Do You Upcycle?

I tried my first upcycling project recently, and it came out pretty well.

Through the magic of upcycling, an old tablecloth becomes a dress for a garden party.

The fabric is 100% cotton in a rather dense weave, similar to duck. It doesn’t drape like an apparel cotton should, so I chose a very simple Japanese pattern book dress for it (see my my other blog, Sewing Japanese, if you want the deets on how I put this together).

It’s not that hard to think of fabric from an old garment or other source as potential “yardage” for something else. A tablecloth is really just border-print yardage hemmed all the way around, right? Not much of an “upcycle” for the truly committed.


OK, so how about this old bathrobe? I got this years ago at a Nordstrom Rack sale. It’s nice 100% cotton fabric, very well made. It’s simply worn out – a hole in the shoulder from close encounters with a hairbrush, a makeup stain that baffles soap, fraying belt and cuffs. I prepared to toss it in the trash. And then I thought… upcycle?

I think I can squeeze a pair of PJs out of it – shorts and a tank top kind of PJs. Or maybe a nightgown. Or maybe … who knows?

I’m not going to disassemble it but rather measure it up against pattern pieces from a TNT PJs pattern to see if I can make it work. I love the striped facing. I’m thinking I can use it to make a neckband and maybe cuffs or a drawstring for the waist. You can’t tell in the picture, but this also has a hood that offers potential if I get creative with seams. I can even (maybe) reuse the pockets.

So into the laundry it goes for a good cleaning and an assessment. Do you upcycle? I’d love to get more ideas.

Why Do My Darts Look Like Crap?

I’m working on MariaDemark’s Edith blouse. It’s a 50s-style fitted, button-up blouse with kimono sleeves. This blouse is a dart-lover’s dream – two big bust darts and two big fish-eye darts on the front that almost meet at the bust apex, and two small ones on the back shoulders.

Normally, darts don’t phase me. Some people are afraid of them. What’s the big deal? Beats me.


The darts on the right look pretty good. The darts on the left look awful – a C- in Home Ec at best. I ripped them out and resewed them. Same deal. What’s happening here? Does anyone have tips for how to get darts symmetrical?

The fabric is a poly crepe (this is a wearable muslin). It takes a press well and is easy to sew, but it seems to be fighting with me at the point. Do I need to cut a new left bodice and start over?

An Artist’s Date on the Linear Trail

This week’s Artist’s Date – solo adventures meant to inspire creativity – was to an old haunt of mine: a linear park perfect for walking, jogging, cycling and rollerblading.


I used to come here all the time. First, when I was dating my husband, we’d come here to rollerblade or bike. We did a lot of sporty outdoors stuff when we were wooing one another. Now, not so much.

Then, when I used to work at home a lot for my old job, I’d come here for a rollerblading workout after work or during my lunch break.

Over the years I’ve walked here with a pregnant friend, walked with her and her infant daughter in a stroller, walked my dog, and just walked.

The last time I was here was a couple of days after the US election when I was despondent about Donald Trump’s election victory. I wanted to go someplace where I could really think, alone. I am not a very political person. I became a political person that day.

The election encouraged a lot of soul-searching in me. I used to be a journalist, so while I am very well informed about the issues, I rarely have an opinion about them. I can see both sides, and I avoid getting caught up in day to day debates. I read widely, I always vote, but I don’t belong to a political party. Even though I have not been a journalist for years, I had always told myself that I should remain neutral in case I ever want to get into journalism again.

Who am I kidding?

I felt physically ill about Trump. I couldn’t sleep. I would think about him and my heart would race with anxiety. I had never had such a reaction in my life. I realized that I have been very fortunate in my life, selfish and privileged.  I realized I need to do more to share with others, to stand up for what I believe in, to educate myself about issues and speak my mind.

I have tried to do that. It’s hard and sometimes depressing. It’s easier just to avoid the newspaper and talk about fun things and laugh at the Trump impersonation on “Saturday Night Live.” But then reality sets in and I get angry and anxious again.

On my Artist’s Date yesterday I thought about this as I rollerbladed along. I have done several political things I have never done in my life. I marched in protests, wrote letters to congress members, donated money to political causes, signed petitions, and spoke out whenever I felt I should. I have alienated some relatives and a few friends, but I feel good overall. It’s time to pick sides.

I also thought yesterday about what to do next. I am going to give a speech about civil liberties, which have been under siege under Trump. I crafted out the speech in my mind, and next I need to write it and practice it. I’ll give the speech before an audience at my Toastmasters club later this month. It’s my way of informing people, giving back and letting people know where I stand.

The Artist’s Date has been an excellent boost to my thought processes and desires for action so far. Where should I go next week?

Consigning the Past

Skirts a size too small. Blouses from a vacation shopping spree that made sense on vacation, but not in my real life. A belt that goes with nothing I own. A dress from a brief attempt to dress more “edgy.” A yellow trenchcoat I am sick of looking at. A handbag from eBay that looked great on a screen but was not so great in person. Really expensive jeans I did not want to part with, even though they do not fit anymore.

That’s part of the haul I brought to a favorite consignment shop today, in hopes of getting some of the money back that I have wasted, and to pass along things that are in good shape that I don’t want anymore. Altogether, I brought 20 items to consign, which is the limit the shop will consider from each consigner for each season.

