Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tired of the tote

I've been working with recycled sweaters for almost 10 years. When I actually say that out loud, I'm amazed. I've made keychains, coin purses, pillows, blankets, backpacks and totebags from this wonderful material. I've patchworked, appliqued, woven, and every other fiber technique. I learned how to line bags from my friend, Kathy, who's the most accomplished technician and creative force I know. But, I'm tired of the tote.

Here's a photo of my normal tote bag: I've made them in a million different colorways from all black, grey, and ivory to blues and greens to fall colors. I've probably saved over 200 sweaters from landfills. The wonderful friends in my little town in Northeast Ohio have graciously supported my thrift shop fetish and bought these bags for years. but, I'm done.

First, consider the work involved. Each tote requires 40 3-inch squares of recycled wool. Those 40 squares come from about 8-10 different sweaters. Those sweaters have to be sourced (from thrift stores), felted in the washing machine, cut apart, and cut into 3-inch squares. Thank goodness for the rotary cutter! Then, I piece the squares together and sew them with a special stitch so they are secure. Finally, after all of that, I have "fabric" from which to cut my pieces.

My new invention is the messenger bag. I cut the pieces from whole bits of sweater rather than the patchwork. I can have a curved flap on this design. With the patchwork, everything had to be relatively square so you didn't have partial bits. Now, I can use big chunks of sweater and never have to use a quilter's ruler at all. Heaven.

The messenger bag has 5 main pieces: front, back, 2 sides, and a flap. I mix and match depending on what material is available. The pink bag here used a great striped piece, a solid chartreuse, and some cotton quilting fabric that was also used to line the flap and make the straps.

After years of struggling with floppy bags, I have become one with the interfacing. Don't skip this step. Yes, it's a pain and adds cost, but it makes all the difference. I find that interfacing makes the difference between a bag that looks home made and one that looks artsy and cool. Which would you buy?

I have always struggled with straps on my bags. In the beginning (almost 10 years ago) I tried to use old sweaters for the straps but they were stretchy and looked like hell after a few wearings. I've used webbing, but found it boring. So, I sewed ribbon onto the webbing. Looked good, but added a lot in terms of cost. Fabric straps are a good alternative, but they're time consuming. Cutting, interfacing, sewing, turning, etc. But, you got to do what you've got to do. So, the messenger bags have fabric straps. I came up with the idea to use d-rings to secure the straps and still make them adjustable. I'm 5'3" but, happily, most of the world is lucky enough to be a little taller. So, the straps have buttonholes and a button to secure the strap at a "short" and "long" setting. Pretty clever, I think.

The "purple series" of these bags uses a plum/ivory houndstooth for the lining and straps and combines sweaters featuring flower embroidery, lavender ribbing, plum color, and the universal neutral: grey. Ironically, I found two sweaters with the exact pattern (embroidered flowers) but different background colors (blue and grey). Still in the same color family, I was able to make 4 bags in all from 6 different sweaters.

These bags are all available on my website: . The price is right: $45. I think they're cool enough for teenagers, but, as the mother of 3 boys, I'm just guessing about that...

For those that enjoy the thrift store hunt and the fun of creating from whatever we happen to be lucky enough to find, the messenger bag is a great new option.

Friday, October 23, 2009

In praise of small gifts

Every season I make a set of small gifts. Normally, I end up using them for my boys' music teachers, gym teachers, etc. I find I need around 15-20 at the holidays and another set for the end of the school year. I like coming up with a new idea each time and Im proud to have a reputation at the schools for cute gifts.

This year, I'm doing some embellished stretchy gloves. You know those gloves you can get just about anywhere for $1? This year I'm seeing them in stripes and pastels along with the normal black. I bought 4 pair of pink ones for $1 each at Jo-Ann's just this week. BUT, I must tell you I bought 20 pair last February on clearance at Target for 50 cents a pair. What a score! I'm sure they thought I was nuts with my basketful of black gloves. I just knew they'd make the perfect Small Gift.
The photos show what I'm doing with the gloves. I've finished two pair of pink and will be starting on the black ones this weekend. I love penny rugs and I think the pennies add just the right embellishment. I'm listing some of the pairs on my Etsy shop for $10 a pair. . Check them out if you're so inclined.

