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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cool Yule: A Holiday Tutorial

DISCLAIMER: This project involves melting paraffin, which can be dangerous on several levels. Please read all the instructions and safety links, then proceed with caution (i.e. do use proper ventilation; do use a double boiler instead of direct heat; don't stick your hand in the wax when it's still very hot; don't leave the wax on the stove unattended, etc.). This is NOT a craft for children. Please read the paraffin box and/or online for safety precautions. I used paraffin because it's what I had at home. Here's the Materials Safety Data Sheet for paraffin. Seems less benign than what the soy folk report, but it does seem like a good idea to stick with a non-petroleum-based wax if you can. Here's someone who reports to have a neutral view on the Soy vs. Paraffin debate. In the end, I'll let you decide which wax is right for you. Now, let's talk about Christmas, or Yule as it were.

I saw a cute, kid-friendly Yule* log from The Toby Show, via The Crafty Crow that reminded me of the ones that we used to make many years ago. This is a simple and inexpensive craft that makes a beautiful center piece, hearth decoration, or holiday gift. People really seem to like receiving them. The best part is that the recipient gets to enjoy a cozy, Yule fire when they are tired of having it around — a consumable gift with no caloric intake!

Step 1: Gather the Materials (clippers, log & nature bits, paraffin, and two craft-only cooking pots)
Go for a walk in the woods with a pair of clippers — or, perhaps your street or backyard — and collect bits of nature. Moss, lichen, acorns, pine cones, holly and some tree branches are the kind of things you'll be looking for. At home, melt the paraffin (I used a whole box, but had about half left over) in a designated craft-only cooking pot or can that is placed within another pot that has water in it (not directly on the heat source) — or a double boiler — following the safety precautions on the box of paraffin. Protect your work surface with newspaper or tarp. It's best to do the assembly outside.

Step 2: Rough Draft
Lay out the tree branches that will be the base of your decorations on the log. I used Douglas Fir clippings from our Christmas tree. Fan them out to the left and right so the stems get buried in the "snow" that will anchor them to the middle of the log.

Step 3: First Snow
The most complicated thing about this project is getting the wax to be the right temperature and consistency. When it starts to cool it will develop a skin on the surface. This is about the right time to start testing to see if it's cool enough to touch and hold some of its shape. I use my fingers to scoop the not-too-hot-but-still-malleable wax. Put a clump of it under the branches in the center of the log, then press the branches into it and added more to the top. Holding it in place as it cools helps cement it to the log. If things don't stick just add more wax — it conveniently looks like snow. Many happy mistakes can happen on this project.

Step 4: Lay Out Your Design and Secure
Lay out your various woodland bits in a pleasing manner. Odd numbers look better sometimes. You can see I put one big pine cone and three of the cedar rosettes. Rearrange until you are happy and then use more wax to secure each piece. Your pot of wax will probably have hardened by this time, so you'll need to reheat it. It doesn't take long to reheat, maybe thirty seconds to a minute. Always attend the wax when it's on the stove. It can catch on fire!

Step 5: Embellishment
You can stop at Step 4 with great success, but if you want to make it even more woodland-y cute, you can make little critters to live on your log. I made this hedgehog with a seed pod (not sure what kind) and some Fimo.** I didn't heat set the Fimo because it would just cook/crack the pod — I'm treating it as a short-term craft since it's the nature of these pods to open up and release their seed. I also want to make some logs with mushrooms, of course. I'd still love to make a Bûche de Noël someday, but until the kids are bigger this is as close as I get.

* The Toby Show post has info and links about Yule.
**My gifts will have a tag that recommends removing the Fimo pieces before burning, because I don't think it would be good to breathe the fumes.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Glue-Set Zipper Tutorial

[I'm doing a little blog organizing and finally posting this zipper tutorial that I wrote up for Sew, Mama, Sew! last year. Enjoy!]

The Pep Talk

Learning to install a zipper changed my life.

Sewing for myself gives me control of what my clothing looks like and how it fits - how empowering is that! I'm so in love with the process and result of garment making that I've been averaging about two pieces a week. I can make a skirt in a couple of hours! It all started with the book Sew What! Skirts, which was written and packaged in such a way as to tempt me to overcome my fear of the zipper foot.

Around the same time I read a blog post by a woman who had gained ten pounds over the holidays and had made herself a cute new skirt to fit her increased size. This concept rearranged my thinking. No longer was I going to wait to lose weight in order to reward myself with new clothes. I was going to draft a skirt pattern (learned from Sew What! Skirts) to fit my body as-is; choose a fabric that I love; and sew myself some tailored clothes. Custom-fitted clothing looks and feels better than off-the-rack, especially if your body shape doesn't fit the industry standards.

