Decluttering the Ghosts of Projects Past AND Make Fast Last Minute Gifts!

rice filled foot warmer

Use the cheapest rice this one cost about 40 cents a pound.

Last Minute Gifts that help you declutter from projects past!

We are in the holiday Gift Giving Season! Whatever it is you celebrate – it all comes together this month!

I like to have a stash of last minute gifts for unexpected guests, party hosts or just to fill in a gap under the tree.

This year I  established a practice of daily decluttering my household from past debris and detritus (i.e. old project leftovers).

Since I have an art studio/craft room I have LOTS of leftovers that are too nice to throw away. So for my last minute gifts I am using up small pieces of fabric by making non-electric heating pads. These little gems are great as a replacement for the old-fashioned hot-water-bottle as well as a substitute for the electric heating pad.


Overview: To make this rice filled warmer you need:

  • A piece of cotton material 17 inches by 20 inches, flannel or just a soft cotton will work.
  • The ability to sew straight lines on a sewing machine (I taught my 10-year-old grandson to make these).
  • A sewing machine
  • and some rice.

After you make your first one, you can figure out your own variations in size and shape.

Step 1: Cut your material – for an 8″ X 18″ warmer your piece will need to measure 16″ X 20″. If you are already someone that sews you could make this in an animal shape or any shape you want. Remnants or Fat Squares work well.

Fig1- folding&1st stitching

Step 2: Fold your material lengthwise with right sides facing in. Sew along each short side. (see Fig. 1 above)

TIP #1: Sew from open side towards the fold and sew clear off the end of the material to make sure the pocket will be closed.

Step 3: Turn the sewn piece right side out so the side seams are on the inside. Poke out corners until they are squared.

Step 4: Sew on the right sides starting with the center. This does not have to be exact – eyeball measures work.  Then sew in the center between the first center stitching and the right side. I drew in the stitching and numbered them to help with the visual. Don’t forget TIP #1.

Fig2 sewing the tube pockets

Step 5: Repeat Step 3 on the left side. As you can see from my drawing the tubular pockets do not have to be exactly the same. They can be – but eyeball measuring still works.

Now comes the fiddly part – filling the tubes with rice. You will adjust to personal preferences here, but remember the tubes do not have to be tightly packed. The loosely filled pockets are softer and you don’t want the warmer to fell like a brick on an aching joint or pulled muscle. On the other hand if you don’t put in enough rice – the warmer cools off faster. Here is a picture of the “tools” I use:

Supplies for filling

I made 10 warmers and used 25 pounds of cheap rice. You will use about 2 – 3 pounds of rice for one large warmer (this size). I use a 2 quart measuring bowl to stand the empty warmer in – use what you have – it helps hold the pockets upright and catches spills as you are pouring in the rice. I use a measuring cup for a scoop so I can get pretty close to filling the pockets with one scoop. Use a regular funnel inserted in the top of the pocket to corral the rice.

rice in funnel

Step 5: Insert funnel into open pocket (see above photo) and pour rice into funnel – fill pockets one at a time to about and inch and a half from the top. I stand the warmer in a large bowl until half the pockets are full, then you can take it out and just lean it on something. Straight-sided containers other than bowls work too.

Pinning top of pockets

Step 6: Fold in the unfinished edge and pin the pockets closed. One pin per pocket will work, you may use more pins if you wish.

Step 7: Sew the pockets closed. Go slowly using a toothpick or a straight pin to push wayward rice grains out of the path of the needle. This is very important as one grain of rice will stop the sewing and can break your needle.
Pinning top of pockets

Last step: Snip all the excess thread and check that all pockets are sewn all the way shut so rice cannot migrate.

There you have it – an beautiful warmer that would have cost $30+ at the store. AND you have used up excess stuff from your craft area creating space and freeing up your creativity for the next time around.


Put the rice-filled pillow in the microwave oven for 3 minutes to get it hot. I use heavily patterned fabric because over time the warmer will pick up little smudges from debris in the microwave. Some people like to make pillowcase type covers that can be taken off and washed. My warmer lasted 2 years – nuked 3 – 5 times a day in our cold season – then the rice got brittle and burned a hole in the fabric. I fixed it but it didn’t really work too well after that.

Hooray! You have used up several (I made 10 in one afternoon) scraps of fabric – thus freeing you up by decluttering space in your craft area and in your mind. And you have enough gifts to be very generous this year. I use them for hostess  gifts, birthday gifts, unexpected-guest gifts and plain old “Here you need this” gifts.

BEST OF ALL  – You have joined the green movement by using up what you have AND there is less clutter in your home!


If you have questions about making the warmers, ask them in the comment section and I will answer you – be sure to leave me an email address too.

Gypsy Summer Camp – Deconstructed Dye Fun!

Here are some of the highlights of the Deconstructed Dye Class at

our first ever Gypsy Summer Camp!

