Category Archives: Sewing

Re-purpose…again and again

Despite what all the crafters might have you think, the art of re-purposing isn’t new. Surely it dates back to a time when “disposable” was unthinkable. Those with memories of the Great Depression frequently speak — proudly — of how they re-used an item  over and over and just when it seemed destined for the dustbin some ingenious soul would determine a new use for the item.

My mom, who was born in 1922, often reminds me of how she used the wool from an aunt’s coat to make a coat for me. The coat is still in my attic — a gentle reminder that new is not always better.

Several years ago, when we moved my mom from her condo to an independent living center, I discovered some old cotton rice bags among her fabric stash. Back when we were kids, my parents bought large quantities of rice. Today those bags are usually made of some odd kind of fibrous stuff with a plastic feel.

But the “vintage” rice and flour bags were made of sturdy cotton and usually imprinted with the company name, amount and type of rice, etc. During the Depression, flour sacks were often made into clothing.

So when I found these bags, I decided to turn them into a two-layer shopping bag. I added a strap and it was perfect for the farmer’s market. One day, my aunt, who lived in Japan for 30 years or so, saw the bag and offered me her own collection of rice bags.

As Christmas approached, I realized the bags would be a perfect last-minute gift project, and ended up with four re-purposed market bags. This is really simple. All I did was turn one bag inside out so it would become the lining for the outer bag, then made straps from strips cut from an extra bag.

I sewed around the top of the two bags to hold them together, then sewed each end of the strap to the bag.1224121546  1224121545

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Tell me about your re-purposed projects. I’m always up for new ideas!

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Tschantz-Pannabecker “Friendship Quilt” on display at Sonnenberg

Much as I hate to admit this, I guess I’ve inherited yet another trait from my parents –difficulty parting with “things”. Over the past few years, though, I’ve begun to whittle away at this extra stuff…piece by piece.

When my mom moved from her condo to an independent living apartment, she was forced to downsize her belongings. A few years earlier, she’d created a written inventory of what she owned, listing the provenance of antiques and other valuable items.

She provided us with the list and asked us to indicate which items we’d most like to have. Amazingly, between my four brothers and I, and our spouses, children and grands, there were no real arguments over who would get what. Each of the grandkids seemed to have a special affinity for specific items, often stemming from some childhood incident involving Grandma and/or Grandpa.

There were, of course, some family heirlooms, including some quilts, several of which most of us had rarely — if ever — seen, and some of which we didn’t know even existed.

One of the quilts had belonged to our paternal grandmother, Sylvia Tschantz Pannabecker, who taught school at Boone School in Wayne County, Ohio. The hand-embroidered “Friendship Quilt” was made by her students in the class of 1912-1914. In 1931, it was presented to my grandmother when she and Grandpa and their family returned to the United States while on furlough from their mission post in China.

About a year ago, a board member of the Kidron (Ohio) Sonnenberg Heritage Center, asked whether I would be willing to lend the quilt to them for one of their exhibits.

Like my dad, I don’t make decisions quickly or easily, and turning over something of such sentimental value brought out a part of me that I didn’t recognize. I needed to know whether it would be protected from harsh lighting, secure, and most of all, that it would someday be returned — intact — to my family.

Because truthfully, I didn’t see it as mine to give away. My grandmother had kept it safe for all those years before turning it over to my parents. Mother had eventually hung it for display so that others could enjoy it.

Turning it over to virtual strangers wasn’t easy. I consulted with my sister-in-law, director of Kauffman Museum in North Newton, Kansas, because she has expertise with similar exhibits and dealing with donors/lenders of family heirlooms.

Suddenly, I realized I was making this way too hard on myself. If a quilt wasn’t made to be used on a bed, then there must be another reason for its existence. Like a painting or sculpture, this quilt is a piece of art — one that deserves to be enjoyed by many.

And so today, my grandmother’s quilt, is hanging on display at the Sonnenberg. If you’re in the Kidron area, stop by to enjoy this piece of Tschantz-Pannabecker history.

What I learned from my mama

So…it’s Mother’s Day. I don’t remember much about Mother’s Day when I was little. I don’t think we ever fixed her breakfast in bed or took her out for dinner. The truth is, she probably cooked for us on those days, but I could be wrong. You’d have to ask her.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t come to really appreciate our moms until later in life when we finally realize what all they taught us.

My own mother turns 90 in about five weeks. 90. Wow. That simply amazes me. This is the woman who is still teaching me new things nearly every time I’m with her. She might not realize this, because often these are things that I learn simply from watching her and listening to her.

Yesterday, I called her at 8 a.m. and began to apologize for waking her up. She just laughed and said she’d been up for hours and was out walking “way out here in Birch Court”, which is probably a good half mile from her place.

So there you have it. One of the things I learned from her is the value of exercise — at any age, and despite whatever aches and pains might be nagging at us.

My mom and dad raised five kids on a small college professor‘s salary, supplemented by her earnings as a piano teacher. She sewed, gardened, preserved the produce, and knew how to stretch a dollar. And while I learned to sew and garden, the one thing I regret never really learning is how to budget. It scares me. But I did inherit her tendency toward thriftiness — also known as “cheap”. 

