Crate Shelves and Custom Curtains, aka Success with Fabric Painting

A friend asked me to help with the nursery for her baby boy, due in just a few weeks! I’ll do a complete post on the nursery soon, but there are a couple of projects I thought I’d go ahead and share now.

crate shelvesFirst up, crate shelves! The nursery has a corner of “dead space” right by the door. It’s a small room and we wanted to make as much use of the available space as possible. I found these crates at IKEA (no, IKEA does not give me money to mention them in every other post, although I’d be pretty psyched if they did). Crates like these seem to be everywhere now, and are handy for all sorts of projects, but the IKEA ones seem a little sturdier to me than the ones I’ve seen at craft stores. Plus the large ones are only $10 a pop. I took five of them to their house and we played with the configuration until we found one that suited the space, and let them keep the use of the outlet in that corner. To mount them, I used these drywall anchor screws, plus washers, to give the relatively small screw heads a little more stability. The bottom crate (the one most likely to be pulled on at some point) got 4 screws; the others crate shelves 2got 2 each. And because they’re all mounted independently, if the little angel does manage to pull on one crate, the whole thing won’t come tumbling down, like a traditional bookcase. One thing to keep in mind – the IKEA crates have two slats on the bottom as “feet” for the crate, which would’ve meant a gap between crate and wall that would’ve diminished the sturdiness of the anchors. Solution? Flip the bottom over, so the slats are on the inside of the crate and countersink the screws when you put the crate together. (My friend’s genius husband came up with this.)

Next, the return of fabric painting. No, it wasn’t a long hiatus, since it was just in my last post, but this time, in an exciting twist, it actually worked! Huzzah! The color scheme of the nursery is gray, navy and white. The walls are gray and the furniture white, so I thought I’d bring some navy in by painting the curtains. I started with these Merete curtains (really, IKEA, fork over some of that sweet Swedish cash already). This project looked a bit more promising than the chair, because the fabric is a cotton twill – no real nap to it. I ironed (zzzzz) and laid out the curtain panels on my living room floor, with some heavy duty drop cloths underneath. Apparently, I buy the fancy drop cloths, according to my brother-in-law, but I hate sitting on plastic while I paint. Everything got taped down to keep Georgia from playing hide-and-seek underneath while I was working (jk, the tape totally didn’t stop her) and I started taping out the design. I wanted something geometric with clean lines. I considered stripes, but once I thought up the triangles, I really wanted to do that. To keep it from being all navy (and too dark for the room), I decided on a scattered design of triangles at the top, building to full rows of triangles at the bottom.

With a piece of cardboard as my template for the height and angles, I started taping with the 3M blue tape I always use for paint projects. Once, in a fit of extra cheapness, I bought the generic Home Depot HDX painter’s tape, and discovered it’s not much good for anything other than frustration and messy paint lines, and I’d always shied away from the more expensive Frog Tape. 3M blue tape was safely middle of the road (I expect that phrase will be on my tombstone). Unfortunately, after taping out a portion of the design, I realized that my trusty blue was not sticking to the fabric in a number of places, and I couldn’t make it. So I sprung for the Frog Tape, full of skepticism about its purported superiority, but oh man, it was worth it. Crisp lines galore! I taped out my design, used bits of my removed blue tape to mark the triangles I didn’t want to paint, and went to town with my roller and paint/textile medium mix. I used a 4″ roller, which was pretty easy to keep in the lines, although there are definitely a few blue triangles that I intended to be white, but after some overly exuberant rolling, had to become blue. I ended up using 8oz of Soho Mineral Blue acrylic and 4oz of textile medium.

Here they are hemmed and hung in the nursery!



A Chair Makeover and Abject Failure with Fabric Paint

At some point, if I want to make a viable business out of my interior decorating work, I really should hone in on a few styles or techniques so that my portfolio has some sort of coherence, but right now, I’m having too much fun playing and trying out different ideas. My latest experiment: painting fabric. When my younger niece, Blythe, wanted her room redone, one piece of furniture really wouldn’t fit with her style, which my sister and I have dubbed “dramatic boho”. (It’s a thing now.) That piece was an armchair, given to her by family friends. It’s a surprisingly comfortable chair and the ornateness definitely went with the “dramatic” part of her style, but the color scheme needed an update to go with her new black, white and purple decor.

I asked my sister if I could try painting the fabric. (One of my favorite things about my sister is how she’ll let me experiment on her stuff, as long as she doesn’t have to actually do it herself.) I’d seen a bunch of tutorials on the Pinterest about how successful and easy and cheap this could be, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I knew from the start that there was a high risk of failure, because the fabric on the chair had a high nap, and that can be trickier with fabric paint. But, I reasoned, if it fails, I’ll just pull the fabric off and reupholster, so the only real risk was about $10 worth of acrylic fabric paint and textile medium. And, hoo boy, fail it did.

