Category Archives: Decorating

Switching it out


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 forĀ 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!

A fun little trip


So, I have this giant glass vase full of wine corks sitting on our little wine fridge. Generally I stack them up and then take them to a little store in town that recycles them through a program somewhere when the vase is full to overflowing. This time, though, I decided to upcycle them into something fun instead of just recycling them at the grocer. Observe this skinny little wall:

Sort of a good for nothing spot that stares right atcha when you sit on the sofa and look toward the kitchen. This wall bugs me anyway because I wish there were a cut out over the sink that looks into that hall, but whatever. If we buy this condo that’s the second thing we’re doing, right after swapping the swing on one of our bathroom doors. But I digress.

{I respectfully request that you do not judge the number of wine corks that are in that basket.} A little hot glue, a yardstick, a pile of corks and a glass of wine in front of Big Bang Theory. I had a fun little trip down memory lane with this project too; there were all sorts of corks from many different wineries – some we drank at dinner parties with friends, some were gifts, some were consumed at special occasions. There are corks from our family’s winery, corks from wineries that friends work/have worked at, and a couple of blanks from who-knows-where {and many of us know that those were some of the best bottles}. It made me smile, and is something with a story on display while displaying our holiday cards in the soon-to-be-arriving holiday season. For now, I pinned anniversary cards up there. See how cute?

Now I just need to find some cute little pushpins instead of the brass tacks that are on there now. But they’ll do for the time being. I have another yardstick, too so I can make a second strip of corks to expand the space and get a full six feet of space for hanging. I love little art projects like this! Satisfies my need to do something creative but doesn’t take hours of work and planning. Bring on the holiday cards!

Knock it Off: the Cinderella Story of a Coffee Table


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!

A Little Seasoning


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!