Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chic and Frugal Sewing

I have been sewing a long time, probably twenty-five to thirty years. In spite of that I am not very advanced. It’s because I’m relaxed and also possibly a little lazy. I like it that way.

I made more ambitious things when I was younger than I do now. As a teen watching movies like Pretty in Pink and Madonna’s one (with the lace singlet tops) I was inspired to make my own clothing and enjoyed wearing my creations out to the movies with friends. A few of us made our own clothing – we must have looked quite ‘creative’.

In my twenties I also made clothing but eventually drifted into dressing the home rather than dressing myself. The only problem with making your own clothing (when you’re as slow and exacting as I am) is that you can’t see what it looks like on. And if you don’t like it afterwards then tough luck.

My sister is the complete opposite, she started sewing when her youngest was born four years ago and is now such an accomplished seamstress she drafts her own patterns and sells online. I am happy to sit in the shade created by her capability and output and just continue on my own puttering way.

My chic and frugal sewing is what I use to make my house a home and create handmade memories along the way. I have recovered cushions, made simple patchwork cushion covers (like the ones above, and top), and even tried my hand at curtains. Curtains aren’t as easy as they look, even if they are all straight lines.

My recovered ironing board, above. Below, tablecloth made from a remnant of fabric, hemmed around the edges.

I made a duvet cover once from a sheet set I liked and (it was the nineties) it had ties all along the end. It already had ready-made pillowcases with it. It’s an easy way to get a duvet cover you like, although I would use buttons or domes rather than the ties these days. Imagine buying two sets of white sheets and using one of them to make a duvet cover. What a cloud-like sanctuary the bed would be then!

Every so often when I pass an upholstery or furniture store and notice piles of remnants and samples I take a look. I have found gorgeous, expensive English furnishing fabrics at a fraction of their original cost. These offcuts make great tablecloths, cushion covers, napkins (if thinner), placemats and pot-holders at a tiny price. They look very luxe (because they are) and make everything else around them look fancier.

Below, a table runner made from a piece of fine corduroy. I used the fringe-y selvedges to finish the pointed ends.

It’s funny how if you choose the offcuts that really appeal to you, no matter if you think they aren’t your colours or are too ‘out there’, they all blend together to make your taste. And they do all go together.

Sewing is such a great skill to have. A sewing machine is a fabulous addition to any home and they aren’t that expensive – you can buy them second-hand and have serviced (get a simple one that is mechanical rather than electronic – there’s less to go wrong). But even if you don’t have a sewing machine a basic sewing kit will help you sew on buttons, take up a hem and make minor adjustments to clothing.

Cushion covers below were made with the same $10 offcut I used for the ironing board cover.

Something like a t-shirt neckline you don’t like can be altered by hand-sewing a couple of inches of running stitch from the centre front down into the shirt. Pucker this up (or should I say gather) and you will have created a new look. I also did this with a singlet top where I felt the strap tops were too wide (it looked quite dowdy). I gathered along the shoulder seam on each side and it looked a lot prettier.

Recently a friend of my mother’s gave me two summer skirts. They were mid-calf length and a-line. I shortened them to just on the knee and now I have two new skirts. I have also finally discovered a skirt style that I like on me.

Do you make home items yourself, or reshape clothing you have bought or been given?


  1. Nice post and beautiful work on your custom home furnishings!

  2. The projects you showed here are interesting! I bought an inexpensive sewing machine at WalMart. It has helped me craft several cushion covers, repurpose some vintage curtain, alter some clothing, and create a few other items.

    Growing up, patterns frustrated me. I enjoy plunging in and creating w/o patterns much more! Since I found this freedom, I've sewn much more than those painstaking efforts in the past!

  3. This is a lovely post Fiona! I love that tablecloth, and really need to find directions on how to recover an ironing board. I have a sewing machine and really want to learn to use it. I think I need to just jump in and be prepared to fail a time or two (something I am not good at). I have tutorials and patterns galore, but tend to sew by hand.

  4. Fiona,

    I can just imagine you and your friends sewing some great clothes back in the day. Pretty In Pink, that brings back memories!

    I really like your ironing board cover. I have to admit I am more than a litte jealous that you know how to sew. I just don't have the attention to detail needed for something like this.

  5. Thanks Juhli!

    Rebecca, I think we are very similar in a lot of ways.

    Kalee, for the ironing board cover I just took the old one off and cut the new fabric in the same shape. Then hemmed and put elastic in. You could also use a drawstring. Wash fabric first as it can shrink.

