Category Archives: thrifting

An impromptu wool skirt

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This is an awkward collection of photos of an otherwise cute skirt. It’s hard to get blog photos of an object that is basically made to cover my own bottom.

My husband had a work-related event last week that involved taking me to the track for the afternoon (that’s a horse track–I’m in Kentucky) to spend the afternoon gambling and drinking with strangers. Hmm. It was a chilly day and I knew I’d have to be outside part of the time, so I wanted to wear something comfortable and warm. I was thinking on the morning of the event that if I had a charcoal-colored knee-length skirt to wear with a sweater and boots it would be perfect. Then I remembered that I had an old charcoal-colored wool blanket downstairs in my fabric stash that I’d picked up at a thrift store last year. Why not see if I could whip up a simple skirt to wear that afternoon? I set Dorothy to some independent school work and fetched the blanket.

Unfortunately one of my cats seemed to have found the wool blanket on the low shelf where it was being stored and had been using it as a napping spot. No problem, the skirt wouldn’t require much fabric–I just cut some skirt-shaped pieces from a non-hairy part of the blanket. I didn’t use a pattern, just eyeballed the shape of panels from another skirt and cut an appropriately-sized waistband. The boiled wool wouldn’t fray so I didn’t even finish the top of the waist. I serged it all together with purposely exposed seams and a perky little button at the waist. I tugged it on over some tights and was pretty pleased, but decided I needed to press it out a bit because the wool had some creases. When I pressed the warm iron onto the wool I realized the problem–it smelled like stinky cat. In a very bad way. Ick.

Because this is my homemade blog, not a what-to-wear blog or a fashion blog or a how-not-to-stink-in-public blog I’m going to confess that I wore it anyway. Once the wool cooled I decided that no one would smell it if they didn’t press their nose right up against my skirt or apply heat to the wool–both quite unlikely. The skirt served its purpose perfectly that afternoon and I don’t think anyone would have guessed that it was an old blanket a few hours earlier in the day. I felt kind of crafty-powerful after my successful quick project. When I got home I gave the skirt a little rinse and soak in some lavender Eucalan and now it no longer stinks. What more could I ask?

A chalkboard coffee table

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My coffee table was looking really shabby. I bought it used on Craig’s List back before I had kids myself, when a friend’s son drew all over my old one in black Sharpie. It served us well through Dorothy’s toddler-hood, sustaining the abuse of many marker and crayon episodes, though I kept my Sharpies under lock and key. By the time Worth came along I thought it really could use replacing, but I hated the idea of getting a new one and then watching it suffer through another child. I decided to stick it out, and that poor old table got pock-marked when Worth banged on it with wooden food, scuffed when the boy and his puppy made a game of chasing each other up and over it and off the other side, and colored on some more. Then the legs, which always needed a periodic tightening, actually reached a place where they just wobbled hopelessly and no amount of wood glue could keep them from going askew when someone forgot, once again, that the poor old table was not for sitting. I still wasn’t sure I could get another one–after all, dog and boy are no more reliable around furniture than they were, and the Sharpies are bound to come out sometime. But then I saw the one in the picture above at a local thrift store for $15.00. I figured that for $15 I could watch the decline of another table; at least this one seems sturdy.

I sanded it and used chalkboard paint on the top panels. Maybe having a legal place to write on the table will save it from other child artwork mayhem. (A girl can dream.) I painted the rest in a shade of red that goes nicely with the flowers in my curtains, then distressed the edges a bit with sandpaper so when my paint job starts getting chipped it might look a little intentional.

The chalkboard panels look interesting and are functional too, since we often sit on the sofa to do our homeschool work. This is our official “first day of school” photo from this morning. I love not rushing out the door in the morning! We aren’t morning people, my kids and I.

I sewed erasers from scraps and an old towel. It has pockets on the back to stow the chalk.

I had some red paint left a the end of the project so I painted an old end table to match. I love the way paint makes non-matchy things go together.

Since I was already in furniture-painting mode I finally got around to sprucing up a desk chair I’d bought at a thrift store more than a year ago. I was using a very ugly, wobbly chair at my desk and I’d found this sturdy wooden one to replace it. I painted it in black paint left over from my china hutch project and recovered the seat, which had been wearing ripped faux leather. Now it feels good to have this room that we spend so much time in be a little brighter and all around less wobbly as we start the school year.

