Being creative and starting a challenge

A while ago I saw that Caroline over at Becoming a SAHM was starting a new linky called ‘Creative Challenge’. The idea is to post about any creative activity that you’ve been up to that you are trying to do better or more often or challenge yourself in some other way with it. When I saw this it was around the time that I was just setting up Sewn Down Purple Lane, and I thought this was particularly fitting for the Creative Challenge linky theme, because although I’ve been creative with my sewing for a while, I was now stepping up a notch and challenging myself to selling my creative wares. I’ve been meaning to write about this and join in with the linky with this post for a while, but as long as I have my sewing machine with me, the default is to sew rather than write about sewing, so it took until coming on holiday with no sewing machine to write this.

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First I thought I’d write a bit about my background in being creative, before moving on to how I’m finding the new challenge now that it’s well underway. I’ve enjoyed sewing (as well as other crafts) for as long as I can remember. I took Textiles as a GCSE subject, which was some lovely creative relief from the more academic subjects. As a teenager I made some of my own clothes and bags, but as university and young adult life took over, I didn’t sew as much – though I did a lot of cross-stitch as a stress reliever during exam periods. Just before Andrew – now 3 years old — was born, I got my machine back out and altered a pair of curtains with some Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric to make them long enough for his room-to-be; this gave me a taste for sewing again!

Bike print wrap 1

Fleece wrap

I also got into using cloth nappies on Andrew. When I was pregnant again and realised we would have a 21-month age gap and therefore two little ones in nappies, I bought some more to expand our nappy stash. The trouble was though, Andrew at nearly 2 years old was getting very big for standard ‘birth-to-potty’ nappies, especially his night nappies that needed to be boosted for heavy wetting. So I set to and sewed him some huge toddler nappies and fleece covers using fabrics upcycled from clothes and flat terry nappies. That’s where my upcycling journey really began. I tried various designs and types of nappy, making my own patterns as I went along. Now the majority of nappies and waterproof wraps that we use are mummy-made, mostly from fabric that used to be something else wearable, and I’ve sold many of our mass-produced cloth nappies.

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Jeans  tshirt nappy

Fleece soaker

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After I started making nappies, the need arose to do something about the dribble situation with Joel – now 17 months old – who wet through bibs spectacularly faster than Andrew ever did. The trouble was that the standard dribble bibs that we had been bought had just one layer of absorbent fabric. That’s when I thought to use fabrics with nappy absorbency levels in a bib, again upcycling from clothes and flat nappies that were no longer useful to us. I sewed some bibs with a funky front fabric (from patterned cotton clothes), a stay-dry backing fabric (fleece or synthetic knitted) next to his skin and other clothes, and a hidden layer of terry cotton for ultimate absorbency. I’m pleased to say that these super absorbent dribble bibs have been fantastic at keeping his chin and top dry despite his dribbling skills that rival those of a top footballer. I also like the bandana style — it looks more stylish than a classic round baby bib, and it flaps around less so doesn’t get in the way especially when he was in the crawling stage.

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Cord bib

Animal alphabet bib

My latest fascination is sewing with the gorgeous woven fabrics that are used as baby/toddler slings – one long piece of fabric is wrapped around parent and child in a secure position – hence the name ‘wrap’. I got into babywearing in this way when Joel was born. It’s quite easy to come by so-called ‘wrap scraps’, smaller pieces of wrap that are left over when weavers make the wraps, or when one is chopped up and converted into a sling with buckles, or if one is damaged somehow. There are so many possibilities for upcycling this lovely fabric – so far I have made waterproof bags, purses, bibs, glove clips, nappies and (probably my favourite for the name) ‘wrap scrap nappy wraps’! Well done if you’ve followed all the wraps here.

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Rainbow wrap scrap nappy

Wrap scrap nappy wrap without snaps

I’ve also figured out how to convert some of our adult clothes that are broken in part or too small into clothes for the boys – for example leggings from jumpers, small trousers from bigger trousers, slippers from jeans and a shirt, and a coat for babywearing that fits over both Joel and me when I’m carrying him on my back in the sling. I never throw any kind of fabric item away, even Daddy has learnt to give me his old stained shirts and worn through the knees trousers – there’s always something new I can make with them.

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Babywearing coat

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Having done all sorts of sewing for my boys, I eventually decided to set up shop. I say ‘eventually’ because I’d been thinking about it for a while but waited for a good time to do it. With our relocation to a new city, and the boys being at an age where it’s manageable to work around their routines, it seemed the right time. So I started sewing items to have in stock (mainly bibs, clothes and nappy accessories like waterproof bags and washable wipes), set up a Facebook page and Etsy shop, and offered custom slots for things other than the in stock items. And that’s about where I’m at now.

