Blackout window treatments for the nursery and how to pleat Ikea curtains

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

When it came to window treatments for Ellie’s room my first priority was making the room completely dark.

Both of my sisters at various points struggled with getting their babies to sleep and eventually resorted to taping black garbage bags over the windows. For my one nephew, the smallest strip of light was enough to hold his attention and keep him awake.

Fortunately, Ellie has been a really good sleeper so far (and please may it continue for all time), but I have found that a dark quiet room is very helpful to ensure she sleeps as soundly as possible.

My first step in making sure I could get the room as dark as possible was the layered window treatments that I used in our own bedroom. Blackout blind, hidden behind bamboo blind (which really acts as just a valance) and then full-length curtain panels for the finishing touch and an extra layer of darkness.

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

While I still like the dropcloth curtains that I made for the guest room and our room, for Ellie’s room I really wanted white curtains. Some sales around Black Friday netted me four Ritva panels from Ikea. At first when the curtains arrived they looked super creamy to me, but once I tried them in the baby’s room they were white (or white enough for me). They also have a bit of a texture, which I initially wasn’t planning on, but now I like that the fabric isn’t completely flat and boring.

Texture on Ikea Ritva curtains

I elected to get four curtains (two packages), so that I could do two panels per side, ensuring that the fabric covers the full width of the window, and also that the curtains look nice and full whether they’re open or closed.

My first step was to wash all four curtain panels to preshrink them. Then, I sewed two panels together so that my four curtains became two, one for each side.

Now, on their own, the Ritva curtains are not blackout–in fact far from it. Since it was important to me that these curtains block the light as well as add style to the room, I added a blackout lining that I bought at the fabric store. Tip: Wait for a sale. The amount of fabric needed is not small, and this lining is not cheap. A discount makes a huge difference.

I cut the lining so that it was just a bit shorter and narrower than my finished curtains were going to be. The fabric didn’t fray or ravel, so I didn’t bother hemming the edges. I sewed the lining to the curtains, just underneath the curtain tape that runs along the top edge of the Ritvas.

I will say that the curtains were absolute beasts to sew. They were huge and I had metres and metres and layers and layers of fabric that I was trying to slide around. It was very awkward, even though I was only sewing straight lines.

But once the curtains and lining were all together, the next step was pleating the curtains.

The curtain tape that comes with the Ritvas is the neatest thing for me about these Ikea curtains. This tape has little pockets at regular intervals and allows you to form pleats in the top of your curtain by inserting special hooks. (When I made our dropcloth curtains, the tape was something I had to buy and sew on separately).

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

Ikea sells hooks that you can use to pleat your curtains. However, I wanted to replicate the really full, traditional pleats that I made for our other two bedrooms, and the Ikea hooks didn’t do that. I bought four-pronged hooks at my local fabric store (again, on sale) and went to work to figure out how to make my non-Ikea hooks work with my Ikea curtains.

Hooks for pleating curtains

The thing with the curtain tape I’ve used in the past is that each pocket is set up at exactly the right interval to make perfect pleats. The Ikea curtains aren’t quite the same. They’re set up so that you can get as many different looks out of one curtain as possible. There are lots and lots of pockets and then, in the event that you don’t want to pleat your curtains, there are also loops that slide directly over your curtain rod.

So figuring out how to place my hooks took a bit of time… and trial and error… and measuring… and math. For my pinch pleats, I left about 4 sleeves in between the prong of each hook. The spacing varied ever so slightly because those pesky loops threw off my count every other hook. The joint where I’d sewn the two panels was another spot where I had to fudge the hook placement. Between each hook, I left 12 or 13 sleeves.

Once I was happy with the spacing, I went along the back with a marker and made a little dot on each sleeve that was going to receive a prong. I used a permanent marker so that when I wash the curtains, I can reinsert the hooks without repeating the whole trial and error process.

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

The panels for the other side of the window went much quicker, because I was able to use the first curtains as my pattern. However, I made sure to mirror the spacing, so that each panel is symmetrical.

The hooks simply slide into the sleeves, and it can take some smooshing to make sure that one prong stays in place while you’re inserting the others. My fingertips were a bit tender by the time I finished.

How to pinch pleat Ikea curtains

Once the hook is in place, turn over the curtain, and the pleats are nice and even.

How to pleat Ikea curtains

As soon as I hung the curtains, I was super impressed by how effective this blackout lining is. But I took one more step to ensure the room will be as dark as possible. Because we have a double rod with the back rod supporting the bamboo valance, I was able to loop the curtains around and hang a few rings on the back rod. This means that the curtain is right up against the wall, and there is less gap to let light in.

