Monday, December 28, 2009

xmas crafts

TGXIO! Thank goodness xmas is over! I'm looking forward to some non-stressful crafting, and getting a jump on NEXT year's gifts, because there were so many things I wanted to make and just didn't have time for. I'm also looking forward to seeing everyone else's "show and tells" about all the cool stuff they made, even though I'm sure it will make my project list even longer!!

Here's one project I'm so happy to cross off my list. I've been meaning to make some I-spy bags forEVER. I've been collecting little trinkets at garage sales for the last few years, and I think I even had all the other supplies last year, but I just never got around to making them. But this year was it - if I waited any longer, the kids would be too old to play with them!

This was one of those projects that didn't go very smoothly. I didn't follow a pattern, and I cut out the fabric for several bags all at once but messed up somehow and was short, hence the white strips (and what was I thinking to use white flannel for a non-washable kid's toy??). Then I sewed up the first one and realized it was way too big, so I had to trim the others, and probably would have had enough fabric if I'd only made them smaller to start with. Sigh. Anyway, I'm just glad it's done. Well, almost done. I made 3 (the wonky first one for my daughter, and two more for friends' kids), and have another one mostly done, and supplies to make 3 more. I'm planning to make up those other 3 in the next few days, before I have a chance to wimp out and let them sit for yet another year!

Here's my one other handmade gift - an apron for my grill-loving husband. I made this at the retreat in November. It's double-sided (with the yellow print on the back), with an extra layer of plain off-white cotton in the middle. I added the extra layer to make it even more sturdy, and to prevent the black from showing through on the lighter side. I'm happy to say he loved it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

8 bags completed!

There's nothing like a deadline to keep me on track! I finished up my bags for the Sew Mama Sew Quilting For Peace Great Grocery Bag Sewoff, just in the nick of time. Yes, I know... they extended the deadline. But I just wanted to get these guys crossed off the list! And here they are. I even conquered my lazy nature and gave them pockets (one outside and one inside). The deal is still on - make some bags of your own (to give away or keep, either way!) using my tutorial, make a blog post about it, and I'll send you two of these. No deadline! :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

swaddling blankets

My stepsister had a baby girl a couple weeks ago, so I whipped up some swaddling blankets for her. They are definitely my favorite gift for a new baby - so easy to make, and so much more useful than the tiny receiving blankets that are sold in stores. I made one light one (single layer, with a narrow hem on all 4 sides), and one heavy one (double layer, just sewn and turned, with a slightly fancy top stitch). They're both about 40" (WOF) square.

On the right are what my husband and I call "arm bindings". I know it sounds a little barbaric, but if you have a baby that sleeps better swaddled but tends to wriggle out and wake themselves up, these things really help. We came up with them after our kid outgrew the one precious Miracle Blanket we owned (which I also highly recommend!). I loved our larger handmade swaddling blankets, but our little escape artist could wriggle out of even the tightest swaddle in no time! In desperation, I grabbed some scrap fabric and just cut out a rectangle, and placed it under her to function like the flaps of the miracle blanket had, and it worked! I quickly made some more, and we continued to use them for several more months. Ever since then, I've always made a couple to give along with swaddling blankets to our friends having babies. Last year, we sent this gift to some friends out of state, and since we couldn't demonstrate in person, my husband made this silly video to show them how it works. Please forgive the horrible fake Australian accent!

To make your own, cut a strip of fabric about 10" by 40", and finish on all four sides. You could even serge the edges instead of doing a normal hem. I always use flannel, but I'm sure other fabrics would work fine too (even jersey). If you're planning to use them right from birth, you might want to have some smaller ones too. They just need to be about 4 times as long as the baby is wide, and about as wide as the baby's arm.

Now if only there was something I could whip up to help a 3 year old sleep! Oh, I meant to mention - it's well past 10 days after her amoxycillin exposure, and she's totally fine. Phew! I'm so relieved! And my husband is so lucky! ;-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

tutorial: reusable grocery bags

Hands-down, the favorite hand-made gift I've given to folks over the last few years has been reusable grocery bags. They are SO easy to make, and they're useful and good for the environment. And when I make them, they're also super frugal and doubly good for the environment, because I make them with (surprise!) thrifted linens! It's probably too late for last-minute gifts, but file this one away for next year, and start keeping your eye out for nice sheets (or my favorite - duvet covers with coordinating fabrics!).

