Thursday, October 31, 2013

Play tent, DIY style (even if you don't sew!)

One of the best things about having children is that you get to experience all the fun of being a kid again. Recently, that has included looking at holiday toy catalogs. Bea loves to savor a good catalog, just like her mama!

As we were studying the excellent Land of Nod gift catalog, she was immediately drawn to this canopy.

She declared it a "Pillow Featherbed tent" (she is slightly LaLaLoopsy obsessed) and decided she needed one. But for $169? Ha. Sorry kid.

As it turns out, though, this is a really simple DIY. It can even be no-sew if you're not crafty! I threw it together in a naptime using fabric store supplies, but if you're not the seamstress type, you can make a few simple substitutions. I'll give directions for doing it both ways. 

DIY Canopy Tent Tutorial

This is a great project for anyone to tackle, regardless of sewing ability. If you don't sew, you can substitute long curtain panels (Ikea is a great source for 96"+ panels at a reasonable price). Fabric stores will offer many more choices, so if you want a particular look but can't sew, look for iron-on hem tape to finish the edges.  Where applicable,  no-sew directions will be given in italics.  


* 9 yards 45" wide cotton fabric (you can do 6 yards printed and 3 yards of a basic solid in the back to save money), or 6 yards 60", or three curtain panels the same height as your ceiling (so standard 8 foot ceilings require 96" curtains) 
*Thick cotton cording, about 6 yards. I used the stuff from the upholstery section meant for piping, but anything thick and non-stretchy will work
*Strong cup hook, or eye bolt and S-hook for attaching to ceiling
*One basic hula hoop
*Needle and thread, or fabric glue such as Fabri-Tac
*Optional-fun trim for the front and/or around the top edge. 7 yards will get you both.


1. Get the panels ready. 

If you are sewing or using fabric, hem the top and side edges of each panel. I just folded the selvages under twice to make it easy.  If you're picky about the length, as I was due to a crawling wrecking ball afoot, save the bottoms for last and hem by hand after it's hung. If you don't mind a little puddle or high-water, go ahead and hem the bottoms now.  If you are using pre-made curtain panels, this step has been done for you. Yay!

 If you are using regular 45" width cotton, know that two panels will not be enough to go all the way around the hula hoop. You can either make three all the same, or do something different in the back. I just used some plain white muslin for the middle panel since it was already in my stash. As a bonus I didn't even have to hem the sides!

2. Make your hoop. 

This requires some precision to make it both stable and level. To begin, cut three lengths of cord about 5' long. Tie one end of each at 1/3 intervals around the hoop as tightly as you possibly can. Secure with fabric glue if necessary.

Then hold the three cords together as one and figure out where you want the peak of your tent to be. The lower it is (so the shorter your three spokes are), the more stable it will be. Measure them to be exactly the same length and mark. If one is even slightly longer or shorter your tent will hang crooked. 

Holding the three ends as one, tie together in a knot at the marked points.

Now go about 6-8 inches up and loop the cords around your finger, then tie a strong double knot underneath the loop again. This top loop is to hang it from the ceiling, and the space between knots is where you will gather your fabric. You can trim off most of the excess, but leave a few inches just in case of slippage.

 3. Attach your fabric panels. 

This part is more art than science. First, have another length of cord about 18" long ready to go. Now take the top of the first panel and bunch it around the cords, between the two knots. Make sure to keep the top level. 

Do the same with the back panel, and then the other side panel, until all three curtain panels are gathered between the two knots. Make sure your hanging loop sticks out the top.

Then take your extra length of cord and tie it TIGHTLY around the three panels, between the knots (an extra set of hands would be lovely here).  Put the tie towards the back panel so it's less visible when hanging. Make sure none of the top edges have slipped out and that they're all above the cord.

I know it's a bit hard to see what you're looking at here, but that's the top edges of the panels, tied off paper bag-style with a piece of cord, and the hanging loop sticking out the top. Secure knot with fabric glue or stitches if necessary.

4. Finishing touches

Fuss with your panels until they drape down from the peak and cover the hula hoop evenly. 

Bring the edges of each panel side by side at hula hoop level.

 Tack them together just below hoop level to keep them closed. Tack each panel to the next by hand. For no-sew, lay one hem on top of the other and glue in place with a dab of fabric glue. 

If you want to put trim around the top edge like the LoN version, this would be a good time to glue it in place (or tack every few inches or use a running hand stitch, but honestly, I'd glue here).

