years, with each piece of fabric  having a story to tell.

Here’s my progress so far…

I made a triangular template from a sewing book – the straight line at the top of the triangle is 19cm and each diagonal side is 22.5cm.

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I then found an old pyjama top of mine and ironed the larger panels of fabric (remember this is just a mock up!)

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I then cut off a front side panel and folded it in half. I pinned my triangle to the fabric.

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I cut out my triangle on the folded fabric which gave me two triangles.

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I then pinned these together (right sides facing each other) and sewed on the two diagonal lines.

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I turned the triangle inside out and snipped the extra material away from the point of the triangle so that the bunting would have a sharp tip.

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I flipped the triangle back the right way around, and poked the point of the triangle with a knitting needle as suggested by my sewing book (for extra sharpness!)

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The next stage is to make all of your triangles and sew them together with bias binding, leaving equal spaces between them. I didn’t have any bias binding so I have improvised with a piece of white paper for the purposes of illustrating what to do! This is as far as I got…

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To hang your bunting, it’s suggested that you make loops at each end of your bias binding. It’s therefore obviously important to factor in a good length of binding when attaching your triangles. The loops may be a good hiding place for the extra binding if, like me, you are hoping to add triangles as time passes.

I’d love to see pictures of any homemade bunting you have!

A massive thank you to everyone who’s read my blog, commented and liked posts during Zero Waste Week 🙂

 

T-shirt shopping bag for Zero Waste Week

The King of the reusable item is surely has the cloth bag. Here in Scotland we have been charged 5p for plastic bags since 20th October 2014, and that has dramatically reduced our consumption, as this article via the BBC explains.   Wales has been on board since 1st October 2011 (go Wales!), and Ireland since 8th April 2013. England is to follow suit on 5th October of this year.

I have a lot of cloth bags, which I discuss in this post. I thought I was prepared for the bag charge and, for a while, my supply of bags was more enough. However, what I failed to account for is the plastic bags I used that had nothing to do with shopping. For example, when I passed on clothes, books etc. to family members or friends, I would usually have put these in a bag (guilt free of course as I was reusing the bag). I also used them as bin liners, for separating items in my case when I went on holiday, and for kneeling on when I worked in the garden. The list purposes for these bags went on and on. The other thing I failed to account for was that, although I already refused most of the plastic bags I was offered in shops, I acquired them (whether I liked it or not) – usually from people giving me useful items they were passing on.

My plastic bag collection saw me through a few months but slowly I stopped finding myself in possession of them, meaning that my stash of cloth bags had to be put to good use, as I started using them instead of plastic bags for things other than shopping.

I now have numerous bags around the house which hold knitting and sewing projects. I always use one for the kids’ water bottles when we are out to stop them leaking into my own tote. I now lend them out when I pass things on to the family and, although I get them back eventually, it can take time.

My very favourite cloth bags are the Onya bags which are fantastic for the following reasons:

  • They are super strong (some of mine are made out of parachute material)
  • They fold up into a tiny pouch so are very easily transportable
  • They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you can pick whichever size best meets your needs
  • They are machine washable

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I was going to invest in some more (I have about 10 already), when I started thinking about projects that I could blog about during Zero Waste Week. Perhaps I could make some cloth bags! I remembered that Jen from MakedoandMend-able site had made a shopper out of an old t-shirt, so I searched her fantastic blog and found an easy-peasy tutorial.

My other half had a clear out earlier in the week and gave me a whole bunch of weird and wonderful items that had been languishing in his wardrobe. I think that after he saw my shirt to skirt project, he perhaps overestimated my sewing skills and thought I could turn them into a whole wardrobe of loveliness for me 🙂

There was a t-shirt in there that I thought would make a great shopper. (I am still taken aback that this t-shirt exists – we have been together for years and years and I don’t think I’ve ever clapped eyes on it before! Apparently it’s too small so he’s never worn it.)

I pretty much followed Jen’s tutorial to the letter.

Here’s the t-shirt

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I chopped the arms off

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I took the liberty of also chopping off the bottom seam as thought that would make it easier for me to sew.

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I then simply turned it inside out, pinned and sewed along the bottom seam (zig zaging the edge to prevent fraying), turned it back the right way and I had myself a new – if not especially photogenic- shopper.

