Category Archives: DIY

Tutorial: Simple Double-Sided Cloth Napkins

My mom’s kitchen is blue and white, so when I saw the Ravena fabric line by Dear Stella on Fabricworm I immediately thought of her. I decided to make her some simple double-sided cloth napkins for a birthday/Mother’s day gift and I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI started with a half yard of each fabric (the smallest size I could order) and cut two 17″ squares of each using my rotary cutter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReflecting on the New Year’s resolution I made this year to be more patient with sewing projects and take the time to use proper techniques, I did something that I’ve never done before…..I ironed my hems! I folded the fabric 1/2″ on all sides and ironed them flat to make them easier to pin and sew.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I got to the corners, I tucked the fabric in to make much neater mitered corners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI then pinned the fabrics with wrong-sides together in pairs of light and dark fabric, making sure that the folded edges stayed tucked inside and taking special care to make sure the corners stayed neat. (Note: when buying fabrics online, if you purchase fabrics from the same line/designer you can be assured the colors will match).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was only after I top-stitched around the edge of each napkin, with about 1/4″ seam allowance, that I realized making the napkins with one dark side and one light side might not have been the best idea – if the light side gets stained, the dark side makes it so it can’t be bleached! Ooops!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe napkins were probably good as-is at this point, but since they were for a gift I wanted to add a little extra handmade touch and decided to embroider a decorative border around the edges using navy embroidery floss.

I used three different very simple stitches. The small ‘x’ pattern was made by sewing the first lines of all the ‘x’s all the way around the napkin, then going back and crossing over with the line in the other direction to complete the ‘x’ (like cross-stitching).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe larger ‘x’ pattern was made in the same way except the embroidery floss was brought up and over the edge of the fabric so that the ‘x’ pattern actually wrapped the edge of the napkins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also made a couple napkins using a basic blanket-stitch (I was actually a little disappointed with how these ones turned out, I was hoping the edging would be more visible).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI gave them all a final iron before folding them neatly and wrapping them up with a bow for the gift!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think my mom really appreciated the gift, especially since it turns out her old navy napkins had been getting faded and she’d been searching for some new ones to replace them!













DIY Sewing (in progress) – Striped Tanktop

I’m addicted to horizontal stripes, especially in black and white. For a while I restricted myself from buying anything too stripy, but one of my favorite black/white striped sweaters is starting to look a little worse for wear so I’m allowing myself another new shirt or two.

Whenever I go to the fabric store I always check out the odds and ends bin, you can find some great deals in there. For instance, I found about 2 yards of this black/white striped jersey knit for $3!! It had a couple holes and blemishes that needed to be worked around but for that price, I figured I couldn’t go wrong!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought about it for a while and ultimately decided to make a tanktop with the fabric. I’m a self-taught sewer, so I’m not sure if these techniques are proper but they’re what work (sort of) for me! Though, you’ll see at the end that this project had a few issues I’m still trying to sort out.

I have a sheer tanktop from Nordstrom that I really like the fit of and decided to use that as a rough template, leaving about an inch around all edges for seam allowance and some room to mess up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s hard to tell in the top picture, but this tanktop is actually made of 3 pieces total. The front is a single panel, then the back has a seem across the shoulders with a bit of gathering to allow it to sit flat across the shoulders then flow out from the body.

I started by preparing the front and back panels for sewing together. I didn’t take a picture of it, but the front of the tanktop has a bit of gathering in the center of the neck opening. When I cut the fabric, I allowed a couple inches extra for this and gathered the fabric before sewing the two pieces together. There’s a really simple way to do this. 

First, sew a straight line on the portion of the fabric that you are going to gather (don’t use your stretch stitch settings yet!). Be careful to do this close to the edge of your fabric (less than 5/8″) so that it will be sewn into the seam and not visible in the finished garment. Next, you want to grab the thread from the top side of the start of the stitching and the bottom side of the end of the stitching (I’ve drawn arrows to show which threads, the one on the right is coming from underneath the fabric).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGently pull on the threads and the fabric will gather. When it has the look you like, run it through your machine again and baste it down with a quick top sew.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI did the same thing at the back of the shirt, then sewed it to the upper back panel.  When I did this, I forgot to change the tension on my machine first and ended up getting a snag and putting a hole in the fabric. Whoops!


