Category Archives: Thrifting

Twas the Night Before Christmas Sewn Up

I was sorry when my neighborhood little thrift store closed at the end of last year.  I had found lots of old patterns, fabric, and clothes to refashion there.

There were some boxes of stuff for free out front, and like a parting gift, I came home with a pile of Christmas fabrics.  They are mostly printed panels which makes for quick projects.  Every year I plan on making a project or two.

This year I made pillow covers and a stocking.

How cute and festive are this doe and buck?

I paired them with this thrifted corduroy fabric and two red zippers from my stash.

This was my first time making zippered pillows.  I used this tutorial from Design Sponge to get going on the sewing.

I shortened the zippers, and prepared to sew them in the bottom of the pillow. The idea is to make the zipper a few inches shorter than the side of the pillow, sew the little bit at the start and end of the seam, changing to a basting stitch for the length of the zipper.  Then I pressed this seam open, and centered the zipper on it. In hindsight (ha!) I would have put some fabric glue to keep the zipper in place over the seam and prevent shifting while sewing both sides of the zipper down.  Next I unpicked the basting stitches to open the zipper. To finish, simply leave the zipper partially open for turning and sew the other three sides.

I didn’t bother to buy pillow forms.  Instead I just put these on two 16 inch couch pillows I already had.  Very convenient! I also like that they’re not overstuffed like the pillow form I used last year for my quilted tree pillow because the flatter surface is better for showing the design.

A stocking  shape was printed on Reindeer Tales fabric.  I only had to cut out the two sides and sew.  I also added a white craft sherpa fur that I doubled for the top of the stocking and used to make a hanging loop.  The stocking is huge and won’t hang right unless it’s stuffed with tissue to keep its shape, but it’s cute as a gag stocking for someone who has been very good!

This photo shows the vast size of the stocking.


Both the corduroy and faux sherpa created annoying bits of fuzz all over the place.  I made liberal use of a lint roller to keep my work surface clean.

Thank you to my model, Sparky, for making these projects look better.

I wish you happy holidays, happy sewing and making, and to all a good night!


TNT Tee Slashed

The monthly theme for the Sewcialists blog this November is TNT patterns. TNT stands for “tried ‘n’ true”.  They are the patterns that you have adjusted the fit on and can quickly make up multiple times.

I made the Kirsten Kimono Tee by Maria Denmark for the fourth time.  The pattern is free when you sign up for her newsletter.  It is a basic tee with an extended shoulder providing some coverage without having to insert sleeves.

I made the first three using the fabric from thrifted X-large men’s tee shirts. The white one has a curly lettuce hem on the sleeves and bottom. I made them in a size large, changed the neckline to be less wide, dropped the shoulder 1/2 inch, and added 1/2 in to the hip.

I have been wanting to try a color blocked version.  I was inspired by Bust Your Scraps on Sew Everything Blog, and Shop Your Stash on Wendy Ward’s blog.

I had a thrifted piece of knit fabric I bought for 50 cents that I wanted to combine with some black knit fabric I already had.  The dotted black and white fabric is a little dizzy but I thought it would be perfect as an accent fabric.

I pondered some possibilities.

I went with #2 as I was already smitten with Wendy’s striped and solid version, and had saved it in my Pinterest likes.

When I first started sewing I thought place-on-fold pattern pieces which look like half pattern pieces were weird.  I wanted to draw out the other side too.  Well, to make  the front of my color blocked top, I did just that.  Then I drew my slash line and added a 1/2 in seam allowance.

This knit fabric was harder to sew than the tee shirt jersey I had used before.  It was stretchier.  I don’t know but I’m guessing it may have some lycra or spandex content.  At first I thought it might be interlock, but it curls.  Jersey curls, and it curls to the right side of the fabric.

I didn’t know which way to orient the fabric for cutting and I didn’t have selvedges to give me a clue.  I read a few refresher articles referenced below.  I cut the tee out with a rotary cutter with the greatest stretch going horizontally across the body.  I switched to a ballpoint needle, put on the walking foot, and sewed with a zigzag stitch of roughly 1 and 1/2 to 2  stitch length and width.  I also made a binding strip which I sewed to the right side of the tee’s neckline.

So good so far.

Then I put in my stretch twin needle for the hemming and top stitching.

Yikes!  The  tunneling was so extreme it looked like I had a piping cord in there.  I decreased my tension, but the tunneling was still noticeable.  I was planning on top stitching the shoulders and the diagonal seam but decided against it.  I have  gotten perfect results with the twin needle hemming on previous tees, so I assume my fabric was to blame.

Still, I love it!


It looks dressier than the other tees I have made.

It’s so striking on the hanger. What do you think of the asymmetrical look?


