Category Archives: Crafts

Switching it out

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Our home is in a constant state of evolution. It’s no great secret that the key to making a house a home is to make it beautiful but inviting, lovely and lived-in. Somewhere between Please Use A Coaster and Of Course You Can Put Your Feet on the Sofa. Striking that balance isn’t always easy.

One thing I can change seasonally to make things feel bright and new and lovely are the surface decorations in my living areas. Changing out the covers on the sofa pillows, getting a different colored throw out of the linen closet, and adding a seasonally appropriate tablecloth are a couple of quick fixes that instantly make the place spiffed up. Well, that and vacuuming. What is it about hoovering the house makes it look instantly polished? You’d think that would make us do it more often.

Anyway. I wanted new pillow covers and of course I’m too cheap to buy them outright. A trip to the fabric store during a particularly coupony sale netted me a piece of tapestry that I’ve been coveting for MONTHS. I bought a yard, and found a remnant in a bin in a light peacock blue microsuede that nicely complimented the first piece I found. Finally, a piece of peacock blue trim that was clearanced out for $0.97 a yard (down from $6!). And all for about $40. Not exactly cheap, but the pillows I love and covet in my favorite boutique-y stores are usually about that much for just the cover, never mind the actual pillow insert, for a 20″ pillow.

To my sewing corner I went. I have a storage ottoman that I keep some of my shears and things in, and in it I found some beautiful complimentary green remnants in there that I had forgotten about. I make a practice of haunting the remnant bin at the fabric store for this very reason. I’ve gotten some beautiful pieces of fabric, and good sized, for 50% off the bolt price this way. By using some of these pieces along with the two I just bought, I had enough fabric recover a seat cushion for one of our occasional chairs and the throw pillows that go in it. Score!

What I didn’t have were zippers. Well, I’d gotten this far, and I was in that zone where nothing was going to stop me but the power going out. I was just going to have to make envelope backed pillows, which to me are easier anyway.

This pillow style is a great project for a start-up sewer. It’s really forgiving, and you don’t have to fuss with making button holes or installing a zipper, both of which can be intimidating and difficult when you’re learning (and I still fight with zipper installation, to be honest with you). And when you’re done you’ll have something lovely to enjoy every day.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your pillows:

  • Your pillow fabric(s)
  • Thread in a matching or complimentary color to your fabric(s)
  • Pillows

Here’s what you do:

Complete step 1 and/or 1A before fabric shopping if you already have the pillows at home, otherwise you can do the math portion of the project at the fabric store after picking out your pillow forms. Taking a tape measure and calculator will be helpful, and the folks at the store are always happy to help out with questions.

1. If your subject pillow has a removable cover on it you’re ahead of the game. Remove the cover, flip it inside out, and measure it top to bottom, and in the case of a non-square/rectangular pillow, from left to right as well. Write down your measurements for reference. My pillow covers are 18″ squares from edge to edge, with a 1/4″ seam allowance, making them about 17 1/2″ across on the inside of the seam placement. I like my pillows to fit tightly inside of the covers so I make them a little smaller than the pillow itself. Keeps them fluffier that way.

1A. If your subject does NOT have a removable cover and you want to make one for it don’t fret. Get out a tape measure or yard stick, grab your pillow, stretch the corners out, and measure from corner to corner along one side. This guy is 18″. Again, I like my pillows to fit snugly in the case so my front piece is going to be cut to exactly 18″.

2. Take that trusty tape measure or yard stick and measure your square on your chosen fabric, checking for pattern placement. Sometimes its worth buying a little more fabric than you need in order to get the right look on your pillow, so take this into consideration before you go to the cutting counter at the fabric store. If you have a smaller print it’s easier to line up your shot, but on a large pattern sometimes it’s not so easy. Another trick is to make a paper template of your square and use that as a guide so you can really see what your pillow is going to look like when it’s completed.

3. Grab your contrasting fabric, if you’re using one, otherwise keep going with your original fabric. To make the envelope back, you want your overlap to be a good 3-4″ in the center of the pillow, to keep it’s belly covered. I take my pillow length, divide by two, and add 4 to get the right amount of overlap. This provides ample room for your seam allowances as well as hemming your raw edges in the middle.

The equation for my pillows is this:
18 / 2 = 9
9 + 4= 13

My envelope flaps need to be 18″ wide and 13″ tall. Measure and cut two (2).