The ruffler foot is not the zipper foot.

I was afraid of sewing in a zipper for about 30 years because I thought my mom's ruffler foot was a zipper foot. A zipper foot is actually just a simple little foot that looks like half of a foot. One side is missing so that you can get close to the zipper teeth without bumping into them. My zipper foot (#4 Bernina) has two positions, left and right, so that you can sew up either side of the zipper. The zipper foot is not complicated and should not scare you away. The lesson here: get to know your sewing attachments, they are your friends. Be sure to read up on your own model of zipper foot.

Don't hate me because I'm a beautiful zipper.

The most difficult part of zipper installation is making it look good. With the glue-set method you eliminate most of the challenges. The process becomes quite easy. The idea behind the glue-set zipper installation is to use adhesive to hold the zipper in place, while sewing, instead of pins. This allows you to top stitch the zipper without having to wrangle with the pins. And, since you are top stitching it into place, you have more control on how it looks on the outside, thus, more chances at zipper success.

The Glue-Set Zipper Tutorial: A basic side zipper for an A-line skirt

Step 1: Rough Zipper Layout

With the front and back panels of the skirt right sides together, lay a zipper on the side seam about 1/4 inch down from the stay stitching to get an idea of where the bottom of the zipper will be. A zipper between seven and nine inches is considered normal for skirts. The shorter the zipper is the harder it will be to get over hips. Got a big back side? Use a longer zipper.


Step 2: Mark Zipper Bottom

Place two pins at the bottom of where the zipper will end. You want these to be about where the zipper teeth end, not where the zipper fabric ends. The goal is to get as close to the zipper as possible without running your sewing machine needle into the zipper teeth or bottom closure. Continue to pin the two skirt pieces together in preparation for sewing.


Step 3: Sew and Baste Zipper Side Seam

Starting at the bottom of the skirt, sew with a regular stitch up to the two pins that mark the bottom of where the zipper will go. At this point back tack a little for reinforcement. Continue to the top of the skirt waist with a basting stitch. These stitches will be ripped out after the zipper is installed. Press the seam flat with an iron.


Step 4: Glue Zipper

With a regular glue stick apply glue to the right side of the zipper avoiding the zipper teeth. I have read that there are sewing adhesives, but have not tried any yet. The glue stick seems to work fine.


Step 5: Rough Zipper Placement

Gently place the glued side of the zipper onto the pressed side seam about 1/4 inch from the stay stitching. This isn't the final placement so do not press it into the fabric.


Step 6: Final Zipper Placement

Starting at the top of the zipper, roll the zipper into place doing your best to center the teeth along the line of the seam.


Step 7: Set Glue

When you are happy with the placement and alignment of your zipper set the glue by pressing with an iron. Make sure it's not too hot.


Step 8: Top Stitching (part 1)

On the right side of the fabric, with zipper foot set to the outside position, sew across the bottom of the zipper. You'll be starting at one corner and sewing across the seam to the other corner of the bottom of the zipper. Stop at this corner, leaving the needle in the fabric. Make sure that you don't hit the bottom closure of the zipper.


Step 9: Top Stitching (part 2)

At the corner of the bottom of the zipper leave the needle in the fabric and lift foot to turn the fabric for the ascent back to the waist. You want the distance from the seam to the stitching to be as far away from the seam as you can go without running off of the zipper fabric. This is one of the challenges of the zipper. If you are too close to the zipper teeth it's harder to make a neat looking stitch. If you get to far away, your stitching falls off of the zipper, which looks bad and messes with functionality. This photo shows the distance that I normally use, I think it's about 3/8 inch from the seam. Make sure to leave the threads long enough to work in when finished.


Step 10: Zipper Pull Work-Around (part 1)

One of the problems with putting in zippers is sewing around the bulk of the zipper pull. It tends to make for wonky stitching up at the top, with the stitching taking on a Y-shape as you sew around the pull. One way to fix this is to make the top stitch far enough away that the pull doesn't affect the stitch. Another trick is to stop short of the pull; leave the needle in the fabric; and pull the zipper down a bit, so it's behind the zipper foot.


Step 11: Zipper Pull Work-Around (part 2)

With needle still in the fabric and the foot up the zipper is opened to move the zipper pull behind zipper foot. Put foot down and continue sewing to the top of the skirt.


Step 12: Move Zipper Foot

Switch zipper foot to right side of the needle.


