Look, Ma! I Made Farn!

Image of old jeans and finished farn from tutorial on how to make fabric yarn,

This is a little tutorial on how to make fabric yarn. It’s also a bit about why you would want to.

Fabric yarn, or farn, is yarn you make from large pieces of fabric. There are any number of ways to do this, but, basically, you make long strips that you eventually knit or crochet just like you would any other yarn. Except that farn is really, really bulky. You’re not going to make socks with this stuff. Maybe not even slippers.

What got me into making farn was that I have boxes and boxes of old, holey jeans that can’t be donated because they’re too ratty and thrashed (fashion be damned). So rather than adding to our waste problem, I’ve been looking for creative and fun ways to turn them into something else.

The problem with re-making clothes is that you generally have way more clothes than you’ve got useful projects. I’ve made several bags out of the seats of worn pants, but how many bags does one need in a lifetime? Certainly more than the seats of worn pants that I have.

The good thing about farn is that you need lots and lots of it to make anything. The bad thing about farn is that it is very time-consuming to make. On the other hand, it’s a very soothing thing to do when you’re about ready to do something violent to, say, the computers at an overly automated medical provider (not that I ever would, except virtually, but today it’s been very tempting).

How to make fabric yarn

You need some really sharp and solid sheers to make this easier. And the first thing you do is cut the seat off the jeans and save that to make a tote bag at some point. Or something else. Then you cut off all the seams and hems.

Cutting off the seams and hems of a pant leg for making farn.

The process is really pretty simple. At the short edge of a piece of fabric – in this case, the leg of the jeans – you start cutting a strip, about half an inch wide (it’s okay to eyeball it), off of the long edge of your piece. You cut all the way to the other short edge, but you do not cut through to the edge. You leave about half an inch of uncut fabric at that edge. Then, on that same short edge, you start cutting from that edge all the way to within half an inch of the first short edge. You can use a rotary cutter, and you can draw lines first, but it doesn’t really speed things up any.

Now, you may notice there’s a bit of a problem with pant legs. They’re not an even rectangle. There’s the point that kind of sticks out that forms the crotch. And most jeans legs get narrower at the hem because your ankles are narrower than your thighs – and should be. There are two ways to deal with this. One is to even things up and use the scraps for patches or some quilting project. Or you can treat the curved edge like you would a short edge and just not have really long parts before you start cutting from the bottom. Play around and see what works for you.

What you do with your farn is up to you. You can crochet rag rugs with it. I’m going to knit a really long jacket based on a Kaffe Fassett pattern that I’ve been wanting to make for years. I’ve made a seat cover with some farn that I made from an old, dead bed skirt. The options are pretty much endless. Unfortunately, so is the supply of ratty jeans.

Old Shirts to New Dress: RePurposing Clothes

Repurposing clothes, sewing, waste-free living

Repurposing clothes with scraps and old shirts

I’ve been really getting into repurposing clothes of late. Never mind that I have piles and piles of fresh fabrics all waiting to be made into nifty new outfits. But the one problem with sewing is that it does create a fair amount of waste. I have tons of scraps that I’d like to do something with besides throwing them out.

Then there’s the problem of all the clothes that we wear out around here. You can’t give ragged shirts to Goodwill or others. They can’t sell them. And I’ve had a heck of a time trying to find out if they can send what rags they get to fabric recyclers.

But when I’ve messed up a project (a fairly frequent occurrence), what do I do with the fabric that should have been a shirt or a pair of pants?

The How I Did It of RePurposing Clothes

One option is to turn those fabric scraps and old shirts with ragged collars into a new garment. In this case, I experimented with a dress. I’d also gotten a quick lesson in draping a pattern, too, which gave me some confidence to give it a try.

repurposing clothes, waste-free living, sewing

Shirt pockets as dress pockets

I used for my base a shirt I’d made for my husband, or it would have been for my husband if I hadn’t made the neck way too big. I decided to leave the front and back intact for style reasons and to avoid having to sew in new buttons. The other fun thing I did was take an old shirt that already welt pockets and use that for my waist pockets. Because I’m  not going to make anything that doesn’t have pockets.

Doing it Again?

It took some math and I think next time I’m going to stitch any fabric I add to the sides of the shirt so that they cover the armhole first, then cut a new one. But here’s the finished version. It does look a bit busy, even for me, so I’ll probably wear it as a casual dress for at home. I did wear to a Repair Cafe event and that was fun. But I’ve already got one more project in the queue that will use a more traditional pattern, but more shirts. My husband does tend to wear them out. Oh, and here’s the finished product:

repurposing clothes, sewing, waste-free living

The finished dress

Bonding Through Sewing

sewing, clothesmaking, sewing classes.

All the sewing stuff I’m working on

When Paul and Michelle each tried on their new pair of shorts, I was stoked and then some. You see, they’re my first sewing students.

