They say gratitude changes everything. All I know is I’m filled with it right now, and I want the moment to last. I feel compelled to thank this sweet girl tonight, especially since this blog is about taking tired things and making them new.
Normally her papa’s the one who plays with her, while I keep myself busy doing who knows what. But tonight was different. Tonight it was just us. I was the one she came to, consumed with reminders of play. What I didn’t realize, she knew implicity: It was time to get off the lounger, away from the TV, out of that relentless head.
Tonight, grass was the place to be. Sprinting was all that mattered. That, and a red tennis ball. I need more of this. Play over planning, body over mind. Hands in the air like I just don’t care. And so, to our Golden girl I say, “Thank you. You helped me more than you know.”
What about you guys? When was the last time you played, just for the sake of it?
If you’ve been following along, then you’ve read about some things I’ve made and why they mattered to me. And if you’ve seen my About page, you also know this blog is about more than crafts. Sure, upcycling is a hot word in the handmade marketplace, and why shouldn’t it be? Buying an old item that’s been transformed by hand is just plain cool. For me, though, upcycling is personal. I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of finding tired things, seeing what they could become, and making them better.
And guess what, you guys? There’s no getting around the fact that I, too, could benefit from some upcycling. If you wanted to (and if you were on your A game), you just might be able to make the case that the past several years of my life have been one giant upcycling project.
I discovered what it’s like to live with a husband whose sobriety becomes alcohol abuse. I learned to forgive addiction and the man who has this disease. I found ways to accept the world–and especially myself–for not being perfect, either. But I also got divorced and did my part to make damn sure we did it with mutual respect. (He did his part, too, by the way.)
Along with some tenacious colleagues, I completed a high-profile, multi-year work assignment with too few resources. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about the night the divorce lawyer met me at my office at 8:30–yes, p.m.–after which I kept working. Finally, I wore myself down to the point where anxiety kicked in. Yes, the diagnosable kind.
There was the chaos phase, then the transition. Next came the rebuilding. Slowly, bit by bit, I managed to construct a solid foundation under my feet. At some point I knew it was there, but I didn’t trust it for awhile. In time, I found my peace again.
I picked up new ways to take care of myself. I figured out how to thrive in my job without letting it consume me. (Okay, some days I’m better than others.) I shifted my priorities and learned the value of taking things slowly. After even more time, I found a sweet new love. Yeah, I still get impatient and tired and restless sometimes. Every single day, though, a moment of gratefulness comes for the phase where I’m living now: growth.
Things are germinating now, no question. And that’s where this blog comes in. It’s my primary way of capturing the seeds. Some are tiny, happy ones. They grow quickly and show their beauty right away. Others are so big they scare me a little, as I don’t know what they’ll become.
I can tell they’ll take longer to establish roots, but I can feel their presence. They’re here, all right. As I encounter these burgeoning things, I hope to do right by them. I hope to notice them, determine what they are, and make sure they get the light and water and kindness they need.
Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. Who knows what kind of romance is happening on white boards throughout the Minneapolis – St. Paul metro? Either way, the one at our place has to be up there, as far as dry-erase relationships go.
It started as a simple craft project, another of my attempts to surround myself with pretty things (a little less ugly, at least). Going through a discarded box, my man dug up an old white board. “How about we hang this in the kitchen?” he asked. I liked the idea, but the crafty part of my soul died just a little. White boards are practical and all, but, what can I say? Aesthetics matter to an artsy type like me.
Speaking of which, you’ll have to excuse me for breaking one of my self-imposed blog rules. No care was taken to ensure quality lighting or good composition in a single photo here. Oh well, sometimes you just have to live with it.
What happened next was a bit of a surprise. The white fabric-lined gold board became a vehicle for sweetness. If you’re anything like me, exotic gestures aren’t your kind of romance. Instead, it’s everyday thoughtfulness that makes your heart flutter. Our silly conversations, along with diagrams and drawings (of course), are what I enjoy about the board.
