Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vera Bradley Bag Tutorial

I love Vera Bradley products, but I don't like how expensive they are. A few years ago, my mom gave me a Vera Bradley bag to use when I was interviewing for teaching jobs. This fall, when I found some adorable Mary Englebreit fabric on sale, I knew I had to make my mom something with it. I decided to try my hand at making my own Vera Bradely-style bag for her, using the one she gave me as a model.

My Vera Bradley bag has an adorable owl pattern.
The fabric for my mom's bag has cherries,
which reminds me of the old "Cherry Cafe" play kitchen
we had in our basement growing up.
Vera Bradley bags are always quilted. I had some leftover fleece to use for batting from the applique bird quilt I finished this summer. I cut the fleece first, then my fabric. I decided to make my mom's bag a little bigger than my own because, well, what woman can't use a little more room in her purse?

After cutting the fleece and fabric to size, I layered my back, batting, and front pieces together and pinned them in place. Then I sewed the layers together, following the convenient diagonal lines on the cherry fabric.

As I quilted, the layers shifted a little. This is another reason to cut your materials a little larger than your model; you may have to trim the edges as you go.

The purse my mom gave me has pockets of various sized on the inside. These are nice for holding your phone, pens, sunglasses, etc.

To make the pockets, I cut two corresponding pieces of fabric about half the height of the purse. I sewed them together along the top edge (inside out) so that (right-side out) the inner and outer fabric of the pocket would be presentable. I pinned my pocket to the inside face of one of my quilted pieces. Now it was time to sew the two sides of the purse together.

I'm used to sewing purses inside out so that all the seams are hidden behind the lining. But, following my model bag, I sewed the two quilted pieces together right-side out. Then, I turned the bag inside out and sewed the seam inside itself. This is the hardest step to describe. Hopefully, so you can see what I mean from the pictures below.

When you turn the bag right-side out again, the seam is hidden as it should be. Inside, you see a tiny roll of fabric along the inside side seams. I honestly didn't even notice this about my own bag until I was trying to imitate it. I would have thought that the roll would be annoying, but it's (insert British accent here) quite brillant actually.

When I turned the bag right-side out I was so bummed to see that one of my side seams had shifted so that the fabric pattern didn't flow. I am not a perfectionist, I am not a perfectionist, I am not a perfectionist...gah! That erks me so bad! I considered seam ripping, but ultimately decided against fixing it. After all, imperfections are what make homemade gifts endearing. Plus, my mom would be happy to see the product of all those pep-talks growing up. She used to keep me from beating myself up over little mistakes.

Looking at the nice, squared bottom of the bag, I could see that I had never constructed a base like this before (large frame above). I did my best to imitate what I saw, and I'm proud of the result. First, turned the bag inside out. Then, I bent the bottom corners of the bag inward to create a blunt edge (first and second small frames above). I pinned the corner down and saw that all the layers of fabric were really bulky (third frame). So, I simply trimmed off the excess bulk (fourth frame). Flipping the bag right-side out showed that I accomplished a very similar look to my model (fifth frame).

My Vera Bradley bag had a hard insert on the bottom so that the purse would maintain its shape. I made my insert out of a used pocket folder. I folded the stiff paper into thirds and sewed fabric around it so that one side would look really nice.

Laid at the bottom of the bottom of the bag, my insert covers the seams and messy bulky corners that I had to trim down. I love how it maintains the shape of the bottom of the bag.

Finally, I was ready for some finishing touches. I ironed long strips of fabric to make straps and to cover the open top edge of the bag.

Before I sewed the edging around the top, I tucked the straps underneath the inside face of the purse and pinned it in place. Then, I ran two seams all around the top edging, which also secured the straps in place.

And there you have it! A do-it-yourself Vera Bradley bag!

And since I'm not one to waste fabric, I got a new tablecoth out of the leftovers!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Teething Gadgets

When Jadon turned two months old, he started drooling a lot, and chewing on his hands. My only thought was, Can he possibly be teething already? I heard that kids didn't start teething until they're about six months old. Then, a friend told me that it's possible, though rare, for a baby to be born with teeth. Two months didn't sound too early after that!

"Smile, Jadon! No, get your hands out of your mouth..."
Jadon is now over three months old, and I still don't feel any nubs at this point. He continues to drool and chew like it's going out of style, so something must be shifting somewhere in there.

With teething on the horizon, I bought a few new teething gadgets that I've admired other moms using. First, I got Jadon an amber teething necklace. You might think that the necklace is for chewing, but these beads are not designed for Jadon's mouth. Apparently, amber can be used as a natural pain reliever when worn against skin.

Jadon, with his new necklace
I was a little skeptical at first, but I had several moms tell me how well they worked for their children. A quick google search will tell you how they are supposed to help. As the baby's body warms the resin (amber is technically not a stone), oils containing succinic acid are released and absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. Succinic acid is known to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Amber jewelry can be worn to help with many ailments, from teething to arthritis. I'm not sure how well this will work for Jadon, but I figure that it doesn't hurt to try.

