Kelly McCants, a Virginia-based author, entrepreneur, blogger, seamstress and mother of two teenagers, has a new book out. It’s called At Home with Modern June: 27 Sewing Projects for Your Handmade Lifestyle. Modern June, in case you’re wondering, is McCants herself, who also wrote Sewing with Oilcoth. As she says about her retro but practical sense of style, “I fancy myself the modern June Cleaver,” the sensible but stylish mom in “Leave it to Beaver.”
McCants is all about easy on the pocketbook and easy effort. And for some of the home décor projects she details in her book, you don’t even need a sewing machine. How easy is that?
“There’s a lot of repurposing, too,” says McCants, referring to décor revitalization projects such as recovering pillows or replacing a shabby chair or stool cushion top with fresh fabric. “No sense in buying new when you can turn something into something else.”
A great beginning project is making placemats cut from chalk cloth (yes, you really can write and draw on them, just like a blackboard). McCants supplies the pattern for the scalloped-edge mats. Besides the fabric, all you would need is scissors to cut out each mat, plus a leather hole punch, or two of different sizes, in order to create an attractive pattern of eyelets around the edges.
“That’s a good cheap project,” she says. “The chalk cloth is $14 a yard (and available from modernjune.com) and for that you can make a set of four placemats that look very high end.”
The uses for chalk cloth placemats are myriad, says McCants.
“They’re good for kids making placemats for Grandma and then the kids can doodle on them when they’re at Grandma’s house. When you have dinner guests you can write out your menu on the placemats, or use them as place cards to show everybody where they should sit. I like to wrap up a few pieces of colorful chalk with ribbon for each guest so everyone can doodle.”
And there are even more uses: “Some people use them for cookie exchanges, so you can write what type of cookie is on the plate. For wine and cheese tastings you can write the names of the cheeses and the wines. A friend of mine gave a mojito party, where everyone mixed their own. There were three mojito recipes written out on three chalk cloth placemats.”
For people who want to get right to the sewing – but not spend too much time or money – McCants offers the solution: Pillows!
“They’re so easy,” she says. “New pillows totally change the look of the room and also change your attitude towards the room.” There’s no reason to even buy a new pillow form. Just remove it from the pillow that’s grown boring and make a new cover for a minimal amount of money. A half yard of fabric, possibly purchased at a discount fabric store that offers coupons, such as JoAnn’s, along with trim and a zipper may set you back all of $6.
“Pillows are quick to make and that boosts your confidence. You go, ‘That wasn’t so hard! What can I do next?’”
McCants gives directions for projects that aren’t complicated, but some of them require a time commitment, such as the crazy quilt and the embroidered apron. For a basic toolkit she suggests investing in a pair of good fabric shears, a pair of paper scissors, a staple gun and ¼” staples, diagonal pliers for removing staples, and a leather hole punch.
Her tip for finding cheap fabric and supplies is to like Facebook pages or subscribe to newsletters of fabric stores so that they’ll make coupons available to you. Following sewing and crafting blogs also often results in learning about good deals and coupons. And if you’re in the market for McCants’ favorite fabrics – oilcloth, laminated cotton and chalk cloth – look no further than modernjune.com, which ships anywhere. McCants swears by these fabrics for their easy care and durability.
Still not sure how you’d like to start making changes to your décor? McCants suggests mounting a fabric-covered “mood board” in your sewing/craft room so you can pin to it every magazine photo, every fabric swatch and paint chip that strikes your fancy. Take it from McCants, who plotted out each project and chapter of her book on her mood board, it will help you get inspired and then get sewing.