Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A mouse in the house (and how to get rid of it)

Very early this morning I woke to sounds that - for a few wonderful moments - I thought might mean nothing more than an expensive repair to my dishwasher.  There were poppings and scrapings and clinkings, as when metal collides, or glass (which is what made me think: dishwasher, yay!)

Sadly no.  There was a mouse under the stove, and then in the drawer of the stove, and then back under the stove.

Admittedly I did not witness this mouse.  I just recognized the sounds from the days when I had a cat who moonlighted as a pest control expert.  In all the years we lived together, she was only called upon to identify and deter a mouse twice, and I miss her so much right now because she did such an awesome job of letting those unwanted visitors know they would be much happier outside with their own kind.

A flashlight and broom handle are not as cuddly as my cat was

(which is saying something because my cat was super unfriendly)

but they are effective in their way, and the mouse fled without ever making an actual appearance. 

This made it much easier for me to determine that the gap I found behind the stove where its plug goes into the wall must have been the mouse's access point.  more yay!

How to Get Rid of Mice

Apparently one does not want to set out traps or poison for mice.  Apart from the ickiness of this course of action (once in my student years I caught a baby mouse in a 'humane' sticky-goo tray and have never forgotten its piteous cries plus the sight of its mother trying to drag it and the tray back through the hole), it's counterproductive, because the ones that die leave a greater mouse-to-food ratio that encourages increased breeding.

Instead, you want to keep the mice out in the first place. 

1. A cat is good, and I did read that used kitty litter is an effective substitute, but after those last years of feline incontinence I kinda think that mice are preferable.

2. Finding and blocking mouse entry points: essential.  A mouse can squeeze through a space as small as 1/4 inch, so you have to be really picky about what constitutes said point.  When you find likely candidates, stuff them with steel wool, because mice can't chew through that.  Also it would probably stick porcupine-like into their gums if they tried, judging by the little stabs and hurties you get from stuffing steel wool into a hole.

3. Making the mouse smell peppermint?  Total turnoff.  Word is, mice hate that stuff, and if you drop some essential oil of mint onto a cotton ball and leave it around where the mice loiter while waiting to make a dash for your pantry, they will opt to go loiter at your unwitting neighbour's house instead. Here's a tip: don't throw more than a couple of drops on.  The stuff is strong and guess what?  I don't like the way peppermint oil smells either, not after getting overenthusiastic and putting about 10 drops on.

And... did it work?

I guess I'll find out tonight.  And if I update the Diary with news of a new cat in residence, you will totally know why.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Curator - of a cottage

Do you remember the cottage I visited last summer?  I wrote about that visit here, and also about a special chair that lives there.

Well, guess what?

It is now mine.

Until some papers passed under all our hands over the winter, the cottage belonged to my aunt and uncle, who bought it about 40 years ago.  When I was a little girl I visited every summer for a week, the most blissful weeks of my childhood.  They have always been the best hosts, and to me, its not-too-rustic comforts in its forested setting at the rocky shore of a peaceful lake is the ultimate definition of 'cottage'.

They were around my age when they bought it, as were my parents and the two other siblings in mum's family, give or take a few years obviously.  And they photographed diligently every visit over all those years.  You can actually see people maturing as you flip through albums of the same people on the same sofa or deck or forest floor.  At the cottage, they are the only things that really change - the people, and the date.  The cottage itself is still the same, right down to the lamps on the tables at either side of the sofa (also the same, and none the worse for wear; they sure knew how to make upholstery in the 70s.)

That lack of change is something I really treasure.  I love that I will be unlocking the door with those keys this spring to find the same cutlery and lamps and books that either started when the cottage did or were slowly added in as the need arose.  Yes, the kitchen counters and floor covering are new, and the woodstove has been updated, and some of the books - my uncle is a huge reader as well as an amazing writer - will be gone.  But the curtain doors on the bedroom closets will be the ones another aunt made as a gift when avocado and blue were popular colours for bedding.  The orange, brown, and cream knit afghan on the back of the sofa will be the one that aunt and the aunt-in-residence made together over the course of a summer.

