KaZoo 2016 Year in Preview

Mista Lista is back, baby! Since the entirety of the ‘Zoo has been a construction zone for awhile, Mista Lista took a long vacation. A sabbatical, if you will. Now refreshed and ready for the new year, Mista Lista is back on the blog to share a sneak peek of what’s on the schedule for 2016 in the ‘Zoo.

Mista Lista has noticed the KaZoos aren’t the best at finishing projects on schedule (Can I get an amen?), or remotely close to schedule, for that matter.  I call it Creative Minds Meets If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Complex.

Creatives aren’t always known for progressing sequentially and logically along the shortest possible path to the endzone. They zig. They zag. They occasionally throw a series of backward passes. Wait a sec, that’s football. My bad.

Creative types often start a number of projects that sit in various stages of semi-completion as their enthusiasm for one idea is soon overtaken by inspiration for another. Their creative energy is diverted again, and again, and again, leaving them with a garage full of tools/supplies and a house full of construction projects hazards.

And of course, this haphazard completion is helped (?) along when the beginning of Project A leads to the beginning of another related Project B. For example, when the KaZoos wanted to install their range hood vent, it meant tearing down the upper kitchen cabinets first to make room for said hood vent. But cutting holes in the roof for exterior ventilation meant getting someone to cut the hole in the roof and seal the opening (that would guarantee the work). And given the existing roof was nearing the its end of life, shouldn’t they just go ahead and replace it while the guy was coming out to look at the roof? And on the story goes. Anyone else need a cookie and milk after that? I thought so. 

Therefore, without further ado, I give you the KaZoos’ 2016 resolution:

Finish what you started.

Startling, I know.

So what’s on the docket? Here goes, in no particular order:

Mrs. KaZoo’s Dissertation
We’ll start with the most depressing and boring project, Mrs. KaZoo’s dissertation. Yup, this project is getting knocked out in 2016. I realize this probably doesn’t interest (m)any of you, so enough about that.

King Quilt
Mrs. KaZoo plans to finish the king quilt she started two (three?) years ago so that the KaZoos have cooler covers for the warm summer weather.


Backyard Fence
The KaZoos have had a partially fenced backyard for months now-the result of working steadily but slowly to replace fence panels as time and money allowed. As the KaZoos near the year anniversary of starting their fence job (March), they plan to have this baby complete and inspected before winter is over, or February. They actually tackled the back gate the previous weekend, so here’s hoping they can get a few more panels and the last two gates done in the next couple of weekends.


Fireplace Wall
It’s time for the fireplace to get some more love, just in time for Valentine’s Day, perhaps? The KaZoos built footings for the mantel last weekend, so all that’s left is to reinstall the mantel, caulk, paint, and tile the fireplace surround. And calling a chimney sweep to clean things up from the renters who tried to burn wood in a fireplace designed for gas logs. I know, right?! 


The longest project in the history of the ‘Zoo. Seriously. What’s left, you ask? Laying underlayment in the guest wing, tiling and grouting the guest wing, and tiling and grouting the master wing. Oh, and the kitchen and master bath after those get demolished. 


Once they get the floors finished, the KaZoos plan to install new, chunkier baseboards.


Paint Touchups
The Kazoos need to touchup the paint in a few areas around the house. Seriously, people. A finished paint job makes everything look more polished.


Kitchen Renovation
The KaZoos also have a BIG kitchen reno in the works. Design, demo of existing pantry, relocation of refrigerator and waterline, new drywall and paint, purchase and installation of new cabinets and countertops, you know. All in a day’s work, right? Smirk.


The fools KaZoos intend to complete all of these projects in the first half of 2016, but I’m not going to hold them to any promises. {Wink.}












Customized Jewelry Storage

Personal Service Announcement: If there is one project you should hire out, it is definitely installing wood plank tile in your whole house.  In case you are wondering, yep, we are still slowly tiling our whole house. Forty, no, fifty days? Times a hundred it would seem!

Anyway, that project isn’t going to be ready to share for another 300 days (it seems), so I thought I would share a quick DIY I did last Monday while Chris was working on his car and other people were complaining about Columbus.

For the last 15 years or so, I have had a very functional jewelry armoire (from Service Merchandise–remember those days?) that my parents gave me. However, our recent NYC-apartment-like living in a fraction of our house’s square footage has amplified the need to eliminate some furniture pieces that aren’t working quite as hard as others. Let’s be honest: Sleep is essential; jewelry is not. I realize this may sound like treason to some, but my engagement + wedding rings and a pair of pearl studs are just enough bling for me most days. Ergo, the bed is in; the armoire is out.


A couple of years ago, my mom made the decision to sell her jewelry armoire (purchased at the same time as mine) in the interests of having more floor space, and she has never looked back.  I decided it was time to follow suit.

I’ve noticed a trend in open jewelry storage, but I’m not a fan for two main reasons: (1) dust (2) cats. If you cycle through all your necklaces on a regular basis, you probably don’t have to worry about dust settling on your jewelry, but I would…and dust mites really aren’t a great fashion statement. In addition, we have cats that like to play with shiny, dangling objects (and one that likes to try to eat them), so this is a no-go for us.

My mom has been using these stackable jewelry boxes from Bed, Bath, & Beyond that keep her jewelry dust-free, and I opted to do the same, with a DIY modification.


The set of 3 stackable trays (a bit misleading because it is really 2 + a lid) is a better buy than the separate individual trays, but the set doesn’t come with the tray with the ring/stud holder that is the very best part of my jewelry armoire. Womp, womp, womp. Typical marketing/sales ploy. 

Rather than pay $20 for the add-on section at the same time, I chose to make my own, using leftover craft materials. I didn’t have anything comparable to the velvety lining on hand, so I grabbed some craft foam.


I simply cut a piece of foam to match the width of the smallest compartment, then folded it accordion-style, with each fold being slightly less than the height of the compartment, about 1/2″ long.


The accordion folds give it just enough tension to wedge into the existing compartment and hold itself without the need of any adhesive.  That’s right–NO ADHESIVE NEEDED. This means you can always take the foam back out. 🙂


The folds also give it the sections needed for inserting rings and studs. I used tighter folds for the studs and looser folds for the rings, and both are working just fine.


