DIY: Quick Printable Catnip Kicking Bag

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This month’s DIY Challenge theme is Cats, so send in all your favorite kitty projects for the round-up at the end of the month. Visit the challenge page for more information, and use the handy-dandy form to upload your project photos. We can’t wait to see what you’ve made! Quick note to those of you who tend more to the barking or chirping animals – we welcome protest projects too. Show us why your favorite is better than our purring friends!

In typical cat fashion, my kitties seem to like toys that are not intended to be toys at all. You might think it’s a child-safe plug cover, but they think it’s the neatest thing since canned tuna. For a while they have been sharing a repurposed jack-o-lantern drawstring bag filled with catnip- and I decided it was time to give them something a little nicer. They do love the scale of the jack-o-lantern bag, which is long and wide unlike most catnip toys, so I decided to replicate the scale with a super-simple catnip kicking bag.

I wanted to customize the bags a bit, and I kept thinking about the lovely art Tara Bliven shared with us last month. I asked if she would write up a few feline words for us, and she did! You can use the free printable below to make this cat toy even cattier!

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Supplies for two Bags

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Download and print out the Cat Fabric according to the specifications on the package.

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Cut the fabric in half to make a sheet 10″ x 3.75″. Peel the backing paper off the fabric and stack it on top of the two pieces of thick fabric- with “right sides” facing out.

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Stitch, 1/2″ in, around three sides and leave the fourth open.

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Pour at least a teaspoon of dried catnip in the middle of your pocket…

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Close the last side of the bag, and trim around it with pinking shears to limit fraying (and add character.)

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Repeat with the second set of materials, and you’re done! A super cute sewing project that’s quick enough that you won’t mind when your kitties shed all over it. Now for the fun part…

(Warning, you are about to be bombarded with too many pictures of my kitties.)

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The dangers of catnip trips. Very unflattering photos.

 

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Success.

A couple of notes

  • The printable fabric is quite thin and I didn’t trust it to contain the catnip for very long, so I used it as an outside layer only. The catnip itself is contained within two layers of thicker fabric.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try this tutorial to make your own printable fabric!
  • If you are worried about your print running, try this vinegar bath solution to set your ink.
  • Tara is a wizard at decorative writing (and many other arts). Visit her website tarabliven.com  to find out how you can bring more of her awesomeness into your life.

DIY: Patio Friendly Pile-Up Cushions filled with Styrofoam Peanuts

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The weather was nice for a few days in April, uncharacteristically, and began the countdown to the Pacific Northwest Summer. Ahhh; the handful of blissful weeks that makes you fall in love with the trees again, and wipes the memory of the last 8 gray months.

Safety Husband and I have been trying to be more mindful, and that extends to the way we interact with our home. We are who we are [not catalog people] and we want everything at our house to be conducive to the way we live. (Safety Husband is really into Ham Radio, so he would also like to make a great deal of the house conductive*, but that’s a different story.) We have several outdoor areas that would make great external living spaces, but we haven’t done a great job of outfitting them for the task.

All this to explain why I decided I needed to make a giant pile of outdoor cushions that I could lay upon like the Princess and the Pea. I wanted them to be cheap, washable, refurbishable, and also work with our inside decor. Fabric and wood don’t do well outside over the Seattle winter, and I can’t store things in out non-existent storage space. So I put together a handful of pillow forms from scrap material, filled with recycled styrofoam peanuts; then covered them with painted canvas covers. In one afternoon I had 7 assorted cushions, and dreams of the perfect summer.

SUPPLIES

  • Fabric scissors and optional pinking shears
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Pillow Form Fabric: approximately 24″ (2/3 yard) of 45″-wide lightweight scrap fabric per pillow
  • Pillow Cover: approximately 24″ (2/3 yard) of 52″ to 60″-wide canvas-type material per pillow
  • Styrofoam Peanuts: about a grocery sack full per pillow. Make sure that you are using styrofoam peanuts instead of the cornstarch ones that melt under water. Imagine the mess!

