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

Friday, April 26, 2013

thinking outside the house

Back to old projects...

After painting and making bench cushions, my next house projects were not actually inside the house -- they were yard stuff. We moved into our house in March 2011 and pretty much just let the yard exist that first summer. But, much like beige walls, a totally empty yard was too boring for me, so the next spring it was time to do something about that. I started in the back yard where we had trouble mowing around the air conditioning unit and a little Rubbermaid shed that we have. I noticed some of our neighbors had put stones all around their air conditioning boxes, and that seemed like a good idea to me. I can't remember how many bags of rocks I ended up getting, but it was more than I had thought I would need. We went for a mix of white and brown. I also got some of that black landscape edging which, it turns out, I'm terrible at putting in. I initially thought I'd be able to just sort of push it into the ground, which is not true. Then I got the shovel and tried to make a little channel. I think this was the right idea, but I probably just didn't make the channel wide enough, as I still had trouble stuffing the edging into the ground. But I was lazy and decided it was good enough.

Next I moved to the side yard. I wanted to plant some bushes along the side of the house. I checked our HOA documents and verified that, as long as I wasn't doing anything in the front of the house or something that could be considered a "barrier", I didn't need HOA approval. My dad, who is a wonderful gardener/landscaper, recommended getting a mix of evergreens and deciduous bushes. After much thinking and planning and measuring and googling pictures of bushes, I made a plan. Then I made this Powerpoint drawing so Zach could visualize and approve my plan.

I bought the bushes at a local nursery called Meadow Farms. I tried to get bushes that would all get to be about the same size. I got wintergreen boxwoods, dark knights, and gardenias. I dug all the holes, placing them all about 3' apart, as they all called for about that much spacing. It turned out that our "soil" is pretty much all rocks, so digging holes was hard and not much fun. My initial plan was to move my hibiscus out of its pot in the house out into this line of bushes. It was significantly bigger than the other bushes, so I made Zach dig that hole. It made him appreciate how hard I had worked on planting all the other bushes. The weather had been fairly warm, but unfortunately we then had a cold-snap, and my hibiscus started looking like it might be dying. I decided it might be too cold here for the hibiscus to survive outside, so I dug it up and brought it back in the house, where it revived and continues to flourish. I replaced the hibiscus with a solar flare bush. Zach was a little grumpy about the huge hole I'd made him dig, since the solar flare was much smaller than the hibiscus, but I told him that I had dug so much more than him that he wasn't allowed to complain. The good news was that we ended up with lots of rocks to weigh down our little shed int he back yard to keep it from blowing over in the strong winds we get.

  Wintergreen Boxwood
  Dark Knight
  Frost-proof Gardenia
  Solar Flare

I did later have to take down the little white landscape edging because the HOA classified it as a "fence" that requires permission. We've never gotten around to filling out the forms and getting neighbors' signatures to get it approved. Maybe this summer.

Friday, April 19, 2013

yoga as a spiritual discipline

This Saturday, I'm going to a young adult gathering put on by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. There are several break-out session options, and one that I chose is yoga. I used to do yoga somewhat regularly, and I enjoy it. Planning to go to this, however, got me thinking that I really should have a less dorky way of carrying around my yoga mat, i.e. not in the box it came in. I've often thought of getting a bag for my mat, but they're expensive and I'm cheap. Then, Monday, I thought, "You know, it probably wouldn't be that hard to make my own bag." So I did.

I thought I could figure out how to do it on my own, but I wasn't super confident on how to attach the bottom, so I found a few tutorials, and then pieced them together into my own thing:
I used leftover fabric from my curtains and upholstery projects. The curtain fabric is plain cream, and I wanted something a little more fun than that, but I thought that a whole bag of the cushion fabric would be a little too much. So I made the main bag out of the cream fabric and sewed on stripes of the pattern. The drawstring material I used was also left over from my upholstery project; it was the cord I used to make the cushion piping.

First, a note about needles. I should have mentioned this in my other posts, but I don't think I did. Be sure to have the right needle, or you could break it. I did that when making the bench cushions. When I went to JoAnn to get a new needle, the sales lady recommended getting number 80 for regular fabrics (like my trousers) and number 100 for the thicker upholstery fabrics. I don't know if these are the actual "right" needles, but I haven't broken any more, so I count that as good enough.