Eventually I may purchase the real deal (with a good coupon!), but for the 15 minutes it took and the $20 savings right now, it was a nice quick fix to tide me over until then!

Organization Station: Managing Sewing Stashes

If you are a hobbyist or DIYer, you well understand the need to have a collection of materials waiting to be put to good use–and the need to get a handle on storage of said materials before your garage/attic/basement/guest bedroom/linen closet becomes the Monica closet, or perhaps a cemetery for best laid plans and good intentions. Here lies industrial shelving attempt #1,  behind all the tile samples underneath all the wood for the Ana White farmhouse table covered in two inches of dust and sand from the beach toys used three vacations ago..or was it four?   You get the picture.

People of the cloth, and I’m not talking clergy here, have a compulsive need for All of the Things! a fabric stash. These stashes vary in size based on a number of factors, but most crafters agree that you can never have too much fabric. Of course, when trying to store said fabric, those of us lesser mortals with limited storage must be more circumspect with our fabric purchases. I learned this lesson after being overly ambitious when I started quilting and couldn’t choose between fabrics, which resulted in buying All of the Things! enough fabric  for two and a half quilts when I had set out only to buy fabric for one. This resulted in a modest stash that I hauled with me from the city to the beach. It has been languishing in one of the guest bedrooms while I have been working on school things, and by languishing I mean that it has been piled on the bed and various shelves and shoved in random baskets. My quilt is not quite finished.  And by that I mean I have 1/4 of the quilt top sewn. It’s a king size quilt, so cut me some slack. 😉

Since last May, I have been struggling to find a place where all of my art and craft supplies could be kept and to find a prime place for working on my school stuff. The desk I use for schoolwork right now is also the desk I normally use for my sewing machine and supplies, but both cannot occupy the same space at the same time. #physics Enter the mail center.

IMG_4505    This mail center was a housewarming present to us from Chris’s paternal grandmother eight years ago when we bought our first house. It came from Pier 1, and it served us well in our first house and later in the townhome in the city. For some reason, it has not been functional here at the beach, most likely because it is not conveniently located to the entryway of our home. Rather than serving as a mail/paper processing station as usual, it is a clutter catcher, with piles of mail and other random things. In fact, the mail center had become the junk (drawer) center of late, which was unacceptable.

Inspiration hit when I realized that the cubbies in the mail center would be perfect for storing yards of fabric–and for controlling the quantities that could be stored, resulting in a more manageable stash. Better use of mail center? Check.  Better storage for fabric? Check.  Less compulsive spending and buyer’s remorse? Check. Check.IMG_4499

This solution would probably not work for people who sew regularly and need to store vast swaths of fabric, but for an on-again, off-again project crafter like me, this was an ideal match.

My sewing machine fits snugly in the bottom cabinet as if it were made for it. Very snugly. I think I can fit my pinky finger in the space between the sewing machine and the shelf bottom.IMG_4501All my fabric has a tidy, colorful home…note the quilt squares cut and ready to be sewn together…


and there is even room for the jewelry box one of my great-grandmothers gave me, which I am currently using to store binding I have already cut for the quilts I have yet to make. #gettingthere


My sewing supplies and scraps fit in the drawer or on the top shelf of the bottom cabinet in glass storage containers we got as a wedding gift almost nine years ago that used to be in our kitchen.  We don’t have room for them on our counters now, but this is turning out to be a great way to repurpose them.


The mail center is not intended for a heavy machine to perch precariously on the end of the pull-down desktop, so I do not plan to sew here.  However, on the other side of this rather useless pass through area in the center of our house is a hand-me-down sofa table that I had been temporarily using for sewing anyway when I had the time. Nearby is our dining table, so I can just pull a chair up to the sofa table, set up the machine, and sew to my heart’s content while watching, er, listening to reruns of Fixer Upper. Watching might result in bleeding fingers. Not recommended.


Best part? When I’m not sewing, it all closes up, and no one will ever know that this is a mail center fabric hoard sewing station.


Except for all of you. Oops. 😉

Pin the nose on the old baby portrait

In my mom’s purge of her house, she bequeathed me two 11 x 14 Olan Mills studio portraits of (you guessed it) my younger self.  One of the portraits was of me as a baby; the other was of eighth grade cheerleader me.  Obviously, I was NOT about to hang those anywhere in my house (nor post them here!), but I thought the frames and canvases might be useful separately rather than together.  I removed the backing paper and then pried the canvases from the frames with my bare hands (not kidding), which left me with one potentially interesting brassy frame and one other frame that I decided to send to Goodwill.  I used a pair of pliers to remove the lingering staples.

The brassy frame had two picture hangers in the back, to which I tied a ribbon in order to make a more interesting wall hanging.  The brassy frame was just the piece I needed to help an odd assortment of art and picture frames from Chris’ family come together in the form of a gallery wall.You can’t really get a good angle for a quality picture, so I’ll provide a description.  It looks better in real life, trust me.


Chris’s mom did the cross-stitching matted in green, and the narrow photo is of the yard from his childhood home.   The two pressed flower pieces were gifts from his paternal grandmother; a friend of hers made them.  The plaque (I think it came from Target) says “All because two people fell in love” and was a gift from his youngest brother/mother for our first Christmas as a married couple.  The three mahogany frames were also from his grandmother.  Previously, these pieces seemed out of place in our new beach home, but these aren’t exactly pieces we could part with.  Now, they live happily together in our guest hallway–an empty pass-through space that was begging for some visual interest to make people linger a bit longer.

As for the baby portrait canvases, I decided to make pin boards from them.  Yes, how old-fashioned of me to like a real pin board, right?  I love Pinterest, but when it comes to work productivity, I am one of those people who need to see and touch things in order to remember them.  Electronic reminders just don’t do it for me, much as I love Evernote and other apps.

