Monday, June 17, 2013

Christmas in June?

You've all heard of "Christmas in July," a time for sales at your favorite stores.  How about Christmas in June?

It's a little hard to think about the holidays when it's 80+ degrees outside, but I have a wedding shower to go to this weekend, and 'O Christmas Tree' is the theme for my gift.
Decorated and lighted Christmas tree » The Stock Solution

Last fall, I was outlet shopping with my Bunco gals, and one person wanted to stop into the Lenox factory store.  Ho, hum...I thought there would be nothing there for me, but I was surprised to find some beautiful china Christmas tree ornaments on clearance.

I picked out a dozen different designs for $2.00 each (regularly $6 to $8 a piece), and thought to myself, "These would make a nice wedding shower gift."
A sampling of the Lenox ornaments I found...
Funny thing...on the drive home, I received a text from my sister-in-law that her son, Kevin, had proposed to his girlfriend that afternoon!

Me (being me) thought that a nice addition to the tree ornaments would be a hand-crafted Christmas tree skirt.  I got the invitation to the shower about a month ago, and started looking for a pattern.

I found one I liked in the Better Homes and Gardens "Christmas From the Heart" book, volume 9 (copyright 2000).  Designed by Phyllis Dobbs, it's called "Star-Tips Tree Skirt."  While hers is a bit 'country' looking, I changed up the fabrics, which made mine a little more dressy.  I had to enlarge the pattern in the book, using one-inch grid fabric.

The pattern was printed smaller in the book, and needed to be enlarged on grid paper.
The project called for four different fabrics:  green, red, off-white and brown.  I had the red and green in my stash, but had to make a run to the fabric store for brown and off-white.  After finishing my pattern pieces, I began to cut the fabric.

The red and green fabrics have a hint of gold in them.

It is a simple enough pattern to follow...two small off-white triangles are stitched on either side of the tree trunk; a green triangle is bordered by two larger off-white triangles;  stitching those pieces together completes the 'block'.  The block it attached to a red piece, making a panel of the tree skirt.  There are 8 panels in all.
Three sections make up one panel.

The directions called for the entire thing to be bound by matching, self-made bias tape, but that would take me hours to do, so instead, I decided to layer the tree skirt and its backing fabric right-sides-together, layer on a piece of batting, and then stitch around the whole thing, leaving about a 6 inch opening to turn it right side out.

I did have to trim the corners well and clip the inner curve before turning it, but a good pressing with a steam iron was all it took to make it lie flat.  I stitched inside the trees and the around the circumference of the red fabric to quilt the layers in place.  A large plastic snap will secure it around the trunk of the Christmas tree.

Trimming the tree skirt after it is sew, right-sides-together.
Start to finish, it probably took about five hours, including the time to enlarge the pattern, cut everything out, and sew things up.  The ornaments and the tree skirt are all wrapped up and ready to go!  One more thing crossed off my 'to-do' list!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Wedding Photo Album with a Twist

When you hear "Wedding Photo Album," I bet you think about the traditional albums put together by the photographer with all of the 'posed' pictures.

This project is anything but that!

My son and his bride have booked a photo booth for their wedding know, the kind you find on the boardwalk or in shopping malls, in which you cram as many people as you can inside, and it takes four photos and spits them out on a strip.

Hollywood Photo Booth | San Francisco Bay Area Photo Booth
The traditional photo booth.

Photo booths are apparently a trend for wedding receptions.  The guests get to have a little fun (there is a box of 'props' they can use for their photos) and the bride and groom can pay a little extra to have two copies of the photo strip made -- one for the guests to take home, and one to adhere into a photo album set up right outside the booth.

My future daughter-in-law asked me to pre-decorate a photo album to use.  It does make pre-decorating the pages, we can somewhat control how the photo strips are put into the album. (We don't want just one per page -- we'd never fit them all into the album that way!)

My friend Sherrie sells Creative Memories products, and I was able to purchase a discontinued white embossed 12 x 12" album from her inventory, along with 2 packs of 15 pages and page protectors to go inside.  That gives me 60 pages (front and back) to decorate.

