Thursday, February 2, 2012

At least five years overdue

We moved into our house in 2003. In that time I have started a multitude of projects and finished a handful of others. Sometime between then and now (but much, much closer to then), I picked up some upholstered stools on clearance at Target with the thought that they would be good overflow seating for the living room. (We're fortunate that our old house has a traditional living room up front and another, smaller and informal, living room in the back-- a half-assed addition courtesy of the former occupants.) The room in question is large enough for a couch, a coffee table, a TV table, the cat condo lovingly referred to as "The Projects," and little else if we want to be able to actually move freely through the space.

The footstools are perfect, not only because they were less than $10 apiece but because the legs fold underneath in a way that enables them to hang on the wall when they're not in use (ideal for such a small space). The downside: they were upholstered in cheap, loud corduroy fabric that indiscriminately collected cat hair as though it was the most precious object in the history of EVER. They were marketed to college students originally-- I'm not sure if Target still does the whole "You're moving into the dorm!" late summer/early fall nonsense-- because evidently only college-aged kids would love a shade of blue that falls on the spectrum somewhere between navy and Smurf.

 At least five years ago (although, in all honesty, it's probably been longer), Cathy of Cloudspun showed me how to re-cover one of the footstools. She even taught me how to make my own custom piping. It took the better part of that afternoon, but I was able to finish it with a lot of her help... and frequent use of the seam ripper. Upon its completion, her prediction was that it would take me two years to re-upholster the other two stools.

I was determined to prove her wrong and knocked out the second in a matter of weeks. Mere weeks! The sewing wasn't nearly as tidy as the one I worked on under her guidance, but it was still done. I went ahead and hung the pair of them on the living room wall above the couch. They were off-center, but that was only to act as inspiration to keep me on track to finish the project.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

The third and final footstool sat in the corner of the living room, quietly collecting cobwebs and cat hair until yesterday morning. I finally made up my mind to finish the project, if for no other reason than to have something to cross off of the endless list of things that need to be done. So I got out the sewing machine, the fabric that coordinates with the other two footstools, a standard screwdriver, and the staple gun before moving the party to the dining room table.

Project Foreman Walter Kitten
Unlike the headboard project, I had a crew of helpers this time. Walter Kitten was the most enthusiastic of them all; he made sure to verify the structural integrity of the project in addition to closely investigating the millions of staples that had been holding the upholstery in place.

He came to the conclusion that everything was completely kosher with the project about the same time I  forcibly removed him from the table for the hundredth time. Not one to be deterred, he helped hold the fabric as I cut the pieces I needed for the new cover.

Instead of using any sort of official pattern, I just dismantled the old cover and used it as a template to cut new pieces-- just like Cathy had shown me to do the first time around. There was some pre-made piping in my sewing stash, but I decided against using it because I'm not a fan of dealing with pulling pins as I'm trying to round a corner with the sewing machine. Since I'm more than a little bit rusty with any stitching beyond a straight line, I figured the path of least resistance was probably the better one to take.

This stool is constructed differently than the others, which are identical to one another. The good news: there were only three pieces to sew together, versus the five pieces (plus wrangling the piping) of the other two. The even better news: sewing the first two pieces together went without a snag, and the cover fit perfectly.

I sewed the last piece on backwards twice, made friends with the seam ripper, and got it right on the third try.

I was able to get the freshly minted cover stapled in place without incident and even trimmed down a piece of muslin to finish the bottom. [Drum roll, please!] The finished project:


A few detailed shots:

Rounded corners...

...and a layer of muslin to hide the guts.

"You have done well, human."
 As with everything else in the house, the cats had to give their hair-covered seal of approval. It only took a few minutes before Flash installed himself onto his new throne. Heaven help me, I'm never going to be allowed to hang this thing up if the critters have anything to say about it.

(Look at the size of this cat; do you really think it's a good idea to anger him? He is an expert at holding a grudge and I'm almost certain that he's devised at least 14 ways to kill me in my sleep.)