I planned to remove the scary former-self pics, but that wasn’t happening.  I used some home decor fabric remnants I had leftover from other projects to cover the canvases (Tip: Use home decor fabric, preferably in darker colors, to prevent your former self from staring at you being visible through the fabric.  The orange fabric you see below was sufficient for hiding the soft pastel colors of the baby portrait, but I used a darker blue to hide the cheerleading uniformed me.) I measured my canvases and then cut the fabric, allowing enough extra material to wrap around the canvas and secure at the back (I added roughly 4 inches to the dimensions, making my fabric pieces about 15 x 18, to allow for about two inches extra on each side of the canvas).


I positioned the canvas on the fabric where I wanted it, making sure the pattern was in the desired location, and laid it facedown on the fabric on a flat surface.  You may want to do the positioning before cutting if you have a super large scale print to ensure that what you want to see is what you actually get.


I put too much Tacky Glue on the frame and folded the first side of fabric over the edge of the frame, smoothing it and securing with a big binder clip.  I wiped off excess glue along the way.


I repeated this step three additional times for the other sides, leaving the corners for last.


For the corners, I treated them like upholstering the seats of dining chairs, drawing the fabric taut and securing with glue.


I also used the binder clip to help hold the corners in place while the glue dried to ensure the material stayed taut.


After drying, it looked like this:


Now I have two pin boards that hold inspiration quotes, contact info, my schedule, etc.


You can imagine my mother’s shock when she found out what I did with these old portraits–pleasure at my creative and inexpensive (free) repurposing of useless things and horror at the thought that I am stabbing myself as a wee child.  I suppose it’s a bit creepy, but I do sort of chuckle to myself every time I think “pin the nose on the baby” when I add something to my boards.  So if you find some of those gargantuan portraits of you from your childhood in the attic/basement, you don’t have to burn them.  Your former self can be repurposed to help your current/future self remember things, which is really quite thoughtful of you.  them.  I mean, erm,  I think I’ll end here before this post gets any weirder.


Not Feeling Hemmed-in Anymore

Have you ever found a pair of pants that fit you perfectly, bought five pairs of them (in different colors, of course), and lived happily for several years, only to later discover that the store no longer carries the perfect pant for you anymore?  Feeling “hemmed-in” by “standard” sizes that supposedly fit the average person and actually fit no one? I feel your pain.  About seven years ago, Banana Republic made a regularly sized pant with a shorter inseam (denoted “S”) that was the best fit ever. I bought almost every color of that pant available and literally wore them out.  When I returned to buy replacements a few years later, I discovered that they had replaced their “short” pants with a petite collection that was not a 1:1 substitution.  Complete and utter disappointment.  When I tried on a pair of their petite pants to find a small enough waist and inseam, the distance from the waist to the crotch was too short, and there was barely enough room in the thighs for my former gymnast/dancer/cheerleader legs (read: NOT TOOTHPICKS, FASHION INDUSTRY! Grr!).  When I tried on a regular pair of pants, the situation reversed.  Banana Republic was literally the ONLY store that carried a dress pant that fit me, but not anymore.  Now, my shopping experience at BR was like every other shopping experience at every other store =  feelings of self-loathing and bitter frustration.

Since this was back in my “newlywed educator with zero income to spend on tailored clothes and zero sewing ability” days, I did what any normal girl would do: I bought a buffet of differently-fitting (read: ill-fitting) pants.  On days where I needed to look “professional,” I suffered through the pants with the tighter crotch and legs (suffer being an understatement), while on casual days, I tripped over the long legs of the baggier, bigger pants (nothing says “put together” like tripping on your pants at a job interview, right?).  After tearing through a mile-long hem with a stiletto heel and experiencing petechial bleeding across my hips from the tight-fitting pants, I resorted to wearing yoga pants and “outdoorsy” pants to work–the kind with the expandable waist and zip-off legs that you buy at places like REI. Seriously.  Now granted, I work in the freer world of graduate student/academia, where you can get away with a more eclectic (translates: casual) wardrobe, but nothing says poor graduate student like ill-fitting pants. Or yoga/hiking pants.  Since most of the other female doc students have become pregnant in the last couple of years or so, I knew it was a matter of time before people naturally assumed I was wearing stretchy and expand-a-waist pants because I was carrying a bundle of joy.  I was desperate for a solution.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t just wear skirts instead of pants to work.  Reasons: Overworked women do not have time to shave their legs daily. I am an overworked woman. You can fill in the rest. Also, I work best with my feet propped on top of my desk.  Again, you can fill in the rest.

That’s when I realized I had started sewing again.  If I could repair a zipper on an old skirt and sew some pillow covers, surely I could hem some of those baggy dress pants, right?  I could make MY OWN “short” pants (Take that, BR!).  Of course, the thought of sewing mismatching leg lengths was intimidating, which is why I didn’t cut off the extra material.  That way, if I screwed up, I could undo the disaster and give them to someone else to fix. At some point. In the distant future. When I am not a poor grad student.  (Correction: In the near future.  I hope. Please.)

I started with a pair of Gap khaki pants, thinking that I would save my nicer dress pants for post-practice sessions.  I put on the too-long pants, and rolled up the pant legs to the desired length, making sure they appeared even. foldinghemsup Since the pants are made of a relatively thick khaki material, the cuffs stayed rolled up long enough for me to take them off, match up the legs to ensure they were the same length, and reverse the cuffs by rolling them under.


I realize this isn’t exactly how most people do this, but we’re talking amateur tactics that actually worked. Miracle. Feel free to ignore the weird black grunge on the edge of my desk–years of sweaty wrists, methinks? #FurnitureHandMeDowns It’s clean.  It’s just permanently stained.  But don’t worry.  It’s getting painted with Annie Sloan Chalk paint as soon as we move out of #Rentervilletuckingunderhem

I selected a stitch that looked like the original hem, then sewed each leg, starting and stopping at the interior seam (This probably seems obvious to most of you, but I took the attachment base off my machine so that I could sew in a circle around the pant leg, rather than sewing the leg hole shut!).   I used a cotton, khaki-colored thread from Coats and Clark that my husband actually bought to sew some buttons on his own pants.  After witnessing his attempt at button-sewing, I graciously offered to sew the rest for him. 🙂hemming I backstitched the beginning and end of my hem and across the interior seam to reinforce it because this was a fairly heavy weight khaki.  backstitchseamPlus, I wanted my work to last–at least for one wear and wash, anyway. Long enough to prove I could actually hem a pair of pants. Yeah, something like that.2legsfinished

I tried on my pants post-sewing and was amazed that they actually seemed to fit for the first time ever. Yay!  Now I’m no longer “hemmed-in” by store sizes.finishedNow on to the trickier dress pants.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to wear my yoga pants for yoga and my hiking pants for hiking soon!

