Monday, December 22, 2014

Hopefully, Some Street Cred - My Own Project

Travel Jewelry Roll

Travel Jewelry Roll
This week I’m going to discuss one of my projects from start to finish. From the point when I tried to buy what I needed, to giving up and trying to find a pattern, to biting the bullet and creating my own pattern, to finally making it. Notice the progression is the opposite of the more common process of making something and then desperately trying to find a use for it:

Fancy Tiger Crafts
My husband and I love to travel and we go on trips frequently. The travel jewelry box I'd been using was very basic and my necklaces would tangle on the flight out. Sometimes the chains would get snarled around earrings and the whole mess would become one big lump. Only vast reserves of self control prevented me from taking the Alexander the Great approach to getting everything separated. It was time to get a better travel organizer.

Typical travel wallet tutorial Sew Crafty Jess
Originally I didn’t want to make anything, but all the travel organizers I saw online would occupy too much space in my suitcase and didn’t resolve the tangling problem. Once I realized the sad truth that I wasn’t going to able to buy what I needed, I looked through Pinterest, Etsy, and did a general Google search for patterns with no luck. Every project I found used some arrangement of zippered compartments and I would need one for each necklace plus one for earrings. My older daughter uses zip lock bags to store her jewelry, which is pretty much the same thing. FYI, the tutorial for the clutch to the right is good although the end result isn't what I was looking for. I've put vinyl pockets on all sorts of things and this tutorial is quite clear on how to do this.

This whole project fell off my radar for ages because I had no idea how to keep the necklaces separated. One morning at breakfast I suddenly flashed on the solution. Here is the pattern and the finished roll. 

The solution was to weave ribbon (or cord) through some type of hole and then hang my necklaces from the ribbons. Here is a close-up:

There were multiple considerations in the design of this project:
  1. How can I make this as easy and as convenient as possible to use?
  2. What is the average necklace width? This determines the distance between the rows of holes. I decided to loop the longer necklaces through the ribbons twice, which has worked very well.
  3. Generally speaking, what is the drop depth of a necklace (how far will it hang down)? The drop length determines how much space is needed between each set of holes.
  4. How many necklaces do I want to carry verses how long I can realistically make this thing and still keep it practical? I had to face harsh reality and decide how much jewelry I really need to take.
  5. What type of hole should I use? Grommets or buttonholes? Grommets maintain the project’s shape better, but you can make buttonholes in many shapes and sizes and they can be stabilized with interfacing. I went with grommets because I had them lying around looking for a use. It was very difficult to place them precisely as you can see from the photo above. The hole punch is in a blind spot on the grommet tool and so it was difficult to line it up with my mark on the fabric. I’m going to experiment with different punch techniques next time I use grommets or go with a pretty buttonhole. 
  6. What is the optimum distance between holes in each pair? This was a total shot in the dark. It has to be easy get my fingers under the ribbon to attach the necklace, but if the holes are too far apart the roll will hold fewer necklaces.
  7. How rigid does the travel roll need to be? The roll needs to have some body from side to side or it will be too floppy to be easy to use, but using flat sides and folding it instead of rolling requires more precise planning and measurement. I decided to use fusible batting, which has nice body and to roll the organizer.
  8. How am I going to keep this thing closed? Snaps? Velcro? Toggles? Ties? Ties are by far the easiest to sew so I cut myself some slack and went with that. 
  9. Structurally, what was a good distance between the hole and the edge? This was a total guess based on what I thought would look nice.
  10. Do I want to add a compartment for earrings?  How big do I want it? Absolutely I wanted a zippered compartment, but I balanced that against how much of a pain in the ass it is to add one. Eventually, I realized that I’d have to carry my earrings in something and it would be easier to have everything in one place. The next time I make this, the compartment will go at the top because the necklaces will be more protected if they are on the inside the roll. If I had wanted to carry bracelets, I would have made the compartment deeper and factored that into my calculations.
  11. Wash at your own risk. This sucker is not going to be fun to iron. The organizer would be easier to iron if I had decorated the back differently and used vertical or horizontal lines of stitching to quilt it somewhat. I love the look of the giant heart, but depending on the likelihood of the organizer getting dirty, you may want to consider other decoration and using cord instead of ribbon. The organizer can probably go through the wash, particularly if you use a lingerie bag, but dry it flat.
I already had virtually everything I needed for this project and the beautiful machine embroidery is a freebee from Urban Threads. The only thing I bought was the ribbon.  I'm not happy with the stiffness in the placement of the initials. Unless some research turns up helpful advice, I’ll skip the monograming in the future.

