sewing

Going to the Chapel

wedding guest outfit of a straw hat and purse paired with a navy cross printed dress with a pearl necklace and tan sandals. Nicole is on a grassy lawn with trees in the background

…Not to get married, but to witness one! Summers for most people means weddings, especially with the backlog of weddings from the past two years, but I actually haven’t attended very many weddings in my life, and I only had one to go to this year. Of course, where there is a wedding, there is wedding attire, and this one was no exception. When planning what to wear to this wedding, I needed it to check three boxes: a colour that wouldn’t clash with the bridal party (green) because I was going to get some photos taken with the bride (my friend Chantelle), something comfortable and in a natural fibre because it was going to be an outdoor wedding in August and, finally, something that coordinated with my giant straw hat- because it was going to be in the sun and I needed to bring my own shade!

Nicole is wearing a navy blue fit and flare dress with a large straw hat with a navy ribbon and a straw tote bag. She is standing outside in front of some trees

Despite the fact that I knew about this wedding since March, I didn’t actually figure out all of these important details until July, and then I didn’t actually sew the dress until a week before the wedding. In my defence, I was hoping to be able to find something to buy in the shops, but that shopping trip immediately reminded of why I even started to sew clothing in the first place. If it wasn’t synthetic fibres, it was cheaply sewn, and if it was good quality, it didn’t fit…which meant that it was time for a sewing project! (And one with a deadline too, but I got it done….and my mom’s outfit too!) 

I knew that this wasn’t going to be a quick and easy sewing project, since I’ve changed sizes and needed to draft an entirely new bodice block. After a failed attempt at draping a bodice, I found a tutorial for creating a bodice block, and another for fitting it, and with the help of my mom we were able to make a fairly well fitting bodice block/sloper. Then from that base, I was able to customize it and turn it into a pattern for this dress.

detail of a simple classic pearl necklace with a v-neck dress made out of sevenberry fabric by Japan

I originally planned on buying some new fabric, but when the fabric search also proved unfruitful, I turned to what was already in my stash and decided that this cross printed navy cotton would be elegant, yet still good for an outdoor event. I had originally intended the fabric for a button front skirt, but am actually glad I made it into a dress instead, because the tan and navy colour combination probably wouldn’t have coordinated with very many of my tops, and as a dress, it is a perfect one-step outfit. 

The fabric also proved to be a great choice because it’s 100% cotton, with a linen textured weave, so it was lightweight and breathable, but it didn’t crease! I wore it from about 10:00 am to 10:00 pm and it looked almost as fresh in the evening when I took it off as when I’d put it on, which was incredible because we were outside melting in the summer sun. I bought this fabric from the clearance rack at Fabricland, and it’s by the Japanese brand Sevenberry. (That’s all I know about it, as that info was printed on the selvedge).

nicole is wearing a navy patterned cotton dress and a straw hat and pearl necklace. She is walking away from the camera in a grassy lawn with trees around it

When thinking about the dress, I first designed it as button front, but then the thought of making 20+ buttonholes in a short period of time just seemed like asking for trouble, so I opted for a simple back zipper, v-neck, short sleeved bodice and knee length pleated skirt. In the end I’m actually glad that I went for the zipper closure, because that meant that I didn’t have to fiddle with the buttons and make sure they weren’t gaping or pulling.

nicole is wearing a navy knee length dress, tan leather sandals, a pearl necklace, a straw hat with a navy hatband and a straw purse outside in a treed area

When you are sewing, you need to keep in mind not only your ideas for the design, but what the fabric itself calls for. When designing, I planned for a turned up sleeve cuff with a button detail and maybe a bit of navy contrast fabric. I’d found some pretty cream and antique brass buttons in the stash and designed the entire dress around using these button accents on both sleeves and at the back neck. As it turns out, the fabric had a mind of it’s own and it did not want to have a cuff or button detail on the sleeve, and instead asked for the simplest of sleeve styles. I kept trying to add some sort of feature- a pleat, a contrast binding, a keyhole…but the nature of the fabric called for something simple and structured.

neck button and keyhole detail of the dress made of navy cross patterned fabric

Likewise, after I had sewn the keyhole at the top of the back zipper, I discovered that the cream and brass buttons I’d planned for actually didn’t actually look good! Then I had to go through the entire stash (of course it was at night) looking for a new button. This one (an extra from my green cardigan) was a bit more subtle in colour and sheen and worked perfectly. When sewing, things don’t always turn out the way you planned…but sometimes they turn out even better. This simple style of dress is actually a better addition to my wardrobe than any kind of statement piece. It’s almost like a “background” dress in the fact that the fabric pattern is interesting and detailed, but can easily be matched with many of my accessories for a different look. Those simple sleeves will also layer very nicely with cardigans for Fall and with the heavier texture of the fabric, it isn’t going to just be a summer dress, but will carry over for cooler weather too.

