Monday, December 23, 2013

Tudor Gingerbread House

I like making gingerbread houses, and I love looking at pictures of gingerbread contest winners. I am by no means professional, have never been formally taught anything by anyone who really knows what they are talking about, and don't claim to do everything the best way.

I have to admit up front here that I live in a desert climate. Since living here, I have never had any problem with gingerbread bending from weight and the royal icing I use is nothing fancy (egg whites, powdered sugar and cream of tartar), but I have never had a problem with it and it drys rapidly enough that my problem is not getting the gingerbread to stay together until it drys, but getting it together right the first time because the royal icing will be partially dry before I get a chance to move it around. In other words, I live in a pretty ideal place for gingerbread house experimentation and I am not sure how this would hold up in, say, Houston, TX or Canandaigua, NY.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: Wreath

I came up with this idea immediately after coming up with the idea for snowflake week. However, I was very uncertain if it would ever turn out in a manner that I was happy with. I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Apart from the snowflake making, this was actually a really easy process. I made the snowflakes (for my six secrets of snowflake making see Monday's post), and then dipped them in wax just like I did for the ornaments and candles. I ended up hanging this wreath on the front door in the end and I figured the wax could help the paper weather a bit better.

For the wreath frame I just bent the lower triangle part of a wire hanger into a circle. I used some fabric I had acquired secondhand to sew a tube of fabric. I contemplated hot gluing it but abandoned this idea when David took a little too much interest in the cord of the glue gun and I wound up with burnt fingers (but better me than him). In any case, I think the sewing ended up better than the glue would have.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: Candles

Today I decided to put paper snowflakes on my candles. This process was slightly less successful than I had anticipated, but that had more to do with inferior materials than a problem with the process in my opinion.

I didn't have a candle to try this idea on, so I went to the trusty dollar store. I can walk to the dollar store. Unfortunately, the only candles they have are either this really ugly green color and kind of short or in containers. I really didn't feel like going home, getting in the car, and driving to another store to try and find my candles, so I just got one of the candles in a jar.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: Wax-dipped Snowflake Ornaments

I can't really remember if I heard of someone else dipping snowflakes in wax or if I came up with it myself. I had actually never tried it until today, but I am pleased to report that it works like a charm.

I began by making snowflakes like I did in Monday's post. You should be able to dip any size snowflake, but I was making ornaments and did not want really large ones. As such, I made mine quarter-sized--that is to say I divided my original sheet of computer paper in 4 and made a snowflake out of each section. The resulting snowflakes were just under 5 inches in diameter at the widest part, which I found a perfect size.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: Pictures in Your Snowflakes

Welcome to day 2 of snowflake week. Here is a link to yesterday's post, My Snowflake Secrets in case you missed it.

Now on to today's post,  picture snowflakes!

I am not exactly sure where I got the idea to put pictures in my snowflakes, but I am quite certain it was not an original idea of mine. I remember trying to do this as early as freshman year, so I think it is likely that someone on my dorm room floor sparked the idea. Whatever or whoever it was that gave me the idea, however, I have now developed 2 methods.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Paper Snowflake Week: My Snowflake Secrets

It has been a while. My excuse is morning sickness. But I am back with a bang and will give you a post each day this week, each one about paper snowflakes. It has started to snow a bit lately and I actually love snow. In my opinion, if it is going to be cold and grey, it might as well snow. Since the weather doesn't always oblige, I will give you ideas about making it snow yourself. I am going to skip false humility here and admit up front that I actually consider myself pretty good at making snowflakes. However, this has not always been the case.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recipe Review Roundup

Perhaps these posts will be interesting to no one but me, but I have decided to start doing what I am going to call Recipe Review Roundups every so often. Basically, they will discuss some of the recipes I have tried recently. It will document what I liked and what I did not like about the recipes, where I had trouble with the process, what I ended up changing, and how they were received by Patrick and I (and sometimes David).

