Back to School: Binder Repair Tutorial

Back to School: Binder Repair Tutorial

Make at Home Kits

By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain

Save a cruddy old binder from the landfill by repairing broken or crooked binder rings, and turning it into something cool and personalized.


1 ugly binder, ready to be resurrected and beautified

1 roll of duct tape. Look for brightly colored or patterned tape in craft stores.

Stickers and sharpies to spruce up the outside

The first step is to cover the entire binder with duct tape. When taping over the hinges, make sure you lay the binder out flat so the tape won’t buckle when you open the cover. For a different look, you could try using two different colors of duct tape, for stripes or a border.

Once your binder is covered, it’s time to realign that broken binder ring.

Open the binder rings. Push firmly on the opened ring parts, adjusting them so they’ll meet correctly.

Close the rings to check your alignment, and repeat if necessary.

Personalize your binder however you choose! Here, I used stickers and sharpies to spice things up, but items such as photographs, fabric scraps, wallpaper, or bumper stickers can also be used. The important thing is to use what you have on hand.

Now, load up your spiffy re-made binder with some recycled-content looseleaf paper, and get to class!



This project is a great way of giving a too-small skirt a second life as an apron. Here, I’m using a kids’ size 16 skirt I found at Salvation Army.

First, assemble your materials: a cotton or cotton-blend skirt without an elastic waist, pins, a hand-sewing needle, scissors, a seam ripper, 1 package of 1-inch-wide bias tape in a coordinating color, and thread to match the bias tape. Also, you need a sewing machine, and a tailor’s measuring tape.

Turn your skirt inside out. Using the seam ripper, gently cut the stitches attaching the zipper to the skirt. Remove the zipper and save it for another use.

After removing the zipper:

Once you’ve removed the zipper, you’ll see that you’re left with a seam that goes about halfway up the back of the skirt. Apply your seam ripper to this seam, too.

After cutting the rest of the seam open:

Now you should be able to open the skirt out, like this:

Finish the sides of your apron-to-be by sewing down each of side of the seam you just opened up:

For the next step, set your skirt aside and pick up your measuring tape. Measure your waist, and remember the number. Take this number and add 30 to it. I.e. if you have a 28” waist, 28 + 30 = 58 inches. Cut a piece of bias tape this length.

Finish each end of the bias tape by tucking the raw edge under and sewing down:

Lay your skirt out flat and carefully pin the bias tape along the top edge, like so. Make sure the center of the bias tape is roughly centered on the middle of the skirt, leaving a nice long tie at each end.

Finish pinning:

Start at one end of the bias tape, and sew along its edge all the way along the top of the skirt. It’s important to sew not just where the bias tape overlaps the skirt, but also along the “tie” part as well. Repeat this for the bottom edge of the bias tape, as well.

Now you should have something that looks pretty much like an apron, complete with ties. The last part is the easiest and the best—add the bow!

Cut two pieces of bias tape, one 11 inches long, and one 3 inches long. Sew a simple line down both edge of each piece, like so:

The ends are going to be hidden, so don’t worry if they look a little funky. Obviously, I wasn’t too concerned.

Fold the ends of the 11” piece around so they meet in the back.

Set the 3” piece, right side up, over the middle of the 11” piece like a cross:

Fold the ends of the short piece around to the back. Thread a hand-sewing needle with matching thread, and use a few quick stitches to secure the pieces together.

Now, find a place to add it along the waistband of your apron. I chose a spot where my stitching got a little funky—the bow provided the perfect cover-up. Hold it in place with your thumb and give it a few more quick stitches to tack it in place.

All that’s left is to try it out!

Green Gift Ideas: Make a Message Board from an Altoids Tin

Green Gift Ideas: Make a Message Board from an Altoids Tin

By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain

Make gifts out of junk. It might not sound appealing when worded that way, but taking a thoughtful and creative approach to your gift list is a terrific way to green your holidays. Many of the everyday items we think of as disposable junk are just begging for a second life as something else.

Often, all it takes is a coat of paint and a little glue to transform a little throwaway something into a stylish and useful gift. Start by looking at things not as trash but as an artist’s raw materials, and a whole new world opens up.

For this project, we’re going to turn four empty Altoids tins into a cute, convenient, magnetic message board.


4 empty Altoids tins (similar mint or candies tins would work, as well

Spray-on metal primer

Spray paint in a color of your choice

Super glue

1 comb-shaped picture hanger

Small, strong magnets


Start by using the pliers to pull the lids off of two of the Altoids tins. Bend the little metals left on the boxes inward towards the middle.

Prime and spray paint both sides of your tins, making sure to get in all the nooks and crannies. I used two coats of primer and one coat of paint.

Arrange your Altoids tins as shown in the picture, and get ready to glue.

Using Super glue, adhere the edges of the tins to each other.