Let me start off by saying this is not my original idea - I started with this tutorial on But as I sweat-shopped DOZENS of these bags, I discovered several shortcuts that make things go faster. You know me, I'm an engineer at heart (aka: LAZY). If you're familiar with that tute, here's a summary of the changes I made:
  • I use a square "neck" and "armhole", to avoid clipping lots of curves (so tedious!)
  • I use a quick and dirty method to join the straps at the top
  • I do the side folds while the bag is inside out - so much easier! This means the french seam on the bottom is "backwards", but who cares.
So, to begin... To make 8 bags, find two sheets that are at least about 80" by 96" (or a duvet cover of that size). If you are using regular fabric, you'll need about 2/3 yard each of two fabrics (one for the outside, and one for the lining) for each bag. My cutting instructions will be for using sheets, but I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out for regular yardage too (you'll lay out the bag sideways instead of upright).

If you want to make your own pattern (instead of using my measurements), you'll also need an old plastic bag to cut open. I've heard that Target bags are slightly bigger than grocery bags, so that's what I used.

Use your bag template (adding seam allowances), or use the measurements I've provided below. Mine are slightly smaller than a Target bag, just because it fit better with the dimensions of the fabric I was using.

Like I said, I love to use duvet covers, because their fabric already coordinates! I got this one for about $7, and it will yield 8 bags. Sweet!

I cut the duvet cover apart, and then cut each "sheet" in half (just to make it easier to handle). Then I layered two coordinating half-sheets (right sides together) and then folded that in half length-wise.

Here's what it looks like before I start cutting the bags out. The fold is at the top, and there are 4 layers of fabric. The reason I arrange it like this before cutting is so that I don't have to pin anything when I start sewing (I'm lazy, remember?).

And here is a cutting diagram of how I cut four bags from each half:

Here is the bag all cut out. If you're careful when you're cutting out the inner section, you can save that to make pockets. Just sew up the sides (leaving some space to turn), turn it, and press. Don't sew the pockets on right away - we'll do that in another couple steps.

So, first step - sew all the "neck" and "arm hole" seams. As I mentioned, since I cut the fabric out already layered and right sides together, I don't worry about pinning. And if you're lazy like me, you can chain stitch all your bags at once - do all the necks, then all the left arm holes, then all the right arm holes. I chain stitch everything I can!

Then clip all the corners. If you want to add pockets, now is the time. You can add them to the outside or the inside (or both!). Just pin roughly in the middle (on the right side of the fabric!) and do a narrow top-stitch around three sides. For myself, I leave them off - I usually only use these for groceries, and those don't need pockets. But for gifts, you might want to add them.

Now, pay attention here. For each bag, turn ONE piece right-side out and press. Leave the other piece wrong-side out.

Take the piece that is wrong side out, and lift up the top layer of fabric.

Take the second piece (the one that is right side out and pressed), and stuff its straps inside the straps on the first piece.

When you do this, make sure the outer fabrics are facing each other, and the inner fabrics are facing each other.

Pull the straps all the way up until the edges are even. Hold the bag up by the straps and give it a little shake to get everything in place. Pin the ends of the straps.

Sew straight across both straps (chain stitch again!). After stitching, clip the corners a little bit to reduce the bulk.

Don't pull the straps out just yet. Just sort of unfold the sides to match up the outer fabrics and the inner fabrics. Start pinning at the center, in case your ends are uneven (like mine!). Sew along the sides with about a 1/4" seam (chain stitch!).

Press the side seams open, and then (finally!) turn everything right side out. The straps will be connected like magic! Yay! So easy, right? Press the remaining neck and arm hole edges. When you're done, the lining fabric should be on the outside. Lay the bag out, and trim the ends if they need it. Then fold one edge over about 3" (just eyeball it), and pin. I usually do this at the ironing board, and I give it a quick little press too.

Flip the whole bag over, and fold the other side down about the same amount. Press (if you want) and pin.

This is what it should look like from the bottom. Folding to opposite sides eliminates the bulk that would build up in the middle if you were to fold them both to the same side.

Then, just sew across the bottom with a 1/4" seam (if you already trimmed the edge). Or, sew across with a 1/2" seam, and trim it down to 1/4". Chain stitch! :-)

Turn the bag right side out, and press the bottom (or not, if you're lazy like me). Then sew again about 1/2" away (yes, chain stitch!), creating your french seam. You're almost done!

Now, do a narrow top-stitch around all the neck holes and arm holes. Yes, I chain stitch these too - do all the necks, then all the left arms, then all the right arms. If you're pressed for time, you can ignore the arm holes - they'll be inside the side folds anyway, so you won't see them much.

Finally, fold the straps in half, and stitch across "in the ditch" (as close to the seam as you can).

Give the bag a little final press, and you're all done! Yippee!!!

Whew! Writing tutorials is hard work!! It is way past my bedtime now. I hope that all is clear. If not, please let me know!

And finally... Did you see that Sew Mama Sew is having a Grocery Bag Sew Off? I've signed up, and I'm hopefully going to finish up at least these 8 bags, and maybe more. Sadly, I've already given bags to every friend and family member I have! So, how about this - if you use this tute to make some bags, and blog about it, let me know, and I'll send you two of these bags. How cool is that - make some for gifts, and get some free ones for yourself! It's kind of like a grocery bag "pay it forward" scheme! The offer stands as long as I've got bags to give away, so get sewing!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

good news, bad news...

