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Category Archives: DIY

Attention To Detail

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So, um.  I tried sewing today.  And there were some failures (I totally botched the drawstring bags) and some successes (I made two throw pillow covers that look pretty decent).  And a realization that it’s probably good that I’m having now.

I don’t find sewing to be fun.

Sure, playing with colors and figuring out what fabric you want for something is neat, but the actual process of sewing is too fussy and precise and neat and fiddly and specific and meticulous for someone that’s a big ol’ messy haphazard improvisational slob.

I do like knitting, becuase at least with knitting you can fix things after the fact – there’s a process at the end, called “blocking”, where you soak the knitted whatever in water and lay it out flat in the specific shape you need it to be and let it dry that way, with pins holding it in the exact shape you need it.  It’s kind of magic – the process can be messy and imprecise, but then the blocking process magically evens out all the wonky stitches you did and your knitted piece is the way it’s supposed to look; the uneven stitches even up, the holes in lace yawn open, and your thing is nice and even and flat.  But with sewing, you have to cut things to the exact specific precise shape you need them and you need to sew in exactly specifically precisely the place you need your stitches to be and if you do something like sneeze you run the risk of your seam going uneven

Feh.

Well, it’s better I know that now.  There is one quirky and silly and fun thing I did like – there’s a quilt-top-making process people use with pre-cut strips of fabric called “Jelly rolls”, where you take a crapton of strips of fabric and sew them together end-to-end, and then take the big long strip and cut it in half and sew those strips together side-by-side, and then repeat that until you have a pre-sewn nice stripey bit of fabric.  I had some fabric I ordered off ebay from someone’s scraps – a strip about three inches wide and 60 long – and I tried that with it and ended up with a nice-looking front for a pillow cover.  I ordered some more strips off ebay recently that are coming, and I have some other random patches, so I may just use them to piece a quick throw blanket together and then give all the rest of my patches and fabric to Niki when I return the sewing machine, along with the two or three sewing books I’ve somehow found in my travels.  But I’ll have a couple cushion covers and a throw and the right to say that I sewed them, and that’ll be good enough and I’ll go back to looser-limbed crafts instead.

 

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Summer Camp DIY

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So, in the past, I’ve had an occasional summer habit of getting semi-obsessed with some new Craft.  I’d be wandering in a store and see a kids’ craft kit that introduced you to something, or I’d be looking for a way to use up or upcycle some kind of Life Detritus, and come across some kind of Thing To Do With It – and then I’d be buying up all kinds of supplies and churning mass quantities of the stuff with an eye to giving things away as Christmas gifts.  However, after a few months my enthusiasm would peter out a bit, I’d look at my creations and set aside half for being a little too ugly or weird to give away, and I’d give away some of the good ones but still have a ton left over, and not really know what to do with the rest of the supplies and end up puttting those out on the curb.

Some of these crafts have worked a little better than others; The Summer Of Soap kind of came and went, and The Summer Of Glass Painting is probably best left unremembered, but The Summer Of Liqueur and The Summer of Jam went over really well.  Both are still things I dip my toe into now and again, along with The Summer Of Knitting.

As I mentioned earlier, though, we are shaping up for this being The Summer Of Sewing, thanks to Niki’s loan of a sewing machine.  And I’m trying to make this a finite pursuit by sticking solely to using up some fabric salvaged from old worn out clothes, supplemented by a yard or two from a cheap fabric store and some scraps from ebay; I splurged on some precut strips of things from quilt shops after watching an idiot-proof technique for laying them out and using them, and I also saw someone had a big pile of scraps from old 1930s feed sacks, and have always been charmed by feed sack fabric and got those as well.  But most of the fabric is coming from a collection of jeans and khaki pants; my pants all have the frustrating tendency to wear holes right in the crotch gusset, so there’s a point by which I can’t wear them any more even though the rest of the fabric is perfectly fine.

Let’s just pause a moment so I can give you a big and salient fact, though – I kind of can’t sew.  I tried some simple sewing in Girl Scouts, but had to use felt since it wouldn’t fray; and as a freshman in drama school I was assigned to an internship in the department’s costume shop, but I jammed two sewing machines on my first day and the manager just gave me a blanket pass to skip the internship after that.

