Overdye Success!

design, eco-craft, fabric, general crafts, inspiration

We love the very sturdy oak chairs that we bought from Ikea for our dining table in 1999. One of the chairs appeared on the cover of Quilts Made Modern in fact. The have arms, fit our bodies well, allow us to have Settlers of Catan marathons and invite guests to linger comfortably for conversation after meals. They are cushioned and they have slipcovers that wash when there’s a spill. They are small enough to fit 8 at our table but large enough for a person and a small dog to curl up and for me to sit “criss-cross-applesauce” during said game marathons.


However, over the years the avocado-green covers had become stained and faded by sunlight. We looked for years for replacement covers and couldn’t find any. We also tried a variety of other chairs but none were as comfortable as these. They are also much sturdier than many chairs owing to their oak frame. The slipcovers are complex and would be very time-consuming to reproduce. So we decided to overdye them with an indigo dye. We calculated all of the chemicals needed and purchased the dye and chemicals from Dharma Trading. Taking advantage of the heat and the day off, we spent much of July 4 stirring and washing the slipcovers. We are delighted with the results. They feel and look like dark-wash indigo linen that has a really nice patina. We knew they wouldn’t look brand new but would have a soft wabi-sabi look that fits with our casual home. The color is crisp and perfect for us. Most of all we’re thrilled to be able to extend the life of the chairs and not add anything to a landfill.

If you are interested in doing something similar, read up on the many online tutorials first. If there’s top-stitching on your piece, assume that it’s polyester and will not take the dye. Our covers are top-stitched with a green thread so we planned the overdye color to work with the green topstitching and it does. Also stick to an analogous color in a dark value if possible; indigo over avocado green yields a deep dark blue that’s slightly greener than the original dye. A deep red would likely have yielded an earthy brown. Natural fibers take overdye the best so our 100% cotton slipcovers were the perfect candidate for this project. We did our dyeing in our garage for easy stirring, rinsing and cleanup. At some point, we’ll sew new slipcovers but for the interim, this was a great solution for us.

Crafting a Better Fire

by Bill, eco-craft, free patterns, general crafts, sewing

After all the activity around the holidays, we’re ushering in the New Year with a day of rest. And that means a family game in front of a cozy fire.

Carrying armfuls of weathered firewood from our log pile outside one too many times, I finally made a simple log tote from materials we already had on hand: some scrap canvas and an old dowel. In 30 minutes I’d made this carrier, which I should have sewn years ago. While off-white canvas will certainly get dirty over time, I had pieces left over from a project and always prefer to use up what I have. The dowel was left over from a hanging rod from a trade show (though I also eyed an old broomstick which I could have just as easily cut down.) The image below takes you through the four simple steps. You might be tempted to make the carrier a bit larger, but if you do then it gets heavier when full and more cumbersome to use.



On a related note, we keep our firewood in metal hoop.


It came with a poorly made plastic snow and rain cover. The cold weather made the cover brittle and the sharp edges of the logs tore it within a few weeks. I purchased a heavy-duty tarp at Home Depot, took a few measurements and sewed together a far better replacement. The tarp stays fairly rigid and should last years and years. Here’s a photo of Weeks lifting the cover using the handle I sewed on top:



Not all stores carry the brown tarps, but it sure looks better than the standard bright blue ones, especially against the brick wall. If you want to make one, here are a couple tips:

  • make it at least 4″ wider than you think necessary to prevent it from catching on the logs
  • use polyester, not cotton thread so the stitching won’t rot outdoors
  • sew the handle to the middle section before sewing the sides and middle together (something I didn’t think to do since the handle was an afterthought.)

For those of you in enjoying summer in the Southern Hemisphere right now, you’ve got lots of time to sew your totes and covers for the coming winter…

Happy New Year to all!


Missing the Super Do-ers

design, eco-craft, general crafts, inspiration


Periodically when Bill and I are discussing someone we admire one of us says, “She’s a do-er.” or He’s a do-er.” It is high praise to us as it describes someone who makes things happen. Do-ers don’t wait for a paycheck or permission or someone else to blaze the trail for them. They live their lives the way they want often inspiring others to take on new challenges and think about life as a series of possibilities not to be overlooked. We try to surround ourselves with do-ers because they remind us to take chances and make things happen.


[all photos by Kathreen Ricketson]

Kathreen Ricketson and her partner Rob Shugg were what we called “Super Do-ers.” These are the people who think big and live as though there’s no tomorrow. They embrace big plans and lead big lives. Kathreen and I met online when she asked to review one of our books about 8 years ago. She had started Whipup.net in the early days of blogs. At the time there were about 20 contributors on the site and I quickly became one of them lured by her leadership and do-er spirit. Kathreen loved all thing handmade and Whipup covered all aspects of making from quilting to cooking to eco-crafting. At some point, grateful for the opportunities that she had given us and others, I coordinated a massive group quilt asking contributors from all over the world to send me fabric that I could make into a surprise quilt for Kathreen. Although we feared that the quilt was lost on its way to Australia, it eventually was delivered and she emailed me with delight.

I was honored when Kathreen asked me to write a blurb for the back of her first book and she and I kept in regular contact over the years. We cheered each other on and looked forward to the day we could meet and have a nice dinner with our families. Kathreen and Rob collaborated to publish the Action Pack digital magazine with their kids, which I raved about in a post here several years ago.

In January, Kathreen and Rob began a year-long trek around Australia with their son Orlando 10 and their daughter Otilija 13. Kathreen was working on a book about the experience and home-schooling the children at campsites along the way. On May 6 she emailed me a long series of interview questions for a series of articles she was writing. Although there was another week before the deadline I thought about her last night as I was turning off the light to go to bed. I felt a sense of urgency that I get back to her and not let her down. She was the last thing I thought about before I went to sleep.

So it was a huge shock to wake up to Facebook messages from Australian friends letting me know that she had drowned while her children were on the beach and that Rob’s body had disappeared into the sea. Tears streamed down my face as I read the Australian news links and saw pictures of her vibrant face — which she referred to as her “moon face”– attached to this tragic story of parents drowning at a picturesque beach in a remote area of Australia in front of their children. It just wasn’t possible. How could this have happened?! It’s been hard to think of anything else all day. Friends of theirs in Australia are working to develop a site where those of us who wish can donate money for the care and education of their children via Whipup.net.

I’ve been thinking of how else I can honor Kathreen.  I think the way she would want to be honored is for all of us to try new things and challenge ourselves. She’d want us to plan fun activities with our kids and live big, adventurous lives. She’d want us to cherish our friends and make beautiful things from even the most humble materials. On Wednesday afternoon shortly before she left for that tragic swim, she posted the picture at the top of this post — a bag she crocheted out of plastic grocery bags while sitting around the campfire. And that’s what I loved so much about Kathreen. She scoured the internet to find the best tutorial of how to turn plastic shopping bags into something both useful and beautiful and she shared it with all of us. I miss you already Kathreen.

For those of you wanting to donate to Kathreen and Rob’s children’s care and education, a trust has been established. Here’s the link.