Tutorial: Say It With Sock Monsters


handmade sock monsters,

Sock monsters are soft fun. (all images: L. Weldon)

A while back I made and sold dozens of sock monsters in order to donate money to my favorite cause, Collateral Repair Project. This non-profit aids Iraqis and Syrians fleeing violence in the Middle East through community building, education, and emergency aid. I sat in my comfortable house night each evening listening to podcasts on science or culture as I stitched these soft toys. My dogs slept on the rug nearby. When my kids came in the room I solicited their ideas for the next sock monster’s face. I hadn’t taken on larger monsters in the world, but I could channel my concerns into soft monsters.

These little creatures required very little in the way of new materials other than stuffing and socks. Their features were created out of vintage buttons, embroidery floss, rick rack, and thread so old it was wrapped around wooden spools. This made them extra special because these notions were left to me by my mother and grandmother.

(If you’re making sock monsters as a toy for any child under five, do not use buttons or other sewn-on feature that could be pulled or bitten off.)

How To Make Sock Monsters

1. Select a baby or toddler-sized sock. The larger the sock, the larger the monster. You can use solid colorpatterned, striped, or solid color on bottom—just be sure that the socks aren’t emblazoned with the company logo unless you want the monster to feature those words.

2. Cut an inch or so strip from the open end of the sock.

This is the space between the ears.

This is the space between the ears.

3. Position the sock heel up. Snip open a small space at the toe, about an inch or less.  If you choose, you can also make a small slit at the heel where you can sew in a tongue or tasty morsel that the monster might want to chew on.

Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving. (image: L. Weldon)

Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving.

4. Turn the sock inside-out. Sew the ends and sides of the ears closed in a continuous seam. Try making one shorter than the other or angled or otherwise unique.

Add personality as you go. Mistakes add it too.


Trim the seam.

5. If you made a slit in the sock’s heel back in step two, you can add mouth features now. This little guy’s tongue is a sewn-in pouch made from leftover bits of sock, although a strip of felt would work too. (It’s shown already stuffed and finished.)

What a heel.

What a heel.

6. Stuff the sock tightly with polyfill or old pillow contents or dryer lint or whatever you’ve got. Start with the ears and work your way down.  Leave the bottom end open for now, as you may want to stitch through this opening as you add features.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

7. Now it’s time to add unique features. Remember, if you’re making a sock monster for a baby or young child, the safest features are those drawn or securely embroidered on.

Try some scary felt teeth.

Ask any dental professional. Green teeth are terrifying.

A silly sideways felted mouth and giant button eyes.

Socks with colored ribbing at the top make cheerful monster ears.

Perhaps a bright patch of embroidery floss hair.

This guy also has a braided green tail.

Or ring glasses.

Tight stuffing and asymmetrical ears improve this monster’s look.

8. Sew the open end, your monster’s rear, closed. You may choose to seam the sides together for a simple bottom, which looks like toes on this head-standing sock monster.

Hand sewing lends, um, charm?

Or insert a circle of sock fabric and sew the opening shut, making a somewhat more stable monster.

Round butts help them sit securely. That’s my excuse too.

9. Try experimenting with feet, hands, and wings. Peaceful diversity in the sock monster world. It’s a start.

handmade sock monster,

Handmade sock monster takes on the world.

PinBusted / PinTrusted: Super Simple Skirt


Thanks to some Amazon gift cards I received at Christmas I was able to purchase a new sewing machine this year. Since it’s been awhile since I’ve sewn, I set out to find some simple projects to get us acquainted. The first stop on my project search was Pinterest, where I immediately find a ton of projects—including a 15-minute, start-to-finish “Super Simple Skirt“!

15-minutes to make a skirt? This was a project I had to try!

The instructions were simple and the required materials were pretty minimal:

  • fabric
  • 1″ elastic
  • sewing machine
  • pins, scissors
  • tape measure
  • iron
  • ironing board

I picked up some great comic book fabric and 1-inch black elastic at my local fabric store and headed home for my first attempt.

First hem! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

First hem! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Before starting, I made sure to read through the instructions several times on my phone. (FYI: I don’t include this time in my final calculations at the end of the post.)

First things first: I sat down to lay out my fabric. Then…Oh hang on. My son needs me. (Okay, now he has his snack and I can get back to work.)

As I smooth out my fabric…hang on…the dog needs to go outside.

Whew. Back in and…where did I leave off again?? Ohh that’s right. Smoothing out my fabric and measuring it out. (“Brandon! Stop driving your car on my project!”)

A minute later and yippee! First cut accomplished!

At this point I pick up my fabric and wrap it around my waist for a quick eyeball measurement. Looks good! Time to line up the edges and sew what I’ve got into a tube.

