How Having A Creative Practice Leads to an Eco-Friendly Life (plus my new white dress!)

Handmade white lace victorian inspired dress.

I’ve been pondering creativity as a concept a lot lately, wondering about who gets to be creative, how is creativity defined, and how does one build a creative practice into one’s everyday lifestyle? And ultimately, how do we be creative with buying less? A lot of my projects grow from a need, whether I need something that I don’t want to buy or I have things that I don’t want to throw away, but I know that I’m in the minority on this one. Creativity is a multibillion-dollar industry. It’s challenging for anyone with the tiniest amount of creativity running through their veins not to get caught up in a frenzy of purchasing things unto which to be creative with. It’s a problem without an answer because, on the one hand, I see the magic of buying stuff that sparks a familiar sense of whimsey unto which one sees the potential for making. On the other hand, the consumerism behind creativity is contributing to a culture of waste.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Growing up without a ton of money, I always needed clothes that fit my budget yet I wanted clothes that were gorgeous. So I learned how to make my own clothes, and when I ran out of fabric (and money for fabric) I started remaking clothes that I already had lying around. I’ve never felt bad about or worried too much about cutting into things, much to my mother’s dismay. I’ve ruined a lot of clothing this way, but I’ve also learned a lot and now I live a life that revolves around making and remaking. My creativity has only ever been fueled by the idea that something could start out as a dress and become a shirt. This kind of creativity is not pre-manufactured, delivered in a box with a ribbon. It comes from having a life-long creative practice, which is something I’ve always done.

Victorian-inspired sheer white dress upcycled from a blouse, dress, and curtain.

The idea of having a creative practice might sound a little surreal to the average person. It actually doesn’t take that much effort, just a little bit of participation every day. Sometimes I’ll sit in bed and look around my bedroom and think about what I could remake various objects into. Other days I’ll make whole garments, knit, draw, write, photograph. While making takes a lot more time than thinking, the thinking is still part of my creative practice because it allows me to visualize how things could be different. This is useful not only later in the making process but in how we start to conceptualize the things around us. It’s why I’m so adamant about sustainability and environmental consciousness, I simply can’t stop thinking of a world in which climate change is a minimal threat, where we’ve created more systems to ensure that micro-plastic fibers don’t pollute our oceans, and where everyone composts. That’s all creativity really is: the act of daring to imagine what could be and acting on it.

Dress bodice of white lace victorian-inspired dress in progress.

This dress was constructed from a vintage blouse, a used fast-fashion dress that my old housemate found on the street, and a thrifted lace curtain. I wore the blouse religiously between 2014-2016 but it started to wear down and I wanted to preserve it somehow. It became the top collar and mini-skirt parts of the dress. The fast fashion dress I also wore quite a bit, but it was no longer my style and I stopped really wearing it about a year ago. I loved the lace though, and it provided quite a bit of material. It became the bodice and sleeves of the dress, which I self-drafted from the skirt. I then faced a conundrum. I didn’t have enough lace to finish the project and no other material in my stash really worked. I originally planned to make a shirt, but then started fantasizing about a dress victorian inspired dress. After several months of waiting to stumble on the perfect fabric, I found this lace curtain at Goodwill, conveniently in a similar enough shade of off-white for it to work with the other lace. And thus, the dress was born.

Mid-length handmade white lace dress with bell sleeves.

I make a lot of garments like this, where several pieces of clothing will magically become one piece, immediately, transcending each item’s original purpose into something greater. It minimizes waste because I’m literally using up several items at once. It also means that I end up with more interesting clothing, like this lace skirt I made from a tank top.  I really don’t think that I would have conceived of how eco-friendly it is to use clothes that I already have loved to make completely new clothes if I didn’t have a regular and on-going creative practice that forces me to pull creative tools from my environment.

Flared-sleeved white lace dress. She made it from a curtain.

Therefore, I encourage all of you reading this to start your own daily creative practice if you don’t already have one. It can be as long as dedicating several hours to a project, or just a few minutes everyday visualizing directions you want to take. I keep a notebook that I specifically use to jot down ideas, draw pictures, and get inspired. The act of putting things down on paper can be really freeing, just make sure you allow yourself tons of room to write down ideas that you don’t think are great. It’s so important to clear the fluff out of your brain to create space for the good ideas to flourish. And if you don’t like something, try again. Don’t get discouraged when it’s not perfect. Undo stitches, and try again. Love yourself enough to grow and flourish with your mistakes. I can’t tell you how many dresses I’ve made in my life that I didn’t like. Too many to count. I’ve taken photographs I hate. I’ve written stuff that’s total garbage. But I’ve never stopped either. I force myself to persist, not because I want to be an artist but because my soul needs to create to feel alive. If you think you feel the same, never stop 🙂

Sheer midi romantic lace dress with mini skirt underneath.

And challenge yourself to step out of the cycle of buying new craft supplies so that you can be creative. It’s definitely more limited in some ways and takes greater patience, but it also builds greater creativity in the long run and you can feel good that you reused something that might have gone on to sit in a landfill.

 

 

 

The Art of Thoughtfully Giving Used Gifts

Salvage & Stitch: Pretty vintage dish with arranged florals.

