Thursday, September 27, 2012

Scarves from T Shirts

I'm guessing that it's the cooler weather that is suddenly making everyone think about scarves and other cosy clothing. The most "repinned" pin on my Pinterest boards is for a scarf made out of a T shirt. The activity around this topic has been especially heavy lately, with 15 people repinning or liking this pin in just 2 days. So I thought I should make up a few samples.

My first scarf turned out very well. Really, it is all a matter of finding the right kind of T shirt to start with. This sample is made from a good quality XL shirt which rendered up loops almost a metre long. As a result, it can be worn wrapped twice or thrice, or looped through it self. It's made from 17 tubes so it has a nice bulk, but is very light and soft. The tubes are held together with a simple wrap made from a short length of tube cut from the sleeve.

The T shirt used for this example had long sleeves. So I had the potential for a lot of short tubes that were not closed loops. Hmm, what to do? How about a bracelet? 

For this example, the ends of the tubes had to be connected. I stitched them together on a bit of scrap fabric, rolled it tightly and covered the join with a bit more of the left over T shirt. This made a nice little spot for a bit of embroidery. But contrasting fabric, beading, trim or textile paint would be other good options for decoration here.

The first one I made (left) came out a little snug for me. Good thing my sister has smaller wrists. The formula for the length of the tubes for a double wrap bracelet is 2 times your wrist plus about 5 cm. 6 or 7 tubes is plenty for this or the bracelet gets too bulky.

These are cozy, easy to wear and don't clank against your laptop while you are typing. 

Tips for Making Your Own Scarf:

There are many web tutorials on how to make these dead-simple scarves. Essentially, you cut across the body of a T shirt creating long loops of fabric. Then you stretch the strips until the fabric rolls into a tube. And finally you grab a bunch of tubes and sling them around your neck.

OK in a pinch. But if you want this scarf to look really good, there are things you can do to improve the process, fit and finishing. Hope these pointers help!

1) The Shirt

First, and most importantly, you need to get your hands on a T shirt that has no side seams. This is easier said than done in my experience. Other than men's basic thin undershirts, these were hard to find in my local stores. I checked out Goodwill and Value Village, but the few there were either white (well, used-to-be white) or had printing on them. The printed ones might be interesting to try, but I was not sure how well the printed areas would stretch, being a bit stiff with ink or plastic transfer. I'll experiment with one of these and post results later.

The best I found for this project was a very good quality Denver Hayes shirt from Marks Work Wearhouse that comes in some great colours for the fall. But at about $17, you need to be very sure that you want this scarf! Luckily I found a couple on their sale rack for $6 for my first try. The quality really made a difference to the finished scarf.

The size of the T shirt does matter. The bigger the shirt, the longer the tube loops will be. This particular shirt (size XL) was 64 cm wide. When stretched, the loops where almost a metre long. This length allows me to wrap the scarf generously either 2 or 3 times, or loop through itself. I like long scarves and necklaces, but if you want a shorter scarf or a single wrap, go for a smaller size.

2) Cutting

You'll find this much easier to make if you have a rotary fabric cutting tool. Scissors will work but the edges of the tubes will be rougher. I tried both and the smoothness of the rotary cut tubes really makes a difference to the finished quality.

I cut my strips 2.5 cm wide, across the body of the this heavy quality shirt. The resulting tubes when stretched are about 1 cm wide.
3) Stretching

The first loop that you stretch will surprise you. They vastly increase in length! The narrower you cut the strips, the narrower the tubes will end up. But be careful – if your fabric is very thin, cutting the strips less than about 2.5 cm can be a problem as they can rip when stretched. Both shirts I used stretched well. And although I cut the strips the same width for both, the heavier fabric resulted in thicker tubes.

Bonus: this good exercise for your chest and shoulders.

4) Finishing

This is where you can make your scarf superior to some others that you'll see on the web. How you connect them together will make a difference.

An easy choice is to wrap tightly with some spare tubing. Start by wrapping over one end of the tube and finish by threading the other end back under the wrap using a bodkin or large eye needle. You could also knot the ends for a more casual look.

A self fabric cover is another option. Cut a piece of left over T shirt to the size you want, plus a centimetre or so to turn under on all sides. You can paint or stamp this scrap before sewing around the bunch, or embroider or bead it later. A contrasting fabric would also be great here.

