Denim Sewing Machine Cover; or how foolish musings lead to an unplanned project

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Sitting at my Table of Solitude in the exercise/homework/craft room, I was supposed to be working, on a Saturday no less, when I started looking at my sewing machine and thinking, you are dusty and you need a cover.  That’s really all I needed to say before the imagination was off and running like a hyperactive child — brightly colored!  Appliques!  Quilting!  Wait do I have any material?  As the holiday season nears the fabric store becomes less and less enjoyable.  Choosing fabric is fun.  The actual process of buying it when everybody and their grandmother is out there buying endless yards of fleece for blankets can be . . . frustrating.  As this was my mom’s machine, which I sometimes take to calling Valerie in my head, I wanted to incorporate a tribute to her in here somehow, after all the hours she spent sewing a creating at this machine.  None of the scraps of fabric she had left one way or another did not work or were not big enough or the right texture, so I figured I’d tackle that part later.  I looked in my stash and found an abandoned denim wrap skirt project that might work.  If I were on Project Runway, the frequent comment from my competitors and Nina Garcia would be that I have “construction issues.”  It’s true, and that is why I rarely sew clothing.   However, I figured with the right angling, I could work around the trapezoidal fabric cuts and make this happen.

I measured the machine in a box-style, remembering the clearance for the spool of thread that is usually at the top.  Having seen a few basic patterns online, I knew I needed to cut a cross shape and then “just sew it together.”  Famous last words, I always think “it’s only going to take an hour,” and it never does.  I usually realize this at the point I’m channeling my mom, slamming the foot up, and cursing at the machine.

What threw me off were the seam lines from that damn skirt.  I figured if I made the seam straight, all I would have to do is cut a rectangle around it, right?  After about an hour of cutting and measuring and trying to get this thing squared up, I finally got it pretty close.  Now in full disclosure I was watching X-men on the laptop and may have been distracted by Hugh Jackman, but still, cutting  rectangle should not take that long.  Because of the shape of the fabric, I had to sew the two little rectangles to the sides of the big rectangle form the cross.  I admit, I did brave the fabric store for a yard of muslin to line the cover (I waited 35 minutes in the cutting line, that is WRONG).  After I sewed the denim rectangle together and sewed a piece of interfacing across the top/middle of the cross to help stiffen up the shape and keep it boxy, I laid the denim shape on top of the piece of muslin and cut the muslin to match.

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Now it was time for the embellishment.  As mentioned before, this is my mother’s machine, and I was trying to find a way to represent her in this project.    I came up with the idea of superimposing a V for Valerie over the M for Melody, and just played around with some colors I thought complimented the denim.

The other element I had to contend with is that this cover had to look good against the bright yellow curtains in the room, or when the windows are open, look nice as I sit there and look at the lavender and honeybees in the front yard (Good Lord, I sound like Katharine Hepburn “The calla lilies ah in bloom agayn, reahlly they ah.”  You have to imagine the Bryn Mawr accent on that one).  Once I decided on some colors, I cut out the M and the V (the v just a tad smaller and offset so you could still see the M, and then cut some corduroy and calico to make basically a big patch to go on front.  I also cut some heart appliques from felt, too.  I didn’t plan it this way, but I liked the multi-textures that I ended up with (mixed media, as “they” call it sometimes).

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It was at this point I realized I had to work backwards, that is I had to sew the V onto the M onto the corduroy, then onto the calico, and then sew on the felt hearts, before I could even THINK about sewing the cover together.  Again, once that craft monster rears his obsessive compulsive head, he is very hard to ignore — once I got mired in that colorful little mixed media patch, there was no way I could abandon it.  Anyhoo, I layered all my textures onto one patch, and sewed it on to the front panel of the cross, since I figured it was easier to sew it on a flat piece of fabric than a completed cover, you dig? (It was).

With that done I quickly sewed up the sides of the muslin and denim cross separately to form boxes.  The denim was a nice stiff denim that is hopefully going to hold its shape well.  It took a few tries, but I finally was able to imagine the cover was a 3-D pillow and figure out how to pin the denim and muslin together to form a lining (right sides together, basically).  I left a little hole open to turn it right side out, and then sewed up the opening.  Cover done.

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One thing I would like to have done would have been to quilt it, but I didn’t have any batting or the inclination to buy batting, and I couldn’t figure out if I should sew it together first as I did and then quilt it, which would be a pain in the ass, or quilt it first but then how would I turn it right side out or have no raw edges showing?  I could have looked online but I’m sure the answer would have taken me too long to have completed this in a weekend.  Need I remind you it took me nearly all of X-men to cut a simple rectangle?  Another thing I would have liked, which I may still do, would be to tack down the lining so that it doesn’t drop/droop down every time I pull the cover off.  I just hate wrangling 2D or 3D things on the sewing machine.  I think I just figured out why I only like to sew blankets with right angles.

