Quick and dirty DIYs: sewing for baby edition

Lately I’ve been doing a little bit of sewing, which makes me happy.  I have a medium-sized sewing project to share with you when it’s finished, which will be soon I hope.  In the meantime, I’ve done a couple of super quick “sewing” projects.  I say “sewing” because technically I did very little sewing on one and no sewing on the other, but they involve fabric and sewing tools.  

I mentioned in a post about our diaper changing station that when we are at home, instead of disposable wipes, we use cloth ones wet with plain water and stored in our wipe warmer.  Trial and error showed us which materials we like best for wipes.  My favorite cloth wipes are ones I cut from an old pair of sweatpants, even though they roll up in the dryer.  Next best are terry cloth.  The worst are ones I cut from old T shirts; they’re just too thin.  I don’t have any more sweatpants lying around, but I do have more baby towels than we can possibly use, thanks to gifts, hand-me-downs, and freecycle.  There were a couple of towels received via freecycle bags-‘o-baby-stuff that had seen better days, so I cut one up into washcloths.  It only took a couple minutes using my rotary cutter and mat.  6 inches by about 4.5 inches fit nicely into the wipe warmer.  Bam, done.  Always nice to accomplish something so quickly.  We’ve been using these for over a month and the edges don’t fray, so there’s no need to finish them.


Next up, some strap protectors for the Ergo carrier.  We really like the Ergo.  Emmett likes it too.  Like any baby, everything that comes near his mouth immediately goes in and gets all slobbery.  See the wet spot on the strap:


The Ergo can be washed, but they recommend against washing it a lot.  Hence the existence of "sucking pads" on Amazon, "drool catchers" on Etsy, and a variety of similar products available to purchase online for around $20.  That seems a little expensive for something I could make in 5 minutes, albeit not as attractive, but still quite functional.  I have a whole pile of Bumkins prefold cloth diapers that I use for burp cloths and mainly to catch the milk that always seems to dribble out the corner of Emmett’s mouth when he nurses.  I thought one of these cut in half would be perfect.  So I cut it, sewed a zigzag along the cut edges, and used iron-on velcro patches.  Bam, done.  


They work very well, except one of the velcro patches didn’t adhere completely so I’ll have to iron it on again.  The same thing could be done to make another set to use as strap covers for the car seat.  I don’t worry about it for short trips, but on longer trips I’m always trying to tuck the sides of Emmett’s bib between his neck and the straps so they don’t cut in too much.  Maybe I’ll go ahead and do that when I fix the other one.

Next up, I took a freecycled minky baby blanket with some ink stains on one corner, and made a quick cover for the diaper changing pad. I just draped the blanket over the pad, pinned corner darts where it seemed appropriate, and sewed it. It’s not perfect, but it took about 10 minutes and cost $0. It actually stays on the changing pad pretty well just with a few darts around the edges and no elastic.

I love mini projects that are quick and easy.  It’s nice to get the finished result right away and move on.  Sometimes when I’ve been feeling stuck or overwhelmed, just getting something - anything - DONE gives me enough momentum to tackle something bigger.  I’ll show you the bigger project soon!


Productivity is relative

This past weekend, we had a packed schedule and didn’t devote a whole lot of time to working on our house projects until Sunday evening when Matt started moving all our bedroom furniture around in preparation for some major changes I’ll tell you about later.  We did much more socializing with more people in that one weekend than we normally do in two weeks.  That could make me feel like we didn’t accomplish anything, but I think we were actually very productive in different ways.

On Saturday, Matt took the dogs to the park while I cleaned up the house. We gave the dogs a quick bath before my friend Lauren came over to do a little sewing (in honor of the hands-on skills workshops we decided to skip that day, and just for fun).  Lauren is making a really cool quilt, and I tried to get my sewing mojo back and make progress on some stuff I’ve been wanting to make for the dogs.  Is it weird that at least half of my sewing projects lately are for my dogs?  Oh well.  My cousin Rachel came over to join us.  We planned future sewing get-togethers and talked about plans for the baby shower they’re so awesomely planning for us.  Next stop: dinner invite at Sarah & Arnie’s.  Dinner was fabulous, we got to hang out with our friends, and we also got to see one of our favorite kitties, Buster.  Isn’t he gorgeous?  Don’t you think he should be in commercials or something?

