Watercolor Menu Cards

For my end of summer dinner party a few weeks ago, I decided to go with a beach theme. I love the anticipation a menu provides and enjoy preparing menu cards for my guests. Because the beach theme lent itself to a watery, free-flowing design, I thought a little watercolor art would be well-suited. This project requires little to no artistic talent and it was fun to do. Here’s how.

  1. I used 4″ X 6″ heavy card stock for my menus but you could also use watercolor paper which is more textural and durable. You want your paper thick enough to be absorbent and hold up to the water, but not so thick it won’t go through your printer.
  2. I used an inexpensive palette of watercolor paints from the craft store and a paint brush I had in my art supplies. Fill a small container with water. Dip your brush into the water and then into the paint.
  3. Experiment a bit on inexpensive paper before working on your card stock to get a feel for how the paint will look. I used mostly blue, light green, purple and tan colors for this project. If the color is too dark, just add more water to your brush and it will become more translucent. If you want more saturated color, use less water and load up more paint on the brush.
  4. Once you are confident with your technique, start applying the paint to the cards.
  5. Swirl, blend and mix the paint colors together until you are pleased with the results.
  6. After I was finished with the background art, I loaded up my brush with paint and tapped it across my finger spraying each card with paint to mimic the look of splashes and bubbles.
  7. The paper will likely be damp after you are finished. To keep it from curling, press it flat under a few books for a few hours or until dry. This will also help it to go through your printer. (Note: be sure to change your printer setting to thick or photo paper before printing.) 
  8. Design your menu layout. I used a sea shell motif from a free clip art website and the “Fortunates December” font which has a breezy casual feel. Click here for the free download.
  9. Once your design is ready and your cards are dry,  print out your menus.

This technique is really easy and the results are surprisingly professional. Plus, I like that each guest can take home an original piece of “art” as a memento of the evening.

The same watercolor art was used to make tags for the parting gift I gave my guests. I placed small containers of sea salt in cellophane bags and added nautical wooden medallions from the craft store. Blue and turquoise markers were used to paint the wood medallions. Tied up with a piece of raffia, these favors complimented the theme of the party and let our guests know we appreciated them coming.

This is a fun and easy project that can be used for many things, e.g., place cards, gift tags, craft projects. It can also be adapted to the seasons or holidays. Can you picture it in golds, oranges, greens and browns for fall? Or how about vibrant floral colors for spring? I can.

Learning to Sew

 

I began learning to sew when I was in the eighth grade. I begged my mother to teach me much earlier, but she believed I should wait and learn the “correct” way by taking a home economics class at school. I remember eagerly buying my first pattern, a smock top with a yoke, heart-shaped pockets, and butterfly sleeves. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself here!) I searched the fabric store for just the right fabric, thread and notions. I selected a white cotton background with little navy blue sailboats floating across it. The yoke and pockets were a coordinating navy blue and I trimmed it with oversized rick rack. As a first attempt, the end result was amateurish, but I wore it proudly and couldn’t wait to tackle my next sewing project.

While I no longer have the original pattern for my first sewing project, I was able to find this picture of it online.

In the years following, I made much of my own clothing, taking on increasingly more difficult projects. I must admit that I was not a perfectionist about my early stitching endeavors. Impatient to get the piece finished, I usually sped through the process, leaving puckers, crooked top stitching, uneven hemlines and other signs of a novice seamstress in my wake!

I made this pattern later in high school. Looking at it now, I can see that there was no way I could have done a good job on such a complicated pattern with my beginner sewing skills. With its inset yoke, pleated bodice and lots of top-stitching, my garment must have looked very homemade.

My sewing skills did improve over the years and my interests later shifted from clothing to home decor. Sewing for the home is relatively easy compared to making clothing, as it tends to be mostly straight line stitching. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars by making my own curtains, duvets, pillows and slipcovers. One of my greatest pleasures is revamping a tired room with fresh pillows or new curtains and I love giving my home a custom look on a budget.

I made this pillow from a vintage cotton sugar sack that I purchased at an auction years ago. While faded, I could make out the words “Hershey” and “Cuba” on the fabric. After a bit of research, I learned that Hershey’s owned a large sugar plantation and refinery in Cuba between 1916 – 1947. The sugar was imported to supply the growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania.

 

Another pattern I made during my high school years. The classic wrap dress will never really go out of style.

Given the influx of inexpensive textile imports over the past few decades, it is often no longer cost effective to make one’s own clothing or home furnishings. However I still enjoy the process of occasionally pulling out my sewing machine and creating something unique.

