A Place to Rest Our Heads

I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it.  Of course with my husband, but also with the project we just completed together. Can you guess what it is?  Here’s a hint:

I guess you could say there’d been a headboard-shaped hole in my life recently (as well as a serious lack of bed-making).  Well, Alex (the Mr.) and I have remedied that problem, and I’m here to show you exactly how it went down.

The first step, as you can see, was to tape up a mock headboard to get a feel for the size we wanted.  After living with the green tape for a week or two, we decided to go for it, meaning I headed to Lowe’s to buy the wood that would be the base for our headboard.  After a good amount of staring at piles of wood with a befuddled look on my face (which I tried desperately to hide), I decided on 1/2″ oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing.  I made this choice for the following reasons:  1. I wanted something relatively lightweight, and the OSB was lighter than a similar sheet of plywood;  2. it was thick enough for me to use a staple gun without staples poking through;  3. it was cheap;  4. I’m cheap.  While the kind Lowe’s employee cut the sheathing to the size I wanted (35″ X 57.5″), I picked up a set of keyhole fasteners for mounting the headboard on the wall.

The project really began once I brought the supplies home.  First, Alex, using a borrowed circular saw, cut the wood into the shape we wanted and that I had measured and marked in pencil.  Note:  Safety glasses arrived on the scene shortly after this picture was taken.  Better late than never, right?

I had decided to make this a tufted headboard, so my next step was to mark where each button would be placed.  I planned to do three offset rows of buttons, four in the middle row and three in both the top and bottom rows, for a total of ten buttons.  After careful measuring and marking, we drilled the button holes.  We drilled two holes for each button so that the thread could be tied around the wood between the holes.  I’d seen tufting done with only one hole per button, using a washer to secure the thread behind the headboard, but I worried that that method might prevent the headboard from sitting flush against the wall. The two-hole solution saved us the cost of extra materials (the washers) and only set us back about 3 minutes.  Not a bad fix.

For the final pre-upholstery step of the project, we prepared the wood/headboard to be hung on the wall.  This meant a series of non-explanation-worthy proceedings including locating studs in the wall, finding screws that fit the fasteners we’d purchased, drilling two screws at a level height into the studs, carefully measuring and marking the location on the headboard where the fasteners should be attached, and, finally, screwing the fasteners onto the headboard.

We crossed our fingers, hung the headboard on the wall, and did a happy dance when we saw that it was hanging straight.  Note:  If you can’t drill your screws into a stud, make sure to pick up a pack of heavy duty anchors recommended for the weight of your headboard that you can screw into the drywall.  Because who really wants their headboard crashing down on them in the middle of the night?

Remember when I said that was the last pre-upholstery step?  I lied.  It was supposed to be, but since the screws that came with our fasteners were a few millimeters longer than the width of our sheathing, their sharp, pointy tips poked through the other side; as in, the side we would be leaning against.

Rather than worry about getting stabbed in the spine while reading in bed, I used a few pieces of sticky tack to conceal the sharp ends of the screws.  Problem solved.

Now it was really time to upholster.  After much deliberation over different types and thicknesses of foam, we had picked out a 2″ foam alternative at Jo-Ann Fabric called NU-Foam.  It’s made of compressed polyester and is basically several layers of batting smooshed together.  We liked the cushiness of it and that we could purchase it by-the-yard, rather than in one piece that wasn’t quite the right size.  Here’s where I would insert a picture of the NU-Foam if I had taken one but will instead share this picture of a cat sitting on a box of it (found here).

We bought 2.5 yards of foam and 2 yards of our upholstery fabric (the print is called Summer Bloom).  We needed a longer length of the foam because it was only 27″ wide and wouldn’t cover the entire height (or length) of the headboard in one piece like the fabric would.