I think it important to note that Patrick is not exactly what you would call a picky eater. He has a super high metabolism and generally likes anything that can fill him up, and has a special love for spicy things after living in Fiji for 2 years and eating Indian food there. Things fall into 3 categories for him: it is inedible, it serves its purpose as food (fills his stomach and tastes okay), or it is really good. The middle category can really have a large range of how much he likes it, but it is hard to get him to elaborate upon it (I did not marry a man of many words).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Particle Board Bookshelf Makeover

A couple Saturday's ago, Patrick and I helped a neighbor move around some furniture in her small apartment in order to allow delivery of a new bed. She decided that she had all too many books in the process and began to get rid of several of them. She also had two particle board shelves that were, in all honesty, really ugly. She planned to get rid of them because they didn't really fit where they were and, as previously stated, they were ugly. Still, the storage would be helpful to her, and after having a hard time finding the right thing to replace the storage for a very low price, I suggested just making over the shelves.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Baby Food Jar Week: Coin Sorter

Continuing on the theme of confessions, here is today's edition: My husband and I are nerds. And I am completely okay with that. How nerdy, you ask? Well, let me describe our most recent date night to you. I was trying to come up with a final project for baby food jar week. Patrick first suggested coating the inside with metal and making a resonating chamber, though he reasoned that it might be a bit hard to tune. I kind of shot down that idea because I have no idea what we would use a resonating chamber for and didn't think you all wanted to read about my making it. After discussing a few more options, we came up with this fabulous date night activity: we had a competition to see who could build the better coin sorter using baby food jars as the vessels to catch the coins.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Baby Food Jar Week: Baby's-First-Christmas Ornaments

Since I started yesterday's post with a confession, I suppose I shall start today's with one as well. Here it is: I never believed in Santa Claus. I know, right? Pretty crazy stuff. This confession has been met with a number of reactions through the years, but the most common opinion seems to be pity--that somehow my parents failed me by never telling me that Santa Claus was real. But in all honesty, that is a little bit obnoxious to me. I don't feel like I missed out on anything , except maybe having a cool story about when I found out that my parents had been lying to me my whole life, and I am okay passing on that. When everyone else is sharing their stories, I just tell people the story about the mean third grader on the bus in first grade that had just found out and wanted to spoil it for me. He said "Santa Claus isn't real," and I said "I know." I don't think it was quite the reaction he was looking for.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Baby Food Jar Week: Apple Jars and The Projects That Got Me There

So, I have a confession: I don't like Halloween. I really don't like scary things and gore is even worse. It just bugs me.  When I was little the candy was fun, but I have been past trick or treating age for some time. Dressing up can be kind of fun, but I don't like how so many women's (and teen girls') costumes are so revealing and degrading. I am pretty sure little boo peep had a longer skirt; that would not be practical  to shepherd sheep in. I suppose in a year or so, David will be old enough that it might be fun again, but for the time being, I am not a Halloween fan. But I digress.

In any case, I tend to not decorate for Halloween (which again may change as David gets older). Still, something about these jars was screaming pumpkin (which I reasoned could also just be autumn decor). So I made some cute little pumpkins. Cute little pumpkins then begged for cute little faces. From pumpkins came the obvious idea for other Halloween decor of Frankenstein monster heads and ghost faces.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Baby Food Jar Week: Storage Vessels

Though this use is a lot less crafty than some other things I will show you this week, the most practical thing I have found to do with these little jars is the same thing they were made for: store things.

The first things I stored were actually homemade baby food. Not only were the jars convenient storage containers, they also helped me get a better idea of how much David was eating when I wasn't feeding him store bought baby food. Since David is a skinny little fellow, the doctor often asks me detailed questions about how much he eats and having the baby food in little jars helps me answer those questions more precisely.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Baby Food Jar Week: Tea Candle Holders

I have a bunch of baby food jars--half a closet shelf bunch. (The other half is full of toilet paper tubes, but that is a subject for another day). I have collected these jars faithfully knowing that they would be so useful. Then, I failed to actually use them mostly because I didn't know what to use them for.

I have decided to force myself to use all these fantastic jars by declaring this week Baby Food Jar Week. I will make a post about one use for baby food jars per day until Friday. Some of them are ideas I came up with, some of them are things I was inspired to do by someone else, and some of them are somewhere in between.

Today's use is as a cute little tea candle holder. There are millions of ideas for ways to make candle holders out of these little jars. You can use Mod Podge to put tissue paper on the outside of the jar like in this post from Tinker Lab. Or you can put doilies around the outside of the jar like in this post from Our Mush Push. Or you can use rub on transfers like in this post from Finding My Aloha. Or...well, you get the idea.

Friday, August 16, 2013

From Rags to Bridesmaid Dress

This was a project that I didn't expect to take on this week, but I found a need I could fill for minimal money on Tuesday, so it was added to the top of my list.

