Posted on March 7, 2014
Maybe it’s my intense desire for spring to go ahead and spring already, but I’ve been sprucing up my studio the past couple of weeks–got a bee in my bonnet, so to speak, and between a trip to Ikea and a couple cans of spray paint, have overhauled the room and made it tidy and efficient. After a couple of requests to share the results, I’m ready to invite all of you in for a look-see! When we first moved into this house, we thought we’d finish the basement right away. But after a number of decidedly non-sexy projects like replacing all the windows, putting in a new furnace, and putting in a new deck to replace the one that was dry-rotted, we’ve pushed back the basement project for a year. Or two. Which means that working in the dining room, which was meant to be a temporary solution, is now our semi-permanent solution. The dining room is next to the formal living room, and directly visible from the front entrance of the house, so a messy space really doesn’t cut it–I needed some updates that would make this both a functional studio AND a clean and chic space that I wasn’t embarrassed to invite people to see. This is the view from the open doorway between the living room and the dining room/studio space. It’s also part Ikea advertisement, and I’m OK with that. On the left, there are two tables arranged in an L-shape, where I keep my serger, computer, and sewing machine. On the right, in the corner, three bookshelves holding fabric, sewing books, drawers with buttons and electronics, patterns, and magazines. To the right of that, the ironing board and my dress form. In the center, another Ikea table with the top raised for my cutting table. The chandelier is just a perk. My sewing machine is all dressed up in the sewing machine cover I made for Stitch Savvy–luckily, I had the good sense to make one for my serger, too, so they even match! My computer is connected to a larger, second monitor, right next to my yellow office organizer. I use a German beer stein that my folks got in Europe when I was a baby to organize pens and pencils. My Denyse Schmidt thread catcher sits next to my machine. The small, low basket behind the machine is for the on-deck project–in this case, my husband’s linen jacket. I love the corner with the bookshelves, like, a lot. The large black set of drawers is all steel, and weighs a clean ton. As in, when we brought it into the house, it fell on the driveway and nearly hit my ankle. I feared a future of prosthetics. We found it at a local antiques show, and while I paid more than I might ordinarily, it holds a massive amount of stuff. All my notions, thread, zippers, dyes, elastics, pins, trims, and perle cottons are in these drawers, and each drawer is neatly labeled with my label maker. I love geeking out over that kind of thing. The art on top is a piece I made of a photo of my son for Stitch Savvy, next to a giant pair of wooden scissors that I found at Target on a random shopping trip. The giant basket holds all my yarns and knitting supplies. All my copies of Martha Stewart, Threads and Stitch magazine are stored in little Ikea boxes on the shelves, next to bolted fabrics and baskets of knits. I love baskets–wire, wicker, peach. Love. Baskets. The wall beyond that hosts my ironing board, and my dress form with a rotating selection of projects (this one is a jacket from Stitch Savvy plus a knit tee I made for my sister during a #virtualsewcial). The wall is covered with images pulled from catalogs and magazines of looks and shapes and details that I want to see incorporated into my own sewn garments. See? Baskets rock. These are all upcoming-season fabrics; I just moved the flannels and corduroys down to storage in the basement (you didn’t think ALL my fabric was in this room, did you?), and brought out the voiles, lawns, lightweight cottons, rayons and linens. This end of the work table is new: before, it was just the table on the right, which had all the same equipment on it. Obvs, it was a little cramped. Adding the table on the left was magical–and also gave me a place to add in a set of drawers for storage and integrate my file cabinet a little better (can you just see it there? holding up the other end of the table in the corner, below the monitors? cheaper than buying table legs!) My new Raskog cart makes me want to weep with joy. The color: perfectly suited to my palette–and a flawless match to my newly-painted and recovered work chairs. The size: exactly suited for the nested fabric baskets where I keep my hand-sewn projects. The casters: perfect for taking those projects out to the sofa on a weekend so I can sew while I watch Netflix with my hot husband. The drawers are dreamy, but the best benefit was one I didn’t foresee: storage for my rulers, which used to be stacked on top of rolled up fabrics, and were always (1) in the way and (2) in danger of falling and shattering on the floor. Every ruler but my 24″ ones fits just right in these drawers, and now I have an easy spot to organize my sticky notes AND my stationery. What! That’s right. Near the entrance is another shelf, this one with a door to hide all the less attractive supplies: camera bags and stacks of printer paper and buckets of jelly beans, that kind of thing. I love me some yellow, too, so you know that when Ikea had this glass-front cabinet I was totally going to score one. This puppy was CRAMMED with fabric, all “stacked,” but the stacks had fallen over and gotten sorta pathetic. I finally invested in some comic book boards to organize it all, and it transformed the whole room. For reals: even after all the other changes in this studio, it wasn’t until I had folded and stored all these fabrics that my husband