Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Waxed Canvas Messenger Bag (For When I am a Relic Hunter)

It's pretty common knowledge that the key to being a world adventurer and relic hunter is not an overpriced degree in Ancient Civilizations and Biblical Studies from an overrated university; it is, in fact, the perfect bag. See above for photographic evidence (Indiana Jones, Sydney Fox!). How else will you carry your texts, maps, weapons, survival necessities, and (of course) the priceless artifacts you have bravely recovered? Phone charger? Check. Leather whip? Check. Holy grail? Check.

I made myself a canvas bag during my not-so-short-lived phase of wanting to become a world traveler and rescuer of obscure relics. I didn't have time to become fourth-semester proficient in an ancient language, but I did have time to sew this bag. I had been researching waxed canvas online for some time, but the price tags of my favorite Moop bags led me to the conclusion that I had better learn to topstitch and wax canvas if I wanted one.

I watched a lot of tutorials about waxing canvas. Most instruct you to mix paraffin wax, beeswax, and turpentine. I wasn't crazy about the idea of putting turpentine on my lovingly-constructed bag--I was especially nervous about the smell. Eventually, I found instructions for waxing canvas using a mixture of only paraffin and beeswax. I decided to give it a try.

I mixed equal parts of each wax in a bowl over a simmer pot of water. I used 8 oz of each, but I probably could have gotten away with 4 oz. of each. Wax is highly flammable! It must be melted with caution (hence the double boiler)!! I spread craft paper on my work surface before I began. I used a very inexpensive brush for this project, as it isn't really usable afterward. Once my wax was completely melted, I brushed it onto the bag, trying not to coat it too heavily. Then I used a heat gun on the low heat setting to impregnate the fabric with the wax. I tried to wipe off any excess wax that remained on the surface. This was a time-consuming process. I worked in sections, waxing, then heating. The finished bag was quite stiff--much heavier than the original canvas. I decided to distress the bag a little by throwing it in the dryer with some tennis shoes, using the air dry setting.

I am in love with this bag. I'm not sure how it will hold up in the summer heat (it's ten below outside as I write this), so check back in the summer for an update. Even if I never have an adventurous life, this bag will carry my mundane stuff around like a champ. And I'll feel awesome wearing it :) Be creative and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Crafts of Kindness 1: Cards for Cam

Cards for Cam first came to my attention when a Facebook friend shared the group's page. She knows the family personally, and has been trying to raise awareness on behalf of Cameron Corder's family and friends. When I initially conceived of this series, Cards for Cam was not in existence. Army Sergeant First Class Cameron Corder was serving in Afghanistan as a Flight Medic, while his wife and two young daughters remained in Michigan. Unfortunately, SFC Corder suffered an injury while assisting in the rescue of an injured Marine in August. His condition gradually worsened in the following months; in December, he was flown to Germany to undergo surgery. I won't presume to describe the Corder family's struggles over the past few weeks. The following is an excerpt from the Cards for Cam Facebook page, explaining what prompted the creation of the group:

A wonderful family has had their lives changed forever. For the past 6 months Bethany Corder has been holding down the fort at home while her husband, Sergeant First Class Cameron Corder, has been serving over in Afghanistan.

Bethany received word that on Saturday, December 21st, her husband had been injured. Cameron is an Aviation Medic in Afghanistan and was working on an injured Marine when his injury happened. He suffered a devastating spinal injury and has no feeling from the waist down. Doctors have informed him that he may never regain feeling because the nerve roots were so badly damaged. He was flown to Frankfort, Germany where he is receiving treatment.

Cameron and Bethany have returned to the States--the injured soldier is now recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

The group's founders have asked that well-wishers send cards of support and encouragement to Cameron as he embarks on his journey of recovery. According to this MLive article, Bethany Corder has requested “anything to lift him up and let him know that he’s OK the way he is and everyone loves him exactly the same. . . .He’s thinking his life is over and it’s not. He just needs something to look forward to, definitely. Please keep the well wishes coming.” Please send cards to:

Cards for Cam

176 Apollo Circle
Flushing, MI 48433

Anyone wishing to make a monetary contribution to the family can include a check made payable to Bethany Corder. 

