Making Stuff: An Act of Love or Bravery?

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Can you believe it’s the last Wednesday in February, y’all? To a summer gal like me, the end of February is a welcome sign that we’re kicking through winter. This year the date brings another milestone, too. Today’s the last day of my first blog experiment. This month, I did something that took me weeks to build the nerve to try: Host a linky party, which is a way to start a conversation for blogs.

In this case, I invited bloggers to submit stories centered around mending self and making stuff. After all, these actions have changed my life, so I wanted to surround myself with gutsy women who are out there doing them, too. There are countless ways to interpret the theme, so I was curious to find out which stories would emerge.

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This week I’m privileged to feature a story that spans a lifetime of making. It comes to us from poet and teaching artist Ren Powell, a Californian who has settled in Norway. (Can you blame her? Check out that shot of her by the lake.) Her post, “The Making of Objects,” brought up a mixture of emotions for me. In fewer than 700 words she traversed the decades and made me want to shout with frustration and longing and finally, vindication.

Powell’s story begins and ends with making things for people she cares about. On the surface this sounds sweet, and it is. But as Powell well knows, making objects isn’t just about making objects. She calls it an act of love; I call it an act of bravery. No wonder I’m drawn to the topic: Anything that combines these two acts is what matters in this world.

What strikes me about Powell’s story is the ease and regularity with which society dampened her voice. Whether she was 8 or 18 or 28, her call to create was present. However, as is often the case with women who express themselves, there were consequences. Each time someone diminished her work, she responded. More often than not, it seems, her reaction involved holding back.

amateurish.pngPowell is hardly alone in this response. (Cough, cough. Ever heard the phrase, “Takes one to know one?”) When people are are told repeatedly over time that their efforts have little value, they hold back as a means for survival. As someone who’s recently learned to overcome past fears and embrace my creative voice, I was particularly struck by this quote: “I studied art in school. In college. I won little, local awards for poetry. But unless it was sanctioned by the gatekeepers who put monetary value on things, it was amateurish in my mind, and amateurish was a bad word.”

And so, I relished the ending of her story with enthusiasm. No longer crippled by the hesitance of youth, she found a way to embrace her creativity. In the end, love gave her the strength to embrace her medium and own her creations. I, too, have become weary of the gatekeepers and hope we can all learn from Powell’s post.

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Thanks again to all the writers who joined me on my linky quest. Here’s a recap. Enjoy!

Initial Invite: Join Me in February: Mend, Make, Change

Week 1. This New Year, What Will You Create?

Week 2. Why Women Write: Global Edition

Week 3. Women and Husbands: Two Stories of Empowerment

Week 4. Making Stuff: An Act of Love or Bravery?

 

Go Find Your Like-Minded, Weird, Lovely Friends

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So I have to tell you about a first-rate thing that happened last weekend. Consider it my own personal proof that life’s more fun when you get over your hangups and let yourself be who you are. For crying out loud, you guys, is anybody else tired of being concerned about what everybody might think of us, anyway?

Here’s the deal. I love thrift shops. I adore them so much I’ve devoted entire blog posts to celebrating good ones like Top Drawer of Austin, Texas. I’m also a huge fan of people who build community, which is what draws me to bloggers. So a few weeks ago I had an idea for putting these two together in a way that brought me so much joy it made my head want to explode.

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It wasn’t all that complicated, really: How about I reach out to the Twin Cities Blogger Collective and invite them along on a thrift-shop hop? We’d visit a local thrift store or two, take pics, then write about it. Yes! I was drawn to the idea and it was simple enough. But simplicity wasn’t my problem. No, my issue was much more diabolical. In order to follow through with the outing I envisioned, I’d have to get over my fear of not being liked.

First of all, I’d never met anyone from this collective of women bloggers. I’d recently joined their Facebook group, but that was my only point of contact. Okay, I had met one, but she hardly counted, as she’d told me about the group in the first place. That left 108 ladies I’d never seen face to face.

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Spolier alert, I pushed past my doubt and reached out to the bloggers. Here I am with Sarah, the Recreational Gardner herself. We explored two fine Minneapolis thrift shops, Junket: Tossed and Found and Time Bomb Vintage.  (Photo by Recreational Gardner.)