First the good news - my second winner is #23 - Beth of Needles, Threads and Crafts, who requested squares. Yay! I was curious about what was more popular, so I tallied the votes - it was 18 for FQs and 15 for Squares (and a few with no preference). So there you go! I'm excited about setting up some swaps, and will be following up with the folks who said they'd be interested after the holidays.

Now the bad news.... all those wonderful awesomeness points my husband earned with that fantastic cake last week? Totally wiped out by his failure to remember that our daughter is allergic to penicillin when asked by the doctor! It wasn't caught by the doctor, who prescribed Amoxycillin for an ear infection, or the pharmacist who dispensed it, or the mama who gave her two doses of it (even celebrating that she was SOOOOO crafty about using pink food color to trick her into taking the "yucky" medicine) before she actually read the label. Luckily, her allergy is not the anaphylactic type, but a serum sickness type of reaction - just a delayed but really nasty rash (that last link is to some photos of her last episode - poor girlie!). She's fine right now, but the previous reactions she had to Amoxycillin only started a full 10 days after taking it, so we'll wait and see.... Ug.

Anyway, on to happier subjects.... I whipped up a little paper garland for the tree this week. Here's a link to a tutorial that's similar. I used three different punches - a 2" scalloped circle, and 1.5" and 1" plain circles. I think I used about 14 sheets of 12" scrapbooking paper, and it made a pretty long garland. My paper was only single-sided, so I paired up the pieces (just using a dab of glue stick, letting it dry overnight) before chaining them together with the sewing machine. Super quick and easy! And cute on the tree!

I went to my Project Linus meeting last Sunday, and volunteered to bring home a couple quilts that needed binding. This scottie dog one has a wavy edge, and I thought I might be able to use the extra binding I had made from that challenge fabric, which has lycra in it. But the stretch is cross-wise instead of length-wise, so I don't think it would work very well. The chapter coordinator suggested I just trim it straight, and I think that's what I'll do.

I love the simple design on this next one. I think I'll jot down the measurements and try it myself someday!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

dessert! (and... how about another chance to win?)

Now that all the dust has settled from the SMS giveaway day, I'd like to reward all you awesome peeps who are still hanging around. So, how about another chance for the same loot? Just leave me another comment saying "squares!" or "FQs!". I'll make this one quick, and pick a number on Thursday evening, so I can hopefully get it in the mail on Friday.

And I just wanted to say, in case anyone else is wondering but hasn't asked, I'm definitely up for swapping (or selling, I suppose) if you don't win and are just dying to get your hands on some of these vintage linens. I have way more than I'll ever sew up, and would love to share them. It would make me AND my husband feel better. :-)

Speaking of my husband, check out the awesome cake he made me for my birthday! It's the triple chocolate mousse cake from last month's Cook's Illustrated. Absolutely decadent!!

I hate to admit it, but he's such a better cook than me. I think it's because he actually follows the instructions. Me, I just wing it. Take my latest loaf of pumpkin bread - I couldn't find my normal recipe, so I just used a banana bread recipe and swapped pumpkin for bananas, and threw in some cinnamon. Um, yeah. It's edible, but requires a liberal application of honey!

Monday, December 7, 2009


Here's my favorite part of giveaway day! My lucky winner is #97, sb, of the blog that might be called Bigg Knits, or Random McRandompants, or [insert title here]. Hard to tell. :-) She wrote:
97. sb said...

I love FQs - they give so many options! In particular, those of the green/blue colorways. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy giveaway day!

It's time to celebrate - I'm pretty much over the flu, yesterday was my birthday, and today is the Sew Mama Sew giveaway day! Yay!

So, what's up for grabs over here? Well, I love to quilt with vintage linens, and boy do I have more than enough to share! I'm giving away your choice - either a set of FQs (however many I can cram into a flat rate envelope, and you can even suggest a color scheme)....

OR... a set of 140 or so 6" squares, all different.

So, you just have to ask yourself - do you feel like making a fun patchwork?

Or do you feel like making something more fancy with a set of FQs? What's your pleasure? Just leave me a comment, and let me know! International folks are welcome. I'll pick a winner randomly on the morning of Dec. 7.

[Edited to add - I already have SO many comments from people with no contact info! Please, people, I'm begging you - go here to learn how to change your settings. Even if you think your settings are correct - if you've never had an email response to one of your comments, GO CHECK them! Otherwise, ALL your entries are just a big fat waste of your time!!]

Thanks to Sew Mama Sew for hosting the event - have fun checking out all the other giveaways!