Saturday, March 31, 2012

Make it sew: decorative centerpiece

Having recently acquired a magnificent sewing machine, I've been anxiously toying with ideas about what to create as my first piece. I have great costume patterns, but I must admit I don't have the experience to succeed or the courage to fail as I just begin to use this beautiful machine (named Agnes, for reasons unknown).

After two weeks (I know!) of bumbling around with no patterns or material, I figured maybe I could make up my own. So off I went to the thrift store and came home with some patterned scraps left over from someone else's probably-way-more-fabulous project. I folded some printer paper, cut out what later turned out to look like lips, and sewed it all together with extraordinary cleverness. I have yet to devise a plan for creating fabric flowers, but never mind. One success at a time.

Today I have recreated this masterpiece in a similar pattern step by step to show you. Because anyone with fabric and a needle and thread is clearly in want of a decorative centerpiece on which to exhibit flowers and a natural sewing talent. (You don't actually need natural sewing talent, but a sewing machine helps to fool people.) The great thing about this project is that you can do it with or without a sewing machine, and with or without great amounts of sewing experience.

Here's what you'll need:

15" x 24" sheet of fabric (or two 12" x 15" sheets)*
One 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper*
Ball-ended knitting needle (or long pencil)
Thread (spool and bobbin if machine sewing)
Sewing machine (optional)
Fabric shears
Iron and ironing board

*If you want to make one twice as large, use two sheets of fabric at least 25" x 30" and tape two sheets of paper together.

1. Start by ironing your fabric flat.

2. Fold the sheet of paper in half twice (until it's 4.25" x 5.5"). Draw a simple design on it in such a way that when you cut it out, it will be a single piece (not four!).

3. Cut out the design.

4. Unfold the paper to make sure the design is what you want. It should be completely symmetrical. Adjust if needed. I recommend not making it too scalloped or it will be hard to shape later (these scallops were hard enough!).

5. Fold your fabric (or place your fabric sheets) pattern-side together.

6. Use pins to secure your homemade pattern to both sheets of fabric. Give the pins at least a 1/2" margin from the edge for when you're sewing it.

7. Cut out the design. Give yourself a good 1/2" margin for that as well.

8. Sew a seam along the edge of the pattern. You can do this with a sewing machine or by hand. If by hand, I recommend using the backstitch technique to avoid gaps and to strengthen the seam.

9. Take the pins out as you go along. It's ok to sew over the paper because you can pull it out later, but try to keep as close to the edge as possible to maintain the symmetry and uniformity of the piece.

10. Leave a gap a little wider than your thumb without a seam. You'll use this to turn the piece inside out. If you do sew around the pattern completely, use a seam ripper to create about a 1" gap.

11. Check the pattern when you're done before removing the paper pattern entirely. If there are places that are far off the pattern, don't be afraid to use a seam ripper to pull out the stitch and redo it (I had to do that for the shoddy seamline you see below).

12. Peel the paper off the fabric - make sure to get all the little bits out from under the seam.

13. Cut out the corner of the extra fabric near the points so that when you turn the piece inside out, the fabric on the inside doesn't create an unsightly bunch on the outside.

14. Push the fabric inside out through the gap using a ball-ended knitting needle (or something with a strong thick end - even a pencil would work, just not the pointy end).

15. Pull the rest of the fabric through by hand once you've gotten some fabric through the gap.

16. Push the pointed end of the pencil or knitting needle into the pointed end(s) of the fabric to define the point (be careful that you don't poke through the fabric).

17. Use your forefinger and thumb to work the edges out, especially in areas where the seam is rounded. You won't see definition to the scalloped shapes if you don't work the fabric out to the seam.

18. Fold the ragged edges into the gap.

19. Iron, iron, iron! Flatten the piece into the shape you want it - all the seams, curves, points, and the gapped edge. Be ruthless.

20. Thread your needle and sew up the gap now that it's flattened into place. Make the stitch invisible by sewing just on the inside of the gap.

21. Survey your work. If any curves or points in the design fail to make their presence known, the iron can help. And it's ok to turn it back inside out and pull some seams. To be honest, I got fed up and actually threw this project away halfway through because I did a rotten job the first time, but in the end I pulled it out of the bin and tried again. Practice makes perfect!

You're done! If you want to leave it as it is, it makes a lovely centerpiece, especially with flowers or some other decoration on top. A perfect Easter centerpiece!

Look for my next post on embroidering this piece soon. We'll give definition and personality to this decorative centerpiece. 

If you try this project, I hope you'll post a comment or email me and tell me how it went!


