Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The best scarf is a finished scarf

2014 was a year of new beginnings for me. New house, new job, new state, new friends. But, I have a confession to make: With the exception of my dissertation (which to be fair, is sort of a big deal) I have not finished anything in almost a year. I can't remember the last time I finished a book, or a knitting project, or frankly, even a full-length movie. No, in 2014 I have just been starting messes without any intention of finishing them, which means my craft room, my bookshelf, and my psyche are kind of in various states of disarray.

Thinking about it now, finishing things would have been a terrific new years resolution. But I resolved, instead, raise more hell in Madison and Milwaukee (certainly a more realistic resolution, right?) The good news is that even though it wasn't my resolution, I'm getting the year off to a good start.

I finished something.

I started this white wool "blanket scarf" back in December when Old Navy had a rack of scarves on sale and I couldn't really justify buying one. Instead, I bought two skeins of Fisherman's Wool in white and a size 8 circular needle before getting on the plane for CA to defend my dissertation.

Unfortunately, I got distracted on the plane and messed up pretty abysmlly in a couple of ways.

1) I couldn't decide if I wanted to do a seed stitch or a basketweave, so I decided to aim for the middle. So, I worked one round in a K2,P2 pattern, and the next round just the opposite. The result is not particularly attractive.

2) I twisted my stitches when I was joining the round, twice. So, this isn't just your standard mobius scarf, it's a twisted mess.

Now, my friend Sarah at the fabric store would have said that I should rip it all out and start over. She'd say that the best knitting generally has to happen twice. But, I haven't finished a damn thing in a year. So, it's funky, but warm. And frankly, the best scarf is a finished scarf.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Budget Basement Bathroom Face-lift

When I was house shopping in Whitewater I saw a lot of really, really gross basement bathrooms. Soggy floors, half finished walls, toilets next to washer/dryers. So, in comparison, the bathroom the basement of my little house was actually not so bad.
Someone had done a bad job caulking around the relatively new shower, which created an issue with the drywall, the toilet hadn't been cleaned in years, there was a little mold growing on the door and, of course, like every other room in the entire house, it was brown. After a summer without a dehumidifier in my basement, even though the bathroom wasn't being used, by February the mold situation had gotten a bit worse and I was trying to throw a party in the basement. I couldn't very well have guests using the bathroom looking like this.
I started with the mold situation. I mixed up about 1 cup borax to one hot gallon of water in the bathroom sink and brushed the walls and door down with the mixture to remove and kill any mold.
When the walls were dry, I picked away the broken/damaged plaster and identified the shower leak. With dad's instruction via phone, I wiped down the poorly caulked seams with "rubbing alcohol" (read, nail polish remover, I knew where it was) and gave both edges of the shower a fresh coat of caulking on the inside and outside.

I bought some pre-mixed mud for patching and filled in the holes as best I could. While I was at it, I took down the sad and kind of moldy medicine chest that was hang from the wall by two rusty screws and a soggy piece of heavy-duty cardboard.
Once the patches were dry, I invested in a gallon of really serious mold-resistant primer (KILZ Premium) and coated every inch of the bathroom: walls, ceiling, edges, trim, baseboard, all of it. White was a big improvement over brown, I'll say, and worked great for the ceiling and trim, but I wanted something a little more exciting for the wall color. Unfortunately, the sky was dumping snow on Whitewater and I had to teach all week. So, rather than go pick out a new color, I grabbed the remaining half gallon of Abloom by EasyCare (which I'm sure the next owners will lament as I lament the brown) and gave the whole thing a quick coat.

Rather than rehang the the moldy medicine cabinet, since no one lives in the basement, I just hung a mirror I already had kicking around (painted in college when I went through a yellow/hot pink phase), found the bathmat, towels, and art from my old bathroom in CA, and called it a day.

For about $30, I would call this a major improvement.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mat Cutting: A really self-centered half-craft

Last week a fancy red tube emblazoned with gold lettering arrived in my mailbox. In it was my doctoral diploma, a sheet of paper representing many years (4 by the most conservative estimates, or about 24 years if you want to play the "terminal degree" card) of education and hard work.
When I finished college back in 2007 (gulp) my mom took me down to the frame shop to buy a custom frame and custom mat for my diploma. Then, it sat in my high school bedroom for 7 years largely ignored. But now, with my B.S., my M.A., and my Ph.D. in hand I drove into Janesville in search of frames to hang them all up in my office like the gloater that I am.

The custom frame counter offered to frame the set for me for about $270 (this was including a 70% discount-- sit with that for a moment). Obviously not interested in going that route, I made my way over to the off-the-shelf frame section and picked out some budget frames that would work just fine. I contemplated for quite some time just how large a frame it is socially acceptable to use for a diploma. The lady doing the custom framing suggested a 16x20 frame for any 11x14 document. If you have a tape nearby, eyeball how large 16x20 is. It's huge. Too big, I decided. So, in the "digital sizes" section I found a 14x18 frame that matched the smaller ones I'd picked out for my standard 8.5x11 diplomas.

