Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Joining the Club

So this feels little bit like the first day back at school, where maybe you know a few people here and there but mostly it’s new faces, and then the teacher makes everyone stand up and say their name and one interesting thing about themselves, and of course you end up going right after the obviously popular girls who always have something amazing to say about how they spent the summer learning to sail or were extras on “One Tree Hill,” and then it’s your turn  and suddenly you can’t think of anything interesting, at least not that you want to share with a bunch of people who don’t know you, and certainly nothing cool like sailing, and then you realize suddenly that everyone is staring at you and still waiting for the one interesting thing, and you still can’t think of anything, and really, who needs the pressure

Am I right??

So this is a little like that. I’m joining this blog as sort of a third-girl alternate, and it’s a little bit intimidating to follow along after Emily and Sheila because they are fantastic, creative women who do amazing projects. I’m really flattered to be asked to join in, though I forewarn you, my sewing skills aren’t nearly at their level so you’ll have to bear with me through anything that isn’t done quite the “right” way. (I have other crafty skills, I think – hope? -- that will balance this out.)

A little about me: I’m a full-time marketing manager and wife, and a part-time student and crafter, living right in the middle of the big city in the Deep South. I have two cats but no kids, which will have to wait until Alex and I get something bigger than the 750-square-foot shoebox we currently call home. I’m pretty sure that my only qualification for No Time for Pie is that my approach to things is usually, “It can’t be that hard!” (And, thanks to the Internet, it usually isn’t.)

And now, on to the crafting part!

First – Emily, I don’t know what to tell you about the dye. I’ve never had it do that so strangely before – just the one panel? Can’t hurt to try the navy, I’d think? Surely better than purple. Take some pictures of what happens. I don’t know that it’s really a “fail” when it’s an unexpected reaction not due to anything YOU did…

Continuing on, it’s Park Blanket time!

So one of the reasons we live in a tiny, tiny condo is the location – two blocks from the big city park. We spend a lot of time in the park, especially in the spring and fall when there are festivals, movies on the lawns and concerts. I had been thinking for quite some time that I wanted a nice big park blanket to sit on for these events, and I could not find one ANYwhere that did everything I wanted (waterproof, large enough to sit many people comfortably, lightweight) while also being inexpensive.

Solution: Make my own!
Problem: No money/time/motivation.
Solution, Part 2: Hancock Fabrics giant sale (!!!) + friends in town for BIG music fest!

I really shouldn’t go in Hancock Fabrics unsupervised … but I did, and I got sidetracked by the remnant section which was featuring waterproofed fabrics (like what people put on restaurant tables) and giant sheets of upholstery fabrics. So I got carried away and bought a bunch of waterproof tablecloth fabric in this pretty black-and-white swirl, and then got lucky with a comfy houndstooth print (which, if you don’t know and/or are not from the South, is the print associated with the University of Alabama football team, the Crimson Tide – my husband and I both went to undergrad there, so I was pretty excited to find it). I bought 4 yards of each type of fabric, because I wanted a BIG blanket (and, well, they were on sale…).

ANYwho, here is what I went through to make this park blanket. It’s entirely possible (probable?) that there are many ways to improve upon this, but at least now you’ll have a starting point.

First, I gathered all my supplies – the two fabrics, plus some batting and some red thread (Roll Tide!) for an accent color.

Then, I cut both fabrics in half, which gave me two pieces of each fabric that were each two yards long. Then I sewed each two-yard piece to the other two-yard piece, so that I ended up with a sheet that was four yards by 54-ish inches (whatever the height of the bolt of fabric was).

At this point, it occurred to me that I should add a batting layer in between the fabric layers so that every single rock or stick wouldn’t poke us in the bottom every time we sat down on the blanket (this is a very real possibility, per prior experience with low-quality park blankets). I already had some batting from a previous project, and here was the perfect time to get it out of my (overstuffed) closet. Because I was using what I had, it was much narrower than I would have purchased otherwise for this size project, and I had to sew it together in strips to make up the size of the overall blanket.

Then, I laid out all the fabric layers on the floor to measure on top of each other, because the waterproof fabric was slightly shorter/smaller than the houndstooth and I wanted to make sure they all matched in size. (Also I am lazy, and so anything that keeps me from having to measure, I am all about.) I ended up cutting off a strip from the houndstooth fabric that was 4 or 5 inches wide, which I used later for another part of the project. (This also leads me to a big tip – NEVER throw any scraps from a project away, because you will likely end up needing it for something later on. Trust me on this.)

After I was sure everything lined up, I pinned it all together in reverse -- the two patterned fabrics were back-to-back, and I pinned the batting to one side. Then, I hemmed all the edges together except for a two-foot stretch on one side. This is exactly like you would make a basic pillow, by the way, only on a much larger scale.

Then there’s the hardest part (for me) of this whole thing: Flipping it right-side-out/inside-out to get your fabric facing the right way, with the batting inside. This is why you leave a two-foot hole.