Jan. 23, 2014.
June 6, 2014.
July 23, 2014.
August 19, 2014.
August 30, 2014. He’d just returned from a trip. Note how he changed my writing to a goofy non-word.
Sept. 9, 2014. The super moon WAS super cool.
Oct. 10, 2014
Oct. 31, 2014
March 4, 2014. A day I shoveled the driveway.
I once took a personality test that revealed my greatest fear is being without orientation in life. Can you see how my man’s guiding tendencies are a good match for me? Also, who else thinks maybe I ought to make more of an effort to help out around the house? Evidently he’d appreciate it. Here’s how the mail game works, by the way: Whoever gets the most junk mail, has to put it all in the recycling bin.
Sure, the bulletin board isn’t nearly as fun. It’s kind of hideous, actually, covered in coupons and who knows what. Still, it’s the little things that make me smile. Some fabric and a small bit of effort, ended up creating one of my favorite items in the house.
What about you? What’s something in your home that brings unexpected joy?
I wonder what you call it when you’re doing too much and your frenetic mind takes over. My mom uses the term over-functioning. I once heard a therapist name it the monkey brain. Me? I like to describe as it as kicking into machine mode. Whatever your words, I hope the experience happens once in a while and hasn’t become your lifestyle.
Sure, we’re all busy, but I’m referring to a specific phenomenon here. It’s the one where your task list becomes so important you positively cannot stop. Not even for a meal, or god forbid, a bathroom break. When you work so steadily, guilt creeps in whenever you happen to pause.
Five years ago, I lived thoroughly entrenched in this state. I’d been there so long I thought fixing everything was up to me. At home, at work. Wherever I went. (Doesn’t everyone show up as a first-timer to a group activity, then walk out having agreed to run the next meeting? Ummm, no.) I had my reasons, of course. My circumstances asked a lot of me, and I had to step up.
Seeeee the path. You can do it. You know you want to. Goooo outside.
Guess what I learned, though? Keep at the frenzied state long enough, and it’ll turn on you. You’ll be reminded you’re still human when your body or mind opts for some downtime. (In my case it turned out to be a little of both.) And when this happens, you’ll need to learn a new way.
You’ll have no choice but to find a new sense of timing, a new set of habits, a new way to look at your world, and–most importantly–a new way to care for yourself. Now, I’m grateful to say I’m better at all this. The monkey still plays in my head sometimes, but when it starts talking, I’ve learned how to dampen its sound.
There’s no single cure for over-functioners like me. But last weekend I used a favorite trick: getting out of my head and onto a walk. I’d been working on a project for hours, maximizing productivity time. It’d gone well, but I sensed a shift into machine mode. Effectiveness was growing surly. It was time for a break. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll take a walk. Perfect chance to catch up on my podcasts.” I’m slowly building a side gig, and my Stitcher feed’s filled with entrepreneurship ones (like the well-executed Fuel to Launch).
Still, as I prepped for this walk, my grumpiness grew. I’d suited up, but my podcast wouldn’t download. Not the one I wanted, anyway. Not fast enough. Dangit, I wanted to hear that one, not this one. Why couldn’t I get it to work? Why was it being so SLOW? I needed that podcast, and I needed it NOW. Rhar! What’s wrong with this thing, anyway?
I felt the monkey brain taking over. I’d gone from seeking a break to forcing a project. To jamming more learning into an already-full head. Not wanting to waste another minute, I capitulated. I settled on a podcast I wasn’t in the mood for, but that was already downloaded on my device. I sulked a little, then hit the local trail. Fifteen minutes later, I was still tense. The second-choice podcast had annoyed me at every step.
And that’s when it happened. Somehow I wised up. A tiny voice said, “Turn off the iPod.” “But it’s attached to my arm,” I countered.” “How can I possibly be outside with this thing, and not even listen to it?” “Turn it off,” repeated the voice. And so I did. Pressing pause felt blasphemous somehow, but I did it anyway.
