Just Waiting for the Perfect Project

In The Studio

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I hoard craft supplies.

This is not exactly news, and while it sounds like a confession at a self-help group, I have no intention of reforming this habit any time soon as my stockade of supplies has served me in good stead for many, many years. Today is no exception.

Y’all know I have a considerable fabric stash, right? Back in December I pulled out all my fabric totes and emptied the drawers from the “Bureau of Fabric” so that I could do some organizing.

December 2014 Fabric Hoard

December 2014 Fabric Hoard

Once I had everything rolled and put on top of, underneath, and beside my ironing board I did some quick calculations and determined that the above represents about 21 cubit feet of fabric. Yeah. And I have another full bolt of silver organza… somewhere.

Tip: A full bolt of fabric is usually 10 yards. To make a quick guesstimate of how many yards are on a partial bolt, count the folded layers wrapped around the cardboard core. Every 2 folded layers is approximately 1 yard.

What does my fabric hoard have to do with current events?

Well, this weekend a sew along began over at So Sew Easy for Deby’s Conference Tote Bag and I hopped on board as it seemed like a really useful and fun project. While I ordered the recommended fusible foam and interfacing (thank you Amazon Prime for speedy delivery), I knew my stash would yield the majority of the needed supplies like zippers and even the purse “feet” that are optional but I had actually picked up on sale who knows how long ago, thinking I’d have a use for them eventually.

Conference Tote Sew-a-Long supplies

Conference Tote Sew-a-Long supplies

But the real question that plagued me over the first few days of the project was which fabric I was going to use?!

I knew I was bound to have several suitable options in the 1-2 yard increments the pattern calls for. Even more if I were willing to use more than 2 prints and patch or piece the various elements together. But nothing was really standing out to me and I flipped through my mental fabric index.

And then, then I remembered… The Fabric.

A couple years ago, while on a trip to JoAnn Fabrics on a wedding-related errand, I happened upon a fabric that was so very perfect for me that I had to have it. Regardless of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I’d ever make out of it. I carried it around the store as I tracked down what I was really there for. I don’t even think it was on sale.

The fabulous "Laughing Monkey Pink" print

The fabulous “Laughing Monkey Pink” print

So I bought the whole bolt.

When I remembered I had this gem in my stash, yesterday afternoon, the only thing I really had left to decide was what fabric I’d pair with it–preferably something darker colored and sturdy as it would be on the bottom of the bag, and possibly the lining (depending on how off-script I wanted to go). After pawing through the browns (I color-grouped the rolled fabric after my impromptu inventory in December), I found a narrow-wale corduroy that isn’t much heavier than the printed cottons she recommends for this pattern. (I think you could probably make a version using canvas or cotton duck and skip most of the interfacing steps, but I’ll know more after I make the first one following the instructions.)

Actual sewing didn’t start until Day 3 (so, Wednesday) but I really haven’t had a chance to do any material (hah!) work on the tote so far. I should be able to catch up this weekend. So far the parceled out instructions have been easy to follow (the sew-along components include both written and video tutorials). And, if you decide to join the sew-along today or next week or whenever, you’ll start from the beginning of the 10-day series–so you don’t have to worry about playing catch-up. Oh, and the best thing about the whole thing is that Deby made the whole thing pay-what-you-want, so if you’re strapped for cash you could totally pay nothing for the course, store the info until you can collect your supplies, and sew when you’re ready!

Anyone else going to join me in the sew-along?

(And just in case anyone was wondering, I’m in no way affiliated with So Sew Easy, nor do I get any sort of kick backs for promoting the sew along. I just think it’s a neat project and wanted to share it.)

What Else I’ve Been Up To

In The Studio

After several months under wraps (hah!) I can finally reveal my secret knitting project:

I pinch! But softly...

