The Canadian Car Poncho

Car Poncho 32

There’s the idea that you shouldn’t put your kid in a big puffy snowsuit in their carseat because the snowsuit doesn’t allow you to do up the straps as tight as they need to be and that could be unsafe if you were to get into an accident. Accordingly, they sell these things called “car ponchos” for small children, and they’re all fancy with faux fur trim and buttons and snaps and zippers and whatnot and they cost like SEVENTY BUCKS. Seriously? Eff that. Also, this is CANADA, and here it’s always colder than it is in other places. So most of those fancy car ponchos are wayyy not warm enough to combat that howling wind when it’s minus twenty.

Car Poncho 2

I figured, seeing as I’m doing all this sewing these days, why not make my own? At the fabric store near us, fleece is pretty expensive, usually about $7 a metre, but at IKEA, you can pick up a POLARVIDE fleece blanket for $5.99, and they’re almost 2 metres. They come in a variety of colours depending on the store and the season, and sometimes they go on sale and they’re even cheaper. I picked up two, for layering.

Car Poncho 1

FOR THE LAZY: Just use one blanket. Sewing two together is less than easy.

One side of the fleece has little round flibbety things that stick out, so I cut them off using my rotary cutter.

Car Poncho 4

FOR THE LAZY: Leave ’em on.

Then I went through a million permutations of how to layer the blankets together so that the raw edges were inside the blanket. But it was much too complicated for me so I just folded each in half on the short edge and flipped them so the folded edge of one blanket was against the open edge of the other.

Car Poncho 5

FOR THE KEENERS: Sandwich the open edges inside so that the folded edges show on both sides.

Then I started sewing the blanket together, starting with a straight line right down the middle, followed by another that bisected it perpendicularly.

I kept going, dividing each un-sewed section in half and sewing through it, then I sewed around the edge. I did this to keep the different layers from bunching around each other. Four layers of fleece is hella bulky and it was really tricky with my little pink machine.

Car Poncho 6

FOR THE KEENERS: Maybe try a bias binding on the outside edge, or sew your lines radiating out from the centre at angles.

So now I have this big bulky blanket with four layers of thin fleece all quilted together. I need a head hole in the middle.

Car Poncho 7

Here I am doing a very scientific measurement of LongJohn’s head diameter using a salad plate. It’s a little big, but babies heads grow alarmingly so I know it’s better to go too big here than too small.  If you’ve ever tried to shove something too small over an angry baby’s head then you know what I mean.

Car Poncho 8

Car Poncho 9

Then I used the salad plate as a guide for cutting out the centre hole.

Car Poncho 10

I waited until everything was sewn together before cutting out the hole because I knew I wouldn’t necessarily be able to line up all four holes properly if they weren’t already permanently stitched in place.

Car Poncho 11

I’m trying to figure out what to do with the circle I have left. Any ideas?

The resulting hole was a bit jagged (cutting through four layers of fleece at once with a circular blade is also less than easy). But it was easily tidied up with a pair of scissors.

Car Poncho 12

Then I had to consider the hood. I was considering not doing a hood but babies don’t wear scarves and I didn’t want LongJohn’s neck all exposed to the elements, especially seeing as the head hole was so big.

The VITMOSSA blanket, also from IKEA, is only $2.99. It’s a thinner fleece with a bit of stretch, and I figured that if I doubled it, I’d get a decent flexible hood.

Car Poncho 13

I measured a distance of slightly over half the way around the circle and I cut a length of the blanket accordingly.

Car Poncho 14

The idea here is that if I fold the piece over itself, the seams line up and the hood forms naturally.

Car Poncho 15

Car Poncho 16

Because I want this thing to be reversible, I opened up a few of the centre seams in the poncho so I could sew the hood into the space in the middle.

Car Poncho 17

Then I folded the rectangle that I cut out in half across the short side again. Inside-out.

Car Poncho 18

And sewed up the two open sides perpendicular to the fold.

Car Poncho 19

Turn it right-side out and then line up the two seams.