walked in and said, “You’ve really cleaned up in here!” So. There’s a vintage Florida tourism plaque of a red snapper on top of the cabinet, the only species of fish I ever caught on a zillion fishing trips with my grandfather in South Florida. I caught a LOT of fish, but they were always the same one. Still my favorite to eat, and I love having this little guy here to remind me of my Pop Pop. Next to that, a printed egg I found on Etsy. Another basket! This one of rolls of wools. Plaids, boucles, tweeds, you name it. Next to linen, wool might be my favorite. You know, if you don’t count cotton, because: cotton. The final wall, on the opposite side of the opening to the living room. Just to the left of this is the door to the kitchen, which is a full-on swing door. It stays open most of the time, and this is the major walk-through from this room to the rest of the house, so no furniture here. Just a towel rack that I got in the As-Is department of Ikea and have re-purposed as a joint quilt rack/works-in-progress staging area. The Japanese wall clock is bamboo, and from the sale section of Three Potato Four (along with the “Do Your Best” pennant over the computer). A couple unfinished quilts (OK, fine, maybe five), some older garments that I rediscovered and that need updates or repairs, and an applique wall hanging that I don’t have wall space for and am turning into a mini-quilt. The cutting table is simple, but works great. The trestle is standard-issue Ikea, but raises up to be a full 38″ so it makes a perfect cutting height, while still having the flexibility to be used at a seated height when I want (if we need an extra table for family gatherings, since we clearly don’t have a dining room set) or in the future (should it ever be deemed No Longer Worthy for studio use, which seems unlikely, but never say never). The cutting mats are from Jo-Ann a zillion years ago, and refuse to wear out, no matter how much I want to replace them with white ones. The wooden tool tray was a gift from Craftsy after I filmed my class, and has a Whipstitch-yellow border around the upper edge. Natch. And keeping me company, on top of the bookcase in the corner, is this little vintage fella. This and the text art behind it are from Etsy, and my little birdie friend keeps an eye on our pup, who likes to curl up on her bed at the base of the bookcase. It makes for a happy workplace each day! Thanks for taking the tour! Someday, I’ll move down to the basement, but for now, I am more than delighted with how much space I have in the dining room, how much work I can get done here, and that I can finally invite folks in without having to scramble to make it presentable. As long as I’m wearing shoes, of course.
Posted on March 5, 2014
As an unapologetic collector of sewing books, I am always excited when a new, beautiful and truly useful sewing reference is published. When that book is also written by a friend, and that friend is someone whose taste and skill level I trust and admire deeply, I order the book so fast that when it arrives, it leaves scorch marks on the driveway. This is one of those books.
Written by Christine Haynes, of Christine Haynes Patterns and City Stitching, this is your new essential sewing room reference. The book, The Complete Photo Guide to Clothing Construction, is designed as part of a larger encyclopedia series, and is a go-to guide for an entire glossary’s-worth of sewing terms and skills. She shows you how to make multiple styles of dress, skirt, and blouse–not by walking you through each project, but by showing you each individual technique in large-format, step-by-step photos that you can totally follow and learn from.
The whole book has a really friendly, big sister feel to it, and I am amazed at just how much information is packed in here.
I wrangled Christine into a Skype chat this week, and recorded it so you can see the two of us talk about her book(s), vintage notions, the Big 4 pattern companies, and a bunch of other stuff that made us both giggle. Check it out:
As mentioned in the video, Christine has also incredibly generously provided a giveaway on EACH stop of her blog tour! Every giveaway is different, and I’m tickled as could be that she sent me this awesome bundle of fabric and vintage notions, plus her favorite sewing tool:
Dreamy!! Prize pack includes: 2.5 yds of cotton sateen home dec-weight fabric; vintage rick rack; vintage bias tape; new Clover seam ripper; two sets of vintage buttons from Whipstitch; AND, to sweeten the deal, a $50 gift certificate good for any Whipstitch online sewing course, a delicious companion to Christine’s book! To enter, simply use the Rafflecopter below. Then race on over to Amazon and grab your copy of the book–for reals, I bought one for myself as soon as it was available, and it already has a privileged spot on my shelf. I think it’s a beautiful, well-thought-out book that you’ll be grateful to have as an everyday reference for garment construction.
The rafflecopter gives you THREE chances to enter and win! Be sure to follow the directions for each entry, and then click the +1 to add your name in the hat. No cheating, now! Give yourself that high five!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Posted on March 3, 2014
Here’s the deal: we all are partnered with 11 other people, to make a crew of 12. Each month, we sew a handmade birthday gift for one of the folks in the group, and when it’s our birth month, we get 11 handmade gifts sent just for us! It’s really an ingeniously simple idea, and I’m so glad I threw my name in the hat when I saw it come around on IG. (You can see the progress of the group using the button in the sidebar–so many awesome presents being made!)