Step 13: Top Stitch Other Side

Starting in the bottom corner of the top-stitching, place needle in fabric. Lower zipper foot and stitch along the bottom of the zipper following the previous stitches. At the corner leave the needle in the fabric. Lift foot, rotate fabric, put foot down, and top stitch up other side of zipper as before.


Step 14: Check Zipper

After top stitching is done check the underside of the zipper to make sure that you have sewn all away around the zipper without running off of the zipper fabric. I moved the zipper pull up and down according to where I was sewing in order to avoid sewing around it.


Step 15: Rip Out Basting

If you are happy with your top-stitching you are now done with the hard part. If the top stitching looks funky, or the stitches didn't catch the zipper, then you should probably rip out the stitches with a seam ripper and sew it again. This sounds difficult, but it's really not that hard. Once you are satisfied with your work, you get to do the fun part: ripping out the basting to reveal the zipper.


Step 16: Pull Out Threads

Because it's so fun to rip out the basting I took another picture. Don't forget to pull out the little bits of basting thread.


Step 17: Sew in Ends

You should now have a working zipper. If a little glue has gunked up the zipper teeth, just wash it off with a damp rag. The last step in the zipper installation is to work in the threads at the bottom of the zipper. Use a regular hand sewing needle to run the threads to the inside of the skirt, tie off, and clip excess.


This is what my finished skirt looks like. When Kristin asked me to do a tutorial for Skirt Month I immediately thought of the glue-set zipper. As I planned the skirt and the tutorial I realized that I wasn't sure which step to start the zipper tutorial with. I ended up making a start-to-finish photographic tutorial of how I sew an A-line skirt with glue-set zipper. Since it took 47 photos to document the process I'm paring this post down to the zipper-only tutorial — a mere 18 photos. The rest of the skirt tutorial can be found in this Flickr set.

Good luck and happy sewing.
— Michelle

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sweater Sleeve Kid Pants Tutorial

This is not fine sewing — you'll want to skip this post if your inner perfectionist screams at the idea of "winging it." This is a fun and funky tutorial to help you make a pair of kids pants out of the sleeves of a wool sweater. I used a pair of 18-mos-sized sweatpants as a pattern, and adjusted for length to fit my tall 2-1/2-year-old. The sweater I used is at least an adult XL with long, raglan sleeves. To see the other pants that I made with sweater sleeves, see my original post here.

What you will need:
  • A 100% wool sweater, adult-size (Large, XL or beyond)

  • A pair of kid pants that have a rise that fits the child recipient (you can add length if you have enough sweater)

  • Enough 1/2-inch elastic to wrap around the child's waist, plus a little extra (you could use other elastic widths, just make sure to adjust the waistband accordingly)

Step 1: Gather your materials
Start with a Large or XL, 100% wool, adult-sized sweater. The bigger the better, because you never know how much it will shrink when you "felt" it.

Step 2: Cut out your pattern
Cut along the inseam of the pants that will become the pattern. This photo looks like I cut through both layers together, but I didn't. If you look at the back of the pants, you can see I started on the other side and worked my way around. I used size 18 mos. sweatpants, because I knew that the inseam fits my two-and-a-half-year-old, and that I could add length.

Step 3: Get your fabric ready
Wash and dry the wool sweater to "felt" it. Cut the sleeves off sweater at the seams. I washed and dried this wool sweater in hot water with soap a few times before deciding to cut into it. I could have "felted" it more, but I figure it's fine as is.

Step 4: Layout your pattern (part 1)
With inseam and sleeve seam on the same side, lay the "pattern" over the "fabric."

Step 5: Layout your pattern (part 2)
Make sure the you have enough width at the top by stretching out the elastic. Move the pattern up or down till you get enough width for the waist (plus a small seam allowance) as well as the right length at the bottom.

Step 6: Cut inseam
Following the curve of the sweat pants inseam, cut the sweater to match. On these sweats, the inseam has the same curve for the front and back. The only difference is the rise is shorter in the front, longer in the back.

Step 7: Rough cut the waist
Follow the curve of the highest part of the waist (the back) and leave an extra inch or so for turning to make the casing for the elastic.

Step 8: Trim the front rise (part 1)
With inseams up, place the pant leg on top of the sweater in preparation for trimming the waist. See how the rise is lower in the front.

Step 9: Trim the front rise (part 2)
Leaving about an inch allowance for the casing for the elastic, and following the curve of the waist, trim off the excess waist in the front of the pants (see orange line in step 8).

