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Making: new uses for treasured T-shirts

We were on holiday, and Junior Reader noticed a problem. Come another summer or two, and a beloved T-shirt would cease to fit.

Now we’re OK on this in a few different ways:

– Junior Reader doesn’t grow terribly fast (so far), so the T-shirt still has some life in it yet

– we’re pretty good about passing on clothes when they don’t fit any more, given that many of them are ‘new to us’ via helpful friends and family, or second-hand shops.

However. There comes a point when certain clothes reach treasured status.

And really, this one is a good one – nice red background (always a good start as far as Junior Reader is concerned), big applique design on the front that’s holding pretty well despite lots of use. (It’s a T Rex, in case you wanted to know.)

So Junior Reader came to me with a suggestion. Why not turn the T-shirt into a cushion cover? (Because, you know, we definitely need more cushions with dinosaurs on.)


Lots of people have clothes they don’t want to part with. Sometimes this is OK – fashion comes round again, etc. You may find out it looks great a few years from now. (If you have wardrobe space to wait this long.)

Sometimes, you only wear the clothes a few times a year, but it’s worth hanging on to them. (Quality wool coats; much of my ‘hot weather clothing’ collection.)

Sometimes, it’s time to think differently about the item. It’s part of the reason quilts and rag rugs work well. You get to hang on to some material that has sentimental attraction, but in a new form where it has a bit more use.

And why not add a T-shirt cushion to that category?


Junior Reader has clearly seen me fiddling with fabric enough to put the suggestion – and I like it. It is a nice T-shirt, plus it gives me a new project idea.

Junior Reader is now adding further complexity to the notion. ‘It needs a zip.’ Well, love, I can’t fit zips (as yet), but Granny R can. So maybe we’ll ask her, or…maybe I’ll bottle it, and we’ll use press studs instead, ‘cos I know I can sew those on OK.

A T-shirt is not so far off a cushion shape in the first place. And if I run out of pillow filler, I could go as far as buying a cushion pad for this one – which would then mean I might need to do a bit more conventional measuring to make sure the cover fits.

But beyond the cushion itself, there’ll be more leftover material. Fuel for the rag rug, I suspect.

Still, while the T-shirt still fits, this is more of a project to muse on for the future. We’ll keep you posted.


Making: a new use for snowflakes

We went to an exhibition, back around Easter time. A bit of a treat, really – a big collection of Matisse paper cutouts.

Dan and his mum have liked Matisse for a long time. I’m newer on the scene, but had managed to see a few things in galleries, like The Snail at Tate Modern.

Junior Reader didn’t know about Matisse, but does know a thing or two about paper cutouts, having gone through an extensive phase of making paper snowflakes. So we thought it might just suit everyone.

When I was at the exhibition, I learned that Matisse had spent time in Hawaii, and that some of the local art had influenced the shapes that he later cut out of paper.

That rang a bell with the quilting book, and more recently, I looked it up. There is a Hawaiian style of quilting that is probably more accurately described as applique i.e. sewing smaller bits of cloth onto bigger bits of cloth in a decorative way.

The Hawaiian style is to have a high contrast between the cutout shape and the background. So you can imagine a white background, say, and a deep blue or deep red design on the front.

But when I looked at how it gets made, all I could think of was: snowflakes.

When you make the template for the cutout shape, you fold the paper into four. You then just take a quarter of the cutout, and pin that onto material which is folded into four.

Then you cut through all four levels of the material. The result is that when you open out the coloured material, you have your complete shape, all nice and symmetrical.

I fancy the idea of collaborating with Junior Reader on this one. One maker making the design, the other sewing it. I think that’s probably a win-win.

The trickier bit is the sewing that goes with it. From what I’ve read so far, you sew a line around the inside of the cutout shape – that holds it in place. You do it in a contrasting colour so it’s easy to spot (and remove later).

Then you do ‘slipstitch’, which I think is to use sewing to tuck the edges under so it looks neat. After that, you remove the traced line of stitching, and your applique is complete. Or something like that.

I don’t quite know what we’d do with the result – a cushion? A wallhanging? I might canvass Junior Reader for ideas. Given the relative enthusiasm for snowflakes, I can imagine that I would be offered several, at the very least.

I’m filing this one as ‘idea for some time later’, rather than an immediate one. But if I can find a deep enough blue (particularly a kind of Yves Klein blue, if I can), and a lovely enough snowflake shape, I rather fancy giving it a try.

I imagine you could also do the same in reverse – ie white snowflake on coloured background. It might not be so Hawaiian, but it might be more snowflakey.

And as Granny R has kindly made some nice red cushions (with leftovers from the red curtains she produced), we might just have the perfect base on which to balance a few snowflakes.