I resumed my walk. After a few quiet minutes, I began to look around. Leaves rustled, and I started hearing songbirds. I noticed the scent of earth, awakened by recent rain. Before long, my body relaxed. No longer consumed by the need to strategize every second, I spotted beauty all around me.
Artistry was everywhere, and I wanted to stop and capture it. And that’s just it. I had to STOP to capture it. Stop the rushing. Stop the sound. Stop the planning. Even stop the learning, beneficial as it may be. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop and let the world come in.
Soon I lost myself in the experience. All that mattered was each scene in front of me. That, and capturing the light. A droplet of water, perched just so, took on new importance. For the first time all day, moments replaced minutes. Enjoying the scenery, without any agenda or goal, brought peace.
In the end, I don’t know how long I spent taking photos. And you want to know what? I’m proud to say I don’t care.
Are you an over-functioner, too? In what ways do you take care of yourself?
Every handmade item has a story to tell. Well, this shirt has two. The first is of a blogger who’s found her online people. The second is about her actual community–you know, the face-to-face kind. It all started last month, when I decided to take part in my very first linky party. You bloggers out there know what I’m talking about: Some enterprising soul announces a topic and asks others to explore it, too. Fellow bloggers publish their own posts, then the organizer collects their links and features them on a special page.
I Try My Very First Linky Party
Linky parties are a brilliant way to make connections. But to a new blogger like me, they can feel a tad daunting. In my case, inspiration overtook hesitation when I came across Sew the Show from Alida Makes. Each month, Alida (a.k.a., Miss Modern Sewing, Southern Twang) asked readers to “put that Netflix addition to good use” by sewing fashion inspired by her selected TV show. Alida’s Friends linky party turned out to be the one that hooked me in. As it happened, writing the post lit me up. Then as I watched the fellow entries roll in, I knew I’d found my tribe. So when Alida announced this month’s show as The Golden Girls, I felt a pang of disappointment. “How could I possibly find inspiration from clothing Sophia or Rose wore,” I wondered? Also, it sounded awfully close to Gilmore Girls, the show I’d been secretly rooting for. I loved the show, though, so I googled “Golden Girls fashion” anyway. (Are you trying to tell me you’ve never done this yourself? Okay, I’ll let it slide.) That’s when I saw this shot of Dorothy. I’d been considering making a wrap top, and something about the print indicated it could be modernized. Suddenly this linky party was starting to seem doable after all.
I Learn the Word Chemono (and Decide to Make One, Pronto)
Several days passed and I embarked on another internet search. This time, I sought ways to comfort a friend, my 30-something buddy who’d be having surgery soon. An elective double mastectomy, to be exact. In other words, she didn’t have cancer, but genetic testing had revealed a high risk. After losing her mother to the disease, then experiencing her 21-year-old sister’s bout with it, my friend chose a proactive path. A variety of sites shared tips for how to show support, such as this one featuring a chemo survival kit. Its kimono wrap caught my instant attention. Though chemo wasn’t part of my friend’s treatment plan, I figured a top like this could be handy for tending to wounds. Another site even named this kind of shirt, now on my to-make list, a chemono. (Well played, internet. Well played.) And so the search began. The first step was to scour Pinterest for patterns. This proved trickier than I thought, but eventually I found this: Maternity Top to Wrap Tee. As usual, I hit the thrift store next. I set out with a plan to find two coordinating t-shirts. They had to be soft and cozy, made of natural fibers, and large enough for room to breathe. My girlfriend’s partial to prints, and I scouted for her colors (teals, purples, other happy hues).
I liked the look of this one . . .
and I could picture it combined with this one.
The following weekend, the real work began. The cutting. The measuring. The pattern interpreting. The belief. The uncertainty. The learning. Oh, the learning! Wow, there’s a lot about sewing you must do before you know. Listen up, amateur sewists: Making bias tape from jersey is not a good idea. Yes, I did it here, but I won’t try it again. To get it right, I had to add apparel interfacing.