Now, here are the steps I went through to make my bag:

1. Measure your rolled up mat. Mine measured 24" long, 4" in diameter, and 12" in circumference. The length and circumference will be the basis of your fabric measurements. I added 1.5" to the circumference to account for hems and to give some wiggle room to get the mat into the bag without it being skin-tight. This turned out to not be enough, so I would recommend adding at least 3" instead (more on my fix later). I also added 6" to the length to account for hems and to leave some extra room at the top so the drawstring can pull closed. This may have been excessive. I will explain later. So my final measurement for the cream fabric was 30" x 13.5" (if I had done it right, it would have been 30" x 15"). Cut your fabric.

2. Sew on pattern pieces. I cut four 3" x 13.5" strips from the pattern fabric and spaced them 3" apart on the main fabric. I used a tight zig-zag stitch to help keep the fabric from fraying. I only stitched the top and bottom since the sides will get sewed into the hem later.

3. Fold in each side 0.5", iron, pin, and sew (back to straight stitch!) for side hems. This is important. I initially wasn't going to do this, thinking I would just sew the two sides together, so why would I need to hem them first? But then I realized that there will be a small not-sewn-together section at the top where the drawstring comes out, and you want that to be a nice edge, not all rough and fraying. 

4. Fold down the top, iron, and sew. One of the tutorials I looked at said to make this a 2" hem, so that's what I planned on and did. However, the drawstring I used was not nearly that thick, so I ended up sewing another line higher up to hold that in better. So, depending on what you use for your drawstring, you probably don't need that big of a hem, in which case, you could probably drop an inch or two off the total fabric length. My drawstring casing is only about 0.5". 

At this point, I did a test of my bag size, wrapping it around my mat. Sadly, I discovered that it was only just barely going to fit, and I wanted a little extra room to make it easier to get the mat in and out. I didn't have enough of the cream fabric left to start over, so I improvised. If you measure well and add enough slack, you won't have to worry about this, but I'll share it anyway, in case you're like me and think you added enough slack, but it turns out to not be enough. I still had tons of the pattern fabric, so I cut a piece of that 2.5" wide and 27" long. I got the width by estimating how much more would give me enough slack, and then increasing that by about an inch just to be safe, given my previous lack of estimating ability. I got the length by measuring the now-hemmed fabric from the bottom to just under the drawstring. I thought leaving the edges a little farther apart there might actually be helpful. Then I just pinned the fronts of the pattern strip and bag together on one side and did a standard hem.

Also, if you're like me and made the original top hem too big for your drawstring, now is when I sewed the real drawstring hem. The way I did it was to drop the drawstring through the big hem since that was easier than it would be to try to stuff the string through the tiny hem later, and then I sewed the hem close around it. 

Now, back to the regular steps:

5. Make the strap. I cut a strip from the pattern fabric 36" long and 5" wide. Fold the top and bottom in for 1" hems and iron. Fold the entire piece in half (the long way, so your piece is 36" x 1.5") and iron. I pinned it a bit to help hold everything in place. Sew straight stitch on either side (one holds all the hemmed and folded side together, the other side just balances that and looks nicer). 

6. Pin the strap to one side of the main fabric. Pin it to the 'out' side; I pinned mine about 2" from the bottom and 2" from the top. Don't forget this step, which is what I did! If you do, you'll have to spend a lot longer taking out the seam you just sewed than it took to sew it!

7. Bring the two edges of the main fabric together with the 'out' or 'right' side on the inside (basically making your tube inside out). Your strap will be trapped inside. Pin the edges together and sew.

8. Cut out the bottom piece.

9. Pin the bottom to the tube (keeping it inside out). Carefully sew together. This is hard. Go slowly and rearrange things frequently to keep the fabric from bunching up.

10. At this point, I decided to zig-zag stitch all the hems to keep the fabric from fraying. Fraying was a big issue with my fabric, especially the patterned cushion fabric, so I thought this was a good idea. If your fabric doesn't seem prone to fraying, you could probably skip this.

11. Turn everything right side out. Put your yoga mat inside. Smile and breathe. Namaste.

Monday, April 15, 2013

cleaning up the bathroom

Our master bathroom has a large cabinet under the double sinks, but I kept feeling like it wasn't super useful because it's really tall, so there could be a bunch of stuff in there, but then all this empty space above it. I put some plastic drawers from Target in there, which helped some, but I still kept thinking it would be great to have more of that sort of thing. The problem was that there are pipes running everywhere, making empty areas that were too narrow for standard storage drawers or shelves. Then I found a tutorial on making under-the-sink storage, which, unfortunately, I don't remember where it came from. So thank you, whoever you are, and I will do my best to make a real tutorial here, though I didn't take any in-progress pictures, as I was not, at the time, planning to blog about it.