Deconstructed Dye Class

Day 1 – Deconstructed Dye Demonstration

After the demonstration and explanation – our Gypsy Women dived into making the design on their silk screens.Dot Designing Screen


Virginia Designing Her Screen


Cheri Designing Screen


These women hit the ground running and at the end of Day 1 the screens were on the porch drying!

Drying screens

Screens Drying at the End of Day 1

DD-D2 Class Printing

DAY 2 Deconstructed Printing 

Carol Designing ScreenCarol

Deconstructed Dye Class Day 2 consisted of the actual dying process with thickened dye scraped through the silk screens over and over to produce an amazing affect.

The suspense waiting for the shirts and tea cloths to return from being laundered on Day 3 was intense! And the end result was worth waiting for!

Shannon's finished shirt

Shannon’s Finished Shirt

 The eye-popping shirts were gratifying and stunning. And our women had a new appreciation of what goes into hand-dyed products.

Cindy's Finished ShirtCindy’s Finished Shirt!

Janelle's Finished Shirt

Janelle’s Finished Shirt

Jill's Finished Shirt

Jill’s Finished Shirt

Laura's Finished Shirt

Laura’s Finished Shirt

DDeconstructed Dye Success

As you can see – every shirt came out uniquely beautiful. Even the one Dot made for her husband!

Diane's Finished Shirt

Diane liked her shirt so well she wore it to show-and-tell at our Hobo Picnic on our final night.

Hobo Supper

Hobo Supper on the Deck

Rainbow at the End

And At the End – Happy Campers!

Artist in the Spotlight-Sue Bleiweiss, The Sketchbook Challenge & Art Camp for Women

One of the best parts of Art Camp for Women that you can’t see – is that we meet many amazing artists. Many of these women also have a kind of pioneering entrepreneurial way about them which we also greatly admire. We can only hire so many artists every year and scheduling etc. also weeds out many others. Thus was born our Artist in the Spotlight series.

Our Artist in the Spotlight this time is Sue Bleiweiss. We want to let you get to know the woman behind the Sketchbook Challenge – an anthology of a blog that has a monthly art theme. Sue organized some of our favorite mixed media artists to show what art they make using the theme. Sue also authored the book derived from that blog: The Sketchbook Challenge: Techniques, Prompts and Inspiration for Achieving Your Creative Goals.

sue bleiweiss headshot

ACFW: Sue, thank you for taking the time to put this interview together for our readers.

ACFW: Please share a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what were early influences on your work? Where do you live now?

SUE: I’ve lived in Massachusetts my entire and I currently live in a small town about 40 miles west of Boston.    I didn’t begin a career in art until 12 or so years ago.  I had just decided to leave my corporate job for a slower less hectic lifestyle and signed up for a weaving class.  I was hooked from the first moment I held the shuttle in my hand.  I wove for a few years doing a lot of commission work until a shoulder injury forced me to hang up my shuttle.  At that point I made an attempt at making a traditional quilts, which didn’t go well because I hate following directions.  Once I realized that I just didn’t have the patience or skill for traditional quilt making I started exploring mixed surface design and mixed media techniques and that led to becoming obsessed for quite a few years making books and journals.  Something I still love to do.  I started dabbling in art quilts as a way to explore creating art to hang on the walls and that led me to where I am today.

AC4W: What is your art media of choice, do you consider yourself a mixed-media artist, a book artist, a fabric artist or all of the above and more?

SUE: My media of choice is fabric and I label myself an artist, teacher and author.


AC4W: At what point in your life did you become interested in making art?

SUE: Well I don’t think that in the beginning  when I first started dabbling in lots of different media that what I was doing was making art.  I’d call it more about experimenting with different processes and techniques.  It wasn’t until 3 or 4 years ago that I really got focused on making art.

AC4W: Did you receive any formal art training?

SUE: No I am all self taught.

AC4W: Do you have any off-the-cuff tips for beginners? Women that would like to become full or even part time artists?

SUE: Try everything until you find the techniques and medium that speaks to you.  Don’t get hung up on worrying about not having focus or stressed out about not having a voice or style.  That comes much much later after you’ve spent time dabbling in lots of different things.   I found my voice gradually over the course of many years of experimenting and dabbling in several different styles.  It evolved naturally and got stronger and louder once I found the style and method of working that I found myself coming back to use again and again with each new quilt that I began.

AC4W: When you get stuck with your work – do you have any tricks to get unstuck?

SUE: I rarely get stuck but when I do I will flip through some of my old sketchbooks or art books for inspiration.  Sometimes I’ll take a trip to the museum and just wander the exhibits.   I have found that the best thing to do when I’m stuck is to not force myself into the studio – that tends to just make it worse because I end up feeling bad about being stuck.

I think one of the most important habits that I’ve developed over the years is the ability to say no.

