Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Diaper covers for the HE washer

The washer in this house is a fancy Samsung HE (high efficiency) washer that cannot be used to wash things that are waterproof, such as diaper covers. So I found a glass washboard at an antique store, for $14--about half the price that I have ever seen one for sale--and have been using that to wash diaper covers by hand. The washboard is a big help for the covers that need scrubbing. (Glass washboards were preferred over metal ones in the old days, though I forget why.) With the washboard, it takes me about ten minutes twice a week to wash my toddler's diaper covers.

With a new baby, I will be washing diapers three times a week instead of two, and will have a much harder time finding ten or fifteen minutes for handwashing covers each time. So I have been preparing to switch back to wool covers, at least during the daytime, and to machine wash them (see below).

For wool, I had a small amount of wool yarn leftovers, and four old, stained, and shrunk cashmere sweaters that my mother-in-law passed on to one of our children. This child made an honest attempt to appreciate the qualities of cashmere, but fundamentally just isn't a sweater person. Only one of the sweaters was in good enough condition to donate, but they were all too good to throw away.

For diaper cover patterns, I looked at the plastic-pants-style covers that we had, and measured them, then drew up paper patterns.

I used the yarns, in a double strand because they were sock weight, to crochet most of one diaper cover.

Then I cut as many cover pieces as possible from the sweaters, and then stitched the larger scraps together patchwork-style, and made more pieces from those.  I put elastic around all the waist and leg openings, which cost about $5. All together, the four smallish sweaters plus the crocheted yarn piece yielded four large covers, six medium, and five small. The cashmere is soft and beautiful. With the wool covers that I have from before, which will be usable with the addition of a little elastic, this gives me enough to use wool covers full time, if need be.

For water repellency, wool covers do much better if they contain some lanolin; lanolizing instructions here.  Also, generally handwashing (and only occasionally or when poopy) in lukewarm water with air drying is strongly recommended for wool covers, to prevent them from felting and shrinking. But what I have actually done in the past is to skip the lanolin, wash the poopy wool covers in both cold and hot water right along with the diapers, and hang them to dry with the other diaper covers.  Most of them felted and shrank (some wool won't, even if you try), but that gave a nicer density to the cover material, and only some of them ended up too small. This batch of diaper covers runs large and roomy, and most of the material has already been shrunk, so I'm not worried about shrinking. But I may start handwashing them once the baby gets into the medium size, just to keep the cashmere from wearing out too quickly. My babies don't stay in the small size for very long.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baseball cap

Once upon a time, I had a baseball cap. And I wore it out. I took it apart with a seam ripper, rescued the plastic from inside the bill, and used the pieces as a pattern to make myself a new cap in a more feminine fabric. That one also wore out, eventually. I rescued the bill again, and threw the rest away. When I got to sewing another one, I measured my head, drew up a pattern from measurements and memory, and made a new cap with interesting fabric from my modest fabric stash. I had one of my husband's caps for reference, for the tricky parts like how to attach the sweatband. (Even then, I sewed it on wrong the first time.)

The lowly baseball cap is both simple and intricate in construction at the same time; I find sewing my own to be moderately challenging. The main body of the hat is six "fat triangles" of equal size, sewn together. The seams are covered with a seam tape, which is topstitched. At the top, a button covered with fabric is attached where the tips of the triangles meet. At the back, a semicircle is cut out from the bottom of one triangle, and two straps are attached; in my hats I connected these with a buckle, or just by tying them together. The sweatband is a folded piece of fabric that is stitched to the bottom edge of the hat, and then folded up inside. The bill is a piece of plastic or cardboard between two sewn layers of fabric, then several lines of stitching go through all the layers. The bill is attached to the rest of the hat by stitching. Precision at every step pays off.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Many more things for the walls

After painting the mileage sign on a stake, I hit a creative dry spell in ideas for new wall art. But after a couple of days, ideas started to pop up again:

I had an old black frame, with some handwritten words in it, that was not working in the bedroom. I took it down, and replaced the words with the lyrics from a hymn that is (in my mind) our family hymn. I wiped down the frame with black acrylic paint to cover the bare spots, and found it a new place next to the front door, where it works much better.

I made another mileage sign from a stake, this time with the mileage to Grandma's house, and hung it up in the dining room under the other one.

My husband had a large print made of one of his photographs for $10 at Costco. It didn't work where I thought we were going to hang it, but we found another place in the family room for it.  (We hung it unframed with Command Strips.)

I had wide white cotton lace trim from the sheet that I am using to make a skirt. I hand stitched the whole length up into gathers, arranged it into a spiral, and put a hinged ring (office supply) through the top for hanging. I originally made it for the dining room, which is developing a color theme of red, white, and green, but the lace is very white and makes the beige walls look slimy. So I moved it to the bedroom, where the black frame had been, and it works well there--because of the curtains which accept the beige of the walls, but then transcend it into a palette that includes white.

