Sew Many Bits and Pieces

sugergirl skirtLast month I went through my sewing drawer and bin, trying to figure out what I could get rid of because I have a plethora of fabrics and remnants and clothes that I thought I’d be sewing with and so far haven’t yet. I really can’t keep hanging on to these things if I’m not going to do anything with them. And it’s been far too long since I’ve actually sat down and stitched on a project.

So, while going through things, I found a couple of panels that I could try to sell on eBay and maybe later I could try selling some of the remnants I probably won’t use, but I also came up with two projects I could work on that would use up several bits and pieces and shirts. My dumbass thought I could get both of these things done in a day. In reality, it took me about two and a half weeks, give or take me not paying much attention to days of the week.

supergirl skirt 2I made the skirt from a pair of jeans that lost their life to the curse of friction, an old t-shirt, and the leg of a pair of pajama pants. Probably the easiest thing about this pieces was cutting the legs off of the jeans and ripping the seams out of the shirt and the pants. The actual piecing and sewing (remember, I sew by hand) turned out to be much trickier than I anticipated. In fact, I ended up having to do one of the cheetah print panels twice because I screwed it up the first time and had a weird bulge in it.

The skirt turned out pretty well, I think. It’s light enough to wear in the summer, but long enough to wear in the fall and spring. Versatile. Also pretty damn unique.

handkerchief tankThe other piece I ended up doing is a handkerchief style tank. I sewed together to different ribbed tanks to get the color block effect. I then split the lower tank up the side and added in the plaid panels. Turns out that was the hardest part, trying to get the angles just right. That and all of the sewing because of the angles and the hems I needed to create.

And in the end, it doesn’t work for me. I don’t like the way it looks on me. However, I do think it will look quite fetching on my middle niece who likes this sort of style. She’s shorter and smaller than me (obviously), so I think it will hang better on her than on me. In the end, it won’t go to waste.

So, I’ve made some progress in cleaning out my sewing stuff and got some cute things in the process.

I have to remember that’s how it works when I actually sew.

You Can Sew Make Pajama Pants Into a Skirt

Pajama skirtsNope, haven’t run out of sew puns yet.

When I went through my sewing drawer and bin, trying to assess what projects I needed to do this year so I could make some progress in clearing out my sewing drawer and bin, I came across two pairs of pajama pants. One was ripped up in the thigh area (friction is a science-based bitch) and the other pair was stretched out (there was a time when they fit a lot more loosely than they did when I tried them on to assess their worth, I won’t lie). And while it was rather easy for me to see which t-shirts would be good candidates for tote bags, I was a little stumped as to what to do with the pants. At first I thought I should just keep them for fabric scraps.

And then it hit me.

Why couldn’t I just make skirts out of them like I’d done to my jeans? The fabric and designs would make for cute skirts and I already had experience since I’d done a couple of skirts, so this wouldn’t be too difficult.

The plaid skirt wasn’t and I was pretty straight forward with it. I just cut off the legs at the desired length, cut open the legs, sewed everything together leaving a small back vent (the thigh holes weren’t any trouble), and then used hem tape to give the bottom him some weight. Ta Da! Skirt!

The star skirt was a little more involved because in order for this to work I’d have to take in the waist. The elastic was old and stretched out. Taking it in was the most obvious choice and I didn’t let never having done that before stop me. I did the same thing with the star skirt as I did with the plaid skirt, except I cut up the back seam as well. I cut the band, resized it, and then sewed everything back together. I decided that I liked the way the front looked with that open part and just did a small hem on it so it would keep that ripple effect but not fray. Then I used hem tape on the bottom hem and done! A second skirt.

It’s been too cold lately for me to test drive either of them. Maybe this weekend. I admit that since they’re old pajama pants, the material is pretty thin, but I think they’ll be really nice for late spring/summer/early fall when the temps are warmer.

And, of course, I did both of them by hand.

I’m still waiting for the day I learn to work a sewing machine.

