Crafty Monday: Painting Curtains

Last week I wanted to blog about my adventure in expanding my overly small bedroom closet. My closet is in the smallest bedroom of the house. Inside the closet, is a fireplace. No, not the front of it, but the entire back of it. It is actually a faux fireplace which faces my craft room. Made of marble, concrete, and plaster, it’s not something that can be removed to make closet space without contractor! So I needed another solution.

Total Closet Size

Total Closet Size

It didn’t work out as planned, but I DID get a few things done to it. The big plan was to move the closet rod to the outside of the closet and hang the clothes in front of it. I didn’t really want a big metal rod hanging there with all of the clothes out in the open. The serenity of my bedroom is something I thoroughly enjoy, but this was not conducive to that serenity. So I was also going to put a curtain in front of the clothes. Simple, right? Well, as I explained in the previous post, it wasn’t all that simple because I didn’t allot enough time, nor did I have all the proper materials ready. *Sigh* This is the bane of many DIY projects.

But I DID have a plan, and I wanted to finish it. First of all, I needed curtains. So what does a crafty sewist do? Ah, yes, I’ll make them. And I did. I measured top to bottom and used a 60″ wide piece of off-white cotton lining I had bought to reupholster a couch. (Couch left, meaning I had 10 yards of this stuff available.) I cut and sewed them, making a simple header style curtain that could have grommets.

Then I started looking at all of these beautiful curtain panels online. You know, the ones that cost well over $100 each? They were embroidered and woven with beautiful scenes. My plain white curtains just didn’t measure up. I decided to paint my curtains. I played it smart this time, though, and made a sampler to try out some techniques.

Cherry Blossom Test Panel

Cherry Blossom Test Panel

Using the “make cherry blossoms with a soda bottle” pin as inspiration, I tried using the method they had. Ok, soda bottle didn’t work out so good. The ones I had, made flowers with spaces way too wide between the petals. So I took out my paint brushes and made little circles with them. Then I added some other colors to the branches and flowers, to see what I like best. Getting a little input from the husband, we went with the pink blossoms lined with a dark pink shade. Now I also had a painted panel I could frame and use to decorate the room! Yay, me!

A couple of days later I laid out my curtain panels and began to decorate them like I had the test sample. Not only was it fun, but I felt really good with paint on my hands and the smell in the air. I used acrylics with a little bit of water. The paint did seep through the fabric a bit, but I had covered the table with some craft paper beforehand. Once it had dried, I pulled it up. It stuck just a little bit, but no big deal.

Here are some progression pictures for you:

Creating the branches

Creating the branches

Branches done, ready for blossoms

Branches done, ready for blossoms


Painting on blossoms


More blossoms


Shading the blossoms

I love how they turned out! I put one across the bed to let it continue to dry, and instantly decided I needed a quilt that matched. One thing leads to another, and I have plans for my first painted, whole cloth art quilt. I love DIY.


Upcycling Recycling Sweaters

There are hundreds of blogs out there that focus on how to reimagine common everyday items into new practical purposes, most with the intent to keep stuff we throw away out of landfills or to clear out thrift stores. Some of my favorites focus on clothing. It seems one of the tend on Pinterest is to use sweaters (this of course comes after tee shirts and Anthropologie re-dos. What is it with that place anyway? Sure they’ve got great clothes but is it a price thing? Why not Tommy Hilfiger or something? Can someone explain this?).

It seems the unassuming wool sweater, designed to keep us warm and fashionable throughout winter months and frigid temperatures, also has a day job as a multi-purpose, do-it-all, DIYer’s dream come true. From leg warmers to arm cuffs, dog sweaters and beds, purses, scarves, stockings, and mittens there is little that you CAN’T do with a sweater.

Of course, Pinterest fails undoubtedly abound, and it’s useful to pay attention to details. However, with a little thought you can probably figure out most of these projects by yourself. It helps to have ideas, though. So the next time your local thrift store has a “fill a bag for $5” promotion or a really awesome sale on sweaters, grab up a whole bunch and squirrel yourself away for a weekend. It’s faster than knitting it all individually and you could have done really great accessories. Follow the Pinterest board below for great ideas!

Follow Freckle Dots (Tammy Lyons)’s board Upcycled Sweater Crafts on Pinterest.

Creating a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 2

As promised in part 1, here is part 2 of making a t-shirt quilt.

So by now you have all of your prep work done and your tees are ready to be sewn together. As so often happens with stretchy material, it doesn’t matter how accurate you THOUGHT your cuts were, there are going to be a few that just don’t line up or want to stay at the same size you cut them. The starch helps a bunch but it can and will happen. So now what?

