Sweater dress? Why, yes!

I went to the thrift store today with my charming friend Carli, and found, mysteriously, two sweaters that were exactly alike except for color. Same size, same brand, same everything. So, what did I do? I combined them!

It’s not the most flattering garment I’ve ever made; it has a tendency to hang. But it is incredibly warm and brightly colored, and it’ll be just the thing for chilly fall days. If those ever arrive. Keep your fingers crossed, folks.

I also had most of the blue sweater left over when I was done, minus some ribbing for the bottom and the bottoms of the sleeves. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get that; I might have to sacrifice part of another sweater to do it, creating a vicious cycle of sweater alterations. I’ll post that one when it’s done, probably in the next few days.

Total cost for this dress? $10. And I get a second sweater out of it, to boot.

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Recycled Cuteness–Tutorial!

Hello, good folks out there in readership-land! Today I have for you a tutorial for a thing that I made in a very un-tutorial-like fashion. You see, I’ve been wanting to do a t-shirt remake for a while now, but I didn’t know where to start. So I started out with a plan for a sort of colorblock dress, and ended up with a nautical-themed two-tone tank top. Luckily, I documented the process, and you can now have your very own! Here it is, so you can decide whether or not you want one:

This project is an excellent way to use up the collections of useless t-shirts that a lot of people (cough, me, cough) accumulate. Check your closet for materials before you go out and buy. And remember: upcycling is cheaper than buying new.

MATERIALS:

  • One white, baggy t-shirt. It can have writing on it, as long as there’s about 11″ that doesn’t have anything printed on it at the bottom, and maybe a little extra at the sides or top for straps.
  • One blue t-shirt. This one doesn’t have to be baggy. It can also have writing on it.
  • Two buttons in either white or blue
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Sewing Machine (or needle and thread, yadda yadda)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut off the bottom of the blue shirt, as close to the bottom of any lettering as possible. In fact, leave just the bottom edge of the lettering; you can hide it in the seams. If you have a smallish blue shirt, as I did, you’ll want as much material as possible on the bottom. When paired with the white shirt, it should look like…absolutely nothing. See photo:
  2. Turn the piece of the blue shirt inside out and put it over your head. Using the Pinch-and-Pin Method, which is exactly what it sounds like, follow the contours of your body. Don’t poke yourself with a pin a million times like I did. Pull this new tube off over your head, reposition any pins that don’t form a smooth line, and sew along the line of pins. Remember to take out the pins as you go; if you sew over a pin it will FLY OFF AND HIT YOU IN THE EYE AAAAAAGH* Your new tube should look something like this:
  3. Take out that white baggy t-shirt, and cut off the top, leaving no writing. Take this second tube and lay it out next to your contoured tube. Now here’s where things get tricky. If the white shirt is way bigger than the blue shirt, slim it down by making a line of pins on either side so that the shirt is only about an inch wider on either side of the blue shirt. Sew along these lines.
  4. Turn both shirts inside out. Pin the side seams together so that that ugly edge sticks out, towards you. Now you have to account for that extra fabric on the top tube. Make pleats (fold the fabric over itself) twice on the left side, and twice on the right, as symmetrically as you can. Pin all the way around the shirt, doing the back in the same fashion. Sew up this seam.
  5. Fold the raw edge at the top of the white shirt, and then fold it over again, and pin in place. Sew this edge down so that no raw edge is visible.
  6. Make two straps. This is so easy. You take two pieces of fabric of a little more than twice the width you want, fold them over, sew, and then turn them inside out. Have a friend pin them into place on your shirt so that they cover your bra straps. Sew in place, and then sew a button over the join between shirt and strap in the front on either side.
  7. Now draw an anchor. Or print one off the Internet. I won’t judge.
  8. Cut out your anchor and use it as a template to cut out an anchor made of fabric from the sleeve of your white t-shirt. I decided that I wanted my anchor to be chubbier than the one I drew, so I would have room to sew it on.
  9. Now, pin your cloth anchor to your shirt where you want it. Sewing it’s gonna be hard, and I made the mistake of assuming it’d be easier with a piece of anchor-shaped paper over the anchor. If you’re going to do that, don’t do what I did: for the love of Pete, don’t glue it on. It will not come off and you’ll have to pick at it for about half an hour and hope that the little fragments come out in the wash.

Sew on your anchor, SLOWLY. You might want to do this by hand. Doing it by machine was kind of haphazard and dangerous because the machine always did one more stitch after I told it to stop.

Et voila! You are done!