I’m still not sure how my Repair Cafe team decided I could teach sewing, but they did. Paul wanted to learn and so did Michelle. Now, there aren’t pictures of them because I was so excited, the photos turned out all blurry. Argh.

But the best part of the sewing lessons is that the group, over the past year, has expanded and this is wonderful. For years, I was about the only person I knew who made her own clothes. Or wanted to sew with other people. A couple years ago, two other friends, Hilary and Elizabeth, thought it would be fun to get together to sew, and we managed about three days spread over a year or so. The problem was, we didn’t keep it up, nor did we set a regular time to meet.

Well, I made a point of doing that this time. Between my two students, I’ve got about five other ladies (I do wish we could get more guys interested), who regularly show up and we’re building some really good friendships. We’re meeting about once a month.

I’m sewing more, too, although not on meeting days. I’m too busy supervising. But on other weekends, I’m hitting the machine. That mess in the photo? I’ve started assembly-lining again – which is cutting out a boatload of projects and working on them all at the same time. More time may elapse between start to finish, but the time per item is remarkably reduced.

This is will never be a how-to blog. But I do like sharing what I’m currently working on. And right now, I’m working on teaching two people how to sew. Who knew?

Bib Overalls Skirt

This is a project I’d had in the back of my mind for… Well, years. My husband had worn out the legs on a pair of bib overalls, but the bib, itself, was in pretty good shape. Thinking about what I could do it with it more or less got me started on my latest “thing,” if you will: remaking new clothes out of old ones.

Michael and I will wear our clothes to rags. Donating the old clothes to charity doesn’t really help the charity because who wants to buy a shirt with ragged collar and cuffs? Yet, all too often, it’s just the collar and cuffs that are frayed and messed up, but the rest of the shirt is fine. Or the really ugly hole in the jeans is just in the one impossible to patch spot, but the rest of the pants are fine.

I have been making bags out of jeans where I’ve cut off the legs (working on turning those bits into yarn) and using old shirts for the linings. But a whole dress or something? Not there yet. Or I wasn’t. Frankly, I just finally got off my keister and put together the skirt I’d been thinking about for so long.

It took seven shirts. I used a pattern piece for a gored skirt from an old Burda magazine (August 2007, French Edition, long story). The piece was too big for the backs of the shirts, so I had to squiggle it around on the front and make each of the skirt gores out of two pieces of fabric. Since I was doing that, I decided to add more color and mix and match the different shirt pieces. I didn’t know if it would save any actual sewing, but since the shirts – mostly Hawaiian and other casual short sleeved ones – had pockets, I used the former shirt pockets for my skirt pockets.

I would have liked a fuller skirt with more body, but it still looks okay and is darned comfy to wear. I don’t know if I’ll try this project again, but I do have another dress that I recently finished that I’ll feature here eventually. And another, more structured, dress project, too. Then there’s the crazy quilt top I’m working on. And so it goes.

Skirting the Design with a Single Seam

So I’d had this piece of fabric in my stash that looked like rip-stop nylon, but wasn’t, for a very long time. It was 60 inches wide but less than a yard long. There was a time when I could have made a pair of shorts from that piece – and such was my intent. Alas, no more.

But the piece wrapped around my backside with plenty of room to spare and it was long enough for a skirt, with some extra for pockets. I could have made a pencil skirt, but the extra space for contours might not have fit on the piece. Plus there was something even easier – just sew up the back seam and add an elasticized waistband, with some patch pockets, and hem.

Which is what I did.

Lesson # 1

It doesn’t matter how much it looks like there’s no difference between the right side and the wrong side, there’s a difference between the right side of a fabric and the wrong side. It doesn’t matter which side you choose as your right side. Just make sure that you lay out, cut and sew with everything facing the right way. Like this pocket didn’t. Sigh.

Lesson # 2

When measuring or cutting elastic for a waistband, make it way tighter than you think you’ll need. It’s a real PITA to overlock on the elastic, stitch the fold-over, then put on the skirt and realize that the skirt is going to fall off your backside the second you take your first step. 

Using the overlock (aka serger) to stretch and sew on your elastic, then folding over the waistband and stitching it down is a massive time saver. Unless you cut the elastic too big. Hence all the threads in the photo. The skirt is still a little loose, but otherwise, it came out pretty nice.

Why I Sew

why I sew, mens shirt pattern, sewingI’m sitting here staring at the cut out pieces of a man’s shirt that are not getting sewn together. Admittedly, it’s been busier than usual on weekends, which is when I generally get my sewing done. But, but, but. I’m also wondering why I sew when, in fact, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just buy clothes. And cheaper, too.