I’ll keep you posted on the weather forecast for this one.

Making: a rag rug

Last summer, there was a family gathering on Skye. I was there for just a couple of days, really, but it included enough time to get along to a local craft fair, in walking distance from where we were staying.

There were a mixture of stalls. I liked some items; was less keen on others. But on one stall, there was a lady with strips of cloth, and a wooden implement which I can only really describe as a Bodger.

The woman had a loose-weave cloth, and she was using the bodger to poke strips of cloth through that backing. What she was doing was making a rag rug, something I had read about, but never actually seen done.

The woman had kits for sale, with the hessian backing, instructions, and a few pieces of coordinating material to start you off. The clincher, of course, was that the kit gave you your own bodger.

I was in.


The thing with making rag rugs is that it immediately gives you a use for lots of tiny bits of fabric that might otherwise get chucked out.

These days, as the woman showed me, those bits of fabric can include fleece material, jeans, tartan, cotton, and pretty much anything else you care to cut into tiny pieces of fabric.

Once I got home, and looked at the instructions more, it seemed that the cutting of strips was to be greatly improved by the owning of a rotary cutter.

I did not then own one. So the kit stayed in its bag for pretty much a year. (I made an attempt at getting a rotary cutter at one point, only to find I had bought something else, and had to take it back.)

Fast forward to this summer. I have now acquired my rotary cutter. So all of a sudden, my new toy is not just for quilts/patchwork, but I can also get the rag rug kit underway.

While the rag rug kit was gathering dust, I did start to amass a pile of fabric to go with it. Then I had a big bout of spring cleaning and got rid of it. (I kind of regret that now, but only a bit.)

On the plus side, it might be the ideal use for lots of little strips of eco bag that I no longer want to use, but that could find a new purpose as a rag rug.

On the other side: what does one do with one’s rag rug? I have a feeling that it might turn into a teeny tiny rug for a teddy, in a similar way to the teeny tiny quilt.

The good thing about the rag rug work is that the pieces aren’t fixed in the same way as sewing. So if I try out some bits and don’t like the effect, I can always pull them out and start again.

I’m rather hoping that rag rugging – aka bodging – might be just the thing for doing while watching TV. Normally I don’t manage to make and watch TV at the same time, but I think this might just be the exception.

And then, if I like it, I can always buy more hessian, and bodge away a bit more.


Early results:

– fleece material is nice to use, fairly easy to put in and out

–  tartan material looks good but keeps fraying. Turns out I should have cut it on the bias. (I know the phrase – now I need to go off and work out what it means in practice. I think it means cutting cloth in a way that stops it fraying.)

– cotton eco bag material works very nicely. And those bits that had writing on – you only see a tiny bit of the writing for each ‘stitch’ of the rug, so it’s not distracting.

It’s more like those pictures of walls where an old advert was painted up there and is now flaking off in a reasonably charming way.

– folding the strips in half along the width makes for a neater ‘stitch’ but means that you get lots of flatter lines

– bodging can be done fairly easily while playing Settlers of Catan on holiday

– with practice, I can now bodge strips from the front of the cloth, which speeds things up.


So: will it use up scraps of material? Yes, just great. But I am now realising I will need a lot of scraps of material. (No wonder rag rugging was done by a whole family – you’d need to, just to create enough strips and get them into the backing.)

In consequence, it will Take Some Time to complete. But that’s OK. I suspect it could be a perfect project to pick up and put down when I need to.

Making: the end of bed tidy

Last year, relatives kindly passed on a lovely quality single bed. It’s one of those ones which has a spare bedstead and mattress that fit underneath. The kind of thing that could allow for sleepovers in comfort.

Meanwhile, the bed has been joined by a desk – a very nice fit really. The desk is really a low table – for tea parties, for drawing, or whatever else seems the best use at the time.

There is now a gap between the top of the table and the top of the wood that forms the end of the bed. It’s only really about fifteen centimetres deep, but I don’t want it to get attention for the wrong reasons.

I am hoping that the table will get plenty of use – but I also want to avoid leaving wood in front of the draw-er that might a) get drawn on too b) stickered to death c) other possible notions I have not yet dreamt up.

The solution: making an end of bed tidy.

The notion of the tidy is that it sits on the table side of the end of the bed, covering up the space, yet making the table space more inviting (fingers crossed).

So what I’m aiming for is a long thin strip of fabric – an extended letterbox shape, if you will. Part of it will form the back of the tidy, and a lower bit will be sewn on the front, with stitches across it vertically to form pockets in the strip of fabric.

I haven’t quite worked out how the fabric attaches to the end of the bed – but I have found the perfect remnant of fabric for it.

