Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Munch's Moon

The moon reflected in Lake Norman.
A few nights ago we had a rare clear sky and this amazing moon was out. I immediately thought, and if you took my advice and went to the Munch exhibit or studied his prints I bet you will too, of Munch's recurring moon theme. He stylizes it very much so it looks like a big lowercase i reflected on the water and you will see it again and again. I prefer to think this a thank you note from Edvard himself, in recognition of my eternal devotion!
I wish cell phones took better photos or it were easier to run with my big Canon camera, because this little photo can't do it justice. Canon, by the way, is my camera of choice. I haven't used anything else since I took photography in college. The moon was huge and low and so yellow it was like a golden globe suspended low as an air balloon overhead. The water was shot through with blue light from underneath and wispy clouds were scudding in. I am definitely going to have to fix it in my mind's eye for a future painting.
And future paintings will be much easier to complete because...drum roll, please...
My new office.
I have an OFFICE again! I haven't had a dedicated workspace since 2009, and my painting stuff has mostly been in storage since then. I had to make a tough decision when we put our house on the market. There was only room for fine art or doll repair and sewing, so I went with the more lucrative doll restoration, but my fingers and my brain have been itching, wanting to do some fine art!
Jerry bought me a beautiful easel years ago. It's my dream easel, wood, with wheels, and it can be positioned upright for oils, forward for pastels (so dust doesn't fall back down on the surface while you're working), and even flat like a table for mixed media. I was so happy to see it come out of storage because I've never been able to use it. I got it right before we staged the house and turned my office into a child's bedroom. Now I'll also be able to get all the sewing stuff out of the dining room (which Jerry has taken to calling the "mad scientist laboratory") and use it as a dining room again.
The other side of the office.
 Jerry and I have been kicking around ways to work with the extreme slope in the ceiling of the office. We are thinking of putting a folding counter all along the low wall so I can sit there and work, but fold it out of the way when I don't need it. I already have a sewing cabinet I'm going to put on the short wall by the door in the other photo. We bought swing-arm sconces to out on that wall last night so I have a lot of light. I'm hoping for a skylight one day too. I am not good at keeping my mind on one task at once. I am usually sewing something and painting something and working on a doll all at once, and I like to switch back and forth. I am routinely reading 4 or 5 books at once too. It drives Jerry nuts, but I get bored if I don't have a lot going on.
I need a lot of storage in the room, too, and that will be a challenge since it's so small. For the time being I will probably just use the sloped corner as an area to stack my tubs of fabric and eBay inventory. I have a lot of little things to do in the office. There are a bunch of nail heads to spackle and paint, and I need to paint one door. The door to the rest of the house is covered with insulation, so I need to remove that and paint it. Then I have to paint the new HVAC bulkhead in the adjacent room, but I need to decide what color I'm doing that room first. The builders would have completed all this, of course, but we asked to paint it ourselves to keep costs down.
Then, I'll be moving everything in. That's the fun part! I love designing rooms. I have to recommend Sure Point Builders of Morganton, NC, if you need renovation done in the Charlotte area. Sam Metcalf, the contractor, let me tell him exactly what I wanted and he got it done just that way. He made some good suggestions as well, and the project came in under budget. The web site is
Today is the first day for weeks I haven't had any workers or inspectors coming in and no therapy or doctor's appointments or anything at all to do. It's the only day this week I have "off" so I am celebrating by being lazy, lazy, lazy. I did have to wake up before dawn to get the kids off to school (our latest bus comes before 7AM) but then I went back to bed until the "baby" woke up. I lay around in my pajamas reading the Wall Street Journal until 11AM and then spent a couple hours emailing Jerry and my sister and my best friend. I'm going to have to run my butt off tonight to make up for my lack of movement all day.
My iMessage and regular text messaging on my iPhone 4S hasn't been working the past couple weeks, and it's very frustrating. One of my friends has a theory Apple is messing with the old phones on purpose to try to force you to buy the iPhone 5. I don't know if that's true. I do have to remember, however, how lucky we are to live in this time and place where we have access to such instant communication technologies. I can't iMessage, but I can email and talk to my friends on Facebook.
I remember when we moved to North Carolina from Ohio, the long lonely letters I would write to my grandparents and my best friend and the endless wait for a reply.  Almost all the way through college I dated a German man and I recall the torturous delays in the international postal system and the expense of phone calls. If we'd held out just a year or so more email would have come along and maybe saved us, but it all turned out for the best in the end. Jerry and I used to write all the time and call during his deployments and just regular duties, as he was based in a different state, and that was very difficult as well. I still have all those letters, and it's fun to get them out and read them again, though! I guess that's what you give up with electronic communications: the historical record.
I should really be folding laundry now or washing dishes or cleaning the floors but I'm thinking of taking a nap instead! My allergies are still just awful. The weather here has been CARAZZYYY, like 70s one day and 40 the next. Today is a hot day and a cold front is blowing in and really blowing. The wind is quite high. I'm going to be shoveling pine straw off the deck all day tomorrow I'm afraid. This house is so dusty, too; I'm sure that's part of the problem. I sweep and mop the wood floors every other day or so but within two days there are really big gray dust bunnies everywhere. They look like dryer lint! I've never seen anything like it. My friend, Cherre, says that will go away after a while. She bought a house that was dirty and empty because the previous owners went through a nasty divorce. I wonder if we should have the ducts cleaned, though. I don't know enough about HVAC units and that sort of thing, but I wonder if sitting empty can make the ductwork in a house get all dirty. If the system isn't used for a while can dust pile up in there? Deep thoughts for the day.
As soon as we get the office set up I'll post more pictures, and I hope to have some new work on the way very soon. I will be listing lots of household items and furniture and stuff in the coming weeks as we edit out things we can't really use in this new house. Make sure to check my store for those listings and sign up for my store newsletter so you'll be informed of new items:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How to make pillow covers; Bedroom Makeover Part 2

The throw pillows before recovering.
This week I finally finished the bedroom textiles I've been working on. I wrote a step-by-step tutorial on sewing drapes in my last post, and today I'm going to show you how to make pillow and cushion covers. I am working with throw pillows for a bed, but you can use this same technique to recover removable couch cushions or chair pillows too.