Fast forward two days and about ten hours, and I’d created a shirt I could be proud of. At least it matched the vision in my mind. It was soft and pretty-like, and most of all, it’d provide access to places my friend would need as she healed.
Yes, I’d made a shirt that allowed me to say the things I might not be able to, out loud.
If I could use my own two hands to make it all better, I would. But here’s something they can do instead, and I hope it might suffice.
You, yes you, are a reason I made it through my divorce. Do you know I still cry a little each time I think of that day? You know the one. I couldn’t get out of bed. But there you were, with that giant paper bag of soup. And bread. And sandwiches. And hope.
I hate that you have to go through this. Lord knows I’ve seen your strength before, but I’d be okay if you didn’t have to use it for a while, you know?
God, I can’t replace your mom. I searched for something soft to the touch, something that might comfort you when it hurts. And she’s still a part of you–I know you know–breathing through your love of culture, your devotion to church, your joy in education.
Feel better, my friend. By all means, feel better.
Last of all–dare I say it?–thank you for being a friend.
Playfulness. Inspiration. Community. When these things combine, they make a powerful combination, a triple threat of goodness. If I can find them all in one place, you can bet I’ll try to get there. And so explains my hankering for thrift stores. Maybe you share the same infatuation. (Is yours enduring, too? Oh thrift stores, I’ll always love you.) Or maybe you just need a break from whatever stress is on your mind.
Either way, welcome to my new series: Thrift-Shop Hop. When I’m in a different city or exploring my own, I’ll seek out second-hand stores. I’ll invite you along as I discover stories they have to tell. I’ll find items that may spark an upcycling project or two. Or else the treks will simply be amusing, which is just as good, I say.
Five Signs You’re in the Presence of Thrift-Shop Greatness
Sign #1: Displays are Artfully Prepared
When I stepped into Junket, I could tell it was set up by somebody who cares. It was just a feeling I got, but evidence quickly followed. Arrangements featured handmade signs, many which suggested ideas for DIY types like me. Thread arranged by color made me want to reach out and grab spools by the rowful.
Before long one of the displays taught me a new word, a move that earned Junket some bonus points. (How, may I ask, have all of you been describing those protective ornamental plates in your life? Excuse me for a movement while I arrange my collection of escutcheons.)
Sign #2: Wandering Brings Out Your Playfulness
As I ambled through Junket, playfulness surrounded me. Sure, anyone can toss a bunch of beads in a cabinet, but those wily Junket arrangers knew better. You’ll have to ask my man to know for sure, but it’s entirely possible I laughed out loud when I saw the drawer labeled, “Holy beads, Batman!”
Dont get me started on the medley of snarky teacups. You’ll have to visit Junket yourself to see them in all their spiteful glory–yes, coffee mugs are included, too–but I’ve provided my favorite here. I’m snickering even as I type about it.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, I was impressed by the sizable stream of customers, many who clearly seemed to know the place. Mugs at the door were available for use, as well as for purchase. (I had to venture deeper inside to get to the irreverent ones.)
Another example of local support was the mosaic artist positioned by the door. (I was too shy to take pictures.) Working on one of his creations, he chatted with those who stopped by. A few of his pieces appeared in the store. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, there’s an empty wall in my craft room that really should have this beauty hanging on it. Oh, man. I wonder if it’s still there.
I was also delighted to discover some books designated for Little Free Libraries. Do you have these in your neighborhood? (I’m pretty sure the movement began in Wisconsin, and these cute boxes are definitely a thing in the Twin Cities.)
The official site describes them as boxes “full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another” to share. Each is a standard size, but all are different and reflect the style of whoever put it up. I’ve seen them in residences and at businesses.
Here’s a Little Free Library at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve, which is 10 minutes from my house. I love that this one was an Eagle Scout project.