4. If you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag one long edge of each of your two pillow back pieces to check the fray. On one of the long edges on each of your flap pieces, fold each of the zigged pieces down about a half an inch on the wrong side of the fabric, press and pin in place. Sew down with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

5. Turning the right sides of the fabric together, lay the two envelope pieces over the pillow front and pin in place, being sure to put the bound edges facing the center of your square.

6. Sew around the edges of your square with 1/4″ seam allowances, and again if you didn’t use pinking shears zig-zag around the outside edges of the pillow to keep the fray down. Flip inside out, cram in your pillow, fluff accordingly, and VOILA!

7. Be smug about your crafting abilities and your smart new pillows.

Now, wasn’t that easy? If you shop the sales and remnant bins you can find some gorgeous fabrics for a fraction of the retail price and make pillow covers that look like they cost a fortune. Happy sewing!

Knock it Off: the Cinderella Story of a Coffee Table

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Yesterday was a harrowing day around our house. We had to take poor Ted to the vet for an undisclosed aggressive something that was causing him to chew his feet to ribbons. Poor Ted! Turns out that it is most likely an allergic reaction (what we all narrowed it down to without having to give him expensive skin testing). The worst part of the whole thing was having to stuff him in the crate and drive him the 10 minutes to the vet. He and I both cried the whole way there, it was not pretty. The ride home, though, only he was crying. Well, him and the credit card, that is.

And on the ride home, I saw a coffee table with a sign on it that said ‘Free.’ The magic word! I just had to get the cat home and comfortable, and beg the universe to keep that table there for me to go back to inspect. Lo, it worked. After some inspection as to structural soundness (yes, that was me standing on top of a coffee table on the side of the road) and funky stains or smells, into the hatchback it went. It was really heavy, really solid oak and oak veneer. I should have called Nick to clear it first but, well, there was a suburbanite in a minivan circling the perimeter, and there was just no time. I could dumpsterize it if need be.

I’ve been in the market for a new coffee table for a couple months now. I got one when we first moved in to our new place; it’s of the ottoman persuasion. I really like it but it’s a little too small for our living room layout, and visually it’s a BRICK. I wanted something that was open underneath so the light could come through it and make the room feel more balanced. The roadside attraction was the right size, with nice mission-style lines. The only crap thing about it was it was that horrible, honey-colored blond wood. Lookee here:

So, I got out my waterproof drop cloth (an apartment painter’s best friend) and my paint pod. Have you seen these? My hardware store has them for about $3, and they’re the perfect size for small projects like this. Just enough paint to get the job done without having to invest in a whole quart. Located my brushes and my sandpaper and got to work.

I knew I wanted the legs to be dark so they’d recede into our darker rug, so I painted those first. The wood for the top and bottom shelves, though, was actually in pretty good shape, but again with the ugly color. What to do? I considered staining them a nice walnut color, but sanding is inconvenient here and I didn’t want to buy a whole quart of stain for the 4 tablespoons I needed. I considered covering them in some upholstery fabric and adding finishing nails to the sides, but didn’t like that idea either. What to do, what to do? I stopped at this point and made a call to my mom, the original furniture reformer. (Pssst… that’s the paint pod on the lower shelf.)

She told me about a paint and rag technique that she has used, but the idea scared me, even though she swore I couldn’t screw it up. Luckily she grabbed a rag and did that part for me. After a couple of tries, we both really liked a more worn and distressed look, rather than the nice light stain we originally set out to achieve. I think the result is awesome. A nice, solid table for sitting around and playing games, something that we can still put our feet on, that we don’t have to worry about using coasters with (it’s getting a clear varnish today). It lets the light through and has storage underneath for my millions of magazines and books. It came out really pretty, and looks like I paid a lot of money for it. You’d never know it was a ground score, it looks like it came from Pottery Barn. I can’t believe I knocked it off so well! See for yourself:

I have a stack of side tables that I’ve been meaning to repaint or re-SOMETHING that are of the same blonde wood, but they’re pretty hidden so they’ve survived in their original color. Not for long, though. After the paint and dry brush treatment of the new coffee table, those babies are going under the brush and will match this table. So excited!

Happy Wednesday everybody! Halfway to the weekend!

