finally finished: my blue willow inspired dining room

A few years ago, I inherited from my grandmother a collection of blue and white plates, some of which my grandfather had sent home from WWII to his mother. I have loved and treasured them in a cabinet for several years, but knew that the next time we owned a home, I wanted to decorate a room around displaying them. Well, we finally bought a house last summer, and all these months later, I’ve finally (mostly) finished our front/dining room.

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It’s a weird space, because it’s the first room you enter after walking in the front door, and there’s a strange freestanding closet that awkwardly sits in the middle of the room, I’m guessing because there used to be more walls that were removed, but the closet had to stay for structural reasons. I think the weird closet contributed to this house being on the market as long as it was, because it was hard to picture how furniture would go and how the room would be used. For us, it’s more of our formal living area, because there’s a big den in the back of the house where we have our giant sectional and TV and all of the girls’ toys.

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I made pillow covers (using this tutorial) in various blue and white prints to tie the plate wall into the sitting area, and I have plans to reupholster our couch and to recover the dining room chairs. I’m thinking solid colors for those, so let me know if you have ideas. The round table was a Christmas gift from my mother, who gave us her dining table after she heard me say I wanted a round table that expanded– this one has four leaves and can seat 12 with them all in place!

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Another recent project, designed by me and executed entirely by my husband, was the remake of a thrift store end table.

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The real showstopper of the room, though, is the plate wall.

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In case you’d like to do a plate wall yourself, here are my plate wall tips: After asking some friends who had hung some plates, I settled on the metal spring plate hangers. I rolled out some extra wide wrapping paper on the floor and laid out the plates on top of it. Then, my husband and I traced around the plates, photographed the arrangement, removed the plates, and hung the paper on the wall. From there, we nailed hooks into the paper, and then ripped it down, leaving the hooks behind. I then referred to my photos to hang the plates on the hooks.

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I love the way it turned out, and keep finding myself wandering into the dining room just to stare at the wall. It feels like something that belongs in the home of someone way cooler than we are.

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Easy DIY: The InstaFridge

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Check out my fridge, covered in pictures of my babies! You, too, can achieve such a cool (ha) fridge!

Here’s the deal: there are companies that will make you magnets out of your Instagrams (and lets be real, the best pictures any of us are taking these days are on Instagram), but they charge $15 bucks for 9 magnets, and they aren’t very big. Meanwhile, I was recently informed by a friend that Walgreens has a cool new app that, among other things, connects directly to your Instagram and prints 4×4 prints at your nearest store for you to pick up in just an hour or two. For 39 cents a pop. So, using my rudimentary math skills (aka a calculator, because I am an English and Poli Sci major, and math makes me cry), that’s $1.27 cheaper than the pre-made magnets per picture. The savings shrinks a tiny bit when you take the added step of turning the prints into DIY magnets, but bear with me:

Supplies:

1 sheet foam board, or, if you’re extra thrifty, 1 cardboard box

A bunch of Instagram prints

Photo Corners (like these, which are less than $5 for 250)

Craft magnets (Amazon sells bazillions for like a nickel each) + glue gun if you don’t get the magnets with adhesive backing

Scissors

Steps:

  1. Affix pictures to cardboard or foam board using photo corners
  2. Cut out squares
  3. Glue and/or affix the magnets to the back of said squares
  4. Stick all over your fridge
  5. Laugh at schmucks paying $1.20 more per magnet for their StickyGrams that look tiny and puny next to your awesome creations

The bonus of using the photo corners as opposed to gluing the pictures directly to the foam/card board is that you can easily change out the pictures and reuse the magnets over and over again! Which will work great for me as my whole fridge is pictures of the Bufflo Gals, and they tend to do this pesky growing up thing, which means I need to update the pictures regularly.

a pinner’s manifesto

I admit it. I was initially resistant to Pinterest. Why do I need one more social network? was generally my perspective. But then I tried it and quickly became hooked. Finally, my folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes were actually useful, because instead of scrolling through filenames, I could browse photographs on a “board” to choose what I wanted to cook, the same way I flip through a cookbook or magazine looking at the pictures. As a sewer and crafter, I could collect inspiration to use later, too, like yellow dresses that became my the spirit of my first yellow sundress that I made for myself. Much as I love Instagram for giving me a greater eye for beauty, Pinterest has helped me see all the world as a source of inspiration for making my spaces and meals a more beautiful place. For every critique I see of Pinterest as a place of envy and lust, I would argue that it’s what you make of it. If you collect pins and follow pinners who only share things you’ll never have, sure, you could easily get down and jealous and start to feel inadequate. But if you follow people with a similar vision for life and the world, you’ll never cease to be inspired. Because I judiciously unfollow thinspiration boards and mostly follow people who pin yummy food and quirky outfits and cute spaces, Pinterest has become a Happy Place for me.