DECORATING SUPPLIES

  • Tulip Color Shot Fabric Color:  I used Teal, Blue, and Green.
  • Scissors
  • Tape: masking, packing, cello, washi. Whatever you want!
  • Con-Tact Paper: A great option for cutting out larger masks or covering more material.
  • Decorative punches and scissors
  • Compass, or fun shapes to trace

 

Step 1: Making the Pillow Forms

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Take your scrap pillow-form material and fold it so that the selvedged edges touch. Cut the other two sides with pinking shears so that you have an approximately 23″ square (45″x23″ unfolded.) Sew a 1/2″ seam along the two pinked edges, then do the same for about half of the remaining side.

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Fill the form about halfway full with peanuts, then sew the opening closed to seal your pillow form.

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Hire a professional to test the security of your stitching.

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Repeat until you have run out of material. (I made 7 pillows so that I could make a GIANT PILE.)

Step 2: Making the Pillow Covers

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There is dirt outside, so you want to make sure that your pillow cover can be easily removed and laundered; this also means you want to pre-wash your fabrics so there is no future shrinkage.

Cut your fabric to about 23″ wide. With the back side showing, fold the width of the fabric into a tube about 22″ wide. The overlapped pieces will make the flap for inserting and removing your pillow form.

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Stitch up the two open ends of your tube approximately 1/4″ in.

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Then turn the cover inside out using the open flaps. Make sure to press the corner all the way out with your finger or a pencil.

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Stitch around the outside edges of your pillow cover, about 3/8″ in- then you’re done!

Step 3: Decorating the Cushions to Match your Life.

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Decorating the pillows was definitely the biggest fun in this project (other than sitting in the sun on the cushions later.) If you’re a selfless person, you could share that fun with your family and friends, and let each person design a mask for their own pillow. Masking the pillow is as easy as using tape and scissors. Build shapes out of strips of tape, or cut shapes out of contact paper. (ABOVE: I used a compass to draw circles, then cut and arranged them on the front of my cover.) You could have the initials of everyone in your family, silhouettes of your pets and favorite animals… anything really.

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Once you’ve settled on a masked design, take it outside and spray it down with your fabric spray paint. (I used Tulip Color Shot Fabric Color which is washable and flexible.) Remember that spray paint doesn’t ever go on consistently, so embrace the irregularity and leave some patches lighter than others.

After you’ve got a nice coat of paint on, let your cover dry for an hour or so before pulling off the mask.

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Then let your covers air out for a few more hours.

When everything is dry (not sticky or smelly) you can put your pillow forms into your covers. Slip the form into the open flap, then push it down under the inner over-lapping flap. Press the corners of the form into the corners of the cover and shake and stomp it until everything looks nice.

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Then build the tower of pillow on which you will reign.

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Or, you know. Share with your friends.

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Wheeee! Pillows.

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*I have a feeling that SH will have something to say about this line in the post when and if he reads it, so I’m going to put a disclaimer- like all nerdy types, there is typically a method to his madness, so I am sure the most of the house will remain non-conductive, or resistive, or whatever. Just, you know, antennas. He likes antennas.

DIY: Target My Heart Pincushion

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About 12 years ago I stitched together a utilitarian pillow stuffed with cloth scraps and called it a pincushion. It was my sad companion through many a sewing project, and as much as I wanted to replace it I never made the time.

Well! The time has come.

Seeing as it’s February and Stitches + Threads time, let’s turn Cupid’s target into a nifty little pincushion.

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SUPPLIES:

  • Red and white craft felt
  • Corresponding thread or embroidery floss
  • A small scrap of chipboard
  • A black permanent marker (I used a Sharpie Stained marker.)
  • Your favorite adhesive
  • A pair or scissors
  • Sewing needle
  • A strong thin magnet
  • The printed fabric template: to download click on the image below, or here.

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  • * Optional : If you’d like to turn your pincushion into a wrist band you will need a small length of elastic and a second magnet.

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First use the “Wrist Guard” template piece to cut a small heart out of chipboard. This will be place inside the pincushion to keep you from pushing pins all the way through. Use your favorite adhesive to attach one magnet to this piece of chipboard.

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Next tape a small piece of white felt to the template sheet and use a window to trace the rings of the target shape with your black marker. You may need to go over it a few times to make the rings as dark as possible.

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Set this piece aside for a moment to dry or you will end up with marker all over your hands. (Which is fun!) While you are waiting, use the “Heart” template to cut two red heart pieces, then when the target is dry cut just outside of the first dark ring. Keep all your little fabric scraps for the stuffing steps later. (Waste not, want not and all that.)