I believe I have mentioned before a large bag of fabric I purchased from the thrift store for $4. So far, I have made a cooler for Patrick's lunches, a tablet carrying case, a onesie, and four no-sew fabric drawers out of the contents of this bag. Not bad for a bag of scraps, in my opinion. We can now add to that list a bridesmaid dress.

Inside this bag of fabric was a large assortment of random pieces of lavender crepe. I don't know what this fabric did in the past, but I think it may have offended someone. It was punished quite brutally by being cut into lots of odd-shaped, four-sided polygons. I can't imagine what the purpose of this was since none of it was cut nicely enough to have been table squares at a wedding or anything.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Faux Iron Scroll Decor from Wire Hangers

As I mentioned, I have a grand plan for the pieces of wood left over from dismantling our box spring, but this grand plan has first led me to the adventure of the wire hangers.

You have probably seen the toilet paper tube art all over pinterest and the internet in general. I first heard about this idea from a co-worker and a couple years later, I actually made some of my own. I started simple, but I saw this blog post on Suzy's Sitcom and ended up making a much more complicated one along those lines. Unfortunately, I have never found where to hang that one and therefore never ended up painting it either. It may yet find a home.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Speckled Paint Effects by Accident

I purchased some "wood" frames from the dollar store a while back with the intention of hanging them on our bedroom wall with family pictures inside. The wood it appears is actually particle board (which I guess is technically a wood product) covered in a wood-grain-printed plasticy coating. I decided to try to spray paint them.

I have grand ideas about our bedroom that may very well not come to fruition for some time yet, but I have selected a kind of color pallet. I decided to paint the frames a light blue and got the only bottle of light blue spray paint at home depot. It was a pretty color (which I neglected to photograph, but just picture the frame to the left as bright light blue and you will have it), but it was too saturated for what I was going for. I decided to try white washing over it to mute it.

I got some white paint that had been sitting in the cellar of our last apartment for who knows how long and watered it down (It was acrylic)I painted the frames with a thin coat so that you could see the blue through it. Though I did like the effect, it was not right for my room visions. I may do this again somewhere else. Perhaps it would work with a different base color in my kitchen some day. I also needed to work harder on getting it all to look right in the corners, a battle I decided not to fight for this picture because I was going to cover it all up anyway. In any case, I decided to try something else.

If I had read the labels before trying this, I never would have tired it, but then, I never could have painted the frames the way I did. I mixed my blue spray paint with some of my watered-down white paint. That is to say, I sprayed a fair amount of spray paint directly into a paper cup and poured the white paint into the cup immediately following and stired the whole thing up. So, my white paint, as I have already discussed, is water based. My spray paint, on the other hand, is oil based. In other words, no, they did not mix. 

But it is what they did that is why I wrote this. I got speckled and somewhat textured paint. I have seen speckled paint in the store, so this isn't earth shattering news, but I still think it is pretty cool. Since the spray paint speckles sort of float to the top, I had to add more spray paint part way through to keep my speckalage even on all frames, but I was pretty pleased with the results.

At first, I wasn't sure if this effect fit with my vision either, but I made it work in my head. Since the grand visions for our room will probably not be realized until we actually own a house, I figure having it work in my head is good enough for dollar store frames for now.

I think it is kind of cool. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Call for Input

I have this lovely table. It was $35 at a thrift store just when Patrick and I went to the thrift store looking for a table. It is sturdy, has three leaves that extend it to about 9 feet, and mostly solid wood. Mostly meaning all except the top layer. There is some sort of material on top that I think might be formica, but I have never had formica pointed out to me in person before. The table top just looks like pictures of formica I have seen and it doesn't seem to react like other laminate is supposed to react to attempts to iron it off (it doesn't work).

The paint on the edges of the top. 
Blogger thinks this picture should
go sideways, and I don't know why,
so I can't fix it.
I like this table in a lot of ways, though I must admit it may not be my number one pick of style if given lots of options. The main problem I have with it is that it apparently had a previous life as a craft table, and it shows. There are little bits of paint splattered all over the wooden parts. The formica, or whatever it is, is mostly free of paint, except one of the leaves has a bit of gold metallic paint on it. But now the question is, how do I refinish this table?

I know I can't stain the top and I am pretty sure I can't paint it, though it is true that that gold paint doesn't come off, so something must stick. Also, even though I think real wood is prettier, this coating is perhaps more practical for a dining table; it seems virtually indestructible. The top of the table is in good enough condition that I wouldn't have to do anything to it, but the edges of the table top that are wood are probably the worst looking part of the whole table.

