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

Restyle: relining a coat

This is among the best of all my thrift store scores. I took this awful beast:

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Oh my gawd!

And transformed it into this sweet thing:

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Outside . . .

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. . . inside!

I followed the wonderfully simple instructions on CraftStylish, which I found on Pinterest.

Problem numero uno wasn’t even the shredded, tissue paper-like lining. It was the smell. Most items that come from the thrift store smell like Gain laundry detergent, and continue to do so for a wash or two. No biggie since the smell is not offensive and I am not allergic to artificial fragrances. This thing, though – P.U.! From a distance it wasn’t bad at all. It smelled like perfume, but it smelled like a nice perfume. Something my aunt Toni used to wear, in fact. But when I got it into an enclosed space (my car) I realized just how strong the smell was. It wasn’t like someone had a heavy hand with the atomizer. It was like someone had emptied an entire bottle of perfume into the bathtub and then rolled in it like a dog.

I tried everything. I started small: I washed it normally and hung it to dry. No change. I washed it with heavy duty scented detergent. No change. I doused it with a vodka and water mixture recommended by theater actors. No change. I soaked it in, and then washed it in, baking soda and water and rinsed with vinegar and water. No change. I hung it outside for a week. No change. After three more soak-and-washes with regular detergent and another time-out on the laundry line it was down to a manageable level.

But in the processed it had pilled like a poodle.

My sweater shaver, one of those cheap models from the fabric store, gave up after about half a sleeve. I threw it out and ordered a Sweater Stone. Let me say this about the vaunted Sweater Stone: 1) It works. It works well. 2) It smells like sulfur. 3) It makes an incredible mess.

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Before Sweater Stone.

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After Sweater Stone.

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The Sweater Stone and the mess it creates. (This after just a few strokes.) Also shown is one of my favorite clothing care tools: a rubber lint brush that removes any loose stuff, like shaved pills or sawdust or pet hair, and rinses clean.

At that point I could finally start the lining replacement procedure. I removed the existing lining, ironed it flat, and taped up the zillions of tears. Someone had already replaced the sleeves with some sturdy brown ripstop nylon so I left those alone and just whipstitched them to the new body lining. I used the old lining as a pattern for the new lining, which I cut out of metallic gold synthetic brocade. Installing the lining was much easier than I anticipated. Even getting all that wool and slippery brocade through the sewing machine wasn’t too hard. Hemming the lining was a bitch for some reason, but I got it to work well enough in the end and I even learned how to do French tacks.

Now I just need to replace the buttons. (It’s missing one and they’re kind of ugly and dated. Also, I just like replacing buttons.)

This project was a definite success: my five dollar thrift store score now looks like a several hundred dollar off-the-rack coat and I gained some serious sewing confidence. I look forward to repeating this experiment with other coats and jackets – maybe even some of the unlined ones in my existing wardrobe!

Another great tutorial on lining coats, this one bag-style, can be found on GrainlineStudio.

— Amanda

DIY log tote (free!)

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Crap. I didn’t realize I was wearing living room camouflage. Only in my house could you be invisible when wearing mustard yellow.

Google log totes. I dare you. Don’t take a sip of that coffee, though – you might do a spit take. Expensive, no?

Well, ours wasn’t. Matt whipped it up a few years ago from a pair of jeans in the rag pile. He sliced off one half of a leg (the front or back, I forget which) right at the seams (which is why it hasn’t frayed into oblivion) and whacked it off under the pockets. He detached the waistband and cut it in half legnthwise and attached it to the ends of the leg piece (see below) as handles. He sewed the snot out of it on my sewing machine, making good use of the reverse button.

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What matters is that the table will be clear in time for dinner, right? Failing that, I say we eat on the couch.

If you don’t have a machine or the inclination to hand sew you could punch a hole in the leg, feed the handle through and knot it.

— Amanda

DIY denim draft dodger

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Ugh. What a dismal picture. The hallway needs repainting pretty badly and the carpet needs cleaning again. The divots in the floor are from Matt’s weights, which don’t fit anywhere else in the house.

The door to the back room stays shut year round because it doubles as a pantry: it’s where I keep our garlic and potatoes and onions, as well as overstock foods in cans (like coffee, cooking oil, canned goods). It’s dry, but it needs to stay cool, too.

To help with that I decided to make a draft stopper. There’s a lot of different names for these things when I ran across a few sites that called them draft dodgers I couldn’t resist.

