Friday, May 29, 2015

Simple pot scrubber crochet pattern

I make my own pot scrubbers for free from plastic mesh bags used to hold produce like oranges or onions. There are lots of ways to do this; you could just roll the bag up into a doughnut shape and tie it, but here is how I crochet them. If you don't have a mesh bag, tulle fabric also works well.

Cut the bag in a spiral into a strip about 1.5 inches wide, avoiding labels and large holes. If you have more than one strip, they can be joined with a slit joint.

Chain 6, join to make ring. [This leaves a hole in the center; I am thinking of doing ch 4 here next time.]

Chain 4, then make triple crochet stitches into the ring until you are about to run out of bag, or until the scrubber is a full enough circle to suit you. Join the last stitch to the top of the ch 4, tie off, work in the end. That's it!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Throw pillow cover

One of the feather throw pillows from the rummage sale had a very 1980's cover, from which I salvaged the zipper. I found that I had more than enough scrap corduroy from the sale to make a new cover. Corduroy is not ideal for a pillow that is going to spend a lot of time on the floor, but I also found a clothes brush at the sale.

I wanted a removable cover with cording. Sewing cording into a seam is really not as hard as it looks. For the cord I had a scrap of clothesline rope. I put a cording or zipper foot (which allows you to stitch right next to something bulky) on the sewing machine, folded a strip of fabric around the rope, and sewed it closed. When I needed another strip I did a bias join (there's a diagram here if you scroll down a bit). Then I trimmed the edges to the same seam allowance that I was using for the pillow.

I cut the front and back fabric for the cover. In the back piece I inserted and sewed in the zipper, and then recut the piece to the right length. It has been a while since I've sewed in a zipper, and I probably should have looked up the procedure, but it turned out all right.

Assembly:  I put the front and back pieces with right sides together, with the cording between so that all the seam allowances were even (so the cord lies to the inside of this sandwich). Then, with the cording foot, I stitched around just outside the cord. (This mostly came out well, although in a few places I didn't get quite close enough to the cord, and the cording stitching shows a little. I suppose I could restitch in those places if I cared to.) At the corners, I eased the cording around in a curve, and sewed along the curve. The cording came out about an inch too short, although I had tried to allow several extra inches, but I added a small scrap of fabric to cover the gap and left it at that. There is a more professionally-sewn tutorial here, if you are interested.

The next step is to wash the pillow:  Hand wash in mild detergent (or dishwashing liquid), spin in the washer, dry on low in the dryer with tennis balls and a towel to help fluff it and get the water out, but don't overdry.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bringing the couch into harmony

There was much more fabric in the cotton curtains than I had expected, but it wasn't right for the couch:  the cool blue went all right with the rug, but against the wall color it made the couch look like a jewel sitting in a shallow mud puddle. Also, the fabric is far too delicate for what our couch goes through.

Second try:  I thought about what we have, and decided to try an old blue, gray, and off-white quilt. This is a commercially-made quilt with some hand topstitching that we have had for years and years. This quilt worked better than expected on the couch; the blue and the off-white go with the rug colors, while the shadows that the quilted texture creates in the off-white fabric come close to the muddy deep beige of the walls. I feel like I am starting to get somewhere with this room.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Serendipitous sale

I found much more at the rummage sale than I expected to. Praying beforehand may have had something to do with that. This sale runs for three days of normal, priced selling, and then ends with one day of bag and cart sales:  $8 for a grocery bag and $35 for as much as you can fit into a shopping cart.

In the past, I have usually bought one bag full. This year, considering the length of my shopping list (yes, I make an actual list of things I am looking for), I elected to go with the cart. I timed my arrival to miss the initial cart stampede. When I was there, the sale wasn't crowded, and by the time I left, there were only a handful of shoppers.

And I found a rug!!! A 9x12 foot flat wool rug, rolled up, looking neither too clean nor too worn. I also found a smaller rug. They both have large flowers on a cream background with a border; the color scheme is 1980's Country style. When I got the rugs home, I unrolled the larger one, prepared to have to wash it on a tarp in the driveway and maybe also to tea dye the entire thing...but after a good vacuuming there were only some minor stains and spots on the top side, and worn places along two edges, while the back side was almost pristine. The large rug went into the family room, and the smaller one into the TV nook. As Alexandra Stoddard says about decorating, if you change one thing, you have to reconsider everything else. The rug is making me think about making a quieter cover for the couch cushion, in a cooler color. The set of three all-cotton curtains that I found may work for that, if I sew them together.

