Tag Archives: sewing

I Heart Cinco de Mayo


First heart I made!

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! I’ve had this project in my back pocket for months, but I decided to wait until today before sharing it, because, you know, it’s Cinco de Mayo.

Way back in mid February, we took a trip to Tulum, Mexico with friends. We had an amazing time. We relaxed on the beach, snorkeled in beautiful cenotes (freshwater limestone pools and caves), visited Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, and ate lots of good food. We spent a couple of evenings in the town of Tulum, where I couldn’t resist doing a little shopping in the market stalls. Not only were there pom pom garlands in all sorts of fun colors (and I’m a sucker for pom poms), there were these adorable hearts, made of felt and hand embroidered. Needless to say I became a little obsessed with them. I ended up buying two hearts and a pom pom garland the night before we flew home to stuff in my suitcase as keepsakes. I love ’em!

A pom pom cart in Tulum, Mexico.

Well, those hearts soon became the inspiration for this cute project. I love making these hearts for so many reasons. One, they allow me to use up some of the scraps from thrift store sweaters I bought a few years ago and felted for various projects. Two, embroidery is so easy to pick up and tinker away at whenever you have a spare moment. Three, this project is also small, so it’s perfect for stuffing in a tote or purse and taking along to soccer games or public transit commutes. And four (this is my favorite reason), they provide the perfect use for all that polyfil my dog pulls out of her chew toys…reusing and recycling at its best!

Heart Instructions

To make your own hearts, you’ll need the following.

  • Wool sweaters or felt, in any color
  • Large heart cookie cutter (the one I use measures 5 inches across)
  • permanent marker
  • small embroidery hoop
  • crewel embroidery yarn in a variety of bright colors
  • embroidery needle
  • scissors
  • polyfil stuffing
  • pom pom
  • tassel


Using the cookie cutter and permanent marker, trace two heart shapes on the wool or felt.


Center one of the hearts in the embroidery hoop, pulling it as taut as possible.

Use different colors of crewel embroidery yarn to embroider a design of your choosing. (Before you begin stitching, practice drawing possible designs on paper if that helps you solidify a design.)

As you stitch, try not to get too hung up on your embroidery skills or worry about how your design is coming along; Keep adding to it until you like what you see. (Need to brush up on embroidery stitches? Check out this site. )

Once you’re happy with your design, remove the embroidery hoop and cut out the two hearts (the one you embroidered and the one you did not).


Stack the embroidered heart on top of the unstitched heart. Sew a quarter inch seam along outside edge of the hearts, but leave a 2 inch section along one of the sides unsewn. This is where you’ll add the stuffing.


Push the polyfil stuffing through the hole. Use enough to give a puffy dimension to the entire heart.


Stitch the opening closed.

Chose a complementary color of yarn to create a blanket stitch all the way around the outside edge of the heart. Here’s a quick how-to.


Use yarn to sew a pom pom and tassel to the bottom of the heart. Here are instructions for making a tassel


Sew a loop to the top of your heart for hanging.


Last but not least, find the perfect place to hang your heart. I love how they look on door nobs, window closures, or as Christmas ornaments. Or better yet, give them to a friend!

Happy heart making! If you like this project, then definitely check out the other cool crafts made from recycled sweaters in the Craft-A-Day Book!

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An Ode to My Grandma


My grandma Valen with her great-grandchildren (and a creepy fake cat!).

I was on a beach in Mexico when I learned that my Grandma Valen had died. It wasn’t a total shock. She was 92 and she had fallen a few months earlier and broken a hip. Then she’d come down with pneumonia. And just when she was beginning to walk again with assistance and gain back some strength, she started to act a little off. A day before we left on our Mexico trip, I’d gotten an update on her condition from my mom. I was in the car, so the conversation was short. My grandma was showing signs of confusion, which was unusual for her. Doctors were chalking it up to a bladder infection. When I hung up the phone I didn’t think this was the beginning of the end. But it turned out that it was. She died three days later.


My grandma and grandpa on their wedding day.

I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but my Grandma Valen was the best. She had 19 other grandchildren who I’m sure feel the same way. She was always there for special celebrations and milestones, no matter what. She was there to see me graduate from high school in Delavan and college in Eau Claire. When my son, Will, was born 14 years ago, she and my Grandpa endured the 5 hour drive to Minneapolis to meet him in person.

Not only was she there for her grandchildren, she knew us all as individuals and made a point to connect with each of us about our interests. I loved hearing about what my cousins were up to during our visits. She was a great letter writer, and I regret not writing more often as my boys got older and our lives grew busier. But she understood. She also loved reading and talking about books. When my first book was published she made a point of going to her local library and asking if they had it on the shelves. She was so proud to see that they did.


