Creating Routines: Handcrafts

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesBefore I decided to close Crafting my Life, I was running a monthly series on the site that was all about creating positive routines. I was enjoying it quite a lot, so I decided to move it over here and re-jig it a little. Each month I’m setting one goal towards creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In March, I committed to taking time every day to list five things I love about my husband. And, I’m sad to say, I didn’t even come close to doing it every day. Between a trip to Disneyland and my own forgetfulness, I hit more like 12 days out of the 31 days in March. Even so, I feel that I noticed a difference. I’m keeping the spreadsheet, and when I’m feeling annoyed at my husband or just kind of down in the dumps I open it up, add five things, and start to feel better. So, I could be more disciplined, but on the whole it had the desired effect.

creating new routines handcrafts sewing

Creating a Routine for April

For April, I want to get back in touch with my crafty side. I put together a baby blanket for my new nephew last month, which I enjoyed immensely. It reminded me how much I like sewing. There’s something very satisfying, and even empowering, about creating something useful with your own two hands. Also, I find that when I’m watching TV I like to have something to do with my hands, and since I don’t have any knitting projects on the go, I often play iPhone games instead. (Bejeweled, anyone?) The result is way too much electronic stimulation. Plus, I often miss key points in the show since I’m distracted. I’d like to stop that, so this month I’m setting two goals:

  1. Start a new knitting project, and work on it while I’m watching TV. I’m thinking maybe a simple shawl. If you have any pattern suggestions, I’m all ears.
  2. Sew myself a new tunic. I already have the pattern (Amy Butler’s Anna Tunic) and the fabric (Valori Wells’ Mamma Birds – Gypsy), so I just need to make the time. I’m thinking playing fewer video games would be a good place to start.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing smaller projects. The knitting has no time frame, and the sewing project should take me a few hours, at most, if things go well. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

I Make Stuff

When I’m feeling out of sorts, and as if nothing is working out in my life, one of the best things that I can do is create. Writing is a fabulous outlet for me, creatively, but when push comes to shove, there’s nothing like making something. By which I mean, crafting something tangible that you can hold in your own own two hands. Because when you do hold this thing that you made in your own two hands, you will have absolute confirmation that you are a productive human being.

You have produced something. Therefore, you are productive. Who could argue with that?

I am a very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person, when it comes to creating. I just kind of go for it and hope for the best. My projects reflect that approach. If I get too bogged down by making everything perfect, then crafting will just be one more thing that isn’t going right in my life. I don’t need that. So I just wing it, and give myself the freedom to play. Sometimes I end up ripping out a lot of seams and swearing, but everything has a way of working out most of the time.

I have been feeling rather lackluster. When I’m so busy that I can’t think straight, it doesn’t feel like I’m doing much. I mean, I know I’m doing a lot, but I’m not always sure I can see why. Because in spite of my best efforts, there’s always so much more to do. And so, this post is my way of reminding myself that I have, in fact, accomplished something lately. Here are the knitting and sewing projects that I’ve finished so far in 2011:

Hat for my nephewI knit myself a hat

A hat for my nephew, and a hat for myself

Jacob rocking his new toqueHannah models her new skirt

A hat for Jacob, and a skirt for Hannah

Hannah in the new sweater I knit herI knit myself a sweater

A sweater for Hannah, and a sweater for myself

I made an apron for my momHannah models her Nan's apron

An apron for my mom

Hannah's homemade re-usable bag, side AHannah's homemade re-usable bag, side B

Both sides of Hannah’s homemade re-usable bag

What about you? What do you do when you need to feel that you’ve accomplished something? And what kind of projects are tickling your fancy right now? I’d love to hear!

The Story of the School Bags

Do you ever totally overdo something? You know what I mean. Someone asks you to bring a dish to the potluck, and instead of pulling out the soup that’s all ready in your freezer you decide to attempt beef bourguignon for the first time.

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about and who would do such a thing, congratulations. You are clearly a much better-adjusted individual than I am. I would give you a reward, but as I’d probably just overdo that, I’d best refrain.)

My mother did just such a thing once. When I entered public school in grade one I needed a gym strip bag. So she made me one. She sewed a simple drawstring bag with a compartment inside for shoes, and she embroidered the front. Of course, all the other kids had plastic bags that they used. And I’m pretty sure that I ended up using a plastic bag, too, because my whole gym strip didn’t fit inside the bag. And also, I wanted to do the same thing everyone else was doing.