Every sewing machine is different, but it’s important to sew stretchy fabrics with the proper tension settings to allow your seams to stretch with your shirt and avoiding thread breakage. My machine has a stretch stitch setting that I used for sewing all the seams (once I remembered to do so, that is!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I was ready to stitch the front to the back. Unfortunately, at least once in every sewing project I will sew the right side to the wrong side. I guess that’s why stitch rippers were invented!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOk, with that out of the way I was free to pin and sew right sides of fabric together, sewing  the side seams up the torso of the shirt and the shoulders. I always use a seam allowance of 5/8″, since I was taught this is what most sewing patterns allow for. I also took care to make sure I matched stripes. It’s a simple way to make your projects look a little more tailored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I wanted to add binding to the neck and armholes. Full disclosure here, folks: I’ve never done binding before and I totally made it up, so I may not have done it properly.

First, I cut long strips of fabric, 2″ wide, that I would use as the binding. At this point, other craft blogs would tell you to do something crazy like iron it. If you like doing things properly, go ahead! Iron away! If you’d rather get it done quickly and sloppily, my way is the way!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I sewed one long edge of the binding to the armholes and neckline, right sides together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis next part might be a little difficult to see with my fingers in the way, but what you want to do is this:

1. Fold the binding, wrong sides together so that the edge meets the edge of your seam (along the dotted red line I’ve drawn).


2. Fold again, so that now your binding is folded over itself and covering the raw seam edges and pin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStitch as close as you can to the inner folded edge of the binding all the way around, until it looks something like this…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis technique worked great along the neckline and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. The armholes??? That’s another story….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo. Here’s where we end for now folks. I’m debating a couple possibilities to fix this issue.

1. Remove the binding, put in a dart and try again.

2. Be really lazy and try to add a dart without re-doing the binding. This seems unlikely to work.

3. See if I can just sew up that side seam and take in the extra fabric on the armhole.

I’ll post again once I decide what to do. In the meantime, any experienced sewers out there with a suggestion on how to fix this mistake?

Jewelry Armoire: DIY Up-Cycled From a Sewing Cabinet

I decided to go ahead and convert my found jewelry armoire (I blogged about it a couple weeks ago, here) into a jewelry armoire for myself. It was a great no-fuss (no sew, no glue, no construction, no paint) project that took me about 30 min to finish last night and I’m really pleased with how it turned out!

The only adjustments this cabinet really needed were to have the screws replaced in one of the hinges on the lid and to add some felt lining to the compartments in the top that I’d be putting my jewelry bits and pieces in. I used some felt rounds that came stacked between a new set of plates we bought to cut out the inserts I’d need, and that’s all the materials I used!

photo (4)

My original plan was to remove the bottom sheet of wood from under the compartment drawer, lay a piece of felt across the whole thing then reattach the divisions. Unfortunately, the small compartments originally intended for spools and bobbins each had their own curved bottom so that wasn’t going to work. Instead, I laid a piece of felt on top and gently traced the shape of each compartment using a felt pen, then cut out the traced shape.

photo (3) copyLuckily, the inserts fit perfectly and didn’t even need any glue to keep them down! I just tucked them neatly into each little slot. I needed to cut a few pieces to fill the long compartments.

photo (7)All that was left was to load it up with my jewelry! I used the small felt-lined compartments for earrings, pendants and necklaces, and used the larger ones for necklaces that I didn’t want to bunch up and some pieces that didn’t fit neatly into the smaller openings.

photo (11)

photo (9)The spindles of the lid were originally intended for large spool or bobbin storage, I think. They’re removable so are perfect for storing my large hoop earrings and necklaces that tend to get all wrapped up on themselves and tangled.

photo (10)I used the drawers to store larger items that wouldn’t fit into the top compartments. The top drawer now houses my nicer jewelry and perfectly fits one of my jewelry boxes for more storage of fine rings and earrings, with enough space to store my bracelets off to one side. The bottom drawer is a little deeper and perfect for large costume pieces and a few keepsakes.

photo (13)I’m thrilled that I finally have a jewelry armoire and the space to lay out all my pieces! Who knows? Maybe I’ll get really crazy now and actually wear jewelry on a daily basis! LOL!

Holiday Project Roundup!

It was touch-and-go for a while there, but I actually managed to finish all my holiday projects in time for Christmas! The main focus of my attention this year was my niece/nephew, scheduled for arrival in early February. The lucky little guy or gal will the be recipient of the first sweater I’ve ever completed! Turns out they’re much easier to finish when they’re miniature…


I’m so proud of how it turned out! I used the Debbie Bliss Baby Reefer Jacket pattern with a couple changes. I thought it would be easier for both me and the parents to forgo actually button closures on the front in favor of decorative buttons sewn to the front with hidden snap closures on the underside.

