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.

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

— Amanda


A simple curtain for the bathroom

Wow, that looks so bland.  One of these days I’m going to paint the walls a nice pearl gray in there.

The curtain itself is just unlined white muslin with a line of polyester ribbon 3 inches from the bottom hem.  I relined the casing before I hung the new curtain rod (our window casings are framed in laminated MDF) but I still need to trim the molding to do away with the reveal.

But hey — check out the awesome planter I scored on a recent antique store crawl!

(BTW: the window is frosted so it’s not like the neighbors have been able to see in this whole time.)

— Amanda

Restyle: Taking in a knit shirt


The first time we went to Ireland was in 2005.  On our first day we ended up making an unscheduled stop in the village of Lahinch, owing to our having accidentally picked up a hitchhiker.*  While in Lahinch, we watched completely insane surfers braving the frigid Christmastime ocean, hit a nice little bookstore, had a tasty lunch, and visited a clothing boutique where Matt spent a startling sum of money on an outfit for me.

Most of the clothes I have shrunk out of in the long, exhaustive process of weight loss have gone to the thrift store because alterations are expensive to have done and nerve-wracking to do.  (For me, at least.)  So far it’s been cheaper and easier to replace clothes via the thrift store.  But this top and the skirt that goes with it have significantly more sentimental value than your average clearance-rack spring frock.

An advantage to trying to downsize this shirt is the fact that it is a simple, flat knit tee without any complicating darts or other shaping.  So I crossed my fingers and re-read Kathleen Frances’s excellent tutorial on resizing sweaters over at Grosgrain Fabulous.

I followed her directions, putting the shirt on inside out and pinning as close to my body as I wanted it to fit.  I used safety pins so that I wouldn’t end up with any new piercings in the process of getting the shirt off, but they were fiddly and difficult and I ended up cussing just as much as if I had been poked.

While I was at it I also shortened the sleeves quite a bit.  Back in 2005 I liked my sleeves to hit my knuckles.  These days I am most at home in a 3/4 sleeve.

Holy crap — I didn’t ruin my beloved 60 shirt! Success!

— Amanda

* Something not covered in our guidebooks was this tidbit: when someone in Ireland, walking along the side of the road, points down at the centerline (or where a centerline would be if this were the US and they believed in wasting money on such things when anyone with a driver’s license ought to have the brains to stay on his own side of the bloody road) it does not mean that they want to cross the road — it means that they want a ride.  We stopped to let a fellow cross and were pretty startled when the guy opened the back door of our rental, shoved our luggage aside, and made himself at home.  He was a drunken geologist on holiday and he wanted us to take him to Lahinch (which was the very next town on the highway) so that he could “have a lie down at me brother’s place for a bit”.

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

Hang it all: The art of airing laundry

Washing machines for home use have been manufactured since as far back as 1691, and automatic machines, similar to the ones we have today, have been available since the 1930s.[1] By the 60s roughly 90% of US households had one.[2] Clothes dryers, though they were available to households around the same time, weren’t as popular. By 1955 only 10% of homes in the US had them.[3] Prices were about the same for either type of machine, so I think that what kept people from buying dryers was either A) that their houses didn’t have the electrical capacity to run a dryer (appliances that generate heat use several times as much electricity as other electrical devices, and mid-century homes had much smaller fuse boxes than modern homes) or, B) they didn’t see the need for an appliance that did what nature could do for free.

Although just about every American has a dryer in their home or apartment building these days, they aren’t so popular elsewhere. When Matt and I honeymooned in Ireland in 2007 we spent a week in a cottage that had a top-of-the-line front-loading super-high-efficiency washing machine . . . and no dryer in sight. We didn’t find the clothesline before we left so our wet towels were sitting in the washer when we departed. (We did make the bed, wash the dishes, and take out the trash before we drove off, though.)
A friend of ours, who blogs by the name of Cedeham, lived for a few years in Italy. There, too, dryers were a rarity. “The cobblestone streets of back alleys are street-level to top floor filled with clothes drying on laundry day!! . . . Levi’s would get stolen, however, so that was considered a ‘high end’ item. The clothes washer that was in the apartment in which I lived on the economy left much to be desired! Used lots of water, was inefficient, and the clothes were mostly soggy when it was done.”
But airing laundry the old-fashioned way is seeing a renaissance here in the States. Line drying can supposedly save you 6% on your yearly electricity bill (according to and since use of a clothesline is against covenants and other rules in many fancy-pants cities and developments, using a clotheslines is becoming the new quietly radical, mean-green thing to do. Honestly, I just do it because I like the smell and I enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way.
Unfortunately, we have been without the practice long enough that clothesline know-how is not so common anymore. Even in my vast collection of back-to-the-land books, which detail a dozen methods of handwashing clothes, the drying of the clothes is always omitted. So much of what I know about airing I have learned through trial and error. I asked around for some tips from friends and family, and here’s our collective wisdom:
A clothesline can be as simple as a line stretched between two poles, buildings, or trees. It can have pulleys so that you don’t have to walk up and down the line. It can be retractable or otherwise portable. You can have multiple lines, if necessary. I use the rotary kind: like an inside-out umbrella on a central post. I prefer my umbrella-type clothesline for two reasons: 1) It is removable (easily, too), which makes it a lot easier to mow around, and 2) I can hang my underwear on the inside rungs and then hide them from public display by hanging larger items (pillowcases, T-shirts, etc) on the outer rungs.
If possible, put your clothesline in the shade. It seems counterproductive, I know, but it isn’t the sun that gets your clothes dry, it’s air movement. The sun will bleach your laundry, which is helpful for whites, but not so great if you favor the all-black wardrobe, like Matt. We don’t have any shade in our backyard, so I hang most of Matt’s clothes inside out.

