Bright paint stripes on a white background

Adventures in Painting: The Kitchen Cabinet Edition

We have a kitchenette in one of our bedrooms. It’s small but includes an apartment-sized refrigerator, a microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, electric teapot, a sink, and a handful of cabinets and drawers. We’ve been slowly remaking it. In addition to the appliances, we added a pullout trash and recycling station to one of the cabinets. We updated the light fixture, faucet, and switch plates. We removed the mismatched and chi-blocking shelving and repaired and reskimmed the drywall. We painted and added a mirror behind the sink. We added a new smaller shelf for coffee cups. We added artwork. We are down to the last couple of to-do’s: painting the cabinets and fixing the grout. 

The cabinets are builder standard oak cabinets from the 80s. We had similar cabinets in a former kitchen that we had professionally painted, and the transformation was incredible. It completely updated the kitchen at a fraction of the price of new cabinets.

Given the much smaller scale of the kitchenette, we decided to DIY it. I found some inspiration from a fellow DIYer and that led me to General Finishes paint. The prep work is significant: clean, sand, clean, sand some more, clean some more, apply sanding sealer. Then paint, let dry, paint a second coat, let dry, top coat, let dry, a second coat, and lots more dry time. 

It’s going well, but it’s a long process. And frankly, I am afraid to be anything but thorough lest we risk having to start all over again. Plus, we discovered that one of the drawers needs repair work and the turnaround rack in the corner cabinet was unbelievably filthy. 

We ordered new hardware and hope that we found an exact match for the hinges, and the new handles are very ooh-la-la. 

Maybe an update and big reveal next month! Stay tuned…

Smitten written in tiles

You can’t always get what you want

There is so much to love about the story behind the meme–and the mittens.

Also, I love everything about this gift made for Bernie from a friend/supporter/constituent. It was made with love and recycled/found materials: recycled sweater, fleece made from recycled bottles, second-hand thread.

I have to say that as much I would like to be as fashionably iconic as Lady Gaga, I am much more like Bernie. I would definitely prioritize being warm over being fashionable. And I admire that Bernie is always exactly who he is. WYSIWYG. And smittens, sewn knit mittens are actually in my wheelhouse, since I am much handier with a sewing machine than I am with knitting needles. And sewing with repurposed materials is good for the planet.

If sewist and creator Jen Ellis made mittens full time, she would probably have enough work to keep her busy until the summer, but mittens are an act of love for her, not a financial transaction. My favorite quote from this interview with CNN: “…sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”

But if you try, you can get what you need.

If you need a mitten pattern, check out this one from Fleece Fun: www.fleecefun.com/free-mitten-pattern or this tutorial from Instructables: www.instructables.com/Fleece-Lined-Upcycled-Woolicious-Mittens.


Cover Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Rows of colorful thread

You can sew do this

During the pandemic, sewing seems to be a thing that my friends are taking up (or taking up again). I learned to sew as a kid and worked in several fabric stores. It took me a long time to be proficient (and honestly, some days I wonder!), but it doesn’t take very long to make something. You will be amazed at what you can make as a first-time sewer. 

  • Take a class; online classes and video tutorials are great. 
  • Sewing has changed A LOT since I started. There are so many great new tools and techniques that make sewing easier and faster. If you are coming back to sewing after a long break, find some sewists to follow. I love the Crafty Gemini and Suzy Quilts
  • Start with simple, beginner projects and easy-to-sew fabrics like cotton and quilting fabrics.
  • Learn how to thread your machine and do it over and over again until you develop muscle memory for it.
  • Become friends with the tension adjustment. Adjust it and see what happens; Keep fabric scraps next to your machine so you can do some test stitches before jumping into your project. Play with it, so you understand what happens when you adjust it up or down. 
  • Read the manual (If you don’t have one for your machine, you may be able to find one online)
  • Use good thread because bad thread breaks a lot, which will keep you from sewing and will make you sad.
  • Change your sewing machine needles regularly when you sew a lot and use the right needle for the fabric and project; otherwise, it’s like cutting tomatoes with a dull knife.
  • Get a good iron and an ironing pad for your ironing board, and watch YouTube videos.
  • You might like a pressing board and mini iron next to your sewing machine. These have been a game-changer for me as a quilter. I have this iron. I think the Crafty Gemini does, too!
  • Don’t give up. Sewing takes practice. 
  • Sewing is enormously satisfying and a bit like learning to do magic.
  • Make stuff for yourself, first and foremost. 
  • Have fun, always.
Small strip quilt used for a drying mat.

Practical quilts and weaving (!)

In the past month, I worked on several projects, including a long-planned pair of quilts for our kitchenette. We have two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, and one has a kitchenette. I decided to upgrade the microfiber drying mat to a quilted version and made a companion quilt to go under the countertop water dispenser. I used varying strip widths on these, something I don’t typically do. I love how they turned out.