Using scissors, I cut the foam a few layers at a time into three pieces that covered the headboard.  I left about a 1/2″ overhang on all sides (or as close as I could get – cutting foam isn’t easy) to pad the hard edges.  You could also do this with a layer of batting over the foam, but you know by now that I like to shave pennies where I can.  That’s also the reason I didn’t use spray adhesive here to secure the foam to the headboard, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you have some laying around.  Since I skipped that optional step, I laid the fabric down over the foam, adjusted it until I had the pattern where I wanted it, and then, with help from Alex, flipped everything over, holding the fabric tight to keep the foam in place.  We had to adjust the wood a bit after the flip, but it all held together pretty well.

Then began the stapling extravaganza.  We started with a handful of staples in the top and then, after making sure to pull the fabric really tight, stapled the bottom section.  Don’t be afraid to stand your headboard up after a few staples to check that the fabric is tight enough.  We ended up redoing our bottom staples (twice) because it wasn’t tight enough.  I blame it on the slight stretch in our fabric.  Note:  The follwing may or may not be a posed photo.  Regardless, the process worked much better with one person holding the fabric taut and the other stapling it in place.  The buddy system is definitely recommended.

After stapling the top, bottom, and both sides, we tackled the corners.  I’ve seen other people recommend stapling the corners like you’re wrapping a present, and although this tip isn’t particularly instructive, I now understand why everyone uses it:  because there’s no better way to explain it.  Basically, just fold the fabric until it looks pretty (at least from the front), and staple.

We added a smattering of extra staples all over to keep everything uniform and secure, then flipped it up to admire our handiwork.  Once we hung it on the wall, we really fell in love, Alex included.  We might have been caught smiling at it absentmindedly throughout the day, that is, if anyone was here to catch us.  We love how the color and pattern brighten up our previously boring white bedroom, and we’ve already spent more time reading in bed just to enjoy the soft backrest it provides.

What do you think?  Perhaps you notice something missing?  That’s right, I said I wanted it to be a tufted headboard.  I have cover button kits and extra fabric ready to go, but I can’t decide whether or not to pull the figurative trigger.  Tufted or not?  Well, I’m leaving that up to you (the brave few who lasted ’til the end of this post).  Leave a comment with your vote and I’ll tally them up next week to decide the fate of my beloved headboard.  Speaking of which, anyone want a last look?

That one’s on the house.  Now, cast your vote!

Total money spent:  $57.68 (thanks to some great coupons)

Total time spent:  2 – 2½ hours

Update:  We tufted it!  Check out the final product here, as well as a step-by-step tufting tutorial.

Advertisements

A Take-Out Take-Down

It’s been a few days since you’ve heard from me, but don’t worry, it’s only because I’ve been so busy cooking and crafting, which means there will be plenty of new posts to come!  But before I can get to some of the (not quite finished) bigger projects, I wanted to give you a few simple ideas for how to cut costs and eat better at the same time.

First:  Homemade Pizza!

If you couldn’t tell from the unnecessary exclamation point, I love homemade pizza.  It tastes fresher than the frozen variety (um, duh) and less greasy than what you get at most restaurants.  Beyond that, it’s easy, inexpensive, fully customizable, and can be made in about the time it takes to preheat the oven. So what’s stopping you from making your own pizza?

Pizza Crust

Makes:  1 medium pizza

  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 T. oil
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2/3 cup water
  1. Add liquids to dry ingredients
  2. Knead 6-8 times by hand
  3. Roll dough (I just used my hands) onto baking sheet or stone
  4. Add sauce and other toppings
  5. Bake 18-20 minutes at 400°
How easy is that?  To top the crust I used an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce, green peppers, onions, and a blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan cheeses. I forgot to season the sauce, so I sprinkled a good amount of italian seasoning over the cheese, which actually made the pizza look even better, so I might do it on purpose next time!
I will warn you, this isn’t going to be a [insert your favorite pizza chain here] type of crust, because it’s made without yeast.  That means it’s more dense than fluffy.  I thought both the taste and consistency of this crust were great, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you get a chance to make this.  Also, I’ll be back soon with a pizza crust recipe made with yeast and my comparison of the two.  Until then, I hope you enjoy this one!
Second:  Homemade French Fries
Here’s another amazingly simple recipe.  It’s so easy, in fact, that it makes me wonder how companies can charge so much for a bag of frozen, sliced potatoes when we can do the same thing at home for so much less.
Baked French Fries
  • potatoes, about 1 medium per person/serving (russet are best, but I used what I had: red)
  • seasoning (I used sage, basil, parsley, and a little parmesan cheese, but use whatever you like. Maybe garlic salt or cajun seasoning?)
  1. Wash potatoes, peel if desired
  2. Slice potatoes evenly, about 1/4 inch thickness
  3. Soak in cold water at least 10 minutes, then dry fully on a towel
  4. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray
  5. Spread potatoes out on cookie sheet and add seasoning
  6. Bake 25 minutes at 400° or until golden brown and crispy, turning over halfway through