How to make blackout window treatments

The final touches were hemming the curtains to the right length and adding a wand to the edge of each curtain so that we can pull the curtains open and closed without pulling the fabric–a surefire way to get our white curtains grimy over time.

Wand for pulling curtains closed

My plan for bedtime or nap time was to simply pull down the blind, and let the curtains block the light around the edges of the window and look pretty. But after the time change this spring, I noticed Ellie was waking up earlier and earlier in the mornings. I pulled the curtains shut over the blind, and morning sleep-ins returned–love that blackout lining.

Blackout window treatments in the nursery

If you want to make your own blackout window treatments like these, here are the materials I used.


What is your go-to window treatment? Do you like the look of traditional pleated curtains or are you more modern? Can you sleep in the light, or are you on the dark side? Any tips to help babies sleep?


DIY Moroccan pouf and other footstools you can make yourself

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

One of my must-haves for the nursery was a spot to put up my feet. I knew a footstool of some kind would make nursing, cuddling, storytime and all the rest of baby time much more comfortable.

I love the look of the Moroccan poufs, so I was excited to find a free pattern to sew my own from Better Homes and Gardens.

Free DIY pouf sewing pattern from BHG

I made a few modifications to my pouf. First, I lengthened the pattern just slightly. I extended the side pieces by about an inch to make my pouf a bit taller.

Another change was my fabric. Rather than using the burlap and muslin that the BHG team used in their sample, I went with a white vinyl. Wipeable, durable, good for a nursery. However, I will say that vinyl is not the easiest to sew, and as the pouf got bigger it was much more challenging to manipulate. I’m sure the burlap would be easy-peasy.

I also chose to do my top stitching by machine, rather than going with the decorative hand embroidery BHG showed. Vinyl does not fold and cannot be ironed, so the top stitching helps my seams to lay properly.

DIY Moroccan pouf

The final change was I added a zipper. Even though the vinyl is wipeable, I liked the idea of being able to remove the cover if I ever need to. So at the very bottom of the pouf, I put in a 20-inch zipper. Stitching a zipper in vinyl, especially where all the seams came together, was not my funnest sewing moment. (Again, in another fabric it would be NBD.)

Zipper in the bottom of a homemade Moroccan pouf

To stuff the pillow, BHG recommends towels and fibre fill. I happen to have a large stash of pillows (anyone else find the search for the perfect bed pillow challenging?), so I mined that to stuff the pouf. This thing held seven full size bed pillows. Honestly, I’d love to fit an eighth in there, but I’m afraid the seams might not hold. Getting the pillows to lay smoothly inside, so that the pouf doesn’t look overly lumpy took a bit of effort.

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

As soon as the pouf was finished and I set it in the nursery, I was thrilled. It’s the perfect height with the chair, and the white goes well with the other elements in the room. Now that we’ve been using it for more than a month, I also have to say that I’m glad the pouf is light weight enough that I can kick it out of the way when I am trying to oh so carefully put Ellie back in her crib without waking her up.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

I’m also really proud that I made this myself.

In my experience, poufs, ottomans and footstools are pretty easy to make. Even high-end poufs that I see online get my creative juices flowing as I think how I could make them myself.

Here’s a round-up if you’re looking for inspiration.

DIY Poufs

Ready-made poufs that you could DIY

If you’re looking for a Moroccan pouf similar to the one I made.

I think these buffalo check cubes were originally at Target and seem to now be discontinued, but they’d be super easy to DIY (a cube is really easy to sew). And wouldn’t the check fabric and the leather handles be perfect for a farm?

It might take a bit of searching to find a textural fabric like this, but once you do, it would be a snap to whip up this large ottoman.

Other footstools I considered

I truly love this Ikea cowhide footstool for its fit with our farm theme, but it appears to only be sold at Ikea in the US… and my DIY option was much less expen$ive.

My original nursery plan called for a lot of colourful accessories, like this beanbag ottoman.

A storage ottoman is a favourite for obvious reasons–it’s dual purpose, providing a spot to sit or rest your feet as well as a spot to stash blankets, toys or other nursery stuffs.

In the end, I’m very happy with my pouf. The price was right and so is the style.

What’s your favourite style of footstool? Have you ever made a pouf?

How to mix and match throw pillows

How to mix and match throw pillows

Throw pillows are a great way to add personality to a space. You can easily change them out for the season or your mood. However, mixing fabrics is a skill. It takes practice and sometimes some trial and error.