I also designed a woven wall hanging! Last month I finished my first weaving via a class through The Crafter’s Box taught by Erin Barrett, owner of Sunwoven. Now that I have a loom, I thought “What else can I make?” Using Mandala Ombré Yarn from Lion as my inspiration, I created a design using Adobe InDesign and pretty much finished in a week doing a little bit after work every day. I am light years away from Erin in terms of ability (follow her on Instagram!), but I had fun, and I learned a lot. 

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Quilt heroes

My first quilt was a trip around the world lap quilt. I was asked to fill in as an instructor for a class and thought I should make the quilt before attempting to teach others. Why me? I do not know. Desperation, maybe. I was a long-time sewer at that point, but I had never made a quilt. I was probably a lousy teacher, but I hope that my enthusiasm and encouragement made up for my complete lack of knowledge. My second quilt was also a trip around the world quilt for my boyfriend. It was queen-sized, and I appliqued his name into the border. I went all out for quilt number two, and he was suitably impressed. Looking back, I see it was a turning point in my life as a sewist. Quilts became my primary focus and have been for a long time. I’ve taken many classes and tried all kinds of techniques making many traditional and non-traditional quilt patterns. 

Fast forward about five years, and I started making the quilts that I think of as my quilts. Pieced strip quilts combined with black sashing. The first quilts used every color. Then I did color themes, like blue and green and red and green. Fast forward again, and now my quilts don’t always have black sashing–and sometimes I forego the sashing altogether, especially in my small quilts. I have been experimenting with a close-to-zero waste strategy, sewing tiny bits together to make strips. 

This use-what-you-have strategy connects me to generations of quilters who created quilts for warmth out of what they had. Many quilts are utilitarian, but an extraordinary number of quilts are also works of art. Needle arts were one of the few creative outlets for generations of women, and quilting is now an art form dominated by women.

Last year, I read about an incredible bequest of 3,000+ quilts from the estate of quilt collector Eli Leon. Honestly, I tried to picture having a 3,000 quilt collection in my home. I told my husband I was willing to try it. 😉 Leon built a temperature-controlled addition to house much of his collection. He studied and collected quilts made by African American quilters, and supported and championed the work of quilters like Rosie Lee Tompkins.

Rosie Lee Tompkins is a pseudonym for Effie May Howard. Howard was an extremely private person and sought to remain unknown. Eli Leon suggested that Howard use the name Rosie Lee Tomkins when exhibiting her work. 

Leon donated his quilt collection, the largest private collection of African American quilts, to the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

Rosie Lee Tompkins: A Retrospective is currently on exhibit at BAMPFA. Covid-19 has closed down museums worldwide, but the shutdown has inspired many great online museum tours like this one, led by Chief Curator Larry Rinder. 

Tompkins quilts have power and movement, bold colors, whimsical motifs, and unexpected fabrics. She could transform a controlled geometric pattern into something organic, transforming traditional designs and techniques into modern art. Her color combinations glow and pulse. I’ve been thinking about what she might have wanted people to feel when they saw her work: Joy. Energy. Power. Faith. Happiness. 
Read more about the exhibition in this review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.


Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Hair scissors photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Hair DIY

After a series of haircuts that were not quite me, I realized the importance of finding a hairstylist who could work with why I have: fine, straight hair and lots of it. I learned why it’s worth it to pay someone who is well trained. My last haircut was in early February. One of my last pre-Covid-19 outings, I remember that it was pouring rain and cold and that I left the salon with a cute but expensive haircut. I went on a business trip through the Seattle airport, which made me nervous as I read reports of a virus that was sweeping through China. Within a month, my home state was hammered by the virus, and we were acclimating to a new stay-at-home reality. 

I really understand the “I need a haircut bad” feeling. But I also know I’m not willing to die for a haircut. Even with short hair, I can make a haircut last about 12 weeks. Mid-May, I was shaggy. I trimmed my bangs, and that helped. My computer headset camouflages a lot, and it helps that no one can see the back of my head on Zoom calls. But by July, it was out of control. So I enlisted my husband for a full haircut. It took two rounds of cutting and a YouTube video, but we accomplished a good-ish haircut. 

He’s very experienced with clipper cuts, having cut his own hair since college. (Yep, he even cuts the back.) I cut the hair in front, channeling the best stylists that I’ve had. The first go-around, my hair was still too long in the back. My husband, like so many stylists I’ve had, was really reluctant to cut it short. I found a video showing a clipper cut on a woman, and that gave him the confidence to go for it. 

Two things that I wish I had: hair clips (we used chip clips) and texturizing scissors. Next month’s goal: get some tools and learn to do a fade with the clippers.


Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Small red strip quilt

Quilted Joy

I was in the sewing room trying to find a project that I could work on and finish–I needed a win–and came across some red strips from another project. A long time ago, I took a quilting class called “All Reds Go Together (ARGT),” and this is an ode to that class. That take-home message has stuck with me all these years.

I usually set pieced strips against black borders but I went all in with ARGT for this mini quilt. It feels like quilted joy.