"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

it's beginning to look a lot like christmas

I know I haven't posted in awhile, and this isn't really a post about projects. I'll be back with some more projects soon. This is a post about getting ready for Christmas, which is probably my favorite time of year.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we decorated our house for Christmas. We put up our tree in the nook between staircases between the living and dining rooms. Usually we keep the recycle bin there, so it gets relocated to the dining room sitting area. I love decorating the tree. I love pulling out all the ornaments from their boxes, ones that I'd forgotten about and ones that evoke special memories and nostalgia. Dodger liked helping too.

Before                                                                    After

I got out the snowflake tablecloth and the new candles my mom just got us.
I set out the advent "wreath" I made at Bible study last week.

I put up the nativities on the entertainment center, and I hung our stockings on the mantle in the first-floor rec room. We also have a couple of mini trees for other rooms.

Now our house feels festive and happy!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

brightening up a room with a tablecloth

I love our dining room/sitting room combo area. For some unknown reason, I really wanted a red dining room, and Zach let it happen, and it makes me happy. However, I have often felt that the room feels dark. Maybe 'dark' isn't the right word because there are so many windows and, during the day at least, it's very light and bright in there. Maybe more what I mean is 'all the same tone.' I love the red walls and our hardwood floors and most of our furniture (not totally loving you, slip-covered loveseat, but you're a project for another day). But the floors and most our wood furniture has red undertones. Add in the chocolate brown loveseat and current chocolate brown tablecloth, and even with the sun shining brightly, it still feels like too much of the same dark colors. 

The sitting room side of the room does OK with the reds and golds from the window seat, chair, and throw pillows and the cream and yellow of the side tables, but the dining room side feels too red and brown. For awhile, I thought about painting the dining chairs white and recovering them with a yellow-patterned fabric. Zach was not a fan of that idea. He said, "But YOU picked out those chairs and stained them!" It's true. But that was before we had this house. And a red dining room. And reddish-brown hardwood floors and a reddish-brown giant china cabinet. However, I was afraid that I'd paint the chairs and then hate it, and then it's so much harder to go back to the stain. So then I thought, well, maybe I'd just recover the plain beige seats with a bright pattern. I even ordered a bunch of swatches. But then I thought some more and realized that it would be even easier and less permanent to just get a new tablecloth. DUH! 

So I searched the inter-webs and Home Goods for a tablecloth that would be a nice pattern and just the right yellow-gold to go with the side tables and pillows from the other side of the room. And came up empty-handed. No problem; a tablecloth is super easy to make, so all I needed to find was an appropriate fabric. Back to the Internet, plus JoAnn and Hobby Lobby. I almost bought some fabric at Hobby Lobby back in August, but something about it just didn't seem right. I forgot about it through September, when Zach and I went on a spending hiatus. Then I came back to it as we started to plan to have a bunch of friends over at the end of the month. I ordered some more swatches, this time from fabricguru.com to find the right color. 

None of the swatches I ordered were both a good color and good pattern, but one was a good color, so I went back to fabricguru and searched for just that color and found three promising possibilities. I called Zach in for his opinion and, as often happens when I do that, as he was mulling over the choices, I realized which one I liked best. As occasionally also happens, Zach then picked the same one. 

The fabric came 54" wide. This TLC page recommends making your tablecloth 12" wider and longer than your table. Our table is about 36" x 58", so I ordered 2 yards (72"). The first thing I did when the fabric arrived was wash it, in case it shrunk. And, boy, did it shrink! At 72" long, I should have had 7" overhang on each end. After washing, I had maybe 3" overhang. The width shrunk quite a bit too, but I'd had more leeway there, so it wasn't as big of a deal. Obviously, if I did this again, I'd order more fabric. 

With all the shrinking, I ended up not cutting the fabric at all. I assumed that the uncut sides were perfectly straight and started by hemming them in about 0.5", then folding that up another 0.5" to make a really nice edge. 

Then I used my old brown tablecloth to make the cut edges straight. I pinned the short side of the brown tablecloth about 0.5" in on the already-pinned straight side, then futsed around to get it all laying nice and flat. This created a straight edge along the cut side. I pinned the cut edge up to meet the brown tablecloth edge; in some places, this hem was about 0.25" and in other places it was more than 0.5". Then I moved the brown tablecloth out of the way and folded up the hem another 0.5" for a nice edge. I did the same thing for the other cut end. 