I spritzed the fabric with water, painted, sanded, painted some more, sanded some more, lather, rinse, repeat. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the seemingly innocuous beige fabric white. What’s more, the more layers I added, the more the fabric felt like an emery board, no matter how much I sanded, or how weird it was to need to sand fabric. Since this was intended to be Blythe’s reading chair, and not a total body exfoliator, this texture was less than ideal. When it got to the point of needing to buy more paint, I decided to invest in new fabric instead.

OK, maybe it wasn't entirely necessary to dismantle it COMPLETELY, but it was satisfying.

OK, maybe it wasn’t entirely necessary to dismantle it COMPLETELY, but it was satisfying.

I’d already painted the chair frame purple (I did it with acrylic paint because I was already buying acrylic for the fabric painting endeavor and I was too lazy to go to Home Depot in addition to the craft store), so with pliers, a flat-head screwdriver and brute force, I pulled off the welting, then the front and back oval panels, then the seat, then the fabric from the ovals and seat. I found a black and white damask print at Joann – I only needed about 2 yards total. Using the fabric I’d removed as a rough pattern, I cut out my new pieces and stapled them to their respective frames. The seat was a little tricky, because the foam sloped towards the back, but by tacking the fabric down in small sections, I got it to follow the gradation. The recovered seat got screwed back on. The ovals had been held in place by some straight copper needles that were very pointy – I’m sure there’s an actual name for them in the world of professional upholstery – but wouldn’t go back on. At this point, I was pretty tired, so I punted. I pushed the pointy, stabby copper spines flat or pulled them out (whichever was easier) then glued the ovals back in place with some E6000. The fumes were a welcome addition to my evening. Once everything had dried, the chair was finished!


I haven’t given up entirely on painting fabric, but I would say that anything with a nap – velvet, boucle, chenille, corduroy, etc. – might not turn out the way you want it, so beware that you may end up having to reupholster in the end. And once you start painting, there’s really no turning back. Wow, that got really ominous at the end there.

An Adventurous Baby Shower

My friend Lizzie and I recently hosted an adventure-themed baby shower for our friend whose little boy should be here in just a few weeks. The main colors were red and aqua, with maps and hot air balloons thrown in. Lizzie made these swoon-worthy invitations:

el choffel adventure baby shower

I made decorations out of old maps. Austin has a great place called Recycled Reads, where the library sells off donated books, or books that have to be taken out of circulation. They also have a bunch of old, out-of-date paper maps. I scoured their collection for Austin maps, Texas maps and just plain pretty maps (good job, Colorado) and turned them into rosettes and pennant bunting.

Here’s a good tutorial for the rosettes. I used regular old white Elmer’s glue and some ribbon for my hanging loops. The pennants are triangles with an extra flap at the top that I glued onto twine.

I also made these light catcher hot air balloons out of old light bulbs. I loved the incredibly detailed ones I found on Pinterest, but the intricate lines are beyond my skill set, so I simplified. I sketched each pattern onto the light bulbs using a gold paint pen, with 6 lengthwise sections on the smaller bulbs and 8 on the larger ones, and varying where the horizontal lines and arches went, so that each bulb was unique. Then I colored in various sections using Sharpie brush-tip markers in red, blue and green. I’d never used these before – truth be told, I bought them because I could buy them singly at the craft store without having to buy a whole multi-color pack. Happily they were perfect for this project. They give a great amount of control and varied marker lines depending on how you apply them. The Sharpie ink actually looks quite pretty on glass. For clean lines, I went over my original outline with some gold paint and a brush (the gold marker worked… intermittently). To hang them, I hot glued a bead cap (similar to these) to the top of the bulb with a little twist of jewelry wire, then hung them on ribbons. If they don’t end up in the nursery, I think I’ll save these for Christmas ornaments!

Name Signs and Craft Fumes: Mod Podge and Alcohol Ink

In the true tradition of siblings, since time immemorial, what one has, the others want. So now that Audrey has had her room redecorated, her sister and brother want the same. Blythe’s room is in the process of getting a bit of an update, although not as dramatic as Audrey’s – she doesn’t want to change her wall colors yet. Carter (4 years old) has detailed his room makeover specifications as “make it lots cooler.”

As a starting point for both of their rooms, I decided to make them name signs, much like their sister’s. Of course, these kids have wildly different personalities, so everyone needed their own style. Plus, I just like trying new methods for making stuff.


As stated, Carter is 4, and like most 4 year olds, is constantly falling in and out of IMG_1111obsession with various cartoons and characters. I decided to incorporate his wide variety of interests by Mod Podge-ing fabric to cardboard letters.