    Julia, there are lots of interesting books out which have really simple sewing projects. Have a look on at 'Simple Sewing with a French Twist' and there will be other similar books listed too. I'm sure your library would have some of them to have a flick through. I used to covet Molly Ringwald's wardrobe, back in the day.

  6. I love Andi's scene in Pretty in Pink when she makes her prom dress! It's so inspiring to get creative like that. My sewing is limited to home decor too. I'll do curtains but only panels and nothing complicated. I tried a dress once but it was advanced and hard. I love your ironing board cover! It must make ironing so much nicer.

  7. I can't say that I can't sew, I have taken some lessons, but I never did it enough to feel comfortable or good at it. I think I am going to revisit this idea--especially since I have been looking for a king-size linen duvet and now think it may be cheaper to make (if I found a good sale on fabric). I will have to borrow my MIL's machine and see what I can do. xxBliss

  8. how beautiful! I would love to be able to sew, I always thought it would be fun to make my own clothes but you are right, I never thought about not being able to try it on until its too late.

  9. In my younger years, I used to make up my own patterns and make my clothing, pillows, duvet covers, curtains, tote bags. I was never really great at it, but I enjoyed it! My sis on the other hand is a wonderful seamstress as my mom used to be in her younger years too. Fiona, your projects are wonderful!! xxoo :)

  10. I do not share this skill...but I am in awe of what you have taken on...I could save a lot of money if I could sew.

    Lovely pillows! The tablecloth colours are perfect for your room too.

    Clever you Fiona...:)

  11. That's very sweet of you to say, dear Sister. I do remember sewing in high school though, making a wonderful (sic) fluoro gingham two piece trouser suit with Dean, and also various pairs of shorts I wore to the gym in my late teens. I think I just took a long break between then and four years ago. Love your ironing board cover. I go through them so quickly I use whatever I have in my cupboard, currently a shabby chic floral, a roll which I picked up for a song off TM. I absolutely agree that learning a little sewing is a great skill asset.

  12. I wish I could sew more than just straight seams, and hand sewing - forget it! To be able to sew nice things for your home and maybe even make small alterations to clothes is a great way to save money but also add that personal touch. I love the pictures from your home, by the way!

  13. Wonderful post that makes me want to get the machine out of the attic. I used to sew pillows and pillow cases and placemats. I loved it and was so proud of my work. Like you suggest, I would look for the Waverly remnants and find something to use them for. Sadly, I let this hobby fall by the wayside when I was a young mother.

    I am proud to say my two daughters (young teens) enjoy sewing very much, as well as crocheting. As I agree with Rebecca herein that I am not prone to using patterns, I may need to troll the fabric store with my daughters, find some beautiful remnants, and see what we can create together. Thank you for the inspiration!

  14. Catherine, forgive me! I don't remember you sewing, but you obviously did.

    Nanne, thank you.

    Beth, your sewing machine will be so happy when you rescue it from the attic.

  15. Those are beautiful! You really have a lovely talent. It's useful too, because I would love, love, love to be able to design and create my own clothes a la Pretty in Pink…one day.

  16. It's been years since I really did any sewing. I made all my maternity clothes, and that was a long time ago now!

    I've had material and patterns sitting around for quite a while. It's what you said, I'm afraid that I'll do all that work and then the dress won't fit or look right.

    I guess Kalee is right, I need to just jump in and not worry about it. Hmm .. maybe I should start with those aprons I wanted to make for myself.

    Nice work on your projects. I particularly like the patchwork pillow cover and the cushions that match your ironing board cover.


  17. Jackie, aprons are a great idea. They don't have to fit perfectly like a garment. Free yourself from the guilt of unused patterns and enjoy using your pretty fabrics!

    The patchwork cushion I sewed by hand, over many winter nights. I then machine stitched it to a buttoned backing. It was very satisfying to make.

  18. Such a good post, Fiona. I grew up sewing and really enjoyed making pillows and dresses. I took professional lessons four years ago from a fashion design school and learned how to do pattern making and tailoring. I'm anxious to get out my sewing machine this spring and make a couple of dresses!

  19. Oh I would love to have a skill like this, I wish there were classes in homemaking - there are so many things that I would like to learn

  20. Hello Fiona, I am chiming in on an old post... I have enjoyed your blog for some time now, but have only just started a blog of my own. Also, I'm returning to sewing so this post grabbed my attention-the pillows and the table cloth are lovely. I was given some long oblong table cloths that don't fit my oval table, and you've inspired me to either rework them or make some new! Your blog is always entertaining and informative. Thank you!

  21. Jennifer, tablecloths are just big pieces of fabric, so have fun with making them into new items!


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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