I'm not quite finished yet (I need to have space for at least 200 photo strips!), but I thought I would share some of the pre-decorated pages with you, in case you have to work on a similar project this summer!

This page is reserved for Ryan and Mary...their photo will go on the left side of the  'D'.
This is the first page as you open the book.  The purple glitter paper picks up the color scheme of the wedding.  I used a Puzzle Mates Puzzle Template Book to trace the outline of the letter D and added their wedding date using stickers.

This is one page of a two-page spread, titled "Down the Shore."  (It's a Philly thing to drop the 'at' in that phrase...I know better, but at some point, I gave up arguing with everyone about it!)  By laying out the 'beach towels,' I could fit 6 photo strips on these two pages.

Here is a close up of one page...the photo strips are 2" by 6", so I made the mat papers 2 1/2" by 6 1/2", and wrote on each one 'photo strip here' or simply 'photo.'  For dark papers, I wrote with a silver gel pen. I tried to leave space around each photo strip so the guest can write their names and/or a message for the couple.  On this page, the wavy 'banner' to the left of the mat is for people to sign their names.

This page is kind of fun...I used a template (unknown source) for the house, and drew the tree freehand.  I drew in journaling lines on the roof and in the tree so people would know where to leave a note!

This is a very simple layout, but I think the background paper and color scheme make it a classic.  I used the middle size of a Spellbinders "Labels Twenty" die set to cut out the red paper, and drew journaling lines on each.  The thin black borders were punch outs from a set of scrapbooking paper, but you could easily use decorative scissors on a thin strip of cardstock to create the same look.  

Still have a lot more 'pre-decorating' to do, but with 13 of the 60 pages finished, there is already room for 45 photo strips.  Mary took a look at it, and gave it rave reviews.

Can't wait to see it after the wedding, filled with the memories of the evening!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A little D-I-Y gift for the bridesmaids...

A lot of people look to D-I-Y gifts as a way to save money and provide a personal touch...and in this case, I think we accomplished both! 

My future daughter-in-law, Mary, bought a cute stretch bracelet on Etsy a few months back, and then decided that she wanted to make similar ones for the members of her wedding party and a few close friends.    She visited The Bead Garden in Havertown, Pa., one afternoon (when I was not working), and spent an hour with the owner, Leslie, designing the bracelets and selecting the supplies we would need to finish the project. 
Violet crystals, pave crosses and Stretch Magic is all it take!
Of course, we had to order some supplies, and unfortunately, couldn't find a wholesale source for the crosses Mary wanted to use.  Luckily, I found them on Etsy and ordered what we needed. With everything delivered this week, we finally had a chance to sit down and work on them.  

There is one thing about making bracelets for someone else -- they are tough to fit if you don't know the recipient's wrist circumference.  After some discussion, we decided to make a variety of sizes, and Mary will have the girls try them on and swap if they need to have a better fitting bracelet.  Also, making them using stretchy cord will help.
This size fits me -- and I have a large wrist!
Mary selected silver crosses and infinity symbols embedded with clear pave crystals.  Then she picked out tanzanite-colored Preciosa crystal beads to coordinate with the bridesmaids' dresses. Her flower girl's bracelet is in pink pave crystal with clear Swarovski crystal.  The bracelets were strung on .7mm Stretch Magic elastic cord.  I incorporated two silver-plated 4mm round beads to cover the knots.     

Together, I think Mary and I created a beautiful, D-I-Y gift that the girls will enjoy.  And we did it for about $4.15 each -- half the cost of purchasing them through Etsy.

That's D-I-Y done right!    

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A One-of-a-kind Graduation Gift

Whew!  I was finally able to scratch something off of my 'to-do' list last night!!

At the beginning of May, a sewing client for whom I had previously made two t-shirt blankets called me to ask if I could make another.  Her oldest daughter is graduating from high school tomorrow, and she had been saving t-shirts from her daughter's teams, trips and favorite places for a while. She wanted them turned into a t-shirt blanket that can be used as a dorm bedspread next fall at Penn State.
Piles of t-shirts, waiting to be made into a blanket1
I've made a number of t-shirt blankets over the years, and I have it down to a science.  A smaller throw of 24 shirts (4 across and 6 down) takes me about 10 hours of work.  Of course, more shirts = more time.  Ellen had a pile of over 30 shirts, and she asked me to put a fleece border around the edges.  As we dug through the pile of tees, she pointed out those that were most important, and a few that I could utilize both the front and the back.