Also, I’m not big on counting rows when I knit. I kinda just knit until it looks “long enough”. This cause a problem for me when it came time to add the ribbing that forms the double breasted front of the sweater. The pattern called for me to cast on “x” number of stitches to start the ribbing, but I hadn’t followed the instructions for the length of the stockinette portion. Instead, I just picked up the stitches and knit the ribbing right onto the sweater. This resulted in a slightly different neckline on the sweater, but I think it’s still pretty cute!

Expert knitters may also want to avert their eyes from the mess that is the underarm seam. The seams up the side of the sweater turned out really well but it got awkward once I had to start stitching the arms. It looked like I should do Kitchener stitch, but I only know how to do that off needles (a nice video tutorial, here). So I just sewed it.

I also sewed up a few of my signature hand sewn felt aplique onesies, keep your eyes out for a tutorial soon (sorry for the poor quality of the images, I took them on my phone)!

SAMSUNGFinally, I wanted to make a little something for my boyfriend’s family for Christmas this year so I made some spiced candied nuts and knit up a couple Christmas birdie ornaments.

I’m not sure where the nut recipe is from originally, but it’s similar to this one from Martha Stewart. I just left out the egg, allspice and chili powder. Instead of baking them, I tossed them around in a pan with the sugar stirring constantly until they browned (about 15 min), then tossed them with the salt, spices and an extra tablespoon of sugar. Warning, these are like crack.


The birdie ornament is a free pattern download from Ravelry that I posted about earlier. I made two versions of this ornament, one following the pattern and one chicken instead of robin. I actually think the chicken turned out much cuter (and easier, as it didn’t involve any color change)! For the comb I just crocheted a single chain about an inch and a half long then stitched it on scrunched up like an inch worm. Easy peasy!

Holiday gift ideas for the crafty nerd in your life…

I love trying to make as many gifts as possible for the holidays. It’s easy on the budget and I think people really do appreciate a handmade gift. In my endless search for inspiration I’m always coming across things that I would love to have made for me, but that not many people on my gift list would appreciate.

So. If you’ve got a crafty nerd in your life, here are some handmade ideas that might light up their holidays!

Laura Splan is an artist who “explores perceptions of beauty and horror, comfort and discomfort”. Many of her pieces include representations of parts of the human body, microbes and illness, including these viral doilies that I love – perfect for that special virologist in your life!

Laura Splan

The doilies are pretty intense and are computerized machine embroidered. Maybe you’d like something you could make yourself for your favorite virologist? Try this bacteriophage crochet pattern available on Ravelry for $5!


Since I’m a virologist myself, you’ll sense a strong microbiology theme to these handmade gift ideas….but it’s the prettiest science, anyway! Just look at these stained glass microbes for proof (available from the trilobiteglassworks etsy shop)!

glass microbe copy

It’s always nice to try to give the gift that keeps on giving, and nothing does that more than microbes! Especially this set of 12 cross-stitched microbes of the month, available in aliciawatkin‘s Etsy shop.

microbe month

This pillow would be perfect to help your favorite molecular biologist to spend this holiday season asleep in their bed while visions of mitochondria dance in their heads.

cell pillow

Better get these gifts while they’re still available though, microbiology and nerd crafting is taking off! Etsy seller CleanerScience seems to be all out of their petri dish soaps!

petri dish soap

Or maybe the lab rat in your life would love this knitted dissection! Amazing!!

mouse dissection

All this gift making can make a nerd hungry! Don’t forget to nourish your cells with these science-themed cookies. I love the electrophoresis squares, find out how to make your own with a great tutorial on Not So Humble Pie (these chocolate atoms are pretty cute too)!! In fact, just go here and check out all her amazing science-themed baked goods! You can get your own Labcutter cookie cutter set over at


Special thanks to Birdie for helping me compile this list! NERD!!!!

Costumes of Halloween Past

In the countdown to this year’s Halloween I thought I’d post a Greatest Hits collection of my past homemade Halloween costumes.

2005: Little Dead Riding Hood

A couple of us had the idea to go as Twisted Fairy Tale characters so I made myself a Little Dead Riding Hood costume and sewed a Drugged Out Alice costume for my friend.

Little Dead Riding Hood and Alice

I had a friend make the scars for me out of latex and he did a fantastic job! In my “goodie basket” I had some eye balls and intestines that I made out of paper mache and painted up. The outfit was pretty basic and simple to put together. I used McCall’s Misses Costume pattern 2890 and if I recall correctly, the only difficult part was the corset.