But we can make it better.

Let’s face it, Pinterest’s search kind of sucks. But it’s because of us. Pinterest can only return pins to us if they’re captioned with the kinds of terms we use in our search. If I’m searching for pictures of foxes (which I often do because I’m obsessed and want a pet one), but everyone has captioned their fox pictures “CUTE!”, I’m not going to get many results. For a picture of a fox to show up in the results of my search with the keyword “fox,” the word “fox” needs to appear in the caption. Similarly, if I’m searching for images of toddler bedrooms or shared bedrooms to inspire me in sprucing up the gals’ nursery, only pictures captioned with words like “toddler room,” “shared room,” “twin room,” and “bunk beds” are going to return me the kinds of images I’m looking for, while the ones captioned “cute room!” or “idea for later!” are never going to reach my screen.

So, we have to start doing better. We have to start captioning our pins with actual descriptions of the image. Most people already do this with pins of recipes, captioning them with the name of the actual dish. But we need to do it with everything. I need to do it too. Also: did you know Pinterest has been tagified? Much like on Twitter, where placing a hashtag before a keyword turns the word itself into a clickable search that takes you to a page with all other posts that share that tag, putting “#coconut” on a pin for say, coconut rice turns the word #coconut into an instant search for other pins that share that tag. Click that link and see what I mean.

Here’s an example from one of my own pins. The bad pin has just a space instead of a useful caption, while the good pin has a descriptive caption that makes use of keywords and hashtags.

This is my pledge: In order to make Pinterest more useful to us all, I will henceforth caption all of my pins appropriately, describing what is in the image or the content of the blog post the image links to, and making use of related hashtags to make my pins more search-friendly. Will you pledge to do the same?

P.S. If you would like to follow me on Pinterest, please do! I’d love to make more “friends” there!

baby room reveal and BIG update

BIG NEWS: Etta and Claire will be born tomorrow! Our c-section was originally scheduled for this coming Monday, 4/2, but at my appointment this morning, my blood pressure was elevated, I had started to retain a lot of fluid, and Claire wasn’t as reactive on the monitoring as the doctor would like her to be. My doctor said my body and the babies were telling her that it’s time for them to come out. Initially she was talking about getting them out today, but Claire perked up a bit with further monitoring, so we bought ourselves until tomorrow morning, first thing.

I’m glad, because we still had a lot to do: finishing touches on the girls’ room, finishing thank you notes for shower gifts, straightening up the house a bit, and packing a bag for the hospital. In fact, right after the doctor told us tomorrow would be baby day, I said to Jon: but we have to finish the room and I have to take pictures so I can blog it before they come!!! Clearly I’m an insane internet weirdo. But hey: check out our babies’ cute room!

This is the view standing in the doorway of the room. I didn’t set out to have a themed room, but it quickly developed a color palette based on the crib skirt and pillow fabric, and we ended up with a bit of an animal thing going on. What I am most proud of about the room are all the handmade touches, by me and by other folks who love Etta and Claire, and of all the stuff that we already had that we were able to repurpose for the room. The only new furniture we bought were the two cribs, which are BabyMod from WalMart and were a gift from my family. The white dresser, from IKEA, we already had, the little yellow table used to be a nightstand in our guest room, the futon was in our living room, the white tables on either side of it were in our bedroom, and even the rug, which strangely matched perfectly, we already had from IKEA.

This is the view from in front of the bathroom door. Bonus Tinycat sighting! The purple dresser/changer is one of the coolest repurposed items in the room. Our friend Sean found the solidly-built dresser by the curb while walking his dog and carried it home for us. Jon refinished it, and I found the cutest green knobs on sale for half off (which made them $1.50 each) at Hobby Lobby. It’s chock full of our cloth diapers! The four animal paintings were painted by my dad after some he saw in a catalog. They were the first animal items we got for the room, which is what led to the unofficial theme.

I knew right away that a traditional rocker or glider wasn’t going to work with two babies, but wanted a comfy place to nurse and snuggle. So we moved a futon out of our living room, and it fit great! This way one of us can sleep in the room with the babies if we want, and if anyone is ever crazy enough to want to come stay with us, we still have a space for guests to sleep. Tinycat also thinks it’s a great nap space. Everything hanging over the futon is something we already had somewhere else in our home.

I already mentioned my DIY mobiles and origami lamp and re-made vintage lamp in previous posts.

