Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yeah, um, so we, like, bought a house

I guess it's official, I am a grownup: we bought a house. I still don't have a job, which is weird, but I've had a few nibbles lately so hopefully that will work itself out soon, too.

It took us three years of on-again off-again looking to find something good. We live in a very crowded city with insanely expensive house prices. I wasn't all that excited about most of the houses we looked at anyway. This city is FULL of Victorians and I'm more of a mid/mod kind of girl. Mostly, I just wanted to get out of the fog and into a neighborhood with a little sun. The "good" non-foggy neighborhoods just didn't have anything for us.

We looked at SO many really, truly, sad homes. It seemed like everything in our price range was in extreme disrepair. We'd have to live in one room for months while we brought the rest of the place up to some kind of minimal live-ability. Imagine a tiny, un-maintained, turn-of-the-century house with 20 tenants, false walls everywhere, shanties in the backyard, and people living in the kitchen. Sad. That's pretty much everything we looked at for a long, long time.

It became clear that we'd have to re-assess our plan. Our agent had been suggesting that we look in one of the the less "good" sunny neighborhoods and finally we agreed. Am I glad we did! We found lots of cute mid-century houses at good prices, direct sunlight, and no visible crack-heads or prostitutes. Even at night! Much better than the so called "good" 'hoods we had been concentrating on!

We found a two-story 1956 beauty with a big deck and amazing views that was in move-in-able condition, affordable, and had no tenants. It is on a quiet low-traffic street too! The whole process took a really long time because we were the second people to put in a bid, and our bid was lower. Our patience totally paid off. The first bidder couldn't get his financing together and it was OURS!!

The house is on a little winding road on the top of a hill. The whole street was developed at the same time so the houses are all from late 1950s. We were extremely fortunate in that our new home is pretty much unmolested by updates, except for a really hideous 1980s kitchen remodel, some poor lighting and fixture choices from the same era, and the ugliest pink/white tile flooring imaginable covering the entire downstairs.

Unfortunately, this home was ignored by the landlord for about ten years. The owner lived out of the country and the tenants, well, it appears they had an indoor farm in the garage and upstairs bedroom. Nearly every surface was painted a dark grayish beige. It looks white in the photos below but, trust me, it's not. It was also scandalously dirty and smelled like wet dog but it's still a zillion times nicer than anything else we looked at. I LOVE THIS HOUSE!

The snaps below were taken by the realty company, so they're not the best, but I think you get the idea. We are going to work very hard at getting the 80s out and the 50s back in, as much as possible.

The Deck and the Tiki Spa Hut (Yep. Cold city + hot tub = happy me!)

Guest Bathroom
The Most Hideous 80s Kitchen

Master Bathroom
Living/Dining Room

Rather than start a whole new blog for home renovation I'll prolly post stuff here. Instead of chronicling each little change in the new house, It'll probably be just before/after pictures from time to time. We have been repainting like crazy so you might see some snaps relatively soon.

The sewing will slow down for a bit while I get my sewing room set up again. This blog is supposed to be about sewing so hopefully we will get back to that relatively soon. I'm itching to start a new project and it will be fun trying out new places to do photographs.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yellow Peasant Blouse

There was just enough yellow broadcloth left from Simplicity 1954 to make a blouse from Advance 3790. I didn't want to go too crazy with the ruffles and I am not a fan of long sleeves so I made View 2 with the sleeves from View 1.

This pattern is only three pieces but it is a little labor intensive with all that gathering. They included a guide piece for the front gathers that you were supposed to stitch on to your fabric and then rip off. (Gasp!! RIP OFF the TISSUE?? I think not.) I photocopied the pattern piece first and then cut it out again on some leftover tissue wrapping paper. It was a really easy way to make sure the gathers came out just right. (Without destroying the original pattern piece.)
The instructions from the sleeve were worse than useless (basically: gather and attach sleeve) and I had a heck of a time figuring out how to center the gathers on the lower part of the sleeve. Eventually I used the same method as the neck gathers. I cut a piece of tissue the circumference of my arm and pinned the sleeve to it.
Then I stitched over it and ripped off the tissue. Perfect!

