Monthly Archives: December 2015

Cheers for chairs

I have a slight problem with obtaining chairs. We don’t yet have more than we can use, but perhaps one more would be unnecessary.

There’s an awesome antique mall in a rust belt near ghost town on the way to visiting my family. We used to live close enough to it that it would be a fun weekend day trip. We both, however, drive sedans – N’s is fairly large, so a chair or two can fit in the back seat, and mine is small and can fit one small chair, but it’s also an old beater, so we’ve had no qualms about strapping a huge old oak library table to its roof among other near impossible things.

On our way back from this past Thanksgiving travels we stopped in. I was very close to obtaining another small rocking chair, a “sewing chair” that was similar to this one I got a few years ago:

chair-sewing

That I use as my spinning chair and re-covered in a lovely (and once expensive) vintage linen sample that came from an estate sale.

But then we spotted a homely mid-century chair for the whopping price of $12.00 in the basement. The basement in parts, is a dim and dank place. Good things have come from this basement, but far better things have had to be left behind due to our vehicle limitations, or the expense of renting the van to haul it home. We sort of needed a chair for the guest room/N’s study, and I didn’t need another little chair, so we considered it. The wood seemed like it was likely walnut, but it was covered in a dark streaky stuff. There was a ghastly 1980s wedgewood blue and peach dot fabric covering the seat, but in the dim light I was able to see that there was a plaid cover underneath and thought it could be the original – possibly a wool blend in black and white and red.

chair-first cover

N set out to strip the unfortunate goop off of the wood.

chair-before

And I began to pry off the nasty insipid fabric to unveil the “original” upholstery.

chair-three covers

Only in better light, I saw that it was a nasty 1970s acrylic brown and orange and gold and barely perceptible mint green thing. And likely the top layer of dark “stain” or goop was poorly applied to the wood then too.

chair-second cover

So I pried the staples off that one and got down to the original cloth.

chair-original cover

A black and brown plaid chenille-like fabric in surprisingly good condition.

But though I was pleased with finding the original seat in perfectly usable condition, it felt too dark for our house and didn’t show off the freshly restored walnut well.

So I hit our town’s shop that sells used/excess art supplies and got some more upholstery/drapery samples.

chair-after

In the end, the one that worked best and N liked the most – a nice linen – doesn’t quite match the era of the chair, but it works well enough. I’ve also got some solid-colored but nubby-textured linen and silk blend samples that look spot-on for the time should we wish to change it or sell the chair eventually. This fabric was probably meant for drapes and likely not especially hard-wearing, but it won’t be used too often and it is easy enough to change.

And the original cover is still safe and sound and protected.

Now it needs a little pillow perhaps…

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Finished objects, household edition

I wish I could live in a house that I knew would be the only one for the rest of my life. I’d immediately fix it up enough so that it would be safe, not too smelly, not extremely drafty, and visually appealing enough for the time being. Then I’d wait to come across the perfect things and work around them – a mint green double sink with double drainboards? I’d design the whole kitchen around it. Ditto with the same in the bathroom  with a green pedestal sink (which is fairly easily obtainable). And bonus points for having a house the right age for a separate clawfoot tub and shower stall… I’d wait for the perfect sized vintage/antique built-ins to show up in the salvage yard until we had a house full of nooks and crannies and only needed a few pieces of upholstered furniture for the center of the room. And I’d consider the thing a lifetime project that gets better and better with time and age as most things I love do.

(Of course my real dream would be to find an old house entirely untouched by decades of other’s “improvements,”except for newer wiring…)

But I’ve felt a sense of urgency in our last two home projects – we’re both in somewhat precarious fields full of fluctuating budgets, management whims, and soft money. My personal mantra is along scout lines in that a house should always be prepared for immediate sale if a sudden onslaught of financial ruin should befall us. I am overly skittish about such things, but I identify far closer to a depression-era mindset rather than our current one of debt and giant crap houses full of expensive soulless crap.

But it’s also because we’ve seen so many houses during our last house hunt and watched too many trashy home shows that set my teeth to grind because of other’s overall lack of what – planning? Aesthetic sense? Care? People spend so much money to have a “showcase” kitchen and then have bedrooms with missing radiators and broken windows or serious foundation issues that should have taken up most of that ugly new kitchen budget. Or a room that is nearly finished but for some missing trim pieces, or fresh paint on the walls, but a stained ceiling and the whole thing looks worse than it is for it.