Tidbits: Pumpkin Pincushion

Happy fall, y’all!

Okay, so it’s not fall yet, but it’s almost September (close enough, right?).    As a former educator, back to school time conjures up plenty of sights, sounds, and smells (fresh crayons and stacks of Post-its, anyone?).  I am a sucker for school/office supplies.  Remember that line from You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ character types, “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils” to Meg Ryan’s character?  Love. it.  Especially a bouquet of yellow Ticonderoga pencils!

Confession: I actually hate writing with #2 wooden pencils.  I just love looking at them.  Have you ever noticed that brand new sharpened pencils are like daisies?  They arrange themselves in their container (if you have enough to look like an actual flower arrangement). But I digress….

Anyway, once school is back in session, fall seems to be just around the corner.  I am totally one of those people who breaks out the fall decor on the inside of my house on Labor Day weekend.  The outside decor goes up on the first official day of autumn so at least the neighbors don’t think I’m too crazy.

For some reason (despite the ridiculously hot weather we are having), it feels like it should be fall (maybe because I am wishing for cooler weather).  Don’t get me wrong.  I love summer.  But there is something wonderful about autumn.  And pumpkins.  And crisp leaves.  And cool evenings.  And hot cider.  And baked apples.  And pumpkins.  And hooded sweatshirts.  And football games.  And sweaters.  And pumpkins.  Did I mention pumpkins?

Speaking of pumpkins, to satisfy my ridiculously early craving for fall this year, I made this pincushion:


I followed the Fiskars tutorial (from http://www2.fiskars.com/Sewing-Quilting/Projects/For-the-Home/Organization/Sewn-Pumpkin-Pincushion#.UhjPE2RBKHc).  I first saw this project when I purchased some sewing supplies from Jo-Ann’s and immediately googled it when I got home to investigate further.

Okay, I mostly followed the tutorial, but made a key modification: Instead of sewing the leaf inside out, reversing it, and stitching closed, I actually sewed it by hand right-side out.  Yes, this meant that the rough edges are exposed, but this makes the leaf look a bit more realistic.  If you look closely at pumpkin leaves, they aren’t “perfect” along the edge either (no, my leaf is not shaped like an authentic pumpkin leaf–my fabric cutting skills aren’t that impeccable just yet).  Plus, it also allowed me to pull the thread taut in such a manner that it made my leaf curl, giving it more dimensionality and character, I think.  Like a leaf that is starting to shrivel up just a wee bit.

Check out the tutorial if you are an “autumnut” like I am–very cute, very fun, fairly simple.  My pumpkin is not quite as segmented as the tutorial’s, though, which was a bit disappointing.  The directions said to make sure you stuffed your pincushion with enough filler to make it plump, but I think I must have overstuffed (overachiever that I am)  because each time I pulled the embroidery thread around the sections tighter to make the sections plump out, my thread would break (and I wasn’t using cheap thread!).  I suppose I could undo my stitching and take some stuffing out to see if it improves things, but I’m reluctant to destroy it.  At any rate, it’s good enough for the first pincushion I’ve ever made and is cute enough to be a fall decoration.  Apparently, it is also tempting as a cat toy, as I saw one of our sneaky littles pawing at it a couple of days ago. That gives me an idea for another tidbit, though: cat toys…maybe filled with catnip instead of loose threads? Meow.

Quilting Part 2: Cut and Dry

At last!  All the fabric for the front of my king size quilt has been washed, dried, pressed, and cut.IMG_2154

Here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly aspects of this part of quilting:

The Good: Prewashing all my fabric to avoid uneven shrinkage in my quilt (patting myself on the back for avoiding one rookie mistake).

The Bad: Prewashing all my fabric meant that I lost quite a bit of fabric to shrinkage and unraveling of the edges.


The unraveled threads I put to use for stuffing a pumpkin pin cushion I am making using the Fiskars tutorial here: (http://www2.fiskars.com/Sewing-Quilting/Projects/For-the-Home/Organization/Sewn-Pumpkin-Pincushion#.Uhi6tWRBKHc), so no major loss there.

IMG_2117However, the shrinkage was saddening because I didn’t get quite as many fabric squares as I needed from some of my fabrics that shrunk more than others (see Quilting Part 1 for more info about that: https://kazoopartyoftwo.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/blocks-strips-and-squares-oh-my/).

The Ugly: Pressing and cutting.  I hate to iron (seriously–there are items of clothing that hang on the “to be ironed”rack for months until those clothes go out of season…or until Chris decides to do it, whichever comes first). “Pressing” (not ironing, as I have learned!) all of the fabric was rather tedious, as was cutting all of my squares…ALL 1296 OF THEM. That’s right–you heard me. ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED NINETY SIX SQUARES.  For just the front of the quilt. (CAN YOU HEAR ME SCREAMING INSIDE?!?!?!)


Here’s how things happened in a nutshell:

Materials Needed:

  • Fabric (obviously)
  • Cutting Mat (at least 18 x 24 is my recommendation)
  • Rotary Cutter (with back-up replacement blades if you are making a ginormous quilt like I am…mine started to dull near the end of all my cutting)
  • Sewing/quilting rulers (6 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ at least; also preferably a 6 1/2″ x 24″ (6″ x 24″ will work, too)
  • Cutting guide (if you don’t have the steadiest of hands…which you won’t after hours and days of cutting)

Step 1: Making the Left Edge Even.  After pressing my fabric and cutting off the unraveled parts, I folded the fabric to make the selvages meet (top and bottom), doubled it (not an expert quilter thing to do, but I didn’t have the 6 x 24 ruler you are supposed to have to do this step…so I improvised) and cut the left edge to be nice and even using my rotary cutter.  It was a rather painful discovery that this meant additional loss of fabric.   Although this may not be an expert quilter thing to do, I allowed the residual fabric to cascade down the side of my smallish desk to allow gravity and the edge of the desk to help keep my folded material in place.