It’s important to make sure the lidded boxes are offset a bit from the lid-less boxes. This ensures that they’re able to close.

Now’s your chance to get a little creative. Embellish your message board however you’d like. If you want to jazz it up a little with stencils, paint, or paper cut-outs, go right ahead. I fashioned a little notepad out of some neatly cut and folded scrap paper and a miniature binder clip. A little pencil to writing notes sits inside the tin above.

Try adding a little hook to hang a set of keys. Attach the hook to the underside of the message board if you’d like the key to stay hidden! Add magnets, and glue a picture-hanger to the back, and you’re done!

This project would be a terrific gift for a co-worker, a work-at-home friend, or your child’s favorite teacher. Present the message board with the tins closed up, as shown at right, and tuck a little something extra (a gift card or movie tickets) inside the closed tins, for two gifts in one. Or include this message board as part of a set, with a desk calendar (recycled content, please!) and planner tied up with a bow.

Choosing to make a gift like this is more unique, heartfelt, and eco-friendly than buying something at the Mall. Aside from saving things from the landfill, you’re reducing your carbon footprint in a big way by cutting down on shipping distance, not to mention saving a few bucks, as well.


Here they are: all gifts, all green, all in the same place. Click away!

Green Gift Ideas: Salad Dressing Kit with Infused Vinegars

Green Gift Ideas: Mosaic Fridge Magnets

Green Gift Ideas: Make a Recycled Bulletin Board

Green Gift Ideas: Pinecone Fire Starters

Green Gift Ideas: Altoids tin Message Board

Video: Make Soy Candles at Home




Easily transform a large men’s button-down shirt into an apron using these instructions.

Materials: 1 large button-down shirt, preferably with a straight bottom hem. Also scissors, pins, a fabric marking pen or pencil (a colored pencil works in a pinch), and coordinating thread. You also need a sewing machine, and an iron. A seam ripper might also come in handy.

First, lay your shirt out flat, and draw a line from just under the armpit to up under the collar. Try to make the lines even and smooth, but it doesn’t matter too much if they wobble a little. As you can see, my shirt had a pocket in the way of one of my lines. To get around this, I simply removed the pocket (using a seam ripper), pinned it down where I wanted it (away from the cut lines) and sewed it down. Of course, if you wanted to do away with the pocket altogether, you could—but personally, I think aprons are best when they have a pocket for a recipe card or wooden spoon.

Once the lines are to your liking, cut about a half inch away from them up towards the collar.

Note that I didn’t cut directly on the lines, but left a half-inch border along them. This is called seam allowance, and it will come in handy later.

The next step is to cut straight down the side seams of the shirt, separating the front from the back.

Open the shirt out.

Using your fabric-marking implement, draw a line about a half-inch from the back of the collar, and cut along it.

Set aside what used to be the back of the shirt—you’ll use part of it later.

The next step is to finish the collar by tucking the raw edge (where you just cut) up so it’s sandwiched between the folded-down part of the collar and the bottom part.

Pin it in place if you want, and sew it together. I did this part by hand, but a machine would work, too.

Now you should have this:

(Note the relocated pocket!)

The next step is to finish the raw edges where we cut away the sleeves in step one. Take your shirt over to your iron. Flip it over so you’re working with the back of the shirt. Using your fingers, gently turn about a ¼” to the back of the shirt, and press with the iron.

Repeat this once more, so the raw edge of the fabric is no longer visible.

Thread your machine with coordinating thread, and sew along the rolled hem you just created, keeping as close to the inside edge as possible.

Repeat these steps with the other side of the shirt, so that both sides are tidy and finished.

Now you have this, and it’s time to make your apron ties.

Set your apron-in-progress aside, and pick up the back of the shirt that you cut away in step four. Cut two long strips that are four inches wide. Make them as long as you can—they are going to be your ties, and it’s good for them to be long.

Trim the ends to make them even. Fold each strip in half, so the wrong side of the material is on the outside, and press. Sew along the edges where you just folded, making sure to leave one short end open.

Make yourself a cup of tea, settle down, and gently turn each piece right-side-out again. You can use a ruler, or some other long skinny object, to help you pop the corners out again. Press both pieces.

Sew along the three finished edges of your ties, about ¼” from the edges. This will make the finished apron look nicer and more polished.

Bring your finished ties back to your apron piece.

Position one like this, on the back of the apron at the top of the unfinished side edge. We’re going to turn these edges over and press, just like we did for the curved edges in step seven.

Turn over, making sure to catch the unfinished edge of one tie in the fold.

You can add a few pins to help it stay in place. It should be as perpendicular as possible. Press and sew this edge closed.

Repeat for the other side, attaching the other tie.

Last step: fold the tie out from the side and press. Sew a short seam right along the edge. This will keep it in place, and strengthen the seam.