Before I can do this, however, my mom needs something–so hang on. Then…darn it! The dog needs me again. (I’m getting him a litter box.) Okay. I’m back now, sitting down, and ready to sew up this skirt!

Moments later, the first part of my skirt is completed. Only three more major steps to go.

I grab for the pins. (“Brandon! I said to stop driving your plasma car inside the house!“) As I start to pin up the hem I look over at the clock and realize that it’s actually time to get something on the stove for dinner…

Waffles and cold cereal served, I go back to pinning up my hem. I’ve stuck my son on Disney Infinity so I can have a few minutes to get this step completed (desperate times call for desperate measures) and a minute or so later, my first hem is pinned up. Yippee, again!

I sit down to the sewing machine and get the first hem done. Wait. My brother is at the door and I’m in the middle of my first hem. I yell for my son to answer the door and let him in. I can’t remember what he wants (I think it had something to do with watching his dog…), but I am determined to get this skirt done, so I keep on sewing and manage to finish the hem by the time he leaves. Yay!!!

Now on to the hard part…prep for and sew in the elastic. The instructions say to finish the top, but I don’t know how to do that so I hem it a small bit instead. I manage to pin up the top and (miracle of miracles) sew it with few interruptions. As it turns out, my method works and I am able to use the hem to line up the elastic on my skirt.

I finally figure out how to attach the elastic (apparently there is more than one way to do this) and sit down to get it done.

As you can tell by the video above, it takes two hands to do this part, so of course, mid-step, my phone rings. It’s my husband. (Okay, I’ll take his call.) While talking to him on speaker and sewing at the same time, I manage to complete this final part of my skirt. Woo-hoo!!!


60 minutes!!

Whuh…what happened to 15 minutes???

Image: Dakster Sullivan

Image: Dakster Sullivan

Ohh wait…that’s right. One, I’m not a professional seamstress with the speedster abilities of The Flash. Two, I have a family and a life that need my attention every time I want to sit down and do something.

Upshot: If you’re a seasoned seamstress who doesn’t actually have to look at the directions to sew a skirt, you could possibly complete this project in 15 minutes. However, if you’re a mother with anything that has two or more legs running around your house, chances are this will take more than 15 minutes to complete.

That makes this PinBusted!

Even though this pin is busted, it’s still a great and easy way to make a skirt. Just know before you sit down to work, your time will be different from what’s specified in the instructions.

EDIT: I’d like to note that I subsequently made a second attempt at the 15-minute skirt. While my first effort was done home alone with my 8-year-old son, my mother, and her dog, the second skirt project was embarked upon while my husband was home to help out with son and dog care. The time difference between the two projects was still only 10-15 minutes. So, even with someone helping at the house, it still took at least 30 minutes complete this project.

DIY: Power Button Pillow Sewing Project

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

DIY: Power button pillow. Photo by Julie Tiu.

What do you give to a 15-year old boy as a gift? If you know someone of that age, you’ll know it’s near impossible to choose a gift he will like. So, instead of turning to gift cards and gift certificates, I came up with a throw pillow fit for a video game-computer-loving teenager like my nephew.

The power button is a great icon for any tech head. I made the stencil from my pots lids—true story. For you readers, I made a printable template which you can enlarge for your own project. And note, to make your pillow nice and plump, cut your fabric so that its finished dimensions will be one inch smaller (plus seam allowance) than the actual pillow.

What you need:

  • 16” pillow form
  • Two pieces of cotton fabric cut to 15-1/2” square (get a ½ yard of fabric)
  • Power button template, enlarged to your liking
  • Freezer paper cut to 15-1/2” square
  • Acrylic paint (I used silver)
  • Matte gel medium
  • Sponge paint brush, or dauber
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Other materials: scissors, utility blade, scrap fabric, scrap paper, paper plate, newspaper to place under fabric while painting

DIY: Power button pillow step. Photo by Julie Tiu.

Preparing the freezer paper stencil:

  1. Cut out the power button template with your scissors or blade.
  2. Find the center of the freezer paper by folding the square diagonally from both corners, mark the center. Place your stencil template, centering it on the freezer paper, and trace the power button.
  3. Cut out the power button stencil.
  4. Set your iron on warm, and while you’re waiting for the iron, place the freezer paper (shiny side down) on top of the fabric you will use for the front of your pillow. You could pin in place if you want.
  5. On your ironing surface, place your pillow front and stencil face up, cover with a scrap piece of fabric and evenly press (10-15 seconds) all over the fabric to “adhere” the freezer paper onto the fabric. Don’t worry, it won’t mess up the pillow front.
  6. After ironing, check to see if the paper is completely stuck onto your fabric, especially on the edges of your design. You want a crisp edge. If it starts to come undone while painting, you can return it to the ironing board and press again—just make sure the paint is dry.