In my next post, I'll talk about the gadget cozies I'm making out of old sweaters. Again, embellished with pennies. Very cute and very economical. Plus, who doesn't want something one-of-a-kind!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Feeling the love...

I had a comment about my cashmere hearts. These were invented to use up recycled cashmere scraps from about 5 years of making scarves. Ever thrifty (thanks to Grandma!), I couldn't bear to throw even the tiniest bit away. When I discovered the proddy technique from rug hooking, I found a new way to re-use. These hearts are made with the exact technique used to make the cuff bracelets highlighted in a previous post.
The hearts have to be kept pretty small because they use a TON of material. I make the base from recycled wool; skirts, jumpers, whatever. The hearts are stuffed with off cuts and scraps from other sewing projects, also all wool and cashmere. Then the fun begins. Each piece of cashmere is hand cut into long strips or short strips or little bits about 1/3 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long. Using the proddy tool, each strip is pulled through the wool. Around and around the heart I go until it's completely filled up.
My all-ivory heart shown on the side bar on this blog has been quite the hit. It was featured on Etsy's Front Page on October 15th (yeah, me!) and is also featured in Etsy's eco-friendly gift guide here: I've also made the hearts in smaller sizes in pink, pale, purple, and ivory/blue mix. You can see them with more detail on my shop: . Some have sold but the others are on there with more pictures.
I confess a small addiction to making these. I'm glad they're popular!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Leaf scarf is done!

Here's a photo of my leaf-embellished scarf. Lisa has been sick but we're hoping to take our runway pics on Friday. Until then, here's the finished product. It's also listed on my Etsy shop: .

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cool new embellishment idea!

Here's a new thought for embellishing recycled cashmere. The pictures tell the tale. It all started with a rather blase' camel-colored sweater. Too boring for use. So I over-dyed the cashmere with Cushing's Copenhagen Blue. The result is a beautiful hand-dyed soft blue that is definitely NOT boring.

So I'm ready to turn the strips into a scarf. I had wanted to try some reverse applique -- where the applique is actually underneath the main fabric rather than on top. You stitch your design and then cut away, revealing the accent color.

For the blue, I chose a nice butter yellow, almost a cream. I cut a 5-inch strip to match the 5-inch width of the blue. The yellow I had was only about 4 inches tall so I had to be careful in stitching. I thought a leaf motif would be nice. To make sure I didn't go over the edge of the yellow, I stitched with the yellow side up. Pretty smart, huh?

Once the leaves were stitched, I cut away the bits I didn't need, leaving a beautiful pattern at the ends of the scarf.

I'll post a picture of the finished scarf as soon as my friend, Lisa, comes over to model tomorrow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Hedgehog Cuff

You know that necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes for me, necessity breeds creativity! One year ago I had ankle fusion surgery and was faced with 9 weeks of crutches and only having one foot. But, I had prepared. I had projects ready to go in my dining room. My sewing machine was tuned up. My scissors were sharpened. The goal was to create from what I had around. No running to the fabric store or the yarn store or the anything store! Besides, you can't run on crutches and using those horrid motorized carts in the grocery or Target was bad enough when I had no choice.
So, off I went on a journey to use things up. My husband was all for it, trust me, even though the dining room looked like some kind of alien, cashmere bomb went off.
I had an entire BIN of cashmere. I've been making the scarves (see previous post) for several years but couldn't bear to throw out even the smallest scrap of cashmere. Most pieces were long and narrow. Lots of ribbings, too.

During this process, I was learning about a rug hooking technique called "proddy." You use a special tool to draw small strips of wool through the rug backing mesh. I started to play around and came up with The Hedgehog Cuff, also known as The Potscrubber (by my husband).

