Tag Archives: upcycling

WIP Wednesday


I am taking the bull by the horns lately.

This week I finished the hair accessories that have been cluttering up my cutting table for the last month or so, whipstitched together the patchwork a-frame tent cover I’ve alluded to from my collection of antique table linens, and made myself a new seating pouf for the studio.

Today I’m wrestling with a former fitted sheet to attempt to make a sister to my favorite skirt.  So far, so good, but I haven’t gotten to the difficult part yet, which is to attach some kind of stretch knit (I’m thinking interlock?) waistband to this woven skirt.

Then I need to finish up a stack of petticoats, make myself some summer sandals, do some more mending (it’s always more mending), finish the faux Victorian baby gown I’ve been working on since January, and then I have a great idea for a new shirt that I’d like to try.

And in the meantime, there’s more knitting (it’s yarn sale season), some crochet (I have a peacock finger puppet in my Ravelry queue that’s been there since 2012), apothecary work (new mouthwash for me, experiments with duck fat vs. palm oil, and I’m out of laundry soap), gardening (carrots have to go in this week), bushcraft (I have to find a way to dry manroot pods and a way to make bamboo baskets), organizing (I’m in the middle of a bathroom storage overhaul), plus all of the normal stuff I do around the house like cleaning, baking, laundry, dishes, canning, homeschooling, etc.

Robert says that I treat homemaking as if it were several full-time jobs, and most of the time I think he’s wrong.  I feel like I spend most days catching just enough sleep, trying to remember to feed myself, and being angry about things I read on news blogs.

But sometimes, when I’m cleaning out the studio or looking back on all the things I’ve done recently (only a very small fraction of which ever make it onto the blog, which is strange to me), I catch a glimpse of all the work that goes into my life and it is stunning.

And frankly, it seems a bit unfair to expect me to file taxes and go to the DMV and return my mother’s e-mails and other adulting on top of everything else.

WIP Wednesday

IMG_3604start date: today
completeness: 10%

Sheets.  It’s easy to take them for granted, and it’s difficult to find new ones you love.

So of course, while I was already having a rough patch in my life, all my sheets decided to quit.

First was the sheet that tore itself a new one– literally– as I sat down on the bed.

Then came the sheet that Robert couldn’t get comfortable underneath himself in the middle of the night, so he tried to smooth it out and ended up with the sheet significantly more out (and less smooth) than he was expecting.

Last was a sheet I was folding to put away when I noticed an inconspicuous bit of– something– that wouldn’t brush off and turned out to be a dime-sized hole.  With a neighboring smaller hole.

Which left us with– hang on, let me count– ONE sheet.


For the bed at least three people share every night.

Obviously that wouldn’t work.

And you can’t easily mend something that, once you look at it in the unflinching light of day, seems to be a whisper-thin suggestion of a textile grid arranged artistically around several tiny holes rather than the sturdy cotton fabric you would have sworn it to be.

So I started to think about new sheets.  Believe it or not, sheeting tends to be expensive, and being a more experienced, more confident seamstress now than I was the last time we needed new sheets, I *really* wanted to make our own.  After all, finding storebought sheets I like is a monumental and expensive undertaking in itself.

And, of course, being a bit of a fiber snob, I was desperately craving linen sheets.  To my minimalist mindset, buying new sheets every 6-7 years seemed ludicrous.

But then, luckily, I discovered a way to avoid buying any new sheets– or sheeting– for a few years more.


Because, as it turns out, the sheets that quit had been part of sheet sets, with matching flat sheets we hadn’t used in the years since we bought a duvet, and I had sensibly failed to discard the flat sheets.

So now I’m stripping the elastic out of the old fitted sheets, and taking a pattern from them to cut and sew the flat sheets into fitted sheets.


And the best part?

I’m pretty sure I can just use existing hems as a channel for my elastic.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make a T-Shirt Quilt

I had a great idea last week.

I have this lovely, flat-topped steamer trunk that I inherited from my grandparents.  I’ve been using it to store my fabric upcycling, next to the regular upcycling in the sunroom.  My idea ran like this:

We could really use a small table or chest in the library.  Like maybe another steamer trunk.  