How many people get the opportunity to unlock a door into the happiest part of their past and just live in it for days at a time?  I am so excited.

And, um... I might be showing off a bit more sewing in the next few months.  Because even though I fully intend to curate the cottage so that it continues to be what it always was, I am still a person who makes things, and I am not going to be able to resist tweaking a bit here and there any more than my uncle could resist bringing in more books. 

I don't think the cottage will mind, do you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

DIY hall closet organizer

You know those lovely craft projects for organizing your front hall table or wall with a place for keys and mail and tissues and umbrellas and reusable shopping bags and so on?  Yeah, must be nice to have any space at all inside your front door.

Not that I'm complaining, much: for a while I had this crazy idea about moving to a bigger place in my neighbourhood and the open house tours revealed that I'm incredibly lucky even to have a closet there.  What was it with those 1940s builders?  Did winter not require coats then or something?

To make matters worse, you pretty much fall into my kitchen from the 'front hall', so the counter caught all the stuff that comes and goes in one's everyday existence.

Now, I did put together a fix for this, an incredibly makeshift affair that worked okay, even if it wasn't pretty.  But I dreamed of something better, and finally, after at least three years of longing to reuse the same pieces in a more functional fashion, I had the time and materials and a gorgeous new Bernina sewing machine for which I wanted some simple sewing projects to start off with.

I present to you: my hall closet organizer:

(Yes, that's the 'After' photo.  I know, sad - isn't it?  Where do all those water bottles come from anyway, and why on earth do I keep them?  There aren't that many picnics in a summer.)

Let's break this baby down into its parts.

1/ An over-the-door hook thingy from IKEA.  It's got six hooks with 2-3/4" centres and some spongy padding to keep it from scraping the paint off your door, so I love it, and have several.

2/ A garden variety shower organizer with two hooks - vital, if you want to accommodate those umbrellas.

3/ A supercheap clear plastic shoe organizer from the dollar store.  It originally had a metal hanger sticking out of the top, useful for connecting it to the over-the-door thingy, but I cut it off for this project.  And I have to tell you, I hated the thought of reusing the shoe thing here.  I so wanted to sew my own pockets.  But you know what?  A DOLLAR.  Clear Pockets.  Strong enough to last 3 years already of bottle storage.  And about an hour of my time saved (to say nothing of the fabric savings.)  Sometimes even procrastinators have to be practical.

4/ My new addition was 8 yards (post-shrinkage) of - again, cheap - 19" wide, pre-hemmed on the sides, linen tea towel fabric.  I bought this years ago when I was fantasizing about becoming skilled at embroidery, and wanted a canvas.  This stuff was black and white which I love, and apparently I thought I'd need a whole lotta yards of it, but after washing and drying it I hated the feel and stuffed it away in a drawer to get musty.

When I remembered it for this project I had to wash it again, of course, and this time it came out like butter.  So, craft tip:  Even cheap linen is amazing if you only wash and dry it enough.


Since it's already hemmed, you're going to love the width of the tea towel fabric exactly as it is and worry only about length.  Mostly.


Main piece: 60"

Top facing: 6"

Pockets: 1 at 5", 1 at 6.5", and 1 at 8"

Tabs: 6 at 6" long and 2.5" wide


1/ On one cut end of each pocket and the top facing piece, press a 3/8" fold, then fold up again at the same distance and press again.

2/ Press one end of the main piece up by 1.5", then fold the edge of that down by 3/8" and press that too.

3/ Fold each tab lengthwise and press flat, then press in a tiny fold on each of the long sides so you can topstitch it shut later.  You are not worrying about the short ends at this time.


1/ Stitch down the folded hems for each piece, including tabs.  I used black thread and tried to sew really straight.   Emphasis on 'tried'.

2/ Place unhemmed edge of main piece against unhemmed edge of facing, right side to right side, then tuck the business end of the tabs between the two layers so the ends are flush with main piece and facing.  I laid the ends flat and butting sides at points exactly 2-3/4" apart.  (remember the centres on the over-the-door hook?) Stitch together, using a 1/4" - 3/8" seam.