The sleeves and neck were trimmed with self-made bias tape. It seems like everyone makes bias binding themselves and its no big deal but to me its a great BIG deal! I am SO proud of this new-found skill and I have to say, my bias tape looks amazing. I use the "pull it through a pin" method which I think I talked about before but this time I discovered something that made it even easier: spray starch!

If you spray a bit of starch on the cut strip, it will begin to curl itself up before you even pull it through the pin. This one little step makes it so much easier to be sure that you are folding it in the center of the strip and your creases come out extra crisp. The only downside is that your ironing board gets a bit sticky. Next time I'll do it over a pressing cloth.

Applying the binding was easy although I struggled with the bows for a bit. After searching the interwebs for help, I found this article on how to tie a perfect bow. And that was it: Blouse complete!

I really like the way this blouse came out. I think if I was to make it again I'd do the sleeve a bit differently. The lower part of the sleeve fits around my arm just fine, unless I try to do something crazy like reach forward or lift my arm up. The sleeve hole would gape if it was any larger so next time I would consider gathering and finishing the sleeve end with lingerie elastic or elastic lace, instead of bias tape. It would still be cute, and much more comfortable.

Playing with different ways to style the finished blouse was fun. I discovered that it didn't really want to be tucked in. Despite tucking it into my slip and adding a belt, it kept trying to climb out of the top of my skirt, especially in back.It looks cute just belted, instead of tucked.
Its at its absolute best with jeans, though, as a casual top.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lip Curlers

I found these totally awesome lip hair curlers while I was out thrifting.

They work basically the same way as rag curlers except there is a wire inside that you bend (instead of tying a knot). There is a small opening in the center of each curler that you slip your hair through. Then you just roll it up as usual and twist the ends. Pretty neat. AND there's the extra added bonus of looking like Heat Miser when you are done rolling.

The packaging says that they are extra soft so you can sleep in them. While not the most comfortable things to sleep in, I find them more comfy than foam curlers. The set is less frizzy than foam roller curls too.

Unfortunately, two of the ten curlers are missing. Its a bit hard to separate my hair into eight rollers and still get as much curl as I usually like. Not sure why, but I seem to have better results when I use these with a center part rather than a side part.

I've set my hair with these a couple of times with varying results and, of course, I don't have any pictures of a good set. The set below came out a little puffy and un-curly. I think its because I used too much product. I went a little crazy with the curly mousse and water and this is what I got. The sets with less product yielded defined smooth curls that lasted about two days.

...and here's some more Heat Miser for your viewing pleasure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Home Decor VI - Duvet Cover

Need a new duvet cover? Hate all the colors/patterns you've seen in the store? Maybe you just don't have the money to buy a new one, as they can be pretty expensive.

Here's an easy fix.

1. Buy two flat sheets one size smaller than your mattress size. Ikea or Target should have good quality, inexpensive sheets. Thrift stores can also be a good source, but for this kind of project I like something new and crisp.

I know it sounds odd to recommend buying the sheets one size smaller than the mattress, but I've done this a few times, and I always buy smaller sheets . Flat sheets are usually quite a bit wider than your mattress so if you buy one size smaller, the cover should end up being the same size as your down comforter. You don't want the comforter to be floating around inside a giant cover. It will flip, and fold, and bunch up inside, leaving you with cold spots.

2. Lay out the sheets right sides together. Pin the long ends together. Stitch all the way along each long edge, just inside the sheet hem. This will give you nice finished seams inside.

3. On the short end with the wide hem, pin the right sides together and stitch all the way across. (Again, just inside the sheet hem.) This is the top end of your cover.

3. At short end with the narrow hem, pin the right sides together along one third of the end and sew one third of the way across. Then repeat on the other side. You should end up with an open space in the center of the end that is one third the width of the sheet. This is the bottom end of your cover.

5. Now you should have a big envelope with an small opening at one end. Trim the inside corners and turn it right side out. Taa-daah! Instant duvet cover! Shove your comforter inside the opening and take a nap!

