This part of the tour includes...me. As a rule, I'm uncomfortable in front of the camera. I hate it, to be honest. This gets compounded because 1) I am the main photographer in my family of 4, and 2) the fewer photos of myself, the smaller the chance that any of them will be good. Which means I feel like the most un-photogenic person out there!
But, I updated some pics for my Etsy About page recently and had my husband take one of me doing what I love doing best in my studio: sewing.
Here's another, taken by my 5 year old, while we photographed products on the deck. This was in March, but I was similarly bundled just yesterday while planting strawberries. We often skip spring here in Rhode Island and move right into humid summer in late June.
One more with my husband wearing the dress I made recently at Easter. There was plenty of sun in Maryland that day!
So there you have it. Showing that there is a real person behind an online handmade shop is important. Customers want to be able to relate to the artisan who made whatever it is they are thinking of purchasing. I get that, I really do. It doesn't make me any more comfortable to be in front of the camera!
When you bring home shiny new fabric from the fabric store or an online shop, the fabric can quite literally be "shiny." The bolts of fabric are often treated with various chemicals to make the print seem brighter and shinier under the store's fluorescent lights. Think about grocery stores waxing the apples so they appear shinier (and fresher??). Doesn't a crisp yard of cotton look so lovely you just want to dive in and start your project as soon as you get home?
It is worth every bit of patience you have to pre-wash that fabric before you ever cut into it.
The residues on the fabric can dull your sewing machine needle prematurely. Unless you are working with organic fabric, there will be some level of treatment. (Note: if you are working with a specialty fabric like silk or leather--you can possibly skip this step, though I do recommend pre-cleaning the fabric the same way you intend to clean the finished product.)
The most important reason to pre-wash your fabric is to pre-shrink it. Wash it exactly as you intend to wash the item you are making. Follow the care instructions on the end of the bolt (write them down before you leave the store since that information doesn't appear on a fabric ticket or receipt). If you're making pajamas, wash and dry the yardage as you would the finished jammies. I tend to wash everything in cold water (hot can cause some colors to bleed, but I have a product recommendation for that on another day), and then throw it in a hot dryer. Fabric can shrink significantly! Let me show you.
A crisp one yard cut of cotton before washing. This should measure 44" wide by 36" long (the online store I ordered this rainbow polka dot from always cuts 37" for each yard ordered).
After washing--41" wide.
After washing--36" long.
This yard has lost 3 inches in one direction, and 1 inch in another!! Think if you had made a fitted blouse for yourself without pre-washing. After all the hard work you pour into sewing a fabulous addition to your wardrobe, it shrinks in the wash and then you can't wear it!
Some quilters believe strongly that if you use quality fabrics, you do not need to pre-wash. There is less shrinkage with high quality fabrics, that is true, and much more from say, a Calico from the wall at Joann Fabrics. Many quilting experts feel the slight shrinkage adds to the desired stippled effect that happens when you first wash a quilt. I don't have a lot of quilting experience, but I disagree. If I want a 90" wide quilt, I want a 90" wide quilt! When you talk about garments, pre-washing is an absolute must.
Save yourself some heartache. Wash, dry, and then iron your fabric before you ever cut into it for a project. I do this with all of the products in my shop, all the home decor and clothing items I make for my family, all my handbags, my toys...whether someone intends to machine wash them or not. It's worth the effort!
The blog The Mindful Home shared some great non-plastic and non-toxic ways to have fun this summer. I thought I would expand on the topic of beach toys. Here is the original post: http://themindfulhome.blogspot.com/2013/04/non-toxic-summer-fun-including-pvc-free.html
How many children's plastic toys last more than one summer? How many last the whole summer, for that matter? How many people just go back to Walmart or The Christmas Tree Shops to buy more because they're cheap and easily replaced? There are other options!
I'm quickly falling into the camp of believers that investing in quality up front saves money and waste over the long-term. Buying a solidly built metal pail for the beach is a better investment than buying several flimsy plastic buckets that will break easily. You may need to take a bit more care with the metal bucket so that the salt water is rinsed at the end of the day to prevent rust, but it will last for many summers at the beach. Plus, it's not plastic!