Join me in a little demonstration.

These are the pillows I chose when we first bought our beloved basement couch. It came with six pillows, and I selected three different fabrics. I wanted colour, pattern and something not too serious. However, it turned out they didn’t all play together as nicely as I wanted.


How to mix and match throw pillows

On their own, the patterned pillows each work with the turquoise velvet, but they do not work with each other, despite sharing several colours.

How to mix and match throw pillows

However, let’s look at another equation.

How to mix and match throw pillows

Remember back when I made our big round ottoman? How I searched for the perfect fabric, and the one that ended up working best with the striped pillows was the bird fabric that I already had in my stash? I still love this fabric, and since I ended up buying more to supplement my stash, I still had a good amount of yardage. More than enough to make two pillows.

These ended up being the most professional pillows I’ve ever made. They have zipper closures, piping and even extra liners to help contain the feathers, which always seem to work their way out through the covers. I love them so much.

How to mix and match throw pillows

But what about the poor rejected blue-green geometric? Here’s another equation for you.

How to mix and match throw pillows

The feather is another fabric that I’ve had in my stash for years. I had always planned to use it to make cushions for the couch upstairs, and I finally got around to it. The blue and green bring a bit of summer into the living room.

How to mix and match throw pillows

I love the serendipity of two stash fabrics being perfect mix for pillows that we already had. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons about mixing fabrics.

  1. Let’s start with defining our fabrics. For the purpose of this demonstration, I’m going to use the labels “solid” (pretty self-explanatory), “geometric” (could be a stripe or another more linear pattern–the colourful stripe and the blue-green links both fall into this category for me) and “floral” (self-explanatory, but I’ll extend this to include fabrics like my birds or the feather).
  2. Don’t mix like patterns. By this I mean geometric with geometric or floral with floral. Unless the scale is dramatically different similar patterns will compete with each other like my pillows did. This exercise has taught me that the best bet is to mix different types of fabrics, like a geometric with a floral.
  3. Pick fabrics that share similar colours. This is probably the easiest way to mix. Colours don’t have to match exactly (the turquoise piping on the bird pillow isn’t the same as the turquoise velvet, but they still play well together).
  4. When mixing patterns, start with your most dominant pattern first. This is probably my biggest takeaway. My mistake in the family room was using the turquoise velvet as the base. It’s easy to match cushions to a solid. It’s harder to match the bossy stripe. But once I put that at the centre of the equation, I was able to make the mix work.

Pillows are some of the easiest items to sew–and there are also plenty of options to buy. They can add a finishing touch to a room or completely change the feel of a space. I like being able to freshen up the living room for the summer season, and I’m also very glad to have found the right mix for the family room.

Do you enjoy mixing and matching pillows? Do you sew your own or purchase? Do you change your decor with the season? What are your tips for finding a mix that works?

New upholstery for a vintage slipper chair

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

When my Mom was cleaning out my grandmother’s house, I asked if I could have the slipper chair. When my Mom showed up with a pink skirted chair, I was surprised. I actually didn’t remember ever having seen this chair before. The “slipper” chair I had in mind was a parson’s chair that had sat in my grandmother’s front hall. I ended up with that chair too–in fact it turned out to be one of a pair and I got them both in addition to the little pink slipper chair.

Yes, I have a thing for chairs.

I stripped off the pink cover and the old padding way back when we were still living at our first house. And the poor chair has sat naked in the pool room since we moved here to the farm. (I still had the pink cover balled up in a plastic bag. I slipped it back on the chair for a photo op. However, with no stuffing and an extreme number of wrinkles, the chair, which was already pretty sad, looks really, really sad.)

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I’ve always envisioned the slipper chair being part of my office, so now that that makeover is underway, it was finally time to give the slipper chair a new life.

This was a totally start from scratch scenario. I had the wood frame of the chair and that was it.

Wood frame of a slipper chair

This was also a totally make it up as I go scenario. I am not experienced in upholstery and am–like many people–a bit intimidated by it.

So I just dove in. I stained the legs to a dark brown. I covered the seat with some foam, and then put more foam on the back. I covered it all with batting, mashing it around the corners. I stapled, stapled and stapled.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Then I covered it all with an old sheet, stapling the heck out of every fold.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Then things got serious. I pulled out my bolt of Brissac Jewel fabric that I’ve had for longer than I’ve had the chair. There was lots of laying things out, turning them around, laying them out again, putting them back to the exact way they were before. And then doing it all over again. Once I finally figured out how to place the fabric, I then spent a lot of time stuffing material around the legs and trying to get the folds just right–or right enough.

