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Goodness, how time flies! Nearly a month and a half has gone by since my tutorial on how to remove the fabric from broken umbrellas and I promised two projects on how to use that fabric, but you know what they say: Better late than never! I will spare you all my list of excuses and just get on with the interesting things!
Ever since getting Betz White’s fantastic book Sewing Green* a few years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for a vinyl tablecloth to upcycle into a waterproof picnic blanket as she did. Betz claims that you can find these tableclothes at thrift stores, but I never have been able to and I absolutely refuse to buy a new one. Then one day my awesomely ecologically-and-crafty-
minded -trained daughter gave me the idea to use umbrella fabric instead. What a genius that girl is!
So my take on the waterproof picnic blanket is also 100% from upcycled materials: the fabric removed from old umbrellas and a sheet or duvet cover!
The sheet or duvet cover is on top, so you’ll want to choose one with colors and/or a design that you find aesthetically-pleasing. The umbrella fabric gets patched together for a waterproof bottom that will keep everyone’s bums dry when sitting on damp grass or sand!
You need to know how to turn and topstitch for this tutorial, so if you want to brush up on how to do that, just take a look at my turning and topstitching lesson. Here’s what you need to make one of these blankets:
I just realized that I totally forgot to include the sheet in this list. Whoops! I used a twin-sized duvet cover, which is plenty big for a picnic blanket. For the bottom layer I used the fabric from four compact fold-up umbrellas plus the scraps from another umbrella project that I’ll share soon. (Update: the other project is my Carry Everywhere Shopping Bag, with FREE PATTERN!) Remove and prepare the umbrella fabric before starting.
Now, I want to remind you that you don’t have to actually follow my exact instructions for piecing together the waterproof bottom. You can use whatever size umbrellas cut up in whatever size/shape you want. My thinking was that nobody will see the bottom of the blanket, so I didn’t really care about making it look exceptionally nice. For this reason I used up some of my uglier umbrella fabric, saving the nicer ones for the aforementioned umbrella project. But you could get fancy and do a nice patchwork style with smaller pieces. You decide!
That brings me to another thing: generally when you turn sewing work, you should iron the fabric after each seam you sew. However I didn’t want to bother because the umbrella fabric doesn’t really lay perfectly flat anyway and I figured it wasn’t worth it. I only ironed at the very end, before topstitching.
Fold the fabric from one umbrella in fourths, as you can see above. If the little caps holding the fabric onto the umbrella frame are still attached, remove the ones at the sides, but don’t worry about the ones in the center. Use your seam ripper to remove the little strap that keeps the umbrella closed.
Cut along the folded edges so that you have four pieces of umbrella fabric. Put two of these pieces aside for a moment.
We’re going to make more-or-less squares from these more-or-less triangles of fabric. Position the other two pieces on top of each other, right sides facing. To create a nicer triangle, draw a straight line from one corner to the other with your permanent marker. My ruler wasn’t long enough to reach from side to side, so I used a broomstick. Yeah, I know… very savvy! Ha!
Pin the fabric together outside the drawn line.
Sew along that line and trim off the excess fabric.
When you open up the pieces, you’ll have something sort of like a square. It’s not perfect because the triangles weren’t perfect. Isn’t this umbrella fabric horrible?! It’s stained and has some of the Ikea logo sticking out. But, I repeat, it’s really not necessary to be a perfectionist with this part because nobody’s going to see it anyway.
Repeat this process with the other two umbrella pieces, and then with other whole pieces of umbrella fabric. My four compact umbrellas became eight psuedo-squares of umbrella fabric.
Now let’s patch the squares together. I decided to alternate colors/patterns just to jazz it up a little and make the mish-mash look more intentional. Choose two squares of fabric with sides that are more or less the same length. See how the two squares above look the same size?
Put one square on top of the other, right sides facing. Line up one side edge and don’t worry about the other edges lining up. Remember that these squares are not perfectly regular, so you can’t get all four sides to line up correctly, but it’ll all work out in the end, don’t worry!
Pin the lined-up side and sew down that side. Repeat with the other squares so that you end up with four pairs of joined squares. (By the way, I apologize for not having photos of all the steps, but being large pieces, it was complicated to photograph!)
