Tag Archives: economical

Wire hanger ivy topiary

Sometimes the craftiest creative ideas are also the simplest. Enter the old-fashioned and super-easy ivy topiary project.

I’ve been settling more and more into my job here and recently decided that my small office space needs to be spruced up. I cleaned up and consolidated various storage containers and uncovered a lot of empty space on and around my desk. What could be better to occupy it than plants? There is very little natural lighting in the office, but the fluorescent light should provide enough light for a non-fussy plant. Our local supermarket had small pots of ivy and I thought that it might be interesting to try growing an ivy topiary in the office.

Now I only hope that my brown thumb magically turns into a brownish-green one and the plants survive.

To make this topiary, you will need:

1. A potted ivy plant (or ivy you are going to repot, potting soil and a flower pot).

2. One or two wire hangers (the kind you can get from a dry cleaner), like this:

3. A pair of pliers or a pair of your own work-gloved hands.

4. Green heavy-duty thread or floral tape.

5. (Optional) 8 inches of steel or copper wire.

Here’s how to make the topiary:

1. Using pliers or your hands, straighten the hook part of the hanger to form a straight piece.

2. To achieve a “tulip” shape, bend/fold the horizontal bar of the hanger out, so that you get a diamond connected to the straight piece of wire that you created in Step 1.

3. Now kink each of the two sides opposite the straight piece in toward the center of the diamond.  This is very difficult to describe in words, so here’s the picture of a complete “tulip.”

4. Insert the straight piece down into the center of the pot. If the straight piece is longer than the height of your flower pot, you can cut it or bend it to the correct length.

5. (optional) Cut two 4-inch pieces of steel or copper wire and bend each in half to create a U- or V-shape. Insert one of the U-shaped wire pieces into the soil, crossing the wire hanger at a 45-degree angle. Now insert the second U-shaped wire perpendicular to the first. Contrary to what you might think, this step doesn’t require any knowledge of trigonometry – I am simply trying to support the hanger topiary structure and prevent it from falling over. A picture is worth a thousand words.

6. Take the longest branches of the ivy plant and decide which ones are going to go onto which side of the wire structure.

7. Loosely wind the branches around the corresponding side of the wire hanger, making sure to always wind in the same direction. Tie loosely with thread or floral tape in several places along the wire form (if using floral tape, carefully stretch it as you wind it around the branches to make it stick to itself).

So here you have it – the beginning of an old-fashioned ivy topiary with a modern twist. As your ivy grows, keep winding the branches around the wire structure and attaching them to it. When the branches are long enough that the two sides meet at the top, continue to wrap them in the same direction, i.e. overlapping the two sides and letting each side grow down towards the pot.

Be sure to prune your topiary regularly – you want the wire to be completely covered by the plant yet still have the “tulip” shape. When pruning, use sharp scissors and cut just where the branch meets the stem.

I am not providing any advice about caring for the plant itself, since, as I’ve already confessed, I have been known to kill even the hardiest of them. We’ll see how this one will do…

P.S. My absence from blogging is inexcusable. And while I even have some real excuses for not posting, I’ll spare you the details… Please forgive me, my dear readers – I hope you keep reading and keep crafting.

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Renewed: Recycling yarn from thrift shop sweaters

come from a family of thrifty women. My grandma patched bed linens and darned wool socks when they wore thin. My mom made clothes for my sister using fabric salvaged from dad’s old shirts and jackets. As kids, my sister and I cut up t-shirts into strips to use for rug hooking. And, when I was six years old, my mom taught me how to knit using her stash of recycled yarn.

These days, I rarely buy new yarn – only as a very special treat – and instead recycle the knitted garments that I no longer wear. Those of you who know my knitting habits know that I love to knit large, long rectangular pieces that usually eventually develop into throws, pillowcases, and scarves. Since those pieces require quite a bit of yarn, you can often see me prowling the aisles of local thrift shops in search of high-quality sweaters in extra large sizes.

Recently, I made a trip to Goodwill in search of an inexpensive source of yarn to play with. Here is what I found for $4.99:

And here’s the “after” – four balls of fun, red cotton ribbon yarn:

First, some advice on finding a sweater to recycle:

1. Shape and stitch: Stick to basics – a simple pullover sweater knit from bottom up with a simple stitch will be the easiest to unravel.

2. Yarn content: While I can generally knit with wool yarn, I am allergic to the fuzz that flies around when I unravel a wool sweater. For this reason I almost never recycle wool sweaters. Also, lower quality wool tends to pile or, worse, felt. For best results, use sweaters with smooth appearance and distinct stitches.

3. Weight: Knitting with skinny yarn often yields professional looking results, but requires a lot of patience. I usually choose medium to bulkier weight to work with. In addition, thinner garments are frequently made of knit fabric that has been cut and then pieced together using a serger, which is not appropriate for recycling, which leads me to my next point…

4. Seams: This is the most important step. If you’ve ever knit a garment and pieced it together, you will have an idea of how the seams should look – each piece is knit separately, e.g. front, back, and sleeves, and then assembled.
Here are two examples of seams that work:


And here are the two that don’t:


Generally, a “good” seam’s edges can be gently separated to reveal stitching between the two parts of the garment. A “bad” seam’s edge will be finished with a serger or a zigzag stitch. This means that a garment was made of knit fabric that was cut out and then sewn together. Trying to unravel this kind of sweater will result on lots of short pieces of yarn that are pretty much useless. It is most important to check the side seams (from armpit to hem) and the sleeve seams (from armpit to cuff). .

Once you’ve found an appropriate sweater to recycle, here is THE PROCESS:

1. Undo the seams: Knitted garments are often assembled using a crochet chain stitch. Look at the either side of the seam to see if you can find something that looks like this (of course, the seam will be the same color as the garment – this is just a mock-up):

If that is the case, you can carefully cut one loop at the bottom of the garment and see if you can just pull on the end of the thread. If your sweater was assembled in some other way, or my chain-stitch-trickery doesn’t work, just use a seam ripper or small scissors to cut the threads that hold the parts together. Repeat with all other seams – sides, shoulders, and sleeves.

2. Unravel the pieces: Once you have four separate pieces (or more depending on your garment), find a loose end at the top of each piece and start unraveling. Loose ends will be woven into the knitting and therefore “hidden”, but you can carefully cut several loops and try pulling on a couple of threads at either end of the bind-off (top) row to find a starting point.

3. Relax the yarn: As you are unraveling, wind your yarn into balls to prevent tangles. If you try to knit right out of the ball, you will notice that the yarn is “curly.” For most of my projects, the curly yarn is OK as any kinks and curls usually go away after blocking. However, it is easier and more aesthetically pleasing to knit with smooth yarn. If you want to do the extra step of straightening the yarn, wind it on a board, a hardcover book, or the back of the chair, so that you have a skein of yarn to wash and dry. Here, I’ve used my super glamorous Vogue Knitting book to wind the yarn:

Take the skein off and loosely tie it in several places. Dissolve a little Woolite or your favorite shampoo in enough lukewarm water to submerge your skein. Leave the yarn in the water for several hours, making sure not to agitate the skeins too much.

After several hours, carefully remove each skein, squeeze out the water (do not wring or twist), and hang to dry. I use a weight of some sort (a can of soup works well) to straighten the kinks even better.

After the yarn is completely dry, wind it into balls and it is ready to use. Happy knitting!

I would love some comments from my readers. If you are out there, please let me know who you are and what you think!

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