The card in the photograph above is one I designed in honor of Cameron Corder. The full image is below. Please take a few moments to jot a few words of encouragement to this deserving family. Be kind to one another!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crafts of Kindness: A New Undertaking

I had to make a trip to the post office on December 30th to mail a package that I had (predictably) pushed to the side during the holiday scramble. When I walked into the building, there were three employees behind the counter and one customer in line. By the time I selected an appropriate envelope and wrote the recipient's address on it, there was one employee behind the counter and about half of the city in line. So I took my place at the end and waited. And waited. And fidgeted. And checked my phone. And grew increasingly impatient. As I neared the front of the line, a young woman rushed into the post office, skidding to a halt when she saw the line. Everyone, myself included, watched her. She stared dismally at the queue, studied the two slim envelopes in her hand, then reluctantly took her place.

The customer ahead of the anxious woman was one of those genial people who have that rare ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. She had been maintaining friendly chatter with those around her, and immediately engaged the young woman. As they spoke, the young woman grew increasingly nervous about the long wait--she clearly had somewhere to be. The friendly stranger held out her hand and said, "I'll mail your letters." There were plenty of witnesses in the post office--little chance that she had some sinister intention for the mail. The rushed customer protested at first, then acquiesced but offered some cash for the postage, but the kind woman waved it away. She said, "Things are tough. We all need to take care of one another."

Her words struck me. Of all of the people in the post office, why was she the only one who offered to help that woman? Why hadn't I? It was such a simple gesture, but I'm sure that, in that moment, it meant the world to the recipient. A few days earlier, I had read this blog post from Aunt Peaches. It really made me think about how much I overvalue my own kind acts, and often overlook the kindnesses I receive. The blog from Aunt Peaches and the incident in the post office brought to mind a project I had been working on earlier in the year.

Over the summer, I had fallen into a major funk--I slipped into a cycle of being consumed with my own problems, then hating myself for being so self-absorbed. It's easy at times like these for me to lose a sense of connection. When I was ready to re-engage with the world, it occurred to me that crafting might serve as both an outlet for me and a way to help others.

So, after that lengthy and rather personal background, here's my plan: every two weeks I will post about a non-profit or charitable organization that seeks donations of handcrafted items. I plan to complete a project for each group, and hopefully recruit a few friends to do the same. I will add here that there is a robust debate in crafting circles about the utility of charity crafting. Some bloggers argue strongly against the practice, feeling that it results in well-meaning, but ultimately useless items being given to those in need rather than the thing they need most: money. In some instances, I see the logic of this argument. In the face of a natural disaster that destroys homes and belongings, sometimes leaving people seriously injured or dead, perhaps making a monetary donation to a relief organization is the best thing you can do to help. BUT, when an organization specifically solicits homemade items, I assume that the organization is in the best position to judge what it needs, not me. If handmade beads or knitted hats will further their goals, who am I to say otherwise?

I also want to reiterate that this year-long project intended to be a guilt trip--maybe just a reminder to myself and my readers that a small act of kindness (or craft of kindness!) can go a long way toward improving someone's day. Maybe make someone's life a tiny bit easier. Maybe remind someone that they're not alone. I'd like this experiment to show that crafting can--and should--foster connection. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sweater Upcycled to Winter Hat: Beanie Tutorial

Last year I thrifted an angora sweater bearing an--umm, interesting?--print. Someone had kindly felted it for me (I imagine this is what landed the sweater in the thrift store to begin with). I thought it would make cool mittens, but I wanted to find a way to use the large, striped turtleneck. What better than a beanie to go with mittens?

I looked for patterns online, but decided in the end to just do some improvising. I cut the turtleneck off of the sweater, creating a tube of fabric, and slipped it over my head to make sure it would fit. I noted how much excess fabric stuck out above my head and used this estimate as a guide when I did my cutting. I folded the tube in half vertically, then in half vertically again. Starting about 2 1/2" down, I cut the top of the folded fabric to a point. When the fabric was unfolded, the cut created 8 points and looked like a striped crown.

I flipped the tube inside out and sewed the edges of the pointed ends together (see photo below). That was pretty much it! This was a surprisingly quick project. I decided that the hat needed a little extra something, so I made a quick pom pom from coordinating yarn. Here's my lovely sister wearing her new hat:

I'm thinking that the striped cuffs of the sleeves would make excellent cuffs for mittens, and I'll use that crazy print for the bodies of the mittens. Thrift store racks are overflowing with sweaters that their previous owners accidentally washed in hot water or threw into the dryer. They make for fantastic crafting! Felted sweaters can be cut and sewn just like any other fabric without fear of unraveling. Keep an eye out for them. Be creative and enjoy!