Before and after: shower curtain

before after shower curtains wordsThis isn’t a tutorial because my sewing skills are actually pretty rudimentary, so no one would profit from me passing on the details of how I made this thing. But hey – I made this thing!

The old shower curtain.

The old shower curtain.

I have had an eye out for a new shower curtain for quite some time because the old one (which was a wedding present to us 7 years ago) was faded and stained. As with many consumer goods, the ones in my price range were gaudy and hideous and the simple, attractive ones were laughably expensive. So I wasn’t having much luck. But I had a little birthday money left over last week when I went to the thrift store and among the other scores that day I found a like-new queen size sheet orphaned from its set (no matching fitted sheet or pillowcases in sight) with thin, bold stripes in just the grassy shade of green I was looking for – not mossy, not chartreuse. Finally.

The new shower curtain.

The new shower curtain.

I trimmed and hemmed it down to the size of the old curtain and inexpertly smooshed some grommets in place for the rings and the result looks pretty good! The little areas of perpendicular stripes on the top outer corners are double-thickness patches I added for Matt to use as handles. Other than the inevitable sun-fading, the biggest trouble I had with the old curtain was that Matt’s grubby logger fingers left indelible smudges at those two corners that no amount of pre-treating or color-safe bleach could expunge. If he can keep his filthy hands off the rest of the curtain I can pretty easily remove and replace the patches, hopefully giving this curtain as long a life as the last one enjoyed – but with a more graceful decline.

— Amanda

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Before and after: bedroom window

I despise mini blinds. I hate everything about them: how they look, how they sound, how they operate, how they totally don’t block any light at all, how frequently they break, how hard they are to clean, how they gouge the inside of the window frame when they’re improperly sized or installed, how cats destroy them for fun.

And, of course, we had them on every window when we moved in.

When I removed the mini blinds in the bedroom window Matt forged a lovely (and rather unique) steel drapery rod for me to put proper curtains on. The rod is very cool, but my first attempt at making curtains was not. I accidentally reversed the width and length measurements because I was so focused on getting the “keyhole” right. (The horizontal rod sort of hangs off of two L-brackets on the wall, which creates a bit of bulk at the corners. A deep rod pocket would have accommodated this just fine but I insisted on making this cutout bit so that the join is visible.) The curtains looked OK but weren’t full enough horizontally so they juuuuuust barely met in the middle. With nothing behind them this meant that every time we walked by the window the curtains flapped open and the neighbors could see us traipsing about in the altogether.

Because we are both natural-born hicks (I am a redneck and Matt is a tarheel) we solved the problem not by buying proper curtains or hanging a shade but by throwing a quilt over the window and holding it up with giant plastic tarp clips and almost never opening the drapes ever again.

The plaid flannel curtains that barely met in the middle.

The plaid flannel curtains that barely met in the middle.

BEFORE: The quilted cover-up.

Before: The quilted cover-up.

Charming.

The window has stayed like that for years now because I couldn’t for the life of me find ready-made drapes or fabric to make my own from that was both A) complimentary to the groovy paint by number landscapes over the bed and, B) not heinously expensive.

I found myself at Fred Meyer a few days ago and I wandered down the window dressing aisle (just to look, I swear) and discovered that just about everything was half off. I snatched up a roller shade, which I had been meaning to get for aaaaages, and then noticed these antique gold faux silk panels. My first thought was, “Ew. Gold? Gold drapes are for hotel rooms with down comforters and dark Berber carpeting and gas flame fireplaces. Not something I can pull off in a double-wide.” But my next thought was, “Hey . . . the frames on those paint by numbers are fakey antique gold, too . . . maybe next to the paint by numbers the gold will look pleasantly tacky instead of ostentatious. Mid-century kitsch! I can’t make a Craftsman cottage out of my mobile home, but I could certainly pull off the ranch house look.”

At 50% off, the package of two panels was about $20. Good luck finding a decent home decor fabric in the remnant section of Jo-Ann for less than $15 –a yard. (And I would have needed 4-6 yards depending on width.) So they came home with me and got shortened (and keyholed) this morning. The gold is going to take some getting used to, yeah, but I was right about the paint by numbers. When you look at the drapes and the paintings together you want to snicker instead of pull a face.

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After: Gold curtains and white roller shade.

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After: Gold curtains, closed.

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And, for reference, by beloved mid-century paint by number paintings, off-kilter, as always.

My aesthetic may not inspire awe but I’ll settle for bemusement. I think, though, that if a staff writer from Better Homes and Gardens circa 1953 was magically transported to my bedroom she would approve. (After she got over the shock of me going to the grocery store in jeans and a t-shirt.)

—Amanda

P.S. After removing mini blinds, but before hurling them, javelin-like, into the bin at the dump, snip the blinds themselves into 6-12″ sections. They make excellent garden markers!

Before and after: goodbye hi-fi clutter and hello new bed

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Before: At the bottom of the frame you can see the stack of shit on top of the hi-fi, which, because it had a stack of shit on top of it (including another record player) we never used. The hi-fi goes to its new home on Thursday, where it will hopefully get more use.