I made five pairs of these white linen drapes about ten years ago and have used them in three different homes since then.

Did you ever sew a garment or something for your home? Do you remember your first sewing project? If so, I’d love to hear about your creations.

 

Creating a Gallery Wall

Do you have a hallway or stairwell wall that is currently empty because you can’t figure out what type of artwork would work there? Do you have family photos that you’d like to display but can’t figure out how to do it in a tasteful way? Or perhaps you have a mishmash of disparate pieces of art and photographs that don’t seem to go together and need a way to display them?  A gallery wall just might be the solution!

We recently purchased two sofas for our family room which necessitated a room makeover. Suddenly the wall that formerly was taken up by our television was now blank. Because this wall faces the living room and is immediately visible upon entering the family room, I wanted the wall to make a statement.

Here is the room before the new sofas arrived. The modern sofas were from our previous home and didn’t go well in our 1927 Spanish style house.
With the new sofas and the television moved to the wall with the window, you can see how empty the wall now looks.

I did a quick inventory of my home to see what artwork I had on hand that might be useful. I had a few larger pieces in neutral black, white and sepia tones, all framed in black  I knew I had a few smaller black frames in storage and that I could easily put together a gallery wall which would make a statement in the space.

Here are the steps to creating a gallery wall.

  1.  Curate your art.  While gallery walls can be a mixture of frame styles, colors, and different types of artwork, I decided to put together a mostly black, white and sepia toned color scheme to create a calm effect. Adding in dimensional pieces, such as the coral in the shadowbox and the square shelf box shown in the picture below, creates interest and adds texture.
  2. Lay out the artwork on the floor.  Play around with the layout until you find an arrangement that looks balanced. You don’t want things to line up too perfectly in this style arrangement so don’t worry about making the spaces between frames exactly the same. Mix up your frame orientation with some hanging horizontally and others vertically. You can also mix in different shapes, e.g., a round or oval frame. Adding in a mirror or small shelf can add interest.
  3. Take a photograph. Once you are happy with your layout on the floor, take a picture as a reference to transfer the layout to the wall. While your original layout doesn’t have to be set in stone, you will refer to it often as a guide.
  4. Make templates.  It takes a little extra time to do this but it is well worth it.  I cut out templates from newspaper for each frame and marked where the nails would go in red marker so that it would be easy for me to hang the artwork once in place.

    If you mark where the nail should go on your templates before attaching them to the wall, you will find it makes hanging the pictures a breeze.
  5.  Transfer the layout to your wall using painter’s tape.  Attach the templates to the wall following the layout from your photograph. You will probably need to adjust the spacing a few times before you get it right, but the painter’s tape makes it easy to move the templates around. Better to play with the layout using tape than with nails in the wall!

    I used a combination of photography, pencil drawings, fabric, and natural objects that all had meaning to me. The black frames and color scheme unify what could have been a random looking assortment.
  6. Nail it down. Once you are pleased with the layout of your templates, go ahead and put nails in the spots you have marked in red.
  7. Peel the templates off the wall and hang your pictures.  Use a level to make sure each item hangs level as even one picture out of square can make the whole display look disheveled.

    Notice that open spaces remain where new pieces can be added at a later time if desired.

This is project that is especially effective in stairwells, hallways, or other areas that can be difficult for which to select artwork. Family photographs can look especially artistic on a gallery wall if they are printed in black and white (or sepia tones) and framed in a similar manner. A gallery wall provides limitless options for displaying your artwork in a unique and interesting manner.

It’s a difficult job keeping the cat out of the photo shoot!

Do you have a spot in your home that would look great with a gallery wall?

Placemat Pillow DIY

I am always looking for quick and easy ways to update my home. By keeping major pieces of upholstery neutral, pillows can be the catalyst for a whole new look.  I have found that a simple change of pillow covers is an easy way to embrace trends, add color, and give rooms a fresh look.

I noticed some time ago that many placemats were roughly the same size as a lumbar style pillow.  I realized that by opening up one seam on a lined placemat, a pillow form could be inserted and the seam re-stitched, resulting in a lovely custom-made pillow.

I found this placemat on clearance at Target for a mere $3.88.  I loved the subtle herringbone pattern and the elaborate crewelwork embroidery.  The colors just happened to fit perfectly with my current living room color scheme. Importantly, it was lined with a backing that separated from the front which made it possible to open up a seam and insert a pillow form. Naturally I snatched it up!

