Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sewing 101 : How to make curtains

January has been very slow for doing more work on the house, with a mix of work-tiredness and just january blues making me very slothful and disinclined to do much more than curl up and chill with what little free time I have. This weekend has been the first time that I seem to have found that extra gear and stepped back up to the house renovation work again.

With cold winter weather and an old, poorly insulated house, putting up curtain rails was a real priority back in December. We have a range of old & secondhand curtains that didn't go with the decor which got called into use as soon as the rods were mounted to block the cold cascading from windows and doors. None of them match the decor very well, and all of them are mismatched and variable in terms of size & attachment type(hooks, hoops, rings etc.). Curtain are incredibly easy to make and very expensive to have made to your own design/style choice so I decided to find a fabric store and make my own. I hope that by the end of this blog, you will feel comfortable doing the same.

So what do you need ?

A sewing machine or a passion for handsewing.

I have an ancient Toyota sewing machine which I bought in 1993. It is incredibly basic and simple, but refuses to keel over and die, and sews pretty much every fabric I ask it to, leather included. . I keep eyeing up the lovely new machines with embroidery setting and all sorts of fancy stitching, but I can't justify the expenditure given that this machine does everything I need. For curtains, you really only need a single straight stitch setting.

Some fabric.

Choose your fabric based on what you want as the primary effect. I chose a thick linen striped fabric with lots of weight to keep the cold out, but for light summer use, a fine cotton or even a gauze is enough. Think about machine washability, particularly for areas like kitchens where the curtains can collect a lot of dirt. If it is machine washable, it's recommended to wash and iron the fabric before you get going.

To decide the length of the curtain, measure the height from the curtain rod to the point you want the curtains to finish, and add extra for hems. I usually do a 1 inch wide hem all around, with the fabric turned over twice. I  leave the base hemming until after the curtains have been hung for the first time , then pin in situ and remove to hem on the machine. I also leave a little extra for shrinkage after washing, after a few months. It's always easier to move hems, than to start from scratch again.

The width is dependent on what sort of attachment or header you chose. The average width calculation is between 1.5  to 3 times the distance you want the curtain to cover. Pencil pleat is the most common style with a general fabric guidance of 1.8 times the width.

Depending on the width of your fabric you may have to join multiple sheets together - if you have a repeating pattern or a pattern that needs to be linked up properly, make sure you have enough extra  fabric to be able to do it.

Header tape.

The header tape is used to form the gathers at the top of the curtain. In the Netherlands there is a basic tape which is used with hooks to create different widths of gathers. I personally prefer the tape that has threads running through it to pull to shape, and the hooks are solely for suspension. There are a wide range of styles, ranging from pencil, to single/double/triple pleated, to goblet style. You need as much tape as the width of the fabric.

Sharp scissors.
Thread to match your fabric
Iron & Ironing board
Measuring tape.

Once you have all your materials, it's time to measure up and start cutting. I can't recommend enough measuring at least twice before you start to chop into your fabric. I tend to triple check, panic about my base measurements, revisit, measure again and then cut. It's better than getting it wrong and having to buy new fabric. At this point, make sure you have your iron and ironing board on standby and ready.

I usually start by fitting together sufficient fabric lengths to make the width needed, pinning and sewing. Although I've been told that if you pin horizontally you can sew over the pins, I tend to pin vertically, and remove them on approach as I sew. I've had more than one needle hit a pin and break the tip off - and I have no wish to be hit by flying shards of metal. Once you've sown the first vertical seam, iron down the seam, separating the two edges to opposite sides. I then pin the two side hems - I usually fold over twice to ensure that there are no fraying edges visible, with each fold being a fingers width wide. After pinning, I always iron - it makes it a piece of cake to sew. The hem at the top, I usually make a bit deeper - closer to two inches to give some weight and form to the pleats - and something solid to attach the header tape to, as it holds the full weight of the curtains. Once all the side hems are done, the top hemmed and header tape attached, it's a case of hanging the curtains and pinning up the bottom hem. I often let them hang for a couple of days to 'settle' into their favoured shape, but it's not really necessary. If the fabric is really light, I'll sew a weight into the corners of the base to keep the curtains from flying around too much in the winds.