wearing a navy v-neck knee length dress with a straw hat and bag outside in a treed area

For the day of the wedding, because it was outdoors in the sun, I wore my giant straw hat. I love this hat, and was so thankful for it because we were sitting in the sun with no breeze. (At least a rainstorm came up after to cool us off.) I made a hat band out of a coordinating navy grosgrain ribbon, and while it wasn’t perfect, it worked well for one day. However, that is not the hatband you are seeing here because…I lost it somewhere. I guess I put it somewhere “safe”, so I had to quickly hot glue a new ribbon for these pictures. Oops!

large straw hat with a navy ribbon hatband

I chose to wear my pearl necklace and earrings, since they make any outfit instantly more dressy and for shoes wore my low heeled sandals since they are comfortable and don’t have heels that would sink into the grass.

tan cognac leather sandals with an ankle strap

And I didn’t actually bring this purse to the wedding, even though I wanted to, because I didn’t get the handles in time. I bought this straw bag from the thrift store, removed the (ugly!) fake leather handles, put a new lining in the bag and added leather handles I bought from this Etsy shop. (She did a custom size for me, 26″ x 5/8″ in cognac leather.) I wish that they had arrived in time so I could have carried this bag, since I had to use a tote bag instead, which was way too floppy, and not nearly as stylish.

straw purse with leather cognac handles

So, that’s what I wore, and I’ve already worn this dress again because it’s so versatile. I’m am so glad that I went to the effort to make a new bodice block because that means that the hard part of fitting (the most hated part) is already done, and it’s pretty easy to whip up a dress once that’s out the way. I was planning on making another summer dress, but decided that since we are almost at the end of the season, I will instead start some sewing for fall and winter! That’s the thing with sewing…you always need to be thinking ahead to what season it will be when your projects will be finished. I’ve got some plans for more cool weather sewing projects, hopefully my next projects will be as quick as this one was, and I will have a few more things to wear this winter!

Have you attended many weddings in the past couple of years? When you go to a wedding, do you repeat the outfits you wear, or try to find something new? 

walking away wearing a navy knee length cotton dress and a large tan straw hat with a navy hat band

Sewing a Zero Waste Pouf (And Using Up Fabric Scraps!)

zero waste pouf made out of a recycled white quilt with vintage books sitting on top of it

The sewing project I’m sharing with you today has taken me years to complete…literally, and there were two things that sparked the idea for this project. One, I read a news report several years ago, right when the Canada Goose winter coats were super popular, about a company making counterfeit coats filled with factory floor textile sweepings instead of goose down. Aside from the fact that they were scamming people, I thought that using up fabric scraps as insulation was actually a pretty ingenious idea. Then, right about that same time, I saw a blog post by Brittany of Untitled Thoughts (I can’t find the specific post) about a pieced scrap pouf which had been filled with cotton quilting fabric to use as a means of storage in your sewing room. So, I melded the two ideas and now several years, and a LOT of scraps, later I have finally finished my (almost completely) zero waste pouf!

What exactly is a pouf and what makes it different than an ottoman or a footstool? Well, an ottoman or a footstool has legs or is made of a frame with a padded top, whereas a pouf is just like a giant pillow, without any kind of base structure. So are you interested in making your own? Here’s how I did it!

a giant pile more than a metre long of textile scraps

First, you will need to start saving scraps, and this is the longest part of the project. I saved everything including synthetic fibre clothing such as t-shirts, hoodies, jeans and pantyhose which couldn’t be used for rags. I also saved the seams out of the garments that we did cut up for rags. And, of course, I saved sewing scraps of all sizes, like I mentioned in my post last week. I saved these textile scraps in a giant black garbage bag and though I initially thought I had way too many scraps, I actually ended up using all of them plus more. In the image above, that is a metre stick for reference.

Once you’ve gathered about 1.5 times the amount of scraps you think you’ll need, it is time to start readying your pouf lining!

drawing of the dimensions of the fabric for the lining

Figure out the dimensions of your pouf. I made mine 20″ across, so the circumference was approximately 63″ around. I mapped out my pattern pieces on a grid paper determining what size of pieces with seam allowances would fit exactly into the fabric I was going to use. Also note, depending on which kind of fabric you’re going to use, you might want to make the bottom out of a more durable (and affordable!) fabric like canvas since it won’t be seen anyway. Originally I was going to make my pouf out of mustard velvet, and pleat the top into the centre like a vintage round pillow, but once the fabric arrived (from Etsy)…it was not the right colour of yellow, so I ended up changing my plan.

