Make a $40 wreath for $5.00

I have lamented the high price of fake flower wreaths in a previous post.  I like having a seasonal accent on the front of the house, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay as much for it as I would for a date night dinner at the local Greek-Italian pasta house.  If have fifty bucks to spare you can bet I’m opting for dim lighting, all-you-can-eat garlic bread, and a trough of Alfredo over a sprig of plastic cheer.

But today was my lucky day.  I was in the neighborhood so I dropped in at Jo-Ann to see if they had anything that wasn’t laughable in the clearance bin.  Fall stuff is moving in (and at Jo-Ann fall means Halloween, which takes over half the store) so spring and summer stuff is getting shunted off to the land of cut-throat price reduction.  In and amongst the fluorescent peonies, washed-out miniature daffodils, and psychedelic gerbera daisies I chanced upon thee bunches of really good looking red geraniums.  Score!  I have a big basket of real red geraniums hanging from the eave, so this was fitting.  Also, they were marked down from $5.99 a bunch to $1.49 a bunch.  Even better.

To make the bunches into a wreath my first move was to cut them apart into their various parts.  I snipped the bunches just above the point at which all the stems were fused into one ugly plastic knob.

Here’s all bits that went into one bunch. These were nice, full, bushy bunches, which made them ideal for my project.

After they were all taken apart I wired the bits back together like a garland by wrapping around the stems with fine gauge wire.

And then joined the ends of the garland by overlapping them and wrapping a whole lot more.  Since all my stems were also wired I didn’t need any additional reinforcement (like a grapevine wreath or a circle of thicker gauge wire).

Ta da!  (Or should I say DING!  I now have four wreaths, one for each season, which by my own twisted logic makes me an adult.)

As always, please ignore the bird poop.  I just washed it off over the weekend and couldn’t be bothered to do it again for the photo.
The end result is virtually indistinguishable from the geranium wreath Jo-Ann was selling in April for $39.99.  Except that mine actually has more flowers.  (Neener neener ha ha.)
— Amanda

DIY log tote (free!)

Crap.  I didn’t realize I was wearing living room camouflage.  Only in my house could you be invisible when wearing mustard yellow.

Google log totes.  I dare you.  Don’t take a sip of that coffee, though — you might do a spit take.  Expensive, no?

Well, ours wasn’t.  Matt whipped it up a few years ago from a pair of jeans in the rag pile.  He sliced off one half of a leg (the front or back, I forget which) right at the seams (which is why it hasn’t frayed into oblivion) and whacked it off under the pockets.  He detached the waistband and cut it in half legnthwise and attached it to the ends of the leg piece (see below) as handles.  He sewed the snot out of it on my sewing machine, making good use of the reverse button.

What matters is that the table will be clear in time for dinner, right?  Failing that, I say we eat on the couch.

If you don’t have a machine or the inclination to hand sew you could punch a hole in the leg, feed the handle through and knot it.

— Amanda

DIY denim draft dodger

Ugh.  What a dismal picture.  The hallway needs repainting pretty badly and the carpet needs cleaning again. The divots in the floor are from Matt’s weights, which don’t fit anywhere else in the house.

The door to the back room stays shut year round because it doubles as a pantry: it’s where I keep our garlic and potatoes and onions, as well as overstock foods in cans (like coffee, cooking oil, canned goods).  It’s dry, but it needs to stay cool, too.

To help with that I decided to make a draft stopper.  There’s a lot of different names for these things when I ran across a few sites that called them draft dodgers I couldn’t resist.

I followed the simple tutorial on The Little House in the City to make my draft dodger.  My tube was not as wide as hers because I was putting mine at the bottom of a narrow door, so I had a little rice left over.  (About that: I didn’t really want to waste food on this project but the price of beanbag filling was prohibitive and long grain white rice was only $0.53/pound in the bulk department at WinCo.)  Getting the rice in there got interesting.  It involved a death grip, a canning funnel, and some quick work.  I spilled a little, but just a few grains — nowhere near the catastrophe I was anticipating.  (I should have waited until Matt got home to take pictures of my contortions to fill the tube and then machine sew the end shut.)

While I was at it I threw a knee patch on my work jeans.

Before.
During.
Part of my old sewing machine detaches from the sewing arm to make it narrower.  Good for working on sleeves and legs.
After.

— Amanda

Rag and bone mini notebooks

I folded over a page so that you can see the used backside of my paper.  That was really Wednesday’s to do list.

I cannot be without a scrap of paper and a writing instrument.  In my brain, ideas have a super-short lifespan. Also, every one of them seems irrefutably brilliant at the moment that they occur to me.  If I don’t write it down it will be lost forever (or until my next shower, when I’m truly unable to write) and until I see what I’ve written I don’t know whether it’s the seed of the next great American novel or my ninth self-reminder of the day to update my reading list on Tumblr.