The same idea applies to digging tools. If you have one good shovel that you properly care for, you could buy just one in a child's lifetime instead of a new one each season. What about lugging all that heavy metal to the beach along with everything else you need for an outing? How much do you really need to enjoy the day?
What can you substitute for a sand sifter? How about a colander? Or a metal flour sifter. If you don't have a metal one to spare at home, you can try the thrift stores. There are really small berry colanders available that would work perfectly at the beach or smaller hands.
But what about all those cute little sculpting tools and molds for making castles like the set shown above from Amazon? In our experience, they don't really work! Plus, I think it sucks the imagination out of playing in the sand. A bucket and shovel, maybe a sifter and/or a watering can are all you really need for fun in the sand. And here's a metal watering can to add to your bucket.
If you buy these non-plastic items once, properly care for them, then you will probably never need to buy another beach bucket again!
Mistakes. We all make them. Sometimes a mistake turns into a wonderfully happy accident. For example I'm going to show you a recent project I made to upgrade my shower curtain.
The curtain we had was ok. Since we needed something quickly to go with very blue tile in our old but new-to-us house two years ago, this worked fine.
Pretty flowers made from pindots that weren't too feminine, but still "went with" the blue in the bathroom. After two years of use, and many other pressing home improvement projects completed, it felt blah to me. Instead of looking for something new, I wanted to just update what still worked perfectly well. It has some pulled threads, but I thought adding some color would do the trick.
First I saw this on Pinterest (http://www.brettbara.com/decorating/free-sewing-patterns-and-tutorials/). Color-blocking is all the rage right now in home décor and fashion. I had a sewing workshop coming up at my house and thought it would be a great way to show off my mad sewing skills with a little DIY sewing in the main bathroom everyone would use. I even took step by step photos with the intention of posting a tutorial here, but made a pretty big mistake. Measure TWICE and cut ONCE is the rule for carpenters. It applies to seamstresses as well.
I measured. I even took photos of it. I even ironed beautiful mitred corners before sewing the color block to the shower curtain.
But I only measured in one direction. So it came out quite crooked. Just in time to show off to my sewing class participants. Oops!
And I kind of hated the way it looked. I also wasn't looking forward to ripping out all of those seams and resewing the same thing that I didn't even like. Back to Pinterest...(In case you're curious, there is a second shower curtain protecting the window. Installing glass block is way down at the bottom of our priority list for now.)
This popped up next. http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=27386259&color=050 Grainy, but the idea of adding individual water drops seemed so fun, but still just right for the main bathroom.
A few other vinyl alternatives showed up in my search as well. Just because something is in plastic, wood, concrete, whatever, doesn't mean it can't be inspiration for a fabric version. And so, my big mistake turned into this:
I LOVE how this turned out! Sometimes, a big mistake is a big disappointment. Sometimes, it can lead to something far more creative and exactly what you didn't even know you wanted in the first place. Don't be afraid of making mistakes! Just keep that seam ripper close by.
I thought you might like to take a look at what I'm reading right now. Just for kicks.
Of course it's a stack of sewing books!!!! There are magazines too. Some were gifted to me (Southern Living), others are my subscriptions (Organic Gardening). The gardening books and magazines are back in rotation now that I've started vegetable seeds under a grow lamp and have started working in the garden.
I have a weakness for sewing magazines I see at the bookstore. I finally subscribed to two to save some money since I was buying every issue anyway (Stitch and Threads--more about those in another post).
I like to test-run sewing books from the library before adding them to my own library at home.
Yes, I read sewing books for fun. I read patterns too. Mostly I try different patterns to learn new techniques (later today I'm going to make a jacket with a welt pocket).
Spending my free time reading sewing books means that I'm a great person to teach sewing lessons! Honestly, there is so much info rattling around upstairs that I love having the opportunity to share it with interested people. My husband can only take so much dinner conversation on fabric.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the class! Tell your friends, spread the word! If this one goes well, there will be more focused on all sorts of techniques (quilting, various bags, kids clothing, reading a pattern...). But I need to fill the seats in order to be able to do this more than once!! Thank you in advance for your help in spreading the word.