This time around, I had lots of company in my sewing journey - Livia decided that she'd give me a helping hand. She finally fell asleep in the middle of the curtain, which truncated the sewing bee for a while.It's finally all done and I'm super happy with the results : it has given the room a real boost of energy and brings together the blue tones in the room.

This post is shared at
Creativity Unleashed Link Party

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

January madness

Its been an interesting few weeks.

 I've been travelling for work - a lovely snowy trip to Aarhus, in Denmark; a day on an island on the North Sea, a few days in a conference centre. It doesnt sound like so much, but its amazing how tiring it all is. And how little time you get to work on DIY and blogging as a result.

At weekends, I've been trying to make some DIY progress, but its all really small stuff thats hard to blog about because its so bitty and incomplete: i finally got my order of the end pieces for the curtain rails and mounted them. I've been prepping a load of mosaic tiles by removing them from mesh, and sorting them. I've bought fabric for making curtains, and I've cleaned and prepared the shells we collected at the beach over Christmas. I've also re-sorted and tidied the craft cupboard because I got so tired of not finding the things I was looking for.

 We've finished digging out the trough for the drain to the canal as part of the drains work to sort out water issues at the back of the house. We'd got to the stage where we didnt have water in the walls and house with the gutters and drain runoff going to the garden edge and everything became just that little less critical as a result. Whilst I'm glad we had a bit of a break, and digging frozen ground whilst we had snow and ice is not really an option, its really fascinating how easy it is for time to get away from you on projects. I'm super happy that we've finally finished the last little bit of drain fitting. Just a few days for the mud to settle, and we can returf & whoopie! All done!

I'll leave you with a picture of the beautiful mackerel sky that greeted me on arrival on Denmark - and here's to making some real bloggable progress this weekend!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Introducing Livia

We have a new family member. She's a beautiful tortoiseshell girl and she's a daring, energetic, crazy mad angel.

She torments poor Luca by chasing around the house faster than he can move. But she can also be very loving and cute.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Kitchen makeover : a quick refresh in 2 days

Kitchens are the most important room in the house for me. I love cooking and a kitchen with insufficient work space is my worst nightmare. One of the oddities of homes in the Netherlands is that the majority of them have tiny kitchens - either they are small pokey galley kitchens, or the walls have been knocked down to make a large kitchen/diner/living area  with the result that the kitchen area is minimalist and sketchy. I think I may have mentioned previously that it took over a year and a half to find this house - the state of Dutch kitchens is a large part of the reason. Here are the pictures that were on the real estate website for the house : 

I love bright yellow kitchens and the pictures caught my eye pretty quickly - as did the fantastic Aga style range oven. It looked pleasant enough in real life, simply a little tired from loving use and in need of some sprucing up. 

We knew we didn't have time to replace the kitchen before everything arrived with the packers so it was always going to be a bit of a lick and promise with paint. I originally chose this Design seed color swatch as I thought it would be the best fit given the existing cabinet doors. 

I was quickly persuaded to paint the kitchen cabinets as well as the walls and ended up choosing a slightly richer warmer color for the wood.  Probably closer to this one - although I do think this is one of those times when all the planning in advance didn't match the end result. The color is slightly more peachy that either of these two design seeds would suggest. 

Lots of hands to paintbrushes and about 3 days later we had units in a lovely warm peachy cream, and fresh white walls. It took about 3 coats to cover the grey grim that had built up on the fibreglass paper on the walls, but we just didn't have time to strip back. A task for next time.

I love the stained glass windows between the kitchen and living room - they add an interesting quirk of character. Our neighbour Frank ( born and raised in the house until age 16)  told us that they used to be in the main conservatory so at some point an owner has clearly salvaged them and moved them to a new home. I love the little touch points and stories that a house of this age has!