Cut out 2 circles, with seam allowances, to use as the top and bottom and then either one piece or 2 pieces for the sides.

lining fabric cut and ready to sew

I used cotton canvas as the fabric for my lining bag, and I did a double layer with an old worn out mattress cover to prevent any lumps from the stuffing from showing through. You could use fleece, a wool blanket or towel as an interlining. If you are using a thick upholstery fabric, I don’t know if this step will be as important, but if you are using a thinner outer fabric, then I would definitely add that second layer. Sew the two layers together and then work them as one piece.

Sew the side piece together at the ends. Then measure the bottom circle and side piece into 4 even quadrants and pin together at those points and sew together. Do not sew the top circle on, because it will be added later.

unstuffed canvas lining bag sewn with top not attached yet

Now it is time to stuff the lining bag! You don’t want to just wad the fabric in, otherwise it will get very lumpy and misshapen. Here is the method I used to avoid as much lumpiness as possible.

textile scraps cut into tiny pieces

First, sort your scraps into piles of soft materials like fleece etc. that you will use to smooth out lumps, bulky and heavy or large pieces of fabric, and any tiny scraps. This step of sorting through and cutting the scraps will definitely make you feel like you are one of the children in the pawn shop in the 1951 movie “A Christmas Carol”. Take your small scraps and cut into 1″ or smaller pieces. I did this over several days to avoid my hand cramping.

textile scraps cut into tiny pieces and layered several inches in the bottom of the lining

Once you have a large batch of shredded pieces, place a layer several inches thick across the bottom of the bag.

folding and stacking larger textile pieces in the centre of the lining

Then, take your larger scraps and fold them. Lay them flat in the centre of the pouf and keep stacking until you have a layer several inches thick. Take more of the small shredded scraps and sprinkle them in between the centre folded “pillar” and the lining bag to create a bit of soft insulation. (Folding the pieces into the centre means that they won’t compress too much over time, so you won’t end up with a lopsided or deflated pouf.) Keep folding pieces into the bag and adding the small scraps around the outside. Once you’ve reached the top of the lining bag, it is time to attach the top.

hand sewing the top of the lining to the sides

Again, make sure to pin on four equal quadrants like you did for the bottom and pin the top circle to the side piece. Hand stitch the pieces together. You can use any colour of thread for this since it won’t be seen; I used up a bunch of old spools of red thread that had only tiny amounts left on them not enough for a larger projects.

Once you’ve stitched the “lid” halfway around the circumference, knot your thread because it’s time to start stuffing again!

stuffing the top section of the pouf with more soft stuffing

This is the time to use any fleece, batting or other soft materials, so you’ll get a nice smooth top to your pouf. Fill in any gaps with more shredded pieces. Keep pushing scraps into the bag; it will take more than you think you need. Once you’ve got the one half pretty well full, then sew another quarter of the top closed and with that final small section, push as many scraps as you can into the bag. Then finally stitch the last section closed.

lining all stuffed with textile scraps

You are not quite ready to cover your pouf, though. It is time to sit on it and squish it down and punch it into shape and let the pieces settle for a while. It will be pretty solid, but after while of use, it will slightly deflate and then you can add more scraps to the top. I left mine for a couple of months (because I was trying figure out how I wanted to cover it once the velvet didn’t work out) but it actually worked out perfectly that way, because it really gave time for the scraps to squish down. I would recommend leaving it for a few weeks, making sure to sit on it every once in a while to press it down.

Once the scraps have settled as much as they are going to, open up a quarter of the seam in the top and add more scraps! Use more tiny shredded scraps to fill in the top and then once it is stuffed to overflowing, stitch the top back together. You will now have a very solid (and heavy) pouf form ready to be covered.

