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.

Homage to Valerie; or, my mama didn’t raise no fool

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Well actually my mama did raise a craftin’ fool.  All this crafty madness is because of her.  For all the silly stuff that comes out of my mouth, you’ll have to talk to my dad.  I’ll admit, this post is a departure from my usual super-detailed projects.   I’m treading on my mother’s coat tails on this one.  While I am waiting for the reading nook (or secret reading hideout) to be completed so I can post it, I decided to do a little post about honoring a loved one.  Craftily, of course.

My mother passed away 14 years ago from colon cancer.  I was 25.  (Yeah, yeah, I’m almost 40.  That’s a whole ‘nuther post).  Somehow in that short time I absorbed a lot of my mother’s ingenuity just by watching.  I’m not saying I can always execute it, but I learned from it.  She had a way of putting that final touch on everything that gave it that extra bit of flair or personality.  She also had a way of cursing at her sewing machine when something didn’t go right, so now I feel no guilt when I become frustrated with a project and I let the expletives fly.  I know now her fingers just ached to get involved whenever I told her I had a school project, like the way my ears perk up now when Geoffrey or Logan suggest something.  Or not even suggest something, they just mention an idea in passing and it gets stuck in my head.    Two of her ideas:

  • The school had a contest to show a balanced meal.  I tried to draw a drumstick and vegetables on a plate on a piece of paper.  My drumstick wasn’t coming out right.  Because I was 8, I didn’t know the f-word yet but I would have used it if I did.  My mom passed by and said, why don’t we cover a piece of cardboard with some shelf paper like a table cloth?  What if we glued down a paper plate and plastic cutlery?  What if we cut out a drumstick on construction paper?  I at least suggested we hole punch some peas out of green paper.  The final product was awesome.  I won a WALKMAN, back when a Walkman was a big deal.  And about as large as a tape recorder.  For those of you who remember what a tape recorder is.  Was.  Whatever.
  • I had to make a diorama of a book I read (Forever Ramona, if I recall correctly).  I was depicting a scene in a church and everything was going great, when my mom ever so casually wandered by (I’m starting to see a theme here) and suggested we put a table in the scene.  Before I know it, she had whipped up a table out of construction paper and a thimble.  Then she took it to the next level, y’all.  A shortened birthday candle with one end dipped in glitter became a candle for the table.  A few small pieces of paper stapled together became a book.  A brass casing of some sort became a vase, and a few buds snipped off a bunch of dried flowers were the flowers in the vase.  That tiny table is my mom in a nutshell.  Believe it or not I still have it.  I have saved it since 5th grade:

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Pardon my language but that’s how freakin’ bad ass my mom was.  I finally put this in one of those cases you put a baseball in, because I guess I have decided to keep this for a very long time.  That is one way of remembering my mother and everything she was to me.

I also inherited my mother’s fabric stash, most of which I am reluctant to use.  I have a feeling the material Dad brought back from Vietnam which is too pretty to sit in the bottom of a fabric caddy but too pretty to cut too will eventually make its way out into some sort of something for my mom but hey, it’s been in there for over 40 years, what’s another 20?  I did find some pillow cases my mother embroidered (as I recall, on a trip up to Pinecrest Mountain with my friend Cassy and her parents).  That was 1982, and again, those pillow cases sat around for 20+ years.  I think it’s time to do something with them.  I managed to set up a little crafting/sewing corner in the spare bedroom, and when I came across these pillow cases, I decided to frame them and hang them near the sewing machine, which incidentally was my mother’s as well.  Maybe this framing thing is something to do with all the silky Vietnam material that I can’t bring myself to cut.  Anyway, once I hang the embroidery I’ll include that picture, too.

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I have also come across quilts my mom sandwiched together but did not sew.  Those have been a godsend in a pinch for a special new baby on the way.  I gave one to my brother and sister-in-law that my niece now uses, and on the tag I put quilted by Valerie and Melody.  I also did the same for a very special baby of my friend Cassy.  I had a girly quilt just waiting for a friend to have a girl.  Cassy’s mom and my mom were best friends, and it is because of them that I have known Cassy since birth.  We have both lost our mothers and so I knew Cassy could appreciate not only a quilt, but a quilt from my mom.  Now maybe if she’ll cough up a picture, I’ll post that as well (nudge nudge Cass.  If those kids give you two minutes to snap a picture, right?)

The hardest part about honoring a loved one is that you can go so overboard that you start to be reminded more of their death and the fact that they are no longer there, rather than celebrating all the wonderful things about them that you love.  Other than those times when I hear my mother’s voice issuing from my mouth (“Who put these in here like this?”  “I ain’t playin’!”  “There are children in Africa who are starving”), crafting is probably the time when I feel closest to my mom, like a little bit of her is living on inside of me. It’s hard to let go of someone who knows you so well, but I am lucky I have a second mom who probably loves me as much as my first mom, so way to go Dad on choosing wives.  It’s a shame Mom never got sucked into Pinterest or got in on these birthday parties, she would have been in her element.  Well like Forrest says, that’s all I have to say about that.    Or as my mom liked to say in her Mr. T. voice “That’s right, foo’!”