After considerable research, I’ve found that Crate and Barrel has the best variety of pillow forms at terrific prices. I got my 12″ X 18″ feather/down pillow insert for only $9.99.  They have the same size down-alternative pillow for just $9.00.

Here’s what you’ll need for this project:

  • Lined placemat
  • Pillow form
  • Seam ripper
  • Pins
  • Sewing needle
  • Thread
  • Scissors

First measure your placemat.  Mine measured 14″ X 20″ so I decided to find a form that was slightly smaller than those dimensions because I prefer a soft mold-able pillow.  If you prefer a firmer pillow, just use a larger pillow insert.  I ended up purchasing a 12″ X 18″ form which allows for easy sewing as well as possible shrinkage of fabric when the placemat is eventually washed.

Using a seam ripper, remove any top stitching first.

In most cases, the placemat will have a row of top stitching around the entire edge of the pillow.  You’ll first need to remove that in order to get to the seam inside.  Once you have removed the top stitching, firmly pull the fabric apart at the seam and use your seam ripper to find a stitch that you can cut.  Once you have the first stitch or two opened, it becomes easy to cut the other stitches and open up the seam.

After you have removed the top stitching, pull the fabric apart at the seam and begin opening up the inner seam.

After you have opened the seam enough to fit the pillow inside, insert your pillow.  Line up the front and back sides of the placemat opening and secure the edges together with pins.  Then use a blind stitch to hand sew the two sides back together. This will hold the opening together securely and the stitches will be “invisible” from the outside of the pillow.   (If you’re not sure how to do a blind stitch, here is a great tutorial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbE5hXt27uU)

You can also sew the opening together by top stitching on a sewing machine, but if you do, you’ll need to be able to sew a straight line very close to the edge, which can be a little tricky.  This is why I prefer hand stitching. If you do choose to top stitch on a sewing machine, I’d encourage you not to overstuff the placemat as it will be difficult to keep the edges together as you machine sew.

This is an extremely simple project that even novice sewers can do.  Keep an eye out for inexpensive placemats that you can convert into pillows throughout the year.  It is easy to undo the seam and pop the pillow form into another placemat, which allows you to change up your decor as the seasons change.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Box Conversion

A good friend was recently cleaning out her closets and came across an old cheese box.  She offered it to me and I of course I accepted!  I used to have an end table that had been made out of an old cheese box so I knew these boxes could be turned into very interesting home decor items.  Without any alterations, it could be used for a multitude of storage needs–hats, belts, gloves in a closet, to display oils and vinegars on the kitchen counter, or to hold sewing or knitting supplies.  Just imagine it stocked with glasses of iced tea or lemonade served up at a summer garden party!  But since the box was in excellent condition and had that rustic quality I love, I wanted to find a way to display it so that I could enjoy it on a daily basis.

For inspiration, I did a quick internet search for “cheese box DIY.” Lots of great ideas came up but the idea that appealed to me most (for now anyway) was to create a hanging shelf with it.

To make this hanging shelf you’ll need a cheese box, two leather belts roughly the same width so that they can be buckled together, and a piece of wood for the shelf.  In addition you’ll need a saw and sandpaper.  I have an electric mitre saw which made my job very easy, but you could use a hand saw and a mitre box if you don’t have an electric one.

I decided to place my shelf about 2/3 of the way down on the inside of the box.  This would allow a bit more height in the space available for objects.  I had saved some pieces of wood from a moving crate and found they were a fairly close match to the natural finish of the box.  After measuring to get the right length, I cut the board at a slight diagonal in order for the shelf to better fit the curve of the box.

I sanded the edges of the cut until smooth and simply placed the shelf inside the box.  I did not see the need for glue or nails to hold it in place as it fit snugly and I knew additional weight would be placed upon it to hold it down.  I also like that the shelf is removable so that I can easily change up the use of the box in the future.

Next I took my two belts and buckled them together so that I had a continuous loop or circle. I used two brown leather belts that were roughly the same width and color but you could use any thickness, color or style.  I think woven cloth belts would look fabulous as well.  If you don’t have any good options in your closet (or your mate’s), you can always find lots of great options at thrift stores.

The next step is to take the belts, loop them around the box and loop one edge of the belt over a sturdy nail.  I wanted my buckles to show so I positioned them prominently.

I decided to hang it in my kitchen and displayed some of my grandmother’s antique butter molds.  I added some ivy in a jam jar to add color and life.  I think a collection of old spice tins or antique bottles would also be lovely. Or imagine this piece hanging in the bathroom displaying rolled up towels or bath salts and soaps.  What collections do you have that could be displayed to perfection in this box?

