TUTORIAL: Re-purposed recycled felt helping your garden grow: now that's what I call ECO!

It is pretty safe to say that the Alexandra Ferguson studio generates a LOT of felt scraps in the process of manufacturing her collection of applique pillows. So when a local Master Gardener told Charlotte Ferguson (Alexandra's mom, and the brand's Roving Ambassador) about a clever trick to keep her spring seedlings well watered while depleting Alexandra's ever growing stash of scraps....well, it was too good to keep to ourselves.

Follow these easy steps to create your own low-maintenance indoor greenhouse:

1. You will need a panel of felt about 24" x 16". We pieced two smaller panels together to get the right size. I thought it would be fun to use up all the tiny scraps in rainbow colors to create a patchwork, but Charlotte was in a hurry. One quick seam did the trick. You won't see the felt once all the plants are on top of it, so don't worry about making it look beautiful.
2. Using a medium sized waterproof container (we used clear storage bins), place the black trays your plants often come with upside down (shown on left side of photo). The idea is that you need to get about 3" height, so anything you have around the house that would serve that purpose would work as well. Place your felt panel on top of your riser, making sure that the edges of the felt go all the way to the bottom.
3. Pour water into your waterproof container. Soak the felt thoroughly, with about 2" height of water in your tub.
4. Place your trays of seedlings on top of the soaking felt, and you are done! The felt will draw water up from the bottom as the seeds drink, so your seeds will always be perfectly watered and you don't need to do a thing!
Your greenhouse should be placed in a sunny spot indoors. We added a grow light, easily found at Home Depot or your local gardening store for extra oomph.

Two weeks later

To celebrate spring, Alexandra is giving away one of her botanical-themed pillows. Don't have a garden with windows full of seedlings? The 16" "Tulip" pillow in cocoa that she is giving away should more than make up for it! The best part? This flower blooms all year long.

Check out the rest of the alexandra ferguson collection on her etsy site,
including many other floral styles as well as her popular "Pillow Talk" line of sassy words and phrases. Alexandra works exclusively with recycled felt made from plastic water bottles. Every applique shape is meticulously cut by hand and stitched down in her studio based in Westchester County, NY. Just like everything in nature, no two are ever the same!

You must be a FOLLOWER of this blog. Visit Alex's store HERE. Come back and leave a comment on this post and let us know what your favorite item in her shop was. One entry per person BUT if you twitter, blog, or facebook about this giveaway and leave a link it will give you extra entries.

This giveaway is the last on our series of March Madness giveaways-- It ends Tuesday, April 6th- winner announced on the April 6th blog post. Please scroll for two additional giveaways from the team that will also end April 6.

Artist interview with Kristen from Cakehouse

Kristen, from Cakehouse, and I were able to have a great chat several weeks ago about how she transforms vintage sheets from the Salvation Army into lovely screen-printed napkins and other soft home goods. Just after, we met up at the Brooklyn Flea where I got to check out her products in person. Recycling vintage sheets is not only a great way to bring eco-consciousness to the table, but you also get the gorgeously soft hand-feel of the softest cotton as a result of lots of washing. With lovely llamas, foxes and cats screen-printed in the corner, they are a must-have for any table setting.

Alexandra: OK, tell me a bit about how your business got started.

Kristen, cakehouse: I guess to really see the genesis of the whole thing, I have to go back a few years... I had been working in publishing, which was something I had fallen into and was starting to not enjoy. So I quit and went to FIT for the textile design program (which was fabulous). But I wasn't sure what I was going to do when I graduated, because I didn't want to design on a computer, and I didn't really want to work for someone else. Thankfully I was spared having to make that decision by getting pregnant about 7 months before I finished school! ;) So I stayed home with my son for 3 years, and slowly formed the idea in my head of doing something handmade---during those three years, I started going on craftser and other sites, learned about etsy, and became more and more familiar with the indie craft community, and knew it was somewhere I could see myself. so when my son went to pre-school in the fall of ‘07, I traded in my childhood savings bonds for a laptop and a vintage sewing machine and dove in.

Textile design is so fun. There are so many gorgeous fabrics out there.

I know! it was definitely all of the amazing vintage textiles that I found in thrift shops that led me to the focus of my work.

