Category Archives: Up-cycling

An upcycled sweater quilt

Remember growing up with the three R’s: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic? Now I have moved on to the 4 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Perhaps I should add Reflect in there as well because a little reflection every now and then on my spending habits would certainly assist with the budget. Hmm! Naval gazing is a seriously off-putting option for the middle-aged and no, that doesn’t mean I am going to gaze lovingly at my ex-Naval husband over the breakfast table while he reads his digital newspaper.


The finished upcycled sweater quilt

Which leads me to the point of this exercise, as we are endeavouring to move towards being a zero-waste household. I don’t think we will succeed in the immediate future but there are measures we are taking that contribute to this aim. An obvious indicator is the weekly wheelie bin which is now generally one third full when we put it out for collection. Our recycle bin is heavier, but that is probably an indicator of how many friends join us for a teensy glass or two of wine as we don’t subscribe to print newspapers.


Paper is an obviously easy resource to recycle as I shred it into the composting heap, make my own gift cards with home-made paper and use all envelopes as scrap writing paper.

Food wrappings are on my target list. I read about a French woman who suggested taking your own containers to the supermarket. After purchasing the products, she suggests discarding the containers that the meat and cheeses come in, and placing them in your own reusable containers whilst leaving the original wrappings for the supermarket to dispose of. That might be a workable solution if you are going to cook the meat that evening but the meat wrappings do have a purpose such as extending the life of our meat and protection against contamination.

We have always composted our food scraps or fed them to the chickens and we try to minimise our water usage. Although encouraged by my husband who cites his experience in the Navy, I do draw the line at 10 second showers which scarcely lets the water get to the skin below his chest hairs.

I love sewing and knitting so this is an easy area to start thinking about reusing and recycling.

Old t-shirts are converted into yarn and in a fit of enthusiasm this year, I arm-knitted a wreath out of old t-shirts and put it into my daughter’s suitcase when she was relocating to Auckland.


Arm knitted wreath

Saggy jeans have been converted into a skirt and fabric scraps are cut and saved for a future rag rug. I have started collecting patterns and ideas for reusing these scraps and in a fit of enthusiasm, I cut lengths of linen left over from making curtains and knitted a bathmat which turned out to be very durable.

Last winter I put my elbows through my jumper. This might be an indication that I lean on my bony elbows too much but I prefer to believe that it is just a sign of a well-loved 10-year-old garment. As the rest of the jumper was still in very reasonable condition I was reluctant to throw it into the gardening pile so it went into my sewing pile to await darning.

Realistically, who darns jumpers these days? So rather than reuse, I decided to upcycle my discarded jumper into a quilt. A few quick moments of research on Pinterest and I realised I wasn’t the only person who had this novel idea. It could be done, but the first challenge was to find sufficient material, aka, discarded woolly jumpers. Eventually my husband wore holes in his elbows and I purloined that sweater. I know downsizing and decluttering is in vogue but I am now in need of more storage to hold my discarded clothing awaiting upcycling.
I also went in search of other cold weather gear that wasn’t being worn. I found a scarf that had felted up with its 40 years of use and a felted woollen jacket that had looked wonderful in the 80’s but its style was dated and definitely too young for me. While my daughter was packing her house up, she found a couple of jumpers that had been munched on by clothes moths. I scooped them up with glee. Eventually, a colour combination began to develop. Now I had my project; a quilted woollen rug by upcycling unwanted garments.
rug-on-chair_9070Before storing these woollen items, I placed them in a ziplock plastic bag and stored them in the freezer for 48 hours hoping to kill any clothes moths that might be lingering in the fabrics. After this I washed the jumpers which helps get rid of any moth carcases then stored them in fresh ziplock bags to prevent reinfestation by the clothes moths.

Although they were old, the jumpers hadn’t felted up so to avoid the wool unravelling when I cut it into squares, I tried felting it.

Felting the jumpers.

Some jumpers just won’t felt up due to the type of wool. Check to see what percentage of wool is in the jumper because if there is too much silk, rayon or acrylic the fabric just won’t felt. Remove any buttons, zippers, tags and ribbons which might catch and tangle. Also, if you have a few jumpers, wash in colours so that you don’t get the dye running in the hot wash.

