Friday, September 25, 2009

Sew Frugal--Having a sewing machine on hand can save big bucks! Tips to Buying a Cheap Used Sewing Machine.

A sewing machine is quietly reappearing in American homes as frugal folks try to stretch more use out of their clothing as well as tackle craft projects rather than forking out more money for home decor. New machines cost $150 or more and may be more of an investment than you are willing to make on an item you will need to learn to use. One alternative is to find a serviceable used machine. Used sewing machines seem to be everywhere but getting one that will actually work may be a little tougher. I recently replaced my 2005 EuroPro machine with a 1965 Brother Sewing Machine and as far as these machines go, I couldn't be happier!

First of all decide what you would like to be able to do.

Making repairs or altering clothing, or making simple home items like curtains really only requires a "zig-zag" sewing machine. These have been available since around the time of Moses and are the most common used machine available. Machines built prior to 1980 =/- are usually less complicated and tougher. This is what prompted me to replace my new machine with an older one. 3 layers of denim brought my EuroPro to a permanent stand-still, but my 1965 Brother will sew right through the seam on a pair of jeans with ease. On the other hand, the Brother absolutely hates fleece and sheer materials--the thread gets all bunched up and makes a nasty mess but the EuroPro had no problem with those materials(before I tried to use it on the denim--it doesn't sew at all now.)

Making clothing or baby clothes from scratch is possible on a "zig-zag" machine but the additional "free arm" option will make it much easier to get cloth in the right position under the needle. A "free arm" machine has a narrow base under the needle to accommodate sewing around a sleeve. Machines without this feature are called "flat bed" sewing machines. In general, flat-bed machines will be tougher, but free arm machines will be more versatile.

Another type of machine that is a time saver for making clothing is a serger. There are not many of these in the used market but they can be found used at reasonable prices at a Sewing and Vacuum Store or by watching craigslist or similar "for-sale" ads. These machines are much more complicated than 2 thread machines. Either buy one through a shop or make sure it is in perfect working order before you buy it--do not be afraid to ask the seller to show that it is working.

What to look for when buying a used sewing machine:

Mileage doesn't matter much on a sewing machine but respect and care matter a lot. When you look at a used sewing machine look for signs that it has been taken care of. Surface dirt is not a big deal but any signs of rust is a deal breaker. Open the side cover and look at the needle arm--there should be no rust any where.

Turn the hand wheel on the right side. It should move smoothly. If it feels rough or clicks at all as it turns, forget that machine.

Look at what is included with the machine: there should be at least 1 box of accessories and a users manual. Individual presser feet, light bulbs, a tiny bottle of oil, 2 screw drivers, and other parts should be in the box. Owners who take care of their machines with keep this stuff with the machine and it is a good sign that the machine has been taken care of. Be wary of buying a machine that is missing the accessories--plus the spare feet to make button holes and to turn a nice hem are expensive--$5-$50 each--not having them is going to get costly when you need them.

Plug in the machine and turn it on. The light should work--if not, be cautious. I have never had a light burn out, usually the only way to damage one is by dropping the machine.

Try out the power foot pedal--if the machine responds smoothly and has met the other criteria, it is probably going to be a good machine.

To give an idea of how cheaply you can buy a servicable machine: I bought my Brother in a cabinet, with 2 boxes of original accessories and a dozen extra bobbins for $15.00.

Advice to people who may be new to sewing:

Read the book. Take your time. Oil the machine according to the guide in the book. Try a couple of little projects(potholders are a good start!)

Find your local Sewing Machine Service Center and get your machine tuned up if needed. Every fabric & crafts store will be able to tell you who fixes and maintains sewing machines in your area.

Is it worth it to use a sewing machine? Generally, yes.

Hem pants at home or pay $8.00 to have it done.

Sew diapers at home for a buck or two each or buy premade cloth diapers for up to $20 each.

Make a potholder for $0 or buy a new one for $5.

Once you get used to having a sewing machine around, you really won't know how you got by without one.

BTW, if you ever have to give a wedding gift or shower gift, a sewing machine will knock their socks off!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frugal Halloween Costumes Start With Sweats & Tees!

There are many commercial costumes available at the local stores, however between the cost, and lack of imagination, and the fact you end up with a half dozen kids all looking the same at a party. Nothing beats homemade. Below is some basic ideas for you to play with. All are cheap, easy, and allow for tons of imagination.

Frugal Plan Ahead TIP: Use new or old sweat clothes or tee shirts with contact paper decorations Plain white contact paper can be decorated to the theme or use colored contact paper.
After the event, peel off the contact paper. No Mess and No Damage.

Price Is Right Contestant: Paste some white numbers to a rectangle of green cardboard and add a strap to hang it around your neck. Add a paper name tag and act really excited to be playing!

