Monday, November 30, 2009

Thrifty Gifty #5—Make a Microwavable Heat Pack

This is an idea I posted last year, and you can read the whole post here. I’m rerunning it because these really are great little gifts, and very inexpensive. We love ours, and even keep a little microwave upstairs during the winter for reheating convenience.

Basically, we’re talking about a little fabric bag filled with feed corn or rice. Put it in the microwave for a minute or so and it will keep you toasty warm.

My original instructions did not use any thrift store materials, but if you wanted to, you could certainly go the “repurposing” route that I’ve talked about so often. Check the thrift store for a flannel sheet or shirt, or really anything made of fabric that you would like to use for this. No metal threads or buttons, though, since it’s going in the microwave, and in my experience I wouldn’t recommend anything overly thick, like a sweater.

Other ideas:

  • make it in a U shape if you want it to drape around your neck and over your shoulders (like those travel pillows)
  • make it longer and rectangular (kind of like a lumbar pillow) to wrap across the lower back
  • try mixing the rice with a few drops of essential oil or dried herbs for a soothing scent (I haven’t tried this personally; I’m also not sure how well it would work with the corn since it already smells like popcorn!)

Originally, I made the bags out of muslin...

...and also made an envelope-flap type cover to make it pretty. I added ribbon ties on some of them.

For this tutorial, I’m just going to make it out of flannel, with no extra cover. This is the finished product, so you can see what we're aiming for. I just used some rather ugly flannel that I already had. If you were making this for a gift, you would probably want to use something cuter.

I didn't have any feed corn on me, so I tried rice, which I know people also use. Now that I'm finished, I can tell you that I prefer the corn. I think it holds the heat better and it does smell a little popcorny. It's cheap; I don't remember exactly but it was something like $15 for 50lbs.

(Update 2009: I actually like the rice fine, and it’s probably a smarter choice if you’re only going to make one or two of these, because you won’t have to buy a huge bag of it.)

Okay, let's get started. First, cut 2 squares of fabric. I did them about 12"x12".

Now, put the squares right sides together, and sew a straight line across three sides, leaving one side open. I used the typical 5/8" seam allowance. I am a lazy seamstress, and did not iron the fabric, or pin it before I sewed.

Now, trim off the two bottom corners and then turn it right side out. Trimming the extra fabric helps to make a sharper corner when you turn it.

Next, you are going to sew two straight lines from bottom to almost the top, evenly spaced, to form three channels. I didn't take a good picture of that, but you can see what I mean in the photo of the finished one. Stop about an inch from the top (open) edge, and backstitch to finish the seam. I tried to show that below.

Now fill the three channels with equal amounts of corn or rice. Don't stuff it absolutely full, you want some looseness for the corn to be able to shift around. If I recall, I think I used about 3/4 cup of corn in each channel. Next, take the open edge and fold it so the raw edges are inside. Go ahead and pin across that edge; it'll make the next step easier and will help keep the corn in. Hopefully the next 3 photos will help you figure out what I'm saying.

Now you've got it pinned across the top, as below.

Lastly, sew straight across the top. Be sure to cross the vertical seams that formed the channels so the corn will not shift from channel to channel. I ran a second seam across the top to reinforce it and make sure that all the raw edges were sewn in.

That's it! Done! It should look more or less (hopefully more) like the first photo. Now put it in the microwave for 1.5 to 2 minutes, and go cuddle!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Etsy and Thrifty Gifty #4—Framed Artwork

Joining Melissa's Holiday Linky at the Inspired Room.

Homebody Market, my etsy shop, is open!! Until I get the hang of it, it’s taking me a long time (like, 30 minutes) to list each item, so there are only a few right now. I have a lot more stuff, though, and I will continue listing them in the upcoming days, so check back often. Think of me as your personal thrift store shopper!
On to my series…..

This one is about as easy as it can get. All you need are frames from the thrift store, spray paint, and your child(ren)’s artwork. This is a great gift for grandparents or daddy, for his office.

Frames are one thing I regularly look for on my thrift store rounds. I pay anywhere from $1-$3 each, and try to find them with glass and backing (these were prepped for spray paint).

You can spray them any color you like, or that would go with the recipient’s decor. I like black, as it really makes the artwork pop.

Here is my “gallery” last year when I first put it up. Often artwork that comes home from school already has a mat of some sort. If it doesn’t, and you need one (and your frame didn’t come with one), you can of course buy the real thing, but that would really add to the cost of this project. The cheap way would be to mount the art on a piece of poster board or something along those lines.

Today I finally changed out the artwork, and one frame.


It’s quite amazing how really good, impressive, even, school artwork looks in a frame!


If your child isn’t in school, you can either let them have at it, or you can guide the project just a bit by giving them the paper and mediums/colors you want them to use.

Be sure to mark the back of your child’s masterpiece with name, age, and date!