Also in the bedroom, from the free lumber motherlode, there is a white door that I am using as a headboard.

Finally, my husband brought home some old graphic design magazines from work. These often have samples of very nice papers bound in as advertisements. I had the idea of making a garland of paper leaves from The Nester, but with much smaller leaves. I cut leaves, then some of the green twine to hot glue them to. I didn't have a gluing plan in mind, but when I had it all in front of me and started playing, the gluing worked itself out well enough. When it was done, I wound it around one of the curtain rods in the bedroom. I might make one for the other rod, and I am thinking of making something similar with a mix of beige and white paper samples, for the dining room, to see if I can "accept and transcend" my way into making white work on the walls.

The bedroom has reached the point where there is enough going on visually for me. I left one wall completely bare, for visual breathing room.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Using your home for its purpose

The decorating and furnishing of a home should support the functions of the home as a whole, and of each room in it.  One of our goals in this house is to support my husband's gift of hospitality and have people over much more often. Yesterday we had eight adults and thirteen children together at once; a bit chaotic, but not overwhelming.  We used almost every fork and chair that we have, and had an inexpensive potluck meal.  This particular house has enough space in the main living areas to accommodate a large group, and that seems to be one reason why God led us here.

I see the need, though, for me to establish a hospitality preparation checklist. My husband is quite oblivious to what (to me) obviously needs to be done before we have people over.

Friday, April 17, 2015

New old clothes

Last weekend I finally got out again to a few thrift stores, to look for new used clothes for myself. What I mostly bought were used things that I could make new clothes from:  a tablecloth, a fabric shower curtain, a knit shirt several sizes too big, and a blouse that needs new buttons and perhaps to be overdyed. I also found a short corduroy jacket and men's pajama pants (which have a drawstring and can accommodate a third-trimester pot belly) that are fine for me as is. I stopped at the art store and bought fabric dye, for dyeing fabric that I already had.

Over time, I have worked out a few clothing patterns that suit me well:  a simple skirt pattern in a comfortable length, a long-sleeved T-shirt pattern, and a pants pattern. I based these on items that fit me well, and on my own measurements, with some calculation. A lot of modern clothing is very simple in construction (and skimpy in fabric, hence the tablecloth and curtain), so I find that I can sew my own clothing fairly well, if I don't try to duplicate the detailed finishing that is available commercially.

With my custom patterns and the fabrics that I bought, the rest was just work. So the tablecloth and shower curtain have already become skirts, the knit shirt now fits (although the stitching looks a bit awkward because I pulled the fabric too much while sewing), and so does another shirt that I already had. I am currently working on another skirt, using a thrifted sheet that I am embroidering with crochet cotton and will be dyeing.

Sewing hints:  I usually do half-inch seam allowances. For the woven fabrics, I edge stitch around each piece before sewing them together, with a narrow zigzag stitch. For knits, I use a wider zigzag stitch for all the seams, with a ball-point needle to avoid breaking threads in the fabric. I often do some of the finishing work by hand, and sometimes all of the stitching; knits are especially forgiving of hand stitching (see Alabama Chanin). I buy thread by the cone, preferably second-hand, and just put the cone on the machine and set the thread tension as low as I can--I have an older sewing machine with metal parts, which will take that sort of abuse, but newer machines might not, so be advised.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Curtain tabs

The curtains in the living room were held up with clothespins for a while, but I wanted something slightly less transient, without spending any money.

I found that the color of the linen yarn (which is more like string, and difficult to find uses for) that my mother-in-law gave me was compatible with the curtain colors, so I crocheted a set of tabs, to be sewn to the curtains. I only have one crochet hook at the moment, which is a little on the large side, so the tabs are open and lacy.

When it came time to sew them to the curtains, I found the curtain hems difficult to stitch through by hand, and I didn't want to machine stitch, because someday I am going to move to a different house with different windows. So I used safety pins to attach the tabs, instead, from the back. (My grandmother gave me a little box of safety pins when I went off to college, and I still have it.)

With the curtains hung, the two panels are a few inches short of covering the complete width of the window. I had two extra tabs, from miscounting while producing them, so I used one of them to hang up the other in the space in the middle, as sort of a pendant. It still needed a little something, but I found a hoop earring on the sidewalk, so I added that.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pursuing efficiency

Since moving in, I've been working to make our home work for us more efficiently, both in terms of energy and in terms of livability.

