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

Monday, June 24, 2013

reading in style

This is a super old project, but I'm trying to get caught up on some of my older projects that I haven't blogged about yet...

Back in February 2012, I leaped into the digital reading age and bought a Kindle. The reasons were two-fold. The first part is that I had started reading more in an effort to combat insomnia. I'm always tired, and after two sleep studies and months of working with a sleep doctor, the doctor decided I have insomnia (along with mild sleep apnea and congestion), and recommended that I not watch TV or be on the computer for at least 30 min before going to bed. So I started reading more. But simply reading more doesn't necessitate a digital reader. So the second part is that we were going to Hawaii. The long flight and several days' visit would require me to take many books to keep myself entertained, but packing all those books would not be the best use of luggage space. So I bought a Kindle. I bought the cheapest one since I wasn't sure I would like it. Also, I couldn't get the Kindle Fire since that would be the same blue light as TV and computers that signals the brain to stay awake; however, the e-ink technology doesn't have this.

Once I had the Kindle, of course, I wanted a cool case for it. I searched A LOT, on Amazon, of course, but also a lot on etsy.com. On etsy, I found a lot of options that I like parts of, but nothing that was the whole package. I wanted a cover that opened up like a book, not just a protective sleeve to slide the Kindle in when not in use. For a long time, I wasn't sure what pattern fabric I wanted; I wanted something that was "me", but wasn't sure what that would be. Then I found a design on etsy that I knew was right -- navy background with stars and constellations. Unfortunately, it was of the sleeve variety of cases. I searched and searched for something similar in the book-style case, but to no avail. 

Then I found instructions online of how to make one! Perfect! The instructions were for the Kindle Keyboard, but I figured that, if I had dimensions of both Kindles, I could figure out how to scale the instructions down to fit my smaller Kindle. I went to JoAnn Fabric and found this wonderful fabric and button:

Unfortunately, I didn't seem to write down the URL of the tutorial I found at the time. After doing some more searching now, I'm 99% certain it was this one on One Pearl Button:

However, One Pearl Button now seems to be a private blog, so it's basically useless. But it's kind of similar to this other tutorial I just found. I will to try to remember what I did, which will probably be spotty, since this was over a year ago. Also, without the intent of blogging a tutorial, I didn't take any 'during' pictures, only finished shots. However, I think I've been pretty successful at cropping and labeling what I have to make some step-by-step pictures. 

First I measured and cut my fabric. I don't remember how I figured out the dimensions, but I didn't add enough extra for seams (this seems to be a common problem for me) and ended up having to do the whole thing again. So I'd recommend using the dimensions suggested in the tutorial I linked to above. I only used three pieces of fabric -- one each for the inside and outside and one that was half as wide for the pocket on one side.

Here's the first part where I'm not quite sure what I did, but I'm going to guess at what seems to make sense to me now. Next, fold over one of the long edges of the pocket piece and hem it, so you'll have a nice edge.

Then line the pocket up with one side of the inside fabric with the good sides of both pieces facing the same direction (so the back side of the pocket faces the front side of the inside piece). Lay the outside piece on top with the good sides of both facing each other. Pin and sew the pieces together on the two long sides and the short side containing the pocket piece (this will trap the pocket in between the inside and outside pieces). Turn it all right-side out.

Next, I sewed cardboard inside to provide some structure. I just took some old boxes and cut them up to have two pieces about the size of my Kindle. I slid the first piece inside the cover and pushed it all the way to the closed-up side. Then I lined this up with the sewing machine foot and sewed a straight line to hold the cardboard in place. I measured over about an inch and sewed another straight line to be the edge of the other piece of cardboard. You need to leave some space between them that will be like a book binding and allow the cover to close. Then slide in the second piece of cardboard. There should be a small amount of fabric at the open end that hangs past the end of the cardboard. Fold those pieces inside and blind stitch the whole end closed.