Camper madness takes over

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Disclaimer: This post is coming from the slightly OCD Renata that once brought you trailer textiles and a camper fridgie. What can I say? I get focused on one thing and beat it to death. I’ll clean the bathrooms some other week; right now my energy is consumed with Camper. It’s not a bad life, really.

First, I got stuck under a grumpy 2-year-old at my computer and needed something to do while I sat there and held him. So I created a camper graphic to put on a new yard sign for our campground. Here it is.

Then today I found these totally awesome mid-century Samsonite suitcases at an antiques/junk store and bought them because I’m traveling by air on a trip next month and clearly I needed these old blue cases to avoid confusing my luggage with everyone else’s on the conveyor belt. The wheels and handle still work perfectly, the lining is intact, the keys were included, and the metal is shiny and perfect. I get the feeling they were mostly stored instead of used. The original “Ladies’ and Men’s Packing Guide” was still tucked into the big one, advising me to “use shoemitts of fabric” to pack my shoes. I swooned, because I’m into that kind of thing, you know? The original Samsonite tag was also still on the big case, never inscribed, but I think I’ll tuck it away with my packing guide for posterity and decided to make my own instead.

I went to print out the card to tuck into my new homemade luggage tag (the fabric is a laminated cotton) but couldn’t find a design that seemed right on the Avery website, although I often find really great printables there. Then it struck me that this was an excellent opportunity to use my own new graphic, so I designed a card with it and stitched it in. I think it looks perfect, and now I’ll have a little piece of my camper with me as comfort when I’m trying not to vomit at 32000 feet. (Campers=good; flying=bad.) Then I decided that my children need t-shirts with the same graphic (don’t they though?) and maybe even me too. So I headed over to Cafe Press, where I discovered that it is cheaper for me to offer my own graphic as an item for sale and subsequently buy it myself than it is for me to just privately design and purchase my own product. Sort of annoying. But why not? Most of my search engine traffic here is from people who google campers, so maybe they need Renata-designed camper merchandise too, right?

So in case you happen to fall into that category here is the link to my brand-new Cafe Press store, where you too can join the vintage-camper-graphic-wearing crowd. Or something. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I can convince Cafe Press to start offering fridgies.

A quilt made of vintage sheets

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My life has been tied up lately with ridiculous “first world” problems–the kind that aren’t a huge deal to begin with but which suck  up my time as if my very survival depended on them. You know, like when your garage door opener stops working and you think it might be the motor…but then it also might be the outlet..so you have to call the electrician but it takes a few days for them to come…and it turns out to be a loose wire but your garage door opener still doesn’t work…so you call that guy and he thinks it’s a problem with the outlet…and you have to plug in your radio and play music to prove it’s not…and the problem turns out to be one that fails to fit into the typical repair scenarios (maybe lightening?)…so the garage door guy half-secretly thinks you’re a fruit bat weirdo who messes with your own garage door…etc., etc…and he finally fixes it, but then somehow a lot of your wild and precious life has passed by while you were preoccupied with the garage door. You know that scenario? It doesn’t always involve the garage door, but it feels like it visits my house regularly. Oy.

I did manage to finally finish the coverlet for Dorothy’s bed, however, at some point between bothering the electrician and secretly sabotaging my own garage door just to mess with people. I bought several bags full of old floral sheets in yellow tones almost exactly two years ago with Dorothy’s bedroom in mind. I bought them before we even knew we would buy this house, only a few months into the house-selling odyssey that did finally lead us in a roundabout way back to the very same yellow-wallpapered bedroom. I cut and pieced the top of the coverlet last March and really should have finished the thing shortly thereafter, but when I was machine-stitching the face to the backing the tension on my sewing machine went all wonky and wrinkled up the back side of an entire, long seam. The prospect of ripping a seam out of the face, batting, and backing that extended the entire length of the quilt threw my frustration-meter into overdrive and I dumped the project into a bag in the basement and left it there for a year, at which point I begged my mother to rip out the seam for me, and she did. (Thanks, Mom.) After that it took me another couple of months of procrastination and exactly one afternoon of hands-on sewing to finish sewing the thing together and add the binding.