I don't have any pictures of us replacing the fridge and the dishwasher but both were exciting little subprojects in their own right. I would not normally have built in units, its just too much hassle for minimal return in my view. But as they were already there, we had lots of 'fun' trying to get the panels to mount properly, and to fit back into the spaces when they came. 

We did have a few learnings : kitchen unit paint just isn't strong enough to withstand repeated wear in a constrained small area. We have rubbed away the new color around the fridge door handle and it's looking quite grubby and worn again. I am wondering about trying to varnish it or cover the high wear areas with a clear self-adhesive plastic  after repainting. If you've painted up a kitchen how did you deal with this? 

We also didn't have enough storage space - with no units along the upper wall because of all the windows letting light in,  we had suprisingly little space for cooking materials. We've pressed into action our old IKEA furniture, which doesn't quite match the picture I had in my head but they are functional for the present. Maybe I should paint them too? 

Here's the kitchen today - complete with olive trees sheltering from the winter frosts & Luca's own table.

Hope you like it just as much as we do!


This blog will also be shared at the The Charm of Home link party

Monday, 4 January 2016

Renovating a chair : from cane to cushion without damaging an antique

A few days ago we found the most charming set of 6 hardwood chairs advertised for sale on a classifieds site here in the Netherlands (Marktplaats). It's the Dutch Craig's List & eBay rolled into one and if you search carefully you can find some amazing gems. This was one such gem :  when we went to see the chairs, the owners told us they had purchased them in an antique store in Belgium , that they were pre-1900, and hardwood, but that they need to get rid of them because they were broken. The seats are rattan, and the rattan has frayed and broken on 3 of the 6 chairs - but the actual wooden frame is solid and undamaged. Needless to say, I swooped and took them there and then!

First thing to do on getting them home was to gently clean the wood with a wood cleaning soap & damp cloth. For the carving using an old frayed toothbrush was enough to get into the corners you can't normally reach and that gather a layer of dust so solid that it looks like part of the chair. Once the chairs had dried thoroughly, I polished them gently with a no-silicon, bees wax polish. Be careful with furniture polishes from supermarkets - many have silicon in them to get the high gloss effect, but it can cause a horrible white bloom on the wood as a result

Next task was to unpick the cane from the most damaged seat. I had to remove the seat top level as the frame covered the cane weaving holes at the front. I used a Gerber pocket knife and a pair of tweezers to pick the bits out of the holes. You can see in the image that this was a hand woven seat, as it has holes drilled all around the front of the seat. A lot of modern rattan seats are made with a prewoven mat which is pushed into a deep grove around the edge of the chair and then covered with a final cane runner that is glued in to hold the seat in place.  Knowing the age of the chair, I didn't want to damage the chair as part of my renovation - but I really did want to turn the seat into a padded cushion, rather than re-weaving it myself. (Something I might do at a later date, but just not today, far too much on the list already!).

I traced the shape of the indented area on the top frame, and used it to mark out cutting lines for a base on  a piece of 1/2" thick plywood. W kindly cut the plywood out to the marked shape for me - a task of mere minutes for such an experienced wood worker. Once the wood was carved, I used it as the template for drawing around for the thick foam that would form the majority of the seat padding. I then carved it to shape. I think it was a bit scrappier than I would have liked, but apparently all my crafting knives have been used in DIY and the blades were all quite tired and blunt. The foam is really deep :  I particularly wanted a more padded seat than normal - the chairs are just a little bit lower than modern dining chairs. Fun initially as it gives a real Goldilocks sensation sitting at table, but ultimately, not the most comfortable seating. The extra padding is just enough to lift you up to normal height - and no-one ever complained about nice soft seats! 