At this point, I hadn't actually sewn anything yet. I pinned all four sides first, so when I got to the sewing part, I could just sew the hem around all four sides in one shot. I used some yellow-gold thread from my cushion project. The fact that the color matched pretty closely was nice validation that I'd picked a good tablecloth color. 

I do wish the tablecloth was a little longer, but it's still acceptable, and it definitely brightens up the dining side of the room, so overall, I'm pretty pleased.



Monday, October 14, 2013

a gift for baby

Spoiler alert!!! If you are a friend of mine (and let's face it, if you read this blog, you probably are), you will now find out what you will get from me if you have a baby :-p

I went to a baby shower this past weekend. Besides the awesome Star Wars onesie that my friends had registered for, I decided to make them a little something else. In my blog-hopping one day, I had come across this video tutorial for making a very simple blanket. I then did some googling to find these more detailed instructions (I like to have written instructions with numbers). I like sewing, so I thought this looked like a fun little project, plus I had the excuse of the baby shower!

In the video, Melanie talks about using "minky" fabric, which I'd never heard of before, so I looked it up and the handy-dandy Internet. It turns out that minky is a micro-fleece, a soft, fuzzy fabric, which sounded perfect for making a super snuggly baby blanket. I went to my local Hobby Lobby and got 4' of red micro-fleece and 3' of a cute star pattern on flannel. My friends are having a girl, but I didn't want it to be too girly. Based on some of their nerd onesie registry items, I thought stars were a good choice.

I'm not going to go into a lot of details here because Melanie's tutorials are great. The micro-fleece came 60" wide, so I cut that down to 46"x46". The flannel came 45" wide, and I cut that down to 36"x36" (since I got 3', I only had to cut one side, which was a bonus). Then I started with Melanie's tutorial (video is probably more helpful), finding the centers of each side of both pieces of fabric, pinning them together (good sides facing in to each other), and sewing each edge. In Melanie's video, she says to do a 0.5" hem if using minky, so that's what I sewed.

Doing the corners was a little tricky, but Melanie's video explains it well. I don't have a cutting mat, but I do have a paper cutter that has a grid on it, so I used that the line up my ruler on a 45-degree angle with the point where the two edge seams met. 

After trimming the excess off the corners, I turned the blanket right-side-out. Stick your finger in each corner to make sure they get turned all the way out. Then came the one, tiny part where I deviated from Melanie's instructions. For closing up the remaining hole, she recommends laying the outer edge fabric flat and folding the middle piece in to meet it (this will make sense if you watch her video). However, I found that everything laid nicer if I laid the flannel flat and folded the fleece under to meet up with the flannel. I also didn't iron it, just pinned it in place and started sewing the final seam.

Here it is -- a close-up of the corner, and the whole, finished blanket. Isn't it adorable? And the micro-fleece is SUPER snuggly!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

weekend hodge-podge

This past weekend was pretty busy with several small-ish projects. I finished a secret project, which I'll share next week (can't share gifts until they've been given!). I hung Zach's Bond pictures on the closet door in his basement movie cave. I re-sized two polo shirts from work a la this post. And I moved some bushes. That's what I'm going to talk about here, though it will probably be one of my less exciting posts. Sorry. If that didn't convince you to stop reading, here you go...

I posted here about my original bush-planting adventures. To refresh, I planted boxwood, dark knight, boxwood, gardenia, boxwood, hibiscus, boxwood, gardenia, boxwood, dark knight, boxwood. Pretty quickly the hibiscus started going downhill; I put it back in its pot inside and replaced it with a solar flare bush. The solar flare was supposed to be native to Maryland, but it died over that first summer. The gardenias were supposed to be frost-proof (that was their name, frost-proof gardenias), but they didn't make it through the winter, which wasn't even that cold. So first thing in the spring, I had replaced the dead solar flare with another dark knight, since the other two were doing really well. I replaced the gardenias with false indigos. Well, those never really took off. One now looks pretty dead, and the other just looks sad. So I'm giving up on other plants and just sticking to dark knights and boxwoods. 