Now it's time to attach the elastic that will hold the Kindle inside the cover. I used 0.5" wide elastic. You can set your Kindle on top of the cover to help figure out exactly where you want the elastic. I tried to place it so that it would have a good hold on the Kindle without covering up much of the screen. Then just sew it on. Be sure not to sew the top part of the elastic, though, just the little bottom loop. If you're super fancy, you could probably figure out a way to catch these in the inside and outside fabric pieces so the edges wouldn't show. I thought a little about that when I went to attach them, but by then it was too late.

Next, sew on the button. This is pretty simple. The trickiest part about all of this sewing (the elastic and the button) is that you can't push the needle all the way through the fabric since now there's cardboard in the way (even if there wasn't, you wouldn't want to since then you'd have weird stitching on the outside of your cover).

Once the button is sewn on, make the elastic loop to secure the cover closed. I think the easiest way to do this is to sew down one end of the elastic in the desired location; I put mine about an inch into the inside of the cover. Then bring it around the outside, around the button, and back to determine how long it needs to be and just cut it off there. Then sew on the other end.

Now, just slide your Kindle into the elastic loops, and you have a hand-made book-like Kindle cover. Now quit being a bum and get reading!

Friday, June 14, 2013

the perfect plant stand

For awhile, I had been wanting a plant stand for my plants in the living room. I have a big hibiscus plus another plant that I don't know what it is. (When I was in college, my dad bought me an assortment of small plants in a basket, and this is one that has thrived since then). The hibiscus tends to make a bit of a mess. It makes flowers, which then die and fall off, and it has lately been plagued with white flies, which make the leaves sticky, and then they die and fall off too. Also, I don't really know what, but the floor around the pot tended to get pretty dirty and sticky. I didn't really want my relatively new hardwood floor getting all gross, so I thought a plant stand would be a good solution. However, plant stands tend to be expensive and not terribly big. So I stalked craigslist for weeks, searching for the perfect thing at a reasonable price. 

Then, one weekend I was coming home from running errands and saw a sign for a yard sale, so I went to check it out. I mostly do drive-by yard sale shopping (where I just slowly drive past the yard to see if there seems to be anything other than old clothes and junky toys). I rarely actually get out of my car and peruse yard sale merchandise. This time, however, I spotted a bright yellow round table, so I pulled over to check it out close up. My first impression was, "this is perfect!" It was big enough for the hibiscus to sit on top, and it was round, like I wanted. The paint was pretty scuffed up, but I knew I could easily fix that. I was so enamored with it that I barely noticed how messed up the top was. I paid $3 and took it home. It was there, sitting in the entryway, that I really saw the top of the table.

Even in this picture, it's a little hard to tell just how bad it is. There was some pretty serious water damage that had bubbled up large portions of the top and one chunk was just gone. As I surveyed my purchase, hoping Zach would not ridicule me for it, I thought of ways I could salvage it. I came up with two ideas: use some wood filler to fix the missing section or peel/chisel off the top layer. Since there was a lot of bubbling besides the super bad spot, I decided to try to take off the whole top layer of wood. At first, this was super easy. The areas around the bubbled spots pried up easily with a flat screwdriver. Eventually, though, the wood became less damaged and didn't really want to detach from the layers below. I continued the effort for awhile with a variety of chisels/screwdrivers/knives/rubber mallet, but I finally had to give up and bust out the power sander. When I was done, my arms continued to vibrate and our garage was covered with a fine yellow dust, but the top layer of table was completely gone. Some of the water damage had even made it through into the next layer, but I decided it was good enough.

Then it was on to sanding down the rest of the table to get rid of all that bright yellow paint.

While reading various blogs and other things on the Internet, I came across the idea of covering a table top with cork to avoid water damage to the wood. This sounded like the perfect thing for this table, so I headed to Hobby Lobby and got myself a roll of cork. I used wood glue to glue it onto the top of the table and lots of heavy books to hold it down for the recommended drying time.