The first thing to do is decide if you want to sew your blocks together in rows or in columns. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, because the process of lining them up is the same. For this quilt, I decided to sew in columns.

sewn in columns 

Now when sewing, I tend to always use a 1/4″ piecing foot, even for the tees. This gives me better control over the seam allowances. Many will insist that a walking foot is the way to go, but when the tees are starched well, the walking foot does not make a difference in how well the pieces sew together. It’s actually more beneficial to have a smooth foot because the starch causes them to be a little slicker than regular knit fabrics that are not starched.

1/4″ piecing foot

walking foot

When sewing them together, I try to make sure that at least one side and the edge to be sewn are lined up and the same size. If there is a bit of a difference on the other side, that’s ok, because you will trim your columns (rows) before putting them together. Just make sure that you don’t end up with a difference of more than 1/8″, on one side, because this can really make is so the blocks are not centered. Your smallest block will generally rule the rest. You can usually take fabric off, but it’s much harder to add strips and put it back on, so be careful in your prep work and pre-cutting!

sections sewn in columns

Once you have the blocks sewn together in strips, it’s time for all the fun to begin. Press the seams on the first strip up or right, the second strip down or left, the third strip up or right, and so on. This will help you to “nest” your seams. Trim your strips so they are nice and even down both sides.

Iron in opposite directions for the nest seams

Now you’re going to line up those seams. The seams should look like puzzle pieces and fit together so that they lay flat, without a big bulky are where you have two seams on top of each other. T-shirt material can be kind of thick once it is all seamed together. Quilting over it later can actually break a needle!

Nested Seams

Use a pin to secure the seams. Here is where even with all of your careful cutting you’ll understand just how stubborn this type of material can be! Some of those seams won’t just fall in place and line up. Now we’re going to make “stretch” our friend. We’re going with the 1/8″ rule again, too. As long as your seams are only off by about 1/8″, you can stretch them to meet up. Usually the offset is caused by one tee being a little thicker and starched stiffer than another. Once you’ve pulled them together, pin them. Your seams should all “nest” nicely without any bulges along the side of the seam.

Small gap. No more than 1/8″. Make the stretch work for you!

As you sew and come to those seams, you can remove the pins and pull very gently on either the top or bottom section to nest the four corners. It will have little to no effect on the rest of the section and you can continue sewing. If your material starts to bunch up, form a roll or a tuck, or throws the other joins off, you have stretched too much! Keep it at or under an 1/8″ and this won’t happen.

Seams nested after a tiny pull 

Once all your sections are joined, iron down the new seams. You can iron these in any direction. I usually go with how the fabric is falling. When you sew across them or along them it won’t cause problems because your nested seams have decreased unnecessary bulk.

Nicely nested corners, all lined up neatly! 

Ok. You’ve finished your quilt top! You’re on your way to finishing the whole thing!

No wonky seams and everything lined up without bunches! 

Creating a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 1

There is a ton of information on the web about t-shirt quilts. Some is fairly accurate, some is not. I’ve been making t-shirt quilts for about 2 years now. I started out not knowing a thing about it really, but ended up making a fairly nice quilt with just a few issues. Along the way I’ve learned a lot and have narrowed my process down pretty good. After about 18-20 quilts, I do finally have a process! So I thought I’d share my process with you.

Part 1: Prep Work

It’s all about the prep work! The actual sewing is fairly quick and the quilting is similar to any other with a few exceptions. But the prep work is what makes or breaks your t-shirt quilt. Yes, you CAN just cut them into squares and sew them together. The problem with doing it this way is that you will not end up with similarly sized squares. T-shirts are made to stretch. This is rule #1 in t-shirt quilting. I reiterate: T-SHIRTS ARE MADE TO STRETCH.

The stretching is what causes a majority of problems. When I first started out making my quilts, I didn’t know about interfacing. I just did the cut and sew technique. Big mistake. I had bumps, lumps, stretches, and all kinds of other things that I had to work out in the quilting part. The customer liked it and still raves about it, but I know that it could have been better.