Another awesome handmade touch in the room are these name prints by my awesome friend Christen, whom you may remember from our maternity photo shoot. She’s not just a super talented photographer, but makes adorable prints, which you can purchase from her Etsy shop. I love that they don’t match exactly, but go together just perfectly!

And that’s the room! I can’t believe that after tomorrow, we’ll have BABIES in those cribs!

how to make a simple crib skirt

Baby bedding is a weird racket. Most of the cute stuff seems to come in sets, but the sets include things that may or may not kill your baby in her sleep, like crib bumpers. And they’re awfully matchy-matchy, as if you need curtains, sheet, bumpers, quilt, and skirt to all be perfectly matched. Personally, I prefer things that “go” rather than match. And the matching sets are often SO babyish, completely unable to grow up with a kid into early childhood. My goal with the twins’ room has been to have a room that is girly but not princess pink, to choose things that they won’t grow out of before they’re potty trained, and to use as many unique, handmade touches as possible. So I decided to make my own crib skirts. I think they turned out great:

I initially followed a pattern for the first skirt, found parts of it confusing, redundant, or unnecessary, and decided to simplify the process for the second skirt. I figured other folks might be interested in a super easy tutorial of my method for making a modern crib skirt, so here it is: how to make a modern crib skirt. There are no gathers, no pleats, noting complicated. If you can cut and sew a straight line, you can do this, I promise. Also, I took the trouble to make this skirt with French seams, encasing all the edges of the fabric, so a serger is not necessary for keeping your crib skirt from raveling in the wash. It should be sturdy enough to last for years.

Materials:

  • For the “deck” or the part that goes under the mattress, you need 1 5/8 yards (44″ or 54″ wide) muslin or other cheap fabric. (I got solid cotton that was on sale for $1.99/yd– no one will see this part)
  • For the skirt, 3 yards (44″ or 54″ wide) mid-weight fabric (I used a cotton duck that feels like canvas and claims to be soil resistant)

How To:

Cut out your pieces from the fabric:

  • For the deck, cut from the muslin a rectangular panel 29″ wide and 53″ long
  • For the skirt, cut 6 panels, each 30″ wide by 16.5″ long

Create a hem in each skirt panel by folding up one of the long sides 1/2″ and pressing, and then folding that up again and pressing:

Sew along the upper edge of the fold, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each hem:

Create a similar hem on the two short sides of each skirt panel by folding and pressing 1/2″, folding that up and pressing again, and sewing close to the inner edge of the folded portion. It may help to pin the corners where the fabric is bulky because of the bottom hem:

After you have hemmed the bottom and sides of each skirt panel, fold the deck lengthwise and gently press a crease down the center:

(Can you sort of see the crease in that picture? It’s basically just there to help you find the center of the short ends of the deck.)

Line up the center of one skirt panel with the center of the deck, right sides of each facing OUT. Pin. (The right side of my deck fabric was hard to see, as it was a solid, so you might want to use a disappearing ink pen to mark “right” on the right side of your deck fabric.)

Sew the two pieces together, sewing very close to the edge:

Press seam open:

Fold over, encasing the edge of the first seam within the fold. Press:

Stitch seam again, sewing close to the edge:

Press seam again, and you’re left with a nicely enclosed edge that won’t fray in the wash:

Repeat process to sew panel to other short end of deck.

Starting at one edge, line up the corner of one skirt piece with the corner of one long side of the deck, again both right sides facing OUT. Pin in place along edge:

(using a grapefruit to keep your fabric from sliding off your table is clearly optional but works great!)

Match the corner of another skirt panel up with the other end of this side of the deck and pin in place. The two panels will overlap in the center:

As with the short sides, sew very close to the edge, press seam open, fold over to enclose cut edges, and stitch again to create a French seam. Repeat on other side of the deck with the last two remaining skirt panels.

Iron out any creases your fabric has gotten throughout the process, and you’re FINISHED! Put your crib skirt on your crib and admire your handiwork:

Note: the skirt will not graze the floor when mattress is raised to the highest newborn position, but should fit nicely for all of the various mattress positions you’ll use as your baby grows.

If you make a crib skirt, I’d love to hear how it goes!

put a bird on it! DIY origami lamp and mobile

Are you ready for more of my baby room crafty craziness? Here it comes!

Origami has long been a hobby of mine, at least since high school. I find it repetitive, mindless, and relaxing, a great project to do with my hands while I watch TV. One year, while unemployed, I made a ton of origami Christmas ornaments, and was sure glad to have them as unbreakable ornaments this year when I first encountered the combo of Tinycat+Christmas tree. I knew I wanted to do something origami-related for Etta and Claire’s room, and after my success making an origami crane-covered lampshade for my friend Naomi, I decided to DIY another origami crane lamp. Consider this a bit of an origami crane lamp tutorial.