The dark knights have actually done better than anticipated and have spread out more than I had planned, so they're getting a little too cozy with the boxwoods. I suppose I could prune them down, but instead I decided to just move the boxwoods. This would give everything more space and get rid of the need to keep trying to fill in empty areas with other plants that keep dying. 

As is always the case in our land of rocks, digging sucked. Plus, we've been having unseasonably hot weather here the past week. So, I actually only moved three of the six boxwoods. I plan to do the other three this coming Saturday. 

There's not really anything else to tell. The boxwoods now have some room to breathe, so hopefully they'll grow and spread some more and help balance out the enormous dark knights.

Friday, September 27, 2013

celebrating zach's birthday and 50 years of james bond

I don't think I've mentioned much about Zach's movie room before, but it's pretty intense. It starts with movie posters lining the stairwell going down to the basement and continues down to custom-built, wall-to-wall shelves to hold this thousands of DVDs and Blu-Rays along with figurines from various movies, and ends with 7.1 surround sound and a 57" rear-projection TV. 

Awhile ago, it was the 50th anniversary of James Bond. As part of that, Zach got large postcards of movie posters from all 23 James Bond films (plus a special 50th anniversary card, for a total of 24). For several months, these cards have remained in their plastic bag on a shelf in the basement, but I keep thinking how nice it would be to frame them all. With Zach's birthday coming up, I decided to finally figure it all out and make a custom frame for all those cards.

My original idea was to hang them over the window, but that was before I realized how many there were. After some quick measuring and math, I determined that only about half the cards would fit there. I had wanted the frame to be a total surprise for Zach, but I decided that I really needed his opinion on deciding where to hang them, which would determine the dimensions of the frame. After some more measuring and discussing, we decided to hang them on the closet door. Now it was time to make my plan.

Each card measures 4.125" wide by 5.875" tall. I found this Lowe's project that doesn't require any routing; instead you basically make two frames, with the back frame a little narrower to leave a lip for the glass to rest on. I did lots of math multiple times to figure out the frame dimensions. The overall idea was one big frame with a grid of 24 mini-frames attached inside.

I went to Home Depot and bought poplar hobby wood. I decided to do the front frame and horizontal parts of the grid (called rails in frame parlance) out of 1/4 x 2 (which really measures to 1/4 x 1 1/2) and the vertical parts of the grid (called stiles) out of 1/4 x 1 (really 1/4 by 11/16). For the back frame (called horizontal and vertical cleats), I used 1/2 x 1 (really 1/2 x 11/16). Home Depot didn't have any 1/4 x 1 or 1/2 x 1, so I used 2" boards and ripped them in half with a table saw. All the boards were 4' long, which worked out fine for my measurements and fit nicely in my car :-)

My friend who helped me with mitering for the cat tree I made graciously said OK when I asked if I could come use his tools again. He even helped me for several hours one Saturday to get all the wood cut and assembly started. Pardon all the dust that got on the camera lens!

The Lowe's project didn't use mitered corners for the frame, but I thought that would look better, so we started by cutting the miters for the main front frame and gluing them all together. We left them clamped and drying while we went on to cutting everything else.

Next we ripped the 1/2 x 2s in half to make 1/2 x 1s. These were for the back cleats. We cut them to the measured lengths and drilled counter-sunk holes for #8 5/8" wood screws to help hold the back onto the front along with the glue. 

Next we measured and cut 1/4 x 2s for the rails. Instead of just going with the calculated measurement for all of the inside grid parts, we actually measured the lengths inside the now-assembled outer frame. Also, if you have a little extra wood, we found it's a good idea to cut each piece a little longer than you measured to allow for error. There were a couple of pieces that I cut right on the line that were then just slightly too short. If you cut your pieces a little long, then you can slowly shave off more until it fits just right.

Then we measured for placement and glued on the top and bottom rails. While waiting for those to dry a bit, we ripped the remaining 1/4 x 2s into 1/4 x 1s for the stiles and started cutting those. After the rails were dry, we started gluing in the stiles. About halfway done, we ran out of clamps. Also, it was almost 6pm, so we decided to quit for the day. 