Taking apart the original covers to use as patterns and to re-use the zippers.
I started by removing the original covers and carefully picking them apart using a seam ripper. I used the pieces as a pattern. I wanted to save the zippers so I wouldn't have to spend extra money and time driving to the fabric store. Besides that, the zippers are turquoise, which can be a difficult color to find at the fabric store. Most special colors are dyed to match for commercial customers.

Using the pieces for a pattern.
Next, I pinned the pieces of the original covers flat to use as a pattern. I write more about this in my Night and Day post, which shows how to recover couch cushions. If you don't have a cover to use as a pattern, you will need to measure the cushion, or even trace around it with chalk onto the back of the new fabric. Don't forget to add inches to account for the depth of the cushion. So, if your pillow is 12x12 on the front and back, but it is 6 inches in girth (or fat), you need to add 3 inches to the outside edges of the front and back so the cover will fit. Then, add your seam allowance, usually 5/8 inch, to all the pieces before you cut. You can lower the seam allowance if you want to save material, but try to stay at 1/4 inch or more to avoid having the fabric pull out of the seam during use.

When I laid the fabric out to cut the covers I had an unpleasant surprise. When the clerk cut the fabric it wasn't straight, so when I tried to line up the fabric along the selvage (the finished edge) so the grain was straight, I was short a good two inches off the yard I paid for, as you can see in the photo. I was still able to eke out the covers, but it took some finesse.

Cushion cover pieces laid out to cut.
I had to open the fabric up and cut each piece separately. Since this fabric has a nap (a noticeable, one-directional pattern), I had to be careful to make sure the pieces are cut facing the same way. You can see, the dominant turquoise squares are the first pieces I cut and I laid them out on the remaining fabric so they would fit. One reason I chose this quilted fabric was for the reversible pattern. This gives me a lot of options to change the look later if I want. Nap doesn't just apply to the pattern of the fabric; fabrics with a noticeable difference in sheen, like velvet, must also be laid out with nap. Knits are another fabric that need to be laid out so the fabric is stretching in the same direction on all pieces.

When you are making cushions that use trim, like cording, you need to add that before you sew the rest of the cushion. I got this really nice matching trim marked down in the remnants box.

Apply trims first.
Always check the remnants first if you just need a small amount of fabric or trim; you can save a lot of money!
This trim would have been out of my budget, but I was able to get it discounted as a remnant.
To sew cording, use a zipper foot so you can get the seam as close as possible. To finish the edges of the cord with the least amount of lumping, I unravel a tiny bit of each end and over lap them, pushing the raw edges into the seam allowance. I also treat the ends with Fray Check after the cover is finished, because cord is notorious for pulling out of the seam and unravelling.

Use a zipper foot with cord, and unravel and overlap the edges to finish.
Once any trims are applied, you can go ahead and add the zipper if you are using a zipper. If you have a cushion cover that is pieced from multiple fabrics, go ahead and piece it together and press it before adding the zipper to that piece. You will keep using the zipper foot during this step.

Add the zipper first, after adding trims.
Once the zipper is installed and you've pressed the seam allowance away from the zipper teeth you can pin the covers together, right sides together, and sew the three remaining sides. Here's a good tip: unzip the zipper at least partway first so you can turn the cover right side out when you are finished sewing. I forgot this step on one of the covers and had a hard time opening the zipper from the wrong side!

I skipped my run Friday night because my foot had been hurting and because I wanted to finish the cover. I sewed and sewed and got the cover all done. Jerry and I planned to watch the encore pilot of The Following. I am in deep mourning now that Fringe, my favorite show, ended, and my friend told me she thought I would like The Following. I went to put the finished cover on the pillow insert.

These pillows are really nice, as I mentioned in my last post. The pieces were all finished with overlock stitching before they were sewn together. The pillow inserts are feather and down. I got these marked way down in the clearance aisle at Homegoods about 10 years ago and we've been using them ever since. The covers were getting ratty, but I figured the new covers would spruce them right up. So, I go to insert the pillow and...the zipper BROKE! I was so upset, Jerry suggested I take a bath and then we would watch The Following, which he'd recorded on the DVR while he and the boys watched a hockey game. We could just figure out what to do about the zipper tomorrow, he said. So, I get out of the tub and go to watch the show and found out it didn't record after all! Friday was not a good night! I went to bed in disgruntlement and on Saturday I hand-sewed the open edge. If I want to dry clean the cover I'll have to just open the seam with a seam ripper and then re-sew it when it's clean.
The finished pillows and curtains.
Finally, the bedroom is finished, at least in terms of the textiles and paint. I still want to replace the carpet. I would like to get a chair for a corner by the window, and I want to paint a picture to go on the wall opposite the bed. I used to have a vintage mirrored shelf there, but I am using it above the piano in this house.

I sewed the pillow covers so I can reverse them for a different look if I want that later, or if we need a new bedspread. I find our bedspreads typically wear out after about 5 years or so, no matter how much or how little I spend on them. The curtains and pillows last longer, though, so I want a lot of versatility.

I am using the pillows now with the turquoise dominant side on the Euro pillows and a little of the curtain fabric pieced into the small pillow. I have enough left that I might be able to do a neckroll pillow as well. I'm still trying to decide if I need one.

The finished pillows.
Then, if I want I can reverse all of them. I don't know how much reversing the small pillow will bother me, though, because I didn't have enough of either fabric to keep the nap in the same direction, so the bird fabric had to be laid out sideways on that one. Those sorts of little things just drive me crazy. Jerry calls me "Monkette", after Adrian Monk, the fictional detective, when I obsess over these little details, but I just can't help it!

The pillows are reversible.
I'm happy we finally got the bedroom looking pretty good. The side I haven't shown in the pictures is still full of boxes that need to go upstairs into the attics once they're finished. They were supposed to be done Friday before last, but we've had all kinds of delays. The contractor promises they'll be done tomorrow, though. I sure hope so!