Second, I hadn’t entirely gotten over my shyness about taking photos in public. Sure, taking a quick phone snap is practically the norm. Even so, wearing a DSLR around your neck feels like an invite for unwanted attention, regardless of whether or not this is actually true.

Think about it. There’s no way to have a long-lensed camera suspended on your chest AND appear casual at the same time. You might as well hang a sign on that industrial Sony strap. It might boast something like, “HEL-LO, fellow shoppers! You may be here for a spontaneous afternoon jaunt, but I actually planned this. I really, really like this place, and I drove 18.8 miles one way just to come. (True story.) What’s more–and this may be the hardest part to admit–I genuinely care about what happens here today.”

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This is my favorite image from our trip. Yes, it’s a bin filled with typewriter keys. I was  drawn to their stark beauty, and it felt good to run my fingers through them.

I know. My dilemma may not sound like life and death, because of course it isn’t. But I believe there are too many of us walking around, holding back back the best parts of ourselves. What a damn shame! Not only does this habit require a great deal of personal energy, but the world is missing out because of it.

Since starting this blog just over a year ago, I’ve grown braver about reaching out. I’ve learned skills that have helped me feel more empowered. I’ve gained inspiration from creative women all over the world. So when the idea came along to connect with actual people in my own city, it was easier to push past my fear and just go for it. And thank God for that, because the afternoon was ridiculously fun.

Four bloggers responded to my Facebook invite to meet me at a local thrift store, and I was able to sync schedules with one right away: Sarah of the Recreational Gardener. She figured she could score some thrifty yard art for her garden. We agreed to meet along the Minnehaha Mile, a collection of hip neighborhood shops in Minneapolis. We’d head to Junket: Tossed and Found, then walk a block to Time Bomb Vintage.

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Truer words have never been spoken. This sign accompanied the rack of ties hanging on a  display at Junket.

Both shops are nothing short of delightful. The displays are arranged so lovingly they actually talk to you. That’s right. Within minutes of our arrival, a photo in a small green frame spoke to me. (Literally, assuming you count thought bubbles, which I clearly do. I mean, obviously.) It reassured me that I’m among friends and don’t have to be embarrassed.

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Here it is, the photo that reached through the cosmos and spoke what I needed to hear. Check out the kids! I snapped this shot without noticing them. Later, while cropping this image, I saw them for the first time and laughed out loud.

I’ve come to believe this advice is is true of the world as well. There’s no need to feel ashamed. And who are the best reminders of this? Our very own like-minded, weird, lovely friends. So get over yourself and go find them, wherever they may be. Look online, head to a meetup in your city, invite that work acquaintance to coffee. Sure, not every lead will pan out. But that’s okay.

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I thought of my grandmother while taking this shot. She collected napkin rings and had two  displays of them hanging on her dining room wall. You could tell she treasured them, and each ring was different from the one next to it. Dosie was an artist who passed away when I was in middle school. Oh, how I’d love to have an adult conversation with her!

Know that it’ll take time, but seek your community. Surrounding yourself with your people is one of the best ways to draw you out of shyness and into your best self. Find those who are already doing what you want to do. Learn from them. Pay careful attention. Then over time, figure out which ones you can come to meet, online or in person. In fact, I’ll leave you with one final piece of thrift-shop wisdom: “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

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Find your community and you’ll be one step closer to living this out.

For the bloggers among you, do you have your own story of creating opportunities? Join my February linky party: Make, Mend, Change.

So what about you? Who are your like-minded friends? Let me know in the comments!

Want to Finish That Project? Let’s Try This.

I’m going to guess you’ve got at least one project that taunts you. It wants to be finished, and Lord knows you’re ready for it to be done. Yet there it is, in all its incomplete glory, still hanging around. In my case, the unfinished projects tend to be DIY, home-decor related. Don’t look too closely, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got one for every room of the house. And so, when I chose to take on a far bigger project–starting a side business–I knew I needed to do things differently.

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A workshop I attended this summer called Start Finishing resonated with me. When starting a project, I discovered, we’d all benefit from establishing a success pack. (Read Part 1 of this article to become equally convinced.) I sensed setting up a support network would be critical for me, since starting a side gig would be a long-term task.