The Mini Dress Is Sew Different Now

I’m running out of sewing puns.

Anyway, at some point during my existential incident, I decided that I didn’t like my mini dress as much as  thought I did. It was pretty okay, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. And so it became a project during my unhappy productivity.

Ragdoll dress with sleevesThe first thing I did was cut off the collar because that had been annoying me since I started. And then I decided to add sleeves. Yes, I know. It was a vindicating move for me to get rid of the sleeves that the shirt originally had, but that’s only because I hated them. In the end, I really wasn’t feeling the dress without any sleeves. So I took the sleeves off of a third shirt that was destined to be upcycled and added them to the dress. I wasn’t crazy about the cuffs on the sleeves and second opinions questioned the overall length of the sleeves, but I felt those were minor problems. I took off the cuffs and was much happier with the overall look.

ragdolldresslengthAnd then came the matter of adding some length. I knew that doing so would make the dress a bit long to be called a mini, but I felt it was necessary. Point one, until I lose some junk in my trunk, a mini dress is dangerous for me to wear if the fabric isn’t heavy enough and this fabric didn’t have enough weight. Point two, with the white sleeves added, it felt abrupt. The strip of white (taken from the same shirt as the sleeves) added to the bottom tied everything together. And it’s still pretty short.

The final two decisions involved adding a button to the bottom of the dress to compensate for the new length and taking off the breast pocket. In the end, I decided against the button and for the pocket removal. I added the patches to cover up where the pockets were more seriously attached (I had to do the same thing on the other shirt that I used for the bottom of the dress).

ragdolldressdoneAnd then I called it done.

I’m not messing with it anymore (unless it’s some follow up stitching to reinforce what I’ve already done). It now contains three shirts. That’s gotta be enough.

It is no longer the mini dress. It’s now the ragdoll dress.

I’ll put that new name to the test later this month.

Sew, It’s a Mini Dress

The mini dress as first pieced together.
The mini dress as first pieced together.

I had two button down shirts that I bought ages ago but never wore because I hated the sleeves on them. Hey, plus size clothing designers/manufacturers, some of us fat girls have fat arms, too. I know! Shocker! Anyway, I shoved them away in my “fabrics and projects bin” with the idea that I would make something out of them. They’ve been in there for several years and I’ve periodically pulled them out and messed with them whenever an idea hit me. I was stuck on the idea of turning them into a skirt, but I just couldn’t get that to work out. What mostly held me back was how to work the waist.

And then finally the glowing spark of epiphany hit me.

I’d make a shift dress out of them!

I love the shift dress style. It’s very ’60s and I love clothing from that decade (’70s, too, particularly boho stuff). I also decided to go bold and make it a mini dress. I’ve recently become very enamored by the concept of mini dresses, something I thought I shouldn’t wear because I’m fat and have fat legs and such. But now that I’m wearing tights with a lot of my dresses, my fat legs aren’t such an eyesore anymore. I thought this would be a good chance to give a mini dress a try.

When I first started piecing this dress together, I already knew that I’d have one problem with the set up: the shirt I used on the bottom would have to be split up both sides and fabric added so that it would fit my hips. And since I was using the red gingham on the bottom, well, that was going to be interesting. Soon I also realized that I was going to be cutting mini dress really close if I wanted the dress to look the way I wanted to. I had limited fabric I could comfortably work with. There was also the problem with the fabric itself. It’s a crinkly sort of thing that frays pretty easily. I decided the best thing I could do was go for a deconstructed look, which solved the fraying, patching (because the shirts acquired a couple of holes), and pattern matching problems, and pray that the dress would be long enough in the end, knowing I could add fabric to the bottom if I really needed to (but really didn’t want to).

I started by cutting off those hated sleeves from the red shirt and then cutting the bottom of it off. I cut the top off of the gingham print shirt, slit it along the seams up the sides, and pinned the two pieces to the bottom of the now cropped red top. I tried it on to get a feel of how much fabric I’d need for the new sides and the length was pretty shockingly short. This was the moment I doubted that it would work. And so, instead of giving up or trying to work it as something else, I said, “fuck it”, and whip stitched the new top and bottom together to see what would happen.