Sign #4: You Find an Affordable Discovery You Can’t Live Without
Of course I grabbed a basket of my own. For months I’ve had a project in mind that requires transforming Altoid tins, so I snapped up a couple. Four projects on my list will likely come first, but I’ll get to it. Really, I will! If I can achieve what’s in my head, those tins’ll give me a good way to encourage friends going through a tough time.
Sign #5: The Shop Inspires A New Project
Those of us who sew are notorious for having stashes of fabric. I’m no exception, though I make a strong effort to buy fabric only for each project at hand. That said, when I came across a basket of remnant bundles, I saw a silky scrap that caught my eye.
It featured diamonds of sage and mustard, two of my must-have colors. It would make the perfect lining for a hat or bag. (Within the month, I’d already found a use for it: Making a decorative accent to the pocket on my bottomless bag made from men’s suits.)
So. . . what treasures are you finding at thrift stores? Leave a comment and let me know.
When’s the last time you had a conversation with an inanimate object? For me, such talks often involve cursing, but not this time. No, this is a story of a happy chat, one where the thing spoke to me, not the other way around. I was browsing men’s suits at my local Savers when one decided it had something to say. It knew who I was, clearly, and it didn’t waste any time.
The second I slid its hanger along the rack, the suit got my attention and began. “I MUST become a bag one day,” it shouted up at me. “Look at my funky pockets,” it continued. “They’re not meant for a suit. They neeeeed to be part of a bag. It’ll be cross-body. Slouchy and so cool. C’mon, I know you see my ’70s vibe. Come ON. Did I mention my funky pockets? The POCKETS, I say!”
As you most certainly know by now, I found myself unable to dispute such claims. I may have been searching for fabric for a cap, but these were some well-articulated points! Whew. I bought the suit and continued my initial search. (For documentation of this fateful trip, check out my post, From Thrift-Shop Jacket to Newsboy Cap.)
You know how this story ends: I did make a bag, and I love it. Getting from vision to bag, though, was harder than I thought it’d be. I knew what I wanted to do, but first I had to figure out how. I searched for a pattern that fit my vision, one that would let me feature two contrasting suits and a belt for the strap. After finding a series of near misses, I admitted what I’d known all along: I would have to wing it.
And so it began. Through the weeks that followed, I spent mornings, evenings, and weekends tinkering. I cut into the jackets. I reshaped their fabric into rectangles and strips. I pieced them together to suit the bag living in my mind (ha, ha). I tested interior fabric (called interfacing) to influence structure.
I sewed pieces together. I ironed their seams. Then, when something wasn’t right, I got out my seam ripper and took them apart. I bought a second one while making this bag, as I needed it nearby at all times. Seriously. I used those darned seam rippers at every step. Every. Single. Step.
Along the way I wondered, more than once, why I was spending so much time on just one bag. Cursing at inanimate objects became a regular occurrence. But here’s the thing: Every hour I spent was an hour that got me closer to making something new. This was a chance to put something on this earth that wasn’t there before.
Making something new is an urge that compels me greatly, persistently, but I was equally drawn to the process of transformation. I also got to give new life to something that’s been discarded. I got to pluck a suit from its industrial rack and turn it into a bag unlike any other. I got to play with color and surround myself with possibility, all while working with my hands. When viewed from eye of the maker, my question then became, “How can I not spend time on this?”
This bag is huge! You can put anything in here!
If you’re a maker, you know the feeling of getting lost in your craft. You’ve lived the journey of getting inspired, starting, slogging, reworking, walking away, coming back, toiling, seeing, believing, then finally–sometimes, anyway–finishing.
Now here’s the part where I get to play fangirl to another of my favorite podcasts. Do you want to hear a description of the making process that’s so eloquent you just may cry? Of course you do. Get yourself immediately to Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project. There you’ll find his beautifully crafted installment, “How Working with Your Hands Changes You.” If I had a glass, I’d raise it to all you creators out there. Instead I have a laptop and a cat on my lap, but you get the picture. Enjoy!