3/ Fold facing back, press it open, then fold it behind main piece and stitch the sides of the main piece and facing together.  Topstitch the main piece about 3" down from its top edge to secure facing.

4/ Pin el-cheapo shoe organizer to top left corner of the right side of the main piece, just below the topstitched seam.  Sew all four sides.

5/ Pin shortest pocket piece wrong side up onto right side of main piece, with the unhemmed edge closest to the shoe organizer, such that said edge is about 6" lower than said shoe organizer.  Stitch along the unhemmed length, fold up and press open, then topstitch along the seam.  Sew sides of pocket to sides of main piece.

6/ Pin middle pocket piece as in 5/, but 7.5" from bottom of shortest pocket.  Continue as for 5/.

7/ Pin largest pocket piece as in 5/, but 9" from bottom of medium pocket.  Continue as for 5/.

8. Topstitch all three pockets into sections to suit your needs.  I sewed up the middle of the deepest pocket, then divided the middle pocket into three and the top pocket into four.


1/ Hang tabs over over-the-door hook thingy.

2/ Hand shower organizer over the second-from-right hook.

3/ Fill as needed.

4/ Have a cup of tea/some chocolate so you can face cleaning up your sewing area.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The downside of decluttering

Everybody wants to organize their space these days - whole magazines and stores dedicated completely to organization.  Remember when people had far too little to be bothered 'organizing' stuff? 

(I do, because my house was built then.  Hence the need to organize stuff.)

Anyhoo: I had a major sewing-related breakthrough yesterday and spent the whole day finally making and implementing the two organizational aids* I have been dreaming of - I am quite serious by the way, actually dreaming while awake and/or asleep - and, wow!


Erm... yes. 

Well, things are very organized in the kitchen and front hall now, and very white and decluttered and tidy.

It looks a bit funny, a bit bare, a bit like I moved into a hospital, but... yes. Tidy.  And now I will be able to find things simply, quickly, and calmly, contributing to my drive to find More Time To Write. 

(I'll just feel like I'm writing in an institution, is all.)

(but I'm sure I'll get used to it.)

(and if not, I can always go back to my cluttered ways.  might happen anyway, right?)

* pictures and DIY details later this week!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cutting up some wool

I don't seem to be sewing much now that I have a new machine, but I certainly am cutting.  Every few days for a few weeks now, I've spent an hour or so slicing up my stash of wool sweaters into tidy little squares:

The general effort is toward 4.5" squares, but I can't always make it in the amount of fabric that's left from previous cuts so I have a few that are narrower.  Later on I'll pair them up and stitch them, patchwork-style, into the requisite size. 

I'm going to make a blanket with them eventually , but I couldn't resist cutting out a heart from one tiny scrap.  It might look cute appliqued on somewhere, don't  you think?

Oh my, I sure do love a felted wool heart.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When the grass isn't greener

When you have a problem you have two choices:

a/ fix it

b/ ignore it.

Sometimes the emotional upheaval of the problem is a problem in itself, which leaves you with two choices:

a/ talk about it

b/ ignore it.

Unless the issue is 'We're Out Of Chocolate!' and you happen to be having too much chocolate anyway, b/ is always the wrong answer, 'kay?  Trust me on this - the problem just gets way worse.  The trick to a/ though is to find the right listener.

Which brings us to c/.

Recently I recognized that a friend needed a listener, having suddenly discovered she is going through problems of such unimaginable horribleness I am amazed she is still walking upright and has not turned completely grey and/or developed tremors.

Actually what I thought was, "Omigosh, I shouldn't be worrying about my stupid problems when she is going through all that."

After a long chat exploring feelings and options, it struck me that there was encouragement for her in a problem I've come to terms with myself, and I shared that - while being careful to keep the focus on her problem.  You know what she said?

"Omigosh, I shouldn't worry about my stupid problems when you're going through all that."

What's that old story about the dinner you go to where everybody dumps their problems on the table and ends up taking home their own, because everybody else's look even lousier?  Yeah.  That thing.  That is c/.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A six-sentence story for tax season

A girl slightly dizzy from too much tea stood alone in a scary room. 

