Browsing articles in "Apartment Life"
Mar 22, 2013

Fox & Squid

I recently faced a major shortcoming in my life. “Major” might be the wrong word. Also maybe not “shortcoming.” The word I’m looking for is whatever you call it when you realize that you really want to hang art on your walls, but you don’t want to/can’t pay more money for it. That word. It’s probably German, like most good words about frugality and desire.

All of this to say, I made some stuff. I wanted some things to hang on my wall, so I went to my old standbys: an X-acto knife and some pretty paper.

What I like about making pictures this way is that I can’t exactly draw, but I really like looking at things and breaking them down into their most basic shapes, and then making a sort of puzzle, except I’m both making the pieces and then putting them together.

I made the first thing around the time I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The book wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but I loved the cover and the image of the orange fox in the white snow (and it reminded me a bit of this that I made a few Christmases ago). Also, we had a few foxes in our yard and on our street growing up, and they’re such pretty, graceful animals. (Sometimes we mistook them for stray cats. Hilarity ensued.)


I was tempted to make Blue Boy and Pinkie foxes, but then they released the first ever footage of the giant squid, and I had cephalopods on the brain even more than I usually do. So, now it’s more like Fox Boy and Squidy, but let’s never call them that.



I hung them in these gold frames that I found at a thrift store. I’m pretty sure I made a solemn oath to not hang the frames without painting something less gaudy, but I’m also pretty sure oaths made via text message while in the throes of thrifting aren’t admissible in a court of law. Or my apartment.



I thought that how I made this last thing was sort of interesting, so I’d write it like a tutorial, because I have a deep and true love of DIY blogs. I hold that I have loved ampersands since before it was cool to love ampersands. My proof is that I searched the entire internet for ampersand-themed jewelry back in 2008 and found not a thing. Now you can buy ampersand earrings at every hipster craft fair (and believe me, I do), but I still love them and put them everywhere in my house. I considered trying to free-hand an ampersand to frame, but I had a feeling that that would be disastrous. I was going to print a template, but that would have involved a lot of wires and ink and seemed vaguely bad-retro, so I did this instead.

Using Your iPad as a Lightbox to Make a Pretty Thing

What You’ll Need:
an iPad
scotch tape
tissue paper
X-acto knife
pretty paper in two colors
rubber cement

Decide what letter or punctuation mark you’d like to make. I recommend ampersands because they are prettiest, but you can have opinions, too. Type that character into the iPad word processor of your choice in the font of your choice and in the largest possible font size. (I used Pages so I could use Apple’s default fonts, and the font I used was Didot.)

Take a screenshot of that character by pressing the on/off switch and the home button on your iPad at the same time. This gives an image to manipulate, and is much easier to deal with than an iPad word document.


Open the image in Photos. This is where the tracing and the tissue paper comes in. My tissue paper was purple and wrinkled, but this probably isn’t necessary. You could even use real tracing paper if you’re that kind of fancy. Cut a piece of tissue paper to be a little larger than the screen of your iPad, and wrap it around, taping on the back of the device. At this point, I laid my frame on the screen and adjusted the size of the ampersand. (The touchscreen still works through the tissue paper. Magic.)

Trace the image with a pencil, but be careful to keep your hand off the screen, or you’ll move the image around. If you do move the image, just move it back using what you’ve already traced as a guideline. It’s kind of like a really easy puzzle from a Nancy Drew game. You know, if you’re into that kinda thing.

Untape the tissue paper from the iPad, being careful not to rip it. Trim the tissue paper down, and tape it to your pretty paper. I like using scrapbook paper because it’s nice and thick and acid free, and you can find every color, texture, and pattern known to man if you go to one of the scrapbooker’s holy places, like Archivers.


Cut out the character with your X-acto knife. What I love about using X-acto knives is that you’re practically drawing with a knife. (But if you make a mistake, you can’t erase. Work slowly.) Be careful around corners; it’s easy to overshoot. I usually work out from inside corners, which keeps the overshooting at bay.

Glue your cut-out down with rubber cement. I use Q-tips for the small details. Trim your paper to the size of your frame, hang it, and feel proud of yourself. Text a picture of it to your mom.



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Oct 16, 2012

Jar Jar Bling

What mysterious objects are these?A few weeks ago, I left work early on a Friday afternoon. I had been slowed down by a bad cold all week, and finally realized that staring at my computer, considering my immanent death was actually not very productive. I went home and threw myself down on the couch with the intention of reading DIY blogs until I fell asleep.