I followed the simple tutorial on The Little House in the City to make my draft dodger. My tube was not as wide as hers because I was putting mine at the bottom of a narrow door, so I had a little rice left over. (About that: I didn’t really want to waste food on this project but the price of beanbag filling was prohibitive and long grain white rice was only $0.53/pound in the bulk department at WinCo.) Getting the rice in there got interesting. It involved a death grip, a canning funnel, and some quick work. I spilled a little, but just a few grains – nowhere near the catastrophe I was anticipating. (I should have waited until Matt got home to take pictures of my contortions to fill the tube and then machine sew the end shut.)

While I was at it I threw a knee patch on my work jeans.

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Before.

During.

During.

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Part of my old sewing machine detaches from the sewing arm to make it narrower. Good for working on sleeves and legs.

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After.

— Amanda

A simple curtain for the bathroom

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Wow, that looks so bland. One of these days I’m going to paint the walls a nice pearl gray in there.

The curtain itself is just unlined white muslin with a line of polyester ribbon 3 inches from the bottom hem. I relined the casing before I hung the new curtain rod (our window casings are framed in laminated MDF) but I still need to trim the molding to do away with the reveal.

But hey – check out the awesome planter I scored on a recent antique store crawl!

(BTW: the window is frosted so it’s not like the neighbors have been able to see in this whole time.)

— Amanda

Restyle: Taking in a knit shirt

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Before.

After.

After.

The first time we went to Ireland was in 2005. On our first day we ended up making an unscheduled stop in the village of Lahinch, owing to our having accidentally picked up a hitchhiker.* While in Lahinch, we watched completely insane surfers braving the frigid Christmastime ocean, hit a nice little bookstore, had a tasty lunch, and visited a clothing boutique where Matt spent a startling sum of money on an outfit for me.

Most of the clothes I have shrunk out of in the long, exhaustive process of weight loss have gone to the thrift store because alterations are expensive to have done and nerve-wracking to do. (For me, at least.) So far it’s been cheaper and easier to replace clothes via the thrift store. But this top and the skirt that goes with it have significantly more sentimental value than your average clearance-rack spring frock.

An advantage to trying to downsize this shirt is the fact that it is a simple, flat knit tee without any complicating darts or other shaping. So I crossed my fingers and re-read Kathleen Frances’s excellent tutorial on resizing sweaters over at Grosgrain Fabulous.

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I followed her directions, putting the shirt on inside out and pinning as close to my body as I wanted it to fit. I used safety pins so that I wouldn’t end up with any new piercings in the process of getting the shirt off, but they were fiddly and difficult and I ended up cussing just as much as if I had been poked.

While I was at it I also shortened the sleeves quite a bit. Back in 2005 I liked my sleeves to hit my knuckles. These days I am most at home in a 3/4 sleeve.

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Holy crap – I didn’t ruin my beloved €60 shirt! Success!

— Amanda

* Something not covered in our guidebooks was this tidbit: when someone in Ireland, walking along the side of the road, points down at the centerline (or where a centerline would be if this were the US and they believed in wasting money on such things when anyone with a driver’s license ought to have the brains to stay on his own side of the bloody road) it does not mean that they want to cross the road – it means that they want a ride. We stopped to let a fellow cross and were pretty startled when the guy opened the back door of our rental, shoved our luggage aside, and made himself at home. He was a drunken geologist on holiday and he wanted us to take him to Lahinch (which was the very next town on the highway) so that he could “have a lie down at me brother’s place for a bit”.

Hang it all: The art of airing laundry

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Washing machines for home use have been manufactured since as far back as 1691, and automatic machines, similar to the ones we have today, have been available since the 1930s.[1] By the 60s roughly 90% of US households had one.[2] Clothes dryers, though they were available to households around the same time, weren’t as popular. By 1955 only 10% of homes in the US had them.[3] Prices were about the same for either type of machine, so I think that what kept people from buying dryers was either A) that their houses didn’t have the electrical capacity to run a dryer (appliances that generate heat use several times as much electricity as other electrical devices, and mid-century homes had much smaller fuse boxes than modern homes) or, B) they didn’t see the need for an appliance that did what nature could do for free.

Although just about every American has a dryer in their home or apartment building these days, they aren’t so popular elsewhere. When Matt and I honeymooned in Ireland in 2007 we spent a week in a cottage that had a top-of-the-line front-loading super-high-efficiency washing machine . . . and no dryer in sight. We didn’t find the clothesline before we left so our wet towels were sitting in the washer when we departed. (We did make the bed, wash the dishes, and take out the trash before we drove off, though.)

A friend of ours, who blogs under the name of Cedeham, lived for a few years in Italy. There, too, dryers were a rarity: “The cobblestone streets of back alleys are street-level to top floor filled with clothes drying on laundry day!! . . . Levi’s would get stolen, however, so that was considered a ‘high end’ item. The clothes washer that was in the apartment in which I lived on the economy left much to be desired! Used lots of water, was inefficient, and the clothes were mostly soggy when it was done.”