My school bag
My gym strip bag, sewn ca. 1982

Now that my own daughter is starting public school, though, I think I know where my mom was coming from. I have been on a sewing tear. I made Hannah a dress, and then I decided she needed matching shorts to go with it lest she flash the whole playground. Then I made her some pants. And then she needed a change of clothes in a bag labeled with her name.

See if you can guess where this is going.

Of course, all of the other kids brought their spare clothes in a plastic bag. But I wanted to make Hannah something special. So I made her a drawstring bag (bigger than mine, because I want it to accommodate everything that it needs to accommodate). I appliqued a flower on the front, using a design of her choosing. Then I planned to embroider her name on it. Only Hannah wanted to do that herself. But I wasn’t sure that her embroidery was legible, so I repeated it right below hers. Ironically, my embroidery wasn’t a whole lot better than hers, but it’s the thought that counts.

Hannah's school clothes bag
Hannah’s school clothes bag, sewn ca. 2010

Why did I use 90 minutes of my precious time to hand sew a bag that will spend the year in a cubby at kindergarten and probably never even be opened? It’s the same reason that I sewed the dress and the shorts and the pants. I am pouring my love and my concern and my very presence into these items. I can’t be there while Hannah goes on her new adventures. The school is very welcoming of parents, but with Jacob in tow it isn’t happening. But these things that I made can be there. It makes me happy to know that they are.

I’m not sure, but I bet that my mom was feeling the same way almost 30 years ago when she sewed my bag. And while I didn’t use it for its declared purpose, I still have it today. And I look at it and smile. Because that bag did do what it had to – it let me know that someone cared about me enough to make me a special gym bag. A gym bag with my name embroidered on it and a little cluster of flowers. A statement of maternal love to arm me as I entered public school.

And now, Hannah has the same thing. When she told me that some of the kids didn’t have their names on their spare clothes, but she had “embriodery-ed” hers and that was better, my heart swelled. I knew that it didn’t matter if no one else sees it or if it was really a ridiculous way to spend my time. Because it had already done what it had to do. Hannah likes it, and she’s proud of it, and it sits in her cubby like a talisman to guard her against the slings and arrows she may encounter in her school life.

Have you ever totally overdone something to calm your nerves as your child went through a transition or faced a challenge? I’d love to hear.

Free as a Bird Tote

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make things. Crafting gives me real, live, tangible evidence of my accomplishments. It provides me with a creative outlet and sticks a thumb in the eye of the consumer culture. And it’s also sort of fun, especially when I make things for myself.

I recently made myself a new tote bag. Now that Jacob is 2 years old, I can get away without the full-on diaper bag. Yes, I may still cart around a spare diaper and some wipes in the tote, but I don’t need the same volume of stuff that I did when he was a newborn. And so I am graduating to a fancy new bag, with lots of pockets and plenty of room for kid gear, without the diaper bag feel. Because I like to share the love, you can read on to learn how to make one of your own.

My version has two pockets – one zippered pocket and one patch pocket with two compartments. It also has a magnetic clasp. All of this is optional. If you want to make your life easy, omit this stuff.

Free as a bird tote
I call it my ‘Free as a Bird Tote’, but I was also tempted to go with ‘Twitter Tote’

How to Make a Free as a Bird Tote

*Note – For closer views, click on any image in the instructions.


  • 1/2 yard – main fabric (I used a drapery canvas, but any fabric will do)
  • 1/2 yard – lining fabric (I used corduroy, but any heavier fabric will work)
  • 1 yard – heavy weight interfacing (I like nonwoven nonfusible, but that’s just me)
  • 1 – 7″ zipper to match the lining fabric (optional)
  • 1 – magnetic bag closure (optional)
  • co-ordinating thread

Pattern Pieces:

  • A – cut 2 each in main, lining and interfacing
  • B – cut 2 each in main and lining
  • C – cut 1 in lining (optional – patch pocket)
  • D – cut 1 in lining (optional – zippered pocket)

Cut 1 bird in lining fabric (or any other contrasting fabric you like) – mark the eye location but do not cut.


1. Baste both interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A around all edges, or if you have fusible interfacing iron the interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A.

2. B is the strap pieces. Put one of the main fabric strap pieces against one of the lining strap pieces, wrong sides facing out. Stitch down both long edges, so that you have a long tube with open ends. Repeat with the other two strap pieces.

