Tag Archives: sewing

Block2Blanket: A Community Upcycling Project

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Last weekend our little town of Lyons, Colorado, celebrated its 40th Annual Good Old Days, a June event of music, food, and fun. Over the 25 years I’ve been in Lyons, the event has changed from year to year depending on location and community engagement. For many years Good Old Days included carnival rides, but the 2013 flood destroyed the field large enough to hold them. For this year’s 40th celebration, the town hired a kayak tank and airborne games (think “jumpy castle”) instead, along with providing space for area musicians and dancers, a chamber of commerce libations booth, and a local food vendor.

Our friend Priscilla Cohan, one of the artists behind the town’s amazing Clarifier Project, would like to see the town move Good Old Days in the direction of a Heritage Faire with craftspeople teaching old-time arts like basket-making, caning, welding, woodworking, food preserving, leather-working and even more mundane crafts like knitting and sewing—arts that are experiencing a resurgence nationally as people become interested in self-sufficiency and localism.

As a pilot project for a future Heritage Faire, we came up with the idea of Block2Blanket, an intergenerational craft event during Good Old Days. For Block2Blanket, we asked community members to donate gently used or moth-eaten 100% wool sweaters to be upcycled into a warm and colorful picnic blanket.

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A contemporary cross between old-time quilting bees and Sheep to Shawl competitions, Block2Blanket doesn’t require much money but rather depends on community donated materials and time. Basing the project on the idea that many hands make light work, we created tasks for children of all ages, from sorting and cutting to designing and sewing.

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Our first step was posting a notice in our local papers for sweater donation: “Spring cleaning? Don’t throw away the wool sweaters you didn’t wear all winter. Instead, donate them to Block2Blanket.” We collected a dozen sweaters and a couple blankets. Before the event itself, we washed the donations by machine in hot water and then dried them on high heat to felt the wool. This felting makes the wool denser and more stable for sewing.

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Other donated resources were scissors, thread, pins, and bobbins. After making sure we’d have electricity at our booth in the park, we borrowed two sewing machines with zig-zag stitch capability. We also made 6 x 6 inch square paper and cardboard templates to be traced around or pinned on the materials for cutting.

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Priscilla brought her canopy tent and made a colorful fabric garland to flap in the breeze; we each brought tables, setting up one for cutting, another for laying out the squares, and another for a machine at each end. We began by cutting the sweaters into sections along the seams so the pieces would lay flat. Friends came by to help cut, piece, and stitch as musicians took the stage.

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Our original thought had been that children would participate in the project, learning about upcycling, as well as sewing skills. I hadn’t even thought about the lure of the jumpy water games, which turned out to be much more of a draw than cutting and sewing. A few children stopped by the booth, but it was adults who were most interested in what we were doing. Some promised to donate sweaters and some were interested in learning the process. Everyone to whom we talked thought that turning old sweaters and blankets into something functional and beautiful was a cool idea.

While we chatted and listened to local musicians, we cut and sewed squares into long strips by placing one edge of a block over another and sewing the edges securely with a couple rows of zig-zag stitching. In three hours, we completed seven strips of 12 blocks each. We’ll finish the blanket at our Stonebridge knitting night or another outdoor summer event. Once completed, we’ll raffle the blanket as a benefit for the Lyons Redstone Museum. We plan to make pot holders out of the scraps to sell for the museum, too.

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This first go at Block2Blanket was a success. If we do it again next year, we’ll make a kid-friendly sign; perhaps we’ll do more outreach with children’s groups or the school. Maybe we’ll offer a cup of lemonade to anyone who helps. We’re still accepting donated 100% wool sweaters to expand the blanket’s pattern and color schemes. We’ve got five strips to go and we can’t wait to see how the blanket turns out!

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Filed under ecobiography

Another Year Over

I’m a little superstitious when it comes to the New Year. I believe that the things you do on the first day of the year set a pattern for the rest. I try to spend my New Year’s day on the kinds of activities I’d like to continue or achieve during the coming year. This year I’m planning some writing time and some photography, as well as time with loved ones.