I already had the mat for my bachelor's that my mom had picked out with me, but I wandered back to the frame counter to find out what it would cost to get a couple of mats cut. For 2 mats they wanted almost $90. What? It's mat board? You cut it. What? I give up Michael's.

So, after much contemplation I decided to take matters into my own hands. And by matters, I mean mats. I sifted out a 50% coupon, bought a $15 mat cutter, a $9 piece of mat board, and a $5 standard diploma mat. Then, I went home to do it myself.

I started with some cheap leftover white mat I had taken out of one of the frames I'd just bought, just for practice. Luckily, I found that my rotary mat and board (for quilting) worked perfectly for measuring and cutting.

First, going mostly on intuition, I cut an 8.5" x 11" mat to fit my slightly too large M.A. diploma (thanks for that, CGU). Then, I cut a larger (14x18) piece out of my charcoal colored piece of mat board and somehow managed to get the inside hole to the right size for my diploma. 
Once I had done that, I was on a roll. I stopped in at the goodwill and picked up an ugly, beat up white frame with a white mat and brought it home. I gave it quick coat of orange spray paint, cut the mat to size, and framed this darling dishtowel my sister in law gave me for Christmas (don't judge me, I need art).
I'm certainly no pro, and true, the mats didn't turn out perfect so maybe I'll replace them if I ever get any better at this. But for now, I'm pretty pleased to walk into my office and see this every day. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Wall art to make me feel better

A week ago I woke up and looked in the mirror to find the left half of my face entirely paralyzed. After a trip to the ER and a week of steroids my face is still sagging and shows no sign of improvement. Even better the (confidence inducing) doctors have literally no prognosis. It might be better tomorrow. It might never get better. Needless to say, I'm feeling a down. But, after a morning of sewing pillows, hanging light fixtures, and baking cookies, I found that was feeling a bit better despite my face.

I've had a plain white canvas sitting on the floor of the craft room since summer just waiting for inspiration and to be hung on the wall. I sifted through my pinterest boards looking for the right quote to image to hang up, but I just couldn't get inspired. All of the things I'd pinned in the past suddenly felt hokey or wordy and I couldn't find anything on my own boards worth replicating. Eventually I ended up looking through the board of a Georgia art teacher named Laurie (who I want to be friends with now, naturally) and found this image.
Obviously, this is too many words to hang on the wall, and the "you are probably an artist" had that hokey feel to it that I just can't deal with, but something about it really resonated with me. That's the message I need: not a cliche about creativity and courage, not an inspirational message about taking chances. Make something. You will feel better.

Aside from all of the words, I ran into a problem with the ugly factor of this piece. This is not something I want on my wall. So, with 6 days left on my InDesign license I tried my hand a little typography and came up with this:
So, I gave the canvas an intentionally rough coat of gold acrylic paint and, using my quilting rulers and a pencil, sketched out the words. I went back over it all with Sharpie, did a little touch up, and alas, felt better.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Glitzy Pillow from a Glitzy T-shirt

I'll admit there have been a few lonely days around my new house when I've wished that I, like everyone else over the age of 25 in Wisconsin, was married. My best defense to assuage those lonely thoughts has been decorating in ways that I absolutely could not get away with if a man were living here too. There is no one to tell me that I can't, so I've been girling this place up real good.

As if the craft room full of fabric and yarn and the pink master bedroom with a faux crystal chandelier weren't enough, one mopey day I decided to cheer myself up by adding sparkle to the (formerly somewhat gender neutral) guest room. I'd been using a lot of copper in the decor, and though a metallic copper sequin pillow would really pull it together.

I began my quest for copper sparkles at the fabric store. Scratch that, every fabric store. After a good deal of searching at Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas, I had to succumb to the fact that there simply isn't any copper sequin fabric to be found in Wisconsin. I optimistically spent $15 on a yard of what appeared to be copper sequin fabric from etsy. Of course, when it arrived, it was orange. Now, I love orange, I love orange more than most people, but it just isn't what the room needs.

After many months (literally, months) of searching, I gave up. There is no copper sequin fabric for sale. Period. Fine. But then. on a trip to Goodwill in December (you can always count on December for some sparkles) I found this hot mess of a sequin crop top from Target. Not copper, I admit, but for $3, I decided, it would suffice.
It wasn't quite big enough to cover the 22" pillows I'd hoped to use, but luckily I had a smaller throw pillow kicking around the house already from some other pillow shamming project I've since outgrown.