I pinch! But only softly…

My friend Alison is expecting her first baby soon and has created a nautical nursery for the little one to come. I don’t usually knit things like blankets (the monotony does not appeal), but baby-sized is different, right? It’s the Anchor and Hearts blanket pattern from Judy’s Knitting Page and was a great project for car trips, Friday night knitting, and keeping my mind and hands busy in waiting rooms. Big Red, there, is The Deadliest Crab courtesy of Knitty.com designer Amber Allison. He was an absolute joy to work up and I was a little sorry to see him go! I hear he was a big hit with the father to be, as well!

In less-secretive project news, I created a dolly diorama inspired by various My Froggy Stuff videos. Seriously, the things she makes out of paperboard, glue, and office paper are really impressive. This diorama is 28″x14″ and more details and in-progress pictures can be found over on the Helmar blog.

Landscaping for dolls is so much easier (and cheaper) than landscaping for myself!

Landscaping for dolls is so much easier (and cheaper) than landscaping for myself!

Check out her Secret Garden and Water Fountain tutorials to be amazed and inspired!

It was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to the Gauche Alchemy team this month. After three years it seemed a good time to bow out and make room for some fresh faces over there, but I’ll miss the behind the scenes hi-jinks and being in the know about what’s coming next.

Walking towards what's next!

Walking towards what’s next!

The Love My Fabrics team also came to a close in May at the choice of the company owner, and my last projects over there were a quilted hot air balloon wall hanging and the outfits you see the dolls wearing, above. I hope the fabrics are still available on etsy as they really are great for sewing for dolls with!

Up Up and Away!

Up Up and Away!

Finally, I was interviewed over on Paint is Thicker Than Water yesterday. Last fall I contributed to the Monster Chores coloring book collaboration, and Jennyann is kind enough to shine the spotlight on each of the contributors over the course of this year. It was a fun project to work on (the monsters are doing the opposite of the chores they are assigned) and you can sign up for Jennyann’s mailing list to receive a copy (though I think the link for that may be down at the moment–she’s in the process of shifting some things around on her site). As part of the interview I also shared some images of commissions I’ve completed over the last little while, some that have yet to make it to my portfolio site just yet, so that was fun to share, too.

Custom holiday card illustration a friend ordered last year.

Like this custom holiday card illustration a friend ordered last year.

Well, now that I’m down to only 1 design team and the store’s not going to be taking up all my time, whatever will I do?

Like I ever have to worry about running out of projects!

Tuesday Reviews-Day: Totes Amaze! by Amanda McKittrick

Tuesday Revews-Day


It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been reading here for a while that I like to make things. While making stuff just for fun is all well and good, I especially love it when my hands-on time is spent making something useful as well as nice to look at. And even though a lot of my handmade projects are intended for others, every now and then I will make something for myself, too. Which is why I was more than happy to take a look at Totes Amaze! 25 bags to make for every occasion by Amanda McKittrick.

A tote is, at its most basic, a simple rectangle of fabric folded in half, sewn on two sides and with handles attached. But why stop there when you can add linings, pockets, gussets for bags to sit flat, draw strings, zippers, and curved bottoms instead of square? That’s where Totes Amaze! comes in handy with creative combinations of the basic elements, many of which you don’t even need a pattern for.

When something outside of an easily-measured square or rectangle is needed, there is a sheet of pattern pieces tucked into a pocket on the inside back cover.

[box type=”tick” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Tip #1 Even though the pattern pieces are printed on heavy-weight paper, reinforcing your patterns before you use them will help them last longer. I suggest clear shelf paper (such as the Con-Tact brand) adhered to one or both sides before cutting out the paper patterns. This way, when your friend sees you with your new tote, you’ll be able to whip up another one without worrying that your pattern might be too tattered for the job.[/box]

Alas, I have yet to clear the time in my schedule to actually make one of the bags, myself, but I have several marked for as soon as I can. I’m desperately in need of a new overnight bag with all these back-and-forths to the Dollhouse so the Classic Carryall Tote on page 50 is top of the list. After that, you know I couldn’t possible resist the Wine Bottle Tote on page 66, and the Six-Pocket Gardening Tote on page 38 will be perfect for crafting on the go (you guys know I can’t keep plants alive to save my life). With a simple lengthening of the main pattern piece, I think The Man Tote (page 114) would be the perfect custom answer to my widescreen laptop-carrying needs!