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Victory! ...rolls

This week I've had my dear friend Joyous to visit from Toronto, Canada. We tromped around every single antique store in the area, including one that isn't listed... because it's somebody's barn. We found lots of little treasures!
Joyous found a beaded coin purse, a sweet apron, a teacup and saucer, and several sets of cameo stud earrings. I had my eye on bigger quarry (as I do not have to lug it back to the north country) and came home with a lamp-slash-endtable, a teak letter-and-key holder, a small wooden recipe box, an embroidered table runner and a fabulous Pendleton Knockabouts jacket, complete with leather-patch elbows!

This week has been no less than victorious, not only in great vintage finds in our small town, but also in more hair experiments! First we thought we'd do pin curls for a mandolin concert this week, but time flew by and left us with too few hours to put it together. Instead - Victory Rolls!
As you can see, we made the most of it. We both have very straight hair, which I thought would prove more challenging than it actually did. Joy has lots of hair that's very fine, and I have thick hair but not as much of it. Soon I hope to post a video tutorial of how to do this particular hairstyle, but until then, here's what we did:
  1. If you start with wet hair, throw in some mousse and blow dry. If you start with dry hair, hairspray the heck out of it and then brush it.
  2. Take two vertical sections of hair from each side of your head and throw the rest in a ponytail.
  3. Backcomb each of the four sections on the back side, using hairspray as necessary (we used quite a lot).
  4. Use a 1"-barrel curling iron to curl one section towards the back. When it's sufficiently curled, use your hands to roll the section away from your face into the long rolls you see in our pictures.
  5. Use two bobby pins to secure the roll at the top and the bottom. You can play with the roll to make it looser or tighter, depending on how much volume you want.
  6. Do this for each of the four sections, pulling your bangs aside if you have them.
  7. For those with said fringe, hold them straight up from your head, spray them, and curl them in a large curl towards the front. Leave it to cool, then backcomb the back side and roll them into a standing pin curl off to one side. Secure with a bobby pin.
  8. Undo the ponytail you put up earlier. Curl the hair in sections - use hairspray to make sure the ends don't fall out immediately (it's not terribly important that they stay really curly).
  9. Brush the curls and put your hair up in a high ponytail again. Split the hair on the top to make a pocket just above the elastic band, loosening the ponytail, and tuck the hair into it. Leave the last few inches of the ponytail untucked.
  10. Curl the last few inches of the ponytail around the pocket of stuffed hair to hide it, and pin it with a bobby pin.
  11. Spray, spray, spray! We took on wind and rain with this style, and nary a hair was out of place when we returned.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I'm a little teapot

I have been looking for the perfect teapot for years. Years. And just a few months ago, I found it - well, her. She was sitting on a corner table at the back of a newly-discovered antique store, and she commanded my full attention.
It's difficult to say what is so special about this perfect little teapot. Perhaps I just know deep down that if I were a teapot, I would be this little teapot. Maybe I saw her in a dream, or met one of her matching cups and saucers at an antique shop in my past. One thing I do know is that she spoke to me, and one should always buy, if one is able, the items that speak to one's soul.
This little teapot is named Angela for a cat-loving friend of mine who, when I think of her, always makes me want to curl up with my kitty and a cup of tea. My teapot does much the same thing, and it doesn't hurt that she has quite recently been clothed with a tea cozy of delicate design and delightful colors, making her all the more inviting. Many thanks to my wonderful Oma for the gift!
Another recent acquisition was this fanciful embroidered table runner, found for a few cents at an estate sale. Birdie and I have decided she needs a bosom, so I think I will attempt something innocently come-hitherish using my library embroidery books soon. I love her shoes, and I can only dream of bloomers with flounces like that!
Here are a few details of my lovely embroidered belle. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Antique expo excursion

After a few weeks of quietude from blogging (in which I moved forward on the novel, discovered an exciting new hobby in quilting, and acquired a surprise sewing machine), I have been revitalized by an escapade to Portland's Expo Center and a day spent with my favorite vintage blogger, Solanah of Vixen Vintage

Solanah, I was pleased to find, is wonderfully approachable and thrillingly knowledgeable when it comes to vintage clothing. I learned so much from her as we cavorted in heels for hours through the Expo, and was delighted to find a friend as well as a kindred spirit. 

We met quite a few people who also embodied the vintage spirit with fantastic vintagewear and hattery, including Janey of Atomic Redhead. My favorite, I must admit, was the muscle-bound, mustachioed man in the striped shirt! 

Enjoy these photos of the day's escapade! Soon to follow will be my own unique finds and ways to use them.