Category Archives: older homes

Remnants to the Rescue

One of the first things my sister and I did after she gave me a new sewing machine for Christmas in 2015 was hit the fabric store.

The first place I like to stop in any fabric shop is the remnants area. You can find small amounts of expensive fabric for a fraction of the price. On that trip we found a lot of remnants to turn into throw pillows. We both loved a silky muted blue-green fabric with copper-colored French knots.

I like the back as much as the front of this fabric.

I thought it would be perfect to replace the faded fabric inserts in the shutters in the back bedroom. Fortunately there were two pieces of that fabric so we didn’t have to fight.

To underscore the cost-savings of buying remnants: this “designer” fabric was originally priced at a ridiculous $29.99 per yard, but was only $5 per yard as a remnant. The $5.63 piece was 1.125 yards (just enough for this project), and the $9.76 piece was 1.952 yards. I should be able to cover a couple pillow forms with the larger piece.

Yes. I know. I sure took my time before using any of those remnants. Probably because I didn’t realize how badly faded the old fabric was until I removed all eight inserts from the shutters. They’ve been getting the afternoon sun for the better part of a decade, so I’d say the plain cotton quilting fabric held up very well, despite the sun bleaching.

Originally a dark muddy green, the fronts of the inserts faded to an olive green while the backs were sun-bleached nearly white.

The first thing I did was measure the old inserts and the new remnants. Having replaced these inserts before, I knew the upper and lower shutters were different lengths, and the old inserts were each about eight inches wide, roughly double the width of each shutter. While the front of the fabric doesn’t appear to have an up-and-down direction to it, the back does, so I wanted to cut all eight panels in the same direction.

Of course, it was only after cutting the shorter panels that I realized I forgot to allow the extra two inches needed to form pockets for the small tension rods that hold the top and bottom of each panel in place.

Luckily I had the second remnant. No worries, either. The four mis-cut panels should still work well for the pillow covers.

After all the pieces were properly cut, it was pretty much an assembly line process:

  • Press a quarter-inch fold, towards the back, on all of the long edges. (On the old inserts, I folded the fabric twice for a clean, finished edge, but the French knots in this fabric create more bulk, and would be difficult to sew over when sandwiched between two layers of cloth.)
  • Sew the side hems.
  • Form pockets for the tension rods on one end of each panel, starting with a quarter-inch fold for a clean edge, then fold again, approximately one inch. Press and pin.
  • Sew the pockets.
  • Next is the only fussy part: figuring out the right length for the second pocket. I knew the four upper panels needed to be 24-1/2″ and the lower ones 27-1/2″. I folded, and measured carefully before pressing, pinning, and sewing.

Once all of the panels were sewn, it was time to slip them on the tension rods and into the shutters. How cool that the copper rods coordinate so well with the fabric!

Uh-oh. Time for the embarrassing photo. But I need it to show you how the panels fit into the shutters, so try really hard to ignore the fact that I never painted the back side of the shutters.

Only two of the panels were a little tight. But my dad made these shutters long ago, so the spaces for the little rods are no more precise than the lengths of the new inserts. I just tried the tight ones in different openings and they all fit without needing any of the pockets to be ripped out and re-sewn.

Once all eight panels were in, I noticed a happy accident: Shadows of those cool ribbons I love show through in daylight, creating a whole new look.

By day.

By night.

It’s like getting two looks from one project.

In a few years, once the sun has done its damage, I wonder what kind of patterns those ribbons on the back will have created.

What d-i-y projects have you done lately?

After the rain

Much of the Midwest experienced devastating flooding this week. That happens when more rain falls in one day than fell throughout the entire previous summer – especially when that rain falls on soil that’s already soggy.

I’m lucky to live on a hill so no floodwater is near the house. But the runoff needs somewhere to go. With a driveway that abuts part of the foundation (on the up side of the hill, of course), heavy rain on wet soil usually means I’ll wake up to find a little water in the basement. Towels, fans and a wet vac can dry it up in a day. This time I woke up to three inches of water in the basement. The floor drains weren’t working.

That’s not much compared to what some basements had, but enough for the gas to be shut off. I had the basement pumped out and the floor drains are draining again. As required, I had the boiler, water heater and dryer all inspected to be sure it’s safe to have the gas turned back on. When I called Friday to schedule, they said the earliest they can get here is Monday between 8 AM and 5 PM. In the meantime, when I’m not cleaning the basement (or trying to write articles or blog posts with very cold fingers) I’m huddled under this:

My favorite afghan still on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

My favorite afghan while still on the needles.

Who knew that in late April it would be 52-degrees indoors and I’d still be curled up under the nice, thick and very warm afghan I made two years ago just because I thought it was fun?

I know some of you’ve been hit by flooding this week – much harder than I was. How are you faring? If you have any tips about cleaning up from a flood, please share them.

Shedding light on the subject

My sister’s house is a vintage Chicago bungalow. It’s so vintage there aren’t any kitchen cupboards (but the pantry has lots of shelves). Chicago bungalows tend to be long and narrow, and hers is no exception. The central hall was always dark, since the only light fixture was by the foyer. A few years ago she found a really fun way to light up the hall while retaining its vintage charm.


This isn’t even the entire hall. (Excuse the ladder and stack of drawers in the hall – we were painting her bathroom!)

She had an electrician install track lighting – since the tracks themselves are modern she worried they might look out of place, but you barely notice them – and a dimmer. Instead of hanging new lights, she put up simple fixtures with vintage glass shades. On the dimmest setting, they make a great nightlight, too.

I love vintage lighting, and helped her find a few of these shades at flea markets and antique malls. You can’t really tell in this photo, but the shades are different shapes and have different designs (hoping to get a close up or two of the lights to add to the post). I love the result so much that I would have copied it if a scuttle hole weren’t blocking the middle of my hallway ceiling.

Don’t you love the way old painted glass shades like these glow?

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