Hang shirts by the hem – not the shoulders. Hanging by the shoulders, especially if the fabric is high in cotton or is very heavy, can stretch weird-looking peaks into the shoulders that are hard to iron out.

I store our washcloths folded into quarters.  So I hang them on the line like this cleaning rag, folded in half.

If an item requires a fold – such a crease down the center of your slacks – hang it in such a way that the fold dries in (saving you some ironing). Use pants stretchers or slack hangers to help get that crease in dress pants.

Keep an eye on the neighbors. In some locales this is necessary because they might steal your clothes – but in our case it’s because just as I finish hanging three loads on the line they decide that’s the best time to burn their trash – leaving all that clean clothing smelling like burnt plastic.

Hang towels by their woven band, which does not stretch like the rest of the terrycloth. That way they will still be rectangular when you take them down.

Cedeham says: “Making sure there is plenty of air flow around each clothing item, whether indoor or outdoor drying, seems to be a big factor into how well and how quickly the items dry. Bunching stuff up causes wrinkling and slower drying times, in my experience.” A good point. I have found that my stuff dries a lot faster if I use every other line instead of each and every one.
The biggest hang-up (hah!) that people have about line-drying their clothes is the issue of crunchiness, particularly as applies to towels. My mother and I prefer line-dried towels because we think that they are more absorbent and we like the exfoliation. My brother Ryan says we are masochists.
There are some ways to mitigate or avoid the cardboard factor. You can still cut your electricity bill significantly (and still have that better-than-bottled fresh scent) by airing your clothes until about 2/3 dry outside and then finishing them in the dryer. Supposedly adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle works as a softener, but I have never tried it.
There is also the issue of inclement weather. It rains here. A lot. When it rains, I still use the dryer. What I have been intending to do (for 6 years) is install a ceiling-mounted indoor drying rack (as opposed to the cheaper, easier-to-use expanding models that take up floor space we don’t have). We also live in a temperate zone, where we get freezing weather during the winter. But your clothes will still get dry when there’s snow on the ground (as long as there is no precipitation) even if it freezes in the process.. When the ambient temperature is below freezing the wet laundry freezes but the frost then sublimates, leaving the items dry. It takes longer to dry items outside when it is freezing, but drying them indoors removes heat from the air, so you have to pick the lesser of two evils (or fire up the tumble drier).[4]
– Amanda
[1] “Washing Machine” article from Wikipedia. Accessed 04/07/12.

[2] Woods, Drew. “The History of Washing Machines” article from . Accessed 04/07/12.

[3] Morris, Margaret. “The History of the Clothes Dryer” article from Accessed 04/07/12.

[4] “Clothes line” article from Wikipedia. Accessed 04/05/12.

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

Rag and Bone Petticoat

Admittedly, most of you are likely not in a vintage fervor like me and don’t yearn to wear Dior New Look dresses day and night, particularly while mopping and slopping and all those great things that come with homesteading.  (I want to live Jenna‘s life, but I want to do it while looking like Solanah.)  However, homesteaders don’t slop and mop 24/7, we get out sometimes, too, even if it’s just to the feed store.  This project was sort of a gap-filler for me.  It’s froofy enough to make me feel fancy-pantsy, but not so froofy that I will stand out (any more than usual) in line at the supermarket.  Also, it gave a large portion of a worn, holey bedsheet another lease on life — which means it also cost me nada.

The rest of the sheet will meet a more traditional, less glamorous end: being reused to rag curl my hair, strain kitchen  liquids, making muslins of sewing patterns, dusting the living room, etc.  And that’s likely how the petticoat will end up someday, too.  Reuse, reuse, reuse . . . then recycle.

I made this baby by following this tutorial on BurdaStyle.

One of my favorite dresses, sans petticoat.  Damn, that’s a blue picture.

Same dress, with petticoat.  Not a big difference — just a bit of swish.  I hope the petticoat doesn’t always show like that — I had the camera at toddler-eye-level, so hopefully adults can’t see it.  Props to me for finally figuring out the timer function on the camera after four freaking years!

And here’s a peek at the petticoat.  I canted the middle tier 90 degrees so that the stripes would run counter to the top and bottom tiers.  That’s about as complicated as I get with alterations.

I’ll try to cough up something a little less frivolous for my next post — but no promises.

— Amanda