Thread and notions from my grandma’s sewing stash. 

That first book, For the Love of Knitting, was an anthology of stories and essays that I had collected and edited. Back then I was knitting all the time…in the car, in front of the tv, on the couch in front of the fire. A friend from college had started a knitting group, and we were all new moms. I knit for my own sons, and I knit for my friend’s babies too. I was a bit obsessed and fascinated with anything knitting related.

In the essay I wrote for the book I mentioned that I hadn’t known any knitters when I was growing up. I had written, “No one in my immediate family was a knitter, and it seemed to me that knitting was an art one should learn at a young age, preferably under the watchful eye of a grandmother or mother. My grandmother is a superb seamstress, but she does not knit.”

This was a nonsense stereotype, of course. For one thing, my grandma did knit–she simply preferred to sew. But my grandma took it to heart. The next time I saw her she said, sheepishly, “Sorry I never taught you how to knit.” Of course then I felt bad. I didn’t care that she hadn’t taught me to knit. In the essay, I was just building the argument that I was not destined to be a knitter because it had not been in my family. Also nonsense. I was just trying to be clever.


A classic sewing book from my grandma!

What’s funny now is that I haven’t knit in years, but I have found my way back to sewing. I’ve sewn curtains for the boy’s rooms and halloween costumes. I’ve transformed old t-shirts into pillow covers, added appliqued designs to t-shirts, and made a whole slew of origami bags. I’m kind of a rebel at the sewing machine in that I don’t really like to follow patterns. Instead I tend to just make up designs as I go along. This can lead to problems, of course, but I simply deal with those as they come. To me that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun.

So when my mom called me up as she and my aunts were sorting through my grandma’s things and asked if I would want the Bernina sewing machine, I didn’t hesitate. I can’t wait to take it for a spin. And I love the thought that my grandma will be with me each time I sit down to sew. Perhaps I can channel some of her talent and German precision into my own projects. A girl can hope, right?

Rest in peace, Grandma. I feel so lucky to have had you in my life!


My grandma’s Bernina sewing machine.



Origami Bags: A Little May Day Cheer


Happy May Day, all! And what a picture perfect day it is here in the Twin Cities. After biking the kids to school through spring showers, the clouds cleared and the sun shined through.  What makes this weather all the more sweet is that a mere two weeks ago we had snow up to our knees!

I thought it was fitting to celebrate the long-overdue arrival of spring with a new craft project: the Origami Market Bag. (I couldn’t resist hanging it on the front door with a bouquet of flowers, by the way. It reminds me of a modern May Day basket. For years my mother-in-law has exchanged May Day baskets with her neighbor, and I love that tradition. One of these days I’ll get my act together and surprise my own neighbors!)

Anyway, I’ve been a bit obsessed with making these bags lately, and it all began with a lovely linen tote bag that I picked up in Vietnam last month. It is such a simple yet elegant design, that as I was eyeing it in the shop my mom said, “you know, this would be pretty easy to make…” Just like that, the seed was planted. I did buy the bag, and I love it, especially the red tassel that adorns the front. But I had to make one (or two, or three…) myself. A couple of weeks later as I dug through piles of patterned fabrics at the textile garage sale, I had these bags on my mind.

I found a couple of bundles of coordinating fabrics for 1 or 2 dollars each, and I couldn’t wait to get home and sew up some origami bags. I found great instructions for how to make an origami bag here, at VeryShannon.com.  I made the first bag using a polka dot upholstery fabric and a much lighter weight striped fabric, following the instructions pretty much to the letter (although I did make a slightly longer handle).

The bag turned out well, and it was fun to make. I love how it’s big enough to sling over one shoulder and take to a farmers’ market. But, just like any other project, I was interested in trying a few things differently the next time around. I wanted to make a bag with a liner and I thought it would be fun to size it down a bit.

I also had some trouble with the heavier fabric I used for the first bag…it didn’t have the drape I was after and it made for some bulky seams that were challenging to sew. So I unearthed (I almost mean that literally…you should see my fabric stash) this blue and tan coordinating set of much lighter weight upholstery fabrics, one in floral and one in leopard print, that I had picked up for almost free at the local Goodwill outlet. Then I used the heavy polka dot fabric for the handle, where its sturdy stiffness would come in handy. The second “mini market” bag turned out pretty cute. Okay, I kind of love the result.


I’m still fine-tuning, of course. I’ve already cut the pieces for my next attempt, which will be in a striped linen and cotton floral. You can see the beginnings of it here:

I’m so excited to finish this one, which will be more in line with the weight and size of the original bag. I’ll keep you posted on my progress! If you’re looking for a little crafty inspiration yourself, check out my latest release, The Craft-A-Day Book! Happy Spring!