Here are the steps. First I cut a piece of ribbing about 2 inches by 7 inches. Then, I take some rug hooking mesh (I use linen) and make a little strip about 1 inch by 6 inches. The mesh starts out at 2 1/2 inches by 8 inches. You want a big chunk pressed underneath so non of the mesh frays when you draw through your strips. Sew the mesh onto the ribbing, slightly stretching the ribbing as you go. Leave about 1 inch of ribbing on each end so you can put on the button part.

Then I sew on a bit of recycled wool on each end and add a small button hole on one end. Sew on a small button on the opposite end.

Now the fun begins! Take your cashmere (this bracelet used 2-3 colors of blue plus some yellows and some greens). Cut the cashmere into long strips about 1/3 inch wide. Cut those strips into small strips of about 2 1/2 inches. Exact length is not important. Variation adds to the piece, I think. Put all the strips in a bowl and mix them up so you'll be pulling a random color each time.

The one tool you need for this (besides your sewing machine), is a proddy tool. They run about $25-30 and are available through rug hooking retailers. Insert the proddy into the mesh, grab a strip with the clamp, and pull it back through. Now, do that again, moving all over the mesh, about 100 times! Make sure you insert strips as close as you can to the edge of the mesh so you cover your seam. This is a great project for evenings in front of the TV. I try to get a few bracelet bases done and then cut the cashmere and go to town while listening to the Indians game or whatever.

I have lots of these listed on my Etsy shop: . The feel is fantastic. You just want to rub your wrist all day long.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Scarves Everywhere!

I'm trying to finish up a big pile of cashmere scarves. As mentioned in an earlier post, I get old cashmere from thrift shops, friends, etc. I wash and dry the sweaters and cut out the seams and necks. Usually I throw out those bits but lately I've been saving them to use as stuffing for my heart pillows or unknown, future adventures.

With all the strips cut, I lay out a two-sided scarf. This one will be a longer scarf in shades of purple with some lime green thrown in. I loved that argyle sweater I found so I make sure that strips with the argyle are on the ends so they're visible when the scarf is worn.

After laying it out, I pin the sections together and go to the sewing machine. I use a special stitch that makes a cross-hatch pattern to sew the pieces together. I do not make a seam per se. The edges are butted together and then sewn. You could use a wide zigzag that's fairly compact (settings of 5 for width but about 2 for length so the zigs are close together). Anything to pull the edges together with few gaps.

Sewing together a long scarf takes about 10-15 minutes. Then I press the whole thing and pink the edges. I try to leave any ribbing hanging free on the ends so I can cut fringe using a small, sharp scissors.

Here's the finished scarf. You can see the buttons in the picture. If a cashmere sweater has some detail like a pocket or buttons. I try to save that detail and use it in the scarf.

My shorter scarves are done in the exactly way but they are only 36 inches long. I piece them and sew them together leaving about 8 inches at each end un-sewn. Then I embellish the ends. This one used a circle motif. I pre-cut the circles and applique them on one layer of cashmere using a tight zigzag. I love the way these look and they only use small bits of cashmere.

The shorter scarfs are a muffler type. I sew in a long buttonhole (about 4 inches) so one end can pass through. My sewing machine has the capability of making a buttonhole of any length. You can see more original sweater buttons on this scarf. The circles are made from cashmere scraps from cutting the strips and also some tweedy recycled wool that picks up all the color of the scarf. I love the combination.

The last picture shows two of the short-type scarf. Similar in color and style, but still one-of-a-kind. These will sell for about $40-50. It's a great deal for a pure cashmere scarf, I think. I remember a few years ago I saw a Neiman-Marcus ad for a similar design. Retail was about $175! Hmmmm...
Tomorrow and Friday are men's scarves. Less embellishment but still beautiful.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yes, I have been making lots of scarves and will be posting about the process tomorrow. But, I can't NOT write about our chickens today!! We had our first egg. We got the girls just after Mother's Day which means they are 21 weeks old this week. We've been checking for the eggs with no luck. Today I was chatting with them (I know. Get a day job) and said, "C'mon, girls. You're 21 weeks old. Let's make it happen." I was looking into the nesting boxes in the coop and THERE IT WAS!! A beautiful, perfect green egg. Cracked, unfortunately, but otherwise perfect. I had to blow it out because I just wasn't sure it was ok to eat.

