Monday, November 29, 2010

Felted Bags - the Secret to Hiding My Knitting Mistakes

Troubles with dropped stitches? Added a few extra each row? Felting could be the answer...the magical combination of a washing machine, extra soap, some old jeans, and a few tennis balls hides a multitude of sins.
Denise's new book bag
It all started a couple of years ago when Barb, Patti and I made a trip to Costa Mesa, CA and the craft store to end all craft stores - Piecemakers (

They have everything! Beading, quilting, painting, porcelain dolls, clay sculpture, and the list goes on. It's three buildings of craft supplies and classes. You could get lost in the place! In fact, they expect that so they also serve lunch - potluck style for $5.

Anyway, the three of us wandered around and visited with many of the classes in session (it's highly encouraged)...but the one that caught our attention the most that day was the felted purse class.

We were too late to join in but were enthralled with the idea of knitting giant-sized shapeless mounds and transforming them into tightly felted bags. Through some careful sleuthing, we were able to discover the basic "recipe" and scampered off to try it on our own.

A quick trip to Michael's and we were stocked up with wool (synthetic yarn won't felt - anything over 60% wool will work) and ready to experiment. For the record, Barb started hers in the car on the way home - she's a speedy knitter.

I'll admit my first efforts were a little oddly formed but I think I've got it mostly figured out now...I still get compliments on my purse when I'm out.

Several of you have asked me for the "how-to's" so here goes:

1. If you have wool scraps handy use them, otherwise you'll need between 6-9 balls of wool ( Andes wool is the source Barb found online - they have great colors).

2. The felting seems to come out thicker if you use two strands of wool and that allows for easy blending.

3. Use huge circular needles and cast on about 90-100 stitches depending on if you want a purse or a tote bag.

4. If you want structured corners, you'll need to mark them with a ribbon or strand of contrasting yarn - to make the corner, knit 2 together, then yarn over to replace the stitch and knit the rest of the way around.

5. If you just want a tote - sit and knit - until your bag looks like something the Jolly Green Giant would wear as a beanie (or toque for the Canadians in the crowd) then cast off.
Caroline and her book bag before felting...

6. If you are making the tote - stitch (or knit) the bottom together and you are ready for felting.

7. If you are making a structured purse, I pick up the stitches for the side on the bottom of the piece and knit back and forth connecting the ends as I go - mostly because I am too lazy to knit a separate bottom and sew it on like a normal person would.
My purse before felting - note the eyelash yarn near the top and the knitted across bottom
FUZZY TIP:If you like the fuzzy stuff - knit in a synthetic eyelash yarn along with the wool - it won't shrink in the wash and will remain fuzzy. For the more delicate ribbon effect - hand sew those pieces on at the same time as the handles.


8. Since felting produces lint - it's best to toss your knitting into a pillow case or sewn up sweatshirt (I cut the sleeves off mine and installed a zipper for easy access) to protect your washer from lint clogs.

9. Add the knitted bag, lots of laundry soap, a couple of pairs of jeans and a few tennis balls (if you have them handy - they aren't required) and wash on hot.

10. After one cycle - pull it out and check the progress - WARNING - it will look like a fuzzy mass of something a cat would throw up...a large cat that is. Check if you can still "see" the individual stitches - if you can - run it again.

11. I usually run it through twice.


12. Then it is time to stretch the piece into the shape you want for your final project. This is work! It usually takes me about 10-15 minutes to create a shape that doesn't annoy me. I try hard to smooth out the wrinkles too.

13. If you have a bunch of old plastic grocery bags - they are perfect for stuffing the piece - I have also used CD cases and towels. The idea is to hold the shape until the felt dries - about 3 days.


14. You can knit your handles or even sew them from quilting fabric but both of those methods take time and skill - I called myself a haphazard housewife for a reason - I'm cheap and lazy so I go to thrift shops and buy an old purse or tote that has good handles. I have paid between $1-5 for real leather - but even the fake leather handles can look good.