I also bought a thinner foam as I'd seen a number of sites recommending multiple layers to give more comfort, as well as a final layer of quilt wadding. I cut that a little larger than the base - sufficient to cover the foam and over onto the base by about an inch or so. The fabric was cut another few inches larger to make sure it covered over the foam layers. In the end, I decided that the quilting fabric was overkill - the cushion was already pretty padded and stands up high above the seat.  It took a while to decide which way around to have the fabric - the seat is wider at the front than at the back and the fabric has text on it. In the end I decided to have the text facing you as you look at the seat from in front of it, rather than from behind. 
I positioned the fabric carefully to get the best balance of flowers then laid out the layers - cloth, thin foam, fat foam, wood. I stapled the first two layers (fat foam, covered by thin foam) first. Starting at the middle at the front I put an inital 3 staples in, then stretched the foam over the back to compress the edges into a delicate curve. Same again for each of the sides, making sure to stretch the thin foam smooth, then on to the corners. I don't have any magic tips here - I read lots of articles about how to make single pleats, butterfly corners and far more, but when it came down to it,  I ended up with trial and error attempts to get the least number of pleats, and tidiest looking pleats I could achieve. Lots of staples, and trimming of the excess later and it looked quite reasonable! 
Next was fitting the fabric layer which was basically the same, I opted to make it a bit deeper, so that I could fold the edges under, and ensure that I'd hidden the foam. I believe professionals use a base cover to mask the imperfections : as this is for me, and my home, I was less worried! The corners were even harder to get smooth and simple and the underneath is definitely not the worlds most elegant upholstery work. I trimmed a lot of excess fabric off : lesson for next chair is that I really don't need to leave so much 'just in case' fabric - it just needs to be trimmed when it's all awkward angles and corners.

 Lastly, W has attached four small wooden cubes to the plywood base, one in each interior corner of the seat frame that hold the seat in place without wobbling in the frame. I have decided not to glue it, so the seat will fall out if the chair is tipped upside down, but for all practical purposes, the seat is secure and solid. It doesn't harm the body of the chair, and it means that if I decide I want to go to rattan at a later date, it's a painless step back, just lifting out the padded cushion. One down, 5 to go. That said, I've decided to only do the two badly damaged ones initially, and to see how it goes with the remaining 4. I think the 3rd with damage will need redoing quite soon but the rest act as a comparison between the padded seat & the original design idea. Here it is, in the dining room ready for use!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

2016 resolutions : renovation goals

Like most people, I always start the year with a long list of good intentions, and a list of resolutions. All this planning has culminated in my 2016 resolutions (read goals/to-do list) : the things I'd like to get done in the year. It's a pretty long list, and I'm fairly sure it's going to get added to on a regular basis. It ranges from the sublimely simple and small that should have been done ages ago, to the insanely large and energetic.

Sometimes it's useful to know that you have other people rooting for you, to keep you to your goals, so II thought I'd just list this out here. It's probably going to be embarrassing this time next year, when I discover just how little is completed & ticked off the list! Am I allowed to replace things with activities of equivalent grade of complexity? The biggest challenge we've had in keeping to schedule this year has been the myriad of additional other tasks that have sprung up along the way, so that for every one task we complete, we end up doing 2-4 more!