OMG I love steamer trunks!  Let’s see if there’s a good one on Craigslist…hmm…not really.  

Damn.  I really want a flat-topped steamer trunk.  

Like the one I have in the sunroom.  The one I have in the sunroom doing basically nothing, full of stuff that should be sorted, condensed, processed, and after all that would probably fit in the cedar chest in the studio anyway.  

I could empty it out, put the fabric upcycling I want to keep into the cedar chest, scrap the unusable crap, and spend a couple of days making jersey yarn.  Then I could put the chest under the window in the library and use it as a worktable for my computer during the day, and it could store baby toys and a throw…

And that’s how my studio came to look like something off of “Hoarders”.  Piles of fabric, old clothes, t-shirts, stacked up in the middle of the room making it difficult if not impossible to access and use the space.  Bits of lace, trim, zippers, upholstery foam, etc. spilling out into the hallway.


So first I pulled out all the synthetic knits good for nothing more than making jersey yarn.  And I spent a few days using a seam ripper and an assortment of scissors to strip off the useful stuff (buttons, lace trim, elastic) and cut the remainder into strips.  I rolled the strips up, and stuck them in with my yarn stash.  Someday they’ll make awesome storage containers, like this one I made last fall to hold dishwashing tools:


Then I went through what remained, and sorted out all of the woolens (sweaters, vests, etc.) and packed them up in old rice bags with cedar blocks.  Someday they will be made into diaper covers like this one, modeled by an impossibly tiny baby Ithilien:


Or longies, like these, modeled the same day by an impossibly chubby baby Númenor:

Yes, these two pictures were taken on the SAME DAY– Númenor was almost 1 year old, Ithilien was just over 2 months old– in retrospect it’s no wonder we never had time to cook in those days.

The notions and embellishments I put away in the correct places.  Zippers waiting for the next time I have to make a new hoodie for the smalls, lace to be re-used on hems or as insertions, elastic ready to be stuffed into casings, buttons making a satisfying “plink” sound as I add them to the button jar.

I found several flat bed sheets left over from before my family discovered the Wonders of the Duvet, which is lucky because the fitted sheets for my bed have all decided to quit in the last six weeks and we need more.  I found some flannel receiving blankets from Númenor’s NICU days that will see the light again as baby wipes or a lovey.  I found some church linens my mother gave me when her church couldn’t use them anymore and easily assigned them– a toddler’s poncho, handkerchiefs for me, more linen baby shirts.  Some antique cocktail napkins and a tablecloth with one of my ancestor’s cutwork and embroidery skills demonstrated tolerably well on them I set aside to make a play tent this summer.

Then there were the oddments– a ripped and stained leather motorcycle jacket Robert wore when we were dating that will be cut up to make soft shoes for babies learning to walk, bits of upholstery foam for which I have no particular plan but that stuff is way too expensive to throw away, socks and gloves and mittens to be made into doll clothes and soft toys or unraveled for yarn, a few synthetic knit pieces that weren’t suitable for anything but ripping up for stuffing, and the interesting pieces of boning, interfacing, facings, and other elements I’ve cannibalized from various storebought goods.

All that effort sorting and assigning and putting away, and the studio floor is still positively awash, partially because we have about 30 (THIRTY?!?!?!!!) t-shirts waiting for the muse.  T-shirts that have too much sentimental value to make into yarn.  T-shirts in colors, designs, or themes I’m not interested in seeing my children wear.  T-shirts that vastly outnumber my lifetime’s conceivable use of rags and bags.

T-shirts, in short, just begging to become one of those ghastly t-shirt quilts.

So fine.

I surrender.

I’ll make one.

And I’ll probably even like it.

But I’ll do it because I want to, not because the internet tells me to.


P.S.– The chest works beautifully in that spot in the library, just like I thought it would.


MT: The Mending Basket

This is an installment in a series on mending techniques.  For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.

IMG_3086As I have mentioned before, I use a mending basket as the basis of my mending system.  It is a large bolga basket that I originally bought to use as a laundry basket in my freshman dorm, but it has served many purposes over the years and answers the role of mending basket very well.