Reupholstering a slipper chair

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I made my own piping and used flexible metal tack strip (plygrip) for the first time (this video was very helpful).

Reupholstering a slipper chair

I built my grip strength using my vintage manual staple gun–seriously, I’m almost ready for American Ninja Warrior. My fingertips are still tender. If I take on more upholstery, I would invest in an air powered staple gun. However, a project like this can be done with very basic tools–and very basic skills.

I covered up the messy underside with another piece of the sheet (although the packing crate that was used for the seat is pretty cool–I wonder what went to Montreal via Halifax).

Stamped wood on the underside of the vintage slipper chair

Underside of the slipper chair

My grandmother grew up in her family’s furniture store and reupholstered furniture regularly. She made the pink slip cover that was on the slipper chair originally. All I could think as I was working on this chair was that she would definitely have something to say about my technique if she was around. And I wish she was around to tell me how to do it right.

Right or wrong, though, it turned out pretty well. I can see the few flaws, but overall, I’m really proud.

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

Slipper chair upholstered in Brissac Jewel by P Kaufmann Fabric

I think my grandmother would be too.

Making DIY dropcloth curtains – 8 lessons learned

In the last post, you saw the easy layered window treatments in the master bedroom. I promised more details on the dropcloth curtains I made.

Blackout blind, bamboo blind and drop cloth curtain window treatments

There are lots of tutorials out there on how to make dropcloth curtains. So I’m not going to write one here. Plus, I totally made these up as I went along, so a tutorial doesn’t really exist. I did want to share some of the things I learned from making my DIY curtains, though.

How to make dropcloth curtains

1. Dropcloths come with seams. I assumed that my 9 by 12 foot dropcloth would be one single piece of fabric. It wasn’t. All of my dropcloths had a seam down the middle. One had a centre seam plus an additional patch along one end.

For my two widest curtain panels, I just left the seam alone. It’s a bit thicker than I would like and a wee bit puckered, but I decided I could live with it if it was hidden in the folds of the curtains.

For the other curtains, my seam ripper and I spent some quality time pulling out the stitching.

Ripping out the seam on a dropcloth

2. Dropcloths come with holes. The canvas fabric of the dropcloths is not perfect. The rustic quality of the weave and the few strands of blue and red that were here and there are some of the elements I like best about using this fabric.

However, in a couple of spots my dropcloths went beyond rustic and veered into unraveled. So if you want to make anything out of dropcloths, check them over carefully. You don’t want to end up with a hole in the middle of your project.

3. Wash and iron before you start. Pre-washing your fabric is a basic tenant of sewing. I didn’t want my curtains shrinking (not that they’re going to be washed often) after I put the effort into making them, so I washed my fabric before I started sewing.

Dropcloth fabric is heavy duty. As a result, it wrinkles easily and the creases are really difficult to remove. I found that ironing the dropcloths when they were still damp from the washer helped to remove the worst of the wrinkles.

4. Use curtain tape. (Britt, this tip’s for you). From what I hear, making pinch pleat curtains is pretty tedious. Lots of measuring and calculating. A much easier solution is to use curtain tape. This is a kind of mesh fabric strip with channels on the back. You pair it with some special multi-pronged hooks, and it basically forms the pleats for you. I bought mine at a local fabric store.

The pleats are softer than they would be if you sewed them without the tape, but that was okay for my rustic fabric and my farm setting.

I sewed the tape along the edge of one of my dropcloths, put in the hooks and voilà, pinch pleat curtains.

Using curtain tape to make pinch pleat curtains

Using curtain tape to make pinch pleat curtains

Using curtain tape to make pinch pleat curtains

Pinch pleat dropcloth curtains

You can space your pleats as far apart or as close together as you want. I left one empty “pocket” for a space of about 6 inches between each pleat.

Pinch pleat dropcloth curtains

5. Use curtain tape to measure your curtains. Before I sewed the curtain tape onto my fabric, I formed all of my pleats until I had a strip that was as wide as I wanted my curtains to be. Then I cut the curtain tape at that length, removed the pleats and used the tape to measure the dropcloth fabric.

6. There are different types of hooks. The magic pleat-making hooks are very handy. They come in two different forms (there may be more, but I tried two). Whatever form you choose, the hooks hook onto the rings that go on your curtain rod. Option 1 has the hooks at the end, so the curtains hang a bit below the rings. Option 2 has the hooks in the middle, so the top of the curtain hangs up against the rings. This is the type of hook I ended up using.

