Home Sweet Home Show

In January, hubby Steve and I engaged in what I imagine is, for many, a newlywed rite of passage: we went to our first home show.

I’d seen the big winter home show advertised most every year since moving to Virginia, and once or twice I’d tinkered with the idea of going. I subscribe to several home decorating magazines, and I’m a sucker for HGTV (though I liked it better when it was more renovation, less real estate—already bought the house, thanks). But back then I rented my little purple cottage. I’d painted several rooms when I’d first moved in, but I wasn’t responsible (thankfully) for the likes of upgrading the bathroom fixtures, replacing leaky windows, or waterproofing the basement. My landlord made those decisions, and (thankfully, again) footed the bills. Given that, I wasn’t sure what a home show had to offer me.

brickhouseWhen Steve and I got married—a few months before, in fact—we became joint homeowners. We love our grand old house, vintage 1924, but she is in need of a little love. There are crumbly spots in the basement floor, mysterious puddles that appear after heavy rains. The downstairs bathroom (which I’m fairly certain used to be a fireplace, butler’s pantry, or some combination of both) was clearly fitted in the ‘50s, when someone thought colorful tubs and toilets were a good idea. I’m grateful the fixtures aren’t harvest gold or hospital green, but there’s definite room for improvement. We have some serious landscaping to do once the weather allows it, and the painting—oh my. I’m grateful the previous owners chose to neutralize every room with what’s at least a livable shortbread-yellow, but the sameness is going to kill my soul if we don’t get some richer color on at least a few walls soon.

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The show is held in a large arena-type hall in the local civic center. A craft show I love is held in the same space every October, so I’m familiar with its cavernous contours. Still, upon entrance, it’s a bit overwhelming. The first booth we stop at turns out to be marketing a home-use electrical stimulation unit that looks remarkably like an early-version iPod. It’s easy to use and the pulses feel wonderful on my always tight-neck. But I can’t quite relax. Why, exactly, is an individual stress-reducing device for sale at the home show? Homeownership is the American dream. I mean, okay, we’re still unpacking boxes after six months in residence, but just how high do they expect my stress levels to rise?

lavenderI pass up the TENS unit, tempting as it is, but I do succumb, later, to a lavender-infused satin eye-pillow that can be heated in the microwave or cooled in the freezer, sold by a booth whose aromatic inventory makes me want to lie down on the floor and imagine I’m napping in the English countryside. While most of the show offerings are geared toward home maintenance and large-scale renovation, there are some smaller-scale, homey home goods I hadn’t expected: fragrant handmade soaps, rich Vermont maple syrup, even local wines for tasting. We peruse the plant offerings at several nursery displays, chat with a couple of bath renovation businesses that promise to bring our turquoise mid-century tub into the twenty-first. We pick up cards from basement gurus and contemplate replacing our pillows with ergonomic bamboo versions that come with their own carrying cases.

And then we buy a mattress.

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In our defense, we’d been on our feet, standing and walking on cement, for several hours by the time we got to the Tempur-Pedic mattress display. I’d hazard those sneaky salesfolk put the booth at the back of the hall for that very reason. Buying a new mattress wasn’t exactly an impulse decision; we were in the market, though we hadn’t anticipated making the purchase that day. I’d chalk the fact of our taking the leap up to a good deal combined with a genuinely helpful salesman, but no discount or friendly disposition could match the persuasiveness of the decade-old mattress we both awakened on each morning with stiff backs and achy joints.

A big purchase hadn’t been part of the plan; we’d gone with the goal of gathering information and amassing a file of possible vendors. But there we were, engaging in a second newlywed rite of passage: our first major joint furniture purchase.

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relaxAll in all, the home show was a success. After we saw the fellow there who did our built-in closet, he finally ordered the extra shelf we’d been asking for so we could put the final touches on organizing. We watched a great demonstration by “The Wall Wizard” Brian Santos, whose book of tips will make all the painting we need to do go much more smoothly. We found an electrician to replace some faulty outlets, and a plumber who located the gas line to our fireplace, which has since provided several cozy evenings in the parlor. And our new mattress is AHHHmazing.

Five months married, I still wake up some days surprised to find, when I roll over, that someone else is there beside me. (This is definitively aided by the Tempur-Pedic—those commercials that show a wine glass remaining upright on one side while someone sits on the other don’t lie.) This big old house is a work in progress and will be for a while, so I welcome the odd reminder I’m not in it alone. On those days I reach my hand across the bed to grasp Steve’s, resting in the quiet joy that we’ll make this house a home, together.




DIY Decor: Fabric Flowers

My mother and I are working away on the pillows for the venue benches, and I was thrilled when we recently discovered Clover’s Kanzashi Flower Maker tools for crafting fabric flowers. We found our templates at Tuesday Morning, but my mom has also seen them at her local quilt shop. They’re really easy to use: if you can count and manage a basic needle and thread, you can create beautiful fabric flowers!

There are a variety of different kinds of flowers, and most of the templates come in sizes ranging from extra-small to large. The flowers featured here were made with the small and large “Round Petal” templates, the large “Daisy” template, and the small and large “Gathered Petal” template.

kanzashi flowers 1

Clover’s Kanzashi Flower templates

Each template comes with detailed, illustrated, and easy to follow instructions, so I’ll just note the basic process and highlight a few tips based on my work with the templates so far.