First, here's an after picture, so you know what the goal was:

After I finished and posted these pictures on Facebook, my dad informed me that, since they're going in the bathroom, which can get damp, I should paint them to prevent molding. I generally go with my dad's suggestions for house-related things, so I painted. However, if I had known I'd be painting these, I probably would have painted each board before assembling them into the shelves; I think that would have been easier.

The first thing to do, obviously, is measure the space. Between pipes and the existing plastic drawers, I had three areas to work with. I wanted to make drawers to make it easy to get to things in the back, since the cabinet is so deep. So after measuring, I scoped out Target and dollar stores to find bins that would fit. The key for the bins is that they have a decent lip on the sides. I ended up getting some at Target on sale. I was also only able to find bins that would fit on Zach's section of the cabinet, so my side would have to just have shelves. 

I had some plywood lying around the garage, so I used that for my shelves/drawer holder. I started with Zach's bin holder. 
1. Measure and cut the plywood for the two sides and the top and bottom. 
2. Measure the height of the lip on the bins to know how far apart to put the rails. 
3. Measure the height of the bins to know how far apart to space them. I actually only used this for the bottom bin and spaced the others even farther apart, so taller things could go in the bins. A good way to get the spacing figured out is to lay down one of the side boards and place the bins on their sides there, then just mark the top and bottom of each bin lip. Then measure the distance between your marks to figure out how tall to make each rail.

4. If you're going to paint your storage units, now would be a good time. Once everything's assembled, it can be hard to get a brush inside.
5. Use nails and/or wood glue to attach the rail boards to each side
6. Nail on top and bottom
7. Slide in bins and admire your handiwork :-)


The shelves for my side of the cabinet were even easier without bin spacing to worry about. The first "shelf" is really just a box because I have tall things I wanted to put there. For the other shelf that actually has a middle shelf, the only sort of tricky part is making sure to measure the inside width really well so your shelf fits properly. Again, I would recommend painting each piece before nailing/gluing them together.

And here are some pictures after we put all of our stuff away. So much neater now!


The final part of this bathroom storage makeover is our new medicine cabinet. I really had nothing to do with this other than picking it out at the cabinet store and being home to watch the guy install it. We already have a huge mirror plus a small mirrored medicine cabinet, so I really didn't want another mirrored medicine cabinet over the toilet. 

But I thought we really could use some more storage space, so I had the great idea to find someplace that sells the brand of cabinets that we have under the sink (and in our kitchen). Here are a couple of things we learned about buying cabinets:

1. Remember you will need hardware (i.e. door knobs). If your sales person does not ask you to pick them out, bring it up; there is no "default".

2. If you are getting crown molding around the top of the cabinet, verify if it will come pre-installed (unlikely) or if it will need to be cut and installed at your house. We didn't know this and so thought we could install the cabinet ourselves. However, it turns out that I do not yet have the tools or skills to cut and attach crown molding, so we had to go back and schedule installation after the fact.

We had the installation guy out the other day, and he did a great job. He was also very friendly, which dissolved my annoyance about his being late. And now we have a beautiful new medicine cabinet, and all the clutter of stuff in the bathroom is pretty much contained!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

upholstery with pretty handy girl

My dad is super handy. He's a fabulous gardener. He builds benches and bar stools. He redoes bathrooms, including drywalling, tiling, and rerouting pipes. When we first moved into our house and my parents came to visit, they thought it was too bad that we kept our ugly blue recycling bin right out in the open in the wonderful hallway nook on our main floor. However, we didn't really have a better option since it needed to be convenient, it was too big to go in our pantry, and there aren't any other closets on that floor. So my dad built us a beautiful box to house our recycle bin. Most of the time we leave the lid open, but when company comes, we can close it up, and the recycle bin goes into stealth mode.

 Now you see it....
Now you don't!

Our house has a beautiful bay window, and I kept feeling like it should have a bench in front of it where I could curl up and read in the sunshine on weekends. So for Christmas two years ago, I asked my dad to make us a bench. We sent him the measurements and stain color, and when my family drove out to visit, he assembled it, and it fit perfectly. 

Then I got on to my part of the project -- making cushions for the bench. Along with that went some other updates to tie the rest of the furniture in the room together. I'll cover that next (no pun intended). 

For the bench cushions, I followed these directions from Pretty Handy Girl for how to make a bench cushion. I bought some foam at Jo Ann Fabrics. I bought upholstery fabric from www.fabric.com. I cut the foam using an electric knife that I borrowed from a friend. Then I followed Pretty Handy Girl's instructions to make my own piping and sew the cushion covers.



The other part of fixing up this room was to un-green the other loveseat and chair that I'd brought from my old apartments. 