I start with using a 40º wash to check the shrinkage. Some jumpers might need a second hotter wash to achieve the shrinkage you are seeking. It is also a good idea to put the jumpers into a pillowcase and secure the opening tightly so that you don’t fill your washing machine with felt. Use wool detergent as well to clean the jumpers before quilting them.

After they are washed, I put the jumpers, still in their pillowcase into the dryer on a long hot drying cycle to felt up.  This saves filling the filter with felted wool.

Creating a pattern
Once I had a sense of the colour combination, I cut the jumpers into squares 13 cm x 13cm (approx. 5in x 5 in). I also made a cardboard template to check I was cutting to the right size. This is the really tricky part as you have to be as accurate as possible with your cutting because the squares will be sewn into strips and then lined up to match the rows. I use a rotary cutter on a square cutting mat with a clear plastic ruler to make my cuts as clean and accurate as possible.


Stacking the squares of wool

I collected these piles of squares until I thought I had sufficient for a quilt and then played with the colours to determine a design. Fortunately, no-one was using my spare bed-room which meant I had a spare queen-size bed with a plain Indian cotton quilt on which to work. I shifted and moved squares around until the pattern fell into place. Naturally I had considerable help from Colin the cat who has an uncanny knack of finding a soft rug to lie on.



Take a photo before your assistant messes up the pattern

Once I had the pattern I photographed it to make sure I could remember it. I stacked the squares into their rows and numbered them clearly such as first row from left, second row from left etc.


One of the cashmere and silk jumpers that my daughter gave me didn’t felt when washed. It was a fine knit so to give it some strength I attached it to a square of cream linen left over from the bedroom curtains and reinforced it with Sashiko stitching in a windmill pattern that I found on Pinterest.


Tufting with embroidery thread

Sewing the woollen quilt
I chose a straight seam to sew the squares together in a row. I also placed tissue paper under and over the seam while sewing it, to reduce the amount of woollen fibre getting into the sewing machine. Once sewn, I pressed the seam flat with my steam iron


Using tissue paper to reduce fluff in the machine

Make sure you don’t lose the order of the rows so that you don’t change the pattern. After the rows were sewn, I then sewed these together two at a time in a straight seam which I pressed flat. Check the rows to make sure the squares were lining up.



Attaching the backing to the quilt

After sewing the rows together, I reinforced the seams by oversewing on the right side, in a curving stitch which helped to flatten the seam.


I decided not to insert a felted layer behind the wool as I didn’t want it to be too thick so I lined it with a lovely soft blue and cream striped cotton that matched the colours in the quilt.

Because the squares were different thicknesses, I secured the quilt to the backing with a tuft at each corner. I did this with embroidery thread to match the blue squares.


Knitting the border

To finish, I knitted a border with yarn I had bought in Los Angeles about 10 years ago. It is a lovely combination of silk ribbon, cashmere, mohair and wool and matched the colours absolutely perfectly. I sewed this border onto the quilt with fine wool that again blended in perfectly in a series of running stitches secured with knots every now and then to prevent unravelling.


I didn’t realise just how much time goes into making one of these rugs but it has such a gorgeous feeling that it is worth all the hours that went into it.

ready-to-use_9079It is now sitting on a sofa while I decide whether to keep it, give it to a grandchild or sell it.



Organising myself into 2017



A perfect place to knit and read

I looked at my 90-year old father on this New Year’s Eve and mused that he could possibly, although highly unlikely have made 70 New Year Resolutions. What a challenging concept. Why would you want to change yourself that much? So why am I bothering this year? Only because this year’s decision could be fun and thus more likely to succeed. In 2017 I am resolved not to more organised but to be less disorganised in my life.

‘Good luck’, said Andy, ‘that means we will have to get rid of all horizontal surfaces in the house.’

I muttered that he might be my first project, which made him hurry past the cluttered, untidy bookshelves and back into his study. ‘There’s opportunity on them there shelves,’ he hollered from the safety of his ‘cave’.


A quilt project on spare bed

He is right of course, as I work under the philosophy that all flat surfaces, i.e. the tables, couches, benches, floor and beds should be covered because what else is a flat surface for. The only time our house looks remotely like the pages of an interiors magazine is when I go away for a holiday and leave him at home. He probably has a blissful time and able to find everything he needs but within an hour of my returning everything starts to look as it did before I left. knitted-trim-quilt

I do have a history of clutter. I remember my grandmother advising me not to leave my new baby on the floor as I would never find her again and my brother-in-law once asked me whether I had just moved into the house in which I had been living for 2 years.

