Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Maybe the good old days weren't so bad

This is from an article about the voyage of the Brendan, a re-creation of an Irish leather-covered boat, in the December 1977 issue of National Geographic:
One lesson became increasingly clear as the voyage progressed:  Modern tools and materials were seldom a match for medieval ones.  Not only did our plastic containers crack and leak, but expensive metal implements simply rusted away or broke, despite heavy layers of protective oil.  Whenever possible we fashioned replacements out of ancient materials such as wood, leather, or flax, with primitive but far more durable results.
The same applied to clothing.  As we reached colder latitudes, we abandoned our garments of artificial fiber in favor of old-fashioned woolen clothes with their insulation of natural oils.
As for the Brendan's hull, it actually improved in cold water.  Daily inspection revealed that although the leather had become saturated with seawater, weeping a continual fine 'dew' on its inner surface, the increasing cold made the oxhide stiffer and stronger....If they had sailed through tropical waters, the higher temperatures could have melted away the vital wool-grease dressing on the oxhide and speeded up the leather's decomposition.
I've been cozy in my thrice-shrunk wool sweater this week.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas tour

I'm again joining in on The Nester's Christmas home tour. Most of my Christmas decorations are exactly the same as last year. But there is an accumulation of small changes.

A birch bark snowflake:

A floppy scrap fabric mitten basket:

Stars that I cut out with a scroll saw and let the children paint:

A new used tree skirt:

A tree/star/angel shape in frost on the window:

A simple sign:

Using paper snowflakes as doilies:

With a flower made of t-shirt scraps:

In place of a mantel, crocheted wire, which is still displaying some birthday party decorations:

Items from our homemade Advent calendar:

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2016

A few more

I try every year to make a Christmas ornament for each child. This year, I used the scroll saw to cut out wooden stars, and let them decorate them.

We also have made a number of paper snowflakes, which I am using all over the place as doilies. This works better if they have some finer details.

A few months ago, I got out of the habit of eating chocolate...a big money-saver.

Friday, December 9, 2016


This sabbatical, I am learning about using sabbatical time for deferred maintenance and for just catching up on things. (Or, I Fought the Drain and the Drain Won. Until the plumber came.)

On Thanksgiving, we experimented with using our apple peeler contraption (the cast iron kind, which is manufactured under several different brands now) to peel potatoes. The part that does the coring can be loosened and moved out of the way. I found that it worked well on the parts of the potato that were smooth and of an apple-ish diameter, but not on the ends, bumps, or overly large sections. So we hand-peeled the parts that the peeler missed.

I finally sewed a pillow cover that had been waiting for a couple of months to be assembled; one more project off the pile.

I am working on finishing the cushion cover for the upholstered chair, but need to go back and rip a seam, because I didn't line things up carefully and it came out all askew. The pillow cover was good practice for sewing the cushion cording, though.

Yesterday I needed a business size envelope, and didn't want to walk all the way down the hallway and rummage through a box for one. So I made one, out of a single sheet of paper.  The front of the envelope is a rectangle, about the size of a sheet of paper folded from top to bottom into thirds, and this rectangle needs a rounded flap or "ear" on each edge. The ears need to overlap a little when they are folded in. There are some sketches here of envelope shapes. We are low on tape, so I used stickers to fasten it closed.

Also, to wrap presents without tape, I went back to the old practice of tying packages with string:  inherited crochet cotton.

I had some ribbon and some wired ribbon, from which I contrived a small wreath. It was a bit too garish to be in the house, so I hung it on the front door. Later, I added some yarn that turned up.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A muff for a young lady

I had a quart of down left over from the down jacket reconstruction I did a couple of months ago. Just recently, the idea came to me to use this down to make a muff.

To contain the down, I made a tube of closely-woven fabric, a little more than twice as long as the muff, and wide enough to enclose both down and hands easily.  Then I pulled one end of the tube up inside the other, making a double-walled tube. I stuffed the down into it between the walls--that stuff goes everywhere--then folded down and pinned the raw edges, and sewed it closed.

I did some gentle pushing and pulling at this point to distribute the down more evenly.

For a lining, I chose some scrap cashmere (handed down) in black, and sewed that into a tube. For the outside, I used some shirred plum velvet (also handed down), again made into a tube. I sewed the ends of these two tubes together (the last seam by hand).

Then, for a cord, I covered a piece of rug yarn with more of the plum velvet, with raw edges out because I didn't feel like turning a long tube right side out. I ran the cord through the muff before I joined the ends.

The muff is cozy and very warm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cranking up for Christmas

I've found that the holiday shopping season is a great time to hit the thrift stores and antique stores, while everyone else is at the mall. We have a goal this year of getting our Christmas shopping started and finished before the last minute, and so far we are on track.

As always, it is good to pray before shopping, for guidance in what to buy and what not to buy. On my most recent trip, I made my most astonishing find on a second pass through a section I had already looked over.

The other nice thing about thrift shopping is unexpectedly coming across some things that are just like the things my family used to have.

I've also found time to try out the scroll saw. It had been waiting for three months for someone to spend ten minutes bolting it down to the workbench. So far I've managed to change the blade and saw out a little project without breaking the new blade or shedding blood; those physics shop classes were good for something.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Peasant therapy

There is an interesting story in my Rodale's Encyclopedia of Natural Home Remedies (1982) about an  alternative medicine sanatorium where supposedly some amazing cures of various diseases were made.

The treatment regimen, pragmatically tailored to the individual, included nutrition, detoxification, massage, counseling, spiritual exercises, and opportunities for hard physical labor outdoors. People were expected to work on their own healing, and to become functioning members of the micro-community during their stay. If they were unwilling to do so, they were asked to leave.

While many of the treatments were very high on the hippy-dippy scale--"cosmic folk medicine"--there were also some down-to-earth observations:

"We found that the people who will actually work on themselves are a small minority."

"We just knew that if people would work hard and live close to the land, they would have a good shot of getting over their problems, whether they were emotional, physical, social, or spiritual."

"...the only people who survive hardship are the peasants."

I believe that such an approach can solve some problems some of the time. But it did not entirely work well even for the couple that ran the place:  it turns out that they divorced right after the book was published. One died of stomach cancer, and the other died at age 66. I think it could have gone much better for them if they had had a better spiritual foundation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sorting it all out

Although I am on sabbatical, I have been working hard. It is a time to take a break from expanding, in favor of evaluating, refining, resetting, and maintaining. And sometimes even resting.

So I mended two of the kids' little quilts...there was a materials failure in one of the fabrics that I used, which wore right through while the other fabrics didn't. I sewed patches over those squares, mostly by hand. I also mended several items of clothing.

I harvested my broomcorn tops, combed out the seeds, and have them drying in a vase (although flat and outdoors in the sun would be better). They add an organic vertical element to the decor; I am enjoying the effect.

We've been almost keeping up with raking leaves this year. I have some helpers that are eager to earn money.

I misplaced my organizer notebook for two days, but I got along all right without it.

I've been refining my household routines so that I go through the main rooms and put things in order daily. This always falls by the wayside with a new baby, and takes me some time to re-establish. Same thing with exercise; I just added another 5 minutes to my workout time.

The petunias and calendulas that I grew from seed this year are still going strong and putting out a lot of flowers. Next year I'm going to give echinacea another try; no luck with it this year. The local permaculture enthusiast says that you can diagnose your soil deficiencies by what weeds are flourishing; supposedly these weeds will replenish the soil if you let them. I'm going to have to test that one out a bit.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Simple vintage Christmas tree skirt

I was given a bag of old fabric recently, and one of the pieces in it turned out to be a Christmas tree skirt, probably from the Eighties, if not earlier.

It's a simple and almost elegant design, pink felt Christmas tree shapes glued onto an old sort of polar fleece background. The trees are decorated differently with gold beads and sequins. Looks like I'm going to be taking a break from plain burlap under the tree this year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

On sabbatical

The time has come for my third ever sabbatical year...I am easing my way into it.

My sabbatical book is here, with some of it available as a free sample.

I have some plans, but of course there is still the usual day-to-day living to be done.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A round of thrifting and making and doing

Snow pants from the consignment shop.  Several books (mostly on $1 clearance) from the used book store. A $3 bag of books from the library book sale. Party decorations and gift wrap and cake with buttercream frosting, all homemade from materials on hand. Filling up our compost bin with leaves while the fall weather was still nice. Bending over the tops of my broomcorn stems, as the first step in harvesting them. Flipping over a quilt and using it upside-down as a bedspread. Simple things, and all very inexpensive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Latex mache

I did an experiment recently to try the papier mache technique with latex paint and fabric in place of the flour/water mixture and paper.

For a base, I used a wadded sheet of paper. Over this, I put three layers of fabric strips saturated with paint, all in one go. Then I let it dry, cut it open, and removed the paper.

The result looks about the same as regular papier mache, although the fabric texture shows through. The difference is that it is more flexible and resilient, and a bit stronger. From making homemade piƱatas, I know that papier mache is stronger than it looks. I can tear the latex mache, but it takes some force. It is also much more permanent; papier mache tends to deteriorate and attract critters over time.

I'm not sure if I am going to use this technique for making Halloween costumes or not, but it is certainly an option.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Catching up

I got out to my favorite rummage sale. The pickings were not so great this time, but I found a pair of dress boots, that only needed some gentle scrubbing and some boot oil. I recently retired my one pair of dress shoes, and had been thinking about how to make a pair from scratch because I seem to only find shoes in my size by a direct act of God. (Mary Wales Loomis is the person to look up if you want to make women's dress shoes.)

Related to that, I found that Hobby Lobby carries Barge Cement in tubes. This is the contact cement you would want for gluing your shoe materials together.

Also at the sale, I found some children's winter boots. I recently took a winter coat that I had been given, which needed a new zipper, and cut it down to child size (before replacing the zipper). I took the layers apart to do this, to reduce the bulk that I was sewing through as I dealt with keeping the down stuffing contained, but later saw how I could have saved myself some trouble by keeping the lining more intact. For a pattern, I measured the child, added some inches for movement, a couple more for growing, and then a bit for seams. I more or less kept to the original shape of the coat, and just made it smaller. The main lines of a coat are relatively simple. With the coat done and the new used boots, we nearly have our children ready for winter. I think we still need a pair of snow pants.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


I'm in the middle of a stretch of involuntary overscheduledness, but I am.doing what I can:

Making little creative choices in how I do the things that I have to do.

Editing our possessions down a bit, to make room for things that matter more.

Taking a little time here and there to dream about what to do next.

Reading and research; prep work for upcoming projects.

Mop-up work to get some lingering projects done and out of the way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Knitting weather

About all I want to do right now is knit my way through all my yarn stash. I finished the pair of socks, and used the leftover yarn to knit a little bag in a fancy stitch.

I inventoried the children's winter clothing, so I know what we need to get for them.

We received a couple of things by inheritance:  a scroll saw and a box of spices. My husband built a workbench for the saw out of scrap lumber on hand, but we still need to bolt it down.

I made a batch of castile soap. Like my two previous attempts at soapmaking, it did not saponify well on the first try, but only after I melted it down again and did another round of stirring. I don't think it is worthwhile trying to recreate cheap soap at home, but this five-pound batch cost me less than half the price of the store-bought version; I was able to buy the olive oil on sale. I was smart and wore boots for the soapmaking; a drop of lye fell on the toe of one boot and burned it. I also had the advantage of using my husband's digital postal scale, for accurate measurements.

I bought the remaining upholstery supplies for my chair, but I am enjoying being in the phase of the project that is right before the hard part, so I am stalling on moving on to the next step.

A neighbor was thinning out their hostas, and gave us a bin full. They nicely filled in one of our empty places, with room to grow. Another neighbor gave us a bicycle that their child had outgrown.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pajama pants and halfway through the second sock

I received a few pieces of fabric from a big fabric stash clean-out. I used some flannel to make pajama pants. Another piece I will use to make another blouse. The other piece I will probably make into clothing too, but I'm not sure what. There was also a vest with some suede that I will reuse somehow.

I also turned the heel on the second sock of the most recent pair.

A while back, I gave my armchair frame a light coat of spray-on clear finish. I have decided that as a general policy I am not going to paint carved wood. The clear finish gives it some shine so it looks somewhat updated. (In my trend-spotting I am seeing more shiny and geometric finishes and forms.)

I've been playing the Everything in its Place game recently in my home, and also the Give it a Good Scrub game. I will say (again) that just wiping things down can make a remarkable difference in how my home feels.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Easy go

A hailstorm came through and really clobbered the vegetable garden, so we are not going to get much more out of it. We had one-inch hail at the house, bouncing all over the place, but the garden got it even worse than that.

I have been sewing, and made two more pairs of kid pants from old clothing. I am also sewing a blouse from an old skirt, which I originally made from an old sheet. Instead of a pattern, I have notes and measurements that I took when I deconstructed a worn-out shirt. I also have the first copy that I made of the shirt to look at.

I put in some time on sock knitting, and am about to turn a heel. But I am very low on sleep, so I am thinking that I may wait another day for that. It's probably not the best day to sew buttonholes, either.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

They are finished

I finished the dining room chairs I was reupholstering; will have a photo here sometime, technology permitting.

 The vinyl that I wanted ended up not being on sale, so the total cost was about $20, plus some staples for the staple gun. I only needed one yard of vinyl for the two chairs. Mostly the process was straightforward. The tricky part is gathering in the vinyl at the corners...the secret seems to be to make a series of tucks with the fold lines hidden underneath the seat. The backs were also attached in a way that took me a few minutes to figure out.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New clothes from old clothes

We did some sorting out of unwanted clothing. Some of it went into the donation box, and some to my fabric pile.

I try to sew up reclaimed fabric quickly, and I just about have it down to a four-phase process:  planning, cutting, sewing, and finishing work, which I work through as I find the time. Most of the fabric was jersey (knits), which sews up quickly with a zigzag stitch. Modern knit clothing is very simple in structure, and is not too hard to imitate, except perhaps in the finishing details.

Out of the small pile of old clothing, I made one child's skirt, two pairs of toddler pants, and a pair of knee-high leggings. I also had a number of scraps that I will use in place of paper towels (disposably).

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How to take things apart

Since many of my current projects involved disassembly at some point, I thought I would write a little about tools and techniques that are useful for taking things apart.

Generally, this involves Undoing Fasteners, Cutting the Material, or Applying a Controlled Amount of Excessive Force.

For the dining room chairs, I needed a screwdriver to unscrew the seats, from below. The backs were held on with a couple of screws and some friction; I had to guess how best to pull them loose after I took the screws out--they had tabs that slotted into the chair frames. After that there were many staples to pull out with a small regular screwdriver and needlenose pliers, and also some hooks to pry up.

For the armchair, disassembly was mostly a matter of pulling off the glued-on cording, and then pulling dozens and dozens of tiny tacks, again with the small screwdriver and needlenose pliers. There were also a few nails, which I pulled with a claw hammer. These same tools are the ones I used the most in tearing my couch completely apart.

For the sandals that became slippers, first I picked out the stitching with a seam ripper...but then I noticed that the stitching was only for show; the upper was actually glued into the sole. So I ended up cutting it off with kitchen shears (leather is a close relative of meat), and then going around with an Xacto knife and trimming the rough edges down to the level of the sole.

For larger woodworking projects, the flat bar and cat's paw are smaller relatives of the crowbar.

If you're looking for a challenge, try taking apart a stroller. Not many reusable parts, though.

Current projects

I have two more pairs of socks to knit; one more pair from the wool blanket, and another from some turquoise cotton yarn that I bought. (There are some very nice turquoise and aqua colors in style now.) The weather was too hot for knitting, but now it is cooling off a bit.

Reupholstering the armchair:  I have the chair stripped down, and I have started gathering materials to reupholster it. After considering some repurposing options, I bought some new upholstery fabric, and now I have to decide whether to refinish or paint the exposed wood.

Dining room chairs:  These are mostly stripped down, and I am waiting for a week or so until vinyl goes on sale at the fabric store. I have decided not to repaint the metal frames.

Footwear:  I took a pair of cheap sandals that had been handed down to me, and replaced the upper parts (with upholstery fabric scraps from the footstool) to make scuffy slippers, for indoors. I am also plotting how to replace my dress shoes, which are nearly worn out.

Produce:  We are getting plenty of tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash from the garden now. The challenge is to actually prepare and eat them.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The hardest part of the work

I've been spending my days researching, thinking, re-thinking, and deciding on my next steps for several projects. There's nothing to take a pretty picture of yet, but I have made a lot of progress.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wire hair pick/pick comb

A recent self-challenge project:

The handle is made of coat hanger wire, the rest is a slightly thinner wire. I made a simple jig--two screws screwed most of the way into a block of wood--for making evenly-spaced bends. After bending, I used pliers to tighten the curves a bit. I also used a metalworking file to round the ends of the wires. I used sandpaper to grind off some rust; I should have done that step first. It works well enough, although there are some slight modifications I would make on a second try.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Simple hot tub

I actually built this one-person plywood hot tub featured in Mother Earth News, once upon a time. It will fit into some rental bathtubs and showers, but not others. I put it up on two long blocks, to distribute the weight.

The tub is surprisingly comfortable, because of your own buoyancy, and the water stays plenty hot through a good, long bath. Contrast that with the so-called bathtub in our current rental, where you can lie down on the bottom when it is full and still breathe, and the water temperature drops rapidly. (Nine inches of water in the deep end.)

This hot tub is also simple to build, even with only hand tools. I had the lumberyard cut the plywood. I used polyurethane to seal and waterproof it, and I should have used wood filler at the joints, as the polyurethane ran through and didn't fill them very easily.

When I couldn't use it as a hot tub, I used it as a base for my desk top.

I gave it up in the Big Purge, but I plan to build another, later on when I have time to take long baths again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A pleasant surprise

I finished stripping down the armchair that I am reupholstering, and turned my attention to the seat cushion. I found that inside the cushion cover was a down pillow, and that the fabric that held the down in was in decent condition! Likely to be salvageable after a wash or two in hot water!! I won't have to buy and cut a chunk of foam!!!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chugging along with the sewing machine

I got my mostly-metal sewing machine back, and have been working on cranking out another set of cloth menstrual pads. It takes me about three or four hours to cut and sew a set, which should last for several years. The fabric is flannel from a handed-down sheet, along with a couple of old dish towels (for inside layers).

I also have several mending projects that have piled up.

After that, I am going to unravel more blanket yarn, for another pair of socks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Knitted socks from a wool blanket

I found some more yarn for sock knitting...in an old wool blanket. This blanket came from a rummage sale about ten years ago, cost $2, and actually was only the top half of a blanket.

Before I deconstruct anything vintage, I do a gut check and ask myself if I am doing the right thing. In this case, the answer was yes; I had owned the blanket for about ten years, but I never really used it, although I liked it a lot.

Not every wool blanket can be unraveled; almost all are too fuzzy or too felted. But it worked very well with this particular blanket. The only obstacle was that I had to trim back the warp threads (the ones that run lengthwise) every quarter-inch, otherwise the weft thread was too difficult to pull out. So I could glean at most half of the wool in the blanket. (The rest could have been saved for stuffing something, but I didn't.) The fringe in the photo is the warp threads ready to be trimmed.

For this blanket, I found that there were two weft (crosswise) strands; the weaver must have used two shuttles, throwing one across and back, and then the other one, crossing strands at the edge. Understanding this helped me to unravel longer strands of wool from the blanket. I unraveled as much as I could of each strand, and when it broke (where the edges of the blanket were worn) I wound the strand up into a little ball.

The unraveled strands were kinked, but I used them as they were. The "hand" (yarn texture) felt a bit crisp, but not scratchy. I found that three strands used together knitted up well with the size of needles that I have.

I unraveled just enough to knit up another pair of socks, of the same pattern as before. I still have more than half of the half-blanket left.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fabric and clothesline rope basket

Finally, a picture of the basket. You can see where the rope is running through the channels that I sewed. On the back side, loops of the rope are exposed and laced together to join the sides. The sides are sewed to a bottom of fabric-wrapped clothesline. The basket collapses to almost flat when empty; only the top half has rope in it.

I chose to sew the channels first, for precision, and run the rope through it later. This required drawing a safety pin attached to a string first, and then using the string to pull the rope through.

Project cost to me was less than two cents, for thread. The other materials were handed down.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just simple solutions

Our refrigerator still thinks it is a freezer...sometimes. That makes it hard to store non-freezable foods like lettuce; I just gave up on buying them for a while. Finally, I started putting them in a small cooler, and the cooler into the fridge. That has been working well.

The other thing is that we have a nearly-walking baby. We found that an empty five-gallon bucket, upside down, makes a good push toy on a hard floor. Baby is very happy to toodle around the kitchen pushing it. We always make sure to close the basement door first.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Adventures in renting: chalk on the walls

 I came across a striking picture of handpainted wallpaper with white flowering branches on a brown background (here, the 11th picture down). It occurred to me that a similar effect could be made by drawing on painted walls with white chalk, and that this would be a reversible and renter-friendly option for dealing with some of my mud-toned walls.

So I've been experimenting with several colors of chalkboard chalk. Chalk is, of course, not as opaque as paint, so there is much less contrast. Nor is chalk anywhere near as permanent; I fully expect some children to come through in the next five minutes and wipe out a big chunk of my efforts. I was able to almost completely erase the chalk with just my sleeve; I expect the rest will come off with a little scrubbing with a damp rag.

The lighting in here is terrible, and my drawing skills are not much better, but here it is:

Monday, June 20, 2016


Early in our marriage, an elderly relative died, and I inherited all his socks...which  lasted me for more than a decade. Now that I am finally wearing out the last of them, I have been working on new socks for myself for next fall.

I priced new socks, but it seems to be a choice between buying super-basic cheap socks, or paying $20 a pair.

Then I occurred to me that I could make socks...I have sticks, I have yarn. I looked up a basic crew sock pattern, for reference for the heel and toe areas, and off I went with the yarn and the needles that I have. (I have knitted several pairs of socks before, mostly for children.)

The yarn was given to me, it is a very nice hand-dyed, hand-spun wool. Not the most durable yarn, so I worked with a double strand, which was just as well as my only knitting needles are about size 8 (made from chopsticks and dowels). I cast on what looked like the right number of stitches, and then used the pattern to figure out what proportion of the stitches went to which needle.

The problem with knitting socks is that the straight areas are rather tedious, especially in comparison with the heels. I used those parts to improve and speed up my knitting technique, first in holding the yarn in the continental style, which is much faster and more efficient (for the knit stitch), and secondly in smoothing my transitions from one needle to the next.

After laundry day, I am going to inventory my socks and see how many more pairs I will need. I don't have enough wool yarn for another whole pair, but I will see what I can come up with.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The saving game

We have a new medium-term saving goal, along with the same moderate income as before. So the money for this goal is going to either have to come from increasing income, or reducing expenses. Reducing expenses is the easier of the two in the short term, although there is a limit as to how far you can realistically go with it.

So, the game:

1. For an upcoming planned expenditure, determine what the cost would "normally" be for you.

2. Try to beat it...by smarter shopping, creative improvisation, or doing without. Or a combination.

3. Put the difference into savings.

For example, I have been in need of AA batteries recently,  but I have been going through our accumulation of dead, half-dead, and unused but rather old AA batteries to see which ones are still usable, instead of buying new batteries at this time. I won't count this as fully saving on the cost of new batteries, but it is still a success at leveraging two or three dollars of value out of things that we already have. So I've put three dollars of what I would have spent on batteries into savings.

Step 3 is the most important of the three, otherwise you're just saving the same few dollars over and over and over.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

45 meals

I made a list of main dishes in my cooking repertoire, there are about forty-five, including a few specific variations. Some weeks I meal plan and some weeks I don't, although I try to at least plan out a day at a time. (I often plan around ingredients, and leave the details to be creatively worked out later.) This list will be handy for when I am having a hard time deciding what to cook; most of them don't require special ingredients. I also have about a dozen old handed-down issues of Taste of Home and Quick Cooking, if I am feeling particularly uninspired. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A pause

I have several projects going at the moment, but no hurry on any of them. Which is good, because we need a Family Sick Day today. So I can catch up on listing some of the things that I have been doing:

From the box of cedar shingles, I used some shingles for flower bed edging--just by pushing them into the ground, thin edge first, in a row. This was in an awkwardly unfinished area next to the house, where a bunch of sand had been put in as fill, so I knew that the ground would be neither hard nor rocky. I was able to push them all in by hand, with some effort. I sowed some wheat berries behind them, which are now sprouting well.

The rest of the shingles, I used to line the closet shelves where we keep our wool clothing and blankets. Not quite as good as a cedar chest, because they're not enclosed, but maybe it will work. In our previous house, we didn't have problems with moths, because the closets were tucked under the eaves and weren't very well-insulated (in fact, they were the insulation) so they got far too cold for moths in the winter. In this house, the closets are all on interior walls. I haven't seen any signs of moths, but I'd rather keep it that way.

We have two metal-framed straight chairs with vinyl seats and backs that we've been using as dining room chairs for forever. (They were $1 each at a yard sale.) The frames have held up well, but the children have been very hard on the seats with their forks, scissors, and picky little fingers. (Hence the seat covers that I made a while back.) I've started the re-covering process by taking off the seats and backs (held on by screws), and prying out the staples and prying open the hooks that held the vinyl on. There was one screw that was rusted in; I kept soaking it with WD-40, and finally got it loose a few days later. New vinyl is going to cost about $25, from the marine upholstery supplier, if the homemade oilcloth that I am experimenting with making doesn't work out.

I also have started deconstructing the dumpy blue rummage sale armchair. It is well-made, with lots of little tacks to pull. I am taking careful notes as I remove the old upholstery.

I finished the clothesline basket a while back; I'm just waiting for a day with good light and charged camera batteries to take a picture of it. It is now in the living room, serving as a container for all the small toys that keep migrating into the room.

I also experimented with putting white electrician's tape on the beige bedroom window frames, but didn't like how it looked. (There are some helpful tips here on how to apply this kind of tape.) I may try taping just parts of them later, in some sort of pattern; first accept, then transcend.

I looked at the paint colors throughout the house, and how other colors look against them. The walls are all very muddy neutrals, not mixes of clear primaries as the "mouse colors" in the Jeanne Dobie book are, so any real color (or wood grain, even) really stands out, but will not look harmonious unless there is some mud in the color. Bah. So far, I have coped with this by using artwork and textile patterns that include a little mud color. But the accepting step is hard:  "This is why we can't have nice colors."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Survival mode

There's a good post on that here for you.

I'd add:

I've put in a lot of work over the years to scale our lifestyle down. There is a very long list of things that I don't do, and of all the things that I do do, I do none of them perfectly. More like 30%-80%.

Pay special attention to making sure that diapers get changed on time; diaper rashes during survival mode are no fun at all.

The most essential essentials are food, clothing, and shelter. Probably the house will keep standing up on its own for a while, so that leaves food and clothing. And diapers.

Exercise:  Even ten or fifteen minutes, twice a week, makes a big difference. Use weights (enough to challenge you at 5 reps, but not so heavy that you hurt yourself), and get physics on your side:  Force = Mass x Acceleration, Work = Force x Distance, Power = Work / Time. In other words, use heavier weights, work up to fast but controlled movements, and do only a few reps of each motion before going on to the next.

Rest:  Write it on your to-do list, because in survival mode you're too busy not to rest. Seize your opportunities as they arise.


Water:  Pay special attention also to keeping your water intake consistent.  If your hydration is all over the place, your blood sugar and mood and willpower and eating will be, too.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book review: Creative Home Improvement, by David and Jenny Lee

Published by Backwoods Home (2014) and available here for $14.95 plus shipping. Bought with my own money. I don't get paid to do reviews, nor do I do affiliate sales.

I expected to be surprised several times over while reading this book, and I was. David Lee--Jenny is listed as a co-author, but the entire book is in his voice, as far as I can tell--has many years of experience in building and tinkering with houses, along with a strong bent toward owner-buildability. He shares a number of techniques that he has developed over the years, with tips based on his experience. The book has many color pictures, which illustrate his points well, along with a few, clear drawings where needed. The buildings exhibit a unique aesthetic, which I would call Extreme Storybook:  shaggy shake siding, unusual roofing patterns, towers, solid wood doors with elaborate handmade hinges, quaintly painted floors, and bits of colored glass in unusual places. It would be a bit hard to integrate this style into an existing house built in the Boring Shoebox style, but many of the techniques described could be carried over.

The book also gives the outlines of a substantial backup water system, along with a very DIY heating system, including the chimney. I was curious whether the stove designs would meet current EPA regulations. From a cursory search of the internet, it appears that they would, but only on the basis on being owner-built. (Some areas have more stringent regulations.)

Some of the projects are suitable for a beginning DIY-er, with a limited skill set and tool set. Others are more ambitious, and require basic construction skills. The more massive projects will require consultation with a structural engineer beforehand...seriously. You don't need your whole house falling down on your head. Warnings are given at appropriate points, but the reader is assumed to be a competent and responsible adult. Building codes are mentioned occasionally, but clearly they haven't constrained the Lees' creative home improvement process much.

The project  instructions given seem to be clear and sufficient, but without excessive hand-holding. After each procedure described in step-by-step detail, he has a summary section, which gives a quick review of the steps in the process. I found this a nice touch that makes the book much more readable and usable.

There are a couple of points where I am a bit skeptical of his claims, such as that panels containing colored glass (while blocking much of the available winter light) can cure seasonal depression. He may be right, but I want to test that one for myself. The book lacks a chapter on homemade doors, but some hints can be gleaned from the pictures.

For me, the book was well worth the price, if only to learn the details of making a Forever Floor (which is related, but only distantly, to the old floorcloths), and to add several more ideas to my Future Home list.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tinting latex paint with acrylic paint

It worked out all right when I was painting the coffee table to go with the rug, but I didn't look into the how and why of it until now.

I learned that most latex paints nowadays do not actually contain latex--since "latex" has become a generic term for water-based paint--but that many latex paints do contain acrylic polymers (read the label on the paint can), along with other components. So mixing a little craft or artist's acrylic in will work out okay, although some acrylics are better than others.

The best book I've found for learning about how to mix and use colors is Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing. Her focus is on watercolor painting, but there is much that can be applied across the arts, and all the way over into decorating. I just re-read her section on "mouse" colors, and how she uses them to set off her singing jewel colors (lean the red-yellow-blue components of the mouse color in the direction of the jewel color's complement). This house is very heavy on mouse tones, and tomorrow when the light is better I am going to look around and see what undertones I have to work with, and which colors might sing against them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Notes on texture

While I was working on the bedroom, I noticed that the textures in the room were happening at different scales:

Small-scale textures:  the carpeting, the textured paint on the walls and ceiling, the grain of the woodwork.

Medium-scale textures:  the crocheted string star and comet, the rough pottery jar on the bookshelf.

Larger-scale texture:  the crocheted twine rug.

That is a lot of texture for one room, which is one reason I made the cardboard circles to put on the wall. The only smooth pieces were the windows, headboard, and the large mirror leaning against the wall. The chunkiness of the rug makes a nice contrast against these.

Monday, May 30, 2016

So much to sew

My mother-in-law borrowed my sewing machine, so I am using our Janome Hello Kitty 11706 machine (bought long ago on clearance for $50; they are still available new for $110 and up). It is a good beginner machine but not a robust one, so I am saving my heavy-duty sewing projects for later. The other things that I miss on it are a center lever for lifting the presser foot (it's on the right, and I'm left-handed), and more control over stitch width and length (which are limited to three choices). EDITED TO ADD:  Access to the mechanism is limited, so the machine is almost impossible to oil at all the necessary points; the instructions don't even mention oiling. This greatly reduces the potential longevity of the machine; sewing machines need regular oiling (usually just a single drop of oil at any point where moving parts meet).

I finished a long dress that I created a pattern from scratch for, with princess seams and a three-quarters (knee-length) lining. I used a free piece of bordered fabric, and had just enough to complete it. It turned out well, except perhaps for the neckline; I need to review how to make those properly. It is high enough that I could go back and redo it later.

Also I am working on making a lighter cape, out of rummage sale corduroy. This fabric was originally black, but I bleached it to a medium brown. The color came out slightly mottled, but this just makes the fabric look more plush. For a pattern I have been referring to my pattern making reference book. Capes are fairly simple; the hard part is fitting the shoulders. Yet again, I have had to be a bit creative to eke out an entire garment from the piece of fabric that I have to work with.

I got bored with making the clothesline basket, and decided to do something different for the sides:  sew two pieces of cloth together in lines to make channels for the rope to run through. For precision, I did the sewing first, instead of placing the rope and sewing beside it. I had a miserably hard time threading the rope through later, though, until I switched to starting with a piece of twine (with a closed safety pin attached to its end, to lead the way), and then used the twine to pull the rope through. Then it was only miserable when the twine came loose from the rope. Now I have my fabric with the rope running back and forth inside it, and I need to join the rope loops at the sides and attach the basket bottom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dyeing with tea

I had a new knit shirt in a sort of cold-oatmeal heather color that I wanted to make a deeper and warmer color. I bought some cheap tea, which costs about $2 for 100 bags, and brewed 30 or 40 bags in a stock pot. I took the bags out before putting in the shirt, and stirred it for a few minutes, until the color looked about right. Then I took it out and hung it up outside on a hanger, trying to straighten the fabric as much as possible--for more even drying and less streaking. After drying, I rinsed it and put it through the dryer. Since then, it has gone through the regular laundry without much fading. Things that I tea-dyed a couple of years ago have held the color all right.

With the same batch, I also over-dyed a colored sleeveless shirt, just slightly. It was much slower to pick up tea coloring than the first shirt was.

I've found that newer cotton fabrics work best. Next time I am going to do the rinsing and machine drying right away, because the first shirt that I dyed this time still came out a little streaky under the arms.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The two little art projects...

...that I made for the bedroom:

1.  Wood-grained circles:  A while back, we picked up a free particle-board bookshelf that a neighbor had set out by the curb. The back side of it was a piece of very thin corrugated cardboard, with a bleached wood grain pattern printed on it. This back piece had fallen off, and the recipient of the bookshelf didn't want it repaired, but I thought I might be able to use it for a project...maybe. I am getting pickier about my materials as I get older, and I nearly threw this one away.

The bedroom has developed a bit of an outer space theme, at least in its upper half, and I had the idea of using the cardboard to make "planets"...simple circles, which with the wood grain turned sideways would resemble Jupiter. I had a lamp shining up the wall right where some previous owners had made a sloppy patch job, and I wanted something else there to look at.

I cut out four circles, after tracing around a bowl, and ended up using three of them. I burnished the edges a little, to round the edges over slightly and make them look a little less two-dimensional. (Burnishing means to rub something with something that is smooth and harder.) I attached them to the wall with double-sided tape; ours is rather old, so I don't think it will harm the paint.

2. Cloudy night sky in a jar:  I was looking for something that is cobalt blue, to put in the bedroom as an accent piece, and remembered that I had a short cobalt glass jar. Then I thought that it needed something in it, and grabbed a couple of pieces of tissue paper I had saved; white and pink. I stuffed the white piece in first, then the pink, screwed on the lid, and flipped it over. The result looks a lot like clouds at night. The cobalt color is very intense, but so far I like it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Got it!

After I got the curtains straightened out, and made the bed up nicely, and finished crocheting the twine rug and deciding exactly where to put it, and added a couple of quick little art projects, still the room seemed to be missing something.

I can't breathe in here yet, I told myself.

Well, why?

I want to feel grounded and centered in here, and wholly myself, but there's nothing here that connects me to my past. 

This isn't surprising, because a few years ago I did a Really Big Purge, and gave away or sold almost everything of mine that I didn't physically need. It was the right thing to do at the time; all the objects I love are engraved in my heart, and I don't really need to keep the things themselves...they can be "sent ahead to heaven" where rust does not consume.

But that left me with few possessions from way back in my past. I made a search around the house, and found a couple of things. They didn't quite fit in the room, either, but I left them in overnight.

Then I realized that a painting I had hanging in my office, would now work really well in the bedroom. It is a painting I made a few years ago to remind myself of one of my favorite spots on earth, back where my roots started. I took the picture and put it up in the bedroom, and it fits in just right. Actually, it ties the whole room together:  it has some of the curtain and bedding colors in it, and the homemade frame echoes other elements in the room. I put this painting on the emptiest wall, which makes it stand out, wherever I happen to be in the room.

After getting that settled, I went on to finish the spring cleaning in there, which I began a couple of weeks ago. I washed the windows, vacuumed the screens, wiped down the shelves and baseboards, and finished with a quick vacuuming of the carpet. Those seem like small things, but they do make a big difference, perceptually.

Now I can breathe in there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A quick note

I've added a Portfolio 1 page in the sidebar to the right, featuring some of my projects and designs. I am planning to add two more pages of portfolio pictures, as I take and edit the photos.

So I painted my curtains...

...just a little bit.

To recap from the previous post:  the bedroom curtains were a dramatic color but a casual length, and had a subtle pattern that was getting lost in the color.

What I did was very simple:  I painted on some little white dots with acrylic paint, to bring out parts of the pattern a little better:

I did actually iron this curtain, before I hemmed it.... Anyway, notice that the dots in one column of circles are brighter than the rest. Those are the ones I painted with a cut-off cotton swab stick; just one line of dots on each curtain panel, off-center to the outside. It took about 15 minutes, and accomplished the following:

1.  The brighter dots give the eye something to latch onto, an entry into perceiving the pattern.

2.  Then the eye, depending on the light and distance, can start to follow the rest of the original pattern, or else the dots will stand alone as a pattern. (Try moving closer to and away from your display to see this.)

3.  With the pattern more visible, the green becomes the background, and becomes visually subordinate to the pattern. Or maybe attentionally is a better word than visually.

4.  Offsetting the column of handpainted dots to one side gives the curtains a much more casual feel, more congruent with their length.

With this one simple change, I like these curtains much better.  In my experience, acrylic paint, once it is dry, will more or less survive machine washing. If not, repainting would be a quick job.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Crazy weekend

I survived the Maker Faire...I think. My husband's project (The GIANT CAMERA!!) was a success. I even made it out to the rummage sale on Friday evening, and while I was there they announced that almost everything would be half price. So I ended up spending $22 altogether, mostly on two director's chairs and a nice dumpy little armchair that needs reupholstering. This brings our total seating to Enough for hosting a large group indoors. Director's chairs are nice because they are comfortable, the fabric can be removed for washing, and the chairs can be folded and put away. I am using one as my desk chair now. (Children, however, tend to pull off the back fabric and use the chair as a play vehicle with flip-down doors.)

I also found two down pillows, for $2 at half price, which I am going to wash and re-cover, re-using the zippers from the original covers. That will put us at Enough for couch/fort pillows.

Then I found a pair of curtains in an interesting modern green print for $1.50, which fit well with elements of my bedroom decor. I spent part of Saturday cutting and hemming them to out-of-baby-reach length, and putting them up. Now that they are up, I am not so sure about them--they are much darker and less airy than the previous curtains, and the dramatic color is not working so well with the casual length. Also, the print is subtle and hard to see from across the room. I am going to have to think about this more, when I have re-centered and re-grounded myself.

In the previous post, I said that what I mostly wanted now was books, but when I was at the sale, I had a curiously difficult time even looking at them. When I tried, I got too antsy and would take off for another section; a holy restlessness, I guess, because I certainly prayed before the sale for wisdom and guidance and moderation. So I only bought a single book: one of the few Madeleine L'Engle books that I haven't yet read.

There was also a fabric remnant that might be large enough to make new pants for me, and an old wool blanket in a nice shade of green. And a short jacket. And, finally,  the Giant Enlarger Motherlode (a heap of advanced photographic equipment), which my husband went back later and bought with his own money.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Enough already

A couple of weeks ago, I had an attack of shopping fever, not surprising after waiting through a few weeks of tight cash flow. So I sat down and made a list of all the things that I wanted to buy. Some of the things on the list were just silly--stuff that we already have, and already have enough of. Some were things that are best left to my Empty Nest List. Some things I will buy when the money is there and the time is right. There were also things which I could just as well make myself. I did some shopping at home and found some materials (such as a box of cedar shingles) that I had completely overlooked before.

With all those things out of the way, what was left on my list was Books. Hence my trip to the library. This library has a used book sale area, with most books for $1 or less.

One of the books I bought was Affluenza, a book from the Nineties based on the PBS series from that time. Another was an older Larry Burkett book, Your Finances in Changing Times. The chief idea that I got from these was that we could decide on a maximum standard of living for ourselves and live within it; this is timely, because we are about there in terms of furnishing and equipping our household. Many of my projects now are actually repairs, maintenance, and replacements of what we currently have. My next sabbatical year will begin next fall, so I am thinking of taking a few months to transition into non-expansionary mode.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday follow-through

There's a backlog of projects that I've been working on recently, but haven't written anything about:

Blouse:  I had a thrift store blouse (originally homemade from a pattern, I think) that had worn out beyond minor repair. I deconstructed it, taking measurements and notes on how it was put together, and then used some batik fabric on hand to make a replacement. It turned out well enough; I should have practiced making buttonholes more before making them for real, but with the print and the buttons, they don't stand out. I had only just enough fabric for it, and had to piece together the short sleeves and collar.

T-shirt:  I had a piece of jersey from the art salvage store, again just enough to piece together, and drew up a quick pattern from my current measurements, and sewed it up quickly this morning. (In fact, I am wearing it now.) I made the tops of the sleeves too wide, and just folded the excess into a tuck as I sewed. I might go back and fix that later, or just leave it...I will wear a long-sleeved layer over it in public anyway.

Pumice stone experiment:  Can you refresh a yucky old pumice stone by grinding away the sides until fresh pumice is revealed? Yes! I found that a coarse rasp worked much better than a fine file. I put it in the vise (gently!) to hold it while I worked, otherwise I would have held the rasp steady, and rubbed the stone up and down it. (If you don't have a rasp or file, a coarse stone or even a concrete sidewalk would work for this.)

Maker Faire consulting:  The Minneapolis/St. Paul Mini Maker Faire is coming up on May 14, at the state fairgrounds, and my husband is planning on exhibiting. I have been helping him out with his project, which stands a fair chance of being finished on time this year. The admission to the Faire is a bit pricey, by my miserly standards, but there is also the YMCA garage sale going on nearby in the Merchandise Mart that Saturday...this is where I found a heaping cartload of stuff last spring (for $35). Go in the early afternoon when it is winding down, and they will practically beg you to haul more stuff away. 

Repairs and rearranging:  The quilt got me started thinking about perhaps making some changes in the bedroom. While I was thinking, I also repaired one of the curtain rod brackets that was coming loose (thanks AGAIN, children). This time I put a long screw in, all the way into the wood of the window header. In the end, I decided to put everything back and keep the look eclectic. It's just about time to switch to summer blankets, so I don't want to redo the whole room around my winter quilt. I will buy more twine when I can, to finish the granny hexagon rug that I started for this room.

Nature art project:  We have a tree in the backyard with interesting patterns in its bark, that I would like to take a rubbing of, on the piece of canvas from the art salvage store. I tested using a (new) charcoal briquet on the fabric, and it marks well, but some sort of a fixative will be necessary to keep it there.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The best time to put away laundry...

...is in the morning, right after the caffeine kicks in. I brewed my tea extra strong today, and got the job done in no time.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Patching a quilt

A while back, I bought a utility quilt at a thrift store, for five or ten dollars. The top is made of rectangles of wool and polyester from old suits, in browns and blues grays and blacks, and the back is a plaid flannel sheet. It's a good quilt for winter, but it's not pretty.

Some of the seams on the top were starting to come apart; a little hard to fix when it is the fabric itself that is pulling apart.

One of the pieces of fabric that I recently bought from ArtScraps was a medium-size piece of emerald green wool. Not quite enough fabric to make a garment larger than a hat; it cost about one dollar. So I decided to use it to make some patches for the quilt.

I marked and stitched leaf shapes in the wool, before cutting it:

I used regular (colored) chalk for marking, which comes out easily...sometimes more easily than I would like.

Then I cut out the leaves, just outside the stitching, and hand-sewed them to the quilt top. I should have used button thread, which is much stronger than regular thread, but I don't have any. I plan on re-sewing the leaves on before I wash the quilt again.

The end result is a few organic "pops" of color on a blocky, drab background. I am not actually a fan of pops of color in decorating, but in this case it worked out really well.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Not a full book review: Rustic Elegance, by Ralph Kylloe

I leafed through this book at the library to drool over the pictures, and skipped over the text. It features a number of uber-rustic cabin palaces, all by the same architect. The primary elements of the look are dry-stacked rough stone and tons of rustic wood, paired with elegant and expertly-arranged high-end furnishings. What most of these rooms lack, therefore, is color and light; it is a very cave-like style. Too depressing for full-time occupation without a few modifications.

But there are a few interesting ideas that I took away from it. One is that now I think my basement room needs a boulder or two! It is definitely a cave sort of room. Another is that you can glue chunks of wood to almost anything.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Research questions and experiments

Things I've been working out lately:

1.  Will a regular hole punch (for paper) punch holes in aluminum from the side of a beverage can?

Yes, easily. They don't make packaging like they used to.

2.  Can hydrogenated lard be used to make soap?

The internet says yes. I did actually try this five years ago, but must have used a little too much lard as the soap came out with a lardy smell, and yellowed a lot over time. We have been using it as hand soap all this time, and are now down to the last few bars.

3.  Can I put a few stitches through my wool-blanket-inside-a-duvet-cover-throw, to keep the blanket from bunching up in the end of the cover?

No, the duvet cover material is not strong enough to hold the blanket if only a few stitches are used. Especially if the children use the throw for playing tug of war. You'd have to use a lot of stitches, and by then it would be a quilt.

4.  Should I put all my sweaters on one shelf, and all my shirts (jersey) on another, instead of having one shelf for casual and one for more dressed-up?

Yes, get the sweaters out of the way.

5.  Why isn't the upper thread on my sewing machine catching the lower thread??

The needle is in backwards.

6.  Will putting extra snaps on the seat covers I made for the dining room chairs help keep them from being pulled off all the time?

Yes, somewhat. The engineering problem here is that if the connection is stronger than the fabric, the fabric will rip under force. (Reinforcing the fabric at the stress points would be awkward.) If the connection is too weak, the covers will be coming off all the time. This is an extremely important point in design, worthy of a block quote in bold:

You have to design not just how it is going to work, but how it is going to break.

Make it break somewhere that is easy to fix.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sweatshirt to cardigan and sweater to jacket

A very simple and quick project:  I took a plain sweatshirt, that I rarely wore because sweatshirts just aren't very flattering, cut it straight up the center front, and turned it into a sort of cardigan. The raw edges became a little fuzzy, so I folded them over and sewed them down with a narrow zigzag stitch. Now it is much nicer to wear and much easier to layer. Next time I plan to try sewing binding over the raw edges to finish them; folding them over makes a gap in the center that is a bit wider than I would like.

Then I went and did the same thing for the oversized sweater that I triple-shrank, so now it's a jacket. The only difference was that I sewed two lines up the front first before cutting between, so that the edges wouldn't unravel at all. It works well, except that it is still quite large around the armholes, and I should probably take it in some there.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elf house

I received a copy of Lloyd Kahn's Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter: Scaling Back in the 21st Century for Christmas, and have been studying it closely ever since. He is an old surfer hippie, and has a number of shelter books, going way back, that I haven't read. In this book, hundreds of pictures show tiny homes of all kinds, from boats to converted horse trailers to hippie vans to hobbit houses to treehouses, where the builders were constrained by resources more than by building codes.

Building under those conditions is a lot of fun. But I am not in a place in my life where I want to build a tiny home for myself.

However, I had the twigs that I had saved from the Christmas tree, and some bits of bark that a tree in the back yard had shed, and some twine, and a glue gun...so I made an elf house. Apologies for the low-quality picture, but there is an elf chair on a small deck of twigs, and a bark shelf with an acorn bowl of pine needles. There is also a high, round perch. I built it up a little at a time on a cookie sheet, with pauses to let the hot glue solidify (I use the high-temperature-melt glue). I wrapped twine around the more visible glue joints. It was a lot of fun to "build", and I only burned myself once.


I was going to call this project the Nomadic Footstool, because cardboard furniture reminds me of Papanek and Hennessey's Nomadic Furniture,  but I ended up using much more foam and adhesive than I had originally planned, so it's more like regular furniture. The center core is tightly rolled-up cardboard, which rolls up much more nicely if you pre-crease it every inch or two. I used duct tape internally to secure the ends of each piece of cardboard, and then made notches to secure the final end to the side. Once rolled and secured, the cardboard is quite strong. On top there is a double layer of one-inch memory foam; I had a large scrap from trimming down a rummage sale mattress topper to fit a smaller bed. I found, after making the top, that I had enough foam left to put a single layer around on the side. The foam is attached to itself and to the cardboard by heavy-duty spray adhesive; I had half a can of this left over after the couch project. The fabric is a sort of microfiber fake suede, very soft. I sewed strips together for the sides, and hand-sewed on circles for the top and bottom. You can see where I rolled down the top edge of the "sleeve" and sewed on the top circle.

Functionally, it works well. The top is squishy enough to be comfortable. The foam on the sides feels nice when you pick it up. It is easy to scoot out of the way, and strong enough to sit on. Visually it is too small next to the armchair that I am using it with, but it adds an element of roundness to a room that contains mostly rectangular objects.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The creative sap is rising

My mother-in-law declutters frequently, and she usually stops by our house on her way to Goodwill to let us pick through the boxes and see if there is anything we want. Most recently, she gave us pairs of pillowcases, hand towels, and bath towels, along with pottery items that she made way back when, several cast resin bird plaques, a few pieces of old china, and some other things.

The pillowcases were black, but I soaked them in water with bleach for a few minutes, and bleached them to a dark brown. Bleaching weakens fabrics, so I didn't try for anything lighter.

The children claimed the bird plaques, but one child let me hang his in the dining room, where it fits right in and adds joy to the room.

I used some large pieces of denim that she gave me on an earlier visit to make a cover for The Wedge--a large wedge of vinyl-covered foam that appears to have been retired from service in some school phys ed program. It is very popular in our household for sliding, tipping, and fort-building, but it was very red and rather worn. I don't usually like to use denim for slipcovers, because it feels clammy without a warm body inside it, but for The Wedge this doesn't matter, and I had just enough material.

As for other projects, last weekend I got over to the ArtScraps store, and for under $4 bought some upholstery remnants (which even match!), jersey fabric, a single earring, and a medium-size piece of canvas.

I had to put some thought into how to use the upholstery fabric, which is in straight strips a few inches wide, and decided to make an ottoman or footstool. For the core of it, I am using cardboard from boxes, rolled up with the ridges running up and down. I have this step done, but I might re-roll it with more frequent creasing and tighter rolling, because the current roll is somewhat polygonal, rather than circular, and the end product is likely to be used for forts and indoor gymnastics. I actually sat in the chair that it is going to go with, and found out how high I wanted it to be by stacking books and measuring the pile; if you're going to make something for yourself, you might as well make it the perfect size.

I will be using the jersey fabric to make myself a shirt, sometime, and will probably overdye/stain it with cheap black tea, because the color is a little bright for me.

The earring is a clip-on, made of wood; I am thinking of making it into a button.

At a random rummage sale on the way home, I found an ice bucket. I was looking for one to use as a compost bucket. We do not have a compost bin yet; I was thinking of buying a municipally-subsidized bin for $40, but after some discussion with my husband and consultation of our rummage-sale composting book, we decided to use what we have--metal garden fencing which we bought to keep our children inside our community garden plot in our days of apartment living, and then outside of our raised bed garden at the last house--and make a circular wire bin that we can take down when we move.

Also, I am making a fabric-wrapped-around-clothesline basket. One way is to use a sewing machine and sew it into a coil with a wide zigzag stitch, but I am rough enough on my machine with ordinary sewing, and I don't like the look of zigzags, so I am using the fabric to actually weave it together. I have never made one before, so it took a little experimenting at first to get the rhythm right: wrap the fabric once around the clothesline, then (using a big yarn needle) sew it to the previous round with one stitch; repeat in a spiral. This method is much slower than zigzagging, but probably is a bit stronger.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Wool coat to cape conversion experiment

For a long time, I have wanted a long wool cape; an older woman at church had one, and she always looked so dignified in it.

For fabric, I found a large and long wool coat at a rummage sale. I put it in my closet and kept my eye out for another coat in a compatible color, so I would have enough fabric.

But I didn't find one. After about two years, my mother-in-law gave us her old cheerleading cape to use for dress-up play. I looked at how it was put together, and thought that maybe there was enough fabric in the coat I had to make a similar cape. Maybe the reason I wasn't finding what I was looking for was because I didn't really need it.

Well, the coat did have enough fabric, just barely, for a "using every part of the pig but the squeal" sort of reconstruction. I took it almost completely apart, using a seam ripper, and laid out the pieces, and sewed here and pieced there, with many pauses to think about what step to take next. The center front and center back are nearly the same as in the original coat, but the rest took a lot of creative reworking. Capes are usually simple, structurally--only the shoulders need close fitting, and the rest of it drapes from there--but I had to work with the fabric that I had.

After several months, it is now all done but for some pressing:

The curves at the top edges of the hand holes were formerly the side front sleeve seams; I turned those pieces literally upside down.

The fabric left over:

Detail of the hook and loop, which are made of a scrap of thick copper wire, a penny that I experimented with annealing and hammering some time ago, and a piece of beaten wire that we picked up someplace for free:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Beginning knitting

Knitting has a very steep learning curve at the beginning, but once you master the basics, a wide vista of possibilities opens up before you.

From the Lazy Genius, who is still struggling up that learning curve, some hints for the beginning knitter. All her hints are spot on, although in the first one she means circular needles, which I personally have never mastered--I prefer to use one very long pair of straight needles (from dowels three feet long), or a larger number of shorter straight needles for wide projects.

Children around the age of six or seven can have good enough motor skills (and perseverance, which is vital) to learn to knit.  As my friend said, "The best way to learn to do a new craft is to read a book for teaching children how to do it," because a craft book targeted at children has to stick closely to the true essentials of the technique.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The small things and the not-so-small things

Another series of small wins:

I figured out how to re-attach the wreath hook on the front door (after it fell down...it was only held up by double-sided tape!) in a more secure manner, using screws. So I don't have to buy a new one.

I altered a pair of jeans that was too big, by taking in the side seams. Hint:  try them on first, inside-out, and see how much needs to be taken off. Also:  watch out for the rivets while you are sewing!

I started some seeds, in folded newspaper pots. These pots are easy to make, but hard to keep folded without being stapled or filled with soil.

I've been keeping up with the mending.

I applied KonMari folding to the bed linen, and it looks much more organized.

I pushed through and made it over the peak of the hill for my Major Sewing Project; the rest of the work is downhill.

One thing I've been thinking about for a while is a small rug for the bedroom. I've been testing various ideas, and have settled on a granny-hexagon, to be crocheted from about $3 of dollar store twine (probably jute), for organic texture.

I also did a Nester-style "quieting the room" exercise in the bedroom--taking down all the decorations--to see what it needed. Most of the things went right back where they were, but it was good to have worked it all through again.

I scavenged some pine twigs from last year's Christmas tree, for a future project.

I found a nice pair of walking shoes at Goodwill for $7, although somewhat Providentially, because I passed them over at first and only took a quick second look as I was leaving. Shoe shopping usually makes me cry, because my size is very hard to find. These shoes are replacing a pair of shoes that were Providential when I found them (on vacation, after the soles of my hiking boots suddenly started melting into tar--don't ask me why--and I was left with only dress shoes while camping in the rain), they were even in my size, but they are really too narrow in the toe for me to wear long-term.

Plus one BIG WIN:

I figured out what I want being in my home to feel like...I knew before what I liked and what I didn't, but now I have one phrase that covers it all. And looking around, most of what we have already supports that theme. I've done a little tweaking since then, to bring it out a little more clearly.

A few years ago, I read a book about how to work your way toward a two-word Style Statement for your personal style; probably this book. My decorating theme isn't the same as the two words I came up with back then (which still fit me well enough), but
it fits within the broader style.

In Alexandra Stoddard's books, the idea of decorating a room to feel like being in a garden often comes up, but somehow that never seemed quite right for me...I'm not nearly as into gardens as she is. I had to find my own favorite thing, and now I have.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Organizing fabric, and more gardening plans

I used the KonMari method to organize my modest fabric stash. Aside from some larger pieces and some denim, it all fits in one drawer. The method has you fold each item into a neat rectangle, and then stand it up vertically. The genius of this approach is that it allows part of each item to always be visible, so there is no digging to find anything, and nothing gets lost and squashed at the bottom of the drawer. I find that this method is much easier to apply to sewing fabric, which is mostly square, than to clothing, which mostly isn't. Every item has its own sweet spot where it is folded enough, but not too much. And folded items take up less space, giving you breathing room: 

In the same way, I organized some children's clothing in sizes that we don't need at the moment...it is amazing to look into the drawer and see everything at a glance.

I am planning on reviewing the book at some point, but I need to re-read it first.

As for gardening, my husband found a source of food-grade five gallon buckets:  a local food business is selling their empty buckets for fifty cents each. He is amassing a collection of buckets for container gardening, using two nested buckets per container, with a space for a water reservoir between. Apparently the big challenge in container gardening is in keeping everything watered.

Some other sources of lower-cost plants, that I didn't mention in the last post:  cuttings and splits and seeds from other people's established gardens.

Friday, March 4, 2016

An actual crafts project, and garden thoughts

We have a fireplace, set in a wall of brick veneer. I like the brick, but it sucks up all the light at that end of the room...and the room is painted to match it, so all other walls suck up light too. There is no mantel. I've been thinking for a while about finding something light-giving and lightweight to hang over the fireplace, that doesn't involve drilling into the brick.

I used to own lots of craft books, but at the moment we only have one. In this book is a project that uses coarse sandpaper to transfer crayon designs to fabric in a sort of pointillist texture:  draw a reversed image on the sandpaper with crayon, place fabric and a press cloth over it, and iron on high.

For fabric, I recently picked up a lot of smaller pieces of white fabric at the church craft supplies giveaway. A couple of the children colored pieces of sandpaper, and I colored several more.

With ironing, some brands and colors of crayons transferred more thoroughly than others, and many were light to the point of being washed out; not necessarily a problem in such a dark room. I used string to hang the pieces of fabric across the brick, in a Soulemama sort of banner, from cup hooks that I set into the wood trim. I made it so that I can easily string up something different later.

In other news, we've been planning next season's gardening. Last year, we didn't know what perennials were going to come up in the flower beds, and we had almost no money to work with. We bought a few packets of vegetable seeds, did some indoor seed starting, and for the rest just planted old seeds from our stash (many of which didn't sprout). In a couple of places I "planted" by selective weeding: choose a couple of the friendlier types of weeds (purslane, for example) to keep, and pull up the rest. This year we have a better idea of where we are starting from, and can throw a very modest amount of money into plants and seeds and equipment. I have plans to build or buy myself a hoe. We have a couple of hoes, but I think I need one just like the one Grandma had. For flowers, I am heavily favoring perennials or self-seeding annuals, to minimize long-term seed costs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The best thing about the month of February...

...is that there is only one of them a year. And it's short. This year February has brought us a nasty cold and a stomach virus. But there have still been many wins:

1. Having quilts and soft pillows to cozy up with while ill.

2. The couch took a direct vomit hit, but it was easy to clean up, because there are three layers of washable covers on it.

3. The one Sunday that I made it to church, some ladies were giving away unwanted materials from their crafts and fabric stashes. I am getting pickier with age about what I bring home, but I did choose some patterns, fabrics, beads, and sheet copper. I've already made a bracelet, two child-size skirts, and a new flannel cover for a worn diaper from these materials. I also picked up a useful sewing tip from the sewing directions in one of the patterns; there's always something more to learn. (The tip was to sew down the seam allowances for the part of a seam that goes up into the casing for an elastic waistband--before sewing the casing--so that you don't have to worry about running into them when you're running the elastic through.)

4. Being able, thanks to the power of persistence, to fish a part from the tub drain cap out of the drain...oh, the things that gifted children will find to disassemble. A replacement cap would have been about $70, with shipping.

5. Investing in some real duct tape (shiny HVAC tape) to seal some gaps and gapes in the ductwork, so that the furnace doesn't need to run so long to get heat up to the thermostat. It is definitely making a difference. 

6. Being able to help some friends who are facing difficult circumstances.

7. Getting last year's paperwork sorted, and the taxes figured out...math is fun!

8. Working through a "punch list" of little details around the house: sanding a bare wood switch plate and giving it a light spray of acrylic sealer*, spackling some dings, painting the tiny space between the door frame and the ceiling in the basement bathroom to match the rest of the walls, figuring out how to remove a drawer from the bathroom vanity to get at the baby stuff that had fallen behind it...a bunch of five- and ten-minute jobs.

9. Taking in the seams on some of my clothes, as I have been gradually losing weight.

10. My husband set up a free, scrounged pegboard behind his workbench. We were also given some tools and books by a church member who is downsizing.


*Edited to add:  The acrylic sealer very soon started to wear off; I ended up sanding it off and spraying the switch plate with a brand-name clear coat, which has been holding up to wear much better.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

God bless the landlords...

...who leave you the paint cans, for touching-up the paint. Bless them double if they've actually labeled the cans by room.

When we lived in an apartment complex, which was not so blessably managed, the thing to do was wait until they painted another apartment, and then grab one of the paint buckets from the dumpster. They always painted apartments the exact same neutral color, and there is enough paint in an "empty" bucket to cover at least a few square inches.

Having those little dings in the wall spackled and painted makes a huge difference, somehow, in how the room feels.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Afoot again

I've been fighting a cold for the past week, and I'm thankful that I've arranged my chore schedule to put laundry early in the week--right after Sunday rest, and before whatever germs we pick up at church make me sick. The old-fashioned routine was "Wash on Monday", for similar reasons. Now that I am feeling better, I am making an effort to put some time into simple, unstructured puttering.

As for projects, I mended a couple of our favorite sweaters:  a child's sweater by a combination of re-knitting and darning (yet again; the sweater is on the verge of complete disintegration), and my favorite lamb's wool sweater, by machine-sewing patches from retired sweaters over the holes in the elbows. A favorite sweater is well worth all the effort that mending takes. For the child's sweater, I didn't have knitting needles that were small enough, so I used two large metal yarn (sewing) needles instead.

We have been saving for some time for a grain mill, and recently bought one. (I may review it later on.) It has been fun to use, and freshly-ground flour just seems so alive, compared to regular flour. The saving part went quickly, once we actually defined a goal and established a place to set aside the money in.

I finished knitting the towel that I started, because I ran out of yarn. It works well, but is definitely too small, so I am going to make it larger when I find some compatible yarn. I knitted a loop on one corner, for hanging it up, because our other towels are always falling off their pegs. I should probably sew some loops on those.

At the moment, I am playing with some green yarn. It is very soft, and a bit on the thin side. It would be very nice for a baby hat.

Tax season is coming up, I need to get to the library to see what forms they are still stocking these days. Then comes the annual Sorting of the Files and Gathering of the Numbers.

This is my position on current politics:  I AM TIRED OF BEING LIED TO.

Update: a picture of the towel:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

While the barbarians clamor at the gates...

...for me to provide them their bread (lunch) and circuses (Lego Star Wars video game), I will give a quick update:

The choice between fixing up the old computer and buying a new used computer was made for me, when the old computer died...in the processor, according to my husband's interpretation of the error lights. He went to the local FreeGeek for me, knowing my requirements, and picked up a computer...for only $10, plus a couple more for extra memory, because they were still selling rebuilt computers at half price to get them out the door. The new computer is a little slow sometimes, but it does what I want. It is also very clean inside; the old computer had a decade of dust and cat dander in it. I may do something to the outside of it; black isn't really my color.

In other projects, I pulled out an unfinished crochet project, and started making it into something else. Originally, I was crocheting irises out of acrylic yarn, and I had gotten to the point of having two flowers and some leaves. I like the technique of taking different colors of yarn and "painting" with them, but it takes a lot of mental energy. Also, I needed a new dishcloth. So I took the crocheted pieces for one of the flowers, and unraveled the others for yarn to knit around the pieces and join them together. This involved picking up stitches, knitting them, and using techniques like short rows to fill in the spaces and turn tilted edges into square edges. Now the knitting is done, and I have dozens of ends to work in. Some I will work in along the surface, for color and texture. Others I am going to have to just tie and cut short.

I also took out the last of the dollar store cotton string, and crocheted a comet to go with the crocheted star, and stiffened it with white paint in the same way. (The comet is a circle, with a tail.) They are on the same wall in the bedroom now, and go together well. A while back, I put a frieze of paper snowflakes over the closet door, I am thinking of replacing them with something else soon. I also made a small copper star for the bookshelf, just by cutting the shape out of thin sheet copper with not-my-best scissors. (The copper is from a roll that I bought at the art store years ago.) I brought in a pottery bowl from the kitchen, to set on top of the bookcase.

I did some more drawing on my white vase with the blue permanent marker. It is fun, and if I were a professional designer this would definitely be one of my go-to techniques for developing new decorative patterns, but the marker tends to rub off if I'm not careful. I believe the art store has markers for ceramics that mark more durably.