19 February 2009

Baby wrap - a swaddling aid

I've just made a prototype that I'm calling the Baby Wrap (Baby Burrito was already trademarked!). It's purpose is to help new parents swaddle their babies. Swaddling is so important to the well-being of newborns but unless you're willing to take the time to learn how to swaddle your little bundle snugly (and I think some Dads give up when their swaddles come undone because they're afraid of wrapping up something so precious and fragile too tightly), it can be a frustrating act that gets handed over to mom, or left out all together.

Rather than make a blanket (everyone has tons of baby blankets already), this wrap is intended to go around the outside of a blanket - no matter how you've bundled or swaddled the little one. My hope is that it will hold together even a loose swaddle, but I'll have to wait for my neighbors to report on its usefulness since they are my first testers - and the inspiration behind the design.

The outside is a soft quilter's cotton with 1/2" double-fold bias tape.

The inside is a super-soft Minky fabric with stars. My prototype went together quickly but I'll wait to have it tested with a real baby and daddy before making changes and improvements.

Due to a lack of infant models in my house, here's parrot, modeling the swaddle, which did a great job of holding his wings in close and snug to his body! If we had more baby dolls around, it probably would have made for a less comical model and I could have showed it with a blanket or sleeping sack. Anyway, there are two 6" strips of velcro on the inside to make it adjustable and hopefully easy to tighten around baby. I will send this little creation to my neighbors and see what they report after a few days of use. If all works well - I'll post a tutorial and make another one for my bambino on the way so Kevin won't be so frustrated when it's his turn to swaddle his little bundle.

18 February 2009

Our new lawn mower(s)

This is the four horsepower model that requires no fossil fuel input, only the solar power stored as nutrition in grass - brilliant idea!

Zero-maintenance and the lawn practically cuts itself - three or four times a day.

Side by side blades, ensure even coverage and works even while there's still snow on the ground. Plus, the grass is 100% recycled into small pellets that fertilize the lawn as the grass is cut. Ahh, country living at its best.

15 February 2009

Baby William Quilt - An Afternoon on Oahu

I finished Baby William's quilt today - but Savannah says it could be a girl quilt or a boy quilt.

Here it is up on the design wall. It measures 36" x 42". This quilt reminds me of Oahu - the varied colors of the ocean and sandy beach, the hibiscus opening every morning with the rising sun and closing up into twisted little umbrellas at night, the intoxicating fragrance of plumeria.

It's reversible, two quilts in one since the back is also pieced. So far my fabric diet is working out well and I've used up two yards, 4 fat quarters and some other random fabric bits I've had in my stash on this quilt alone. Most of the fabric is from Kaffe Fassett, probably my favorite fabric designer, but there are plenty of other odd bits thrown in from Jo-Ann sales and other project leftovers. The binding I made from the leftover fabric bits and I just made it - with only three inches of double-fold binding to spare.

Here's the back of the quilt, which could also be the front. Instead of bright white like the front of the quilt, the back uses a scrap of fabric I had leftover from another project and is a sandy natural colored cotton.

I free-motion quilted it in three different styles - stipling for the white sashing, big round circles for the squares and a back and forth curve all along the borders. Hopefully there's enough contrast here for the stitching to show. I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to free-motion quilting but really enjoy it. The variation and texture it creates is fun for babies.

And here's the design board I made from homasote last weekend (and love!) already in use with another possible upcoming project using up some of my Kaffe Fassett fabrics for a green and navy and maybe orange or yellow quilt top. But first, back to the painting and tiling and other house chores...

Also, an edit, I said previously that homasote is made from 100% recycled paper and that isn't true. It's made from 98% recycled post-consumer paper (they use 300 tons a day!) and the water they use in the manufacturing process is 100% recycled in their closed loop system. Anyway, it's a great product and we also plan to use it to insulate the door to our mechanical room where it can be noisy.