As I flipped through the blogs, catching up on Young House Love and Yellow Brick Home and some others, I wondered if Make a Wish granted wishes for people with very bad colds and if Mindy Kaling and Emily Henderson would cooperate with them to grant my wish and we could all spend the day together antiquing in LA and then become the very best of friends and I’d miraculously recover from my cold and but we’d already be best friends and promise to reunite every fall for a good ol’ girls weekend. I actually have this day dream quite often.

I opened a post from Emily Henderson. In it, she had to figure out how to fill a giant shelving unit in a cohesive, inexpensive way. (As I write this, I understand that it might not sound very exciting. I think it probably sounds that way to you because you don’t read enough interior design blogs. You should really adjust that.) To fill these shelves, she decided to paint the insides of dozens of mason jars in gradient shades of blue and spray paint the tops gold. Instant (almost) art installation. “Hey, it’s like a cross between the tomato soup guy and the guy with the gold statue things!” I thought to my sick-self. (My sick-self is even worse than my well-self with names.)

I lay on my couch in my stuffy-headed stupor. I wished that I had a giant antique shelving unit that needed to be filled with painted jars. Alas, there was no room in my tiny apartment for even a small shelving unit that needed to be filled with painted jars. I pulled my afghan over myself and started to burrow into the couch.

There is only one window in my living room. It’s tall and narrow and faces south, so the room gets direct light for only a few hours a day. At the moment I was settling in to sleep, a shaft of light hit the shelf above my couch. I had hung the thrift-store shelf back in March, but never really knew what to put on it. I had filled it with odds and ends, but was generally annoyed with the placement and that I couldn’t get anything to be the right scale, and I knew that when Emily Henderson came over to hang out, she would see it and it would put a dark mark on our friendship. When the light hit that shelf, a light went on in my addled brain. I knew that this was deeply significant. “Tomorrow,” I said to myself, “tomorrow I will feel better and paint jars.”

Lookit that unstyled shelf. Don't you feel bad for it?

The next morning, I still felt terrible. Terrible and determined. In my attic, I had a box of old lab bottles that my uncle gave me when the chemistry plant where he worked was remodeled. They were all sorts of shapes and sizes, but whenever I tried to arrange them on a shelf, they just looked blank. But never again: my muddled mind had made the connection between Emily Henderson’s jars, my uncle’s bottles, and this post from Yellow Brick Home, and my muddled mind was ready to get some work done. I collected my strength and shuffled into the attic. I found the bottles, sorted, and washed them, taking breaks to throw myself dramatically on the couch.

See, they're pretty, but bland. Not bad, but you wouldn't necessarily go out of your way to hang out with them.

This was about all I could manage on Saturday. Well, this and fevered proclamations to Roommate that I was going to gold leaf everything in the apartment. I alternated between watching episodes of Secrets from a Stylist online and imagining each individual thing in our apartment gold-leafed. It was highly therapeutic.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was done being sick–at least psychologically. Around 4pm I dragged myself out of bed and to the craft store. This might not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Have you ever been to a craft store just before Halloween when you are sort of dizzy with the flu? I felt like I was having a bad trip and I don’t even know what that means.

The actual painting process only took a few minutes. I was going for a “dipped” look, so I eyeballed different paint heights for the three identical cylindrical jars. I thought painting a straight line on the super-cool triangley flask one would be boring, so I grabbed a dry erase marker and traced a sort of cock-eyed shape onto it. (I just rubbed the dry erase mark off with my finger when I was done painting.) I just painted the little stopper of the red jar. (I propped it up in my empty box of Gypsy Cold Care Tea. Nothing makes you feel better than tea made by Gypsies.)

Bottles and Gypsy magic.

I let the jars dry and did a second coat. The paint was really fumey, so I kept them by an open window until they stopped stinking up the place. (I try not to give Roommate cancer.)

My Three Jars! This is actually a really boring show.


This was only a very small project, but the reason it felt blog-worthy was that it was the first time in ages that I felt compelled to do something with my hands. This summer I felt like I didn’t have the brainspace to keep myself fed and watered, much less make cute things. The fact that I just had to get these jars painted felt like a return to myself. It was a decided end to my stressful summer. It was nice.