Next place one pair of joined squares on top of another, right sides facing. Don’t worry too much is one piece is longer than the other. The important thing is to line up the seams joining each pair of squares in the center.
Line up one long edge of each pair of joined squares with the center seams lined up (where the arrow is pointing in the image above). Pin all along that long edge and sew.
Continue with the remaining pairs of joined squares until you have one huge rectangle of joined squares.
Trim off any weird protuding edges so that the rectangle of umbrella fabric is more or less regular.
Place the rectangle of umbrella fabric on top of the sheet or duvet cover. I couldn’t take pictures of this part because the pieces were just too big, so I made this illustration.
Take stock of the situation. My rectangle was longer than my sheet, but the sheet was wider. You could just trim off the excess fabric on each piece and proceed to the step when you sew the pieces together. But I wanted to maintain the whole size of the duvet cover, so I needed to add on an extra 20 cm of width to my umbrella piece. To make it symmetrical, that would be 10 cm on each side.
So I cut rectangles of umbrella fabric scraps from my other project (to be published soon!) 12 cm wide (10 cm plus 2 cm for seam allowances).
Position one on top of another, right sides facing. Line up one long side and one short side (shown by the arrows). Pin the lined-up short side and sew.
Continue doing this until you have two strips at least as long as the sheet. I always lined up one long side so that one long side of the long strips was pretty much straight.
Line the straight edge of one long strip with the long edge of the huge umbrella piece, right sides facing.
At this point I realized that the seams of the long strip didn’t match up with the seams of the huge piece. Obviously, duh me! You could just care less, pin them together and sew, but for whatever reason I decided to make my seams line up better. Feel free to skip this step, though!
If you want to match up the seams of the strip and the huge piece, line up one set of seams and pin in place. Then smooth out the fabric until the next seam over of the huge piece. Mark where it is on the strip with a pin. Then raise the strip piece enough so that you can flatten the seam of the strip piece and repin the position of the huge piece’s seam, but this time catching the bottom layer of the strip, too. (See the photo above.) Continue along the long sides until you’ve matched up all the seams. Then remove any pins attaching the strip to the huge umbrella piece, resew the seams of the long strip and trim the excess fabric. Eek, that sounds confusing.
Now when you line up the long edges of the long strip and the huge umbrella piece, the seams should match up. Pin the two layers together, sew down the sides, and trim any excess fabric.
Place the patched-together umbrella piece on top of the sheet, right sides facing. The above illustration shows what mine looked like at this point. Sew all around (the dashed line above). Except don’t forget to leave an relatively large opening (about 30 cm) for turning the fabric. I forgot that detail in this illustration… oops!
Oh, by the way, I also chose to leave both layers of my duvet cover instead of removing the underside. I figured that this way it would be slightly more padded, and in any case that layer wasn’t in perfect condition so I probably wouldn’t have used it for anything anyway, had I removed it.
Trim excess fabric and clip the corners.
Turn the fabric right side out. Iron the edges first. I used a transparent ironing cloth similar to this one* to protect the umbrella fabric. I suggest using high heat with steam. When the edges are flat, iron the central part of the blanket. Then topstitch all around with a seam allowance smaller than the one you used to sew the two sides together, in order to close up the opening. (See this sewing lesson for more information on topstitching.)
And you’re done! Fold up your new eco-friendly waterproof picnic blanket and stick it in your backpack next time you go out for a trip to the beach, park or woods!
Without having to worry about getting your butts dirty and wet, you and your family and friends can have a ball! (Ouch, bad joke!)
Do you like upcycling old materials and creating something new from them? Then take a look at the my upcycling tutorial archive! And if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get the free pattern for my Carry Everywhere Shopping Bag, another project to sew from umbrella fabric!
Question of the day: Do you like taking picnics?
We just love picnics, especially on the beach out of season (like you can see we did here) and in the woods in the mountains during hot, sticky summers. There’s just something about eating in peaceful outdoor places that makes us so happy! Part of the reason I didn’t publish this post sooner is because I wanted to get pictures of the blanket in use for a picnic on the beach, but weather and other things didn’t let that happen. Oh well… perhaps I’ll update it some day with other pictures! (update 23/02/15: Done! I finally got a beach shot and added it towards the beginning of the post!)
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