Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kitty Box: Contained

I am not a cat person. I like dogs, big, hulking, goofy dogs. But, when you're the kind of person who travels out of state once a month and likes to have some freedom and flexibility, big goofy dogs just aren't practical.  A lazy, autonomous cat is a much better fit for this point in my life. So, my rescued calico Barley and I have come to a pretty comfortable agreement about our living situation. We like each other enough that it works out. But, there is one thing about cats that has just always made my skin crawl: litter boxes.

I thought that living in Wisconsin with a big back yard Barley might learn to be a poop-outside kind of cat. But, alas, outdoors in Wisconsin is consistently either too buggy, too cold, or just too scary for my poor lovably dull-witted calico. So, the litter box is a burden I must bear.

Despite the fact that my house is more than twice the size of my Orange County apartment, there is still no good place for a litter box. It can't go in my room (too smelly), it can't go in the guest room (because I keep that closed up when no one is visiting), it certainly can't go in the kitchen (yuck), and I don't want it in the craft room because frankly, I'd rather Barley stay scared of that room as long as she can. So, the litter box has to go in the living room, where every guest will see and smell it. Ugh. I couldn't do that again.

While perusing SkyMall (there is always something you didn't know you needed in SkyMall) I saw this end table turned litter box for sale for just $100. It's a great idea, but I find this image oddly unsettling, and also, couldn't bring myself to encourage SkyMall's existence by paying them for something.
So, I decided, I would DIY my own. At this point, with a plan in mind, I started the slow process of preparing Barley for the transition. I placed her litter box in the footprint of the place where I would eventually have an end table and I started my search.

After much thrift shop scouring I found a funky mid-century end table with cabinet doors for $15. It was originally a sort of putrid shade of teak-green that I have never really appreciated. So, I gave it a quick sanding, staining, and sealing with wipe-on polyurethane. Then, brought the end table inside, opened up both doors, put down a "piddle pad" to protect the wood, and put the litter box in the cabinet. Barley wasn't so sure at first so I put her in the litter box for a minute. She hopped out almost immediately, but at least knew where it was.

After about a week of living with the cabinet doors open, I bravely removed the litter box, turned the cabinet on its side, sketched out a line and pulled out my jigsaw. I cut a kitty sized hole in the back of the cabinet and sanded the edge to make sure it was smooth. Admittedly, its not perfect, but for my first ever experience with a jigsaw, I call it a success.
Some other versions I have seen have a separator between the litter section and the door, but my cabinet wasn't quite big enough for that. I also saw some that stapled in a permanent plastic liner to protect the wood, but I decided that might end up more messy than helpful in the long run. So, I put down a clean piddle pad and put the litter box back in to give it a go. To my surprise, Barley figured out how to get in and out of the kitty door much faster than I expected. In just a few days I was able to close up the cabinet doors and she was happy enough to enter and exit through the hole in the back of the cabinet.
This has substantially cut down on the mess, smell, and noise (she used to just get in the litter box and fling litter around when I was trying to sleep) and as far as I can tell, Barley doesn't mind it.
If you've got to have a litter box, this is the only way to do it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grown Up Frozen Costumes (yes, I went there)

You may have read a few months back that I made an Elsa dress for my friend's daughter. As it turns out, an Elsa dress for a 5 year old doesn't require much fabric, so I happened to have a whole lot left over. As Halloween approached, I couldn't resist the temptation to make my own grown up version of the costume for Halloween. Of course, when I discussed this with my friends, they too wanted in on the fun. The plan was made, flights were booked, and suddenly my news feed started filling up with articles like this one from USA today, admonishing slutty girls from slutting up beloved children's characters. Well, sorry Disney, if you didn't want us to objectify ourselves and this may not have been the best role model for 3 year olds.
Given the uproar over the slutfication of Elsa, I certainly didn't expect to get to the fabric store and find Simplicity 1553, a pattern produced by Disney itself to make the wholesome princesses of the past into little hoes. Apparently Belle and Cinderella are fair game. We didn't expect much of them anyway.
So, armed with a pattern and my leftover fabric, I made what was essentially a teal sequined corset, lined with teal satin. The corset was supposed to lace up the back, but even I had to draw the line somewhere. So, I inserted a separating zipper down the back of  my fully lined, fully boned, princess corset. I will note that I added 2 inches of length to the pattern in the hopes of a more Elsa-eque silhouette. Unfortunately, I'm so long waisted that this basically just made it reach my belly button.