But I’ve seen some really simple cushion cover patterns, and watched a million tutorials on Youtube, and I think I can put them together.  Cushion covers are small and don’t involved curves, mostly, and if you make them envelope style then you don’t even need to worry about zippers or buttons or stuff.  And Niki sat with me for a while and showed me how the sewing machine worked, and it seemed easy enough, especially sewing in a straight line.  Which is all I intend to do, is sew in straight lines.

And thus I’m going to mostly be making some cushion covers for the bedroom, and turning some old pajamas into drawstring bags that I’ll use when I travel; one of them had a print of high-heeled pumps on them that was just begging to be turned into shoe bags.  (Please note: I have never worn high-heeled shoes in my life. But this was still one of the most comfortable garments I’ve ever worn – if you are trying on pajamas and your very first instinct upon donning them is to lie right down on the floor of the dressing room and take a nap, you get those pajamas.  They could have had a print of flaming roadkill and I’d still have bought them.)

The Mount Everest, though, is going to be a patchwork quilt made of those old jeans.  Mind you, I’ll be sticking to straight lines, simple patches, no batting, just turning jean patches into a quilt top and stitching it onto the backing and calling it good.  I am a bit uneasy, thinking of the old college mishaps, but that “what the hell, I’ll try this” instinct that drove me to try glass painting and soapmaking and such is the louder voice.  If nothing else, I will learn that No, Really, I Should Not Sew.

State Of The Kim

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I’ve hinted at it, I’ve been all cryptic, finally I can come clean – My last day at my current job is Tuesday, and my first day at a new job is the following Monday.

Now, I like my current company itself.  I also like the people I work with.  The problem is, what I’m doing (human resources data processing) is something I didn’t have any experience in before starting, and am ultimately not that great at.  I wasn’t even supposed to be in that role as long as I was – I was supposed to keep watching for executive assistant roles and apply for them, so I could move into that instead.  And for two years I did exactly that.  However – that plan was kind of like the Underpants Gnomes on South Park: everyone overlooked the necessity of the middle step between my applying for a job and my moving into it, namely that I would have to be accepted into said job.  And that’s the bit that never happened.  I finally started looking outside my current company, and got accepted into a new place within about three or four months.

(Quick note – I don’t think I’ve mentioned the name of the place where I work.  I will not do so, nor will I mention the name of the new place; I don’t want there to be any perceived problem with anything I ever have, do, or will say on this blog.  I will say only that the current company is an NGO and the new company is a small development and housing non-profit startup.)

So that’s why I can’t do much traveling this summer; it isn’t that fair to be starting a new job in mid-June, and then take off for a week at the beach only one month later.  I also won’t have built up enough time off until September or so.  I have since learned that I’m being brought along to the company team meeting in upstate New York during my second week there (and this is the first time I’ve ever been considered worthy of inclusion at a team meeting, so I’m not entirely convinced this is really my life just yet), but any funtime travel is going to have to wait a while.  I knew that would probably be the case when I started my job hunt, however, so I have resigned myself to that.

But – the new job comes with something of a considerable improvement in pay over what I’m making now.  And it’s a very new startup in a shared-work space, so everyone’s walking around in jeans and polo shirts and khakis and t-shirts, so I can dress way more casually than I’ve had to.  And – and this is something I’m unnaturally excited about – I can walk to work.  It is a half-hour on foot from my apartment to the office, and even if I took a bus it would only save me five minutes.  So I have every intention of walking to and from work – I could leave home later, get home earlier, and take little exploratory detours or run errands on the way home (there is a major food mart opening up just a couple blocks off my route, and a Wegman’s will also open up a couple blocks in the other direction within two years).  And that’s also one hour of walking each day, five days a week.  So by the time I finally do go on some kind of trip, I will be richer, better rested, and in better shape, and I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna call that a win.

In the meantime: I have gone into a full-on DIY Home Decorating Mode.  I’ve tried making a couple of candles and I’ve stumbled upon several crafting sites that show you how to make erzatz Moroccan-style colored glass lanterns out of plain glass jars and paint.  That, plus the shibori-dying class I’ve signed up for, has sent me galloping into a plan to give my bedroom a slight “boho chic” makeover (which, really, is mainly going to translate into creating a few candle arrangements here and there, changing a couple lamps and then dumping a gabillion cushions on the bed).