Unfinished Portrait of a Girl in Blue, oil on wood panel
I thought I'd show another inspiration for the color palette. I found this unfinished oil portrait in the trash when the art teacher at our high school was cleaning out the art room storage closet. She said I could take it if I wanted it, so I did! It's a really good portrait, even though the artist never finished it. I don't know who painted it. People ask me all the time if it's a portrait of me, which I think is odd. I don't have blue eyes and I haven't been that blond since I was about 4 years old, but I guess the face looks a little like mine. You can really see the wall color well in this shot, too.

Jerry and I bought the mahogany dresser from a woman, and artist, who lived in a trailer in the woods outside Chapel Hill. She had all this gorgeous old furniture she'd inherited from her grandmother but she didn't like it, so she sold us the dresser for $65 and threw in a mahogany occasional table for free! They were both in awful shape, but Jerry refinished the dresser and I think it's beautiful. It has really nice, deep drawers of the sort you can't get in modern furniture. It used to have a bevel edge, mahogany framed mirror, but Jerry backed his truck into that by accident when he had it out in the garage to refinish, so it is no more! The flower arrangement has certainly seen better days, but my grandmother did that one and had it in her living room for years. I took it thinking I would just use the blue vase, but I ended up being more sentimental about it than I thought, so I haven't taken it apart yet.
Me and my dad in 1977.
The little framed photos are precious. This one is of me and my dad, taken a week or so before he died. I remember that day well. My mom had me all dressed to go to the store, but when we went outside Dad was washing the car and he sprayed me with the hose. He and I thought that was just great, but my mom was mad. I was pretty much the quintessential blond, naked, California baby!

This film was still in the camera when he died, or I wouldn't have this picture at all. He always had everything developed onto slides, and so all my baby pictures are on slides. My mom has been keeping them in the basement for over 30 years, and we don't have a slide projector. Jerry bought me a slide scanner so I can convert any that aren't ruined from being in the damp basement, so as soon as I can go back and haul them all here I am going to start scanning them. I need to scan in this photo too, before it fades away entirely. I like to keep this out to look at and remember that day. It's just about the last time in my whole life I can remember feeling safe and happy and innocent.

This is mine and Jerry's engagement picture, taken around 1996. We're standing in front of the Tar River in Greenville. That was another happy day I love to remember. Jerry looked to handsome in his uniform, but he was not supposed to wear it without his hat. He'd forgotten his hat or something and he was all worried some Air Force officer would appear out of the blue and he'd get in trouble for being "out" of uniform. Jerry is a veteran of the first Gulf War, as well as the operations in the Bosnia-Serbia conflict, and Haiti and Mogadishu (he was at the Black Hawk Down incident), and pretty much every other hellhole you can think of from the 1990s, so this was a rare time that he was able to get home. Really, the Gulf War had ended by the time Jerry arrived, but since it hadn't yet been declared over he has a National Defense Medal.

I'm really happy to have been able to do something just for the two of us. In the past, we've always gotten the kids' rooms looking really nice, like with murals and matching window treatments and artwork and everything, but our room has always mostly been just a repository for all the mismatched furniture that didn't fit elsewhere, and often our room never even was painted. I thought, after all we've been through lately, we should focus on something just for us. Today when we were putting the new pillows in we saw a bluebird outside the window. I hope it's a portent of happiness to come!

I think I will work on more throw pillows for the Day/Nighters next. As soon as the attics are done, we can get the bonus room back. It's also full of boxes that will need to go in there. Now, though, Joe Dirt is on, so I'm going to watch it with Jerry. I love that movie!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How To Sew Curtains: Bedroom Makeover Part 1

Although making window treatments really scares a lot of people, I always tell someone who's learning to sew to start by making plain curtain panels. It's really not hard, and no intricate fitting is required. The main issue is the outlay of cash to purchase fabric, but if you try a room with just one window and look for discount fabric sources near you or online you can make them pretty inexpensively.

If you follow this blog, then you know I started the bedroom makeover over a couple weeks ago. I started cutting the fabric in my Musings post, but I'll recap in this post so you have all the information in one place. I hoped to finish the bedroom sooner, but I had another big allergic reaction. It started with a rash on my face, which I thought was acne at first, but within a day it was all over, including inside my ears and the inside of my throat and my lips were itching, so I knew it had to be allergies. I'm hoping I can recover on my own without having to go on another steroid. I had to be on the steroid for a reaction in the Fall, just a few months ago, and I like to try to keep it under once a year if I can!

I have really bad allergies. So far, I've shown some level of reaction to every single thing they've ever tested me for, but I am severely allergic to dust and dust mites and mold. Unpacking dusty boxes and renovating a house that has been sitting empty for years is hard on me. This week we painted the bedroom and my job was to crawl around on the floor painting the trim and lower walls. Everything in the room was filthy, but the carpet is particularly dirty. I vacuumed it but I no longer have a carpet shampooer and vacuuming isn't enough. What it really needs is to just be ripped out, which we will do as soon as we can afford hard floors in there.

I think the carpet, combined with the paint fumes and the dust from the attic renovation we also have in progress just overwhelmed my system. At least, I hope I am not this allergic to this new place! I've been so heavily medicated since we got here I hardly know what I'm doing. The doctor told me years ago North Carolina is the worst possible place for me to live. He said I should live in the desert and I'm also not supposed to have any carpet or curtains or upholstered furniture. That makes it really hard to get the people living with you to put up with you though! I also don't like heat, so I don't think the desert would be the best place for me. I think if we stay in North Carolina I should live on the beach...on an island, specifically! My favorite beaches here are Topsail Island and Ocean Isle. I don't even have to take medicine when I'm there, but as soon as we cross the bridge to the mainland I start sneezing.

It's probably genetic. Two of my great-grandmothers, as well as my great-great grandmother, and my great-great-great grandmother were the daughters of lighthouse keepers and grew up on islands. My great-great-great grandmother lived on Ness Island in Norway and rode a boat to school each day. My great-great grandmother was terrified of water and would not let her children learn to swim. When they rode back and forth from the island she made them lie in the bottom of the boat! So, I hope eventually to make it to an island if I have to remain here!