It was not the first object called a mending basket in my household; the first such container was a lidded basket the size of a large shoebox, which was totally insufficient for the quantity of mending work produced by a family of four, but also too inconvenient for the frequency of additions to the mending pile.  It took some thought and experimentation before we settled on the bolga basket.

If you don’t yet have a mending basket, I would recommend finding a container that can reasonably accommodate 4 articles of adult clothing, 10 articles of child clothing, and has some room left over for miscellaneous things (such as bed linens or organizational supplies or toys)that might overwhelm a smaller container.  A standard plastic laundry basket, although not the most attractive option, would be about the right size for most families with small children.

When I am not actively working from it, I keep the mending basket in my studio, where it is the first thing reachable upon entering the room (this keeps small children who are adding something to the mending from staying too long or meddling too much).  Collecting the mending in the laundry room or scullery is also an excellent option if you can be sure that your storage spot isn’t too damp.  Many families keep a pile of mending near where the sewing machine or the sewing supplies are stored, and this works well, too, although sewing machines are generally not as well-adapted to mending as hand sewing is.

I’m going to re-iterate a general rule of homemaking here, just to be totally clear: whenever something is not in active use or in the laundry, it should be clean.  Do not allow soiled articles to be added to the mending basket.  Body soil attracts pests, and dirt and grime will contaminate your storage spot, not to mention that attempting to repair dirty clothing or home linens is an unpleasant sensory experience at best.

The first step in my mending routine is to exchange my usual work bag (containing whatever my current handwork project is, my pattern or notes, tools and notions, and also my wallet and keys) for the mending basket itself.  I like to take this opportunity to clean out my work bag– it’s refreshing to take the time to put all the random fabric scraps, spools of thread, knitting needles, and snipped threads it accumulates in the course of its use away into their proper places.

The second step is to empty everything out of the basket, making a colossal mess, and inspect each article for what work must be done.  If the spot that needs mending is difficult to find, sometimes I will mark it with a safety pin.  This is also the step when I ask the owners of the items about their preferences for mending (e.g., “what color would you like this patch to be?”, “is this too tight?”).

IMG_3087Then I sort the articles into the following categories:

  1. Mending that only requires a needle and thread (such as hemwork, re-tacking a lining or appliqué, or replacing a seam)
  2. Patching and replacement (such as applying knee or elbow patches to cover worn-out areas, felting over moth holes in woolens, darning, replacing lost or broken drawstrings or fasteners)
  3. Amendments and additions (adding guards or borders to cover frayed hems, extending knitted/crocheted garments, adding gussets or gores to better accommodate movement or growth)
  4. Upcycling and re-working (stripping down garments that have decayed beyond repair so that their materials can be used for other things, taking apart things that aren’t working well for their intended purpose to make major structural/design changes)

Once I have the mending sorted into these categories, I replace it in the basket by category, in reverse order from the list above (so that the needle-and-thread-only mending is on top in the basket).  Sometimes, when the basket is truly overflowing, it is not possible to fit everything back in, and I will instead leave the more complex mending in the studio temporarily and only put the patching and needle-and-thread mending back into the basket.

Finally, I add supplies to the basket: my needle book, sewing scissors, a thimble, and whatever thread types and colors I need for the first category of repairs.


Now I am finally ready to start the actual mending.

Make and Mend

I’ve said it before: I would be free to make myself more nice things if only I didn’t have to spend so much time repairing the torn knees of my small children’s pants.

So why do I bother?  Why fix it when it’ll just get broken again, when it’s cheap to replace, when I have other things to do?

Well, because it’s easier to add a quick patch to a garment than it is to find a replacement that would float in the Pool of Standards.

Because it’s important for children to know– not just academically, but experientially– that things can be fixed.

Because I HATE to throw things out, especially things that might still be useful.

Because I’m cheap and selfish, and even if I could get a new pair of pants at the Target for $9, I would rather use a scrap leftover from another project and spend that money on something I really need later.  Like chocolate.

Because, having raised children in a house with a mending basket, I am now the proud mother of smalls who delightedly point out holes in their clothes and start rattling off their grand scheme for the repair’s design before I can even see the damage.

Because there’s nothing more childlike than patched knees above dirty feet.