Let’s Do This, Together

If I intended to pull this off, I wouldn’t be able to rely solely on the bursts of enthusiasm that typically bring me through projects. And so, I set off on a hunt for pack members. I scoured online communities, reached out to people I know, and looked for gatherings in my hometown.

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Over the course of the next two months, I became obsessed with my success-pack search. Though I work full time, I sent out feelers during free time: in the mornings before work, while watching TV at home, and on weekends. Once I got going, I went from having almost no resources, to gathering more than I knew what to do with.

Would-Be Entrepreneurs And Bloggers: There Are Tons of Resources Out There

By getting a little brave and reaching out, I learned an important lesson: There are tons of success-pack resources out there. Here’s a list I’ve found helpful.

RESOURCES: NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE

Blogging Courses from WordPress. My blogging journey began with a free online class from WordPress, Blogging 101: From Zero to Hero. As promised, I went from no blog to fully functional one in 30 days. Granted, I devoted significant time to it each day, and I dove headfirst into the community provided. But the structure paid off, and I’ve loved blogging ever since. If you’re curious, give it a try!

Live Your Legend (LYL). If you want to surround yourself with can-do types, see if there’s an LYL local group in your city. This global movement is dedicated to helping people find work they love. See the TED talk from founder Scott Dinsmore. Tragically, Dinsmore passed away in the summer of 2015, but the community he built lives on with enthusiasm.

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Here I am at my very first LYL Local meeting (Minneapolis, January, 2016). Within minutes of walking in the door, I was welcomed with a mug of tea. Then I got to hear stories of ventures being carried out by this crew of creative, committed folks. Interested in simple living? Our group’s host has a site for that: Joel Zaslofsky.

Facebook Communities. I found a few good ones early on, and they helped me feel supported right away. I’m amazed by the active encouragement strangers give each other in online groups like Blog Share Learn, Design Your Own Blog, and The Women of Midlife. Search an activity, and you’re sure to find a FB group talking about it. It may take some trial and error to find the right ones, so don’t be shy. Take part in the conversation, and start picking up new skills.

Mastermind Groups. If you’d benefit from regular check-ins with a small group, I highly recommend tracking down one of these. Masterminds, which typically happen as video chats, bring together 3-5 people working toward sharpening business and personal skills. They share ideas, provide accountability, and track progress.

I love living in a world where I can meet soul sisters across the globe. There are three of us in my mastermind: an English teacher in Germany and an artist in New York. Lucky for me, their group had an opening after someone dropped out. I was super impressed when I discovered these crafty ladies had created an ebook together last year. Check out their workbook Stoke Your Creative Fire.

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My mastermind buddies and I chat weekly. Yes, my tea mug is a permanent fixture. The wall art behind me was created by grandparents. I like to think their artistic legacy flows through my veins, an idea that boosts my new venture.

Tracking Wonder. Someone in this online community blows my mind every time I visit. The group serves mission-driven professionals and has the tagline, “Be radical. Lead with your ideal.” Its community has an active forum that shows people living this out every day. Their projects help me see beyond limitations I put on my own ideas.

Rising Tide Society.  This group, for small business owners in creative industries, encourages members to “grab a cup of coffee and start learning.” In addition to their online support on topics like blogging, branding, and life-work balance, the group hosts TuesdaysTogether meetings in cites across the United States. (Yes, they happen at cool coffee shops.)

Fizzle. In a world where we expect online stuff to be free, it can sometimes feel jarring to be charged for something. But Fizzle, Honest Online Business Training, is a shining example of a principle we should all embrace: Good content is worth paying for. The site features a host of video classes on topics like video production, social media, and connecting with anyone.

RESOURCES IN MY HOMETOWN (These Are Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.) Check your Region for Something Similar.

Twin Cities Blogger Collective. I’m super pumped to have discovered this crew of capable women, who write about a bevvy of things like this:

Springboard for the Arts. This organization provides professional development, health care support, and incubator programs for individuals making a living through the arts.

Pollen. I always enjoy popping onto Pollen Midwest’s site. As if its job boards, events, and stories of local entrepreneurs weren’t enough, the site’s design is gor-geous. Seriously. These people know the meaning of good design.