The technique you just used, I am told, is called “applique.” You could probably look it up and use it to customize this shirt; it would probably look equally stunning as an aeronautical shirt with a zeppelin on it. Or you could make it in a different set of two colors and add a color-appropriate applique design of your own. Actually, come to think of it, why didn’t I make one with a zeppelin on it? Here’s a drawing of a zeppelin that I found on the Internet, so you can avoid my mistakes:

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Meanwhile, over on the Craftster forums, the suspense continues as I wait to learn the winner of the challenge I entered. Stay tuned for more excitement and drama on that front.

*I’m not sure if this is true. It might be an urban legend. Take no chances.

Dress Thing!

This isn’t a new tutorial, nor is it anything else remotely useful. But it is a new project! This is a variation on the tunic/dress I did earlier. I wanted a kind of loose dress that could be worn with or without a belt.

I’m thinking it’s too short to wear on its own, but I think it would look great with tights and boots. I’m trying to think of ways I could elongate it just another inch or so, but there’s no fabric left! (cue dramatic music.) I’m considering contrasting fabric, but I don’t want to interrupt the lines. With a longer shirt (perhaps a men’s extra-large tall), this wouldn’t even be a problem. I wonder if there’s a place where tall men all go to discard their used shirts…maybe a thrift store in a neighborhood populated by basketball stars…

Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, Day 3: Modified T-shirt

And now we’re back on schedule with Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, which is in retrospect, a really long name. Maybe I can just call it ButtonDownFest. Or something. Anyway, here’s project #3.

(Picture taken by TJ, boyfriend and photographer extraordinaire. He’s also really tall, as you can tell by the downward angle.)

I swore I’d never buy one of these shirts, the two-shirt hybrid. I tend to find them a little silly. But if the button-down is falling apart, or the t-shirt is falling apart, or if you have sleeves and a collar left over from another project, this is a good way to dress up the t-shirt and/or bolster a sad-looking neckline or sleeves, which is what I did. And I’m actually pleased with the results.

One note: for this shirt, I went with short, cuffed sleeves. If you do longer sleeves, instead of sewing the button-down sleeves to the very edge of the t-shirt sleeves, sew them at the shoulders instead. Otherwise they’ll be saggy.

MATERIALS:

  • 1 t-shirt that needs some stuff added to it
  • 1 button-down shirt, or sleeves/collar from same
  • A sewing machine, or needle and thread
  • Scissors

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Lay out button-down shirt, flat.
  2. Cut off collar and sleeves.
  3. Place t-shirt over collar and sleeves. Take  a gander and make sure it’s all you thought it’d be before you sew. Still good? Good.
  4. Pin the back of the collar to the back of the t-shirt. Sew.
  5. Pin the front of the collar to the front of the t-shirt and sew. Be sure to leave it unbuttoned, and don’t allow the two sides of the button-down collar to overlap when sewing. If you don’t, the neckline won’t fit over your head.
  6. Be sure to zigzag stitch all the edges of the button-down (which is now sewn into the shirt.) This will keep those edges from fraying.
  7. If you’re doing long sleeves, try the sleeve on your arm. If the sleeve is too baggy on your arm, take to your sewing machine. Turn it inside out and and sew it smaller, in the same genera area as the seam. Try on, see if it fits your arm now, trim the excess.  Pin the button-down sleeves to the insides of the t-shirt sleeves and sew, being careful not to sew sleeves shut.
  8. If you’re doing short sleeves, unbutton and roll up the cuff. Pull the sleeve up your arm and mark on the sleeve the place where you want it to overlap the shirt. Take the sleeve off, and leaving about a quarter to a half an inch excess, cut off the unnecessary part of the sleeve. Use this first sleeve as a template for the second one.
  9. Unroll the cuffs. Pin the sleeves of your button-down into the sleeves of the t-shirt, all the way around, gently stretching the t-shirt fabric if necessary. Sew.
  10. Roll cuffs back up, so that they cover the edges of the t-shirt sleeves. Sew into place in a few different spots around the sleeve, so that they won’t come uncuffed at inconvenient moments. 

If you’re doing a long-sleeved shirt, you can ignore this step. You were already done back at step 7. Why are you still reading?

And there you have it! A much dressier t-shirt, and a lot of extra fabric to play with.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about what you can do with the leftovers. Are you excited? I know I am.

Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, Day 2: Sleeve Scarf

So remember those sleeves you have left over from Day 1? Today you’re going to put them to good use. The sleeve scarf is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s an incredibly simple project–so simple it should only take you about ten minutes. Here’s me modeling the finished product, using my new digital camera and tripod courtesy of an uncle who upgraded.

(again with the ailing model-face…I’ll learn.)