The quilt really does look sweet in Dorothy’s room. She continues to be fond of the vintage wallpaper, and there is something about the hodge-podge of patterns and colors in the sheets that looks very good with it, as if more outdated yellow flowers really is more.

I snapped the photos of the coverlet right after I put it on the bed, but then I had to sneak back in the next day to take this one to show how it really looks with her heap of stuffed animals, messy desk, and perky little matching milk glass lamp. It’s cozy and sweet, it’s feminine, it’s a mess–it fits my daughter pretty well.

Gifts for my nieces and a rag bag

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This was meant to be a Christmas gift for my niece Maggie but, well, it wasn’t. Now I’m giving it to her as an early birthday gift instead because by mid-March it’s probably going to get too warm to wear it. I used the Easy No Sew Summer Baby Doll Sweater pattern which I’d also used this summer as a gift for a friend. This is a good pattern and it worked up nicely in this Swish Tonal yarn from Knitpicks. I hope the soon-to-be-3 Maggie likes it.

My other niece Lila turned five this past week. She’s about Dorothy’s size so after my recent success with Simplicity 5704  (see below) I decided to try it again. This time I used Michael Miller cowgirl prints, which were surprisingly soft and should make this a comfortable dress for Lila. She loves pretty ponies so I hope she loves this dress too. As I was stitching this dress together it occurred to me that while having my children and my nieces close in age is nice now, it might be kind of sad in a few years when all the kids in my family are too old for homemade pony dresses (or heart dresses, or whatever). It’s a privilege to be turning out these frilly little sewing projects; not everyone has a pretty little girl to sew or crochet for, and I’m blessed with three at once!

This project is not nearly as cute but it will probably be in use long after the pink sweater and pony dress are outgrown. I replaced the tattered and torn Target bag that held rags on the back of my guest room closet door with a sturdy and sensible rag bag sewn from old sheets. The opening, as shown, is on the front for easy access. I did not use a pattern for this but it is basically two rectangles sewn together, one cut in two then sewn back together with a finished slit in the middle, and then gussets added in all four corners. I’d picked up the sheet it’s made from at a thrift store and it actually looks pretty nice in the yellow, red and orange brightness of Aunt Stephanie’s room.

A winter wreath and some other projects for the home

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I never know what to hang on the front door after Christmas. Holly berries no longer seem right, but it’s definitely not time for spring flowers either. I decided to buy a cheap thrift store wreath and winterize it. The photo above is the wreath I started with, purchased for about $2.

I lightly spray-painted the whole thing white. The original colors still show through, but it looks kind of frosty. Then I added silver snowflakes (white ones from a craft store, spray-painted silver), a colorful bow, and a vintage bird I found at a yard sale last summer. I like that the blue gives a little color to my winter front porch but I still feel seasonably appropriate.This might not be the best photo of my new pillowcases but at least it shows them in action. The striped print, Robert Allen Kukula Pinata, coordinates with my new curtains (finally all finished!) in Kiki Pinata. I like that the boldness of the stripe and color anchors my sort of washed-out old sofa, but that it isn’t so matchy-matchy with the curtains that anyone is going to get seasick from all the flowers. The kids and dog obviously like them as well. It has been part of our daily homeschool routine for Dorothy to read a book or two to her brother, so that is what is going on here. I don’t actually want to talk about why my 22-month-old is sucking on a pacifier, and since this is my blog, well, I won’t.

Belle’s doggie bed was originally intended to occupy space on the second floor of our home, but it ended up being more useful in our main living space. The downside to finally finishing the curtains in this room was that the bed, covered in fabric to match my bedroom, now looked kind of clashy in the family room. I found a nice, washable fabric to make a new dog bed cover at Joann. It’s the Lisette brand but I didn’t see this print on the website. It looks like an Ikat print and is a color that should both match the room and the dog–so her hair won’t show so badly! Both the person who cut my fabric and the person who checked me out asked what I was going to do with the pretty fabric. It was kind of funny to tell them it was for my dog, but she should have pretty things too. Why not?