It was at this point when I realized that the cutting directions I was following were for right-handed people.  Everything I was doing felt very backwards to me, being a southpaw.  Nevertheless, I powered through and managed to survive…at least long enough to write this blog post ( If you don’t see posts for awhile from me, assume I have carpal tunnel at best and have crawled into my craft closet to die at worst).  Fortunately, the rotary cutter I purchased could be used by either left- or right-handed people, so I made the best of an awkward situation.

Step 2: Cutting Strips. Lots of Strips.  After evening up the left edge, I could cut strips and strips and more strips of fabric.  The beginning quilter book I was following advised against using the gridlines on my cutting mat as a guide for straight edges, but I checked mine against my rulers and confirmed that they were spaced at appropriate intervals and were indeed perpendicular and parallel.


I used this nifty tool (shown below) to help me cut straight lines at the right intervals (3 1/2″ apart in my case) …if you are left-handed, you will understand my concern with needing help to cut straight lines, even with a rotary cutter instead of cheap elementary-school kiddie scissors.  As you can see, though, the tool is only 12 x 12, so you have to be careful to fold your fabric to fit the form.  Make sure you don’t fold your fabric too many times, though, or you will find that you actually don’t have some straight strips.  I simply folded my fabric once, then once more, so I was only cutting through four layers at a time.


Step 3: Cutting Squares.  From there, I used my square ruler (shown in the pic) to cut my strips into squares.  IMG_2120

This took FOREVER…(not the five squares, but the 1296 it took to make the entire quilt front).IMG_2115

Step 4: Cutting the Binding.  While I was already in cutting mode, I decided to cut the strips for my quilt binding.  I realize that this is a later step for most quilters, but I am not most quilters.  Obviously.  IMG_2130

Since I’m making a 108″ x 108″ quilt, I needed 108″ x 4 sides = 432″ of fabric in length.  I also added 15″ extra inches in length to allow for error and working with the corners for a grand total of 447″ length. I decided to make my binding 2.5″ wide, so I cut my strips using the same strategy as before, except 2.5″ wide instead of 3.5″ wide.

IMG_2129I had great help in measuring my binding strips to ensure I had enough material cut (and yes, that is my yoga mat: short on space = craftercise room).   IMG_2124

Lessons learned:

(1) The pattern I created for the front alternates (hence why some of the stacks of fabric squares are turned on the diagonal in the picture above), which meant I could not leave my fabric in strips that I could sew together to save time and then cut apart into squares later. I could have left some in strips since the pattern does repeat, but I was also concerned about my novice-cutting not being so great, so I cut everything into squares.  In the future, I will probably try to create patterns that allow me to take such shortcuts.  If you need to learn patience, cutting 1296 precise fabric squares is a great way to do it.  Believe me, I know.

(2) Forget #1.  I see why many people can’t go the distance with quilting, especially quilting a king size quilt.  For the back of this quilt, I plan to use fabric strips to simplify matters and go faster.  Plus, I like the idea of chunky stripes almost as much as I do a nifty pattern of squares…and maybe better.

(3) Forget #2.  After looking at some inspiring quilts online (http://www.stitchedincolor.com/) , I still plan to do the strips for the back of the king quilt, but perhaps for another quilt, I will make a more intricate pattern to amp up my piecing skills and allow my creativity a bit more room for expression.

(4) Read beginning quilting books and checkout online tutorials, but don’t feel like you have to play by their rules.  For example, my beginning quilter book actually recommended that novices avoid use of geometrics in their first quilting enterprise.  I ignored their advice simply because I adore geometric prints and because geometry is kind of my life’s work (I conduct research investigating children’s thinking about geometry and space).  I. love. geometry.  (You have to love geometry to love quilting, I think…even if only on a subconscious level).  A word of caution, though, when working with geometric prints involving straight lines: As you can see from this picture, this fabric is going to look wonky if you don’t actually even the left edge and cut your strips to align with the vertical lines in the pattern.


(5)  If you have any problems with your hands/wrists/forearms (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, arthritis, trigger finger, etc.) your hands will get tired and cramped from this much cutting.  Space out your cutting over several days or even weeks, if you can wait that long.  I suffer from trigger finger, exacerbated by an excessive number of hobbies involving my hands plus a job that requires lots of writing, and my left hand knotted up from so much cutting, even spread across multiple days.  Don’t wear your hands out just to get your cutting done in record time.

Now onward to the back side.  Yes, I could begin blocking the front, but I want to have all the wash, dry, press, and cut out of the way before the beautiful assemblage begins.  Call me crazy.  I’ve got some beautiful fabrics for the back, too; who knows, it might end up as the “front” of the quilt?  The best part of doing a two-sided quilt is that I can reverse it at will…and believe me, I will. 🙂

Until next time!

Enveloped in Envelope Pillow Covers

Confession: I love pillows.IMG_2150

Well, I used to love pillows. Then I learned from the Vanderbilt ASAP clinic that I have a dust mite allergy…a really, really severe dust mite allergy–one of the worst they’ve ever seen.  Guess where dust mites live? Pillows. Mattresses. Upholstered furniture. Carpet.  Those yellowish stains on your nice, soft feather pillows? Not sweat. Dust mite detritus.

In other words, dust mites love soft things, just like we do.  To make matters worse, dust mites love soft, breathable, organic fibers like cotton; unfortunately, so do I, since I am allergic to the chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics, too.

The docs recommended I eliminate all fabric from my home except for my mattress and bed pillow, which should be covered in synthetic, plastic, zip-closure things that essentially suffocate the dust mites and provide a protective barrier between mighty-mites and me (sounds comfortable, right?).  Sputtering, I responded, “What am I supposed to have left in my house?”  They recommended hardwood or tile floors (Yay!) and (drumroll, please) metal or plastic furniture.  WHAT??!?!?!