And I’ll be getting back to the movies soon, of course; I’ve just been trying to get through the last couple weeks at the old job.  I’m doing a major cleanout of the file room as my Last Act And Legacy; it’s something I’ve desperately wanted to do for a year and a half (ever since we discovered one day that there was about a two year period when people didn’t actually file things in there, so much as “shove them into corners”), and that’s been a lot of lifting and toting and shoving and sorting and arranging, interspersed with cursing and grumbling.  At least four times now I’ve discovered a whole new pile of un-filed files, and opined to my coworkers that “I really feel like someone needs to die for doing this.”  Wishing others death is tiring work.

Summer Is Launched!

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Okay. We all know that summer technically doesn’t begin until late June.  But for most of us, it is unofficially in the national consciousness that “summer” begins on Memorial Day.  And I did have some good news to launch my summer into a good start (I’ll be able to share later), so I’m already in that mindset.  I’m still not going to be able to do much travel (and the news will explain why, I swear I’ll explain, please be patient), so I’m in a “playtime” mindset already.

And that brings in my friends Colin and Niki.  Or, rather, it brings in a habit the three of us have.  They travel a lot – they’re both freelancers, and Colin’s work in particular calls for a lot of travel – and they own a couple of rental properties so they can move around a bit.  And – they also own a car, which they are not always able to take with them – which means that it is in danger of being ticketed or towed if it isn’t occasionally moved to satisfy New York’s parking rules.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had quite so much of a chance to travel like they do (we will set aside my jealousy for the moment).  But – my being stuck at home means I am the perfect car-sitter.  So for the past few years, they have dropped off their car with me before they take off, and I can use it for whatever I like while they are in Honduras or Costa Rica or Newfoundland.  I’ve brought myself upstate for weekend trips, made big-ass Salvation Army or Ikea hauls, and have even used it for the journey home for Christmas when I had an assload of presents and the idea of wrestling things into a train gave me hives.  And except for one unfortunate evening where I had to visit an impound lot (i swear i thought i was outside the bus stop zone i’m still sorry guys) it’s worked well.

This summer, they told me they’re going to Montana and Colorado. But – they’re taking the car with them.  However, Niki had another idea to soften the blow – was I interested in borrowing her sewing machine?  And Niki used to make candles, but didn’t do it so much, and I’d been saying I’d be interested in taking anything she didn’t use, how about I do that too?

And thus, Niki and I spent an afternoon sitting on a floor as I sniffed my way through the contents of three enormous tubs full of essential oils (Niki had them by the quart, people) and made my various requests and she gave me a super-quick candlemaking 101 as she doled out bunches of wicks into different baggies.  Then she showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and we crammed everything into four bags and boxes and she called me an Uber to get it all home.

I’m going to have a tiny bit of a financial windfall soon (again, I promise, the news will epxlain it) and I’m already looking into ways to snazz up my bedroom a bit for summer. Still on a bit of a budget, though.  However – I’ve already found something from my summer bucket list – a shibori dye class in a couple weeks – and had to get something to be dyed in the class, and went with a couple of pillow cases.  But now that there’s the sewing machine, I’m thinking of just making way more cushion covers and pillow covers and just piling my bed with them.   And I just found a decent source of soy wax, and Niki sent me home with 3 boxes of containers for candles, and long story short, I’m already getting going on what is shaping up to be A Summer Of Making Shit.

Little Gold Dust Woman

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My urge to DIY has been snowballing.

I have already been working at knitting a throw blanket for my bedroom, and have also added a cushion cover to the mix.  I’m probably going to hack some kind of valance out of red bandannas, pretty much just by using clothespins to rig them over the blind frame.  I’ve also set aside a couple of flat sheets and a pillowcase that I’m going to try playing around with dye and a shibori tie-dye technique.

And then a couple weeks ago I suddenly got hit with the urge to start dressing a little more like Stevie Nicks – seriously, the whole swirly-skirts, lacey-shawls hippie 70s thing.  I poked my nose into eBay looking at what they had for lace shawls, but then realized – hey, I have a crapton of laceweight yarn and I know how to knit.  And so now I am looking at patterns to knit myself a lace shawl. I especially am on the lookout for something that will use this gorgeous hot-pink-and-deep-blue yarn – I just got a peasanty top at a thrift store in that hot pink, and am thinking it’s just what I need to throw over my shoulders when I wear it with jeans.