Because if I buy a new $9 pair of pants every time a hole shows up, that’s at least five new pairs of pants in EACH size for EACH child I raise– and that adds up fast.

Because going to the Target means getting all worked up about the needless and harmful gender dichotomy in children’s clothing.  Again.

Because I love a good puzzle and I love a good treasure hunt, and mending something well and with just the right materials can be both.

Because I can look at the patches and the fixes and the incongruous thread colors in years to come and remember the growing, and the running, and the exploring that destroyed those knees and seats and hems.

Because mending my child’s clothes gives me time, in the depths of the night, to work a little magic and say a few blessings into the seams.

Because mending takes ordinary, boring basics and elevates them to one-of-a-kind bespoke work.

Because I’m trying to raise children who understand that human time and effort go into producing and distributing everything in our home.

Because really looking at how the people in my life wear things out tells me so much about who they are and how they live.

Because it feels good to empty the mending basket.  Even if I’m just futilely struggling against entropy, scoring points here and there with small accomplishments like finishing the mending goes a long way toward making me feel like I’m making a difference.

{this moment}

a Friday ritual from Amanda Soule.  a single photo– no words– capturing a moment from the week. a simple, special, extraordinary moment. a moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  if you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

my finished rag rug in place in the bathroom


WIP Wednesday

rag rug and supplies on cutting table start date: 20 February 2015
elapsed time: 2 weeks 5 days
completeness: 65%

I hate this rug.  I hate it.

Rationally, I know that a big part of why I feel repulsed by it right now is that I fall out of love with virtually all of my bigger, longer-term projects.  I like RESULTS, and that’s not really compatible with braiding and sewing a rug together out of 2″ wide scraps of fabric.

But it’s more than that.

Projects that take “too long” for me underline that I am not in control of my life.  I start to obsess about all the other things I’m trying to do that are taking too long– like how we aren’t making much progress on paying off our student loans, or how we aren’t mortgage-ready so we can’t build our house, or how I had really planned to have a new baby by now, or how I haven’t yet found the right midwifery apprenticeship, or how, no matter how much time and patience I put into my parenting, my children are still developmentally incapable of empathy or foresight.

I feel like I’m running up a loose sand dune– grueling work, not much progress to show for it.

My rational mind, of course, thinks this is all nonsense.  “So you haven’t achieved every last one of your major life goals yet– you’re 27 freaking years old!  Why worry about things you can’t control?  Get over it, emo-kid.  Some people in this world have real problems.  You have a great life and are just pissy because you couldn’t custom-order it exactly the way you’d design.”

And that makes it worse, because then I feel guilty for feeling depressed, and then we arrive at what Allie Brosh describes WAAAY better than I ever could.  Except that I can additionally pity myself because I have never broken through the barrier to the I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I-feel-nothing stage, and that kind of sounds like it might be nice.

Last night, while we were lying in bed and ostensibly trying to sleep, I was overcome by my freak-out and confessed tearfully to Robert– “I hate that rug.”

me working on my rag rug

And he said, quite reasonably (and therefore EXTREMELY IRRITATINGLY): “Why? It looks great!”


And he’s right.  But I’m right, too.

New to the rug this week are one of Robert’s old scouting shirts, more boxers,  and scraps of some maternity pajama pants I wore when I was pregnant with Númenor.

WIP Wednesday

my knitting WIP in my work bagstart date: December 2013
elapsed time: 15 months
progress: 70%

Confession from a creative type:  Sometimes I make something great, but never use it.

This is understandable when something goes wrong on a project, like the gauge is off because I didn’t allow for the effects of stranded colorwork, or I went up a size when I didn’t need to, or I think a material will work, but it doesn’t.  Sometimes a project comes out exactly as planned, but my plans themselves were flawed, say because they didn’t include the fact that children don’t take the care and maintenance of their shoes into consideration when they walk.

But sometimes, everything goes according to plan, the plan was great, and I just don’t love the result.

