Saturday, March 07, 2009


I've been feeling pretty crafty lately. It's partly because of recent splurges at a nearby Jo Ann Fabric store that went out of business. Despite its dwindling inventory, I managed to spend hundreds of dollars on assorted fabrics, notions and beading supplies over the last couple months. A lot of that went to insulated curtains for our drafty house, but I'll admit there were a few things in the cart just for me. Anyway, I got lots of great deals, and I can count it as money well-spent as long as I use the stuff, not just add it to my stash.

So I've started work on some projects that have been on my list for a while.

Like these bags. Coach goes to lots of conferences and brings home bags that look like this:

There are variations on this theme of course (sometimes it's a backpack!), but basically we have at least a dozen black satchel-sized bags that advertise for some professional organization or pharmaceutical creation. Because I can't stand to let anything go to waste, I've been trying come up with ways to use these bags without being a walking advertisement for Pfizer. (Just say no to pharmaceutical swag!)

Here are my first two attempts, still not complete, but well on their way to being totally drug free.

The first one is Sam's new backpack for school. His original backpack (also swag -- but this one from pre-k registration in August) was totally thrashed. It had about 14 pockets, and the zipper pull on every single one of them was broken. Finally, the zipper on the main compartment stopped closing altogether. When Sam came home from school last week with his backpack inside a plastic grocery bag, I decided it might be time to come up with something else.

I had attached the road ribbon and the car buttons to his first backpack at the beginning of the year because I assumed every child in his class would have identical (free) backpacks. (Turns out most of the other parents are not as cheap as I am. Or they were smart enough to throw that piece of trash in the trash right away.) Anyway, I wanted Sam to have something cute, and easily identifiable as his. So we went to the fabric store, and he helped me pick out some fun buttons.

When it was time to move to the new backpack, he wanted to move the car buttons over, plus add a few more transportation related decorations from my sewing stash. I agreed, and even suggested I could stitch on some train tracks for the colorful little train engines he'd picked out. He was excited about that idea, so I started to work. Unfortunately, I did not get instructions regarding the specific placement and orientation of said train tracks, and made the mistake of stitching them in a diagonal line, because I thought it was cute.

Sam disagrees. He wants the trains to "drive straight, not on a hill!"

I can't decide whether to honor his artistic vision for his own backpack and take the stitches out, or insist that since I already put time and effort into making his backpack special the stitches will stay. So in the meantime I've done nothing, hoping perhaps the whole thing will blow over.

Things didn't look promising after his first day back to school with it. When I asked if the kids at school liked his new backpack he said: "Yeah, but they think the train tracks should be straight." I know the kids in his class pretty well, and asked who specifically didn't like the slanting track. He said, "All of them."

It's been a few days since then, and there hasn't been further mention of the offensive train route through Backpack Town, so perhaps it might be safe for me to resume work.

In the meantime, I've been working on a bag of my own.

This project is an example of serendipitous mishaps. Initially, my plan was just to use the damask print fabric (from a shirt purchased on a clearance rack for $1.50. I loved the print, but it looked really really bad on me. So I bought two.) to cover the offending panel. But because I don't actually know what I'm doing, I had a really hard time sewing the panel to the outside pocket without catching the lining of the bag in the stitches underneath. After several attempts, I decided to try free form machine quilting instead. I've seen this technique used by quilters who actually know what they're doing, and I love it. I'm not a quilter, but I got a beginning quilt book and some encouragement from Peanut and Mom a couple months ago, and according to the quilt book this technique is "easy and fun." So I thought, "why not?"

It turned out to be neither easy nor fun. And it looked stupid. And the stitches were small and hard to take out. So I decided to try disguising my blunders with buttons. And then that looked dumb. So I tried balancing out the buttons with colorful embroidery. At first I was just making matters worse, with huge clumsy french knots and crooked stitches. But then it all started to come together, and I really started to love the design. Since then, I've been hand-stitching every change I get. It's time consuming, but I do it while I watch TV or listen to a book and it's really pretty relaxing. Who knew?

Anyway, I'd still like to figure out free form machine quilting at some point (I know it has something to do with those pesky feed dogs, but my sewing machine manual is not talking.) but until then I think I'll just go with hand stitching. (It would have saved me a lot of time and frustration if I'd just tried that in the beginning. Oh well!)

Here's another blunderful project I recently completed. I was the item-of-the-month for our relief society enrichment craft group, headed by the talented Mackenzie (check out her photo to see where I should have put those ears!) I tried to follow all of Martha's instructions, but I still ended up with a creature that looks more like a dog than a lamb.

To add injury to insult, this lamb (apparently) recently underwent cranial surgery, as evidenced by the awkward scar of stitches at the back of her head. (Due to the graphic nature of the photographs, the scar itself will not be shown here.) But she's sortof cute from a certain angle, and I like her perky pink bow. Grace, lover of all animals even the deformed ones, affectionately calls her "Baaa." Sam, who doesn't care much for stuffed animals, but does like presents (especially ones given to his sister and not to him), wants to know when I'll be finished with his lamb. I kind of want to tell him "never." But this does seem like the type of project that will get much easier after a couple tries, so I may just give it another go.