First: you need a LOT of origami cranes. Obviously this varies depending on lampshade size, but I’d say at least 200, maybe more. (If you don’t know how to fold a crane, I highly recommend YouTube. It’s so much easier when you can watch someone’s hands actually folding instead of trying to decipher diagrams.)

A lot of evenings were spent in the recliner with Tinycat folding cranes. He wasn't very helpful, but he sure is snuggly!

I folded enough cranes to fill this bag, then got started and realized I needed about 50 more. This is why it's helpful to have more paper than you use, so if you fold more, they'll still match the rest of the group.

Then, hot-glue the cranes to your lamp all haphazard like.

I’m really proud of how the lamp turned out, and particularly in love with the cute turquoise base we scored on sale at Target for about $20. Here’s what it looks like in the girls’ room:

In the end, I actually had some cranes left, so I started thinking about what I could do with them and realized they’d be perfect for a mobile. I bought some small grapevine wreaths from Hobby Lobby for $4 each to use as the base of the mobile, and picked up a $3 spool of crochet thread to string the cranes on. Other than that, I already had ribbon, cranes, and beads, so this ended up a very cheap project! I learned while making crane ornaments that a bead under the cranes keeps the knots in the string from pulling through the fragile paper, and I used a large needle to string the cranes onto the thread. I’m really proud of my finished mobiles and can’t wait to see them hanging over the cribs! (That will be a project for Jon. I have a feeling I should avoid ladders.)

Just for the heck of it, I decided to see if anyone on Etsy was selling anything similar. I told Jon, “I bet people would pay $30 for these!” Sure enough, the one origami crane mobile seller I found was selling hers for $28 apiece, and they didn’t even have cute nests/wreaths, just plain old hoops! Not bad for something made largely of things I already had!

nursery progress and a lamp DIY

To me, one of the more fun things about being pregnant is fixing up a room for the babies. I knew from the start I wanted to avoid having a “theme.” None of the rest of my rooms have a theme, so why should the babies’ room look any different? I wanted their room to look like it belonged with the rest of the house, and I knew I had to work with the navy blue floral wallpaper that we renters can’t change. So my goal was to incorporate lots of color and lots of handmade touches to make a room that goes with the rest of our house. I figured I’d share some of my progress so far:

The cribs are actually the only “new” thing in the photo, and they’re BabyMod from Walmart. Cribs were a tough decision for me, because I originally really wanted bright red cribs, which apparently do not exist. Then I thought I’d paint unpainted cribs, which also do not exist, unless I want to pay a zillion dollars or drive 4 hours to the nearest IKEA, which, it turns out, didn’t have the unpainted ones in stock anyway. So we ended up with gray cribs that actually blend surprisingly well with the aforementioned wallpaper. The dresser we already had, and there are three smaller nightstands in the room that we also already had. Even the rug was something we already had.

Early on, I decided moving our futon into the babies’ room made more sense than getting a glider, because this way, I could set the babies down on the couch, sit down in between them, and still feed them even if I were home alone. Also, the futon still functions as a place for guests to sleep, in case anyone wants to stay in a house of craziness, or for one of us to sleep in the room with the babies. It’s actually an espresso brown, I just have a sheet on it to protect it from Tinycat’s hair, since he likes to hang out in there.

To go on the futon, I made 4 throw pillow covers with fabric I happened to already have in my stash, that I think goes well with the rug:

And for Christmas, my dad made these four paintings to go on the wall: I think the animals are super cute, and he did a great job choosing colors that go with the other things in the room.

Now, while we’re not doing an animal theme, there will be some other animal touches, including some letterpress prints I already had around, and a vintage lamp my stepmom found at a flea market:

I immediately loved the little elephant, but knew I wanted to do something to spruce up his bland, faded shade. Initially, I thought of trying to cover the shade with the same fabric as the throw pillows, but since I’m making the girls an origami crane lamp like the one I made for my friend, I decided to incorporate the same origami paper I’m using for the cranes to make the two lamps “go” together. I cut each sheet of origami paper into 4 smaller squares and ModPodged them to the lampshade in a patchwork pattern. Then I glued some rickrack trim around the edges. I’m really proud of the results (though everything I ModPodge comes out a little wrinkly), and think the patterns of the paper echo the pattern of the wallpaper in a nice way:

I still need to figure out some sort of changing table/dresser, want to get an ottoman, need to hem curtains, and am planning to sew some crib skirts, among other things, but I’m pretty proud of how the babies’ room is looking so far. I don’t think it screams “baby” or “pretty pretty princess” but it’s still girly and fun and colorful. I can’t wait to get it finished!