I found all my supplies at Joann. The cardboard letters are 8″ tall and surprisingly sturdy. The fabric is novelty quilting weight, mostly from the licensed characters section of Joann. I got one half yard of each fabric per letter.

I traced my letters on the the back of the fabric, right side down, and marked a strip the IMG_1114IMG_1113
width of the fabric and a little wider than the depth of the letter. This gave me a long strip to wrap around the edge of the letter. (You could easily skip this step and paint the cardboard or leave it the natural brown color.) I put a layer
of Mod Podge on the outside of the letter, then wrapped the fabric around, keep one edge of the fabric strip lined up with the backside of this letter. This left me with some extra fabric on the front. I snipped any curves and corners, added Mod Podge to the front of the letter and pressed down the extra fabric. This ensured that no cardboard would peek out once the top layer was added.

IMG_1115IMG_1117To add the top layer, I roughly cut the traced letter out of the fabric, Mod Podged it down onto the cardboard, then cut away the excess fabric. At first, I tried cutting the letter out precisely but gave up on that pretty quickly – this way was way easier.

Once the underlayer of Mod Podge was dry, I covered each letter in an exterior layer to seal any loose threads. Because these bad boys are so light, we could hang them with simple 3M strips stuck to the backs. Now, when Carter decides that Ninja Turtles are passe, his “T” can be swapped out with whatever the new flavor of the month is. (Except I won’t change these every month. Maybe in a year or so. We’ll see how nice of an aunt I’m feeling.)

Yes, the C is out of line with the rest of the letters. Yes, I did fix it right away. Yes, it’s still bothering me that I didn’t retake the picture after I fixed it. From left to right: Star Wars, space, Batman, TMNT, airplanes, Spiderman.


Blythe’s name sign was a tricky one to figure out. I knew I wanted to do something to match her more theatrical personality, and her room is definitely moving in a much less structured, more bohemian direction than her sister’s. But it took me a while to figure out just how to make anything that looked like “her”. I loved the look of alcohol ink crafts I found on Pinterest, and finally figured out how to incorporate that stained-glass-crossed-with-tie-dye look into something for her.

IMG_1119I started with this frame from IKEA and cut a piece of contact paper the same size as the
glass to create a stencil. I searched high and low for a font that was (a) fairly heavy, so there’d be enough space cut out to see the inks; (b) not too formal, because that is so not Blythe; and (c) not too fussy to cut out, so as not to tax my short attention span. I ended up using this gorgeous Splandor font for inspiration, adjusting it to not be italicized and tweaking some of the flourishes to fit her name.


I measured two sets of lines as guides – one for the B and T and one for the rest of the letters, sketched them in, then redrew them with a Sharpie and a ruler to get the cleanest lines possible. I affixed the contact paper to the glass and used my exact-o knife to cut out the letters. (This probably would’ve been way easier with a Silhouette, but, you know, I’m cheap.)


With the stencil in place, I could apply the alcohol inks. I made these (again, cheap) by pulling the ink reservoirs out of Sharpie markers and soaking them in little mason jars of rubbing alcohol (50% because that’s what I had) overnight. I tested out some different methods on some spare glass (thanks, hoarding!) and ended up with this method. Using an eye-dropper, I dropped one color of ink on a square of felt wrapped around a scrap of 2×4, then stamped it onto the glass in a sort-of random pattern. Repeat with additional colors. I ended up using purple, green and light blue. Alcohol inks are messy and fumey and stain like nobody’s business, but they do produce pretty and unique results. With my handy-dandy food prep gloves and plenty of ventilation, this part went surprisingly quickly and easily.


After I pulled off the stencil, I decided to make the lettering pop a bit more by edging the letters with a purple paint pen. I also had some textured wall paper sitting around (waiting for me to ever finish the never-ending hutch), so I lined the inside of the frame to add some additional interest.


Both were hits with their respective children, so all in all, success!

Chinese Chippendale Headboard and the Challenges of Geometry

Oh man, I’m really excited to write this post. This is yet another project for my niece Audrey’s room redecoration. This is an idea I’ve had percolating for a while, and although it didn’t go quite as smoothly as I expected, because math, I’m happy with how it turned out.


I’ve always really liked this style – sometimes it’s called Chinese Chippendale, or lattice-work, or woven – and I’ve been looking for a project I could try it out on. Audrey needed a new headboard for her new bedroom, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. After seeing this post on a Chinese Chippendale railing, I’d found the pattern I wanted to use as my template. The railing post is incredibly detailed and the craft that goes into his work is way beyond my current skill set, so I modified the idea to something I could feasibly do.