Pillow Fight!


Whew! I’m finally coming up for air here after a pretty busy, but kind of amazing summer. Think biking the Central California Coast with my husband to celebrate our twenty-year anniversary, a visit with my brother and family on their lovely hobby farm in Washington state,  afternoons spent watching my youngest play soccer, taking trips to the garden with my oldest, end-of-day swims across the lake, more bike rides with friends and family, runs through the woods with my pup, and outdoor concerts on a picnic blanket with pals, and you get the idea. But summer always has to end, and somehow, by the time it does, I’m ready to let it go. Goodbye summer, hello autumn. Back to some semblance of a regular schedule, including more frequent blog posts (yay!).

I DO feel a little guilty for not blogging about the garden like I did last summer, but I hope you’ll forgive me after you hear what I’ve been up to. I have been hard at work on two new books, including a follow up to The Nitty Gritty Gardening Book AND a craft book for teens. The craft book came about as a direct result of the Project-a-Day challenge I posted on Facebook in October 2014. This Favorite T-Shirt Pillow is one of the projects that will appear in the book, which is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release. I am super excited about it!


But I ramble on. Back to pillows, and beloved T-shirts that may have become too small or too raggedy along the edges to wear, but still have a place in your heart. The Favorite T-Shirt Pillow is one cozy way to keep those Ts around a bit longer, and they are fun and easy to make. For the turtle and grasshopper pillows pictured just above, I used a cotton weave men’s button up dress shirt and an old button up pajama top for the pillow covering and backing, arranging the placket on the back of the pillow.

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I love this idea because it means the pillow can be removed easily for washing. Best of all, it’s less finishing work for me. But the pillows can also be made with fabric yardage, and it’s not a whole lot more time to sew a back flap. Here’s how I made these pillows:


  1. Using a good fabric scissors, cut around the design on the shirt. I tend cut out the design in a square or rectangle shape, simply because that mimics the shape of the pillow, but if a circle or oval shape works better for your design, go for it.
  2. Cut a piece of fusible interfacing large enough cover the back of the T-shirt design piece.
  3. Place the t-shirt design face down on the ironing board with the fusible interfacing on top of it, shiny side down. Cover with an ironing cloth (or scrap piece of fabric that you don’t care about) and iron over it 3 or 4 times until the interfacing is fused to the t-shirt design.
  4. Trim excess fusible interfacing from the edges of the T-shirt design.
  5. Measure the width and height of the pillow, taking care not to compress the pillow stuffing as you measure. Write down measurement.
  6. Now cut the button up-shirt in half  along the side seams. Place the back of the shirt face down on a work surface, aligning seams and smoothing wrinkles.
  7. Measure, mark, and cut the pillow front piece from the fabric, adding 1/4 inch seam allowance to each side.
  8. Measure, mark, and cut the pillow back piece from the front of the button up shirt, adding 1/4 inch seam allowance to each side. Align so that the placket will be centered either vertically or horizontally along the back of the pillow.
  9. Center the T-shirt design on the right side of the front pillow piece and secure with pins.
  10. Using Zig-zag stitch, sew all the way around the edge of the T-shirt design. Remove pins and snip threads.
  11. With right sides facing each other, pin the front pillow piece to the back pillow piece and sew a 1/4-inch seam all the way around. Remove pins and snip threads.
  12. Open the buttons, turn the pillow covering right side out, and stuff pillow into casing. Work buttons along back.

There. Now toss the pillow on your bed, comfy chair, or couch and snuggle in with a good book! All ready for fall.

Stay tuned for more posts and projects from both of my upcoming books!


Socks I Can’t Seem to Part With…


I admit it…I’m kind of a sock geek. Remember Sox Appeal? I was a regular. Smartwool? Still asking for a pair every holiday season whenever stumped gift givers prompt me for requests. So when I wear holes in a favorite pair, I’m always a little reluctant to part with them. Instead, I look for ways the socks could be reused.

People know this about me…that I love socks with fun patterns and that I’m likely to come up with something creative to do with them. (In fact a striped socks scarf made it’s way into day 19 of my October craft-a-day project back in 2014!) I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when my friend Jenny gave me a gift bag filled with a few of her favorite, albeit holey, socks. I wasn’t exactly surprised, but I did feel the weight of having to come up with some spectacular way to use this motherlode of Smartwool socks. And this week, I finally had a day to give the socks some thought (I won’t tell you how long I’ve had them!) It turns out, there are many, many ways to keep those striped or pretty-patterned socks in your daily rotation.