This is one of those things that costs very little, but grandparents love! The frame takes it up a big notch from a magnet on the fridge, and for $2-3, you’ve got a great gift!

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ll be taking a break tomorrow while I enjoy the day with friends and family! Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thrifty Gifty #3—Make a Stocking from a Sweater

Joining Kimm at Reinvented for Trash to Treasure Tuesday, and Kimba at A Soft Place to Land for DIY Day.

Thrifty Gifty is a series running through Christmas of very inexpensive gifts you can make with thrift store and dollar store finds. Check back daily for new ideas. There will be linky parties every Friday in December before Christmas for you to share your ideas!

If you are following my series, you may want to stock up on thrift store sweaters. I can see so many possibilities…

I have at least 3 stores in my area that have dollar racks, and that is where I look for and get my wool sweaters. It would have to be a pretty amazing sweater for me to pay more than $1 for it, and then I would probably wear it, not repurpose it. My Goodwill does not have a dollar rack, but children’s clothing is $1-$2, so if that’s your only thrift resource, keep that in mind.

Today I’m going to show you how to make a Christmas stocking from a sweater. I decided not to felt the sweater, as in my stocking experience, the stretchier, the better! You can get more in that way.

I cut a pattern out of a paper bag to fit on the sweater. Because my sweater was striped, I did a few extra steps, but if your sweater is solid, or you don’t care about the direction of the stripes, you could just cut through the two layers like this and sew up the edges and be done. (Turn the pattern upside down as shown below, to give you a finished edge on the stocking.)


I wanted something a little different with the stripes though, so I cut the sleeve off, following the seam, to become the toe portion of the stocking. Then I turned the pattern upside down so the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater would become the top of the stocking. (Do this for a one piece stocking, too.)


I laid the sleeve across the toe of the pattern to show where I needed to cut the part that would become the “leg” (see photo below). Then I cut the two layers of the sweater torso right around the portion of the paper bag that you see here. I lined it up with the side seam, so I didn’t have to sew that. Don’t cut that seam.

(One good thing about doing it the “hard” way is that I can get two stockings out of one sweater, making them 50 cents each. If I cut the stocking out in one piece, I could only get one. But that’s still pretty good at only $1 for a stocking!)


Once that piece is cut, fold it in half with right sides together and sew the line marked above to form the tube/leg of the stocking. I sewed about a 1/4” seam, then went back and zigzagged the edge. I’m behind the times and don’t have a serger, but if you do, by all means, use it.


Below, I have laid the sleeve and the just-finished leg on top of the pattern, both inside out. Cut the sleeve off to form the toe, then sew and zigzag (or serge) that rounded toe portion closed.


Turn the toe right side out…


…and put it inside the leg, which is still wrong side out, so the raw (unfinished) edges line up.


Pin; it will make your life easier in the long run. Match up the side seams.


Here’s where it’s handy to pull your sewing machine apart, assuming it’s made to do that. (The painter’s tape is seam allowance guidelines for previous projects. It’s not holding the machine together.)IMG_4706

Slide the pinned edge over the sewing machine, and sew all the way around. If you’ve ever used a pattern to make a shirt or something, this is just like sewing in the sleeve.


Turn the stocking right side out; you’re pretty much done. If you like, you can add a hanging loop. I cut the edge of the cuff off, and used that.


That’s it! It took me waaayyy longer to write this post than it did to make the stocking. If you don’t bother with the separate toe and leg portions, it will be even easier.


You could get fancy and make a cuff out of a different color sweater, or embroider a name, or add embellishments of your choice.

A stocking would make a nice gift for a new baby. Or you could start a new tradition and make one for each of your nieces and nephews or grandkids*. Of course, it would also make a cute wrapping for a more main-event gift.

*All of my siblings and I have matching stockings that our great-aunt knit for us. All of my nieces and nephews and my boys have matching ones that my grandma crocheted for them. Unfortunately, in the two years between Skippy and Pinkerbelle, she could no longer crochet, so P. doesn’t have a matching one. Maybe I’ll use this technique to make all three of them matching stockings, finally.

Thrifty Gifty #2—Use Glassware to Create Beautiful Display Pieces

Joining Made it Monday at The Persimmon Perch.

Thrifty Gifty is a series running through Christmas of very inexpensive gifts you can make with thrift store and dollar store finds. There will be linky parties every Friday in December before Christmas for you to share your ideas.

This one has been around the blogosphere recently in various forms. I gave some basic pointers and showed how to make a mini cake stand in this post.


There are so many things you can do with this basic concept that I think it’s worth revisiting. This time I’m going to show you some really pretty DIY apothecary jars.

For any of these projects, you will need candlesticks. In a pinch, you can buy these at a dollar store, but I like to find a variety of heights and shapes at thrift stores. It gives you more options and adds interest, plus they are often under $1 at a thrift store. For the best contact when gluing, try to find ones with a decent flat surface at the top edge, rather than just a a thin rim.