There are also special non-pleating hooks (just plain single hooks) to hold up the ends of the curtains where there are no pleats.

7. Take your time hemming. I wanted my curtains to just brush the floor. For my first set, I hung the curtains, found the spot where they met the floor, and then I used a ruler to measure the rest of my hem from that point. The result was curtains that were the right length at one or two spots, but for the most part they scuffed, not brushed the floor.

Curtains hitting the floor

For my second set of panels and for the bed skirt that I also made out of dropcloths, I skipped the measuring tape. Instead, I used pins to mark the fabric at about 1/4 to 1/2 inch off the floor. I pinned my way across the bottom of the curtains, marking about every six inches. Then I pressed the hem using the pins as a guide. It wasn’t scientific, but it resulted in curtains that just brushed the floor.

8. You can totally do this too. Dropcloth curtains are pretty easy to make. Honestly, I found them a bit tedious. The only sewing is in straight lines. Loooooong straight lines. However, boring they may be, sewing straight lines is not difficult.

Dropcloth curtains in a navy master bedroom

Let me know if you try them yourself.

Have you ever made your own curtains? Any tips to share from your experience?

Linking up with: Happy Housie DIY Challenge Party

How to make simple layered window treatments

When I had the brainwave to move our bedroom across the hall, Matt didn’t understand why we couldn’t just stay in our current room. He went along with my plans, but he had one requirement: he wasn’t moving in until we had curtains.

Blackout blind, bamboo blind and drop cloth curtain window treatments

We haven’t had curtains on any windows in any room since we moved to the farm. With no neighbours, privacy is not a concern.

However, our new bedroom is on the east side of the house. There are fewer trees on that side, so more light comes in the windows. At night, the lights on the barn and the driveshed and even headlights from the cars on the far-away road shine into the room.

Plus, east equals sunrise. If we wanted to sleep past dawn on any summer morning, we needed curtains.

But I wanted more than just curtains. I stumbled over Kristine’s window treatments on the Painted Hive and thought her solution was ingenious. (So I really can’t take credit for this idea).

Kristine’s solution is a great mix of form and function.

Function starts with a basic blackout vinyl roller blind, which I mounted above the window casing.

Vinyl blackout blind hidden behind bamboo blinds and dropcloth curtains

Form comes next.

The blackout blind is hidden behind a bamboo blind. Or what looks like a bamboo blind.

In reality, it’s basically just a valance. I took one bamboo blind and chopped it to pieces. For the main window over the bed, I was able to use the full six foot wide blind, but I only wanted it to be about 16 inches long. To shorten it, I clipped the strings that hold the slats together and knotted the ends so that the blind didn’t fall apart. I’m not going to lie, tying hundreds of tiny strings into tight double knots was pretty tedious.

For the smaller side window, I needed a narrower blind. A set of strong pruning sheers and Matt’s strong hands clipped off the excess width. Then, I again cut the strings to give me a 16 inch length and tied another whole bunch of tiny knots.

Cutting a bamboo blind

To put bamboo blind in place, I installed a double curtain rod just below the crown molding. I chose the Räcka and Hugad from Ikea.

The bamboo panels just drape over the rear rod (I tied them in place) and hang over the top of the window. They hide the blackout blind and, because I hung them so high right under the crown molding, they make the windows look much taller.

Double curtain rod

The front rod supports the dropcloth curtains that I made. The curtains are completely functional, but we don’t need to use them, thanks to the blackout blind, so they’re mostly just for form. They do hide the edges of the two blinds and help to block light from sneaking around the sides of the window though.

I’ll be sharing more about some of the lessons I learned from making dropcloth curtains in my next post.

I used the trick of hanging the curtains so that they fall just outside the window casing. This really does make the window look bigger in my opinion.

Altogether, the blackout blind, bamboo valance, double curtain rod and full length dropcloth curtains make for stylish and functional layered window treatments.

Blackout blind, bamboo blind and drop cloth curtain window treatments

Plus there’s the added benefit of keeping Matt happy.

Happy husband. Stylish master bedroom. I’m all set.

What are your master bedroom must-haves? Are you a blackout blind-er or a up with the sunshine-er? What’s your window treatment style?

Hand-knit felted slippers

A sure sign it’s fall for me is the return of slippers.

A sure sign I need new slippers is this picture. Shameful!

Holey slippers

My friends had tried to convince me to throw these out more than a year ago. Honestly, I completely agreed with them. The problem was I had nothing to replace my raggedy slippers.