My purse after felting

15. Cut the handles off the old purse/bag and hand sew them on your felted bag - use the holes already made - piercing new ones takes a lot of effort. A thimble is a nice tool for this part.

Caroline's book bag after felting


16. I like a lined bag so will sew up a quick lining from pretty quilting fabric. I like to include pockets and any other dividers/holders that make sense for the bag's intended use. For my purse, I made pockets for my cell phone, keys, chapstick, and gum.
My purse - dividers and pockets for all my stuff

Denise's book bag lining

That's it! Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy! Now I want to try a pleated bag...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Junkin - from Trash to Treasure...if you squint

I may be too cheap.

I recognize this about myself. I do. Honestly. But I just can't seem to help myself.

Now that we are operating on a fixed income since Dave retired I think about money or the lack of it...a lot. Sure I've been working at odd teaching and writing jobs here and there but no one seems to actually pay me.

So the scarcity of actual income makes me nervous...but it hasn't diminished my desire for decorating our home.

Yes...I admit it...I've been "junkin".

A friend was telling me last night that when his wife was stationed in Germany, "Junkin" (said with an appropriately thick German accent) was what the military wives would do on trash day. Since many German homes in the city are small and many Germans favor a minimalist decor, it was fairly common to see hand-carved clocks and china hutches out at the curb.

The pickings aren't quite so rich up here in the mountains - think less "hand-carved" and more "hand-tossed" yet I was able to find a 1960's (the dawn of the particle board era) child's dresser on the street corner last week.

The drawers were trashed (no doubt used by some four year old climber to reach something breakable on top) but the piece had potential.

So where Jan admired her hand-carved German clock and polished it lovingly after finding it; I took a reciprocating saw to the dresser I found.

I meant to take a picture of the real before picture but I was so excited to get chopping, I forgot.

My goal was to create a stereo and DVD cabinet to sit below our wall-hung TV in the cabin. Everything has to be sized just right to fit in the cabin - it's like the whole structure is a foot too small in every direction. Our current stereo cabinet is two shelves and no side supports - it's pathetic.

So I hacked off the top half of the dresser and started in on re-sizing the crosspieces to fit our specific stereo equipment. Am I the only one who wonders why I am working so hard to accommodate an 8 year old stereo from Kmart?

But I can't resist the challenge.

The top was some early form of Formica so there's no attractive way to reuse it so I was a bit stuck for a suitable substitute.

Now normally I am a "toss what you aren't using" sort of declutter enthusiast but I also have my secret "hold on-to's". In this case, it was a banister-hung folding patio table from Ikea circa 1992. I bought it up in Canada on a summer visit and my sister hand-delivered it on her annual autumn pilgrimage to Disneyland.

With all that effort for the dang thing, I couldn't just discard it so I have dutifully packed and unpacked it in every garage I've owned - I never even took it out of its box.

Thank God for Ikea's flatpack system - it meant that I didn't have to hack apart the table to get the top on its own.  But there was one teeny-tiny didn't quite fit.

Thinking quickly, I used my old trick on Dave. It's the one where I do such a crappy and dangerous few swipes with a sharpened chisel that he'll snatch the tools right out of my hands and finish the job safely.

SIDE NOTE: Dave has hidden wood-working skills but after all these years of marriage, I'm on to some of them. Like how he used to help his dad repair an apartment building by hanging doors and resetting locks...hence the chisel expertise.

Chiseling complete, it was time to design the interior of the cabinet. There was one drawer support crosspiece in the way to a few swipes with a hammer quickly dispatched it...mostly. Remember when I mentioned this piece was built at the dawn of the particle board era?

Well, some bright spark with actual joinery skills used the particle board to make a mortise and tenon joint for the drawer supports. So when I hammered the crosspiece, it ripped out a chunk of particleboard on each side. In retrospect, I should have sawed through it...but I was excited and hammering is fun...until you have to patch stuff.