There are lots of ways you can make a pouf (like a Morrocan style or gathering the top like I mentioned earlier) but I ended up doing a simple 3 piece top, side and bottom since I chose to cover mine with a quilt!

white mattelasse quilt with frayed edge

This was the quilt that I had on my bed for about 14 years, and it has started to show it’s age. Now that I have a new quilt, it was time to retire this one. At first I was debating dyeing it, but then I realized that white would actually be the perfect colour for my very light and bright bedroom. Maybe if I eventually get the sofa of my dreams (vintage yellow and cream floral) I will recover the pouf in yellow velvet and put it with my sofa, but in the meantime it works quite nicely in my bedroom beside my closet. And since I’m not actually putting my feet up on it, like if it was in front of my sofa, the fact that it’s white should be all right. (I hope!)

cover pieces cut out of white quilt and ready to be sewn

My quilt had a border pattern which I utilized as the side piece- I cut one long strip 15″ wide the full length of the quilt. Then I cut the top and bottom circles out of the middle diamond quilted section. (PS. There was just enough fabric to use the end pieces of that strip to make a square cushion cover too!)

sewing outer fabric pieces together

Cut your outer pieces the same dimensions as the lining. Sew the top and side pieces together, again pinning in even quadrants and easing it all the way around.

Once I placed my cover on the pouf, I realized that the fabric had stretched out quite a bit and the top edge was hollow, so I brought it back to the sewing machine and sewed a 1″ seam allowance all the way around, instead of a 5/8″. Make sure to test the fit of your outer fabric, just to make sure that it fits well.

machine sewing 1" seam guide around the edge

Next stitch a seam guide along the edge of the bottom circle and the side pieces (in the same colour of thread as your fabric) so when you hand stitch them together, you will have a guide to follow. I stitched a 1″ seam allowance guide from the edge.

NOTE: This time we are sewing the top and side pieces by machine, not the bottom and side pieces as we did with the lining, because we are going to hand stitch the bottom this time, not the top. If you are using a fabric other than your upholstery fabric for the bottom, then that is the piece you will be hand sewing later.

measuring and fitting outer fabric onto pouf form

Again, measure your 4 quadrants on your bottom circle and side pieces and mark with pins or chalk. Place your cover onto your pouf and then flip it upside down. Now, line up your 4 points and pin together. Then work your way around between the 4 points and pin together, easing as you go.

Your stitched seam guide will help here because now you’ll know how much to fold under for your seam allowance. If, once you’ve pinned the pieces together, it looks like it’s going to be too loose then you can fold it more as needed. It’s OK if your bottom circle is a bit smaller than the top, because then the seam will tuck underneath the pouf and be hidden.

hand stitching bottom of outer fabric to side pieces

Now it’s time to start hand sewing again. This is best done while listening to an audiobook or podcast (I listened to A Tale of Two Cities)! When stitching, don’t start at one point and work your way all the way around, but instead start at one point, sew about an 8″ section, then rotate the pouf 180 degrees and sew a section directly across. Again, sew a section and then turn 90 degrees and sew a section and so on, until all of the sections meet. This way you can ease your fabric pieces together without ending up with bubbles, and, if needed, you can make adjustments- pulling the fabric in tighter etc.

Once you’ve knotted your last thread and turned the pouf right side up…then you are done. Congratulations, you have managed to save a huge amount of textile waste from the landfill and turn it into something both useful and beautiful!

finished pouf made from a worn out white quilt and fabric scraps sitting in my bedroom

recycled pouf made out of a white quilt sitting in front of the closet

I love how this project turned out and I had a lot of fun making it. It fits perfectly into my bedroom, and I am very pleased that I was able to use mostly salvaged materials; it was the perfect way of using up fabric scraps! The worst part about finishing this project is that I already have a bunch of new textile scraps…what on earth am I going to use them for?

Do you think you’ll make a project like this? What fabric would you use to cover it with? Do you have any other ideas for ways of using up fabric scraps?

vintage blue books sitting on top of the white quilted top of the pouf

zero waste salvaged pouf made out of a white mattelasse quilt with vintage blue books sitting on top of it

Sewing Tools and Techniques That I Use All the Time

vintage kenmore sewing machine sitting on a green cutting mat in front of a wallpapered background

I have started sewing again… regularly that is. For the past year our sewing situation has been a bit chaotic, so I haven’t really sat down at the machine to sew very much. However, we are now turning a spare room into a sewing and studio space- the sewing desk is on side of the room, and my art and work desks are on the other. The storage solutions are not finished yet, but the room is at a place where I can actually sit down and pull out a project, work on it and leave it there (without having to pack everything up, like when I was sewing in the living room or at the dining room table). Yes, of course, you can sew without a sewing room, but I enjoy it a lot more when there is a dedicated area for the creative mess. I will share a “studio tour” when it’s done, but in the meantime, while we’re on the topic of sewing, I realized that I have been sewing for over 20 years! I am definitely of the belief that sewing is a life skill; even if you don’t take it up as a hobby, it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal. As much as I have learned about sewing over the years there always seems to be more to learn and perfect… I guess it really is true that the more you learn, the less you know!

