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 favorite 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," Ms. 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.
Ms. 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.
Ms. 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 colors down the center.
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," Ms. 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.