For the past 3 years, my step-father has given me three vintage china serving dishes. All are beautiful, all were once very expensive. All were also purchased used at thrift stores. Many people believe that giving used gifts is tacky, or that it means that the gift wasn’t thought through. I agree that if done poorly, giving a used gift can indeed look a little less than exciting. Almost no one wants a worn and faded pair of sweatpants from your closet. I think it’s interesting, however, that “used” as an entire concept gets such a bad reputation.

There is nothing shameful about an object being previously owned. If one were to purchase a used object that looks new, wrap it, and present it to someone else, and that person unwrapped it and liked it, all without ever knowing it was used, would it matter? What makes a gift’s status as “used” unacceptable to people is the idea that “used” things have less value than new things. Those of us who regularly buy vintage clothing, furniture, and household goods know that this is utterly wrong. An object’s value does not increase or decrease based on how many people have owned it, assuming it’s in good condition. The object is inherently valued only for its usefulness, it’s condition, and it’s aesthetic appeal to the recipient of the gift.

Pretty gift wrapping idea: use herbs and succulents an copper wire with plain white paper.

The benefit of shopping used for holidays is that objects regain value in the hands of the recipient of a gift, more so than they would have in a landfill. I’ve received tons of gifts from my family and friends that were technically used. One of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received was a dress from my mother that she had made in the 1970s. I love this vintage dress, I love that my mom made it and that I can imagine her in it at my age. Another used gift I really love is a collection of books featuring black and white photographs of dancer given to me by my wife’s step-mother. Because I have a dance background, this gift was thoughtful, and it came off of her own shelves. What all these gifts have in common is the thought. You know that old saying about gifts, “It’s the thought that counts?” It turns out, that saying really is true, but it’s especially true for picking out gifts. If you really think about the recipiant, it’s completely possible to give a previously-owned gift that is recieved with joy.

Then there’s the concept of re-gifting, where you take a new object that someone gifted you and give it to someone else. It works sometimes, but it doesn’t work when it’s obviously a regifted item that no one wants, like cheap smelling shower gel or fugly napkin rings.  I still think re-gifting is a fantastic concept in theory, but it must be carried out appropriately. The same rule applies: Know your recipient.

Sage, succulents and berries in a pink dish.

I’ve compiled some helpful Dos and Don’t to help make used gift buying easy for you. The suggestions are broken up between Thrifted Gifts and Regifting so you have ideas about both options.

 

Thrifted Gifts

Thrifted Gift suggestions: Vintage Oscar de la Renta blazer, knit scarf, poetry book, pretty mug.

DO:

1. Vintage Household Items: Vintage casserole dishes, clocks, china, sets of glassware, teapots, and real silver anything are usually good gifts. It really helps to know the person’s style here, are they mid-century modern? Are they into Victorian stuff? Colonial? What about little vintage perfume bottles for a beauty product lover? Think creatively.

2. Good Quality Clothing and Accessories: The other day I found a vintage Oscar de la Renta blazer at a thrift store for $8. I bought it for myself, but I still think it would have made a great gift. Vintage make-up cases, designer handbags in good and clean condition and scarves are all things you can find at thrift stores for great prices.

3. Vinyl Records and Books: If you’re shopping for a bibliophile or a vinyl collector, thrift stores are great. Just make sure the records have no scratches and the books are in good condition. Vintage books are especially easy to find.

4. Vintage Linens: At some thrift stores and antique shops it’s easy to find vintage tea towels, tablecloths, curtains, and blankets. Just make sure to smell everything, make sure it’s all clean, and undamaged.

5. Jewelry: You can find some amazing used jewelry. Gold and silver, pearls, real gemstones, people donate some beautiful stuff. It’s typically kept in a glass box at the register.

DON’T: 

1. Anything Damaged: No holes, no rips, fading, definitely no stains. If you think you can repair the item and it would still make a good gift, then go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to steer clear. Loveable damage is probably okay if you know the item will be well-received, but be picky.

2. Mold, Dust or Cat Pee: Just stay away for everyone’s sake. If something smells musty, it’s not worth the money. Most thrift stores won’t sell these items anyway, but you never know. Examine everything you find a few times.

3. Anything Too Comical: When I was a kid, I was in this youth group that did a huge white elephant gift exchange with the kids and parents around the holidays. It was fun, but people would wrap up ugly but funny coffee cups and pass them off as gifts. Sure….they were funny. But it’s doubtful that anyone ever used those sad cups. They probably just ended up in a landfill. So be thoughtful. If you think someone will actually use the funny/ugly thing you want to purchase that’s one thing, but gag gifts usually end up in the trash.

Regifting

Add pretty florals to gifts for a nice touch for any gift. Rose wine, olive oil soap, perfume.

DO

1. Wine: You can regift wine a million times. If you don’t like Chardonnay and you know your host does, put a ribbon on that bottle that your aunt gave to you as a wedding gift and take it to the party.

2. Soap and Candles: If the soap or candle is of good quality but of a smell you simply don’t enjoy, it might be someone else’s perfect gift.

3. Household do-dads: Fancy wine-openers, those little cheese knives you know are cute but you’ll never use, brand new wooden spoons, picture-frames, and vases, you get the idea. Stuff you don’t want but is new and would make someone else happy.