I have many ideas and reasons for and against each. Some of my ideas are as follows:

fantastic brown paint drip all the
way down one leg.
1) Sand the legs and the edge of the table top. Then, try as best as possible to match a stain to the top of the table to use on the whole thing.

2) Sand as above, but then choose a much darker stain. This would make the center of the table a lighter color than the rest of the table, kind of like an inlay, except not really at all, especially since the lighter stuff will be up higher, not even with the darker stuff.

3) Try to match the edges of the top, like in option one, but paint the legs white or some other color.

4) Remove the entire top of the table, including the leaves. Straighten the legs (they are angled out) and add a new, rectangular top. Build new leaves as well. Then, stain or paint the table as I see fit.

I have been pondering this for many months, so I decided to open it for discussion to anyone who wishes to put in their two cents. Let me know which of these ideas you like best, or offer your own.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bye Bye Box Spring

When Patrick and I first got married, we decided to just buy a mattress and a box spring, and not a very expensive set at that. It turns out, it didn't even have springs in the box spring. If you ask me, that kind of defeats the purpose. The picture to the left is the only picture I took of it, it seems. In any case, it is gone now. Here is it's story.

Back just before David was born, all his baby stuff began to clutter our one bedroom. As a solution, I designed a bed frame, and then Patrick and I built it. It was designed to have the box spring placed on top, and since the bed was designed to have enough clearance underneath for a large box of diapers, this put the top of the mattress a ways in the air.

Monday, July 29, 2013


The other week we went to the first reunion for my parents descendants. They have 3 grandchildren form their 3 married children and we decided it was time. Like the reunions I had with my mom's side of the family growing up, we went camping.

A few days before we left, I was watching David crawl around on his belly and I realized that he was going to be absolutely disgusting on this trip. I own very few baby clothes since my wonderful sister has a boy about a year older than David and she graciously lets me borrow her son's cast hand-me-downs. I know she would not be so ridiculous as to be really upset if he ruined some clothes, but I still would feel bad about it. I needed a solution and it came in the form of some denim I had gotten from my grandfather's house a few days before; I made coveralls.

I used a pattern that my mother had sent me. It had patterns for a pair of overall type pants and a button up jacket included, but it did not have coveralls. It was also made for stretch knits, not denim. Still, I thought I could adapt it. I used the bottom half of the overalls, which kind of went out like balloons, and then blended the top together with the jacket. The front and back were each two pieces to allow me to make pants that would fit a baby bum and also put a zipper up the front. I used sleeves from the jacket. I made the whole thing big, because I wanted room to grow.

I originally had put snaps along the bottom like so many baby outfits. Unfortunately, I have not found snaps of a comparable quality to those on baby clothes. David always manages to burst his way out of the bottom by crawling around. I spent a while putting in the snaps, but then I took them all out. I had put David in to test the coveralls and he had all the snaps undone in less than a minute by rolling back and forth. I just sewed up the seam instead. The front zipper still allowed me to put him in and out, and, though diaper changes were not as easy, he stayed covered and his clothes clean.

I decided that David needed a collar instead of just and regular top and came up with making it a little like a NASCAR driver suit. I sewed on a stand up collar that overlapped in the front to snap. This was great because it kept everything from going down the front of his clothes.

His outfit was perhaps a bit warm for the middle of the day, but it really made life easier. The coveralls also made a very good bib. I did taking a high chair camping; I would totally recommend both. And I also brought a pack-n-play. I am apparently not much of a hard core camper when I have small children, but be it known that I still do not consider sleeping in a trailer to be camping. That is where the line must be drawn.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Globe Cake

After a family reunion discussion of my blog this past week, I have decided to ditch the new format because no one seemed to like it. Oh well. I guess that was a failed experiment. In any case, I haven't written in too long and have a few catch up posts to do. Here is one.

A few weeks back was both my sister-in-law's (the one who loves grasses, Alysa) birthday and also the day she was going to open her letter that told her where she was going on a mission. When her brother had opened his call, I had made some very fantastic dessert, the recipe of which came from my mother via my sister. Since it was Alysa's birthday as well, we decided the occasion called for cake. 

As many people post maps at these occasions so people can make guesses about where the person will be going, I had a flash of a brilliant idea. A few years back, my roommate Sarah (I had more roommates named Sarah than anything else, but this was one of them) and I decided to make a cake in the shape of the globe. I can't honestly remember whose idea this was originally, but I will say it was hers because it is quite likely. In any case, we did it. And it was fantastic.