I loved that these fries were well-seasoned without being too salty, which I often find to be a problem at restaurants.  And they were great the next day, too.  I just popped them back into a 400° oven for a few minutes and they were just as good as before – maybe better.  Also, in case you were wondering, we did not eat pizza and french fries at the same meal.  Even if they are healthier, homemade alternatives, what kind of wife would I be if I let my husband have all of his favorite foods at one meal?

As easy as we all find it to run to the drive-thru for a burger and fries or to order a pizza from the couch, next time you’re tempted, I hope you’ll reach for one of these recipes instead of the keys or phone.  Your wallet and your heart will thank you later!

We all Scream…for Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Ice Cream

What is it that makes homemade ice cream so delicious?  Is it the fresh ingredients?  The creamy, smooth texture?  Or the sense of accomplishment you get from knowing you really can make something that good from scratch?  I’d say it’s all of the above, and I bet you’ll agree after you try this ice cream. Which you should make as soon as possible, in spite of this poor quality photo that doesn’t do it justice:

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Ice Cream

Makes:  about 1.5 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups strawberries, quartered
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 4-6 oz. dark and/or milk chocolate

Directions:

  1. Place strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse (mixing between pulses if necessary) until strawberry pieces are of desired size. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.
  2. In a medium saucepan, warm the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup half and half, milk, and salt over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warmed through.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Pour the warmed mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then pour mixture + yolks (this is your custard base) back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir constantly over medium heat, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (takes about 5-10 minutes).
  5. Pour the remaining 3/4 cup half and half into a large bowl. Add the custard base and stir in the vanilla and the strawberry puree.  Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, then cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
  6. Chop the chocolate into small, thin flakes (about 1/2 inch in length) and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Stir into the ice cream mixture just before churning.
  7. Churn ice cream mixture in your ice cream maker.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, try this method (using a handheld mixer): How to Make Homemade Ice Cream without an Ice Cream Maker

Or this one (using just your freezer and a spatula):  How to Make Ice Cream without a Machine

And now, a few comments and suggestions from me:

  • This recipe was originally for 2 quarts of strawberry ice cream, but I adjusted it for the size of my ice cream maker (and added the chocolate). You can easily convert it back to 2 quarts by dividing all the measurements by 3 and adding that on to the amount (use 6 egg yolks).
  • The recipe called for heavy cream and whole milk, but I like to keep my ice cream recipes light by using half and half and skim milk.  I find the result is still creamy and delicious, and I can have a bit more without feeling guilty!
  • If you like larger strawberry pieces in your ice cream but have trouble getting them that size in your food processor, chop up a handful of strawberries by hand and add them to your puree just before refrigerating it.
  • I used a mixture of milk chocolate and dark chocolate Hershey’s bars, but you can substitute packaged chocolate chunks or chocolate chips (miniatures would work well) if you prefer.
  • If your ice cream is a little too soft for your liking when it comes out of your ice cream maker (mine usually is), just stick it in the freezer for 15-30 minutes to firm it up.
  • Lastly, just be sure to make this ice cream!  Garnish it with something cutesy like a leftover sugar cookie or a chocolate-covered strawberry, if you’re feeling fancy.  And share it with friends, because it’s so easy, you can always make more tomorrow.