If you’re still a novice with needle and thread, McKittrick’s got you covered with some basic techniques in the beginning of the book and even a list of basic Sewing Kit items you’ll need to make anything in the book. After that it’s just a quick trip to your local fabric store and you’ll be all set! Each of the projects in Totes Amaze! feature detailed instructions and plenty of helpful illustrations to help you understand how things should look along the way. The book is full of bright colors and patterns that make it fun to flip through for inspiration.

[box type=”tick” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Tip #2 Even though the enjoyment is in the making, if you’re like me you still want to feel like you’re getting a bargain by making your own anything instead of buying it ready-made. Good fabric is the key to a great tote, especially the simpler the pattern design, but good fabric can cost a mint. Since totes don’t need a lot of yardage, check out the remnants bin each time you’re in the shop. Frequently these end-of-bolt pieces are marked down 50% or more, making it easier to splurge on a good handle for the same bag and still come in well under retail.[/box]

I picked up a full yard of caramel-colored faux suede for less than $10 that will make an amazing overnight bag and some sturdy, striped canvas on my last trip to JoAnn Fabrics that are set aside especially for the projects in this book. I also found a smaller cut of lighter-colored faux suede that I’ll use to make my own handles for this one (there are instructions in the book for that, too) and save the webbing for more heavy-duty projects.

I was provided a copy of Totes Amaze! for purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

How To | Joined Name Banner

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

It was the Wednesday night before our Saturday engagement shoot and I get the hare-brained idea to make us a banner to use as a photo prop.

Now, before we go any further, I want to assure you this story has a happy ending, as evidenced by this awesome shot from the day of:

Photo by Pink Shutterbug Photography, cropping by me (mostly to remove our kissy-faces)

Photo by Pink Shutterbug Photography, cropping by me (mostly to remove our kissy-faces)

But it wasn’t guaranteed when I went to start.

You see, just after Christmas I treated myself to an addition to my craft room: an eCraft electronic die cutter. I’d just gotten it, and barely used it so far, but I figured I should be able to have it cut out the letters and leaves with no problem.

Yeah… Not so much. When you’re learning a new tool it helps to be smarter than the machine and the software that powers it. I know, now, what I did that made the first night so tough on myself, but it wasn’t much consolation when I spent 3 hours and I don’t even know how many sheets of card stock trying to cut out 2 sets of 9 letters. In the end, the cutter did save me a lot of time, once I got out of my own way.

Eventually I did get my letters cut out–one set of slightly larger, silhouetted dark shapes for the backgrounds and a set of speckled ivory card stock letters for the fronts. The lighter card stock just wasn’t doing it for me, plain, though, so I set them out and spritzed them with some Glimmer Mist in Burlap and Gold. At that point it was late and they had to dry, so I called it for part 1.

Adding a little dimension and sparkle never hurts.

Adding a little dimension and sparkle never hurts.

The next night it was time to dress up the letters and finish the cutting. I found a free cutting file from SVGCuts.com that had just what I was looking for: a grape leaf, and it was layered, too! Thankfully this night’s cutting went much smoother (a few hiccups, but I got the hang of it) and before long I had plenty of layered leaves cut out, assembled, and put together with the letter sets and let them dry for the night.

The leaves got scattered among the letters.

The leaves got scattered among the letters.

I also cut out the rounded squares for the letters and leaves to rest on. I found this coppery, embossed paper with grapes and leaves on it in my stash–no telling how long it had been there, but I was happy I’d hoarded it.

My canvas was thin enough where I could fold it double and still cut through with ease. I cut some extras just in case I screwed one up.

My canvas was thin enough where I could fold it double and still cut through with ease. I cut some extras just in case I screwed one up.