Elsa's skirt, despite what I did for the child version, is not a full, gathered number like past princesses. Instead she's in a sleek fitted little number with a slit up to there. I couldn't see myself waltzing into a halloween party in a full length gown, so I patterned out a skirt I already had in my closet that fit pretty well with curved seams down the sides to make fitted silhouette work on my big-ol-butt. Finally, I found a sparkly piece of chiffon on the clearance rack at Joanns. I trimmed it to about 50 inches, cut a bit of a cape-shaped curve in it, and gathered it at the top. I hand stitched the "hook" side of some sew-in white velcro to the cape, and the "loop" side to the inside top edge of the corset so that it could come off for washing.
Olaf was a team effort, as my friend Melissa created a felt Olaf face and glued it on a white beanie, added three 2" black pom-poms on a white t-shirt. I used my real tutu tutorial (exact same length, believe it or not, I just changed the waist measurement) to create a snowman silhouette.
For Anna's dress I had very ambitious plans involving an equally offensive Simplicy pattern, but ran out of time. So, a blue dress, a teal t-shirt, and a black tank top were pulled from my friend Beth's closet (and a last minute shopping trip in downtown Madison). I zipped up a 2-seam caplet from a yard of stretch velvet and we were off.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Velvet Pumpkins at long last

If you've been in any trendy little home good shops this season you have no doubt seen that the expensive velvet pumpkins made their return for fall 2014. And you've no doubt noticed that people are selling these damn things for at least $30 a pop, which is absurd.

Probably five years ago, when they first started to show up in shops, my mom and sister urged me to make them. But, I was in grad school, I was busy, and I had no place to put a velvet pumpkin. Now, though, I've got tons of time, and tons of space, and other people have already worked out the kinks and mastered the DIY velvet pumpkin.

So, following the instructions from House of Hawthornes, I gathered my supplies.

1/3 yard brown velvet
2/3 yard yellow crushed velvet
1/2 yard green crushed velvet
1 lb. white beans
poly fil
pumpkin stems (pie/sugar pumpkins work well for small ones, I also snagged some from the bottom of the pumpkin boxes in front of various stores that had broken off pumpkins that had already sold)
hard core glue (I've seen E6300 recommended, I used Locktite Clear Instant Power Grab)
needle and thread

Total cost (including pumpkins, which I ate) was about $30 and made 4 small, 3 medium and 2 large pumpkins
For a small pumpkin (like the brown one in the photo), cut a 12" circle out of the velvet. I used a dinner plate to measure, then added an inch all the way around. The larger the circle, the larger the pumpkin. The largest I made was a 24" circle for the largest yellow pumpkin.
Hand baste around the edge of the circle with 2 thickness of thread. One strand of thread will break and you'll have to do it twice. Double up your thread or use "craft and button" thread.
Gather around your basting. Toss about 1/2 cup of beans into the bottom, then fill with poly-fil. Pull thread tightly and knot at the top.
Remove stems from pumpkins (you better eat those pumpkins, by the way) and glue to the top over the hole.
Stand back and admire your pumpkins, realizing that in 20 minutes you made a pumpkin patch for under the cost of one of these things from the store, you know, because you're awesome like that.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

DIY Budget Infinity Scarf (not a mess)

Although my California friends are still sweating through the 100˚ summer, here in Wisconsin, it's scarf season. As someone who has never felt justified in buying a scarf in her life, I've been trying my best to resist the urge to buy all of the scarves! Everywhere you go there are scarves for sale. Beautiful scarves! Beautiful $30 scarves. I know $30 isn't a huge amount of money, but a little part of me sees these scarves and knows this is a total sham. This is a yard of fabric sewn together at the end. This is not a $30 product.

So, in an attempt this weekend to get my sewing mo-jo back before I have to start in on Halloween costumes, I bought a a yard and quarter of 45" wide herringbone flannel for $6 and came home to make a scarf. 

Since 45" wide fabric isn't quite wide enough to be a scarf on its own, I cut it down the middle. 
I sewed the short ends together on both sides (french seams, because I'm fancy like that) to make a big tube about 22" wide with a 90" circumference (and you thought you'd never use that high school geometry). 
Then, I hemmed up the edges all the way around. 
... and we have a scarf. Not a mess, hardly a craft, but, it got the sewing machine plugged in, so at least it's a start.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Massive (desk) undertaking

When I was 18 and home from college for summer my dad and I spent mornings reading the classified ads together after my mom want to work. I will never forget the look on my mom's face when she came home to learn that my dad had encouraged me to buy (and even hauled home) an enormous oak desk. My dad called it "the teacher desk" because it reminded him of the old oak desks teachers used to sit behind. The woman who sold it to me told us a little about its history and promised me it had a good soul.

So, I carried my massive desk from one college apartment to another until I moved home at 21 after college and it took 3 strong men to get it into my old bedroom. Naturally, when I headed off to graduate school a few month later, promising to return just as soon as I was a doctor, I left the desk behind.

In my bedroom back home it served as the mail station, mom's cheese making surface, a storage place for leftover artifacts from my grandmother's estate, and just a general catch all. If you ever had the pleasure of visiting my folks, you probably saw this desk in all its patinaed glory and thought, "Who would ever buy a desk this big?" Sorry, my fault.

If its long life before me didn't leave it in rough shape, 3 years of college and 5 years of abuse certainly left their mark. Although my parents were tolerant of my goliath desk, when I bought a house and moved across the country my mom drew a line in the sand. Get that desk out of here or I will get it out of here. She didn't go so far as to threaten its life, but I could see the look in her eye.