Painting the design:

  1. On your paper plate or palette, squeeze a quarter size blob of acrylic paint, and add a dime size blob of gel medium. It’s to give substance to the paint otherwise the paint will be too transparent. (You will repeat this step often. I like to control the amount of paint sitting out so it doesn’t dry up fast.)
  2. Using your paint brush or dauber, mix until paint and medium is combined.
  3. Place your fabric on some newspaper or scrap paper before you start painting. Some moisture from the paint will seep through.
  4. Tapping off the excess off your brush, begin painting on the stencil. You want a fairly dry brush, not goopy. Paint until design is covered.
  5. Repeat two more times, letting each coat of paint dry for at least 20-30 minutes, preferably an hour or two. At the end of your third coat, the paint should be opaque. Let the pillow front dry overnight.
  6. When you’re sure the design is dry, peel the freezer paper off the fabric. Design should be crisp and awesome.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

Sewing the pillow:

  1. Place the pillow front and back with right sides together and pin in place.
  2. The seam allowance is ½”. Stitch around all four sides; make sure you leave a 7” opening. (I also backstitch at the beginning and the end.)
  3. After stitching, cut the corners at a 45 degree angle (shy of the stitching) to reduce bulk in the corners. Turn your pillowcase right side out and stuff the pillow into its case. Ladder stitch or slipstitch the opening closed.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

How to Make a Fabric Crown


All photos in this tutorial by Jackie Reeve

The world has been consumed this week with the arrival, first appearance, and naming of the next heir to the British throne. So it seems like a good time to start spreading some more democratized royal fever.

Personally, I think every kid should have at least one play crown in their toy box, and why not make it a fabulous, customized fabric version? I decided my daughter needed something awesome for running around NYC, so I went with “Sky Scrapers” and “Big Apple Red” from the Big Apple Collection by Greta Lynn. She loved this crown so much that I think we’ll be building her collection very soon. The possibilities are endless; you could even skip the stabilizer and make it with felt.

Whether you’ve got a Disney princess or Mike the Knight fanatic at home, a big time fantasy reader, if you’re gearing up for some family cosplay, or if you actually just need your own accessory to help you cope with the fact that winter is definitely coming, break out those basic sewing skills. They are all you’ll need.

And these supplies:

  • 1/4 yard of fabric for the outside of the crown
  • 1/4 yard of coordinating fabric for the inside of the crown
  • Some form of stiff stabilizer to make the crown stand up. I used 1/4 yard of fusible fleece interfacing for this project, but you can totally use felt or even card stock. Fabric alone won’t stand up tall and stately.
  • Thread
  • Sew-in Velcro (NOT the sticky stuff)
  • Scissors or a rotary cutter
  • A good ruler
  • Graph paper
  • A pencil and marker
  • Tape measure

First you need to measure the head circumference of the crown wearer and make a template. I like to use a piece of 8.5″ x 11″ graph paper, which will give you a 22″ wide crown template. This is a pretty good size for babies and toddlers (my 16-month-old is around 21″, but she’s also in the 75th percentile for head size), and you can continue the template on more graph paper to get to the circumference you need.

I divide the paper into 4 sections, then use a ruler to make the crown’s points. (I could have had more variety in height, but you get the idea).


I leave the last point at the right edge as an unfinished triangle.


This way, when I cut out my template and line up the two halves of the paper I have a nicely aligning edge to tape together.


Cut out your template and tape the two halves of the paper together to make a 22″ wide template.


I trimmed the right hand side of my template so it ended in another triangle.

Once you’ve assembled your template, trace it onto the fusible fleece or whatever stabilizer you decide to use (I like the fusible stuff because it stays where it’s supposed to when I’m assembling the crown).


Cut out the stabilizer.

Iron your outer fabric and then follow your interfacing directions to iron the interfacing to the wrong side of the crown’s outer fabric.


Iron your inner fabric and make a sandwich on your cutting surface. Put the inner fabric down first, right side up. Then put the outer fabric next, right side down (the two right sides will be facing each other). The stabilizer will be on top of the sandwich now, fused to the back of the outer fabric.


Measure 1/2″ out from all edges of the stabilizer and carefully cut through both layers of fabric along those edges. Trust me from experience, you will need that 1/2″ for seam allowance when you try to turn this right side out. Pin the seams as you cut to keep the fabric layers from shifting.


Sew 1/4″ seams along all sides of the crown, leaving a 6″-8″ opening at the bottom of the crown for turning (I actually left a side opening on my first try—that did not work out so well).


Snip off the tips of the crown’s points and any corners, being really careful not to cut into your stitches. Getting rid of the tips makes it much easier to get smooth points on your crown.