5. Hang the thing!

I used a 3/16" eye bolt and S-hook because I had both on hand. It's rated to 120 pounds, so it should be very secure. If you can find a cup hook of that size, it won't require the S-hook and may be less prone to spinning.

Drill a pilot hole, then muscle the bolt in with pliers. Attach the hook and then hang the loop from it. 

6. Make it fun... if it wasn't already.

If you want to add some cute trim at the opening, just line it up with the edges and sew with a running stitch. I did this after it was hung so I could see what I was doing, but you could do it before you hang it too. You can also just attach with a dab of fabric glue every few inches to hold it in place.

Toss in in some spare pillows. Or make one. Or, you know, buy the one from Land of Nod for $69. It's your world. 

Whatever you do, absolutely involve flashlights, books, dolls, rocket ships, stuffed TARDIS, and pets.

It's your own little world.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cheap n cheerful kitchen makeover

Hey, remember that time(s) I said I wanted to paint these cabinets, but they were too nice?

Yeah, I got over that.

And I ain't even sorry.

It's been strictly guilt that stopped me from doing this for two years now. But I finally came to the conclusion that it's my house (my forever house, if plans don't change), and I'll never be a person who prefers dark wood, and nice cabinets are still nice cabinets no matter the finish.

So I took my time, prepped carefully, and painted these lovely cabinets Benjamin Moore White Dove, matched to Sherwin-Williams' excellent ProClassic trim and cabinet paint.

I also hopped on the open shelving trend, mostly because I have some vintage Pyrex that is too beautiful to hide behind doors. Instead of slapping paint all over the place, however, I opted for a no-commitment version with shelf paper and washi tape!

To do this, all you need is a roll of contact paper per cabinet. Use a fun color, a solid to match your paint, or both! Then just trim it and line all surfaces with paper, detailing with an exacto knife as needed. For the front edges of the shelves, tape is easier than trying to cut a perfect strip. Just make sure you measure first and find a roll of washi tape wide enough. For my 3/4" thick shelves I needed 20mm tape, so my options were limited (most options were 10mm). Boom. Cheap, clean, washable, and totally reversible.  

We also added a bridge shelf from a 1x12 shelving plank, painted to match the cabinets. It adds more storage for pretty dishes and less-used items. 

And last but not least, a pegboard! We bought a pot rack over a year ago, but life got in the way. When we finally got around to hanging it, we found there was no comfortable/non-awkward place for it. So we opted to use a piece of scrap pegboard instead. We just painted it with a sample-sized pot of Valspar Stained Glass, then screwed it into the wall with anchors. The pegs and baskets came from Lowes (and check out that adorable Fresh Pastry Stand tea towel from etsy!). 

And boom. For under $100 we've got a light, bright, functional and sweetly retro kitchen built for a Pyrex queen. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Seeing red again

So long, June. You always were my favorite. 

 For obvious reasons.

Cherry jelly, sour cherry preserves, strawberry jam, and strawberry meyer lemon marmalade are all put up for next year, about 2 dozen half-pints in all. Tomato and grape seasons are on their way in, and apples will follow. This year there will be carrots and onions, so I may try my hand at some pickled giardinera if I can track down some good cauliflower and peppers at the farmer's market.


Ah, peonies. My version of heaven smells like them. 


And what's that back there, you ask?

That is an original work of art by local artist Sarah Friedrickson, which we picked up at the Des Moines Arts Festival last weekend. Her Expanse series features ink wash on wood, and this piece, Permeate, drew me in from across the street in the pouring rain.

 It has replaced the gallery wall because I'm craving simplicity and sophistication these days.  Random small frames crashing to the floor in the middle of the night when the humidity defeats the adhesive strips is neither.

But there's still a little homespun charm in the form of vintage hankies. I can't give up cute entirely.

 Also, hark! There is a door on this fireplace. I'll stop talking about the thing now.

Quick, let's change the subject: Here's a baby with wings.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Get outside

Did you forget me? I didn't forget you. We've just been really, really hard at work. A dry weekend with no plans has been the dramatic exception to the rule this spring, but we've been taking every opportunity to whip our exterior into shape!

We're relatively satisfied with the inside of our house these days. Every room is furnished and painted to our specifications, the basement is partially finished, and most everything has a home. The outside, however, is another story.