But, I digress. Anyway, you can read about my process for choosing the color palette and fabrics in my Art of Life post, and the previous camel wall color is pictured in my Feast entry. My favorite color is blue, specifically turquoise and robin's egg blue. I've tried several times over the years to find the perfect robin's egg blue. It should be an equal mix of blue and green, with not more of either color, and not too dark. I really like the color I found this time. It's Oasis by Olympic One paint. At first I thought it was too mint green, but that turned out to be the camel color showing through. After two coats of paint plus primer and a third coat of touch-ups here and there it's perfect.

The brocade fabric I chose at Mary Jo's has a light golden beige background with a retro-looking bird motif. I chose it because it has three shades of blue: robin's egg, turquoise, and ice blue, as well a gray brown that matches the dust ruffle I already owned, and sage green. It also has a scroll in gold, which matches our disgusting carpet (for some reason, even though this house is only 8 years old or so, the previous owners chose this horrible mustard yellow 1970s looking shag carpet and then let the house sit empty until it got so dirty it's gray around the edges of the walls), so until we can redo the floor in there at least the curtains tie the carpet in! This fabric should give me lots of choice in the future when we need to replace the bedspread or if we move again and I use these in a different room. Since it was so expensive I want to make sure I get full use out of it!

This might be the perfect robin's egg blue paint.

Before you purchase fabric you will need to calculate the yardage. When you measure your window, make sure to measure 4 inches from each side of the window and from the top of the window. You want the drapes to extend on each side (except the floor) at least 4 inches for maximum light control so if, unlike myself, you are lucky enough to get to sleep in past sunrise or if you have a bright streetlight outside, you won't be bothered by light leaking in around the curtains. If you are not making floor-length drapes, make sure to measure 4 inches past the bottom of the window as well.

If you are going to the trouble of making curtains, you will want to make sure each panel is at least 1.5 times the width of the window. I personally prefer 2 times when I can afford it. That's each panel, so I am talking about 4 times the width total. Here are some photos to help you see the difference:

The existing curtains
Here is a photo of the existing curtains. These are purchased panels, and they are actually lined, so a little nicer than many store-bought options. Still, notice each panel is only 1 times the width of the window. That means, if you pulled it across the window, the panel is the same width as the window. With two panels, these are 2 times the width of the window total. They do not extend 4 inches above or past the sides of the window, either. Notice the amount of light coming in, even though these are lined.
The new curtains.
Now see the new, handmade curtains. You will notice these, at 4 times the width of the windows, are much more full, like ball gowns. I love ball gowns. I actually found a huge box labeled "Old Ball Gowns" when we moved. Oh, the life I used to lead! We had all kinds of formal dances when I was in Alpha Phi sorority at university. I only want the ball gown lifestyle if I can have my previous college figure to go along with it, though!

Anyway, you will also see how much less light is coming in, and I took this photo before I added the lining. This is thicker fabric, but not that much! If you are going to put in the time to sew your own curtains you might as well make them look custom, in my opinion! If you are careful in your measuring and purchasing you will probably be able to sew them for less than the cost of purchasing pre-made panels as well.

Notice the increased fullness on the handmade panels. Also, note the previous wall color.
Once you've decided on the width of the panels you can calculate the yardage. You can save money several ways. You might decide against floor-length drapes, just going 4 inches past the bottom of the window. Instead of 4 times the window, you could do 3.5 times width without giving up too much of the fullness. That is more work, however, and takes some finesse when you are cutting. I will go into that later. Most home decor fabric is around 60 inches wide. My windows are 31 inches wide, so I knew I could use the width of the fabric to make panels nearly 2 times the width.

Once you have your fabric it's time to cut the panels out.
I used the existing curtains as a pattern.
As I mentioned in my Musings post, I used the existing curtains as a pattern for the length of the new drapes. I opened up the top and bottom seams of the front panel so I would make sure to account for the seam allowance. The front panel is pinned flat; the roll you see in the photo is in the lining. I wanted the new ones to be wider, though, so I used a t-square as you see in the photo to draw a straight line across the panel. If you don't have a t-square, measure from the bottom of the fabric to the length you desire and mark it on the wrong side with chalk board chalk. Do this every few inches until you get to the end and then use a ruler to draw a straight line across with your chalk. Then cut along the line.

My windows are 92 inches from the rod to the floor. Fabric is sold in yards, and a yard is 36 inches, so I would need 2.5 yards for each panel for it to reach the floor IF I didn't need to hem it or anything. I did need to hem the panels, though, as will you, and if you need a rod pocket you will need to add yardage for that. You want to make your rod pocket big enough for the curtains to slide easily across the rod, so for a rod of an inch in diameter I would allow 4-5 inches to make the rod pocket. You will also want to do a minimum 4 inch hem on the bottom so the panels don't look too cheap and so there is enough weight at the end for the panel to hang properly. If you are sewing lining onto the panels, cut the lining fabrics the same way, but make them an inch or so shorter, allowing for the extra inch and seam allowance when you cut out your drapery fabric.

Since I was using the entire width of the fabric I wouldn't even have had to hem the edges, since the selvage (the woven vertical edge of the fabric) is finished and won't fray, but the selvages on this brocade were fuzzy, so I just turned them under a half inch and again and hemmed them. If you are lining the curtains, you can do this now by placing the lining fabric wrong sides together on top of the drapery fabric and turning the edges over as one to hem them. Another option with lining is to place the fabrics right sides together and sew around three sides like a pillowcase, leaving the top of the curtain open. Then turn right side out and press, turning under the unfinished edge. Finish by hand.

Hemming the panels' length.

If you were going to use less fabric by making 3.5 times width panels you would need to buy a little extra yardage to match the pattern and for the seam allowance. You can ask the cutting table clerk to help you decide how much. Most of these ladies are pros. I myself, for instance, never do these big calculations anymore. At this point, after all the curtains I've sewn, I can pretty much just look at the windows and tell you how much material they will take!

