On the plane I read Rant, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Portland’s favorite son. I’m staying at the famous, the literary, the possibly haunted Heathman Hotel. I just got back from a trolley ride to Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the U.S., with floors upon floors of books on all possible topics.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little burnt-out lately. I’ve been blogging at a breakneck, post-a-day pace, trying to come up with a new creation every day, and I feel like the stuff I’ve been making has gotten a little stale, a little sloppy. Being in a place where I can’t sew for five days is going to be great; I can feel it already. I’m storing up good ideas for later.

The outskirts of Portland feel kind of like the setting for a Hiyao Miyazaki movie. These futuristic trains pass by landscapes made of broken concrete barriers and hillsides covered in wildflowers and old industrial buildings. From the window of the train I saw this building, which looked like three singlewide trailers put up on 50-foot-tall stilts:

That thing above the guardrail but under the tower. Can you see it? Can you?!

But the best part of the trip was Powell’s. After waking up at three in the morning, spending eight hours in planes and airports and somehow arriving five hours after we’d left (damn you, time zones!) I was exhausted and disoriented. But then I went to Powell’s. And saw this:

This picture represents a very small chunk of their Epic Shelves of Crafting Glory–namely, the section specifically devoted to textile design. Not to be confused with the much larger sections representing Sewing and Fashion. I couldn’t capture them in their full glory because the aisles are too close together for me to back up enough. Here’s a similarly tiny chunk of their section on knitting:

Excuse me while I dig myself in, never to emerge. Everything about Powell’s is inspiring, from their patrons (who all wear funky outfits, some of which are hipster and some of which defy explanation) to their bathroom graffiti to their wise decision to buy every book in the universe instead of trying to offer an edited collection. If I don’t come home a better knitter/writer/patternmaker, it won’t be for lack of information.


Dumpster Fun!

Yesterday I visited some of my boyfriend’s friends in Fairfax. They’re lovely people, and we had a great time. (One is a crafter like me, and she showed me these neat coasters that she made out of floppy discs, but absentminded person that I am, I forgot to photograph them. They may appear in a later tutorial, if I can convince her to send me a photo or two. ) The point of this story is, this morning as we were leaving their apartment, we spotted a huge dumpster full of neat-looking things in their complex’s parking lot.

I’m going to tell you right now that I am not above dumpster diving. I love looking in trash. I avoid it if it looks like the trash is all paper or food waste, or if there’s a foul smell coming out of the dumpster, but when I see a prime awesome thing sitting right on top of a pile of clean stuff, there’s no way I’m not taking it. For example, this lovely basket:

See, it even still has its lid! And someone decided that they didn’t want it anymore, for some space-cadet reason of theirs. Oh,well. More for me. Dumpster diving is, as you’ve probably guessed, incredibly eco-friendly. It reduces landfill waste and puts used goods back into service. Reuse and home-grown remaking is almost always more energy-efficient than the recycling process. And on top of that, you’re saving yourself money.

If you want to try dumpster diving, prime places are anywhere that college students live. College students are sort of notorious for just throwing things away when they’re done with them, even if they’re still usable. As a college student myself, I can say that I’ve done that, and I’m not particularly proud of some of the useful things I left behind when I moved from my dorm into my apartment. A few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Stay away from upholstery. There’s been a recent bedbug epidemic on the eastern seaboard, and you don’t want to risk having your entire house infested with bedbugs. They spread very easily and the only way to get rid of them is to get rid of all your upholstery.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes and sturdy clothing.
  3. Don’t be stupid. “Safety is a major concern,” says Kat, an experienced diver. “Don’t go into any dumpster with a trash compactor, or any dumpster behind a food establishment.” She also recommends bringing along a set of tools, but for casual drive-by dumpstering, this may not be possible.
  4. Don’t climb into a dumpster in someone’s front yard. Stick to public ones. This is a little illegal, in the way that jaywalking is–don’t do it in front of a cop.
  5. Check over any item you get with the kind of eye you’d use at a thrift store or yard sale. Note any potential problems and whether or not you’ll be able to fix them. Don’t be seduced into a free thing that’s completely useless with your skill set/interests. For example, I left behind a broken chair that could probably have been fixed–by someone who has wood shop skills that I lack. I nearly lost a finger in wood shop class.
  6. Bring a friend. An extra pair of eyes is great for spotting things, and also for telling you when you’ve made a terrible mistake and have picked up something unfixable.
  7. Don’t bring your germ-phobic boyfriend. Mine nearly wouldn’t let me bring home this swell basket because he didn’t want it in his car; he eventually let me put it in his trunk. Some people just don’t understand the value of a big wicker storage basket…
  8. Disinfect. When you get home, put the item through whatever kind of wash you think it can handle. You don’t want fleas or other critters crawling out of your salvage.

