Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drawstring Backpack Tutorial

A good friend of mine has a daughter who is turns three today! Her birthday party tonight is themed around the birthday girl's latest love, the zoo. When I found some cute "Noah's Ark" fabric, I decided to use it to make Lucy a drawstring backpack. 

Here's the tutorial to make your own drawstring backpack:

You need about a half yard of material and a cord of some kind for the straps. I used a pair of 45-inch shoelaces for my straps (which are the perfect size for a small child's backpack).

You can cut your fabric in one of two ways. One way is to cut two separate pieces for the front and back of your backpack, each 16 inches wide and 18 inches long. The other way is to cut one long piece of fabric, 16 inches wide and 36 inches long. The only real difference is that you will eventually fold the one long piece of fabric over so that the bottom edge of the backpack is creased, not sewn.

Next, iron the 18-inch (or 36-inch) sides with one-inch folds.

Then, iron the 16-inch edges with two-inch folds. If you have two separate pieces of fabric, the top edge should be ironed with two-inch folds, and the bottom edge can be ironed with a one-inch fold, like the sides.

Fold the two-inch folded edges a second time. You are now creating the top opening of your drawstring bag. Sew along the edges of the first folds in order to create tubes.

Now that the top edges are finished, just pin the sides of the bag. You need to add the drawstring cords before you sew up the sides.

There are a couple of tricks you can use to thread the cord through the tubes. If you use shoelaces, like I did, the stiff ends are already easy to push through the fabric with your fingers. A soft-ended cord needs a little help. You can either wrap tape of some kind around the end to make it stiff, or you can stick a safety pin into the end. Either way, your fingers will now have something sturdy to grab on to.

After you finish pushing the cord through one tube, you need to loop the cord around and enter the other tube. This means that your cord ends will enter and exit the same side of your backpack.

For the second cord, start threading the tubes on the opposite end of the first cord (same place as the loop). Like the first cord, the ends of the second cord should enter and exit the same side of the backpack.

With the backpack still inside out, pull the ends of one cord inside the backpack (though the opening at the top). Then grab the ends of the cord and make them stick out of the bottom corners of the bag. Pin the fabric so that the cord ends stay put.

Now it's time to sew the side of the bag. Be careful to not sew the tubes shut at the top of the back. Your side seams need to end just below the tubes. At the bottom, your seam should go over the ends of the cords that are sticking out.

Complete the same procedure for the other side of the bag: tuck in the cords, pin the ends at the bottom, sew up the sides.  If you have two separate pieces of cloth,  you also need to sew the bottom of the bag at this time.

Finally, turn the bag right-side out, and close the drawstring. Your backpack is ready for wearing, anywhere and everywhere you go (even the zoo!). Happy Birthday, Lucy!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Thrift Store Makeover: High Chair Edition

My husband and I recently struck gold at our local thrift shop. We brought home several baby items for just a fraction of their retail cost. I was especially happy to find this sturdy (and clean!) $2 highchair that clamps onto a table. It reminds me of the one my parents used for my sister and I in the 80's! It takes up so much less space than those huge free-standing highchairs. Unfortunately, the lovely vinyl teddy bear decor wasn't quite cutting it for me. So, I made a slipcover! I made it completely out of materials I already had at home. I love that I can take it off to throw in the washer. It's even reversible, so I can switch up the color if I want.

Here's how I did it:

I started by tracing the seat and back of the highchair onto a brown paper bag. I used this "pattern" to cut my fabric: four seat pieces, four back pieces, and a few strips for the front and top edges. I'm glad that I remembered to cut my pieces slightly larger than the paper bags. The seams that attach the pieces to each other will "shrink" your design.

Starting with the seat cover, I sewed the matching seat pieces to their matching strips. With the "right" sides facing each other, I tucked one seat fabric inside the other, sewed them together, and turned them right-side out.

You can see from the top left picture above how this seat cover will sandwich the original chair. Next, I pinned the loose-fitting fabric in place so that the seams I just sewed were pressed right up to the outside edge. Because my sewing machine couldn't quite maneuver the tight corners connecting the seat pieces to the strip, I had to do a little hand sewing before moving on.

When I first started this project, I wasn't quite sure how I would attach the slipcover to the seat. Should I use ribbons that tie in little bows? Should I use Velcro? I ended up sewing buttons onto both sides of each corner of the cover (a total of eight buttons - four on the denim side, and four on the checkerboard side). Then I used small hair ties (that were always annoyingly small for me anyways) to anchor the corners to each other.

It was then that I realized that I had forgotten to leave a hole for the little seat-belt strap. To solve this problem, I used a sharp precision knife to cut a slit in the center of my front strip. In an effort to keep this opening from unraveling, I finished off the edge with a hand-sewn blanket stitch. I'll have to wait and see how this holds up with use.

To make the cover for the back of the seat, I first sewed my two corresponding fabric pieces together, and checked the sizing. Satisfied, I put them together, sewed them up inside-out, and then turned them out the right way. Before running a seam around the entire outside edge, I had to make a cut-out for the back. I knew that I wouldn't want to take off the cover every time we have to move the seat, so we need easy access to the part that tightens the clamp to a table.