4. Books: As long as there are no dog-eared pages and the cover still looks fresh, go for it.

5. Accessories: Does anyone else have the conundrum of having too many make-up bags? I feel like I get them as gifts a lot. Items like these are perfect for re-gifting if they’ve never been used. Also, socks, belts, scarves, hats, anything cozy for the winter, slippers, regift away!

DON’T 

1. Things that smell so artificial they just shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place. I’m not sure how to even properly dispose of these things 😦

2. Anything where the packaging is damaged. If you know you have the perfect gift but the packaging is ripped up, dented, or taped, take it out of the original packaging and try to repackage it so it looks nice. The one exception is toys- kids really don’t care.

3. Anything you yourself have used. Don’t give people half-burnt candles. Don’t give people stuff you’ve tried but didn’t like, or broke a piece off of. Those things go into the category of asking your friend ahead of time if they’d like the thing, not as a gift but because you don’t want it.

4. Makeup or Skin Products: I think this can almost work if you know someone’s tastes really well, but most makeup has a shelf life, and if it’s been sitting in your re-gifting pile for a long time, it’s going to probably already be expired.

Gift wrapping idea: white paper and copper wire, plus small plants, so gorgeous and chic.

What are other used gift ideas that have a small footprint on the environment? I’d love to see some ideas in the comments 🙂

Salvage & Stitch: There is nothing shameful about an object being previously owned, as long as it has value to the recipient. If you want to decrease your carbon footprint this year and find really unique gifts for your friends and family, try giving them used gifts, regifted gifts, or thrifted gifts!

DIY No-Knit Wall Hanging

Salvage & Stitch: If you have a scarf laying around that you never wear, make it into this super adorable wall hanging. Super easy, and great for yarn scraps!

Today I’m excited to show you all how to make this beautiful no-knit wall hanging from a scarf and some yarn, and to give you a peek into part of our bedroom! As the weather gets chillier here in the Bay Area and our apartment feels colder, I’ve been looking for some nice ways to upgrade our style and make things feel warmer by looking warmer. It’s pop psychology really, but so far it’s been working out nicely. I finally found the perfect thrifted rug for our bedroom at Out Of The Closet for only $40, which has made getting out of bed a real possibility. Our floors get super cold. That left our walls looking a little bare in comparison. I’ve been slowly adding to our walls over time; I’m a slow nester. I don’t rush into anything I don’t think fits our space because I almost always regret it.

My mom gave me this cream scarf that she grew tired of that was just slightly the wrong shade of cream for my complexion. I cast it aside for awhile, kept trying it on, and every time I picked it up and kept thinking how I really wanted to hang it on the wall instead of around my neck. That, turned out to be a fantastic idea because I was able to design this cute DIY tutorial for you all AND our bedroom has never looked better.

I’ve always loved the simplicity and intricacy of woven wall hangings, but it’s not a luxury that I find myself able to buy. I recently went to a fiber conference where weavers were doing demos. A friend and I even had the opportunity to try out a loom, and it was pretty cool! That said, I don’t think I’m the weaving type. I really admired the patience and artistry of the women who were regular weavers, but I didn’t feel inspired to take up weaving as an art or craft. I did, however, incorporate some weaving aesthetics into this wall-hanging through sewing yarn into the layers of the scarf. One could call it faux-weaving.

Salvage & Stitch: This No-Knit, No-Weave wall hanging was made from a scarf, and is so easy anyone coud make it.

About our bedroom, here are some fun little tidbits to share! The black mass on the bed is our cat, Stella. She refused to face the camera for the picture. I made the paint splattered pillow last year from canvas and acrylic paint. The fuzzy pillows I sewed years ago, also from a scarf. Amanda hates them because they itch, but I’ve never minded them.  The embroidered lampshades we thrifted but I saw them at Target a little while later so I assume that’s where they originally came from. The small wooden box on Amanda’s side of the bed usually has cough drops in it. The nightstands both came from the street. the brown and white one I found years ago not far from my mom’s apartment building. The tall white one I found while on my way to buy a nightstand, I kid you not. It was the ugliest color green and I painted it white. I’m pretty minimalist, I love simple things. My favorite thing in the world is falling asleep and waking up in a nicely ordered bed, which Amanda also thinks is quite eccentric. She could sleep in a pile of sheets and not care.

Salvage & Stitch: I made this gorgeous wall hanging for our bedroom from a scarf and yarn scraps. DIY tutorial included.

Regarding the wall hanging, any long scarf will do for this project, but one with tassels will mean that you won’t have to make the bottom row of tassels (unless you want to). If you don’t have a scarf readily available, thrift stores are full of them at this time of year. I used wool yarn. I suppose acrylic would work too but I like that wool instantly classes things up. The wooden dowel you can find at any hardware store.

Supplies: 

Making a wall hanging from a scarf and wooden dowel.

  • 1 long scarf
  • Yarn in two contrasting colors, I chose dark gray and cream
  • Yarn needle – sometimes these are called “darning needles”
  • Scissors
  • 1 wood dowel, size of your choice
  • Needle and thread
  • Optional: Yarn scraps for weaving into hanging. You can also just use your contrasting yarn.