2006: She-Ra!

She-Ra: Princess of Power!

I recycled the cape from the Little Dead Riding Hood costume but hid the hood and wrapped the ribbon closure under my arms (since She-Ra’s cape just kinda sticks out of her back magically). I just sorta made up the skirt pattern and used a dress with a sweetheart neckline to pattern the top. For the boots, I sewed the boot uppers and then just hot glued them to an old pair of high heels (they were not a good choice for freezing cold rain and did not hold up well). The head piece was just straight up papier mache but the breast plate was made using Plaster of Paris strips, something like this. I was pretty proud of that breast plate. I wrapped my body in Saran Wrap and layered on the Plaster of Paris strips, then realized I couldn’t sit down or I’d muck up the bottom of the breast plate. So I just stood there in my apartment waiting for it to dry, covered in Saran Wrap and plaster. Luckily it only took about 30 min. Once I had the base layer done I was able to work with it off my body and I used thick card stock to make the raised details.

2007: Bjork!


This was based off Bjork’s infamous swan dress that she wore to the Oscars in 2001. My Halloween costume this year was pretty fantastic, but I dunno. This Bjork costume will always hold a special place in my heart and might be my favorite. I bought a nude colored generic undershirt and used that as my base for the dress. I sewed a basic white circle skirt to the bottom of it. The swan head and neck was just a tube sewn out of felt that I hand glued feathers all over. I layered 8 meters (!) of tulle, gathering and pleating it as I went, for the skirt. As the tulle came up the bodice, I incorporated some feathers into it too. The skirt didn’t come out as full as I would have liked but I ran out of time and fabric. I can’t even imagine how many meters were used for Bjork’s dress! This costume has held up really well, I’ve worn it for costume parties since and it traveled with me across the continent from Halifax to SF!

2008: Mel from Flight of the Conchords

“Mel” from Flight of the Conchords

2008 wasn’t my best year as far as Halloween was concerned. I was trying to write up a paper and finish lab work so I could start writing my thesis and I just didn’t have the time to devote to a proper costume. I still think this one turned out pretty cute though. Mel is the creepy stalker fan on Flight of the Conchords played by Kristen Schaal and it’s hard to look like her! I made a t-shirt and some buttons, made creepy faces when I posed with the boys and put a little extra curl in my hair. Here’s a picture of Mel to show the look I was shooting for.

The most embarrassing part was that no one knew I was in costume when we got to the bar. LOL!

2009: Rock Lobster

Rock Lobster!

I’d been thinking about the Rock Lobster costume for a couple years but I always ended up picking another costume. But for Halloween 2009, I had just defended my PhD and suddenly felt like all the time in the world. Enough time, in fact, that I also made my friend an Astro Boy costume!

The Rock Lobster was surprisingly easy. I made the AC/DC t-shirt with one of those printable t-shirt transfers. The claws and legs were just made with cheap felt and stuffed with poly fill. I was happy I thought about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to hold a beer with those claws on so I sewed little mitten covers to the bottom so I could hold onto things. The antennae was just made out of red foam and styrofoam balls glued to a headband.

The Astro Boy costume was pretty easy too. The boots were borrowed from a friend and the shorts he already owned. I went out and bought a (women’s) nude colored undershirt and transferred an image from the movie poster onto it. I embellished it a bit with some wires, etc too. I put a piece of skin-colored felt over it and sewed it on like a door with a little piece of velcro to stick it down. Since this was in Halifax and Halloween can be damn cold there, I used that nude colored figure skating costume spandex to sew some leggings for him too.

2011: Bay Area Breakers Roller Derby Girls

Bay Area Breakers!

I don’t remember how or why we decided to be roller derby girls. I think we just wanted to have fun names like “Carnage San Diego” and “Clank the Tank”. Whatever the reason, the costume came together surprisingly well. We bought the hot pink spandex you can see on our shirt and made bootie shorts (I just traced a pair of underwear to make a pattern). To make the shirts we painstakingly cut out the words with an exacto knife and then fabric glued them to the t-shirts and outlined with silver fabric paint. The kilt was the world’s easiest pattern. I’m going to put up a post soon that describes how to make a couple easy skirt patterns. I was particularly proud of the “roller skates”. I sewed little wheels out of the same pink spandex then just stapled them to a pair of boots!

2012: Max and a Wild Thing!!

You’ll have to tune in on Halloween for the big reveal/tutorial on this costume!!