(Yeah there’s no monopoly in our family on talking silly)

Bridal Shower Memory Box; or fools in love

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I have known Jennifer since I was 8 years old when we sat next to each other in Mrs. Roeding’s combination 3rd 4th grade class.  Yep, she’s in the rarefied “BFF” category for sure.  Fast forward holy crap literally THIRTY frickin’ years later, and Jennifer is finally marrying Matt, the nuptial all of the East Bay has been waiting on with bated breath.  So being she’s my friend of such long standing, I really needed to get her something special for her bridal shower.  But I was just stumped on what to get her, figuring the usual lingerie or cookbook just didn’t feel meaningful enough and plus this wasn’t her first matrimonial rodeo either.  I finally got the idea to make her a wedding memory box.  I had a laminated box I saved because it was pretty, but I couldn’t just hand the girl a plain box — “Here’s your big empty box — good luck with married life!” I decided to use Power Point to make an entwined monogram of her initials and her future husband’s and add some clip art to represent his heritage and her interests.  Since Matt is proud of his Dutch heritage I went with tulips and clogs, and Jen is very into antiques so I included a cameo for her.  Once I printed it out I used some clear contact paper I had on hand to laminate it, and then cut around it with pinking shears to make the edges pretty.   A little glue stick to the back, pressed it on top of the box and voila — personalized memory box.

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I included a very heartfelt note that made Jen and everyone else at the shower tear up — even me and I wrote the damn thing dry-eyed.  I guess booze will do that to a bunch of ladies (Ok ok I didn’t drink anything so I have no excuse, I know Jen is going to call me on that.  I love my friend, so what?).  Anyway, I told her this was a box to keep all her mementos of what I hoped would be many happy years together with Matt.  I said it a lot more elegantly than that, of course.  Then, being an equally elegant lady in person, I pumped my fist when Jen burst into tears and I crowed “Yes!  I have made her cry!”  Jennifer already knows I am weird, otherwise she wouldn’t have been my friend this long.

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Look how freakin’ artistic my friend is when I ask her to take some photos of her box!!  She’s so awesome!  When all the guests asked how I made it and I explained this process, Jen’s (future) sister in law muttered under her breath “Damn she’s crafty!”   It made me want to dance like a fool.

Baby Goat Diaper Cake: or no foolin’, a “kid’s” cake

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Since I have two boys, I very rarely have an occasion to make anything girly.  Although last night, in one of those insane craft moments, I decided to whip up a wallet for Big Brother because he needed someplace to put his money for the Book Fair I just found out about, and we always want to support our kids when they are excited.  Maybe sometimes I take it to the extreme.  Anyway, I was going to make a wallet out of some leftover Spiderman material and some interfacing, only to find I had no Velcro.  I was really trying to avoid making him anything purse-like, but I kept getting steered in that direction and it just seemed too girly.  I finally had to either somehow locate the spare play wallet of his that could be anywhere since it had not been seen since 2013, or I could make him as masculine a money bag (a European carryall like on Seinfeld?) as possible.  I made it with blue material and black cord drawstrings, but I still worried that it looked girly and he would get teased.  I told Dave, “I hope he doesn’t get ridiculed for his reticule.”

But I digress.  Heavily.

I never get to make anything girly on purpose, so when my co-worker Molly was expecting a girl, this was my chance.  My colleague found out that Molly likes baby goats, so I set out to make a diaper cake (never attempted before) with a baby goat motif.  After a little research, I layered diapers in a circle in cake pans around a cardboard tube, and secured each layer with fishing wire.  This was based on a post I found online.  There is a slight, very slight possibility I may have been too cheap (cue the gasp) to invest in ribbon, so I ironed some colorful fabric with the rough edges folded in to make a ribbon, and hot glued a band around each layer.

 

Now comes one of those small moments I am disproportionately proud of.  I had a ton of scrapbook paper leftover from a Sharpie bouquet I made for Dave at Valentine’s (he loves the smell of Sharpies and after almost 10 Valentine’s days together you start to run out of ideas). 

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Using this premise, I decided to make paper flowers to decorate the cake.  Instead of kind of fluffing the blossoms as I did for the bouquet, I accordion-folded the flower so it looked like it was just opening.  Now the part I am proudest of was the idea to strip one end of a cotton swab, and dip the other end in brown paint to make a very realistic looking stamen in the flower which would also provide a stick to insert the flower on the cake instead of gluing it.  I pretty much neglected pointing anything else out to everyone, I was just babbling, “Look at those Q-tips!”  Everyone just looked at me benignly, already aware of my inability to look beyond the details some times.  “Whatever, Mel.”  I had so many diapers left over I made a second one layer cake to put next to the guestbook at the shower.

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For the final touch, I printed out two kid pictures, one with a goat saying “Maa!  Maa!” (pun intended) and the other saying “Cute Kid”.  I glued them to a bamboo skewer and stuck them in the tops of the cakes (thank you Cake Boss for the inspiration!).

For good measure, here are the quilts I made for Molly out of some scrap squares I had leftover from a quilting lesson I did in Big Brother’s kindergarten class when I was on furlough.  Yeah, I was that desperate for something to do.

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Like I said, I never get to make anything girly.  Maybe some of my friends will have some more babies, because you know I’m not having anymore.  I ain’t no fool (well in that way).