Friday, September 23, 2016

Top It Off: Easy Cafe Curtain Idea

I don't really know how to use a sewing machine.  When I shared this with a friend who also lacks this skill, she lamented, "I remember threading the machine in Home Ec, but I can't for the life of me remember how, even though it was only twenty seven years ago!"

Roger, that.  It's a wonder that we can't conjure up that lesson.

At any rate, even without any discernible sewing skills, this summer I made a cafe curtain that adds a fun pop of color above my kitchen window.  The secret is in something very ordinary: three tension rods.  Here's how to duplicate the project in your own home:

First, measure your window and cut a piece of fabric to fit the width, with roughly 1-2 inches buffer on the sides for hemming.

Second, hem the sides and bottom.  (I know what you're thinking: Robin, you just just said that you  had no sewing skills.  This is true.  You see, I borrowed a sewing machine and my kind neighbor threaded it for me, calmly using words like bobbin and assuring me that I could do it.  I did.  I successfully ran my piece of fabric through the machine and made relatively straight hems.)

If you don't have access to a sewing machine (or a supportive neighbor who will talk you through the process), you can either a) stitch a simple hem by hand, or b) use iron-on hem tape, which would work just as well.

Third, at the top where the curtain will align with your ceiling, create a slightly wider hem.  You will slide a a tension rod through this pocket.

Fourth, arrange and secure two additional tension rods between your cabinets, slightly lower and forward, to serve as the framework. 

Finally, hang your top tension rod (curtain attached), and then let the fabric drape over the two lower rods.  Adjust the placement of the rods to your liking to achieve the desired "bump out" shape.

Then, sit back and bask in a job well done.  I not only appreciated the surprising ease of this project, but also its non-committal nature.  If I'd ever wish to update the look of my kitchen, I only need to replace and prepare a small swatch of fabric.  (And borrow a sewing machine.  And pester my neighbor, who clearly paid better attention in middle school Home Ec than I did.)

Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

These Ugly Carts Won My Heart: DIY transformation

There are people who remember events (say, a wedding reception or a picnic they attended) by what they wore.  Others may remember the event based on what they ate.  I, however, have a different memory trigger: I remember what things cost.  I aim for balance: looking for deals, while also looking for quality.  I love when I find both.

Recently I saw an outdoor cart advertised on clearance: Was $78.99. Now $39.99!  While this cart is attractive and functional, I already had found something better.  Or, more precisely, I had found two better things.

Earlier in the summer I discovered this sorry-looking cart at a garage sale, so forlorn and forgotten that it hadn't even been priced.  When I asked about it, the owner shrugged and said, "A dollar?"  I immediately indicated that I'd take it.

With some simple touch-ups, I knew the cart could be transformed.  First, I took it home, wiped it off, and disassembled the pieces.

Careful to keep all hardware together, I taped off portions that didn't need to be painted, and then spray painted or hand painted the parts that did.

I also used a stencil to decorate the formerly dull and stained top.  The cart now sits in my youngest daughter's bedrooms as a place for her toys and stuffed animals.  It was entirely worth a dollar.

Later in the summer, I found a second cart for $5 at a separate garage sale.  The frame was solid, yet blandly industrial looking, and the wooden top had multiple scratches, which I repaired with white wood filler, as you'll see in the picture below.

Then, I reinvigorated the look by painting the top a classic navy blue (inexpensive paint sample purchased from Lowes),

and I brightened the dull frame with several coats of aluminum spray paint.

I've tucked the cart in the corner of my dining room, next to a window and our dining room table.  It's the perfect location for a magazine rack, the go-to pencil sharpener, and (not pictured) my laptop when it's charging.  The greenery from the plants adds a softening touch to the piece's rectangular shape.

The bottom line is this: if browsing at a garage sale, don't just regard the objects for what they are; look at them for what they could become.  You might stumble upon not just one, but two carts for a mere $6, and all you need to add is a few supplies, a little time, and a little effort. 

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Own a Pallet. It's Pinterest's fault.

Years ago, nobody in their right mind looked at a pallet and thought, "I really should drag that away from the dumpster where it's leaning, cram it into my minivan, and take it home with me."  But then came Pinterest and, with it, a proliferation of potential projects, both large and small, involving pallets.

And, yes, I succumbed.  A friend was having work done on her house, a pallet was left behind by the workers, and I couldn't help myself.  After asking permission and dragging it away from the dumpster in her driveway, I crammed it into my minivan and took it home.

My husband loved this, of course, but being both extremely kind and wise, he mostly looked the other way and ignored my squirrely antics.