Step 10: Rough cut second leg
With inseams on the same side, lay the first leg/sleeve on the second sleeve to use as a pattern. Cut rise and waist.

Step 11: Trim waist/front rise of second leg
Make sure that you flip the second leg over, so that inseams are where they should be — on the inside. You are making mirror copies of the legs, a right and a left leg. You don't want two of the same leg. Match up the crotch and the waists, then trim the front waist/rise of the second leg. I ended up trimming a bit of the back because it curved up to a point. You want it to be fairly straight across the back.

Step 12: Prepare for sewing
Turn one leg wrong-side out, then insert the other leg so that the right-sides are together and the inseams match up.

Step 13: Pin together
With inseams (and stripes if you have them) matched up, pin legs together. Make sure the waist and rise match. One of my legs had some excess at the back rise, so I trimmed it off.

Step 14: Sew inseam
With a zigzag stitch, sew along inseam, removing pins before you get to them. Sew inseam twice. To get the knit fabric to go through my machine smoothly, I pulled a little on the back of it as I was sewing.

Step 15: Top-stitch inseam (optional)
On the right-side top-stitch next to the inseam to help the seam lie flat on the inside. You can skip this step.

Step 16: Turn waist edge (optional)
Turn the top edge of the waist to the inside, about a quarter of an inch, and sew down with a zigzag stitch. Alternately, you could just run a zigzag around the top edge without turning in down. This might be a better option, since the turning adds bulk around the waist.

Step 17: Make casing
After finishing the edge of the waist, fold over the waist about an inch and pin. Starting at the back of the pants, sew a zigzag stitch around the pants waist, stopping a couple inches before completing the circle. You need to leave an opening to run the elastic though.

Step 18: Add the elastic
Attach a safety pin to the end of the elastic and run it through the casing, making sure to not twist it. Keep holding the other end of the elastic so you don't lose it inside the casing. Safety pin the elastic ends together and try pants on the recipient. I skipped this step and the next, and had to undo a bunch of stitches to make adjustments to the elastic.

Step 19: Sew the elastic together
After the elastic is properly sized, pull it through the opening in the casing and run some zigzag stitches along it to close the loop.

Step 20: Close the casing
After making sure the elastic fits properly, sew up the remaining casing. You're done!

Step 21: Bribe child to take photo
Let child watch video so you can take a no-flash photo that's less blurry. Ignore slightly wonky inseam, and enjoy!

Step 22: Bike ride
Make up for video watching with bike ride and outdoor photo shoot. Much better.

Larger photos can be found over at the flickr set.


Trivia tidbit: My photo of the original recycled sweater pants appears in wee form in the book Knitalong by Larissa Brown and Martin John Brown.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kids Sweater-Apron Tutorial (Re-visited) & Give-Away


Remember my Kids Sweater-Apron Tutorial from a while back? Well, I decided to post the entire thing over here on my blog, instead of redirecting everyone over to my Flickr. It's another one of my ploys to draw readership and get to know more about my readers (last time I got to meet so many lurkers — fun). And, just to make it exciting for youz guyz, there's going to be another give-away. Since my sons love the original two aprons, I've made up another one (solid gray with stripe-y pocket and navy trim) for the lucky winner. This time it's cashmere — what it lacks in density and structure it makes up for in softness — mmmmmmm, cashmere. It's big enough for a five-year-old, but could be worn by someone more wee.

Same rules apply: leave a comment on this post, AND, link back to this tutorial on your blog or flickr. In about a week, I'll have a kid pick a name out of a bowl. I'll post a reminder with the actual cut-off time before then.


Green Kitchen's


One shrunken adult-sized wool sweater
Seam binding or other edge trim
Buttons (optional)
Sewing machine
Thread to match or contrast

Getting Started: The Rough Cut
Step 1: The Rough Cut
Take one fulled/felted/shrunken sweater, and, using pinking shears, cut along the seams to separate the pieces (front, back, sleeves). You should be able to make two aprons out of one sweater. Hold the body piece of sweater up to the recipient for sizing. Make adjustments to length, width, neck shaping, etc. This sweater was just right for my son, so I didn't alter the shape. The second apron I made (see end of this post) was a slightly different design with more altering. Use your imagination and let the sweater give you ideas for what works best.

Trim Seams
Step 2: Trim the Seams
Trim off any thick seams. You only want to have one thickness of sweater to work with.

Make it Symmetrical
Step 3: Even Things Out
Fold sweater piece in half vertically to make sure the sides are symmetrical. Trim where necessary.