So…takeaways from this blog post include:

1. Read more DIY blogs.
2. Don’t go to craft stores unless you’re feeling at 100%.
3. Make time to do the things you love to do.
4. Paint everything gold. For real. It’s so pretty.

All done. Emily Henderson might approve.

I didn't paint the one with the sticker on it because that sticker is from science and science is cool.

Once again, I have instagrammed all the photos. I’ll stop when I get all the coffee grounds out of my real camera.

Jun 15, 2012

Mouse Problem

Sometimes I think a Doogan can’t leave the house without rescuing an animal. Cases in point: this week I got a text message from my dad, photo attached, about the the turtle he removed from the middle of the highway. Just yesterday, my mom and sister were unreachable while they figured out a shelter for a lost baby bird. A few weeks ago, my sister and I got the local authorities involved when some wild turkeys insisted on landing in the middle of an archery range. (It was the day before open season on turkeys started. I’ve heard that wild turkeys have a reputation for being wily, but I think that kind of a risk is just foolhardy. There are other ways to get thrills, turkeys.)

I say this so you understand that I love animals. I was raised to believe that it is my job to protect and save as many as possible. I say this so that when I make the confession I am about to make, you will understand that it pains me to do so.

I have a mouse problem.

I do not mean that I have mice invading my home, although I have that too. What I mean is that I don’t like mice. Can’t stand ’em. They are, to me, what water is to chocolate or what snakes are to Indiana Jones.

My issue with mice began late in my undergrad career when a mouse was spotted in my dorm. The mouse was named  Edgar and his stories are legend. There was the Friday night when five or six girls attempted to catch him using only cardboard boxes and high-pitched shrieks. He stole food from the kitchen and ran from dorm room to dorm room like a Scooby-Doo monster. But Edgar’s most thrilling escapade was a trip into my room and into my bed while I was sleeping. I woke to see a tiny pile of mouse droppings cozied next to me.

Maybe it was a gift. Maybe he just wanted to be loved. If Edgar meant to be kind by that small surprise, I did not take it that way. It was a violation of my personal space that did nothing but prepare me in the worst way for what I was to experience as an apartment dweller.


My life was moving along quite smoothly. Work was good. I was feeling more connected to my community. I was at that sweet spot in my Doctor Who-watching where I was far enough in to love the characters, but comfortably far from the end of the available episodes. Life was good.

I rushed into my apartment one day, chatting on the phone with my mom, and went directly to the large closet where I store my food. I threw open the door just in time to see a pair of tiny pink feet dangling from a hole about three feet from the ground. The feet wriggled as they tried to make traction in the air. Somehow, the tiny body disappeared through the little doorway, followed by a grey tale. It was simultaneously the cutest and most terrifying thing I had ever seen.

Artist's rendition of terrifying/adoralbe mouse feet.

I screamed.

Mom: Jesse! What happened!
Mom: Jesse, calm down. They’re very gentle creatures. They’re much more afraid of you than you are of them.

So ended my peaceful life. I started researching safe ways of repelling mice. (I did not want to deal with traps and couldn’t justify killing anything. See first paragraph.) Peppermint oil is supposedly an excellent deterrent. I diffused it on cotton-balls and my apartment smelled like a Christmas wonderland. I refused to enter the closet without kicking my pantry shelf and yelling threats at the mice. I’m coming in and I’m bigger than you!

The mice showed excellent taste. They ate an entire bag of macadamia nuts, but seemed to especially enjoy shredded coconut.

I avoided being home alone in the evenings. When I was, I would talk to myself or clear my throat, just to make sure the mice knew I was around. On one occasion when I could not avoid being both alone and quiet, a mouse ran across my living room. I was forced to climb over furniture, keep-off-the-lava-style, in order to open the door and let him back in the closet.

This was the end. I would no longer be a prisoner in my own home. I would no longer budget food for 100 tiny mouths. I found the humane traps my mom sent me and talked my sister into coming over to wait with me. We caught three mice over the course of about three hours. Each time we caught a mouse, we’d walk them to the park to release them.

As we walked, our conversation went something like this:

Melissa: Don’t you think we should release them closer to home? They’re never going to find their family again.
Me: That’s kind of the point.
Melissa: What should we name him?
Me: We are not naming the mice.
Melissa: Chester. You know you were thinking he looks like a Chester.


One morning as I was leaving for work, I found a baby mouse in the kitchen. He had fallen down a stair and was unconscious. I scooped him up in a cracker box and put him back in my closet. I figured the mice and I were even.