All of this is to explain how I found myself spending time this summer sitting on a beach with knitting needles in my hands.

Knitting on the beach

Et voilà!

Hand knitted slippers before felting

Confused? Check them out after a few turns in the washing machine.

French Press Felted Slippers

Still confused?

These are French Press Felted Slippers. It’s my fifth time making these slippers. The idea is that you knit over-sized slippers out of real wool and then throw them in the washing machine in super hot water. They shrink down to the size they’re supposed to be and the material becomes stiff and fabricy.

Felting is a pretty neat process. The final product is very solid. You can even cut it and it won’t unravel like regular knitting.

However, I’m not relying on my slipper’s natural density to avoid having another holey situation. I had some leftover fake leather, so I cut some soles out of that and stitched it onto the bottom of the slippers.

Let’s try this picture again.

Leather soles sewn on knitted slippers

Much cozier without the holes.

Are there any other knitters out there? Have you ever felted anything? How about anyone else with holes in their slippers… or even your socks?

Baa-baa black sheep

Last week I happened to be over at my parents,’ and my Mom said she had received a notice to go to the post office to pick up a package for me. We were both pretty curious. It’s been awhile since I received mail at my parents’ address.

As soon as we saw the return address on the package, we knew what it was. My Mom’s friend had made me a quilt.

Quilt based on Kay Harmon design for Springtime Frolic

In her wonderful cover note, she called this a nephew quilt. I am a very proud aunt to four fun boys. Two of them are brand new, born just this year.

Here’s some of what she wrote:
“Aunts dream up projects to make with their nephews and have great patience when sharing their tools, skills and time… This quilt is for you to snuggle under with those nephews and love them to bits.”

The design is based on a tabletop quilt by Kay Harmon called Springtime Frolic. My Mom’s friend saw it in the Primitive Quilts magazine this spring and then adjusted the pattern to make it a bit larger.

The workmanship, the piecing and the quilting are absolutely beautiful. The parts I like best are the squiggle quilting (I don’t know the proper term for it) around the outside edge and, of course, the one black sheep.

Detail on a quilt based on Kay Harmon design for Springtime Frolic

I’m choosing to associate myself with this guy since I like to be a little bit different and stand out every so often. Besides, I cannot cast one of my nephews as the black sheep.

I feel so honoured that someone took the time to make something by hand specifically for me. Plus, it just seems right that we have a handmade patchwork quilt at the farm… especially one with livestock on it. This is a very special gift. Thank you, Mary.

Anyone else have a homemade quilt at their house? Or are there any quilters out there? I’m a sewer, but I’ve never tackled a quilt, and I admire those who do.

Green sleeves

The benefit of cleaning up my office is that I actually have space to work in there now. I may not be completely finished organizing the office, but I did accomplish something else.

I finally sewed something!

Green wool long sleeved collared dress Vogue 8630

This dress is my entry Julia Bobbin’s third annual Mad Men Dress Challenge.

Julia Bobbin - Mad Men Challenge III

The point of the challenge is to sew a dress inspired by Mad Men. I have to admit, I don’t watch the show, but I love the clothes that I’ve seen. I’ve had this dress cut out since November, so it was nice to finally make it up. Between cleaning up my office and Julia issuing her challenge, it was the perfect motivation.

This dress shares some style points with Joan’s chartreuse dress from season 3, episode 6, most notably the collar and the colour.

Joan's green dress

These photos (and lots of others of this outfit) from here.

Ms. Bobbin herself has sewed this dress, although she did a very true knock-off complete with a column of fabulous buttons down the back.

My dress does not have buttons, but I still feel pretty fabulous in it. My starting point was Vogue 8630. I made a few modifications, which I talk about in more detail in my review on Pattern Review.

The best feature of this dress is its wide collar. I dialed up the Mad Men style factor by adding one of my vintage brooches for these photos. I can see so many different accessories working here–I think a giant black button would be really cool.

Vogue 8630 modified collar

In the Mad Men episode, Joan’s dress ends up covered in blood. However, I will be keeping this dress far away from any farming and renovating activities that may lead to bloodshed. I think my alter ego and her day job will make good use of it and keep it nice and neat.

Check out Julia’s blog next week for all of the other fabulous entries in the Mad Men challenge.

Are there any Mad Men fans out there? How about Mad Men fashion fans?