Cut notches into all of the spaces between your crown’s points. I made about three different versions of this crown before figuring out that this step was necessary to get your crown to lay flat. When you turn it right side out, you need that fabric in between the crown’s points to have some give so it will lay smooth.


Turn your crown right side out, using a knitting needle or skinny paintbrush handle to push out all the points as far as you can get them (without poking holes straight through the fabric, which I have done on many occasions).

Press your crown.


Fold the seams of your opened gap under and pin so they lay even and flat with the bottom of the crown. Top stitch over the whole crown with a 1/4″ seam.


Cut two 2″-3″ pieces of Velcro from both the hook and loop sides. Pin the two hook pieces to the inner fabric of the crown on the right side. Fold the crown over and match the loop pieces of Velcro to the outer left side of the crown. Pin in place and sew all four pieces of Velcro down securely.


Attach crown to the head of your favorite benevolent ruler.

UPDATE: There are lots of different tutorials out there for making fabric crowns. Here are some that are pretty fabulous.

Spoonflower Play Crown
Baby Toolkit DIY Play Crown
The Long Thread Dress Up Crown
Hungie Gungie Felt + Fabric Crown
We Wilsons Dress Up Crown Tutorial

History Geek: 1930s Week

Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Swing dancing! The creation of Superman! Adagio for Strings! Radio Plays! Migrant Mother photojournalism! Heath bars! The Wizard of Oz! Monopoly!

The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for and directing a History Through the Creative Arts Camp about America during The Great Depression. Originally history was written down by conquerors who took political power. This legacy continues in history textbooks that think that war and politics are the most important parts of history to study. I disagree. I think history is the whole human experience during a time period. Of course, this makes it tough to design a children’s summer camp that only lasts five days. So I turn to passion.


Rebecca explaining something with lots of hand movements…. Image By Lilianna Maxwell


Tasting historic recipes each day. Image By Rebecca Angel

Passion makes for great teaching. I’m passionate about the creative arts, culture, and social justice. So that’s my focus on history. And when students learn why certain songs were written, when the photographs were taken, how the plays were created, they learn about the power struggles during that time and place. I run the week by having the campers sing, dance, write, eat, sew, and create their way through the time period.


A student talking about their own research. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I also asked for help. During the week of camp there were other adults bringing their expertise (geeky excitement) to the campers. Plus, the kids themselves taught each other. My daughter ran the camp newspaper, “Typewriter Talk,” with the campers taking turns being reporters for the day. Another student of mine asked if I was covering Europe during the ’30s. I wasn’t getting into the details of the start of World War II with this camp. She asked if she could do a five minute presentation each day because she thought it was really important for everyone to know this stuff. Sure!


Campers taking their parents on a tour of camp. Image By Rebecca Angel

What I wasn’t covering in active learning, I put out on display. In the space I use for camp is a huge wall for push-pins. The other counselors and I fill this wall with all the things we found out, but couldn’t squeeze into the time allotted. Scientific achievements, slang terms, maps about the Dust Bowl (then and what’s happening now!), details on the stock market, the 1936 Olympics, weird advertisements, and lots more. My daughter created a display on photojournalism. My son did one on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP—he pointed out it sounded like a sound effect). There were puzzles and written activities available during downtime where the answers could be found on The Wall. Whoever completed a sheet got a tiny harmonica (so they could sound like hobos around a campfire…) or candy created during the 1930s.

In the spirit of the '30s, I asked the kids to wear the same clothes everyday (washing was encouraged) and they worked on making outfits for Friday's party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Sewing clothes for Friday’s party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I’ve run many history camps over the years, but this was the toughest to research; so many aspects made me cry. A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression is one example of trying to get to the heart of The Great Depression. I read some of it to the campers. I focused on the positive things of sharing and kindness, but the fact that people were so grateful for so little during this time—is enough to make the tears flow. (I kept myself in check during camp.)


Family history as decorations. Image By Rebecca Angel

I’ll write a few more posts about aspects of camp I think you might enjoy: games, comics, movies, and radio plays. If anything, I encourage everyone to do one of the projects during camp: Research your own family history. The campers presented how their families got through the hard times of the 1930s, and there were some great stories. My own grandfather was a newsboy in the lower East side of NYC.

I could write so much more because everything was so cool! I hope I inspire you to get geeked about history! Here’s a video of the swing dancing each day:

My Daughter the Mermaid

Photo illustration by Marziah Karch

Photo illustration by Marziah Karch

As my kids get older, they just tend to get more interesting. And every once in a while, they prove that they’re total geniuses. The trick is to catch them being good and encourage them to be even better.

