{DIY} Meet an FOF who makes her own clothes

There are “strokes of genius” and then there are “stitches of genius.” Karen Oliver has the latter. This FOF sews and crafts nearly her entire wardrobe, hundreds of gorgeous garments and jewelry that look like a million bucks but sometimes end up costing as little as $14 dollars.

Karen taught herself to sew at the age of 13. “I wanted nice clothes, but my parents didn’t have a lot of money to buy them for me,” says Karen. “The beauty of sewing is you can say, ‘I want that skirt in that green,’ and chances are you’ll be able to make what you’re thinking about.”

Once a week, Karen hits up her favorite fabric and bead stores in the Garment District, including Mood Designer Fabrics and M&J Trimming. (One time, she scored a yard of luxe Loro Piana cashmere for just $19 dollars!)  Sometimes she goes to buy fabric with an idea in mind, other times it’s not until she sees a fabric that the inspiration takes place. “My philosophy is, ‘how hard can it be’?'” says Karen.

Nearly every evening, Karen takes out her portable Bernina sewing machine and gets to work on the dining room table of her 1000 square-foot apartment. Sometimes she sews or beads through the wee hours of the night. One time, she stayed up the entire evening helping her friend, an editor at People magazine, sew something to wear for a gala. “The mark of loving something is you’re never tired while doing it,” says Karen. “I’m never tired when I’m creating.”

Take a look at Karen’s hand-crafted outfits below. Do you have a favorite?

Skirt,  jacket and belt: Made by Karen in a french silk faille from B&J Fabrics.
Blouse: Milly from Bloomingdales.”I would have made it myself but I ran out of time.”
Earrings: “They’re from a little shop in Paris. I’ve had them for 35 years.”
Necklace: “It’s vintage. My mother got it at an antique shop in Carmel, California.


Tunic and wrap: Made by Karen. “The tunic cost me $14 to make and took about 3 hours.”
Choker: “I bought it in Cannes.”
Necklace (middle): “I got it in Mexico.”
Chain-link necklace: Made by Karen
Greek-key belt: Made by Karen


Vest: Made by Karen with French-lace detailing
Made by Karen in cashmere. “I make this same skirt in every color. It fits just right.”
Blouse: Yves Saint Laurent
Necklaces: Vintage Chanel. “Yeah, I have Chanel pieces. But, I do them with my own twist.”


Coat: Made by Karen. “It’s a knock off of a coat I found from Zara.
Yves Saint Laurent
Skirt: Made by Karen. “It’s the same skirt [as in outfit 3 above], just in a different fabric.”
Scarf: Hermès

{Read the entire interview with Karen, here}

{DIY} High-Design DIY

For many, “crafting” conjures images of kitten sweaters, macrame plant holders and cross-stitch samplers. But a new generation of DIY-ers has created an online crafting Renaissance, of sorts, with sophisticated, high-design patterns and projects. Why check your style at the knitting-store door?  You don’t have to…. Here, our FOF knitting & sewing gurus recommend the websites that will inspire you to make something FOFantastic.

1. Deborah Purtell Coaster Squares. FOF Deborah Purtell designs delightfully preppy needlepoint canvases for beach totes, belts, glasses cases and more. Your family will be shocked when you DIY your own Lilly Pulitzer look-alikes.

2. Hazelwood by Robin Melanson Pattern and Budding Apple Shawl, (9). This nifty nautical sweater looks like J.Crew’s fall favorite but it’s actually a knitting pattern from Twist Collective, a carefully curated online magazine created in partnership with top knit designers and photographers. –Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

3 Purl Soho Color Change Scarf & (7) Purl Soho Pillow Purlsoho.com is the web home of Purl shop, a crafting mecca in Manhattan launched by two former Martha Stewart editors. The site is a beautifully organized archive of knitting, sewing and needlework ideas inspired by vintage clothing, folk art, modern art, Asian art, and of course, Martha.

4. Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Back, Henri Matisse, $8. Put down that “Home Sweet Home” cross-stitch sampler, and take a tip from FOF Guru Corky. “I love counted cross stitch, but most kits are mawkish. The Art of Stitching offers something totally different: fine art transferred onto cross-stitch canvass. The level of craftsmanship needed to create many of these masterpieces is very high. The results from some of the stitchers rival the finest Renaissance tapestries and anyone would be proud to display these works in their homes.”

5. Loom Knitting Bangles, free pattern. “I enjoy the work of Purling Sprite…a blog that includes lots of info on loom knitting (one of my passions!)” says FOF guru Dmhsny.

6. Penguin & Fish blog is a site filled with wonderfully quirky needlepoint canvasses designed by children’s book illustrator Alyson Thomas. Don’t miss her children’s alphabet series.

8. Brighton Bag from Knitty.com, FOF Amy Singer launched Knitty.com over ten years ago to showcase the gorgeous knit designs of amateur crafters across the country. As curator, Amy offers a discerning eye–and lots of fab free patterns. —Recommended by FOF Guru Diannerj

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{Giveaway} Custom photo mementos from Pinhole Press

FOF is giving away 3 bundles of custom photo mementos from Pinhole Press. Each bundle includes a brag book, 50 customizable stationery cards and 9 wine bottle labels. To enter, answer in the comments below: Do you keep a photo in your wallet? Who is it of?

Thank you for entering. This contest is now closed.

Have digital cameras killed the old-school photo album? Not according to Pinhole Press, a company that makes simple, elegant photo mementos from your digital prints. They’re easy to create — you just upload your favorite photos (grandchildren, daughter or son’s wedding, anniversary) and choose from dozens of gorgeous products– like framed prints, wine labels and notebooks. Our friends at Pinhole are giving 3 lucky FOFs the chance to win a bundle of their bestsellers!

