Saturday, June 27, 2015

Project Update: Late Night Edition

Late night. Waiting on some Unisom to kick in, so I figured it’s maybe a good (or maybe a bad) time to update the blog. My contacts are out for the night and my not-sleeping led me to sneak out my bedroom sans-glasses so as to not disturb the sleeping hubs, so, to see what I am writing, I am hunching over with terrible posture that will no doubt make me pay tomorrow. I am willing to risk it. The best time to write is when you have time.

I have been busy lately! Lots of pool repair, working on making a custom swimsuit pattern for my own self (with foam bra cups and underwires!), and trying to make the most of this lovely summer. It is going well!


The pool repair/maintenance is going well, but unfortunately still going. Before we really opened up the pool and raised the water level, I replaced a bunch of fallen tiles and repaired some crumbly concrete coping. After that, we raised the water level and proceeded to make a pool chemical conversion from Baquacil to chlorine. That took a while to complete, but it worked beautifully and now we are in much better control of our pool water chemistry. Without the pool store! Liberating, and budget friendly. My husband really did a great job on that. Next I ripped up all the cracking, shredding, and missing caulk around the pool and replaced it. None of that was rocket science, but neither was it really any fun. It was, however, necessary… and majorly moneysaving as a DIY. I still have to repaint restain the pool coping and pool deck. I have the paint stain, I have the non-slip additive… if only it would stop raining for long enough to get it down! One of these weeks!


Here’s the chemical conversion… nasty “baquagoo” formed for several days, we scooped what looked like Jabba the Hut out of our skimmer, and eventually it cleared up to a marvelously clear state and has remained so ever since.



I made a swimsuit.

She says casually like everyone can do it. It fits. It’s totally imperfect in every way in terms of construction and design, but I flippin’ sewed a swimsuit that I might even wear outside. It’s damn comfy too. This was my wearable muslin for a balconette-type suit, so it has chocolate brown lining and nude underwire casing. Yeah, and I don’t care. It has foam cups and well fitting underwires and doesn’t create a wardrobe malfunction when I lean over. I feel like the bomb even though I am not presently showing you modeled pics of this little suit. Sometimes the satisfaction of learning new skills is enough. I may get there, but it takes more than a little courage, a sunny day, and a friendly unicorn to come help take pictures for me to do that. So we’ll see. Don’t hold your breath. One of my new years goals of 2015 was to get out of my comfort zone with sewing , and this fits the bill. Done. Check. Now I want to make another! And some lingerie! Which I also won’t model for you! Exciting!? I thought not. ((hopefully pics to be added during daylight hours!).


School’s out, and we’ve been having fun. Swimming, badminton, tennis, baseball, berry picking (strawberry, juneberry, and now wild black raspberry), jamming (strawberry rhubarb), library summer reading program, and spending as much time as possible in the company of as many of our favorite people as we can. I don’t know if I’d say the living is easy, per se, but it sure beats a Michigan winter, and handily :) We are making some wonderful memories and trying to live each day intentionally, if not blogging much. And that’s okay. DSC_7924DSC_7935DSC_1248

Monday, June 1, 2015

Chicken Pad Thai, shortcut version

I love me some delicious pad thai. Mmm, mmm, mmm. Shrimp, chicken... it doesn't much matter. Until this past year, I had never thought about making it at home. But my kitchadventurous sister-in-law introduced me to homemade pad thai and my life will never be the same! Thanks, L!

I normally use a great recipe from Cook's Illustrated (which I highly recommend!), but there is a time and place for a shortcut. That time and place was Sunday... I was stuck at the grocery store getting bread for sandwiches this last week of school, a birthday gift for my big boy, and a couple last minute ingredients for the planned pad thai on our dinner menu. But the afternoon disappeared and as I was running down the international foods aisle closing in on meal time, I saw pre-made pad thai sauce, by Thai Kitchen. It was on sale. I grabbed two jars and prayed it would be good.

Turns out, sometimes desperation pays off. The finished chicken pad thai was delicious and came together fast enough to keep the family from starving. Always a good thing. The recipe here is a hybrid from the Cooks Illustrated and the one on the Thai Kitchen pad thai sauce jar. Like all pad thai, unless done wrong, it is gluten-free and dairy-free.

Shortcut Chicken Pad Thai

Makes about 4-6 servings

14 oz package rice noodles
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
4 lightly beaten eggs
2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 jar Thai Kitchen Pad Thai Sauce
1 bunch (8-ish) thinly sliced green onions
2-3 cup bean sprouts
1 can tiny shrimp
1/2 cup coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts (optional)
Fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
Lime wedges (optional)
Bring 6 cups water to boil in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add rice noodles; let stand 8 to 10 minutes or until noodles are soft but firm. Rinse under cold water; drain well. Set aside. Heat half the oil in large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add eggs; scramble until set. Remove from skillet. Add remaining oil to skillet. Add chicken; stir fry until cooked through. Add rice noodles, Pad Thai sauce and green onions; stir fry 3 to 4 minutes or noodles are tender. Stir in bean sprouts, tiny shrimp, and scrambled egg. Place noodle mixture on serving platter. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with cilantro sprigs and lime wedges. 
This recipe is equally good as leftovers (plan ahead and sprinkle the peanuts on each portion, because those will get soggy in the fridge). These pictures are of my lunch the next day, when no one was too hungry to wait for fiddly pictures :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

How to “Reupholster” Patio Sling Chairs

Have you ever written an email, or a paper, and then {{POOF}}… something happens and it is completely gone with no hope of recovery? And you have to do it all over from scratch? That was this post. The something that happened was actually someone… my 4 year old. Note to self: Next time, SAVE YOUR WORK. Sheesh. So, take two…

Durn!!! Take 3! Apparently Google has stopped working with Windows Live Writer for Blogger! Yesterday! Arghhhhhh!!!