So, my parents loaded it up in their old Suburban and drove it to Orange where my movers loaded in into a moving truck and hauled it across country and set it in my craft room looking a little, well, worse for the wear.
The poor desk was no doubt showing its age and travels. While it was once a really impressive piece of furniture I was proud of, I found that I was suddenly feeling a little less proud. I thought about refinishing the whole thing, but worried that might be an overly ambitious undertaking for my first refinishing project. So, instead, I decided to refinish the top, and give the rest of it a good scrubbing, the reassess.

So, I sanded the top surface down with a random orbit sander, starting with 60 grain, and smoothing with 120. Sanding through the grime was a job, then I had to get through the finish. This is a mess. You have been warned.
Once the surface was clean, I gave it two coats of Minwax Wood Stain in "Golden Oak" wiped on with a rag. The color match was shocking. When that dried, I used a wipe on poly finish over the top. The finish was supposed to dry in 3 to 4 hours. The first coat took 3 days in my humid house with a fan running over it. Then, I buffed it with ultra-fine sand paper (440), and gave it a second coat. This one took a week and was still tacky. I gave up. Two coats is plenty.
While I waited for the finish to dry, I spent hours with steel wool and Olde English furniture polish scrubbing every inch of the desk to clean it up. The outcome was, again, more impressive than I'd expected. A lot of grime came off with each scrubbing, and eventually, you could see the natural woodgrain again. I bet you can guess which surface of this leg I scrubbed and which I didn't...
Perhaps this is not the craftiest thing I've ever done, but it has been one of the more daunting projects in my new house. Also, I had to prove that I haven't just been painting things bright colors...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ikea Hack Ceiling Fan Chandelier

I have a love/hate relationship with ceiling fans. As a former southern California resident I completely understand their functionality and necessity. There are times when I don't think I would have survived summer without them. Now, while it hasn't yet been so hot that I've needed them, I've been advised that they serve a similarly important role in the winter in forcing heat from poorly placed central heating vents down to the part of the room where the people are.

So, fans are good. I get it.

But, fans are also really, really ugly. I'm very concerned with ugly light fixtures and my house was full of them. I knew that I couldn't take on every ugly fixture at once (time and budget simply wouldn't allow it), so I started with the easiest fixes, or rather, the fixes I had the least control over. That is, I started with the ceiling fans.

My first project was this standard white ceiling fan in my bedroom. While I was glad that it was white (and not brass and faux wood--- don't worry, we're getting there) I just couldn't get excited about the awkward globey thing pointing down from the middle.
I'd seen some rather impressive and rather ambitious ceiling fan chandeliers on Pinterest, and knew I was not going to be cutting PVC pipe to make this happen.

But, it so happens that when I was 21 and impressionable, I impulse bought a chandelier at Ikea. It has hung from a hook in the ceiling and its Ikea bulb set-up in my dressing area ever since, and has made me smile more than a $20 chandelier really should. But, here in my new home, it made the ultimate sacrifice.

I removed the chandelier from the bulb set up (and put it in a box in the basement, I'm not that heartless) and tied 3 equal lengths of strong monofilament (okay, fishing line) to the metal ring that the bulb used to hang from. I cut the monofilament to about 9 inches, so once it was knotted, I had about 4 inch long loops to work with.

I removed the ugly globe from my ceiling fan (put it in the basement with the other half the chandelier set up) and unscrewed the lightbulb. Then, I hung the three loops of monofilament from the screws designed to hold the globe in place. When I put the lightbulb back in place in the socket, I had to be sure that the weight of the chandelier was hanging from the monofilament, not the bulb. This took a little adjusting, but was pretty easy to do by shortening the loops a bit.
Admittedly, if this were from anywhere but Ikea, it would probably have been too heavy. But, it's been hanging for a month now with no disasters yet.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick and Easy Guilded Coasters

I've never owned a real end table. In fact, as someone who has lived in tiny apartments and uninsulated houses with multiple roommates for a decade, I've never owned a piece of wood furniture I cared enough about to "coast." Now suddenly I've got two end tables with wood finishes that I can't set a beer glass of ice water on without worrying. So, for the first time I needed coasters.

Although I've had a couple of adventures in coaster making before, some more successful than others, I wanted to try something new (only partly because I wasn't thrilled with my last attempts). So, I went to Home Depot and bought four 4"x 4" white ceramic tiles for 13 cents a piece. Then, I went to JoAnns and bought a sheet of sticky back felt for a whopping $1.09.

Back home, I pulled out a roll of blue masking tape and cut it (this is a great task for phone calls with your parents, by the way) in to chevrons. I got lazy half way through so I made some with stripes instead.
I gave the masked tiles one quick coat with gold spray paint that I had laying around, and I pulled the tape off carefully before the paint dried. Then, I gave them all a quick spray with a spray on lacquer that was leftover from another project.

To keep the bottoms from scratching the finish off my table. I cut 16 small (1 cm) squares out of the sticky back felt and placed one on each corner of the tiles. With a 9 x 12 sheet of felt, I could have made enough of these for everyone I know.
The outcome: trendy guilded gold chevron coasters for less than $2 in less than an hour. Come have a drink at my place. I've got coasters.