Finally, I put my food in plastic tubs. That night, when I went to bed, I heard a thud from the closet, then a metallic PR-RI-NNNNNG! The mice had hired raccoon heavies and they were going to take my pantry shelves down, I was sure. When looked for damage the next morning the tubs were knocked a little cockeyed and there were teethmarks in the jar of the peanut butter lid, but otherwise, all was well. I had won.

It was peace time. There had been several weeks without a sign of mice. No stolen food, no need for traps. If I went to bed without washing dishes, the only consequences were tough grease stains.

My little sister came to visit, bringing me her leftover Easter candy. With the innocence of someone who has never lived without cats, she put the chocolate in the pantry closet. Within hours, the tail had been eaten off the chocolate bunny.

I have been warned.

These are the mouse traps I used. For extra humane-ness, add peanut butter.
Artist’s rendition of terrifying/adorable mouse feet doodled in Paper for iPad.

Mar 28, 2012

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Cabinet

I think I can finally write about this.

My injuries have healed–the physical ones, at least–and the smell has gone away. It was a long road to recovery, but it was worth it.

Decorating my apartment is my favorite hobby. My only real goal is to make it as adorable as possible. (There was a point a few months ago when I thought I had made my apartment as cute as it could be, and I sank into a deep depression. Then I realized that absolute adorability can never be reached, so I righted myself and bought some curtains.)

This leads me to my biggest project to date. The project that inspired this post. The project that nearly ended my DIYing life.

It began with this cabinet. Doesn’t she look innocent? A little white thing with legs akimbo. She all but bats her eyelashes. I found her at my favorite furniture thrift store.

Cabinet before, all akimbo.

The cabinet was just exactly the size I needed, and it was a reasonable price. I knocked on it, and it sounded like wood. I figured I could spend a weekend repainting it and have just exactly the cabinet I wanted.

I was so young.

My plan was to combine paint and stain to get something two-toned like this. It was going to be so fancy. I bought my paint and can of Zip Strip and got to work on a Friday night after work.

I polled Twitter with my paint swatches. Mostly I just like to say "swatches".

I figured I could strip the cabinet on Friday, paint a coat on Saturday, and finish up on Sunday. I opened the can of Zip Strip. Or, I attempted to. I tried pushing the lid down. The lid made a clicking noise. It was like it was telling me that it could open, it just didn’t want to. I tried pulling the lid up. That didn’t work either. I banged on it with my screw driver. I stood on it, balancing my heel on the lid and imagining what would happen if I burst the can and sprayed caustic chemicals everywhere.

I called my dad. He said that my choices were to wait until he got up there or go back to the hardware store. I drove back to Ace, ashamed. When I explained the situation, the woman at the desk announced over the PA that I needed assistance. She called “Big Tom” to the front. Big Tom was about 6’2 and twelve years old. It took him four seconds to open the can of Zip Strip. Big Tom was one of those smirky tweens.

So began my DIY troubles. I hurried home, trying to get a start on the cabinet before dark. I opened the doors and started to peel up the shelf paper that covered the inside. I wouldn’t peel. It wasn’t shelf paper.

It was wallpaper.

Who wallpapers furniture? Unrepentant sinners with limited vision and a complete lack of foresight, that’s who.

Wallpaper. Inside the cabinet.

Not to be deterred, I looked up wallpaper removal. Everyone recommended some fancy wallpaper eating tool, but I didn’t need no stinking tools. I got out my Xacto knife and started cutting scores in the wall paper to let the Zip Strip seep through. I did not swear.

I couldn’t remove paint until the next day. This way, I had fresh and hopeful new light shining to reveal the next horror.

My cabinet, my friendly little wooden cabinet, the cabinet that I was going to stain and also paint, was not wood. It was laminate. I was nearly defeated. My plans were ruined. I pressed on.

Poor naked cabinet.

The paint fumes started to get to me. I used four cans of Zip Strip. I used it wrongly. Somewhere around Saturday evening, my cozy mystery audiobook ended and I switched to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The wrinkled paint started to develop pretty patterns.

Sunday night, I hit my groove. I figured out the Zip Strip. (Reading instructions helps. Who knew?) I had five hours of daylight left, and I was going to remove the paint from that rebellious cabinet. When I smashed my finger during a particularly zealous sanding maneuver, I shook off the dizziness and nausea, but decided to take a break when my finger threatened to bleed on my nearly stripped cabinet.