Many vineyards have switched from using cork stoppers to plastic ones. Supposedly, thousands of years of tradition is now considered "unsanitary." I disagree!! Cork is more sustainable, no question.
When you're buying wine, it's tough to know what kind of cork is hiding under the foil cap. I can never remember, so I try to keep a list of labels that used cork and buy those again the next time.
What can you do with the corks when the wine is finished? They look lovely as a decoration in a clear glass vessel. Stroll Pinterest and Etsy for hundreds of ideas like making cork boards, decorative wreaths, coasters, or other art.
My father-in-law turned some into a trivet for me. The cork is very heat tolerant, and looks beautiful on your table. I have used this trivet daily for several years. Craft stores and even Amazon sell kits for making your own trivets, which would be a great gift.
What do you do when all of your friends and family have their own handmade trivets, artwork, cork boards and are starting to plan an intervention? Natural cork can be composted! Break it down into smaller pieces instead of dropping the whole cork into your bin. According to this site, you can even shred corks in a food processor and add them under the soil layer for improved drainage in your garden.
I've seen so many people get discouraged because their very first attempt at sewing wasn't "perfect." My friends, there's no such thing as perfect! I'm going to say that again: there is NO such thing as perfect. I make mistakes all the time. Those mistakes do not end up in my booth for sale, but they prove that I'm constantly learning and that a mistake is not the end of the world.
One of the most beautiful things about sewing is that you can redo almost anything. How many hobbies let you do that? Once you glue a photo on a scrapbook page, that's it, sister. You're ripping things to redo it. When you've used orange instead of blue for the sky on a painting--that's a tough one to work around. But, when you make a crooked seam? Attach something upside down? Read the directions wrong? Get distracted? Rip it out and start again! Lovely!
The seam ripper is one of my favorite tools. I'm going to show you some uses today which you may not have considered before.
The green one on the bottom is my favorite. It's a more comfortable shape and size for my hands, plus the light green is a rubber-like grip material that helps me control my movements better. The top one is what you are likely to find in any pre-packaged sewing kit. The upgrade is worth it, take my word. There are also some that light up. For seam repair during a blackout?? Go with the green one if you don't already have one.
The most obvious way to use a seam ripper is to, well, rip out seams. You know that already. Sometimes it's called "unpicking" which you may see in books or online tutorials. It's pretty straightforward: carefully "unsew" a seam that you want to "re-sew" by pulling out each individual stitch, one at a time.
Having the long tip on the top and the red knob pointed down helps me to pull out only the stitches I want pulled out. There is a very sharp blade in the "U" of the seam ripper that will not just cut your threads. It will also cut any fabric or threads of your fabric that it meets. I find if I point that bit down while working on a seam, there is little to no chance that I will accidentally cut something. If I want to snip a thread, flip it around and cut instead of pulling out bulkier thread snips or scissors.
Another really handy way to use a seam ripper is to open up buttonholes once you've sewn them in place. The buttonhole function on your sewing machine basically stitches an enclosed but really narrow rectangle of zig zags.
You need to cut the fabric open to create the hole part of a button hole. Fabric scissors are so big and clunky that it's difficult to create the opening without causing collateral damage. Thread snips or an exacto knife work pretty well, but I've found a seam ripper's point and that handy sharp U-shaped blade work as if they were designed solely for this pupose.
You can carefully use the tip of a seam ripper to make turned out corners of a project crisp. Be careful not to poke holes when trying this! Very very gently tug on the corner you are trying to make sharp.
The last trick that I'm going to show you requires a bit of caution because of that sharp U-shaped part of the seam ripper. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty handy.
I use my seam ripper instead of pinning when I'm topstitching certain things.
Gently, I insert the very tip of the seam ripper into the seam and tug. Just a bit. This makes the seam crisp as I sew the topstitch, making for a very nice neat finish. While you need to stop every so often to reposition the seam ripper, I find this a much quicker method of getting a crisp seam than to pin everything and stop to remove all those pins, one by one, as I get to them with the sewing machine.
There you have it--how I use my seam ripper for much more than just ripping out seams. Happy stitching!
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.