Speaking of thrift shops, I know you re-purpose a lot of materials to make your products. How do you find your materials? What criteria do you have when shopping to help you decide what will be used and what won’t?

95% of my fabrics come from the good old Salvation Army, in the form of sheets and pillowcases and bedspreads. I am a total thrift store devotee---I get all of my clothes and most of my son's clothes and tons of the things in our house at the thrift shop. my mom always took me when I was little, and I’ve always loved the sense of discovery when you find something wonderful and unique. And now that I’m older I appreciate the value of re-using rather than buying new. My criteria mainly is that the patterns need to be appealing and in that 50s-60s-70s aesthetic wheelhouse. And they mostly have to be lighter-colored patterns, with an all-over motif that will work well with one of my silk-screened designs printed over it. And, of course, it can't be excessively stained or ripped... ;) though I will buy a sheet that I am totally in love with even if it's torn or stained and I can only get maybe 1 or 2 sets of napkins out of it.... ;)

There can be some amazing things in thrift stores, but you often have to dig through a lot of junk to find it. Are there some neighborhoods that have better thrift stores than others?

Oh yeah, there's a lot of digging.... thankfully, I live three blocks from a great and relatively undiscovered Salvation Army. I think I’m the only person to shop in the sheets aisle... Generally, Salvation Armies are the best for my needs. Goodwills carry hardly any sheets at all, and in general are less interesting to me because they get a lot of donations of overstock from stores, so you're less likely to find things with a lot of personality. The best thrift stores I have found, actually, are in Philly.... and thankfully, one of my best friends lives there, so I can go visit her and call it a business trip. hee.

Oh, and Florida! My mom lives down there, and I always get to as many shops as possible when I visit. Those little old ladies downsizing from big houses into condos give away some great things.... actually, I thrift on vacation whenever possible. I found this great site, http://www.thethriftshopper.com/, where you can put in a zip code and it tells you all of the local thrift shops. brilliant!

It’s a great excuse to go shopping. People get rid of some amazing things. Have you noticed any difference between wealthier neighborhoods or less fancy ones? I always wanted to hit up the Greenwich Salvation Army and see what they are throwing out...

Wealthier neighborhoods are as hit or miss as any others, in the long run, I think. I’ve found just as wonderful things in the Salvation Army in my neighborhood (which is definitely not wealthy) as in the ones on the Upper East Side. It all depends. I think a good amount of the good loot being given away in wealthier neighborhoods goes to consignment shops, rather than thrift shops. And the ones in wealthier areas are definitely pricier!

So once you have found an amazing sheet, what is the next step?

Once I have a sheet, I take it home and wash it with natural detergent and a natural enzyme cleaner, and hang it out in the yard to dry. I’m so lucky to have a yard with a clothesline. I don't know if I could function without it, nothing makes things smell as good as being hung out on a line.... Then I take it in and cut it up into napkin-sized pieces (with my trusty rotary cutter...), or a combo of napkin-sized and placemat-sized pieces. Then I print one of my animals on, cure the ink in the dryer (the only thing I use my dryer for at this point), and sew them up.

Tell me more about your printing process...

I have a great silk-screening table---it's an old iron table that I got on freecyle.com from a photographer who was dismantling his studio. On that is a wooden top that my husband and son made to my specifications, into which I’ve screwed some clamps that hold the screens steady. I’ve marked out on the table in black masking tape where exactly I need to place my fabric rectangles to get the motifs in the same place on each one---this is especially important in the 2-color designs, which need to be printed with two different screens, so the fabric needs to be in exactly the same place for printing with the 2nd screen as it was for the 1st screen. I’m totally anal about getting my two-color designs to match up (getting proper "registration", as it's called). I get more frustrated than I probably should when things don't line up and I know I can't use that piece of fabric.... I think it's because I have such a limited supply of each fabric. Anyway, I mix most of the colors myself, and though I coordinate them to the fabrics, I don't drive myself nuts trying to match exactly. I only do the printing myself. I don't burn the designs into the screens myself. I don't have the equipment for it, and don't feel like I’m ready to invest in that yet. So for now I have a great local screen printer, Roxanne of roxy's tees, burn my screens for me in her studio.

I would love to learn how to screen print one day. It’s such a science.

It is! it was my first class at FIT, and I fell in love with it. I was just saying we should do a new new screen-printing class....

