Category Archives: Green stuff

Lightning quick gift bag repurposing: bag to book

{Wheee! This one got featured in the Whipup newsletter–#3–last week. Thanks, Kathreen!}

My husband suffers from a terrible fear of gift wrapping. Leaving out the gory details, suffice it to say that on his first day of work in his first after school job in a department store in high school, he had to gift wrap a set of football shoulder pads. They were not in a box.

He has never recovered. Because of this, he (thinks he) has dibs on all the holiday gift bags that come into this house. He hoards them so that, come a birthday or holiday, all he has to do is drop in a gift, tuck a piece of tissue on top of it, then go and pour himself a stiff drink to help dispel the horror.

So one of my after Christmas tasks is to gather up and store any nice gift bags that came our way. I was particularly taken with a kraft paper bag decorated with red and white snowflakes, and wanted to save it. Alas, Crispin had gotten into it after the present opening (it had originally contained some homemade goodies) and the bottom corner had a distinct bite mark. Still, I was loathe to throw it away. So last night I did a quick-and-dirty repurpose and now present to you . . . ta daaa:

Gift bag to handmade notebooks (2 thereof) in 5 quick steps

This is the quickest project ever. Gather your gift bag, a pair of scissors, a tapestry needle and some embroidery thread, and some cast-off papers to fill the notebooks with. Plop yourself down on the family room floor and just . . . wing it. I didn’t even measure anything, and eyeballed all the cuts.

Lay your bag on the floor and check it for tears or stains. My bag was great in the middle, a little torn at the bottom and, because it had paper twist handles that had been reinforced with a sort of lumpy bit of reinforcing paper, I decided to discard the section with the handles.

Take your scissors and free the usable middle section:

Stand this section up in front of you. See how each side makes a little letter M?


Cut down the middle of each M so you have two pieces. Each piece will make one notebook–you can probably see them already:

Fold the first one in half with the decorative side out. The flaps on the sides will make the notebook a little sturdier. Repeat with the other piece of the bag:

From the scrap paper, cut pages a little smaller than the size of the open notebook–10 or 12 pieces should be about right, though if your bag is bigger than the one I used you can add more. Fold them in half and nestle the spine of this little sheaf of papers into the spine of the notebook. Use the needle and a length of embroidery thread (or whatever floats your boat) to stitch the papers in place. Use your scissors to trim the thread ends and neaten any pages that need some attention.

Et voila! Here are my two. One has used printer paper as filler (so, yeah, half of the sheets have been typed on), and the other has plain paper bag paper to match the cover.

Total cost? Zippo. Total time? Maybe 20 minutes, and that’s only because my kids asked me to stop rustling papers during Futurama and I could only make cuts during commercials. And don’t you feel virtuous for recycling?





After many weekends away, or here with work, I finally got a two day stretch in which to play. No one was able to use the kitchen table for a whole weekend because I had it strewn with carving tools and materials, bits of paper, paper cutters . . . it was great. I turned out about 40 handmade note pads featuring my hand-carved stamps.

Here are a few:

On Monday when I stopped into the copy store to buy more sheets of cardboard for the notebook backs, I found in the shorts bin (from which the shop sells stacks of cut paper that would otherwise go to waste) a lot of appealing paper stacks and a dozen stacks already made into nice blank white paper notebooks.

Only then did it dawn on me that instead of printing my papers, assembling them in a cardboard backed stack and then binding them with padding compound (2 coats, with a rest to dry in between), I could probably simply have bought unstamped, already assembled note pads and just stamped on the pages. It would have cost a bit more, but would have been waaay quicker.

So I might do that next time.

Or I might not.

Linen covered book

Since I raided the local odd lots store last month for about 2 dozen of the linen and cotton kitchen towels they were selling for 50 cents each, I’ve been trying to use them in as many different ways as possible (I haven’t yet used them as actual dish towels, but it may come to that).

