Train Train Train

March 19, 2012

So one of my main purposes in life is to find vintage things that are cute. I’ve been looking for hat boxes and train cases FOREVER every week at the thrift stores and I’ve NEVER seen one…until this weekend. I found a cute red train case. It was perfect, at a half-off price of $1.50. I mean seriously.

Of course for that price it was a DISASTER inside. Gross. Like seriously gross. First step was to rip out the peeling and faded plastic linings.

As you can see, the trim was falling out everywhere, barely held in with safety pins and paper clips. Not good. Fortunately most of it ripped out intact. The exception being the bottom. What I found was that the elastic bands on the top were actually sewn in to a piece of canvas-covered  cardboard. there were other cardboard sections to help support, but those didn’t make it past the surgery.

Once everything was ripped out, I could see what we were working with.

Yeah so back to the innards.

The inside actually cleaned up pretty well. The top especially. The bottom I spent a while ripping batting and cardboard out. The bottom “fabric” also didn’t come out cleanly so there were shreds of that everywhere.

The next step was to use my fabric pieces as templates. I picked a modern riff for my inside fabrics. I wanted something punchy.

I got a yard and a half of the flower pattern, a fat quarter of the orange, and enough of the ribbon trim to go around the top.

Next step was to get the canvas cardboard separated from the fabric, and then glue that to the top.

I then sewed the elastic to the board.

Once those were sewn in, I made a flap and pocket to go under the top. I glued that and then top in place. The corners took a little working, and it wasn’t quite perfect. The ribbon trim went around the raw edge and hid my flaws.

The process was largely the same for the bottom. It was definitely harder, and I cut a band to hide my yucky corners. However, once put all together, it looked pretty darned cute.

Total investment was about $10, and approximately 3 hours of time. Lovely!

Please Be Seated

January 18, 2012

This here, is a bench.

Not only a bench, but an ugly bench. We picked it up because we always need more seating and such and figured we’d do something with it eventually. Well, eventually finally came, after the inspiration of our new bed pillows. We picked up a new bench fabric at the same time and figured now was good. The bench was about $5, and the fabric I’d guess is around $10, and the trim another $5 maybe. Of course, Katie could say differently if she wanted.

Anyway, reupholstering is another thing that makes a piece of furniture look pretty snazzy and it can be simple to do. This bench required unscrewing 11 screws, removing staples, stapling new fabric, cutting said fabric, and hot glue. Not bad.

First, take your object and disassemble it. This was a pretty straightforward project, but if you are doing something a bit more complicated, be sure to track your parts and order so that you know how to get it back together at the end.

Once the top was off, we removed the staples holding the black fabric and the mustard fabrics on. The black fabric is basically to keep the raw edges from showing underneath. Remove your staples carefully if you want to preserve this piece of fabric. I find a flat-head screwdriver or needle-nose pliers are best for removing staples.

Once all the staples are pulled out, you should be able to lift the top fabric off.

Underneath, hopefully you find foam or padding that is in good shape. If your foam is in tough shape, you can get new padding, glue it down, and you’re good to go. Ours was in good shape so we just recovered over the existing padding. The white in the corner is some extra padding to help fill out the foam, which was missing a chunk in the corner. We also were left with the frame. I’d like to paint our frame at some point but we didn’t have a good color at the time.

Next, take your new fabric, lay it out right-side-down and place the bench top on it upside down. Staple one edge with a staple gun, starting at the corners and middle, and filling in the in-betweens.

Next, pull your fabric under so that it is tight. You want it to be tight so that you don’t get loose fabric on your cover. It may take a buddy to help keep it tight while you staple.

Now, there are a couple ways to go about the corners, which I think is the trickiest part. You can measure and cut your corners ahead of time, and sew them in to the right shape (Make a cut from the corner in, then fold together and sew), as was done on the old cover. You can ease the corner around like fondant and avoid a crease, or you can miter the corner by folding it. We chose to miter it.

Once stapled, you can clean up your fabric edges if you want, or place your backing (old or new) on the bottom and staple it. Then, reassemble!

Our final touch was to add a decorative trim around the bottom. In our “final pictures” it hadn’t been glued on yet, but I basically took a glue gun and glued it to the bottom of the top piece (not the frame!).


Okay okay so Katie and I have been really remiss. I mean, October 16? So unacceptable. The thing is, we’ve started a million things and not managed to finish any of them. I’m in full blown Christmas mode (since September) so I’ve been cranking out a lot of new projects that are small.


Mostly I’ve been working on one of two things: embroidery, and felt. I’ll catch you up on both so that when I post pictures later, it will all make sense.


Basically, embroidery is the process of making decorative stitches.