I ended up using wall spackle to fill the potholes I'd made (you can see the white patch on the side in the pic above) since I had some on hand and then repositioned side supports to a height that would accommodate the stereo. Luckily, there were a few extra pine boards in the Ikea table pack that I cut to fit the cabinet interior using my chop/miter saw.

Time to paint!

I was favoring a rustic red - after all, the drapes are red, the kitchen island is red, the chair seats are red...the whole cabin is decorated in forest green, rustic red and pine - so red works.

Dave cast his vote for black. His reasoning was the TV is black, the fireplace box is black and the pine top would really pop against the black (okay pop is my word - I think he said, "show up").

Since he was already dead-set against this project and was betting money that it would end up in a dumpster, I thought going along with his suggestion might engender some buy-in...and maybe some help lifting the thing out of the truck.

To make the paint-type decision, I used my secret technique of looking stupid (easy for me) and asking the paint guy. He took one look at me and said although oil-based would be the best choice,  exterior grade water-based house paint would work as a compromise between durability and my obviously messy painting technique (I was wearing paint-spattered work pants).

After one coat - I had streaks everywhere and loads of white spots.

That's the problem with black...sure you can see what you are doing on the first coat, but on the second coat? So here I am paintbrush in one hand and flashlight in the other.

After two coats, it was looking pretty sharp. I popped up the cardboard top to shoot brads into the pine shelves I was making - leaving space behind to pass through the tangle of wires that are inevitable with electronic components (when is wireless going to be affordable???).

I used liquid nails and brads to attach the Ikea top - of course that was after the hysterical moment ("cussing and panicked" hysterical not "laughing") when all the pine boards collapsed and the side rails fell off. But Dave was right about how the black made the pine "pop".

I had drilled two 1 1/2" holes in the back to run wires through so the last step was sorting the puzzle of wires - it's a task somewhat like deciding to unravel a mound of spaghetti so you can eat the noodles one at a time. More cussing.

The detail that had attracted me to the piece in the first place was the spade foot and the medallion. In black the foot shape was visible but the medallion was lost. Since my other sister had given me a copper fabric painting pen - a few swipes over the raised metal did the trick.

The small size of the dresser in width and depth make it a near-perfect fit next to the fireplace - phew!

For those of you who love "before and after" shots - here's the transformation:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Everyone Except the Poodle!

Months ago Sherril and her husband were trying to sell their house. As part of their staging efforts, Sherril bought some red pillows - pretty ones for sure - but not really what she loved personally.

With the market being as flat as pancakes, paper, and anything else un-bumpy, their house didn't sell and they were left with attractive but somehow annoying red pillows.

When Sherril offered to let me bunk over after a presentation I was giving in the city and then sweetened the offer with the lure of her AMAZING chocolate-chip cookies, I couldn't resist (who could really?). For my part, I promised to bring my sewing machine to help conquer the dreaded red pillows.

We met at Home Fabrics  - the source of all inexpensive upholstery fabric in the western world and located the perfect $5 a yard fabric in seconds!

Here's Sherril with her miniature poodle, Buddy with the old red pillows.

Sherril chose a thick upholstery fabric that could withstand Buddy's favorite game - the old classic "put your ball on the pillow and bite the pillow to make the ball bounce up". Okay, maybe it's a game you have to be a poodle to really grasp the intricacies of...

Sherril's home is modern in flavor with an emphasis on natural elements and colors. So the organic lines in the fabric (wavy lines - if Dave is reading this) balance the blocks of color - taupe, turquoise and chocolate.

Once we were "jammied up", it took seconds to cut the fabric blocks to size and sew up the first two pillows. Sherril took a nervous start at sewing the third one but was delighted (so she said) with the finished result of her efforts.

Too many years in the classroom - or maybe my pushy nature - but when her high school freshman son checked out what we were doing, I had him sew up pillow number 4.  I'm not sure if it was that sewing was so interesting or the fact that he had a biology test the next day and was avoiding studying but he was a natural!