The concept is actually quite simple, though the practice is a little bit more complex. It requires three boxes of cake mix or three batches of a recipe that makes two 8-inch round cakes. I always use boxed cake because frankly I have never found a recipe that I think is that much better that I find it worth it. I still get numerous compliments on my cake, but we will get to that in a second. 

You will also need two 8-inch round pans and a oven safe round bowl that is 8 inches round at the top. Mine is a Pyrex glass bowl. If you don't know if it is oven safe, I would recommend not using it if you are not willing to scrapped burnt cake and glass shards or melted bowl off the bottom of the oven, but you never know; it could be fun. Grease and flower the bowl really well. I mean really well. If you can't get it out clean, it won't work. You cannot crack the crust (so to speak) of the cake. You need that harder part for structure. I cooked my bowls at about 300 for as long as it took until I could insert a toothpick deep into the cake and it came out clean. This is a thicker cake and it will take a while. Repeat this with a second box of mix and make the third box in the rounds.  You need the cake rounds to fill in the middle of the two bowl halves (so it isn't squished looking like the picture above) as well as curve the top since the bowl has a flat bottom.

Now, for how I get compliments on my boxed cake. I stick it in the freezer almost straight out of the oven. As soon as the cake is cool enough to get out of the pan, I put it in the freezer. I didn't start doing this to make the cake good; it is a practice born from impatience as I frost my cakes while they are frozen and I don't want to wait around to have to put it in. Somehow, it also seems to lock in the moisture. 

Now, the first time my roommate and I did this, I overcooked one of the cakes in the bowl. It kind of got a pretty hard shell. Turns out, this actually helped structure wise. Though the cake did hold together with a less cooked/burned cake on the bottom this go around, it sunk some so it looked a bit like a hacky sack. Unfortunately, I didn't appreciate what the overcooking did to the texture of the outside. I should note that some people said they really liked it. Of course, most of those were college guys, who are not always known for culinary taste. In any case, that is an option. Also, you could take the sneaky route and switch one bowl cake for rice crispy treat. I leave it to you. 

When the cake has frozen, put it together. Put one bowl right side up and glue one round on top with frosting. Next, glue the other bowl upside down on the round. I also put frosting on the bottom in order to keep the cake from slipping. I put all of this on an upside down dinner plate covered in aluminum foil, my mother's cake platter of choice when I was growing up. I find they work rather well. It is also easier to frost the cake if you have one of those lazy Susan cake decorating platters to put the plate on. I don't.

Take the final round and roughly cut a circle that is the same size as the flat part on the top of the cake and glue it on top. If the cake is getting softer, you might want to pop the whole thing in the freezer for a bit before proceeding, but you will eventually just carve this cake piece into the domed top of the cake.  Cut off any other pieces of cake that seem to offend the shape, though be wary of cutting into the bottom round for the structure reasons I mentioned before. If you used rice crispy treats, have at it.

Next, we do what is called a crumb layer. It is basically taking your icing and covering the cake in a thin layer. It doesn't have to look pretty. In fact, it probably won't, but just cover it as best you can and pop the cake in the freezer. The crumb layer will keep the cake crumbs from getting into upper layers of icing. In this case, it also helps hold the cake together. You can see in this picture that this cake is already starting to sag a bit. I just pretended that this was a bean bag globe.

The next step is to frost the whole globe in your water color. I did a lighter blue this time than my roommate and I did back then, but I think both worked. At this point, you have conquered the first hard part.

When I did this second cake, I had forgotten about how time consuming this second part was. Fortunately, there was that clever person somewhere in the past that made up latitude and longitude. You will need to draw some on your cake now. I drew longitude every 30 degrees, but actually only did the Equator, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn for the latitude. I used a protractor to measure the degrees on the longitude and marked with a toothpick a certain distance up from the ground so the latitude was even. I drew all these lines by rotating a clean plastic ruler around the cake.

Next, I put my middle school map drawing skills to good use. Back in 7th grade, I had to draw a map of the world. 8th grade, it was the United States. In 9th grade, I did the State of Washington, which was where I lived at the time. (I also had to draw maps of Africa, Ecuador, and Honduras at various times). I learned a little something about hand drawing maps--wisdom I will share with you now. First, it is tedious and time consuming. Second, it is really easy to get off a grid line if you are not careful (and even easier if you are drawing a globe). Third, computers will always do it better. And fourth, (but most important for sanity), as long as you follow the big squiggle shape with a shaky hand, no one can tell that the little squiggles are not quite right.

