Guest blogger: Nicole blum from one golden apple

Hello crafty ones. I am so pleased to be a guest here while Kathreen is away. My name is Nicole Blum and I blog about crafting, sewing, and the other stuff of life over at one golden apple.  As a freelance craft developer for magazines, I am lucky enough to be making something on most days, and my etsy shop ensures that some of it is sewing- my absolute favorite way to create. I just finished a sewing book, co-authored by Debra Immergut, which will be hitting the shops in the spring.  It is called Improv Sewing and will contain over 100 projects I’ve designed to inspire and encourage, new and seasoned sewists alike, to be really creative and playful with their sewing machines.

I LOVE to make clothing, and my upcoming book Improv Sewing will map out how to fill your closet without buying a single pattern. Today, however, I want to teach you to make something fun and super cool for your home. Sometimes I find myself wanting to stitch designs on fabric without even knowing what I want the finished project to be.  Pillowcases and tote bags are always a great way to showcase your handiwork, but today I came up with a way to use some tube I had sitting in the studio closet – my man builds things and this tube is a leftover piece from making footings for our barn.  If you don’t have one, they are easy to get at any building supply place.  I have seen similar projects online before, but they are usually painted.  Painting is fun, but sewing is more fun to me so here is my tutorial for a pretty and very useful…

Umbrella Holder

What you’ll need:

  • an 18” length of sonotube* (mine was 10” wide) of course, use what you can get your hands on.
  • fabric you fancy that can wrap around the tube with 2-3” to spare and is 18” tall
  • contrasting thread
  • chalk


Cut fabric to size:  Use a measuring tape to determine the circumference of the tube. I pinned the fabric around the tube to illustrate about how much extra you might want to have.

Draw your designs: I use chalk to draw out designs I am going to stitch over.  Sometimes I use vanishing ink, but sometimes it doesn’t vanish- test it first.  You can can use cookie cutter shapes, trace circles from jar lids, or you can go for it and free hand, which I recommend, because really, what do you have to lose? I drew some flower shapes – I like their imprecise form. I recommend starting with simple and large shapes.  It is easier to sew a good line around gentle curves than tight ones. Please pardon the wrinkles, they will be pressed soon.  The light makes them appear worse than they are, swear. Press yours, ladies.

Stitch your designs: Now comes the fun part. Set your machines so the pressure on the foot is decreased.  The tighter the turns, the more you will need to manipulate the fabric, so the more you want to decrease the pressure.  On these big flowers, I set my foot pressure on 2 and it worked grand. Set your stitch to a regular straight stitch or a straight stretch stitch (which is what I did here for a nice bold line). If this is your first time drawing on fabric with thread, you might want to practice making a curve on a scrap piece of fabric.

Stitch around the shape you drew once or twice and then move on to the next one. My tip for success: Keep the needle moving and gently turn the fabric as you need to.  Use the most pressure you can on that foot while still being able to smoothly turn your fabric. Straight lines should be sewn with full pressure so the feed dogs can grab and move your fabric along. Use your fingertips to push the fabric where it needs to go.

Add some lines along the raw bottom and top edges: Instead of hemming the raw edges, simply stitch lines of straight or zig zag (or any stitch, really) stitches along that edge.  This will stop raveling edges and it defines the edge nicely.

I use my presser foot to space my lines.  Line up the the toe on the right side of the foot with the first line (and it was aligned with the raw edge to start).  I used a straight stitch for speed and I spaced them evenly (mostly, not perfectly).  You could stitch several lines and let them undulate gently too- crossing sometimes even.

Sew seam to create the sleeve: When your decorating is all done the way you like it, fold the fabric in half lengthwise and stitch your tube up.  Draw a line with chalk at the correct distance- you want it to fit snuggly. Stitch one line with a regular straight stitch and then try it on the tube for size.  If it isn’t tight enough, your next line of stitches can make it a little tighter.

Continue stitching the way you desire- meandering lines, a new stitch type for each line, whatever.  I made straight, evenly spaced lines for this project and then pinked the edges.

Slip it over your tube and you have a really nice little holder for whatever is tall and doesn’t fit in the usual places.  I could have one of these just for the swords that my 6 year old makes.  It would be a great place for roles of colored art paper- nice and protected- or to display branches for a winter bouquet. I ended up painting the tube yellow because the fabric was a little short- measure twice, cut once.  Oh well.

*Sonotube: Round, large cardboard tubes designed to hold wet concrete in place until it hardens – found in hardware stores.


Di has been blogging at Clementine’s Shoes for quite some time. She started in 2004, and one husband, two children, and one house extension later, she’s still at it, writing about sewing, knitting and trying to lead a more sustainable life. You can also find her pinning all manner of inspirations at Pinterest. 

Whip up has been a regular source of inspiration for me for quite some time. Kathreen and her contributors gather together so many things to look at, links to such a variety of sites and ideas to explore. For me, blogging has always been about finding and sharing creative inspiration with others, so to be contributing here today is wonderful opportunity.

I’d like to share a recent project that has been all about gathering and consolidating: patchwork placemats for our family dinner table. As a young family of four, we always sit down at the dinner table together, and I felt we needed something to adorn our (easy clean) vinyl covered table, something to celebrate coming together to eat and to help instil some more grown up meal time manners (although we’ll be ignoring what the baby gets up to with her food for a few more years I know).