I used flannel for the sashing and backing, which was actually a good choice. 
However, after that quilt I had more orders because everyone loved it. So I figured maybe I should look into how they were made. I found some Amazon eBooks that had good information in them and a lot of online tutorials. Most of them said, “Use lightweight interfacing to reduce the stretch.” So that’s what I did. Time and time again I put at least $10-15 in each quilt using iron-on interfacing. Not to mention cutting it, ironing it on, and spending at least 1 day getting all of the shirts interfaced. Afterward, they would be kind of stiff to the touch and not really what one would expect from a t-shirt material. So I changed my process. 
It is mentioned in a few circles, on blogs here and there, about using liquid starch for temporary interfacing. And see here where I say “temporary?” That’s because when the quilt is all finished, you wash it out and ta-da! you have a soft, comfy feels-like-a-t-shirt-quilt. I posted more info on this technique here
With that all said, here are the first few prep steps to get you started: 
Step 1: Cut 
 I cut off the sleeves inside the seam, cut off the collar below the seam, cut across both shoulders and up both sides. Make sure your tee is flat and if need be, ironed, so that you get accurate cuts. 
Step 2: Soaking
Once the tees are cut, use the liquid starch method to soak the tees. Be careful here, because even though some of the tees are probably many years old, they can and will bleed into the water. I soak whites first, then grays, moving toward brights, then reds, and blacks. If any of your tees bleed into the water, take note of them. Also, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR TEES SITTING TOGETHER WHILE WET. They will bleed into each other. I know this from experience. 😦 
Step 3: Drying
Lay out your tees to dry. My husband and I devised a special ceiling mounted drying rack to do this because it allows air flow through the top and bottom. It is also up and out of my way and is adjustable. You can use any type of a flat surface, but again be aware of damage to wooden tops and bleeding. Surfaces can bleed onto your tees, too! 
Step 4: Iron
Once your tees are dried they will be stiff and wrinkled. You will need to iron them. 
Using a warm steam setting (between wool and cotton on my iron) carefully press out the tees from the back. The fronts of your tees often have a plastic-type overlay for the image, which can melt. This is also from experience. Lay a press cloth over the image if you must iron over it. I have found that ironing from the back doesn’t seem to cause damage. You can also spritz with water on particularly wrinkled areas. Just don’t saturate them and rinse out your starch! 
Starch spots on the tees after ironing
When you are ironing you will probably see spots of starch on your tees. This is okay and doesn’t affect the tees in any way. It washes out and is quilted over very easily. Just ignore them. Please. 
Step 5: Cut again 

Now it is finally time to cut your tees to size. I have a makeshift template that I use to cut my tees. 
template. zebra stripes are cool.

I used cardboard from a corrugated box and wrapped it with zebra striped duck tape. It is not 100% accurate, but it gives me a good way to view the image, center if at all possible (not on the shirt above), and draw a chalk line around the edge to give me a general idea of where to cut. I then cut about 1/2″ beyond my chalk line and even it all up using my ruler. 

Tees all cut even in nice little piles

If there are tees that don’t fit the template because they are too small, I will lay them to the side and add sashing, bits of other tees, or if I have enough make a column or row that is a little smaller than the rest. In the image above you can see where I cut 5.5″ squares from the fronts to make a 9 patch square, evening out the number of tees. 

Okay, this post has turned out long enough and by the time you’ve gotten this far your prep work is finished. I can’t stress enough though that t-shirts are made to stretch. This is their nature. It can help you or hinder you. Prep work is everything. In my next post I’ll take you through sewing them together, what feet to use and machine settings, and how to get those stretchy suckers all lined up right. Until then, if you have any prep work questions, feel free to ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

Janome MC 8900 Review

A couple of months ago I purchased a Janome MC8900 from my local sewing machine store, Moye’s in Savannah. I had started out to purchase the 7700, but my dealer bumped me up to the 8900 and gave me a great price on it! They retail for $4400, but I paid about half that. It’s a long story, and unusual, so plan on paying at least $4k  for one! I love mine so much that I named it after a lady I truly respect, whose quilting, sewing, and crafty heredity has been passed on to me, my Grandma Bernadine. I just leave out the Grandma part, cause she’s still very young. 🙂

The MC8900 is a real workhorse, geared toward people like me that do A LOT of quilting and sewing. It has over 11″ of space to the right of the needle that provides plenty of room to roll up a king size quilt and finish it on a home machine. This machine is loaded with features from its 9mm stitch width and over 250 different types of stitches to its ability to change needle plates with the push of a button, auto tension, knee lift, 1000 stitches per minute, Accufeed flex (for those stubborn thick projects like jeans and 2″ batting!), and so much more.

I have used my Janome for more than 4 months and I have had it tangle up on me one time. That’s compared to my Brother hybrid (SE400) that I bought a little over a year ago that tangled up so much I became a machine repair expert! The tangle was actually caused from me not pulling the needle thread out to start sewing and I really knew better. I have finished everything from a twin to a queen size quilt on this without any problems. I am no longer afraid to do double sided t-shirt quilts with free motion embroidery. Even my stippling, which uses many different directional changes and can be hard on a machine, has come out beautifully every time with very little effort. This machine is truly made for quilting. I love my Janome and even with 4 months I have not had a chance to use everything that it offers. I am currently working on a log cabin block quilt made from jeans, t-shirts, and dress shirts. I have an order for a KitchenAid cover that will employ many other features of this machine. I’m looking forward to a long and happy relationship!