I began by drawing out the world with a toothpick and then filled it in with icing. I decided to do topography, but just doing all of them green would be totally acceptable. Since I got bored drawing, I would switch to icing, but then I got bored doing that, so I would switch back. In the end, Australia was a bit funny looking and I did just add some random dots in the south pacific that I figured could pass as a few different countries if they needed to. (My husband did give me some guidance there because he went to Fiji on his mission and knows the area a bit better than I do).

I chose to smooth out the icing in the ocean and hide the lines, but you could just as easily leave them. You could even pipe over the lines in another color to make them stand out. You could also make a political map with all the countries, though that would probably take a long while. I would love to see a picture of that one if you do it. Really, the possibilities are endless.

We made flags from paper and toothpicks and everyone got to guess. It was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Alysa got to eat the section with her mission, which is Mexico Pachua. Unfortunately, Mexico was one of the last places I did and was therefore one of the ones that I could not get to look quite right. But she looks happy, so I guess it didn't matter in the end. Congratulations, Alysa.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Decorating with Grasses

Problem I guess you could say the problem in this situation is that I saw some great different types of grass outside while working in the garden and I thought they would look great inside, but I had to figure out how to display them.

Requirements The method could not cost anything and since I really didn't have a lot of time, had to take less than an hour, but preferably less than a half hour. It had to look pretty.

Research I think the only research that I can claim to have done in this case was watch far too many period movies in which they are decorating their house with things like this. I also have been given a grand total of about 4 hours of instruction as regards floral arrangements--about 2 1/2 hours from a florist for a school thing in 8th grade and about 1 1/2 from an interior designer when I was about 17. 

Solution Since I didn't want to spend a lot of time, I eliminated any sort of weaving, gluing or sewing and was pretty much left with cutting and arranging the grasses in an old pasta sauce jar.

Prototype I cut three types of grass: a very droopy kind that my sister-in-law said was cheat grass, something that looks like wheat, and what my sister-in-law told me was Kentucky blue grass (my sister-in-law is majoring in this stuff). I kept the types of grass separate and took them all inside. I then took a pasta jar, cleaned the sticky part left from the label off with furniture polish (pure lemon oil works really well for removing sticky from tape or labels, but any furniture polish will do it some. That was a really useful take away from my days as a custodian), and arranged.

I decided to put some water in the jar to see if it would make them stay green longer as per my husband's suggestion. I don't really think it worked, but it didn't seem to really hurt either

Test and Redesign I would consider this a success. Though the grass has halfway turned yellow now, I like the look. On the downside, this would be a bad centerpiece if any one in my family had pollen allergies. About 24 hours after I did this, I noticed a lot of pollen around the base of my arrangement. I actually think I like it more now several days later (picture to the right).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Custom No Sew Fabric Drawer

Problem We recently reorganized our bedroom which made access to a little built in cabinet with fixed shelves easier. Before we had stored things that we rarely used in there (like extra blankets), but I decided it would be a good place to make David's dresser. This created a problem; how can I find a drawer that will fit on the built in shelves in our bedroom and hold David's things?

Requirements The drawers needed to fit the shelf and be able to slide in and out easily. They needed to be sturdy enough to stay together when filled with David's things and have handles for easy pulling out. I also wanted them to look at least semi-attractive. Finally, they could not cost very much.

Research, Alternatives, and the Best Solution David's clothes have been stored in cardboard boxes under his crib his entire life. Perhaps I could just get cardboard boxes to fit on the shelves. Unfortunately, boxes exactly that size are hard to come by, so I would just be looking for boxes smaller than that space, which would likely end up wasting space. Furthermore, cardboard is not terribly attractive.

Store bought containers are more attractive. I looked at a lot of store bought containers. They are often expensive, flimsy-looking, or both. The ones that looked acceptable were too big.

I thought that perhaps I could create a container that was exactly the size of the shelves and was sturdy. I thought it might be good to sew one with cardboard and fabric.  I found this tutorial, which is pretty much exactly what I was envisioning and it looked like it might work. Here is another that used plastic canvas instead of cardboard. I decided that I would probably not do exactly what I saw in these tutorials, but that something along these lines was probably the best solution to my problem.