As it was, with a few imperfections, this is one of the few projects I have thought up, cut with no pattern, sat down and sewed that came out close to what I originally envisioned.  I like the monogram most, though, because it is colorful and meaningful and just very me.  Also, this project cost me all of 3 bucks for the muslin — everything else I already had.  Just the right kind of project for a cheap-ass fool like myself.

 

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Simple Farm-Themed Nursery Ideas; or, no more babies for this fool

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Fear not, dear readers who actually know me in real life.  This is not my subtle way of saying I am decorating a baby’s room because we are having another.  Unlike Butterfly McQueen, I do know somethin’ about birthin’ babies and we’re stopping at two.  There is no more room in this womb.  Now I’ll admit, occasionally, I see someone else’s baby and think “Oh, how cute.”  Or I look at Lil’ Bro and realize within about 6 months he really will no longer be a toddler, which makes me a little wistful that there will be no little person to cuddle in my lap.  Also we’re reaching that time of year where the crafting starts to ramp up, and the time I would normally spend blogging might now need to be spent crafting so I have something to blog about.  With this logistical and productivity conundrum in mind, plus the emotional baggage that my little baby is leaving babyhood behind, I almost curled up in the fetal position with a bar of chocolate.  Discarding that idea as unhealthy, I scrolled through some old pictures for inspiration and found some shots of the decorations for his nursery.

Being frugalicious, I didn’t want to go too overboard with his room, plus we already had some pieces left over from Big Bro’s room.  However, I wanted to make it easy and somehow cohesive with Big Bro’s room, but also an independent design.  Big Bro’s room was zoo/circus animals.  So with Lil Bro I decided to go with domestic animals.  The room was already yellow so I stuck with that color.  I concentrated on 3 things: wall art, the changing table, and a quilt.

Wall Art

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Lil Bro’s name only has 5 letters so we used large wooden letters to cover more space on the wall.  I painted the letters yellow, red, orange, and green, and had a pregnancy moment (i.e. unreasonable tears) to convince Pookie to show me who to drill holes in them so I could nail them to the wall.  I centered them above the crib and whacked away.  Done.

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As far as the pictures, I had picked up some John Deere flannel fabric with the idea of making a quilt with it.  I think its a little hard to see in these pictures.  I also had some inexpensive wooden frames.  Somehow I got away from the quilt idea and decided to cut out the pictures from the fabric and mount them in the wooden frames.  I painted the frames a darker yellow, cut the fabric to the appropriate size, and framed them.  Pookie drilled more holes and we had instant farm animal wall art.

Changing Table

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For the changing table, I had to cover the previous design we used for Big Bro’s room.  I needed Pookie to sand it for me and paint it white, which he did I think because he did not want to see any more unreasonable tears — that kind of freaked him out (well me too.  When you fall into an angry rage with yourself because you burnt the microwave popcorn standing right there watching it — I mean how hard is it, it’s popcorn? — people will do anything not to see that crazy unstable gleam in your eye).  I then cut out silhouettes (I’ve Googled that word so may times I actually know how to spell it now) of farm animals and traced them on to the face of the drawers.  I then went to work with red, yellow, orange and green acrylic paint.  Today this has the added bonus of telling the boys to put their underwear in the “rooster-tractor” drawer, since “bottom drawer” doesn’t seem to make sense.

Quilt

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I don’t get too fancy with quilts.  The fanciest thing I ever did was an apple appliqué quilt, which I made while I was single.  Then again maybe that’s why I was single.  Quilting isn’t exactly sexy in the singles world.  “Damn baby, I love the way you chain stitch!”  I don’t know if I would have that kind of time or patience nowadays, which is probably why I stick to lots of quilts with right angles.  Most of my quilts are either strips or blocks.  In this case it was kind of like a medallion quilt with lots of sashing.  I started with approximately a fat quarter of material for the center, and squared it to measure 18×18.  I appliquéd the letter L to the center (right angles!!  We didn’t name him Logan because of Hugh Jackman, despite what Pookie thinks — an L is just a bunch of right angles that is easy to sew!).  After that I just started adding wide strips of coordinating material to make the quilt bigger.  The trick is to add sashing to the top and bottom of the quilt first.  Then measure the quilt from top to bottom and cut two more sashes to cover that length.  Repeat until you have a quilt of the desired size, and then cut a final sash that will act as the border.  Actually the real trick is when you are a novice or basic quilter to buy a ‘Kids Learn to Quilt’ book like I did that teaches you the basics in kid’s language.  However, you don’t need to follow the instructions that say things like, “Get an adult to help you with the iron.”