Seam allowance is really up to you, but for most things it's 5/8 inch. To make 3.5 inch wide panels for 4 windows and save money you would cut 8 panels and then cut 4 of those panels in half vertically, marking the length as I describe with chalk. Then you would sew a half panel to each full panel vertically, moving up or down to match the pattern, and hem the outside edges. This would save, in the case of my windows, 6 yards of material. It is a bit more work, since you have to match the pattern and perform extra marking, cutting, and sewing, but if you want a custom look on a budget it's worth it. This is actually the first room I've ever done in 15 years of marriage where I actually splurged on 4 times width panels for curtains and didn't have to do all the matching and extra sewing! Really, to be truthful, these aren't quite 4 times width because this fabric is only 58 inches wide. They are close enough, though. I also would have needed 24 yards to do a really deep hem and rod pocket, but I decided I could squeeze by on 22 and still have enough for an accent pillow and I'll give you some tips on how I did that.

The finished curtain clipped onto the rod.

The first way I saved on yardage is that I didn't sew in a rod pocket. Instead I used clip rings. Clip rings are expensive, about $1 each, but they save so much in yardage and time they're pretty much all I use now. For one thing, I only did a 1.5 inch hem along the top, saving several inches from each panel that would have been used in a rod pocket. I saved time as well, because I just clipped the pleats into place rather than having to measure and sew them. Finally, I saved money on lining material. You really need to line your drapes to protect your investment. They will rot much faster from sunlight if they aren't lined. Lining fabric is much less than drapery fabric so it makes sense to spend the money on the lining. Since I was using clip rings, though, I just clipped old curtains my mom gave me to the backs of the new drapes. You could use any fabric you wanted as lining this way, and it's easy. You can use old, unwanted curtains, old curtain linings, even old sheets. Just cut and hem to fit inside each panel so the lining doesn't show from the front.

I just clipped old curtains to the backs to line the panels.
You might notice I am using two different types of clips. For some reason, even though you need about 40 clips minimum to hang four windows, most stores only stock about 14 at a time in each color. It's very frustrating and is the hardest thing about using the clip rings. Also, since I was trying to save money I am using old rings from our other house. They aren't made anymore and I don't have enough for 4 windows, so I did two windows on one wall with one type and used the other ones for the second wall. The rings are all pewter or nickel colored, though. They just look black in this photo for some reason. Since they match in color and match the rods I don't think you notice the different shapes. Maybe someday I'll have enough money at once to buy all matching ones, but it's not a high priority right now!

I'm feeling much better about the room now that the old camel colored, dirty paint is covered and the old, nasty curtains are gone. I always have a blue bedroom; it's quite nice of Jerry to put up with it, as he's never had much say in the bedroom decor. He says he wants me to be happy with the room.

My favorite color combinations are turquoise and red or light gold or beige with pretty much any light blue, like robin's egg or ice blue. Turquoise and red is a bit bright for a bedroom, though, at least in my opinion. I like a really soothing combo in there, so I usually go with a beachy palette.

The wall color is pale enough to look nearly white in certain light.

This time I used a portrait I drew of my son when he was a toddler at the beach in Michigan. This was meant to be a quick pastel study for an oil painting, but as the years went by and more children came along I gave up on the oil painting and just framed the study! I think it really does capture him as he was, though. I pulled colors from the portrait to help me choose the fabric and paint. I know brass frames are out of style right now, but I think gold is coming back again and so I don't feel like putting in the effort to re-frame it! I also wanted to match the stained glass peacock lamp, or at least coordinate with it. My step-dad made that for me.

The finished curtains and paint with the new bedspread.

My next project will be to re-cover the accent pillows on the bed. I have a turquoise and white reversible fabric in a bird silhouette pattern and a little bit of the curtain fabric to use, as well as the remnant trims I wrote about in the Art of Life post. The beige pillows on the bed are nice, but they are really old and the covers are looking pretty ratty and falling apart. I will write up another tutorial on making pillow covers once I'm finished. I hope this time to complete the project more quickly!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I used the existing curtains as a pattern for the length of the new ones.

Lest you all think I haven't been doing anything lately, today I'm going to detail all the various projects I have underway. I have been feeling bad about how slowly I've been getting the house done, but today we had a building inspector here (more on that later) and he was quite complimentary on all we've gotten finished in the short time we've been here. And so I thought about it, and it's true that, although we drove up here to close on the house a couple weeks earlier, we didn't actually move until the Monday after Thanksgiving. Since then we've had family to stay three times, unpacked most everything, went home for Christmas (as well as decorating for and hosting Christmas and New Year's), and gotten the kids started off in school and therapy.

Besides that, I've finally gotten started on the master bedroom. This is the room with which I was least happy when we viewed the house. It has nice big windows, but other than that I hate pretty much everything about it. The room came with curtains, but they are faded and one had started to shred apart from age, and besides that they are the wrong color (the wrong color, you will know if you're familiar with my other posts, is any color that's NOT blue!). So, I screwed my courage to the sticking place--nothing like a little Shakespeare in the morning!-- and went ahead and cut drapes from the very expensive fabric I bought at Mary Jo's. I was so worried about cutting the fabric, since it cost even more than the fabric for the bridesmaids' dresses my mom and I made for my wedding! It turned out well, though. I had exactly enough for eight very generous panels and little left over for some bed pillows. Jerry says I must be better at math than I give myself credit for, since I just looked at the windows and thought about how much I needed and it was just right. I think I've just made so many curtains by this time I can calculate yardage in my sleep!

I used the torn curtain as a pattern for the length of the drapes. I opened up the seams on the top and bottom and pinned them out flat. That roll you see in the photo is in the lining, not the drape itself. I used the entire width of the fabric, though, about 60 inches, for each panel because I want them really wide so they balloon out like ball gown skirts.

Here they are all finished and ready to hem. They look so posh! These are definitely a cut above our typical decor. I always make our curtains, but I usually do shades or some other fabric-saving style. I'm not doing any other curtains in this house, though. Although I complained a lot at the time about the homestager taking all the curtains and rugs from our old house, now I'm used to that spare look and I enjoy all the light streaming in, at least on the very rare occasions the sun is actually out here. All the childrens' bedrooms came with plantation shutters, so we can afford to splurge a bit on these. I wouldn't have spent so much if I'd know our washing machine was going to die, but I can't read the future!