Once the glue was dry and the cork was well-adhered to the table, I used a utility knife to cut around the edge of the table. I did a rough pass first, then went back and cleaned up a few areas where I hadn't gotten as close as possible to the wood.

Oliver had been crying inside, so I let him come out in the garage for a bit to help me. He really liked rolling around on the drop-cloth.

Then I banished him back into the house, so I could spray paint the primer on without my little orange cat becoming my little white cat! I used the same Kilz spray primer I used on the guest bedroom furniture because I had a can left over. Now that I had gotten my spraying technique improved, this went pretty easily. 

I had agonized a bit over what color to paint the table. At first I thought blue, but it would be going in the living room, which has blue walls, so that would be too matchy-matchy. Then I thought maybe I'd use some of the left-over paint from the kitchen and hall, which is a light brown, but I thought that was kind of boring. I thought about using left-over dark red paint from the dining room, but I knew that would take a lot of coats, and I didn't really want to spend that much time on it. So finally I decided on using the left-over yellow paint from my side tables, which has seemed to cover well. The plant stand would be in a different room from the side tables, but I thought it might help tie the whole floor together, plus the painting in the living room has some yellows in it, so I decided it would go OK in there. So in the end, the color wasn't THAT much different from how it started out, but a little less bright and not peeling! The paint did cover well here, and I just did one, fairly thick, coat and completely used up my paint. 

After I let that dry a good long while, I covered the table with polyacrylic to protect it. I did two coats on the table tops and just one coat everywhere else. After that dried, I brought it in the house and put my plants on it! It has really helped the room look cleaner. I'm still debating the height; sometimes I think it seems a bit too tall, and I consider trying to saw off the legs a bit. We'll see. For now, though, I think it's pretty close to everything I was looking for.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

wait, aren't you an electrical engineer?

I have a degree in electrical engineering. I wouldn't say I really do that right now, but until fairly recently I did. So I expect I will get some flack for not doing the following project myself, but hiring an electrician. However, majoring in electrical engineering is not the same as being an electrician, especially when you focused on signal processing and communication theory. Also, I was afraid that I would end up making way more holes in the ceiling and wall than a professional would, and I didn't want to have to do all that drywall work and repainting to fix all those holes.

The main floor of our house came with recessed pot lights everywhere, except the area where we decided to put our dining room. To be fair, we may have set up our house not the way the builders intended. We think that area was intended to be the TV/living room area, so maybe you don't really need lights there. But we put our TV on the other side of the house, so we could see it from the kitchen while we're cooking. So our dining room ended up in the area with no lights. Now, we don't use our dining room that much. We have a little kitchen table on the other side with the living room, but we do occasionally have lots of people over and then we do use the dining room, and it's been pretty lame for the last two years to have floor lamps in the dining room that don't provide the best light. 

After much searching and debating, we finally picked a chandelier. It was out of stock. So we waited, looked at some other options, got confused, and went back to the original choice, which eventually came back in stock. We ordered it, it arrived quickly, and I called an electrician recommended by some friends. Today they came to install our chandelier in the dining room.

Before the electrician came, Zach and I figured out exactly where we wanted the light fixture to go. By amazing luck and magic (and perhaps a little design foresight by the architect/builder), it was a pretty straight shot over to the wall switches. One of the switches originally controlled one of the outlets in the room; we planned to have the chandelier go to that and have the outlet go to always being hot. By some more amazing luck, the once an appropriate hole was cut around the location we had marked for the center of the fixture, the hole turned out to be right next to a stud that the fixture box could attach to. The electricians did have to cut more holes than I would have liked -- one in the ceiling and one in the wall -- but it's still probably less than I would have had to do. They also patched up the holes, so I'll just have to fix up the paint at some point. The ceiling won't be a big deal, but the red wall will take a few coats. At least it's high up, so if it doesn't look perfect, probably no one will notice.

And so now we have a chandelier in our dining room like normal people :-)


Monday, June 3, 2013

it's the little things (part 1)

This post is a collection of a few smaller projects that I've been slowly checking off my list. None of them are super exciting, so I didn't think they each deserved their own post. This will be a on-going post, whenever I get a couple of small things done.