Car Poncho 20

Tada, a hood! It has a pointy top so I would not recommend making this out of white fleece, if you know what I mean. Just to be politically correct.

Car Poncho 21

FOR THE KEENER: Sew down the pointy top.

Then I pinned it into the head hole of the poncho.

Car Poncho 22

You can see here that it fits between the two colours of fleece.

Car Poncho 23

Pin, pin, pin.

Car Poncho 24

The hard part here was now sewing the hood into the poncho (that’s six layers of fleece, if you’re counting). I had to shove so much bulky blanket through the little arm of the sewing machine. And then rotate it as I went around in a circle. Slow and steady was the best course of action here.

Car Poncho 25

Once finished, you can see how it works on the gray side …

Car Poncho 26

… and on the red side. I actually had to go around on the red side again because I’d missed a layer in my excitement.

Car Poncho 27

FOR THE LESS LAZY THAN ME: Be more careful and get all the layers sewed at the same time.

And now the test on my model.

Car Poncho 29

As you can see it’s roomy in the neck at the moment but I can always pin or clip that closed for now. He’ll fill out soon enough. He’d wear the poncho like this when I was carrying him or he was walking around. Which hopefully is far distant in my future.

Car Poncho 28

Then here he is in his high chair, which is standing in for the carseat (because it’s freaking cold outside today and I’m not going outside just to take a picture for you guys). The back of the poncho flips over the back of the car seat and the front part can be twitched aside while you do up the straps snugly against your little one. Then you just tuck it back down again and your kidlet is warm and snug!

Car Poncho 31

I’m making another one for a friend with a much bigger baby (makes a great gift!) and I’m confident my head hole size (22cm diameter) will be entirely appropriate. I also have enough left of the VITMOSSA blanket to make a thinner, warmer-weather poncho too!

Car Poncho 30

Travel Document Holder from Old Maps

Travel Document Holder

My brother Krystopf travels frequently for his job.  Most of the time it’s to Brussels, where he has fully exhausted the entertainment value of the city and now dreads going.  He’s also a bit of a disorganized traveler, and there are few countries on this planet that don’t have a little piece of something that he has left behind.  Actually, both my brothers are pretty good at this, so maybe Ando will get one of these some time in the future …

Travel Document Holder

This is a travel document holder that I designed myself.  It’s made out of a mining resources map of Newfoundland I inherited from the Geography department at MUN, and dates from 1969, so it’s quite old in terms of relevance.  I actually inherited three of them, plus a few more resource maps, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing more map-related projects in the future.

Travel Document Holder

My first step in this project was to “antique” the map, using a technique I learned from the good folks at Design*Sponge.  So you lay out your map (or whatever it is that you are antiquing), on a workable surface.  My map was too big for the table, so I laid it out on some dog towels on the floor.

Travel Document Holder 5

Brew up a cup of dark coffee and let that cool.  You will also need a cup of plain water and a handful of coarse salt.  I used the stuff you put in your grinder.  And a paintbrush.

Travel Document Holder 2

When the coffee has cooled sufficiently, dip in your paintbrush and paint a swath of coffee onto your map.  Follow that with a dip into the fresh water, just to dilute it a bit.  Paint at random, and allow some puddling.

Travel Document Holder 6

Now, while that area is still wet, sprinkle a few grains of salt into the wet areas.  The salt will help to dry up the puddles.

Travel Document Holder 7

Continue this way, randomly swiping your paintbrush wherever you like, sprinkling salt as you go, until you’ve got something you like.  Leave that to dry overnight.

Travel Document Holder 9

Now brush off all the particles of salt.  You may find that it’s crystallized in the darker spots, and you can brush that away as well if you use a stiff brush.  Or you can keep it that way, it’s up to you. I think the little perfect squares of salt look kind of neat, but they won’t adhere well to my contact paper so I gotta get rid of them.