IMG_1069The first step was scaling the design to a size that would be appropriate for a twin headboard. (A twin bed is 39″ wide, but I prefer a slightly wider headboard so it looks the correct size when a comforter is on the bed.) In this design, the negative space is as important as the positive. The empty square in the middle of the design is a dimension that’s repeated over and over – using it as a constant is what makes the wood pieces look like they’re continuous even when separated. Starting from the central square, since only right angles are used, you can work out the math of the whole design. I knew I’d want to use 1″x2″ boards, so I worked out the math of the design with a 4″ central square – too wide for a twin bed – then a 3″ square – too small. 3 1/2″ seemed to be just right. It was a little on the small side, so I decided to frame out the whole pattern with 1″x3″s instead of 1″x2″s. This gave me a design that was 42″ wide x 26″ high.

IMG_1049Once I had my dimensions decided on, I could start cutting. The rational thing would have been to bribe my brother-in-law to let me borrow his miter saw, but that would’ve meant waiting a few extra days, and I’m incredibly impatient when I’m in the throes of a new project. So I busted out my miter box and hand saw and cut the pieces manually. 1″x2″s actually cut pretty quickly, but I think I’ll ask Santa for a power compound miter saw anyway. My brother-in-law will be so jealous.



With everything cut, I laid all my wood pieces out in the design and… they didn’t fit. Two of  the large diagonal pieces were too short. I tried every which way to make the pattern work, but eventually I came to terms with the fact that I had mathed wrong. I went back to my plan and realized I hadn’t added in the extra length from the width of the boards themselves in that part of the pattern. Oh well. I got another board from Home Depot and cut the correct sized pieces. This time, everything fit together just like I’d intended.

IMG_1064I joined the boards together using wood glue and picture frame fasteners (like these) – the headboard would be mounted on a wall, so the back didn’t have to be pretty. To give the frame some strength, I added corner brackets at each corner. To hang it, I added heavy duty D-ring picture hangers to the top two corners. These would hang on screws and drywall anchors mounted in the wall behind Audrey’s bed.

With everything joined together and dry, I painted the whole shebang gray (in accordance with her new bedding and her string art sign and jewelry box). I’d originally planned to do a color-wash with the gray (diluting the latex paint with equal parts water creates a cool faux-stain) to let the wood grain shine through, but with gray, the color-wash just made the wood look weathered. Audrey’s new room is all pretty clean and modern. Weathered just isn’t the look for her. So I added another coat of paint for a fully gray headboard. Et voila!




Hung by my sister, who is very proud that she used the power tools like a big girl.

String Art Sign


As part of my niece Audrey’s room redecoration, I made her a sign with her name on it to go with her new blue and gray room. I came across this DIY string art sign idea while perusing Pinterest and it was perfect – the right colors and even the right name! It seemed like it was meant to be.

I used one of my favorite fonts, Lobster Two  IMG_1066from, and printed out large letters on my home printer (the largest – the A – ended up being 10″ tall). I used a 12″x1″ board, cut down the length to be just a bit larger than my letters, and painted it gray.

IMG_1070I cut most of the white space from my letters and placed them on the board, with a piece
of painter’s tape along the bottom edge to keep them in a straight line and the spacing adjusted unscientifically by eye.

I hammered in nails along the outside of the letters, making sure a nail was at each corner or turn in the letter. After the nails were in and my cat was thoroughly traumatized by all the loud banging (it takes a LOT of nails), I tore away the paper and tape leaving only the nails behind. Then I used embroidery floss, tying the end of one skein to a nail, wrapping the floss around the outside of the letters, filling in the letters with random patterns and tying the skein off before moving to the next letter. I used about one skein per letter, but two for the A. With some picture-hanging hardware on the back, it was ready to be hung!


Window Seat and Valances

I’ve been toying with the idea of building a side business, wherein people pay me money, like legal US tender, to do the projects I love on their behalf. I’m starting with developing a portfolio and taking on a variety of projects for other people.

My co-worker recently had his kitchen renovated and he and his wife needed some custom-sewn pieces to finish it out – valances for the windows and a box cushion and pillows for their new window seat.



The window seat cushion needed to be custom as it was quite long (91″ on one side) and trapezoidal. If you’re in the Austin area, I highly recommend Capitol City Upholstery Supply – I’ve ordered from them a few times and they always do a great job measuring precisely, and I haven’t found better prices for the quality. Their medium-dense foam is perfect for a box cushion like this.


Window Seat Cushion

Sewing a trapezoidal box cushion while trying to match stripes turned out to be a lot trickier than I expected. I had to recut the side panels because I’d forgotten to account for my hem allowance with the angles. I’m no math wiz, but I can’t remember the last time I forgot to add a hem allowance in my cuts. My brain was just not computing a 3D trapezoid right the first time around. But the second time around was the charm and the seams lined up very respectably.

The customer also asked for low, long pillows to line the edges of the window seat. I love making pillows, I think because I love closing them. A ladder stitch just looks like magic – a few stitches, then you pull it closed, and presto! the seam is gone.


Magic pillows

More client projects to come!