The articles I used for reference:

The Seasoned Homemaker – Intro to sewing knits

 Sewing with knits : the details

Lladybird – Conquering knits

Tilly and the buttons – How to cut knit fabric

  Sewing knit fabric on a regular sewing machine


Vintage Embroidered Pillowcases

I bought a set of pillowcases for $1 each at the thrift store.  They aren’t quite plain; they are stamped with a sweet design of a girl in a heart of flowers.

One of the reasons I think the pillowcases are vintage is that the fabric looks old and  feels like 100% cotton.  The pillowcases don’t have any tags, and the inside seams look different from modern cases.  The style of the design also looks like it’s from the 1950s or 60s.

What floss colors would you use?  I got out all my variegated pinks for the flowers.

I put tissue paper between the hoop halves to protect the fabric, and then tore it away from the center.

I embroidered back stitches, lazy daisies, and french knots.

I decided on a single ply black thread for the outline of her skin.  While I was stitching her, I thought she looked like a lamb with hooves.

I had a little bit of what knitters call second sock syndrome after finishing the first.  I changed the color of her dress for the second one.


Tastes have changed since these were sold. Do these pretty ladies have a place in the modern world?  I admit that I folded the pillowcases and stored them away after finishing them.

Would they still be considered vintage even though they’re newly embroidered?


Button Front Denim Skirt Refashion

I found some great 1970s skirt patterns at my small neighborhood thrift store.

I also bought this long button front denim skirt with pockets there.  I want the basic a-line shape of the first pattern but this time I’m taking a shortcut using this secondhand garment.

Look closer:  I’m not wearing it!  I’m just holding it up to my waist because the skirt waist is itty-bitty tiny and mine no longer is.

So I cut out the pockets and snipped all the way across to get rid of the tiny top which left the skirt with a huge waist.  I unpicked the hem just at the side seams and cut my new a-line shape keeping the width at the bottom and narrowing at the waist to a just right size.

Before sewing, I switched to a denim needle on my machine. I added two darts front and back.  I struggled with reattaching the pockets.  They had a long opening like side seam pockets but they were inset pockets folded over.

Sometimes it can be easier sewing from scratch than trying to figure out how to rework something.

On to the waistband, which I cut, interfaced, folded over, and sewed on.  I attached bias binding to the raw edge.

The last step: making a new buttonhole on the waistband.  The top buttonhole is horizontal, and the rest are vertical.  A horizontal button is more secure, and can take more stress.

I finished by top stitching the top and bottom of the waistband.

And there you have it : a basic casual classic  to wear about town.  Like this:

I feel like an editor for a fashion magazine setting up an outfit shot.  The little patchwork denim purse is also thrifted.

How I wore it:

Or as worn with another of the kimono sleeve tees I made from a big thrifted tee shirt.  The tee is actually a pretty aqua shade but the sun is bleaching the color out in the photo.


Shopping Post Election : Bring Your Own Bag

What to do when you have a case of the blahs after being sidelined by illness (shingles), dog problems (anxiety and panic attacks), post-election blues (he won), and can’t muster up the will or desire to finish making a simple pair of pants started in October?

Scrap it!  At least for now, and start afresh.

from pants to bag

The election on November 8 impacted my state of California in the following ways:

California was one of four states that voted to legalize recreational marijuana use.  That brings the total to 8 states where recreational marijuana use is legal. About half of the states have decriminalized medical marijuana use.

The ballot measure to repeal the death penalty failed, and the proposition to speed up the death penalty passed.  Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, thirteen men have been executed, after being on Death Row for up to 24 years.  The last execution was in 2006.

Another measure on the ballot that passed by 52% bans single use plastic bags. Customers will be charged 10 cents for a paper bag, and 15 cents for a slighter thicker reusable plastic bag.

That adds up when doing grocery shopping every week. I’m bringing my own!  I gathered up my store bought ones which I think are made from polyethylene (whatever that is).

I also decided to make a tote/shopping bag from a canvas or twill scrap of fabric bought for 50 cents at the thrift store and denim cut from a pair of old jeans.

Shopping Bag Ribbon on Denim Pocket

I looked at two bags I had for construction details – one is a heavier tote bag and the other is lightweight and folds up to a small size.

2 Sample Bags

I made my bag without a bottom seam like both of my sample bags.

I sewed french seams on the side seams.

Box Corner and French Seams

I sewed box corners like the ones on my Queen Mary tote bag.  I don’t think they worked out quite right, and the bottom of the bag is a little narrow.

I used denim for a pocket and the straps.  I changed to a heavyweight denim needle, and used gold thread on the bag to match the jeans.  The hardest part of this project was sewing through the layers of the denim straps where they attach to the bag.  My machine was groaning! I had to turn the wheel by hand to get through the tough spots.

Shopping Bag Inside top

Shopping Bag Pocket Side

Shopping Bag Plain Side

Shopping Bag in Use

No, I don’t live on donuts and potato chips.  The photo is for illustrative purposes only.