If you like, you can add buttons along the opening. I've found that with a one-third width opening they aren't really necessary. If you decide you want buttons you can make the opening much wider.

If you are feeling particularly crafty, you can use the embroidery stitch on your machine to decorate the sheets. You could also sew on appliques, or make a design with fabric paint or silkscreen. Its best to apply the decorations before you stitch the cover together.

I suck at using the embroidery stitches on my machine, and I'm not sure that putty was the best choice of colors for the cover as it kind of blends in with the walls. Even so, I think this project came out just fine.

Here is my decoration...

...and here is the cover all filled up and ready for snuggling under.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

$3 Top = $70 Repair (Almost)

Broke my machine refashioning a knit tank top.

I found a bunch of these tank tops in the sleepwear section of Forever 21 and broke my "oh my god, seriously, STOP buying stuff until you have a job" rule. I bought three of them. Its not my fault! They were calling to me and they were only $3!!

They were nice and slim in the body but the hem ended at my crotch. (Is it me or is every RTW top in the world ridiculously long right now?) When tucked in they were bunchy. When left out they accentuated my gut in a very bad way. They really needed to be shortened. Starting with the red one, I cut off about six inches and moved the lace band up. I used the straight/zig-zag/straight "fake serge" method I learned from Casey in her sweater tutorial. The top worked out fine and then I had to go all crazy and try and make the leftover fabric into a headband.

It was the last seam. It was super hot in the sewing room. I was getting impatient. I wasn't paying attention. I was going too fast. My pins weren't in perfectly straight... I made this.

Yep. A crooked pin got shoved into the needle space in the foot plate. The needle slammed into the pin, bent it in half and then slammed into the pin-head, stopping the machine cold. It made a really loud noise and I practically jumped out of my chair.

The needle was embedded in the head of the pin, and the pin was shoved down into the space inside the bobbin carrier. I managed to get the pin out and the sewing needle wasn't even bent but, boy howdy, the bobbin carrier sure was. When I rotated the wheel, the carrier spun drunkenly and the needle smacked into the edge rather than going through the hole to pick up the bobbin thread. NOT A GOOD DAY in the sewing room.

I took a deep breath, tried not to cry, and told my husband that I'd just created a ginormous repair that I couldn't afford. Then I wandered off to watch TV and calm down.

About half an hour later, the hubs popped in to tell me that he'd fixed my machine. FIXED IT! I love him. Readers, if you aren't mechanical yourself, its never a bad idea to have a SigO (or a best friend, or at least a housemate) who is. Especially if you're impetuous, impatient, and have a tendency to break things.

I must try to remember to slow down and pay attention. At least the finished top and headband came out super cute! Tra la la...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Swirl-tastic Yellow Pinnafore

This pattern was listed on EBay as "40s maternity dress". No one bid on it, except for me, so I got it for a song. I was so thrilled to have won it as it reminds me of the Swirl dresses that everyone is so crazy about.

My original plan was to make View 1 with the red/white/blue rayon my aunt sent me a while back. The rayon is intimidating because its a LOT wigglier than what I'm used to working with. Rather than plunge right in with the rayon, I decided to make a test version in cotton, a fabric I'm a lot more comfortable with. The stash yielded a sunny yellow broadcloth that would be just right.

With so many pieces, I was sure this pattern would be a bust but it actually went together well. There were a few new techniques in this dress that I hadn't tried yet, so I learned a lot. Here are the new things I learned:

Underlining - I thought I knew what to do so I just cut out each panel twice (once in the main fabric once in the lining) and stitched them together before assembling the pieces. After the dress was finished I Googled this technique and discovered that I should have turned the panels inside out before assembly. If I had, I'd have ended up with perfect finished seams on the inside. Oh well. I'm still happy with the way it worked out.

Ruffles - It turns out that sleeve ruffles like these aren't difficult, you just have to gather a LOT of fabric. Instead of gathering by hand, which is what I usually do, I used the zig-zag technique. It was SO much easier! Basically, you sew a wide zig-zag stitch over a piece of string (see below) being careful not to catch the string in your stitches. Then you just pin your pieces together, at the ends and center, and pull the free ends of the center string. The gathers magically appear and are ready to be pinned down and stitched.