The short answer is that my husband and I like to make the things most sane people buy. And it is true that I do get a kick out of that pioneering spirit and self-sufficient feeling that assures me that when the apocalypse comes, we’ll still be able to fend for ourselves. Then I look at the shirt pieces and think, “Do I really want to do this?”

I’m not sure if it’s because shirts really aren’t that big a novelty for me or if it’s because I’m still not that good at making them. Probably a bit of both. I do get bored easily and the construction phase isn’t all that interesting anymore. And it is more than a little frustrating when I know how things should look and they just don’t.

But I’ll work it out soon. That whole frustration issue is probably why I need to just go ahead and start working on the verdamnt thing. Because getting past stuff is also why I sew. For what it’s worth.

Sewing Men’s Pants

sewing men's pants

Pretty welts on my husband’s new pants

Yeah, I get it. Crazy is one thing, but sewing men’s pants? WTF am I thinking?

I’m thinking my husband needs trousers and I’m not finding any I like and there was this cheap fabric I’d picked up, so what the heck?

Truth be told, it’s not any harder than sewing pants for women. The biggest difference is that I have to put belt loops on my husband’s pants because he always wears a belt, and I can leave belt loops off of mine since I seldom wear a belt. Oh, and the center back seam is wider at the waist to make it easier to adjust the fit later as someone’s waist expands or not. Since we women are more likely to expand and deflate, you’d think you’d see that on women’s pants, but no.

Yes, there is a little more tailoring… Well, I wouldn’t call it tailoring, but you can get fancier with your finishes on the inside. But I’m not going to. It’s not going to show and it doesn’t affect the fit. Why bother?

Besides the belt loops, the big lesson here? If you know a better way to do something than what the pattern instructions say, dump the pattern instructions. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to read them first.

Sewing Men’s Pants Photos:

And here they are:

men's pants

There’s the extra wide seam at the back

men's pants

Waistband interfacing – It did make things easier.

Men's pants

Tah-dah! Men’s pants. And they fit him, too.


Chalk Ink Makes Marking Easier

Chalk Ink  So it was a few months ago that I received the Chalk Ink marker samples. Come to think of it, it’s been a few months since I did a Sewing Report. Mea culpa. My sewing machine broke down. Life was uncommonly nuts this past spring. I didn’t have any time to sew.

But what got me interested in the press release from the Chalk Ink people was that the ink is opaque and meant to be used on dark surfaces. Which got me thinking…

Chalk Ink

A nice clear line for a dart

One of the problems working with a dark fabric is that it’s really hard to mark the positions of darts and pockets with something you can see. I’ve used the traditional tracing paper, but I often lose the marks because they steam out when the fabric is pressed. Or if I take too long to get around to making the garment. And tracing paper can’t always get to where I need it. Chalk usually makes too thick a line and it also either fades or steams out with pressing.

When I’m using lighter-colored fabrics, I use Flair pens – the old felt-tipped pens. They’re skinny enough that I can get precise marks and the ink is very water soluble, so it almost always washes out (usually with a bit of stain remover). The problem is that with very dark fabric, the pens don’t work because they’re not opaque. Even lighter colors just blend right in.

Chalk Ink

No bleed through

But the Chalk Ink is opaque, so the white pen makes nice, easy to see marks. It didn’t press out and washed out of several samples that I put it on without using any stain remover. The tip I had was a bit thick. But then I discovered that they do make markers with fine points. Nor did I take the time to see how long the marker lasts. The extra fine tip costs $4.99, which isn’t too bad unless the marker won’t last for more than a project or two.

I would test the ink on any potential fabric before using it to make sure it does wash out and that it doesn’t bleed through to the right side. It didn’t on any of the samples I tried, and one of them was fairly light weight fabric. But a nice, easy way to mark a dark fabric? Hey, I’m down with that.

The Sewing Report: Using the Scraps

sewing3The one downside to sewing, and specifically clothing construction, is that there’s a certain amount of waste that gets generated. After all, there’s only so much you can do with the whole rectangle of fabric and most pattern pieces are not rectangles. So you get little bits and pieces of scrap fabric and finding ways of using the scraps can be tricky. You could throw them out and lots of people do. But we’re pretty committed to avoiding waste around here – you know, that saving the planet thing. And, yes, there’s that cheap side of me thinking, “But I could make….”

So I took a class this past weekend at one of our local fabric and quilting stores, New Moon Textiles, in Pasadena, taught by expert quilter Dorine Nieuwenhuijs, that showed me a really fun way to use even the smaller bits of fabric to create another fabric – and that’s without using more fabric as a base. What she does is take the bits of fabric and sew them together to make all kinds of shapes, or just a new piece of fabric. Dorine even cut up some of the larger bits she’d made and sewed them together at different angles. sewing1

There’s a real trick to the process, and you can read about it in the book 15 Minutes of Play, by Victoria Findlay Wolfe.* And, yes, the class and the book are actually about quilting – which I have yet to try. But here’s the thing – you don’t have to make a quilt with your resulting fabric. You can make a dress or a top or a tablecloth or whatever. Some folks have made vests. I can’t quite imagine a whole closet filled with clothes made this way, so I guess somewhere along the line I am going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to quilt. Because I do have a lot of scraps that I’ve been saving for years and years.