But today, here are some of my favourite sewing tools and techniques that I use all the time. These are the tips and tricks I have learned over the years: whether you’re new to sewing or not, maybe you’ll learn something new too!

bamboo corner turner for sewing

Bamboo Point Turner

I honestly don’t know how I could live without one of these point turners. When I lived far away from my family years ago (and thus no longer had access to my mom’s sewing supplies!) I didn’t have one of these corner turners and I found it so difficult to get nice points on things. A chopstick just doesn’t work as well as this little smoothing tool does.

crayola markers and tailor's chalk

Tools for Marking Fabric & Patterns

I have tried many different methods of marking fabric and patterns: graphite pencils, fabric markers, felt markers and more. Here are the ones I use the most often:

  • Tailor’s Chalk: Both the good and bad thing about chalk is that it rubs off- so I use this for lines that I will be stitching right away and don’t want to stay on the fabric permanently. I have chalk in yellow, blue and red for different colours of fabric. You do have to press slightly hard, so it works best for stiffer fabric in my opinion.
  • Transfer Paper: My mom has a huge bundle of vintage transfer paper like this (I forgot to take a picture) and I use a wheel tool to mark lines from patterns onto the fabric- such as darts or measurement circles. I also use them to trace patterns and then true up my lines after with a different pencil.
  • Crayola Pencil Crayons: I discovered that Crayola Twistable pencil crayons work really well for marking patterns. They are soft enough that you don’t have to press hard and wrinkle your pattern, but the markings stay put. Also, unlike pencils or felt markers, they don’t bleed or get graphite dust everywhere. I’ve also used them to mark fabric (you can also slightly erase the markings with a regular white eraser) but I wouldn’t use them anywhere you don’t want a permanent mark showing.

giant roll of kraft paper

Paper for Pattern Making

Speaking of pattern making, I like to use Kraft Paper rather than tissue paper. I like that it has a little bit more durability than tissue pattern paper, for the patterns I am using all the time, but it’s not too stiff and so it flexes a bit with the fabric.

kraft paper pattern cut out

The patterns last well, it’s easy to write on, and because it’s on a roll, you don’t have to piece sheets together for long pattern pieces.

magnetic pin cushion

Magnetic Pin Cushion

This is one of the best sewing tools my mom ever bought and that I stole from her. (It’s actually a shared space, so I didn’t really steal it) It seems kind of silly to use a magnetic pin cushion instead of the dish the pins came in, or a regular stuffed cushion…but it really does make pinning so much easier. It’s quicker to grab a pin because you can’t spill the container, and if one does drop it just snaps back on the magnet. Also, if you have a pile of pins you didn’t put back on the magnet, (or if you drop some on the floor!) you can just hover the magnet and they all leap back on like magic! If I was starting out now, I don’t think I’d go for the plastic one (which has a compartment on the bottom we never use) but would rather get a magnetic parts tray from a hardware/automotive shop, or would take a pretty vintage saucer or coaster and put my own magnet on the bottom.

glass headed and safety pins

Pins

Not all pins are created equal. I have tried plastic head pins, quilting pins, tiny metal headed pins…but I prefer the round glass head pins the most. The white pins above are glass head, and the yellow ones are plastic. Unless I need a slightly stronger pin, in which case I will go for the yellow ones, I tend to use the glass head ones. I like them because you can pin things in place and then gently press over them with your iron (gently so as not to scratch your iron), which you can’t do with plastic pins. Well, you can, but then you end up with a mangled and melted pin head (not that I’ve ever done that…)

As for safety pins, I am new to this sewing tool. Of course I’ve always had safety pins around, but I’ve never used them for sewing, because I thought they were mainly for quilting. However, I recently discovered that if you’re doing any sewing that you want to transport without pins falling out, then safety pins are a much better choice than standard straight pins. This works great for hand sewing too, since I usually like to do large amounts of hand sewing, such as hems, in a comfortable spot rather than at the sewing desk.

twin sewing machine needle

Twin Needle

I am new to using a twin needle, but this is one of the neatest little sewing inventions. You can use a twin needle on your standard sewing machine, running two top threads and one bobbin thread, resulting in two lovely, evenly spaced rows of stitching. For anywhere you want to topstitch details and especially if you are sewing knits, then a twin needle is definitely a good thing to use. I’ve only used it a few times, but every time I have I have been super impressed with how well those neat, little rows turn out!