3. Turn the straps inside out so that the right side is facing out, press and topstitch down the long edges.

4. If you plan on adding a patch pocket, fold and press one of the long edges down 1/4″ on piece C, and then fold and press 1/2″ down. Stitch along the folded edge to make the top hem of one of the pockets.

5. Fold piece C in half along the long edge and press. You are marking the centre point along of 10″ width. Press 1/2″ under on the remaining 3 raw edges. Position the pocket, right side up, on the right side of one lining piece A. It should be positioned 2 1/2″ inches from the top edge (as shown in the pattern pieces), with the folded centre line located 8″ from either side (you know, roughly in the middle).

6. Topstitch around the bottom and sides of the pocket, and down the centre fold, to make 2 pocket compartments.

7. If you are adding a zippered pocket, then mark the zipper slot on the wrong side of piece D as shown below:

In case you can’t see what’s happening, piece D is right-side down against the right side of lining piece A (the one you didn’t put a patch pocket on). Piece D is centered horizontally on piece A. I have marked a box that is 7″ wide x 1/2″ tall. The top edge of the box is 3/4″ from the top of piece D, and the sides of the box are 1/2″ from either side of piece D. Down the centre of the box there is a 6 1/2″ line, with diagonal lines extending up into the corner of the box.

8. Sew around the edges of the 7″ x 1/2″ box.

9. Cut down the centre of the box, along the 6 1/2″ line, and along the 2 diagonal lines, being careful not to cut the stitching.

10. Now the magic happens. Pull piece D through the slit you’ve just cut, and you will have a lovely opening for a zipper. Press this to make it all pretty.

11. Position the zipper in the lovely slit you’ve just created. The nice zipper part should be visible on the right side of piece A. Pin it in place, and top-stitch around all 4 zipper edges, about 1/8″ from the slit edges.

12. Check the back of piece A, and make sure the zipper is securely stitched in place. Then fold piece D in half, so that there is a fold along the bottom, and the other edges all line up. This is going to be your pocket. You will stitch along the sides and top, but only on piece D. Be careful to keep piece A out of the way as you stitch.

13. Applique the bird to the right side of one main piece A. I positioned mine approximately 4″ from the side edge and 5″ from the bottom. To applique, I used a tight zigzag stitch around the bird’s body, leaving the edges raw. I trimmed down any scraggly bits when I was done. To make the bird’s eye, I used contrasting thread and a tight zigzag stitch. I repeated this horizontally and vertically. You could also embroider something nice, if that’s more your speed.

14. Don’t despair, you’re getting close. Press the top edges of all your A pieces, main and contrast, down 1/2″.

15. Position one of the straps along the wrong side of one lining piece A. The lining side of the strap will face down, against the wrong side of the lining piece A. The raw ends will be positioned 1 1/2″ from the folded edge at the top, and the strap’s side will be about 2 1/2″ from the edge of piece A. Stitch the strap in place at one by sewing 2 horizontal lines – one about 1/4″ from the raw edge of the strap, and another line about 1/2″ above the first.

16. Repeat step 15 with the other end of the strap, sewing it in place about 2 1/2″ from the other edge of piece A.

17. Repeat steps 15 and 16 with the other strap and the other contrast piece A.

18. If you plan to use the magnetic clasps, position them now. I centered mine horizontally along the top of lining piece A, about 1/2″ from the folded edge. There is one clasp on each lining piece.

19. You’re really almost done! Put your two main piece As together, right sides facing. Sew along the bottom and sides, but not along the cutouts.

20. To sew the first cutout, fold it so that the raw edges are together, and the bottom and side seams you just sewed line up in the centre. So, the inner corners of the cutouts are on the sides, as you open up the bottom and side seams and line up the cutout edges. Sew along the raw cutout edges. Repeat for the other cutout.

21. Repeat steps 17 and 18 with the lining pieces. Now you have two bags, one with straps and pockets, one without.

22. Turn the main body of the bag out, so that the right side is facing out. Position the lining inside it, so that the side seams line up. Pin the lining in place along the top, folded edge. Topstitch approximately 1/4″ from the edge.

Take a bow, you have a tote!

Free as a bird tote in sunlight

If you are a crafty sort, you might want to visit my Making Stuff page, which has other sewing projects, as well as needle-felting and cooking. You can get there any time by clicking my fabulous ‘Making REAL Stuff’ button in the sidebar.