I also found various remnants of knit fabrics, suitable for sewing pants for boy play clothes. Today I cut out and started sewing six pairs of pants from this fabric. I found several polyester (ugh) pajama pants, from which I could steal the elastic, but one of my children claimed them first. I altered them to make the legs narrower by turning them inside out and sewing new side seams with a zigzag stitch.

I felt my way through the throw pillows (apparently no one ever leaves the tags on) and found some that were down/feathers, because I discovered after we moved that although I hate beige carpet, I do enjoy lying on it with a feather pillow. I need to wash them, and make a new cover for one.

I found various clothes for me, most of which I will be altering, postpartum when I return to a less pyramidal shape.

Craft supplies:  crochet cotton for embroidery, craft wire, a cheap three-ring binder to supply cover boards for my handmade blank book, a roll of wallpaper for making sewing patterns, corduroy scraps, a half-used sketchbook, and assorted envelopes and small notebooks and yarn for the children. I couldn't find leather anything for my book cover, but I did find a pair of jeans in an interesting green.

Household items:  a towel, a washcloth which is now a cloth baby wipe, boot waterproofing, a like-new memory foam mattress topper for a double bed, a barely-used sleeping bag just like the one I used to have twenty years ago, a Rada paring knife, several small plates, fireplace tools.

I found a number of books for me and the children, so I am set for reading material for a while. I questioned whether I should get Home Comforts:  The Art and Science of Keeping House, which I used to own (before the Big Purge) and which I generally find exhausting to read because of the implied high expectations for housekeeping, but I did get it and it is proving I know how to wash my feather pillows, when I get to them. 

Even near the end of the sale, on my second pass through, I was finding good-quality items. One was a Baufix starter set of wooden construction pieces (bolts, nuts, bars, wheels) with an original price tag of almost $100 that was hiding among the jigsaw puzzles. Another was a kerosene lamp in a box under a table. (Much earlier a lady had picked one up that I was on my way over to get.) There were still down throw pillows there when I left. 

Finally, I got a big foam gymnastics wedge, which went on the very top of the pile in the cart. It has been very popular with my very active children.

I didn't find everything on my list, but I am amazed and grateful at how much of it I did find, along with the things that I wasn't even looking for.

Friday, May 15, 2015

More small changes

I rewired the lamp for the school room with no great difficulty and painted it; the final step is getting the right size bulb. I did a thin wash of beige paint over the color so it would harmonize with the wall color (accept and transcend), but the lamp still stands out a bit too much.

Taking advice from Lady Lydia, I did some no-spend decorating: organizing and arranging things nicely in the bathroom.

My husband brought home a couple of table runners from God knows where.  One was sheer with an autumn leaf pattern (it may actually be a dresser scarf), and it is just perfect for hanging across the top of the bathroom window. (I used nails and paper clips.) It ties together the colors of the wall, the piece of birch bark I hung up, and the towels. The other runner goes well with the armchair cushion, so I have it draped over the back of the chair at the moment. But I think I will end up using it to cover the top of a footstool that I am planning to build.

From the lumber motherlode, I built a small kid loft, about 3 feet in each dimension. I've been thinking about it for a while, but had to wait for the energy to carry it out. It was accepted with enthusiasm.

One of our plants was sitting out in plain view in a very unsightly thin plastic dish. I threw away the dish and replaced it with a warped cooking pan from the "Go Away box", until I can find something better.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to make a blank hardcover book, part 1

A few years ago, I went to a system where I write down all of the things that I am thinking about, or trying to remember, in a single hardcover blank book. So everything is arranged chronologically; I can usually remember when I was thinking about or working on something, and from that find my way back to it.

I've found since then that a book of about 200 pages will last me about 18 months. I am nearing the end of the second volume, and will need a new one soon.

Both of my first two blank books were handmade (by me), following the instructions in the Family Creative Workshop craft encyclopedia (from the 1970's) article on Bookbinding. I've looked around recently, but I haven't found very similar instructions online. That means its my turn, I guess. (I always appreciate when others have created well-written instructions, so I don't have to.) I am working from memory and experience here, because I no longer have the book that I learned from, so any errors in these instructions are my own.

So, Step 1:  Obtain paper for the blank pages. I prefer older blank paper, in the standard 8.5x11 inch size. This time I gleaned almost fifty sheets of nearly-blank sample papers from old graphic design magazines. The rest is grayish paper that my husband doesn't like.

Step 2:  Fold signatures.  Take six to eight sheets at a time, and fold them in half the short way. (Real paperworkers have a piece of rounded bone to flatten the fold well; I use a knitting needle.) This makes one signature.