Sign me up. You mentioned your son--how do you find balancing home life with your company?

It's difficult sometimes to balance the boy and the work. One of my goals for this year is to really put a strong line in the sand between my work time and my time with Wile. He's only in school 3 days a week, so on his days off, because my studio is in our house, and my laptop is always there, it's really tempting for me to try to get some work done.... but I’m trying to resist that. My time with him, when he is so little, is more valuable than anything to do with my business. I know it's a cliché, but childhood goes by so quickly---I’m still shocked every time I remember that he's going to be 5 this year... so I’m doing my best to be ultra-productive on my work days, when he's in school, and to put the laptop away when I’m with him. My husband has been really supportive of me, carting me and my tent and my tables all over creation to this fair and that fair, and/or taking Wile for the day while I’m selling in person. Fairs definitely cut into our weekend family time, but they're a big part of my business right now.

That leads to my next question... where else could people find your products, other than Etsy?

I’m doing a booth at the Brooklyn flea with may luk ceramics and box design (custom furniture from the people who brought us beacon bookmarks....), the third weekend of April, May, and June, and I’ll be doing two big spring fairs: Art Star Craft Bazaar in Philly, and Renegade here in Brooklyn. I’ve also gotten into some great stores: Youngblood gallery and boutique in Atlanta, and Renegade handmade and Sprout home in Chicago, both of which carry my things in their online shops as well. I’m aiming toward building my wholesale/consignment business. Though I love Etsy and want to always maintain a presence there, it's hard to keep up with the photographing and listing process when everything I make, I only make 4 or 5 sets of, because I only have that much of each fabric....

It’s really neat that everything you make is by nature limited edition.

I do really like that aspect of it, it makes them even more special.

Why should people buy handmade? What would you tell them?

To feel a connection with the object. To know that someone put thought and care into it, that it wasn't created by a marketing team to appeal to the masses, but by an individual with a unique creative viewpoint. And I have a personal relationship with all of the objects in my home and all of the items in my closet, and it makes me happy to look at something and think "oh, I remember buying that from so-and-so at that craft fair, they were so awesome."

Do you plan to expand into any other product categories or new screen designs? Where do you want to take your company next?

I’m about to have two new screens burned: a dachshund, and letters for monograms. I’ve done a few monograms in the past, but haven't had a screen, so I hand-painted them, which is crazy-making. so I’m excited to have the screens done. I love letters and typeface and fonts, so I’m really excited to incorporate those. And the dachshund is for my husband, who has a thing for them.... as far as new products, I’m working on wall hangings---for the people who look at my napkins and say "they're too pretty to use!"---and squares, which will be single-layer squares of fabric that can be used as a handkerchief or a bandana.

Next up? I’d like to eventually have someone coming in and sewing for me (which would mean actually coming up with patterns/guidelines instead of eyeing everything like I do now, ay yi yi!). And like I mentioned, I’d like to do more wholesale/consignment. I’d also like to eventually move my studio out of my house---though it's super convenient, it would be nice to have a more tangible divide between work and home. and I’ve always wanted to have my own shop. When I was little I dreamed that it would be a clothing shop, but now I dream of somewhere I could sell the things I make, and things I love that other people make...

Do you have any creative tricks that you could share?

I’d say that what has helped me be the most creative has been finding a niche that really appeals to me. Once I put together my philosophy and aesthetic---vintage, repurposed, home---the ideas just started flowing. Find what you love, and don't be afraid to run with it. Others will love it too. And: don't go anywhere without a pen and paper!

Where do you want to be in ten years?

In Brooklyn, still part of this awesome indie craft community, seeing my friends and still creating things that we love and being able to support ourselves with it---seeing more people being able to do that!

Drawing the Curtain on Winter

I have a friend who I would consider to be my wardrobe refashion-enabler. Over the years I have gotten tons of “hand-me-downs” from her that often need just a little tweaking to be wearable. Sometimes she just provides the raw materials. This is one of those instances. She gave me a pretty flowered curtain that I’ve had lying about for a while as I waited for inspiration to strike. Spring is just starting to appear here in New York, so I thought that it might be time to cut into the lovely yellow and orange flowers. Now, normally I am a pattern-follower, but I thought that I would try a little improvisation on this project.

