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.
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).
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.
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?”
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.
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.)
What fashion comes to your mind when you think of Friends? Floral dresses with cropped jean jackets? Overalls? Tank 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
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?
Thanks for the inspiration, fellow bloggers!
If you love thrift shops, be forewarned: I’m about to make you strikingly jealous. First, close your eyes and picture the sassiest one you’ve ever seen. In what city was it located? I’m happy to report I have a new answer: Austin, Texas, baby.
Last week I attended a conference in Austin, which happens to be my former hometown. I took a few days afterward to visit friends I rarely get to see. After enjoying tacos with my fave gals from the high school days, I ventured across the street to Top Drawer Thrift. It turned out to be wondrous, and I’d like you to have a similar encounter soon. To make sure you’re prepared, I’ll share my Five Signs You’re in the Presence of Thrift-Shop Greatness.
Sign #1: Displays are Artfully Prepared
Not everyone knows how to pair a silver vintage dress with a colorful ceramic mask. Or that the same silver dress would benefit from a paisley silk scarf being swooped around its waist. Fortunately, somebody at Top Drawer’s got a keen artistic eye. Artful displays in the aisles impressed me even before I discovered the shop hosts college-level interns in visual merchandising. (Loving your sparkle-antlers, Anna!)
Sign #2: Wandering Brings Out Your Playfulness
I get that some people don’t understand the allure of shopping for discarded items. For me, though, it’s hard to beat the experience of making old things new. Seeing possibility requires a certain level of playfulness.
This shop clearly understands the the importance of a joyful shopping experience. Um, yeah . . . if your display contains a tutu-sporting, boa-wearing, equality-touting unicorn, then I say, “Playfulness? Check!”
Sign #3: You Find an Affordable Discovery You Can’t Live Without
For my friend, this meant finding a pair of pink-and-purple boots. The second she came across them, she exclaimed, “I’ve been looking for a cowboy rainboot!” They fit her perfectly and it was a done deal. I, on the other hand, had never heard of cowboy rainboots. This did not stop me from immediately wishing those fabulous things were mine. How, oh, how, had I lived through four decades without knowing I had an urgent need for plastic boots?
The item I couldn’t live without turned out to be vintage upholstery fabric. Labeled Covington Fabric Corp., the sample pack showcased an address of Fifth Avenue in New York. The 1940 company has since moved away from this textile-row address, but it remains one of the largest manufacturers of printed home-decor fabrics.
Sign #4: The Shop Supports the Community
Thrift shops and community go hand in hand. In this case, the store is part of a nonprofit that provides hospice and housing. In also supports the local economy, evidenced by a hand-drawn map of other second-hand stores in the area.
Sign #5: The Shop Inspires a New Craft Project
As soon as I saw the Covington samples, I sensed they’d become a sewing project. Their colors were vibrantly retro. Their linen-cotton blend would be easy to work with, but provide substantial heft. And I couldn’t resist the way the samples coordinated with each other. The only question was, “What to make?”
Vote: What Should I Make from Fabric Samples?
So, what should I make, y’all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’d worn mittens for 120 days in a row. Well, close to it, anyway. This was late February, y’all, and it was time for a bright new pair. I’d also been dying to make them again. I’d only sewn mittens once and that was last winter.
So I set out to try again. I’d lost track of the pattern I’d used, so the web search began. I found a handful of tutorials and set to work. Guess what I discovered? Making mittens is a snap, but only after you’re done and know what you’re doing.
Unless you have YouTube Sandy, that is. If you want to upcycle a pair of mittens, let me save you some time: You need Sandy in your life. Here she is, dutifully showing each step in her video, “Make Mittens from Old Sweaters – Fast and Easy.”
As usual, my journey began with a trip to the thrift shop. Never underestimate the fun of this step! If you want to join me, here’s your mission: Find three sweaters that combine in a way that makes you smile. In the end, I rejected my “blue on blue on blue” idea and chose three bright heathers. They were practically made for each other, I determined.
So, what do you think: Did I make the right choice? If you were crafting mittens, what colors would make you happy on (yet another) subzero day?
Projects that can be done in a weekend are the best. Here’s a simple one that brought high satisfaction for relatively little effort. Last summer I got tired of carting my yoga mat around all by its lonesome. Off to Pinterest I went (of course) to find a carrier tutorial. I wanted something more substantial than the strappy kind, and I was immediately drawn to this cute version from Design Sponge.
A trip my local Hancock Fabrics was all I needed next. The bargain section at the back led me to this shimmery green fabric. I loved it as soon as I saw it, always a good sign I’m on the right track. While passing by the elastics, a cheery turquoise one caught my eye. Thinking it might make a nice riff on the intended straps, I switched gears on the spot. Pairing it with the thinner striped-pink elastic nearby, I decided that, yeah, this new strap idea was worth a shot. In the end, the sturdy bounce of the elastic turned out to be a favorite feature of the carrier.
So, weekend craft warriors. . . what have been some of your favorite quick-but-rewarding projects?