Friday, October 28, 2016

Look at my chest!

There's this great little shop on our west side that sells building materials and fixtures pulled from old construction. If you want old kitchen cabinets to put in your garage for storage, if you're looking for a mid-century formica table, or if you need a moth-eaten, horsehair stuffed velvet Victorian fainting couch, there's a  good chance you'll find it there.

Guess who loves going there.

I'll give you three guesses.

Me, me, and ME.

It's where we found that terrific chandelier that we're so pleased about. We got our bathroom floor tile there. I got a complete socket wrench set for a dollar! And they always have some crazy thing that makes you tilt your head on one side and wonder where it came from, and where it'll end up -- like the twenty foot long marble bar from a hotel built in the 1890s. That thing was gorgeous. There was a note saying that a skunk had built a den in one of the cupboards at one time, which would explain the lingering aroma. It was only $500. I did a fair bit of covetous petting and cooing, but simply put, there's no place in our house that it would have fit, and of course we have no use for such a thing. It was pretty, though.

I've been poking around there, hoping a piano stool will show up that I can use with my treadle. No luck so far, but last week we did find something. And it was marked down a lot, which was a big treat.

We got a pretty waterfall-front cedar chest from the 1930s for only $25. Originally it was priced at $125, so we felt like we got a good deal.

Doesn't look like much, does it? But it's the perfect thing to put at the foot of our bed to hold spare sheets and blankets. Right now we're using a small wooden entryway bench that used to be our son's toybox. This is a nice upgrade. And it'll be even nicer once I've refinished it. 

It wasn't until we were loading it into the car and the bottom suddenly slid halfway out that we realized that part is a drawer! You can just see the two holes where a handle used to be. I ran a scrap of leather thong through it as a temporary handle. We were hoping to find a treasure map or envelope of valuable stock certificates taped to the underside, but no such luck. Alas! 

The veneer is pulling up but I'm sure a little wood glue and a warm iron will fix that. 

I was worried there was damage to the top because it was all rough and scratched, but nope, just the finish crackling and flaking off. I did some scrubbing with refinisher and you can see a difference already. Left side cleaned, and right side old and icky. I have very bright lighting in my workshop, so all the warm wood tones are washed out in my pictures, but I hope you can see what I do -- this cheap little secondhand chest is going to clean up very nicely.  

With the holidays coming up, I'm going be busy at work and a lot of my creative time is going to be spent working on super-secret gifts, so there may not be much to see here. I'll try to update as often as I can. Until then...

Stay tuned for more pictures of my chest!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Catch up! Catch up!

A month! It's been a month since I updated! Would it make you feel better if I said it was because I was so busy doing awesome things, and I had pretty pictures to show you? I thought so. Here we go.

First of all, Steamposium. We decided on a hunter/explorer theme for our outfits this year, and I'll admit there wasn't a lot of sewing involved with that; we mostly used clothing elements we already had, and I got two pith helmets at thrift. I made Dave a new cravat, though. I had the perfect scrap of fabric in my stash and he was very pleased with the result.

I needed a proper exploring skirt that would stand up to travel and hard wear, protecting me as I slashed my way through jungle trails and whatnot. Simple cotton duckcloth was the perfect stuff, and I was pleased to remember an old piece that I could rework. The original dress is kind of embarrassing now, but the fabric was spot-on and it's not like I was going to wear the lace-up canvas viking tent anywhere. All it took was cutting off the bodice area and making it the right skirt length. A simple waistband, belt loops, a few buttons (purely decorative) and kerblammers -- adventure skirt ahoy! I thought about putting some deep patch pockets on it, but then I'd load them up with things, and I'd look all lumpy.

I  have pretty jewels!

 Why is there a canary in a cage on my belt? I thought perhaps my traveler had a mistaken notion that birds could sense danger. Perhaps she had heard about birds being taken into mines (where they alerted workers of dangerous gas by, well, dying) but had not understood exactly what the birds did or why. I named my feathery companion "Caruso" and occasionally would lift his cage, peer at him closely, then announce "He's good. We're okay."