Alvin(of the Chipmunks): Pin a big yellow "A" to the front of a huge red sweatshirt. Add a red baseball cap and sing loud and bad!

Star Trek Red-Shirt Guy: Use a red sweat shirt with black tape to make the classic designs. A little foil and a safety pin for a communicator badge and be sure to disappear from the action after the first scene!

The old stand by a Ghost: Grab a old white sheet, cut out the eyes. Be sure its is short enough not to trip you. Take scrap piece of sheet, and sew up a simple treat bag.

Why be the same old plain ghost? A ghost going out in public might like to get dressed up a little. Use the same old white sheet, cut out holes for the eyes and a small slit for the mouth. Then dress it up a little. Put eye shadow and lashes around the eyes. Lipstick for the mouth. Put a little color on the cheeks. How about earrings and a necklace ? You could color in a beard or mustache. Use something besides just a white sheet to be a little more fancy

Clown: Sweat clothes that are too large. Decorate by using either fabric paint, or markers or use contact paper for colors that are removable. For those who dare try tie-die. Tack on some large pop-poms, add a cheap wig, hat, and make-up. You may also stuff the extra space in clothing with tissue. However this could be messy, if you need to make a "pit-stop".

Scarecrow: Over sized flannel shirt, faded blue jeans with patches, rope for belt and to tie at the cuffs of his jeans and sleeves, stuff the shirt and jeans with plastic grocery, or paper, a little bit of straw (or shredded brown plastic bags) to hang out of jeans and shirt. Add a little bit of make-up.

The American tourist: Guys loud Hawaii shirt, shorts (if weather permits), Large straw hat. Gals bright loud dress, flats, big sun hat, straw bag. Don't forget to have a camera, and maps hanging out, and that look of being lost. Guys can use a tourist bag, (like you get from travel agents, and gals can use the straw bag for their treats.

1960s Hippy: This one is hard, after all its all back in style! What is real, and what is costume? ;-) Tie die clothing, long wig (in the old days we called a "fall", sandals, headband, anything with fringe on it (vests, purse...) light colored sun glasses. Add an overwhellming amount of patchuly oil or sandlewood oil, if you dare!

Old man: Dark pants (cuffed), and jacket, most any dress shirt, man's flannel hat, walking cane. Gray the hair, with any of the commercial temporary colors, or dust with a little flour.

Old woman: Old style dress, just below knee, knee-hi stockings rolled down a little, oxfords, large black purse.

Your chance to be a real nerd. Slick back the hair, grab some pants that are too short, white shirt, white socks, penny loafers, or lace up oxfords, pocket protector, with lots of pens, dark rim glasses (don't forget to tape the corner, or at least paper clip it) briefcase, or backpack for treat bag.

Japanese Doll: My daughter won with this costume! Her face was painted white, she had red rosy cheeks all shaped in a circle, Hair in buns, thong slippers, and a kimono(chinese dress)

Miss. America: Use a old bridesmaid dress of formal, add a pair of gloves, a tiara, some oversized jewelry, and heals. For the banner, a piece of wide ribbon, and write "Miss. America" in glitter.

Soda pop can: Use a round barrel, cut a hole in the bottom. You cut holes for arms and your head. Paint it the colors of a pop can. Presto! You have a pop can!!!

Static Cling: Wear anything a solid color is good all white or all black. With safety
pins pin anything to yourself i:e: socks, underware, bounce sheets, etc. You can also spray your hair straight up in the air. From: Maria

1950’s “Sock-Hopper”: It’s quite simple, just a round skirt, a white short-sleeved shirt, and some saddle shoes. (If you don’t have saddle shoes, plain buckle shoes are fine.) You could add some cat-eye glasses if you want. Tie their hair in a ponytail, and wrap a scarf around it.

Mummy: Wrap yourself in white bandages (rolls of gauze) Use splotches of green paint for "mold". Use white make-up on face with "age lines" drawn on. The stiff-legged gait works perfectly. Quasimodo the Hunchback of Notre Dame: Build the "hunchback" out of foam or cardboard. Find an old coat several sizes too large to accomodate this. Old, ratty clothes are great! Wear a snaggly wig and keep putting hand up to ear and muttering "eh?".

Pirate: Form a fake wooden leg by wrapping one leg in brown felt. Wear sailor pants or jeans with a striped top. Tie a bandana around your head, wear an eye patch, carry an empty bottle marked XXX (for the "rum") and mutter "aargh" a lot. Ask for "Trick or treat, matey!"

Crash test dummy - After! There is a commercial costume for this, but a good one can be made with sweats and tape to make the markings on it like the crash test dummies. Use bandages and fake blood to decorate. Fashion a seat belt out of webbing and an old buckle and pin in place. (or go to a junk yard as ask for an old seatbelt).