It isn’t that I am untidy, it is just that I have a lot of projects on the go at any one time: I am making a recycled jumper quilt, knitting a baby rug, knitting some washcloths out of gorgeous brightly coloured cotton, sewing a balloon skirt, altering an Italian cotton skirt as well as reading numerous books and magazines and that is before you open the food cupboard and fridge where I am making ginger beer, sourdough and jams.

However, I do acknowledge that just occasionally, having a system or plan to work with can be of assistance in achieving my goals.


Painting, boring but great effect

To start the momentum of this 2017 New Year Resolution I needed a significant project and what better task than to tidy up the dark area outside my laundry where I store my gardening equipment. Naturally I don’t start small and the easiest most effective way of making it look better is to paint it white. I am full of admiration for all those house painters who finish their jobs so quickly. What a tedious and time consuming job the painting of my slats has been and a very fiddly task particularly when negotiating the copper piping that leads to the hot water system. It wasn’t just a matter of slapping on a coat of white paint because the slats had many coatings of timber oil that had gradually darkened over the years. So I had to wash them, paint them with primer and then 2 coats of white paint on the inside and 2 coats of pale yellow on the outside to match the rest of the house. I was going to just do white but it started to look like a gingerbread house and very tizzy so I went with the yellow that blends with the corrugated iron and timber walls near by.

Andy just looked at me as if I was crazy, ‘Why change what works?’. This man could live in a cardboard box and be happy, as long as it had a wine bar. Interior design really isn’t his thing, nor does he ever feel the need to change the look of his environment. Once it is painted, leave it that colour and then you don’t have to think about other design considerations such as matching up the trim colour.


My projects on ‘Our’ workbench

I really didn’t mind as this area is my space and I am Head Gardener so I get final say in what goes. He has his ‘cave’ where he sits contentedly surrounded by his books, computers, drones, electronic gear, shredder, printer, and I get the rest of the house including his workbench which is usually covered in my current outside project like the ‘weed tea’ being irrigated by the aquarium aerator so that it doesn’t stink the house out and the wreaths made from the wisteria vine, and the baskets made from palm inflorescences. Somewhere underneath all these things sits the hedge trimmer and the tree saw.


First attempt at weaving palm inflorescence

But getting to the back of the house and my garden space, this I could do.  I moved the potting bench away from the walls, threw down an old sheet and up the ladder with paint brush in hand I went. Each day I could see the space lightening up. Even the Master and Commander noticed the increase in light. This is a work in progress and now I have the walls painted I can begin to declutter the workbench and floor. By declutter, I don’t mean throw out, as I never toss anything away until I am totally convinced I won’t use it again in some form or other. To me declutter means being organised.



Storing garden gloves and florist wire

Pride of place is the back of the slatted door. If nothing else is achieved this year, I believe I can meet my resolution just on the back of this door. How good is this solution for garden gloves? So simple but it has taken me years to think of this. Check out my solution for storing all the small bamboo sticks that you collect with orcids and how to store the craft and florist wire. I will have no excuse not to wire the roses I am drying onto one of the wreaths sitting on the bench.


Garden glove storage

This is a good reason not to throw anything out. Three years ago, I had used the plastic piping in the garden to secure stakes over which I had thrown bird netting to protect some fruit trees.


Storing florist wire

I plugged the piping with an old broom handle that I had also refused to discard.  I own up to asking the assistant to cut the broom handle as I felt he should be involved with the project and I sense a reluctant tinge of admiration for my ability to upcycle most things. Not that he would admit it mind you.

In the meantime, I go out each morning with a cup of coffee and just admire my handiwork  and eventually, as I do have all of 2017 to be organised, I will get around to tidying up the pots and bags of compost. You don’t want to rush a genius.

Then I hear a voice from the driveway where my father is practising his golf swing.   ‘Dull women have immaculate houses.’

Version 2

Never too late to improve your swing.

My father is right, I realise.  Go out and enjoy yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Rather than making resolutions each year, perhaps it is better to strive to improve on the present while enjoying and liking who you are.