I am still trying to decide whether to use the green linings from the existing curtains. I think the new fabric is thick enough that they won't show through, and the room is in the back of the house. I can't afford lining fabric! I did feel better recently when we visited a local decor shop and saw one pair of curtains marked down 50% off for $345! I certainly spent a great deal less than that!

My new office, in progress
Besides the drapes, we have a really big project going on: my office conversion! We are turning a walk-in storage attic into a little office for me. It's tiny, but better than working out of my bedroom as I've been doing for years now! I had a consultation with my eBay sales advisor last week and he was not at all happy with the length of time my store has been offline, so I got on the stick and listed some things. I'm sorry for the crass commercialism, but I do need to start selling again! I was also chided for not linking my store to my blog more often. So, here's the link: Everything I've listed so far is set up so you can make an offer, and I am accepting lower offers than you might expect since I was forced to miss the Christmas sales season. I have many of the dolls shown in this blog listed as well as other things like digital cameras and toys. I will have a lot more coming soon, as I get through my boxes. So, having the office done will be a big help to me. To save money we are going to paint and prime the room ourselves. I'll post pictures when it's done.

Of course, since construction started on the attic yesterday and our son had to go to the podiatrist, I woke up with a terrible migraine and "lights" in my eyes. If you don't get migraines, this is like the afterburn image you get for a second after someone takes a bright flash photo of your face, except it doesn't go away for a while. Jerry was nice enough to come home early from work and to bring me Chinese takeout wonton soup, as well as drive our son to his appointment. I can see today, but I'm still shaky. I think I have some sinus headache combined with migraine because all my teeth hurt too.

Wonton soup is one of my big comfort foods. When I was really little in California we would often eat at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant in our little town. I remember it well because they kept the "dragon", really some sort of big lizard, in an aquarium in the window and I was just enthralled. They had really good wonton soup, and that's what I always ordered. It's funny how eating a certain food can take you right back to a happy time. I guess it's lucky wonton soup is among the lighter Chinese-American fare! I say Chinese-American because I've noticed food in China is much less likely to be fried and usually contains a great deal more produce than that served as "Chinese" food here.

I've been thinking a lot about the town where I was born because another thing I am working on is planning a trip to the mountains here. For Christmas/Valentine's Day, Jerry gave me a trip to Asheville the weekend of February 13th, but I'm supposed to plan our activities. Someone once told me, "Those aren't real mountains!", in reference to Asheville, but the town always reminds me of my original town in California. It has the same sort of hippie vibe and the hills, of course. It seems quite as if it's in the real mountains to me. I guess, though, I was born in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, so maybe Asheville's mountains aren't all that high! I am going to try to get a little good photography time in while we're there. I have been feeling like painting again recently, and what better subject than such a lovely part of the state?

There was a small mountain at the end of our street in California. I remember riding my little trike and feeling like, if I could just go a little further, I would run right into it. I pictured it in my mind like a giant mound of dirt dumped on the street as if by dump truck! Actually, you had to go up a little switchback dirt path near our house to climb onto the mountain. My dad would push me up there in a wheelbarrow (I guess at the time there weren't strollers for older children, just baby buggies). We always took a box of Domino sugar cubes to feed some horses we passed on the way. I loved to go on the mountain trail because we would often see quail mothers hurrying across the path, with all their little chicks following in a row. I loved those quick, cute little birds! One time, my parents were at a party and heard another guest telling a story about how one of his horses was allergic to sugar, but someone kept giving it to the horse and causing it to have all sorts of problems. They realized, guiltily, that we were the culprits! I don't believe they confessed, but after that we couldn't feed the horses anymore.

Anyway, I do have a lot going on, and fingers crossed this headache goes away so I'll have some posts about finished projects soon!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Covered Keys