The scoop from our neighbor is that our house sat empty for much longer than the six months it took the previous owner to flip it. Apparently the owners before that purchased in 1999, lived here a couple years, and then relocated to another city in the Midwest with the wife's job. The husband/stay-at-home-dad came back on the weekends to pick at it and do odd jobs here and there, but my impression is that he made more messes than successes because it sold in 2010 for less than they'd paid 11 years earlier. So while there was some love and care happening, it wasn't in the yard.

When we moved in, the yard was in a sad state. More ground ivy than grass, a gargantuan rotting lattice structure in the back, zero attractive landscaping. Last year we put in a vegetable garden and spruced up the front landscaping a bit, but we were mostly focused on finishing the basement. This year we've made up for lost time.

The first step was to get a shed. Hello, storage space. Maybe we can fit a car in the garage now...or perhaps a small Vespa.

This is a Tuffshed from Home Depot. We chose it because they include delivery and installation, which saved us a lot of time. They aren't significantly more expensive than other stores' DIY versions, and we were willing to pay the lazy tax with two little kiddos. We added the pegboard and shelves from scraps we had around, although those are also available at an extra charge.   It came pre-primed, and when we get 48 dry hours in a row (hah) we'll be painting it Glidden Creme Brulee with cream trim to match the house.

We're going to try relocating the (covered) firewood outdoors this year. We're attempting to use our garage to protect our new car, so the huge rack had to go.

Then we scrubbed and stained the neglected wood deck with Behr Cedartone protector, planted some tasty spearmint and basil within close reach of the back door, and moved our little bistro table on up.

 In another act of laziness/self-preservation, we hired an amazing landscaper to install a paver patio for us. There was always a mud mess in this spot from the shade of the tall evergreen above it, and it seemed like a natural extension of the old Purington Paver brick walkway off the deck.

He thought he could get his hands on some of these same old bricks, but they were gone. I think they did a fine job matching! They'll come back in August to clean off the white efflorescence with acid and seal the stones, which should bring the match even closer.

Then we tricked it out with a pergola and furniture!


The pergola came ready-to-assemble in a million little pieces from Home Depot. Jeff, my dad and I spent a morning attaching those million little pieces together with a billion little screws. Next (again, if we ever see the sun) it will be weatherproofed. We disagree on whether to grow a canopy of ivy over the top (I say yea, Jeff says nay), but we've already got a few strings of solar lights to swag from it.

 It's outfitted with patio furniture from World Market. We didn't want too many cushioned chairs because they're a hassle in inclement weather, so we just did Adirondacks with the one comfy bench. We throw a tarp over it at the end of the day so we don't have to drag cushions in and out.

It's nice to walk from the back door, down the stairs, and to flop down in a chair without your feet ever touching dirt or grass. It feels like our living space has been expanded for the summer, making all of us (especially the littles) far less claustrophobic.

Our garden is in too, of course. Romaine lettuce is doing well, spinach not so much. There's a little chard popping up, and quite a few heirloom carrots both orange and purple. Two yellow pear tomatoes, two Cherokee Purple, and four roma, and a serrano plant round out the nightshade delegation, but some garden critter completely eliminated the giant sunflowers we put in for the girls.

We built this additional bed by simply screwing together 1x6s with deck screws and filling in with leftover dirt from the patio (we asked the landscapers to set it aside for us instead of hauling it away). It's looking weedy and pathetic, and the asparagus crowns I planted in the back trenches have yet to surface, but that new rhubarb plant in the front right is off to a fine start. Next year we may add strawberries or another perennial food crop, or just use part of it for our crop rotation.

The south side of the garage is being slowly transformed from a weedy wall-o-mess to a row of perennial color. It had a few reedy tulips when we moved in, but I've since added irises both large and mini, and a Sarah Bernhardt peony that seems to double every day. I have some winter-hardy gladiola bulbs to go in here, and a variety of seeds my grandma saved us from her beautiful garden.

The front bed (the one we gutted with a towing strap and a truck) is filling out nicely this year. The azaleas are full and leafy, and the vanilla strawberry hydrangea is throwing up huge new branches almost overnight.

For reference, this was a year ago on planting day:

And here's how well it's filled in since:

Even the front of our house is technically western exposure, our heavily treed neighborhood requires a lot of shade plants. The annuals that do best for us are impatiens and pansies. I have this bed layered with bloomers of all seasons so that when it's established, there should be color at all times. It begins with gold and purple crocuses in March/April, then white azalea blossoms and purple allium in May, then the first heads of white hydrangea that deepen to pink and then red over the course of the season, finishing with mums in the fall. 

Ah, home sweet home. I do so love the green seasons.