Travel Document Holder 11

Travel Document Holder 13

Now we’re going to measure out our pieces.  A pencil and a ruler might help, obviously.  I have a plan as to how this is going to happen.  When I make plans for stuff I usually construct a mockup on scrap paper, writing in all the measurements and such, and notes as to where I’m putting what.

Travel Document Holder 14

On the inside we have a passport pocket, a notepad, and a wee pouch for small things that folds over itself to keep everything in place.

Travel Document Holder 15

On the other side of that pocket are a series of slots for odds and ends.

Travel Document Holder 16

So now we’re ready for cutting. I used my rotary cutter and cutting mat for this but you can use scissors or whatever works for you. Cut two pieces out of the map that are 18″ x 9 1/2″ (or whatever works for you).  These are the inside and outside of the document holder, and will be folded in half.  Remember that one end folds over itself and fastens with velcro. That fold-over flap is 3″, making the folder 7 1/2″ wide by 9 1/2″ tall, the perfect size to slip into a laptop or even a netbook or tablet sleeve.

Travel Document Holder 18

This is the two pieces folded together. You may need to trim the inside piece a bit to get the edges to match up, simply due to the bulk of the mapping paper.

Travel Document Holder 19

Here is the piece I cut out for the inside pocket. It is 8 1/2″ tall and 16″ wide. Then I folded it in half with the map facing outwards and folded in the open edges by one inch, and then over itself again by another inch. That double fold will ensure that the contents of the pocket won’t slide out.

Travel Document Holder 20

So the folded pocket is 8 1/2″ tall and 6″ wide, a good fit for the inside of the folder.

Travel Document Holder 21

On the inside left cover we are going to have a space to store a passport, as well as a stash of scrap note paper for writing things down.

Travel Document Holder 22

I cut the scrap paper to be all the same size and a proportional fit for the folder, 3″ x 5″.  A passport is 3 1/2″ x 5″, so the lengths matched.

Travel Document Holder 23

Originally, I was going to construct all these slots and pockets by cutting slits in the structure of the folder cover and inserting paper pockets inside. But then I changed my mind. I decided it would cut down on bulk, streamline and strengthen the design, and make things easier to see if I used the contact paper itself to make the pockets I needed. Then the clear nature of the plastic would mean you could see your stuff, as well as the details of the map underneath it. It makes things a little trickier to put together but I think the end result is less bulky and complicated.

Now for the contact paper.  This is the stuff they use to cover shelves and things.  You can pick it up at any hardware store.  Because I don’t have a car and Newfoundlanders don’t like their contact paper to be clear, I had to get mine online.  But it’s a common thing.

First we do the inside cover.  Cut a piece of contact paper the exact size of the inside cover (18″ x 9 1/2″).  Before you take off the adhesive backing, we’re going to plan out where all our slots go and how we’re going to put them together.  Please note here that I totally planned out my design backwards, and in the end had to change the way that the document folder opened.  So make sure you remember that the design you put on your contact paper will be reversed when you stick it down onto the map.

Travel Document Holder

For the inside left cover, with the note pages and the passport, …

Travel Document Holder

For the inside right cover, with the slots for receipts and such, we’re going to do more or less the same thing, except these slots are going to overlap, so sticking things gets a little complicated …

Travel Document Holder

So then I cut slashes in the contact paper where I wanted documents to stick through.

Travel Document Holder

Then I carefully cut through just the backing paper to peel away areas I wanted exposed.

Travel Document Holder

Then I cut another piece of contact paper to fit on that exposed piece.

Travel Document Holder

And stuck it down.

Travel Document Holder

Now that’s going to form the basis of your pocket. But we need another piece of contact paper on the inside, to go against the map. So I cut out a bit more of the contact backing sheet, then cut a larger piece of contact paper and placed it, sticky side up, on top of that, so when I laid it all out it would adhere to the map.

Travel Document Holder

The slots were a bit trickier, because I had to go through the same process as for the above pockets, but I also had to remember that they overlapped, which meant I had to start with the bottom one first.