Although I did buy the mattress and pillow enclosures (and have been pleasantly pleased, especially now that they have extra soft ones at Bed, Bath, & Beyond!), I thought they were asking a bit much.  After all, I currently live in a 90% carpeted condo, so I can’t exactly rip up the homeowners’ carpet and say, “My allergies/doctors/voices in my head made me do it.”  Plus, who doesn’t want a comfy couch? With comfy pillows? And comfy ottomans?  I used to work at Pier 1 Imports.  Not once did someone enter the store and say, “Where are your plastic throw cushions?”  or “I’m looking for a nice, metal couch.”  Not many people are screaming for a metal or plastic couch…at least, I don’t hear any.

That was in November 2011.  Since then, I see dust mites everywhere (no, you can’t actually see them without magnification), but I have visions of them propagating and march-running over the swells of the sofa like orcs in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’ve started labeling anything potentially dust mite-laden or a dust-collector as a “dusty.”  With so many dusties around the house contributing to my ill-being, I willingly sacrificed two trash bags of throw/accent pillows dusties to Goodwill.

This was before I read online that you could slow dust mite reproductive cycles (and facilitate die-off) by freezing your pillows (and anything you can’t machine wash and dry on hot) in sealed, plastic bags like those giant Ziplocs for over 24 hours.  I knew that keeping your home colder (below 68 degrees) limits their reproductivity, but this was news to me.  Wait, I didn’t have to give those pillows away?!?!?! Eh, whittling down my supply of pillows was probably wise; after all, I still have 11 dusties toss pillows remaining in various locations around our home.  Plus, some of those pillows would have been hard to cover (dark colors, bold florals, textural).  What pillows I have remaining are definitely my favorites, but they could still benefit from updating.

Enter the envelope pillow.  IMG_2198

Since my decorating style is rather eclectic, and I get bored with the same old, same old rather quickly, I decided to make some envelope enclosures for my existing pillows.  This way, I can easily remove the covers, wash them (those of you with kids are nodding, right?), and change out according to season, design whim, etc.

There are several websites and blog posts about making envelope pillow covers that necessitate varying degrees of expertise and patience needed to decipher, read between the lines, and follow the directions.   I’ve listed some options below, but there are plenty of other good tutorials out there!

For people who know sewing terms:


For novices (like me):

Tatertots & Jello: Love the orange polkadot fabric and sizing calculation info but would have benefited from pictures and directions together in stepwise format


Centsational Girl: Love the diagrams and step-by-step directions (this really helped me visualize the project more clearly) but would have benefited from sizing info


I Heart Stitching: Love the listing of fabric dimensions for different pillow sizes.  Directive rambling? Not so much for me, but this could be useful for a lot of people (lots of calming reassurance).  Best part, IMO? The most disturbingly stained ironing board I’ve ever seen.  I love it when we see the human side of amazing DIY people!

I followed a hybrid of these four tutorials, summarizing my process below:


Measure and cut your front panel.  For an 18 in x 18 in pillow, I cut a 19 in x 19 in front panel, allowing the extra 1 inch requisite that these tutorials recommended.  Then measure and cut your back panels (shown in pic), which for me were 19 inches long (to be as long as my pillow front) x 12.5 inches wide each (I followed the Tatertots & Jello calculation here).



Fold the opening edge of one of your back panels under once (1/2 inch) and once more (another 1/2 inch).  The opening edge is the side of the panel that will be open in the middle of the  back so you can stuff your pillow inside the cover.


Pin and sew those edges, backstitching at the beginning and end for strength. Rinse and repeat for the other back panel.



This is where you can totally ruin your project if you aren’t careful. Lay front panel sunny side up (pretty side facing up).


Lay the two back panels sunny side down on top of the front panel, making sure your outside edges match up so that you have the right amount of overlap in the middle of the back.  Pin and sew around the entire perimeter (outer edge) of the pillow cover, leaving about a half inch allowance (margin).

Backstitching at the beginning and end of your sewing is a must, and some people recommend backstitching over the corners and the area where the opening will be to reinforce the pillow (rule follower that I am, I did!).


Now turn your pillow cover right side out through the opening, and stuff with pillow form or old pillow. Voila!


Once I did one pillow cover, I couldn’t stop.




The yellow pillow with the white chunky chains is from Target; the other three are pillows wearing my envelope pillow covers. Yay!

Lessons learned:

If you cut your fabric an extra inch in dimensions, as recommended by these tutorials, you may have a pillow cover that is a bit loose if your pillow form or existing pillow doesn’t fill it out completely.  Even when a pillow’s label says “18 x 18” you may have extra room in your 19 x 19 cover.  In fact, I made a 19 x 19 pillow cover for an 18 x 18 pillow and managed to get a 19.5 x 19.5 pillow (the gray floral) inside it to get the form to be snug and crisp-looking. I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily, though, because you don’t want the back opening to pucker, or worse, rip your brand-new pillow cover.  The back of mine doesn’t pucker but is close.  I tried a half-inch allowance for another square pillow, and that turned out to be just perfect, possibly because my pillows aren’t as plump as other people’s pillows (insert adolescent male joke here).   For a rectangular shape, I recommend the full inch allowance, as stuffing the pillow through a smaller opening is a tougher job, and you may need extra room inside for properly positioning the pillow (try to say that five times!).

Also, on the rectangular form, you don’t need as much overlap in the back panels. In fact, that much overlap makes it REALLY difficult to get the pillow inside.

In sum, I’ve saved a good bit of money by reusing the pillows I already have and covering them with fabric leftover from a different project that was relatively quick and easy to do–perfect for a sewing novice like me.  Plus, the dust mites have a prettier home in which to reside. I’m sure they’re thanking me for giving their home a facelift, perhaps dedicating their next-born to me.  I’ll soon send them all on an all-expenses paid trip to the Arctic (aka the freezer) in return.  Aren’t I generous? 🙂

Quilting Part 1: Blocks, Strips, and Squares, Oh My!