When I returned to work on Monday, I had trouble focusing. I wasn’t sure if it all those hours spent with noxious gasses or just my utter need complete my project, but even my waiting-for-files-to-load doodles were cabinet-themed.

Doodles at work.

The actual painting of the cabinet was uneventful. I went with a vintage olive green. The legs of the cabinet did turn out to be solid wood, so I finished them in a walnutty color. The cabinet took me three weeks of weekends and weeknights to finish. The cost of the materials would easily have covered a new cabinet, so when I finally finished, I took stock of what I learned: I gained a little experience, a little humility. And I gained a little green cabinet whose paint chipped when I moved it into place.

In my little living room.


Title taken from this movie. If you don’t like it, we can’t be friends.

Photos were all sent through Instagram to try to hide the fact that they are, in fact, iPhone photos. In case you were wondering, it is unwise to pour your coffee into your purse when your purse contains your nice camera.

Jan 6, 2012

Finding Hank

Quick story for you.

Once upon a time, I was driving somewhere with my parents. We were talking about something serious, and I promise I was paying attention, but then I felt a blip on my Vintage Furniture radar. “STOP THE CAR!” I said. “I must garbage pick!”

We were in my grandparents’ retirement village, and someone had thrown out (or, attempted to throw out), a green steel cabinet with a yellow Formica top. What is it with retirees and their lack of affection for a good piece of avocado green?

I have a very small kitchen. The former tenant called it her “Barbie kitchen”, which is a pretty fair description. I’m taller than the refrigerator and I’m considering adding an EasyBake Oven to double my baking space. I have three cabinets’ worth of counter space, so any extra surface area I can bring in is practically life-saving. So, into the van went the cabinet, or Hank, as I now know to call him.


Someone, I’m guessing an overly helpful son or daughter, forgot to check the inside of Hank before they lugged him out to the curb. (Or they used him as a garbage receptacle. We’ll never know.) The cabinet was chock full of ancient musical recordings. Yes, I am now the proud owner of several Johnny Mathis records and “Bing Sings” on 8-track.


There was also an old money box, which is how I know a little of Hank’s history. The money box is full of receipts from The Harvey Florist, a shop which probably closed before Harvey, Illinois gained the rough reputation is has now. From what I’ve gathered, Hank used to work in the flower shop and retired when his owners did.


Hank’s given name is actually Henry. He asked to go by that now that he’s a piece of kitchen furniture, and feels like he wants something more sophisticated, but I forget to call him that, and he forgets to answer to it when I do. You know how it is. Old habits, etc. etc.

I can’t have pets in my apartment. So I name my furniture. Stop judging me.

Now Hank (who, yes, has been throughly disinfected) serves as both my microwave stand and a place to keep my fancy glasses. And as, you know, anthropomorphized companionship.



What’s your most favorite free treasure you’ve picked up? Do you name your furniture? Are you judging me for garbage picking? Let’s not be silly, Hank needed rescuing.

*I named this post “Finding Hank” so that any cable television programmers reading would have an easier time adapting this into the heart warming made-for-TV movie about a too-busy career girl and the wise old cabinet who teaches her how to appreciate the simple things in life that it needs to be. In case you were wondering.

Sep 22, 2011

Two Girls, a Mini, and some Thrift Stores

I apologize for the quality of these smartphone photos. I did that thing where I charged my camera battery, then I put it somewhere for “safe keeping”. If found, please send my camera battery to, c/o the Internet.

I recently gained a new neighbor.

Ok. That’s only a little true. However, Kate, one of my closest friends and favorite people from college, did just move from Texas to Michigan. I mean, really, if Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, and Michigan is shaped like a glove…it’s all very complicated and mathmatical. Just believe me. We’re neighbors.

To prove her neighborliness, Kate came to visit.

To prover her neighborliness even further, Kate brought me an ampersand. Heck. I love ampersands.

Ampersand Bookend! It's beautiful and practical!

And, of course I know it’s backwards. That was on purpose. To match the letterpress ampersands. Ahem.

I blame Kate for my current obsession with DIY blogs. She’s the one who introduced me to Young House Love, and she’s the one I send fevered text messages to when I don’t know if I should move my chair a little to the left or not. Since she just bought a new house, and I am trying to put the finishing touches on my little apartment, it was only appropriate that we spend the weekend thrifting and redecorating.


