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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Southwest Inspired Dressing Recipe

The only thing to have come out of our garden so far has been lettuce, and we didn't even plant that. Patrick and I planted lettuce last year and it did relatively well in the buckets we had it in. Then it went to seed. I didn't know this, but when lettuce goes to seed, it is a lot like dandelions, which has led to some wonderful volunteer plants this spring. The ones not in the cracks in the sidewalks have been allowed to grow.

All this lettuce has inspired me to make salad, and all this salad has inspired me to make dressing. I made a southwest chicken salad for dinner one day and didn't have some ingredients for the dressing included in the recipe I was roughly following (I honestly can't remember the last time I exactly followed a cooking recipe. Baking yes, cooking, not so much). Furthermore, it didn't sound fantastic. Thus, I looked for some other recipes and, after looking at a few, combined ideas and came up with my own. 

Patrick is used to me doing this and he knows that it doesn't always work out perfectly. We often categorize my experiments into three groups: good as is, has potential with some changes, and not a good idea. This southwest inspired dressing, however, ended up being rather good, so I decided to share it, mostly so I will have written it down. I call it "Southwest Inspired" because that way no one can tell me it is not authentic--and it includes a product developed by a Vietnamese man.

Please note, I rarely measure, so this is all rather approximate. If you try to make this, make sure to taste it as you go. In that sense, everything is "to taste." The sour cream should be regarded as the base, so if you think you put in too much of anything else, just add more sour cream.

1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (start with just a little and add to desired heat)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash (I actually used a store knock off version)

The chili garlic sauce (this stuff) is something I somewhat randomly discovered when Patrick requested I get some kind of sauce like the chutneys he had in Fiji. I kind of fell in love with it. When I was very first pregnant, I craved this stuff. It is rather powerful, so it doesn't take a lot, but I have used this with just about any kind of food: stir fry, pizza, homemade macaroni and cheese. When I was pregnant, I wanted to put it on my oatmeal, but I didn't. I don't know that I would recommend that. Never used it in a dessert either.