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Place the target piece in the center of one of the heart pieces and pinch or pin them together. Using black thread or embroidery floss whip the target down to attach it to the pincushion. (I used a blanket appliqué stitch around my target, similar to the one Rachel used in her Alphabet Hoop Art DIY . You can watch a video of how it is done here. If this looks tricky to you, use any old stitch you want!)

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When the target is all stitched down make a sandwich with the remaining pieces: target+heart piece, chipboard+magnet piece, plain heart piece.

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Then use thread (or floss) to stitch the two red felt heart pieces together, beginning at the top of one side. (For this stitching I used a blanket stitch. You can see a video of a pro doing it here. Any stitch should work to make this little pillow, so play around with it!)

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When you reach the top of the other side of the heart, stop sewing and collect your scraps to stuff. Any large scraps can be cut into tinier pieces that will fluff up the inside of you cushion.

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Start to fill the space between the chipboard wrist guard and the heart+target piece, using a little bit of stuffing at a time. Make sure to press into the point and sides of your heart to make it really puff.

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When you’ve got it almost over-full stitch up the remaining open space and tie a firm knot. Tuck your thread-end into the heart or trim it and you’re all done!

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So, why did I have you include a magnet? Because magnets are awesome! If you’re prone to losing straight pins like a startled porcupine loses quills you’ll appreciate the pin collecting magic of a strong magnet. Have a magnetic board or fridge in your making space? Smack your pincushion there for safe keeping!

But if you want to really kick your pincushion up a notch…

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you can make a magnetic wrist band. Cut a piece of elastic a little bit smaller than your wrist, and glue a magnet to one end. Sew the two ends together to form a loop, stitching around the magnet.

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Then you should be able to attach your pincushion temporarily to your wrist whenever it’s convenient.

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If you’re anything like me, it will be convenient a lot.

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I don’t think I’ll ever look back to the silly old pincushion of yesterday, but I am tempted to make a bunch more of these guys. Maybe a porcupine…

TOOLBOX: Tips for Sharpening a Grumpy Paper Punch

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I ask a lot of my tools, which is why I forgive my paper punches when they hesitate to punch happily through yet another piece of cardstock.

Instead, I grab a piece of aluminum foil, fold it several times, flatten and…

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punch through it again and again until I have a foil mess…

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and a cleaner punch.

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Tip shared.

 

Do you have any tips we should know about? Email your little tricks to hello@adventures-in-making.com and we might be able to share them with our little community.

SHOW+TELL: A Look at the Letterpress

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With the weather turning gloomy it’s becoming less practical (and pleasant) to work outside, but I have had more chances to work more with my lovely letterpress. It dawned on me (while I was listening to the clunking and whirring of the machine) that I haven’t ever shared my adventures with this 126-year-old guy, even though he takes up a huge space in my heart (and my bedroom.)

I thought I’d show you a couple of behind the scenes shots, and talk about my printing process.

An old etching of the letterpress model I work with, in the amazing American Wood Type book my mom passed down to me. Synchronicity?

There are a lot of great resources for learning about the history of printing (I’ve listed some resources below) so I won’t get too much into a subject that I’m learning more about all the time.

My first experience printing was at the University of Texas, on a Vandercook press using antique wood type (from the Rob Roy Kelly collection) and modern polymer plates. I eventually acquired a small table-top platen press (a Craftsmen Imperial) and started printing greeting cards and more using the same method I use today on my floor-standing platen press.

Nearly two years ago we moved the one-ton California Reliable into a corner of our bedroom, and it has become a my go-to for printing with love.

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Polymer plates before they are aligned on the aluminum base for printing.

While I still use lead type and wood type occasionally, I mainly print with polymer plates on an aluminum base. I draw up the artwork, scan it, clean it up and prep it for the plates, then send the artwork out to have plates made. The plates are somewhat similar to the clear sticky stamp sheets some people use with a clear block; however the material is much harder which allows for much more detail and lets it stand up to the high pressure of the letterpress. The height of the material has to be just right to bring it up to type high on the aluminum block and allow for the ink rollers to roll, and the printer to print.