I make resolutions too and try to stick to them. This past year one of our joint resolutions was making crepes on Sunday morning, which we’ve done almost every Sunday this year. Another of my resolutions was to take a yoga class. I’m approaching a year of that as well—one of the healthiest resolutions I’ve managed to keep.

We’ve had a busy December with a graduation, family visit, retirement from teaching, our Solstice get-away, and the usual holiday events with family. Today was our first real day of unscheduled time all month. A couple days ago, I started thinking about a sewing project I’d begun in 2003, something that I’d come across this month in my fabric drawer.

Last night before I went to bed, I got excited thinking about the project again. I decided to devote today to finishing it. It’s just a blouse, peasant-style with gathered neck, back, and sleeves, but off and on throughout the last nearly nine years, I’ve often thought I’d like to wear it, if only it were finished. I’d even cut out the fabric years ago, so it didn’t seem like sewing it up would take much time.

But when I got it out of the drawer this morning and read through the instructions again, I remembered why I’d stuck it in the back of the drawer. It was fussy, with bias tape casings around nearly every edge and little draw-stringy things that require tweezers and a magnifying glass to edge. I was out of fusible interfacing for the one little piece where the drawstrings come through, so I had to run to the fabric store for that, which was okay because I needed thread to hem some jeans anyway.

As anyone who sews knows, half the time sewing is spent ironing, so I set up the board next to my machine and filled the iron with water for steam. I had to iron all the pieces first because they’d been wadded up for so long, but the wrinkles came out easily. I cut the elastic, made the bias tape casings, and started sewing.

I had to adjust the elastic quite a bit for fit but it all went well until the last step, when I looked at the diagram incorrectly. I sewed the bias tape to the wrong side of the fabric and had to rip it out and start again. I was getting tired but I got all the machine work done by sunset. When I went outside for the mail, I heard our pair of great-horned owls in the trees and found them both silhouetted against the day’s last light. I hope that means they’ll nest nearby this spring so that we can see the owlette when it fledges.

I’ll finish my blouse tonight when I hem the bottom edge and whipstitch the casing edges closed.  I love the turquoise paisley design of the fabric and the soft, cool feel of the cotton. I know I’ll wear it a lot on hot summer days.

Just last week I wrote about the value of homemade gifts and how objects made by hand offer a special kind of thoughtfulness. I contemplated that today as I was sewing my blouse. I spent about four hours on the project, not counting travel time, and another hour in 2003 cutting it out. Is five hours too much for making something that’s only a gift to myself? I haven’t sewed my own clothes for years (although I have knit some sweaters) beyond hemming pants or altering second-hand skirts. Today I enjoyed the work but I kept feeling like I should be doing something else, something more practical farm- or work-wise.

But I kept going because I didn’t want that project hanging over my head anymore—and I’m glad I did. Good to clear out the space in the drawer, good to have a new blouse to wear, good to quit thinking I need to finish it, good to end the year with a task completed, but most of all, good to remember that making clothes is real work that takes real skill. And that leads to gratitude to the women—since that’s who sews clothes for the US market—who make our clothes. My gratitude doesn’t improve the conditions under which they work but it does make me realize once again how enmeshed our lives are with people we never see.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I’ll spend some of the day organizing for the year to come and another part preparing our New Year’s dinner. We’ll have a quiet celebration, just the two of us, New York time, and that will wind down a very busy year before the start of another. We are lucky to have each other, lucky to have the people who walk alongside us, and grateful for each and every one. Have a happy, healthy New Year!

A friend left a gratitude card on a table at a coffee shop and a couple days later, found it posted on the bulletin board!

 

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Filed under memoir

SABLE

I learned a new craft term at the Lunafest Women’s Film Festival recently: SABLE—Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. Everyone in the audience who was a crafter laughed at that one because we know exactly what that means. Boxes and bags and drawers of craft supplies that we plan to get to someday but probably never will.