It would have been quite funny to have him wearing a tiny gas mask and with a sign tucked under his wing saying "You're fine!"

I know you're wondering about the blue wig, right? That... did not turn out well. Like, at all. No matter how many times I rinsed and rinsed, it still insisted on turning my forehead and hands blue when I put it on. I finally scrapped my idea for it and just did my hair in a kind of rolled ponytail tucked thingy. No pictures because it wasn't awesome and I didn't feel right about myself. I mean, I had a good time anyway, but next time I need to give myself more time for Plan B Hair, I guess.

But what had I planned to do with the blue wig? Well. I was thinking it could look sort of ocean-like, wavy and blue, right, and then I'd use a tiny wig I had to make an octopus to put on top like a bun.
Image result for octopus wig

I had the idea in my head, but I wasn't sure if it would work. Then I saw this picture online and was like Yes, I can do that!

So I took my little wig and dyed it fuschia, and a wooden spool seemed about right, with two buttons, to make octopus eyes.

The plan was going along just fine. It might not have looked exactly like the picture, thanks to my nascent hair styling skills, but it would have been all right, I think. But there was no dealing with the blue forehead and hands, not to mention it would probably transfer to my clothing and anything I leaned against (like Dave's shoulder) and oh, my neck and shoulders, too. Here's my start to an octopus, though. I've got his eyes set wrong, like a cat's. Oh well.

He looks kind of flat, compared to the inspiration picture. Well, this is how we create. Not everything works out.

So that was Steamposium and we had a great time and I ate too many gummi peach candies and Dave got invited to pose for a steampunk calendar and they'll be in touch. I was not invited to be in the calendar. I blame this on my lack of hairstyling skills and not having a fancy mustache like Dave does. So I guess I'm okay with that. Lip hair is just more hair to style, argh.

In other news, I finished -- or re-finished, as the case may be-- my treadle machine. The machine head is clean, and the cabinet is clean, with the old finish removed, and a new tung-oil finish rubbed in. She looks a treat! 

I was going to replace the knobs, as two are missing the ring pulls and one doesn't match at all, but then I decided they were part of her history and needed to stay with her. 

Shoot, I just looked at the time and I'm making myself late for work! I'll be back soon to tell you more about what I've been up to. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wigged out!

I spent my girlhood wearing holes in my Toughskins, not learning about hairdos, so I'm at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to making myself look fancy with curls and braids and those fluffy French-sounding hair roll things.

I once had my hair professionally worked into an updo for a wedding. I was more bobby-pin than hair when I left that shop. My simple-looking updo was actually a framework of pins strategically placed and a thick coating of hairspray to hold everything in place.  I dripped hairpins all night and I still managed to pull another 84 out of my hair that night back at the hotel. My hair is straight and fine and by golly, that's how it wants to stay!

But you guys, Steamposium is coming up.

Seattle's big steampunk event, host to just oodles of people who've lost hold of the handbrake on elaborate Victorian-esque fashion, with frills and ribbons and tulle, feathers and sequins and spangles -- outfits carefully constructed for maximum visual impact. And the hairstyles! Heaped up curls and all those other hair words I don't know because I was a tomboy. It's impressive to see!

And I have my day outfit, and it includes a terrific hat (and you will see it in another post so I'm not going to talk about it here except for this once) so I don't have to worry about doing anything dramatic with my hair. Ponytail or bun at the back, hat on, done.

But at night, there's the Masquerade Ball. And I wouldn't usually attend because it's so not my thing, dancing. But I found this great dress (which will be another part of that future post so I'm not gonna tell you more about it, either, except for this one thing) for $15 at thrift, and one thing led to another and suddenly I have to make difficult choices about the top of my head.