Some t-shirt quilt makers put fabric sashing between each block.  I prefer to sew 'shirt to shirt', cutting the blocks 12 1/2" square.  The blanket goes together quickly and makes for easier quilting.  I use polar fleece, sweatshirt fleece or soft 'minkee' fleece on the back, so I don't add batting between the layers.  This allows the quilting to be a bit more spread out than if I used batting.  I use Wrights double-fold fleece binding on the edges.
Pre-packaged binding makes finishing the blanket a breeze!
Of all of the tools in my sewing room, the one that really makes a difference on this project is my digital steam press.  The ironing surface is 9" by 22", and let's me fuse interfacing to the back of each t-shirt (to stablize it) in just two quick presses. What would take hours with a traditional iron takes just 50-60 minutes with the steam press.

My digital ironing press cost a little less than $100 on-line, but saves me hours of time!
So, after trimming, fusing and cutting down each block to 12 1/2", I lay them out into rows and sew them together.  Then I layer the backing fabric with the quilt top, and pin it all over with large safety pins. I use fabric marking pencils or chalk to draw my quilting lines.  Usually, I quilt an "X" through the center of each shirt.  Once the quilting is finished, I stitch around the edges of the quilt top, trim away the excess backing fabric, and apply the binding.

Ta-da!  Here's the finished product!

A one-of-a-kind graduation gift!
As I was preparing the invoice for Ellen, I did a little on-line research into what others charge for a custom made t-shirt quilt.  They range from $230 to $415 for a 24-shirt quilt.  For that size, I charge $200 for labor, plus the cost of materials, which can run up to $75.  Larger 35-shirt quilts run from $329 to $600.  My research gave me some great ideas on how price my work according to the number of shirts involved, as I realized it does take more time to prep and handle those additional 11 tees.
So, one thing has been scratched off my list...hoping to get two or three more finished by the weekend!

Happy sewing!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Waltzing with Bears

When my children were little, we liked to sing and dance to "Waltzing with Bears," a funny little song by Seamus Kennedy.  He tells the tale about 'Old Uncle Walter' who slips out at night and goes dancing with 'raggy bears, shaggy bears, baggy bears, too.'  If you haven't heard it before, you can listen here:

I spent last Saturday doing my own waltz with bears.
A teddy bear made by my friend Martha.
Vitas, a hospice located in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, has asked members of my American Sewing Guild chapter to help with a special sewing project:  when a person in hospice care has died, the family can request that teddy bears be made from their loved one's clothing as a keepsake.  I've volunteered for this sewing service project a few times, and a group of us got together to sew over the weekend.

These teddies aren't hard to make.  We use a McCall's Crafts pattern by Carol's Zoo.  It has only two pattern pieces!

From cutting to sewing to stuffing, it takes no more than an hour and a half to complete a bear. We purchase  child-safe eyes and noses from Home Sew, a sewing and crafts supply company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (

Pinning the front to the back of the bear.

On this particular day, there were eight of us working on bears.  My hospice family wanted five bears, and provided two pairs of lounge pants and a shirt from which to make them.  We had enough fabric to cut out two small and three medium bears.

We got a good head start, but I did end of bringing them home to finish stuffing.

It's a simple project, and I'm happy that I can bring a little peace and comfort to someone who has lost a loved one.

ASG members hard at work at their machines.
I had an Uncle Walter when I was growing up...he died in 1978.  He was a professional photographer and I'm lucky to have some of his photos and a keepsake ring to remind me of him.

Hope you like raggy bears, shaggy bears and baggy bears, too!

P.S.  I've been working on about five things at dress for my son's upcoming wedding, a gift for him and his future wife, a t-shirt quilt for a client, developing classes for the Bead Garden, and in the midst of all of this, my d.h. and I decided to totally re-do our bedroom!  Watch for future posts on these and other projects!