This one became the cover fabric for a coptic stitched blank journal I made for a milestone birthday for my sister. The linen was a little on the thick side–great for wiping dishes, not as great for book cloth–but I’m tickled with how it came out. The art on the cover is a watercolored print from one of my hand-carved stamps. The interior pages, which are a creamy white, are from a block of Sennelier “Le Maxi” sketching paper that I snagged on sale (the cellophane wrapper of the block was torn, but the paper was perfect) from my local Dick Blick store a while back.

I made a similar one with a kraft paper cover, red enameled eyelets for the waxed linen thread to go through and a handpainted, hand-carved stamp of a bird for a friend whose birthday was last week, but that one didn’t get photographed. In fact, I was so late in finishing it that I sat at the table in the tea shop where some friends and I were celebrating her birthday and finished the coptic stitching as we chatted over our iced teas on a hot afternoon. She was pleased–said it was like getting a present and a show.

(At least) one more to go, for yet another friend with an August birthday. Jeez, you’d think that December was a cold month or something.

Have-it-Your-Way Craft Apron Tutorial

I’ve been getting together regularly with a few friends to do a little art-making. We’re all writers (though one of us–not me!–is also an accomplished artist) and it makes us feel better to dust off the right side of our respective brains together once a month.

We are all approaching a certain age–no complaints at all, but I’ve noticed that we spend a lot of time on these occasions hanging out around a long table saying things like “Did anyone see where I put down my bone folder?” and “Is this your hole punch or mine?” and “Where the hell have my scissors gotten to now?”

So I’ve been making craft aprons for us. Each one is different and I feel like each one has evolved a bit over the previous ones (to the point that I want to take back some of the earlier aprons and do them RIGHT). The first two have been rather short, like cafe aprons–I made them with paper crafts–not messy stuff–in mind. But we’ve got a painting day coming up, and I thought it was time to try a long apron. Et voila–it all came together today and I thought you might like to see what I did.

It was soooooo easy.

It was soooooo cheap.

Best of all, it’s totally adaptable to the wearer and their craft and the tools of choice, so you’ll end up with an apron that has places for all your bookbinding tools, and you’ll make one that will hold all your paper schnipsels and so on and you will remember where you put your glasses.

Here’s the finished product.

I must say that, like most aprons, it looks a little better when it’s actually on somebody. and the details (close-ups coming) are everything. And that already I can see little things I’ll do differently next time. But, overall? Very pleased. Want to make your own?

Course you do. Here’s how:

I made this crafter’s apron from two linen/cotton blend dish towels that were 50 cents each at the local odd lots store. My towels were 26-1/2″ by 15-1/2″–your results may vary depending on the size of your towels, but you can mad adaptations as needed–they do need to be rectangular, though. You can also substitute fabric of your choice, but it will need to be hemmed (take this into account when you measure your yardage).

NOTE: throughout this tutorial, the right side of the towel (check the hem if you’re not sure which is the right side) is the right side of the finished apron.

Besides your two dish towels, you’ll need:

  • a strip of contrasting fabric about 2″ wide and 2″ longer than your towels are wide
  • about 2-1/4 yards (a bit more or less depending on the size of the person you’re making it for) of woven cotton belting from the fabric store or sturdy cotton twill tape about an inch wide
  • a sewing machine, pins, a measuring tape, and scissors.

NOTE: this is a good sturdy apron but it won’t protect you from anything more than you’d expect a dish towel to do–no very wet stuff, nothing radioactive, no alien body fluids. If you work with a lot of liquid-y paint, you might want something denser than this. That said, the linen is nice–tight weave and not so absorbent that it simply transfers the mess to the other side of the apron–and your favorite shirt.

TO GET STARTED: Lay out one of your towels and fold up one end (not one side) about 6″. Cut along the fold line (across the towel), and set this small piece aside. See above photo–this piece you’ve cut off is henceforth to be known as “the pocket piece.” To avoid confusion, we’ll call the piece from which it was cut “the apron front.”