Sunday was another whirlwind.  I slept in a little, then headed over to Jeff & Teri’s for a visit and to pick up a whole bunch of baby supplies they are passing along to us.  I just love free stuff!  Save money and resources, reduce waste.  It just makes so much sense, especially with baby things that only get used for a few months per child.  It was a great excuse to see them and their adorable 18-month-old daughter too.  I rushed home, grabbed the dogs for another romp at the dog park, came home, grabbed Matt and took off for our first childbirth class.  We’ll be doing that every Sunday afternoon for 7 weeks.

So while the house projects were on the back burner for most of the weekend, I feel like it was very productive in terms of spending time with wonderful people, getting the dogs exercised and bathed, and continuing to make progress on getting prepared for baby - both physically and mentally.  It feels great to be productive, especially when we get to have fun doing it.


Bobbin trouble

I have been doing some sewing recently and it seemed like every other project I did went terribly, with the bobbin thread repeatedly getting all bunched up on the back of whatever I was sewing.  And then other times I would sew something and it was completely fine with no issues.  I had tried adjusting the tension and every other potential fix I could find in my manual and online, but nothing helped.  I noticed that when I was sewing with red thread, I didn’t have the issue, but with white it was one tangle after another.  I wondered if there was something different about the thread.  But then I remembered that Sherry from YHL had issues using her new sewing machine and her problem turned out to be that she was using the wrong bobbin.  Could it be?  Have I had a set of bobbin saboteurs lurking in my sewing box all these years?

I compared my bobbins.  It’s hard to tell unless you look closely, but the offending bobbin is just slightly smaller than the good one.

See it now?  It reminds me of the old days of computer programming when I didn’t have a code editor and would spend hours trying to figure out why my code didn’t work, only to discover a single missing comma.  Anyway, it turns out I have six good bobbins that came with my machine, and somewhere along the way I bought some new bobbins that have been intermittently making my life difficult ever since.  On my latest trip to the fabric store (4th of July sale) I found this pack of bobbins on the super-sale rack, and it lists Kenmore, so I was hoping that meant it would work.

Before using them, I carefully compared them to my good bobbins.  They seem to be the exact same dimensions, but I’ll be watching out for trouble just in case.  I’ve tried one so far and didn’t have any tangles.  What a relief!

I have to give a shout out to Sherry.  Had she not 1) persevered through a very frustrating series of attempts at sewing long enough to finally figure out what the core problem was, 2) blogged about it, and 3) generally kept up a blog that I find so informative and entertaining that I read pretty much every post every day, then I probably wouldn’t have thought to look at the bobbin as the potential source of my problems.  Blogging saves the day again!


Stuffed animal toy for a baby

Last weekend was the first birthday of our friends’ daughter, a sweet girl whom I’ve watched grow up this last year.  I knew I wanted to make something for her, but what?  I had a lot of different fabric, but I didn’t want to get too crazy.  Years ago I started a baby quilt and never finished it.  The kid is 6 years old now.  So my lesson learned is keep it simple and doable. 

After raiding my box of fabric, I decided to to make a patchwork stuffed animal.  The idea is that the different colors and textures of the fabric will be stimulating, but still soft and cuddly all over.  The first step was to cut pieces, pin and sew them together in strips, and then sew the strips together. 

When that was done, I had two new pieces of fabric to work with - front and back.  I drew an outline of a dog (what else?) on a piece of paper and cut it out.  That was the shape I wanted, but I knew to leave extra room around it not only for seam allowances, but also to accommodate the stuffing making it a three-dimensional object.  So I guestimated the outline around my cutout and traced that onto the wrong side of one of my pieces of patchwork.  I pinned the other piece to it, right sides together, and cut them out.  Then I machine sewed all the way around except the belly.  I also did a zigzag stitch around some of the edges I thought might fray.  Finally, I turned it inside out and stuffed one-inch squares of fleece from my scrap pile in it as the stuffing.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of polyester stuffing in toys for dogs, and that goes for humans too.  I sewed the belly closed by hand, and it was done.

I hope she likes it!