For the first Birthday Girl, I made a sweet little quilted zipper pouch with an applique and an exposed zipper. We were all sewing for Karen, who has three miniature Schnauzers, so I wanted to make something that incorporated her darling girls into the gift. I downloaded and printed a Schnauzer outline from the web, and then cut out an applique to add to the front of the pouch I’d already pieced and quilted.
This is a simple raw-edge applique, but the herringbone flannel it’s made from really makes me think of a sweet puppy. Right?!?
The zipper on the pouch is actually a separating outerwear zipper, but I liked the heavy metal of the teeth so much , and I wanted to have them showing on the closed pouch. I shortened the zip after sewing up the end seams (check a tutorial like this one for a similar style of pouch).
I knew Karen likes bright fabrics, so I threw in a half-yard bundle of yummies for her. Who doesn’t like getting fabric on their birthday, after all. And these are all my favorite colors–I was just hoping she’d love them, too!
Plus some other goodies, like Valentine pencils, some pattern cards, and this sweet little hedgehog clothespin.
The funnest part about the whole club is that we get to see each of the ladies receive their gifts on IG, too! I have said it a dozxen times already this year, and I will say it a baker’s dozen: I love how the internet makes it possible for people all over the world who are a little crazy about the same things all come together and make friends. Impossible and amazing.
Happy birthday, Karen!
Posted on February 28, 2014
I don’t really know what happened with the sound here–all was going well, and then suddenly it wasn’t. Maybe it’s the battery in my mic? I thought about shooting the whole video over again, but I feel really strongly about making it as un-scripted as possible, and keeping my notes-to-self as the year progresses as raw as I can. The me of before–Before Me–might have re-taped the whole thing and not even mentioned the bad take. She might have also obsessed over what people thought of what she said–saving the best parts for the second take and editing out the less-good bits. But Today Me thinks that the closer this is to stream-of-consciousness the better, because Future Me is going to sit down and see these, and I want HER to get the real deal, and not something crafted for an audience. These videos are to share with you, but I think as I get further into the year, I’m thinking of them more as a tool for me.
With sharing them in mind, I’ve amped the sound on my end the best I can, and when I play it here, I ran it through a set of external speakers and it was fine. Hopefully, you’ll be able to hear enough to relate to what I had to say. In keeping with my desire to build margin, I have let myself off the hook from re-taping this segment, and am letting it into the world as it is.
What about you? What thing that Before You might have obsessed over and insisted on correcting is Today You thinking might be OK if you just leave it the way it is?
P.S. Hahaha! That thumbnail was the one YouTube selected and it is HILARIOUS. I am so leaving that for you to see–combined with my comments above, that is tickling me pink. Hee!
Posted on February 26, 2014
In my workroom, I have two tables (well, I do now, anyway): one for my sewing machine, and one for my serger, with my computer monitor on the angle where the two meet in an L-shape. For over two years now, I’ve been using a hand-me-down bentwood dining chair as my sewing chair, one that wasn’t particularly pretty, but was comfortable and did the trick. It’s hard, you know, getting a chair just the right height and cushiness for your backside when you spend a large part of each day sitting down.
Inspired by the successful update of my desk organizer, I moved some things around in the room, added that second table for the serger (to get it up off the floor, where it has been living in semi-storage), and made more space for myself. When I did that, I took the matching chair to my sewing seat and placed it in front of the serger. And realized I was tired of not liking the fabric on the seat, and that it was high time I made an update. And let me tell you: night and day, y’all. Night and day.
Here is where I started: a vintage bentwood dining chair, nothing fancy, just classic and simple. My mother scored this for me at a flea market? off the curb? Somewhere, back when we were living in our rental house before we bought the house we have now. It was at the folding-leaf table we used as a “dining” table in the breakfast nook in that house, where the children ate their breakfasts, and then it was moved to my sewing table when we re-located. The paint is a little worn, and the seat fabric is more than a little outdated, but it’s sturdy and strong, it’s a classic shape that will never go out of style, and it’s exactly the right height for my work table, which made it plenty good enough for me.
I figured, chairs that are well-made and well-proportioned will last forever, right? So I wanted to update rather than replace, by painting the body of the chair and swapping out the fabric on the seat. Because that fabric was making my eyes hurt. Every time I went in the room, really. I think chairs made in Romania are good enough for Melody Miller fabric, aren’t they?
I started by flipping one of the chairs upside-down on my cutting table so I could access the seat from beneath. Chairs of this style–really any wooden chair with a fabric-covered seat attached to the base–has the seat foundation (usually a piece of plywood) held on with screws. Replacing the fabric is as simple as popping out those screws and re-covering the seat.