Once the final sashing border was done I cut the batting and backing to size and pinned all three layers together.  Now here’s where I differ from a lot of quilters, I am sure.  I  don’t really like the actual quilting part, I usually like to stitch in the ditch (sew all three layers together by following the seams of the designs).  For me it’s easier and I’m not really confident or patient enough to stitch feathers or scrolls or curlicues across the quilt.  After I quilted all three layers together, I folded the sashing border over the back of the quilt to finish the edge.  This type of quilt takes me about 2-3 days.  It’s quick and if you’ve picked your colors and patterns right can be quite nice in its simplicity.

That was the baby’s room.  Pretty easy.  Now that “baby” is sharing a room with his brother and I’m sitting here like a fool in a sorta comfortable video rocker blogging and watching him sleep.  Well on to the next craft, which is hopefully a height chart.

Batman Birthday Party: or, in which this fool goes bat crap crazy

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Before he discovered Star Wars, Big Bro was enamored with Batman.  He still is, trying to cram his face into the Bat helmet I made for him 2 years ago that he’s outgrown.  You know how kids be doin’ sometimes.  I mean I had to put an extender strap on the dang thing but no no Mom, it still fits!!  So of course when his 5th birthday rolled around, he wanted a Batman theme.

Decorations — Using Old Comic Books for Maximum Effect

For me the decorations started with the idea of using comic books as my palette.  At the time I just figured they were cheap — since then I have at east come to appreciate some of the artwork.  I knew one of my co-workers was a big comic book fan, so I asked him if there was a store that sold used or otherwise cheap comic books.  He very generously allowed me to have a bunch of his that he needed to get rid of.  I love a win-win situation.  After I verified with him “Ok you know I’m going to tear these up, right?” I got to work on this treasure trove of friction’ free artwork.  First I went through all the books and pulled out all the usable pages, because some just weren’t appropriate for 5 year olds (you  know, the violence and the objectification of women and other small details.  I could expand on this but my time is limited . . .).  I started sorting them based on the color palette of each page and what would work together.  I used them 4 ways:

  • Birthday Banner Background  — I pasted pages down on a piece of brown “painter paper” (paper in a roll about 12 inches wide used to protect the edges of molding when you are painting.  Whatever that is called, I used it), then I used a stencil to paint Happy Birthday on the pages.  If I could do this over I would try to get the letters to stand out more because you had to be right on top of the banner, ultimately, to be able to read it.  What the hell I made it, so up it went

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  • Cityscape sign — I created another sign that was a cityscape, and then cut out Big Bro’s name in the comic book paper to make a sign that said Big Bro is 5.  I guess I really didn’t need another sign but I was inspired so up it went too

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  • Tablecloth — I decided to cover the tables the kids would eat at with the remaining comic book pages as a table cloth.  I basically just taped them down and then covered it with clear contact paper.  If you can imagine 5 year olds needing a conversation starter, a philosophical discussion ensued about who was a bad guy — it would have made Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in Unbroken proud.  I really liked the way this turned out

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  • Coloring book cover — In a last ditch effort to flesh out the goody bag in an inexpensive way, I recreated the old DIY coloring book trick, and used the comic book pages as the cover with a Batman emblem on the front.  To be honest, I wasn’t totally happy with the way these turned out but they were pretty low on the totem pole so I just closed my eyes.
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(I know, it’s Superman but this is the only one I had left to take a picture of)

I of course included the obligatory black and yellow streamers.  I still have some of those comic book pages left over in my scrapbook paper box.  Some pictures are so cool I will probably never use them for a project.  When we put the house up for sale due to the actual bat in the house incident (an early party crasher?), I used some of the pictures to fill the collage frame in the boys room and cover up the family pictures.

Invitations — This was a lot of fun.  I saw online an invite made to look like a comic book cover, so I thought why not me?  I found some cityscape clip art in MS Word, and then pasted a picture of Big Bro is his Batman Halloween costume, with some comic book type captions in there.  I almost always do my invites postcard style, so I pasted the invite onto yellow card stock. Done.

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Games

Clothespin Batman Zipline Game

I started by thinking, “what would Batman do?”  Somehow I couldn’t get the idea of  a zipline out of my head.  Clearly a real zipline was totally unsafe and out of the question (but how cool would that be??), but I got the idea of creating zip lines out of fishing wire so the kids could race a clothespin Batman to the top of a building.  I now, it sounds crazy and like where the hell do you come up with that idea, but I was SO inspired.