Last summer, my then ten-year-old daughter made a mermaid tail. She’s got a bit of an obsession with mermaids. She loved the series H2O Just Add Water (which is surprisingly good for a fantasy kids’ show) and she’d been doing a lot of research on mermaid tails.

She discovered that there’s such a thing as a swimmable mermaid tail, and she really wanted to make one. She not only presented me with instructions, but she’d also researched prices. That’s some serious project initiative for an almost 5th grader. I did set one limitation. She could not make a swimmable mermaid tail. She could only make a costume. I don’t think one-piece swimmable tails are safe for young swimmers (or necessarily that safe for experienced swimmers, for that matter).

Was it the easiest thing to sew? No. I think we all learned to hate Lycra swim fabric a little with this project, but the results were nice. It was a super fun summer project.

If you want to try this yourself, we had her make her pattern on poster board by tracing an outline of the outside of her legs. It’s okay to round down on the measurements instead of up if you’re using Lycra. It stretches. We then had make a pattern for the fin shape. She sewed the fin separately from the body of the tail and attached them afterward.  The fin is stiffened with feather boning and heavyweight sew-in stabilizer, since we were mean parents and wouldn’t let her use a monofin. The stabilizer was inserted after the fin was turned, as was the feather boning, and then the fin was top-stitched to hold it together and emphasize the fin shape.

mermadbaribeThe great thing about projects like this? Not only did she learn sewing skills, she has a launching point for more creative learning. Once she’d made the big tail with parental help, she made her Barbie a tail with no help at all. In fact, she showed us the final product after it was done. (We had a talk about cutting fabric out of the edge of the yardage and not the middle next time.)

She’s also decided that she’s going to make a series of videos about her adventures as a mermaid. I’m skeptical that she’ll get this done, but bring it on. I figure this is her chance to learn about storyboarding, editing, and creative writing. Perhaps even spelling. (She started with “Epsod 1” until I had her sound out the word.)

I loved 5th grade. Time to see what 6th will bring for her. It may involve Minecraft videos. I hope it still involves costumes.

A version of this article originally appeared on GeekMom in the summer of 2012. 

The Convention T-shirt Makeover

Image: Kevin Bennett

Image: Kevin Bennett

It’s the dilemma of every convention attending lightweight. You arrive five minutes after the rush, and all that’s left in the free T-shirt zone are the XXXL shirts. You want the memento but don’t really need a tent. I used to wear T-shirts all the time, to sleep in, to hike in, to just hang out in but now I very rarely do. I don’t find them especially flattering to this strange post baby body I have been left with. But through sentimentality and just plain awesomeness there are some T-shirts that Goodwill just is not getting! [Read more…]

Wonder Woman Day: Wonder-ful Crafts

Wonder Woman Crafts © Bake at 350/Pixel Power Designs/Being Geek Chic

Wonder Woman Crafts © Bake at 350/Pixel Power Designs/Being Geek Chic

If all today’s Wonder Woman posts are inspiring you to add a bit more Wonder Woman into your life then maybe a craft project is just what you need. Whether you’re looking for something you could create in an afternoon or a more long-term project there should be something for everyone here.

One of my hobbies is baking cookies and after spotting this spectacular Wonder Woman design over at Bake at 350 (which you should NOT visit if you are on a diet) I might just have to invest in some new cutters and have a go myself. The shape of the cookies was created by using two different cutters (a bikini top and a baby’s onesie) and some ingenuity to stick them together as one. Some bold and bright food dyes later and I’m feeling hungry… [Read more…]

April Block of the Month: Airship


April block of the month!

It’s time for April’s block of the month in our steampunk quilt. This month we’re sailing on an airship. No worries about physics or how much weight must be at the bottom of that massive thing. I’m sure there’s a gear-driven anti-grav device powering the ship behind the scenes. And flapping those wing-fins for no apparent reason.

The finished block will be 12×12 inches. That means it will actually measure 12.5 x 12.5, and I’d recommend starting with a block of at least 14×14 and cutting it down.

The template this month does not include seam allowance. I’ve included both forward and reversed versions of the pattern. One  version is just the pieces and is designed to overlap and layer.
I’d recommend some embroidery or couching  to enhance the fins, which is why I’ve shown it that way in the preview.  Here’s our quilt so far:



Download the PDF for April’s block.

Didn’t get started? Miss a month? Not to worry. The year isn’t over, is it? There’s plenty of time to catch up! Here’s what you missed:

Here is the March block of the month.

Here is the February block.

Here is the January block.

As always, I’d love to see a picture if you’ve made any of the previous blocks.

March Steampunk Block of the Month

The March steampunk block of the month is here!