I'm thinking about my Aunt Iris right now. Her funeral was held today and I couldn't get to Ohio to attend. Our oldest is still dealing with his infected toenail. We spent half the day at the doctor's on Thursday and now we're waiting for them to get him into the podiatrist so they can just remove the whole nail. They're starting to talk about MRSA and drug-resistant staph, so it's really scary. He's pumped full of antibiotics.
So, today we closed our keyboard cover on the piano to honor Aunt Iris. This week my creative work has been mostly musical. Jerry gave me a lot of new music for Christmas and I've been practicing. Today we also planted daffodils. It's late (they were on clearance), but down here you don't dare put them in too early or they will sprout right away. They won't look good until next year, when they've had a chance to sleep beneath the ground and gather their strength. I want a sweep of yellow underneath the trees in the front lawn.
Iris was my great-aunt; my grandfather's sister. I don't write about my father's side of the family as much as I do my mother's, although, they did in fact care for me quite often. Not as much as my mother's side, but they did do quite a bit with me and for me. The main feature of my childhood from age 3 to 5 or 6 was my time spent with all my different relatives. Everyone pitched in to take me for days or weeks. Iris was 92 and had, until pretty recently, been in very good health. Over this past summer she really declined and had to go into the same home as my recently-deceased grandmother.
When I think of my father's side of the family the memories are always permeated by music. I can't remember much about my father at all except his music. If he wasn't scuba diving he was playing his guitar and singing, or playing his trombone. He played in a doctors' band. The doctor who treated him in the ER the night he died was one of his fellow band members.
Everything we ever did at my grandparents' house centered on music. My grandfather bought The Starlight Orchestra in the 1930s and led that until World War II. During the war he was a military band leader and traveled from base to base holding dances and shows. He had a much better time in the war than most! When he returned to the States he opened an auto parts store for income, but the profession of his heart was his job as  the Choir Director for the Methodist church in town. He held that position until he died: 40 years, and he is now interred in the church's pipe organ itself. When he died we had him cremated and had the ashes placed in a special container inside one of the pipes. I like to go to that church and "visit" Grandpa by listening to the music.
At home, Grandpa had a small organ and he played it pretty much every day. We all did. He played trombone as well and usually was a member of a band. Later in life he wintered in Florida and was a proud member of his "Dixieland Band" down there. My cousin and sisters and I were lined up by the organ to sing in harmony for many occasions, but especially Christmas. Grandpa was very invested in teaching us all to perform and had me on stage from almost the moment we moved home from California. I was always singing for schools or churches or special events, and usually Aunt Iris accompanied me on the piano.
Although Grandpa would decide where I should perform, Aunt Iris was most often the person who actually had the job of rehearsing with me and making sure I was ready. I spent many long hours standing by her piano. Iris kept me at her house quite often, and I always enjoyed going there. She lost her second husband, my vaguely-remembered Uncle Gerry, to cancer when I was pretty young. They were very nice people, and I was happy there.
The town where we lived curls around Grand Lake like a garland. You can walk on sidewalks anywhere in town and it is a real town, with stunning old Victorian houses and wide, tree-lined streets. The stores downtown have pretty apartments above them. There are some amazing buildings downtown, including the stone courthouse whose frescoed dome would be right at home in Washington, D.C., and the Catholic cathedral with its domes, straight out of Europe.
Aunt Iris lived only a few blocks away from my grandparents' house and even closer to my great-grandmother's house. When I was very small she would often walk over to get me and we would run errands together. Back then the town still had some of those tiny corner grocery stores and we would stop by the nearest one for milk or bread and Aunt Iris would let me open the big cooler and buy a Popsicle. I loved the clean smell and the icy air that would pour out when I opened the lid.
Aunt Iris' daughter was grown up and living in California, so I think she enjoyed having a child in the house again. She would almost always have a homemade angel cake to serve and to this day I don't think I've had better angel cake. She had a candle holder I thought was the most beautiful thing ever. It was a goblet with an inner glass and inside the two layers of glass was crushed colored glass. When the candle inside was lit, the colored glass would glow like a rainbow of flames. I had big plans to make one for myself and was always grubbing around in the lake for "sea" glass, but our lake was mostly full of glass from broken beer bottles so colors besides brown or green were rare. One time I saw a flash of blue and I was so excited to find blue glass. I dug it right up to find it was actually an antique aquamarine ring, which I still own!
Whenever I hear the British phrase, "safe as houses" I think of Aunt Iris' house. Aunt Iris kept her house so well that once, when her oven died, the delivery men who brought the new oven took the old one back to the store and put it on display for a while because it was the cleanest used oven anyone had ever seen! I remember so happily the days and nights I spent in that clean, well-ordered house. My grown-up cousin's room would always be made up for me, and her old toys brought out for me to play with. Iris, like her brother, would always have records playing or would be playing the piano. At church she sang in Grandpa's choir every Sunday. In the nursing home, even after she could no longer remember who we were, she still played her hymns every day until the very end of her life. Another aunt said, "Music poured out from her until the very end." I guess that's all you can ask for: to keep the one beautiful part of yourself, the inner expression of your soul, until the very end, even after everything else has fallen away.
When I go back to my grandparents' I always like to stand in a certain spot and look across the lake at my town. In this spot the wind is always blowing, and it's always cooler here than anywhere else, even on the hottest days. And from this far distance I can make believe that when I go back into town everything will be as it always was. My family will all still be there and alive and healthy and we will live our lives together again.
My town, viewed from across the lake. The domes are on the Catholic church.
I am really a very lucky person. I had so many people raising me: my mother and father, my grandparents, and great-grandmother, and all my aunts and uncles. Each of them is responsible for a different facet of my personality, and I try to remember the lessons each taught me.
Aunt Iris taught me to always just do my best and to keep on going. Although her life was often difficult and lonely she just kept going and she was never a negative person. She just kept filling the world with the beauty of her music and her devotion and love. She always was available to help others. Over the past several months I've lost so many people who were dear to me, through death, through our move, and just through folly. I have been sad, but thinking of my great aunt reminds me that these all were people I loved, and so I can't regret anything. I think no love or beauty you put out into the world is ever wasted. Even if you don't see it right away, it will return to you.

Monday, January 7, 2013


The Munch exhibition card, featuring Munch's Madonna

Today finds me still working on setting up the house, rather than any kind of creative endeavor. Weekend before last we traveled home for Christmas with our respective families, and while we were there we took in some cultural events. Jerry got his mother to watch the children on Friday night so we could go to the North Carolina Museum of Art to see the Edvard Munch exhibition. They have a wonderful collection of Munch's prints until February 10th. If you are at all able to attend I encourage you to do so. It is really an amazing collection to view in your own backyard!

Most art historians consider Munch's prints his finest work, even better than his paintings. He would keep working through a subject for a long time...for years, in many cases, and in many different media. He typically would write about a given subject, then paint it, then do an etching or lithograph or woodcut, or all of these. By the time he got to his final revision the subject was distilled to its most impactful, concise, and relevant treatment, so the final prints are typically very powerful.

Munch will just blow your mind if you haven't experienced his work before. I was thrilled to see the exhibit includes many of his writings along with the prints, and also shows the progression of most pieces from the initial painting to the final woodcut. I was especially excited to see his Madonna at the center of the exhibit. Although Munch is most popularly known The Scream, his Madonna has always been my favorite.

As far as I'm aware, Munch is the only artist to show the Madonna at the moment of conception. That fetus in the corner of the frame is the future baby Jesus. It's such a powerful thought, and so insightful, to imagine Mary at the very first moment she becomes a mother. Munch wrote about this as well. I am not quoting exactly, but he said this is the moment that forges the link between all the thousands of generations past to all those future generations to come. It gave me chills to imagine that. It is the very moment all parents have known and it is so much more important than we usually consider at the time. Mary portrayed as she was, as well, the divine and the profane enmeshed...who could give imagery to that idea more skillfully than Munch?

I do think Munch could have used some Prozac or something, but we are all pretty lucky he didn't have access to it and had to work through his demons on paper. I really hoped the museum had produced an exhibition poster to match the card so I could hang it in my bedroom with my Eve exhibition posters from Italy. I didn't see one though. It's too bad, because it would have looked awesome in there.

