Tag 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


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

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.

Trade you a cane for a peel?

The increasing popularity of bartering is no doubt directly related to the current economy, but it’s probably also spurred by our wish to waste less and improve the environment. By trading services and goods, we use less natural resources to for production of items that we can share. Or something like that.

When we were kids on the playground, we used to trade marbles. This involved some rather serious discussion over what might be worth a trade for a crystal. That ended when marbles went out of vogue, but reappeared with our daughters’ generation and Pokemon cards.

As adults, we have a more sophisticated method of bartering — or so we think. Here’s how this works. You have something I need (or would like to have). I have something you need (or would like to have). For example, my friend, Mary, gave me some mint for my herb garden. I probably gave her a chunk of lovage for her herb garden. We do that frequently — sometimes it’s a food that she likes to make for a food that I like to make.

I love to sew and I recognize it as a skill that many don’t have. I’ll trade sewing repairs and alterations for services that I’ve never mastered — like plumbing. Or I would if I could find a plumber who needed some alterations.

But you get the idea. It’s a trade for a trade, with no money exchanging hands.

Around Christmas time, my college friend, Norm, who lives in Goshen, Ind., posted on Facebook a photo of a pizza peel he’d made for his wife, Charlotte. I admired that peel for about five minutes and offered to trade him a Nelson Steiner cane for a pizza peel.

I should explain: In the last 20 years of his life, my father-in-law made an inordinate number of canes, often telling someone he’d make them a cane if they brought him a piece of unusual wood. He sold very few of those canes, choosing instead to give them as special gifts. Because he was very choosy about who to give them to, we now have our very own share of one-third of the canes.

Anyway, I didn’t really think Norm would come through with pizza peel butI shouldn’t have doubted his generosity. About a month ago, he sent me a message that he was sending the peel along to Bluffton with a mutual friend. I was out of town that weekend, so the peel made its home for a few weeks in the office of a coworker — the sister of the mutual friend who brought the peel from Goshen.

I finally retrieved the peel a few weeks ago and on Saturday, we had the opportunity to test it. Daughter number 2 was coming to visit and had requested home-made pizza, one of our specialties. Of course, what better way to test a pizza peel than to make your own pizza?

The pizza turned out perfect and the peel definitely eased the removal of the pizzas from the oven. Now…if I can just somehow barter with my sister-in-law for an outdoor pizza oven like the one she built in her back yard.

Oh, and Norm? The cane’s on the way.