NOTE: This SEEMS like a big hole right now, but that’s before you start having to pull out all the fabric in the entire universe through this tiny opening. It’s never-ending fabric, and batting, and more fabric…. So resist the urge to sew it as closely as possible, and just content yourself with knowing that nobody will ever see or notice the hem when you close it from the outside anyway.

(SECOND NOTE: Don’t think to yourself that you can add the batting in later, like stuffing a pillow, after it’s flipped right-side-out. After I got trapped inside the thing with a bunch of batting around me and flailed around like a cat stuck in a plastic bag for 20 minutes, I realized I was making it harder than it should be, got back out of it and then flipped it back inside-out and sewed it on properly. Learn from my mistakes.)

So anyway, now you have this lovely spread of fabric. You can now sew shut that two-foot hole by folding the fabric under/inside on both sides and hemming it (I did not take a picture of this because I forgot, so let me know if it doesn’t make sense). Voila, le blanket!

At this point, I decided that I wanted to get fancy and have a nice way to keep the blanket all rolled up for carrying purposes. I tend to stockpile things like elastic and Velcro (you never know when you might need them), so I had a strip of two-inch black elastic and a box of sticky-backed two-inch black Velcro. (See? This is why you keep everything. Hoarders R Us over here.)

To figure out where to put the elastic, I had to test-roll the blanket up several times to figure out how to do it most compactly, and then I marked that spot on the hem with a pin and wrapped the elastic around it to see how long it needed to be to wrap tightly, also marking with a pin. Then, I sewed the Velcro onto the end of the elastic and at the spot on the elastic where it would overlap and “fasten.” (I know, it’s a terrible picture, sorry.)

Remember that since you are wrapping around the blanket, the Velcro will be on the top of one side of the elastic (on the end) and the bottom of the other side (in the middle), in order to fasten (it has to overlap).

I then attached the elastic to the blanket itself, at the spot that I pinned. I reinforced it multiple times here, since I’ll be yanking it tightly around the blanket on a regular basis. (Please note that if what you have on hand, like me, is sticky-backed Velcro, it will sticky up your sewing needle. I go through a lot of sewing needles because I dislike pinning the “correct” way and I tend to break them, so this doesn’t bother me, but take heed if it will bother you.)

Now, remember that strip of fabric that I had left over? Here is where it comes in handy. I realized I wanted a strip to carry the blanket over my shoulder, since we do have to walk to the park and schlep it around at that point. I had originally planned to use ribbon but decided it wasn’t rigid enough, so I ended up using the leftover fabric by sewing it into a tube and then hemming the ends (I also ran one stitch right down the middle of the strip to make it lie flat). You could get much fancier with this, but I just wanted a basic strap. I was worried about needing a shoulder pad, but it turned out the blanket was so light that it didn’t need one. Additionally, I attached the strap straight to the elastic, not the blanket, because I wanted all the “extraneous” pieces to my blanket to all be stuck on the same corner so they could be tucked out of the way and also it centered the strap for carrying.

Now, I had this nice houndstooth blanket, what more could I want? Oh, just an Alabama “A” on there, to drive home the team-spirit point. I had on-hand a bunch of sticky-backed felt (yes, I like all things sticky-backed, it makes life easier) in red, which was perfect. I pulled up the Alabama logo online, and drew out the “A” on a sheet of paper (you could print yours out; my printer was out of ink so I free-handed it. Yay, semi-useful graphic design degree). Then I cut it out, flipped it backwards, and traced it backwards on the back of the felt (so it would face right-way-round when cut out of the felt.)

Then, I stuck it on one corner, and hand-sewed in a few stitches at corners that I thought might not stay down.

At this point, you could stop. But I was on a roll, so I borrowed/stole an idea from Infarrantly Creative (is it still stealing if I credit her?) to keep the blanket from getting wind-borne in the park. This is really, really simple, yet SO amazingly wonderful: You put grommets in all four corners of the blanket, and then stick golf tees through them to make it stay in the ground. (I KNOW, RIGHT?) This is really easy, you just have to buy the grommet plier kit for 3/8” grommets, which is just the right size for a golf tee, and grommet each corner. (See full directions on Infarrantly Creative’s blog here.)

(I reinforced my corners since I figured they’d get pulled on a lot once people sit on the blanket.)

And then, you just add a little baggie to put the tees in (I used one from an old beach bag), and this can tuck right into the folds of the blanket when it’s rolled up. (I know, second bad picture!)

I may grommet everything in my life from now on, it was so easy!!

So, here is the blanket rolled up (it came out very small and light-weight):
And here is the blanket in use (yes, I am holding an adult beverage; so is my friend Patty, but you can’t tell since it’s in a cup and not an enormous beer can):

Right after I put the blanket down, those three women right behind us asked where I’d gotten it and could they buy one. (!!!)

Also, the ground was REALLY wet, so we got to seriously test it out, and I am happy to say that the waterproofing worked perfectly. I had to hang it over my fire escape to dry the underside off when I got home, but it dried in about an hour, so no issues there. It was a great step up over the damp bums we saw at the music fest all day.


Emily and Sheila, thanks for letting me into your circle, I can’t wait for the next project! :)

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