Was blind but now I see…curtains!

When we moved into the ‘Zoo, all of the windows (except in the bathrooms) had these lovely faux wood, wood-tone blinds.  If they were a rich espresso or even a pale maple, we probably could have lived with them.  But they weren’t.  They also were the older kind with the pull-cords rather than the turning rod for opening and closing them, and the cords had these unfortunate wooden beads on the end that were practically calling the cats to come play  strangle themselves.  We donated the blinds to a local rescue mission that accepts these kinds of items.

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My mom changed all of her draperies to the blackout kind, so she gave us some curtain panels that she had purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond a few years back.  They are a nice thick weave and a good neutral that will work until I have the time/money to make some that are more “us.”  I love that they have grommets–easy to open and close.  A tad industrial.  Perfect for these:

I really loved these rods best, but they weren’t in the budget.  We decided, in the interest of saving money, to make our own industrial-look curtain rods with the help of the blogosphere and Pinterest, rather than buy them from West Elm.

Aspiring DIYers, beware.  We encountered some difficulties making our rods, and you may, too.  Before we get to the how-to, here’s an overview of the biggest problems we encountered when completing this project:

1.  Hardware Hardships
We couldn’t find the hardware we needed to be able to follow some bloggers’ tutorials, and the big box employees weren’t really able to help us much either since we were using materials in unconventional ways.  We tried following this tutorial so that we could easily take our curtains down to wash/change, but the wing nuts wouldn’t actually tighten despite our best efforts. This resulted in a round #1 DIY fail for us.

On our more successful round #2, the tutorial we followed gave clearer information about what to purchase, but we still could not find the hardware we needed to mount the floor flanges to the wall, which meant we had to improvise a bit.  A well-meaning Lowe’s employee recommended a small screw and washer combo, but we weren’t very confident that his solution would hold anything up, let alone galvanized pipe + heavy curtain panels.  Then I found this pack of awesomeness that looked strong enough for the job (and also fit our flanges):

2.  Paint Problems
Don’t expect to spray paint galvanized metal with typical available-to-homeowners paint and get lasting results.  Some bloggers make note of this; others blithely spray paint their pipe and say “You can, too!”  Because we were aware of this thanks to the more realistic bloggers, we ORBed a scrap piece of conduit leftover from our cuts.  With the wear and tear of curtains being pulled back and forth, we didn’t want to have weird grey streaks where the grommets or curtain clips were rubbing paint off.  When we simulated the grommets sliding back and forth on our test piece, the ORB finish did indeed start coming off.  You could probably spray paint pipe fittings for shelving or something that won’t be subjected to constant motion that would rub the paint off, but we decided to leave our rods in their galvanized state.

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Note: After galvanized metal has been exposed to the elements (about a year’s time outside, multiple years inside), the zinc oxidizes enough that other bloggers say you can paint the metal at that point.  If, in a few years, we decided to paint our rods, we can; otherwise, we may decided to continue leaving them as is or save up money to purchase “forever” rods.

3.  Manufacturing Mishaps
Not all pipe fittings are exactly alike, even from the same store.  The thread pattern on some of our galvanized elbows was a perfect fit for our conduit, but on others, we had to wrap tape around the ends of the conduit to “thicken it up” so that the fit inside the elbow would be tight enough to stay put.  The elbows were the same size, in the same bin, from the same store, but different manufacturers.  Be careful when sanding the edges of your conduit so that you don’t overly thin the conduit and make this even more of an issue.

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Enacting Operation Curtain Rod:

The Plan
We  needed rods for 5 standard-ish windows (about 35″ +/- a few eighths), 1 smaller window over the kitchen sink, and 2 extra wide windows (about 70″, again +/- a few eighths).  We made our materials list and went to two different Lowe’s, because neither had enough of the materials we needed.

The Tools
Hacksaw
Sander/sandpaper
Pencil
Level
Hammer
Drill/bits
Phillips screwdriver

The Materials
(5) 10′ pieces of galvanized EMT conduit
(2) 3/8″ galvanized floor flanges per window x 8 windows = 16
(2) 3″ x 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe nipples x 8 windows= 16*
(2) 1/2″ to 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe elbows x 8 windows = 16

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Note: The tutorial we were following called for 1/2″ flanges, pipe nipples, and elbows, but we ended up going with 3/8″ (and a 1/2″ to 3/8″ elbow so the 1/2″ conduit would go in the 1/2″ side) because (a) there weren’t enough 1/2″ flanges and (b) the 3/8″ flanges were a lot cheaper.