You’ve probably got a project or two (or three or four?) on your wish list. Well, I’m happy to report I just finished one of mine. For awhile I’d been wanting to upcycle a tee, evidenced by the post I’d pinned from Oh Everything Handmade, “DIY: Two Into One T-shirt.” The project looked adorable and alluringly simple. I didn’t take action, though, till I saw this month’s Sew the Show prompt from Alida Makes.
First, let me introduce you to Sew the Show. Each month, sewing blogger Alida selects a TV show. She encourages readers to “put that Netflix addiction to good use” by re-imagining fashion inspired by it. What fun!
I’ve been following along all year, enjoying the entries from other sewists. So when Alida announced April’s pick as Friends, I thought this could be my shot. (I don’t typically sew clothes. I’m intimidated by the precision of making them fit.)
So I set out on my mission. If you’d like to try this at home, here are the steps I followed.
Make Your Own Upcycled Tee
Step One: Find Your Muse
When looking for inspiration, I zoned in on Monica. Her style strikes me as clean, tailored, and sporty. (I’d like to think that describes my aesthetic, too.) I wanted to incorporate stripes, so when I found this red top of Monica’s, a vision for my project took shape.
Step Two: Find Your Tees
Off to the thrift shops I went. My plan was simple: Look for 3 or 4 shirts of the same size and weight that matched the colors in Monica’s top: red, grey, black, and maybe white. Execution turned out to be way harder than that, as I couldn’t find what I wanted. By the third shop I visited, I admitted it was time to let go of the strict color palette. (Fortunately, I live within a few minutes’ drive of several second-hand stores.) I’d stick to size, but I’d open the search to any colors I liked that would work together.
Step Three: Cut Them Up
Even though my colors wouldn’t match Monica’s red top, I still wanted to emulate the position of the stripes. Thanks to Oh Everything Handmade, I knew to cut just below the armpit. (Thank goodness for rotary cutters, am I right?)
Step 4: Pin Like Crazy and Sew
With right sides facing each other, pin the edges together all around the shirt. (In other words, make sure the outsides of both shirts are facing each other as you pin.) In the shots below, I’d already sewn the yellow stripe to the blue, and now I was pinning orange to yellow.
Step 5: Enjoy Your Newest T-Shirt (Or, In My Case, Shirts)
This turned out to be a quick project, and I was having fun with it. So I went ahead and made three versions. What I liked most was the sheer number of possibilities! Combining solids was as simple as attaching stripes of different sizes. Next time, I may try mixing prints or graphics for a funkier look. Or letting the shirts I discover dictate the direction. How would you adapt your own tees?
During her interview, founder Terry Grahl described what it’s like to redecorate the rooms. She builds a homey atmosphere by setting up sewing spaces and adding handmade linens. When asked how others could help, said dolls were in particular demand. I decided to participate but wasn’t sure what to make.
A few days later the question was answered for me as I walked past a second-hand bookstore. The window display featured a collection of sewing-project books. Of course I had to go in and scope them out. Minutes later I was flipping through Sock and Glove, filled with plans for how I’d turn a pair of socks into a cutie stuffed elephant.
I liked that this was a way to upcycle socks that may have grown a little thin. I was psyched, but it took me a few weeks to sit down and do it. Once I did, I was relieved the instructions were easy to follow. I had fun seeing the elephant come together. Piece by piece, I glimpsed this little gal coming to life. As you can see, my snuggly thing’s heading to the mail tomorrow. I hope she brings comfort, wherever she may land.
If you want to create something special for Enchanted Makeovers, here’s how you can help. Even if sewing’s not your thing, there are plenty of ways to contribute, such as monetary donations, blog posts, or hosting a fundraising party.
Feel free to comment and let me know if you participate. Have fun!