With this much done, though, I could finally decide how big each of my pennants needed to be and what shape would work best. Sure, the inverted triangle is pretty standard, but I’m still on a square kick so wanted something blockier. Plain squares weren’t quite right, either, so we went with a pentagon that looks like a little house upside down. I cut those shapes out of some lightweight canvas I had lying around (again, being a craft-supply-hoarder pays off) with pinking shears so I wouldn’t have to hem anything. The pentagons are 5 inches wide and 5 1/2 inches long from top edge to point.

Laid-out banner bits.

Laid-out banner bits.

Now, usually I’d spell out our names my name-his name, ladies first and all that, but I knew that with us standing to hold the banner, I’d need to be on the left if my engagement ring was to show (something I knew our photographer would prefer, if nothing else). I could have held his name and he mine, but it would have bugged me to no end, so I put his name first so it’d look right in the pictures. It works well that we have names of equal length, too, but that’s  just luck.

Mr. Road Trip was actually okay with the banner as-is, but I couldn’t leave it that plain. It just went against every decorative fiber of my being, so to the stash I went.

The grapes and leaves also got a touch of metallic watercolors for a little highlighting sparkle.

The grapes and leaves also got a touch of metallic watercolors for a little highlighting sparkle.

I started by adding some strips of lace along the top edge and added another rounded square in a darker color behind the copper to make it pop more. The other edges were still awfully bare and I was nearly out of time for night 2, and I knew there was no way I’d have time to do any stitching on Friday night. Then I remembered my beloved fabric paints and pens. A few quick swoops around the edges with green and some purple grape clusters and my edges finally looked finished.

Just hanging out, like banners do.

Just hanging out, like banners do.

Finally, Friday night, between pin-curling my hair and grabbing the rest of our props, I glued down the lace bits (something I only did for time’s sake–I’m usually quite adamant about sewing fabric to fabric) and the letter clusters and set the 1/4-inch eyelets in each corner. I had a surplus of 1″ binder rings so used those to link the individual pennants together. Turns out they stretched perfectly from one end of our mantle to the other, so that’s where they’re hanging out when not being used for wedding props.

Not counting the cutter (because it’s not strictly a wedding purchase, I plan to use it for lots of things well after the wedding crafting has passed), I spent a grand total of nothing on this project–I had all the supplies in my stash. Can’t beat that when you’re on a budget, right?

Candy Corn Pennant Garland

64 Arts
Candy Corn Pennant Garland

Candy Corn Pennant Garland

BYOP 6 Party Favors, 2009

BYOP 6 Party Favors, 200

Last year I designed some Candy Corn Gift Bags as a party favor for my almost-annual pumpkin carving party. I made 4 dozen and ended up with 17 leftover. Since I don’t like to repeat party favors from year to year, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with them but I couldn’t just throw them out!

Fast forward to brainstorming project ideas for the 14th & 15th arts and viola! Total lighbulb moment: with their handles removed, the bags look very pennant-like and pennants are very big right now in party decorations. It seemed to me like the perfect opportunity to up-cycle my leftover treat bags and add another decoration to my growning stash of fall/Halloween decor.

First you need the bags. My eHow article from last September gives full, step-by-step instructions for making the bags to be used as party favors. If, however, you want to go straight to the garland, skip the pressing and hemming of the top edge in step 4 and stop when you get to the end of Step 7.

In my case, though, I needed to remove the ribbons and buttons that create the handle of the bags and press them flat. I thought about ripping out the hem, as well, but decided to save myself the trouble. The buttons were easy enough to remove with a single flick of a seam ripper.

To complete the garland, you’ll need:

  • 17 candy corn gift bags
  • 1 yard patterned fabric or 3 yards 2″ ribbon
  • Scissors or rotary cutter
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine, needle and thread
Cutting the fabric into strips Start by cutting the patterned fabric into 4-inch-wide strips.

I had this remnant in my stash that was 1 yard by 40 inches. 3 strips, even though I’ll lose 2 inches when joining them together, gives me plenty of length (118 inches) to span the 8-foot (96-inch) opening where I plan to hang this banner. The extra length (11 inches on each side) provides enough of a tail that we can easily tie up the banner when finished.