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Here it is in my car boot full of shopping!

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I may cut the neck to make it a bit bigger as I found myself stuffing items in the arm hole, but that was okay!

If you like this idea but don’t sew, then I found this tutorial from mommypotamous who offers the same bag, but uses a clever method to join the two sides of the bag at the bottom. She also uses a much prettier t-shirt than mine, which makes the bag look very cute. I reckon making her version would be a good craft project for kids who are able to use scissors.

Happy Zero Waste Week everyone!
Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Draft excluder for Zero Waste Week

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

My other half gave me a pair of his old trousers a few months ago that were fraying at the ankle, and were generally looking past their best. In short, they were no longer suitable to wear. In the past I’d have put them into the Rag Bag collection, but now that I’ve got a sewing machine, I’m keen to upcycle anything that I can into something that would be useful.

It struck me that a leg of the trousers could be converted into an effective draft excluder. Our home is very drafty in places, due to poorly fitting doors and original floorboards. I’ve been meaning to attempt this project since I acquired the trousers but, even here in Scotland, the summer weather has meant it wasn’t a priority.

With the theme of Zero Waste Week this year being ‘reuse’ however (and my theme being specifically to reuse fabric), I felt that the time had come to turn those tatty old trousers into something that could help me keep our home warm, as the temperature drops like a stone. This actually turned out to be super simple, and only took me an evening.

Here are the trousers

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After ironing them, I decided that the trousers alone were a bit boring, so I found myself some leftover felt from the kids’ craft box and cut some hearts out (as you know from this post, I have a lot of options for heart templates!)

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note the zero waste cutting!

Using a craft & fabric glue I have, I glued a heart on to the trousers to check that it would stay in place. Satisfied, I cut the leg off the trousers and chopped down one of the seams to make my trouser leg less leg shaped and more rectangular.

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I then pinned and sewed the seam back in, and also closed the fraying ankle hole. All of this was done with right sides facing.

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I then glued all of my felt hearts in place. ‘What is it about you and fabric hearts??’ My other half wanted to know. (The answer is that I think they’re sooo pretty!)

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I should at this point have let all of the glue on the hearts dry properly, which would have saved me reapplying more later when the hears started slipping about.

I then went to my bag of old clothes, towels and fabric scraps and put as much as I could inside for stuffing *

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All that was really left to do now was close the top of the leg. I used the sewing machine which wasn’t the neatest finish (or the easiest, as I had to hold back the bulge of stuffing) but it did the job.

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I was pretty delighted at how my draft excluder turned out. I fully expected it to look like the stuffed pair of trousers that it is, but I actually think this little addition to my home is quite delightful. I won’t be hiding it when guests come round.

*It may be wise at this point to check that your stuffing is safe (ie avoid flammable items)

Fabric heart for Zero Waste Week

How’s Zero Waste Week going for you?

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Today on the blog I’m using up some of those pesky fabric scraps that emerge from sewing projects. Sometimes these are the few centimetres that get chopped off the bottom of a dress to make it fit, and other times (especially for beginners like me) they can be the extra half metre bought in the hope that that little bit of surplus material will help you in correcting inevitable mistakes. I was once saved in just this way when I used a pattern that had four skirt options in it. I chose Option B (a maxi skirt) but I was accidently about to buy the amount of material required for Option A (a knee length skirt) when, on a whim at the counter, I asked for an extra metre of material to be added on. Boy, did that save my ass!

In today’s project, I’ve chosen to make a fabric heart. I’ve always loved these – I think they are gorgeous hanging from nails around the house Here’s one I received many years ago from a friend who was coming for lunch – we have it hanging on the edge of our open book cupboard:

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I’ve used fabric today from the grey cotton used in my shirt to skirt project. I’ve also managed to reduce the volume of my scrap bag which is full of worn out clothes and tiny bits of scrap from sewing projects.

I’ll be honest at this point – my fabric heart went nothing like to plan! However it did all turn out well in the end 🙂

The first thing I did in my quest to make the perfect fabric heart was to find myself a template. I have one in a sewing book but if I also discovered that if you put ‘heart template’ into a search engine, you’ll get lots of printables which can be cut out and traced. You can also use heart-shaped objects that you have lying around the house. I’ve used my cookie cutters a lot in projects such as this hand sewn card (but I’ve yet to bake with them!)