Now it’s time to lay out your pieces. You have four pieces of fabric: the long strip of contrast fabric (not seen in this photo–its time is coming soon) and three pieces of toweling.  In the photo above you can see that the whole, uncut towel is at the bottom of the assemblage above, laid horizontally beneath the other two. On top of that, arranged vertically (and centered over the bottom piece) is the piece that will be the front of the apron and–laying precisely over the bottom of this–the pocket piece. This pocket piece overlaps the bottom edge of the apron front. (If this is all a little murky, this photo might make things a little clearer.)

Take a really close look at the photo and you’ll notice three things:

  • the pins in the picture are only there because they helped me to find the vertical center of the bottom towel–they aren’t actually holding anything together
  • the pocket piece is laid right on top of the apron front such that its side and bottom edges match up with the side and bottom edges of the apron front–you want the pocket piece to just cover the apron front piece at the bottom
  • All three pieces are right side up–facing us (check the hemmed edges of each piece).

Got that? Okay, the hard part is done–now it’s assembly time.

First (and there’s no photo for this one, so you’re going to have to trust me–remove the pocket piece and set it aside, but don’t move the apron front on which it lay. In fact, pin that to the apron skirt (the underneath, uncut, horizontal piece) and machine stitch them together so they maintain their positions. This seam isn’t going to show but it’s structurally important–sew them together close to the top edge of the apron skirt.

Now leave the apron body for a few minutes and get the pocket piece.  Lay it right side up on a smooth surface and get ready to unite it with the contrasting edge strip. Here are my pieces, laying on top of my ironing board (I have really got to get a different color ironing board cover).

See the bottom edge and sides of the pocket piece–all nicely hemmed? Good. The top edge of the pocket piece is the part you cut off right at the beginning, and that cut edge is going to be finished with the contrasting strip.

Take the contrasting strip and flip it so the wrong side is up.  Arrange it over the very top of the pocket piece. See–two fabrics right sides together getting ready to be sewn together just like in a normal project. Make sure the contrast strip sticks out about an inch on either side of the pocket piece–this will make it look nicer soon.  Pin ’em if you’ve got ’em, but I managed just to hold them together with my fingers as I sewed them together.

Now, machine stitch along the top edge of the pocket piece/contrast piece using about a 5/8″ seam, like so:

I know, I know–my picture shows me sewing this strip much closer to the edge. One of the things I decided after the project was finished is that a wider contrast edge would look nicer, so I’m telling you to stitch yours rather further from the edge–just do it. Ahh, the power! The power! BWAAHAAAHAAHAAA . . .

Now flip that edge strip so it’s right side up (see, mine looks a little small and mingy–wider is better, really) and topstitch at the lower (pocket) edge of the strip, like this:

Now fold the top edge of the contrast strip behind the top edge of the pocket piece. Don’t fold the pocket fabric along with it, just encourage the contrast strip to cover it neatly. Remember that this part you just tucked away won’t show, so don’t worry about the rough edge you’re folding back, but do try to fold back the sticky-outy pieces jutting out at the ends of the strip–finesse these so thee ends look pretty and neat, then topstitch again, this time quite close to the top edge of the contrast strip-covered pocket piece.

When you finish this step, your pocket piece will look like this:

See how I’ve laid it back where it was before, on top of the apron front? Now we’re going to bring it all together.

Make sure the pocket piece is lined up so it lays on top of and corresponds with the bottom of the apron front piece.  This time I do recommend pinning–use pins to stabilize the whole thing–you’re going to be sewing through all three layers along the sides and bottom edge of the pocket piece.

OPTIONAL: as I pinned, I added two things (remember–have it your way?).  First, my own tag, which I love:

And second, a strip of the belting about 8″ long, folded in half and pinned in at an angle. Sometimes when I’m bookbinding a have need of a small hammer, and this should hold it right by my side so I can’t lose it:

Think as you go about how you’d like to customize your own apron. Can you add a hook for keys or a tool you use a lot? An elastic loop for a wiping rag? A special pouch for the different cutters that come with your screw punch? It’s your apron, so make it so that it will be useful to you.