This month’s block is a corset, a staple of  female steampunk costumes. I’ve accented mine with a bright red ribbon, but you could also go with a bright red corset and change the ribbon color. I’d suggest making the corset body out of one fabric and adding the “boning” strips over the top. Have fun with patterns in that corset body fabric. (I plan on using Morris Reproduction prints from Moda in mine.) As usual, the finished block is 12×12 inches, but I’d suggest starting out with a 14×14 block for easier positioning.

If you haven’t been sewing along, it’s never too late to start on this quilt.  If you’ve made a previous block of the month, please post a picture in the comments! I’d love to see what you’ve made.

Here’s the PDF download for this month’s block.

Here’s the February block of the month.

Here’s the January block.

Here’s the quilt so far:

Happy quilting, everyone!



February Block of the Month Quilt: Steampunk Goggles

February Block of the Month by Marziah Karch

It’s time for February’s block of the month in our GeekMom steampunk-themed quilt. Last month’s pattern is available here. It’s never too late to get started, and it’s never too late to get caught up.

This month, the pattern is a steampunk staple – the hat with goggles. Whether you’re using them to go racing in experimental vehicles or weld together mad science inventions, you really can never have enough goggles. Incidentally, if you want to make a pair of costume goggles to go along with your quilt goggles, I’ve got a tutorial for that.

I’ve suggested a purple or indigo as the contrasting fabric for the side band, but greens or reds would also be lovely. Prints with metallic elements would be great in the metal part of the goggles, too.

Here’s the link to download this month’s PDF pattern. There are a few other quirks this month I should warn you about. Because this pattern is nothing but large, overlapping pieces, there’s no avoiding tape. Print out the pattern and then tape it together before tracing. You can either trace individual pieces, designed to overlap, or you can trace from the hat fully assembled. I’ve mirrored the image for the fully assembled template, since that’s how most appliqué methods would have you trace it, anyway.

I realize that I still owe you a tutorial on appliqué. I’m still working on it, and I will get that done for you soon.

British POW Uses Morse Code to Stitch Hidden Message During WWII

Major Casdagli's Hidden Message © David Fearn

Major Casdagli’s Hidden Message © David Fearn

Many of us geek love codes, cyphers and other types of hidden messages, and there are few more famous codes than Morse Code. Developed in the 1800s, Morse Code is simple and easy to learn, it’s also easy to write down once you know the correct sequence of dots and dashes that represent each letter. It was this ease of writing down and reading the code without the need of any special equipment that allowed a British prisoner of war to use it to create a subversive piece of art during his time in a Nazi prison camp.

Comparison of Historic & Current Morse Code © SpinningSpark via Wikimedia

Comparison of Historic & Current Morse Code © SpinningSpark via Wikimedia

Major Alexis Casdagli was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1941 and sent to a series of prison camps where he whiled away the long hours by sewing. A piece he created in December 1941 looks innocent enough, indeed it looked so innocent that guards allowed him to hang it on the walls at all the camps he stayed in. However the piece contains two subversive messages coded into the borders, messages that if they had been discovered by guards would have put his life at risk. The outer border spells out “God Save the King” and the inner border, the decidedly more risky “F**k Hitler”. To create the piece, Casdagli used threads taken from a disintegrating pullover that belonged to a fellow prisoner, a Cretan general.

For the four years the piece hung on the walls of the prison camps until his release, the Germans never spotted the secret message of defiance hanging in front of them. In fact the Germans were so impressed with the officer’s skills that they had him give classes to other prisoners. Major Casdagli’s defiant stitching has even recently been on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The major continued stitching until his death in 1990 and his son, a retired Royal Navy officer, continues the habit today.

Teach Your Geeklings to Sew

My daughter is busy sewing her third quilt in this picture, using her Hello Kitty sewing machine.

If you have the ability to sew, it’s a skill you should pass to your kids. If you don’t have the ability, you should learn together. I had a girl first, so we taught her first, but we are teaching my son sewing as well. In my case, by “we,” I really do mean me and my husband. He’s got a degree in textiles, and he tends to teach all the clothing projects while I handle the quilts.

Why sewing?  It’s creative, and it teaches a variety of other skills your children may find handy later on, even if they don’t end up with a textile degree. For instance, you learn to read and design plans and follow instructions in sequence. You learn geometry and engineering skills, and it’s one of the first power tools I’d let my kids near. Yes, there’s a risk they could sew their finger with the thing, but that’s actually less of a worry to me than getting burnt, setting the house on fire, or sawing off a limb.

What you feel comfortable with is up to you, but we started our kids around age six. We started with careful, hand over hand projects, and my daughter was doing the bulk of the sewing herself by age seven. We chose projects carefully, so she’d be doing things that weren’t beyond her skill level. The cutting took a bit longer, but after we got our southpaw a good set of left-handed scissors and now a left-handed rotary cutter, I’m less of a helicopter about the cutting.