Train Engineer: A pair of blue jeans, a blue Jean jacket, a red and black bandana. a blue and white engineer hat, a whistle, and play lantern

Mother Nature: Silk flowers and silk plant leaves in a variety of shapes and colours an old skirt and vest, a face mask, twigs (collected from your nearby park or in your own backyard) to make a nest, a foam bird that you can find at any craft store, glue gun and wire or pins. Decorate the vest & skirt with the silk leaves in a random pattern and glue into place. Decorate the skirt with flowers growing out from the leaves already put in place. Use the remaining leaves and small flowers to decorate the face mask. Gather your twigs and secure with wire to make a nest. Place your bird on the twigs and secure into place with the wire. You can add some leaves and peat moss as a filler. The child can wear a dark colored turtleneck and leggings under the vest and skirt for the evening walk to get treats.

Skunk: Black sweats with a white strip of tape or contact paper down the back.. be careful everyone may run!

Bunny: Pink, brown, or white sweats, add a powder puff or large pom-pom to the backside, and a set of ears make from construction paper and a plastic headband. Now just hop on out and enjoy.

Turtle: Green with a piece of poster board attached to the back. Simple cut the poster board into a large oval, make random marks like a turtle shell, and paint.

Puppy: Brown, tan or white, either paint, or pin paper spots on. Make floppy ears and bobby pin to hair over your ears. The tale can be most anything, depending on what type of doggie you wish to be. Add a little make-up.

Kitten: Gold, brown, tan, white. Make ears from construction paper, attach to head band or bobby pin in to hair. Sew a simple round tale, and pin on.

Spider: Black, For the legs grab some cheap black hose, stuff with any thing dark and light weight. Either sew, or staple to keep stuffing from falling out. Pin to clothing, add a little make-up

Lady Bug: Use a pair of black sweats and black sweat shirt (and a pair of black shoes). Use a large piece of poster board or cardboard and cut out a large oval. Paint it red with black dots. Staple black elastic pieces (in a loop) onto the board to make arm holes. For the antenna attatch craft pipe cleaners with black pom poms on the ends to a headband.

Snowman: Use white sweats and pompoms for the coal. Add some makeup and a top hat. Use orange construction paper to make a carrot cone for a nose-just roll up the paper, trim and staple on some elastic to hold it in place. Don't forget the scarf!

Cereal Killer: Attach little cereal boxes to a shirt, cut a slit in the boxes, glue in plastic knives into the holes, drip red paint running down from the knife hole in the box.

Black Eye Pea: When I was younger, a teacher from my elementary school dressed up as a "black eyed pea" and it was so cute, my mother dressed me up the same way the next year. It is simple and cheap. Wearing all white, with black tennis shoes, I cut out the letter 'P' from black construction paper and pinned the P's all over the white outfit. I painted a black spot over one eye ("black eye" ... get it? :) hee hee) and I was a "black-eyed 'P' "

Butterfly: Put on black sweats and black shoes. Use a piece of poster board and paint wanted color cut them out in an appropriate wing shape. punch two holes toward the edges of the wings. put black ribbon through them and tie around waist. attach pipe cleaners and pompoms to a plastic head band.

Rubics cube: Using a large card board box and five different colors of contact paper or construction paper (contact paper is easier to stick on) enough to do 5 sides, black pants and long sleeve shirt. this was done very inexpensively and we had a lot of fun with it.

Dice: Grab a friend and take 2 cardboard boxes, paint them white. Cut out several black circles (From construction paper) and glue them in the appropriate places to make you and your friend a pair of dice!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time to get ready for Winter!

Whether we like it or not, Winter is on the way here in Seattle, which means cool temperatures and wet conditions.

Some things we are doing to get ready:

Wrapping the Hot Water Tank--even though ours is in an enclosed laundry room, we can still save a little by wrapping it up.

Trading out the summer/winter clothes. Make sure everything is clean before packing it up, and get rid of the stuff that is worn out so you don't have to deal with it again in the spring.

I do a lot of knitting and quilting in the winter(Keeps your lap and legs warm!) so anything that is worn out will get added to the scrap bag. Even stained clothes make great rugs when cut into strips.

I am also making Snuggies for the whole family this year. Yes, they are silly and the commercials for these things are ridiculous but the concept is pretty smart. I have a few old fleece blankets so I plan to make these pretty much for free. The Pattern is very easy too!

We installed a Programmable Thermostat last fall and I dug out the paperwork and re-programmed it 2 degrees cooler than it was last year. We are also putting up Window Quilts this year to cut down on the drafts. We have a 6 room apartment but we only heat the living room and bathroom, so I hang drapes in the doorways to keep the heat where we want it. The other rooms are kept at 55 degrees.