Step 3:  Make sewing holes. First, you should know that there are two main ways of internally supporting the pages:  the first is with several narrow cords that all the signatures are sewn to; the other is with a smaller number of tapes. With cords, there is one sewing hole per cord. With tapes, there is a sewing hole on each side of each tape, plus (I think) an extra hole at each end of the signature. I use five cords, where each cord is a braid of linen or cotton string, so I have to make five holes. I make a template from scrap card stock that is the same length as the signature height, because the holes need to line up across signatures. Using the template, I pierce sewing holes in each signature in the crease (through all the sheets) with an awl; a large, sharp sewing needle would also work.

Step 4:  Make cords (if needed). As I said above, I braid thin linen or cotton string or yarn for the cords. Cotton has in the past proven not quite durable enough for the abuse that I put my books through, so I am using linen this time. Each cord needs to be long enough to reach around the spine of the book, with about three inches more at each end for gluing to the cover boards. Better too long than too short, at this point.

Step 5:  Improvise sewing frame, and hang cords/tapes. The frame holds the cords in place while the signatures are sewn to them. So there needs to be something to hang the cords from, something to attach the lower ends of the cords to, and something to support the signatures against the cords as the signatures are stacked and sewn. And your hands need to be able to get at both the front and the insides of the signatures. Previously, I built a frame with a platform, two sticks going up, a dowel bridging the sticks, and holes in the platform for the cords to go down into (with the cords secured underneath). This time, I took a child's step stool, turned it upside down, duct taped a dowel across the front legs, and used the underside of the step as the platform. I had to tie string to some of the cords to make them long enough to be hung this way, and then I duct taped the lower ends to the step. This worked well enough; the sewing goes quickly.

Step 6:  Sew signatures to cords. Waxed linen thread is preferred for this step; I used thin linen yarn...but I forgot to wax it this time. If I had remembered, I would have used an old candle to wax it as I went. Knot the end of the thread. Place the spine of the first signature against the cords. The needle goes into the first hole, along the inside of the fold, out the second hole, loop around the cord, back in the second hole, along the inside of the fold to the third hole, out the third hole, loop around the cord, the cord...and so on until the last hole, where it just comes out. Now put the next signature on top of the first one, and put the needle into the hole directly above the last hole stitched. Then the same pattern:  along the inside of the fold, out the hole, around the cord, back in, and along the inside to the next hole.

When you get to the last hole, bring the needle out. Now the thread needs to be brought down to catch the first signature, so that they are connected. The first time, the thread is brought down to loop around the knot. For the rest of the signatures, the needle comes down, behind the thread between the two previous signatures, coming out at the page edges, and up again to start a new signature. This is called a kettle stitch, if you want to look it up.

For tapes, the sewing is similar, but instead of looping around the tape, the needle comes out of the hole on one side of the tape, and back in through the hole on the other side.

When your thread runs out, tie a new length to it, with the knot falling inside the fold of a signature.

When all the signatures are sewn together, come out the last hole and make a knot.  Loosen the cords/tapes from the frame.

Step 7:  Gluing the "text block".  Put the block of sewn signatures between two scrap boards, with almost 1/4 inch of the spine and the ends of the cords protruding. Get the block as well lined up as you can before clamping the boards together, or putting it all in a vise. Brush a coat of white glue (I used Mod Podge this time because it is what I had on hand) over the folds of the signatures, and over the stitching. With a hammer, gently beat the glue into the spine, gradually rounding over the long edges of the spine to make the "shoulders" of the book. Put another coat of white glue over the spine. Leave it clamped while it dries.

That is where I am so far. The next step is to get the boards and covering material for the cover, which I will be looking out for on my next thrifting expedition this weekend. Old three-ring binders are a good source of the kind of hard cardboard that goes inside a book cover. I strongly prefer leather for the covering material. The other materials I can improvise from what I have.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Folding chair feet

A while back, I bought a folding chair from the thrift store; I think it cost $2. The only thing it lacked were the rubber tips for the feet. After rummaging through our doodads and scraps, I came up with a solution which used:

a piece of pipe that would slip over the ends of the chair legs
washers that would fit inside the pipe but not the chair legs
a stick (probably maple) from my husband's stash
double-sided tape

Pieces of the stick became the new chair feet, which I slid into sleeves cut from the pipe. The washers keep the inner ends of the sticks out of the chair legs. The double-sided tape went around the chair legs to help the upper ends of the sleeves stay on.

So the actual handwork was only sawing and filing and a little whittling. I used a hacksaw to cut the pipe, and rounded and smoothed the cut edges with a file (a metalworker's file; almost exactly the same technique as filing your nails). I sawed the stick with a regular saw, whittled it down to the right diameter, and rounded the edges at the end with the file as well. Then I put it all together, and the new chair feet are working well.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The next big change

I am thinking hard about how to get a rug for the family room.  The challenge is, as always, in the constraints:

Time:  I want it in place within the next two months.