Development of the Prototype In selecting the fabric, I went to my trusty storage bench and pulled out several options that might work. Patrick said that since this project was to hold David's clothes, I was not allowed to use flowered fabric, so I chose some off white fabric I got from a thrift store in a large bag of scraps for $4. It probably offended someone in a previous life because it was cut up into a bunch of uneven 4-sided polygons.  I also selected some blue fabric left over from the bridesmaid dresses for my wedding. The cardboard came from a large cardboard box we had lying around.

I measured the dimensions of my shelves. There are 4 shelves and each shelf is one inch taller than the shelf above it. Since there is a door on the shelves, I had to subtract the space the door blocked when open so the drawer could still slide in and out. I also made sure to record my measurements a little on the small side so the fit was not too tight. This would allow ease of movement.

At this point, my husband asked me if I was planning on sewing the drawers or using hot glue. Partially because hot glue sounded more fun that day and partially because of the random sizes of the off white fabric, I decided to develop a hot glue method. I have a high temperature gun because it creates a stronger bond. A lower temperature may not work as well.

I began by cutting out pieces of cardboard to fit my measurements for the four sides. I cut out a piece for the bottom as well. I ended up with the pieces to the right for one of my drawers.

I then used the off white fabric to cover one side of each side piece piece. I cut a piece of fabric that was about a half inch to an inch larger than the board on every side (enough that it wrapped around). I pulled the piece around the board and glued each side on the back.

To finish the corners, I put a dot of glue at the corner and pushed it up, clipping extra fabric if it seemed just too bulky. This step is dangerous if you are not careful. I put the glue closer to the corner and held it more at the top so the glue wouldn't stick to my finger.

After covering all the sides, I cut strips of blue fabric that were about 2-3 inches wide and just slightly longer than the sides were tall. I "hemmed" the tops by running a bead of glue along the top and folding it down, thus making the strips about exactly as tall as the sides. It is okay if they are a tiny bit shorter, but I didn't want them longer. I then laid two sides that were to be adjacent next to each other and glued the strip onto both to connect them.

I repeated the last step  until all for sides were connected and I had a box without sides. I then used the bottom piece to hold the four sides of the box in a rectangle while it sat on one side. The bottom of the box was perfect for this because it was the right size to force the box to be square.

Next, I glued on a piece of the blue fabric to cover the bottom so that the raw edges were inside the box. I fit the bottom cardboard down inside the box securely and covered that with another blue piece of fabric. I didn't worry about the raw fabric edges on the bottom because I was going to be covering them with the sides.

I cut out pieces of scratch computer paper to fit each of the side of the box. I had to do a bit of gluing of sheets for the longer sides. I covered each of these pieces of paper with the blue fabric, much like I had covered the cardboard with the white, and glued them on their respective sides.

Finally, I cut a strip of fabric that was probably about 3 times as wide as I wanted the handle and just a little bit longer than I wanted the handle. I folded it in thirds and glued it that way, running a bead of glue along where each fold would be before folding. I then folded in the ends and glued them to the box on the front panel. I thought it looked great.

Test and Redesign The drawer was fairly successful, but there were a few difficulties.

First, the off white fabric was a bit stretchy and had a very defined grain line. It was difficult to pull it evenly on all sides and the unevenness was very apparent. The blue fabric, which was a cotton broadcloth, worked much better. I would probably select only non-stretchy fabric in the future.

Though the scratch paper under the lining was successful, card stock would have been easier to apply.

My drawer does not fold. It was not something I considered necessary. However, if I wanted to make it fold, I could have made each side with two separate pieces (much like the fabric and cardboard basket I found in my research), and connected them together the same way I did the corners. I would then have to make the bottom a separate covered piece that could be removed.

By far the biggest flaw of my original design was the handle. Though the handle did not come off entirely when I pulled out the fully loaded drawer, it did un-stick from the cardboard so it was only attached to the fabric. This seemed un-ideal, particularly since the fabric stratched. I decided to reattach the handle with two metal brads on each side of the handle. Because the lining was already on, it had to be partially  removed or else the brad would end up sticking through the lining. To do this, I put a paper towel over the area I wanted unstuck and ironed it until the glue melted enough that I could pull the lining back. This was not very fun.

Because I knew the removal of the lining was not going to be enjoyable, I first tested my new handle on a completely new drawer (I had to make 4 of them after all). I attached the handle with the brands and though it seemed rather strong, I really hated the way it looked. Therefore, I came up with a method for concealing the brad. For something more decorative, I could have perhaps used decorative scrap-booking brads that come in a variety of colors and shapes, but I really liked the look of the handle without the brads at all.