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So, the first thing I did to make my fabric heart was to trace around my template and cut it out – easy!

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I then pinned it on to my fabric and cut that out (you can use tailors chalk or washable felt pens to draw the shape on to the fabric if you prefer).

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So far so good. I did this twice and ended up with two hearts of pretty much the same size and shape.

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I then sewed them together with my sewing machine, leaving a 1.5cm seam allowance. It’s a tricky shape to sew but I was reasonably pleased with my efforts…

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…until I turned it inside out! It looked far too wonky to continue with my original idea.

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On to Plan B – which would’ve been ok if I had a Plan B…

I decided that the heart looked sweet the way it had been sewn, so I hastily flipped it back the right way round to see how it could be salvaged. My main problem was, of course, that the edge of the material was going to fray if left unattended. I would therefore need to either use a zig zag stitch (which would look terrible), learn some kind of hand stitch that would deal with the edges (that wasn’t going to happen, I was going off this project with every minute that passed), or use pinking shears, which I’ve read should stop ‘the fray’. I decided to use the pinking scissors and forged ahead like the zero hero I am!

My next task was to select some suitable ‘stuffing’ from my bag of scrap material.

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Ignoring the bag of toy stuffing sitting in my cupboard that would be perfect for this job, I selected an old pair of ripped tights and chopped them into small pieces. I also used some end pieces of wool and shoved gently eased them in too.

My heart still looked heart-like, but the bulge from the stuffing needed a little something to show that it too was in the shape of a heart. I therefore got out some red embroidery thread and hand stitched around the heart. That also added a pleasing pop of colour.

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Lastly I found a piece of red ribbon, which I hand sewed on to the heart. In the end, I had a zero waste heart I was be proud of!

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I knitted mittens!

When I broke the news to my nearest and dearest that I was going to take up knitting, everyone smiled supportively with the exception of one, who did much ROFLing and declared knitting to be the domain of old ladies.

Firstly – there’s nothing wrong with old ladies (indeed I aspire to be one myself one day), and secondly, WRONG! Knitting is the new black.  It’s the bee’s knees.  It’s the way forward people!

As you know, last year I got some kids’ needles and wool and started practising my knitting.  I was a bit rubbish at first, but persevered until I mastered the knit and purl stitches before joining the big boys and signing up for knitting class…

I cannot deny that I’m a sociable creature, so if there’s a chat and a cup of tea on offer then I’m pretty much in. Luckily for me, the class I joined offered just that and, contrary to what had been suggested, it wasn’t stacked out with octogenarians – rather, a few mums like me who were thrilled to be dodging domestic duties for a couple of hours. That in itself is going to make for a good night out.

In the class you pick a project for yourself and work on it. I had selected to knit a pair of men’s mittens (whoever knew these were ‘a thing’?!) from my own knitting book.

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I decided that my dad would be the lucky recipient as I knew he’d be kind enough to overlook that a) they wouldn’t be perfect and b) they are mittens.

The great thing about going to a knitting group is that, if you get stuck, it’s only until your next class. It meant that I didn’t need to get disheartened about my project when I got into a muddle, because there would be someone to rescue me soon.  If you’re lucky, you also build a network of knitters who can offer advice from within the group – in my case, one of my friends started coming along with me, plus I coincidently knew someone who went already.

Another advantage is that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for knitting around – of the ‘gorgeous yarn’, ‘great colour’, ‘let me stroke your needles’ variety. It’s catching, and it stimulates the imagination as to what you might create next.

In my class there are a range of skill levels – starting with those learning to cast on, right up to those who can make actual wearable garments.  This provides visual evidence to us beginners that knitting is a skill that can actually be mastered if you stick at it.

It took me a while to make my mittens (3 months of working on them here and there), and it’s fair to say there were mistakes on the way.