Full size quilt completed on Janome MC8900


Double Sided Full Size Quilt on Janome 8900

So if you’re looking for a high quality machine that is worth the money, I recommend the 8900. Janome also makes a hybrid sewing and embroidery machine, the MC9900 for those of you that want the best of both worlds. I do not own nor have I had the pleasure of using one (YET!), but you should check them out at your local dealer. 

Continuous Learning

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a geek. I love to learn new things. I especially love to learn new things about crafting; knitting, quilting, crochet, DIY and others are my passions. Once I’ve learned the basics of something, learning to improve your skills can be so beneficial to your future work. YouTube is a good resource, but you could cycle through 20 videos before you find one that actually answers the questions you have. Or, you can try to find a class somewhere, pay for it, buy all the supplies, tote them with you somewhere, and try to keep up with everyone else. But you may also be one of those people that just can’t squeeze in an hour or two a week to learn something new or the classes move to quickly for you and you give up. Or you forget something but there is no resource for you to go back to unless you took scrupulous notes during class and neglected the actual project. Hmmm…what’s a person to do?

Craftsy. I absolutely, 100% adore Craftsy and their classes. You can take as many as you want and take all the time in the world to watch the videos, get your questions answered, go back and see what you missed or forgot, and stay right at home to do it. The best part of these courses is that they are yours to keep, forever, and you can watch them any time you have a moment to do so!

You don’t even have to invest any money up front to try one of their courses. Craftsy offers free mini-courses that are led by other students. I’m taking two of them myself:

The next 2 free Craftsy mini-courses I’m going to take are: 

1. Creative Quilt Backs
2. Short Rows

There are tons of others on many different subjects, even cooking. Craftsy also offers supplies and kits for the classes. Have fun and continue to learn. It keeps your mind active and your heart happy! 

Using Liquid Starch for T-Shirt Quilts

{I originally wrote this post on March 19, the day before my dad passed away. I have not been on here much, as his loss has been a lot for me to bear. Please stay with me as I try to get back into the swing of things.}

In my last post I mentioned that I was now using liquid starch to stabilize my tees prior to cutting and sewing them. It is essential in t-shirt quilting to stabilize the shirts. If they are not stabilized, they WILL stretch and pucker during sewing and quilting. However, the desire for a soft, tee shirt-like quilt is the entire reason for making one! Iron on interfacing leaves the shirts a little stiff. It’s not unpleasant or hard to the touch, just a little stiffer. Liquid starch will wash right out of the quilt once it’s done. So if you want uber-softness AND stability, liquid starch is the way to go! Another bummer when it comes to iron-on is that it can get quite expensive when considering it sometimes takes 10 or more yards at $2.49/yd to complete one quilt. If the expense isn’t enough, there is the time it takes to iron the tees, then iron the stabilizer onto the tees. And you can’t just iron it on, you have to use a press cloth and spend about 10 seconds in small section – sometimes over a minute just moving it around, pressing, moving it, pressing – you get the picture. It takes a lot of time!

Here comes the solution with liquid starch. I was a bit skeptical at first as to whether starch would make the tees stiff enough to work with. But it does. So where to get the starch? Of course, you can always go out and buy Sta-Flo or some other bottled liquid starch from the store. But what fun would that be? We’re cutting costs here. And time. With a bit of Googling I came across some really great recipes for homemade starch. Pinky Has a Brain is by far my favorite. With a little tweaking I found what I was happy with.

Her recipe calls for 1 T corn starch and 4 cups of water. However, I needed it just a little bit stiffer, so I double the starch. I also needed much more than 4 cups. One full size quilt with 30 tees takes about 48 cups of solution. To quadruple a batch I use 8 T corn starch and 16 cups of water. 15 of them boiling, the rest to mix with the starch.

I cut the tees, place them in the cooled starch solution one by one, squeeze out the starch and lay them flat to dry. I improvised a drying rack to accommodate a large amount of tees. It takes about 1 day for them to dry like this, but I can be finishing up one quilt while the new tees are drying, so it works out! I then take the tees, iron them flat, using a little extra steam if necessary, cut them to size, and voila! I have beautiful even squares that are easy to work with! It’s best if you can get your tees to lay really flat so there isn’t much ironing to do later on. I’ve also tried them in the dryer, but I didn’t really like the results. They were still a little too stretchy for me.

 Here are two quilts I’ve completed using this method. I wish you could feel how soft they are. It’s really just like snuggling up with your favorite tee shirt. I’ve been using cotton batting and usually use flannel for the backing to compliment the tees, unless cotton is requested.

This is actually a double-sided full size quilt made using the same process. The starch stabilizer allows for freedom in free motion quilting, makes the tees more stable and taut so there is no bunching, and in the end they wash up so beautifully.

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