Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The never-ending punch list

In building or interior design, a "punch list" is a list of details that need to be attended to before a project can be declared Finished. I keep a similar list of little things around the house that need to be dealt with.

Most of them take only a few minutes each, once I get a chance to actually get started. The hard part is remembering them long enough to put them on the list in the first place.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sabbatical project: Useful tinkering

The latches on our first-aid kit's plastic case broke off when it was dropped. I got tired of not being able to close it securely, and worked out a solution one day for new latches of a sort.

For simplicity, I'll describe how I did one side, but actually I did one of these on each side, for secure closure.

I used an elastic hair tie to make a loop. I drilled a hole, fed one end of the loop into the case through it, and secured that end with a paper clip. Then, on the other half of the case, aligned with it, I drilled another hole and put a short bolt through it, securing it loosely with a nut on the inside.

The end of the hair tie loops over the head of the bolt, holding the case closed. I may have done some fiddling before drilling to make sure the lengths worked out well.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Very simple holiday banner

We have a fireplace, but it is set in a wall of brick with no mantel. I've dealt with this so far by stringing a wire across the brick, and hanging things from it. For a good year, it was a set of prints (intended for a classroom) depicting different kinds of butterflies. Over the Christmas season, I hung up Christmas cards. After I took those down, I left the wire mostly empty, and just hung a few pieces of ephemera and children's art, as they showed up.

For Valentine's Day. a child made a last minute banner by cutting a big heart out of red fabric, and stapling it to a square of white fabric...simple and charming. The staples aren't very noticeable because the heart is so dominant.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Quick Valentine's dessert: Strawberry Glob

A couple from church brought us a meal after the baby was born, and something they called "strawberry glob" for dessert. The internet doesn't seem to know what that is, but it was delicious, and I made something similar to it today for Valentine's Day dessert.

Basically, it is strawberries mashed up and mixed into some sort of a creamy base with some sugar. For mine, I used mostly plain yogurt, plus some sour cream. We had several almost-empty containers of yogurt that needed to be used up anyway, and a package of strawberries in the freezer. I thawed the strawberries, mixed them and mashed them in, and added sugar to taste.

I am going to request the real recipe from them, and I will post it if it is much different than my guess.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coffee table rebuild

A while back, the children demolished our wood coffee table; a total collapse of the table's base. It had been wobbly for a while, and it kept getting worse and worse, and it was too finely engineered for us to be able to beef it up much, although we did try, a time or two.

The table was a hand-me-down, and I was not particularly attached to it. Still, it did fulfill a purpose in our living room. So I hauled the pieces down to the basement, to wait until I had time to look them over.

When I did, I saw that almost all of the broken wood was in the plywood shelf and in the long pieces (rails, I will call them) that were attached to the top.  I also saw that all of the breakage was in the ends of these pieces. The two ends of the base, which included the legs and the connecting pieces for each pair of legs, were intact. So it was possible that I could cut the rails and shelf shorter, drill new holes for the hardware, and then put the base back together, just several inches shorter, and reattach it to the table's top.

Easier said than done, of course, but even with Technical Difficulties it only took me about two days to work through the rebuild.

I'll skip the step-by-step, and list some of the sticking points and solutions instead:

1.  Laying out where exactly to drill new holes. I messed this up in one place, drilling a larger hole where a smaller hole should have gone. I ended up fixing it by cutting the rails even shorter than I had planned. For the rest, it was a bit tricky to measure and precisely mark where to put each hole. No doubt they had templates for that in the shop where it was made. For the depths of the holes, I put masking tape around the drill bits to mark where to stop.

2.  How to hold a long, narrow rail while drilling into the end of it. I found that I could clamp it to a leg of the workbench (which was originally for our kitchen and has 2x4 legs, and yes, it wobbles now) because the working surface doesn't overhang on that side.

3.  Replacing bent screws. Two screws of the original table were bent, and it took some serious digging through our Very Valuable Box of Assorted Old Screws to find replacements. Then later on, I stripped a couple of screws, and had to dig out some more.

4.  Replacing a bent screw with a screw that was actually identical. One of the replacement screws didn't have the same thread spacing as the original, which mattered because of the hardware it had to screw into, so I had to find a replacement for the replacement.

5.  Drilling holes exactly on center. Drilling a smaller pilot hole first helps keep the larger drill bit from drifting when starting a hole; using a punch to make a starter dent would have helped in some places. The shelf plywood's thickness left little room for error when drilling holes into the end of it.

6.  Using the power drill. I almost always use hand-powered drills or bit braces for drilling, but in this case I didn't want to go to the trouble of changing the bit in the bit brace. We have several used drills (discarded by a contractor) that are in rough shape but that still work. I was confirmed in my belief that power tools mostly just let you make mistakes more quickly; it was with the power drill that I drilled the hole in the wrong place. Also, even with a pilot hole, I had trouble getting holes started cleanly.