Spring Wreath

As soon as the Christmas decorations come down, I find my eye craves a fresher palette.  It is such a treat to walk into the stores in January and see all the pretty spring pastel colors on display.  My mind turns to spring and I can’t wait to begin planning my home decor for the upcoming season.

I was in a local craft store last week and spotted this stunning wreath for $60.  I’ve seen similar wreaths for a whole lot more in high-end shops.

I checked out the construction and quickly realized that a knock-off version would be easy and could be accomplished for less–a whole lot less!  In fact, I was able to recreate this wreath for less than $10.

Here’s how I did it.  I was lucky to find a slightly smaller styrofoam wreath form at a thrift store for $1.  The craft store sells the larger ones for around $6 so if you have to purchase one, your total cost will still be well below the cost of buying the wreath ready made.

I then headed to my favorite local 99¢ store.  I purchased 8 bunches of silk flowers in spring colors.  I was careful to look for an assortment of shapes and sizes and I steered clear of anything that looked overtly fake or colors that seemed unnatural.  (In other words, the bright blue roses didn’t make the cut!)

Leave a stem of about 1½ inches at the base of each flower.

You will need a wire cutter tool to make this job easy.  Before you begin cutting, slide any leaves upward to the base of the flower.  Start clipping the flower stems apart, leaving a stem of about 1½ inches on each flower for insertion into the styrofoam base.  I wanted my wreath to look similar the one at the craft store where the flowers were bunched by variety and color, so  I decided to follow the same approach.

Start pushing the stems into your form.  They should stay in on their own, but if you find they do not, you can always put a dab of hot glue on the end before inserting and that should keep them in place.

Place the stems close enough to one another so as to avoid the form showing through.  Some of my flowers were fairly large and I found they did not need to be very close to cover the form well.  I added sprigs of yellow around the perimeter of my form to give it a feathery look.

I did have to do a little rearranging once the stems were in place to get the spacing even and to get the colors balanced, but still the entire project took only about 30 minutes.  While it didn’t turn out exactly like the wreath in the craft store, I’m pleased with it and feel I got a similar look at a much lower cost.

I added a ribbon for hanging and experimented with different places inside and outside the house to hang it.

It’s a cheerful spring welcome on the front door.

 

Hanging on a mirror, the wreath enlivens a pass-through hallway.
It introduces color and life in the dining room hanging on the front of the china cabinet.

This is a quick, easy and inexpensive project that will provide seasonal beauty to your home.   Keep in mind that you can customize the wreath by selecting colors and flowers that best fit your decor.  I urge you to give it a try!

 

 

Days of Christmas Past

Our house has a rather prominent fireplace in the living room and I wanted something that would make a statement over the mantle for Christmas. After we moved in, I discovered that the previous owners had left two original window screens in the garage. They were painted a not-so-lovely salmony-pink color, and were very dirty with peeling paint when I found them. I immediately envisioned them repainted, holding small evergreen wreaths with red bows over my fireplace at Christmas!

I have been following Miss Mustard Seed’s blog for a while now and had always wanted to try out her milk paint line.  I thought this little project would be ideal to test it out.  I purchased a sample size of her product in “Shutter Gray.”  This color is a dusty blue-gray that is similar to the current exterior trim color on our house and I thought it would tie in nicely.

After wiping the grime off the shutters and giving them a light sanding, I was ready to paint. The paint was easy to mix and even though it seemed like it might not be enough to cover the small area of the screen frames, I was able to put three coats on one side for full coverage.

After the paint fully dried (I waited 20 minutes between coats and about an hour after the final coat), I then did a very, very light sanding to knock off any bumps or rough spots. With a damp rag, I applied a light coat antiquing solution to tone down the color. Continuously working the glaze while it is still damp is key to getting just the right amount of coverage. I wanted a rustic and uneven look so I removed more in some places and left more on in other places.

The screens even had the original hooks which were just perfect for attaching my ribbons and wreaths.

Trader Joe’s had the perfect size natural evergreen wreaths for only $6! I purchased two and looped a pretty red ribbon through, tying a bow and positioning it at the top of the wreaths. I hung the loop over the hook and voila!

Here’s how they look over my fireplace. I believe this may be my annual “signature” piece for the living room at Christmas. But don’t be surprised if you see them again soon. I am also envisioning other seasonal adornments on the screens, e.g., little hanging vases of yellow daffodils to welcome spring, a garland of fall leaves in autumn, wreaths of succulents, etc.