I didn’t even bother with a drill, but went straight for the Phillips head screwdriver I keep in a pencil jar on my desk. The screws all came out very easily, with almost no grunting. I put them in a little plastic box and tucked them away while I was working, so I wouldn’t accidentally knock them on the floor and have to go crawling around looking, only to learn that I could find all but one and needed to go to the hardware store for another, which would undoubtedly be hard to match, before I could finish the project. I’ve done that before, and putting the screws in a safe place while you’re working is just FUNNER.
With the seat separated from the chair frame, I had two tasks: one was to re-cover the seat, and the other was to spray paint the chair frame. Spray painting is pretty straight-forward–if you want some pointers, the folks at Young House Love talk a lot about using thin, thin coats (LOTS of them) and avoiding drippies by being patient with the painting. I followed the same guidelines, and did two full cans of gloss white lacquer for these two chairs, which amounted to around seven coats of paint per chair. It sounds like a lot, but since you can re-spray after as little as five minutes with spray paint, it doesn’t actually take very long. And the smooth gloss finish is sublime.
But all that came later. First, I covered the seats.
I have been saving this yard of Ruby Star Polka Dot from Melody Miller, the last collection she will do for Kokka since she’s off and running with a whole new (and very exciting) enterprise. It’s just the most lovely fabric, complete with flecks of gold metallic ink, and as soon as I placed it over the original seats to “test” it, I knew it was the perfect match (the aqua is even a dead match for the turquoise of my new Ikea Raskog cart, which is a little bonus!). I cut out a chunk for each seat, which amounted to somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of a yard and about 22″ wide.
I squared one of the holes left from the screws up with the front of the fabric. This print is directional, so I wanted to be sure that the chair seat was square with the design before I started stapling things in place. Once that was done, I started working my way around the perimeter of the seat, pulling the fabric snug and stapling about 1″ from the edge. I did the north/south/east/west points first, to make sure that I had pulled the fabric equally taut in all directions, and then filled in the quadrants between those staples bit by bit. In some places I had small pleats, but I suspect it’s best to avoid those by working in tiny sections as you get all the way around the fabric.
All of this was done with a standard home improvement store light duty staple gun. I used a combination of 1/4″ and 3/8″ staples, since I ran out of my first pack partway through, and can say that I recommend the 1/4″ staples for this task. See on the left above, where one of the staples isn’t fully seated? That’s because the legs of the staple were a tiny bit too long for the seat, and so the staple is slightly bent. Shorter staples will prevent that, and make the seat sit flatter on the chair frame when it’s re-attached.
When the seat is all finished, this is what it looks like. Using a pair of applique scissors, which are bent at the handle to allow you to snip things that are hard to reach, I trimmed out all the excess fabric outside the staple line, leaving a small (3/8″ or so) allowance beyond the edges of the staples.
All that time, I was also going back and forth to the garage, where I was spray painting the chair frames. I used basic home improvement store lacquer, a high gloss white. I thought one can would be enough, but it wasn’t even close, and I needed a full two cans for good coverage. If the original paint had been even a little bit dark, I suspect I would have needed three, to be honest. I had to really work to get all the edges and the angles, since the bentwood design makes for a lot of curves, and I didn’t want to discover an unpainted edge later on. Since I also use these chairs near-constantly on a daily basis, I finished with a top coat of clear poly, also in a spray can. The finished version is nice and glossy, just like I was hoping!
When the paint cures, you can re-attach the seat to the chair frame. Full disclosure: my paint is dry, but I don’t think it’s fully cured yet, since spray paint takes longer to dry fully in cool weather (according to the can, you should allow extra dry time for any temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit). I’m going to give it another 48 hours to off-gas and harden in the garage before I screw the seats back on. So in these photos, the seat is just resting on the frame without being fully screwed down. But isn’t it awesome??
I could not be more excited it I tried. Well, OK, maybe if it was a full-sized squishy armchair covered in Melody Miller fabric–that might rock my socks off. But for these little chairs, I think this is a really pretty result, and I can’t even talk about how much brighter my work room will feel as a result of getting that icky rusty-brown fabric and the dull creamy-not-white-at-all chair frame out of there. It clashed with my Ikea table tops, and blocked my chi.
Can’t you just imagine sewing up a pretty spring dress with ruffly sleeves in this chair?? I know I can.
It astonishes me how inexpensively you can update a piece of furniture, and by doing that, freshen up a whole room. Since this is also my daily work space, it has already rejuvenated my day-to-day efficiency–yes, even before the chairs have come back in the room. A little spit and polish, and I’m inspired and ready to roll.
I hope it really comes through in these photos–that creamy color doesn’t look dark in the images, but in real life, it was totally Little House on the Prairie, and the bright white just feels so much more NOW. Huge difference to the naked eye, for real–trust me on that.
How about you? What one little project do you have lying around that you know you SHOULD get around to doing, but just haven’t yet? What’s stopping you?!? Go get ‘em!