For the revised handle, I started much the same way as the original handle except that I made the strip about half an inch longer than before. Before folding in the ends, I used a hammer, nail (actually it was a screw because I found that first) and a piece of wood to poke two holes  about a quarter inch from either end.

I inserted a brad into each hole from the back of the handle to the front. I then put glue over the tops of the brads and folded over the end so the poky end of the brad was pointing to the back and the top part was folded inside. The picture to the left is of what the handle looked like from the back.

Finally, I poked holes in the cardboard for each of the brads using the same hammer and nail method. I put the brads through and folded them back I secured them with a little bit of hot glue, but this was probably overkill. In any case, this handle was nice and secure. I wouldn't think it would pull a bowling ball around, but then I wouldn't carry a bowling ball in this box anyway.

I managed to pull the lining back on the other box enough to shove my hand in and put on a new handle. Thank heavens I have rather small hands. I didn't secure this handle with extra hot glue, but it hasn't come off yet.

One last thing I should have done differently but got lucky about: I should have checked the size of my cardboard pieces in relation the the shelves I wanted them to fit on (remembering that there would be a bit of bulk added from the corners), as well as the size of the box when I got the four sides together. With the first box I didn't check fit at all until I finished the box. The subsequent boxes got checked when I remembered to, which wasn't until about halfway through the lining process. I got lucky.

I would say that all in all, the project was a success. I wish the colors went better with the cabinet, but I like my box colors a lot better than the cabinet colors, and I can't change the cabinet. One day, I will live somewhere that I can change the wall colors any time I want. At the very least, this looks better than the duct tape on the bottom shelf in the cabinet.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Baby bib

David is teething. And drooling. And when the hot weather started, he broke out with a terrible rash on his neck as a result. It didn't seem to bother him, but it looked uncomfortable.
I tried as best I could to keep him dry, which involved a lot of bibs. Thus, I either needed to buy more bibs or make them. Being me, I made them.

I chose some camo fabric my mother sent me that was left over from things from my brothers back in the day, and did one bib by tracing one of my existing bibs on a piece of paper, adding a seam allowance, and cutting out two pieces in my fabric. I put these pieces right sides together and sewed around the outside all the way except for a small section at the front of the bib. I clipped corners and along the curves to remove some bulk and turned the bib right side out. I then pined the hole closed with the raw edges tucked inside and top stitched around the whole thing once more. I added a snaps to the ends. The bibs I had had Velcro, but I had to be careful not to scratch David. In fact, he often scratched himself by pulling it off.

This bib worked wonderfully, but I decided to do something better. For the next bib, I looked for something I could write on it for fun. I found a onesie online in a baby shower picture that was camo and had what I decided was the best thing I had seen written on camo so far. I thought it was even more appropriate for a bib than a onesie.

I remembered reading somewhere (probably pinterest), about a lady who had painted a bib with fabric paint from a stencil that she had printed out, cut out with an X-acto knife (which is not a quick process), and glued in place. I tried this method. I was rather unhappy with the results and therefore stopped before I got it dark enough. I think it would have maybe worked better printed on cardstock, which was maybe what the lady had done in this original article (I couldn't find it again, but I am 99% sure her stencil was made of some paper). If I were to do it again, however, I think I would cut it out in a piece of plastic, much like this post.

Well, I was leaving town that evening but wanted to give it one more go, so I just free handed it. This is also the way I do french nails (when I actually paint my nails, which is almost never) because I could never get the white to not bleed under the little stickers they sell. The result is that some of the letters are bigger than they should be, the N is wonky, and the whole thing is a bit off center, but I do think it was an improvement. I also think the placement within the camo print is better on my free handed bib; there is not a big black section going right through the middle of it.

My husband came home and we had to leave before I gave it as many coats as I should have. This is about 2 coats. I also didn't actually use fabric paint. This is just acrylic. I knew from experience that acrylic does not come out from fabric well at all, so I decided to just go for it. It hasn't faded at all and I have washed it several times. It is a bit stiff, but since it is just a bib, I didn't think it was a big deal.

Note: the paint will definitely bleed through the fabric, so put something under the bib and paint it before you sew it together, or you will have a backwards version on the back of the bib.

Also, to all concerned, the doctor gave me some more tips on keeping David's skin dry and prescribed an ointment for when it gets really bad. He said it is a common hazard of teething during hot weather. The ointment cleared up the original breakout in 2 applications and he has only had little spots of rash since.