Dress, White, & Blue

Happy Independence Day a few days late!  I whipped up a little something to wear for our nation’s celebration that’s all about using what you already have, and I’d like share it with you. First, let’s take a moment to recognize that, although I’m thankful to my mother for teaching me how to sew, I am no sewing expert.  It’s possible likely that the way I made this dress wasn’t the best way, but it worked for me.  And just in case any readers out there are similarly unprofessionally trained seamstresses (that’s a mouthful), I’ll share the steps to making what I think turned into a very cute, recycled dress.  Judge for yourself:

Just the day before, it looked like this:

And this (ignore the black, flowery fabric on the right – my plans for the dress changed slightly after I snapped these pics):

I cleaned out my closet a few days ago and decided to toss/donate these items. Moving into a new apartment with a rather small closet – and being forced to share said closet with the man you affectionately call your husband – will lead you to do such a thing. And, in this case, it’s not so bad.  Now I have a new dress that I love instead of a dress that’s too big and a shirt I never wear.  I encourage you to go forth and discover gems like these hiding within your own wardrobe.  Then prepare to turn ugly/ill-fitting/not-quite-right into “where did you get that?” … “oh this?  I made it.”

The first step was to cut away the pieces I didn’t need:  the top part of the dress (since it would essentially become a skirt) and the bottom part of the shirt.  For the dress, I simply cut straight along the seam that was already present; where it was sewn onto the top portion of the dress.  This left me with a nice straight edge to what would be the bottom of my new dress.  As for the shirt, I put it on (along with a bra that I would realistically wear with it – this is important:  if you won’t wear it with a sports bra, don’t try to fit it with one!) and pinned the sides where I wanted the waist to be.  I like the natural-waisted look on me, but I think this would look great as an empire waist dress, too, if that’s what you prefer.  After pinning the sides, I measured the distance from the hem to my pins.  Then I measured all the way around the shirt (at about 6 evenly spaced places), marked that distance with a pencil, and cut a straight line between each pencil mark.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough that no one would notice, anyway.  So, I now had the two pieces of my dress, but I needed something stretchy in the middle to make the waist.  I would have used a nice, wide piece of black elastic, but I didn’t have any, and I didn’t particularly want to go out and buy it.  I dug around in my sewing basket, as well as in the box of clothes I was going to donate, and I came up with a pair of black tights that had a pretty significant run in one leg.  The other leg, however, was perfect for making the waist of my new dress.  Note:  I should advise any potential followers that the material used to make tights is not especially user-friendly.  It took to sewing well but tended to gather and roll at the edges.  Although it’s not obvious on the finished project, if you are a perfectionist, less cheap than me, or simply don’t have any old tights laying around, hop over to a sewing store and buy yourself a piece of elastic.  It will do the same job and save you a step or two.

I cut open the leg of the tights and cut a piece to the length I needed (so the waist would be snug but not tight).  After deciding on the width I wanted, I doubled that (so I could have a double thickness of the tights material), and added about 1 inch for a seam allowance. Then it was the same process I used for cutting off the bottom of the shirt, except that I marked the measurements with a white crayon this time.

When I had obtained the right length and width of elastic tights, I folded the material – hotdog style, if you will – and sewed the short ends together to make a circle the size of my waist.

Then it was basting time.  If you’re not familiar with the verb “to baste” and you desire to sew beautiful, flowing skirts and dresses, you’ll want to learn this stitch. Although I can’t show you how to do this on your particular sewing machine, I’m sure you can figure it out with the help of your machine’s user’s guide.  Trust me.  I figured it out on a machine that’s conceivably twice my age with the help of a manual that at some point had been soaked in oil and subsequently has semi-transparent pages.  You can figure it out.

Basically, basting is sewing with a really long stitch that you can later remove or, in this case, pull to gather the fabric.  Since cutting the bottom part of the blue dress away from its bodice, the skirt had become a giant square.  Not very elegant.  After figuring out how to change the seam length on my sewing machine, I sewed all the way around the top of the skirt with a basting stitch, stopping just before my beginning and end stitches met (you don’t want them to overlap, because that might lock the “pulling threads” in place).  Then I took one of the dangling end threads and gently pulled on it, scrunching the fabric together as I went.  It should look something like this:

I used my trusty tape measure to adjust the gathered fabric to the right size for my waist and then tied a few knots in the threads at either end.  I also tried to evenly space all the gathers, so the dress wouldn’t look bulkier in one spot.