MATERIALS:

  • Discarded sleeves in need of a home
  • Sewing machine (or needle and thread–this is a project that could probably be done with hand-sewing)
  • Scissors
  • Pins

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Take sleeves and place next to one another. Notice how they’re both cut at diagonals? Put the long part of one diagonal against the short part of the other diagonal, and vice versa, like so:This will help you maximize scarf length.
  2. Unbutton the cuff on one of the sleeves. Now, turn that sleeve inside out over the other sleeve.
  3. You now have a sleeve-within-a-sleeve. Pin the raw edges at the tops of the sleeves together, all the way around. This is going to be your one line of sewing for the day. You ready?
  4. Now, sew the raw edges of the sleeves together! If you’re feeling really fancy, you can go back over your stitches with a zigzag stitch to prevent fraying.
  5. Take the sleeve that was inside out, and turn it right side out. And there you go.

See, wasn’t that easy and painless? And now you have a distinctive–dare I say it–classy summer accessory. This lightweight scarf is downright breezy.

Upcoming Tutorial: Seven days, Seven ways

So, you probably don’t know this yet, but I used to have a sewing machine. And it was a fine sewing machine, for what I used it for, which was as a desk decoration. Unfortunately, I tried to use it to sew, and apparently it didn’t like that because now it’s broken. So while I wait for it, I’ll be posting things like this, warning you of the awesomeness to come. It’s going to be a veritable tutorial maelstrom once I get my new machine.

And to start off, I’m going to do seven days of ways to deconstruct an oversized men’s button-down.

I’ve seen about a million tutorials for this kind of thing on the Internet, neat lil’ ways of using…parts of a button-down. That don’t fly with me. In a back-to-nature gesture, like those romantic hunters who use every part of the deer, I will show you how to make the best use of this shirt you’ve slain–er, found. While some of the pieces may get repeat uses (there’s only so much you can do with a cut-off shirt collar) each day will feature at least one new item, with a total of 12 distinct items. Some will even be things you could make with hand-sewing, if you’re a more patient person than I.

Until then, I’ll be posting a few knitting tutorials, as well as a guide to thrift store shopping. I may also link shamelessly to other blogs that are already chockablock with neat projects. Stay tuned.

EDIT: My sewing machine is coming tomorrow! Unfortunately, I don’t have oversized button-downs yet. We’ll see how this plays out.

Das Craft

In 1844, Karl Marx wrote that part of the problem with capitalism is that it alienates people from the products they make, turning production from an act of human creativity into a relationship between two things: labor and output. He said that when people make things themselves, they enjoy an “individual manifestation of [their] life during the activity.” Of course, he said some other stuff about the worldwide workers’ revolution, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I want to talk about making things yourself.

Crafting gets a bad rap. For one thing, as much as I’d like to think of it as egalitarian, it’s gotten a reputation as an exclusively bourgeois pastime. Only the leisure class, declare naysayers, can sit around for hours perfecting their quilting techniques, and only they can drop hundreds of dollars at the big-box craft stores.  Moreover, craft supplies are part of the shopping-industrial complex, part of the system that tells people that what they need to make themselves happy is to buy something new, from a large store, at retail price—which is terrible for the environment and the human psyche.

But making things by hand doesn’t have to be about having the shiny new Martha Stewart scrapbooking tools. With care, making an effort to make things yourself can be a creative, even revolutionary, act. To take things you would throw out and turn them into something you can still use, or to design and create something yourself that works better than what you could have bought, is incredibly fulfilling. Breaking down the barrier between yourself and the things you use every day can change the way you see your life, helping you look at the world through the eyes of an artist instead of a consumer. And crafting can be eco-friendly, if you expand your definition of what a craft supply is and where it can come from.

I’ve certainly been guilty of assuming that I need the new thing to be happy, that I need to always buy new when I look for supplies. I want to change that. Part of the reason is that I’m a broke college student and I don’t want to spend more on a craft project than I would on a comparable store-bought item. But part of it is that I want to change the way I make things, to challenge myself. I want the things I make to be more environmentally sustainable, more inexpensive, more useful and beautiful and unique—and most importantly, more accessible to other people who aren’t privileged, college-educated, or affluent. I want to take better care of the planet and maybe encourage other people to try their hand at crafting things themselves.

And so I’m challenging myself to design projects that are all from pre-used or recycled materials, that are low-impact, and that are, most importantly, cheap and easy for anyone to do. Oh, and useful. And because that sounds like a tall order for one person, I’m going to do my best to track down people who are already handcrafting in revolutionary ways, to see if they can steer me in the right direction.

Marx also said that part of the pleasure of making things is that of seeing another human use them. “In your enjoyment or use of my product,” he wrote, “I would have the direct enjoyment…of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work.” I hope I can do just that. Coming up will be projects, tutorials, musings, and tales of enterprising and remarkable people. Stay tuned.

–Rose