Doll Making with the Girls–A Refresher Course in Why I SEW

Some days my love of sewing is a bit overwhelming–all those tangled threads, dropped pins and unfinished projects seem to be going nowhere.   That’s when I call some friends and set up a date for doll making.

Doll making reminds me of how my sewing began (Barbie clothes) and why it continues at such a fever pace.  Think of the adult coloring book craze transferred to fabric.  Sewing is essentially PLAY.


So here’s to a houseful of girls (ages 10 and up), two sturdy sewing machines,  a well used pattern and a bin of old doll clothes.   What a great way to start a new year of creating with fabric.


13-year-old Klara made this doll in an afternoon.  Klara’s lady is wearing a very chic ensemble from 1930s doll wardrobe I stumbled on in an antique store.  Fortunately, there were hats in wardrobe.  We didn’t have time to make embroidery floss hair in our first meeting.


Doll maker Miriam also shopped the 1930s wardrobe.  We used fabric pens to make the doll faces, but embroidery is another option if you have the time.    (Note: Pal Megan took her doll home to hand-stitch the face.  That’s too much sewing for one day, and why she missed the photo shoot.)


Our pattern came from a tried and true (out for print) book from my collection.  You can find other books and patterns, but I wouldn’t recommend working on a smaller scale.  Smaller patterns would be too hard to turn to the right side–which is time-consuming at best.


Another thing I like about this book–instructions have you  sew around the doll shape before cutting it out.  I find that much easier than the other way around

Be sure to have chopsticks, dowels and other tools for turning small arms and legs.     And we used floral wire in the necks so heads didn’t flop .  A white pipe cleaner would work here too.


Here’s my doll, Jessica, made from the same pattern over several days,  several years ago.  Note the embroidered face and stitched yarn hair.


And speaking of creative play–Klara made this dog pincushion for me in the style of Picasso.    Eat your heart out Pablo.


What about you?  What sparks your creativity when you need a reboot?




Change a Room with Easy to Make Accent Pillows

I’ve made 100s of  accent (or throw) pillows over the years.  And of course, many of  my favorites have ended up in our own home.

My favorite floral pillows--a big rose and tiny  English flowers

My favorite floral pillows–a big rose and tiny English flowers

And I love this bedroom pillow made out of a vintage bed spread

And I love this bedroom pillow made out of a vintage bed spread

But change is good, especially in the fall when our focus shifts back indoors.  And pillow are  one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to change a room.

Here are some fabrics I’m saving for this year’s living room pillow makeover.pillow_fabric

Since we have a dog, I’ll make sure my new pillows zip or button closed so I can  take them off for cleaning.

And here are some favorite hot-off-the-sewing-machine-pillows I’m listing in my Etsy store.

Sail Away Pillow Pair

Sail Away Pillow Pair

Big Blooms in Deep Rose, Purple and Green

Big Blooms in Deep Rose, Purple and Green

Show your love with a "Sweet Pea Pillow"

Show your love with a “Sweet Pea Pillow”

If you’re in the mood for a fall makeover, check them all out at.  It only takes one cool accent pillow to change things up in a big way.

BTW, If you can sew a straight seam, you can make a pillow.  It’s the first project I teach in my beginning sewing classes.  Find a great piece of fabric and give it a whirl.    Here’s a  link to some instructions.

Always in my Sewing Box–Blue Painter’s Tape

Anyone who sews with me knows I use this low-tack painter’s tape a lot.blue_painterstape

It’s great for marking textiles that need repair like this stunning crocheted  coverlet my husband’s grandmother made.blue_coverlet

Yes, I know a lot of people would think this piece is too fragile to use–But, It’s also too beautiful to shut away in the cedar chest. After spreading it on our bed every summer, I wash it in a front loading machine,  and dry on delicate.   Then I mark and repair weak and broken places, before storing this family heirloom for next year.

The blue painters tape is a huge help, since the repair process is best done at several sittings (watching my two favorite things–football and old movies on TV).