The length got better.

I sewed in the new sides, which basically completed the overall form of the dress. And it worked! It’s really short as a mini dress should be, but I was pleased to realize that I didn’t HAVE to add any fabric to keep my dignity. If I find that it rides up too much, I can always weight the fabric later.

Featuring my newly acquired button skills!
Featuring my newly acquired button skills!

After I reinforced the stitching between the two former shirts and patched up the holes (gingham on red, red on gingham), I turned my attention to the buttons. In cutting apart the shirts and sewing them back together, there was a gap where a button should be. I debated about this because I had never added a button hole to anything before. I thought maybe I’d just sew that gap together and disguise it with a bow or something, but in the end, I decided to go for broke and try a button hole. If it didn’t work out, I could still cover up my mistake.

I Googled how to do it, ended up learning a new stitch to do it, and, TA DA! I did it! I’m pretty proud of that bit.

And I’m pretty pleased with how the dress turned out.

Oh, and just as a reminder, I can’t work a sewing machine. This was all done by hand.

Sewing Back to the Beginning

Kitty print pillowWhen I first started my attempts at sewing by hand, I made pillows. They seemed like the easiest things to do. Sandwich two square pieces of fabric together, fold over the edges to hide the roughness, sew three sides, stuff it, sew the last side. Simple. It was actually a great way for me to hone my sewing skills.

The very first pillow I made was as a present for a friend. I’ve probably made at least fifteen or twenty since then. Most of them were white with a picture on the front (I used t-shirt transfers, printing out pictures on them and then ironing them on to the white fabric) with handkerchiefs as the backing. The way I folded them over made for a nice border. They were my thing for a long time.John Wayne Pillow

As you may remember, my mother asked for kitty curtains and coasters made out of a particular fabric for Christmas. I fulfilled her request, but was left with a bunch of extra fabric. I asked her what she wanted me to do with it. She told me she’d like a pillow for the school room.

And so I went back to my sewing beginnings.

The pillow I made for the school room (it sits in my chair at the desk) was made basically like the ones I used to make back in the day. I sandwiched the two pieces of the leftover fabric together, folded the sides, sewed, stuffed, sewed.

Unlike my decorative pillows of yore, I didn’t want this one to be too stuffed. First of all, I didn’t have enough stuffing to stuff it that full anyway. Second of all, it was going to spend most of it’s time in a chair. It needed to me a little more squishy and malleable. Plus, it’s longer than any of the other pillows I did. I didn’t want a log.

It probably could have used a bit more stuffing, but I’m pretty pleased with it. Works well for my chair.

Not bad for my first pillow in years.

A Sew-Sew Gift

Kitty CurtainsUsually I have to ask my mother what she wants for her birthday or Christmas, and when I do, it’s usually rather entertaining (she’s asked for everything from a candle to some of my artwork to a new shirt of my choosing to a Kid Rock CD).

This year, however, I didn’t even have to ask. Mom was ready with her request.

Having moved into a new house she found herself in need of two things. One, coasters. Two, kitty curtains.

Mom has seven cats. She decided that a good place for one of their litter boxes would be in a cabinet in her mudroom where she has her washer and dryer. She’d take a panel out of one of the bottom doors and make an entrance for the cats. But she wanted to dress it up a little so it didn’t look like your run of the mill hole. So she bought some black and white cheetah print fabric and asked me to make curtains of them.

Kitty CoasterWith the rest, she wanted some new coasters, at least six. Mom prefers cloth coasters because they don’t stick to your glasses like other kinds do.

These two projects were kind of an interesting challenge because I’d never attempted either.

I took measurements for the curtains, cut two panels, did some hems, and then attached the two panels so they were overlapping. Mom did the rest, attaching velcro to the top and then to the cabinet. She then screwed hooks into the sides of the door and held back the curtains with, of all things, hair ties. It turned out really cute!