And I also spent part of an afternoon last weekend browsing in a junk shop in Williamsburg, just to see what they had – I’d been in once before just to look, and walked out with a genuine donabe pot they had balanced on top of an old foot locker and were selling for only twenty bucks.  This time I was looking more at all the silver and glassware, thinking of ways I could put them in my window to catch the light.  But I put that off to later.

And then I got home and on a whim, I dug out a lot of craft stuff from when I was in a papercrafts phase in the early 2000’s; scraps of fancy rice paper, cardstock, stamps.  I browsed scrapbook sites to see if I could finally do something with a backlog of travel photos I’ve been piling up, and am seriously considering a voyage to a Michaels’ in town.

…this kind of energy and frivolity is something I just plain haven’t had or wanted to do in about ten years.   I’m thinking this is a very good thing.

Spring after Long Winter

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So.  I’ve said a couple times that it’s been quiet in here, but I owe a bit of an explanation – the day job situation has, for the past couple years, pretty much sucked.  Not because of the place I work – on the contrary, I probably screwed myself a little insisting on staying in a place I loved when other factors were less than ideal.  First I was a temp; the job itself was great and I got on wonderfully with my boss.  But the pay was….well, it was temp pay, and there was only one week paid time off for holidays, sick pay, or vacation time.  So I spent what little free time I had at home, afraid to do anything because oh my god it will cost money.

Then I finally got a full time job where I work, for a different boss in a different department – and I got on great with everyone there too.  But the actual work I was doing was a huge, huge switch from what I’d been doing (office management-type clerical to human resources data analysis), and I have spent most of last year feeling like a huge idiot because i don’t understand how human resources works and i need to deal with a whole computer system on top of it but i must not freak out because i don’t want to lose this job aaaaaauuggghhh

However.

Over time, I got more comfortable with it.  And, working in human resources means that your boss looks at you funny when you don’t use your vacation time, which has been a really good foil for me; I’ve had a bit of a temp mindset for too long, where I don’t use free time because there usually isn’t much, but the paid time off I have has quadrupled from what it used to be, with a boss who eggs me on to use it.  (Human resources people get that people actually need free time.)

So that super-austere phase I’ve been in for two years now – while I was still recovering from yet more austerity from a few years prior – is slowly wearing off.  And thank God for that too – because I’ve been in survival mode for way too long.  A lot of the fun and relaxed things that made me me all got put on hold – cooking, exploring the city, travel, writing.  But things are coming back.  It’s like a few little shoots finally poking out of the ground after a really heavy winter, or after a forest fire.

And one of the surest ways I know this is…I have suddenly gotten the urge to redecorate my bedroom.

Now, I’m not really one of those lifestyle bloggers who is always posting DIY crafts and design tips.  My crafting talent is way more….aspirational than anything else; I can knit okay, and a simple dying project worked once, and I can do some extremely simple handsewing, but….quilting? Painting? Ceramics?  Forget it.  Most of my projects are either smudged, or the colors are all wrong or the nails break or something.  I even once managed to screw up spray painting something a single color.

But.  I have been squinting at my bedroom lately, wanting to change things up a bit.  Switch out a couple pillows, maybe pile on a couple of cheap throws.  Soften the windows up with a valance of some kind.  Get more art.  Actually do something with all of the craft shit I purchase because I think that maybe it’ll work this time.  I did have some success making a puppet theater for my niece and nephew this Christmas (even here, I ran out of supplies twice and there are a couple places where it’s obvious my lines are crooked), so there is hope.

So right now, there are some actual DIY projects in the works.  Fortunately they should all be simple – I’m starting a couple of knit cushion covers and a big blanket, and there’s a couple of plain bedsheets I’ll be trying to tie-dye using a sort of half-assed shibori method.

Part of it is because of spring – I want to clean old shit away, bring in things that are fresh and new, and also try to use some of what I’ve got in fresh new ways (or just get rid of it; there will be plenty of that going on too).  But part of it, too, is because I finally have the space and trust to start letting in a little joy again.

And tonight that joy is just so happen going to take the form of refinishing four random tins with….spray paint.  Wish me luck.