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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 daughter gave me the idea to use umbrella fabric instead. What a genius that girl is!
I am slightly obsessed with collecting old umbrellas that I find abandoned on sidewalk. People think I’m a little crazy until they see the sort of things that I make with them. Let’s say you come across an old broken umbrella. Read my tutorial on how to remove the fabric from broken umbrellas, then you can use it to sew a very cool shopping bag with my free pattern, or a waterproof wetbag, or this fab waterproof picnic blanket!
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!
- twin-sized duvet cover (or sheet, but a duvet cover gives slightly more padding and protection)
- fabric from four or five umbrellas (this is also a great way to use up scraps from other umbrella projects)
- long ruler*
- permanent marker*
- fabric shears*
- seam ripper*
- polyester thread*
I used compact, fold-up umbrellas for the waterproof bottom, but you can also use large umbrellas. I save my prettier umbrellas for projects that will be seen. As they are used for the bottom of this blanket and are not seen, I used up some of my uglier umbrella fabric.
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.
Also note that normally 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 the pieces aren’t perfect triangles and squares, so I figured it wasn’t worth it. I only ironed at the very end, before topstitching. If you do want to iron your pieces, make sure you use a press cloth* to protect the synthetic umbrella fabric.
How to sew the waterproof picnic blanket:
- Follow the instructions on this tutorial on how to remove and prepare the umbrella fabric before starting.
2. 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.
3. Cut along the folded edges so that you have four pieces of umbrella fabric. Put two of these pieces aside for a moment.
5. 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!
6. Pin the fabric together outside the drawn line.
7. Sew along that line and trim off the excess fabric.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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?
11. 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!
12. 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. (I apologize for not having photos of all the steps, but large pieces are complicated to photograph!)
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. Trim off any weird protuding edges so that the rectangle of umbrella fabric is more or less regular.
16. 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 making my Carry Everywhere Shopping Bags 12 cm wide (10 cm plus 2 cm for seam allowances) in order to make extra strips.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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!
20. 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.
21. 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!
I 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.
22. Trim excess fabric and clip the corners.
23. Turn the fabric right side out. Iron the edges first. Use a press cloth* 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 to learn about 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!
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