The estate sale was practically empty. It was the last day and every thing was half off. There were a few lamps and some hopefully priced silver pieces. We did a quick run through the house anyway, just because it had taken us so long to find the place. Kate and I, we are stubborn people. In the very back spare bedroom, leaning against the wall, was a 4ft by 3ft oil painting of a ship in a stormy sea. Kate was smitten. We looked at it for a long time. She said something about her husband not wanting more oil paintings.

“Kate,” I said. “How else will your kids will get to Narnia?”

“I was just thinking that.”

Fortunately, my Mini Cooper was made for haulin’.

He's so cute when he carries things.

Update: Kate posted better photos of the oil painting over at her cozy blog, Pomegranates and Pit Bulls.


We made a quick stop at my favorite furniture thrift store Jubilee. Jubilee supports a local mission, and they have taken over an old department store. It’s the size of your typical J.C. Penny’s, but full to the brim with gently used furniture. They give you cookies when you come in. Obviously, I’m there every weekend.

We were looking for end tables for Kate to make paint and epoxy magic with, but we didn’t find anything that was just right. I did find a little hobnail lamp for my bedside table, and I got to show Kate some midwestern hospitality when Jubilee’s proprietor showed up and greeted us with a big “Hi Jess!”

My hobnail lamp. I'll change out that shade eventually.


I particularly wanted to bring Kate to one of my new favorite stores, Gather and Collect. I love this place. It’s just a small storefront, but the store is so packed with vintage and upcycled goodness that we spent at least an hour doing laps around the store, making sure not to miss anything.

They had not one, but two clown costumes. Kate was less enthusiastic about this than I was.

Kate picked up a couple of hobnail glass dishes (now we’re hobnail friends), and I accidentally picked up an alcohol-proof tray. I may or may not have several of these. (I forgot to get a picture, but it looks sort of like this one.) I don’t know why I have this need to own alcohol-proof trays. It’s probably William Powell’s fault.


We spent a good part of the weekend getting some pictures framed and up on my poor bare walls, but I’m saving that for another post. It was an altogether lovely weekend. Old friends are hard to come by, and I’m so glad to have Kate back in the Midwest. Complicated mathematics or not, she’s my favorite new neighbor.


So, how about you? Any good thriftstore finds lately?

Aug 26, 2011


Once upon a time, I bought a pair of white snail-shaped chairs from Good Will. Actually, what happened was, my mother saw them at Good Will and told me if I didn’t buy them, then she would. (This was supposed to be a threat. I don’t really know what was supposed to be so threatening about her owning the chairs, but I always listen to her when she says things in that tone. It’s for the best.) She then chased a little girl away from them. My mother is serious about cute chairs.

Snail-shell chair

I love these chairs. I like to sit in them and read Photoplay to see what hijinks Doris and Rock are up to.

However, since they are white and my walls are white, my poor pretty chairs sort of disappeared into the background. So I called my mother (the one who’s serious about cute chairs), and I told her I wanted little round red fat pillows. The pillows needed to have all those attributes, and I wouldn’t accept any substitutes.

Mom and I took a few trips to the fabric store to look at patterns, but the pillows the pattern books suggested had either ultra-clean lines, or Kountry Kitchen ruffles. There was nothing that would fit my snail-shell chairs.

I went home, sat in my chairs, and muttered about little round red fat pillows.

Then one morning,  I opened my email to find this picture:

Easter, circa somtime in the 60s.


That’s mom wearing the crown. And that’s  Uncle Scott hitting her in the head with a bat. Not a whole lot has changed. More important than either of those things, though, are the pillows on the couch behind them.

Mom found little round fat (pink) pillows. They just happened to be from her childhood. She also found the pattern: vintage McCall’s 2467.

We bought the pattern from an eBay seller,and off we went to the fabric store again. We found a gorgeous shiny red fabric with tiny flecks of gold, a couple of pillow forms, and went home to start putting the pillows together. We cleared everyone out of the kitchen, got Mom’s sewing machine out, and were ready to get to work.

It turns out that we weren’t going to need the sewing machine. These pillows are all smocking, and this particular kind of smocking is done by hand.

Smocking, for those not in the sewing-lingo know, is what it’s called when you gather fabric, and then hold those gathers with stitches. For the last 50 years or so, smocking has been done by machine. Why? Because hand-smocking is difficult and time-consuming. I know this now. Hind-sight is 20/20, etc.