At the thrift store and the bargain grocery store, mini notebooks (the 3″ x 5″ spiral bound kind) are usually $0.50 to $1.00.  This was perfectly OK by me.  But then I ran across this spiffy idea on a blog called The Creative Place (by way of an equally cute and clever tumblog called Scissors and Thread).  Wait, so, using stuff I have laying around the house I can make cute mini notebooks?  For free?  Ow, ow, my arm!  Quit twisting my arm!

Admittedly this may not be a rag and bone* project for everyone.  Perhaps just me.  I have a half case of used paper that I’ve been toting around since . . . oh, 2000?  Every useless fax confirmation sheet and accidental print and copy I found at the office — so long as it didn’t have someone’s personal information on it — went into this box.  For over a decade I have been sketching on this stuff, drawing maps on it, sketching out mad ideas and project plans, and cutting it down to fit in my grocery store list pad on the fridge.  It’s still 2/3 full.  (A half case, for those of you who aren’t fluent in Office Supply-eese, is 2,500 sheets.)

The directions from The Creative Place call for the pads to be 3″ x 4.25″ inches.  I’m not sure why.  Standard pads are 3″ x 5″.  The size made was 2.75″ x 4.25″ because if you cut one letter size (8.5″ x 11″) sheet of paper into 8 pieces.  For the pretty spine paper you could use wrapping paper, plain kraft paper (or grocery or lunch sacks), magazine cutouts, or scrapbooking paper.  I used old wallpaper because I have two rolls of the stuff languishing in the back room.  I wouldn’t hang wallpaper again except as retribution against mine enemies and the stuff is neither recyclable nor compostable** so I use it up in craft projects (and as drawer liners).

My sewing machine needed a little help to get through fifteen sheets of #20 paper, plus a scrap of tagboard (cut from a cereal box) and the wallpaper, but it managed well enough.  I don’t know how the original poster magically kept her thread from unraveling but I backed over mine a few times just like I was sewing fabric.

And there we have it: one more item I don’t have to buy.

— Amanda

*Made out of leftovers or waste.

** I only checked one source, but here it is.

Closeted bra storage

When striving for self sufficiency it helps to not bite off more than you can chew. (Hence the “inching” in our tagline.) It was in that spirit (but without the psychic ability that would have allowed us to predict the housing crash) that we bought the house we live in now, which is a modest 900 square feet. Downside: it’s small and I have to get creative with storage and organization. Upside: we’re not underwater on our mortgage because the place was pretty cheap even during the bubble.  The idea was to get some land to play with but not so much that we could get in over our heads with a dozen head of cattle or something.
Something I never thought would create an organizational challenge was my unmentionables. But bras without shaped foam cups are few and far between these days, and those things take up a lot of space. Getting the bras out of my underwear drawer would allow me some room for actual underwear in there. What to do?
One of my favorite blogs that I follow is Vixen Vintage. Solanah also lives in cramped quarters. In fact, she and husband Sam and two cats share much smaller spaces that Matt and me. Not too long ago she posted about repurposing a hanging shoe organizer into bra storage. (The kind with little gathered pockets, not the kind with the rigid boxes.) I thought that was brilliant and it suited my purposes perfectly, but a new one would set me back $20 or $30 bucks (I was surprised, too!) and a used one never did crop up at the thrift stores on my regular visits. The weather was not conducive to working outside Tuesday and I have plenty of fabric laying around, so I took matters into my own hands and stitched up a made-to-order over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder . . .holder.
My version is sized to fit a child’s hanger because I found one loitering in the back of the closet while I was trying on old stuff Tuesday. It has 12 pockets, which is probably excessive, but hey, I’ll always have enough room this way.

1.  Cut one 15” by 21” piece of fabric for the middle layer. Then cut 6 pieces 8” by 21” for the pockets.
Hem the top (one of the 15” ends) of the middle layer by folding down 1/4” and then again and stitching in place. Fold over the remaining 3 edges 1/2” and press.

2.  Do the same to all 6 pockets: hem the top (one of the 21” ends) and press under all remaining edges 1/2”.
3.  On the bottom edge of each pocket measure and make a mark at 3”, 5”, and 7” in from the sides. (This forms a box pleat.)

4.  Bring the mark at 3” and the mark at 7” together at the 5” mark, flatten, and pin. Do this to both sides of each pocket. After folding and pinning each pocket should measure 12” at the bottom.
5.  Pin the finished pocket to the bottom edge of the middle layer fabric.
6.  As you finish pleating the rest of the pockets pin them to the middle layer as well, three to a side, stacking as shown in the photo, with bottom and top edges butting up against each other.
7.  When all pockets are arranged and securely pinned, sew around the sides and bottom of the whole shebang, through all layers, 1/4” in from the edge.
8.  Sew a line straight up the middle (6” in from either edge) from the bottom of the piece to the top of the top pocket, through all layers.
9.  Fold top of middle layer fabric over hanger (until top edge of middle layer butts up against top of topmost pocket) and secure using method of your choice: hook-and-loop tape, buttons, snaps, whatever. I had planned on snaps but remembered too late that I had just given away the last of mine so I pinned it and ran it through the sewing machine. So if I need to wash the thing I have to unpick the stitches, but oh, well. What are the chances of that, anyway?