5) What if you only have a T shirt with side seams?

If you can only find a shirt in the colour you want with side seams, you are not completely out of luck. However, you will not be able to make a very long scarf without joining the tubes in some way. So you can either make a shorter scarf, or be prepared to have two seam covers to manage in your design.

In this example, I used a men's 2XL copper brown shirt from Walmart ($5). The resulting tubes were about 50 cm long, so I knew that the scarf would not be long enough to loop twice around my neck. Instead, I actually shorted all the strands, grading the lengths over 5 cm to give a nice graduated effect like a multi-strand necklace.

To finish this sample, I stitched all the tubes in order to a piece of scrap fabric, then trimmed the excess fabric away. I then rolled it up tightly and stitched it closed. The cover is a scrap of fabric, decorated with textile paint, heat set and attached as described above.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shabby Gothic Scarf

I don't really think that Shabby Gothic is a style per se - or at least it wasn't until now.

I have a secret love of Shabby Chic. It's a bit of a guilty pleasure. All that draped white cotton, old bits of lace and faded rose prints are so darn pretty. Of course the style has nothing at all to do with the reality of my life, how my home is decorated nor how I dress. Especially how I dress. The beautiful shabby chic clothes you see on endless Pinterest boards mostly look good on the young and the willowy – neither of which I am. And I'm not talking the over the top Magnolia Pearl "oh, I think I'll just take this underwear I found in my great granny's attic and wear it with these old work boots and a table cloth" look. But even that has it's own crazy appeal. 

So I thought that perhaps I could re-interpret Shabby Chic to my needs by working in black rather than pale pastels. And I think I might be on to something, except that not all my materials turned out to be as black as I had hoped for this first try (see previous post). 

Altogether, there is a lot to like about how this scarf turned out. It is considerably darker and less contrasty than it appears here as I've lightened the pictures for detail. It's soft, light, a bit stretchy and frames one's face nicely. 

But it took a ridiculous amount of time to make, including crocheting about 50 little dangles for the edging and hand beading the lace trim. And after all that to have it end up looking a bit goth is rather disappointing.

Perhaps it will read better at Hallowe'en or over a black sweater.  Oh well. I've got plenty more black bits and pieces, so its back to the sewing machine for another try I think!

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A couple of people have asked what resource I used for learning to crochet: I found a series of videos by Michael Sellick who has a site called The Crochet Crowd.  He will also be doing some classes at the Creativ Festival next month.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dyeing and The Unexpected Legacy.

I've been doing some dyeing and that means that for one afternoon all the patio furniture on the deck was draped in drying fabric and trim. Lovely day for it too. For some reason all this was of great interest to the gold finches. When I went out to check on things, several males were sitting amongst the black and purple items.

Not that I was expecting purple... but such is the nature of dyeing.

I was preparing some materials for a black scarf in the shabby chic mode. The grey linen that I dyed came out nice and black. But the white and off-white cotton trim and recycled lace items from the doily department at Value Village all came out a very dark purple, even after a repeat soak. What was to be a black on black scarf is going to be purple on black. More goth than shabby chic ...

So it was once I had these bits dyed and hanging out to dry that I discovered The Unexpected Legacy.

When I was a kid my grandparents lived next door, and my grandmother loved to dye things to perk them up. On a breezy summer afternoon, curtains and chenille bedspreads would be transformed and refreshed with a couple of packages of RIT dye.  This was great. It was only after the intended articles had been soaked, rinsed and hung on the laundry line that the trouble started.

The problem was that my grandmother hated to waste a big pot of dye. So she'd start looking around for other things that she could make pink or orange or ... well, it was the '60's so you can just imagine the colours. Clothes. Toys. Canvas running shoes. You name it. We had to have eyes in the back of our heads on dyeing day.

Skip forward to a warm September afternoon in 2012, where I find myself eyeing this nice bath of black (yes, RIT) dye and wondering what else I could put in there. Surely it was too good to waste?

So into the dye went a number of items of linen clothing that were once black but had become charcoal grey over time and washing. And a pair of black jeans that were not a black as they used to be. And some other fabric that I hadn't used yet because it was too beige...