Enter to win a trio of custom photo mementos from Pinhole Press. 3 FOFs will win. To enter, answer in the comments below: Do you keep a photo in your wallet? Who is it of?

(See all our past winners. See official rules. One winner is chosen at random from all those commenters who answer the question. Contest closes June 23, 2011.)

{DIY} A Genius Flower-Arranging Trick to Use All Summer

FOF editors couldn’t stop talking about this brilliantly simple trick taught by Mike Gaffney, a master florist and owner of 8 flower arranging schools across the country. “Making a beautiful bouquet is not about being a creative genius. It’s about knowing some simple rules,” he explained.

Did your hubby forget to pick up a housewarming gift for the neighbors? Daughter getting married on a budget? Turn ho-hum garden geraniums or grocery store tulips into a beautiful bouquet in a flash. Just, watch this video:

{Art} Meet 6 FOF artisans

6 FOFs turned these crafts into cash. Read how below!

1. Deborah Purtell

Deborah Purtell Designs
Age 62
Portsmith, New Hampshire

“I make needlepoint bags, apparel and housewares, as well as patterns for people to create their own. I’ve been designing them for years.  My son went to Bucknell University and I did a needlepoint belt for him. Other people started asking for them and it blew up. I create the needlepoint designs on the computer and when I’m satisfied, I print it out and paint it by hand on a graph-like canvas. I sell on my website and five needlepoint shops on the East Coast. It keeps me busy, especially the past year since I put up a website. People have really started to find me.”

2. Jeanne Scannell

Urban Wraps
Age 58
Newburg, Pennsylvania

“I’ve been making clothing since I was 12 and selling it at ‘hippie happenings’ and crafts festivals. I started getting serious in the 70s. I sold at the very first National Crafts Show in 1974. I was selling wraps two and a half years ago at the Lyndhurst Crafts Fair in New Jersey, and a very sophisticated European women came to my booth and said ‘I like what you’re doing but I want you to do it differently.’ Normally I don’t listen–I’m not in this business to please everyone–but she intrigued me. I made one the way she suggested, watched her put it on and my jaw dropped. I thought ‘Everyone is going to want one of these.’ I’ve sold thousands. I sew them from fabric remnants I get from the big NYC cutting rooms. Sometimes they are pieces left from Armani, Chanel or Loro Piana showrooms.”

3. Mary “Mare” Lavan

Just Mare
Age 57
Pine, Arizona

“I was in I.T. for Intel for over twenty years, and then I took an early retirement about four years ago and moved to Pine, Arizona, a tiny town in the mountains. I always wanted to find my inner artist but never knew I’d find it in my backyard–literally! My neighbors were potters and gave me lessons. I finally got up the nerve to list one of my items on Etsy in October of 2007 and, ohmigod, it sold! I also do some local shows, sell on my own website and on Artfire.com. I’ve sold about 600 pieces of pottery. It’s my first creative venture. I get inspired by nature; I incorporate twigs and things I find on my walks.”

4. Debbie Lippens

Lippens Design
Age 54
Orlando, Florida

“I used to work in the trade show business and visited Vegas a few times per year. On a trip there in 2007, I visited a junkyard called The Boneyard which has old casino signs from the 70s. I’ve always loved typography and photography – so I began taking pictures of some of the letters. I spelled out my daughter’s name, “Ainsley.” I was ready to leave but found out it would be thirty minutes before a cab came, so I began snapping photographs of every letter I could find. It ended up being almost the entire alphabet.  At the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with them. That holiday season, I made all my nieces and nephews (I have more than 20!) their own name signs. Other people started asking for them and I started to sell them through Etsy, local farmers markets and an artist co-op called Artistree. I’ve done affirmations like “Carpe Diem”  and “Peace,” first names for children’s rooms or last names for wedding gifts.”

5. Susan Morgan Hoth

Morgan Silk
Age 61
Richmond, Virginia

“I retired from teaching and have too much energy to relax and take it easy. I started MorganSilk, my hand-painted scarves, which I sell exclusively through Etsy and ArtFire. I am a one-woman operation and every scarf is handmade. Once, I took my work to a really upscale gallery and was asked if I use Photoshop. They got a glimpse of the back of my head as I walked away. I’ve had 399 sales from Etsy and 48 from ArtFire (but many were multiples that were counted as single sales). To get inspired, I wander around outside and then figure out how to get the idea onto silk. Sometimes I just let the dyes talk to me.”

6. Ellie Wellstead

51 Greenwich
Age 53
Portland, Oregon

“Growing up, I did crafty activities from knitting sweaters for my teddy bears to silk-screening posters for high school drama productions to painting wall murals in college dorm halls. I graduated from Cornell University’s 5-year architecture program and after ten years working in several architecture offices, from Honolulu to Denver to Ithaca, I wanted a business that was more creative and hands-on. I started my company, 51 Greenwich. I cut, compose, layer, fold and weave recycled paper into cards, journals and other paper goods. I print patterns on them with soy ink. The name 51 Greenwich honors the street address where my mother was born in NYC and also the first location of my grandparents’ printing business, De Pamphilis Press. Right now I sell on Etsy, the Local 14 Art Show in Portland and a gallery in Connecticut called Artist’s Market. I don’t sell enough yet to make a living, but I am working towards it!”

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{FOF Featured Blog} Atlantis Home

Too often, do-it-yourself fashion ends up looking just like, well, exactly that. Not the DIY projects from Atlantis Home, a blog by style maven Judy Aldridge. The result of her handiwork is always more couture than craft. Case in point: This stunning refurbed antique graffiti chair (below left) and killer patchwork jeans (right).

Don’t miss our fave DIY projects from Judy’s blog: a fab felted patchwork scarf and vest, a stunning pastel jacket with loop trim and fun sparkly photo ornaments