Loveseat, back when it was new in my first MD apartment:

I forgot to take a "before" picture of the chair, and this is actually the best shot I have of the ugly green upholstery that was on it:

The easiest part was slip-covering the loveseat. I found a pretty decent-fitting slipcover online at either Sears or J.C. Penney (I forget which). The chocolate brown mimics the color of our sectional in the living room and is a good neutral with the dark red walls. 

I used the same fabric from the bench cushions to cover the chair and throw pillows. For the pillows, I used my 7th grade Home Ec skills to sew the two pieces of fabric together inside out on three sides, then turn it right-side-out, put the pillow inside, and do what may be called whip-stitching to close it up. What might have been a better idea would have been to put a zipper in on the fourth side, so the cover could easily be removed for cleaning. Oh well. 

For the chair, I unscrewed the seat from the frame and pulled off the old fabric. This consisted partly of pulling staples out with needle-nosed pliers, ripping at the fabric, and cutting the fabric when the other two options failed. Then I used that fabric as a template to cut the new fabric and stapled it on with a staple gun. I got Zach to help hold things because you want to keep the fabric tight around the seat while you're stapling. The corners were kind of hard, and I just did my best to get the folds to look decent.

I like how having the same fabric on the bench and chair and couch pillows helps tie everything together in this room.

Monday, April 8, 2013

breathing new life into old pants

This is the story of how a pair of black boot-cut/flair pants became skinny pants.

Before                                                     After

I've had these black trousers from the Gap for a few years, at least. I probably wore them some at first, but then they became slightly too short (a common problem for a 6' tall girl). I'm sure they were still fine, but I didn't really like to wear them anymore. But I always thought that I might wear them, so they hung in my closet until I stumbled across this blog post: Wide Leg Trouser Refashion Tutorial. Since skinny pants can't hang quite as long as boot-cut pants, I thought my black pants would be a great trial for turning them from boot-cut to skinny.

I have never owned any skinny pants yet and have not been a huge fan of them for me, I think partly because I don't think I look good in the skin-tight pasted-on pants look and partly because I'm self-conscious of my big feet (even though for someone my height, they're really not that big). But I have a great pair of black pumps that I have often thought would look good with skinny pants, and if I made them myself, they wouldn't have to be super tight. Since I never wear these black pants anyway, I figured there wasn't really anything to lose by attempting this transformation.

I did this in little snatches of time I had Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Saturday evening, so I'm not quite sure how long it took, but I'd guess the total process took less than two hours. It was really simple. The only thing I was a bit confused about in the tutorial was the 'unpicking' in step 2. What I figured out was this: the key is pull out the seam about an inch long right at the top where your new seam is going to meet up with the original seam. You don't need to unpick the entire old seam, since it will mostly be cut off anyway, but you do want to pick out some of it at that transition point. It's probably a good idea to run your new seam over the end of the old seam (and back-stitch) to keep it from unraveling itself. Another little trick I used, which, personally, I thought was a pretty good idea, was to do one leg, cut off the extra fabric, and use that extra fabric as a sort of template to pin the other leg. I had a bit of a hard time pinning the leg while I was in the pants, and this was a lot easier; plus the idea was that then the two legs would be pretty much equal in skinniness and overall fit.

I'm pretty pleased with the final result. It was super easy, and I feel kind of hot and trendy in my new skinny pants.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


My latest project is blackout curtains for the sliding glass door in the basement. A basement was a pretty strong requirement for Zach in a new house as he is seriously into movies and needed a good, dark place to watch them. However, the basement we got is a walk-out, so although there's a deck out back that helps keep the sunlight down, it's still not as perfect as Zach would have liked. Plus, I get creeped out thinking that people can just peer in and see all the movies and action figures and other collectibles in there.

Awhile ago, we got a blackout pull-down shade for the window, but the sliding door is still uncovered. We did some looking at curtains and were unsuccessful in finding anything that was totally acceptable. It seemed like a simple request -- blackout curtains in a plain, light cream color to match the walls and window shade. However, many curtains that claimed to be blackout seemed too thin to really be blackout, and the ones that seemed like they might work there didn't come in the right color. The closest I got was some curtains I got (and then returned) at Home Goods, where were a good color and seemed reasonably blackout, but weren't nearly as wide as they claimed, and so didn't actually cover the entire doorway. At this point, I gave up and decided it would be easier to just make my own instead of continually buying, testing out, and returning curtains.

I don't really like the look of curtains with grommets or rings because they make me think of shower curtains, and I think they look cheap. Zach probably wouldn't have cared, but he'll get what I make him :-p I found this tutorial online of making curtains with back-tabs, which was exactly what I wanted: www.viewalongtheway.com. It's a good tutorial, so I won't go through the steps in much detail here.