Sunday, I went back over to my friend's house to finish the gluing of stiles and attach the back horizontal cleats.

After letting that all dry for 30 minutes, I sanded off all the oozed-out, dried-up wood glue from the front of the frame, wiped off the dust, and primed the front of the frame. I used Kilz latex primer. I prefer latex just because the clean-up is so much easier than with oil-based primers. The next weekend, I went over to my friend's house several more times to prime the back of the frame and paint both front and back with two coats of black Gliddon sample paint from Home Depot. I like getting sample sizes when I know I won't need even a whole quart for a project. After all the priming and painting, I finished off the frame with a few thin coats of Minwax spray polyurethane. 

My friend also helped me use his table saw to cut the plexiglass for the frame. I had found some old frames from Michael's that had seen better days, but between two of them, they had enough plexiglass for this new frame. I was pretty psyched to not have to buy any plexiglass for this project. I read on the Internet that it should be OK to cut plexiglass with a table saw if you put some tape on the plexiglass to help keep it from cracking, so that's what we did, and it totally worked! The frame fits 4 cards wide and 6 cards tall, and with the size of plexiglass I had, I could have done just two pieces with each covering 4 cards wide by 3 cards tall. However, to make the pieces more manageable for assembly and to add some more structural stability to the frame, I did one piece of plexiglass for each row of 4 cards. We also cut up the cardboard backing that went with the two old frames to use as the backing for the new frame.

After all the cutting, the plexiglass was pretty dusty, so I cleaned them up with some glass cleaner. However, even after that, there appeared to be some scratches, though many of them I couldn't feel when running my finger over them. I polished them up with some Pledge, which I read online might help. I think it actually did, at least with some of the smaller scratches.

Next, I used a 3/32 bit to drill holes for the screws that would hold the plexiglass, cards, and backing in place in the frame. For each section, I put one hole on each side and two each on the top and bottom.

Finally, it was time to put the cards in the frame! I used small pieces of tape to hold each card in place on the plexiglass.

And there it is -- a totally custom frame for around $50! If you've ever had something custom framed someplace like Michael's, you know that it can cost hundreds of dollars, so I consider all the time I put in to be totally worth it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

occasionally, father doesn't know best

Sorry, Dad!

This weekend, I painted our living room ceiling. Not the whole ceiling, just part of it where there used to be a hole and water spots. Here's the story. It's pretty long and not much DIY or pictures or anything, but I thought it was worth sharing.

Back in May, I was watching TV while Zach was in the shower one Saturday, when suddenly I noticed water dripping from the ceiling in front of the TV. Upon closer inspection, there was evident water damage on the drywall around one of the pot lights. Super. Although we're technically out of warranty on our house now that's it's about 2.5 years old, we contacted the builder anyway, in case they would still do something. They contacted the plumber they'd used and sent them out to have a look. Of course, when the plumber came, we ran the shower for 10 minutes or so and no water came leaking from the ceiling downstairs. Due to the fact that the leak seemed to be slow or intermittent, the plumber guessed it was probably not a leaky pipe, but something not sealed quite right in the shower. However, he didn't notice anything obvious, so he left and told us to keep an eye on it. Super helpful.

Well, we kind of forgot about it, not usually being in the living room while the other person is in the shower, until last weekend, I was lying on the couch and noticed that, not only did the water spot around the pot light seem worse, but there was now a second large water spot a few inches away. 

I still had the phone number for the plumber, so I gave them another call, and he came on Thursday. To try to better see what was going on, this time, the plumber cut a hole in the ceiling. Once the shower was turned on, it became very obvious where in the ceiling the drip was. As expected, it was not coming from a pipe, which then made it less obvious where in the shower the leak was. 

After further inspection, the plumber decided that there are a few tiles, basically right where the water hits, where some of the grout is missing. Fixing grout is apparently not part of this plumber's job description, so he asked if my husband knew about grouting and could do it. I said no, but I could. In my head, I was making my super grumpy face, and thinking, 'you sexist jerk!' (though maybe I didn't think 'jerk', maybe I thought some other word instead). 