But airing laundry the old-fashioned way is seeing a renaissance here in the States. Line drying can supposedly save you 6% on your yearly electricity bill (according to LaundryList.org) and since use of a clothesline is against covenants and other rules in many fancy-pants cities and developments, using a clotheslines is becoming the new quietly radical, mean-green thing to do. Honestly, I just do it because I like the smell and I enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately, we have been without the practice long enough that clothesline know-how is not so common anymore. Even in my vast collection of back-to-the-land books, which detail a dozen methods of handwashing clothes, the drying of the clothes is always omitted. So much of what I know about airing I have learned through trial and error. I asked around for some tips from friends and family, and here’s our collective wisdom:

A clothesline can be as simple as a line stretched between two poles, buildings, or trees. It can have pulleys so that you don’t have to walk up and down the line. It can be retractable or otherwise portable. You can have multiple lines, if necessary. I use the rotary kind: like an inside-out umbrella on a central post. I prefer my umbrella-type clothesline for two reasons: 1) It is removable (easily, too), which makes it a lot easier to mow around, and 2) I can hang my underwear on the inside rungs and then hide them from public display by hanging larger items (pillowcases, T-shirts, etc) on the outer rungs.

If possible, put your clothesline in the shade. It seems counterproductive, I know, but it isn’t the sun that gets your clothes dry, it’s air movement. The sun will bleach your laundry, which is helpful for whites, but not so great if you favor the all-black wardrobe, like Matt. We don’t have any shade in our backyard, so I hang most of Matt’s clothes inside out.

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Hang shirts by the hem – not the shoulders. Hanging by the shoulders, especially if the fabric is high in cotton or is very heavy, can stretch weird-looking peaks into the shoulders. If you tuck in your t-shirts the crease in the hem created by line-drying can be easily hidden. If you don’t the bottom of a t-shirt is much easier to iron than the shoulders.

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I store our washcloths folded into quarters. So I hang them on the line like this cleaning rag, folded in half.

If an item requires a fold – such a crease down the center of your slacks – hang it in such a way that the fold dries in (saving you some ironing). Use pants stretchers or slack hangers to help get that crease in dress pants.

Keep an eye on the neighbors. In some locales this is necessary because they might steal your clothes – but in our case it’s because just as I finish hanging three loads on the line they decide that’s the best time to burn their trash – leaving all that clean clothing smelling like burnt plastic.

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Hang towels by their woven band, which does not stretch like the rest of the terrycloth. That way they will still be rectangular when you take them down.

Cedeham says: “Making sure there is plenty of air flow around each clothing item, whether indoor or outdoor drying, seems to be a big factor into how well and how quickly the items dry. Bunching stuff up causes wrinkling and slower drying times, in my experience.” A good point. I have found that my stuff dries a lot faster if I use every other line on my dryer instead of each and every one.

The biggest hang-up (hah!) that people have about line-drying their clothes is the issue of crunchiness, particularly as applies to towels. My mother and I prefer line-dried towels because we think that they are more absorbent and we like the exfoliation. My brother Ryan says we are masochists.

There are some ways to mitigate or avoid the cardboard factor. You can still cut your electricity bill significantly (and still have that better-than-bottled fresh scent) by airing your clothes until about 2/3 dry outside and then finishing them in the dryer. Supposedly adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle works as a softener, but I have never tried it.

There is also the issue of inclement weather. It rains here. A lot. When it rains, I still use the dryer. What I have been intending to do (for 6 years) is install a ceiling-mounted indoor drying rack (as opposed to the cheaper, easier-to-use expanding models that take up floor space we don’t have). We also live in a temperate zone, where we get freezing weather during the winter. But your clothes will still get dry when there’s snow on the ground (as long as there is no precipitation) even if it freezes in the process. When the ambient temperature is below freezing the wet laundry freezes but the frost then sublimates, leaving the items dry. It takes longer to dry items outside when it is freezing, but drying them indoors removes heat from the air, so you have to pick the lesser of two evils (or fire up the tumble drier).[4]

— Amanda

[1] “Washing Machine” article from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine Accessed 04/07/12.

[2] Woods, Drew. “The History of Washing Machines” article from eHow.com. http://www.ehow.com/about_5367221_history-washing-machines.html . Accessed 04/07/12.

[3] Morris, Margaret. “The History of the Clothes Dryer” article from eHow.com. http://www.ehow.com/about_5081538_history-clothes-dryer.html Accessed 04/07/12.

[4] “Clothes line” article from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothes_line Accessed 04/05/12.