sewing 101: sew a terrarium


I’m totally smitten with the terrarium trend — a tiny, private world occupied by lush greens and adorable figurines? Who could resist? So in thinking about what would be fun to sew this spring, and with greenery sprouting up all around me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could somehow sew a terrarium. It turns out that all it takes is some clear vinyl and a few nips and tucks in the right places — and voila, instant mini-universe! So grab your favorite little figurines and a handful of moss, and get ready to sew yourself a terrarium! — Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

Materials

  • heavy-weight clear vinyl (I used 20-gauge) — this is available at fabric stores
  • tissue paper (you can use the tissue that comes with the vinyl or regular gift-wrapping tissue)
  • small paperclips
  • scissors
  • cutting mat, straight edge and rotary cutter (optional)
  • glue gun (optional)

Instructions

1. Cut the vinyl.


Note: Since this project is made with clear vinyl, which is nearly invisible in photographs, I’m demonstrating these steps using paper.

To begin, we’ll look at how to make the rectangular terrarium. Cut a piece of vinyl that’s the desired width of your finished container plus two times your desired height, by your desired length plus two times your desired height. Add 1/2″ to each side for seam allowance.

Next, measure a square section on each corner that is the size of your planned height for the container. So, if you planned a height of 3″, measure a 3″ square from each corner. (Note: You can draw guide lines on the vinyl with marker; they will easily wipe off. Of course, you should test this on your vinyl first. Also of note: A gridded cutting mat makes it really easy to measure your vinyl accurately.)

Cut out the corner sections.

2. Prepare the tissue.

Because vinyl is difficult to sew on a machine (its stickiness won’t allow it to feed through the machine properly), the solution is to sandwich the vinyl between strips of tissue paper. Cut several 1″ strips of tissue and set aside.

3. Sew the corners.

Fold the vinyl at each corner so that the edges of the cut-out section meet. Place the folded vinyl between two strips of tissue paper, and secure all layers with paperclips.

Sew the corner seam, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Tear away the tissue paper. (If it gets stuck under the thread in any spots, pull it out with tweezers.)

Sew all four corner sections, and your finished container will look like this!

4. Waterproof the seams.

Not surprisingly, a sewn seam will not be waterproof. This is not a major concern for this project, since terrariums are meant to be only slightly damp, not soaked with water — so leaking shouldn’t become a big issue. I recommend keeping your finished terrarium on a plate or platter at all times to catch any possible dribbles, but if you like, you can make the seams a bit more water-resistant by running a bead of hot glue along the inside of each seam. The glue will be somewhat visible, so it becomes an aesthetic choice as to whether you want to include this step.

And that’s it; your container is done! Place it on a platter, and fill it as you wish! I’m not an expert on planting, but here’s how I make my simple terrariums: a layer of pebbles, a layer of activated charcoal (this is really only needed in a closed or mostly-closed terrarium), a layer of potting soil and a piece of moss. I find that moss is easy to grow compared to some other plants and has a wonderfully lush texture that looks great. Then, just mist the terrarium whenever it looks dry. For my terrariums with lids, I never have to water them; but styles like these with an open top will need to be watered occasionally.

Variation 1: Slanted sides


To make the container with slanted sides, cut the corner sections at an angle greater than 90 degrees. Wider angles will create a steeper slant. Then sew each corner as described above.

Variation 2: Round, fluted container

To make the round container, cut a circle with a diameter equal to your desired base size, plus two times your desired height. (The circle doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect.)

Make small folds along the edge of the circle, sewing each in place. (My dotted line in this photo indicates where you would sew the seam.) Repeat all around the circle, and don’t worry about making each fold to an exact measurement — an abstract result works just fine here!

Emily

I have a clear vinyl shower curtain that I was going to get rid of soon, which I think could work for this (don’t worry I’d clean it well first)! I love this idea especially since many of the glass terrarium containers I’ve been looking at are slightly expensive.

Vicky

This is SO adorable! Thanks for the tutorial! Where did you get the adorable figurines?! I would love to get some of those cute deers for my terrarium!!

Bernie

This is a great idea. You could add some color to it by sewing with some decorative threads.

Erin

Will a regular needle work for these or do you need a heavy duty needle (like used with denim or leather)?

Teresa

You are my hero! This is so great and I may even have some clear vinyl in my stash somewhere.

rae

this is such a lovely idea. i would love to try it. if only i had a sewing machine!

Clara

This would work great with the bags that sheets and blankets come sealed in! Fabulous idea.

Brett

Thanks everybody!

Emily – GREAT idea to recycle a vinyl shower curtain for this.

Erin – you can use a regular needle to sew vinyl. Just make sure it’s relatively new (ie, sharp).

The figurines are all vintage, but the good news is they’re fun to hunt for (and easy to find) at flea markets.

xo
Brett

Akemi S.

wow wow! what a great idea! i have a hard time throwing away those big zippered bags that new comforters and blankets come in, so maybe i can sew one into a terrarium!

Mary Jo

You can find zillions of glass containers that are appropriate for terrariums at your local thrift store. This just seems silly to me.

grace

mary jo

no one’s saying there aren’t, we’re just providing an alternative to people who’d like something different (or lighter).

grace

Kelly

If you can’t find figurines @ flea markets or thrift stores, try prize machines or kid’s meals toys, I think they would be great, too!

B

How long did it take you to make one after you had the gist of it down? Would it be ridiculously ambitious to make 150 of these for my wedding??

Brett

B – wow! love that idea! They really don’t take long to make once you have the hang of it. 150 would be a big project but if you set up an assembly line I bet you could do them all in a weekend? (Definitely try a few first though to test it out!) Ooh please send pics if you do it! :)

Robin

Wow, I have a yard of vinyl remaing from making luggage tags. I’ve been searching for ideas for 2 years. This is wonderful. Thanks.

Celeste

Fantastic idea!

I have a roller pressure foot for my sewing machine that works great on vinyl. Saves a step.

Jan

Too cute! And by coincidence my local fabric store recently had a huge clearance sale and clear vinyl was marked down to 50 cents a yard. I couldn’t resist a couple of pieces. One had tree frogs all over it. Kids would love it!
And if you choose the base first, you could fit the vinyl to the inside of the base. I really like the round one on the scalloped plate.
Instead of hot glue what about that silicon stuff you can buy to fill in cracks in grout in the bathroom? It’s waterproof, permanent and it comes in a few colors or clear (I think). Just a thought if the foggy dried hot glue is distracting.
Great idea!

Barbara

I have some clear, some green, and some blue vinyl. I’m thinking about having my 6 yr. old grandson help me make one with a beach scene using the circular pattern when he comes to visit this summer; some sand collected at Daytona, a few tiny sea shells we’ll collect together, a tiny umbrella….It will be a cute souvenir from his Florida visit that he can keep on a shelf in his room at home.

Now – what to make with the green and the blue vinyl?

Charisse

Love, love, love these! They would make great teacher gifts for the end of the year! Just as a side note (for us lazy sewers) if you cover the bottom of your pressor foot with scotch tape the vinyl slides on through! Then you can just peel it off when you are done. Thanks again!

Leah

I love this idea! It makes it so easy to customize the size and shape.

Vandigo

I found that if you want the waterproofing of the glue without the look, you can get clear waterproofing caulk at a hardware store for pretty cheap in the small tubes. Works well without being opaque.

Kate

If you look for sites that sell fairy garden accessories you can find tons of little figures. The hard part is editing. Too much is too much!

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