After my latest sewing successes, I have begun my king size quilt.  Should I probably make a smaller quilt first to get conditioned for the quilting version of the Boston marathon (or maybe the Iron Man competition!)?  Yup.  But a king quilt could easily be divided into smaller quilts that can then be sewn together, so really, a king size quilt is simply quilter delayed gratification.  I’ve named our quilt “Twelve Bar Blues” because I’m using a repeating pattern of 12 quilt squares that are mostly in the blue family (and because I happen to be a music nerd-History of Jazz, anyone?).  Here’s a sneak peak!IMG_2132

Since I didn’t buy enough material on shopping trip #1 and the store didn’t have any of my original choices left For visual interest, some of the main squares in the pattern will be substituted with these other fabric squares, some at repeating intervals and others at random (okay, I wanted some “planned randomness” anyway but ended up with more randomness than what I initially had in mind).IMG_2133

Rather than save up this REALLLLLLLLLLLLLY LOOOOOONG project to post all at once, I’m going to post in several installments, beginning with today’s post on calculations and shopping.

Planning TIP #1: If you have never quilted before, proceed with caution when looking at quilter forums and expert quilter blogs for how to calculate material.  Supply list? Yes.  Advice on material purchases? Maybe, depending on your taste and style.  Calculations? Nope.

Here’s why:

Some of the quilting pages provide Calculator applets to help you calculate material you need by the size of quilt you intend to make and the size of squares you wish to use (if using quilt squares at all).  Trouble is, some of these don’t actually function correctly, and some of them calculate the number of blocks you need, not the number of squares.  This results in newbies, like me, returning home with one-fourth of the fabric I needed to make my quilt, feeling like there was something VERY wrong but trusting the experts that I could, in fact, defy the laws of nature.  I should have trusted my own mathematical prowess instead.

This brings us to Planning Tip #2: Do your own math.

Some of these “helpful” online tools don’t factor in the seam allowance you want to have for each square (i.e., if you want 3″ squares, you actually need to plan to buy material for 3.5″ squares to allow for a quarter-inch of fabric on each side to be stitched together to form quilt blocks).I wanted to make a king size quilt, and most king size bedding is typically 107″ x 108″.  I decided to make a nice square to make calculations easier, so I am making a 108″ x 108″ plus the binding, since I want it a little bigger to snuggle in.  After a sobfest over trusting the “experts”, having to confess to my husband that the $$ I spent on quilt fabric was only a fourth of what I actually had to spend, and listening to him respond, “If it’s that expensive, then why aren’t we getting that Pottery Barn thing then?”), I did my own calculations, first finding the area of the quilt and then dividing that by the area of my finished quilt squares (3″) to get the number of squares I would need. Then I created a pattern on graph paper to serve as a scale model of my quilt and added up how many of each kind of quilt square I would need for my pattern for the entire quilt.  From there, I calculated the area in a yard of fabric (typically 42″ x 36″) and subtracted that by the area of the size of INITIAL quilt squares (3.5″ x 3.5″) I would need to get a better estimate of how many quilt squares per yard I could likely get.  Then I used that to determine how many yards of each fabric I would need, in relation to the numbers needed for my pattern.  For example, the blue leaf quilt square is used once in the 12-bar pattern, so I needed 108 squares.  If I can get 110 squares from one yard (which was often the case with my fabric), I only need 1 yard of blue leaf fabric. The yellow dragonfly is used twice in the pattern, so I needed 216 squares, or 2 yards of fabric.

This brings us to Planning Tip #3: Shrinkage estimates are unreliable, so buy half a yard more of fabric than you think that you need.

Some of the quilting websites and books apparently don’t factor in fabric shrinking resulting from prewashing your fabric (which you should always do!), and let me just tell you, the 3% shrinkage estimates reported are not reliable (some report 3-5%, but some of my fabric definitely exceeded this estimate, too!).  These webpages will tell you how many of X size quilt squares you can get out of a fat quarter, half yard, or full yard.  Do not believe them. Think Pirates of the Caribbean when Elizabeth invokes the right to parley (pronounced par-lay) and finds out that the pirates’ code is more guidelines than actual rules.

Not only did ZERO of my fat quarters, half yards, and full yards provide the “right” number of squares they indicated (e.g., 30 3.5″ squares from a fat quarter), all of my fabrics yielded FEWER squares  than these “experts” indicated and never the exact same number per amount of fabric.  My personal estimates were usually more reliable than those of the “experts,” but some of the fabrics didn’t even meet my own, more conservative estimates.  This is yet another reason why you should (1) buy extra fabric the first time around, (2) prewash, and (3) buy fabrics of the same quality weight, as not all fabrics (even all 100% cotton quilting fabrics) shrink equally.

You expert quilters may be thinking, Well, she obviously doesn’t know how to cut her strips correctly.  Possible? Yes, but I followed “quilting expert” directions on how to do it, so these people may have a problem communicating what they ACTUALLY do (wave a magic quilter’s wand?).

Maybe some of the fabric cutting peeps I had at the craft store were woefully inadequate cutters of fabric.  Possible? Yes, given that most of them look to be 16, bored, and easily distracted by conversation (“You’re making a quilt? I could never quilt. Cutting all those squares would take, like, FOREVER, and I would TOTALLY give up.”), your chosen fabric (“OMG! Chevron is SO hot right now!”), etc.  I even found some little irregularities in the fabric (at home…after it was cut…and after it was washed when I was ironing and could no longer return it, le sigh) that they had overlooked when cutting my fabric. UGH!  A young man and an older lady who cut my fabric at different times at the craft store did a beautiful job of inspecting and cutting the fabric, so this is not the store’s problem but rather a problem with the typical teenage workforce in general.  In addition to the cutting challenges (straight line, anyone?), some of my fabrics were not actually the full 42″ in the first place, so some of them were a full strip short.  My new estimate for the number of 3.5″ squares in a yard is 110.

A final thought on shrinkage:  I had one fat quarter that was the equivalent of the proverbial wool sweater that shrinks so much in the wash that it now resembles doll clothing or a lovely pet sweater–no joke!  It looked like maybe 1/16 of a yard. Maybe.

This brings us to Planning Tip #4: Do NOT buy fat quarters for quilting. Especially for big quilts.