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Hand carved linoleum blocks being printed on a small tabletop press.

Occasionally I get a wild hair and print from hand-carved linoleum blocks. There’s less perfection in this mode, but you can end up with really great results with lots of character. There’s a trick to raising the blocks up to the right height, but it’s definitely possible.

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There’s a long list of things I love about letterpress printing, but color is at the top. I love how each color I print is one solid color instead of being made up of a pointillistic nightmare of Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black. (There’s no room in my blue for little pink dots.) Each color on a letterpress print is printed separately; each color has its own plate. I’m a somewhat inexact ink mixer, but I always seem to end up at the right color (and I try not to get ink everywhere.)

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Printing the first color of a leafy card.

Alignment (registration) is something that has taken a little getting used to, but I’ve come up with a method that works great for me. Here you can see a couple of polymer plates on my aluminum base, printing the first color of a two-color card.


The opening and closing action on this Gordon-style press is powered by a flywheel and a foot-powered treadle. There is a single magical dance that inks the rollers on the ink plate, rolls them across the printing plate, then presses the paper into that plate to make a print. (I’m learning a little more all the time about the mechanics of this magic, but the first lesson was DON’T LEAVE YOUR HAND IN THERE.) I’m responsible for pumping with my foot/ankle/hip and feeding paper.

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Printing on paper handmade from the scraps of other cards.

One of the nicest things about the letterpress is that with a little ingenuity you can print on just about anything flat. Most of my pieces are printed on thick cover stocks, often 100% cotton. I’ve started printing more and more on sheets of handmade paper that I make from the trimmings of those other cards. I love the texture and softness of the paper I make, and I adore the fact that it means I’m contributing less to the landfills. (Want to know more about making paper? 1 2 3)

I’ve also just started to experiment with printing on fabric…. I have ideas….

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So that’s my old guy. Our love is still new, but I think it’s made to last.

Time will pass– I will get more ragged and he will get less, and he’ll always have new things to press.
I’ll keep learning.

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Resources and Links

Briar Press: A never ending resource for letterpress parts and printers
Letterpress Commons: Developed by Boxcar Press with articles and resources
Boxcar Press: My usual source for polymer plates and some other materials and supplies
Reich Savoy: One of the papers I print on.
Van Son Rubber Base Plus Ink: My preferred ink

TOOLBOX: Fiskars Titanium Rotary Cutter Review

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I recently decided to treat myself (and my t-shirt rug project) to a 45mm cutter. For the past several years I have tried to make do with an 18mm cutter, but I was a fool. (All those days re-cutting fabric that the dinky little blade didn’t cut through…)

Even though our local craft store carries a limited supply of anything related to sewing, they had a wide selection of hand-held rotary cutters. I could choose between Fiskars and Olfa, and have my pick of safety features, shapes, colors, weights– too many options, really.

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I picked the simplest looking one- the Fiskars 45 Millimeter Titanium Rotary Cutter took it home, and started cutting.

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45mm paper cutting blades fit in the handheld cutter. The possibilities!

Things To Love

  • Since it is a simple, symmetrical design it works in my left or right hand, which is important.
  • I have an old rotary paper cutter from Fiskars, and an assortment of awesome 45mm paper blades which all work in this hand-held cutter. I’m excited to try out some of the decorative blades in a more freeform way. (Watch me scallop everything like I round corners.)
  • Cuts through fabric (even multiple layers of knits) like butter. When I put in the paper blades, they cut through paper just as easily. I attribute this amazingness to the blade itself.

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Things to Hate

  • The blade is quite far from the plastic guide of the holder. It means there’s a bit of excess “wobble” if you tilt your hand. It also leaves the blade even more exposed when open, threatening to cut you or to break.
  • The whole thing feels so light weight and hollow that you have to apply a lot of downward pressure to to cut through a thicker fabric.
  • To replace the blade you remove a basic screw from a plastic nut, but then a tiny washer pops out at you. I’m betting it will work just fine when that little washer escapes for good.
  • The safety mechanism has a child-safe button that you have to push down with your fingertip while sliding the lever. That’s well and good, but the problem is you have to push that same tiny little button to close the guard back up. I have learned the hard way that it should be dead simple to close/cover/or otherwise protect yourself from sharp objects. Bleeding on a project seldom makes it better.

