house projects

Projects with Round Top raw materials continue. A couple weeks ago I swapped out our boring house number sign for some railroad mile markers, and glued some license plate numbers to our mailbox for good measure.

house numbers

As a bonus, they’re both a little reflective. No mistaking 506 now.

Once I finish a shade, I’ll tell you about the lamps I’m making from old road flares.


To occupy myself between writing unsuccessful grant applications and waiting for calls back from school district offices, I signed up for an upholstery class this month. Up to 6 students meet for 8 4-hour sessions, and each tears down and rebuilds a piece of their choice. I found a small chair at Round Top (should have posted about that…) that just fit in the jetta. Because I’d done some amateurish but thorough upholstery experimentation before, I was interested in something that had some complicated features that would be good practice. Here it is, as it was:

chair, before

At first I couldn’t really imagine what could take 32 hours in the class, but I was also expecting a pretty cosmetic transformation—you know, stretching some new fabric over the thing. Not so. After some introduction, we spend basically the first two classes (and hours of “homework” time) stripping chairs down to their bones. I’m going to estimate I removed approximately 5 million staples, compounded by the fact that the chair had been recovered at some point without removing the original fabric. Here’s the chair about half torn apart:

chair torn up

And here it is finally stripped down:

chair stripped down

The much more fun part began last week as we started rebuilding from the ground up. I’ve learned how to tie springs, stretch webbing, apply edge roll, and build cushions, among other things. Here one of the instructors is demonstrating how to tack down the seat cushion, which we made from loose cotton, foam, and what I call quilt batting and they call something that sounds fancier.

chair with seat

Tomorrow: fabric. It’s fun to learn something new.

seven-year quilt

I often describe my sabbatical as hopping from one incomplete project to another, wrapping them up before our move. Half-finished projects that have sat untouched in a closet for three years do not make the moving-van cut. Recently I was excited to finish a quilt that I started constructing during our second year in California, when I teaching 8th graders who are now of legal drinking age. I had another productive run a couple of years ago, and now it’s finally done and ready for our guest bedroom in Austin.

Here it is:

finished quilt

block printing

My latest project has involved going a little nuts with linoleum block print-making. I bought my first block, tools, and ink with a $25 gift card to an art supply store, given to me in thanks for the semester-long loan of a statistics book. (The loan was a significant, har, sacrifice because that book had been playing a vital role as my monitor stand.) My first project was a save-the-date card for our 30th birthday celebration in Tahoe last winter, which I remember sketching ideas for during a particularly dull meeting at work.

save the date cards

Then I pretty much put down the carving tools until this past fall, when I made a beer mug as an invitation to our Oktoberfest party. (The extras got framed.) We also used the tools for some serious jack-o’-lanterns.*

beer mugs

*The internet offers little consensus on the spelling of this term, which I may never have typed before and suddenly strikes me as strange and archaic, and possibly some anti-Irish slur.

Anyway, 20 hours/week of cooking has apparently not satisfied my need to worship food, so I embarked on a relatively ambitious, edibles-themed project. The grand idea had occurred to me prior to funemployment, but I hadn’t managed to get very far due to a severe shortage of time in the day. But not anymore, baby! Check it out! Multiple colors! Layers of printing! Different sizes!

Printing in progress:
printing cards

I actually cannot share the grand vision with you because it is planned for someone’s Mother’s Day gift, but I assure you that it’s spectacular. And that, upon the next gift-worthy occasion, you yourself are likely to receive a set of cards printed with a head of garlic. They’ll be perfect as invitations for your Twilight marathon party.

operation reupholstery

As most of you know, I typically have 5-8 half-completed projects rattling around the house at any given moment. Sometimes these require seasoning time, like the quilt I almost finished during my sophomore year of college, carried dutifully through five subsequent moves, and finally sewed the edge on earlier this year (total project time: 1 decade). This chair only had to sit in our tool shed for two years, while I occasionally took a pair of pliers to its ragged old upholstery, before it was promoted to the top of my project-agenda and finally got done.