Adding to the difficulty are my Personal Standards About Steampunk Outfits:
1. No useless gears and cogs
2. No corsets
3. No goggles
4. No fascinators (those wee little tophats or bits of fluff that end up on women's heads as decoration)

Why? Because everyone has those things. They are ubiquitous and typical and show a tremendous lack of imagination.

But because I shun miniature hats, and I lack basic hairstyle skills, my fine, straight hair runs a tremendous risk of ruining the elegant look of my evening attire.

What's all this leading to?


There were bunches on display at the thrift shop (Halloween is coming) and I suddenly realized I could just buy fancy hair. I could get any length I wanted, any style, any color..!  So I looked at the wigs and quickly realized that they were crap.

Man am I fussy.

But seriously, they were like twenty dollars and sparse -- there was nothing to them! I knew if I got one, I'd be trailing bits of shed plastic hair and it would look wrong and not at all elegant like I want. Alas!

Then in one of the back bins I found an actual wig, a real one, like you'd buy in stylist shop and it was four dollars. And it was pink, but that didn't scare me.

I didn't get a picture beforehand (of course) but this picture I found online is excruciatingly close.
So I bought it and went home to see how it looked.

Well, awful.

Who looks good in pale pink hair? Super pale waifs like the plastic lady in the picture, I guess -- but not me. I looked ... well, let's not linger. It just wasn't a good look on me. Pink, oof. But that's why there's hair dye, my friends! Except a quick internet search assured me that hair dye does not work on wigs (unless they are human hair, which this is not) so I'd have to find another way.

Know what I found? Alcohol ink. Scrapbookers apparently use it for ... something. It comes in brilliant shades, works fast, and stains like the dickens! And I found an online tutorial that showed how you could put it all in a ziploc bag and squish it up.  So that looked nice and tidy and doable, and let's not lie -- fun.

I bought a three pack of colors from Ranger/Adirondack Inks because it's what I could find, and used the one called "Stream" which is a nice ocean-y looking blue (which is important, but you'll find out why later on). I put the whole dang bottle of it (half an ounce!) into a plastic bag with maybe a quarter cup of water, tossed in the pink wing, and got to squishing.

See how none of it is on my hands? See how my utility sink is still marbled grey and white? Yeah. That won't last.

In the tutorial, they advise leaving it for what, five or ten minutes? I let this thing stew for half an hour, squeezing and squashing it every few minutes to make sure everything was getting dye to it.

Results! The whole thing doesn't look terrible, and I don't mind the variations in tone, but I'd like the color overall to be more vivid. So tomorrow I'll go buy another bottle of ink and spray it on, full strength. Then I can style it and add the decoration -- which will be in that upcoming post I keep promising -- and if everything goes according to plan, I'll have a terrific hairdo for the ball!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Julia's Cabinet

The machine has been renamed "Julia" after it's original owner. This is the sort of thing you can do when you have people at the estate sale that can give further provenance when you go back and pester them.

A lot of folks online at various treadle collector sites recommend using Howard's Restor-A-Finish to give an old wood cabinet a boost. The claim is that the stuff is a mild solvent and it softens the finish so it will spread around and fill in cracks, take out water rings, dullness, etc , and maybe on something less damaged, it does that. I got some at the hardware store and gave it a try, but the results were disappointing. Actually, I didn't see any difference at all. I'm sure I'll find a use for it eventually so it's going into my paint stash for now. Then it was back to the shop for some stripper specially made for antique finishes.

Gloves and fine steel wool and scrubbing away over a century of dirty, discolored, cracked and crazed shellac-- this is what I call a good time! I love doing a project where the improvement is so quick and obvious, with a great result.

So, just as a reminder: here's the sewing cabinet top before...

And here it is after stripping.

