Friday, January 30, 2015

Fine adjustments

With the pegs half-glued in place, it was easier to see where things didn't fit. I am not above whittling down pegs a little to make pieces line up better; I overbuild enough that I can get away with cutting a corner sometimes. One of the pegs had to be sawed off, drilled out, and replaced. After those adjustments, the pieces fit together very well, and I went on to the measuring and drilling needed to fit the rest of the side pieces together. It is starting to look like a chair now.

Some of the difficulties arose because I chose to make the chair the same way I made the couch: with the ability to be broken down into sides, seat, back, and cushions for moving, by pulling a few bolts and taking out a couple of screws. My next step is to drill the rest of these bolt holes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Progress on the armchair

After getting the right size of screws, I was able to put together the rectangle that will support the seat. A day or two later, I added corner blocks (salvaged from an old table). The next day, I brought up the legs and some of the other side pieces, and started fitting things together.

This is where the accumulated mistakes started to show. The notches on the legs were all slightly too small, and needed to be sawn larger. The seat base is slightly askew, leaving one foot of the chair not touching the floor. I will wait until the end to see how much that needs to be corrected with a shim. Adding the first of the side pieces, I discovered that I made the seat base a square instead of a rectangle, so the side pieces I had cut were all two inches too short. I cut new ones. This does not disrupt the design too much, because I will set the chair's back in later. There will just be room for a magazine rack or something behind it. The side pieces are attached to the legs with pegs; the peg holes were too deep and the pegs were too short, and nothing would stay in its place when I was dry-fitting all this together.

After taking a break to sweep up the wood chips and sawdust all over the floor and to get a snack, it was clear that the next step was to reduce the number of moving parts by gluing one end of each too-short peg in place. That is done; I will saw the other two pieces that need to be re-cut while I am waiting for the glue to dry.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Treat your home like a car

Window cleaner, microfiber cleaning cloths, and degreaser (for cleaning vent hood filters, for example): three cleaning products that can often be found in cheaper and more effective versions in automotive stores and sections.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The courage to change the things I can

My new glasses arrived, and they are not bifocals. Now I can see what I am doing again.  I very rarely needed the near vision; it just got in my way constantly.

But again I had to choose between various non-flattering colors for the frames, and I ended up with one that is much too dark. In the past, I have painted frames with nail polish; it is hard to apply evenly because it dries so fast, but it wears well. So I am thinking of painting a pattern rather than a single color. The problem is to find the intersection between what I can paint, and what I actually would want to wear on my face all the time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Waiting until the stars align themselves better

The armchair project is stalled, because I very carefully picked out the type and size of screws I wanted but didn't check the actual box, which had been very carelessly mis-shelved. So I have been working on a multitude of unglamorous little mending, repair, cleaning, organizing, and decluttering projects instead:  washing the glass dishes from the light fixtures, sewing up a rip in a pillow and sewing the arm back on a stuffed animal, touching up little scuff marks, sorting papers and pulling out numbers in preparation for doing the taxes, putting away the last few Christmas decorations, condensing our pantry supplies into fewer containers.

After a couple days of hard and varied work, I had to downshift and spend some time just sitting and daydreaming. That is important too. Much of the above activity was really an expression of anxiety about the upcoming move. Home should be a place of comfort and rest.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Haircuts at home

I've been growing my hair out long, so I only have to trim my bangs every month, and trim for split ends every three months or so. For the rest of the family, we have a kit with hair clipper, combs, hair clips, and guards for the clipper that let you trim to a specific length. There are also scissors, but they aren't all that great, and I usually use my fabric scissors instead. This kit has saved us a ton of money. I've mostly learned how to cut hair by trial and error, but this is a great video tutorial on cutting boys' hair with clippers and scissors.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Save money by carefully shopping the dollar store

Mostly we avoid dollar store merchandise, but there are some things at our local Dollar Tree* that are a good value. Lady Lydia often shops the dollar store for decorative items, and she was the one who got me started again on dollar store shopping. I buy bath soap and toilet cleaner and kitchen matches there, and also some of our workbooks for homeschooling. The dollar store has many simple, basic items that I have hunted for in vain all over Target, such as nightlights. Lately I have had to buy mousetraps; the dollar store mousetraps are very fiddly to set without pinching your fingers, compared to the hardware store version, but that hair trigger makes it very difficult for a mouse to steal the bait and get away.

* No one sponsors this blog; all opinions are my own.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Building up posts

At one time I tried to make a list of all the different kinds of processes involved in making crafts. It was quite long. Today's process in building the armchair is what I call an additive process. I am making the posts which will be the legs and corners of the chair.