Some basic tips for the beginner:

Don’t get a toy sewing machine. This was a piece of advice a friend gave me, and I pass it on to everyone else. If the machine costs $20 new and is labeled as “chain,” avoid it. It will only frustrate you and your child and teach everyone to hate sewing. Yes, I know that’s a Hello Kitty machine she’s using, but believe it or not, it’s not a toy. It’s the Sewing Pretty with Hello Kitty REAL Sewing Machine by Janome, which we bought at an after Christmas clearance sale.

You can find basic machines at sew and vac stores or just let your child use yours. You know, like a normal person that doesn’t have to start counting on their fingers before they can tell you how many sewing machines they own. (I’d blame my husband, but we’re both to blame on that one.) It’s important to find a model that sews reasonably well and it’s even better if it has a setting that allows you to slow the maximum speed down. (Update: someone in the comments pointed out that the Hello Kitty machine does not allow you to slow down the stitch speed. True, but it doesn’t sew terribly fast, either.) Don’t worry about fancy stitching options. You only need straight and zig-zag for most projects, and extra knobs are just confusing. This model looks like it’s the same  as our Hello Kitty machine without the branding, for instance. Six stitches and a buttonhole, and the stitches are all visually represented on the side of the machine.

Pick small, forgiving projects to start. We started with drawstring bags and just sewing scraps together and learning how to move fabric through the machine. My son is still at this stage. We moved on to sun dresses from pre-shirred fabric with my daughter. This is a really basic project, because you just sew one seam down the middle and add straps. You can usually find fabric like this locally. You can also buy  yardage with patterns for things like stuffed animals and aprons printed directly on the fabric. Then you can move on to pillows, and finally quilts from pre-cut fabric squares.

Now my daughter makes quilts, costumes, purses, dresses, and a variety of other projects. You want to start with something that can be done in an afternoon, and then you can get to the complicated projects later.

Patterns come second. The first step is to learn the sewing machine. Learning to read and follow patterns is an important skill, but it just adds a level of frustration if you throw it at a child all at once. There’s the added complication that some commercial patterns are just plain wrong. They were printed with errors or the sizes were off. If you already know how to sew, at least you know it wasn’t you.

Most errors are recoverable. This is important. Every sewer makes a lot of mistakes. Kids will make bunches, too, and they need to learn that it’s ok, and that seam rippers were invented for a reason. This may be hard on the little perfectionist, but they’ll love the final product.

We’ve been fortunate enough to not sew any fingers. That lecture about needle safety was taken to heart, but we have had a few broken needles and snarled thread knots. It’s frustrating, but you show them how to take it slowly and problem solve the situation. Buy good quality thread, don’t sew over pins, and keep extra needles on hand. If you keep running into problems, try rethreading or changing the needle.

Sneak away slowly. You need to supervise everything at first, but after a while, you need to just leave the room, grab a book, or otherwise make yourself less available as a crutch and micromanager. (I’m not talking about a six-year-old here. ) One of my favorite moments with this quilt was after I’d snuck out of the room to let her finish piecing the top. She finished up and then ran into my room shouting,”I did it! Come see my quilt!” That sort of pride is priceless, and a kid won’t have it if they don’t feel like they did it themselves.

Speaking of which, here’s her finished quilt on display at the county fair. Think she might still be a little proud?

The purple ribbon winner.


Creating a Steampunk Costume for the Cosplay Newbie (Part One)

My Completed Steampunk Costume

My Completed Steampunk Costume

In September I attended a steampunk convivial in my home town, naturally this required creating a steampunk costume. For someone whose sewing experience at the point of buying my ticket consisted of reattaching a few buttons to shirts, that was a pretty daunting prospect. Thanks to YouTube, Threadbanger and a lot of time on Google, I eventually managed to create a costume that looked pretty good, despite my lack of skills with fabric and thread.

I began by trawling the internet for pictures of steampunk outfits. Naturally many were way out of my league, looked uncomfortable, impractical or simply showed off way too much of my skin – nobody needs to see my thighs or stomach thank you very much. Eventually I settled on an idea for my basic outfit; a long skirt or two, shirt, corset and waistcoat – that gave me some idea of what I needed to buy and what work would be involved.

The layered up thrift store skirts

The layered up thrift store skirts

Over the course of many weeks, I checked out my local charity/thrift stores. I was constantly on the look out for anything that I could appropriate into the costume. I came up trumps with two cheap skirts that I could layer up. Appropriate shirts and waistcoats were however, sadly lacking. As time drew on and I needed to get a move on, I gave up on finding anything second hand. A cheap high street store was selling grey waistcoats for the office and so I picked one of those up along with a basic white shirt that I knew could be altered. The only piece I spent significant money on was a corset. Although these can be made at home, for someone just starting out in sewing, the task was just too daunting. I justified the corset by buying a plain black one which I knew I could re-use for multiple cosplays and Halloween costumes. After playing around with the skirts, I determined that the lower brown skirt could be left as it was. The purple upper skirt just needed to be lifted in two places. I tested this by pinning some of the lower skirt up to the top with safety pins, to check how it looked, and eventually just sewed those spots together. This meant that the entire skirt section of the costume probably took less than fifteen minutes to complete.