Laundry Woes and a Creative Solution

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There are reasons why I don’t ever buy anything that’s 100% wool. Namely because I always manage to wash and dry it like it’s cotton and somehow I never see it until after it’s removed from the dryer. Please folks, no more wool sweaters. Cotton works just dandy and causes me much less grief on laundry day.

Having the best husband ever, I was early- gifted a new toy for my birthday. I must have been a very good girl this last year because I’m the proud owner of one of those fancy newfangled tablet PCs. I almost made him return it until I was sucked in to its glowing screen. I don’t know where he found the money but apparently we can still pay rent and eat. Whew. Sneaky hubby.

What does this tablet have to do with a couple of shrunken sweaters and my non-compliance with wool laundering? My fancy new toy needs a home, so I can take it with me places without it having to be subjected to the unsightly crud at the bottom of all of my purses and tote bags. I set out to make a tablet cozy.

Confession: I’m a fabric and scrap hoarder, and I have a whole bin full of snippets and pieces of felt, ribbon, buttons and whatsits. Every now and again I get a lightning bolt of creative genius like this, and I am so glad I hang on to these bits of stuff. I almost gave up hope for inspiration for the shrunken sweaters, too, and they had made their way to the Goodwill pile just last week. I’ll save you sweaters, and breathe new life into you yet!

I snipped and I sewed and I designed my little heart out. Two sweaters means two cozies, right? I will post pictures of the other when it’s finished (I got tired last night). But in the meantime let me show off my fancy new Tiki Tablet Cozy:

I even added a nifty little pocket on the back for a screen cleaning cloth (we girls always have the oiliest fingers, why is that? Hand lotion? I can’t figure it out).

I’ll admit that I’m pretty smug about my tablet cozy… I can’t wait to come home and finish the other one! Keep in mind that these aren’t meant to be bullet proof cases for travel or whatnot, they are merely meant to act as a cover or a sleeve to keep the dang thing clean and keep crud out of the cracks when I’m hauling it around. I didn’t line them with any padding or another layer (this wool is soft enough, I promise).

All I did was wash and dry the sweaters one last time in HOT water and in a HOT dryer to really shrink them up (this is called felting the wool). No fabric softener so there’s no film on the fabric. Using the reinforced side seam as the bottom of the sweater, I measured a cozy that’s 10″ by 7″, which allowed for a snug fit but my 1/4″ seam allowances. I made and added my appliques FIRST so it was easier to do, it would have been a bit of a bear to try and sew everything on there after I’d stitched the side seams. I will also make a little matching pouch that can clip on to the bag to put the power cord into when need be. On the other pouch I already have one built on to one side that’s big enough for the cord and a screen cloth (it was an afterthought on the first one).

The good news is that I have enough sweater and felt and whatsits to make two more… any of you loyal readers want a giveaway? Hit me up in the comments.

Purse Strings and Belt Notches

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Every now and again a rainy day becomes a when-it-rains-it-pours day, and we’ve had a couple in a row. It’s been a rough week around the Young’s household, to spare you the details, and it means that we have to reevaluate exactly how lucky we are to have each other (and that rotten cat) and all of the wonderful things we are blessed with: a cozy home, a warm fireplace, a loving relationship, our friends and family, and the good sense to do our very best with what we have and not constantly feel that American need for more. Which is a good thing, because we’re in one of those patches where less is going to have to be enough and that’s all there is to it.

Another blessing I can count is that I am a very resourceful girl, and I can share my ‘less is plenty’ lifestyle with all of you, and I’m going to have more time to do it. The promise of spring is on the wind today, and the bluebells are about to bloom…

….it’s a time of year that makes me rub my hands together and start thinking of the promise of longer, brighter days and the bounty of our area. That sniff of spring makes me excited to get things cleaned up, get some projects going, and get outside.

The first notch on the belt that gets tightened is the grocery notch. No more artisan cheeses bought on a whim, no more exotic breads, no more fancy Greek yogurt, no more flowers for the dining room table. It means that I get to exercise my creative abilities and make exotic breads, make my own yogurt (to be done this weekend, I can’t wait), and grow my own flowers. Farmer’s Market is a very pricey venture that I will have to X off for the most part, and my community garden plot’s rent is a luxury that I will have to forgo, but Mom and I are going to start our own garden patch in their back forty, which means I’ll have home grown organic vegetables AND flowers a short drive away. The Magical Fruit Alley will soon have figs, blackberries and French prune plums available for the picking for jams, pies, and putting-up.