Two Italian exhibition posters featuring interpretations on the story of Eve.

These posters are street posters for art exhibitions, one Florentine and one Venetian, from 1995. I was blessed not only to see these works in person, but since I worked as a graphic designer I was also able to locate the printer and purchase extras for only about $5 each. These street posters are plastered all over walls and buildings in Italy, as you've surely noticed if you've been there, but they are not usually sold at the exhibitions, so these are probably quite rare. I would never sell them, though, because they hold such wonderful memories of my time there. The Chagall exhibit was close enough to the ad agency where I worked two days a week that I was able to walk over to see it on my lunch break. They had Chagall's stained glass windows, which I'd only seen in black and white photos! Those are just awe-inspiring. If you ever get a chance to view them in person jump on it. That same day I saw Picasso's sketches for Guernica, along with many of the preliminary drawings for his other works.

Then, as I was lucky enough to be in the country for the Venezia Biennale I had to take the train to Venice to view it and was struck most powerfully by Franz Stuck's The Sin, featured on the poster. This is the one thing, I think, of all the many things I love about Italy, that ties me most to that country. On any given day, in almost any little town or big city, you can see Civilization's greatest achievements. Not only art, but so many things are on display there. The last time we visited, in 2009, we saw Galileo's notebooks at one museum and then happened on a little church showing many of Da Vinci's machines built according to his drawings. Many were life-sized and working. It was incredible. I used to spend every minute I wasn't at work walking around just LOOKING and soaking it in.

When I was looking for the Madonna poster Jerry pointed out that we don't really need another naked woman on the walls. We do have quite a bit of that, I suppose. I got the powder room downstairs finished last week and hung up a Fragonard, a Michelangelo (both in reproduction, of course) and then this figure study of my own:

Figure Study, pastel and charcoal on tinted paper.
I call this piece Rear View, which I think is funny but my mother thinks in awful. It is a reference to the drawing, obviously, but also to the experience. In figure drawing classes you always try to be early enough to get a good spot so you don't have just full-frontal nudity or a rear view like this one. But I was late to class that day, or too late to get a good spot, so it was a challenge to get a good piece out of it. Although this was just an exercise piece from a figure drawing class, it's my only work to ever hang in a museum. It was exhibited at CAM (the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh) in 2003. At that time they didn't have a building yet, so they borrowed an empty warehouse on East Martin Street, not at all a good part of town then. I remember I was scared to drop it off and pick it up! I had a toddler in tow, as I have for so many years. My last baby starts preschool this Fall and I'm freaking out a little, I think.

Besides the Munch exhibit, we went the same night to see Les Miserables the movie. This is my favorite musical by far and I've seen it on Broadway twice and in traveling shows pretty much every time it ever came to Raleigh, I think. I used to listen to the soundtrack so often I still know almost the entire thing by heart. I had the piano music in high school and I played it until it just fell to pieces. My friends and I would sing and sing and sing those songs! It had me reading Victor Hugo at 15, so there's something! I was scared to go see the movie because I worried they'd mess it up, but it was amazing. We stayed up after until 3AM afterwards talking to my sister about it. Then the next night we were up until midnight with my sister and brother-in-law watching the new Batman movie (though I don't remember that because Jerry was pouring the wine into my mother's huge goblets and there's no telling how much I drank. Too much, for sure!) Then the next night I went for a walk with my best friend, Cherre, and we stayed up until 2AM talking. Then we drove back here New Year's Eve and hosted my sister and her family for our annual Wii tournament. Ever since Just Dance came out it's been a dance-off more than anything.

When we got home from my parents' house with all our laundry we discovered our washing machine had stopped spinning, so all week I had to hand-scrub the laundry against the agitator and wring it out by hand. I used to wash my clothes in a bucket with a washboard in Italy, but washing for one person is quite a different thing than hand-washing for a family of five! Luckily, a new washer arrived Friday. Now that the laundry is easier, I hope this week to finally at least get started on some sewing.

I did get the opportunity to do a little more creative cooking than usual for lunch today. Jerry came home early and surprised me with some oysters, which I've been craving for weeks. Denver has a gas station that also sells meat and seafood. It looks a little questionable, but I've been wanting to try it, as they advertise fresh oysters. These certainly were fresh and so good! It was amazing to taste the ocean itself when we're so far away here. I was making bacon cheeseburger soup in the Crock Pot for dinner, and was frying the bacon and onions when Jerry arrived, so after I was finished I saved the bacon grease to fry up some of the oysters. Then we ate a couple raw, and the rest I broiled with garlic butter, lemon juice, fresh parsley, and sea salt. Delish!

My lemon tree
I have to brag a little on the lemon juice. I got the lemon from my little tree, shown above. It is so lovely to pick a lemon right off the tree when you need one! It smelled so heavenly. And the juice! Just one lemon had enough for all the oysters, sauce, and for our water!

The color of the fresh lemons is just amazing, too. Look at that! Have you ever seen such glorious fruit? Besides the lemons, I am happy today because the sun is actually out. It's amazing what a difference it makes. Two nights ago the sky was clear and I got to run under the stars. It looked as though glitter was dashed across the firmament. We are close enough to the airport to see a lot of planes and their lights looked like heavenly bodies transversing the sky and reflecting in the water. I ran and ran and it felt to good to pound everything out against the pavement. Of course, by the next night I was slogging around in the rain again.

I served our oysters with garlic butter on the side and salad, and of course we had to open a bottle of Cupcake chardonnay. I felt like we were in Italy again, with the lemon scent and the decadence of drinking wine at midday!

I hope the year is starting off well for you all, and that I am soon able to write about some new work. I spent a few hours reviewing my old posts the other night and this year I have a resolution to proofread more skillfully. I spell-check and spell-check and read and re-read these and then always later I find mistakes! It is so frustrating! My only defense is that I am always either working on the blog in the middle of the night or during the day while I am harassed to death by children. I have one chattering away at my elbow as I type this! I would never trade them for anything, though, no matter how persuasive.