Seam Binding (around the arm holes) - I'd never made my own seam binding before but it ended up being pretty easy. I cut out my strips and then made a guide on my ironing board using two pins. All I had to do was pull the strips through the guide and press the folded fabric flat. Then I folded the strips in half and pressed again to make it double-fold.

Aside from the challenge of learning new techniques, this dress went together really well. The only major issue was that, for some reason, the neck facing was an inch too short in the back. Weird, but an easy fix. I simply patched the center with a bit of scrap.

I normally detest making muslins or doing test runs of patterns but this was a big success! And cheap!! I purchased nothing new except for an extra spool of thread, which I didn't actually end up using. The rick-rack was left over from the belt I made for McCalls 5490. The trim (ruffle/pocket/ties/binding) was left over from Simplicity 1657. The main body (yellow broadcloth) was purchased, but not used, as lining for Simplicity 1657. The underling is a floaty white muslin (voile?) that I'd originally bought to line the living room curtains.

I just adore the Swirl-tastic style of this little housedress. The back is a little poofier than I'd like, but I think I just need to come to terms with the size of my caboose. This test run went so well that I think I am actually brave enough to try making this dress up in rayon.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Home Decor V - Curtains (or A Clown Car Explodes in My Living Room and I Get Over My Fear of Button Holes)

Our living room has five giant beautiful windows set in a curve. I love them. I love how much light they let in. However, I don't love that everything in my living room is fading because there is no way to block out that light. Also, watching TV or a movie during the day is pretty much impossible.

We need window coverings. If we owned this house, I would have scrounged together, and then forked over, zillions of dollars to have some really lovely long 40s/50s style tropical print curtains made. But - its a rental and we are not rich so I decided to cheap out and make something easy and inexpensive.

I let the Hubs pick out the fabric and its, well, a bit kooky to say the least. The fabric pattern is bright, the red flowers pick up the red of our area rug nicely, and its also totally clowny-circus. Marriage is about compromise: I can live with the loud fabric if he can live with my total half ass window covering design.

I started out by cutting panels that would fit perfectly inside each window with a little left at the top and bottom for hems. I used the rolled hem foot along the edges and made a 1" hem at the top and bottom. I left the edges of the top/bottom hem open. I slid a tension bar through each top hem and inserted the bar into the window frame.

At this point I realized that the fabric was way too heavy to use a simple tie back in the center. The canvas was very stiff and looked bunchy and weird when held back with a tie. I considered making the panels into roman shades, but all of the sites I checked online listed the roman shade hardware as about $30 per window. Yikes! I had to come up with something else.

There were just two long strips of the curtain fabric left so I had to get creative. My solution is totally weird, but it works. I folded each strip down the center and made a seam so that when unfolded the strips would be about 1" wide. Cutting the strips into equal lengths (and two strips per window) gave me ten 12" long pieces.

I stitched the open end of the strip on the shade at the top seam with the right sides together and then pressed them down. Buttons were sewn on so that when in the top button hole, the shades would completely overlap. I inserted dowel rods into the bottom hem to give the shades a bit more weight so they would hang straight down. I will need to sew some rod pockets on the back of each curtain and insert another dowel behind the buttons so that the folded panels don't wilt when they are buttoned up.

Let me tell you, after doing 40 button holes for these shades, I'm a lot less afraid of making button holes with my machine. I finally figured out how to use the button foot and it is the only thing that made it possible to make all those holes. Some are good and some are awful, but they are ALL so much better than the freehand button holes I've made in the past.

Button holes I no longer fear you! I can now make a shirtwaist dress, or anything from the pre-zipper era without trying to figure out how to fudge all those buttons. Hooray!

Its not the best solution ever, but at $5 dollars a panel its certainly was inexpensive and I think it looks okay. If ever we are visited by a circus clowns, they will surely feel right at home.