The top part of the dress was a little too wide for my waist, too, so I did almost the same thing with that.  Instead of basting and gathering all the way around, though, I wanted all the gathering (at least on the top portion) to be at the back of the dress, so the front would look smooth and flat.  I basted on the back side between the two side seams and gathered it until it was the right width.  Note my very precise measuring technique here, as well as the black thread that I used on a white shirt in order to avoid changing the thread in my very strange, very old machine:

Now I had all the parts of the dress ready to go and the real sewing was about to begin…right after some thorough pinning.  I didn’t want to end up with a big fold of extra fabric at the end, so pinning was very important, as much as I prefer to skip it when possible.

First Rule of Pinning:  Always check several times to make sure that you are pinning the right sides together (yes, I did mess this up once).  Definitely do this before sewing a single stitch, and, if you are less-than-a-fan of pinning, also do this before pinning all the way around.  In this case, make sure you’re pinning and sewing the “good sides” facing each other.

Second Rule of Pinning:  Always place pins so that they point toward the machine as you sew.  This makes it easier to remove them while sewing, and you won’t have to remove them as early, so your product should benefit.  Just make sure to take the pins out before you sew over them or your mom will be really mad needle might break.

If you’re sewing something that needs to stretch, such as the waist of a skirt or dress (if it doesn’t have a zipper or buttons), you’ll want to use a zig-zag stitch. This helps the elastic or other stretchy material retain its stretchiness without being constrained by a tight, straight stitch.

I sewed the folded edge of the waist material first, because I thought that would make it easier to avoid some of the weird bunching and gathering that the material tended to do. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s what I did.

In order to avoid overshadowing a classic novel by the length of this post, I will sum up the rest of the steps, which are pretty simple, if you’ve managed to follow me up to this point.

Zig-zag stitch the elastic to the top of the dress.  Overlap your stitching a bit at the end to make it more secure.

Pin the bottom of the dress to the elastic (optional: ignore the Rules of Pinning and repeat this step later with much frustration).  Also, if your skirt/dress bottom has side seams or pockets, be sure to line them up with the side seams on your top.  It’ll look nicer that way.

Zig-zag stitch the skirt to the elastic.  Diddo the overlapping thing.

Trim off any dangling threads and marvel at your beautiful handiwork.  Doesn’t it feel good?  Now, put it on and wear it somewhere fancy.  Or not fancy.  Just be sure to wear it.  Otherwise this whole recycling thing was kind of pointless.

Happy 4th of July!

Total money spent:  $0

Total time spent:  2-3 hours

I Had a Dream…

Well, actually, I still have the dream.  It’s the awake-and-thinking-about-it-all-day kind of dream.  Not the kind where halfway through breakfast you realize you spent the nighttime hours married to an orange (okay, even my sleeping dreams aren’t that weird…).  My dream is to have a simple life.

It’s not that I want to avoid having so many friends that I have to choose which Christmas party to attend or that I don’t want to raise children – because I’m pretty sure that’ll be far from simple – but I believe that life, as hectic and difficult as it is sometimes, really should be simple.  Or at least simplified.

I want to get back to the basics.  Making my own clothes.  Growing my own garden.  Baking my own bread.  Using what I have for what I need; repurposing, multitasking, creating.

I realize that these things probably don’t sound simple to you.  They don’t to me, either (hence the name of the blog).  I mean, since when is baking bread simpler than going out and buying a loaf?  So, to clarify, I’m talking about three things:  being satisfied with what you have, limiting your possessions to those you truly need, and becoming self-sufficient.

I’ll be honest here:  I’m not going to succeed.  I don’t even have my own garden yet, let alone the means to become fully self-sufficient, and baking bread actually makes me a little nervous.  But I’ll try, and I’ll chronicle my adventures (and misadventures) of living simply with the hope of inspiring others to join me in the challenge.