Here's to one more project completed and crossed off of the list, feline shenanigans aside.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Rise of the 7 Gypsies


There are so many things I could should have done around the house today (including (but not limited to) dishes, laundry, and vacuuming). It's not unusual for me to have a long list of chores that I frequently neglect, but I decided to use my day off to make something instead of just straightening and cleaning. Let's face it, I do enough of that at work every day.

A brief aside: you would never expect just how much tidying up goes into working in a bookstore. Putting abandoned books back where they belong is more often than not a Sisyphean task... but re-alphabetizing a section is strangely cathartic. There's something to be said for bringing order to the chaos.

This does nothing to explain the chaos that is our house. Frankly, that responsibility falls to the cats and they're really lousy at articulating their thoughts. It probably has something to do with their lack of typing skills.

I digress, and I apologize. A little over a year ago I bought one of the 7 Gypsies letterblock printer's trays after seeing them featured in an Archiver's advert. The pack rat in me squealed at its many nooks and crannies just waiting to be filled with some of the assorted bits and bobs I've accumulated over the years. (I was also lucky to receive one of their ATC trays as a Christmas gift from fabulous Photo Squirrel Denise a short time later. That one is waiting for me to fill it with some of the spoils of our ATC swaps, which will be another project for another day.)

Trying to get everything just so.
After getting myself good and caffeinated this morning, I was feeling the need to break out the art and craft supplies and tap into some of my latent creativity. I took the letterblock tray from the drawer it was nestled in for safekeeping and put it on my crafting desk so I could properly size it up. The tray was smaller than I had made it in my memory, so I immediately had to scale back the number of items I had selected for filling it.

It didn't take long to come up with a rudimentary layout of items. I had a bird-and-nature-themed ephemera pack that was one of my birthday gifts (also from the fabulous Denise), some vintage pieces from various board games, and a washer I found on the ground on a photo tour of the 'Nati, among other items. The most difficult part of the whole operation was choosing what paper to use for backgrounds in each of the compartments, which was followed by the time-consuming task of trimming that paper down. I'm not sure which got a better workout: my scissors or my patience each time I had to slice off a millimeter here and there to get them to fit well.

Thankfully I did not have any feline assistance in this stage of the operation.

I found some Zots in my 'adhesives' drawer and used those to attach the trimmed papers to the tray. I also was lucky to discover some dimensional double-sided tape and peppered this throughout the project. It provided some extra dimension to the paper items that I had selected, keeping them from just disappearing into the background.

Some detail shots:
Layout: Round One. A few of the items ultimately moved from one space to another and a few of them didn't make the final cut. This is what it looked like before there were any backgrounds added.

A closer look at some of the elements involved, including the Cincinnati street washer, 1950s era Austrian stamps and a plastic tooth. I can't even tell you how excited I was when someone wanted to sell us a science-class replica of the human mouth. I still have plenty of these plastic teeth waiting for another project.

I didn't realize I had quite so many Tim Holtz items: the gears and the labeled safety pin are just a small sample.

And the finished project:
I'm super pleased with how this came out-- and even happier still that some of these fantastic pieces of ephemera are out in the open instead of stashed in a drawer with the rest of my crafting supplies.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Today I feel like a grown-up.

I realize that seems like a strange statement, but there's truth to it.

Despite having turned 37 just a few days ago, I've been sleeping on the same shitty futon mattress since I was in high school. Back in the day, it was a pretty fantastic mattress and I used to sleep like a rock on it; however, it's been nothing but a back-busting collection of lumps and divots for a number of years. Hills and valleys, y'all. It was not good.

This past Sunday, Eric and I made a quick trek to Ikea and got a new mattress. Because Ikea is the mecca of inexpensive solutions to things like a lumpy mattress (I know, first-world problems), we were able to procure a mattress without bankrupting ourselves... and because the foam mattresses come very tightly rolled up, it fit in the backseat of my car without any issues.

I resisted the urge to get any new bedding to go with it, but I still had a desire to gussy things up. Our bed is the same wooden futon frame that I've had forever. It's very no-frills, and I thought about adding a headboard.