Instructions:

1. Cut your scarf in half, and then cut 1/3 off the top off the halves. Trim your smaller piece at a diagonal, and put the excess aside to use for later.

Scarf cut up for wall hanging.  Cutting up scarf.

2. Sew your long pieces together down the middle, and then your small pieces. To make your seam relatively invisible, first, thread your yarn needle with yarn. Insert your needle into the first stitch through the back, and pull your yarn through. Next, insert your needle under the next stitch above the stitch you just pulled from, and draw your needle across to the stitch met on the otherside. Pull yarn through, and repeat on the other side and up the length of your two halves.

Sewing knitted pieces together. Joining knitted pieces together.

When finished, your pieces should look like this (I laid them on top of each other, to get an idea of how the hanging will come together):

knitted pieces sewn together.

3. Use your needle and thread to sew a few stitches down the length of your diagonal smaller pieces, so the stitches don’t unravel.

Protecting cut knitted pieces from fraying.

4. Make your tassels:  I made 21 tassels, enough for the entire pointy edge of my smaller piece. You’ll need to decide how many of each color to make. I made 9 grey ones and 12 cream ones, for the design I wanted.

To make the tassels, wrap your yarn around your hand or a piece of cardboard about 15 times. Cut a long piece of yarn (longer than you think you’ll need) and tie the end around the middle of the yarn loop you just created and thread the other end into your yarn needle. Wrap your long piece of yarn a few times around the top of your loop, to make it look like a tassel. Insert your needle beneath the wrapped part going down towards the long loops on the bottom and pull your yarn through. Then, insert your needle beneath the wrapped part again, on the other side going up, and pull it through. Next, insert your needle through the middle of your bauble and wrap it around twice. On the second wrap, pull your yarn through the loop to tie it off. Cut your long loop open so you have a tassel. You can also follow this technique from Martha Stewart on how to make a tassel if you’re super duper confused. It’s a little different than mine, but…you still get a tassel.

  

Making tassels.  

  

Tassels made for wallhanging.

5. Begin sewing your tassels onto your diagonal edges of your smaller piece using your yarn needle. There’s no science behind this, just make sure that you knot off each tassel on the wrong edge.

Sewing tassels onto wall hanging.

Adding tassels to a knitted piece.

6. Lay your smaller piece on your larger piece, ends together. Take the small pieces that you cut off before to create your pointed diagonal edge, and lay them on the top of the smaller piece to make another point.

DIY wallhanging from a scarf!

With your yarn (or yarn scraps as I used), begin to sew your smallest pieces to both the large and medium piece using crude large stitches. There is also no science to this, you might find a style you like and stick with it. I started out using single strands of yarn, but switched to double strands of yarn because I liked the style better and it was faster! I left the ends on the back unknotted, and just left a long strand to hold it in place.

Sewing a wall hanging with yarn.

Salvage & Stitch: Making a no-knit knitted wall hanging is easy when you use a scarf!

Just make sure you completely sew down the edges so they don’t ravel or look sloppy.

DIY No-Weave wall hanging

DIY wall hanging from a scarf and lots of scrap yarn!

8. Sew a running stitch at the top of your piece with yarn, about 3/4 from the edge. This will hold the piece together and make sure it doesn’t unravel.

Attaching wall hanging to wooden dowel.

9. Align your wall hanging with your wooden dowel. Double-thread your yarn needle with a very very long piece of yarn. You’ll probably have to replenish your yarn a few times on this step. Insert your yarn through the back of the piece, BELOW the stitches you’ve just inserted at the top, and wrap it around the dowel, sewing the dowel to the yarn. Continue until the whole piece is attached to the dowel.

Attaching a wallhanging to a wooden dowel using yarn.

Finished wall hanging, ready to be hung.

10. Finally, tie a long piece of yarn to the dowel to hang your piece with, and put it on the wall!

Salvage & Stitch: This No-Knit, No-Weave wall hanging was made from a scarf, and is so easy anyone coud make it.

Salvage & Stitch: DIY No-Knit Wall Hanging. This tutorial will show you how to make a beautiful wall hanging from a scarf, yarn, and a wooden dowel.

DIY Foraged and Compostable Wreath

Salvage & Stitch: Looking for ways to be more environmentally conscious this holiday season? Why not make this beautiful and compostable wreath with materials found in your backyard!

The holidays are officially upon us! The holiday season always makes me simultaneously nostalgic for the holidays of my youth and overwhelmed by ALL THE WASTE. Because this is a blog about making DIY projects from recycled materials, I’m going to be perfectly honest about my discomfort around how much is wasted in the name of holiday cheer. From wrapping paper to people cutting down perfectly good trees to let slowly wither and die in their living rooms (sorry, mega downer…) to 20 bajillion tons of presents no one really wants, I spend most of November and December taking deep breaths and asking my wife, “But really, is there a way to opt out?” And yet…I’m a huge softie and love giving gifts. I love the twinkle and glitter of holiday spirit in the air when I go places. I love family. Thus, I typically end up trying to find ways to have my fruitcake and eat it too.

