Upcycling is the New Black

Upcycling is suddenly very trendy, but the only thing new about the practice is the term. It’s been around as long as there have been resourceful men and women trying to stretch the budget. All it is, really, is using materials scavenged from old or worn-out items and turning them into something new, wonderful and, above all, useful.

A few examples include memory quilts constructed from worn-out clothing, rugs crocheted using plastic bags or old bedding, or a new sweater made from the yarn of an old sweater. It’s cost-effective, good for the planet and very satisfying. And a patched pair of pants doesn’t have to scream “hobo”.

All it really takes are a few basic skills and the ability to see the worth in what we normally consider refuse. Our grandmothers had this ability, but we’re losing sight of it in a world of dirt-cheap off-the-rack clothing that only lasts a season before falling apart. Upcycling provides an opportunity to be stylish without being wasteful.

Image source: http://www1.bloomingdales.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=527250

This pencil skirt has the subtle but very stylish detail of small ruffle at the hem, which is surprisingly simple to add to a ready-made skirt. The ruffle can be pleated or gathered and made from any type of fabric, ribbon or lace that strikes your fancy. This look is achieved with doubled-over satin or wide gross-grain ribbon and would also look great in a contrasting colour.

Image source: http://0.tqn.com/d/fashion/1/7/y/H/3/84784204_10.jpg

Maybe you don’t need a chartreuse cocktail dress, but this appliqued lace technique would look equally stunning on pants, a summer skirt, or even a T-shirt.

Image source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_SL_0nRXESpk/TS41qBfqh2I/AAAAAAAAAZo/7hTLRXRNIjU/s1600/tria+ruffle+hem+closeup.jpg

This double ruffle in contrasting colours is visually stunning and can add a feminine detail to a tailored skirt.

Image source: http://ancien-nouveau.blogspot.com/2010/07/pleatsmock-detail.html

This tuck pleating swatch is such a perfect example of a designer detail, I had to include it. How pretty this would look at the hemline of a skirt or as vertical inserts on a shirt, or anywhere else your imagination takes you.

During my internet search for inspiration, I’ve also discovered the unexpected benefit of finding some great blogs that are creative, informative and entertaining. The above image was taken from Ancien-Nouveau, a blog about sewing and vintage patterns – right up my alley!

Pillows! Pillows! Pillows!

Sewing Classes in the Junction have begun in the Pitter Potter Workshop (as my Facebook friends are well aware). I’ve had two inspiring classes so far and I’m jazzed about the creativity-filled summer that lies ahead. I’ll be posting new workshops regularly, so check back often. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, send me an email and I’ll be happy to discuss your project idea with you – probably create a workshop around it.

Pillows! Pillows! Pillows!
This Tuesday, May 17 from 7-9pm we’re making pillow covers. The class cost is $25 plus materials. Sign up for 4 or more classes for $80 and save $5 a class. Click here to register.

What You Will Need

  1. A pillow form – these can be purchased at most fabric and craft stores, or give an old pillow a make-over
  2. Fabric – probably no more than half a meter total, but double check the dimensions of your pillow form. Also check your design to see how many contrasting fabrics you will need.
  3. Matching thread
  4. Notions – Check the design for extras like ribbon, buttons, tassles or fringe
  5. A zipper or velcro, if you want to be able to remove the cover and wash it. The length of the zipper or velcro should run the length of one side of the pillow.


  • Look around the house for fabric that you can use. Got an old table cloth with a stain? A bedspread? A skirt? These can be upcyled into a pillow cover. Or check thrift stores for curtains, dresses, table cloths or bedspreads with cool fabric.
  • Got the shopping bug? Take your pillow form, a measuring tape and the picture you’ve decided on with you and ask a salesperson for help. That’s what they’re there for.

Below are some examples of what you can do. Not what you’re looking for? Go to Google Images and seach on “throw pillows” (that’s what I did) and get inspired!

This pillow is all one colour, with a matching ribbon and button treatment. You can either purchase the ribbon separately, or buy a smidge extra fabric to construct a band.

These pillows feature bold graphic felt details. Felt generally comes in 12” squares. One square of each colour will be give you enough, in addition to your base colours of whatever fabric you choose. Plain is best, and make sure to choose something with some weight.

You do can a lot with braid, buttons or trim (maybe not necessarily a Western theme?) and a cool pattern (maybe not necessarily a cow print?). The pillow on the right uses three fabrics and a button.

The bands are woven into an intricate pattern and secured in the side seams. The bands can either constructed from fabric or ribbon. There are 20 bands in total, mostly about the width of the pillow. They can either match the pillow or contrast with it if you’d like the design to stand out more.

Sometimes simple is best. These elegant pillows are made from raw silk and embellished with an applique and buttons.

How about a splash of eye-popping colour? The button treatment adds texture to the plain fabric.

April is the cruellest month, but March was most perilous

Update on the seedlings we planted over a month ago…

In March, we installed a new pot hanger in the kitchen underneath the sky lights. The hanger has a shelf that is perfect for plant flats. Unfortunately, the hooks my man used to anchor it to the ceiling didn’t have the stamina for the combined weight of pots, pans and plants, and the whole shebang came crashing down in the middle of the night.

Time-release booby traps are my man’s specialty.

Miraculously, no one was smote and the seeds were undisturbed, except for losing some soil. So far we have tomatoes, cucumber, foxglove, green beans, morning glories, sunflowers and a couple of other things that I can’t quite recall. We’ve lost a few plants to damping off and there is an odd mould growing on the soil surface, despite the fan we set up to prevent this. Part of the problem with lofting plants is that if they’re not at eye level, it’s easy to assume they’re doing just fine. My kingdom for a cold frame that I don’t have to climb a ladder to get to. I have read about sterilizing the soil ahead of time by baking it in the oven, but really. I work. Who has time for that?