After making a vertical cut to my desired height, I cut a "V" at the top of the vertical line. This "V" allowed me to tuck in the raw edges. I pinned the fabric in place, checked my work on the actual seat, and then sewed the outside edges around the entire back cover.

Finally, I added the buttons to all the corners and added my hair ties. Done!

Showing off his newly discovered tongue!
And here's Jadon sitting in the seat! Since he's nearly six months old, we've been sitting him in it while we eat dinner for the last week. He loves to study us putting food in our mouths, and he'll even mimic our chewing motions. Soon, he'll get to enjoy "big people food" of his own!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pinterest Project: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Since I've already tried (and loved!) making homemade cleaning solutions for glass, wood, and other surfaces, I feel like I'm willing to put any homemade product to the test. My family recently ran out of store-bought laundry detergent, so I decided to replace it with a homemade version. I found a recipe from this website through Pinterest. Not only did it seem easy to make, but the author claims that this mix will last a whole year (at four loads of laundry a week)! The recipe cost the author about $28, but included optional ingredients. Being the frugal gal that I am, I decided to test the recipe without the optional ingredients to see if they are really necessary for my family's needs.

My "essentials" recipe consists of four ingredients, which cost me a total of $11.34:

  1. 1 (4 lb 12 oz) Box of Borax- Found in the detergent aisle
  2. 1 (3 lb 7 oz) Box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda- Found in the detergent aisle
  3. 2 (14.1 oz) Bars of Zote Soap- Found in the detergent aisle
  4. 2 (2 lb) Box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda- Found in the cooking aisle 

The optional ingredients that I chose not to include are OxyClean and fabric softener crystals. I figure that I can add these on an as-needed basis. You will also need a large bucket for mixing your ingredients, and a tool for grating.

There are really only two steps for creating this laundry detergent. First, you have to grate the bar of Zote Soap.

Grating the soap was by far the hardest and most time-consuming part of this process. Even though the website claims that you could use a food processor for this task, I decided to go at it by hand. I wanted to avoid the hassle of cleaning out the processor, mostly because I didn't know how hard it would be to get all the soap off. I really didn't want soapy food in the future. So, in an effort to make grating by hand easier, I tried slicing the bar into manageable-sized chunks. I even periodically cleaned the blades of our hand-cranked grater in order to keep the little holes from gunking up.

By the end, my hands were so tired of grating that I couldn't finish the final chunk of soap without having to take a break. But, seeing as I was impatient to start mixing, I called on Jon to do the last little chunk. Next time, I may brave the food processor because the soap wasn't that hard to get off.

The second and only other step is mixing all your ingredients. I sat on my kitchen floor to do this part. The author of the original recipe recommended adding ingredients in increments as you mix, which was a great tip. It would have been difficult to evenly distribute all the parts if I dumped all of each ingredient in before mixing.

The consistency reminds me of a cake mix with coconut flakes in it.
I've used my new detergent for a week now, and I'm very happy with the results. Even without the extra ingredients, my laundry feels soft and smells great. I don't know if I'll ever go back to store-bought detergents since this homemade version is so cheap!

Now if only I knew it was safe for cloth diapers! I may have to do a test-run in the future.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pinterest Project: Reuse Old Candle Jars

My apartment has a little window sill that separates the kitchen from the living room. I keep a collection of candles on it. Several candles have been burned to the end of their wicks. Naturally, I hated the idea of throwing the cool jars away, so I had to find a way to clean out the leftover wax. I found two methods on Pinterest and decided to try both.

One method is pouring boiling water into the jars, which melts the wax. The wax is supposed to float to the top of the water and then cool in an easy-to-remove layer. I chose two candles for trying this method.

Sure enough, the wax started to liquefy just moments after the boiling water was poured. I let the water cool overnight and found a nice layer of wax on top the next morning. However, there was still wax left at the bottom of both jars. Maybe this method is best for jars with very little wax left. As a side note, I discovered that my green jar was actually coated with a green waxy film in order to color the glass. Even with all the wax removed from the candle, the inside walls would still feel waxy, so I'm not sure if this candle jar is still useful to me. Maybe I'll use it to hold a homemade candle?

Another method for removing wax is to put the candle in the freezer. Frozen wax can be chipped out a lot easier than room-temperature wax. I found this method to be very effective. There were a few remnants of wax left inside the jar, so I decided to try the boiling water method to get the last bits off.

Not only did most of the wax bits float off of the previously frozen jars, but it took care of the remaining wax from one of the boiling water jars. I was expecting another thin layer of wax, and at least two more rounds of boiling water before this jar was completely clean. In fact, the layer of wax was so thick on top that it was hard to remove.

Now I have some cool free glass jars! I love the fact that some candles come with air-tight lids, too. I can't wait to find something to store in these.

Oh, and I saved the wax. Are you surprised? I just may have to make that homemade candle after all...