7.  Driving the screws in. Some of them I had a bit of trouble getting in, and the very last one of all absolutely did not want to go in. I had to fiddle with the hardware a lot to get things lined up right, which was awkward because of the things I had to reach around while watching it.

I did nothing with the length of the (rectangular) wood top of the table, so the end result looks a bit odd, like part of the table shrunk. I thought about reshaping the ends of the top, but I am waiting to see how well my rebuild will hold up, and I don't have any more of the Danish oil (which I used to refinish the top when we first got the table) on hand at the moment.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Strip quilt couch cover

I mentioned this project once or twice before, and now it is finished!

As you can see, our couch (which I built a few years ago) is more like a daybed; the seat is a single slab of foam. The fabrics are polyester, thrifted, with a touch of tea dye to unbrighten the color just slightly.

Design:  A strip quilt is relatively quick to sew.  To mix the five fabrics, I chose to put them into a sequence and sew them strictly in that order, similar to how words in a sentence on a page are laid out from line to line.  For the width of the strips, I looked at the boards in the back of the couch (barely visible in the upper right corner of the picture) and picked a width that was neither too narrow nor too wide in relation to them.

For the length of the fabric pieces, I set a maximum and a minimum length for each fabric piece, so that each strip across the quilt would have from two to five different fabrics in it.  My minimum and maximum lengths were 7 inches and 32 inches for my couch. I left myself the freedom to choose the length of each fabric piece as I sewed it in, so that I wouldn't get too bored with the project as I sewed it.

I also added 1/2 inch to each edge, for a seam allowance.

I planned to put a backing fabric on it after finishing the top, for strength and to keep the fabric edges on the back from catching on each other in the wash.

Cover shaping:  there is the basic rectangle for the seat, plus an overhang in front, plus an identical overhang in back (to tuck underneath the cushion and hold it in place; it also makes the cover reversible front-to-back).  There is also an overhang at each side, each of which ends in a wide flap that also tucks underneath the cushion.  There are seams where the side and front and back pieces meet.

Execution:  I made a width pattern from a scrap of hardboard, and used it as a guide to cut a number of strips from the fabrics. I also made a little color card with samples of the fabrics, in the order I was sewing them. I drew several marks on my dining room table (don't try this at home unless you have a rustic table) for the maximum and minimum lengths, along with another one for the total front-to-back length (58 inches). These marks made it easy to lay the fabric pieces out and see what I needed to cut next. I made each strip a bit on the long side, so that I could trim and neaten the edges later on.

Then I started cutting the pieces, for one full strip at a time, and sewing them together. It was convenient to work in groups of five strips, sewing each one, and them joining them together.

Since I was working in a strict sequence of colors, I joined each block to the next as soon as it was finished.

I trimmed the edges and ironed all the seams open once all the strips were together, including the strips for the sides. Then I laid it out on the floor on top of the backing fabric, and hand-basted the two layers together (no batting).  There is probably some better way to do that, but I couldn't think of one. Then I sewed by machine along every third line of stitching, to join the layers, and removed the basting stitches.

I added the flaps at the sides last, because they didn't require a backing.

Then I laid out the couch cushion on the floor, and tried to figure out where to make the seams for the corners. One method that I have used before is to put the cover on inside-out, pin it on, and then draw sewing lines on it with chalk. For some reason that didn't work very well for me this time, but I eventually did a little figuring, trimming, and sewing, and ended up with corner seams that are only moderately goofy. I decided to accept this as an "unplanned detail", instead of trying to resew them. I was prepared to accept a certain amount of non-straightness with it already.

For the hem, I just folded the edges to the back, and sewed them down. I think I will do this again one more time before I put the cover into the washer; the fabrics are woven and tend to unravel.

Finally, there was one place--right in the center, naturally, and with the black fabric--where the changes of fabrics in adjoining strips came out awkwardly...too much alike. I solved this by visually lengthening one of the black strips, by hand-appliqueing on a short extension to it.  It blends in well with the rest, and is easier to find by feel than by sight. I'm pretty sure that the two rightmost black pieces in the picture are the ones I worked on; I added fabric to the one on the left so that it wouldn't end in the same place as the one on the right.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sabbatical project: Shower curtain from remnants

A lady at church had some decorating fabric left over from making new curtains, and handed it down to me.

I had to think about where in the house I might use it; different rooms in this house are rooted in different decades, and some of them don't accommodate modern decor very well.

Then I realized that the most modern room in the house is the bathroom, which was redone just before we moved in.

So I ended up sewing the remnants together into a shower curtain:

You can see where I overlapped the selvage edges.

I had been wanted something a little better than the shower curtain we had, anyway, because its colors didn't quite coordinate with the bathroom colors.

The new curtain is a bit short, and is almost too heavy for the tension rod. But it looks nice.

There were also smaller scraps of a similar but brighter fabric, which I hemmed and made into curtains for one of the windows in the downstairs bathroom.