 

Does this seem like an overly complicated safety feature?

Does this seem like an overly complicated safety feature?

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Things to Be Confused By

  • The screw that keeps the blade in the casing has markings for “light” and “heavy” with helpful directional arrows. But, what does it mean? Light? Heavy? Is there something I’m missing? Heavy fabric? A heavy hand? A setting for those special days when it feels like the weight of the world is upon you?  The heavy setting tightens up the screw, making the blade roll more slowly/difficultly. The light setting lets the blade roll with less resistance, but there is even more play in the blade. I haven’t found reference to this setting on the packaging or online. Anybody know the thought behind it?

To Summarize

Fiskars 45mm Rotary Cutter Blades= great!
This particular blade holder= meh. Functional but meh.

Have you worked with one you like? Or is this just another case of “settle for what you’ve got”?

DIY: Convertible Harvest Apron / Produce Bag

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There’re still a million and a half things to do around here, but the garden has been calling. (Literally. The robins are LOUD.)

More often than not I find myself walking around with a hose and eating vegetables right off the plants like an animal; but the harvests are getting to be too big for me to eat immediately, too unwieldy to juggle in my hands, and while my first instinct is to bundle them up in my skirt I’m not too excited about flashing the neighbors.

All of this to explain why I decided to turn a half a yard of cotton material and some bias tape into a harvest apron- not just an apron, but an apron that converts to a drawstring produce bag.

For those of you who like to reverse engineer projects (and improve them!) the concept is simple. It’s a rectangular drawstring bag with one string that’s large enough to tie around your waist. For the rest of you who want to see what I did, follow along!

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Supplies

• 1/2 yard of printed cotton fabric. (18 inches x 45 inches wide, typically.)
• At least 3 yards of a durable, sewable trim to use as a drawstring and tie. I used Double Wide Bias Tape from Wrights.
• Sewing machine (or a needle and thread if you’re handy)
• Complementary thread and bobbin
• Ruler
• Straight pens
• Fabric Scissors
• Pinking Shears (optional).

Tips

• Remember to take it slow, and maybe start with a piece of material that you’re not in love with. The second one will go faster/easier.
• This project will hide a bunch of mistakes, so don’t fret!
• I used pinking shears to keep my edges from fraying. If you prefer, you can ignore all the steps that use the pinking shears and instead do a zig zag stitch down the fraying edge of the material. (This post on Craftsy is quite helpful.)
• Whenever you get to the end of a line of stitches, always go backwards and forwards on the spot with a few stitches to tie off the ends.
• A seam ripper is always useful if you’re as prone to mistakes as I am.
• An iron is also useful, if you have one handy. I use it to iron fabric flat, to fold seams over, and sometime I just push the steam button to listen to the hiss.

Step 1 – Making the Pocket

To begin, you will cut or tear the 18″x45″ piece of material down the fold so that you have two pieces of 18″x22.5″. You will be stitching the edges to form something almost like a pillow case, leaving one of the 22.5″ sides open (this will be the top of your pocket.) To remind myself which way went up, I used the pinking shears to trim one of the 22.5″ sides of each piece of material.

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Lay the two pieces together, with the right sides in. From your pinked “top” measure down 3 inches and put a bright pin or mark to show that your stitches will end here. (Don’t stitch above the markers.)

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Now sew a straight stitch 1/2 inch starting at your marker and going down to the bottom of the bag, across the bottom, and back up the other side (stopping 3″ below the top of the bag.)

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Voila! Pocket made!

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Now trim the other sides with your pinking shears to stop fraying.

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Step 2 – Drawstring Casing

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This first step is a little finicky– the goal is to fold under the raw edge of the fabric so it’s out of the way of the drawstring casing. First, fold back your unstitched raw edge (the 3″  from the top on each side we skipped before) and pin flat. 

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Use a zig-zag or straight stitch to permanently pin down that edge on each edge of the flap (leaving the flaps open.  One side shown open below.)

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Now for the drawstring casing, itself. Fold each open flap backwards to make a 1.5″ hem. Pin each side separately so that the pocket remains open.

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Run a straight stitch around the bottom of each flap, about 0.5″ from the pinked edge.