AC4W: Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?

SUE: I am a very organized person and I think that helps make it easier for me to be a prolific art maker and I’m fortunate enough to have a studio right in my home so it’s easy for me to keep regular studio hours.  I think one of the most important habits that I’ve developed over the years is the ability to say no.  There was a time when I would say yes to every request and project that came across my desk but all that did was lead to a crazy schedule full of deadlines.  Now I’m much more particular about which projects I will take on and I make sure that there is plenty of room on my calendar for art making on my own terms.

AC4W: Do you have other jobs other than making art?

SUE: No I am a full time artist

AC4W: Why do you teach?

SUE: Well there are a couple of reasons.  I enjoy interacting with other like minded people who are enthusiastic about learning a new technique or project.  I also like being able to pass on to others what I’ve learned and to help them along on their own creative journey.

If you’re going to teach, teach it all

AC4W:Do you have a particular method or slant on teaching others to make art?

SUE: Back when I was weaving I took a week long class from Joan Tallarovic.  It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had and during a conversation I had with her about her experiences teaching she said something to me that I have used as a model for my own teaching method and that was (and I’m paraphrasing here)  if you’re going to teach, teach it all.  Don’t hold anything back from your students to let them figure it out on their own.  You’ll enjoy the process more and the students will have a much better experience.  I took that advice to heart and have adopted it as my own teaching philosophy.

AC4W: Do you have a community of artists in your everyday life?

SUE: I don’t have a local one but I am part of several online communities.

AC4W: How did you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

SUE: With regular communication and respect for their opinions and feedback.

AC4W: Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?

SUE: I don’t like to plan that far ahead, a lot can happen in 5 years but I hope I’ll still be in the studio dyeing fabric and making art.Sue B. Beachhouse

AC4W: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you as an artist?

SUE: My DVD Coloring Book Fabric Collage: Dyeing, Fusing, Designing, and Quilting will be available through Interweave Press sometime in August.  Readers can sign up for my newsletter here:  to be notified when it’s released.

AC4W: Sue, thank you again for taking the time to share your art and your art process with Art Camp for Women and our readers.  We can’t wait to see your new DVD!


Highlights from the June 2012 Mini-Camp Disperse Dye Class

Jewelry bags sewn from the gorgeous cloth made in the Disperse Dye class

We all had fun, learned new skills and went home with a gorgeous jewelry bag from the June 2012 Mini-Camp Disperse Dye class!


Lorri F with Disperse Dye examples

Campers listened patiently to find out what we were going to do in the Disperse Dye Class

Bird's eye view of the Disperse Dye Class in motion painting dye paper


Pat getting ready to paint disperse dye papers

Janelle from Wyoming

Anna ...ready, set, go!



Viv and her Disperse Dyed cloth using leaves and grasses from Snow Mountain Ranch

Tania with her Disperse Dyed Napkin



Gorgeous Disperse Dye Cloth and jewelry bag

Jewelry Bag sewn using the Disperse Dye cloth made at Art Camp



Bernina Fleet

You might wonder what we do during the winter months between camps…this year we had a lot of fun (and some anxiety) purchasing a fleet of sweet, sturdy workhorse Bernina sewing machines for camp.  While we don’t do A LOT of sewing at camp, we frequently have projects with some sewing.  It was time for Lorri’s Bernina to stay home and for Camp to have it’s own sewing machines.

"Esther" in honor of Lorri F's grandmother-in-law and our first purchase

It all started with a once-in-a-lifetime find of a Bernina at the Hospice thrift store.  As Lorri F was checking out the machine to make sure it worked, she was fielding comments left and right from other women shoppers who wanted the machine if she didn’t…fortunately, everyone kept their cool and we didn’t need to call crowd control!  The next stop for our Bernina was Steve’s Sewing Machine Service in Loveland, Colorado where it received a tune up and a clean bill of health.

"Fern" in honor of Lorri F's grandmother who was a professional seamstress and helped Lorri sew her wedding gown.

Then the fun began…we got the Bernina Bug and started shopping ebay (this is where the anxiety came in), looking for similar Bernina’s with simple controls; nothing fancy, just good ‘ol workhorse machines that do the job and are easy to use for beginners too.   Lorri F has been sewing since she was about 7 and considers her Bernina 1090 a member of the family!  Lori W is more of a beginner and she ended up sewing two fabric journals because the new Berninas are so easy to use.  If thinking about sewing brings back bad Home Ec memories for you, not to worry…we keep it simple and you’ll have fun, we promise!!

"Irma" and "Bernice" in honor of Irma Bombeck and Lori W's aunt Bernice with Lori W's fabric journal

We’d like to introduce you to our vintage Bernina’s (you might have used one just like it in Home Economics!).  They are all tuned-up and ready to have some fun at Camp!  We named them in honor of inspiring women in our lives.