Spring cleaning

We’ve been trying to get organized and keep the house neater.  My “desk,” which is really our dining table, which we only use for dining when we have people over, gets super messy in a matter of days.  It gets cleaned up when we’re expecting dinner guests or when I start feeling like the messiness is draining my energy and motivation to get any work done.  Here’s what it usually looks like:

…and here’s what it looks like when it’s mostly cleaned off (with a couple random things already migrating back):

I have a few small sewing projects in the works.  My sewing stuff was findable, but pieces were stored in four different locations around the house.  I had to check all four to find the supplies I needed for a particular project, so it seemed like a good opportunity to organize and consolidate.  A bag ‘o more supplies recently purchased from the fabric store constituted a fifth location.  I dumped everything out onto the (half cleaned off) table:

and after removing some unnecessary packaging and consolidating like items into ziploc bags, I managed to get all that stuff into this:

It may seem like a minor victory, but I was happy with it.  And yes, my sewing box is rather unsophisticated, but it works ok.  Someday I will get a box that is meant to hold sewing supplies instead of a random bin that we had around the house.

A couple of my favorite new purchases were the Needle Nest (a small plastic box with a magnet to hold needles - since my sewing box has no lid I always worried about the needles sticking out of the pin cushion) and Safety Pins Galore. 

Safety Pins Galore!?  I couldn’t resist.  I was able to toss my previous safety pin container, which was a cardboard jewelry box with dividers made of cardboard and tape.  That thing lasted over 10 years.  But now I had too many safety pins, so I threw the extras into my travel sewing kit, since safety pins are probably the single most useful items in a travel sewing kit. 

Do other people have the same issues with getting and staying organized?  Is it weird that I was kind of excited to get just one thing in order?  One step at a time.


DIY dog stuff (cont’d): old dog collar altered to fit new dog

I started using a martingale collar with our first dog and I’ve been a fan ever since.  These collars offer the best of all worlds, at least in my (limited) experience.  They are easy to slip over a dog’s head, but cannot be slipped off by the dog when on leash.  The collar hangs loose around the dog’s neck when there is no tension on the leash, and then when the dog (or handler) pulls on the leash, the collar tightens but only a limited amount.  I always adjust the size carefully so that when the collar tightens it is snug but won’t hurt the dog’s neck.  This helps the dog feel when there is tension on the leash and when there is not.  And unlike many flat nylon collars, there is no plastic buckle that could break. 

We are using Wonder Walker body halters for walks, as mentioned in the last post.  The harnesses do close with the plastic buckles, which run a small yet potentially devastating risk of breaking.  Wonder Walker recommends clipping the leash to a martingale collar in addition to the front ring of the harness, providing some security just in case the harness somehow comes off.  The collars also have the dogs’ tags on them, which are good to have when out and about. 

I bought a Spindrift (made in Bend, Oregon - what can I say, I’m a sucker for local goods and our nearest pet supply store Mud Bay carries them) “cozy martingale collar” for Sonny.  Spindrift describes this collar as “a great training collar for ‘spirited’ short haired dogs” - ha ha!  I had a larger version of the same collar that I had gotten for Wilbur, who put pretty low mileage on it.  I was way too big for Max, but I hate to buy something new when I can modify something I already have at home.  Here is the ‘before’ (the brown one tightened all the way is still huge compared to the orange one which is let out most of the way):

It was easy to resize this collar - the only thing making it too big was the fleece padding.  I used my seam ripper to take out some stitches, cut the fleece to the right length, and sewed the end to the nylon.  It took about 15 minutes.


Looking good, boys!


DIY dog stuff for safety and to save money

1.  Toys

If you have dogs, you have probably noticed that most conventional dog toys are filled with that horrible white polyester stuffing and often a plastic squeaker.  You may have also heard horror stories (or experienced them) about dogs eating those squeakers and needing some medical intervention.  The polyester stuffing can also be irritating if eaten, which is more of an annoyance, but still… avoiding doggie stomach upsets is always preferable.  I have two solutions to this problem:

1a.  Make dog toys out of scrap materials in the house

You could sew something if you really wanted to, but let’s face it: dogs don’t know that their toys are a duck, an elephant, and a frog. 