The table in front of her was invisible under stacks of paper; so was the piano, and the buffet, and several chairs. 

Now that it was all out, she had lost her enthusiasm for advance tax preparation!

And there was no space left to sit down or spread out a different, much more fun project! 

She took a deep breath, took off her socks, and whisked around the room like a dervish, gathering everything up by date. 

Soon the years she didn't care about were tucked into envelopes to be ignored for months to come, and the one year that mattered tucked into another, to be ignored for mere weeks. 

the end.

The Six-Sentence Story

A small friend asked for help in writing stories assigned as homework. Here is the exercise I supplied:

The Six-Sentence Story

1. Tell who is in the story.
2. Tell where the story is set.
3. Something happens!!
4. It really matters, because...!!!
5. The hero/ine does something about it.
6. How it all comes out.


1. Describe some nouns.
2. Make verbs exciting.
3. Make the hero/ine interesting.
4. Vary the length of the sentences.
5. Try changing the order of the sentences.

Stay tuned.  I might try writing some of these myself - would you like to, too?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Best ever parcel delivery

Okay: who would not want to be startled out of a tea-pouring reverie by the thump of this between their two front doors?

I went fabric shopping at Alewives.  Hey, a girl's got to have something to put a new sewing machine to work over.

Want to see what's inside?

Some kids' fabric for making little presents like Gingercake's Art Caddy Tote...

And more of the same, though let's face it, you know scraps of this stuff are going to make their way into grownups' presents too...

Assuming the grownuppy choices are insufficient for same.  That's a lovely hunk of linen on the left for contrasting and enjoying generally, and an equally lovely bundle of scraps. 

You want to see what's in the scrap bundle too, don't you.

YUM is what I have to say to all that.  Some of it is velveteen, very exciting as I'd never think to buy that for myself and I think it will be amazing paired with some of the linen.  Some of it is very very tiny, but in very fun patterns.  Which makes them perfect for the smaller bits of, for example, Melanie's business/gift card holders I have queued up to get a ridiculously early start on Christmas. 

Also for Thimbleanna's driver's license/keychain/changepurse project (I need this.)

Or even skiptomylou's pleated pouch (another great gift idea.)

In fact I've been gathering a lot of little project ideas over at Pinterest - if you've got exciting fabric begging to be used, you should have a look!

As for me, I'll be hovering over the washing machine.  Because you know I did not wait to pretreat any of it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cardboard pencil cases

Lately I've needed to have a couple of freshly sharpened pencils in my purse, which has been a Problem.  Because frankly, does anybody really want graphite marks in the purse lining, or holes poked through it?  Which is why I was attracted to a recycled pencil case project from by Tiffany Threadgould.

Leftover cardboard is so much a better option for getting marked up by graphite than, say, a beautiful fabric pencil case (see objections above.)  I got to the compact version above by adapting the original design to a 1.5" width, which works for four pencils or two plus a pen.

Then I thought of two small friends down the block who might like one too...

... and then a few more people.  The pencil cases are kind of addictive; I kept on cutting after I took this picture.

Some tips:

In terms of sturdiness - Good: cookie boxes.  Better: cereal boxes.  Best: frozen food packaging.  

Check your cutout against the pattern: I managed to cut mine a little short so that they didn't quite fit the length of a new, sharpened pencil.  (solution: sharpen it some more.  nobody has to know.)

When you're scoring the fold lines, do it with the right side up, and congratulate yourself if you cut through the top layer of paper in the process.  It makes the fold SO much cleaner.

The design calls for self-adhesive Velcro, but I found I could just fold the top inside for an equally effective closure.

This project is a great excuse for bringing out Japanese masking tape.  Yum!

Maybe best not to use the box from your favourite cookies for your own pencil case, if you're trying to cut back on desserty things while out and using pencils.  Too much yum!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentine Fun: secret message tissue holders

I got a little overenthusiastic last week about making purse-sized tissue holders with my new Bernina, but can you blame me?