As for the coasters, I went back to the days of my first sewing project: pillows. I cut the squares and then sewed them the same way I used to sew pillows. Instead of stuffing the coasters with fluff, though, there’s a square of old towel sandwiched in there to help absorb the moisture while leaving them washable.

Mom is rather pleased with her gifts.

I am, too. Not bad for a self-taught hand-sewer.

Sew, I Made Another Skirt

Denim Pencil SkirtAfter doing my first jean skirt, I decided that I had another pair of jeans that were ripe for transformation and decided to do another one, but shorter. I was going for a pencil skirt look, which I sort of achieved.

I did my measuring and cut off the legs where I thought I should. Then I went about the cutting and sewing just like I did with the first, long denim skirt: I cut the inseam of the legs open along the seam and the front of the jeans up along the crotch towards the zipper so I could fold it over and stitch it. I did the same thing in the back, cutting up the butt seam, but fashioning a slit instead.

The front looks pretty good, I think. I don’t like the way the back slit turned out very much and if I’m honest, the skirt should be tighter around the legs to be more pencil-ish. It also turned out shorter than I’d intended. Good thing I allowed an inch or so for a hem, otherwise it would have been much shorter than I wanted.

I learned a few things working on this skirt.

One, I’m terrible at cutting a straight line and I don’t know that I’ll ever get better at it.

Two, shorter skirts require a lot more trimming than I thought. Due to my crap cutting skills and the way the fabric needed to be arranged to be worked into a skirt, I had a lot more excess material to cut away than with my first skirt.

Three, my stitching is getting better, which I consider a huge plus.

Four, I will sew with my left hand without realizing it and then wonder why it’s taking me so long to get the sewing done. No kidding. I was half-way through one section of the skirt before I realized why it was taking me so long to get it done. The sad thing is, I do stuff like that all the time. Clearly, I think I’m ambidextrous, but my left hand just hasn’t developed the necessary skill level yet.

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with this attempt.

This will be the last jeans-to-skirt attempt for a while, though.

At least until I buy some more jeans.

Sew Dressy

kikitshirtdressMy apologies for the poor-quality selfie. I took this picture in my middle niece’s bedroom and I’m too lazy to try to stage a proper one.

Behold my latest creation! It’s my t-shirt dress.

My roommate buys enough clothes at Old Navy to keep that place in business. She ordered some t-shirts last year, but decided she didn’t like the way they fit or the fabric. So, she gave them to me. Since she’s a couple of sizes bigger than I am, she thought that maybe I might like them to sleep in or something. I do like sleeping in one of them, for sure, very comfy. Great on hot nights when I don’t want to wear pants. But when I tried them on for the first time, I thought, “As big as this is, if I added a little more fabric to the bottom, I could call it a dress.”

So, I did.

I cut off about seven inches of the bottom of the gray t-shirt and sewed it onto the bottom of the navy blue t-shirt. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do and I’m sure if I tried it again, I’d probably figure out a better way to make it come together. But for a first attempt, it wasn’t bad. I’m not thrilled with the stitching, though. I’ll probably redo it at some point just for my own satisfaction. It holds just fine and nobody else would notice it unless they were a seamstress inspector looking to make my life hard. But it would make me feel better if I did it up a little better.

Also, the dress ended up being a little bigger than I’d normally get and even with the belt, it’s not as structured as I’d like it to be, BUT! It’s actually quite comfy and makes for a nice, lightweight dress on a hot day that doesn’t look shabby or lazy. Also, beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a two-sizes too big t-shirt, for crying out loud. I can only do so much with my limited skills.

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with the effort.

Sew, For My Next Trick…

I turned a pair of jeans into a skirt.

Inspiration skirtI got the idea from an episode of Emergency! because the 70’s call to me like that. One of the actresses was wearing a jean skirt like that and I thought, “Hey! What a great idea!”