Women Venture.  This nonprofit helps women create and grow small businesses. At their information session, I learned the two most common types clients start are food trucks and fitness ventures. Also: The organization serves men, too.

Whew. This may be the longest post I’ve written, so kudos for making it this far! I hope you’ve found some tools or inspiration for that venture of your own. So, what resources do you use to stay connected and complete projects? Do tell.

 

How Podcasts Keep Me Sane: 5 Surprising Ways

I couldn't help but take this shot of the blooms intersecting the path.

be_a_bigger_vesselIf you and I were lounging at a coffee shop, I’d be curious to hear what you’re up to, but I’d also want to know how you’re really feeling. Not one for small talk, I’d probably tell you my real deal as well. And if we’d been meeting regularly, you’d already know all about my tendency to seek out new ways to improve my state of being.

Personal development fascinates me, but in the past five years or so, it’s also become a necessity. I’m a lucky one who experiences mild depression and anxiety, which of course you’d already know. As with the countless others blessed with this condition, I’m usually on the lookout for ways to keep it at bay.

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One of my favorite ways to stay sane is photography walks. The act of putting one foot in front of the other is meditative on its own. What turns the experience into pure luxury, though, is taking photos along the way.

Slow Down Your Insomniac Monkey Brain

Thanks to my techie man, I recently made an unexpected discovery. Podcasts helped lessen my insomnia. This was no small feat, as I’d wrestled with it off and on for years. Insomnia breeds relentless thoughts. If you’ve ever experienced monkey brain in the middle of the night, you’ll appreciate the power of anything that can calm it down.

As it happens, distraction has been surprisingly effective for me. Turning off my screwball worries thoughts and replacing them with others’ ideas, is usually enough to put me to sleep. I began by listening to meditation episodes. Over time, I progressed to other non-stressful topics like wellness. Generally, in the half hour or so it takes to get me from awake to asleep, I learn something new while I’m at it.

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I came across these beauties on a walk in my neighborhood. I couldn’t tell you how long I spent crafting this shot, but that’s precisely why I find the process so healing.

If you’re curious about how this works: I play my podcasts through Stitcher, which knits content together like a custom radio station. It also helps me organize my podcasts into categories. At night, I listen with my ipod, complete with headphones so I won’t wake my sweetie. I download episodes into the Listen Later feature, which allows me to put the device in airplane mode and avoid having a wi-fi signal near my head.

Listen to Positive Voices During Walks, Commutes, or Workouts

Over time I incorporated podcasts into other parts of my life: workouts, walks, and commutes. This isn’t to say I’m consuming podcast content all the time. But I have found it helpful to have my podcasts ready when I need them. When I find myself obsessively repeating a conversation in my head–say, on the drive home from work–instead I hit play on an interview with a writer or entrepreneur. It’s amazing how quickly my attitude improves when I focus on positivity and knowledge.  Hearing the voices of can-do types reminds me of what I, too, can do.

I couldn't help but take this shot of the blooms intersecting the path.
I couldn’t help but go for this shot of blooms intersecting the path.

Learn Some Healthy Moves

Wellness is a popular podcast category, and I’ll tell you, I eat it right up. One show that’s become a comfort to me is The Healthy Moving Podcast with Jennifer Hoffman. In fewer than 15 minutes, each episode brings an appealing combination of physiology, stories, relatability, and how-to’s. In her encouraging tone, Hoffman has provided me with strategies for easing worry with movement, setting up a dynamic workstation, and navigating uncomfortable transitions.

My hope for this one was to set a mood. I wanted it to capture the hazy quiet of this particular morning.
My hope for this one was to set a mood. I wanted it to capture the hazy quiet of this particular morning.

Her episode that’s stood out to me the most, though, is Be a Bigger Vessel. I heard it this past spring, yet it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s centered around a breathing exercise that expands the thoracic muscles. As Hoffman points out, too much of the fitness industry is focused on making us smaller, especially–and now for a quick editorial from me–if we happen to be a woman. Instead, Hoffman encourages us to think about the benefits of becoming bigger.

Expand Your Mindset

Expanding our breath feels good. But so does expanding our mindset. If we can find a way to see ourselves as bigger, we become capable of holding more. The key, though, is that we must choose what to put in our newly enlarged vessel. I like the part when Hoffman asks us listeners to think about what we’d like to make more room for in our lives. She then provides her own answer, which is so good I couldn’t come up with a better one if I tried: more margin.