  1. Clean & stain IKEA patio table, chairs & bench 
  2. Lay tiles in utility cupboard
  3. Replace waterproof silicon edging at back of kitchen sink/kitchen surface
  4. Grout the tiles under the craft table
  5. Repair edge of kitchen patio
  6. Fit draught excluder to mudroom
  7. Repair exterior giant table on main patio
  8. Repair glue pipe of rear gutter & do extension into grid
  9. Repair garden bench
  10. Fill crack in the wall by back door
  11. Mount curtain poles in the living room
  12. Make window fillers for the circular windows
  13. Make window shutters for the circular windows
  14. Lay  drainage pipe down to the canal
  15. Clean tiles on roof
  16. Replace top half of rear stable door
  17. Finish floor in the stables cupboard room
  18. Stable cupboard room inject DPC 
  19. New lights in the stable
  20. Mudroom doors on the cupboards to be made & hung
  21. Craftroom doors on the cupboard to be made & hung
  22. Whitewash wood in craftroom
  23. Whitewash wood in mudroom
  24. Repair & repaint dog scratches
  25. Build a mud & water catcher tray
  26. Mini diamonds for the gate to stop the dog escaping
  27. Replace exterior pole light near house
  28. Eat more healthily & take home made food to work at least twice a week
  29. Brick edging for garden beds
  30. Second coat of paint on the gates & fences
  31. Fix the wooden arch  base between rose  & flower bed 
  32. Make up a wooden pane and tile the hole in the laundry room
  33. Install squares on the gate tops at the front
  34. Hem curtain in hall
  35. Glue harp trim
  36. Mosaic stones for garden walkways
  37. Home made curtains for craftroom
  38. Home made curtains for mudroom
  39. Finish putting coving around the ground floor : hall, mudroom, craftroom, bedroom, laundry room. wardrobe, bathroom, kitchen. ( only done the living room so far!)
  40. "Beschoeing" along the front edge of the garden - timber edging with bespoke vole exits & cat ramps to stop the garden from being washed away by the canal flow
  41. Lay the garden footpath from gate to kitchen patio, from gate around trees to the boardwalk under the trees
  42. Make a fishing boardwalk under the trees!
  43. Install anti-leaf devices in the gutters to encourage leaves not to settle in them!
  44. Remove the old dog pen
  45. Drink more water!
  46. Level and lay new turf around front & garden side of the house
  47. Finish dining room chair makeovers
  48. New lamp near house, and a new lamp by the gate
  49. Lay matting around the fruit trees
  50. (More) Raspberry frames - make and train raspberries up them
  51. Make raised beds for the kitchen garden
  52. Grow a summer feast in the raised beds!
  53. Build the new garden shed & garage
  54. Finish the Pfaff table upcycle
  55. Finish the Singer table upcycle
  56. Repad/stuff Granddad's old chair
  57. Craft an elf village for the trees
  58. Extend the removal of nettles throughout the garden, as far as the hay barn.
  59. Repair the haybarn
  60. Gingerbread trim for the conservatory
  61. Mosaic the postbox base
  62. Accomplish at least 1 upcycling or crafting project per month
  63. Complete design of first floor & above with the architects
  64. Powerwash stables
  65. Repaint all the woodwork on outside of the stables - 'heraldry' on stall shutters
  66. Repaint stable interior
  67. New tiles - mudroom, hall, kitchen (maybe delay until after first floor work?)
  68. Home made Xmas decorations - wood tree
  69. Octagonal bench around the chestnut tree
  70. Wooden flower boxes on the kitchen patio
  71. Reduce wardrobe clutter by 50% in a journey to a minimal & organised wardrobe life
  72. Standing bar tables  made by W in wood
  73. Move the laundry line & rebuild
  74. Make a rotating rainshield for laundry line (maybe?) 
  75. Chill out at a spa at least once per quarter!!
  76. Garden lighting
  77. Make boot remover
  78. Make giant garden games
  79. Clean blinds in kitchen
  80. Clean blinds in conservatory
  81. Powerwash all patios & stonework
  82. Re-sand the brick flooring 
  83. Make moss art on the back of the stables
  84. (WT)Fit new garden doors
  85. (WT)Re-do bathroom ceiling : replaster, repaint
  86. (TZ) re-lay rear patio
  87. Teach the hound to come so that we can run and play on the beach together without a leash
  88. Lay out a chequer board herb garden
  89. Wildflower meadow on the banks of the canal ( opposite side)
  90. Treat & repair wood in the riding ring 
  91. Treat & repair wood in the starvation paddock
  92. Clear & relay central walkway between ring & paddock,
  93. De-weed starvation paddock - Zen garden layout
  94. De-weed riding ring - zen garden layout
  95. Clear out stuff in the loft and send at least a car load of stuff off to a better (new)  home
  96. Build a clay wood oven for making pizza near the BBQ
  97. Have a giant summer barbeque!
  98. Prune old fruit trees
  99. Remove old concrete blocks from the front & 
  100. clear/plant the front area
  101. Get old grain store cleared
  102. Remove asbestos shed ( subject to building new shed)
  103. Level floor in the stables (?new concrete?)
  104. Breed ladybirds for the lime trees
  105. Keep n do a good job in my day job
  106. Relax, be happy, and garden on!
And of course, the dream is to start on the first and second floors. Roll on 2016!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

How to save money whilst doing a renovation

I've been working hard over the last few days - although it's all quite invisible!