In my making stuff life, I leave far more unfinished, or in a state of I-haven’t-finished-it-yet-but-will-someday. But in our last two houses, I like to wrap up the details on a project before changing focus. But this last time around, I’m not sure what happened. We let a few easy finishing touches languish – partly from indecision, partly from other things demanding attention, and partly from forces unknown.

delay-threshold

This threshold on the half bath took over a year and a half to be laid. We bought it after doing the tiling, so I was waiting to put it in until we were doing another tiling project, which also took over a year and a half.

delay-backsplash before

We wanted the kitchen to have mostly tiled walls. But then we wanted a functional kitchen faster. I knew I was going to put in a tile back splash, but we didn’t immediately know what height or which particular tile it would be. I bought some samples and enough of the smaller subway mosaic sheets to do a low band  along the counter or a section just around the window, so we painted the walls except in the one place where we knew with certainty that there would be tile. And then I stared at the ugly naked spot every day for over a year and a half. But then, I really didn’t – I looked out the window and truly didn’t see the ugly naked spot anymore.

delay-backsplash-layout

But I was done chasing splashes threatening to flow behind the sink and leaving out ratty old rolled towels to absorb their path, so I declared it would end before the year was out. We decided on the easiest layout, N went out for more tile (and yes, they changed since I originally bought them – about 1/8″ thicker) and more mastic for the last foot at the last minute.

I think I’ll always choose white subway tile in the kitchen – I like that several versions are available and cheap these days but will cringe when the masses of trend zombies declare it dated. And I’ll beat that dead horse again of my belief in only putting in semi-permanent stuff in a house that is appropriate to its age. Yes, the white subway tile is a little outdated for a house from the early 1950s, but I can’t stomach powder blue and pink dammit.

delay-backsplash-spacers

We lost our tile spacers in the move I guess – oddly, we still have the can that they were stored in, but they aren’t in it now – but some cut-up pieces of resilient floor samples worked perfectly.

delay-backsplash-during

We wanted a thin black line at the top, but thin black tiles that are glazed on the top edge, or are a narrow bullnose are not to be had unless specially ordered and bought with lots of money – I could somewhat justify spending it because the whole project was very affordable, but I was also fine with the wider black bullnose, so that’s what we went with in the end.

delay-backsplash done

And the whole thing – tiled, grouted, sealed, and caulked took less than a week – and it’s made such a huge difference. I didn’t realize how much the un-doneness of the kitchen actually bothered me after all.

(And yes, I’ve screwed the switchplate back on, as well as junked it back up with the dish drainer and canisters and radio and…)

For more on the kitchen, see what I did with the floor, sink, and curtains (that need to be ironed)…

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Favorite sweater re-do, third time around

My favorite old cardigan was due for another round of repairs.

cardigan full

The elbow patch I put on a couple years ago was no longer covering all of the worn areas on one arm, and the other finally gave out.

New England-elbow

So I returned the sweater to a more somber state with matching charcoal elbow patches from a thrifted felted sweater.

oldsweater-elbows

(And our “cloakroom” doorway ended up being the perfect place for a vintage curtain I’ve had for years.)

I sewed up a few holes in the cuffs and weak spots in the arms – thankfully the nubby fabric is entirely forgiving and I didn’t need to worry about making perfect mends.

But the beige thread in the buttons seemed to stand out too much, so I sewed some black over it.

oldsweater-thread

And now the cardigan is stable once more, albeit a little less quirky, but still one of my favorites…

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Ending the fling

After digging through the woolens recently and finding the sweater to de-turtle, I also came across an old pair of gloves I’ve had for more than twenty years.

flop-floppy

I can’t remember where I got them, or if they were a gift…

They could have come from a shop that also sold crystals and incense. They could have come from a festival with a South American flute band playing nearby. They could have come off of a table in an urban sidewalk market.

I think I had them in college. I might have had them earlier.

My only clear memory of them was when I wore them frequently in a hospital when I was selling my body for science to pay off student loans. The techs would poke and prod and then wheel me to other wings and other floors through freezing corridors, and by the time I arrived to be further poked and prodded, my veins would have shriveled and buried themselves deep into my bones. So the gloves helped keep my blood circulating and earned me the nickname “muppet hands” with the staff.

They’re at least partly wool, but likely not all. They’re hand knit but in a loose-ish gauge, the ends weren’t woven in, and the knots were poorly done and poking through. They aren’t as warm as they look unless my hands are also in my pockets or I’m wearing glove liners because the wind goes right through them. But worst of all, they’re floppy – a quick flip of the hand and they go flying – rude gestures aren’t as effective with the comedy of flinging tendencies.

But I haven’t gotten rid of them, though they’ve spent more time in the charity box than not.

Every autumn I think I need gloves and mittens and pledge to knit some. But every year I discover that I still have several pairs of insulated leather ones from my days of wearing professional-ish attire, a few random pairs old or quirky, and ones appropriate for frosty outdoor activities. But I always blank for a moment when I’m running out the door to do something errand-like, and my fingerless mitts (of which I have many) just won’t cut it and I don’t care if anything is coordinated or looks particularly decent.