I think the most longterm project I still haven’t thrown out is a gathered “peasant” style blouse for which I bought the fabric and the elastic but then used the elastic for something else. The pattern and fabric (really cute!) have been in a drawer since (and I blush to write this) 2003. I know because I was teaching a particular class that spring and had planned to make the blouse before the end of the semester.

Besides running out of elastic, I think I haven’t made that blouse yet because I don’t sew much from a pattern anymore. The last thing I made from a pattern needed considerable altering so I’m a little skeptical about the fit for the blouse. Or maybe I’m just not as patient with tissue-thin paper and cutting on the lines as I used to be. Today I mostly alter vintage clothes or sew things for the house like tablecloths and curtains. But someday, I may find the time and the patience again.

I have the craft gene. With two grandmothers who excelled at making useful items out of burlap, cheerios, and sequins and a mom who sews, it’s gotta be genetic, going far back in genealogical history: my great-great-grandmother was a professional dressmaker in St. Louis and she helped my grandmother make her wedding dress, the same one I wore ten years ago.

My grandmothers' dolls; Grandma Smith made the one in the middle for me

My grandmothers’ rural crafting ingenuity is something to admire. They even made dolls out of hand-sized turkey wishbones. They sewed fabric heads and arms to cover the pointy end of the bone and wrapped fabric around the “wishing” part for legs. They embroidered hair and faces and made little blouses and skirts and hats to dress them. I still have those dolls, a testimony to crafting something out of nothing and my grandmothers’ “make-do” spirit for using whatever was on hand.

I started making doll clothes as soon as I could sit at the sewing machine, but the first craft I remember making was a “sit-upon” in Brownies. A sit-upon is an essential part of Girl Scout gear because you need your sit-upon to sit upon at meetings and while camping. Mine was a red and white gingham square of vinyl fabric folded around a one-inch stack of newspaper and whip-stitched with red yarn around the edges, leaving enough yarn at each end to braid for a carrying string. Look at the craft skills we learned: measuring and cutting fabric, stuffing, stitching, and braiding, as well as color coordination.

In Girl Scouts, we also dolls out of a clothespin, presumably because clothespins were easier to come by than giant turkey bones. Plus, clothespins—the old round kind—already had heads. We painted on the faces and, using our new braiding skills, glued braided yarn on top for hair, then sewed tiny sack-like dresses and perky aprons for clothes.

By junior high, I’d graduated from doll clothes to making my own. Hemlines were high in those days so it didn’t take much fabric to make a straight skirt with an elastic hem, usually in plaid. Once I learned how to put in a zipper, I made a lot of dresses too. In high school, I used the scraps from those dresses to make a quilt. It took me three months to quilt it—and I was only grounded one of those months for conduct unbecoming a young lady, but that’s another story.

Somewhere along the way, my Grandma Smith taught me to crochet. My first real project was a red, white, and blue granny square vest. In the 70s, you could wear something like that. I still like to crochet, especially baby things (see my post “Round Your Garden” for the baby hats I’ve been making).

I didn’t take up knitting until my daughter was born but next to sewing, it’s my most enduring craft. I make one or two sweaters a year, all a variation of the same pattern I’ve perfected for fit, which to me is the hardest thing about knitting.

I like to craft handmade gifts, especially for my mom who appreciates old family photographs or bits and pieces I’ve saved from my grandmothers, like this shadow box of my Grandma Smith’s letters and sewing supplies.

Along the way, I’ve accumulated a paper cutter, fancy scissors, exacto knives with various blades, a rotary cutter and cutting board, crochet hooks and knitting needles of all sizes, and lots of different glues.

And then there’s the SABLE. A couple tubs of fabric, most of it vintage, boxes of buttons, and baskets of yarn. Sometimes I “destash” at our knitting group, but mostly, I hang onto it. Every crafter needs a little SABLE. It gives us hope that someday we’ll make the sweater or quilt or blouse we’ve been meaning to make when we finally have the peace and quiet to do it.

And here’s a shout-out to all my crafty friends and to Etsy for all the great crafters they support: www.etsy.com

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Filed under memoir, women's writing