Well, there you have it. Got a dumpster diving success story? Post it in the comments!


So I’ve been in a kind of lightweight summery tank mood lately, and this is what’s come out of it so far. I’m finally daring to work in knitted fabrics, realizing that stretchiness is fun.

This is the first one:

Why, yes, I do look spiffy. Let’s stare off into the distance, shall we?

I made this out of a piece of fabric I found in my basement, left over from an ill-advised project I did when I was 15 or 16. I didn’t really know much about sewing then; I always learn by jumping in, making a lot of crap, and then later regretting ruining so many materials. Luckily I didn’t use up all this purple; there was just enough for an asymmetrical shirt with knot detail. Total cost for this project? $0.

This second one was made out of an oversized gray t-shirt. Using a tank top as a pattern I cut it down to size, and then I just stuck crap on there. I’m not completely happy with this one; it feels like there’s not enough going on. I want there to be a third element, like a cluster of black shiny things covering the non-lace end of the chain, or maybe a skull-and-crossbones button, or SOMETHING. Total cost for this shirt? $3, for the chain. Lace and t-shirt were both found in my basement.

From this…(The t-shirt is underneath, just fyi.)

…to this.

I’m also thinking it’s time to go into business, because I kind of like this new batch of things. I also just tried a new cheap-ass screenprinting technique that I’m loving (non-toxic mod podge and leftover sheer fabric, hooray!) and I think I could easily print t-shirt designs that are way more complicated than my previous stencilling technique allowed. The results of that experiment in tomorrow’s post.

Basement Find–Vintage shirt? Lingerie?

I went basement diving yesterday. My parents both like to save everything, and our basement is pretty extensive, so there was a lot of ground to cover. And I found some interesting things, including this piece that belonged to my paternal grandmother back in the 1950s or 60s. And now, I’m not exactly sure what to do with it.

In case you can’t tell from the picture, it’s beautiful. It was also ripped in three different places, two of which I could fix and one of which I couldn’t. I decided to give up on the tear on the sleeve since it was missing some fabric, and so I cut both sleeves off to make cap sleeves.

Now, I really want to use this piece and wear it, because it belonged to my grandmother, and because I think it’s super-neat and sort of a classic example of careful garment construction. I mean, look at all those tiny pin-tucks, the care with which everything is edged…it just makes me happy. But I run into this problem; how do you wear something that’s simultaneously very stuffily cut and completely transparent?

I don’t think that a bra is enough clothing. I only wish I were Lady Gaga.

Alternately, with a camisole, it looks stuffy and old-ladyish…

I think that maybe the answer is a bandeau bra, or a less fussy camisole, but I don’t want to buy a new thing because new things cost precious, precious money. If you have any ideas for how to wear this thing and not look silly, feel free to speak up in the comments.

Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-down, Day 1: The little white tunic shirt (plus ideas for the leftovers)

Ever wanted to sew but didn’t know where to start? Ever been to a fabric store and noticed that fabric costs a ridiculous amount? A first sewing project should be easy and self-explanatory, and this one is. Furthermore, the materials may be as cheap as zero dollars, depending on whether you have a boyfriend/father/butch girlfriend/pal from whom you can steal an oversized button-down shirt. If you can’t find any of these people, or get them to part with their shirts, try a thrift store. They cost as little as $1 there.


  • 1 oversized button-down shirt
  • Sewing machine (or needle and thread, if you’re incredibly patient)
  • Pins
  • Matching thread (or close-enough, really)
  • Scissors

Step Zero, for any project: Figure out what project best suits the amount of material you’ve got. For this project, try the shirt on. It’ll just give you a better sense of what you’re working with.

  1. Lay shirt flat.
  2. Cut arms off of shirt, and cut off collar (neatly!) Set aside.
  3. Draw a line across the front of the shirt as high up as you can. This is the top of your shirt. Cut along this line on both sides.
  4. Using a seam ripper, remove the pocket. Set aside for later.
  5. Your shirt should look like nothing at this stage. Like a sad shell of its former self. That’s normal.
  6. At the top of the shirt, pin the raw edges where the sleeves used to be together. Now, trace a line down the shirt. This line should curve to follow your natural curves. If you don’t know what those are exactly, start big and tailor down to fit. This might take a few try-ons, but once it’s right, you’ll be happy. Sew along this line.
  7. Roll that top raw edge of your garment down, the way you would for a hem (fold it over, and then fold it over again.) Pin and sew.
  8. Button your shirt up and lay flat.
  9. Find some remainder fabric–I took mine from the sides of the garment, but if you don’t have enough you can take it from the sleeves–and cut two strips that measure about 5″ by 16″. These are going to be your shoulder straps. You can make them narrower or wider to your taste. Pin the two sides of the fabric together and sew, then turn inside out. Sew along this tube a few times with your sewing machine so it’s not a tube but a flat strap.
  10. Pin your straps to your tunic.  Go put it on and look in the mirror. Adjust straps to own preference. Then sew into place.
  11. Pin pocket on where you want it–either up at the bust, adjusted for the new garment, or down near the hem.