One thing I love the most about holidays is how beautiful people’s homes become, with decorations and lights, but I’m always trying to find subtle ways of making decorations more eco-friendly. That’s where the idea of the compostable and foraged wreath came in. I kept thinking, what if there was a wreath that you could just throw in the compost come January, where no trees were harmed in the making but was also beautiful and something to be proud of putting on one’s door? Most wreaths are made from commercial flowers and branches and use wire as a base and to hold things together. Other wreaths are made by gluing things onto styrofoam circles. The compostable wreath would have none of those things, just compostable materials.

Dried branches.

A few weeks ago my neighbor and I noticed a pile of tree branches in our building’s backyard. We don’t have an onsight manager or maintenance person, so no one is sure where the branches came from, but it looks like they were accidentally torn off by squirrels. They’ve since dried and become beautifully preserved, with withered red berries and silvery green leaves. I kept thinking they’d make a lovely wreath, and what with all the autumn foliage in my backyard there are a lot of lovely things to choose from.

DIY compostable wreath made from foraged branches.

And so the compostable wreath was born! Even though this project is made from decaying foliage and not tin cans or used clothing, I feel like it’s another layer of what I want to address on this blog. Everything we create with has an impact, but choosing even natural materials found in your backyard over commercially grown plants means less water was wasted, less CO2 was released into the atmosphere because your branches weren’t shipped from who knows where, and hopefully you’ll encounter fewer pesticides with your finished product. I really love how my wreath turned out and it was really exciting to be able to point to it and say that I made a wreath. But can I tell you a secret? I have a feeling I’m not going to compost mine at all and keep it for next year, assuming it stays in one piece.

DIY wreath made from fall leaves.

Just a suggestion on what type of foliage to use: use what you have. I know it’s tempting to go out and buy trendy eucalyptus branches for this project, but I promise it will be just as fun and gorgeous if you use what you have access to. If you live in California like me, there are tons of leafy trees that stay relatively green and full of leaves through most of the winter. I also added some oak and persimmon leaves for effect. If you live in the Northwest, you could go with the traditional pine wreath because you likely have pine in your backyard. If you’re in the Northeast, try red maple branches. If you live in England, please for the love of all that is green find a way to a make a nettle wreath and then send me a picture. You get it, use what you have on hand. Whatever you use, just remember that the branches and leaves will shrink once they are dry, so it helps to dry them for a few weeks ahead of time in a place where they will not mold. The sun is great, but inside is fine too.

Supplies

Supplies for making a wreath: scissors, twine, pruning shears, and floral tape.

  • Foraged branches of various sizes, with both strong stems and flexible stems.
  • Any foraged additional elements you want to add such as dried flowers, berries, leaves, etc.
  • Natural twine or yarn (wool or cotton)
  • Scissors
  • Gardening clippers
  • Floral tape (optional)

Instructions 

**You may find it best to work outside, as this project can be messy!

1. Shake out any loose leaves from your branches, and begin cutting your branches away from the core stem. Select about 6-8 flexible branches to form your base.

Tree branches used to make a wreath.

2. Begin to tie or tape your branches together, overlapping the branches about every 4-6 inches. You want your base to be solid, with a wide center as you’ll fill in your wreath as you go with more foliage. If you use floral tape like I did, you can cut it away at the end of the year when you compost your wreath. Your wreath should look something like the second picture below when you’re done with this step:

Taping branches together to make a wreath

Making a wreath from branches found in your backyard.

3. Cut about 6-8 more braches and place them around your wreath where you think you might want them to be. Using pieces of twine, tie those branches to this wreath, loose enough to stick your finger through the ties and no leaves brake, but tight enough so that the branches stay on.

Tie branches to each other to make a wreath.

When finished with this step, your wreath will look something like this:

4. Start sliding more branches and foliage through the ties you just created, filling out your wreath, and using more twine to tie off loose ends as you go. There’s no science to this part, just add what you think you need to add and tie what you think you need to tie to make your wreath sturdy. When I was done adding all the branches I wanted and tieing it down, it looked something like this:

Making a wreath from foraged branches and leaves is a beautiful addition to any holiday.

5. Add additional elements to finish off your leaves. I chose to add some leaves of of a different variety and varying colors to add intrigue to my wreath, but you can add anything you want! Pinecones, berries, twigs, moss, dried flowers, etc… I just slipped my leaves through the loops that I’d already created.

Salvage & Stitch: DIY Holiday wreath made from foraged materials, all compostable at the end of the year!

Now go hang your wreath up and be proud of your gorgeous creation! Also…I had to include this behind-the-scenes photo of my cat hiding in the foliage in my workspace outside! After I walked downstairs, I sat down next to the posterboard which I was using to photograph, and she attacked me through the leaves! What a rascal!

Cat hiding in leaves.

Salvage & Stitch: If you're looking for ways to be environmentally conscious this holiday season, try making this DIY wreath out of compostable materials and branches found in your backyard! This step by step tutorial will show you how easy it is to be both eco-friendly and festive! />

Embroidery Rescued This Vintage Blouse

Salvage & Stitch: This vintage blouse was hand-embroidered to cover up a seam from a repair job, ultimately saving the blouse!