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Then run a second straight stitch approximately 0.5″ from the top of each side. The space between those stitches is where the drawstring will run.

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Step 3 – Drawstrings and Ties

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Cut your drawstring material into the following 3 pieces:
• Apron Tie: Wrap the string around your waist, add 12-18″ to your measurement and cut.
• Short Drawstring: Measure one piece that is 24″ to act as your other drawstring.
• Wrist Loop: The final piece will be a loop that you can use around your wrist to hold open your apron. I used about 12″ for my loop, but you may want to make yours longer or shorter (or omit this step, if you want!)

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For your wrist loop, cross the ends, and stitch to the middle of one of the open sides. (Make sure to stick above or below the drawstring casing area.

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The side with your loop will now be the front of your apron. Use a large safety pin to feed the 24″ piece through the casing on this side. Repeat with the long piece, through the casing on the other side.

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Fold over and stitch each of the four ends to form a 1.5″ loop. If you have a trim that will fray at the ends, it’s a good idea to do a tight zig-zag here to limit the fray over time.

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To keep your short drawstring from disappearing into the casing, feed the long piece through the loops on each side.

Trim all your little threads, and you’re ready to harvest!

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Tie the long tie at your natural waist, and get into the garden!

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Use the wrist loop when you need to hold open the apron, but keep your hands free. (Especially handy when you’re picking tricky berries.)

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When you’re ready to go in, untie the apron and pull the drawstrings for an instant produce bag.

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When the bag gets just too dirty, throw it into the wash on hot. (Turn the bag inside out to get rid of those stubborn bits of dirt.)

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Things to Try

• Add a pocket for a garden knife or shears.
• Add vintage cotton trim to make it even more vintage-girly.
• Add a bib and neck strap – more pockets?

Any suggestions? Do you have a favorite garden project you’re rocking this summer?

TOOLBOX: Gingher 4 Inch Embroidery Scissors

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Change is afoot for me, and I’ve been drowning any anxiety of said change by keeping busy every. moment. of. every. day. It’s working for now, but at some point the constant movement and sleepless nights are going to catch up with me.

All of this to explain why I gave myself permission to spend too much money on a pair of scissors.
(Correction, not “too much”. “Just enough.”)

In a fit of productivity I decided to tackle a big project that included a metric ton of tiny snips. (There’s a sneak peak later in this post.) After struggling with my trusty pair or sewing scissors, I pulled up Amazon, and ordered a pair of Ginghers off of my wish list. These Gingher 4 Inch Embroidery Scissors appeared about a week later, and I was very happy.

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First things first. These guys are tiny. 4 inches is the length from the tip of the blade to the end of the handles. They come with a little leather sheath, which is good because they are VERY sharp. (On Amazon, several of the reviewers say they have had major cut on their hands while using these scissors. Most of these are 5 star reviews, showing that people who need embroidery scissors appreciate quality– even if that particular quality is “deadly.”) I have only cut myself once so far, but Safety Husband has been watching me closely.
You can use them to make all sorts of fabric messes:

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narrow, even snips for fringing or other decorative details,

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smooth detailed shapes out of picky fabrics,

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and they cut easily through a thick roll of fabric.

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They made quick work of my project, and I know they will become an indispensable part of my sewing kit.

Things To Love

• Sharp to the very end, which means it’s easier to line up snips.
• All metal with a nifty screw for adjustment down the road.
• Opens and closes very smoothly.
• Simple handle means it’s easy to hold at that weird angle you need to get into that corner seam…

Things to Hate

• Sharp. Dangerous. Use caution when inebriated or distracted.
• The handle is a little small for my fingers, and I have to stop periodically to readjust.

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Want your very own pair? Follow this link to buy them from Amazon. I didn’t get any incentive to post this– just wanted to share something from my toolbox– but if you use our link we could get a small part of the proceeds to further our Adventures (and my tool addiction.)

 

 

Do you have a favorite tool you’d like to share? Tell us all about it!

TOOLBOX: Water Color Masking Fluid

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I love playing with watercolors, I’m going to admit that right now. I love the way the colors run together, the little blotches of pigment, and basically everything else about it. I’m not a watercolor expert, which means that whenever the paint does something unexpected I have the giddy feeling that I just discovered something amazing. (What did I tell you? I love the process.)