And then I didn’t do anything about it for a while because I wasn’t sure I was capable of turning a pair of jeans into a skirt with my self-taught hand-sewing skills. When I get ideas for projects, be they sewing or writing, I have to meditate on them a while to see if I can get them to work out. Boosted by my work on turning t-shirts into bags (I’ve got five of them now), I thought with a little research it might be possible.

I did some Googling on the subject of turning a pair of jeans into a skirt, looking to the wisdom of those that had walked this path before me and got the general idea of what I needed to do to make this work.

Then I talked myself into committing to this project.

It’s not like turning the t-shirts I was never going to wear again into bags; I only have so many pairs of jeans and really can’t afford to waste a pair, even if I hate them. Society demands that I keep my ass covered. So I had to be sure that I could make this work.

Kiki's skirtI’m happy I talked myself into it.

I used a pair of my fat-girl jeans (they’ve got a bit of spandex in them) that lost their shape after wearing them a few times. The legs were too big and rather unflattering. But, that excess material proved to be perfect for the skirt transformation. I used one kerchief for the front panel, cutting it and sewing it together so it would fit just right. I thought that would be the hardest part, but it turned out to be pretty easy.

In most of the skirts I’ve seen, there’s also a back panel, usually smaller, but since the legs of these jeans were so big, I didn’t need to put one in. Just sewed it up the back and added some slits to the side to show a little leg.

It took me several hours over four days to get the whole thing done.

It’s another ego boost to my sewing skills. And another lesson that I am quite capable of getting shit done if I put some time, effort, and patience into the pot.

Sew, Whatcha Doing?

Vesta sewing machine (L.O. Dietrich Altenburg)

My grandma attempted to teach me how to use a sewing machine when I was a kid. It was a fruitless endeavor. Between not being very interested at the time and being one of those people that gets easily frustrated when I’m not instantly adept at something, it was a learnin’ that I did not get. My sister, on the other hand, picked up the sewing machine and learned how to crochet and has always been able to cook. She can also bust a forty bottle just right in order to cut a bitch. I’ve always been jealous of my sister’s innate abilities.

Anyway, though I never learned how to work a sewing machine (I have intentions to teach myself or have my great-aunt learn me up), I did teach myself how to sew by hand. As such, I’ve actually made quite a few things. I’ve made several pillows over the years as gifts; I created a DragonCon costume; I’ve made a few stuffed animals; and I repair a lot of my clothes. I’m pretty good with hand sewing combat skills.

My latest project is turning a t-shirt into a bag. I don’t remember what gave me the idea. I’ve got a bunch of old t-shirts that I don’t wear, but I don’t want to get rid of because I think they’re neat and I just can’t bear to part with them. I don’t like waste and right now they’re just sitting in a bin under my bed. At some point, in my sifting through multiple ideas over the past few years, I came up with turning a t-shirt into a bag.

This idea has been months in the making, I’ll have you know. I picked a t-shirt that I was okay with destroying, looked at it. And then I put it away in one of my craft drawers. A few months later, I pulled it out again and looked at it. Then I put it away again. I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to make this transition and if I could make it work.

A couple of weekends ago, I finally said, “screw it”, and committed to the project. I cut off the bottom of the t-shirt, sewed that bit up and lo, the bottom of the bag was born. Since then, a bit at a time, I’ve turned the sleeves into pockets, turned strips of the excess material into a strap, and decided where to attach the strap. This past weekend I bit the bullet and attached the strap and refined the pockets and the bag is now done (aside from testing it to see how well the stitching holds up). So yeah, this project that I didn’t think I’d ever do is now done.

Sometimes, I forget that I’m capable of doing stuff like that. In addition to being one of those people that thinks they should be instantly adept at new things, I also have it in my head that stuff should be done all in one go. And some things should be. But other things don’t have to be and in fact, it’s a better approach to do a little bit at a time. The overall result is better and the process isn’t as overwhelming.

If only I could apply this sewing project approach to my life.