Flash-forward to Monday afternoon. I was doing laundry and realized that I had some pegboard attached to a shallow wooden frame that had been sitting in the basement after I saved it from being thrown away at the bookstore a number of years ago. It was almost the perfect size to act as the base for an upholstered headboard... The gears in my mind started to turn.

I pulled the pegboard out of the basement a couple of days later, measured it, and toddled off to Jo-Ann's to look at fabric. I was able to score a couple of yards of 54" embroidered decorating fabric and a couple of yards of batting both for 50% off (thank goodness for sales that are a better deal than the coupons they send out). I also picked up some KILZ white-tinted primer in the event there was some sort of horrible basement funk that had gotten into the wood. And then I made dinner.

The pegboard was about two and a half inches too tall for the space, so I sawed that down and re-attached the side of the frame. Then I put down some of the eleventy billion sales ads that come in the mail that were in the to-be-recycled pile and primed the crap out of the thing. Walter Kitten was intrigued by the paint roller but thankfully didn't get his paws into the primer (now I know how it's going to go the next time I decide to paint any walls around these parts).

This morning I went ahead and assembled everything: foam mattress topper that had been purchased from Target when the back-to-college items were 75% off a couple of years ago, batting, fabric, scissors, and staple gun. I trimmed down the foam, wrapped the batting around it, and stapled it to the pegboard's wooden frame. Thankfully the fabric has a repeating, geometric pattern so it was easy enough to get it positioned correctly and then stapled to the frame as well.

I'm still not so good at getting the corners perfect, but they're tidy enough to keep me happy (and prevent me from staring and grousing at the whole thing).

I wasn't sure how to attach it to the wall, but it turns out that the bed frame holds it up securely enough that we didn't need to make a trip to the hardware store in search of fasteners.

I think the next upstairs project will involve painting the half wall behind the bed so there will be some more contrast between it and the headboard. I asked Eric if he had any thought with regard to what color might look good, but he didn't have any input. Obviously you can see that I like purple and green; I'm also fond of chocolatey brown and pumpkin orange.

Things to consider: the carpet is a terrible shade of mauve (inherited from the former owners of the house, obvs) and should hold no relevance in the choice of color because, sadly, nothing in the world will ever match it. I'm not sure if we'd wind up with a wooden floor or carpet in a more respectable (read: neutral) color.

I'm open to suggestions; please embrace your interior designer and give me your opinion(s).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I'm not really one for resolutions

2011 was the year of the 365 Project. A group of friends all decided we were game for taking at least one photo a day for the entire year, with a record of our progress posted on the 365 website.
"Hark, a Photo Squirrel!"
 What I learned over the course of that exercise:

1) I enjoy photography a great deal.

2) I dislike editing photos, and would much rather just post photographs without making any changes. Because I felt that I should size my photos smaller out of consideration to the website, I wasn't very consistent with uploading my images every day.

3) I'm crap at finishing a lot of the projects I've started.

4) I strengthened existing friendships and was fortunate enough to start some new ones because of the Project.

Some of my fellow Photo Squirrels (as we christened ourselves) were recently discussing whether or not to continue their projects in 2012. I don't know the final vote; suffice it to say, some of the group will be going back for more and some of us... won't. A thread of the conversation spun the idea of working on one art or craft project each week. As I read this idea, it resonated with me.

In all honesty, I lost steam in 365 sometime around October. Granted, there were other things happening in my life, but I still take responsibility in making the decision to shove photography to the back burner. I have a good feeling about working on one thing each week-- it will encourage me to nurture my creativity, and I already have ideas tossing and turning in my head-- and I think it will keep me from feeling too overwhelmed if I don't work on something for a couple of days.

I think our culture's fixation on resolutions is a bunch of crap. It's much more effective to work toward behaviors and activities that make us better people instead of creating laundry lists of our perceived faults. This is why I dusted off the old blog today; I'm going to attempt to work on my creativity and my ability to see projects through to completion. All manner of projects and photos will be forthcoming.