It was a beautiful autumn day when I wandered into my local creative reuse shop and found this sad but beautiful vintage blouse in pieces. Someone had cut it up in a refashioning project, became intimidated by sewing with sheer fabric, and gave up. I like seventies fashion and I like floral patterns so it seemed as though this blouse and I were meant to be. The only problem: How does one repair sheer fabric? I reattached the sleeves and carefully sewed the collar back onto the shirt with a zig-zag stitch, fully knowing the seam would show hideously. At least the blouse was back in one piece instead of in disarray. Then I was struck with the greatest inspiration: embroidery!

Cut-up vintage blouse.  Collar cut from blouse.

I’m not super experienced with embroidery. I’m not pretending to be an expert, or that I even know what I’m doing. I do happen to own a lot of embroidery floss, and I do like to try new things so I had that going for me. I also believe in slow fashion. I love a garment that tells a story of patience, one that transcends trends because it’s so cool why would one ever give it up? Embroidery does that.

Floral embroidery by hand.

So I set out to embroider the blouse. I didn’t follow a pattern, just my own heart, trying to keep with the floral theme at hand. It was definitely slow. I embroidered and then embroidered some more, pretty soon I was almost through the first two seasons of Twin Peaks and had made four flowers. But with each flower, I started to notice that I became better at what I was doing. And most importantly, the zigzag stitch was slowly becoming covered and simultaneously being reinforced by the stitches I was making.

Salvage & Stitch: Hand Embroidery on a vintage blouse to cover up a repair job.

Ironically, despite this blouse getting a lot of love on Instagram and from my wife who keeps comparing my beginner embroidery to her grandma’s EXPERT embroidery, I almost didn’t finish the blouse and this post almost never happened. This past week I’ve been in San Diego moving the embroidery-expert grandma to assisted living, up to my waist in moving boxes, old furniture, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. While I’m grateful that I was able to help Amanda’s grandma get settled in her new home, I’ve been so absent from my normal life and feeling anything but creative. I didn’t post on Instagram for an entire week because I was too tired to think of anything but finding food and sleeping after long days of moving. Then it hit me on Thursday, after personally unpacking the grandma’s embroidery supplies that I had a blouse to finish and a blog post to write when I made it back to the Bay Area!

Salvage & Stitch: Hand-Embroidered vintage blouse. The embroidery covers up a messy repair job!

So finish the blouse I did, sleepily, lazily, while watching more Netflix. Ultimately, completing this project taught me that not only is embroidery super trendy and beautiful right now, it can practically transform repair work into something even better than it was before.

Hand-embroidered floral vintage blouse.

When I had a sewing business I spent a lot of time thinking about visible repair. Most people wanted me to repair clothing in a way where the repair was hidden and the clothing looked brand new. But visible repair as a concept intrigues me because it’s so unrealistic that one’s clothes would ever perfectly last the test of time with regular wear, so why would we try to hide this reality? Embroidery can be visible repair that is not only beautiful but also durable. The only downside is that it takes forever. From start to finish embroidering this blouse took me a month!

Salvage & Stitch: This embroidered blouse was originally in pieces, but it was repaired with embroidery!

 

Also, I was kind of thinking about how ridiculous it would be to pair this blouse with the lace covered skirt I recently made using the lace from a tank top. Probably too much? But I like too much. The next time you have a rip or tear in your clothes, maybe give embroidery a try!

Skirt + Tank Top Equals Gorgeous Lace Goodness

Salvage & Stitch: Would you believe that this skirt was once a skirt and a lace tank top? DIY fashion wins again

I think I’m in love with this skirt. Like maybe if this skirt was a person, I’d be too shy to ask it out on a date (assuming I was single) and hide in a corner awkwardly staring at it, telling my friends not to look because it might notice. Realistically, because how can anyone really be in love with a skirt, I think I loved making every inch of it.

Lace on skirt.         ochre skirt with lace overlay

The skirt’s story takes us back two years, when a friend of a friend gifted me this big back of fabric scraps. A lot of it was…not great. I get a lot of “donations” from people who want to support my craft, and I don’t mind that, but I do like the opportunity to rummage for what I would actually find useful. The most useful thing in this scrap bag was a beautiful piece of marigold linen, just enough to squeak out a skirt.

I self-drafted a skirt from the linen, cutting a lot of corners. It was cute, nothing super special. I think I was inspired by the color more than anything. It wore it a couple times, and then it lived in my closet untouched for a while. Something about it felt so yellow that it wasn’t approachable. I’m an artist, but even I have limits to what I’ll wear. There were a few other items hanging around my closet, a lace tank top that I liked in theory but couldn’t understand. How does one wear a lace tank top? With another tank top underneath? Is this 2012? Have we gone back in time?

Back of lace skirt.

I threw all the clothes in a big pile, as you do, and the lace tank top landed on top of the marigold skirt and suddenly I saw beauty, intrigue, and wonder unfold before me. I know I sound dramatic, like how could some lace and some linen really tell you the secrets of the universe? Oh let me tell you, it did, it does, it continues to do so. I knew then and there that I had to combine the skirt and the tank top, to make a skirt to rule all skirts.

Adding a lace overlay to a skirt.            Adding lace to a skirt.