ladder stitch hand sewing

Ladder Stitch

This is my absolute favourite hand sewing technique, which I learned only a few years ago, but use constantly. I think it’s easier to learn how to do this simple stitch from a video, rather than a picture, so here’s a little tutorial I found on Youtube. I love this stitch because it’s nearly invisible and works so much better than a slipstitch for certain applications. I use this stitch to close up pillows, or to finish off the edges of a waistband. Sometimes trying to sew a small little seam with the machine is harder than just hand stitching it, and this technique works so well for a lot of those finishing touches.

wall picture frame thread organizer

Thread Organizer

Perhaps I should have saved this tip for the future sewing room tour, but thread organization is such a huge part of sewing; if you can’t easily find your materials, then your whole project is going to take longer and be much more frustrating. After years of struggling with spools of thread in boxes and drawers, I made this wall organizer out of a picture frame, a piece of plywood for the backing and a piece of fabric. I took 3″ nails and spray painted them white (so they’d look nicer). Then I cut the piece of plywood to fit inside the frame, covered it with fabric (because it was splintery) and glued it in place. I then marked out a grid and hammered the nails into the wood at an angle. The only thing I’d change is that I should have given some more space between each nail, because the thicker spools are hard to place as they bump into each other. However, despite that, this works so well for organizing all the thread and making it easy to grab the correct colour at a glance!

ribbon wound onto cards and placed into a drawer

Ribbon Spools

Another organization technique that I recently implemented, which really frees up space and makes things easier to find, is winding the majority of my ribbon and lace onto cards. I used to leave them all on the cardboard spools they come on, which took up a huge amount of drawer space. Also, for ribbon bought by the yard, I used to just wind them in a loop like a yarn skien, but they would inevitably end up in a tangled mess. Now, after wrapping them onto cards, I can see at a glance how much I have of each, and can unwind as much as I need. And as a bonus, the cards take up about 1/2 of the space the spools did, freeing up a huge area in my drawers and baskets.

fabric scraps or cabbage saved in baskets and bags

Sewing Cabbage or Carbage

Simultaneously one of the downfalls and benefits of sewing is all of the scrap fabric you will end up with. (Or “cabbage” or “carbage” as it’s called.) What to do with all of these scraps? I like to sort them into different sections and purposes. I keep a basket on the top of my desk, and I place all scraps into this basket as I work on a project. Then as I have time later, I go through the basket and sort into these categories, for different purposes.

  • Large scraps of 1/2 metre or more that I could potentially make another project out of, I fold up and place back on the shelf.
  • Medium scraps of less than 1/2 a metre, that could be used as a facing, lining, patch for mending, or to make a small project like a pouch, I save in a large basket.
  • Small cotton scraps of 3″ – 6″ that are large enough to be quilting squares, I save in a drawstring bag. I’ve been saving some of these pieces for years, and was finally able to use some of them in this purse.
  • Tiny scraps of less than 3″, or small pieces of synthetic fabric that I wouldn’t use for a quilt, are cut up into tiny 1″ pieces and saved for stuffing. You can make floor cushions, dog beds, historical costuming hip/bum pads etc. with these tiny pieces. Of course, I don’t always need all of these scraps, so they do sometimes end up in the trash, unfortunately.

Well, there are my favourite sewing tools and techniques; at least all of the ones I can remember right now!

Do you sew? What techniques and tools do you use most often? Do you have any tips and tricks to add to this list?

Social Saturday | November 6

paint cans and paint brush on a chair ready to paint

Here we are already in November, it doesn’t feel like it should be almost at the end of the year yet…does it? I’ve been looking lately at my list of goals to complete by the end of this year; when I wrote that list it seemed like I had all the time in the world… but now I’m thinking I might not complete them all! Oh well, at least I did fulfill my biggest goal on that list: opening an online shop and getting my artwork into a gallery!

a can of paint with a brush and a roll of wallpaper ready to be hung

Lately I’ve been busy with some other kinds of projects; the biggest one being painting my new bedroom! Currently my bedroom is right over top the boiler room, which gets loud in the winter when the heat is running all the time, so I am moving one bedroom over. This meant painting and replacing trim…and then I decided to do a feature wall in bead board wallpaper. (Did you know that they make dimensional bead board wallpaper? It actually looks quite like real wood once it’s installed!) The project has taken a lot longer than I initially thought it would; I thought I could finish the room in a week…and it’s actually taken me three weeks. Oh well, I learned how to hang wallpaper in the process and am finally finishing up the last coat of paint today, which means I can start moving in next week!

embroidered zipper pouch with a bicycle on the front

Another quick project I zipped up (haha) is this little embroidered pouch. I needed a slightly larger one than the one I had, for my purse. I keep all of my “essentials” in a little pouch, so I can easily switch between purses without forgetting to transfer all of the things I need. It also makes it easier to find my lotion or lip balm without having to dig. I haven’t embroidered anything for a while, so this was the perfect little project. The only sad thing is that the orange floss I used on the bicycle seat bled dye when I pressed it. Suffice to say, I do not have that colour anymore.

