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.

A winter’s afternoon

Last year for Christmas, I treated myself to a knitting machine I found on craigslist for $50. It’s an antique from the 80s that was still in its original box and had obviously never been opened. Just like new. It took a little while and plenty of cursing to get the hang of it. A year later I am by no means an expert, but with every project, I learn something.

The first thing I attempted to make was a shrug. I’ve worn it once and, besides looking ridiculous, it is easily the most uncomfortable sweater I have ever donned. It’s now in my knitting basket, waiting to be frogged – torn apart to use the yarn for something else. My next project was a pair of red pants with a fair-isle motif. I know…knitted pants? The concept was too crazy not to try it. The motif was so frustrating and time consuming, that I gave up and it only goes part way around one cuff. Then, I ran out of yarn and have not been able to find more, especially since the department stores have all either closed or totally down-sized their craft sections. Curse you Zellers and Wal-Mart for forsaking the knitters! The pants are also waiting to be frogged.

But I do not give up easily.

I turned to projects for my son, who is significantly smaller than me – less time and less yarn. I’ve made him two sweaters and a large blanket for his bed. Now it’s my turn again.

I spent Sunday afternoon knitting. I started a new project with the mountain of leftover wool from the blanket project. (Yes, I overestimated, but I didn’t run out this time, did I?) So, based on the difficulty level (intermediate) and the fact that I had to get on the internet to find missing instructions, I calculated a 4-week timeframe.

As it turns out, I was able to finish the front, the back and the sleeves in an afternoon – by hand, that would take me months, if not years. If it looks terrible, I’ll rip it out and use the yarn for another project. No big deal because I only invested a couple of afternoons of my time. This is why I love my machine.

My man, on the other hand, hates my knitting machine. It’s loud and clackety and my projects take up the whole dining room table. It’s also insanely addictive and I tend to be obsessed with a project until it’s finished. In fact, I had to give myself a stern talking-to today to get online and post something – and what am I writing about? Yep, I’m obsessed. But that will pass once I finish this project and find something else to try.

I haven’t forgotten about the century farm house. It’s on my mind – it would be great to have my own workshop so I could clack away to my heart’s content without having to hear my boys complain about it, but I can’t let ‘wouldn’t it be great’ distract me from my daily life. Besides, I just spent a January afternoon doing what cold winter afternoons are meant for – right where I am (which is also within walking distance of the grocery store, a pub and a ton of restaurants – not sure I’m ready to leave that behind). When I was getting ready to finish up for the day, my son buzzed by on his way to go potty and shouted, “I love my house!”. Out of the blue.

I will post pictures of my knitting project when I finish it. In the meantime, this is the pattern I’m using, and if you’re inspired to try it, you can find the all-important cable charts here if you just scroll down a little. For more on frogging, check out this article on knitty.com.

Behind the Screen Door

Last summer, in the middle of a backyard renovation, my man found a door. Just when we thought we had all the doors we needed, there it was, hiding between pine panelling inside and truly ugly siding outside. It’s a partial screen door stuffed with insulation and sporting a broken window. It’s also locked.

Our three-year-old was over the moon. “The wall is in the way,” he said after going inside to inspect the kitchen. “Daddy needs to move the wall.” When I explained to him that the door wouldn’t open, he wanted to try every key in the house to unlock it.

But, locked or not, it’s ugly and extremely creepy in a portal-to-hell sort of way. It has to go. I’m still not sure what we’re going to do with it, but I have a few ideas. I’ll keep you posted.