05/02/2012 01:36 EDT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Chic On A Shoestring: Make Homemade Items Look Like They're Designer Made (PHOTOS)


NEW YORK, N.Y. - Make flowers out of panty hose. A purse out of a tie. A necklace out of shoelaces.

Beautiful and inexpensive accessories abound if you know how to transform the everyday into the chic.

For do-it-yourself fashion maven Mary Jane Baxter, inspiration comes from something as simple as a cereal box. Her favourite project in her new boho-chic craft book is what she calls the "Emergency Hat." The scenario: a last-minute invite to a posh party, nothing to wear. The solution: Make a pillbox hat out of a cereal box. Wear hat, look fabulous, brag to your friends you made it.

"You don't have to spend lots of money to make something beautiful. You can make a beautiful thing out of something that is pretty humble," Baxter says.

That's the essence of her book, "Chic on a Shoestring: Simple to Sew Vintage-Style Accessories" (Perigee), which features dozens of projects for varying skill levels that can add uniqueness and a bit of glam to any outfit.

Check out some DIY home ideas in our Craft Of The Day slideshow.

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Baxter has long created her own accessories, so when she suggests making corsages out of ribbons and a beanie out of an old sweater, she's speaking from experience. As a teen, she sewed herself clothes she otherwise couldn't afford. In college, she began making hats. And as a foreign correspondent for the BBC, she was known as the journalist who took her sewing machine everywhere.

She left her full-time journalism job nine years ago to study as a hat maker, and has gone on to work with milliner Stephen Jones and designer Marc Jacobs. She paid her way around Britain for a BBC series called "Make Do And Mend" that had her trade her DIY skills — making curtains or hats, for instance — for lodging and other travel needs.

Although she has experience in the upper echelons of fashion — she had her own collection at the Harvey Nichols flagship store in London — she still likes to change up her look on the thrifty side.

Baxter starts with the basics, listing what would-be fashionistas should have on hand: beads, buttons, feathers and fabric. And where they should look: thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets and craft stores.

Ideas for dressing up an outfit can be surprisingly simple, she says. Get an iron-on patch and put it on a black T-shirt. Swap out a sweater's old buttons for interesting ones. Take a plain top and affix tiny ribbons in varying colours down the centre.

Other projects include creating a summer top out of a single square scarf; transforming plain lace-up shoes into Oxfords by putting leather or suede on them; and making a drapey spring scarf out of lace scraps.

And if you don't sew, no problem. Glue is not the enemy, she jokes.

She hopes her vintage-looking, dainty designs will draw eyes, start conversations and generate compliments.

"Homemade doesn't have to mean it looks homemade anymore," Baxter says.

Oh, and that pillbox hat out of a cereal box? It starts by cutting two strips from the cereal box and gluing them to fabric, then tracing a CD on the same cereal-box cardboard and cutting out a circle. After just a few hours, more gluing and some elastic, you'll be ready to dazzle — and brag — at your last-minute party.


Here's a project from Baxter's book, a change purse made out of an old tie:


(Reprinted from "Chic on a Shoestring," by Mary Jane Baxter, by arrangement with Perigee.)

What you'll need:

— Old tie (a wide one works best)

— Measuring tape

— Scissors

— Needle and thread

— Pins

— Little piece of Velcro

— Button or other decoration for front

— Strong, clear, all-purpose adhesive (optional)


— Take the tie, measure 13 inches straight up from the point and cut across the fabric.

— Place the tie on the table with the wrong side facing you and the point at the top.

— Fold over the raw edge by 5/8 inch and then fold over again so the raw edge is hidden. Pin in place and then stitch down using small slip stitches, trying not to go through to what will be the finished side of your purse. As the tie is double thickness this shouldn't be too tricky.

— Fold this neatened edge upward about 3 1/2 to 4 inches (you need to make enough room to stash your bank or travel card). Pin in place and then sew the side seams down. Again try not to let your stitches show.

— Peel apart the Velcro and pin one bit on to the front of the purse and then stitch down. Fold over the pointed flap, so that you can match up the other piece of Velcro and sew this in place too. (It doesn't matter if your stitches go all the way through now, as the decoration on the front of the purse will cover up any mess - hurrah!)

— Now for the final flourish. Position your chosen decoration on the front of the purse over any stitches and then sew or stick on neatly. Remember that sewing is always stronger than gluing — so do sew your decoration in place if need be (you'll have to sew through the Velcro — but that's fine).