I propped the pallet against the house, and it remained there for months until I finally figured what in the world I could actually do with a badly-nailed configuration of rugged, ugly wood.  I didn't want to disassemble it or invest significant time or money, so I resigned to simple upgrades: I would sand it, and I would try my hand at painting a subtle chevron pattern, and, as a final decorative touch, I would add a large wicker basket that I picked up at a garage sale for a buck.

Next year, my goal is to plant cascading flowers or herbs there.

It's a start.  I've tucked the pallet into a corner of our backyard near a fence gate, and I must say, I smile each time I pass it.  It's not a work of art, but it's something.  I have Pinterest thank for it.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bare Walls? No Problem. Easy and Inexpensive Wall Art Idea.

Have you ever worked on a project with painstaking diligence and told yourself that you just needed to add one more touch -- one tiny, precise, focused detail -- and then, upon adding it, you screwed the entire thing up?

That was me.  In my dining room I had three black and white pictures in black frames with black photo mats.  They were attractive, yet dark.  Since I wanted to brighten the room with color, I opted to "tweak" the pictures yet keep the frames.

When I say "tweak," of course, I mean that I reverted to my default decorating solution: spray paint.  Spray paint can cover a multitude of flaws, after all, and I assumed that it would be easy to convert black photo mats into white ones.  Like any good spray painter, I took my photo mats outside and sprayed a light foundation coat.  Nice.  

Then I sprayed a second coat using steady, even strokes to fill in the patches.  Even nicer.  But that's when I grew impatient.  I knew I'd need one final coat for perfect coverage, but why wait for the recommended drying times?  Why not just pound it out immediately, once and for all?

That's when I learned that too many immediately applied coats of spray paint creates horrible dripping, bubbling, and mess.  And that is how I ended up in my garage with a electric hand sander, carefully buffing down the bad spray paint job on the original photo mats until they were smooth again.  (When I sprayed them the next time, I followed directions.)

I said all that to say this: when you're doing any DIY project, you're bound to mess up along the way.  Few mistakes are actually disastrous, though, so carry on.  There are always power sanders.

As for my empty picture frames, I wanted to add interesting texture and design without breaking the bank.  I purchased three laser-cut wooden decorations from Michaels (roughly $2.00 each, before coupons) and spray painted each a fresh aqua color. 

Then, I used glue dots to adhere each painted and dried wooden decoration to a patterned piece of scrapbook paper that complimented the colors in my dining room.  Since the wooden decorations are just a fraction of an inch thick, they easily fit in a frame yet still add interesting texture.

It's an instant upgrade.  Nobody could tell that the photo mats originally were black (or sanded with a power sander, for that matter.)  Even better yet, nobody would guess that each finished piece cost less than $3, even if you count the cost of a can of spray paint.  Win-win.

Whether you have an empty frame lying around your house that you've never bothered to fill, or whether you have perfectly good frames already on your walls but are tired of the pictures inside, consider giving them a facelift.  Just remember this equation:

Scrapbook paper + die-cut wooden decoration + spray paint = one easy and inexpensive wall art idea.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

What to Do When You Inherit Old Artwork (a DIY hack)

My kind officemate had a piece of abstract art hanging over her desk, and last year when she left the university, she bequeathed the artwork to me.  The canvas was massive.  Judging from the color scheme, I estimated it to be circa late 1980's or early 1990's, and I was right: on the back hung a tag with the production date.

Say hello to decor in 1989:

Not exactly the style I was looking for, but I knew there was great promise here.  So, I did what I know to do best: I got paint and I got to work.  Since a large portion of the canvas was textured and I tend to like crisp designs, I opted to start with a clean slate by painting it entirely white.

Then, like any respectable fan of Fixer Upper, I borrowed a quotable Magnolia phrase: "Today is a good day for a good day," which I stenciled along the bottom edge.

While most stencils are open, meaning that you brush the desired paint color within the inner stencil borders, the stencils I used were reverse, meaning that I painted a stretch of the canvas in the desired lettering color (gray), placed the stencils down on top of the dry gray swath, painted several coats of white on top of the stencils to match the rest of the white canvas, and then peeled off the stencils to reveal the gray letters underneath. 

I love the final results:

At nearly five feet across and three feet high, the canvas now hangs over a table in our basement where my girls regularly play Legos.  (I figured that the sentence, "Today is a good day to pour 12,000 Legos onto this table and still not be able to find the exact one I'm looking for" was slightly too long and unwieldy.  Who knows, though?  Perhaps I'll inherit another canvas and give it a go.)

So, this is what to do when you become the recipient of old artwork.  You grab some paint, get to work, and give it new life.  Then you call it a day.  A good day.

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