My philosophy teacher in high school used to amazing things with watercolor, and I would always try to sneak a look at his paintings before and after class. One day I noticed him using something to cover up portions of the paper while he was working– cut to 15 years later and I finally decide to buy myself a little bottle of masking fluid to play around with. (I bought Winsor & Newton Colorless Art Masking Fluid.)

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Still a little overwhelmed to jump in, I watched this introductory video, decided on a test project; and gathered my brushes, paints, and spirit of exploration.

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A note: the first time I used the fluid, I ruined my brush. It was a cheap brush, granted, but after that I sharpened up and coated the next brush in dish soap before dipping it in the masking fluid. I coated the whole thing in the dish soap, then squeezed the excess out. (This video shows you how.) Trust me. It’s better that way.

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I drew a basic outline of the words I wanted to mask out with pencil. After coating the brush in soap, and gently rolling the bottle of masking fluid to mix it up, I dipped my brush in and saturated it.

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Bit by bit, I covered the words with the masking fluid.

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All the lines are covered in the fluid now. I’ll be able to erase the pencil lines once everything is done.

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I let the masking fluid dry COMPLETELY before I began to paint with my watercolor. (The dry masking compound feels like rubber cement. You’ll know it’s dry when it is only slightly shiny, and your finger does not stick to it.) The watercolor will not stick to the mask, so you will be able to see what you’re working with.

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When I had finished my first layer of paint, I let it dry COMPLETELY, then added a little more masking to what would be the little abstract windows in the buildings.

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Then I let those dry COMPLETELY (do you see a theme here?) before I went in and darkened all the fields of color.

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When I was done working around my masked areas, and everything was dry, I lightly rubbed the masking agent off with the tips of my fingers. (This alone is worth the trouble. I love pulling glue off of things.)

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Once the mask was off, and I did a little erasing, I had crisp white lines to work with.

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The masked areas were pale enough to let me add a little light yellow watercolor. I love the way the white letters stand out.

Tips to remember

• Test out the water color paper you’re going to be using before you start your artwork. Some of the papers I tried stuck to the masking fluid terribly, and I had to tear the paper to get the dried mask off.
• Coat your brush in soap, or you will ruin a brush, and most likely the piece of paper you’re working on. The first brush started to pull the drying mask fluid back off the paper, and it totally ruined one of my projects.
• Let everything dry COMPLETELY before moving from fluid to paint, or paint to fluid. The fluid will cling to wet paper, or your wet paint and make a wet mess.
• Remember to have fun! Let that childish sense of wonder take over for an afternoon… and when you’re done experimenting, send us the outcome! April’s DIY Challenge is Watercolor, after all.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basic Supplies & Techniques

Watercolor is one of my favorite mediums and since we are exploring this theme all month with our DIY Challenge, I thought I’d put together an introductory post for anyone interested in trying watercolor for the first time.

Paper

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics
There are three different types of watercolor paper available: hot press, cold press and rough. Cold press paper is what I use most often as it has a beautiful texture to it (whereas hot press paper is smooth). Watercolor paper is much thicker than ordinary paper which is very important to prevent buckling while painting. 140 lb is the typical weight of most watercolor paper. There are thicker options out there if you are planning to use heavy washes, but 140 lb paper works just fine for me.

Watercolor paper comes in single sheets, spiral pads and blocks. I use a Strathmore spiral pad for experimenting and practicing. Then when I’m ready, I’ll switch to my Arches block to create my final painting. I do this because Arches is quite expensive. Plus I like to carry my Strathmore pad with me if I’m painting on the go.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Block paper is just what it sounds like. An Arches block comes with 20 sheets of paper that are sealed together into one big block. Use an x-acto knife to carefully slice a single piece of paper off the block. Usually, I’ll paint directly on the block and slice it off when I’m finished. But you can also cut it off beforehand. To prevent buckling while painting I recommend using artist’s masking tape to tape down your paper onto a hard surface while painting.

Paper Brands We Recommend:

Strathmore
Arches

Brushes, Etc.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are three different types of watercolor brushes: rounds, flats and mops. All are made in a variety of sizes. The best brushes are made of natural fiber, most commonly sable. Kolinsky sable pointed rounds are prized for their ability to keep a fine point, which is very useful for detail work, but they are also very expensive. I’ll admit I tend to stick with synthetic brushes and usually will stock up on cheap student brushes rather than investing in the professional quality options. Maybe some day soon I’ll treat myself to a fancy new brush but for now these cheap brushes suite me just fine.

