Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blame It on the Lamps

For the past twenty years or so, whenever I read decorating magazines, I gaze at rooms and wonder: what would I change here?  And almost always, the answer is: the lamps.  Or possibly the lamp shades.  They tend to jar the room out of perfection.  Such was the case in this corner of our living room.  In fact, I liked the old lamp shade, which was cloth wrapped and tied around the frame.  But it kept going catty-wumpus on the lamp, so it was time for a change.

When we first built our house, I prowled the nearby towns to fill our rooms.  I found this lamp at The Round Barn in Andover.  It was $12, it needed some repair, and it was brownish-rust.  I am not a fan of the color rust (except for actual rust on metal, which I love), so I promptly painted it.

Then I brought it to Mr. Lehn in Anoka.  He operated a light store on Main Street, and he scared me half to death.  He himself was more than halfway to death.  For five years running, he announced his age whenever I encountered him.  First he was ninety-six.  The next time, a few months later, he was ninety-eight.  Eventually he became a spry ninety-four-year-old.  He rode his bike to work every day.

He inspected my lamp.  He glared at me.  "Somebody has painted this lamp."

"Yes,"  I gulped.

"This is a Rembrandt.  It's a valuable lamp.  Hummmppphhh."

He deigned to fix the lamp.  When I returned to pick it up, it was perfect.  But somehow, in the course of our conversation, it appeared that Mr. Lehn was not.  I don't know if I mentioned that my Great-Grandpa Herbold had a ministry to the railroad workers, or that my grandparents had met in the local Baptist church.  Somehow the conversation kind of skirted religion.  He announced, "God can't forgive me."  And he shook his head emphatically.

I was ill-equipped to argue against a deaf sinner.  But the comment gave me pause.  I realized that I myself could, and probably would, be sinning right on into my last decade.  Right on into my last day, in fact.  It was a humbling thought, and I am thankful to Mr. Lehn for the insight. But I wish I could have convinced him that God could forgive anything. I plan on living as a forgiven sinner, all my days.   

And here is the lamp which Mr. Lehn repaired.  I expect to have it, along with the grace by which I'm saved, right up to the end.
I've made many things for my home using a vintage poetry textbook.  In doing so, all my favorite poems are torn out of that book.  So for this project, I used poems from a book published in 1965.  Lit. majors will recognize George Herbert's "Easter Wings" in the center of the lampshade. 

First, I removed the old pleated fabric from the plastic base of the shade.  I recommend everybody in the world get rid of fake-silk pleated lampshades.  Their time is done.  And they always look a bit grimy.

Using Mod Podge (thinned with some water), I applied my favorite poems first, centering each one on the shade.  Then I filled in with narrow strips from the book, mostly from the edges and borders so the poems wouldn't have too much competition for text.  I also used a few short poems for filler. I coated the finished shade with an even application of Mod Podge.

The glow from the shade is soft and mellow, and even though the poems are a little hard to read when the lamp is lit, I know they are near.  So much simpler than hunting for a book.

Easter Wings
by George Herbert (1593-1633)

Lord, who created man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more
Till he became
Most poor.
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did begin:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became 
Most thin.
With thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victory:
For, if I imp* my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
(This is an example of "concrete poetry," which depends on the look or shape of the poem for form. This poem takes the shape of larks' wings).
*Imp: a falconer's term.  A wing graft, by which an injured wing is repaired by grafting (imping) a feather onto the wing.    

Update 2014: The mantel decorations are entirely changed, and we are in the process of painting the hickory (which turned orange), white. Once it's all done, I'll write a design post about it. I would have just slapped some paint on the wood and called it done, but my professional carpenter husband insists on painting it the proper way. This apparently takes about six months.      
I still love that little Rembrandt lamp. It's fun to twirl the shade and read new poems.   

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Make a Simple Purse (using old army coveralls)

A beginning or intermediate sewer can make this bag in about two hours.  The most difficult part is sewing over the several thicknesses of fabric.  Some parts will need to be stitched by hand if they are too thick for the machine. 

Step 1:  Cut the bottom 8 inches (or however deep you want your bag to be) off a pair of army coveralls.  Jeans would work as well, but wide-leg jeans are much better so the bag is easier to turn when sewing.

The size of your bag will be determined by the width of the pants.  This bag will be about 7 inches wide.  You can make it as deep as you like, but it's simpler to add decorative elements if the bag is somewhat shallow.  This one is cut at about 7 1/2 inches, so the finished depth is about 7 inches.  It is easy to cut evenly if you have a rotary cutter.
Step 2: You will not have to seam the sides of the bag; they are already done as part of the pants. The top edge of the bag is the hem of the pants, so that is done as well. 
Turn the bag inside out and seam the bottom edge of the bag together (the part you had cut).  I use a half-inch seam.  Reinforce with zigzag stitch, since the bag is not lined.  Turn back to right-side out.  The bag will now look like the above photo.
Step 3: If you are adding decorative fabric, cut it to the size you want.  I used old dresser pieces that had holes in them (99 cents at Salvation Army).
I didn't want to cut away the pretty curved part of the embroidered cloth, so I wrapped it to the back of the bag.