Seriously. Going through the one scrap bag I brought was almost like going down memory lane. I even found a scrap from a blouse I’d made when I was an undergrad in college.

The bottom line is that it is worthwhile to save those bits and pieces of fabric and even if you get bits so small that you can’t even use them to make more fabric, you can save them, then stuff a doggie or kitty bed with them – one of things that Dorine does with the scraps generated from her classes. The trick is finding new and creative ways of using what we used to consider trash. It’s not always easy, but it can be fun. For example, I use the top parts of old jeans and pants to make bags, then cut up the legs to make yarn. I even did that with an old dust ruffle that I couldn’t sew back onto its base. It’s now a very nice seat cover.sewing4

And I have two and a half lovely panels of bits and pieces that I’m either going to expand or just use as the front part of a shirt. Not sure yet, still thinking.

*Please note that I am a Barnes and Noble affiliate – so if you click on the above link and buy something, I will get a small commission at no cost to you. It’s an easy way to help keep the lights on around here and I truly appreciate the support.

The Sewing Report: Making Bias Tape


Clover Bias Tape Maker

Who’da thunk it would be this fun making bias tape? Please note that I bought the Clover Bias Tape Maker on my own and they don’t even know that I have their product, let alone that I liked it.

I don’t remember if I read about the giz-watchy in Threads Magazine or if I just saw it at one of my favorite fabric stores, but I finally bought the one that makes 1/2-inch bias tape. I was tempted to go nuts and buy all the different sizes, but for once prudence won out, and I bought the one to try first.

Which is kind of interesting, because the purchase coincided with a slight problem I was having that has absolutely nothing to do with bias tape. While playing around, looking for sites that showed how to make clothing from the 1920s, I stumbled onto DressmakingResearch.com, and specifically, a page showing instructions from 1924 on how to drape a dress. Now, for those of you who don’t know, most clothes are made from paper patterns that you use to cut out the individual pieces of a dress or pair of pants, then sew together. One of the ways designers use to get that pattern is they drape fabric on a person or dressmaker’s dummy, then cut away what they don’t want. This is called draping. And I’m just crazy enough to want to try it.

Well, I have a perfectly good length of mystery fiber fabric that I’d bought at Michael Levine’s Loft, located spang in the middle of the Los Angeles Garment District. The Loft, itself, is worthy of a whole post on its own, but what they sell there are the end pieces of bolts that the local manufacturers can’t use – and they sell it for $2.50 a pound. So I’d gotten this lovely cotton and something lavender fabric with a nifty design woven in and I thought it would be perfect for my draping experiment, especially since I’d gotten it for dirt cheap.

The instruction call out several yards of ribbon, but I couldn’t find one that worked well with the fabric – and I have several pieces of purple and mauve ribbons to prove it. So I’m trying to figure out what to do and at the same time, was wondering what to use to test out my bias tape maker and bing, bing, bing! I can make bias tape from the fabric I want to drape with. So I did.


Close up of the bias on a piece of fabric

The bias tape maker (giz-watchy) is only part of the process. You have to make the bias strips, first, which is actually pretty easy if you have a pre-made pattern piece – some outfits ask you to make your own bias binding. I have a couple patterns with the piece, but they’re buried somewhere in all my patterns. I found this tutorial from Dread Pirate Roberts (obviously a Princess Bride fan), which made things even easier. What you do is you layout a block on the fabric’s bias. Almost all fabric is woven with the threads crossing each other at 90-degree angles. So the straight grain is parallel to the length-wise threads, crosswise is parallel to the width-wise threads, and bias is the 45-degree angle that bisects those 90-degree intersections. You sew two ends of that bias block together, with the ends staggered, so that you can cut along the long edge of the tube you just made in an ongoing loop that will turn into yards of bias stripping.

Bias2Here’s the fun part. Once you’ve got your stripping made, you get your iron ready, and you poke your strip through the wide end of the bias tape maker, pull the fabric through the giz-watchy, which folds the long edges over, pressing it with the iron as you go. And then you have perfectly folded bias tape to attach to whatever you want. It’s not a lead-pipe cinch – I did have to fiddle with my first couple feet. The trick, I discovered, was keeping the iron as close to the nose of the giz-watchy as possible. The other trick was finding a way to spool my stripping so it didn’t get all tangled, as well as improvising a take-up reel for the finished tape.

So I now have all this tape I can use instead of ribbon on my dress. When I get around to draping it. Eventually. Really.