Toilet Paper Holder
Back in December 2011, my parents and sister and brother-in-law came to visit. It was the first time we'd had more than two people visiting at a time, and since we only have one guest room, this was a bit of a problem. So, we rushed out and got a pull-out sofa for the downstairs rec room and called it good. There's a full bathroom on that floor, but after having some people using it full-time for a few days, I realized that it has a sever lack of storage. So, several months ago, I bought an etagere. I can't remember where I got it, either Target or Amazon, most likely. Assembling it was no problem, but when I went to put it in the bathroom, it ran into the toilet paper holder. The way the holder is designed, it couldn't just be flipped around to face the other direction, so I just took it out and set the toilet paper roll on the shelf of the etagere. And that's how it stayed for many months until I got un-lazy enough to pull out the old drywall anchor, patch the hole, and put the holder back in a few inches to the left.

I didn't think to take a 'before' picture, so this is me just holding the toilet paper holder up where it used to be. See how there's no space between the holder and etagere?

Yanking the drywall anchor was really hard. So hard, in fact, that it didn't actually happen. I guess that's good because the point is to really grip and hold into the drywall. I did manage to rip off the outer part of it, though, so I could still fill in the hole and have it be all flush with the wall. Here is the wall after I filled in the hole with spackle. You can see on the left where I penciled in my plan of where to relocate the toilet paper holder.

After allowing the spackle to dry at least the recommended 30 minutes, I sanded it down and painted over the area with some of the remaining wall/ceiling paint left behind by the builders. Now you can barely tell there used to be a hole there!

Then, all I had to do was put the toilet paper holder back in. Easier said than done. There's a plastic cylinder-type thing that screws into the wall, then the metal toilet paper holder attaches to that. But now I just spackled my drywall anchor into the wall, so I went to Home Depot to get a new one. As is my usual MO, I took the cylinder and screw with me to make sure I got something that would work. After staring at all the options for a long time, I finally picked a drywall anchor that looked like the screws that came with it were about the same size as my screw. I got a pack of two. Back home, I screwed my screw part way into one of the anchors to make sure it actually fit. It was a little tight, but I thought it would work, though in my test, holding the anchor with some pliers, I busted the plastic. That's why I had two! So I started screwing the drywall anchor into the wall, per the instructions. Not very far in, it started getting really tough, and then the plastic busted. Great. I was too lazy to rush back out to Home Depot, so I waited until the next weekend when I had some other things to get too. I chose a different kind this time, with the help of a kind sales associate, who also made the obvious suggestion that I should just use the screw that comes with the anchor. Again, I got a pack of two. This time, success was had, and we again have our toilet paper hanging on the wall, with enough space to change out used-up rolls.

Dresser Drawer Knobs
Last week, I posted about painting the furniture in the guest room. After that, I decided it would look nice to put knobs on the dresser drawers to kind of class up the Ikea a bit. Initially, I thought I would get purple glass knobs, but after a bunch of searching online, I found these green metal ones from The Turquoise Cottage on Etsy that I feel in love with:

The shop owner, Carey, was great to work with and very responsive when I had questions about the shipping. The knobs shipped on Wednesday and arrived Friday. Since the Ikea drawers aren't designed to have knobs, I had to drill holes. I measured both width and height to find the center of the small top drawers. Then I used those measurements to measure the placement for the knobs on the large drawers, so all the knobs would line up. It took a little trial and error to get the holes the right diameter for the screws, but I always start small since you can always make the hole bigger, but not smaller. Eventually I got it right and drilled all the holes. After some quick dust-busting cleanup, I just stuck the screws through the holes and screwed on the knobs. Pretty simple. And now, this is the guest bedroom dresser:

I love how the green is a little pop of something different among all the purple in the room. And the design on the knobs plays well with the paisley of the bedspread.