This is also the time to think about that big pocket you’re about to sew on. Do you need one big pocket? Three small ones? Eight skinny pencil holders? Decide how to allot the pocket space you have and stitch accordingly

Now stitch around the sides and bottom of the big pocket, making channels in it as you go. You can see from this picture (here’s  a larger view) how I stitched mine, starting at the red circle at the top left and pivoting the machine needle as I went to make pockets for the things you see–scissors, glasses, a little bottle of Nori paste, my bone folder, a pen:

The last two steps are simple: cut your neck strap and waist ties to the desired length (my neck strap is about 13″ long and my waist ties each about 30″). Sew the ends of the neck strap (make sure it isn’t twisted in a way that will hurt your neck) to the top corners of the apron front. Mine are blue and sort of pretty, so I just folded the fray-able ends of the strap under to hide any rough bits, and sewed them to the front side of the apron, but you could put them on the back side if you like. I handled the waist ties in a similar way, attaching them to the top corners of the apron skirt:

I’m thinking a little Fray-Check on the tie ends would be a good thing–will have to get some next time I’m out.

But for $6 (look for those 50 cent towels–or, even better, look in Goodwill or thrift stores or your grandma’s cupboard for some) and an hour’s work, I’ve got . . . the craft apron of my dreams. At least, until I figure out how I could have made it better.

Another notebook project

This one is an ongoing experiment. I came across a video tutorial for making these little perfect-bound notebooks a long time ago, bookmarked it, and put it on the back burner. Today the need for a new notebook arose, as it so often does around here. This is one of those projects that are just as easy to make in multiples, so I made two. It’s a great way to make use of old photos, too.

The tutorial is a good, clear, easy one from PhotoJojo, and making these two notebooks took about half an hour. I’m curious about how well they’ll hold up–perfect binding can be somewhat less than perfect–so I’m giving the candy necklaces one to Second Child and will throw the other in my own bag and we’ll see how they look in a couple of weeks. Place your bets.

Waste not . . .

After doing some watercolor thank you notes for some friends who helped us out of a jam recently, I started looking at the little dribs and drabs (though most of them weren’t drab at all) left in the palette sections of my paint box.

There were several very small pieces of paper on the table–ATC-sized mini Bristol board (would it surprise you to know that we very rarely actually eat at the table because it’s always buried under art supplies and books?), so I started piddling with how the little daubs of color would look together.

And there was at least one pen, so the little daubs became a drawing. Here are two of the ones that caught my fancy:

Never wash out your palette–you never know when you might need those colors!

Travels and tutorial

Of course, the reason I haven’t finished the long project I’m working on for my sister’s birthday is that I’ve hardly been around. Four weekend trips in four consecutive weekends have left me playing catch-up.

I’ve been here:

Note: the Mike’s cap is just here for scale–tiny red efts were everywhere–but it was handy. It was that kind of weekend.

But I’m back, back at work on the many parts of this project. One of them warranted making some new hand-cut stamps, and those, in turn, seemed to warrant a little tutorial. So here goes.

Tiny Stamp Tutorial

What you need:

Small amounts of craft foam

Sharp scissors with a fine point

Stamp pad ink


Ordinary white school glue

A fine-tip marker that will show against the foam

Spare Scrabble tiles (easy to find on eBay, etsy, or at second-hand stores)

A sheet of white shipping labels

  • Draw your designs, tile-sized or smaller, on the foam and cut them out. Simple designs work best. I’ve embellished some of mine by using a 1/8″ hole punch to create details

  • Glue the foam pieces to the blank sides of the Scrabble tiles (it doesn’t really matter much which side you glue them on, but this way the letters on them won’t show in the finished stamp. Use the toothpick to clear away any excess glue, taking care to make sure any holes in the designs aren’t filled up with glue. Let dry for about 30 minutes.

  • Using the stamp ink, stamp each design onto the sheet of mailing labels.  Leave enough room between each one that you can cut around it and have it fit on the back of the tile.
  • Then cut out each design, centering it in the middle of a tile-sized square (and orienting the label to correspond to the placement of the foam shape on the other side, and you’re done.