And you’re done!

Ifyou want to make this top into a dress, follow the instructions but get a longer shirt–tall men’s shirts are ideal for dress-making. Remember when sewing the skirt of your dress that you’ll need it to fit over your widest point of your hips. If the buttons are still pulling after that, sew the bottom part of the button band shut (but not the top–you need the buttons to be able to get into the dress.)


After this project, you should have an intact shirt collar and one or more sleeves. The shirt collar makes an excellent accessory, with or without ties. The sleeves will be covered in tomorrow’s tutorial, the sleeve scarf, so if you have both remaining, don’t throw ’em out. If you’ve only got one, consider this lovely project found on Adventures in Dressmaking.

How to Shop For Textiles at Yard Sales

So yesterday I went to a string of yard sales on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I was looking for a bookshelf, but it ended up being a great day for fabrics and textiles. Look at all this stuff!

All of this came out to about $2.50, and I’m pleased with everything here.

Yard sale digging is a great way to find things on the cheap that would normally be pretty darn expensive, and it’s also a good way to practice what I like to think of as creative openness: looking at objects not in terms of what they are at the moment, but in terms of what they could become. Sounds hippy-dippy, but trust me, it’s a good way to be. It helps you do things cheaply. So how do properly scour a yard sale for fabrics? Well, just like this. You can apply these rules to other craft materials as well, actually.

  1. If you’re at an area with a lot of little yard sales going on, or a flea-market type scenario, take a quick look around to spot which vendors have things you’d want to look at more closely. Don’t discount the other possibilities; just home in on the places that have the most visible displays of what you want. Example: if you’re in the mood for fabric, don’t start with the lady selling home medical equipment, even if she’s closer. Get to the good stuff first, before someone else does.
  2. Think outside the clothing box. Clothing at yard sales tends to be a little ratty. You’d be much better off examining linens: things like tea towels, tablecloths, curtains, bedsheets.  Similarly, look at items of clothing as–fabric in a transitional stage.
  3. Examine anything you’re interested in with a critical eye. Ask yourself the following: is it stained? Is it washable? Can I repair/replace whatever’s wrong with it, or is it beyond my skill level?
  4. Don’t praise the item loudly. Calmly ask the seller what the price would be. Try to perfect your “I couldn’t care less” expression for lower prices and greater bargaining power later. If you say you’ve got to have item X, it will always turn out that item X is $20. If you must use an adjective for an object, use “interesting.”
  5. Buy big. At yard sales, there’s no trying things on. If it seems like it might not fit, pass it up–unless you’re honestly willing to take apart a slightly-too-small dress for scrap fabric.
  6. Buy only to your taste, or that of someone you love. If there’s a great deal on a floral tablecloth, enough to make an entire dress–but you hate floral–put it the heck down. Similarly, don’t buy out of pity.
  7. Stay away from people with copious amounts of stuffed animals and baby stuff for sale. They usually don’t have fabric to unload. Sorry.
  8. And finally–be sure that you only buy as much as you can use. Otherwise, it will accumulate–faster than you’d ever imagine. Trust me on this one.

And now, without further ado: back to pictures of today’s sweet finds!

This floral print dates to the 1960s, according to my mother, who knows a thing or two.

These ties may be my favorites. They’re from a woman who inherited them from her father, who was apparently quite the snappy dresser; she said that when she cleaned out his house after he died, he had over 200 ties. I think I picked the best ones; bold, geometric prints. I may end up using the fabric to cover headbands, or maybe make some belts.

This fabric came from the same gentleman as the vintage flower print. I don’t know what a person does with striped herringbone; maybe I’ll re-cover some fancy furniture. Or make some piratical suit pants.

And of course, this is just begging to become a circle skirt.

And remember: buying at yard sales is not only good for those who are totally broke, but also for anyone who wants to reduce the demand for new consumer goods, the production of which is bad for the environment. It also reduces landfill waste. So feel good about being cheap.

Not shown is a white button-down shirt that I bought for 50 cents. Tomorrow it will become part of the first tutorial on how to deconstruct button downs. It’s not a particularly high-quality button-down in terms of construction, so we’re mostly going to salvage it for fabric. Good? Good.