I also use the tape to mark the throat plate on my machine for button holes, deep machine hems,  or  topstitching.  blue_machine

Finally, painter’s tape is a great help in my beginning sewing classes.  New students often have trouble remembering to lower the machine presser foot. So I write “P-foot” on a piece of painter’s tape and stick it on their hands.  Saves a lot of thread knots–

What unconventional tools are in your sewing box?

PS.  New beginning sewing classes start on Saturday 10/12.  Go to Scrap Exchange Classes for more —

A Family Tree Wall Hanging that Keeps Stories Safe

When you have a story to tell in textiles–pockets rule.   photoquilt

That’s why I put  a ton of  tree stamped pockets on my family tree wall hanging.    

I’m creating the family tree to share at our next cousins reunion. I plan to pass out paper and pens so everyone can write memories of the people in the photos. 

The pages will go in the pockets for safe keeping.  Too many family stories get lost over time. 

I made the pockets from a stack of silk/linen fabric samples; Jacquard (my favorite) fabric paint in brown; and a rubber stamp from Michael’s. 

Locally, (In the Raleigh-Durham NC area) you can buy Jacquard fabric paints at Jerrys Artarama , a store I can spend hours wandering around inside.

The pockets are deep.  Note the side button opening/close for easy access of the stories, photos, and other bits that might be stored inside.detail

Keeping it together works for me.  How about you?  How do you store family stories?

A Great Fabric Find–Vintage Drink Cozies

apronpocket_1I thought they were  doll aprons–

But no.  The woman manning the table at the estate sale told me these were the wine charms of their time.

Back in the day when Coca Cola came in thick, glass bottles, ladies of a certain age made tiny aprons to tell their drinks apart.

I now own 8 of these drink bottle cozies.apronpocket_2

The fabrics are wonderful.  Some are feedsack remnants.   The workmanship, using narrow bias tape in mid-century primary colors, is splendid.   These cozies are way too cool for the plastic bottles soft drinks come in now days.

So I’m going to reuse them as pockets on the aprons I love to make.  What do you think of the idea?apronpocket_3

Reclaim a Vintage Coat with Cuffs

The calendar may say “Spring” but it’s cold and rainy in North Carolina on this April day–perfect weather for my favorite mid-thigh 1950s coat.

reclaimed_coatI loved the swing style, top stitching, big buttons and pockets the moment I saw this piece  hanging in  the vintage clothing store.  And it fit through the shoulders! Mine are large.relcaimes_collarBut women of the 50s and 60s tended to be petite.  Vintage sleeves are always way too short for me.cuff_2

So I added a self-lined cuff in brown fabric from my stash.  It matches the topstitching, and large original buttons perfectly. And my brown cuff covers a high-wear spot on the original coat–slightly frayed sleeve edges.cuff_1

Another stash fabric–a brown plaid becomes a thin bias strip between the two fabrics.  This little detail makes my add-on cuffs look a lot more polished. 

I think it would be a good technique for vintage children’s wear, too.  What do you think?

Upcycling Vintage Belts in a Bag

I love old fabric belts from the 50s and 60s.  They’re beautifully crafted and have lots of vintage charm. 

But women in the 50s and 60s tended to be smaller with hourglass figures.   These old belts are too short for any modern women I know.

So I use them to close bags.   Here are two examples of belt-bags I just listed in my Esty store. 

I stitched the buckle end of the belt to the bag flap.  Then I removed matching fabric  from the belt backing, stitched and knotted it to make a thread-through anchor which is sewn to the bag body. 

Old fabric belts are easy to find and cost about a dollar a piece.    That’s a lot of charm for a little money don’t you think? 

Any other ideas for these wonderful vintage finds?  Please share because I love old belts–

Rare for Two Reasons–My Vintage Airplane Fabric

If only fabrics came with a “born on” date, I wouldn’t need all those reference books.

Dating the textiles in my collection is usually a bit of a guessing game, with lots of comparison involved.

But sometimes I get lucky.  Take this World War I airplane print.  I found it in a pile at a second-hand store that buys and resells estates.   Still in its original wrapping, this heavy-duty cotton duck was shipped from a NC mill to a family in Richmond Va, back in July 1978.

And never used.  Maybe mom never got around to it.  Maybe the airplane-loving little boy it was bought for grew up too fast.  Their loss…my gain.