I got my fabric from JoAnn. I like to buy fabric in person, so I can get a better sense of it. I especially wanted to in this case when I was really trying to match the color of the window shade. I had a swatch from when we had ordered that, so I took the swatch with me, which was super helpful as there are about a million different cream shades out there. However, I'm also a big fan of online shopping and optimizing my time in actual stores, so first I went online and picked out some top contenders. In the end, I went with this home decor fabric and this drapery lining, both of which ended up being on sale, which was a bonus. I was glad the fabric was a good color match because I really wanted to get the 45" fabric. The doorway is 78" wide, which becomes two 39" panels, so with the 45" fabric, I didn't need to cut it at all.

This is one place where I diverged from the tutorial I used -- she said to make your main fabric the width of the window and make the lining 6" narrower. However, as I read through all the steps, it was clear that the sides would fold in, so the total curtain would be narrower than the fabric by about 3". I had looked at some other tutorials, and they generally said to make the main fabric 4" wider than the window. Since I was lazy and didn't want to cut the fabric, I decided to make the main fabric 6" wider than the panel should be (45") and then make the lining exactly the width of the panel (39"). The lining came 54" wide, so I did have to cut that.

I also had to cut down the length of all the pieces. The curtains needed to be 84" long. Here I did follow the tutorial's measurements, making the outside fabric 10" longer (94") and the lining 2.5" longer (86.5"). I bought 6 yards of the outside fabric, leaving me with 28" extra, and 5 yards of the lining, leaving me with 7" extra. So after cutting the fabric and lining, I got started ironing and hemming. Besides ironing the hem to make it sit nicely, you'll probably also want to iron the entire curtain fabric. Mine was pretty wrinkly and had a major crease down the middle from being wrapped up on a fabric bolt for a long time. However, I didn't iron the lining as it was less wrinkly and sort of a weird fabric and we don't have to actually look at it.

Fold up the bottom of the main fabric 4" and iron, then fold up another 4", iron, pin, and sew.

Fold up the bottom of the lining 2" and iron, then fold up another 2", iron, pin, and sew.

Next, onto the fun part of actually putting the outside fabric and lining together. Even after reading on the tutorial how that she had to try multiple times to put the right sides of the fabrics together (both 'outside' sides facing each other), I still did it wrong the first time. I blame it on the fact that, not having any pattern, my fabric looks the same on both sides. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Luckily, I caught my mistake before I started pinning or sewing.

 First Side                                                                           Second Side

The hardest part about sewing the two pieces together was just the massive amount of fabric. I had to keep pausing to readjust to keep everything going through the sewing machine nice and straight.

After sewing the second side, remember to turn the fabric right-side-out. I started ironing the sides before I thought, "Something doesn't seem right here," and went back, re-read the tutorial steps, and realized I had my two fabric outsides still facing each other. I guess I'm used to sewing pillows, where you sew three sides together before turning it right-side-out.

I thought about not doing step 7, finishing the bottom corners. I thought it looked pretty good as-is, but then I folded the corner in, just to see how it would look, and it looked super fancy, so I decided to do it. Only the best for my hubby! The key to the blind stitch here is to not pull the thread all the way through to the front; only go through the top layer of the hem. This way, you attach the corner to the front of the fabric, but you don't see the stitching on the front. It's hard to tell in these pictures since I did such an amazing job of matching my thread to my fabric, so you may just have to trust me that the stitching doesn't come through on the front.

  Next came the back-tabs. Some other tutorials I found say to use "gross-grain ribbon." Not having any (in fact, not really knowing what that is) and not wanting to make yet another trip to JoAnn, I decided to use leftover fabric. I was a little uncertain about the sturdiness of the fabric, even though it's relatively thick, so I decided to double it up. Although the tutorial says to make the tabs 2.5" long, it doesn't really talk about how wide they should be. Looking at the photos, I saw that the bias tape used was 7/8" wide. However, even rounding up to 1", that seemed pretty narrow to me, so I cut pieces 3" wide and 2.5" long and folded them in half to be 1.5" wide. Then I just sewed around the edges to hold the halves together.

I estimated that the tabs should be about 5" apart, based on the fact that the tutorial mentions using 10 tabs for a 55" curtain and 9 tabs for a 44" curtain. Since my curtain was about 39" wide, I used 8 tabs. I put one tab at each end, then laid out my yardstick to measure and get the remaining 6 tabs as evenly spaced as possible. Then I pinned and sewed them, per the tutorial.

Then all that was left was to hang them and bask in Zach's awe and gratitude at my amazing handiwork!