14 February 2009

Happy Heart Day

Savannah had a tea party on Valentine's Day. I painted this tea tray for her when she turned three. She still loves it! With three layers of shellac, it's very easy to clean after a tea party.

I made a strawberry cake that Daddy likes so much, he keeps choosing slices of cake over fresh salad. DH usually chooses a piece of fruit or salad over any after dinner sweet, so it's quite the compliment when he goes back for seconds on any dessert.

Moist strawberry cake with whipped cream topping and two layers of strawberry puree. Yum!

10 February 2009

Progress we can see - at last

Finally, finally our new wood stove is installed. Even though it's small, due to the soapstone, at 560 pounds, it's the second heaviest model the store carries, so it was no small feat to get it in just the right place on the hearth pad.

Tonight we had our first fire and it was great! The house is so cozy and warm from the dry heat and the warmth radiating off the soapstone. Kevin is proud of his fires too though you won't find him admitting it. I happen to know that the day it was installed, he spent the better part of an afternoon peeking at the pictures I sent him over email to admire his new acquisition, and the hard work he'd done on Sunday to patch up the black column.

Ignore the boxes to the left - they are first floor items we had to pack up while the radiant flooring was being installed. As soon as we complete the tiling, their contents will have a proper home again.

On Sunday I painted the basement with Savannah. I wasn't supposed to do any of the painting, even with the low-VOC paints, but Kevin decided to work on the black chimney and the room had to be painted before we could start tiling, the upcoming weekend project.

I also created a fabric switchplate for my project room using the tutorial from Pink Chalk Studio.

I used the same fabric that my future drapes will be made from and used some fabric to accent the bulletin board I made from homasote. Homasote is an eco-friendly product that's made from 98% recycled paper (the company also recycles the water it uses in the creation process 100% in a closed loop system) and is mainly used in construction as a sound insulator for family media rooms, etc. Pushpins stick into it easily so it's great to cover with fabric and make into a bulletin board. Since the homasote boards come in standard 4' x 8' sizes like plywood, I used a jigsaw to cut it. The wood blade works well for the homasote, which cuts easily, without making too much dust or mess. I did use the jigsaw outside of the house in the barn though - less mess to clean up.

I covered one piece to make a bulletin board and another much larger piece with a neutral flannel to make a design board for my quilting. I also wanted it low enough so Savannah could reach the bottom half to play whatever she wants - with fabric cutouts or felt letters. I know many people like to use the 1/2" staples for this project, but I preferred to use the upholstery length, 5/16" staples since the homasote board is only a 1/2" thick and I didn't want staples to come all the way through the material.

Kevin helped me mount it into the studs with finishing washers while I held it in place.

I also had the chance to paint my thread organizer from June Tailor. I needed a 120 count thread rack but they were out so I ended up with two 60 spool thread racks. I decided to paint them to bring some more color into the project room. I will mount them close to a corner since I won't need constant access to thread while I'm sewing.

I'm selecting colors that I like in the fabric print. I hope it turns out well. I've never centered a room around a piece of fabric before, but why not? I suppose this time of year is dangerous when it comes to color - everyone's yearning for something bright and colorful after a long winter Christmas so far behind but spring not quite yet bursting with her pastels and greens.

07 February 2009

Sophia's cow quilt top - Just say Moo

I finally made the decision on Sophia's cow quilt - more white was the answer (and then more pink, and then more cows when I ran out of that fabric).

I added white sashing which helped to break up the oh so much color and contrast and decided that I wanted the quilt top to be slightly larger, so I added a 4" border in a leftover fabric from my stash. It wasn't quite enough to reach the corners so I had to fussy cut the last four cows out of my fat quarter to finish the quilt. I feel guilty for not binding the quilt and quilting it first before displaying it but I haven't found my warm & natural cotton batting yet with a third of our house in boxes again.