When I was off hunting for the exciting rotary cutter, I had a little browse among the offcuts of fabric in the shop. Lots were curtain material, and not what I was after, but I did find a long strip of fabric with a series of small animal prints on it.

(Yes, we are talking cute fabric here. It’s a new departure for me.)

I eyeballed it for size, and thought it would work. At just over two pounds’ cost, it was worth a try.

Once I got it home, it turned out that it was an ideal shape for the end of the bed, hopefully making the sewing side very easy.

I also got an offcut of plain creamy fabric at the same time. I think it might be curtain lining, not sure, but it’s plain, and cheap, and it will work out just fine to go with the print.

So far, I’ve roughly cut off enough of the plain fabric to fit the print offcut. Fortunately enough, there’s a good chunk of the plain fabric left over too (so probably add on about 50p to the cost of fabric bought, which is still a bargain).

I have worked out that I want the fabric to match: one strip will form the back of the tidy, the other will form the bit that will then get divided into pockets.

The cream fabric will be sewed to back it. I hope it will add a bit of weight, and I think it might need some of that pillow inner to make the whole thing a bit sturdier, and able to hold a fistful of crayons per pocket, say.

I’m sure more confident makers might add contrast pockets, or embroidery, or all kinds of other things.

I don’t know if I’m feeling brave enough for that yet. I’m hoping that cute fabric will swing it for now, and maybe I can add some of the rest later, if I get better (or if it is requested).

Although this is being written about after other items, it will probably get finished first, because I have all the pieces for it. Plus I can take it on holiday to complete without Junior Reader suspecting (unlike the teeny tiny quilt).

I appreciate that, given the insistence that the fabric is cute, I may be required to provide photographic evidence.

I’ll see if I can run to that too.

Making: the scooping up blanket

So last time round I mentioned that I had all these leftover handles from the eco bags I’d been cutting up. And they seem just right for the idea of a scooping up blanket.

Dan and Junior Reader are Lego afficianados. To be honest, it’s building anything – it could be K’nex, or Duplo, or anything else that you stick together.

I admire the things they create – they have a much more instinctive understanding of making than I do. Plus they can both think in 3D, which is a challenge to me.

But the downside of these building sessions is that there are lots of tiny bits, spread out. And when it comes to tidying up, it takes a long time, there’s quite a lot of harumphing over the tidying up, and there’s invariably a few bits that are found later.

So how would it be if you used a blanket for the spreading things out stage – then pulled the corners to form a bag? Then (carefully) tip the Lego into its drawers, and you’re done.

The plus side to this plan, as I see it, is the chance to have a nice comfy surface under you as you sit and build.

The question mark is: do you make it as a quilt? And the even bigger question: should the quilt look like Lego itself?

So here’s where I’m at so far on the thinking about this.

I like the idea, and I think it would be very useful. And I have those sturdy handles all ready to use. (More than I need for one blanket. Maybe I’ll make a second scooping-up blanket for something else.)

Downside of a Lego-style quilt: potentially difficult to see the actual pieces on if it looks like Lego too (ie Lego-type colours, similar shaped blocks).

BUT if I did a Lego style quilt, and put a plain backing on it, then you could use the plain side to build on, so you could see the pieces.

And then you’d have the visual joke of the Lego side for other occasions where you might like to have something to snuggle (thinks: Sunday film afternoons?).

Big plus of this: we know the Lego colours already. We know they work together. There’s no pattern matching to do. And the pieces can be Lego shaped, which could be fun to plan.

I think if I do this, I’ll probably aim for using Duplo blocks for sizing, rather than actual Lego sizing, which would be too fiddly to work with.

(After discussion with Dan, that size is probably too small too. Think bigger.)

It might also be an excuse to cut out little bits of coloured paper, and move them around to find a pattern I like. Plus I do have that rotary cutter now, so I should be able to cut suitable sized blocks of fabric.

It’s at this point that I see the addiction of making. It’s not just about solving problems; it’s about thinking about the best way of doing so.

I know that if I do this, it’ll be a lot of work. And I do my sewing by hand, so that could mean it takes a while.

But at the same time, I am really enjoying the sewing. If the teeny tiny quilt gets finished OK, then I’ll have some more skills for doing the next stage.

Plus I’ve got a LOT of quilt-stuffing material from those old pillows. I might as well make use of it.

If I can, I’m going to use the fabric left over from the eco bags, where I think it fits sufficiently with Lego colours. I’ve got time to plan it; maybe to hunt for scraps of material that would work.

But in the meantime, I’ve found the perfect scrap of material for another project – and one I’m going to complete first, I think.

It’s an end of bed tidy thing, sewn, with pockets. More on that next time.