That is for the humans, and we do enjoy watching them fetch Duck, squeak Frog, or carry Pinky around.  The dogs just know it’s a soft thing to chew on.  My very most basic dog toy can be made in under a minute.  Take your bag o’ used-up socks (what, don’t you save all your retired socks to use as cleaning rags, disposable cloths for painting, and dog toys?), choose a good one, and stuff a bunch of other socks into it.  I used whole socks for the stuffing, and I can’t decide whether cutting them up into smallish pieces would be better or worse in terms of potential eatability.  Tie the end in a knot and you’re done.  They love it!  You can also put in a squeaker, but I didn’t in this case because I wanted to give the dogs a toy they could have in their crates without worrying about whether they’d eat or choke on the squeaker.

I also made a simple toy out of a scrap of fleece fabric.  I had made a fleece sheath for Max’s harness (more on that later).  A couple of times, Sonny found Max’s harness and wanted to play with it.  Harnesses should not be chewed, so I decided to give him a better alternative.  I took an extra piece of fleece about 1.5’ long and several inches wide, rolled it lengthwise, and tied three knots in it.  Sonny likes it.

Even dogs like to make their own toys out of household items!  Fortunately, this pillow was on my list for replacement long before Sonny found it.

1b.  Modify store-bought dog toys

I wait until a dog rips the toy open.  They’re supervised enough with such toys that I can take away any ripped toys before they have a chance to eat the innards.  Then I pull out all the polyester stuffing and the squeaker.  This is a good time to throw the toy into the washing machine, because it’s probably been soaked in slobber several times over by now.  Stuff with sock pieces (see above).  Putting the squeaker back in is optional - if you leave it out the toy may not be as fun for your dog, but on the plus side it may last longer before getting torn open again and when it does there is less danger.  Either way, sew it closed and return the clean toy to the mouth of a happy dog.  Charlotte’s favorite toy was named Bear (did you notice our tendency to give dog toys the most uninspired of names) and I had to patch and sew that thing a couple dozen times.

2.  Treats

Dog treats are crazy expensive!  I buy kibble in a different flavor than the dogs eat for their meals and use it as treats for training.  You’ll likely need higher value treats when you’re training outside the house or with distractions, but it works well for me when we’re working in the living room.  I use Natural Balance original dry food.  Economical high value treats are Natural Balance food rolls, cheese, or cook some meat (any of these will require extra work to cut up into morsels).

3.  Random things

Both dogs wear Wonder Walker front-clip body halters, a local Seattle product that helps dogs walk nicely on leash instead of pulling.  It worked almost like a miracle for Sonny.  The first day we brought him home, he pulled so hard that it was very unpleasant to walk him, and cannot have been good for his poor neck.  The next day I bought him a Wonder Walker.  Within a couple days of training (stop and/or change directions the moment he pulls), he was walking very nicely.  Last week I took him for a short 2 mile run around the neighborhood, and he stayed right next to me the whole time.  It was like a dream.  Max requires a lot more work.  I’m trying to clicker train him to walk on a loose leash, and I really hope it will pay off.  So far we are successful in the living room, the yard is our next goal, and the street seems like a pipe dream right now.  We’ll get there.  Matt is using a non-treat method to teach Max to heel by doing a lot of unpredictable turns in both directions.  So far, Matt is doing a lot better than I am. 

Anyway, I made this quick fleece cover for Max’s harness.  I used an old fleece scarf I haven’t worn in a while.  I threw it together in a hurry, and it is not pretty, but it serves its utilitarian purpose.  Between his sensitive skin, his fur having been recently clipped short, and his rambunctious leash pulling on walks, we were concerned the harness was rubbing his skin too much.  I cut fleece triangles and sewed their points together over the triangle rings in the harness.  Around the straps, it was simple fleece rectangles, folded over and sewn to make tubes, but I left some gaps in the tubes so we can still access the rings to attach a leash or make sizing adjustments as needed.

They do make neoprene padding for the Wonder Walkers, but I 1) needed something right away, 2) didn’t want to pay for it (my solution was free since I used fabric I already had), and 3) think Max’s fur will grow out and then he won’t need the padding anymore.  Here’s a shot of Sonny in his au naturale harness and Max in his fleece encased one.