I know that some people would never put a necklace of tiny beads on a baby because it sounds like a choking hazard. After seeing the necklace myself, I'm not nervous about Jadon wearing it. The necklace is "baby sized;" the strong, knotted cord does not stretch, and cannot fit over Jadon's chin. He's been wearing it for two weeks now, and hasn't even noticed it's there. I can't imagine the tough cord breaking, but if it did, only one bead would fall off. There is a knot separating each bead on the necklace to keep them all from falling off at once. And the beads are so small that they could be swallowed, but not close off the airway.

I also got some teething jewelry for me to wear. These pieces are meant to be chewed on. Another mom at my church showed me this necklace for her son to play with while sitting on her lap, or hanging out in the carrier. It's actually kind of soft and rubbery, though it looks like a hard piece of stone or metal from a distance. The materials are safe for babies and won't crumble in their tiny jaws of death. I liked that it could be worn with any outfit and actually look nice.

I did a little online shopping and found a Black Friday deal where a black necklace and black bracelet were each half off. So far, Jadon has enjoyed grasping the bracelet with both clumsy hands and shoving it into his mouth. The necklace is a little too hard for him to grasp at this time.

I don't know when these teeth will actually surface, but in the meantime, I'm preparing to let my drooling boy chew to his heart's content.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Quilt Underway!

My local thrift store sells leftover fabric. I stop by periodically to see if there's anything I'm interested in. I usually find something I can use, and it's so much cheaper than buying new. I hate it when the materials for making something costs more than buying the same item ready-made. Buying leftover fabric helps me keep my sewing projects affordable.

I recently found a bag of Christmas scraps for $2! I simply had to get it. I've always wanted to make a big, vibrant quilt with an assortment of beautiful, busy Christmas fabrics. This bag was exactly what I needed to get started!

Most of the scraps inside were exactly what I had hoped for. A few other pieces were just, um, unique...

Only in Wisconsin, I guess! these Christmas cows!

Before I started cutting, I spent a little time thinking about the quilt design I wanted to try. I've always made square or rectangle quilts. The only time I ventured outside this simple layout was with a blue jeans baby quilt for Jadon, and an applique bird quilt. But really, I was still sewing squares with added embellishments. I wanted to do something different with this quilt.

I referenced my "quilt mania" Pinterest board for some ideas. I was most attracted to the zig-zagging patterns in these quilts:


So, I decided to cut triangles. I cut four-inch squares that were then cut in half. As I cut, I sorted the fabrics into three piles: those that registered as "red" from distance, those that looked "green," and those that appeared "white."

I'm not sure if I'll need to get more fabric yet, but I had to start experimenting with my intended design. I want to arrange the triangles in such a way to create red, white, and green zigzags:

I'm hoping that this quilt will cover our queen-sized bed. What better way to transform our room at Christmas time than to cover the biggest item in the room in a beautiful red, white, and green spread? My goal is to complete the quilt by Christmas...a little gift to myself if I can pull it off!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mei Tai Baby Carrier Tutorial

Babywearing. It's exactly what it sounds like. You wear your baby. To some, it may sound a little stifling, carrying your baby with you everywhere, but I think it's incredibly freeing. Not only has babywearing given me my hands back, but Jadon is a much happier baby doing chores and activities with me, not just watching me.

I currently have three carriers, the Moby Wrap, the Baby K'Tan, and the Snugli. I like all of them for different reasons, and for different purposes.

Shortly after I fell in love with babywearing, I started searching for all kinds of baby carriers. The Mei Tai seemed to be a pretty popular choice for babywearers. It's made entirely of fabric, so naturally, I decided to make one.

I checked out several different tutorials, mostly found through Pinterest. Turns out, there are several variations of this carrier and many approaches to construction. For my Mei Tai, I combined elements and techniques from a few tutorials.

Pinterest inspiration

This carrier has to be made out of durable fabric with little to no stretch in it. I had several leftover scraps of red and black striped fabric that fit the bill. However, there wasn't quite enough for all the required pieces, so I found a complimentary fabric for the inside face of the straps. Even still, I had to sew some pieces of striped fabric in order to make the straps long enough. You'll see what I mean in the pictures.

Here's the tutorial of how I made my Mei Tai carrier:

First, I made my straps. The two shoulder straps are each 60 inches long, and the one waist strap is 90 inches long. They are all cut 4 inches wide. With the colored side facing in, I sewed seams up the long edges of the straps to create a tube. Then, I turned these tubes right-side out.

Setting the straps aside, I pulled out my pieces for the main body panel. These will go back-to-back, each cut 20 inches by 30 inches. I ironed the sides and bottoms so that there was a two inch fold. I didn't iron the top edge yet because I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it. As it turns out, I could have ironed it like the rest of the edges right away because I ended up ironing a two inch fold later on in construction.

Next, I took my long waist strap and centered it on the bottom of the body panel. I sandwiched it inside the two body panel pieces. After pinning all the layers in place, it was back to the sewing machine.