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Washable wipes zebra fleece

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Purple stripey wetbag

My biggest challenge at the moment is marketing and advertising my creative products. I’m happy doing the creative stuff, but I have very little idea about the business side of things. I know it’s pretty easy these days to set up an online shop with little prior knowledge, but running that shop successfully isn’t as easy as you might think. Pricing is an interesting issue that I’ve had to tackle recently: I’ve read that it’s essential to hit a sweet spot — too cheap and people will wonder about your materials and doubt the ‘handmade’ nature of your stuff, and too expensive and they won’t think it’s worth buying. I’m also discovering that it’s all well and good getting likes on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and comments saying how lovely my sewn goodies are and how great my ideas are, but turning those into sales takes some work. I’m still learning how best to do this, so I don’t have a huge list of tips; in fact if anyone has any advice to offer me on this matter I’d be very keen to hear it.

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The most important thing I need to remember in this challenge is that I’m doing this because I enjoy sewing a lot. I find it hugely satisfying to complete a project, especially something that is very practical and looks good at the same time. It’s also a good feeling to use fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away or into the recycling bank, and make new items from old, giving them a new lease of life. I might find the business side of my tasks more boring than the creative ones, but I know I need to work at these too if I want it to succeed. At the end of the day, though, I doubt being a WAHM will make us millions, but just to cover the cost of my materials and earn a bit of pocket money doing something I love would be brilliant. That’s the plan.

Creative Challenge

Nappy-related sewing projects: wet/dry bag and fleece soakers

Just recently I’ve rediscovered just how much I love sewing. I did quite a lot as a teenager, but since having kids I haven’t had the sewing machine out much. There were a couple of nappy-related items that I thought would be very practical to have, and these became fun sewing projects to get my teeth into it again.

I realised when Andrew started wanting to wear pants when out and about that I really needed to invest in a good wet bag because we have quite a few accidents still, and I have two children with wet nappies/pants/trousers to take home when we go out. I also wanted one with a ‘dry’ area, as I always had loose spare clothes in my change bag and thought it would be easier to keep them in a bag together. But when I looked online, all the wet/dry bags that looked good quality were a bit too expensive, so I decided to buy some fabric myself and make two wet/dry bags.

Wetbags Collage

The outside is cotton, in Bob the Builder and Animal Alphabet prints, and the lining is a thick and durable sandwich PUL (the laminate layer is sandwiched between two polyester layers – makes it very easy to sew with and is extra thick for wetness protection) in bright orange (Bob) or blue (animals). The front pocket is for dry clothes/nappies, and there is a poppered handle that can attach to a buggy (for example) which is triple stitched for durability. I bought enough fabric for four bags, and I have swapped one with a friend for a night nappy that I wanted to try and a daytime wrap for the Nappyness library, and I sold one on a cloth nappy forum. As far as I know, both recipients like them.

During Real Nappy Week, I bought a couple of fleece soakers for Andrew because I’d read that they were good at night and I was also buying some bigger night nappies for him at the same time as he’d grown out of some of his others. The soakers worked brilliantly, and having seen one in real life as opposed to a picture on a website, I realised that my sewing skills were up to making them. So I set about making some more, using fleece from old clothes and blankets, so they are completely upcycled. In fact for one of them, I accidentally cut the fabric to include the ‘The North Face’ logo on the jumper I was cutting up, but then I decided that it actually looked rather cool with the logo, to show that it was an upcycled item of clothing. The next one I made, I deliberately cut the leg cuff fabric to include the ‘Regatta’ logo.

Soakers Collage

Andrew is now getting a bit big for the XL ones I bought, so I’ve made a few more XXL and Joel is just about fitting into the XL (he has a well boosted night nappy and needs it for the rise height, though it’s looser around the thighs and waist on him than on Andrew). I’m also making one of each size for the Nappyness library, and the medium and large are already available for loan – I originally made the medium thinking it would be for Joel but forgot that it needed to fit over a night nappy rather than day nappy (baby brain moment!) The patterns that I’m using are those I found on Katrina’s Sew Quick Soaker Pattern blog. I’ve also sewn some more washable wipes (as I explained in this previous post) from upcycled nappies and clothes, and these are also available to borrow from the library.