When I reflect on the many things I learned from my mom, the one I value the most is the ability to sew. Because of her, I’ve always made clothing for myself and my daughters. One of the first things I remember making was is the early 60s when wrap-around dresses were popular. These resembled the hospital gowns that have three armholes. She made one for herself and one for me, and I made one for my doll.

And that was how I learned the art of sewing. From doll clothes, I progressed to simple clothing for myself. Of course, this is also where I learned my propensity for perfection. If I made a mistake that had to be ripped out and begged her to fix it, she’d fix me with a look and say, “Nope, you do it.”

That drove me nuts. It often resulted in my throwing the item down and running off to do something else. But eventually, I returned to complete the project. As a result, I can read nearly any pattern, change whatever parts I don’t like, and alter just about any item of clothing to fit me.

Now that I’m thinking about this, I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked her for teaching me to sew, to look at a ready-made clothing item and instead of buying it, thinking that I could make it for less and know it would fit better.

So Mother, thanks. I love you. For many, many reasons.

Sewing and photography collide

On the surface, cameras and sewing machines don’t have much in common but in our house, both are important tools. Once in awhile, though, the two are essential to each other.

I know very little about my husband’s cameras — especially the newest digital — and he knows even less about my sewing machines — one digital, the other built before the era of digital. But having lived with me for 32 years, he recognizes my need for a sewing challenge.

So…he recently asked if I could create some fabric pouches for two of his filters. He has several filters for his camera lenses. Some aren’t used very often. For example, the purple one is used when shooting indoors in a room with florescent lights. It eliminates the “yellow” look of the photo. The other one is an outdoor cloud filter. It enhances clouds on summer days.

Although he doesn’t use these often he wants to carry them in his camera bag for those times when he does need them. Just throwing them into the bag wasn’t an option — he doesn’t want to scratch them…thus the request for the small pouches.

No hurry, he said. Naturally, the filters sat untouched on my sewing desk for about a week. Every time I sat down at my machine, there they sat, staring up at me as if they were two different colored eyes — one purple, the other gray.

Eventually, those eyes got to me and I realized it was time to tackle the project. Like most seamstresses, I have a lot of fabric sitting around just waiting to be used.  This required something soft, like fleece. Fortunately, I had saved an odd remnant of black fleece. It was perfect.

When I do this kind of sewing, I have to play around with the fabric until I come up with something that makes sense. I set one filter on the fabric and measured a rectangle so that I could create a sort of pocket with a flap. I measured about 1 1/2 inches from the top and made a horizontal line, then folded the rectangle, bringing the bottom edge up to the line. I sewed double seams on each side of the rectangle — close to the edge, then folded the top 1 1/2 inches over the opening.

The nice thing about fleece is that it doesn’t ravel so you can leave the edges unfinished. I used small squares of Velcro as closures — sewing the soft side to the pocket flap and the coarse side to the upper side of the pocket.

In the end, the pouches turned out perfectly, and the hubs was happy with the product. Now I just need to find a market for these things — I have LOTS of fleece remnants just waiting for the next set of lenses.

Keeping Grandma’s tradition alive with fabric advent calendar

When our daughters were very young, my mother-in-law began a tradition of giving them each an advent calendar each year. From December 1-25, the first thing they did each morning was to check the day’s surprise on the calendar. Recently, I discovered that they’ve been keeping those calendars all these years — now hidden away in the attic.

In the last few years of my mother-in-law’s life, she asked me to purchase an advent calendar for the girls — even though by this time they were in (or out of) college. Last year’s calendar was especially nostalgic because at the time that I bought them, we knew Margaret was in the last days of her life. She died shortly before Christmas.

This year, I decided to continue the tradition, despite the fact that the girls are technically grown women. Since advent calendars tend to have a childish bent, I decided these should be different, and if possible, recyclable. Having seen several versions of advent calendar — garlands of tiny knitted stockings or socks and hats made from felt, I chose to make my own version.

I cut and sewed 50 tiny stockings out of Christmas themed fabric, then sewed 25 to each of two rectangular pieces of red felt. Each calendar has a casing at the top for a dowel rod and the stockings are sewn in rows of five across and five down. Then I tucked small gifts — some silly, some serious — into each stocking. What’s really great about these is that hey can return them to me at the end of December and next year, I’ll refill the stockings.

As is usually the case, I completed these projects a few hours before daughter number 1 and her boyfriend were scheduled to arrive, so I hung them in my sewing closet. My plan was to keep them under wraps until the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, though. Since she was old enough to crawl, daughter number one has found every single item I’ve ever hidden from her. I thought maybe if I hung them in plain view, she wouldn’t see them. Should have known better. She saw them but didn’t tell me that until later, claiming she thought they were for her sister. Right.

Day 2 -- tiny rubber spatula

Day 1 -- color-changing Silly Putty

Despite their ages, they were thrilled with the calendars and as I suspected, would be hard-pressed to wait until Dec. 1 to check the first stocking. But they did, and each day so far, I’ve received a text photo of each item.Which is good because, given my memory, I’ve already forgotten most of what I put in them.