Sewing Project: Balloon-y Baby Blanket

I like to make things. Crafting gets me out of my head. It gives me tangible evidence of my accomplishments. It provides me with a creative outlet, makes for affordable one-of-a-kind gifts, and sticks a thumb in the eye of the consumer culture. I particularly like to make things for little people. For one thing, they’re smaller, so their stuff is usually smaller, and smaller = faster. Plus, these first gifts that someone made just for you are so special. These are the things that become family heirlooms.

I recently made a baby blanket for a special little someone. I had some wool felt on hand, and it called for something colourful. A hot air balloon seemed just the thing. You can see how it turned out, and make one of your own, by reading on.

Balloon close-up

How to Make a Balloon-y Blanket


  • 2 – 30 x 36″ pieces of fabric for the blanket (I used organic cotton flannel)
  • fabric odds and ends to create the design with (I used wool felt)
  • co-ordinating thread
  • black embroidery floss


Plan out your design by sketching it on paper. This will serve as your pattern. If you want to duplicate my blanket feel free to use my pattern, which filled most of an 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of paper (click to enlarge).

I used five 8″ long fabric strips to make the colourful stripes on my balloon. The outer two were 1 3/4″ wide, and the inner three were 2″ wide. Before I cut them I measured their width using my ruler, and ran my scissors along the edge to score the felt. Then it was really easy to just follow that score and cut a straight line. I also cut out a 3/4″ square piece for the basket, and a 1 5/8 x 3/4″ piece in purple for the balloon skirt. (I looked up hot air balloon terminology online, can you tell?)

(Note: I made a 7 1/2 x 8″ square using my fabric strips. If you used fewer colours, or created a different design, you would just need to make sure that it was 7 1/2″ x 8″ once it was sewn together, accounting for seam allowances.)

Scoring the felt

Working from left to right, I pinned the felt strips with their wrong sides together, and sewed along the long edge, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Once all 5 pieces were together, I trimmed the seams, leaving about 1/8″ of fabric. If you were using a fabric that may fray, like cotton, I wouldn’t do the trimming. Instead I would press the seams open so that you end up with a flat square. Once my square was finished, I cut out my balloon shape using my pattern.

Next, I took my purple skirting and sewed it along the balloon’s bottom edge, wrong sides together. I trimmed the seam in the same way I trimmed the others.

I used the seam side of my balloon as the wrong side, although if you’re using felt you could go either way. Since it won’t fray, it might look sort of cool to have the seams exposed. The choice is yours, but you have to decide because next you’re going to pin the balloon, wrong side down, to the right side of one of your blanket pieces. I decided to put mine near the top, so that it would look like it was floating.

If I use a fabric that may fray, I use a tight zigzag stitch to sew my work to the blanket. You want the outside of the zigzag to just catch the outside edge of the balloon as you sew. Since I was using a non-fraying fabric this time, I used a regular straight stitch, about 1/8″ in from the balloon edge. You can see examples of both here (click to enlarge):

Next I sewed the basket about 3/4″ below the bottom of the balloon, roughly aligned in the center. At this point, I decided the blanket needed a little something extra, and cut out a couple of small, fluffy clouds using light blue felt. I pinned those right side up to the blanket, and sewed them in the same way I sewed the balloon.

Now I got out my embroidery hoop. I used three strands of embroidery floss doubled over to create the ropes. What I mean is, I took three strands, threaded them through my needle and knotted it at the bottom, because that’s how I did it in grade 3 when we cross-stitched Mother’s Day gifts in school. It might not be the best way, but it works, and I am not picky. Anyways, my point is that in the end I used six strands altogether. I sewed four ropes from the bottom of the skirting to the top of the basket.

At this point, the heavy lifting was done and I just had to sew the blanket together. I pinned the two blanket pieces right side together, and sew around all 4 edges, leaving a 5″ gap. I used a 5/8″ seam allowance. In a nod to diligence I trimmed the corners on the diagonal, being careful not to cut through the stitches.

Feeling very close to completion, I turned the blanket right side out. If you felt like doing the right thing, you would press the blanket. I did not. I may be a bad example. I just topstitched around the entire blanket, 1/4″ from the edge. This closed up the 5″ hole that I used to turn the blanket right side out. Then I topstitched again, approximately 1 1/2″ from the edge.

If you’re playing along, lay out your blanket and admire your work. You’re done!

Balloon-y baby blanket
Finished blanket!

If this is kind of your thing, you might want to check out my other super-fun craft projects and recipes under the Making Stuff menu header. We can jump on the handmade bandwagon together!