Step 4: Pin the decorative cloth to the bag.  Baste by hand, unless you are confident the fabric will not slip during stitching.
Step 5: Sew the decorative fabric to the right side of the bag.  As you sew, the bag will need to be turned inward so you can reach all parts of the fabric. 

I sewed the edges by hand, since the thick parts of the seams were too much for my machine.

Step 6: To make the strap, cut three one-inch-wide strips of cloth from the leg of the pants.  I like to make the strap as long as possible, so the bag can be cross-body.  (This one is not that long).  Make your braid flat and tight.  It's easiest if someone holds the end for you.  To sew the strap onto the bag: fan out the three parts of the braid so they will be easy to fit under the zipper foot.  Sew onto the outside of the bag (for texture and because it's cuter that way). Back-stitch so the strap is very secure.

Here is the finished bag, looking pretty perky on some weathered driftwood.  Good luck and happy sewing!

(My designs are sold at Les Junc, Zimmerman, MN, open every Saturday from 10 to 4).

Minnesota Family Loses Battle With Kitchen

We have no excuse for this:
Note the packing tape, the piles of paper, the enormous lamp.  It all takes my breath away. And not in a good way. The only thing in this picture that makes me happy is the blue Hubbard squash.  It was the only product of an entire packet of seeds.

This is often the corner where detritus accumulates, because it's sort of hidden by the island ledge.

This counter is a constant battle zone. Bananas are not the prettiest fruit,least of all when a peel is hanging ingloriously over the bowl's edge.  The basket: not good.  Meant for resale, but put to use by my practical, organized husband.  I'm going to re-display this area with all vintage and "Made in USA" items.
Here are my weapons.  I couldn't do without Barkeeper's Friend, and the diluted bleach is great for both counters and floors.  To wash my floors, I spritz a clean rag and swipe the wood floor until all the spots are gone and the edges are dusted.  I do this with my foot, folks.  That's how you roll when you grow up in the jungle.
It took about an hour of scrubbing, de-cluttering, and styling to get this "After" shot. I couldn't take down the Kangan water ionizer on the far side of the sink.  And of course I couldn't instantly install concrete countertops and a white subway tile backsplash. But this cleaned-up kitchen allows me to breathe easy. And in a kitchen where I can breathe, I can pray.
From back to front: Red Wing pottery holding lotion and scrubbers, wire basket full of beautiful apples, old camp stove for our phone chargers. 

Hotel silver tray, vintage shaker with cinnamon sugar, toothpicks, and - surprise! - a llama butter knife among the silver spoons from my European sister-in-law.  Ahhh.  I never appreciated the llama stuff when I could acquire it easily.  Now it's precious.
The coffee station.  Old scales always look right in kitchens.  

Sometimes I feel like I've spent the last 21 years standing in this very kitchen.  It's a wonder the floor by the stove isn't worn down.  This room has been the gathering place for our four kids and their friends, for countless meals and games and chaotic conversations.  It's held more noise than I can usually handle.  It is the room where I learned how to cook, and where I taught my daughters how to bake. It's the definition of home for my sons, who are away at college.
I decided a long time ago that it was okay to need beauty all around me.  God put that desire in me. I think of the Tabernacle, of the symbols and objects made by the best craftsmen.  All to remind the people of the Presence, to glorify the Name. 
And here, in this room, I can be in the Presence.  I can bring glory to His Name.  There is no ordinary space.  All is holy, even a messy kitchen.
"Clutter is something that no longer serves you."(Julie Morgenstern)
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23,24)

Monday, October 10, 2011


be·speak  (b-spk)tr.v. be·spoke (-spk), be·spo·ken (-spkn) or be·spoke, be·speak·ing, be·speaks
1. To be or give a sign of; indicate.
a. To engage, hire, or order in advance.
b. To request: bespeak a favor.
I've been reading this word for years in my decorating magazines, and I wrongly thought it carried a meaning close to "eponymous."  I finally looked it up.   The definition is so clean and precise that I've begun sprinkling it into my conversations.  
And this week, after seeing the army/lace/denim bags on this blog, my sister bespoke a bag.  She is not a lace girl at all, so her bag is all burlap and army fabric and plenty of buttons. In fact, this sparkly pin is about to be switched out for a smooth silver one.
I used a darker burlap, because she is a busy young mom and the bag will get hauled all over.  
This shows the reverse side, with lots of buttons just like she wanted.  (Also in this picture:  my daughter's boots, planted with driftwood to keep them from flopping over).
I finished Anna's bag and I looked around my house, and realized that very few of our possessions are bespoken.  I have some pieces that my husband made for me, and a couple of custom-upholstered soft furnishings.  I have a new necklace made by my friend Gretchen.  And a bear, (my Grandma was famous for churning them out by the hundreds), stitched out of an old family blanket. 
And I realized that the word "bespoke" reminds me, not of high-end custom labor, but of some old familiar lines:
"For you created my inmost being,
   you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully 
   and wonderfully made;
 your works are wonderful,
 I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
 when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths
 of the earth,
 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
 were written in your book
 before one of them came to be.
(Ps. 139:14-16)