I would also like to make a thin roll-up bag like the German bag pictured.  I’ve used that one quite a bit.

I’m happy I got through this project.  Something simple, fast, and useful was just what I needed to help beat my doldrums.






A Simple Dress Refashion

I bought a long dress from the thrift store even though I knew it was too tight for me in the bodice.  The waist and hips were plenty roomy.  The dress is rayon with a small rose print on a black background.

The style featured ties emerging from the side seams below the bust further emphasizing the too tight fit in that area.

I was being a little dramatic making it look like I popped the button in the photo!

Rose Print Dress Before

When I bought the dress I thought I would make it into a skirt, but I really preferred to have a dress.  I don’t have enough dresses, and need more for the ease of wearing – no matching of a top and bottom needed – and hopefully figure lengthening properties.

What to do?

I made three little changes that made a big difference!

I hemmed the dress at knee length.

I removed the side ties, sewed them together, and made a belt to be worn at the natural waist.

Bodice Close-up

I cut the neckline lower into a v-shape removing the top button.  That gave me more “give” across the bust, and suddenly the bodice fit.  I also wore a different bra that helped the fit, and I might have lost a few pounds, but not many as both before and after photos were taken in the same month.

I was going to make inseam pockets with the leftover fabric,  but was having a really hard time unpicking the seam, so I ended up scrapping that idea.

Rose Shirtdress After

Rose Shirtdress Back

Just a few little changes, and my figure looks much more balanced.  Wouldn’t you agree?







The Dress Doctor by Edith Head

I noticed a book at an estate sale with a dress form on the cover, picked it up, and discovered I had a first edition copy dated 1959 of the book “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  I bought it!

I got a good deal. The book is selling on Amazon for $61 and up.  The 2011 reissue is not the original book, but a very abridged version.  However, many libraries have a copy.

I remember watching Oscar telecasts as a little girl with my mother, and  hearing Edith Head’s name being called as a nominee in the costume design category.  Miss Head was nominated 35 times in her career, and won 8 Academy Awards, 6 of them in the 1950s.

In the book, she tells of being a French and art teacher at the Hollywood School for Girls in the 1920s, where her pupils included the de Mille daughters.  Some days they would shut down school, and go to Paramount to watch Mr. De Mille direct a scene.  Evidently, Miss Head found the movie business to her liking; during  summer vacation she answered an ad for a sketch artist at Paramount. Even though she couldn’t draw,  she got the job by bringing to the interview other students’ drawings from the art school she was attending.

The doctor hangs up her shingle drawing

She began designing for silent pictures and westerns.  Her first  design that garnered attention was the sarong dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in the 1930s.

In 1949, a category for costume design was added to the Academy Awards, and Miss Head received her first nomination.  She didn’t win until the next year, for “The Heiress”, in which she designed  clothes whose purpose was to make Olivia de Havilland look plain and unattractive.  Up until 1968, the Academy awarded two costume design Oscars, one for color, and one for black and white.  Six of Miss Head’s wins were for black and white pictures, including “All About Eve” in 1951 and “Roman Holiday” in 1954.

Edith Head worked with all the top female stars of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and in the book describes costume fitting sessions with Clara Bow, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others, and offers little anecdotes about their personalities.  Nothing snarky here – all the best stories were doubtless omitted as a dress doctor has an oath of confidentiality  to consider.

Miss Head worked on some of the greatest classic movies and my all-time favorites: dressing Bette Davis in “All About Eve”, Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday, Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”.

In the book, fashion advice is also given to the ordinary woman.  Miss Head appeared on a radio show with Art Linkletter in the the 1940s where she gave fashion pointers to the women in the audience.    I thought it very quaint to give fashion advice without any visuals, but then I remembered that the designer Mr. Blackwell, best known for his “worst dressed” annual lists, had a radio talk show broadcast from Los Angeles in the 1970s in which he did the same thing.

The show with Art Linkletter made it to television in 1952.  It was a fun show: contests to shop and select accessories, fashions shows, and a staple of women’s daytime entertainment: the makeover.

What Clothes Can Do for You drawing by Edith Head

My favorite part of the book is the section on what clothes can do for you.

“You are a woman with weapons, why not use them?  Why be a sheep when you can be a self?”

“Everyone has a day’s work, a career, in home, office or wherever, and why not express your individuality?  See how you can best dress for the day’s work to give yourself assurance.  Life is competitive; clothes gird us for the competition.”

Miss Head sums up her advice in three rules:

  1.  Be dressed for what you are doing.
  2.  Have the right accessories.
  3.  Don’t wear your clothes too tight.  A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.

How do you think that advice holds up in the 21st Century?

Next week, in the The Dress Doctor Part 2, I will apply some of her concepts to myself, past and present.