So, of course, I went to Home Depot for the grout. I discussed sanded vs. unsanded grout here; again, I went with unsanded grout. The house documents say that the master bathroom has #06 harvest grout. While in Home Depot staring at all the grout color options and deciding which looked closest to our shower grout, I also saw several options for various types of grout sealer. Not knowing if I would also need that, I called my dad, who recently completely re-did the two bathrooms in my parents' house. I told him the whole story, he said yes, I should get sealer, I bought my stuff and went home. 

Saturday morning I woke up to a text from my dad saying to call him before starting grout work. When I did, he said that, upon further thought, he didn't think the grout was the problem. He explained that grout is not supposed to be water-tight, which is why a water-proof backer-board goes behind the shower wall, and that any water that makes it behind the tile should get funneled back to the drain. This led him to believe that something more fundamental was wrong with our shower. So, back to emailing our builder contact. This time, I included photos of the water damage to the ceiling and the area of the shower where the plumber had indicated lack of grout.

Long story short, it took a month before they scheduled a time to come take a look. Luckily, we have two other full bathrooms, so we started using the guest bathroom across the hall from our bedroom. Both Zach and I realized how much we love having a huge window that lets tons of light into our bathroom; the guest bathroom seems very dark in comparison.

And when the shower guys came last Friday to take a look, what was the first thing they said? You seem to be missing a lot of grout; fixing that should solve your leak. I said that I was under the impression that grout was not water-proof and so shouldn't matter that much, but they assured me that the grout was the problem and got to work fixing it (with the grout I had bought, so at least that wasn't a total waste). They said they would come back Monday to do some caulking as well and then fix the hole the plumber had cut in the ceiling. 

Being a big believer in my dad, I remained skeptical that simply fixing the grout would solve the leak. As instructed, we waited 24 hours, then turned on the shower for a test run. We anxiously watched the hole in the ceiling for several minutes, but no water came through. So Sunday and Monday, Zach and I went back to using our shower, keeping a towel under the hole in the living room ceiling, so we could tell if there was anymore leaking. However, no such leaking occurred, so when the shower guys came back on Monday, I let them fix the hole in parallel with caulking, since the grout seemed to have been the main solution. Even starting first thing in the morning, they weren't going to have time to get the ceiling hole sanded and painted, since the drywall compound/spackle/whatever would take hours to dry. They said they could come back the next day, but I didn't want to take anymore time off work for this, so I told them I could handle the sanding and painting part. After all, I'd done it before (though for smaller holes) when the electrician cut holes in our wall and ceiling.

So that was my project last weekend -- sanding and painting the patched hole in our living room ceiling. And thinking about how, if I hadn't listened to my dad, we could have had our shower and ceiling fixed (albeit by me, not professionals) a month ago. 

Now, you may recall that at the beginning of this post I said that I painted THIS weekend, and just now I said I painted LAST weekend. Yeah, I did both. 

When we bought our house, the builders left us a quart of wall/ceiling paint. After some other patching projects and using the paint for my side tables, I was getting kind of low, so I took the paint to Sherwin Williams to get matched. They looked at my leftover quart and said that it was actually their paint, but that paint and color are only available in a 5-gallon bucket. Well, I didn't really want 5 gallons, so I asked them to just match it. They said OK, but they couldn't guarantee it would match 100%; however, when they did a test bit alongside the old paint, I had a hard time telling where the old paint stopped and the new one started. 

When I went to paint the patched ceiling, I didn't think I'd have enough of the old paint to finish, especially if I ended up needing two coats, so I decided to mix in about an equal part of the new paint to even out the color and help the new paint match even better. Then I painted. And the new paint didn't match even a little. WHAT!? Yeah.

So I emailed our wonderful builder contact, said how pleased we were with the fixed leak, then begged for another quart of paint. And Thursday I came home from work to a little can of Cool Platinum waiting for me on the front step. So Friday evening, it was back to painting the ceiling. Since the new color was darker than the original, I figured I'd probably have to do two coats, but after the first coat, I couldn't tell where the ceiling had been patched, so I decided to call it good. Now we finally have our living room back together! I hope you managed to hang in for this really long story. Wasn't it totally worth it? Yeah, I thought so too :-)

Friday, August 23, 2013

my shirt is toooo big!