Embroidery can be machine done, which is very clean and crisp, or by hand, which is more genuine. Embroidery dates way back and was used to decorate clothing, tapestry, and other fabric goods.

I learned to embroider basically on my own, trial by fire. There are a lot of good websites out there that demonstrate the different types of stitching, as well as books. Here are the basic stitches:


All you need to get started is a hoop, needle, some thread, and a pencil or transfer.

1. Decide on your pattern – you can find free ones here.

2. Once you have your pattern, trace it using graphite paper, make an iron transfer, or free draw it with a soft pencil.

3. Consider your colors, stitches, and design aesthetic. For example, I almost always fill things in rather than doing an outline. As you can see in the above picture, it’s possible to do color blending for nice shading.

4. Begin!

Some of the things that I have picked up along the way include a few of the following:

  • Use a tight-weave fabric: Fabrics with a loose weave tend to pull through and not hold well. A tighter weave will give you a clean, sharp look.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix mediums: I frequently mix fabric, felt, stitching- it depends on the look you’re going for. For example, I have some projects with small hoops, a natural canvas background, and then different fabrics to represent snow and trees. Cutting out and applying these shapes gives me a background to embroider in decorations, words and anything else I want!
  • Don’t pull on your fabric too much: I like having a tight embroidery plane to work on,  but if you pull too much you can actually stretch out your fabric.
  • Keep it clean! Wrap your project in a bag or fabric to keep your work nice and clean.
My new favorite project is applying these embroidering skills to make felt Christmas ornaments. They are a quick and easy gift.

As you can see, simple felt, a few stitches and you have a wonderful, vintage-style ornament. SO CUTE! Again it’s easy to mix and match different fabrics to create different looks.

I’ll post pictures of my projects a little later on.

Vintage? And Recycled!

June 14, 2011

So this week, I attempted my first complete from the thrift store sewing project. One of us missed out by not being  born in the 70’s, and so the love of vintage flourished. Conveniently, many of the sewing and craft projects that you see at thrift stores are from approximately that era. So, this project was a match made in heaven. I started with this pattern:

The best thing about thrift store patterns-the price. They range from about .29 cents to about .59 cents at most of the thrift stores around here. The worst thing about thrift store patterns-there is no organization, so they are kind of the epitome of thrift store shopping. You have to be willing to sit there and look at every one of them, to see if any of them are worth your time. And many, many of them will be from the 80s, and remind you of fashions you hoped never to see again.

This particular pattern straddles the line between awesome and horrible (check out the cool smock in the upper right corner). However, sometimes all it takes to break into awesome is a little conviction. So we paired this pattern with a fabric we also found at the thrift store:

Pretty much the epitome of vintage. The nice thing about fabric from the thrift store-again the price. This was about two yards of fabric, and it cost $1.99. However, you have to have a good eye for estimating how much yardage you have. Thrift stores frequently roll their fabric yardage, so it’s not always possible to see exactly how much there is. Also, it’s like mis-tinted paint-if you don’t have enough there’s no going back for more. So have a contingency plan in mind.

The apron I had in mind from this fabric is the center-top version. It’s a fairly simple bib apron, and in the fabric they used bias tape to encase almost all of the edges, for decorative appeal and to save you from the boredom of hemming.

I decided right away to toss the bias tape out the window, because I usually think it’s ugly and find it even more irritating than hemming. I also wanted to bring in a little more flair, just because I could. I started with the pockets, and a little bit of ruffly trim, that I just had hanging around. You’ll notice I used a solid color for the ruffles and for the ribbons because the pattern on the fabric is so exciting.

Then I cut and hemmed the skirt part of the apron, and placed the pockets where I wanted them. Then I put a two rows of basting along the top, so I could gather the skirt. 

After that I turned my attention to the bib. This is also just hemming straight lines around all of your edges. I then attached the ribbons that I had chosen for the strings. It’s possible to sew your own strings, but I find turning them a bit tedious. The pattern in the case actually called for ribbon or something similar, so I took them up on their suggestion. After the bib was done, then I did the waist band. This was probably the trickiest part of the whole thing, although nothing too complicated. You sewed the ribbons for the waist to the waistband, and then folded it in half so you end up with a shape like an extremely long narrow man’s wallet.

Then you attach the waistband, open side down, to the bib.

This leaves you with a nice open space to hide the raw, gathered edge of your skirt. I gathered the skirt, working the material until the gathers were even, and it was the right width for the waist band, pinned it in place, and sewed the whole thing together.

I think the finished project came out well, and it ended up being vintage, but not terrible with the modern touches I added. I think the teal ribbons really help it look more modern, and they help play up some of the blue/teal color in the fabric, rather than the oranges and yellows that were so popular in the 70s.