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I learned a lot:

  • You Tube tutorials are amazing for showing you how to learn certain techniques – pictures in a book just don’t stand a chance against them.
  • It’s important to check that you actually know what the abbreviations actually mean.  I got caught out with WS facing (WS facing each other or WS facing me? I’m still not sure!)
  • Tension matters.  If you don’t pay attention to tension (that rhymes!) then you could end up having to knit three mittens so that two of them end up the same size.  I’m not saying that happened to me.  That happened to me.
  • Don’t leave your knitting out around small children.  The children put the knitting in danger (and, obvs, the needles aren’t an ideal plaything for the kids).
  • You don’t actually have to buy the colour of wool suggested in the book. The mittens would have turned out the same in a nicer colour – a different colour isn’t a jinx. Apparently.
  • Your knitting will bring out the knitter in others. It turns out that some of my friends knit, and since discovering that, I have had text conversations about circular needles with one friend and spent a Saturday night in the pub talking about it to another.
  • Knitting magazines are addictive.  Walk away and share back editions with your friends.

So… I finished the mittens and they were duly presented to my dad, who appreciated them. Once he stopped laughing.  In a kind way.

Before signing off, it’s worth saying that the reason I’ve taken up knitting is that it’s part of my grand ambition to create a more ethical and sustainable wardrobe. (See here for my post on learning to sew).  I want to create clothes that I know have been made without exploiting workers abroad. I want to select my own materials – the wool was from Yorkshire – and I aim to cut down on the pollution caused when materials and garments are flown around the globe.

I’m hoping that because I have spent precious time selecting my materials, choosing what to make and then putting hours of care into creating an item of clothing,  I will use the item until it falls apart.  I’m so over buying things on a whim and ditching them after a few months.

I also hope to do more knitting for others.  Personally I love handmade gifts and all that they represent.  To show someone that you have put a huge amount of thought and time into a present is a gift in itself. That’s what I told my dad anyway….

Lent 2015: Day 22

I’m the first to admit that my supermarket-free blog posts of late have been a bit of a bore! I lay the blame at the feet of the fabulous Nisa store that opened within my area within the year and is pretty much meeting my every need.  I did however send my eldest off to school with this bottle of apple juice as I’d run out of the supermarket juice cartons I usually put in the packed lunch. Both children started sniggering when they saw it….

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‘Mummy that looks like wee!’

I have ventured into a few local shops in the last week. First up was this Polish shop which was rather lovely, complete with a thatched roof display (photo taken from behind an aisle as I didn’t want to draw attention to myself!)

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I also used the Post Office service in the local grocery store, having to banish any thoughts of using the Post Office inside Asda.

As mentioned in this post, I’ve been thinking hard about how to negotiate a supermarket-free Mothers’ Day, with the added complication of actually making this year’s presents thoughtful and personal! I have three presents to co-ordinate (two grannies and a great granny).  So far I’ve decided to make all the cards and ideally the kids will help me, which will mean they will be even better received and – let’s be honest here! – the quality can slip without anyone minding…

One present is to be Sunday lunch out in a local, family run hotel. A friend recommended it and we’re all looking forward to that. Sorted.

I have hummed and hawed over the second present and have decided that the kids and I will try out some decoupage!

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Having never tried it, this is ambitious. My plan is that the children will help me tear up the paper and I will glue it on, but realistically they are going to want to indulge in a little gluing too.  This may be where the problems start, but for Mothers’ Day it has to be the thought that counts, right?

I’m also going to make a donation to the Foodbank as part of this present after reading this

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For the third present, I plan to visit a gorgeous local gift shop nearby and select something there.  The presents I was given last Mothers’ Day came from this shop and I have cherished them all year.

My final supermarket-free anecdote for today is to tell you that our kettle broke three days ago and that I haven’t managed to replace it until today.  It turns out that three days without a kettle is something of a challenge in itself.  Boiling water on the hob takes ages and because there is no ‘click’ to alert you that the task is done, it is really easy to forget all about the pan which is bubbling away, filling the kitchen with condensation.

On the first day of kettle-gate, my other half offered to pop out to a nearby shopping centre to pick one up. This mission failed as the only shop in the whole place to sell kettles was Tesco. It took us another two days to find the time to source a kettle from somewhere else. Incidentally the kettle that broke came from a Tesco store, so maybe our habits are slowly changing for the better!