This weekend, my sister, Bethany, is visiting. Since I've been blogging, she was very excited to do a project together, so she brought one along. She has some shirts that are men's large and much too big for her, so I found this tutorial online. 

We started out with Bethany's big shirt. She had brought another that fit well, so we used that to trace a pattern on the big one (with both shirts inside-out, so we weren't drawing on the outside of the shirt!). We tried using a fabric pencil to do the tracing, but it was way too light to really see, so we ended up using a gray washable marker. I don't think it really matters, though, because the line ends up inside the seam.

Once we had the pattern drawn, we got to work sewing. Bethany hadn't used a sewing machine in a long time, so I showed her how, then let her go to town. It was her shirt, after all, I figured she should do some of the work.

Here is one part that wasn't mentioned in the tutorial I found online. When you're doing the tracing, you may want to shorten the sleeves. Go ahead and trace that part out, but DON'T sew along that line. If you do, you will sew your sleeve shut. We did that on the first shirt we tried, and there was seam-ripping involved. On the plus side, I finally went out and invested in a seam-ripper (or rather, Bethany went out and got one for me; thanks, sis!). Instead, follow the lower line of the sleeve and sew out to the edge. After you cut off the excess, hem up the sleeve the regular way you do a hem. 

We did 1/2" hems; folded up, ironed, folded over again, ironed, sewed. We also hemmed up the bottom to shorten up the whole shirt. 

The other thing we did that was not mentioned in the tutorial was to zig-zag stitch the raw edge where we trimmed off the excess fabric. That makes that edge inside the shirt a little nicer and will help keep it from fraying. I did the zig-zag stitching before doing the sleeve and bottom hems. Now Bethany has a shirt that fits much more appropriately than before. And she got a crash refresher course in using a sewing machine, which is always a useful skill.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

it's the little things (part 2)

Closet Organization
The first was inspired by Jessi Makes Things (scroll down past the awesome wall stenciling). It wasn't something I'd really thought about doing before, but I saw this post and thought, "I need that!" The hardest part was finding a curtain rod that was narrow enough. I went to my go-to store, Target, but the smallest rod they had was 30", which was too long for my 24" door. I happened to be heading to JoAnn next to check out fabric options for my curtain project and, as I was in the curtain area, I stumbled upon curtain rods that were adjustable between 18" and 30" -- perfect! I also got the rings there because they were on sale (otherwise, I'd have been the crazy person who went BACK to Target where rings were cheaper).

I came home and got right to work with my rulers, level, pencil, and drill. I was a bit concerned about accidentally drilling all the way through the door, but I managed to not do that. The screws that came with the curtain rods looked like they'd just barely be short enough to not come through the other side of the door, so I went ahead and used them. It was straightforward enough, and now I have hat and scarf hangers on a closet door!


Cord Wrangling
I got this idea from Small Home Big Start. Like the closet organization above, it was something I didn't know I needed until I stumbled across this post. But I'm frequently annoyed with cords, especially the iron cord, and this seemed like a lovely solution.

I basically just followed the tutorial above. I added about 2" to what I measured around the cord. I used this cute polka-dot fabric that I had leftover from making a T-shirt quilt several years ago.

In the little foot box that came with my sewing machine (which I got free from a lady at church several years ago, which made me even more excited that it came with the user's guide and a box of feet!), I discovered a buttonhole foot, which I never even knew was a thing before.

Using the buttonhole foot and instructions in my user's guide for using the buttonhole foot, I sewed the hole for my button, then snipped out the inside of it with my small, sharp scissors.

Next, I deviated from the tutorial a bit. I decided I wanted my cord wrangler to be actually attached to the cord, as I thought this would be easier for using it and not losing it. So next, I hand-sewed the non-buttonhole end together around the iron cord. I wound up the cord and wrapped the wrangler around it to see exactly where to attach the button, then hand-sewed that on. I used an extra button that came with an old green pea-coat that I don't have anymore. 

I'm pretty excited about this cord wrangling. Maybe I'll wrangle some more cords down the road. I could do it for all my hair stylers -- blow-dryer, straightening iron, curling irons. It's not super necessary most of the time, but it would be nice for traveling. Right now, I have some other project ideas in the pipeline, so more cord wrangling will have to wait.