That left one other person who could see the fabric while pressing the foot pedal (Buddy is a miniature poodle after all)...Sherril's husband had been minding his own business in the den but with the pressure of the rest of us proclaiming how easy sewing pillows is...he saw that he would be back watching TV and reading his paper faster if he just took his turn.

The result of our family pillow flurry is a set of pillows that complement their leather furniture so well, you'd think they came as part of the original set!

Best of all, for our $15 investment, we actually had enough fabric for two more pillows and a table runner!

So everyone except the poodle made a pillow - what a happy ending...except if you are anything like me, you are probably almost burning with the most pressing question about this whole project...what happened to the cookies???

We did consume at least a dozen over tea and sewing and then Sherril tucked the rest into my bag before I drove off the next a Weight Watchers meeting.

I stayed within my weight range...and didn't even have to lean on the table during weigh-in - although I was shivering in my lack of clothes. The drive home though was cookie-filled and yummy - I have a whole other month to lose their weight, right?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pillow Talk

As pretty as I think the benches are – they aren’t very comfortable for long-term lounging (anything over 5 minutes on chipboard is torture in my world).

So pillows are needed!

I was lucky because I had some extra foam from our overstuffed air mattress (the extra slab of foam actually made our bed convex and we were both rolling out during the night – removing the foam made all the difference).

I was able to cut the foam to fit both benches which did wonders for the seat comfort but I still wanted to have some throw cushions for leaning and laying down comfort.

I bought some pillow forms from an upholstery shop in Vegas (9 pillows for $38) and on a shopping trip to Home Fabrics in Lake Forest with two dear friends found the perfect fabric.

“Perfect” is defined as $3 a yard. We also found some almost perfect fabric ($7.99 a yard) in a faux burlap – softer than real burlap. We’d seen the same look at Pottery Barn recently so our choices were trendy and frugal.
Here are the fabric choices for each bench:
Bright blue denim and burlap for the outdoor turquoise bench

Navajo chenille and a bandana-esque cotton for the indoor pine bench.

The bandana pillows were quick and easy.
HOT TIP: My secret for using the machine to sew the final seam to encase the pillow form is to squish the pillow down and safety-pin the pillow case to keep the pillow back from the seam. Then you can sew it without pinning (I hate pinning). Release the safety-pin and fluff!
The burlap pillows were harder – because of the orange stencil print, I didn’t have enough fabric to ensure that the stencil could be centered on both sides. So I flipped the fabric and made the back side in the wrong side of the fabric.

That worked well…except that because of the need to cut my pillow fronts from the middle of the fabric – I didn’t have enough fabric remaining to actually make whole squares so I had to piece together the backs. That’s what I get for NOT measuring while I was purchasing the fabric – see what I mean about my haphazard methods? But at $7.99 a yard, I was trying to minimize still may have made the decision to piece the backs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

From Bed to Bench

I internalized the cardinal rule "Waste not - Want not" growing up - maybe because my parents were raised during the war years - WWII that is...
I also internalized my own motto which is, "How hard can it be?"
My parents' legacy is a good one for our frugal times - just makes sense.

My motto?

Well, mostly it inspires me to try things I wouldn't normally since I don't actually have the skills it takes.

Case in point:
We bought a house out in the desert and like every new homeowner were cash-poor after the close of escrow. So I turned to Craigslist to buy bed frames. $150 later, I owned some scruffy but serviceable queen-sized bed frames.

Sure I had to sand and smooth the pine bed. And the “now blue” bed was so damaged that paint was really the only solution. A quart of turquoise later, all was well.

But that was last year.

This year, the bedrooms have become an office and a guestroom which is home to a double-size mattress so the Craigslist beds were bound for a garage sale...until...I thought they could become benches - daybed sized benches but attractive and largely free if I could use what scraps of materials I had already...I mean, how hard could it be?

I cut the footboard in half and attached the halves to the headboard to serve as arms. Then I cut the side rails to fit the distance between the arms. I tacked down some discarded chipboard and voila! Benches!