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I am proud to say (although it’s a dubious distinction) hat only one item still had the tag on it – a drape-neck tank top I got on vacation last summer. I thought I could wear it to work, but it didn’t go with my work-wear. I thought I’d wear it on weekends, but it hung in the closet all summer. So out it goes.

The jeans pain me the most – three pairs of Hudson jeans, which are very expensive. I bought them after I lost 60 pounds several years ago. I treated myself to designer jeans and all kinds of other things I always wanted but never wore. I have gained about 15 pounds back and the jeans don’t fit. I am tired of telling myself I will lose that 15 pounds and get back into them. Today I told myself to stop playing games. If I do lose the weight, I will buy new jeans.

I am astonished that I remember the origins of all these garments:

  • A pink princess-seam button-up blouse from Chico’s. My mom loves Chicos, so I take her when she visits. I bought this blouse because it was on sale and seemed like a staple, but I just never liked it.
  • A sleeveless dress in lightweight denim, with a snakeskin print panel, that Stitch Fix sent me two years ago. I am soooo not this person, try as I might.
  • Other Stitch Fix items that I don’t want anymore: a green polyester blouse with a bird motif (cute but cheap, wore it a lot and tired of it), a blue and white ikat print tank top (awkward and cheap, wore a couple of times), a multicolored tank top (liked this a lot, but tired of it now).
  • Two skirts from the Boden catalog that I bought for a business trip to the UK four years ago. I wanted to have a bit of British in my look for the trip. The skirts are good quality and I wore them a lot, but I am tired of them.
  • White jeans. I am too young to do the “white pants in summer” look – revisit when I am 60.
  • Two Splendid T-shirts that look nice but wrinkle very easily, making them too high-maintenance to bother with.
  • An adorable Splendid button-up shirt in a zebra print. Too tight in the arms.
  • A black pencil skirt in summerweight boucle that I got at Nordstrom a few years ago. I wish this fit.
  • A Theory blazer that always was a little short and stuck out in the back.
  • A Calvin Klein tank top that I bought two years ago when I started my current job. Wore it quite a bit and sick of it.

The moral of this story is that I should only buy things that I love. About a third of the items I’m consigning are things I never liked that much or didn’t really have a use for. That’s bad – a waste of money and a waste of time for me.

Another moral is to buy quality items. The things I am getting rid of because I am sick of them are still in very good condition because of the quality – linings, good fabrics and other details that have held up.

The final moral is to keep one size of clothing in the closet. Things that don’t fit are not worth the bother. They depress me when I see them hanging there, rebuking me when their smaller sizes.

Me-Made Bottom of the Pile

As Me-Made May winds down, I’m posting about a few… Ahem… Less successful makes.

This cardigan is from New Look 6330.

The pattern is cute. It has a fit and flare cut with an interesting double loop front closure. I wore it to work quite often when it was new, last spring.

Time had not been kind. The fabric got stretched out and faded quite a bit. One of the loop closures got lost in the wash. And since I was new to sewing knits at the time, I didn’t do as good a job as I should have on the front band.

So, New Look 6330, you’re relegated to home office only. I’d like to make another with better fabric and better construction.

Me-Made in Marigold

As Me-Made May winds down, I’m repeating garments from earlier in the month. I’m also reaching into the recesses of the closet for some less-popular items. Like these marigold linen clamdiggers:

These are the Bermuda Shorts with Cuffs from Happy Homemade See Chic. I lengthened them to clamdiggers – wide-leg trousers you wear when wading in the mud flats for clams. 

I like the cuffs and the fit on these. I don’t like the elastic waist, and I wish they had pockets. The pattern called for wide belt loops, which helps, but still I always wear these with an untucked top. I made these out of linen that had been in my stash forever. I keep meaning to make another pair out of a more sensible color.

An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop

I found a bit of my grandmother this week during my Artist’s Date. As recommended in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, people looking to develop their artistic muscles should go Artist’s Dates – weekly solo adventures to seek connection and inspiration. I headed to a vintage shop to look over things from estate sales, with special hope of finding cool vintage clothing, textiles and sewing supplies.

As I rummaged through a bin of buttons, I spotted a set of pearly pink oval buttons. Then I spotted another set. And another. Then I saw a set of the same buttons, a bit larger. I pulled them all together for a better look:


Seven sets in all – 10 smaller buttons and four larger ones. Clearly, some woman not too long ago had bought all these buttons, intended for a special project. Based on the number and size of the buttons, I’d guess she bought the small buttons for a shirt dress and the larger ones for a matching jacket.

My grandmother used to wear such ensembles to church. I have a few of her sewing patterns from the late 1960s, and you can see the basic look, although these are simple no-button jackets and zip-back shift dresses:


These buttons were pricey originally, so I imagine the woman who bought them had special plans for them that were never fulfilled.

Also, that pearly pink finish spoke to me. My grandmother’s favorite color was pink. She had pearly pink tiles in her kitchen and bathroom. She would have loved these buttons.

I didn’t buy them, because I can’t imagine using them. I was tempted to buy one set, just to have. But then I thought it was better to keep them all together. I hope they find a home – and a worthy project – someday.