Well, that’s what I have been up to lately, and what I have planned for this weekend. Do you have any special plans this weekend?

Turn a Shrunken Sweater Into a Retro Wool Beret

turn a shrunken sweater into a felted beret

While we’ve been pleasantly surprised with a very warm winter this year, the weather has turned cold lately, and it is definitely feeling like winter in Alberta again. Since it is only February (which means we’ve still got a ways to go before Spring) this is the perfect time to share one of my latest projects- a felted wool beret. Berets are not necessarily the warmest of headwear, but they do add a great vintage element to your winter ensemble, so I definitely consider them to be a fall and winter outfit staple.

While berets have risen in popularity the past few years, I have yet to come across one in brown. So, if you can’t find one at the store and you can’t knit or crochet one for yourself, what can you do? You can easily turn a shrunken sweater castoff into a felted beret!

I would not recommend that you take a perfectly good wool sweater and felt it, because wool sweaters can be expensive and it always seems like a waste to cut up something in good shape that someone could actually wear the way it is. However, there are so many wool sweaters in thrift shops that are no longer in good condition. Whether it’s due to the previous owner accidentally shrinking them, or that they are full of moth holes or runs, or even that they have stretched out of shape due to improper care, the thrift shops are full of them. This project is a perfect way to recycle and refashion those sweaters that are completely ruined and useless into something new!

shrunken wool sweater perfect for felting

I found this chocolate brown sweater years ago, but hadn’t yet figured out what to make. Since brown berets have proven difficult to find, I thought that this would be the perfect way to get the colour I wanted.

To Make Your Own, You Will Need:

  • A 100% old wool sweater. Make sure it is real wool content, so it will felt for you. I know you can also use blends that have a high wool content, but I’ve never done that myself, so am not sure whether they felt differently or not.
  • Needle & thread/ sewing machine
  • Beret pattern- I used Tanith Rowan’s Grevillea Beret. (Tanith gifted me that pattern several years ago. You can see the first one I made here). Edited to add: Another free beret option is this style from Brittani of Untitled Thoughts. She has a free pattern download, as well a sewing tutorial. 
  • Button to cover, or a decorative button of your choice 
  • Elastic to make the hat fit tighter, optional

To Make the Hat:

My wool was already partially felted, so I cut the pieces out of the sweater and went from there, felting the final hat a little more at the end. After making this one, I was wondering whether you could also make it by cutting your pattern pieces out a bit larger and then felting the wool after you already have the hat sewn up. This might make the seam lines disappear a bit, and make the hat easier to form, but I haven’t tried it yet to know for sure.

But, in order to make the hat exactly as I have here, you are first going to need to felt your sweater, if it isn’t already shrunken. You can do this by putting the sweater into the washing machine with a little bit of laundry soap and washing it in hot water. It works better if you have a few sweaters in at the same time, so they can bump into each other and cause friction. You can also add a foam ball or flip-flop to help it felt even faster. Once you have washed your wool, take a look at it and see whether it has felted enough. If you want it to shrink a bit more, you can put it through the dryer, removing it before it is completely dry. Once the wool is good, let it dry.

wool sweater and sewing supplies

Once your sweater is dry, it is time to figure out your pattern. There are several different ways to make a sewn beret; I chose to use Tanith Rowan’s Grevillea Beret, since I already had the pattern. This hat is made up of segments, giving it an octagonal shape. Her pattern has a more vertical shape to it and doesn’t lie flat, but since I wanted the hat to have a similar flat shape and fit to a traditional round wool beret, I made a couple of changes.

adjusting the pattern to make a flat style beret

To adjust the pattern, I made a sharper angle on the bottom segments so they would be narrower at the bottom edge. This way the hat would lay flat back on itself.  I measured the inner circumference of a beret that I already had and made the opening of my pattern add up to 20″ circumference. I actually should have made the opening a little bit smaller, since the hat ended up stretching quite a bit, so I would recommend that you go at least an inch or two smaller than you want it to be, to account for stretch. The other change I made to the pattern was using a facing, rather than a hat band. (More on that in a minute)

Once you’ve chosen your pattern, it’s time to cut it out. Watch out for where the seams are in the sweater, you don’t want to accidentally cut across them, or you’ll end up with a bulky piece. Also, look for any areas that may have holes or other flaws, since they won’t have closed up during felting. I cut my pieces out of the sleeve and around the neckline to maximize the amount of fabric I would have left over to use for future projects. I also saved the bottom of the sleeve pieces including the cuffs, since I might make a pair of matching mittens in the future using this method here.