Travel Document Holder

It took a while. You can’t really see all the individual layers here, but just know that it’s four separate pockets.

Travel Document Holder

Then I oh-so-carefully stuck it down on the inside cover. You can see it here, with pieces of paper in the little slots, to show you how it goes. And yes, it’s totally backwards.

Travel Document Holder

Onward.  Let’s put together the inside pouch.

Cut the contact paper to be  8 3/4″ wide and  18″ long.  The extra 1/8″ on the width will leave the contact paper adhering to itself.  The extra 1″ on either side will fold over the top edges of the pouch, protecting them.

Travel Document Holder

Carefully adhere the contact paper to the pouch, making sure the edges line up and fold down the ends over the opening to protect the paper inside.

Travel Document Holder

I used red embroidery floss, which I waxed, to sew up the outside edges of the pouch.  I liked the colour contrast with the blue of the water.

Travel Document Holder

I cut some squares out of adhesive velcro and stuck them to the second fold of the pouch so it would stay closed.

Travel Document Holder

Travel Document Holder

Then I sewed the pouch onto the inside of the cover.  You could leave this until last, but I didn’t want my stitches to show on the outside.

Travel Document Holder

Travel Document Holder

That means that our next step is to stick the two cover pieces together. You don’t really need glue, or a lot of it, just something to stick them together so they’re not sliding all over the place while you’re applying contact paper to the whole thing.  I used a few pieces of double-sided tape, to avoid wrinkles.  The thing is wrinkly enough.

Travel Document Holder

Cut the outside contact sheet larger on all sides by 1/2″ (so, 19″ x 10 1/2″). Lay the cover piece in the centre of the contact sheet. Mitre and trim the corners as you fold it over to protect the edges.  My original plan was to border the edges with bias binding and sew it all around but I changed my mind.  I like the clear fold-over of the contact paper better. Then you just have to stick on some more velcro pieces to keep the folder closed and you’re all set.

Travel Document Holder

Travel Document Holder

Fat Quarter Napkins

Happy Birthday Rusty!

[In case you ever marvelled at my magic efficiency, please note that I started this particular project on Labour Day Weekend and didn’t finish it until the 12th of December.  If that makes you feel better.]

I love fabric.  I am the worst sew-er in the world, but I seem to adopted a love of pretty cloth from my mother.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  To assuage my inability to live without fabric and to compensate for the utter lack of storage space I have for it, I buy fat quarters.  These are squares of quilting fabric (usually cotton).

Fat Quarter Napkins

So a metric fat quarter is 50cm square, or 20″ x 20″.  But an American fat quarter (and alas, most of these are), is based on another archaic system and so the pieces are either 18″ x 22″ or 18″ x 21″.  And it’s all approximate anyway.  I’m not really sure of the logic there.  Something to do with yards and standard widths and blah blah blah.

Fat Quarter Napkins

You can also get colour-coordinated fat quarters (usually in packages of four or five).  The nice thing about these is they all go together, so you can hand someone a set of napkins, but they’re all different enough that people can tell theirs apart when they want to re-use them.

Fat Quarter Napkins

A handy home-made napkin ring will also help to differentiate.  The Pie made all of these himself by bending spoons with a set of pliers.  We then sprayed them with a metallic copper paint.

Spray-Painting Indoors

You can also use fabric remnants as well.  You can pick them up for a dollar or two in a fabric store, or use the scraps from another project of yours.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Speaking of fabric remnants, I picked this one up at Jo-Ann last year and didn’t unwrap it until now.  I chose it because turquoise and teal are my favourite colours, and I thought the design on this was pretty.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then I unwrapped it.  WOW.  Talk about a hidden gem!  This will NOT be going into a napkin.  I gotta think on what to do with this one.  Suggestions are welcome.  Just barely not enough to make a skirt, if that gives you an idea of the size.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Anyway, back to the napkins.  First thing you need to do is wash and dry your fabric.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Don’t be alarmed — they will fray.  Oh mercy did these ones ever fray.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And then this one has a slash in it.  I will have to come up with an artful patch of some kind.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you have to iron them.  I hate ironing.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then comes the actual napkin-making.  It involves hemming and sewing in straight lines and nice edges and stuff and MORE ironing.  None of which I’m particularly good at.  But Maia from Glass Beach has a fantastic and clear tutorial on hemming napkins here that you should check out.  It’s brilliant in its simplicity.  I will try to re-create her instructions as best as I can, but hers are better.