The second set of instructions went along with a complicated 9-step diagram. It was made up of arrows and dots and so many numbers. Remember those Disney cartoons where Goofy would try to learn to dance or play golf, but instead would get so tangled up in the arrows of the play book that his feet would be where his ears go and he’d fly off a cliff and land somewhere mid-yodel? These instructions were sort of like that. And mom and I were about to hit “yodel”. Maybe to someone who already speaks smocking, the diagram would make some sort of sense. But who speaks smocking these days?

But wait. There was a note. Hope. There, at the bottom of the diagram: “For further instructions, visit your local fabric counter and ask for McCall’s Easy Sewing Booklet”.


So mother and I put on our second best hats and walked down to Woolworth’s for an eggcream and nice chat with our Regina, our fabric girl.

Except it’s not 1961. And we don’t have a fabric counter. We don’t even have second-best hats. And although I have a full back-story for Regina, she’s completely imaginary. It’s all very depressing.

After a few more tries to sort the smocking out, we gave up and put the whole thing away. It’s possible to find the Easy Sewing Booklets, but since McCall’s released a new edition every year, it’s almost impossible to find just the right one.

I went home and sat in my chairs and muttered about little round red fat pillows. I carried a fabric sample around in my wallet, and would take it out and pet it every once in a while.

After a few months of muttering and fabric-petting, I got angry. I wasn’t going to let this pattern beat us. I sat down with some spare fabric and went through the diagram step by step. After a while, I had something that looked like this:



It wasn’t perfect, but mom and I were able to get the general idea. We had a start. We practiced on the muslin for a while, and then when we were really brave, we started on the actual fabric.

For the next several hours, our conversation went like this: “Pick up one, loop around two, go back to one, grab three, pick up four, four becomes one, loop around two…” We were unable to say anything else. Any family member with helpful suggestions like “maybe you should stop counting and eat dinner” was promptly banished. After a few hours, we both had something that looked like this:


Still, that doesn’t look like much. However, when you turn it over, it looks like this:


That, my friends, is a semi-successful row of hand-smocking. You can also see how sheeny and pretty my fabric is. Raise your hand if it’s the prettiest fabric you’ve ever seen. I should see a lot of hands, people.

Now, each pillow needed three rows of this smocking. So some several thousand years later, we each had something that looked like this:


But add one more row to that.

There are a couple of steps after this. There’s some more gathering, and then the attaching of the buttons. I’m a little fuzzy on the details. Mom assembled the pillows while I finished up my smocking, so I don’t actually have any photos. (I may have figured it out first, but I’m a much slower smocker.)

Ta da! The finished product. Now tell me, have you ever seen anything so little and round and red and fat?

Look how little and round and red and fat it is!

And look how nicely they cause my chairs to not disappear? (At least a little. They disappear less in real life. I blame the bright-whiteness of these photos and my inability to edit them.)

Look! A little bit less fading into the wall!

And here are the two together. Look at how beautiful the edges are! I can say that without it being bragging, because I’m pretty sure that’s the one my mom made.

Best friends

I love them. Now I can sit in my chairs and mutter about little round red fat pillows while actually holding my little round red fat pillows. I promise I do other things sometimes.


[Note: I have every intention of writing about and posting pictures of the the cabinet I wrote about last week, but my therapist says that it would be best if I wait until the hurtful words stop coming out.]

Feb 9, 2011

Can’t Very Well Call It “It”

Awww...cozy. Have I mentioned yet that the comments on this blog are the best part?

Yesterday, I asked for suggestions on what to name my little apartment. I love all the suggestions. And now I want more. 🙂

Here are the suggestions from yesterday:

Heather suggested “The Magnificent Cave”, so that every time someone asks me where I’m headed, I could say, “I’m off to The Magnificent Cave!” I’m definitely going to need a cape if I go with this one.

Lorraineo said “Cair Paravel”, since I’m so close to the gateway to Narnia that I answer the phone, “good morning, this is Jesse, Daughter of Eve”. However, as Lorraineo pointed out, I’ve already promised to name my firstborn Reepicheep, and it might be overkill to name everything after C.S. Lewis.

My favorite name so far is Laura Rot’s suggestion, Cherith Brook. I like the idea of being sent away to a place of solitude and nourishment very much, and I want to do some research on this one.