First I bought wooden clothespins.  In retrospect plastic may have worked better for slide-ability but next zip line I guess.  I painted them black and then cut out two halves of a Bat cape in black felt and glued them to the back of the clothespins so the hinge would still work.  Batmen done.  I then covered 4 diaper boxes in black trash bags, and then glued squares of yellow paper on the boxes so they looked like buildings.  On the day of the party, I drove stakes through the boxes to anchor them to the ground, and then attached fishing wire from the stake to the storage shed for each building.  Now at first the zipline worked, the Batmen were zooming down to Gotham no problem.  Then for some reason Batman got a little pouty like the spoiled rich boy he used to be (no offense Bruce Wayne) and had to be coaxed down the line.  In retrospect a little candle wax or WD-40 or graphite wouldn’t have been amiss, but I’m no engineer, I just come up with these half-baked ideas that sort of work.  Or I probably could have weighted the clothespins with a nickel or button or something.  It was a good concept, however.  And hey I thought of it therefore it is cool.

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Batman Beanbag Toss

The obligatory Beanbag Toss, now in its 3rd incarnation.  I painted the front of the still-kickin’ Mickey Mouse no wait Candy Corn Toss with a city scape with the hole cutouts being where the the bat signal should be.  It’s a little hard to explain so here’s a picture:

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Felt Batman Capes

I used craft felt to make (virtually) no-sew capes.  I bought enough felt to make 10 18×24 capes.  I cut a pattern based off of some Google research and the actual cape was basically done once I cut them all out.  I cut some yellow felt ovals (and some strong and powerful hot pink ovals for the girls), and then 10 Batman emblems.  I layered them and sewed them down, but it didn’t take a lot of time.  The Bat emblems I sewed down in kind of a asterisk shape, not around the edges to save time.  If I had it to do over I made would have used micro fleece or something not as scratchy as felt, but since it was August I thought that might be a bit cruel to the kids.  The picture’s not great but you get the idea.  Maybe.

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Goody Bags

Returning to my go to goody bag, the large brown lunch bag (which curiously enough I don’t think I have ever used for lunch), I painted the front to resemble Batman’s torso, and added some cardstock cutouts for the belt and Bat symbol.  I then filled the bag with the coloring book mentioned above, a Batwatch made out of some black ribbon I had leftover from a pillow purchase that was just waiting to be used.  I added some sticky back velcro to the end of a section of ribbon, which I measured way too big for Big Bro’s wrist, and added a Bat symbol cutout laminated with clear contact paper.  It sounds better than it turned out, I only wish I had cut the ribbon a little shorter to fit in the wrist better.   The cape also qualified as a goody bag item.

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Cake — I went to the store intending this time to just get a Batman cake.  Which they did not design.  I decided to decorate a plain store-bought cake, using the old crushed up Oreo trick I used for Big Bro’s Cars cake, figuring I could handle a simple bat outline.  Theoretically, this should have worked and ultimately did but not without raising my blood pressure.    For starters, the poor kid at the store had no idea what I was talking about.  I asked for a plain cake iced yellow.  He asked if I wanted any decoration on it and I made the mistake of saying nothing on top but you can make the rest look pretty.  He took that to mean girly pretty and I said no this is for a boy, so boy-pretty.  I walked away worried.  The actual cake decorator called me the next day and I explained what I wanted to do and the theme I was going for and between the two of us I got a yellow cake with a gray trim, with Happy Birthday written at the top.  Perfect.   I threw some Oreos in my mouth for quality audit purposes, and then threw some more in the food processor and crushed them up fine.  I took a Batman outline in waxed paper and etched the outline into the top of the cake, then scooped away the frosting to leave a 1/4 to 1/2 inch depression in the frosting.  I filled a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off with the Oreo crumbs, and then very carefully tried to fill in the silhouette.  I intended to practically draw the Oreos on there. but that so did not happen.  I ended up taking a toothpick to push and smooth the crumbs inside the outline, and this was quite tricky on all the right angles and corners. Plus I almost spilled some crumbs which would ruin the outline. It turned out very very well, but I will never do that again without more frosting to pipe around the edges of the Oreo crumbs.  Something I didn’t think of before.

 

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At the end of the day Big Bro was most pleased with his party.  The zipline idea, even though it didn’t work as planned, was a great moment, the outer limits on my imagination.  Even sitting there at my desk I said to myself “Fool you are bat crap crazy for thinking this s*#t up.”

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