By Lauren Flynn Kelly 


Sometime in mid-December, when I was scrambling to get Christmas presents in the mail and worrying about the ones that were already trapped at Postal Service facilities, my daughter announced that two of her Barbie dolls were getting married. “The wedding is Jan. 15,” she said. “And I’ll need five blue bridesmaid dresses. One of them is for Skipper, so it’ll have to be junior size.”

Barbie wedding
Something blue: The author repurposed an old crib skirt to sew bridesmaid dresses for Barbie’s big day. Courtesy: Lauren Flynn Kelly

Christmas came and went, and before I knew it, it was Jan. 14, and a desperate voice reminded me, “The fitting is today!” My daughter and I dashed to the basement and tore through multiple boxes of fabric remnants, many of which had already been cut to bits to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Finally, at the bottom of the third bin, we found an old crib skirt in a pale blue cotton with coral embroidery. There was only enough for four dresses (sorry, Skipper) but we made it work, and the wedding was a success. We even set up a wedding venue using more fabric, cardboard and twinkle lights. 


Despite my complaints about having too much stuff, there have been so many moments like the Barbie wedding when I was happy to have all that stuff. For this month’s column, I asked my Hyattsville neighbors and other area residents if they had similar stories to share. I discovered that a) you all are very industrious, and b) there are a lot of reasons to save cardboard boxes and paper towel tubes.


Sew many masks


Making masks to protect against COVID-19 was one of the most popular pandemic projects. Frequent sewers were happy to find a purpose for their fabric scraps, while Three Little Birds Sewing Co. regularly filled curbside orders of fabric for PPE purposes. “I sewed 250 masks with what I had on hand,” said one more former Hyattsville resident. “No one can tell me I don’t need those scraps of fabric I keep anymore!” 


Others told me they cut up curtains, cloth napkins and clothes. Sarah Eisen made a mask using her son’s old pajamas, while her sister, Amanda Eisen, repurposed Zombie Run T-shirts, cloth napkins and fabric scraps for masks and other craft projects.


Sarah Noreen said she made dish towels from remnants of curtains that she shortened. “Who knew you’d go through so many dish towels in a day!?” she marveled. “We were constantly running out, so I made more out of what I had.”   


In addition to “about a million masks,” Rachel McNamara said she sewed a pocket for remote controls out of a pair of cross-stitched curtains she acquired through the Hyattsville Barter & Trade Facebook group. She also shared a beautiful photo of a Filipino-inspired parol: a star-shaped pendant light she fashioned out of backyard bamboo, “hand-pulled (not by me!) mulberry paper from my stash” and a light fixture from Barter & Trade. 

Filipino inspired parol
Let in the light: Industrious DIYer Rachel McNamara made this Filipino-inspired parol out of bamboo, mulberry paper and a repurposed light fixture. Courtesy of Rachel McNamara

Card-bored no more


Kristen Wares also completed some DIY projects while keeping her two children busy with items on hand. She refinished two bedside tables, using chalk paint purchased from Tanglewood Works, and she and her preschooler made playdough in every color, thanks to old food dye from neighbor Amanda Eisen. They also repurposed cardboard boxes to make dioramas — just for fun! “I feel like we used up a lot of dregs of old paint and stuff,” said Wares.


Another neighbor reported making racetracks out of cardboard tubes for her children’s Matchbox cars. And 10-year-old Jackie Daniels used plastic sheeting and a deep cardboard box to make a swimming pool for her Barbie dolls, complete with a springy diving board and a car to get them there. 


Wood you try this at home?


For the more ambitious DIYer, Nigel Maynard recommends “found” wood (i.e., any wood left over from prior home projects) for woodworking. “I also tell my friends to save any salvage lumber they pull from old houses, or I save usable wood that I find in dumpsters. Using salvaged or old lumber in woodworking is perfect, because the wood is coming from older trees and the woodgrain is tighter and stronger,” he said.


A few examples Maynard shared from the last year include using leftover cedar from his Hyattsville home renovation to make picture frames and porch planters, and repurposing straight-grain fir doors salvaged from a friend’s 19th-century Baltimore townhouse to make a dining room table. “I had those doors in our basement for about five years,” he admitted. Maynard also plans to use more leftover decking to build an outdoor table this spring.