Wipes n bags Collage

As I’ve been sewing, I’ve been dreaming about having a better place to do this other than our kitchen table in quite a small flat. I have a little picture in my head of a cafe with a toy corner (like Livng Stones, the one we go to for meet-ups) which is also a shop that sells cloth nappies (new and preloved) and accessories, and there is also space for me to sew wet bags, soakers, wipes etc. All the mums I meet up with in Living Stones agree that  there should be more cafes like that in Cambridge, and I think the city is the kind of place that parents would welcome a shop where you can actually buy cloth nappies having seen them for real, not just online. Of course they could try them from the library first too.

But then I usually hear a noise from one of my boys, or both, and I come quickly back to reality 😉


Creative Challenge

Washable wipes – homemade and upcycled

The fluffy epilogue that I wrote after Real/Cloth Nappy Week this year talked about my realisation that washable wipes were a very simple concept and that I could make some myself rather than buy the branded or even WAHM-made ones (WAHM = work at home mum). I do like to support WAHMs where possible, but in this case I’m being my very own WAHM and saving myself the cost of buying washable wipes even from them.

Although these took me very little time to make, the process taught me that I would actually find it very hard to be a WAHM myself at this stage when the boys are still so young, because I found I could only grab the odd five or ten minutes here and there between doing things with them, for them and around the flat. I don’t know how WAHMs do it! At least all the blogging I do is when I’m sitting down feeding or have a sleeping baby on me and can’t do other stuff anyway. And at least the wipes were simple enough that I could flit in and out of doing them easily.

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The fabrics I used were all old items of baby stuff that we no longer use for various reasons. We had a baby towel that was free with one of the supermarket parenting clubs (I think) but it’s only for newborns and both our boys grew out of it in about a month. I also found a fleece throw that we hadn’t used much and some old clothes (in cotton jersey fabric) that were either very worn out or had stains on one bit of them but the rest was fine. So I’ve done a bit of ‘upcycling’ (as seems to be one of the latest buzz words) in making these wipes.

The first batch I made with half the towel had this towel fabric on one side and half fleece half jersey on the other. I made them fairly big at 13x20cm. Now that we’re using them I would say that we could get away with them being a bit smaller than this as they clean up poo so easily, so the next batch I make will be a bit smaller. I’d seen washable wipes online made in two different ways: (1) two pieces of fabric overlocked together, or (2) two pieces of fabric sewn right sides together then pulled through back on itself and top stitched around the outside to seal the hole left in order to pull it outside in. I experimented with both methods, and found that the second one worked better with these fabrics on my machine – I don’t have a proper overlocker so was just using that stitch on my sewing machine and cutting off the excess fabric, but it was hard to make a neat straight edge, and although it still functions as a wipe perfectly well, it doesn’t look as nice (or ‘professional’ in Tom’s words) as the outside-in-method ones.

Here’s a tutorial with photos showing how I made these wipes (using the second method described above)…..

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1) Cut out the fabrics  – for a 13x20cm wipe you’ll need to cut 15x22cm of towel, and then fleece and jersey to cover roughly half each of the area of the towel, plus 1cm overlap where the fleece and jersey are sewn together. Here the photo shows the fabrics folded up in sets of towel, fleece and jersey all cut and ready to pin.

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2) Sew the fleece and jersey together down the one side that will be in the middle of the wipe – put right sides together and sew using a plain straight stitch along this one side, 1cm from the edge. When you’re done, open it out flat.

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3) Place the jersey and fleece piece right side down on the towel. (In the picture – this was the corner of the towel so I trimmed the jersey fabric to fit the curve of the corner here). Pin at right angles to the edge of the fabric every few centimetres along all four edges.

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4) Sew at 1cm from the edge all the way along three of the edges and about 2/3 of the way along the fourth edge to leave a hole where you can pull the fabric through from the outside inwards. Please excuse this photo – it DOES NOT show right sides together as it should – this was the one wipe that I overlocked instead and I must have taken a picture of this by mistake! Make sure when sewing the two pieces of fabric together that you can’t see the print of the jersey – if you’re just using towel and plain fleece, it wouldn’t matter anyway as there aren’t ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ sides.

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5) Remove the pins and then pull the fabric through the hole to turn it outside in and reveal the pattern on the jersey. Fold the edges of fabric sticking out at the hole (as seen on the top left corner here) inwards, following the fold of the rest of the seam.


6) Top stitch (using a plain straight stitch on the machine) along the length of the hole and continuing along all four edges of the wipe, at about 2mm in from the edge, to give it a nice finish. Here the picture shows the finished wipe on the right, along with the overlocked one on the left for comparison.

Now to make some more, as well as some wet bags… whenever I find the time!