Subject matter is the second reason this fabric stands out.  Since women were the shoppers, sewers and decorators of the last century, most fabrics are loaded with female appeal.  In my collection, I have tons flowers, cute animals, and more than a few french women in long skirts.   Planes, especially, war planes in happy primary colors, are pretty rare.

So what to do with this exception fabric find?  10 yards in search of project.  I welcome your suggestions.

And here is one of my new favorite reference books for dating fabrics.  If you’re a collector, check out the two guides by Elleen Jahnke Trestain (published by the American Quilters Society).  Thousands of full color swatches in each will help you place your fabrics in time.

A Custom Book for Cooks (and more)

A vintage kitchen towel, ticking and quilt square cover this recipe binder--

Covered binders are great way to store  your  favorite recipes.  Add all the pages you need, and organize them anyway you want–by category, season, or favorite menus.  

The words were harvested from an old sufer tee shirt and appliqued on.

For years, I’ve made custom binder covers for family and friends,  quilting and appliquing vintage fabrics and photos into cool,  durable collages which wrap around sturdy upcycled binders (usually from the Scrap Exchange in Durham NC) 

  Recently, I’ve  even made a some fabric collage-covered  binders for  my Etsy store,  

A vintage chicken apron gave its life for this wipe-clean recipe binder--on sale in my etsy store

But for the longest time–my own big recipe book remained uncovered.  It bothered me every time I reached for it–I just couldn’t find the right fabric.  

Discovered it this winter as we closed up my husband’s  family home on a snowy February day.  The 1950s  tablecloths  my mother-in-law  kept for so long were too raty for the table…but perfect for keep-sake collages.   

My recipe binder finally has a cover. It hold almost three decades of favoite dishes and clippings--

I cut, appliqued, quilted, and wrapped my binder  in those happy 50s fabric scraps.  Liked the results so much I made one for my brother-in-law.  Inside we scanned his mother’s hand-written recipes.    She was a great county cook–a one-time restaurant owner.  And handwriting of those we’ve lost is such a nice a thing to have.  

This version was made for my brother-in-law and holds scanned copies of his mother's hand-written recipes-

The recipe binders are covered in wipe-clean vinyl–so they really make sense in the kitchen.  

Covered binders also make great baby gifts, scrapbooks and family reunion books. For your next reunion,  scan some old family photos, leaving space at the bottom of the page.  Then pass the book around, and have everyone write something about the picture and the people in it.. Too much of our history  is lost because it isn’t written down. 

A family reunion book made for a friend includes his grandfather’s work pants, a old quilt fragment, a 1916 map, and a touching family photo

For more on my custom binder covers, go to my website www.kikisrewinddesigns.comor contact me at

Inside--scanned photos with room for writing down names and memories

Khaki Roses, a Quilted Pillow for non-quilters

I really like bright colors and I love combining them.  But sometimes a neutral steals my heart–like this Tan Roses Pillow,  hot off the sewing machine and just listed in my ETSY store–

The tan and white rose fabric is a new find–circa 1970s, I think–from the big Alamance County Hospice Flea Market (final day tomorrow 8/11/2010), one of my favorite fabric hunting grounds.

Lots of  great 70s fabrics at the sale this year–from hip floral piques to a big medallion print in gray and the acid green that’s so popular now.  (I think I will make floor pillows)

But back to my floral pillow in tan and white.  Working with neutrals gives me a chance to really emphasis textures.

I appliqued the rose print on washed and dried burlap, then anchored it all to cotton duck with rows of diagonal stitches.  Call it a quilted pillow for non-quilters–I love the way the  rows of stitches make a cotton print look opulent.

Gimp finishes off the edges .  A tip–use four flat pieces and run them off the ends of the pillow top.  It is too bulky to turn neat corners. 

Another tip–pillows are easy, just 4 straight seams.  Make them easy to care  by  washing and drying all your fabrics first.  Then take the time to create a back opening so you can slip the pillow form out for cleaning. 

I used buttons here but velcro and zippers are also great options.   And while my pillow may be neutral, it looks great with bright colors like blue–Think khaki and Oxford cloth, the classic combination.

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