When I make organizers for my daughters, I’ll put together a tutorial with actual pattern pieces, but for now here’s a brief overview:

  1. Front fabric
  2. Back fabric
  3. Fusible batting
  4. Piping or binding
  5. Ribbon or cord
  6. Vinyl
  7. Contrasting thread
  8. Fray Check
  9. Zipper, can be longer than necessary
  10. Optional: grommets
  11. Optional: machine embroidery design
  12. Optional: embroidery thread

  1. Embroider the back piece, then cut to size and fuse the batting to it.
  2. Cut the front piece.
  3. Cut the vinyl the width of the fabric and the height you want plus at least one inch on all sides.
  4. Cut lengthwise completely across the strip of vinyl an inch from the top edge. These two pieces form the compartment opening.
  5. Attach the zipper to the vinyl pieces. All you have to do is to topstitch the vinyl to the sides of the zipper. Close zipper. Square up the finished compartment if needed.
  6. Carefully clamp the vinyl compartment to the right side of the front fabric with small binder clips. Make sure you place the zipper slide just far enough from the edge of the fabric that it doesn’t get caught in the seam allowance with about a ¼ inch gap between the slide and the seam.
  7. Use whatever decorative stitch you like to attach the pouch to the front of the roll. Just remember that you can’t use a dense stitch on vinyl without risking tearing it. I used blanket stitch in a thread color that matched the zipper.
  8. Cut off any vinyl and zipper that extends beyond the edge of the fabric.
  9. Decide how difficult you want to make this for yourself. Do you want to add piping or binding? Projects like this look much more finished and hold their shape better if you go the extra mile and use one of the two. They’re both a pain.
  10. I basted the piping and the ribbon ties in place on the right side of front piece before sewing the front to the back because piping always moves around during stitching. Overlap the ends of the piping somewhere inconspicuous and don’t cut them to fit yet. That’s asking for trouble. Leave the ribbons fairly long so you can adjust the length once the entire project is finished.
  11. CAREFULLY sew the front to the back with right sides together leaving a gap to turn everything right side out. I left the whole top end open due to the thickness of the fabric sandwich (making it harder to turn), but I’d probably leave a smaller gap next time. You will need a special foot to attach piping. Some machines have a zipper foot you can use because the foot allows you to stitch next to the cord. My machine (Viking Designer Diamond) needs a dedicated piping foot. Adjust your needle position so that it catches the fabric sandwich in just the right spot. I’d test this on a swatch first. Seriously, it’s worth it. Fixing piping is a major pain.
  12. Pull the organizer through the opening so it's right side out. Once you're happy with the piping, hand or machine stitch the opening closed.
  13. Mark the grommet holes. 
  14. Insert the grommets. Good luck with this. There’s no fixing the holes once you make them.
  15. Thread ribbon through the grommets leaving extra length at each end.
  16. Tie off the ribbons at each end of the roll and trim them on a slant. Put a thin line of Fray Check along the cut edges.
  17. Roll the clutch and tie it a few times to get a feel for how long you need the ribbons tying it closed to be. Once you have a look you like, and with the clutch still rolled and tied, cut the ribbons leaving a fairly long tails to ensure it's always easy to tie. Trim the ends on a slant and put a thin line of Fray Check along the cut edges.

I loved making this travel jewelry organizer and use it all the time. Notice that it’s not a cover for something that doesn’t need one (cozy), won’t gather dust as yet another useless knickknack, sit around waiting for a use and eventually get tossed, doesn’t make something that's straightforward more difficult (most handmade coffee cup insulators for example), or is so difficult to use that I'd never use it. This is what I mean when I say that making things is awesome and rewarding and there’s absolutely no need to make crap just to make something. The bigger crafting blogs have to continually come up with projects to retain their advertising revenue (determined by the number of pins, subscribers, tweets, etc.) so they post a lot of things that aren’t worth making or only take a good photo. Many of those blog posts are worth reading to learn a technique or find out about a new product. Just don’t make those terrible projects.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Halloween Crafts for Kids or Timing Is Everything