It's so light!  Along the left edge of the top piece, the veneer has been damaged and chunks are missing, so it looks a kind of rough. I've read that filling it in with Plastic Wood or a similar product works, but I can't believe it would look nice. I'm thinking I'll just sand down the rough patch and leave it at that. At 144 years of age, she's going to have some scars and around here we call that authenticity.  And see in the lower right hand corner there, there's a dotty discolored ring? It won't come up with stripper. I'm not sure what it's from, but all I know is, that's where I'd set a cup of coffee while sewing. Heat damage? Perhaps.

I'm itching to rub some oil into the clean wood, but I'm holding off until I get the whole thing stripped. One thing at a time! Originally, I planned to just do the top and sewing surface, but the results are so dramatically lighter that it would look very strange, so it looks like I'm going forward with the whole piece.

Light top, dark body. See? It would be weird. But I'm excited to see the beauty emerge, so it will be worth the extra work.

Side of one of the drawers. This is what I mean by a "cracked and crazed" finish. Some restorers call this "alligator skin". After years of the wood expanding and contracting in heat and cold and damp conditions, the shellac breaks up. In some places, it flakes off if you rub it. Yeah,  I couldn't leave her like this. 

That carving is beautiful! It's hard to get in all the nooks and crannies to get all the old finish off, so I'm just doing the best I can with a toothbrush and my steel wool and leaving whatever is stubbornly resistant. The shellac comes up, but the darker color stays, and I"m okay with that. It adds dimension, and also 144 years, authenticity, etc. 

Okay, I gotta head to work. Stay tuned in the following weeks to see more of Julia and her cabinet. Then the sewing projects start!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Treadle Machine Magic!

I love a good estate sale, and I'm even happier when it takes place in a house that I've always been curious to see the inside of. Our next door neighbor has been living in her home since the 1930s, and recently she decided to live with her daughter, so they held a huge estate sale and I got to go into the house and snoop around. It was a cute place, and nothing had been updated since forever, unfortunate decorating decisions and all. Coved doorways. Tall baseboards. Flocked wallpaper in pale blue. And the tiniest rooms ever. It was like a little playhouse, but for living in. I wanted to buy it and make it my new fort. As it's right next door, it couldn't be handier, and then all my sewing stuff and horse things would be out of Dave's way. I told Dave we should buy it and join the two houses with a breezeway, but he said no. So much for my architectural plans. Alas! 

But there was one thing I wanted for my own, so I did a little bargaining and came away with this little beauty. I call her Julia after her original owner. Julia is a New Home treadle sewing machine, and according to her serial number plate, she was built in 1882. She's seen some serious use, but she has been reasonably maintained and still runs very nicely. 

She needs a serious clean. There is a grimy layer of oil, dust, and dirt on her that has built up over the years. Some things get dirty from being handled and used, and some get dirty from sitting and attracting dust. Julia has both in spades. Today is her spa day.

I've removed her from her cabinet. She's resting on an old bathroom rug with a shower curtain over it to catch drips. I'm using a cleaner that gently melts away grime and oil but won't harm the decal decorations or finish. What is this amazing substance? Gojo. It's a hand cleaner used by mechanics, but after seeing how well it works here, I'm going to be using it a lot more on parts and stuff. (If you buy some, be sure you get the kind without pumice.)  EDIT: I've since learned that Gojo sometimes will damage the gold parts of the decals, leaving them silver-ish. A better cleaning recommendation is to use sewing machine oil to soften and lift grime. It won't damage anything.)

So here are Julia's before pictures.

I thought the floral scrollwork had mostly worn off, and that's why it was only dimly visible. 

I applied the Gojo with a one-inch paintbrush and let it sit for about twenty minutes. The stuff starts out as kind of a wobbly, custard-like cream but after it's applied, it melts like butter. In the areas where the grime was thickest, it would turn brown and puddle up. I'd wipe the goo away with a towel and reapply fresh Gojo. If a spot was particularly grungy, I'd gently scrub at it with a soft toothbrush. Here's Julia all gooped up with Gojo.