Some of the things I've done:

Redistributed the bulbs in the light fixtures so that rooms are not overlit at night, and washed the fixtures that needed it

Placed lamps so that we can minimize use of the overhead light fixtures, which makes the house feel more homely

Attempted to find a setting for the refrigerator where it won't freeze our food

Programmed the thermostat to keep the temperature two degrees cooler when my husband is at work, and when we are sleeping (or should be, ahem) and at church

Tinkered with the front door to make it close all the way; I was seeing a chink of daylight around it

Figured out which washer cycles I should use for washing diapers, which I do twice weekly

Attempted to figure out which dishwasher cycle options are most energy-efficient; it is an older model

Attempted to establish turning-off-lights habits in the family

Tightened screws in the stair handrail, and in two loose doorknobs

Checked the temperature setting on the water heater

Put the first aid kit and emergency supplies in an easily accessible place

Stored spare clothes in the bathroom for the child that is prone to potty accidents

Found a place to store my sewing machine near where I will be sitting to sew

Attempted to fix the doorknob for the coat closet, which turns very stiffly and gets stuck, but was unable to get at the sticky parts

Still to do:

Put the clothesline up, somewhere in the back yard

Get a lamp for the school room

Change the level of some of the shelves in the kitchen cabinets

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Coat hooks and a sign

The problem with living in a Fifties rambler in a cold climate is that it is essentially a warm-climate house design. The slope of the roof is shallow and tends to develop ice dams. There is also zero provision of space in the interior layout for multiple children at a time to get suited up in long socks, snow pants, boots, coats, hats, and mittens, or to store any of that stuff. So I had to give a corner of the family room over to that function. Each child in our family has an old crate to hold their winter accessories, and these crates are stackable, but we still needed a row of coat hooks.

I didn't want to buy hooks, so I decided to make my own, out of coat hanger wire that I would bend around a jig. We keep a stock of wire coat hangers for creative purposes, although they are getting harder to find these days. For my jig, I just drove several screws partway into the block of wood that we use as a drilling block, and I placed them at the points of an imaginary cross. Using nails in slightly large holes might have been better, as I had to remove screws at various times as I was bending the wire.

The first coat hanger I used was the thickest in the bunch, which made some of the bending difficult.  I mostly used small vise grips when I needed pliers, and in places did some pounding with a hammer. To cut the wire, I grip it with the vise grips and bend it back and forth, until it breaks from metal fatigue.

I started each hook in the same way, with a loop bent around one of the screws, and from there looped the wire around the other screws in sequence. Then I removed the screw at the bottom, and bent that loop up (with difficulty) to form a hook. After that, I made another loop freehand, and bent that up as well, to make two hanging surfaces per hook. The freehand loops differ, so the hooks are different as well as similar.

As a mounting board for the hooks, I found a piece of plywood from the lumber motherlode. I intended to finish it by decoupaging a portion of a map on it, but the plywood and the map that I wanted to use didn't work well together, so I decided to color the plywood with crayon instead. I started a vine design across the top in green, and filled in the rest with light green, and then rubbed it down with scrap wool. Even then, the crayon didn't get all the way down into the texture of the plywood.

But then I decided that I didn't like it, because it was too bright and disconnected from the rest of the room. So I took red acrylic paint and wiped it over the whole thing, not trying to get it down into the plywood. The crayon still shows, but now the board looks weathered and somewhat mysterious. "Old circus" is how I would describe it. I won't say it's pretty, but I do like it a lot.

I used assorted old screws to attach the hooks to the board, and wall anchors to attach the board to the wall. With the crates in one tall stack instead of two short ones, the coat corner miraculously became functional and almost organized.

I used similar techniques to make a mileage sign to one of our favorite parts of the world.  I found a wood stake in the woodpile, wrote the place and miles on it with wide-tip permanent marker, and then wiped red acrylic paint over it as a sort of stain. When the paint dried, I put two screws in the top, and tied twine across, for a hanger. After it was on the wall, the black permanent marker seemed too dark, so I went over it with light green crayon, which makes the lettering look dark green.

With these two things up on the walls, I am getting to the point in decorating where I can see something that I like, no matter where I happen to be looking in the house. It really does make a difference.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cushion cover

I finally got around to sewing my upholstery scraps into a cover for the chair cushion. I had already cut off the unsewable parts of each piece, then I took the easy path of sorting the pieces by width, and sewing each pile into a strip. After joining the strips, I draped it over the cushion upside down and started fitting and pinning it to the cushion, one corner at a time, using a washable marker to mark where I needed to sew.  For upholstery fabric, I highly recommend machine sewing, because many of the fabrics unravel so easily. After fitting and sewing the corners, I wrapped the fabric (still inside out) around the bottom, and did a few more rounds of pinning and sewing, so that each side comes around to the bottom, while still allowing me to get the cover on and off the cushion. I like that it is made of a dozen lovely fabrics, rather than just one. I used nearly all of the scraps I bought, with just enough left over for me to patch a rip in the couch cover.

Next project:  homemade wool diaper covers. The washboard works well enough for hand washing covers, but with a new baby coming, I would prefer some kind of a cover that could go through the HE washer, and it seems that an additional technological step backward might be helpful. I have enough wool yarn and old sweaters to get started, and I have made and used wool covers before. This time I will be rethinking the cover design, as there were several design issues the first time around that made them difficult to use.

Also, my husband happened on a motherlode of free lumber, a contractor about to move out of state, so it seems likely that there will be some woodworking projects in the near future.