For our late Belgian Shepherd, Charlotte, I made several random things (and please note these were all to serve a utilitarian purpose) including:

  • a rain jacket/poncho type thing - she did not care if she got wet, but it was easier for us humans if her long fur didn’t get soaked on walks and then need extensive toweling off (we live in Seattle and we go for our daily walks rain or shine or any weather in which the postal service delivers)

  • modified some of my old tank tops into shirts for Char when her fur got really thin due to Cushing’s disease (and it didn’t help when the vet had to shave her entire belly for an ultrasound… and it was winter… and she was sick)
  • modified a couple of other old t-shirts into shorts-like-articles to keep her from licking her back when she had another skin problem - this was enough of a deterrent so she didn’t have to wear the dreaded cone collar [no photo]

4.  Leashes

Wonder Walker also sells coupling leashes, seat belt leashes for car safety, and long leashes for training.  They’re not unreasonably priced, but since I have a sewing machine, I can make all of these for much cheaper without spending a lot of time.  I’m planning to buy the nylon webbing and clips this weekend or next, and whenever I get around to making the leashes I’ll write about it.


Clothing alterations & repurposing

When I was in high school and college, I was really into reusing and repurposing clothes.  You may be wondering what repurposing is.  I’ll answer that with an example: I had a sweater that I no longer wore, so I made the main part of it into a bag and the arms into leg warmers.  If sewing was too much of a hassle at the time, like in college when my mom’s sewing machine was 300 miles away, I would just use safety pins.

Maybe I took it a bit farther than I should have.  A large fraction of my wardrobe consisted of items that used to belong to someone else who was not necessarily the same size as I was.  Thus, many articles had to be altered to fit.  At the time, my definition of “fit” was “does not fall off my body.”  For several years, I had two winter coats.  One was my mom’s old coat, and the other was my dad’s old coat (too big), both of which I found in the back of the closet.  They were pretty ratty and my parents were a little embarrassed by my hobo-chic look.  On several occasions, they politely suggested I wear something that didn’t make me look like a runaway: “we’ll buy you a coat.”  I still have the mom coat; it lives at my father-in-law’s house in case I ever need to do some farm chores in the winter. 

Two of my most-treasured pairs of pants from those days were significantly too big but too good not to wear: a pair of men’s Levis with authentic wear and holes in the knees; and a pair of houndstooth chef pants (like these) with a story too long to tell here.  I made each pair of pants fit (see definition above) by folding down the waistband and then overlapping it by a couple of inches in the front.  The fly’s buttons and zippers were thus rendered unusable, but easily replaced by large safety pins.  If pants were too long, I folded up the hem and secured it with - you guessed it - safety pins.  Safety pins are still among my all-time favorite DIY tools, though my look has evolved to one that doesn’t showcase them in almost every outfit.

My look is a bit more polished these days (how could it not be), but I still love a thrift store bargain, one-of-a-kind items, and making alterations.  Waist band alterations are much subtler, used sparingly, and performed by actual sewing.  Hemming pants (again with thread instead of pins) is easy and does wonders.  Replacing buttons can change the look of a top.  And sometimes you can make a slight variation to a garment and change it for the better.

Take this coat I got among other great items on super-sale from Tulle:

$5 is my favorite price for things one would normally expect to cost more than $5, so I was pretty stoked.  I really liked the coat, but it left my neck exposed to the elements.  I know scarves exist and I have several, but it’s just one more thing to deal with and in general I’m too lazy for accessories.  Then it hit me: why couldn’t that nice fuzzy collar keep my neck warm?  I folded up the collar and I thought it looked good and served my purpose, but it wouldn’t stay up.  So I marked the locations with safety pins (duh), tried it on again to be sure (always try on your alteration before sewing), and sewed on one of the extra buttons and a small loop of elastic.  When the collar is folded down you don’t see them.  The lighting isn’t good in these photos, but you get the idea.

What do you think? 

Also, if you live in Seattle, check out Sustainable NE Seattle’s day of Hands On workshops on Feb 12.  Clothes repurposing is one of many DIY educational offerings.  I’m looking forward to learning some new practical skills from neighbors!