Arm Warmers

The first project is pretty easy, and it wasn’t new to me. A few years back I simply cut the feet from a pair of much-loved, striped knee-highs and wore the “legs” as boot toppers or arm warmers. If you’ve not yet discovered arm warmers, I recommend checking them out. In cooler climes, arm warmers make it possible to continue wearing favorite short-sleeve and three-quarter sleeve T-shirts well into winter. I never did finish off that ragged, cut edge on the original knee-high warmers, so I finally did that on Monday. A zig-zag stitch, twice around right along the edge gave these a pleasing lettuce-edge finish. Then I patched together three pairs from the magic bag of socks to make the fetching arm warmers at top. This time I used a top cuff at both ends for a nice finished edge.

Phone Case

But enough about arm warmers. What about a slip case for your phone. Right? Again, I found myself rummaging through the bag. A blue and gray striped (stripes, of course!) pair caught my eye. I trimmed the case up with a few strands of this darling charcoal gray tiny pom-pom trim that I couldn’t resist at Target a couple of months ago. I added a flap made from the top of the sock’s foot with a little velcro to keep it shut. And I made the last-minute decision not to sew the back of the flap closed, leaving a little pocket for cash or a credit card.

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Now for the grand finale. I just had to do something with these two pairs of socks. They went together so well!


So I cut off the feet and began moving the parts around on my desk.


Are you seeing what I’m seeing? (I know, I know. I already said I’m a sock geek, so bear with me….I love this part…)


Mittens, of course! I’ve not yet had a chance to get back to my sewing machine to stitch these up, but the concept is there. I used the tops of the feet for the thumbs, and I’ll snip a slit in the patterned maroon section for placement. I think this might be my favorite use for old socks, but stay tuned…it’s all in how you finish.

Stay tuned for more ways to repurpose discarded socks and other items from around the house. In fact, many of these projects will be included in an forthcoming craft book for teens that I’m pretty excited about. Details to come! Until then, keep crafting!

Smitten with Mittens


This past fall, I made a stop at my local thrift shop, in search of a few wool sweaters in fun colors or interesting patterns to felt and use for crafting. My original plan was to cut the sweaters into flower petals, embellish the edges of said petals with seed beads, tack the petals together with a button in the center and add the flower to a hat, tablet cover, or a cardigan sweater as an embellishment. In the pile of sweaters was this stripy crew neck, not 100 percent wool, but it still felted nicely. My thought was that I’d use the stripes to make the hat and then add the flower to the side in the style of cloche hats from the twenties (something kind of like this one from the Sundance Catalog).

But I’ve not gotten around to tracking down seed beads, so the sweaters have sat, nicely arranged by color, in a basket in the corner of my office. That hat idea may still come to fruition, but in the meantime I had an idea to make something of the striped sleeves. When I slid the sleeve cuffs over my wrists, they fit perfectly, with no sewing required. So I decided to cut the sleeves off and make myself a pair of mitts. It went kind of like this…


Sweater with sleeves…


Sweater without sleeves. I used a pinking shears to do the cutting, in hopes of reducing the chance the edges would fray (of course I was sewing them right up, but …).

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This next part is kind of off-the-cuff (sorry, I couldn’t resist)…I simply turned the sleeve inside out, tried it on, and used a fabric marker to note placement for the thumb. I used the same marker to sketch the top of the mitten curve. I also snipped a one-inch slit for the thumb. (For both mitts, I decided to use the inside seam of the sleeve as the thumb side).

I stitched along the top of the mitten and trimmed off the excess sweater pieces.

Now comes the tricky part…that rascally thumb. I cut a piece for each of the thumbs from the stripy scraps and pinned them in place along the seam. Then I held my breath while I scrunched the thumb and mitt under the foot of my sewing machine and stitch the thing in place. And wouldn’t you know it? It worked! Sure, the thumbs don’t match, but that’s part of the charm. Best of all, they are sturdy, perfectly functional, and darned cute. I decided not to line the mitts, so they are not super warm, but I like them this way…they fit in my coat pockets and are great to slide on when I’m driving the kids to school in the morning.

I may add some sort of embellishment to the back of the mittens…but for now, I’m smitten with these mittens. And I remain forever impressed with anyone who’s able to sew two perfect thumbs that match…someday.*

Stay tuned for more projects in the weeks to come. It’s winter in Minnesota, which means it’s prime time to craft. Ready, set, go!


*So I thought I’d include a link for crafting perfect thumbs since my instructions here are so vague, and what I found made me laugh…I guess I like to do things the hard way. This makes perfect sense.




October: A month of creativity

In the month of October,  I promised myself that every day I would do something creative, no matter how small a project it may be. I decided to take it easy on myself and set rather broad parameters to guarantee success. By my definition, “creative” means anything handmade or embellished, including everything from food (made from scratch, of course; Mac and cheese from a box doesn’t count), crafts, gardening, or writing.

Here is the month in photos.