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This post is about turning trash into treasure with sewing skillz and a will of iron (or something like that). On a recent weekend, I picked up a set of 4 high quality welded metal swivel rocker patio chairs… some aging gracefully, and others not so much. Photo bomb credit to our breathtaking garage floor… saving THAT project for another time. I carefully inspected them pre-purchase to make sure there would be no rocket science involved. With minor haggling (I couldn’t help myself!), I got all 4 for $15.


I then read up on how to replace pre-made slings with a handy tutorial from This Old House, and ordered 3 yards of sling seat fabric at FabricGuru (here is the exact fabric I bought; it was inexpensive compared to other sites and came in 3 days!). I bumped into another tutorial for replacing sling seats, but regular outdoor fabric was used. It was pretty but DON’T USE ANY OLD OUTDOOR FABRIC FOR SEATING!!! It will not be able to hand the stress of supporting hundreds of pounds, and will shortly look saggy and not be supportive or comfortable. The proper fabric for this project is called “sling for seating”… it will not stretch or sag over time, even in the sun and weather. PSA for the day!


Custom replacement slings for chairs like this would cost at least $65 per chair, so I knew this was going to be a DIY from the start.  I reused the original splines (the vinyl rods that secure the fabric in the rails) and saved myself about $20. I did not order a special “spreader” tool that replacement sling sites will sell you for ~$50, and spent an extra hour wrestling the tight fabric into place instead.

One chair has a little peeling paint and a missing spreader bar (perhaps the result of someone else’s failed attempt to fix it?), but the 3 others were in perfect condition aside from the old fabric parts. I considered painting them all before replacing the slings, but I decided that was not necessary right now (read: I’m too lazy). The missing spreader bar made the install of the new sling more challenging, but it is no less sturdy because of it. Other sling chairs that would use a form of this process include these styles:


To start the process of sewing new custom slings, I measured the frame of the chairs and drew up a “finished measurement” sketch. I measured from side to side and top to bottom of both the seat and the back, from the centerline of the rails (basically, the visible portion). I then removed the fabric from one chair and examined the construction to plan for proper rod pockets and hems. I drew up my pattern pieces using a squaring ruler and a French curve.


I fully re-did one chair in order to perfect the pattern before cutting and sewing the other 3 at once. I ultimately needed to rip out one rod pocket from the seat and remove 1/2 of fabric width to get the seat tight enough. You want it tight. Spoiler alter: if you are testing and the spreader bar goes in with no challenge, it’s not tight enough :) I also learned that you should reduce the bulk in your seams as much as possible with such thick fabric, or it will be much more difficult to run it through the rails.

I used wonder clips (affiliate link) instead of pins for working with this thick but loosely woven material. A seam gauge was crucial, and a magnetic seam guide on the sewing machine plate really helped too. I used painter’s tape to mark the wrong side of the fabric (a trick learned from Threads magazine! also good for delicate, snaggable or hard-to-pin fabrics). I notched out a 1/2” by 2” rectangle at the corners to reduce bulk (the 2” edge was along the hem sides and the 1/2” edge along the spline pocket sides). I stitched all the hem sides of both the backs and seats (two lines of stitching per edge, for strength) before moving on to all the pockets. The curved pocket on the top of the back piece was done just the same, only easing in the excess fabric, or folding as necessary.


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Once the pieces are all sewn up, I disassembled one chair at a time. I put down a dropcloth since the chairs were dirty and I wasn’t planning to clean them (ain’t nobody got time for that!). Here’s the level of mess you can expect:


The tools I used included a screwdriver, a hammer, a pry bar, needle nose pliers, a ratcheting wrench with an extension, a clamp (two would have been better), and a boxcutter.


I replaced the seat first. I laid the chair on its side, removed the 2 bolts holding the lower rail to the frame, and used my foot to stretch the fabric and remove the spreader bar (shown here, out of order, going back in the same way).


Then I removed the end caps carefully (they were not in great shape), pulled the old sling out of the rails, pulled the splines out of the old sling, replaced the splines in the new seat sling, and then replaced the new seat sling in the rails.


Then I put the spreader bar back between the rails (put the lower end in the unattached rail, push down with bodyweight, and wrangle the top end into the hole in the top rail). The clamp was handy for stretching the tight new seat sling in order to get the bolts back in. Replace the end caps, stand the chair up, and test it out!


Now moving on to the back… carefully pry off the metal cover in the lower back, remove the bolts on the lower rail, remove the rail, and pull out the spline.


I found it necessary to use a box cutter to cut the stiff old fabric in order to remove the curved top spline. after getting it out to reuse it, I just pulled the old back sling out.


I then put the bottom back spline in the new back sling, pushed the curved top of the new back sling into the curved top (pliers!), and then pushed the top back spline into place (easier than I thought it would be). I then put the back bottom rail back on, reattached it with the bolts, and slapped the metal cover back on.


DONE*!! Take that puppy outside and enjoy :)

Here is the project breakdown:

$15.00 for 4 garage sale chairs

$32.00 for 3 yards of sling fabric for seating from FabricGuru, shipped

Total cost: $47.00

That’s $11.75 per chair! And the satisfaction of having accomplished this project entirely myself. Non-scale victory!


*Don’t forget about the other 3 chairs. This 4-chair project stretched over about 10 days for me after the material arrived, but we were out of town for 4 of those and also working on other projects every day we were home. Definitely something that could have been powered through faster if the circumstances had been different. Now, did somebody say margaritas?