For all of the templates, the process is the same: cut your fabric into small squares (one per petal), fold the fabric into the template, then stitch the petal following the numbered template guide. The photos show a large “Gathered Petal” flower in process in a sheer white voile.

After removing the template,  pull the thread to create the petal and shape it, and then repeat with the next square of fabric. The softer the fabric, the more organic the shape.

The number of petals needed to complete a flower varies with the type of flower and template. Once you’ve completed all the petals, stitch the last petal to the first. The center will typically need to be stitched close or be covered with a button or another embellishment. Flowers of different sizes can be layered as well.

Embeliished with a bead!

Embellished with a bead!

I’ve also made a large “Daisy” in bright orange taffeta, and large and small “Round Petal” flowers in a pale aqua cotton with large white polka dots.

A few tips:

  • The back of the flower is often as pretty (or prettier) than the designated front. This was true of the orange taffeta Daisy!
  • The dimensions for the fabric squares included in the instructions are, I’ve found, always larger than needed, which results in waste. Cut one square and see how it works for you. I shaved a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch off in most cases.
  • Softer fabrics result in more organic-looking flowers, but those with a little more body are easier to shape (and hold the shape better).
  • Scissors with narrow blades like those shown above make it easier to trim close to the template.
  • Sew on pin backs to the flowers to make them easy to remove for laundering, or to re-purpose.

I’m using the flowers to embellish pillows, but they could also adorn a bag,  hat, or belt, or be worn as a brooch.


You might also like to see DIY Decor: Pieced Pillow Covers for info on how we’re designing and piecing our pillows, or DIY Decor: Pillows in Progress, or Making  a Beautiful Mess for more thoughts on crafting and love.



DIY Decor: Pieced Pillow Covers

Pillows may seem like an unusual form of wedding decor, but our venue has a number of long, plain wooden benches.  Adding groupings of pillows will, I hope, create some pops of color as well as soften up the modern lines of the venue’s interior space. Plus, my mother Margaret is a quilter extraordinaire, and I love sewing and fabric arts. Designing and making pillows is a great way for us to collaborate across the miles and share in the fun of the wedding-as-creative-canvas. I also plan to re-purpose some of the pillow covers for home decor after the wedding—another good reason to choose wedding colors reflective of those I love and live with every day. To save money as well as storage space, we’re creating slip-on pillow covers that fit pillows we already own (my blessed mother measured every throw pillow in her house). Each pillow cover we create for the wedding will be one-of-a-kind.

For the pillows featured here, Mom purchased a suite of fabrics online and supplemented from her stash. Most of the fabrics are from the Happiness, Blossoming, and Journeys collections by Kathy Davis for Free Spirit fabrics. I drew the (very rough) sketch to illustrate what I envisioned, a pillow featuring multiple fabrics in stripes of uneven widths. Using my sketch and the fabrics she’d selected, Mom created the beautiful pillow in the rocking chair shown in the large photo, above. The orange fabric, from the Happiness collection, is called “Sweet Words” and features words like “happiness,” “joy,” and “beauty.” Perfect for a wedding celebration!

Our Process

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DIY Decor: Tabletoppers

I’ve taken to calling the look or design of our wedding, as I envision it, “Vintage Whimsical.”  Steve said I’m probably the only person on the planet who knows what I mean by that, and I suspect he’s right. 🙂 The centerpiece idea here may offer one illustration.

My creativity tends to be object-inspired: when I see a fabric or dish or some other design element that appeals to me, I start putting it together in my mind with other colors and objects. So, once I found the aqua bottles and the fabric–a wonderful combination of bright, modern colors with a lacy, romantic design–the tabletop decorations pretty much composed themselves. Though they may undergo some tweaks in the coming months, the photos capture the initial idea.

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Color Me _______

A week after my bookstore visit, I had chosen my wedding colors.

In my defense, my headlong plunge into planning wasn’t entirely a result of my inability to resist the wedding industry’s wooing—though it’s a persistent suitor. When you’re a bride-to-be, the special offers start coming your way, and fast: coupons and websites and bride bags, sweepstakes open only to the betrothed. The steady stream of messages proclaiming your special status is seductive, but the truth is that the most special thing about you in the eyes of the industry is that you and your family are preparing to drop some dough. All those folks fawning over your bride-ness are hoping that (a) it’s a lot of dough, and (b) you’ll send it their way.

It’s sometimes irritated me, actually, that we féte brides and grooms with such fervor, while we all but ignore many milestone accomplishments that result from flat-out hard work. The happy couple, after all, has already won the lottery of luck and timing, so why do they get the cake too—not to mention the complimentary tasting? Follow the money, though, and there’s no market for grandly celebrating something like, say, earning an advanced degree. Most grad students live on the edge of poverty, and mass graduation ceremonies—usually long and boring and involving uncomfortable chairs—are a much harder sell than a garden party with free booze and a DJ.

But I digress. 🙂

I was excited about our engagement, of course, and in love, and all those long-tamped down and tossed aside dreams from my girlhood rapidly re-surfaced. That’s the state in which the wedding industry can have you at hello, the danger zone wherein they can talk you into moneymakers masquerading as must-have traditions, whip you into a frenzy of wants disguised as needs. Caution is well advised.

For me, though, the industry, with all its wiles, wasn’t the greatest source of temptation.  Continue reading