This project is from a tutorial for Sew, Mama, Sew! by Jennifer Casa, who offers three different variations on the theme.  Erika (who is responsible for my buying the Bernina in the first place - thank you Erika!) added a twist in the form of a carry strap when she made hers. I added a different one to make them perfect Valentine's gifts:  secret messages.

You want to know how I did it?

First up, I used the alphabet function I couldn't wait to get my hands on to make long strips of cheery words or symbols.

(It's dark in the living room.  I totally need to get this machine some full-time space on my desk!)

You can say anything you like, but I found that 15 characters are the most that's practical for the space you've got.  Both "Have A Good Day" and "Happy Heart Day" work well.  "Best Wishes for Chocolate", not so much, even though I personally would rather read that every time I put new tissues into the case.  I programmed in three underscores for cutting room before and after each message, then let the machine go on and on with it until I ran out of fabric.... and then turned the piece and let it run some more.

* Upcycling Tip *

For both the lining and the secret messages, I used castoff men's dress shirts.  I have a friend who, go figure, won't wear his crisp cotton dress shirts to work after the cuffs have frayed, so I have rather a good supply.  I got 31 lining pieces out of one shirt (see overenthusiasm above), and a ton of messages out of another.

* End of Upcycling Tip *

I cut the messages to leave half to three-quarters of an inch at the top and bottom, and halfway through the six underscores on the sides, so there would be something to fold under and press before stitching the message onto the centre of the lining piece. I gotta say, the ruler on the side of the sewing machine is something I really appreciated for this.

A short message like three hearts can run parallel to the long side of the lining piece:

But the long ones should run parallel to the short.

Trust me on this.

Then assemble the tissue holder according to the tutorial's directions.

Cute, yes?

And... even cuter?

I love these so much.  But I think I forgot to make one for me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Embroidered bookmarks

About a month ago I spotted a clever bookmark project by Heather Hales.  It's similar in principal to the elastic loops riveted onto some of my journals - you wrap them around the hunk of journal between the cover and the page you're marking - but with a felted wool medallion for the cover of the book.  An embroidered medallion.  What's not to love?

I made a pair of my own to donate, along with some bookstore gift certificates, to a silent auction at one of my local schools.  The school crest is wine with gold, so I tried to mimic that with materials left over from other projects and made use of a tool I'd bought for cutting fabric circles (which was not, frankly, all that - I'll try it with some other fabrics and see if it works any better.)

Not to be hampered by my complete lack of fancy embroidery skills, I made do with running stitch.  Similarly, I substituted a blanket stitch border for pretty scalloped one that Heather did.

Then of course I had to figure out how to label them, because I wasn't presenting them with an actual book (sorry, nobody's getting my Judy Boltons anytime soon).  In the end I decided on explanatory tags:

In case you make some too and are in the same boat, mine read rather encouragingly "hand embroidered elastic bookmark - hug the band around the cover to the page you're marking, and rest your book in style!"

They were quick to make - I knocked them off in an evening and about half an hour of the next morning, part of the time having been spent deciding on designs . And I managed to secure the elastic in place with any stitches that ran past it.  You can see on the one above that a whole row of stitches runs along the centre of the elastic.  The one below got caught with every spiral.

I'd do this again I think... but I think they'd be so much cuter with colour elastics.  White is nice in a waistband, but bright orange or red would be pretty fantastic on a book, don't you think?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ten minutes

So: I'm working on small cool sewing projects to get to know my new Bernina sewing machine, which is handy because Valentine's Day is coming up. 

The thing I am most in love with for that event is these adorable purse-sized tissue holders.  Who doesn't need one of those?  and I have a little twist on the design I'll share in a few days.  Meanwhile, I'm still working on the assembly line.

And that my friends is what I want to talk to you about today.  The directions clearly indicate that No, Really! you can whip one of these up in ten minutes.  I am sure that this is so: that one could cut out the pieces and whip one up in ten minutes flat.  Maybe even less if an assembly line is involved and the time averaged out.  The trouble is I am not that one, and OH how I'd like to be.

This is what my project looks like so far.