We’re now firmly in the cruellest month. The sun is warm on the cheeks if the wind and rain bugger off long enough. The first flowers are in bloom, but snow, freezing rain and frost are still distinct possibilities. Last Saturday was absolutely glorious – and, I had to work. Sunday, my day off, it rained. All week long? Beautiful. This weekend? Cold and rainy. April is the cruellest month, but I’ll take it over March any time.

Coming soon:
The day The Enchilada developed a split personality…

Spring Solstice Sacrifice

I’ve been wanting to start seeds for a couple of weeks now. It’s time. But, every year I have certain trepidations about creating life only to destroy it. Every year, I go through this exercise. I plant seeds, following instructions to the letter, only to watch the baby plants wither and die a few weeks later. Aside from the waste of time and money (two massive peeves for me), I am just not in the Shiva headspace. That, and I’m finding myself dancing around notions of the future, aging and death with my three year old, who just wants answers. A mass extinction of his plants would be less than ideal.

I’m not new to starting seeds indoors. I’ve been doing that home-gardening tango of hope, regret and failure for 10 years now: I’ve had trouble with damping off, over watering, under watering, temperature control, expired seeds and just plain hard-to-start seeds. Neither am I new to spring in Toronto, when the most squirrelly people tend to get even more squirrelly. And they ALL love me. There are a million diversions throughout springtime in Toronto to keep the most well-meaning from tending to their plants, and then there’s the bizarro shit I encounter when all I want to do is go home. I don’t know, maybe the Shiva vibe would actually help me combat that out-an-out weirdness.

Each year, I learn from the previous year’s horticultural mistakes and vow not to let life’s random acts of WTF was that? distract me from my leafy little lambs only to encounter some other issue that spells fatality for my plants. Just like we need to breathe, plants need to grow, right?

Sure they do, but I suspect they would really like it if I would stop trying to help.

Last year’s mass herbicide was the perfect storm of baking in an oven of a greenhouse and utter neglect.

My man had built a new garden shed that included a top-shelf cold frame with lovely, old, paned windows on hinges in the place of doors and a clear plastic roof. Attractive and useful, just like its designer. Also, much like the designer, utterly maddening to navigate. About this time last year, a few weeks after quitting my stupidly stressful job, I was still feeling chewed up and spit out, and nursing an injured back. I decided to ignore my usual misgivings and plant seeds to boost my spirits. When it came time to move the trays outside into the cold frame, a major problem presented itself the first time I attempted to water my tender seedlings.

Here’s how it went down:

In order to reach the trays, I climbed onto a rickety stool. The lovely old windows are hinged at the top, so they swing up and open, which means you have to hold it open to get at anything on the shelf. With one hand holding on for dear life and the other one hefting a 5-gallon watering can, that left my head to prop the window open. In this pose, I then had to twist and stretch with a 5-gallon weight at the end of my arm to reach the trays.

My whole house is full of design treasures like this. Hmm. I wonder why my back hurts.

So, this week, trying not to think of last year’s poor seedlings that died of thirst scant feet from the their own little Eden, I climbed on the stool to take stock of supplies, then drove with my son to the garden centre. All we really needed was No-Damp, a fungicide that keeps seedlings from “damping off” – succumbing to an invisible killer fungi. At Home Depot, we were told they no longer carried the product and had nothing to replace it. At Plant World, I got a little more information – they don’t make it anymore. I panicked. To the sales associate who delivered the death knell, I said, “I better not plant then, because they will die.” Then I remembered my son, pulled back on the melodrama and thanked the very helpful associate.

We planted all of our seeds and had a lovely time doing it. We made a hell of a mess and the mess remains because we had trains that needed playing with after we were done with the seeds. My son checks every couple of hours for progress and is disappointed every time even though I’ve explained it takes at least a week for anything to happen. I am doubt-ridden about the viability of our efforts, but I have decided to be more creator than destroyer. I have a back-up plan.

Simpl●City Defined

Some days, I nurture a vision of a simpler life. You’ve had those days — someone cuts in front of you at the store, the dick behind you on the highway is in way too much of a hurry, the server crashes just as you are trying to finish a certain really imperative project on your last day before a long weekend. The vision is simplicity itself: some remote acreage with a sparsely furnished old house, a workshop and a vast garden. Not too far from town, but a long, long way from the city. A small laptop. A pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for each day of the week. A local farmer’s market. Writing, painting and sewing in the winter. Writing, painting and gardening in the summer. Sustainable living on every level – no city traffic, no office politics, no keeping up with the Joneses. Minimize my ecological footprint. That’s the vision on those days.

On other days, when I’ve had a giggle over a pint, or a lively conversation at work, or I’ve just been to see an old friend in a play, that vision just doesn’t have the same allure. Certain details are different. My hair is gray. The acreage has loads of weeds. Instead of jeans, I’m wearing sweat pants. And my back is killing me.

Let’s face it, the wholesome country life just doesn’t quite jive with my personality. As much as the crowds of the city drive me mad, I love the diversity. The morning and evening commutes can be harrowing, but they’re also my twice daily opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. My house is small, but I can clean it in an hour (as long as I’m really focussed). My teeny garden is surrounded by tall fences, but it has flowers, herbs and vegetables, plus a chicken coop, a pond and a mural of the forest.

I live in Simpl●City.