I’ve probably mentioned a million times in the short life of this blog that my favorite pieces to make are ones that combine multiple clothing items into one piece. That’s why this skirt is so brilliant to me. I had to fill in the neckline and armholes of the tank top with a contrasting lace to really fit the entire tank top on the skirt, which also helped bust some vintage lace out of my stash. Laying the tank top on the skirt was a little tricky, I must have used 85 pins, and then became too squeamish to use my machine, afraid it wouldn’t lay right under the needle, so I hand sewed the whole thing. I love hand sewing so this was ok, thank heavens for Netflix.

Leaning over in lace skirt.

And now I have this skirt, is it too ridiculous to wear the same skirt over and over? I think not. If you encounter me on the street, expect me to be rockin’ this baby.

Jumping into fall leaves.

And jumping in all the fall leaves! Even in California we magically get them, though it’s still relatively not cold. What have you made for fall that you’re really excited about?

Jumping up and down and wearing lace skirt.

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My New Backpack Used To Be An IKEA Slipcover

DIY backpackOnce upon a time, I bought an IKEA slipcover to adorn an IKEA futon that we used as both a couch and a guest bed. We eventually grew tired of our butts turning into rocks everytime we sat on the futon, and having a little money from our wedding we decided to invest in an actual couch (which we got used off Craiglist, but also previously came from IKEA). Being the overly thrifty and eco-conscious people that we are, we saved the slipcover, thinking it would become something else in a matter of time. Then one day, I realized that it would make a great backpack, and thus all my dreams of using the slipcover and getting a new backpack came true.

backpack made from ikea slipcover

This is one of my favorite parts of upcycling: the inspirational moment when you know that this one thing you have is going to become something better, cooler, unique, and special because you’ve tapped into some brilliant understanding that things are not always stuck forever as what they appear to be. It’s a philisophical journey as well as an engineering problem all at once. On a more practical level, it’s just plain awesome that a backpack could be made from a slipcover. The slipcover provided the perfect material for the backpack because it was durable, lightly quilted, and machine washable.  It was your typical BEDDINGE cover, boring, surprisingly unfashionable, and oddly clunky:

IKEA BEDDINGE LOVAS futon cover

The backpack warranted a trip to the fabric store for all the notions I would need, plus some sweet aqua daisy fabric that became the toned down theme for the backpack. I purchased new quilting cotton for the lining and accents because I didn’t have enough material of anything repurposed to line it. I spent quite a long time in the fabric store trying to talk myself out of the aqua daisy print, being a woman in my thirties and not an elementary school student…but then I decided that being a woman in my thirties means I know what I like and aqua and daisies together are bliss.

knapsack made from futon slipcover

inside of backpack with daisy fabric

I didn’t use a pattern, I drafted up plans by looking at a few backpacks I liked online, using those dimensions to create a blueprint of how I might construct the perfect backpack for me. I purchased the webbing and most of the hardware, except for the clasps on the front which I took from an old purse. Backpacks are rather rectangular in construction so it wasn’t difficult to figure out how one would come together, though I did take a lot of notes and really study a few back packs I liked before I came up with a solid plan.

I spread out my materials on a Friday afternoon, cut out my pieces, started sewing them together, became obsessed with the project, couldn’t sleep that night because I wanted to work on my backpack too badly, woke up early on Saturday, continued sewing, and then when Amanda woke up we took my new backpack to the grocery store. It fit all of our groceries and then some! I regret only taking two in-progress pictures, I was so determined, so obsessed, that I couldn’t be bothered with my camera.

backpack being constructed   knap sack under construction

I’m particularly excited about the back pocket, the perfect deep pocket for stowing passports and other important stuff while traveling. I also love the side pockets. Amanda keeps insisting that I use one of them for a water bottle, but I like using them for things like sunglasses, pens, those things you sometimes want handy but don’t want to unzip something for.

backpack with passport pocket

 

 

I had trouble with the front pocket, it turned out differently than I wanted and if I ever make another backpack I’ll probably just keep the front pocket flat. It was probably the most annoying part of the project, aside from sewing the really thick layers together, and it’s not a pocket I end up using that much anyway.

How has it been holding up? Great! I took it all the way to England and Wales last month for a UK adventure. It was the perfect size to fit under an airplane seat, and the secret passport pocket worked really well. It was stuffed full of gifts and treasures on the way back and didn’t budge under pressure. I love it! The only thing that I regret is stuffing so much that when we got into London and got on the Tube, I accidentally bumped a man right in the face. Not a great way to make an impression, for sure.

backpack made from upcycled ikea futon slipcover

 

DIY Seat Cushions from An Old Mattress Pad

DIY Chair cushion made from a mattress pad

Today, I’m going to show you how to use one of the lowliest and most unrecyclable home items to make something beautiful and unique for your home: the mattress pad, which can be used as batting to make beautiful, customized seat cushions. Because lets be honest, what the heck do you use a mattress pad when it dies or just isn’t needed anymore? And who wants to sit on a chair without a cushion? Not me.