After tapering the ends, I made one continuous seam from one end of the waist strap to the other. Then, I turned the strap around and followed the opposite edge with another long, continuous seam. The waist strap was finished off with a reinforcing "x" in the corners of the body panel.

The arm straps were attached to the body panel on an angle, about 45 degrees. The arm straps each intersected with the edge of the body panel 4.5 and 12 inches from the top of the body panel. I sandwiched the straps in between the body pieces and pinned the layers in place.

Before heading back to the sewing machine, I ironed a two-inch hem along the top edge of the body panel. If I were to make another Mei Tai, I would have made this hem earlier in the process. Then, I followed the edge of the body panel with a seam which sewed the arm straps in place. I crossed over onto the body panel about a half inch to reinforce the straps' attachment.

Some Mei Tai carriers have a flap at the top that can be used to support a sleeping baby's head. I decided to include one on my carrier because Jadon falls asleep in the wraps I own all the time. In order to hold the head flap in place, you have to tie the corners of the flap to the shoulder straps when they are in use. I made my tie chords by folding in the edges of a long strip of fabric and zig-zagging it in place. I decided not to attach the chords because Jadon isn't tall enough to need them yet.

There are three ways to carry a child using a Mei Tai. As Jadon is only about three months old, he's not quite big enough for the "hip" or "backpack" carry yet. Here's me and my cutie doing the "face in" carry:

I love my Mei Tai!

*Update! I made another Mei Tai (with some improvements) a few months later. Check it out! Mei Tai, Take Two...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Handmade Gifts for Men

I have never attended a Black Friday sale. Maybe I really am missing out on the greatest deals of the year. Maybe I'm also missing out of a headache.

I've always loved making gifts for people. I enjoy the creative process, saving a little money, and putting thought into a custom gift. However, it is so much easier to make gifts for women and children. I find myself typing "DIY gifts for men," "handmade gifts for men," or "homemade gifts for men" into Google every holiday season. Whether it's intended for my dad, brothers, husband, or male friends, men are just plain difficult to make gifts for.

I think I have successfully pulled off several gifts for my husband over the years, though.  I thought I might play "show-and-tell" with the crafty people out there looking for some gift ideas for the men in their lives.

T-shirt quilt. Jon had a lot of t-shirts left over from an electrical company he used to work for. He was going to throw them away, but I rescued them. One side is just t-shirts, and the other side is a soft fleece fabric. It's the perfect blanket for bringing on trips or picnics since it folds up so flat. Jon especially likes that I made it so long, since he's tall.

Sweater scarf. I made this scarf by buying wool sweaters at a thrift store, felting them, cutting them into little squares, and piecing them into a scarf. It's incredibly warm. You could make mittens or a hat to go along with it.

Embroidered handkerchiefs. Back in the days when we'd go swing dancing twice a week (wow, those were pre-baby days!), Jon was always searching for napkins to wipe his glistening forehead in between dances. I replaced the napkins with a set of four handkerchiefs that I embroidered with his initials.

Honeymoon memory frame. I was saving all these little mementos from our honeymoon: train tickets to New York City, postcards, restaurant advertisements, Broadway ticket stubs, etc. I finally decided to take them out of the box where we never looked at them to display in a simple frame. You could make a nice collage of any life event or vacation mementos.

Man apron. Jon is quite the cook. When we were dating, I asked him what his dream apron would have (I know, subtle, right?). Little did he know, he'd be receiving it for Christmas that year. Not only does it have pockets, it also has a Velcro tie, and little "tool belt" loops for utensils (all on his "dream apron" list!).

I still haven't decided what I'm going to make Jon this year. And guess who else is still on my list: my two brothers and my sister's new fiance. How typical of me, saving the men for last. Maybe there's a few more people like me out there who are spending Black Friday at home. I want to spend some of the day on Christmas gifts. I've got a few ideas to get me started. What gifts have you made for men that were a hit? There's enough time for us to finish a project if we get started soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pinterest Project: Crocheted Yoda Hat Tutorial

My most recent crochet challenge was a Yoda hat for the one-year old son of a friend. I found a picture of a Yoda hat on Pinterest to use as a model. My friend approved of the picture, and I got to work.

My Pinterest inspiration
The basic hat form was quick and simple. The ears were another story. How was I going to get these trademark ears to stick out so that people could tell that it's Yoda?

Pinterest saved the day again! I remembered recently posting a picture on my "yarn yarn yarn" board that I thought was really clever. Someone shared a photo showing how they got crocheted bunny ears to stand up: pipe cleaners!

Crochet pipe cleaners along the edge of the ears! Genius!
I had to try the idea on my Yoda ears.

I started by tying the corners of my ears to the pipe cleaner to anchor them down.

Then I crocheted the edge of the ears, making sure to cover the pipe cleaner completely.

Next, I wound the ends of the pipe cleaners together to create a strong base. This is the side I would attach to the hat.

Completed Yoda ear!
I attached the ears last night. Jadon had no idea that he would become a model this morning! It looks big on him, but it is for a kid who's more than one year older, after all.

"When two months old you reach, look as good, you will not, hmmm?"