*We went to two different Lowe’s and could not find enough of the same size pipe nipples to make all of our rods the same size, so some of our curtain rods have pipe nipples that are 2″ long, while others are 3″ long.  We thought this could be a good experiment to test what worked best to share, so we went ahead with purchasing some 2″ and some 3″ ones (we did make sure that we had two matching ones for each window, though!). At first we thought the 2″ would look better because they would be more like a standard curtain rod, but the 3″ makes it much easier to open and close the curtains, and the panels look more crisp and less bunched because they have more room. We would recommend the 3″ if you are using curtains with grommets, but you could probably get away with the 2″ if you are using curtain clips instead.

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The Sawing and Sanding
We marked our conduit with a Sharpie at the right measurements for our respective windows, allowing 6″ on either side of the windows so that we could hang them “high and wide.” This isn’t as wide as some people go, but we have a small house, so some of our walls don’t really allow for super-wide hanging.  We used a hacksaw to cut through the conduit, with Chris cutting and me holding the pipe to add sufficient tension for the hacksaw to work.  We could have bought/used a conduit cutter, but a hacksaw is a more universal tool and thus a better buy for us.

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We just propped the conduit in the ridges of our recycling bins to help hold the conduit in place during the cutting process.  After cutting, Chris gently sanded the edges smooth.

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The Assembly
We fitted the elbows, nipples, and flanges together as shown here.
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Then we screwed the elbows onto the conduit, making sure that they were sufficiently tight and oriented so that they would be flush against the wall.  Testing them against the floor is the easiest thing to do.  As mentioned earlier, we had to add tape to some of the ends of the conduit to account for the variability in size of the elbows.  We didn’t put our grommet panels on just yet because we needed to hold the rods up to the wall to mark the positions of the flanges, and holding up heavy galvanized pipe plus heavy draperies would be even worse.  However, before you screw the flanges into the wall, you will want to put the grommet panels on the rods.  If you are using curtain clips, no worries–you can wait until the end.

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The Installation
We measured and made a mark at six inches wide on each side of the window by six inches high to achieve a relatively balanced look.  We then centered the flanges on those marks, checked if the rod was level, and traced the screw holes.  We experimented by orienting the flange holes in the T position shown here for some sets of curtains and an X position for other sets.  We thought the T looked better aesthetically, but the X position was easier for drilling/using the screwdriver.  Note: The galvanized flanges leave dingy marks on the wall, but these marks were hidden once the flanges are mounted. photo 2 

We then placed our rods back over the traced holes to doublecheck that everything was still level.  This was not the easiest thing to do, and we had to retrace holes a couple of times.  I tend to be able to spot when things aren’t level by a hair, so this would really drive me nuts if they weren’t exactly spot on.  In fact, I would recommend three people for this phase–two to hold the ends in place, and one person to check the level so that the skewed vantage point of one of the holders doesn’t result in a tilted rod.  Unless you like that sort of look. I probably won’t come to your house, though.  Just sayin’.

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We drilled holes for the anchors and hammered them in. Then we put our curtain panels on the rods and screwed in the flanges.  The rods were ridiculously heavy to hold up while affixing the flanges to the wall; our arms kept going numb from holding heavy things above our head while also trying to use a screwdriver.  The T position prevents you from using a power tool for screwing the flanges to the wall, hence why we recommend the X position if you can stand it.  This was definitely a two-person gig and would have been better with a third person, as I’ve already mentioned.

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Since we had some curtains with 2-inch pipe nipples and others with 3-inch pipe nipples, we made sure that rooms with multiple windows got the same kinds of pipe nipples so that one curtain wouldn’t jut out more than another.  It took FOREVER to install these babies, but it’s nice to have window treatments that allow for more natural light, are easier to open/close, and aren’t deathtraps for our cats, which is the most important thing, after all.

Note: We apologize for the horribly dark picture.  We’ll break out the real camera soon. Promise.

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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:

http://www.marthastewart.com/270503/three-ways-to-make-a-pillow-cover

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

http://tatertotsandjello.com/2012/10/make-a-pillow-cover-in-4-easy-steps.html

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

http://www.centsationalgirl.com/2012/07/easy-outdoor-pillow-covers/

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:

Step 1: MEASURE AND CUT FABRIC.

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).

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Step 2: SEW BACK PANEL OPENING EDGES.

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.

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

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Step 3: SEW FRONT AND BACK PANELS TOGETHER.

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

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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!).

Step 4: INVERT, STUFF, AND PLUMP. 

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

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

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Seriously.

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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? 🙂