For apothecary jars, you will need covered glass jars. The types of jars shown below are quite easy to find and come in different sizes. They should cost anywhere from .50 to $3 at a thrift store, although in my experience, $3 is really a little too high. I don’t spend that much on them anymore because I know I will find them for less somewhere else, soon.



I happened to have several different sizes of the straight-sided ones, so that’s what I’m going to use. After applying some E-6000 glue to the top rim of the candlestick, center the jar on top of it and let it dry. That’s it! Done!


I think this is really beautiful! See how having the different heights is much more interesting than having three of the same exact candlestick from the dollar store?

BTW, I just noticed that mine have a really similar look to these from Pottery Barn, without the $39-$69 price tag.

Below, I went with two jars of the same size at different heights. Filled with peppermint sticks, they look really festive! (I didn’t actually glue any of these because I wanted to show several different styles.)


You should be able to make one of these jars for $1-$3, not including the glue, which will last you for many more projects. My guesstimate on my cost for all three jars in the top picture is about $5.25.

One pointer for you: you do need to give some thought to scale/proportion. In this photo, the candlestick base is really too big for the jar. A much larger jar might work, but in my opinion this candlestick is better suited for a cake plate.


And here’s one final idea: while I was taking photos I thought of these votive holders I found not long ago at Dollar Tree. They would also work quite nicely atop a candlestick, and at about $1.50-$2 each to create, they would make an inexpensive and pretty gift!


Use your imagination with this concept. What else would look fancier with a candlestick base?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to Sew a Ruffle

Because of my ruffled pillows, I had a request for a ruffle tutorial. I’ll try to explain it as best I can with the terrible photos I got.

Basically, a ruffle is created by gathering up a longer piece of fabric to fit onto a shorter piece.


First, sew a line of basting on the long edge of the longer piece of fabric. Use the longest stitch length on your sewing machine. The smaller the number, the smaller/shorter the length of the stitch.IMG_4569

In general, when following a pattern, the seam allowance (the distance from the row of stitching to the edge of the fabric) is 5/8”. Your machine will most likely have a 5/8” guideline.IMG_4570(The fabric is lifted to show the guideline.)

(In most cases, you would use thread that coordinates with your fabric. In this case for better visibility, I used a spool of red thread, which will be on the top as I sew, and black for the bobbin, which will be underneath.)

Align the edge of the fabric with the guideline, lower the presser foot, and stitch from one end to the other. When you are making a permanent seam, you backstitch a little bit at the beginning and end to keep it from coming unstitched. Basting is not permanent, and especially when you are going to be gathering, do not backstitch. Leave a tail of thread of several inches at each end.

IMG_4571 Keep the fabric lined up with the guideline as you sew.

Now you are going to sew a second line of stitching about 1/4” to the right of the first line. If you position the presser foot so the left prong-thingy is centered on top of the first line, that will give you about 1/4”. Sew a second line in the same manner as the first.


Now there are two lines of stitching. (Sorry about the glare; shouldn’t have used the flash.)IMG_4577

With right sides of the fabric together, line up the edges of the two pieces of fabric, and pin at the ends. Then, at even intervals, pin in several more places. Pins should be perpendicular to the line of stitching.IMG_4584

Next, just pull on the bobbin threads and slide the fabric to gather it up. Think of it like putting a curtain on a rod. The curtain is longer than the rod and bunches up to create gathers/ruffles when you push it all onto the rod.

I do it a section at a time and wrap the long end of the thread around a pin in a figure 8 to anchor it.IMG_4585

When you’re in the middle and don’t have the long tail of thread to pull on, use a pin to get under a couple stitches and pull up until you can grab it with your fingers.IMG_4586

When you’ve gathered it all up, the two pieces of fabric will be the same width.IMG_4587

Slide the gathered fabric along the threads until the ruffles are about evenly spaced (again, think about a curtain on a rod). Now, sew the two pieces together on the 5/8” line. If the pins are perpendicular, you can leave them in and sew right over them. (Do watch and make sure the needle does not hit a pin; it’s extremely rare, but theoretically possible.) When you are doing the permanent seam, shorten your stitch length a little (I use about 3.5 on my dial) and backstitch a little at the beginning and end.IMG_4591

When you are done, remove the pins and trim the hanging threads. The right sides of the fabric will look like this:IMG_4594

The shorter piece of fabric will be basically smooth, and the piece that was originally longer will be ruffled. If you were making a skirt or an apron, the smooth piece would be the waistband, something like this:IMG_4595

Okay, now that is a basic ruffle. My pillows were a slightly different sewing technique, but the gathering technique was the same. I just ran my basting stitches down the middle of the piece I wanted gathered, with about 3/4” between the two lines instead of 1/4”. When I sewed it on, I put the wrong side of the ruffle to the right side of the front of the pillow and stitched right along the basting stitches.IMG_4563

I hope this was helpful. It really is easier than it sounds, it’s just hard to make it sound easy! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if something isn’t clear.