I use round brushes in a variety of sizes 90% of the time. If I’m doing a big wash, I’ll switch to a flat brush, but otherwise I use round brushes for all my painting.

Tip #1: You will ruin your brushes if you leave the brush end sitting in a glass of water. I’d recommend storing them in a jar brush side up. If you want to store them in a closed container make sure they are dry to avoid molding.

Tip #2: Rinse your brushes under running water after each painting session. If you find any traces of dried paint near the metal band, use a little soap to rinse them clean. Dry gently on a paper towel or cloth and reshape with your fingers.

Tip #3: Sponges, cotton balls and cotton swaps are extremely helpful tools in watercolor. They can be used to apply color or I like to use them to correct mistakes and clean up any extra watery areas. Cotton swaps are especially helpful if you want to create small highlights.

Paint

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are two different types of watercolor: liquid tubes and solid pans. One is not better than the other, so it really comes down to your personal preference. I like to use a pan set as my base color palette and then I buy tubes whenever I want to try out new colors. Winser & Newton is an excellent brand that I use often (I love the Artist’s Watercolor Compact Set perfect for traveling). The paints shown in the image above are Schmincke brand which are very pricey but worth it for their amazing quality. Schmincke is my personal favorite because the pigment of their paints is so saturated and vibrant. I was lucky enough to receive this set at a birthday gift. Professional quality watercolors (like Winser & Newton and Schmincke) are expensive but think of it as a one-time investment. A basic pan set will last you a lifetime!

Professional Brands we recommend:

Winser & Newton
Schmincke
Holbein

If investing in a professional watercolor set is not an option for you never fear! Feel free to try out a student brand. I recommend starting with Winser & Newton Cotman. Student brands differ from professional brands in that they can have a lower concentration of pigment, have less expensive formulas and smaller range of colors available. That said, they are still a great option for anyone just starting out with watercolor.

Palettes

Palettes are great for mixing colors. If you have a paintbox set, then you can use the palette included with the box. But if you are using tubes, you’ll need a separate palette or pan. Palettes come in all shapes and sizes. I use a small plastic palette in addition to my paintbox.

Colors

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

You can use as few or as many colors as you like. Some artists use only a handful of colors and mix whatever shades they like. My Schmincke paintbox comes with 24 colors so that’s what I use as my base palette. I also have a few additional tubes I love and use in addition to my paintbox.

Techniques

So you’ve gathered your supplies and are ready to paint. Great! Here are some basic painting techniques to try out.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Blending

Blending is my favorite part of watercolor. I’d suggest experimenting with blending different colors together. To do this, first paint a shape or squiggle line with plain water only. Then dip your brush into the paint and add it to the watered area. Watch it spread, then clean your brush and choose a second color. Apply this to the opposite end of your watered area and watch the colors blend together. You can move your paper side to side to help the watercolor run together.

Marks

Next I would try out all your different brushes. Experiment with different mark-making and see what you come up with. Draw circles, dashes, lines, and dots. Try mixing lots of water with your paint and then try the opposite by applying paint with a dry brush. Play with different textures, shades and colors.

Layering

My favorite part of watercolor is the process of creating different layers. I’ve painted a simple flower to give you a taste of what layering is like. First use a pencil to lightly draw a flower. I found a photo of a flower for reference. Once your pencil drawing is finished, carefully cover the entire thing in water and then apply a ‘base’ layer. This will be the bottom layer that we will then build from. I blended two different colors to create my base layer.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

It’s very important that you let each layer dry completely before moving onto the next. I use a hair dryer to speed the drying process along.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Once your base layer is completely dry you can begin adding in more detail. Start with one petal at a time, using your photo as reference for shading and color.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

I hope this post demystifies watercolor for any beginners out there and gives you a place to start. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play! I also recommend checking out a great watercolor series by The Alison Show.

Be sure to share any painting experiments with us by entering our April DIY Challenge!

Update 4/16/15

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to check out: 8 Watercolor Techniques For Beginners