The beginner’s quilting book that I purchased suggested the use of fat quarters as a way to “get in to quilting by starting small.”  As a beginner with a modicum of experience now, I would reject this advice wholeheartedly.  Fat quarters may seem fun if you want to play with different fabrics and can’t seem to choose between so many different choices, but that’s where the fun stops.  Fat quarters, at least in my experience, may not be cut uniformly, or remotely on a straight edge, leaving you with little fabric to use.  In fact, every last one of my fabrics had to be squared using folding techniques. Fat quarters may seem like a good bargain, but given the amount of shrinkage and lack of uniform sizing, they just aren’t worth it for large projects.  My final thought on fat quarters? Fat on “savings.”  Skinny on value. (Fat chance?)

A concluding thought from phase 1: After reading some online reviews of fabric from the same, popular craft/fabric store I used, apparently other (and more experienced!) quilters have had similar problems with excessive shrinkage of various quilting fabrics from this store.  Consequently, it is likely that I will not be purchasing fabric for quilting from this store again until there is evidence of quality improvement from others’ reviews.

So now that I have learned these valuable lessons about calculating and shopping for fabric and have, most importantly, shared them with YOU, I will proceed to writing about phase #2: washing and cutting.  Stay tuned!

Janus Napkins

In my continuing sewing saga, (drumroll, please) I completed my first entirely homemade project:  Janus napkins.


Okay, so they are really just double-sided napkins, but I felt like applying some mythology to jazz it up a bit.  The inspiration for this project actually came from a set of handmade stone napkin rings (shown) that Chris and I purchased from the gift shop at Snowbird Mountain Lodge, a serenely magical retreat Chris’s parents introduced to us (yay gift certificate!).  We celebrated our seven year anniversary there.  The napkin rings  were used by the lodge’s restaurant, so we thought they would be nice reminders of our stay there (we do realize that the seven year gift is supposed to be copper, wool, or brass, but stone works, right?).  Well, once we had napkin rings, they were soooo lonely sitting on our placemats empty.  Of course, I realized it is not good for napkin rings to be alone for long, so off I went to Joann for fabric.  I have always wanted a very dramatic dining room with elements of blue to match our Kate Spade Library Lane Aqua china, but Chris and I also tend to like a bit of whimsy.  I decided on three different coordinating front fabrics and a single, contrasting back fabric to unify them.

NOTE: There are several blogger tutorials out there on making double-sided napkins, so I’ll just add my few tidbits to that conversation and move on to the finished product!

Phase 1: Prep

I purchased fat quarters to use to make my napkins for the sake of manageability of fabric on my first sewing expedition, which limited my size to no larger than an 18″ dinner napkin.  I chose to make a 17″ square napkin, since 16″ felt too small and 18″ seemed too big (17″ was juuuuust right.  Goldilocks, anyone?).  After neatening up the edges, I used a marking pencil to mark the lines I was supposed to sew on the “ugly” side of the fabric, leaving about a quarter inch surround. Then I pinned the pretty sides of one backing fabric and one front fabric together (ugly sides facing out).


TIP: I learned the hard way that the marking pencil I bought needed sharpening VERY FREQUENTLY, and after completing this project, my pencil is already half whittled down.  It was a total pain to use (note in the picture that you can see its lead marked a fat, uneven line) , though its white lead was very visible against the dark back fabric I used.  I will probably not buy one of these again, even though it wasn’t very expensive.  Chalk is probably what I’ll use for future endeavors.

Phase 2: Machine Sew

I started sewing with my old friend, the sewing machine, miraculously remembering to reverse stitch at the beginning and end of my sewing.  When I reached each corner, I raised the pressure foot, turned the material 90 degrees, lowered the foot, and continued sewing around the napkin.  I stopped sewing about 1.5 inches from where I first started to allow me to turn my napkin right-side-out.  IMG_1794

TIP: Don’t raise the needle–just the pressure foot! This helps hold your fabric in place and allows you to stitch continuously.

Phase 3: Inside-Outside-Upside Down

I pulled the fabric through my 1.5 inch hole so that the pretty sides were now visible.


Then I used a bamboo skewer to make the corners nice and sharp (be careful not to poke through the fabric, though!).IMG_1878

At first I congratulated myself on my cleverness, only to learn that the bamboo skewer is a rather popular sewing tool (make sure it is in your arsenal!).




I ironed the napkin to have crisp edges and then hand sewed the remaining 1.5 inches closed, leaving me with one finished napkin–now only nine remaining!

TIP: I have moderately thin and relatively nimble fingers, so the inside-out process was not so difficult, but if you have shorter, thicker fingers, I would suggest leaving a slightly larger opening.

Phase 4: Rinse, and Repeat

I repeated this process 9 times for a grand total of 10 napkins.  Why 10, you ask?  Over seven years ago, when Chris and I were registering for china, we had a major crisis (#firstworldproblems, anyone?).  Chris, who comes from a large family, wanted to register for 12 place settings, while, I, an only child, thought 12 would be excessive.  Summoning my powers of persuasion, I convinced him to agree to 8, but we ended up receiving 10.  We took it as a sign that 10 was the happiest compromise anyway, so we needed 10 napkins to go with our 10 place settings.  I chose to make three napkins of this soft, medium floral print:


three napkins of this modern, edgy, geometric print: Napkin1

and four napkins of this bold, large floral print:ImageThis way, I can mix and match depending on the size of the dinner party. For our everyday setting of four, I can either do all matching or 2/2. IMG_2104For settings of six, I can do 3/3 or 2/2/2.  For settings of eight, I can do 4/2/2, and if I ever have all 10 place settings of china in use (and the Ikea table I’d like that seats 10!), then I will use all of them together!

I tire very quickly of design choices, so this way I can change things up cheaply and still get that nice, newish feeling, all for a few bucks.  Each fat quarter was $1.25 originally, but getting them at a reduced price (yay sales and coupons!) meant my total cost for this project broke down as follows:

(10 front fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (10 back fabric fat quarters x $.75) + (1 spool of thread x $1.75) =  $16.75 for 10 Janus napkins.  Less than $2 per napkin.  Not bad, considering they are custom, double-sided, and who knows, maybe I’ll even monogram them with the remaining thread?!