Halloween has come and gone and we’ve all been inundated with various Halloween themed crafts that range from the cool to the total waste of time. They seem to fall into several broad categories:
  • Terrible crafts for kids
  •  Cool crafts for kids
  • Useless ugly stuff 
  •  Crafts that are not worth the investment in time
  • Throw crap at a plastic pumpkin and call it a craft
  •  Inventive Halloween crafts

My theory on projects for children or the developmentally disabled is that the end product has to be worthwhile. Busywork is unacceptable for anyone, but particularly for someone who doesn't have a great deal of say in which project they make. Giving someone a lame project is insulting and it discourages the participants from crafts in general. Making things with children improves their coordination and gives the child a chance to use their own judgment within a controlled environment. While the developmentally disabled may not achieve any physical or cognitive improvement from crafting, making something is satisfying and enjoyable and for those reasons alone you should choose worthwhile projects. 
Here are some poorly designed projects that are a total waste of time (all the project links are at the end of this post):

These projects are busywork and as a kid I remember feeling cheated that my crafting time was being wasted on this kind of thing. These projects are insulting because if the child has the coordination to make any of these soon to be garbage projects, there is something better they can be working on. Even the time of a child is valuable, or maybe, particularly the time of a child is valuable.

Sticking food on something is not enough to make it a good project. My older daughter once had an assignment to make a bird drawing and decorate it with only seeds (pumpkin, poppy, sunflower, etc). The drawing had to be big and we both thought that the project was a huge waste of our time.

In the fourth grade my younger daughter had to make something like six dioramas in a row. It was as if her teacher had one idea and that was it. Apparently, this teacher was so uninterested in crafting she couldn't be bothered to crack a teaching manual or ask a colleague for suggestions.

Ok, here are some satisfying projects for younger kids:

The blue balloon is an armature for a papier-mâché pumpkin. Depending on age, the child may need some help with the string, but after that papier-mâché is easy (and cheap). Once the pumpkin is made and dried it can be painted and decorated. This project will be much more satisfying than throwing glitter at a plastic pumpkin. 

The spider and the web is another easy project, but much more interesting to make than the paper plate ghost above. You can vary the complexity of the web and/or use one of the many cool pipe cleaner spider projects to adjust this for the age of the child.

The pumpkin heads are a variation of papier-mâché, but are made with string rather than newspaper. 

The impressive paper chain ghost would be a great group project for small children with an adult to put the whole ghost together. You could vary the size of the links for smaller fingers. 

I like the bat silhouette project a lot. It’s basically finger painting and is more or less the same as the lame candy corn project above. The dots are the kid’s fingerprints and a child old enough to use a pounce sponge brush can make fairly clean fingerprints. The child could choose their own stencils, which would help keep them interested.

Here are some projects for older kids:

This amazing skull is a string art project. I’m glad to see string art coming back. I thought it was cool in the ‘60s and I still like it. The link at the end of this post goes to a really excellent tutorial. Once you know the technique, you can do anything. I’ve seen some amazing negative space string art pictures. You can also vary the scale of your project with yarn, twine or embroidery floss. I’ve seen string art jewelry made using springs instead of nails and thread instead of string.

The totem pole is great. In this case I'd probably use the dreaded plastic pumpkins due to weight considerations.The article about this says to pound a steel fencepost into the ground, but if you use plastic pumpkins you can probably get away with a couple of dowels. They're going to be a lot easier to get into the ground than a steel post. Don't forget to cut a hole in the back of each pumpkin for the lights before you put it on the pole.

The last project is also something I remember from the ‘60s that has come back – dried apple dolls. These are awesome. I’ve only seen witches before, but this zombie is great.

I think the way crafts are taught in school or camp is similar to how math is taught. Making things is presented poorly or taught by someone who doesn’t enjoy doing it and who has to fill a mandated amount of time per week. Therefore, most people never make anything worthwhile and aren't motivated to try on their own.