First I cut off the hem and the hanging sleeve. The fabric has a directional pattern so I folded the curtain in half, cut along the fold and rotated one layer so that the flowers were all headed in one direction.

I chose a basic a-line skirt that I like and used it as a very basic pattern. I lay the skirt on top of the fabric and cut around it, keeping the bottom quite wide so that the skirt would have more of a flare (surely all flowery skirts should be the swing-y kind).

Then I sewed up the two sides—adding a short zipper to the left side-seam—and tried the skirt on in order to improvised some darts. Voila!

It was done, but it was little boring.

It needed a little more zing and I apparently needed a little more of a challenge (it is wardrobe refashion challenge, after all.) I had a fair amount of fabric left over so I thought I would turn this from a simple a-line skirt to a slightly-less-simple gored skirt. I tried the skirt on again and decided where the gores should go. I folded the skirt in half with the side seams together and measured and marked a straight line parallel to the folds (the center front and back).

I then took a deep breath and cut long slits along these lines. Then I cut four triangular pieces of fabric from my scraps that were the same length as these slits in the skirt. I initially tried to insert the gores using lapped seams (these come up a lot in the vintage patterns that I like to use) but something about this technique made them look flat and I wanted a bouncy, swishy skirt. So I ripped out the seams and tried again by reinforcing the top of the slit with a little stay-stitching and then pinning and sewing the gores in one side at a time. I liked this result much more. It gives the gores a little more of a three-dimensional effect.

I am finally happy with the skirt though it still needs a proper hem and waistband (probably in some contrasty color) and I am waiting anxiously for spring to really arrive so that I may wear it out!

Tanya Luck(x4)

How-To: Re-Purposed Pants -- The Yoga Sling Bag with 2 Pockets

I’ve yet to find a yoga sling bag to tote my yoga mat around that will suit my needs at a reasonable price! I want one with pockets for a MetroCard, some cash, and keys. It should be comfortable to carry, have a little extra room for a small towel, and not cost 50 bucks!

So I have these cargo pants that I haven’t worn in a while and decided that they will make a GREAT bag to carry and store my yoga mat. AND I can incorporate the pants' pockets in the redesign! You can make one too, and here’s how…

You’ll Need:

An old pair of pants or jeans
A good pair of scissors
Sewing machine (preferably)
Webbing (for the sling strap)
Shoe lace or other means to close the bag

How To:

1. Fish out an old pair of jeans, preferably boot-cut and big enough to fit your rolled up mat. It should have a little wiggle room, but not be too roomy.

2. Cut the pants/jeans in half so that the two legs are separated. Turn the half you will use inside out.3. This is how to cut up the pants if you want to use the button fly as the opening for the yoga mat sling bag.4. Sew the button fly back onto the pant leg.

5. Next, put the yoga mat into the pant leg to measure how long the bag should be. The top of the yoga mat should sit where the waistband meets the pant leg. Cut off the bottom portion of the leg. You can use this remnant for the base of the bag.

6. Measure the diameter of the pant leg bottom. Using the leftover pant leg fabric from Step 5, cut out a circle with the same diameter plus a 2 inch seam allowance. This will become the base for the sling bag. I traced a circle around a cordless electric kettle for a perfectly shaped base.

7. With left sides facing out, pin the circle to the bottom of the pant leg. Decide where you want the strap to run across the bag and position one end of the webbing between the base and the pant leg.

To recap, the pant leg should be turned inside out with the left side facing out and the webbing should be inside (touching the right side) of the pant leg with one end positioned between the circle base and the pant leg.

Sew the base to the pant leg with 2 or 3 seams to attach the strap and the base securely to the sling bag.
8. Turn the bag right-side out. Secure the loose end of the webbing by sewing it to the opposite end of the bag with an “X-shaped” seam.9. To create a drawstring closure at the top of the bag, carefully cut two slits in the exterior part of the pants' waistband. Do not cut all the way through the waistband! Pull a shoelace or other heavy string through the waistband "tunnel." Pull the ends of the drawstring tight to tie the bag closed.10. If you are so inclined, go ahead and embellish the pocket with an “ohm” for extra credit :)
You’re ready to go!By Lorina Pellach-Ladrillono of The Original Beadscarf and beadscarf.etsy.com