One of the big commitments I made to myself with this house is that I would try and save as much as I could on costs, and help the environment at the same time by upcycling and re-using things that other people want to get rid of. It's fun to go treasure digging in second hand stores and there are many websites that are used by folks to move on their no longer needed items in an easy, eco-friendly way.It's great to know I've saved something from adding to the growing landfill mountain. Here in the Netherlands, I'm an avid user of, and in the UK I used Gumtree & eBay pretty frequently. [Disclosure : I am an eBay employee, however these are my personal opinions - I work there because I *like* what they offer to people]. Facebook groups are interesting to browse, but I find that if you don't spend inordinate amounts of time glued to your electronic device, it's pretty impossible to find listed items you want - very hit and miss at the moment. Salvage yards, charity shops, 'kringloopwinkels' here in the Netherlands, and carboot sales are all grist to the mill.

And of course, the carboot sale to end all carboot sales is coming up again in a few months : King's Day! To celebrate the King's birthday, the Dutch turn out en masse as a nation to sell and buy secondhand goods from every available piece of pavement space, wearing lovely joyous Dutch orange colors and relax with friends and family.

Whilst all these ways are wonderful fun, to take the most advantage of them, it's vital to have a comprehensive 'I want' list. Items come up at random, so you have to be able to grab them well in advance of the date you need to have them. You can't guarantee to find stuff on the day you need it, and that usually means full price shopping as a result.

So the last few days we've been planning out what we want to achieve in 2016 and what we will need to do it. The list is really quite scary ( Evernote is my friend, again  - easy to share between W and myself) - growing every day, and easily over a hundred items already, with bold statements like 'build a shed' & 'repair the barn' amongst them!  Pinterest has been browsed extensively to get inspiration and ideas , and we've been starting to drill down into the item level detail  'we need 30 feet of coving' . Whilst it seems frustrating and a bit of waste of time when you could be out in the garden playing with plants or wielding a power tool, actually planning out what you need, and making sure it's on hand saves loads of time and frustration when it actually comes to 'doing time'.

We've also been checking out the January sales - not as extensive as they are in the UK or the US, but present nonetheless. If we can get something we need now, at half price, rather than in 4-6 months it feels like a good bargain. But of course, remember - it's not a bargain if you don't really need it and it just collects dust and adds to your collection of 'stuff that never gets touched'.

Lastly we've started to watch auctions - sometimes great value when you see the entire stocks of companies that have gone bankrupt being auctioned off for pennies. I just missed a lovely set of travertine tiles for an absolute steal - but as I hadn't measured up and wasn't willing to gamble on such a large expensive purchase, I'll just have to find it again another time.

I've also been starting to hunt for items - and researching how to do new DIY work that we haven't done before. It's made more complex in that I need to research it in English (my Dutch is quite terrible), ask W what the Dutch translation of a highly technical term is, only to discover that he doesn't know the English, and then spend an hour or more with lots of dictionaries before I can start to hunt for the goodies!

We've started to see results already - we knew we wanted some new dining room chairs and up came a lovely set of  6 pre-1900 Belgian carved hardwood chairs that were being got rid of because the rattan seats were falling apart and the owners didn't want to repair them. Instead, they just wanted to get rid, and would probably have sent them to the tip if they hadn't been taken.  At 60 euros for the chairs and about another 20  more for some on sale fabric, some foam, and some plywood we have the makings of a lovely new dining room set!

How do you find your upcycling gems?