As long as we're on the topic of fuzzy pink creatures, here's this backpack Grace got for Christmas.
I didn't make it. All I did was add the pink ribbon straps. But I love it because it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. And I had looked at many stores both online and in person, and couldn't find a suitable toddler backpack at a price I was willing to pay. I ended up finding this insulated lunch bag on a clearance rack at Shopko during our visit to Logan in December. It was surprisingly easy to open the stitching and slide in the ribbon, which was leftover from the curtains I made for Grace's room. All totaled, this little gift cost less than $5. And I would have paid a lot more than that for how much Grace loves it.

Here's my own bag makeover. I didn't think to take a picture before, so you'll just have to use your imaginations. Here it is after.

I found this purse for $2 at a thrift store. I liked it because it looked cute on the outside, but also had great internal architecture, with open pockets big enough for diapers and a container of wipes, plus smaller compartments to save me the trouble of dumping out the whole bag just to find my chapstick. I didn't realize until I got the purse home, however, that the lining of the was shredded. So much for compartmentalization!

I thought about tossing the purse right back in the Goodwill box, but then decided to try re-lining it. I probably wouldn't have bothered if I hadn't remembered a conversation with my creative friend Rozannah, who has a knack for disassembling stuff that's old and worn and turning it into something adorably unique and stylish. I asked her about a car seat cover she'd made this way, and she said it really wasn't that hard, just time consuming.

So I did it! I took apart the purse and disassembled the lining. Then, using the lining pieces as patterns, I cut a new lining in this pretty striped fabric, purchased as a remnant for 75 cents. (There's an even better story here. Before Christmas, I went to Jo Ann's specifically looking for a remnant to use to line this purse. I found this very print in the remnant bin, but because it came from a fancy decorator bolt, it was still about $7 for the piece, more than I wanted to pay for my experimental little project. I didn't find anything I liked better, so this project stayed on the back burner until about six weeks ago, when I heard that this Jo Ann store was going out of business. I stopped in to discover that they'd marked down ALL their remnants, including the stripey one I'd coveted weeks earlier, to 75 cents each. I didn't want this little fabric swatch to be lonely, so I bought pretty much everything left in the remnant bin. Can you believe how much money I saved?!)

Anyway, attaching the new lining to the purse took some trial and error (turns out it's important to do these things in the right order!), but it really wasn't that hard. In the end, I'm very happy with my $2.75 purse. My only regret is that the shell itself is not very sturdily made, and will probably fall apart long before the new lining does.

Here's another bag (what's with all the bags?) made from a copied pattern. My mom passed along a Christmassy gift bag that one of her friends had given to her. She knows me pretty well, and thought I'd enjoy copying the idea. So I did.

This bag is now home to a band of Ikea finger puppets that I purchased many months ago to give as a shower gift. But then I couldn't stand to part with them, and thought they'd make good quiet toys for church. (Cause heaven knows my kids need quieter amusements.) But then I realized it'd be nearly impossible to play with these without making animal noises. And what's the point of whispering, "ROAR!"? So the whole lot went into my sewing basked to wait for a home and a purpose.

OK, one last project. This one epitomizes why I keep a stash in the first place.

I purchased this picture frame/tray from a thrift store way back when we lived in Iowa (circa 2004). I wasn't sure exactly what I'd do with it, but I loved the frame and I kind of liked the green flapper girl print inside it. She ended up hanging on the wall in three homes, even though Coach never really liked her.
Enter designer fabric swatches purchased from Jo Ann's closeout sale for 50 cents each!

Here's the part I love: I used my new rotary cutter (purchased at Jo Ann's closeout sale for $8) to trim the fabric, which I attached with double sided carpet tape (purchased for $1 at the Yogurt Store*) to the backer board (which I was given free from an art store scrap pile) which I nailed to the frame with decorative brads (25 cents a pack at Big Lots) that were a little too long and had to be trimmed with my heavy duty (but disappointingly dull) craft wire cutters (Dollar Tree, $1). Each one of these items (well, except the rotary cutter) has been in my stash for a while. I pick up this stuff, halfway feeling guilty for acquiring stuff I don't really need, but knowing that it might come in handy some time. And then I spontaneously decide to do a project rightnow!, and I (surprisingly) have everything I need on hand. And I get it all done in less than an hour. And it looks much prettier on my buffet than that flapper ever did on my wall.

And the whole thing only cost me $295.00 at Jo Ann's closeout sale. What a bargain!

*Yogurt Store: That's another post. This one's long enough already.


Peanut said...

Great work! I'm very impressed with it all. Your craftiness is always so useful and practical--and totally cool!

Natalie said...

You are AMAZING!! So amazing that I'm ALMOST inspired to start a few projects on my own.

Shelley~Maren said...

I had no idea you were so crafty! Thanks for sharing! I finished a quilt last week and it is so fun to create something. ANYTHING! I loved seeing it all too!

Harvey said...

Your amazing ability to have all the needed supplies in your stash reminds me of the candy/surprise management strategy you applied in your bedroom in Benton.
Great work!

Kennon said...

I don't know if I am more inspired or overwhelmed with how awesome you are at this stuff and how I never would've thought of any of this EVER. But either way I loved the whole post. I am determined to start thinking a little more outside of the box . . and to make it to your yogurt store, at least once before we get out of here.
This is actually Kashann, btw.

Mrs. Donut said...

Wow! I am amazed by your craftiness. I'm doing good to get some newspaper thrown down on the counter for my kids to paint on. And look at you all making bags and beautiful serving trays and stuff! You're awesome! This was fun to read.