The shirt was one of the bigger projects. I followed this project video courtesy of ThreadBanger to create a low boatneck and hemmed it using my sewing machine.

A few years ago I had inherited this very basic sewing machine from a family member and it had spent those years resting comfortably in a large drawer in my craft room, with me insisting to myself that at some point I would learn to use it. I didn’t even know where to begin and the instructions were rather useless – I think Egyptian hieroglyphics might have been clearer. Another quick YouTube search revealed a great video that talked me through the process of threading the machine and after practising with the machine on some old bits of fabric, I was away. The hemming could easily have been done with a needle if you don;t own a sewing machine, it would just take much longer.

The shirt, altered from a basic white office piece

The shirt, altered from a basic white office piece

I actually made a few personal alterations to the shirt in the Threadbanger video; for one I didn’t keep the shirt’s collar as I knew I wouldn’t be using that as part of my outfit. I also didn’t do the shirring as I had other plans for the cuffs and collar (plus it looked complicated!) After removing the buttons I dyed the shirt, along with a length of lace from a local craft & haberdashery store and some white cotton, in a bath of tea to create the vintage colour. I dyed them in an old pot on my stove for around twenty minutes then immediately transferred the shirt to my tumble dryer to let the heat “set” the colour a bit more. Over a few nights spent in front of the television, I replaced the buttons with some more appropriately coloured ones, and hand sewed the lace all along the collar and cuffs as it wouldn’t have gone through my machine, using the thread I had dyed in the tea so the colours would match.

Dying the waistcoat on the stove

Dying the waistcoat on the stove

The last piece of my clothing was the waistcoat. This had initially been a very bland grey, however as it was made of 100% polyester, a tea bath wouldn’t take to the fabric. Google found me a dye called “iDye Poly” which is specifically designed to dye polyester, I picked a pack up on eBay and it worked very well. Again I removed the buttons before dying the fabric in my old pot. Unlike tea, iDye Poly is a chemical dye and the smell was utterly overpowering, I had the door to my kitchen wide open and my extractor fan running for the whole half hour I was dying the waistcoat – the wooden spoon I used to agitate the water went out in the trash that night.This is not a process you want to be undertaking with your children around. A quick turn through my washer & then a tumble dry had the waistcoat dyed in around two hours. Sadly my pot was a little small and so it had dyed unevenly, luckily this wasn’t too big an issue with a vintage look like steampunk.

The waistcoat would be the top layer of the costume and so it was where I wanted to place most of the little embellishments that really make the steampunk look. I had bought some vintage-looking buttons to replace the original plastic ones but that wasn’t enough. I had looked around for some cheap cogs or gears but been unable to find any at a price I was willing to pay, however on attending a craft fair I found some small metal shapes – technically ship’s wheels – being sold for pennies and picked them up. I also found an old chain lying around the house and commandeered it for the waistcoat. The pockets on the waistcoat are fake, just a slit in the fabric, so this chain worked well to fake the pocket watch look. I sewed it inside the slit on one end, and connected the other to my newly replaced bottom button. I laid out the “gears” in a form I liked, and photographed it before sewing each one on individually with a very fine thread, using the photo as a reference.

The waistcoat: before and after

The waistcoat: before and after

That about wraps up the clothing part of the costume, next week I’ll be covering the accessories including creating a unique necklace, embellishing a simple hat, creating some basic goggles and customising a Nerf gun. I hope you feel inspired to have a go at creating your own costumes, even if you’re concerned that you wouldn’t be any good. I felt that way too a few months ago and now feel much more confident about approaching sewing tasks.

Geeks Gone Wild Fabric Line

I don’t know how Kyla Mae’s Geeks Gone Wild fabric line has escaped my notice. I suspect it’s been escaping me for a while, though, since Space Invaders is sold out all over the web. You can still get several others on fabric.com and other places, though. There are four to choose from.

You can have your Space Invaders in classic black and white:

Or in color:

If Space Invaders aren’t your thing, how about Pac-Man?

And to complete the set, there are the little Geeks Gone Wild:

While it’s not officially part of the Geeks Gone Wild line, I hope you’ll be giving all your future mix tapes in bags made from this fabric:

So–who’s making me a geek quilt? My birthday will be here before you know it!