Unfortunately I did not take a picture of it with its original, extremely well-attached, orange and green velveteen upholstery, nor the pile of rusty old nails and chunks of ancient, musty-smelling stuffing I extracted. But here it is after I finished cleaning it up and allowed it indoors:

scraped chair

And in progress:
painted chair

Sous helping

And done:
finished chair

table makeover

I’ve had fun with some crafty home projects lately. One of my recent ventures was making over a beat-up little plant stand I’d picked up around Christmastime to put our mini-tree on. Here’s a before shot:

plant stand before

I mainly wanted to paint over the truly crummy parts. The top was warped from leaking water, and there were a few half-peeled-off sticker remnants that gave it a really classy feel in our living room. Also, I’m not done ripping off this cool lady’s reverse-stenciling trick (see our new computer table for my first venture).

Since I can’t seem to kick the Under the Sea theme that’s consuming our living room, I decided to incorporate some fancy goldfish paper I’d bought for Bryan’s post-PhD scrapbook. (I now own a jar of Mod Podge. Be afraid.) I also returned to the same can of aqua paint currently featured on our picture frames, dining chairs, the aforementioned computer table, and (faintly) our bedroom carpet, where Bryan accidentally dumped it as we were moving in. Because when you hand over $20 for a quart of non-toxic, fume-free, hippie-endorsed paint that would probably improve the water quality if you dumped it in the Bay, by golly you’re going to use the whole thing. The result is a sort of UFO fishbowl:

plant stand after

plant stand after close

I kind of love it.


When we moved into a house with a yard, planting a vegetable garden was high on our list of domestic projects. We’d bought a how-to book on gardening before we left the apartment, but, not aroused by the idea of growing turnips and beets, decided to wait until spring to begin. (Also, Bryan was busy with this other project.) About a month ago, we had a break in the rain just long enough to build our bed and lay in our first seeds and seedlings.

the garden, first planted
(the garden, first planted)

Not for us simply dropping seeds in the soil, no. Of course there had to be research and deliberation. The method we ultimately chose (because it seemed straightforward and easy for beginners to maintain) is a version of raised-bed gardening, in which you basically build a big planter, fill it with an ideal soil mix, and space your seeds and seedlings in various configurations within each square foot. We emptied a section of the existing raised bed that rings our backyard, dropped in some cinder block borders—for that charming Soviet style—to segregate our fancy soil from the surrounding clay, and mixed up one part each compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. We used kite string tied to stakes to mark off one-foot squares.

mixing the soil
(Bryan mixing the soil)

Then it was planting time. From left to right, back to front, it’s spinach, radishes (from seed), strawberries x2, more radishes, broccoli x2, strawberries, herbs (flat-leaf parsley, oregano), mixed lettuce, red lettuce, and more strawberries. The whole process took about three hours.

the garden, 3-14
(the garden, yesterday)

Aside from a couple of hastily-reprimanded dog invaders, the garden has been completely unscathed since we planted. I water it on days when it doesn’t rain, but it has yet to require any other maintenance. Every day we go out and poke the lettuce. It’s been such a pleasure that we plan to build another bed just next to it in a few weeks, for summer vegetables like tomatoes and pole beans. Possibly squash. Stay tuned.

New Years Projects

2007 is The Year of Crafts. Add my random projects to the absurd number of DIY tasks my mother and I have taken on for the wedding (Oh, we can make the dress. And the invitations. And table runners! And every single flower, by hand, out of paper!), and I’m afraid Bryan has four months of paper scrap litter, and the sewing machine on the floor, and checking the couch for straight pins before you sit down.

I’m very pleased with my first Random Project of the new year and just itching to take it somewhere. I decided in the fall that I was ready to retire the backpack I’ve been carrying since age 14 and join the ranks of the orthopedically-challenged shoulder bag toters. I didn’t want anything as large as the teacher bag I used to cart around piles of ungraded essays, confiscated notes, lunch, an assortment of pens and markers, an overhead projector, and occassionally small 7th graders. Just something that would carry my normal purse goodies + a book and a folder of papers, without making me look even more like a high school student. So, to work I went!

bag skeleton

I made the inside out of file folders and the bottom of a cereal box. It was helpful to have a structure to build around, and I like that my bag’s has a little Special K Red Berries secret.

bag handle close-up

All the fabric is quite sturdy, with a suede-y finish. I had to use plyers to help me stitch on the handles, which are several folded layers of the thicker fabric. The straps are just tall enough to fit over my shoulder.

finished bag

I haven’t used it yet, but I’m excited to. Next up, a purse to replace my worn-out collection.