Repeat for the other side, and you are done.

Now, get thee to the kitchen!

Growing a Straw Bale Garden

Growing a Straw Bale Garden

If you’re an urban gardener who’s despaired of finding enough space to grow even a tomato plant or two, “building” a garden with straw bales creates a whole new range of possibilities. Do you have rocky, uneven, or unyielding clay soil? Are you unable or unwilling to dig up a big plot of ground to prepare the soil for a sustainable garden? No problem! Is it difficult for you to stoop or bend to garden? With straw bales, you’ll be creating the biodegradable equivalent of a raised bed. Now imagine growing your plants in a mud-free, weed-free medium that turns to mulch after a growing season or two. Are you ready to begin? Even if you want to start with only a couple of bales, or if this technique brings out the engineer in you, you can grow almost any vegetable, herb or annual flower in a straw bale. You can tuck a few bales along the side of your house or garden wall. A parking strip is often the sunniest spot for many urban gardeners but poor soil and passing animals can make this less than desirable for food gardening. Bales are a great solution. If you are concerned about how attractive they’ll look, tuck in a few marigolds around the base and sow nasturtiums on the corners of the bales. Plant several varieties of colorful lettuce and perhaps a squash or pumpkin vine spilling a few fruits over the side. You can plant a wonderful kitchen herb garden right next to your house, even on your concrete patio. Imagine a neat little row with a couple of bales overflowing with parsley, cilantro, five or six different types of basil, arugula, sweet marjoram…oops, guess I’ll need to make that at least three bales.

You can use bales of grass hay as well as straw, however you should be prepared to do some more initial “weeding” on these bales as some grass seeds may sprout. You can simply pull up the small sprouts as soon as they show, or give your bales a haircut. Check to see what’s available in your area, you may find that someone has a few bales of grass hay to sell that’s less expensive than straw. Plan your layout carefully. I’ve never tried to weigh a soaking wet bale of straw, but that’s because I couldn’t even budge it to begin with. You’ll not want to change your mind and move things around. Gardeners seem to be divided on the best way to lay the bales down…string side on the ground, or string parallel to the ground, so follow your fancy on this one. If you are laying out your bales in side by side rows, leave enough space to mow your lawn. Think about what you’ll be planting in each bale. Remember that whatever you plant will want all of the sun exposure you can find. You can grow just about any vegetable or annual you choose with the straw bale method, however the taller the vegetables the more attention you’ll have to pay to staking or other support. You can plan on two to three tomato plants, four pepper or cucumber plants, or four to six lettuce plants per bale. Remember that tomatoes will have to be staked or on a trellis (always use the longest stakes you can find, the tomatoes will rise to the challenge and grow to the top). If you live in a favorable climate, you could even grow an early crop of sugar snap peas on the supports before you start the tomatoes.

You’ll have to prepare the bales to make sure they’re past the initial heat of decomposing. With the proper fertilizers and water your straw bale should warm up to a temperature of about 100 degrees. As in many gardening techniques, there are proponents of several different methods. You can prepare your bales by just keeping them wet for three to four weeks prior to planting. If you prefer a more proactive approach, here’s one widely recommended method. Days 1-3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them damp. Days 4-6: Sprinkle each bale with a 1/2 cup of a high nitrogen fertilizer like ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) or ammonium sulfate per day, and water it well into the bales. If you’d like you can substitute blood meal for the nitrate.1 Days 7-9: Cut back to 1/4 cup of fertilizer per bale per day, and continue to water it in well. Day 10: No more fertilizer, but continue to keep the bales damp. Day 11: Stick your hand into the bale. If it has cooled down to less than your body heat, you may safely begin planting as soon as all danger of frost has passed. Organic gardeners often follow a similar method to condition the bales, substituting a natural fertilizer such as fish oil or compost tea.


You can grow plants from seeds or transplants. To sow directly, top dress each bale with a couple of inches of seed starting mix and water in well. To transplant, use your hands or a trowel to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Add a little commercial potting mix around each plant. Do not use soil from your yard! It could spread diseases, bacteria and weeds to the bales. Place the plant down to its first leaf, and gently close the crack back together. Fertilize and water as necessary as your plants begin to grow. Don’t let the bales dry out, you may need to water more than once a day in the beginning. As the bales begin to decompose, they will hold more water and you should be able to water less frequently. A soaker hose placed over the tops of the bales is a great way to gently deliver water to your plants. There are a number of great online sites for further information, cultivating tips, and conversations about straw bale gardening. Gardeners love to share their tips, triumphs, and tragedies. You’re sure to find some great stories as you do your armchair gardening planning this winter. CREDITS (photos and otherwise): Our sincere thanks to Kent Rogers, a.k.a. “strawbaleman” for generously sharing his advice and some photos of his garden.