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...

Monday, December 8, 2014

From sweater to stocking

Now that I've got a mantle of my own, I'm feeling a lot of pressure to try to live up the high standard of mantle decor. It was easy in a tiny apartment to avoid much decorating because the space was too small. But, with great mantle comes great responsibility. So, this year I decided that it was time for a real stocking hung on my real mantle.

I love the classic look of the chunky cabled knit stockings in the stores this season and thought they would be a perfect addition to my Christmas decorations and midcentury modern living room.

But, obviously, I'm not going to give Anthropologie or Pottery Barn $40 for something I could DIY. When I started looking at patterns to knit my own, though, I decided that just wasn't worth the time. I'm freezing, here. I need earmuffs and scarves a lot more than I need a stocking. So, I started looking for an alternative.

Luckily, I saw instructions for stockings made from sweaters on Pinterest. They seemed like good low budget stocking solutions to give an expensive appearance without a lot of expense (or time). So, I glanced through the blog entry by Imperfect Homemaking, ran to Goodwill for a $5 outdated sweater, and went for it.
I made a quick freehand stocking template and centered it on the cabled pattern on the sweater. Then I took a deep breath and did something that many years of knitting made difficult: I cut. In the hopes of getting through this very unsettling process as quickly as possible, I cut both layers (front and back) at once.
Since the sweater didn't have ribbed edge at the bottom, I cut an extra 7 inches of ribbing from the side to make a cuff.
I started with my serger, thinking that I could finish the edges all professional like, and be done in 5 minutes. Instead I broke 3 serger needles. After rethreading the dumb machine for the seventh time I gave up and switched to a three-stitch zig-zag on my traditional machine. In the time I spent threading my serger once I was able to sew up the stocking. I did find that the toe seemed to grow in length as I stitched because of my feed-dogs, so I had to trim about 1.5" from the toe-end and restitch. Still faster than threading the serger again...
For the cuff, I just stitched a little extra rib pattern up into a tube and placed it right side out around the stocking (yes, right side of stocking to wrong side of ribbing), ran a quick zig-zag across the top, and folded over the cuff to hide this ugly seam.
Eventually, I may add a tab for hanging the stocking from a proper hook, but this year I just threaded a piece of twine through the corner and hung it from a candle stick. I have no proper hooks anyway... The only question now is should I make one for Barley?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Boots boots boots! (my DIY Mudroom)


One of my goals in my new home in Wisconsin is to make some changes that make my otherwise builder's grade 1940's ranch style home a little more updated and custom. From the first time I walked in the front door I knew I wanted a little mudroom in the existing small awkward foyer. For the first few months after I moved in, it looked like this.
First, I removed the ugly hanging racks and coat rod and painted the ceiling white (because, of course, it was brown), which was an immediate aesthetic improvement. But, that meant I had no place to put my bags, coats, and umbrellas, which are all apparently necessary in Wisconsin the summer.

Dad came to town for my birthday and for about $150 he generously bought the lumber to build me a bench and a shelf. We decided to make the bench and shelf out of poplar, and used pine for the pieces I planned to paint white. I gave him my sketch and my tools and left for work. When I came home it looked like this. Dad is amazing. I don't know what else to say.
After my parents headed back to sunny CA, I started by staining the poplar bench and shelf boards my dad had cut to size with Minwax Red Mahogany to match the other woodwork in the house. Next, I painted the support boards and all of the trim in the foyer with white high gloss (because it too was brown-- thats right, the walls were such dark brown you can't tell, but the trim in these photos is light brown). I painted the back wall white and to give the illusion of wainscoting added a few strips of trim down the wall. The other walls were painted the same soft blue (EasyCare Abloom) I used in the kitchen.

Thinking I was nearly done, I fitted back in my now stained shelf and bench, then attempted trim. This was a new challenge for me. I learned (by-doing) how to cut a miter corner using my drawing tools from 9th grade Geometry and a jigsaw. A lot of glue and wood filler putty and even more touch up paint later, I had a place to take off my snow boots. I also filled up my woven felt baskets with scarves, hats, and mittens to get me through the winter.
I took a trip to Ikea coat hooks and spent a final evening installing them, and bought a door sweep to help keep out the draft from under my front door. Now, I've now got a place to take off a layer or two of the 4-5 layers that one has to wear every single day in Wisconsin to avoid frostbite. Plus, for about $200 I think I made a substantial improvement to my humble little house.