Money:  Within the next two months, I'll have at most $50 to put into a rug. (And no, I'm not going to go into debt for a rug!) Craigslist rugs start at about $100 around here.

Size:  It needs to be about 8 feet by 10 feet.

Texture:  It has to not present a tactile annoyance when I walk on it or sit on it. Wool is as scratchy as I am willing to go. Also, I am unwilling to deal with a rug that is shedding; my children shed enough craft scraps on the floor already.

Color:  It has to accept the beige and brick colors in the room, but also to transcend them.

Washability:  We have another round of potty training coming up in a few months.

Style:  I prefer patterns based on those found in nature.

There are many ways of crafting rugs traditionally:  braiding, hooking, weaving, crocheting, knitting.  Of these, I have braided, hooked, and crocheted rugs before.  Braided rugs wear well, but are time-intensive to make, and I don't enjoy the technique.  Hooked rugs (here I am talking about using a hook to pull loops of a strip of fabric up through a backing) are more creatively satisfying, but take even more time and materials. Crocheting a rug is relatively fast, but again it takes a lot of material, and the result is not easy to clean (or move, with a rug of that size).

Wool is my preferred material for any of these, because it is more durable, and because there is the possibility of mellowing or even of transferring the colors:  simmer the wool fabric (or yarn) in water with some detergent--use a large pot that you will never cook in again, because dyes are very toxic and bad for you--and a fair amount of the dye will come out into the water. Then put in a different wool fabric, and the water will dye it.

For less-traditional rugs, there are canvas dropcloths, which can be painted.  A dropcloth costs about $30-$40.  However, I don't like the texture of painted fabric, and in my experience, unpainted dropcloths will pill and look cheap under heavy wear.

So my top choice at the moment is to make a "floor quilt" out of upholstery scraps and samples, which I can get from ArtScraps for $5/grocery bag. This is what my patchwork couch cover is made of, so I took the cover off the couch and tried it out as a rug. The cover is made from less than one bag of scraps, and is about one-third the area of an 8x10 foot rug, so I would need two or three more bags full to turn the couch cover into a rug. Then I would need a new cover for the couch, which would have to be in a single solid color or (more likely) a subtle print, to keep the room from being too visually busy.

A dropcloth that is lightly painted and stenciled would be my second choice. Complicating the decision is the upcoming YMCA Garage Sale, which on its final day sells things by the bag and by the grocery I could perhaps buy a heaping cartful of clothing (for about $35) to recycle into a crocheted rug.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Small changes

I moved the curtain rod in the school room up as high as I could. This lets in a little more light, and makes the windows look taller. It didn't take long, either.

Last weekend I made more things to go on the walls:  a paper twist from an off-white paper sample for the dining room, and a chain of three small wire wreaths to go in the bathroom.

A while back, while I was looking in the scrap pile for wood to make a shoe rack for the coat closet, I found an old crate that we weren't using that was just the right size.

I used leftover tablecloth fabric from making skirts to make pockets for some of my other skirts; simple bags sewn to the inside of the waistbands. I'm not a purse person.

I salvaged a simple Ikea lamp that my husband was going to throw away, and I'm in the process of painting and rewiring it; I found a new cord (with socket) at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $3. When it's finished. it will go in the school room, which only has an overhead fixture at the moment.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Not changing a light fixture

Remodeling and redecorating over the years have turned this house's original dining room into a dark, awkward, and inconsistent space in the center of the house.  Its most glaring inconsistency is that a nice ceiling medallion is paired with a standard ceiling fan with lights. (The house has air conditioning.) We use this space for eating only because it is closest to the kitchen and relatively easy to clean, with linoleum flooring.

I've been thinking of taking down the ceiling fan and (until the end of our lease) replacing it with a more appropriate fixture. I found that the nearest Habitat for Humanity ReStore had one for $15 that would work, after repainting. But I decided against it:  it would require more effort than I want to invest into it at this stage in my life, particularly without having an able-bodied helper. Also, the medallion doesn't seem to be very well attached to the ceiling, and might better be left alone.

I did give the fan a dusting, and took down the glass fixtures to wash them (something that no one had done for a very long time). I also bought four matching light bulbs for it; previously there were two very different kinds. I learned while buying bulbs that some decorative bulbs are not designed for use in downward-pointing fixtures, and that the ones that are are more expensive. The cleaning and new bulbs made a noticeable improvement.