Amber wrote in to tell me of her useful site, My Web Quilter where you can play around with square and designs online before diving into your fabrics and cutting them up. Very useful website and you can even add sashing and borders, etc.

Now that I see the tremendous task ahead of us in finishing the basement, where my project room will reside, I know it will be a few more weeks until the space is livable again. Until then, my sewing machine is installed on one side of the dining room table where it's getting regular if not daily use in between a rush of other activities.

The binding will be a thin black bias, made of scraps if I have enough leftover (I may not). Savannah selected a super soft pink minky fabric with stars on it for the backing. The quilt top measures 44" x 44" and I can't wait to free motion quilt it and give it that wonderful crinkly texture.

Home renovations update

I spent the morning designing a bench for the front entryway. Most likely I've built redundancy into my plans and it will be over-built but that makes me more comfortable anyway. I'll have to report on my progress as I get to that project.

Right now we are waiting for the basement floor to dry out. The gypsum that was poured is still fogging up the house every morning, which means it's still drying. Before we tile, we'll need to uncouple the gypsum from the tile above it with Ditra so that the gypsum can expand and contract at it's own rate with the radiant heat and the tiles can as well.

In the meantime, we paint the family room walls tomorrow (with low-VOC paint) and finish the last touch-ups on the ceilings. Kevin is also planning to install (rather to have me install) the rest of the custom-ordered cellular shades in double-honeycomb with the sidetracks that seal off the gap between the shades and the window sill to create an insulating barrier. These are great shades and work very well. For custom-made shades, they aren't nearly as expensive as you might expect from other companies - and they're local.

We ordered a custom hearthpad as well from a local craftman. Everyone thought it would cost us more, but we paid 1/3 to 1/4 of the cost that we would have paid for a hearthpad sold by a woodstove store or online company. The quality of work is impressive as well and the pad meets all of our specifications, plus those of the woodstove. If he had a website, I would post it here.

Here's the hearthpad in place. The finish on the oak wood is the same as that on our hardwood floors. Our neighbors helped move it in from the truck.

I also got my raised hearthpad, which makes me happy - it's easier to keep kids away from a defined area such as this than a woodstove set flat on a hearthpad. The new woodstove will be delivered and installed on Monday. I can't wait to have the dry warmth of wood again to thaw our frozen bums and dry our wet mittens. We love to snuggle and laze around the fire as a family after dinner reading stories, talking, knitting, and staring at the flames as if it were the most interesting thing on tv (well, it is!).

Baby is now 31 weeks and just as lively as Savannah was in utero. I feel humongous but I've only gained 20 pounds. I guess I should include the 6 pounds I never lost from Savannah though, which puts me at 26 pounds or where I should be in terms of weight gain. Baby is very high and wedges its little butt against my rib cage on the right side pretty much all the time, which gives me an asymmetrical belly shape. I don't have cravings or aversions as I did with Savannah except maybe an inclination towards avocado and seaweed. My midwife has me proactively taking an iron-supplement since my levels are lower in the normal range but I hope to be off it soon - it tastes like prune juice. Soon, soon, I'll have time to think about baby more but in the meantime, here's my "short" project list

Sara's February/March project list:

  • Build a sewing table/desk

  • Build and stain the front entryway bench

  • Make cushion for the bench

  • Cut, paint and install pegboard in project room

  • Build, cover with fabric and install bulletin board in project room

  • Build, cover and install design wall in project room

  • Sew curtains for project room

  • Complete cow quilt

  • Install thread racks in project room (paint first?)

  • Tile the downstairs

  • Paint the family room

  • Cover a switchplate with fabric

  • Finish Savannah's ivory cabled throw

  • Build two cube shelves for project room

  • Complete work on 8 books

  • Move Savannah's bedroom back

  • Find a carseat for baby...