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After: This bookshelf replaces both the hi-fi and the knee-high filing cabinet that was clogging up the entrance to the dining room. All the shit from the top of the hi-fi, as well as the smaller record player, go on the open shelves and the files from the filing cabinet are behind the cabinet doors. There’s even (finally) a place for Matt’s lunch box and my stack of library books (other than the dining room table). Also, it protrudes only about half as much as the hi-fi, giving us a eensy (but valuable) bit more floor space.

Remember way back when I finally finished the green wall and I promised that I would deal with the hi-fi (and the years of clutter on top of it) really soon? Well, that was December 2013. I finally got around to it yesterday.

This month we had one of only two “free” paychecks this year– a check out of which no bills at all needed to be paid. I’m hoping to sock some of it away in savings but we agreed ahead of time to make at least one major purchase with it: a bed. We have a decent mattress and box spring which are only a year or two old, topped by a nice featherbed. But the frame we have been using is one of those angle-iron and industrial caster nightmares with no support underneath at all, so our carefully selected mattress and box spring visibly sagged in the center– even when neither of us fatasses was on the bed. I shopped around and found a bed we both instantly liked the looks of, and which went along with the general style and color of our dressers (square, leaning toward Mission style, and stained very dark). I was extremely pleased, when constructing it, to find that there were five sturdy slats underneath – which screwed into place so that they can’t wiggle loose – the middle three of which have extra legs in the middle for even more support. It feels like a whole new bed. Like a bed at a fancy hotel.

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Before: We may as well have had the mattress on the floor. At least then it would have been flat! This picture is from 2006, the year we moved in. We had gotten as far as painting over the one wall that was 97% Kelly green, but not as far as painting it blue.

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After: What a difference! Paint! Artwork! A snazzy bedframe! The bed’s made, even! The nightstands still don’t match anything and the bedspread and curtains are still at odds, but nothing actually clashes. It’s actually pretty restful in there these days. (If you ignore the avalanche of magazines and socks pouring out of Matt’s nightstand, that is.)

Every day it looks just a little less like a frathouse in here.

— Amanda

Make a $40 wreath for $5

I have lamented the high price of fake flower wreaths in a previous post. I like having a seasonal accent on the front of the house, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay as much for it as I would for a date night dinner at the local Greek-Italian pasta house. If have fifty bucks to spare you can bet I’m opting for dim lighting, all-you-can-eat garlic bread, and a trough of Alfredo over a sprig of plastic cheer.

But today was my lucky day. I was in the neighborhood so I dropped in at Jo-Ann to see if they had anything that wasn’t laughable in the clearance bin. Fall stuff is moving in (and at Jo-Ann fall means Halloween, which takes over half the store) so spring and summer stuff is getting shunted off to the land of cut-throat price reduction. In and amongst the fluorescent peonies, washed-out miniature daffodils, and psychedelic gerbera daisies I chanced upon thee bunches of really good looking red geraniums. Score! I have a big basket of real red geraniums hanging from the eave, so this was fitting. Also, they were marked down from $5.99 a bunch to $1.49 a bunch. Even better.

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To make the bunches into a wreath my first move was to cut them apart into their various parts. I snipped the bunches just above the point at which all the stems were fused into one ugly plastic knob.

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Here’s all bits that went into one bunch. These were nice, full, bushy bunches, which made them ideal for my project.

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After they were all taken apart I wired the bits back together like a garland by wrapping around the stems with fine gauge wire.

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And then joined the ends of the garland by overlapping them and wrapping a whole lot more. Since all my stems were also wired I didn’t need any additional reinforcement (like a grapevine wreath or a circle of thicker gauge wire).

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Ta da! (Or should I say DING!) I now have four wreaths, one for each season, which by my own twisted logic makes me an adult.

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As always, please ignore the bird poop. I just washed it off over the weekend and couldn’t be bothered to do it again for the photo.

The end result is virtually indistinguishable from the geranium wreath Jo-Ann was selling in April for $39.99. Except that mine actually has more flowers. (Neener neener ha ha.)

— Amanda

Out with the old (desk) and in with the new (desk)

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Before: The old oak monstrosity.

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After: The new, slimmer desk.

I’ve had a new desk for months now. I got it on clearance for half off. But I haven’t been able to use it until today because the old desk –a solid wood behemoth with a cast-iron typewriter inside – was taking up the space. Had it been the kind of furniture (like the new desk) that breaks down, I would have taken it apart and whisked it off to the thrift store the day the new desk came home. However, having approximately the same dimensions as a bunk bed, and weighing approximately as much as a loaded chest freezer, I was unable to move it alone or to shove it into the back of the Volvo. We had been waiting for a nice day to heave it into the back of one of Matt’s trucks but: a) nice days are days on which Matt needs to be putting in long hours on his logging jobs, and b) what nice days? This is spring in the northwest – all it does it rain.