Once you’ve got your pieces cut out, it is time to sew them. Since the wool is felted, you won’t need to worry about it fraying, so you don’t need to finish the edges in any way. Sew together your pieces of the hat, excluding the hat band, following the instructions of your pattern.

sewing the felted pieces of the hat

Make sure to use a zig-zag rather than a straight stitch when sewing, since this is a stretch fabric.

Instead of making a flat hat band, I decided to made a round facing. The advantage of a facing, rather than a hat band is that it flips to the inside, so it is completely hidden. This is just a style preference, you could also use a flat hat band if you prefer. To make my facing, I measured the diameter across of the opening of my hat, then measured out 2″ and cut out the circle pattern piece. My sweater had a large enough section left to cut the facing in one piece, but you might need to cut it in 2 pieces and sew them together. If so, remember to leave seam allowances!

making the hat facing

With right sides together, sew the facing to the hat.

Once you’ve got the hat sewn, it is time to form the shape of the hat. To make a form, cut a piece of cardboard into a circle the size you want your finished hat to be. I measured the beret I already had, to figure out what size I wanted. Since your hat will be wet, you need to waterproof the form, so place the cardboard piece inside a bag. I was originally going to use a dinner plate as a form (it was the exact size needed!) but then I wasn’t sure I would be able to get it out after the hat had dried without having to stretch the hat completely out of shape…or smash the plate! The cardboard turned out to be flexible enough to remove easily and it worked well.

hat all sewn up and ready to form

Now, fill a basin or sink with hot water. Submerge the hat so it is completely wet, and then slightly agitate the wool. Once it is fully soaked, take the hat out and gently press the water out. Don’t wring it, or it will stretch too much- the wool will be quite floppy! Roll the wool in a towel to pull out most of the water.

soaking the wool hat to felt

Take your cardboard form and place it inside the hat. Smooth the seams flat and shape the hat around the form. The hat will shrink as it dries, so in order to keep the opening of the hat from pulling back too wide, sew a stitch around the inner edge and slightly gather it in. Once you’ve finished, it’s time to let it dry. I placed my hat directly onto my drying rack, which ended up leaving some marks from the rods on the wool that I had to steam out, so I would recommend either letting the hat dry on a fabric mesh sweater drying rack, or placing a towel across the bars of a drying rack for the beret to sit on top of.

putting the wool beret onto the cardboard form

Once the hat is dry, you can snip the gathering stitch from the edge and then take the hat off of the form!

Not all of my seams dried completely flat, so to help shape it a little bit more, I used a tailor’s ham (actually a towel wadded inside an old t-shirt) to steam press the hat into a smoother shape. Then I pressed it flat. Make sure to use a wet press cloth, dampen the wool and lightly go over with your iron while it’s on full steam, so you don’t scorch your wool and make it go shiny.

steaming and shaping the beret once dry

Once you’ve pressed the hat into shape, it is time to tack the facing edge down, sewing through the seams to hide the stitches. After I finished the hat and tried it on, I discovered that the wool was a lot stretchier than my other berets and was quite loose. One of my other berets has a soft elastic around the edge which works well to keep the hat in place, so I added a piece of elastic along the edge of this hat. Place the elastic between the facing and the top of the hat and stitch in place by tacking it through the seams in order to hide the stitches.

sewing elastic along the edge and the facing into place

The final step is to add a button. You can either cover a button with wool, or use a decorative button. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to use a covered button because the wool was so stiff, but I actually managed to push the back/shank onto the button form. If your wool is too thick to use the shank to cover your button, you can cut a circle of felt, run a gathering stitch around the edge and gather it in around the button form. (Like making a fabric yo-yo) Since it’s not a functional button, it doesn’t need to have a shank on the back and you can just sew it on like that, with the raw edges hidden underneath.

covering the button and adding it to the top of the hat

Once the button is sewn on, your hat is done. There you have it- a vintage styled felted beret, without even having to know how to knit or crochet!

the finished upcycled wool beret

Have you ever made anything with felted wool before? It’s a lot of fun, since the wool is so easy to manipulate. We’ve got some more wool sweaters in our stash, and I am now wondering whether I should steal some of them to make some more hats….

Do you think you will try this and turn a shrunken sweater into something new?

wearing an upcycled wool Tanith Rowan Grevillea beret made out of a shrunken sweater

the finished beret