05 February 2009

Quilt block dilemma - Sophia's cows

There was something about these little moo cows that caught my eye on a recent trip to the fabric store for something entirely different. Savannah liked it too "for a Sophia" so we stacked up some coordinating fat quarters and half yards and brought them home for whenever I might have time to start thinking about making something for baby. I was hoping to make two simple, alternating quilt blocks in contrasting colors for baby's undeveloped eyes. But I can't find a decent pattern to contrast with this block that I do like. Here's my first block attempt (it doesn't work at all but I really wanted to find a way to use the cow print and polka dots).

I think this quilt may be suffering from a lack of white space. Maybe I'll try removing the stripes and replacing it with white fabric. Unfortunately, I can't find any of my white fabric at the moment since it's all packed away in boxes. I'm reluctant to purchase new fabric since I'm trying to put my craft room, which is the dining room table until the basement is tiled, on a fabric diet. I also considered embroidering "Moo!" on white squares that would alternate with the cows but I usually waste fabric when embroidering on small 4" squares like these. Plus, then I'm back to wading through boxes to find my white fabric...

Cute little moo, moos. Wonder what I'll come up with for a Baby William quilt. With the fabric diet in place, I may have to use up my Kaffe Fassett stash for a bright, gender-neutral quilt.

04 February 2009

Playroom curtains complete

Between books and a busy schedule of work crews shuffling in and out of the house, I've been working on completing Savannah's playroom curtains. She picked out Alexander Henry's Mocca fabric and the timing was excellent because I found it on sale for $5/yard (Alexander Henry fabrics are never $5/yard!). Lucky me. If I convince Kevin of the red sofa for the kids playroom, then some pillows in the same fabric will go on the sofa. If not, I'll make floor cushions for the kids or fabric baskets to organize their toys for the room.

The floor for the playroom has been leveled and poured and the radiant heating is working very well. It's soooo nice! This weekend we'll paint it in Sherwin-Williams' compatible cream using their low-VOC paint called Durable. No, I'm not supposed to be painting so I'll only do some trim work with my NIOSH respirator on. Here are some early pics of the curtains, which are 100% cotton, machine washable, and lined. The ring clips Savannah selected make it very easy for her to slide the curtains open and closed -an unexpected child-friendly feature.

Holy cow - look at that color!

One curtain up before we installed the locally-made, custom, double-honeycomb, light-blocking insulating shades with side tracks for added draft prevention.

In the design room (which is currently the kitchen table!) pinning the lining to the fabric. These are large panels - 90" across for each of the two panels and with the heavy lining the largest part of my job was "fabric management" not sewing, cutting or pressing. The window is 100" across. I'm so glad these weren't floor-length drapes! The lining by the way was purchased with a JoAnn's gift card from my mother-in-law - great idea!

The curtains with the new shade drawn. The shade blocks sunlight (important for tv glare for family movies and when the summer sun is too hot). They are very insulating as well so reduce heat-loss from the house with their impressive R-value. The local company that custom makes these is Comfortex. It's another great way to save energy for your home, since windows are responsible for a large amount of heat loss. My only regret is that we picked out the shade color while the room was supposed to be painted in rice grain, a neutral warm grayish color like the shade. Now that we've changed the pallette, the color looks more like it belongs in an office building....

03 February 2009

Mommy's little helper

All of our trips to hardware stores have made quite the impression on Savannah who can tell the difference between Sherwin-Williams (her favorite), Home Depot, Lowe's and the local hardware store. Here's one of her recent lists to help me remember what to pick up at the store:

The numbers are different grits of sandpaper and the smiley face at the bottom is a "100" (grit sandpaper) that turned into a face. I often give her these on special projects where she's done a great job. I didn't tell her how to spell anything by the way!

Kevin has given me free reign in decorating the guest bedroom, which will mainly serve as my sewing and project room. At the moment I've got a semi-Bohemian design board going for this room. I can't wait to pile on the lavish colors and textures.