Being in a thrifty, make-do mood, I wanted to work from my fabric stash. It’s not a huge stash, but the box that holds my cotton prints is crammed to bursting. When I pulled the box out and started to muse on my options, I initially struggled. The colours and prints just didn’t seem to jump out as being every day dinner table companions – too dull, too precious to get smeared with tomato sauce, too matchy-matchy, not matchy enough, too small. So I had to play, and draw on some of the patchwork inspiration I’d been pinning, particularly the colourful patchwork of Rita of Red Pepper Quilts and anything featuring varied collections of scraps. I’ve always been drawn to scrap based patchwork, patchwork with a variety of prints and colours within an overall theme, tied together by some kind of overall structure or order.

For this project, I decided to work with strips. Easy to cut, easy to piece, easy to use up little scraps of favourite prints. Using dots as a unifying motif, I gathered all the spotted fabrics I had, weeded out a few colours that didn’t sit right, and cut a pile of 5cm (2 inch) and 10cm (4 inch) strips. I sewed them together end to end, selecting the pieces fairly randomly, to make one long strip for each width. I cut these into 45cm (18 inch) long pieces, and started to play with layouts. Each placement is made from five narrower strips and one wider strip, selected so that they have a gentle balanced disorder. Not too matchy, not too off balance, just comfortably varied.

I sewed them together with 5mm (1/4 inch) seams (I took time to press all the seams open to avoid big lumps in the finished placemats). I backed the tops with plain calico, also sewn with a 5mm (1/4 inch) seam so that the edge strips are the same finished size, and turned out through a 10cm (4 inch) opening.  After a thorough pressing, including pressing the opening edges in, I top stitched in a neutral thread 2mm (1/8 inch) from the edge, thereby closing the opening and giving a neat finished edge all round.

I was too lazy (or perhaps just too eager to put them to use) to bother with any additional quilting, although you could do if you wanted to. They have been in daily use since completion, for breakfast lunch and dinner for our family and visitors. Despite a slight hiccup (I hadn’t prewashed the calico, which shrank dramatically on the first wash, requiring unpicking and new backings) they have been a huge success. They’ve made a great addition to our 4 year old’s table setting ritual, a source of dinner conversation (who has more of the orange multi-coloured spots tonight?), and creatively satisfying too.

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Laura and Annie write to each other via their blog across the Atlantic ocean. Laura lives in Bristol, England and Annie lives in DC. I love their blog name Nimble Fingers and Steady Eyebrows – The phrase comes from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and it describes Madame Defarge, who knitted “with nimble fingers and steady eyebrows and said nothing”.

Recycled Shirt Cushion Cover: This is a great way to recycle an unwanted or thrifted shirt. The shirt buttons form the cushion fastening, so all that’s required is some simple sewing and as much (or as little) appliqué decoration as you like. Our final cushion was 18in x 18in (46 cm x 46cm) but you could vary the size depending on the size of your shirt and/or cushion filler.

You will need:
– an unwanted shirt (ours was a man’s cotton suit shirt)
– a cushion filler
– assorted scraps of fabric
– buttons and embellishments as required
– sewing thread

– sewing machine (optional), scissors, ruler & pencil
– paper (or print out the pattern with the house templates)
– hand sewing needle, pins, iron (optional)

Step 1 – Preparation: Cut the templates for the pattern on the front of the cushion. Remember that there is an extra 0.5cm (1/4 inch) boarder around the pieces for tucking under to leave a neat edge. You can check if they fit on the shirt and the cushion by placing them roughly before you begin sewing.

Step 2 – Cutting the fabric: Pin the templates (see below) to the scraps of fabric of your choice (we used fabric in shades of blue and green to match our shirt, but you can use whatever you choose). Cut the shapes out.

Step 3 – Sewing the windows to the houses: Pin the rectangles you cut out for the windows onto the rectangles you cut for the houses. Sew on the fabric for windows using slip stitch (to be neat and to give it a more hand made look, I like to go around the piece with slip stitch one way and then back around the other way – this creates little crosses) and sew on the buttons for door handles.

Step 4 – Placing the Shapes on the Cushion: Lay the shapes out onto the back of the shirt near the bottom and arrange as you like (remember don’t worry if they overlap as 0.5cm will be folded under. Fold under the edges of each piece by 0.5cm (1/4 inch) pinning to keep them in place. Make sure that once you have pinned the pieces on you are happy with the look of the design. This is how it will look once you have sewn it all together. Sometimes it helps to press your pieces with an iron – this keeps the folds neat and secure.

Step 5 – Securing the Houses: Hand sew the shapes in place using slip stitch and using the crossing technique if you wish. Then add the buttons for door handles. Be sure to only sew through one layer of fabric.

Step 6 – Centre the cushion: Place your cushion filler centered over the finished design and draw roughly around it, leaving a few centimeters seam allowance. Cut out the cushion shape from the back of the shirt. Pin it to the front of the shirt with the right sides facing, ensuring that the shirt buttons run straight down the middle of the shape. Cut out so that both pieces are identical in size and shape.

Step 7 – Sewing the Cushion: Using a sewing machine (or by hand, if you prefer), sew all the way around the cushion shape. Trim any excess fabric from the edges and corners, being sure not to trim too close to the stitches. If you are very keen you can even iron out the inside seam before Undoing the buttons and turning right-side out. Insert your cushion filler and button up at the back. Your cushion is complete!

Annie Sewing

Laura Sewing



green upgrader shows us 3 nifty creative ways to add a little green to your small space.


Great idea of play around with and experiment with free-style crochet – and add a little style to your wardrobe. Instructions here.