Yikes! It seems that I have inherited my grandmother's dyeing penchant. That's one very Unexpected Legacy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Of Voices and Vacuums

Week 2 of my sabbatical has been long and tough. It has also been a good learning experience in the end.

The little voice in my head that says "What? You mean you haven't got a finished project to show at the end of the day? What have you been doing with your time? Don't you feel guilty?" was pretty loud this week.

Like most people I know, my entire professional life has been about achieving outcomes with a known final deliverable and deadline. My days and weeks have been measured by hitting clearly defined milestones along the road to that deliverable. So to suddenly be on a not-so clearly marked road is a bit surprising and very disconcerting. I am really struggling with trying to change my ingrained 'have-to' thinking into 'want-to' thinking. It's going to take a while for me to easily allow myself the time for mucking about and accepting the non-linear nature of the creative process.

Wait, isn't that the entire point of this undertaking? Yes Gillian, it is.

The other challenge this week has not come as a surprise at all. My main concern heading into this was being lonely, and it turns out I was right. Not necessarily socially, but in general terms of working and interacting with other people. I've always enjoyed spending considerable amounts of time on my own - but that was probably because my life was spent around a lot of people, everyone requiring something from me! I knew I'd reached the limit of my solitary life when I started seriously envying Mark going off to work. I've spent enough time in this vacuum.

A writer on another sabbatical blog wrote about learning that she had to get out of the house by 10 AM everyday. I'm not sure I need to go that far, but I know that I do need to have more and regular plans in place. So, I've now got courses and workshops set up to start in October and in the meantime I've found a small group of women who meet once a week to work on their own projects. Essentially creative time with company. We'll see how that works out. Lunch with someone once a week is going to be a necessity as well as a joy. And regular forays out of the 'burbs and into the city and the country are going to be a must.

Not to say that the week has been a total write off. Stay tuned for a post on a 'Gothic take on shabby chic' scarf that has me actually making some small use of my fledgling crochet skills. But as I head into next week, I'll be working on turning down the volume of that nasty voice, letting some air into the vacuum and cutting myself some slack.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

First Things First

The first thing on my to-do list was cleaning up my studio/sewing room/craft room/girl cave. I turned one of the spare bedrooms into this little oasis of storage and function about 18 months ago. Over the past year it seemed to have mostly become the repository of all the things that didn't have obvious homes elsewhere in the house. No longer! The debris has been removed, all supplies returned to their proper place and plenty of room made for getting down to the business of making things.

Ah, you have to love Ikea for spaces like this. Everything is so modular and scaled towards smaller spaces. The cupboards are good old Billy book cases with glass doors lined in wrapping paper. A DVD tower between them provides small display spaces. A series of boxes (yes they are labelled) fit perfectly on the high shelves and two simple tables give me plenty of work surface. Having the sewing machine and serger side by side is beyond great and plastic floor mats make it easy to roll between them. Ott lights and pale yellow paint add to the already plentiful natural light.

I'm very pleased with how this little room worked out. It's comfortable, organized, functional and pretty to boot. The big bay window is a gift - not only for light but just to be able to watch the world go by while I work. Easy access to supplies was a key goal, with dedicated out-of-site space for beads (obsessive amounts), fabric, magazines and other tools and collections. Considering that the room is only about 11 x 12 feet, it gives some of those big studios in "Where Women Create" magazine a run for their money.

One discovery - the hook that I had bought in a (failed) attempt to teach myself to crochet last fall. Four hours and several YouTube videos later, I seem to have the basics down. I don't really want to crochet. I just wanted to know how. Mission accomplished.

Monday, September 03, 2012

40 First Days of School

Considering that I started the whole sabbatical ball rolling about 10 months ago and was granted it way back in the spring, you'd think that I would have a good handle on the whole thing. But you'd be wrong.

I haven't really been able to wrap my head around the concept at all. It is so alien. I can't remember a time when I wasn't working or going to school or both. Between being a student and being a teacher, I've had more than 40 first days of school in my life so far. How could I possibly imagine a September that didn't include that important event?

And suddenly my sabbatical is here. All the plans and people needed to make the Web Design program great this year are in place. The lab is full of new computers. The class is ready to roll. My office is tidy for pete's sake. I'm thinking my work there is done for now.

I plan to be posting at least once a month – about what I'm up to and what I'm making. Feel free to drop by and have a look!