Turns out the decal decorations weren't that worn at all (except in the stitching area, where they'd seen the most wear during sewing), and the Gojo melted away the grim to reveal beautiful colors and swirls I had no idea were there! 

Look at her! Isn't she pretty? In some spots, especially near the little holes where you oil the works, there was a darker patina, and I decided to leave that rather than try to scrub it away with anything stronger and possibly damage the decals. After all, we can't expect her to look brand new at 144 years old. 

Now that the machine itself is all clean, I'll re-oil it and set it aside while I work on the cabinet. That's going to be another post, so you can look forward to that, but here's a picture of what we're starting off with. Yup, it's pretty rough. But I'm hoping there's going to be a dandy "after" picture when I'm done!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Buckaroo Stuff

My riding has taken a classic turn lately. I am working to train my horse (with the help of a very experienced teacher) to be a finished bridle horse. This takes careful handling, lots of work, a good amount of time, and also rekindles long-ago ten-year-old me's fantasies of becoming a cowboy.

And if you're going to take the ride, you gotta have the look, right?

First stop, the shirt. I got a pattern on sale a while back, and I was delighted to find it in my stash. Buckaroo Bobbins, by Simplicity, with a pattern for a shirt, vest, and coat. Don't care about the coat, but the shirt and vest were just what I wanted. Plus I'd found three yards of natural-tone shirt weight linen at the thrift shop for three bucks that would be perfect to make it.

It's an easy pattern: front, back, two sleeves, cuffs, yoke, and collar. I hand stitched it, of course, so it took a few nights with the buttonholes being a cussing struggle as always. I really should practice those more often so I get good at them. As it is, I'm glad they're mostly hidden by the buttons. Hand sewing a project when the instructions are written for machine sewing is always a bit of a trick. The plan for attaching the neck and collar was very convoluted. I was able to do it, but the whole time I was thinking how I'd do it differently next time and it would be much easier.  I got a small jar of buttons at thrift for two bucks that was a real bargain because they were old and made from natural shell, not plastic. So my shirt has beautiful carved shell buttons that have that warm pearly glow.

The collar points are a little damp because I had made some sewing marks there that had to be dabbed away. I've got some red-brown wool that's going to be the vest, but I haven't started that yet.

While digging through the patterns, I found one for gloves and thought I'd give that a shot. I had some scraps of pigskin I could use, so I cut out the pieces and set to work with a special leather gloving needle and some sinew. I used a fancy stitch to make it especially cool, and while it turned out, it was so much work that I decided I'd not make the other one. I may try again sometimes with a thinner leather to make a dress glove instead of a heavy work one, but dang, that's just a lot of hard pushing with the needle, and store-bought gloves are not that expensive.

I bought some new spurs for myself and decided that some fancy straps were in order. I chose a style called "dovewing" that looked attractive, and designed a stamping pattern similar to a pair of straps made in Miles City back in the 1800s. Here's my trial one after being cut and stamped, but not dyed yet. The size was fine, but after trying it on, I decided I didn't like the shape as much as I thought I would.

So I made some more traditional buckle straps that were narrower, and still managed to incorporate the flower design in the center. Here they are, all done. I wore them riding that night and felt pretty sharp.

So you can see I'm still busy as ever, making stuff. I'm just not so likely to be at the computer writing about it! And now I gotta head to work, and there's two horses waiting for me to ride them tonight, so I'll see y'all later. Happy Trails!

Monday, July 4, 2016

I promise I'm not dead.

I know, I know -- it's been a while. Things have been busy and all the usual excuses. But I am still making stuff, honest, and when I come back from vacation next week, I'll make time to write a post to update y'all on my recent activities. Til then, a little peek at some leatherworking stuff I've done in the last week or so:

A simple cuff bracelet for a small gift exchange...

And an experiment in braiding around a core with eight strands-- a new skill which isn't as difficult as I thought it would be!

When I come back, I'm sure to have lots to show you, and we can celebrate five years of "Wenny Makes It!"

See you after vacation!