So yesterday, downpour be damned, Matt had finally had it with listening to me bitch about the old desk (and how much room it took up and all the bad memories associated with it) and with working around the still-boxed new desk (which, even in flat-pack form was about the same dimensions as the couch) so he backed Bruce into the driveway and dumped the old desk (end over end) into the bed.

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Neighbor Lee (in hooded Carhartt jacket) supervises Matt as he prepares to tie down the old desk – handcart and all – in the back of the truck known as Bruce.

Somebody who has the room, the inclination to repair the water damaged veneer, and who likes old typewriters, is going to love that beast. I, however, love my new, slimmer desk. It’s just as wide as the old one but half as deep, which is perfect because we get some more walking space back in the living room and we used less than half the drawer space in the old desk. You can see in the top photos that the old desk protruded so far that it prevented us from getting around the end of the couch to reach the corner shelf. You can still see the dents in the carpet from the old desk’s feet.

– Amanda

P.S. I know that ready-to-assemble furniture has a bad reputation with some folks but I have never had a problem with it. When the dorks at the store build a display model they use about half of the recommended fasteners, which is why you may have the impression that this kind of furniture is rickety. No piece I have ever built has ever failed – nor do any of them squeak, rattle, pinch, list, or otherwise suck. Real wood furniture is nice, of course (There’s not much I wouldn’t do for a whole mortise and tenon crafstman living room set, made of 100% real teak and 0% glue or screws!), but real wood is prohibitively heavy and until I win the lottery it won’t be in my budget. Extra bonus: for some sick reason I love assembling this stuff.

Spring has sprung

“But wait,” you say. “The equinox isn’t until the 20th.”

“I know,” I reply. “But I have incontrovertible evidence.”

“Like what? Crocuses? Daylight Saving Time?”

“My spring wreath is up. Therefore it is spring. Your argument is invalid.”

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— Amanda

P.S. (“Whatever,” you reply, rolling your eyes.)

A bright idea

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Before.

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After.

I have had this vase just about as long as I can remember. Maybe one of my parents remembers me buying it. I think it was allowance money spent at Pier One? Maybe one of those oddball catalogs full of dragon sculptures and hippy clothes and crystals and wall-hangings that I used to pore over.

At any rate, this thing is responsible for my lifelong obsession with the ocher yellow color I painted my living room. Good news: the color was a perfect match. Bad news: the color was a perfect match and now this lamp blends into the wall like it’s wearing camouflage.

I decided that the easy answer (given the unconscionable price of new lamps) was to move the yellow lamp into our blue bedroom and switch it with the black candlestick lamp on my nightstand. The only problem: while this lamp lights up just fine, my middle-school attempt to convert it from bouquet-holder to torch-bearer was falling apart and the whole works had gone wonky. I had drilled a hole in the vase (and even found a little plastic dingus to stuff in there to keep the cord from getting cut by the jagged potmetal of the vase body) and threaded the cord through a metal tube that acted as the neck of the lamp. To keep everything in place I filled the body with expanding construction foam. A strange choice, perhaps, but it worked dandy for more than ten years. However, after half a dozen moves and lot of abuse the expanding foam had come loose and been smooshed down so the “neck tube” rattled about and sat sideways. Also the shade had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

After a little internet research to see how the pros make vases into lamps I ran around to a few hardware stores. The solution this time was a little more sophisticated than expanding foam: I was going to use tension to hold everything in place. A threaded rod passed through the neck of the vase with a bracket on the bottom end, inside the vase, snuggled up against the vase’s shoulders. On the top side I planned to use a decorative curtain rod end as a poor man’s vase cap (since I didn’t want to order a single $3.00 part online and they didn’t carry this part in the local hardware stores). On top of that a simple hex nut was going to create tension: when I tightened the nut the whole works should come together since the twisting action would bring the nut down on the vase cap and the bracket inside the vase up towards the mouth.

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Most of my materials.

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I began to question my slippery grasp of physics after an hour of tightening, dismantling, reassembling, and tightening again. The damn thing just wouldn’t tighten! No matter how many turns I gave the nut it just kept working down the rod until it got stuck. But everything was still loose inside the vase. It took me that whole hour to realize that the problem was not in my design: it was one of my parts. The curtain rod end had a shank on it and that shank protruded down into the very shallow neck of the vase and was hitting the bracket. So when I got the nut tight the contraption was still loose because the length of the vase cap shank was preventing the bracket from reaching the shoulders of the vase.

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After that epiphany I tossed the vase cap and grabbed the first round piece of metal I found: a canning jar lid. It fit perfectly on the mouth of the vase. I drilled a hole in it, threaded all my bits and pieces back on the wire (for what felt like the dozenth time) and tightened down the nut. Aha! Just to be sure, I shook the snot out of it. It didn’t budge.

I added some new shades and voilà!

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The living room lamp now lives on my nightstand.

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And my nightstand lamp now lives in the living room.

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And here’s the mess I made. Yes, the fruit snacks were an essential tool in completing this project.

— Amanda