Growing up, our family had semi-communal boxes of hats and gloves/mittens. Of course everyone claimed favorites, but if you needed something in a pinch, you could just grab something from the box and be on your way (unless you had to search for the second half of a pair). I’ve been thinking we need this sort of arrangement even though we’re just two, but it comes in handy for guests too. These gloves would be perfect for such a box – large enough to fit nearly anyone, and not so precious or specific that if they’re lost, it’s not a loss to be mourned.

flop-yarn

But the flop and fling wasn’t going to work for anyone, so I got out some charcoal worsted, picked up about half the stitches, and knit some k1, p1 cuffs. I also poked in all of the knots and ends (though I’m sure they won’t stay in for long) and gave the pair a nice long bath.

flop-after

And now they’re functional, albeit with a baggy lower palm, but their fling is finally over.

I have another pair of mittens that have a similar issue, but I think I’ll try sewing some elastic in those…

I’m also thinking we need a couple more loose-fitting, but warm hats for the box too…

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Dirty old things

We’ve got a decent ReStore nearby – luckily not too close or I’d go too often, but not too far that you have to plan to go. We had an entirely awesome architectural salvage store in our old city that I dearly miss, but still visit when passing through, and though this doesn’t replace it, in some ways it’s more practical because it carries a wider variety of smaller-scaled items (and I’m no longer in the market for a victorian mantle anyway). We found a good mid-century dresser there, a near-mint wool kilim rug, and the typical bits we usually bring home from thrift stores like records and books and fabric scraps.

On my last visit, I scored an old sewing machine box.

old-before

I’ve got a partially boxless machine that has been topless for nearly 20 years. Once in awhile I’d dick around on ebay debating about buying one, but usually balked at the shipping price, so this was a classic example of finally finding something for which I’d given up looking. And oddly enough, it was already in half of an old Morse box.

old-during

But the best part is that it was saved – yes, it’s dirty and stained and a bit smelly, but it still serves a good purpose in a way that nothing new can. Granted, that’s a given because I’m using something old on something old and the whole thing is a no shit sherlock kind of thing… But many/most people would have probably thrown the thing out? Or the thrift store might have dumpstered it? In fact, the half-naked machine had a complete case, but the thrift store threw out the top because the handle was broken off, or something along those lines, and unfortunately just before I bought it too… or so said the clerk who might have just been itching to see a long face…

So the machine has some new vintage digs albeit much younger than the machine itself. I had also been intending to un-electrify this machine and put it back in a nice treadle cabinet like it originally came in, but until that lucky happenstance comes along, I can at least store and use it a bit more securely.

old-case after

And then I’ll see if anyone needs the bottom part of an old Morse box – I need to check the rest of mine first though – I know I have one that the little post things that hold the machine are broken, but don’t know if the lid will fit the bottom – unfortunately even though these are all a universal size, the clasps that hold the two parts together can differ – these two Morses from approximately the same time period didn’t – one had clasps 1/4″ longer than the other…

During our most recent vacation, we stopped in a Goodwill in Maine. I love seeing the local flavor coming through in used shit and stop at thrifts whenever I can when I’m on the road. I was hoping to find some good old hard-wearing woolens, but silly me, in the land of frugality, of course they wouldn’t just be chucked in the charity bin but used until they were entirely shredded and then stuffed in the walls for insulation or given to the dog.

So I poked around the household items even though I’ve banned myself from buying any more plates ever.

oldthings-dirty plates

And I fell hard for these dirty old things.

At $4 for the whole lot, can you blame me? And they’ve got a bit of green and yellow and orange, my favorite colors? And they’re from the time period that I’m most drawn to in terms of household things?

old things-plates

But what I like best was that they were clearly salvaged from an old garage, barn, abandoned house, unrepaired attic, root cellar, or someplace long neglected and not suitable for proper china storage…

…but someone made the effort to chuck them in a box and haul them in for someone else.

The set isn’t really one – mostly dessert* dishes and a couple smaller and one larger. They aren’t in the best shape and are delicate-ish, therefore not entirely practical, but the worst ones are still useful for holding drippy or dry things (soap or sewing bits) and the good ones will be perfect for the occasional dessert

dirty old thing-polenta cake

(This is just one quarter of a very tasty polenta bar.)

*They’re probably actually luncheon plates instead of dessert plates, and though I think today’s plates are obscenely large and use “lunch” plates for my “dinner” plates on a daily basis, these would only hold the daintier finger sammies… And they’re made by W. H. Grindley & Co., England, but I can’t find the name of the pattern – according to a random website, the mark dates c. 1914-1925 – anyone recognize it?

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