 

A camera bag

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I have been looking for a camera bag. Standard-issue camera bags are both ugly and very expensive. There are some fantastic ones on Etsy, but those are beautiful and very expensive. I’d been considering making a camera bag but the construction of a sturdy enough bag to protect my camera in transit had me a little worried. Then yesterday I found this red vinyl case at a thrift store. It’s got the look of something that might have been a gift with makeup purchase twenty years ago but it’s in perfect condition. It is sturdy, with hard sides and strong handles, and it is just the perfect size for my little DSLR with the flash attached. It was kind of awesome in it’s own right, in a red lipstick kind of way, but wasn’t my style. I thought I could make it better if I had different colored old vinyl bags to cut up and make into flowers, but, well, I didn’t have any of those, and thrifting more bags just to cut up to decorate this one didn’t really fit my project schedule or budget so I improvised with what I had on hand–felt.

I used more of the felted wool blanket I’d used to make my Kindle case, plus other felt from my stash and some cool buttons to make flowers. I used hot glue to attach the pieces to each other and to the case. This project took less than a half an hour and I think I paid $2.50 for the case. Now this case is the kind of awesome that fits my style and I’m looking forward to using it for my camera. I’m also pretty sure that if I get tired of the decorations or want to change them that I can just peel off the glue.

I’m also going to share a review of a recent purchase from My Pix 2 Canvas. I’d purchased a Groupon (or was it Living Social?) deal for this company and finally took just the right photo to try out their services. I snapped this picture of the kids in front of my brother and sister-in-law’s barn last week and I really like it. Both kids look like themselves, the weathered barn siding looks cool, and the colors the kids are wearing just happen to work really well in my bedroom, which is where I’d envisioned hanging my bargain canvas. Uploading and ordering the canvas was easy and it arrived fast. The print quality seems very good, although I’m less than impressed with the way the extra canvas hangs off loose in the back. There is also no hook or wire to hang it with. I’m still very pleased, though, and I’d probably order from this company again. The actual image quality and color faithfulness just seems a lot better than those I’ve seen at, ahem, large warehouse club stores, for example. Their regular prices are a bit high but it appears that discount codes are easily available with a little Googling. I like the look of traditional, framed prints but this is an inexpensive nod to this current photo-display trend, so I’m sold.

Christmas t-shirts and a dresser

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This picture is what you get when you set the camera on something, focus on your children, hit the timer, then jump in yourself. Oops! I really do have a head–it just didn’t make it into this photo. Anyway, the point of this photo is the matching Santa t-shirts I made for Dorothy and me. I cut out round scraps from fabric left over from the pillow project (below), a coffee-drinking Santa for myself and a stocking-stuffing Santa for Dorothy. I ironed them onto the shirts with Wonder-Under and zigzagged around the edge in red. Also with the red thread I did decorative machine stitching around the neck and bottom hem of the shirts. I paid $2 for my like-new, name-brand cotton shirt at a thrift store and $.50 for Dorothy’s from the same place. Not bad!

Now the sad thing about making a t-shirt for Dorothy is that it was going to end up going into her closet, which is often a Horrifying Pit of Filth and Stuff, kind of like the rest of her room only worse. Housekeeping is not a talent of my five-year-old, but unfortunately hoarding does seem to be. One of the problems has been that she really hasn’t had enough drawers for folded clothing items. She has one vintage chest-of-drawers my Mom refinished before she was born, but it has very shallow drawers that won’t begin to accommodate the piles of accessories she accumulates. We were keeping skirts and pants in labeled kitty-litter buckets similar to these but as she got larger her clothing got larger too, and suddenly not very many pants would actually fit into a bucket at all, so they were mostly getting thrown in the direction of the buckets, spilling out, then mingling with doll clothes, dirty clothes, cat hair and who-knows-what-else on the floor. I got completely fed up with the situation all at once last week, drove to the nearest Goodwill, and promptly bought an old wooden dresser for $15. The drawers didn’t fit in quite right but I figured I’d see what I could do–I wasn’t making more than one stop.