A need for a new skirt means getting out the sewing machine, and new patio cushion covers mean the same thing. I’ve been saving scraps and such to make a rag rug for the living room, which I’ve never done before but it can’t be too hard. Those with birthdays or giftish events coming up look out – you’re going to be getting some homemade lovin’ from me.

And so I sit, daydreaming about all that can be and all I can do, and try to shift my focus from the negative to all that’s positive. Enough of my rambling thoughts… it’s time to get crackin’.

Bath Fizzies

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Craft Month is on!! I can’t tell you how excited I am to get my little hands busy with some good old fashioned arts and crafts. Not long ago, I forged through a time that was completely desolate and nearly dry of all kinds of creativity. This blog was born from that spell; I was frustrated and bored and sapped of all things festive by Old Job and The Life It Stole From Me. N helped me to find a creative outlet, somewhere I could document the rest of the things I was good at outside of writing proposals, which is where this blog was born.

A No Spend period makes a crafter edgy. The first thing one wants to do is go out and get supplies: beads, fabric, notions, paints, stuff with which to be creative. It’s been so hard not to run out in ten directions to go pick up new fabric for patio cushions, or new bobbins for my sewing machine. I found a great project to make beaded flowers in Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts, and just know they’d make the most endearing hair clips and headbands, however I have no wire and no craft store for miles. One must sometimes make do with what one has, yes?

So in digging around on Martha’s website, I found this recipe for bath fizzies. If you’ve never had the divine pleasure of plopping one of these in your bathwater, you NEED to make a batch. I’ve bought them countless times over for myself and friends at fancy-pants shops to the tune of $2 and up a piece. They immediately take a nice soak and ramp it up to spa experience, making your nice hot bath an amazingly fragrant, pleasurable experience. As if a bath weren’t indulgent enough already! Oh! Another fun bit: these also work as gifts for Shower Only folks. Simply drop one in the bottom of the tub under the shower nozzle, and it will release all of the same aromatic spa-like qualities, no soaking required. Wouldn’t a bag of eucalyptus fizzies be a great gift for a friend with a head cold?

The only tough part here was the Citric Acid. If you live around the Burg you can run to The Beverage People and pick up a bag for $4.95 plus tax. They also sell it online, and it’s one of the most inexpensive places I found to buy it. You can purchase it at some craft stores that sell soap making supplies, or if you have a friend that makes wine or brews beer you may be able to snitch some from them (which is what I did). Also, the recipe calls for bath salts. Well, after some research and asking around my health food store, I learned that you can easily sub in Epsom Salt or Sea Salt, or a combination of the two. I used Epsom Salt with great results, which I already had under the bathroom sink.

For my first batch I picked up some dried lavender in the health food store’s bulk spice section, and knew that I had a small vial of lavender essential oil at home in a drawer. There was my first batch, plain white, no coloring, and they came out of the mold just gorgeous.

This came together SO EASILY and I had so much stuff left I was compelled to make more. But I had no more essential oil! I pondered and dug around, and decided to make another batch using orange extract (really) and some ground cardamom that I had in the cupboard, with a drop of all natural red food coloring. My molds were some little plastic heart boxes I had kicking around from last year’s Valentine’s, but you could easily use cookie cutters, muffin tins with something in the bottom to make an impression, or if you are lucky enough to have them, some precious vintage chocolate or candy molds (which is what I REALLY wanted and will use next time).

In the morning, my lavender ones had smooshed and flattened out into indiscernible little pancakes that were sort of mushy and completely glued to the tea towel they were drying on. It was the result of too much water, I overspritzed the mix during assembly. Resist the urge to add more than a couple of spritzes per the instructions! Test your mix by smashing some into a ball in your hand – if it holds you’re good. Also, REALLY pack your mix into your molds. Use a flat bottom of a small glass if it helps, I prefer my fingers so I can feel how tightly the mix is packed in there.

The lavender ones will be crumbled into a jar for fizzing bath salts (and I will make another batch when I get more oil). The Orange Cardamom ones, on the other hand, came out perfect.

All in all this was a very satisfying kick-off project for the month!  And it has me itching to do more! I think I’ll go soak on it and ponder my next project.