How to make a DIY ottoman

The search for the perfect footstool for my basement reading nook took a little while. How to make a DIY ottoman I knew I wanted something round. Between our sectional, the ottoman, the entertainment unit, the TV, and even my Austin chair, we have a lot of squares and rectangles happening in the basement, so I thought it was time for some contrast. And I wanted to make it myself. But how? What would give me the size and the shape that I wanted while being sturdy enough to sit on but light weight enough to move around? Maybe a Sonotube? But I couldn’t find one that was big enough in diameter, and I really didn’t want to buy a six foot tube and use only a short piece of it. Maybe I should just use one of the Moroccan poof patterns available online and upscale it? But that would take a lot of stuffing, and I wasn’t sure how it would work as a seat. Then one night it came to me just as I headed to bed. (Isn’t that always the way?) The next morning when Baxter and I headed out for our walk, we took a brief detour to our junk pile. (Doesn’t every farm have one?)

Baxter investigates our junk pile

“Uhhh… I don’t see anything that you’d want to put in the house over here…”

Are you confused like Baxter, or do you see it?

Plastic barrel

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I upholstered a giant plastic barrel.

It was big. It was round. It seemed sturdy, but wasn’t too heavy. I had found my base. Now how to make it into an ottoman? I mulled the question of how to upholster it over for a little while. Here’s the technique I came up with. 1) Cut the barrel to my desired height–roughly equal to the height of Strandmon’s seat. I initially planned on using my hack saw, but then I realized that between the thickness of the plastic and the massive circumference of the barrel, cutting it manually would take forever. Plan B was my circular saw, which was much, much faster. Note: an extra person (thank you, Matt) to hold the barrel while you’re cutting is essential. Cutting a plastic barrel with a reciprocating saw Go over the cut edge with a file to smooth out any rough spots and remove any plastic strands. Use a file to smooth out plastic edges 2) If your barrel still looks like something that’s been sitting outside for who knows how long and really isn’t something you can see yourself bringing into your house, give it a good scrubbing. This is probably a good step regardless because you never know what’s been inside the barrel. Well, some of you might, but I sure didn’t. 3) Pack on the padding. I used a piece of 2 1/2-inch thick foam for the top. Using my barrel as a pattern, I traced a circle onto the foam. The foam cut easily by hand with a serrated bread knife, although I’ve heard that an electric carving knife also works. Using spray adhesive, I attached the foam to the top of the barrel.

Cutting and attaching foam to a foot stool

Note: Working in a barn avoids spraying sticky glue onto your floors, but you may end up with a few pieces of straw stuck to your stool.

4) To soften up the sides, I took batting left over from my dining room chair upholstery project and glued it to the sides of the barrel. It was at this point that I realized I had less batting left over than I thought. As in not enough to complete the ottoman. So the padded barrel came into the house and sat until I could go to the fabric store. During the waiting period, I found out that the spray adhesive maybe wasn’t going to work quite as well as I’d expected. Basically, the barrel shed its fluffy skin. Quilt batting peeling off a plastic barrel 6) However, I was undeterred. Once I had more batting, I reattached the first layer using the same spray adhesive. By this point, it was cold outside, so I was working in the house. Note: Be prepared for some overspray. A drop cloth will help, but you will end up with sticky socks. Upholstering a foot stool in batting 7) You’ll notice that my batting was a little patchy. To smooth it out and hold it in place, I added two more layers of batting over top of the whole barrel. I’m going to try to explain how I did this, but if it’s not clear, feel free to ask for more information in the comments. I draped the big sheet of batting over the whole barrel making sure it hung evenly down each side. Upholstering a round foot stool Working in sections of about a quarter at a time, I sprayed the barrel with the adhesive, smoothed the batting down the side and stuck it in place. If you think of the barrel like a clock, I worked at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock. In between each quarter section, I had extra batting. These looked like big triangle wings. I carefully took my scissors and cut off these wings. I wish I had a better picture of this, but my scissors hand was busy being camera hand in this moment. I snipped roughly where the arrow is pointing. Upholstering a round foot stool The nice thing about batting is that it doesn’t fray, so I could just snip it off and the smoosh the edges together. The join wasn’t perfect, but close enough ended up working just fine. Upholstering a round foot stool At the bottom of the barrel, I trimmed the batting so that I had about 6 inches overhang. Then I pulled it taunt, smoothed it out, wrapped it around the edge and tucked it up inside the barrel. A spritz of adhesive held it in place. Upholstering a round foot stool Now I had a giant fuzzy marshmallow. Um, yum? Upholstering a round foot stool 7) To protect the batting, make sure it stayed attached to the barrel and ensure a smooth surface to overlay my fabric, I decided to make a lining or slipcover before putting on my final upholstery fabric. This was also an opportunity to test my pattern for my outer fabric. To figure out the pieces for the slipcover, I measured first the circumference of my ottoman and then the height. I cut out a rectangle that was as long as my barrel was round (80 inches) and 8 inches wider than my barrel was tall (25 inches). Using the circumference measurement, I was able to figure out the size of circle that I needed to cut for the top of the stool. After a brief consultation with my resident math teacher, I remembered that Pi x diameter = circumference. So for my 80 inch around stool, I needed a circle that was approximately 25 1/2 inches in diameter (80 / Pi = 25.47). I started by cutting a 25 1/2 inch square, folded it into quarters, and then using a very makeshift compass I drew an arc that gave me the curve of my circle. I cut along the arc, and voilà a circle.