Choose a Binding
Step 4: Choose a Binding
I used a polyester knit seam binding because that is what I had around. Having a knit binding is important because you need to stretch the binding around the thick sweater edge. I'm sure you could do it with a woven, but you'd need to make sure it's pretty wide to take the sweater thickness into account. Make sure you have enough binding before you start sewing. Don't trim it until you have sewn it on.

Sew Binding to Back
Step 5: Sew Binding to Back
On wrong side of sweater, zigzag stitch the seam binding around the apron. Try to keep the stitching close to the edge of the sweater, so, that when you turn the binding to the other side, it gets hidden by the binding. I went quickly and some of my zigzag shows on the front.

Miter Corner
Step 6: Miter Corner
At corners, lift foot and miter the corner of the binding. Lower foot and continue. The knit binding is pretty forgiving, so I didn't worry too much about making perfect corners. I just tried to not have obvious gaps or lumps.

Binding End
Step 7: Binding Off
When you get all the way around the apron, trim off extra seam binding, leaving a couple inches for finishing.

Cut Corners
Step 8: Cutting Corners
Because of the thickness of the sweater, clip the corners to make it less bulky before finishing the binding.

Binding Front
Step 9: Binding Front Side
Fold seam binding over to the front of the apron and straight stitch it close to the edge of the binding.

Seam Binding End
Step 10: Seam Binding Finish
This is how I finished off my binding. It's not beautiful, but I couldn't really think of something else to do to make it look better without doing some hand stitching. I zigzagged the end, overlapped, and stitched. Folding over the end would have made it much too bulky.

Neck Strap & Ties
Step 11: Neck Strap & Ties
To ready the seam binding for the neck strap and apron ties, I zigzag stitched the seam binding to itself so that it wouldn't flap open. You could leave this step out if you are in a hurry. You can see by my uneven stitching that I was in a bit of a hurry.

Neck Strap
Step 12: Attach Neck Strap
Fold over ends of neck strap and stitch to sweater fabric just under the binding at the shoulders. I didn't stitch the neck strap to the binding because I didn't want it to show on the front. This made for a bit of extra work because I ended up hand stitching the front of the neck strap to the shoulder of the apron to avoid the gap.

Apron with Neck Strap
Step 13: Strapped
This is the back of the apron after the seam binding and neck strap are attached.

Fashion a Pocket
Step 14: Fashion a Pocket or Two
I used one of the sweater sleeves to make the pockets. A contrasting sweater piece could also be nice. Cut along the seam on the sleeve to see what you have to work with.

Layout Pockets
Step 15: Lay Out Pockets
I used the sleeve cuff for the little top pocket and the bulk of the rest of the sleeve for the big pocket. Trim pockets to fit, making sure to square them up as you go. Use your creativity when choosing pocket placement, size, and orientation.

Pocket Detail
Step 16: Pocket Detail
The little pocket at the top is made from the sleeve cuff. Since it's edge is already finished I didn't do any seam binding, just turned the edges on three sides and top stitched.

Pocket Binding
Step 17: Pocket Binding
The big pocket needed a finished edge on the open side, so I put some seam binding on it, same as the apron edge. But, this time, I just ran a zigzag stitch on the front.

Sewing Pocket
Step 18: Sewing Pocket
Pin pockets in place and then sew, hand turning the seam, and top stitching about 1/8 inch from edge. At the top of the pocket, where the binding is, I did a bunch of reinforcing stitches so it wouldn't tear out.

Apron Ties
Step 19: Sewing Ties
To make the apron ties, cut two equal lengths of seam binding. I guessed on length and they turned out a little long. Just make sure they're not too short. I attached the straps directly to the binding on the back side. It seemed like the strongest place and I didn't mind that it would show on the front because it's an area that is mostly hidden. Reinforce with many back and forth zigzag stitches.

Tie Front
Step 20: Tie Front Attachment
This is the front of the tie attachment.

Tie End
Step 21: Tie End Finish
I zigzag stitched the end of the ties to keep them from unraveling. It's not the prettiest solution, but for a utility garment I thought it was fine.

Button Detail
Step 22: Button Detail
I attached a button to the front of the apron to cover the stitches from the neck strap.

Finished Apron
Step 23: Ta Da!
You are finished.

Blue Apron


Variations on a theme:

Because of the kind of V-neck sweater I had on hand, my next apron became a halter style one. The front pocket was large, so I divided it into one medium-sized pocket and smaller ones for putting kitchen tools.

Sweater Apron (orange)Sweater Aprons

Buon Appetito! And, don't forget the link-o.

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