Halloween Fun

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Every year, N and I have a Halloween get -together at our house. Not really a party, more of an open house, come-if-you-can, dress-up-if-you-wanna sort of affair. Now that some of our friends have kidlets, they are welcome too, of course, as we are firm believers that this is a kid’s holiday, adults just get to get in on the fun.

My menu every year is the same: monster pot of chili with all the fixin’s (shredded cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, diced green onions, the works), cornbread muffins, maybe a salad if I really feel like we need a vegetable (or can rope someone into bringing one), and plenty of snacks. A large pot of spiced apple cider simmering away on the stove for ambiance, aroma, and drinking, with brandy and rum on the side to spike if you like. It’s an easy menu that comes together pretty quickly, and chili is always better when made ahead, which makes this even better.

I do like to have a special surprise, though, for our pals and their little ones. These guys aren’t homemade, though, they’re a store-bought marshmallow pie, disguised as something festive and spooky. A Halloween costume for a fun treat. And, of course, it’s on a stick. As we all know, food on a stick has a certain charm that very few can pass up. These cuties come together pretty quickly and the whole family can participate, which makes it even more fun and special.

These treats would be a great treat to take in to a kid’s classroom for their Halloween bash, too. You’ll be the envy of every jealous mom in the place. Check them out:

Spooky Moon Pies

Makes as many as you buy. Required items:

– Marshmallow Pies (I usually buy the Little Debbie brand as they’re the easiest to find, but go whole hog and get real Moon Pies if you want)

– Assorted cute candies: mallow creme pumpkins, candy corn, cake decorations (I found frowny eyes and bats last year, so cute!), Reese’s Pieces, whatever you fancy

– Candy Melts: these are available at most large craft stores and at baking supply shops. Available in many colors and are sooo easy to use. You can get them pre-colored if you prefer, or can buy plain white to make your own colors. I buy the pre-colored ones as the colors are more saturated and it makes the whole business just that much easier.

– Icing bags or plastic zip-top bags for piping the candy melts onto the face of your pie. I use the disposable ones for easy clean up.

– Long bamboo skewers

– Cellophane Bags: I prefer plain so people can really see your handywork. These are available at craft stores and even at Wal-mart now.

– Cute Ribbon, for tying the bags closed

– Your unending imagination.

Follow the instructions for the candy melts to get them to a workable texture. Unwrap your moon pies, lay out all of your candy decoration options in shallow bowls so you can get at them easily. I suggest decorating the pies FIRST, letting the candy melts harden, and THEN putting them on their sticks and into the cello bags. I even let them dry overnight, loosely covered with a lint-free kitchen towel after they’d dried for about an hour, just to make sure my melts were dried and my decorations didn’t smear. No use in messing up your hard work!

In the picture above, I stuck a piece of florist’s foam into a pumpkin basket and then arranged the pops so they stood up for dramatic effect. Hope you and yours have as much fun with these as I do!

A Little Seasoning

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A solid third of the reason we had to rent our house was because of the fireplace. It’s a real, working, wood burning brick fireplace with a nice wide wooden mantel, right in the middle of the dining room focal wall. I took one look and fell in love:

N took one look at the house, with it’s flat roof, white brick walls and lack of a dishwasher and told me I was nuts. We moved in three weeks later.

I love having a house with a fireplace. I know that a wood burning fireplace isn’t exactly the greenest thing we can use for heat, but it certainly keeps the gas bill down. In the winter, when it’s pouring down rain for the third day in a row and the cold bricks make the house feel like an igloo, N starts a roaring fire in the hearth and the bright, cheery flames instantly perk up the situation. That, and our fireplace cranks out some serious heat, and in the same theory as a wood burning brick oven, you get the house warm enough with a hot fire and it stays that way for a heck of a lot longer than just cranking up the heater.

Another reason I love having a house with a fireplace is that I can decorate the mantel for all seasons and holidays. Once September hits, the mantel is chock full of seasonal goodness until the close of February, when I put away my heart-shaped candy box collection for the season. Decorating the mantel means cleaning the mirror, changing out my baskets and bowls on the kitchen island, swapping candles and table cloths and sort of a Season’s Cleaning. It prompts me to get my life together and do the things that I usually let slide all summer long while we’re out playing in the sun, because who’s actually inside? I generally wait until the actual first day of Fall to decorate, but with our upcoming weekends full of wedding To-Do’s, why not start now?

Happy Changing Seasons everyone, and here’s to a happy autumn!