Bohemian idea pieces for the guest bedroom - rich floral light-blocking lined drapes and bright antique Shiraz style rugs from Iran against romantic Egyptian cotton matelassé bedding. Yummy!

02 February 2009

Hardwood floor patch work and fungus among us

One of our recent ongoing projects (that has taken an embarrassing number of trips to Lowe's and Home Depot) has been to finish the oak hardwood floor that had been covered by the black monster. We knew it was going to be a challenge to match the unfinished hardwood area, which is about 2' by 6', to the 30-year-old stained floors but we aimed for decent rather than perfection knowing that the new hearth pad would cover a small portion it and that there would be shadows in this area from the chimney and glow and flicker of the new woodstove.

We started out with this:

The unfinished portion of the floor behind this patch is where the old hearth was located and the new hearth will cover this area again as well as extending a few inches into the hardwood area that we are finishing.

First, Kevin bought an orbital sander to sand down the area. It proved to be not the right tool for the job - yet. So we rented another type of sander, an edge sander, that finished the job surprisingly quickly. He passed over the area three times with coarse to finer grit sandpaper (I think we used 50, 80 and 120). Once the rough work was done, then the orbital sander was finally needed for the finest sanding of 220.

Kev's orbital sander hooks up to the vacuum cleaner to avoid making the messes that are typical when sanding. Unfortunately, he decided to unhook the vacuum for his final pass, sending a fine sawdust into the air that took many hours to settle - all over my kitchen and dining room and everywhere else on the first floor. I don't think he'll use it in the house again without the vacuum attachment!

Kev is the power tool guy and I do usually much of the rest. I cleaned the area thoroughly with my homemade tack rag (water, paint thinner and varnish solution) and dusted it many times over, then tested our stain samples and let them dry before deciding which one was the closest match. Then I stained the area with two coats, leaving the window open and fan on and evacuating the area for a few hours due to the horrible smell. I am very thankful to the state of California for having such strict labeling requirements - otherwise I wouldn't have know that these wood stains contain known teratogens and mutagens and might not have taken the necessary precautions of protecting my hands and using a respirator (teratogens cause defects in developing embryos and fetuses while mutagens change the DNA in your cells- neither would be desirable materials for a pregnant woman to handle!).

First coat of wood stain. I chose to use a bar rag to soak it up and wipe it off since we have many of these for other chores and having to throw away some of the really used up ones is not a big deal.

The section of floor after two coats. No, it's not perfect but it's pretty close and we hope over time will blend in better.

After a 6 hour drying time I applied the first coat of polyurethane finish. I still have to sand again with the 220 grit paper on the orbital sander before applying the second and third coats, but then our new "floor" will be ready for the hearth pad we are picking up this weekend and for the Heritage soapstone woodstove that arrives on the 9th. We'll be ready to enjoy some family time by the fire for the next snowstorm.

In the mold department, two of our samples were positive. One of the results was not a surprise, since the plate was in the utility room which shares a wall with the bathroom and has openings through the bathroom wall where pipes are plumbed. But the other positive result was an airborne test from quite some distance away from the bathroom on the staircase landing. Kevin pointed out that the air handler for the house is in the utility room so chances are pretty good that we've got spores all over the house. Fortunately, without the proper conditions these new spores will not be able to find a place to grow and multiply. It helps that we've had the new concrete floor laid in the basement because they cannot grow on this inorganic substrate, but we're going to have to be surgeons when it comes to repairing the bathroom - "cut wide and deep" is the surgical motto when it comes to biopsying any abnormal tissue growth. I've sent one of the samples in to a laboratory for evaluation. I suppose it's the scientist in me that needs to know what genus we are dealing with - for eradication and for health reasons.

As my mentor in college used to say whenever we had a contaminated plate in the tissue culture lab - "There's fungus among us!" I sealed off the plate with electrical tape to prevent further contamination and to prepare the sample for shipping to the lab for identification. Now we wait and hope the result is a mold that is not resistant to chlorine.