Last winter I knitted myself a circular shawl.  I was intrigued by the pattern (which goes from a smaller cowl-size circumference on the neck to ample enough to use as a batwing shirt with no increases or decreases), and I needed to do some amending of my wardrobe.  The pattern was easy, my modifications worked as intended, the fit was fine, the yarn was lovely, and still, I just didn’t like the thing.  I didn’t wear it– not even ONCE– in the full cycle of seasons following its completion.

So rather than continuing to feel guilty about it every time I looked in my closet, I made the radical choice to frog it and make something new– something I knew I would use: a big triangular shawl with no lacy holes to let the wind through.

knitting a triangular shawl on a circular needle

And?  I LOVE IT.  Even now, while it’s still on the needles, I know it’s a million times better than the original shawl.

Years ago, when the smalls were babies, I came across a blog post about using your precious things before time destroys them.  It inspires me to this day– to find a way to incorporate my great-grandmother’s silver tea set into my rustic modern life, to risk losing those antique tablecloths by cutting them up and making something my family will actually use, to eat up that last jar of balsamic-pickled figs as a way of making a regular Thursday night special.

I would say that the sentiment applies one thousand fold to things you’ve made.  So what if it took weeks of work?  If you aren’t using it, change it.  Re-make it.  Cut it down for quilt squares.  Felt it and hook a rug.  Whatever it takes.  Going back to fix the mistakes you made or reclaim the materials for something better doesn’t negate the effort you put into the original project– the effort you put into making things is only wasted if that thing is never useful, and a learning experience is always useful.

I had to tell myself this last weekend, when I came to the realization that the rug wasn’t working out.  With every extra row I sewed into place, it became less of a half-circle and more of a third of a circle.  So I cut my threads and ripped my progress back to just a few rows and tried again– a few rows of going around the half-circle shape in a D shape, then a few rows of back-and-forth like I’d tried the first time, over and over.  I’m now almost back to the point I ripped from, and it looks much better.  I’m glad I went back to fix it, even though it meant accepting that it would take much longer to finish and we desperately need that rug.  Choosing to make something– and re-make it– so that it fits your needs perfectly is a radical act in our throw-away culture, where immediate satisfaction is everything and quality rarely even enters the equation.

textured shawl pattern wip slipped stitch yarnover pattern

So, perhaps unsurprisingly, I find that I was my real WIP this week, learning to live with failure and walk with humility.  But the shawl is turning out well, too.

The original pattern for the shawl was Paris Loop by Stefanie Japel.  It really is an easy and satisfying knit, but the FO just didn’t work for me.  I’m now using Orlane’s Textured Shawl Recipe, on an ancient recommendation from Amanda Soule.  The yarn is Ella Rae Mega in Pure Black (it’s actually a subtle heather), which I find EXTREMELY willing to felt and therefore kind of resistant to frogging, but it’s soft and surprisingly strong for a single.

WIP Wednesday

DIY rag rug in progressstart date: 20 February 2015
elapsed time: five days
completeness: 25%

When you live in the Pacific Northwest, you live in mud and pine needles.

No amount of scraping and shuffling will change the fact that whatever floor surface in your home is proximal to the entrance needs daily cleaning.  You can have a barefoot house and still have this problem, because it’s not like you can expect people to leave their shoes outside in the rain.

Enter rag rugs.

half circle rag rug in progress

This is my first-ever rag rug, and it’s destined for the double-door entry onto the bathroom (which is seriously my favorite feature of this house– I can bring my small children directly from the backyard to the bathtub without reminding them not to touch anything, you guys!).  I’m still not totally sure that the half-circle shape will work, but I figure that once I’ve got it big enough, I can just crochet around the edges to hide irregularities.

I spent all of last weekend cutting the strips and sewing them back together, and I’ve been making slow-but-steady progress on the braiding and sewing together since then.  I’d like to be done before March, because I would like to spend those last few weeks of winter/first few weeks of spring doing some knitting, but so far I’m too easily bored by the braiding to make much progress on that kind of timescale.  Fingers crossed.

rag rug and fabric strips waiting to be joined

These strips used to be two of Robert’s middle school t-shirts, one of my college t-shirts, a pair of Robert’s boxers and whatever was left of two pairs of his pajama pants after I made some clothes for my plaid-obsessed 5-year-old from them.  Not a bad trade, really.