Somehow, between merging two lives, moving, unpacking, and coexisting with each other, Amanda and I ended up with two queen-sized mattress pads. At first, we thought we’d keep both, and change them out, but that never happened. Her mattress pad was strangely more plush than mine and for some reason I hated it. It was stuffed into a closet until I finally liberated it and put it in a pile of stuff to donate.

Old mattress pad

I knew, however, that donating a mattress pad would be nearly impossible. Just look at this thing! Most thrift stores don’t take used bedding like this for good reasons like bed bugs, lice etc.. I wasn’t about to just chuck the mattress pad in the trash either, to live out the rest of its synthetic life in a landfill, so it lived in our hall way as an ugly obstruction until I realized that it was essentially just a few layers of batting with a quilt-top, and by George, batting I can use.

Geometric chair cushions

The other piece of this puzzle was the beautiful fabrics that Amanda brought back from a trip she took to Sierra Leone. Amanda lived in Sierra Leone for two years with Peace Corps, where she was expected to wear locally made clothing at various events and occasions where it was appropriate to dress up. When we first started dating she showed me all of her clothing, which she wears infrequently in the states but still keeps carefully tucked away in our closet. When she decided to go back to visit her friends and the community where she lived, she also decided that she would bring back some wax print fabrics for our home. I had some ground rules: nothing too culturally appropriative, nothing too bright as our home tends to be minimalist and decorated in blues, blacks, whites and grays, and if she could magically text me pictures when she was at the fabric stall in the market so I could see the options…this latter idea didn’t happen, but she did great! We ended up with a group of fabrics that are very pretty, don’t scream, “I went to a foreign country and brought home someone else’s culture!” and compliment our home nicely.

light blue wax print fabric

One thing we always wanted to make with the Sierra Leone material was seat cushions after we visited other Peace Corps friends and saw their seat cushions (also culturally understated, also blue). After putting this project off way too long, I finally decided to tackle it using the mattress pad as the batting and a beautiful blue wax print as the shell.

It was a simple project, easily doable for a beginning sewist, but also very satisfying. I quilted the tops of the seat covers while watching a movie, which I do think makes them look more polished. And how does the used mattress cover hold up? So far so good. I used two layers per cushion which makes them enjoyable to sit on but not overly cushiony.  You could use almost any repurposed material for the shells, think old curtains, old dresses, table cloths, pillow cases, etc… If you don’t have an old mattress pad handy, you could use a ton of other repurposed materials as batting: old towels, old fleece blankets, or even a comforter that has seen better days.

DIY wax print chair cushions with ties

 

Supplies 

  • 1 plush mattress pad, ( OR old towels, old blanket, etc…)
  • 1 1/2 yards to 3 yards of cotton, depending on how big your chairs are, and how many cushions you’re making
  • A sewing machine (preferable, but you could do these by hand if you really really wanted to
  • Thread matching your fabric
  • Embroidery thread
  • Embroidery needle
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

Directions

  Fabric cut for seat cushion  Making ties for seat cushion

sew an invisible stitch to close cushion  quilt cushion to keep layers together

  1. Measure the seat of your chair. Mine measured 15 inches by 15 inches, so I knew I wanted to make a cushion 15 by 15.
  2. Cut out your mattress pad stuffing: I made my squares 3/4″ smaller on all sides than my intended cushion size as it was easier to stuff and looked better all around. I used two layers of mattress pad for each cushion, but depending on the thickness of your mattress pad you may only need one or may need up to three layers. All in all, my mattress pad squares were cut to 14.75″ each.
  3. Cut out your outer fabric for the cushion: Mine measured 15.5″, leaving half an inch of seam allowance.
  4. Decide how you’ll add ties. The ties are necessary for the cushion to stay on the chair. I chose to add ties to the two back corners of my cushions and make them out of the contracting print at the bottom of my fabric. I made two long ties per cushion, about 15-16″ each, and folded them in half to be sewn into the back. You could also use ribbon or a variety of other trims.
  5. Sew your cushion: Pin the two right sides of your cushion’s outer material together, pinning each tie to the back corners with the tie inside with the right sides. With a half inch seam allowance, sew around the edge of the cushion, leaving a 5-inch opening. Reinforce the ties by backstitching a couple times.
  6. Turn the cushions right side out. Carefully stuff your mattress pad layers into each cushion, making sure the layers lay flat. Use an invisible stitch to close each opening. If hand sewing scares the bejesus out of you you can carefully close each opening with your sewing machine right along the edge.
  7. Quilt your cushion: If you choose to sew a quick square on your cushion, it will keep the inside layers flat and make your cushion nicer. You can do this on your sewing machine, but I chose to do it by hand with embroidery thread for a cute and chunky look. To do so, Thread your embroidery needle and knot the end. Embroider a square about 6″ by 6″ in the center of your cushion. I eyeballed my square, but if you wanted it to be totally perfect you could mark it with chalk first. Make sure when you make your stitches the needle is puncturing the same part of the cushion on the other side so that each side of the cushion looks neat and tidy. quilted chair cushion
  8. Put your cushions on your chair and sit on them! Or if you’re like Stella, gaze lovingly out the window at prey.

sew your own chair cushions

Not sure what to do with that old mattress pad but don't want to throw it away? Use it as batting for these adorable DIY chair cushions!