What I am aiming for is a 4x4 post (actually 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches), with notches. I could take a 4x4, and saw and chisel out the notches. That would be a subtractive process, and would involve spending money on 4x4s and doing some careful cutting work. Or I could take the 2x4s that we already have, do a few simple cuts, and assemble them into an equivalent form:

The result is 3.5 inches by 3 inches, because a 2x4 is really 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches, but I have accounted for that in my design. I used both nails and carpenter's glue for assembly, and even drilled pilot holes for the nails, to avoid any chance of the nails splitting the wood. (For the couch, I used screws instead of nails, but we are running low on long screws at the moment.) The nail heads are barely visible in the photo. For the pilot holes, I drilled through the top piece first, pounded the nail through until it stuck out slightly, and used the point to mark where the rest of the pilot hole should be drilled. After drilling all the holes, I put the glue on, replaced the pieces, and drove the nails home. The nails aren't really necessary; the average carpenter's glue, when dry, is much stronger than the average cheap wood.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sawing wood

I finally got a chance to get started on sawing wood for the chair. We have a good Stanley brand hand saw, so the sawing goes fast. I just use a chair as a sawhorse, and hold the wood in place with one foot. I cut about half of the pieces needed in an hour or two.

The design of the chair is very similar to the couch that I built last year, but I still had to make a careful drawing and work out some details. The chair back is going to be different from the couch back, so I did some sitting experiments and measured how deep the seat needed to be, how far the back needed to tilt, and how high it should be. Design thrice, measure twice, cut once.`

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Neckline modification

I have a mock turtleneck that I picked up for about a dollar somewhere. I didn't wear it much because I didn't like the feel of the collar around my neck; as a highly sensitive person, totally comfortable clothing is very important to me. The shirt does have a good length; most women's shirts are shorter than I like.

Today I wore that shirt, and got so annoyed by it that the first chance I got, I took a piece of chalk, drew a new neckline in the mirror, and cut and sewed the shirt. For sewing, I folded over the edge and hand stitched with some thin linen yarn (from my mother-in-law, of course). I started with sort of a zigzag stitch, but switched to backstitch for the front.

The stitch came out somewhat imperfect, because I was in a hurry, but I was mainly aiming for comfortable. The yarn is a light sage green in the skein, but looks like more of a bilious yellow against the shirt fabric. Either color goes well with the rest of my wardrobe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Baby pants

Last year, my mother-in-law gave me several yards of linen fabric. One side had a rather ghastly print, but the other side was natural linen color. I made myself three pairs of pants from it, hand sewing in the style of Alabama Chanin. This goes much faster than one would expect, and is very portable.

Today, I used the leftover fabric, about half a yard, to make baby pants. I measured the baby's circumference and length at various points:  waist, hip, thigh, knee, and ankle; and also the rise (waist to middle crotch). Then I drew up a quick pattern based on those measurements, starting at the waist and working down and out. I added extra for the waistband, the seams, and the hem at the ankle. Then I added some more for ease (room to move):  one inch of circumference in the waist and up to two inches in the thigh and ankle, because the fabric has very little stretch. I made the front and back sides of the pattern identical; little children have little butts. I had enough fabric to cut out four pairs of baby pants. I also had elastic salvaged from old kids' clothes for the waistbands.

The pattern drafting and the cutting out are my favorite parts of the process; the rest is just work. I sewed them all up on the sewing machine. Finishing the hems and waistband are the slow parts of the process. I haven't tried the pants on the baby yet, but I suspect I should have made the rise larger.

This page has a nice primer on the basics of sewing pants. In particular, notice the pattern shapes for the front and back pieces of a pair of pants. I can take my own measurements, draw up the pattern shapes scaled to those measurements, and sew a pair of pants that fits better than anything than I will ever find in a store.

I remember, though, that Susie Bright wrote in one of the former CRAFT: magazine issues, that the best way to get a perfect-fitting pair of pants is to sew yourself a figure-flattering A-line skirt instead. Pants are very tricky, if you're trying for a perfect fit. But basic roomy pants are easy.

Monday, January 12, 2015


I did a lot of little moving-preparation tasks this morning, and used up all of my ambition and energy. But I did play around with making boxes out of some large pieces of paperboard that I don't want to move.

The first idea I had was to coil a long strip into a circular box, and poke holes through it to secure it with yarn. But really I wanted a rectangular box, for more economical use of space.

A rectangular box is simple:  four sides, a bottom, and maybe a top. I cut a long strip and folded it to form the four sides, plus some overlap. I stapled this in place. Then I cut another long strip, which became another layer of a side, then the bottom, the opposite side, the top, and a flap. I stapled this in place, too, and I was done. I am leaving it plain and undecorated.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Doing without a snowblower

We got about four inches of snow today. We have fifty feet of wide sidewalk, two sets of steps, about one hundred feet of narrow sidewalk, and a short two-car driveway. I shoveled all that in thirty minutes of light to moderate exercise, using only these two tools:  a snow scoop (aka "Yooper scooper") and a grain shovel. The snow scoop is a wide metal box, open at the front and top, with a handle for pushing. It enables me to clear wide areas quickly by pushing the snow, rather than lifting it. I've seen both homemade and commercial versions. The grain shovel (which can be found at farm supply stores) is very handy for steps and for heavy wet snow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Meaningful wall art

My word for the year gave me a direction for the two art projects I had in the pipeline.