The problem with the drawers ended up being that they weren’t in the right slots–easy fix! I sanded the whole piece, used leftover wall paint to make it a cheery yellow that coordinates with Dorothy’s beloved wallpaper, and sprayed the old handles white. I did need to purchase new knobs for the top because they were missing entirely, so I bought cute glass ones that look appropriately glamorous. We spent a productive afternoon organizing Dorothy’s things with the help of the roomy new drawers. She loves it and claims to be determined to stick to our new organization plan. I suspect she won’t, but at least now I can chalk her big mess up to her creative spirit instead of a system stacked against her.

As an update to an old post, we had a good thing happen in our family this week! Rob, who had been on crutches since he ruptured his Achilles tendon in September, is finally able to hobble around on his boot but without the crutches. He missed being able to drag the dresser downstairs to my work space and then upstairs to our daughter’s second-floor bedroom, but by the next time I drag home used furniture he should be much more useful!

A felt cover for my Kindle

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I’m not very gadget-oriented but I did feel like it would be handy to check e-mail away from home, especially in a few key places where I already get reliable wireless service so when I heard about the new Kindle Fire I jumped. I’m lucky to be able to text on my poor old phone so this is a big jump into the portable technology ether for me. In anticipation of receiving my new toy I decided to make it a cute sleeve. I’d purchased a very pretty wool crocheted blanket at a thrift store last year but hadn’t done anything with it yet. The blanket was probably at the thrift store because someone had partially felted it, likely by machine washing it. I went ahead and felted it the rest of the way, making one big, colorful and unique piece of scalloped-edge wool felt. The felt is too thick to machine sew but I thought it would make an awesome protective cover so I created a binding with some thrifted sheets and a decorative machine stitch in contrasting (red) thread.

I hand-stitched the binding along the top edge and up the sides of a long piece cut from the felt, then made a really simple closure from a vintage button and some ribbon sewn to the scallops on the flap. When my new Kindle arrived I was so happy both to use it and my new cute sleeve! I love the mix of the old and the new; the scratchy boiled wool and the sleek new screen. I’m absolutely certain that this new device is going to make me better organized. There will be no more forgetting of canned goods for the Girl Scouts drive or missed volunteer appointments. For sure not. Because the whole problem was my lack of a new gadget, right?

While I’m dreaming let me tell you about pear ginger jam, because this is the stuff dreams are made of. I have made this every fall since the recipe came out in Vegetarian Times. (Disclaimer: I’m not veg but like the magazine.) I never hesitate buying huge quantities of good pears when they are available in the fall because letting them go overripe is practically a mandate for me to make this recipe. The first time or two I made it I processed the jars as directed, but after that I realized we eat the whole batch in a couple of weeks so there is no need to bother prepping it for pantry storage. I ladle it into clean jars and then keep it in the refrigerator until we eat it up. This year we finished it particularly quickly because my daughter has been volunteering to make her own sandwiches–apparently just so she can stand alone at the counter with a spoon and this jam. And I have to admit, she is basically living out my dream. Although my very favorite way to eat this jam is on homemade pumpkin bread over top of a schmear of cream cheese, and it’s also terrifically good in a sandwich with almond butter. In the photo it is prepared the way my daughter likes it best (next to the spoon), which is on freshly-baked white bread with cream cheese. Jam seems like such a big project but it isn’t really. I started peeling the pears for this at 5:30 on a day I had to be across town at 6:30 and I was on time. So worth the messy kitchen I came home to that night.

 

The dining room

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Except for my continued procrastination on painting the baseboard, the dining room is pretty much done.  Here’s the before (after we moved in, before stripping wallpaper)…

and after.  I posted an in-progress picture back in January when we were picking paint.  We didn’t end up using that exact shade, but went with one that didn’t have as much turquoise.  It’s Glidden’s Pool Party, and it’s a little brighter in the daylight.  It’s so happy!  The old thrift store tablecloths made easy and bright drapes, and I really love the way the fun prints on the chair seats turned out.  Rob and his Dad hung a light fixture here that we removed from another room; it was way too dark in there before.  The biggest pain in this project was puttying over a crack in the ceiling and some cracks that had formed between the upper molding and the ceiling, but of course those tasks also made a very big difference in the look of the outcome.  I’m gearing up to tackle the living room next but I think I may have to switch gears first and clean the basement, which is turning out to be a bit wetter than we’d though.  (Since we, um, didn’t think it was supposed to be wet at all.  Oy.)