I’m still looking, though. I think I get nervous about the permanence of naming something. Makes me nervous. So, here’s what I’m looking for in a name: something cozy and small, something with a sense of humor, something that I’ll want to keep around for a while. Oh, and it can’t be from Jane Austin, because my home isn’t that grand and she’s just never been my favorite. Sue me. And it can’t be from Tolkein, because I grew up in Rivendell Cottage, and that’d be copying.I think those are my only caveats.

I’m thinking I’ll give a $10 gift card to the bookstore of your choice to the person who comes up with the name, so think good and hard. Or think small and cozy. Whatever works for you.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what my little place looks like, I’ve posted about it here and here.

Leave your ideas in the comments, and I’ll pick a winner Friday.

Feb 8, 2011

All I Need Now is the Fedora

Ready for imbument.When I was in junior high, my parents took me to Wheaton College to see C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. This was…magical. I packed all seven Narnia books to read on the two hour drive. (Not that I finished them in that time. I just had them to hold.)

The museum wasn’t dedicated to just C.S. Lewis. There were also artifacts from the rest of the Inklings, Lewis’ cronies, including J.R.R. Tolkein. There, in that little room, was Tolkein’s desk. Now, the wardrobe was great. It was the gateway to Narnia. You can’t really beat that. But this, this was Tolkein’s desk. This was a whole nother kind of gateway. This was where he wrote all those books. That desk must have absorbed something from its time with Tolkein, become imbued with hobbity magic. What a shame that all that potential is locked up in a museum, never to be used again.

I realized then that I needed a desk. Something that would inspire me to write billion-page epics, and could then sit in a museum as proof.

That was about 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve had a few desks (not the least of which was  a Victorian-style travel desk with a brass key that my parents gave me for my 14th birthday) but I haven’t had a Desk. You know, the imbued kind.

So, when I moved in to my new little apartment, I knew what one of my first priorities needed to be.

Ta DA!(I apologize for the crappy quality of this photo. I left my camera at work. I’m sure you can forgive me.)

Doesn’t this desk just cry Golden Age of Publishing? Don’t you just need a martini? And a fedora? And a Girl Friday?!

I found this it at Jubilee, which has to be the best furniture thrift store in the Midwest. You should go.

The desk chair in the first photo was, believe it or not, was a separate Craigslist find. It matches the desk perfectly. My magic desk is obviously blessed as well as imbued.

Now a quick tour:

First, you’ll notice the print which hangs above my desk. This is to provide mood and inspiration. Obviously.

Probably MelvilleI was on Etsy looking for cephalopod prints. (What home is complete without one?) I found this one, but when I looked around the shop, I knew I had to have Portrait of a Girl Reading a Book. It was painted by a librarian who does watercolors on the side. She sent this card along with it, which makes everything even more adorable. You need to to look at her shop, DomesticIcing. You can go now, if you’d like. I’ll wait if you promise to bring back a present.

You back? Ok.

If you lower your gaze just a bit, you’ll see the right-hand corner of my dear desk. This is where I keep my dictionaries, the afore-mentioned travel desk, and MYSTERY.

The MYSTERY sign is from my family’s favorite independent book store, Treehouse Books. We were there just weeks before the store closed permanently, and they were selling off their fixtures.  My family has lots of good memories at that store, and I like the idea of keeping a piece of it close.

The globe is a prop from my yearbook. (The yearbook is the fourth book from the left. I don’t like to let it out of my sight for too long. You wouldn’t either. It’s pretty. I’ll let you hold one if you want.) A professor was cleaning out their office, and gave the globe away.

Just you turn a little to the left, and you’ll see my lamp. That’s all I have to say about that. You’ll also see the Cord of Three Strands picture that my little sister made for my older sister and I when we left for our respective places of higher learning.

This lamp has the right to remain silent. Allow me to direct your attention to my snail-shaped ink wells and my fountain pen. I was a nerdier junior higher than you were, and these are the things that I requested for Christmas and birthdays. But it works out, because look how spiffy my desk is now! Oh, and that’s my grandma’s stapler, which doubles as a bludgeon, and my Mini Cooper, which I will someday embiggen and then drive around town.

So that’s my desk. Now I need to get to work imbuing.

Where do you write? Do you need a fancy place full of “inspiration”, or can you write any old place?

Oh, actually, I have another question for you now that you’ve seen some of my apartment. I need a name for the place. You know, like the Nookery or the Rookery or the Snuggery or Somethingery. Have any suggestions? I have a gift card to someplace bookish for the person who comes up with the best name.