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Encountering a gaggle of these dudes is a common occurrence on my walks. Sure, Canada Geese want nothing to do with me, but I find them amusing and I just plain like the guys.

Let Yourself Be

As someone who spends waaaay too much time running from place to place, the idea of creating more margin sounds divine. More unplanned time to sit and simply be. More space around my brain to cultivate new ideas. More time to recover from whatever the last task was, which–let’s be honest–probably wore me out. More time to walk and, yes, take photos with care. For me, this will require a new discipline of saying no a little more often. Wait, a lot more often. But I’m committed to making it happen. I believe the extra margin will be worth it.

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What About You?

As always . . . now I’d like to hear from you. Do you listen to podcasts? What are your faves? More importantly, what would you like to make more margin for in your life, and how will you go about doing it?

Tonight My Gratitude is Golden

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.

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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?

How I Found Hope Through Golden Girls Fashion

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI 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. dorothy

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).

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.

Thrift-Shop Hop Minneapolis: Junket

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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.

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See? I hope you’re amused already. Junket intersperses works from local artists throughout. Here’s one such cheeky surprise.

The shop from my first installment, Top Drawer Thrift of Austin, Texas, was exceptional. It inspired me to define what makes a thrift shop great. Let’s see how the checklist stacks up as I visit one closer to my home: Minneapolis’ own Junket: Tossed and Found. (Spoiler alert: Thumbs way up.)

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.

Sign #3: The Shop Supports the Community

Okay, y’all, let’s just put it out there: Junket’s a community-supporting superstar. First of all, free coffee and donuts greeted me at the door. This made sense given its pedestrian-friendly, local-business-championing neighborhood, but still. This show of openness was a nice touch.

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.

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.)

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So. . . what treasures are you finding at thrift stores? Leave a comment and let me know.

From Savers Suit to Bottomless Bag

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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!”

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Yes, that’s one of THE pockets, right there in the center, all giant and cool. Only now, it features custom embellishments involving a sweet button and an upholstery scrap from my stash.

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.

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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.

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My new seam ripper in all its glory. The experience of using it is more palatable now that I have an artisan version. It’s handmade from acrylic and feels substantial in your hand. At the local sewing shop where I got it, each was different. This one’s hand-labeled tag read, “Italian Sunset.”

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?”

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.

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P.S.: Are you a crafty blogger looking for a link-up? Try The Casual CraftleteMerry Monday. or Coastal Charm.

 

 

The One with the Upcycled Tee

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 EverythiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAng 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.

Inspiration Strikes

girls_teeFirst, 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.)

What fashion comes to your mind when you think of Friends? Floral dresses with cropped jean jackets? OverallsTank dresses? Funny, the first thing I thought of was t-shirts. Seriously. Everybody on that show knew how to rock a simple tee.

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

friends_red_stripeWhen 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.

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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?)

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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.

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Note that my pins have a tiny button decoration on them. (No, there are not actual buttons on the shirt.) Also, if you look closely you’ll see that perfect sewing wasn’t my goal here. I wanted a fun project I could start and finish in a weekend. Go ahead, try it yourself!

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?

Thanks for the inspiration, fellow bloggers!

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Why, yes, that is an oversized coffee mug. Surely the Friends themselves would appreciate it.

A Makeover for Socks (and Life, Too)

sometimes_life“Sometimes life needs a makeover.” So says the mission page of Enchanted Makeovers, and I couldn’t agree more. Improving tired things–from Savers suits to my own life–is what this blog is about.

So when my favorite sewing podcast introduced me to Enchanted Makeovers, I was intrigued. Stephanie Kendron, host extraordinaire of Modern Sewciety, got choked up when asking her listeners to support the organization. I can easily see why.

Since 2007, Enchanted Makeovers’ mission has been to transform homeless shelters for women and children. The goal is create places that inspire behavioral and psychological change.

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.

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If you happen to have what I’ll call “package-labeling OCD,” then please accept my sincere apologies for this photo.

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.

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Feel free to comment and let me know if you participate. Have fun!