Improvisational Skirt

I like to make things. On days when I feel as if nothing has been accomplished, being able to point to a new row of knitting or some chocolate chip cookies keeps me sane. It gives me something tangible to point to, something that I can hold and say I did this! My day has not been a total wash after all.

I wasn’t always a crafter. There was a time when I didn’t do it because it seemed too hard. I didn’t understand how a fabric store worked, or how to read a pattern. I tried knitting when I was 7 and couldn’t figure it out, so it must be beyond me. And who needs to bake cookies when you can buy them?

It turns out that I like making stuff, I just don’t like playing by the rules. I think that maybe I am just too much of a conformist, because when I have a pattern and things don’t work out perfectly it freaks me out. I have a rule sheet and I want to follow that rule sheet to the letter. Which is hard, because traditional home sewing and knitting patterns aren’t really all that great a lot of the time. Some of them are confusing, some of them have mistakes and some of the finished products are not as pictured no matter how hard you try. By ditching all of that and just winging it, I have had more success and more fun.

A skirt I made for myself
Wearing a skirt made from a pattern I improvised

I can’t make just anything by winging it, but I can make a lot of things. Handbags, blankets, baby carriers and sleeveless dresses for my daughter are all pretty straightforward. Sometimes the projects go through a few iterations while I work out the bugs. Sometimes I use some, um, salty language. But the truth is that this happens even with a pattern. When I’m improvising at least I’m not swearing because I don’t understand what someone is telling me to do.

When I wanted a new skirt I decided to just wing it. What is the worst that could possibly happen, right? I made my own pattern by taking a skirt that I already had and liked, and laying it down on my fabric. I added an extra half-inch around the top and sides of the skirt, and an extra inch along the bottom. I just eyeballed it, I didn’t measure exactly and I didn’t pull out any pencils or anything, I just cut around the existing skirt. Voila, skirt front! I repeated that for the back, and had my pieces.

Skirt close-up
Close-up of the skirt

I sewed a zigzag stitch around the four edges of the skirt’s front and back, and then I sewed the side seams together and pressed them open. Yes, I did use an iron. Yes, I was also surprised by that. I usually just sew through the wrinkles, but there is a first time for everything. Then I put a centered zipper on one of the side seams at the waist, and hemmed the bottom and top of the skirt. And it was done.

I am toying with making the skirt a little smaller by re-sewing one of the side seams with a larger seam allowance. We’ll see how it wears for a little while first, though. Maybe I’ll eat some more of those cookies and I’ll be glad it’s a little roomy. For now, I am pretty much happy with it. And I can cross something off my Mondo Beyondo list, so that’s cool, too.

Are you a by-the-rules crafter, or do you make it up as you go along? Or would you rather just buy a skirt if you need one? Share your crafting horror stories and triumphs in the comments!

PS – I just wanted to give you a quick reminder about my maternity leave talk at 10:30am this Saturday at Tiny Fingers Tiny Toes in Maple Ridge. If you’re local I would love to see you there!

Homemade Holiday Show and Tell

Back in November I shared my grand plans for a handmade Christmas. Sadly, for quite some time I remained in the planning stage, not doing much more than telling myself how fabulous it would all be and believing that I had plenty of time left. Finally, a week before Christmas I could no longer deny the advancing date, and I got to crafting. The verdict? In spite of my late start, I still accomplished a fair bit.

4-year-old Hannah and I worked together to make some embroidered pillows.

Hannah's Christmas heart

Handsewn cushion with my 4-year-old's embroidery

A special pillow for Nan

I sewed some aprons for the ladies, too.

Modeling the aprons I made them

Gretchen's new apron

And I did a little bit of knitting (I confess, this is the one thing I started well enough in advance, I just don’t knit that quickly).

Mittens for Jacob

My mom's Christmas socks

But the piece that I am most proud of, and the thing that I was up late finishing on Christmas Eve, is the puppet theatre that I made for the children. I got the pattern from Amy Karol‘s Bend the Rules Sewing, and I love it. It hangs in the doorway on a tension rod, and then packs up in a pouch for easy storage. It’s really, really fabulous, and thankfully my kids love it just as much as I do.

Puppet theatre, closedCase to store the puppet theatre

Hannah performs

Once I threw in some jam and jelly that I made in the summer, I was pretty happy with how my crafting turned out. Although starting earlier just might have worked to my advantage. I don’t know for sure, but I have my suspicions.

How about you? How did your holiday crafting go? Do share!

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