I grew up in a family where nearly everyone, man or woman, made things so it was always presented as fun. Family members, including my mom, made everything from furniture to wall hangings to toys. Generally speaking, I’m not talking about artisan quality stuff. We mostly made things that we could use because it was both fun to give making it a shot and fun using what you made. Years pass and you can fondly remember what you made, how you used it and who used it with you. That’s awesome.  I’d love to say I’ve passed that thrill on to my kids, but while they both enjoyed making things with me when they were young, only my eldest makes stuff as an adult. I don’t think my younger daughter’s psyche was damaged by the endless dioramas, though. Those ended up as bonding moments because we both hated making them so much. It was an object lesson in not wasting your time on useless crap. As in life. On that pretentious note, I'll leave you. The next post in my Timing Is Everything series is adult Halloween crafts.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Apple Cozies and the Craft/Crap Boundary

It was when I first saw a picture of an apple cozie that I realized the edge of the craft/crap envelope was getting pushed from useful and possibly ugly, to pointless. These can't really be used on fresh apples long for obvious reasons so maybe you put them on plastic apples? My grandma who had plastic slipcovers and feather flower arrangements would have loved that idea. The only thing I can think to do with apple cozies is to give them away. If you need a simple project to practice knitting or crochet there are many better ones all over the Internet. is a great site with many, many free and inexpensive patterns for knitting and crochet in all ranges of difficulty.

The magazine Mollie Makes was my wake-up call. If you search on Pinterest or Ravelry, you will see that people are actually making these. The second photo is a free pattern by someone trying to improve useless apple cozies by making them hideous as well. If you're looking for a project for children (and I fervently hope this is intended for children), give their parents a break and make something actually useful.

Other examples of insane cozies are: 

  1. Leg cozies - these leg warmers were from a January 2014 post, I kid you not. They're not even intended to be ironic.
  2. Mug cozies with nowhere to put your lips and the added benefit of getting covered in drips almost immediately. Most of these have huge buttons right where you need to put your fingers.
  3. Stretchy hot drink cozies that are an accident waiting to happen. (Brown) (Pink & Black)
  4. Steering wheel covers that will clearly slip when you try to turn the wheel.
  5. Stretchy knit beer bottle cozie with no bottom. This one is commercially made, but people are knitting these themselves. 
  6. Hand sanitizer cozie because anything you carry around should be as big as possible.
Finally the absolute dumbest - a snail cozie:
Did they hold the snail in place while they crocheted? Why would you want to do that and how many snails did they crush before they got this one right?

On the positive side:

This hot drink cozie looks like it will actually work and it's pretty. I would use a smaller button because the button in the photo will get in the way of your fingers and make it uncomfortable to hold the cup. This would be a good project for machine embroidery.

These felt cozies would make a great first sewing project (by hand or machine). The kids could decorate the felt before sewing, which really appeals to younger children. I've made similar projects with my daughter's elementary class and we all had a great time. Both boys and girls really got into it.

To end on a high note, I have also seen some awesome cozies.

Two turtles:

Six turtle collage: This link came from Pinterest and doesn't really go anywhere. I would love to see the actual crafter's site because these are so awesome. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hello from the peanut gallery

I have been following crafts on the Internet since the text only days, lo those many years ago. Before that I devoured books and magazines about all kinds of crafts. I am interested in knowing how everything is made even if I don't plan to try it myself. I want to know what products are out there and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

I am not artistic, but I am good with my hands. As an analytical thinker I am good at identifying why something isn't working out and then finding a solution to fix it. This has led me to trying all sorts of techniques and products over the years with varying success. I can't count all the projects where I've snatched defeat from the jaws of victory or saved from an ignoble death. I will probably share some of the various crafty type things I'm working on or techniques I'm using to make something better.

Crafting and DIY fads come and go. The Internet, like cable TV, has created a huge demand for content. For crafters this means large numbers of incredibly stupid projects, projects on blogs whose instructions aren't really expected to be followed, and projects that were specifically designed to take a nice photo. That doesn't even touch on the projects that were entirely or partially created by Photoshop. 

I can't stand it anymore. This blog is my cry in the wilderness. I am going to whine about mason jar crafts, plastic pumpkin crafts, the endless tie-dye projects that all look the same, wreaths, decorated shoes, cozies of all kinds, and anything else I see that is butt ugly or simply variations on a theme. I am going to point out when I see instructions that are incomplete or just plain incorrect.