For the painted-over canvas, I played with one of The Nester's techniques: dumping paint colors on the canvas, and then swirling them around. She uses craft paints in her chosen colors, but I prefer to buy only red, yellow, blue, and white paints, and mix my own colors from those. So I dumped and mixed and covered the canvas in long, diagonal strokes. Then I started playing with elliptical swirls, which led to a simple Lissajous figure that covered most, but not all, of the diagonals. No one need be impressed by my painting technique.

But for all that messing around, the painting turned out to be much more profound than I expected. It is abstract enough that you are not going to see much more in it than what you bring within yourself, but I do see something there that really speaks to me. Not bad for a free used canvas and a little paint.

For the small photograph and frame (which was originally taken and framed by professional photographers but cost less than fifty cents at a yard sale), I discovered that the back of the photograph that I didn't like was a shade of green that I do very much like. Related to my word for the year, I had lyrics to a song that I wrote a couple years ago, about longing for my real forever home in Heaven. So I wrote the title and the lyrics in marker on the back of the photograph, and framed it. I referred to for inspiration about how to write the title. I have been craving some good typography expressed in good colors.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slow furniture

Last year I took our beaten-up couch completely apart, and used the wood from the frame along with free pallet wood and new foam and salvage store upholstery scraps to make a new-to-us couch. I used some of the old fabric to make a slipcover for the matching armchair. This year, the armchair reached the point of no repair, and I am now in the middle of disassembling and rebuilding it. It took several hours to get all the fabric and padding off, with the help of a small but enthusiastic staple-pulling boy. It will take a couple more hours to take the frame entirely apart, with a hammer and a flat bar for prying.  I have an Arts and Crafts style armchair design in mind.

The couch and chair we bought seven years ago for $80 at the Salvation Army store, for the record. We had no way to get them both home, but providentially a guy in the parking lot with a pickup was willing to trade couch hauling for a jump start. God knows where all the resources are.

Monday, January 5, 2015


I've been following The Nester's blog for a while, and her book The Nesting Place:  It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful was on my Christmas list.

Well, I got it. And I have read through it once. Now I am going to have to go back and re-read it. There are some parts of it that I am going to have to take some quiet time to think about and cry my eyes out over, because she touched right on several sore spots in my soul. Renting in one place after another after another when you are really a homeowner at heart:  been there, done that, still there. Discovering that you've been filling up the rental with stupid cheap junk just to cover up all the ugliness and blandness:  that too. Despairing of being able to decorate at all when you are raising a succession of Destructo-Babies on a very tight budget:  yes, definitely. Thinking that your home isn't presentable until it is perfect:  who, me? I don't connect very well with her personal style, but her decorating philosophy is exactly what I have been trying to implement for a long time. I highly, highly recommend this book.

Then, I read about Brenda's Word for 2015 from God. I asked God for a Word of my own, and it came to me right away:  HOME. Oh my, I am bawling again. I've lived in over a dozen different apartments and houses since college, and now we're getting ready to move again.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Let it go

Several months ago, I started making a paper-pieced hexagonal quilt. For fabric, I culled out some old baby clothes, so I could use the better parts for the quilt. I was planning to make a small lap quilt or a pillow cover.

I like the technique, because the paper templates make the piecing and the hand stitching come out very precisely, making my sewing look much better than it actually is. But I didn't like how this particular project was turning out. I wasn't enjoying the fabrics, or the thread (the only color that I have in any quantity in the moment is navy blue), or how they went together.

So I let it go.  I officially declared it a UFO--unfinished object--and it went into the donate box.

I was going to get rid of all the unused fabric too, but then it occurred to me that I could use it for one of the kid quilts that I am planning. These will be more in the style of utility quilts, made of simple and somewhat large squares. So I made a template for a square from sandpaper (that's what Grandma used to do, it goes grit side down on the fabric) and started cutting out squares. Now I have about 100 squares, which is a good start.

How do you know when to let a stalled project go? I learned from Barbara Sher's book Refuse to Choose that it is okay to let a project go when you have gotten what you want from it. This is not always a completed project. In this case, I got the satisfaction of mastering a new technique.

In economics, there is the Sunk Cost Fallacy, which says that you should let an investment of resources go when it no longer makes sense to keep it, no matter how much you have already sunk into it. Admit the failure, and move on. With the quilt, I realized that I was not going to get the satisfaction of a finished project that I loved, no matter how long I worked on it. I cut my losses and went on to the next project.