First I used a rotary cutter and a ruler to trim all the squares so that I had right angles.  They don’t necessarily all need to be the same size as their partners (unless you’re making napkins for the Queen or something), but right angles make things a lot easier to deal with.

Fat Quarter Napkins

I highly recommend using a rotary cutter and mat for this job.  It’s very hard to get straight lines with scissors alone, and it’s easier on your hands.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Gren helped by sitting on the fabric as I was trying to cut it and making off with the scraps once I cut them loose.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Save the scraps to stuff a toy later on.  Or do something else with them.  I made mine into a placemat, which you will see on Friday.

Then I gave myself a 1″ seam allowance and traced that with a fabric marker.  Actually I couldn’t get to the fabric store and so used a Crayola washable marker.  It washes out just as well, if not better, than a fabric marker.  Guaranteed.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you cut 1/2″ tips off all the corners.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Fold the edge of the fabric so the cut line matches up with that line you drew and iron it to create a flat edge.

Fat Quarter Napkins

To get a nice mitred corner, unfold one of those new flaps at the corner.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Fold the other flap over itself, along that marked line.  This seals in your raw edge and prevents fraying.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Now take the corner bit and fold it down so the edge of the folded part lines up with the drawn line on the side with the unfolded flap.  If you have big fingers or are in general not the most dexterous, you could use an awl or a seam ripper to hold things in place for you, like I did in this photo.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you can fold down the unfolded part again, and then fold it over itself again to seal in the raw edge. You can either iron these new edges flat, or simply pin them.  Either way, I’d add a pin or two in the corners just to hold everything in place.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And look at that — it looks like you know what you’re doing!

Fat Quarter Napkins

Now all you have to do is sew that down, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to keep your thread from unraveling.  Use an awl or seam ripper to hold the corners in place while you’re sewing them down, too.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And what a pretty napkin you’ve come up with. They look nice with these copper-sprayed spoon napkin rings, don’t they?

Fat Quarter Napkins

Tie them up in a nice little bundle and give them all away!

Fat Quarter Napkins

Let there be LIGHT!

Light BOX

Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.

You know what?  Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening.  And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.

The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent.  Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product.  It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.

Light BOX

It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.

Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy.  And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it.  Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.

Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour.  And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.

Light BOX

Here’s what you need:

A large and sturdy cardboard box.  These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.

Light BOX

Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box.  Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric).  Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show.  Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things.  White or coloured Bristol board, for your background.   You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.

Light BOX

At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps.  I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base.  I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box.  It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.

As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps.  I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms).  I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10.  Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.

Light BOX

Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using.  You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.

Light BOX

The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined.  You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.

Light BOX

I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however.  But only a little bit.  It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.

Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent.  Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me.  The dabblers of the earth.  I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think?  My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same.  Box.  White stuff.  Light.  Done.

So you take your box.  Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.

Light BOX

Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones.  The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Light BOX

Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.

Light BOX

Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely.  Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white.  White’s a nice reflector.

Light BOX

Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.

Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out.  This will be your photographic surface.  The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.

Light BOX

Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on.  Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth.  You wouldn’t want to start a fire.  You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.

Tada, your very own light box!

Light BOX

Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day.  The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October.  Lovely.

Light BOX

Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.

Light BOX

And again, in my brand new light box!  I think we can all agree there’s a difference!

Light BOX

Other Light Box/Tent Projects:

http://jyoseph.com/blog/diy-light-box-for-product-photography

http://reverb.madstatic.com/blog/2006/04/01/make-a-photo-light-box-light-tent-cheap/

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent