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 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.