– Amanda

Muslin coffee filters, a year and a half later

In November 2010 I started using homemade muslin coffee filters.  I made two and lost one in the wash a few months ago.  This afternoon I’ll make two more to replace the lost one and the one still in use.  The remaining filter still does its job rather well, but after a year and a half of daily exposure to near-boiling water it has slowly but surely shrunk to the point where it no longer fits the machine well.  I call this a success, essentially reusing five cents worth of coffee filters for 18 months straight.  Not bad.

— Amanda

Cheapskate Stockings

A super thrift store haul of vintage 60’s and 70’s nylons.  The “Bachelor Girl” ones are my favorite.  Ignore that yellow tag — I paid a buck each.


I hate tights, but I buy a lot of them at the thrift store and on sale at regular retail stores. Why? I whack the irritating-as-hell “panty” off the top and make them into comfy, sexy stockings.

First, some definitions for those of you who aren’t hosiery savvy: Thigh highs, stay-ups, and hold-ups are same thing. They stay up without a garter (the ruched elastic band that gets thrown at weddings) or garter belt (the undergarment with dangly straps). They usually accomplish this either by having an elastic on top that’s so tight your toes will tingle all day, or by having a line of silicone around the inside of the top band that slowly works its way down your thigh, epilating your skin in slow motion over the course of the day. (Is my bias clear enough?) Stockings are what need the belt. No one outside of the vintage-style lingerie industry seems to be able to keep the terms straight, though, so you never really know what you’ve got until you open the package.

Fully fashioned stockings (reinforced top band, sole, and heel, with or without back seam) can be spendy. Nylon ones are about $18 a pair and real silk ones can cost $50 or better. Also, stockings generally come in nude sheer, a little darker sheer, and sheer black. Sometimes sheer white. Thigh highs and pantyhose (pantyhose and tights are essentially the same thing – but pantyhose are usually sheer and tights are usually opaque and/or patterned) come in a rainbow of colors, opacities, patterns, and textures. And they are comparatively cheap ($6 and up).

Making pantyhose or tights into stockings is pretty darn easy. I follow the example of Trish of the blog Simple Up and cut the legs off at the crotch, fold over twice, and very loosely stitch by hand. Done!

A few days ago, however, I ran into a new challenge: turning stay-ups into proper stockings. I bought a marked-down pair of nude fishnets that I mistook for stockings and discovered the next day were really stay-ups with such tight elastic at the top that I don’t know if I could get them around my upper arms, let alone my thunder thighs. Grr!

Unlike with tights or pantyhose, I couldn’t just whack the tops off – fishnet will rip if you try to attach the garter belt suspenders directly to it. So I needed a reinforced top, something with a tighter weave that could withstand the grip of the garter belt clips. I rummaged around in my drawers (Ha ha! No. My dresser drawers.) and found an ancient, paint-spattered, worn-out T-shirt in a similar color. While trying to determine how long to make the strips I would cut out of the shirt I discovered that the arms of this stretched-out old monstrosity fit my thighs quite nicely.

So I whacked three inches out of either arm.

Before cutting up the stockings – and while they were still pancake-flat from their packaging – I marked quarters on both the shirt sleeves and the stockings. I did this because the jersey (T-shirt material) has a lot less stretch than the fishnet and this way I can keep the two different types of material aligned evenly without overstretching or bunching. I used pins to mark the quarters on the jersey but pins didn’t want to stay in the fishnet alone so I used a trick I picked up from a Simplicity promotional film from 1948 and marked the quarters with little knots of contrasting thread.

Then I cut the constricting tops free from the fishnet by snipping off just the serging.

Then I turned the former sleeves inside out and threaded them over the stockings, lined up the quarters, and pinned the sleeves to the fishnet. Pulling super duper tight to make sure that the fishnet was stretched as far as the jersey, I stitched around the whole thing using what my “new” machine’s manual calls the ‘Pine Leaf’ stitch (my machine has no less than four stretch-compatible stitches, two of which are mock-serging, but I cannot seem to produce a plain old zig-zag). 

I took a picture that was in focus, too — but I wanted to spare you dear people the sight of all those stretch marks.
Raw (unfinished) edges on jersey will roll but not ravel, so I didn’t really need to finish the top edge, but when I tried the stockings on I found that the rolling made attaching the garter belt clips frustrating so I went back and folded the top edge over 1/4 inch and stitched it down with that ‘Pine Leaf’ stitch.

I think this took me about ten minutes, which seems like a lot of time to devote to something I am bound to ladder and replace in three months’ time, but I did save ten bucks, which is a week’s worth of mochas for me at our favorite espresso stand!

– Amanda