I started by sewing up the awkward arm holes to make one a "tube" with an opening at the bottom and a neck hole at the top.
Then, I slit the shirt down the back, cut off the "shoulders" and trimmed the yoke into a straight line, trying to keep as much "length" as I could to the shirt. At this point, I had created a long strip of fabric, twice the "width" of the shirt by the length of the shirt. Usually, I would have hemmed the short ends at this point, but I knew that the tissue thin jersey was just going to end up a puckered mess. So, I cut it as straight as I could (well...freehand, it's a pillow) and just went with it.
Using my old pillow sham as a template, I folded and pinned the delicate fabric up into a pocket, using the same general strategy I've used for all of the pillows, I ran two quick lines of stitching down the each side (i.e., the top and bottom of the blouse).
I turned it right side out and shoved a pillow in it. That's better. A little glitz always helps.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One (or two) light fixture(s) at a time

I know that I just finished talking about my mudroom light fixture revamp (if you can call it that). But, there are plenty more ugly light fixtures where that came from! When I first moved in I was bothered every day by this ugly hallway light. While it's possible that it's original, I couldn't stand to look at it. In fact, taking it down was one of my first acts as homeowner. The only problem with this was that I then had a naked light bulb in the hallway for 4 months. Whatever. Still better than what was there.
Perhaps even more offensive than the funky hallway light was this monstrosity in the kitchen. Old is one thing but this was just dated. Someone (I presume in the 1990s) really thought this was a good idea in my mostly original 1940s kitchen. Bah, it makes me wan to listen to Paula Abdul.
As soon as I saw the Vanadin light fixture at Ikea I knew that I wanted it in my house. In fact, I didn't even have a house when I first saw it and I wanted it in my house. Having an old house in desperate need of new fixtures while it was still in production was just dumb luck. 

The hallway replacement was relatively painless. It does appear (from the shotty wiring job) that I removed an original fixture, so I'll leave it in the basement for a new owner on a treasure hunt someday. I'm much happier with the new look. 
Best of all, now there is some continuity in the house (imagine that) as this now matches the mudroom, and I planned to make it match the kitchen. 

Of course, when working in an old house I'm learning that plans aren't always as easy as they seem. When I removed the space ship from the kitchen ceiling I found this huge hole. Now you may not be able to see the scale in this image, but this is 12" square in my ceiling where someone (luckily) updated the wiring. Apparently the worlds largest light fixture was there to cover this giant hole. My favorite part about this photo, though, it how nicely it demonstrated that even the ceilings of the kitchen are brown. What the heck past owners, enough with the brown already. 
Unfortunately, the hole was a little too big, and my light fixture wouldn't quite cover it. So, I stole the old (ugly) white rim from around the old fixture and used it as a base for my new one. While it's not exactly what I had in mind, the outcome wasn't terrible. I'd say it is still an improvement over what I had and brings a little bit of midcentury charm back to the kitchen. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

(Somewhat) updated light fixture

When I was renovating my mudroom, an overall drama free project, I did reach one sticking point. The dropped ceiling in the small room and my already low ceilings mean that the light fixture must be on the wall for the door to clear. Beyond being awkward, the fixture that was there when I started the remodel felt a little out of place, even before I started painting. When I removed it to paint (which apparently no one had ever done before, there was brown paint all over it) I could tell by the wiring that it was the original fixture. So, although I didn't really love it, I felt a little badly about my plan to sent it to the goodwill.
My dad told me he liked it and that it felt kind of "art deco." My mom, on the other hand, told me that it looked like a cheap 1970's knock off. Despite my attempts to capture it in all it's ugly glory, back when the mudroom was brown it was always too dark to get a photo.
I looked at every wall fixture at Home Depot and Menard's and spend hours online pouring over my options. As it turns out, I didn't like any of them. Wall fixtures, I decided, are innately ugly. Rather than waste another $50 on a light fixture I knew I would never like, I decided to try to salvage what I had.

With the fixture still hanging off the wall, I gave the globe a good wash, wrapped the fixture in plastic to protect the wall and gave the whole thing 2 coats with Rust Oleum Metalic Spray Paint in "Oil rubbed bronze" to match my coat hooks. It looked a little bit like a horror movie.
The lamp had the same color gold on it that the fixture had been originally, which I decided I didn't like. I covered the gold with a tiny paintbrush and some charcoal gray paint. But, when I put the lamp back up, I sort of hated the way that it looked. The lamp hadn't seemed so yellow and gross when the walls were brown, but now with soft colors on the walls, it just wasn't going to work. I didn't even take a photo. That's how bummed I was. So, here was my "before" photo.
To the basement I went with a can of heat resistant "appliance epoxy" white spray paint. I have the fixture two coats of paint and put it back together. I was thrilled. It looked just like I wanted it to.
But then I turned on the lights.
What the heck? I didn't think of that. With the light on the fixture was yellow again, and my hand painted charcoal lines were the first thing you saw. I pondered it for a day, not sure what might help. I figured my options at this point were to soak the whole thing in laquer thinner and start over, or try to at least tone down with another coat of paint. The outcome? I gave it one more coat and gave up. Hey, at least it's better and looks nice when the lights are off...