How to draw a large circle

Note that length of the string should be equal to the radius of the circle (half the diameter).

Before unfolding the circle, it’s helpful to mark the outer quarters (basically 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clocks again). They’ll come in handy later. Now that I had my top, it was back to the sides of my slipcover. I joined the short ends of the rectangle to form a tube, stitching them together on my sewing machine. This is a good point to “try on” the cover. I slipped the tube over the footstool and adjusted the fit as necessary. You’ll notice I haven’t talked about adding seam allowances. I had them at first, but I found that the cover was looser than I wanted. To get a smooth, close-fitting cover, I found going with the actual measurements of the ottoman worked best. Once I had the fit I wanted, I marked the tube in the same way that I’d marked the circle. Using the seam as 12 o’clock, I marked the tube along one edge at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock (rather than measuring, I just folded the tube in half and then half again and pinned at the creases). Then, I pinned my circular piece of fabric to my tube, starting at each of my marked clock points. As I made my way around the circle, I had to smooth things out a little bit since I was joining a straight edge to a curved edge, but with some patience and adjustments everything lined up. Upholstering a round foot stool 8) Finally, I could sew the cover. I took it fairly slow as my machine stitched around the circle, and then I held my breath as I flipped it right side out and slipped it over the ottoman. Victory! It fit perfectly. 9) Now to finish the bottom edge. Remember, it was about 8 inches longer than than the barrel. I turned the raw edge under by a 1/4 inch all the way around, and then I turned the bottom up an additional 3/4 of an inch. Upholstering a round foot stool I stitched this hem almost all the way around. I left about a 2 inch gap so that I could insert a drawstring. Upholstering a round foot stool 10) It was time to dress the ottoman. I slipped the slipcover over top and using the drawstring cinched the bottom tightly. Upholstering a round foot stool I turned it over and… Victory #2! A pretty smooth, albeit slightly crooked, slipcover.

Upholstering a round foot stool

Note to self: In the future, straighten out the cover before taking the photo.

With my pattern perfected, it was time to move on to the official fabric. The search for this fabric had taken my Mom, her friend and me up and down the fabric district, in and out of every store. I was carrying one of the cases from the couch throw pillows, trying to find a fabric that was equally vibrant and equally fun. In one store, I went over to a particular bolt and said, “I love this fabric. I actually bought a few yards a year ago, just because I couldn’t bear not to have it.” My Mom’s friend said, “Hold your pillowcase up.” I did, and she said, “Julia, I think that’s your fabric.” It took me a minute, but then I saw that it was absolutely perfect. Swavelle / Mill Creek Crazy Ol Bird Midnight Fabric I bought some more because I couldn’t remember how much I had already, added some bright turquoise piping and carted it all home. For all of you who’ve admired the fabric, it’s Crazy Ol Bird Midnight by Swavelle/Mill Creek. To make the outer cover, I followed the same technique that I had used with the inner slipcover. I even did the drawstring at the bottom. The only change was that when I sewed the top to the sides, I sandwiched some piping in between the layers. The piping is a great pop against the black fabric, and I think it makes the ottoman look a bit more professional. Upholstering a round foot stool And here’s my finished ottoman sitting with Strandmon and the stump table in the reading nook. How to make a round footstool I love it. This ottoman is such a fun addition. It makes the reading nook a really comfortable spot to hang out. If you have any questions about the construction please let me know. Have you ever used something unconventional (like a plastic barrel) for furniture? What upholstery projects have you tackled?

Update: While I know everyone doesn’t have a plastic barrel lying around outside, it just occurred to me that a plastic garbage can would probably work in much the same way and be close to the same size.

Linking up to: Happy Housie DIY Challenge Party: Fabric Projects, Happy Housie DIY Challenge Party: Patterned and Textured Projects