We have hardwood floors, so I am also pulling the rugs out of storage. We only use them in the late fall and winter and they are all washable. When the weather turns nice in the spring, they all get washed, and line dried before returning them to storage. My rugs are nearly all handmade--done in past winters out of scraps and rags--it is amazing how many memories are sewn into these simple floor coverings; cotton onesies that were outgrown and worn out, tee shirts from places and events I attended, my college sweatshirt, the shredded seat covers from my first car--sheesh! One comment I will make about rag rugs made on a loom like many of mine are--skip the crappy cotton warp thread--string technology has come a long way since our ancestors started making rag rugs! I use Nylon Twine for my rugs. This product is meant for salt water fishing net and will last longer than the cloth rags! One $10 roll is enough twine to make a rag rug 4 feet wide and 43 feet long--do not skimp in the basics or you will be sorry!

Check and re-check the Emergency Supplies. I have used up most of the Emergency Food I stored last fall(Rotated to keep it fresh) and now it's time to re-stock. I put 48 meals worth of easy food and 10 gallons of water all in one place with flashlights, candles, matches, and all the other supplies we might need if the power is off for more than a day. I have 2 portable gas stoves that I use for Canning Classes, so I only needed to buy a 4 pack of fuel this year. Note on these types of butane stoves---if you buy one, fire it up when you get home-let it burn for at least 20 minutes and shut it off. Check the fuel can--it should be ice cold. If the can is warm AT ALL--take the stove back and buy a different brand. Keep testing until you find one that keeps the fuel ICE COLD. Many cheap knock-offs are on the market and the results can be devastating when the fuel container overheats.(Graphic Pictures!)

Hot chocolate and Spiced Tea are very popular in our house when the weather is chilly so I make up big batches of homemade mixes to keep these treats easy and frugal.

I will add more tips, for getting ready for Winter, soon!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Frugal Hand Sanitizer!

Alcohol deemed effective for hand sanitizing.
The CDC and many other Government Agencies are recommending alcohol based hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of the Flu virus. Most hand sanitizers kill bacteria, but only concentrations of
60% or more alcohol kills viruses.

Anyone who has purchased these products(if you can even find them!) know they are expensive! Like many other products, most of the cost is for advertising, bottling and shipping.

Purell $4.49/8 ounces 56 cents/ounce

Germ-X $4.49/8 ounces 56 cents per ounce

Germ-X pocket size $2.29/2.5 ounces 91 cents per ounce

Since those extra costs are not going to get your hands cleaner--skip them and make your own Sanitizing Hand Cleaner--refill the old bottles and save some big bucks!

These products all have the base ingredient: denatured or "rubbing" alcohol. The formula for this type of alcohol is dictated by the Federal Government so every source of this type of alcohol is the same--buy the cheapest you can find!

So far, the cheapest source I have found for denatured alcohol is at the hardware store in the paint thinner department. My local Lowe's Hardware has it for $6.69 per quart or $15.28 per gallon and it is 90% alcohol(with exactly the same methanol and acetone added as you would find in the pharmacy as "rubbing alcohol" except that rubbing alcohol is typically 70% alcohol and has water added to bring it down to that concentration.

Inexpensive Alcohol Based Sanitizer
makes 12 oz.@ 63.25% alcohol for about 8-13 cents per ounce.

1/2 cup cool water
1 cup denatured alcohol (90%) Available at hardware stores as a paint stripper.
10 drops fragrance oil - optional
1 drop food coloring - optional
Vitamin E oil, green tea extract, tea tree oil, etc. - optional.

Combine ingredients and stir. Store in a spray pump bottle. Will last indefinitely.

Household Bleach is the Best Virus Killer
Store-brand chlorine bleach can be used as a disinfectant by mixing 1/4-cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of cool water. --Ratio of 1:64 . Bleach has been found to be the best civilian sanitizer and is a very common base for antibiotic cleaners in Third World Countries because it is very, very cheap. To extrapolate this into a homemade hand sanitizer we can start with a bottle of inexpensive hand lotion and add bleach to it.

Bleach Based Hand Sanitizer

Dump the contents of a bottle of hand lotion into a mixing bowl, add bleach, mix well and return to the bottle. Be sure to mark the bottle "With Bleach Added: 1:64"

Bottle size
--------- Amount of Bleach to Add
8 ounce
--------------3/4 Teaspoon
16 ounce
------------1/4 ounce (1 1/2 Teaspoon)
32 ounce
------------1/2 ounce (1 Tablespoons)

Extra benefit: This small amount of bleach will leave your hands very clean and make your nails super white!

Some people are pretty allergic to chlorine bleach and they should go with the alcohol based sanitizer instead, but for sheer virus killing properties, bleach is always the best product for the job.