24 sets of ten minutes: cutting out the fabric (admittedly for 31 tissue holders).  Not counting the time it took to pre-shrink the fabric and iron it all, because that's just stash preparation (easily 12 more sets.)

2 sets of ten minutes: heaving the machine out the closet and over to the table, and going back for all the gear that goes with it.  Then getting out the ironing board and iron.  That's just for doing the aforementioned Little Twist.

1 set of ten minutes: cleaning up the table and the floor underneath it for a pristine sewing environment.

And all of it in installments because my free time gets all chopped up into a few hours at a time at most, and that only once or maybe twice a week.  You'll notice I haven't mentioned how long it's taken to sew the tissue holders, and that is because I'm not there yet.  I still have to finish off the Little Twist.

Ten minutes - wouldn't that be bliss? 

It would mean having a place where my machine could be out all the time... a place where my pretty new-look ironing board could be out all the time... where the cutting mat was a proper Olfa one and not the decidedly inferior knockoff I bought at the office store, so that I'd only have to do one pass with the blade...

Here is what I am thinking.

12 sets of ten minutes:  somehow making space on my little desk for the Bernina to sit out all the time
12 sets of ten minutes: using some of my freshly-ironed stash to cut out pieces for a sewing machine cover so the Bernina doesn't get dusty.

2 sets of ten minutes: finding a functional over-the-door ironing board hanger online so I can get the board and iron securely into my bedroom closet - the next best thing to leaving it out (the local stores' offerings are not so heavy on the functional.)

1 set of ten minutes: whipping up a tissue holder in peace and comfort.

Wouldn't that be a great Valentine to myself?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lazy, or smartpants?

Even before I got the new sewing machine I was falling in love with tutorials I kept seeing for ironing board covers.  People are using fabulous vintage fabrics for their boards - sheets, tablecloths - and then getting to look at the prints every time they push the creases out of things.  What's not to be crazy about?  Even leaving out the fact that the edge of my ironing board cover somehow managed to get mildewed.

I was so all over the idea of making one myself.  And then the other day I was out shopping for a magazine organizer and...


$10, favourite colours, print I love, padding included...


Saturday, January 14, 2012

A bouncing baby Bernina

For the last five or so years, I've been pining for a new sewing machine.  New-To-Me would have been fine.  Just new enough to have incorporated any of the technological advances in the industry over the past 70 years, you know?

Good heavens, my old sewing machine is old enough to be my mother.

And really, it's awesome.  You can sew anything on it if the wires are hooked up right to the foot pedal - even organza, if you put some tissue over the feed dogs to keep them from catching.  And it still winds bobbins (though it's no longer possible for me to find new ones that fit it, and if your speed is off with the foot pedal, say because the wiring shifts, you get disastrous tension issues) and stitches frontwards and backwards with a flick of a lever.  You can even adjust the stitch length a little.

Still... I've been wanting something that would do More.  And it didn't take long to fall in love with Bernina and want one of their machines.  I actually saved up and everything.  And now a beautiful one with quilting features - the 550 QE - is resident in my house:

(that's a sample of one of the buttonhole stitches lying in front of it, by the way.  It's such a thing of beauty I had to keep it in the picture.)

A training session comes with the cost of purchase, but I have to say I don't think it's necessary.  The shipping box comes with a very interesting and exhaustive manual, the company website comes with instructional videos, and the machine itself has arrows everywhere telling you where to draw the thread next when you're aiming for the needle.

I was a bit freaked out by the bobbin-filling experience though.  I got about halfway through the steps involved in filling one on the Singer, and when I snapped a lever in preparation for the other half I was amazed to find the machine doing all the rest of the work for me.  I didn't even have to cut the thread when it was done, as such.  Just drew the thread past a cutter.

There are some crazy number of stitches you can make on this machine, and having used the most basic one of them for more than twenty years already I've been branching out to take advantage of them.  But this is my favourite so far:

I anticipate rather a lot of sewing to show up here in the next few months.  Can you stand it?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ice-covered trees

Just after Christmas we had snow, followed by a melt and some rain and then some more cold, which gave us this:

Even my car's reindeer antlers looked prettier.

Happy New Year!