Now you should know that we bought 6 laying hens. Ameraucana breed. Back in July, though, we heard some crowing around 6:30 a.m. one day. Hmmmm. One of the girls was a boy. How nice to finally be able to use the phrase, "There's a rooster in the henhouse!"

Of course, he's gorgeous and now we can't imagine getting rid of him. As long as he stays docile, he stays, if you know what I mean.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yeah! Hooray! Three sales in one day!!

Sorry for the poetry. I woke up to 3 sales on Etsy today. Makes me happy.

Yesterday was awash in the rain. It was actually too dark and dreary in my house to put together any scarves. I did work on a couple of cuff bracelets, though. My first foray into cashmere applique.

The photo shows the range I'm playing with right now. Ruffles, simple stitching of motifs, braiding, etc. so far I really like the ruffles and the applique. The key is to stabilize the cashmere so it doesn't stretch too much. There's nothing worse than a cuff bracelet that is too big. On the ruffles, I'm using a small strip of recycled wool as a stabilizer. It also serves to cover the stitching. And, I like a bit of pattern with all that solid color.

The braiding has an interesting story. I was looking for an 8-plait braid but what ended up working was a You-tube video of someone braiding Challah bread! Very simple. Six strands across. Lift the 4th strand and bring the 1st strand all the way to the right. Then re-number the strands left to right. Repeat those two steps for the length of the strips. Couldn't be easier and definitely the look I wanted. You never know where you'll find the inspiration.

Here's a close-up of the ruffle on the cuff with fuchsia and charcoal grey. There's actually 3 layers of cashmere in there plus a strip of ribbing as the base. Very lush and tactile.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Ugh. Pouring rain this morning. I'm wishing I could walk Lance (the Springer Spaniel that is my daytime companion) but I don't know if I have it in me to get soaked.

I'm planning to work with the cashmere today. I've cut about a dozen sweaters into 5-inch strips of various lengths. The photo shows the pastel selection. These sweaters came mainly from thrift stores. I do buy on Ebay, but I set very strict limits on myself on price. I won't pay more than $15 for a sweater. I also search only for XL or Plus Size sweaters. That way you get a larger piece of fabric for the same price.

I take these and piece them together to make scarves. Long scarves are about 50 inches. This year I'm going to try a shorter scarf -- more of a neckwarmer or muffler. One side has a big slit so the opposite side can pass through and tighten up around the neck. I'm also playing around with embellishment. I figured out how to ruffle layers of cashmere and want to try some applique of circles and other shapes. Some of these experiments will find their way into cuff bracelets and some will adorn the scarf ends.
Starting the day knowing I'll have some creative time makes me happy. I'll post more pictures as I get further along in the process.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Here we go!

I've been planning to do this for over a year and now we're going to dig in. I hope to post about my projects which litter the dining room of my house, threatening every day to spill into the foyer, kitchen, etc. DH is a patient man.

I am, primarily, a knitter. If I was lost on a desert island and could only bring one handcraft, it would be the sticks and string. I've knit for 25 years and still manage to learn something on every project.

But, about 10 years ago I discovered felt. Specifically, felted wool sweaters from thrift stores and friends and even random acquaintances who would say, "Aren't you the girl that likes shrunken sweaters?" I dove into this new world with aplomb and have loved every minute. Purses are the main product, but I'm having a lot of fun branching out on this. And, recycled wool led me to recycled cashmere. I made lots and lots of scarves and couldn't bear to throw out even a small scrap of this precious and fabulous fiber. So, armed with a bin of cashmere scraps, I've spent the past year, in part, finding uses for these. My Etsy shop is chock full of stuff and I'm making more every day. Check it out:

Get your lint brush and let's have some fun!