Making Non-Bias Tape Make Non-Bias Tape*

After we’ve joined the strips together (1/2-inch seam allowance) and pressed those seams open, we press the very long strip of fabric in half, lengthwise, wrong sides facing.

Open up the pressed fabric and fold each side in towards the center, pressing once again. You can pin this if you want, but it’s simple enough just to fold it as you press and save the time.

Finally, fold the fabric over along that first fold, lining up the outside edges and pressing a final time. This holds all the folds in place and keeps raw edges inside, creating a nice, clean edge to slip our pennants into.

Math Time!

8 feet = 96 inches

17 pennants, 3.5 inches wide = 59.5 inches

96 – 59.5 = 36.5 inches

36.5 / 16 spaces = 2.28 inches

Now those math classes come in handy. (In case you ever wondered when you’d use them.)

To get a nice, even garland we need to be able to space our pennants evenly. To do this, take the total length of your banner, subtract the amount of space the pennants take up and then divide that space by the number of spaces there will be between the pennants (# of pieces minus 1).

To make things easy I rounded down slightly and will put 2 1/4 inches between each of the pennants.

That wasn’t so hard, now, was it?

Spacing the candy corns Find the center of the non-bias tape and (with the fold opening downward) place your first pennant inside the fold. Measure 2.25 inches from the edge of the pennant and place the edge of the next pennant at that point, pinning in place.

Continue in one direction until you’ve placed 8 candy corn in addition to the center corn.

Rather than having to measure both sides, once I got the first side pinned I flipped over the tape–still folded in half–and matched up the rest of the candy corns so that both sides were even.

If you’re using 2″ tape instead of fabric, just fold the tape in half over the tops of the pennants and pin in place. Pressing is optional but recommended.

Sewing the pennants onto the tape Sew along the bottom edge of the tape–about 1/4-inch from the edge–slowing down slightly as you go over the edges of the pennants since the extra bulk could easily break a needle.

When you get to the end it’s a good idea (but, again, optional) to sew another line along the top edge of the tape. This keeps the tape fairly sturdy while it hangs and prevents flattening or bunching when washed or stored by trapping the top edges of the pennant in place.

Technically, we’re done, but there’s always one or two more finishing steps that can be added to make the project that much nicer.

Sewing no-tie bows Since I had the ribbon leftover from the removed handles, I thought they’d make nice bows on the front of each pennant. The only wrinkle was that the lengths were short and I wanted to sew a button on each center–the bulk would have been hard to manage with a traditional bow.

Instead, I folded each length of ribbon in half and sewed a quick seam a third of the way down from the fold. Ganging them one after the other on the sewing machine made this step go quickly and saved numerous starts and stops.

Attaching the bows and buttons After separating each loop from the “ribbon raft,” open up a single loop and squash the top down to the seam, creating a bow. Position this along the bottom edge of the tape at the center of each pennant and sew in place, along with a decorative button.

Since my garland is visible both from the dining room as well as the living room/entry, I alternated sides for my bow and button placement. I also found that by hiding the stitches under the bottom edge of the tape, they can’t be seen on the non-decorated side.

I used 4 1-inch cup hooks suspended from my ceiling to hang the garland, the two ends tied to the outer hooks and the 2 center hooks placed 31 inches in from each edge. If you wanted more swag to your banner, spread the pennants out a bit more and increase the length of your tape to allow more of a bow in your banner. I kept mine rather straight so that tall folks (unlike my 5’4″ self) won’t have to duck.

Visit thecsiproject.comI don’t know about you, but we love Halloween–it’s our favorite holiday! And now that Labor Day has passed we’re already starting to decorate. This banner is the first bit to go up and it’s making me smile every time I see it.

Have you started your decorating yet?

Coincidentally, the theme for this week’s CSI project is Fall so I’m linking up with those fabulous crafters. Make sure to check out all the fun fall projects over at the CSI project!

Candy Corn Pennant Garland

*Actual bias tape is cut on the bias–diagonally against the grain–but folded and pressed the same. Fabric cut on the bias flows and stretches more than straight-cut fabric which makes it easier to edge items with non-straight edges.