Monday, February 6, 2017

Dreaming of Linen Sheets


Ever since I became obsessed with linen, loving its history as well as the look and feel of it, I have wanted linen sheets. However, such luxury bedding is beyond my budget. A single linen sheet can easily cost $200.00. And that's for a single sheet, not a set. So my lust was merely a dream. I was content with my handmade linen pillow cases. Craving possessions is not my thing so I did not wallow in materialistic desire. But, being an avid thrift store maven, the thought occasionally crossed my mind. You just never know...

To really find something fabulous in a thrift shop you have to be either lucky, or a frequent shopper. While pouring over  the contents of a gigantic store filled with used stuff may take too much time, it's not hard to learn how to skim. I rarely shop for a specific item. That only leads to disappointment. Instead, I quickly browse my favorite racks. Moving along a rack of, say, fabric, curtains, or bedding, I can easily spot the sort of thing I prefer. You certainly don't have to pause and look at every item. You can see from the edges if an item is made of a preferred fabric.

I spotted the large hunk of pale taupe linen right away. Of course one can make a mistake. So I grabbed the edge of the duvet cover and hunted out the tag in search of information. Not only was the cover 100% linen, but was manufactured by one of my favorite companies!

My bed is an old fashioned double. The duvet was for a king. Realizing how huge the thing would be, it would hang like a bedspread, it hit me. I decided to purchase the cover and cut it in half using each side as a flat sheet. Now you younger folks may not know but back in the old days, there were no fitted sheets! Beds were made with two flat sheets. The bottom sheet was tucked in under the mattress. I'd make my bed the old fashioned way. And if that didn't work, certainly youtube had a tutorial on how to make a fitted sheet. 

When you think of a deal, you have to look at the time you spend on improving it. For instance, if you buy a chair for $18.00, spend $100.00 on upholstery fabric, and take 20 hours to redo it, you may not really have a bargain. But if you buy something for $9.90 and spend and hour and a half cutting and hemming - now that's what I call a SCORE! 

The linen is stone washed so it's very soft. I often hang my laundered sheets outdoors, but I put these in the dryer with a couple of those dryer balls and the sheets come out wonderful. 

(When buying fabric at a thrift store, make sure to give it a good whirl in the dryer. The heat kills unwanted pests like bedbugs.)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Paint by Number Mid Century Kitch Catches On

The Last Supper was a popular Paint by Numbers kit

 Paint by number kits, once seen as the decor of choice for the congenitally low class has experienced a major resurgence. Between the Smithsonian's 2001 homage and modern craft shop kits, the old PBNs are showing up everywhere, appearing in popular magazines as a decorating choice for lovers of mid-century, country, and vintage decorating styles. 

First developed in 1951 by Max S. Klein for his Palmer Paint Company, the kits were based on a concept of the artist Dan Robberts. After World War II and the standard 40 hour work week, America became suddenly interested in hobbies. People had time on their hands and the leisure industry was created to capitalize on a middle class with more time and money than ever before. 

Despite being ridiculed by the art world, the kits became a hit. Kits included paints, brushes, and pasteboard covered with amoebic shapes whose numbers matched tiny pots of paint. Popular themes included religious motifs, landscapes, animals, rural scenes, and clowns. Some kits were simple featuring bright, primary colors while others offered more detail and muted hues. Vintage examples can be downright hideous, offering a kitchy charm with flat perspectives and lurid colors.Some vintage examples are downright attractive.
PBN Jesus - religious themes were popular

Today, you can buy new kits in craft and hobby shops. Country Living Magazine offers some beautiful kits in their Simple Country Pleasures feature for $35.00.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of actually doing it yourself, you can find vintage Paint by Number paintings on Ebay and etsy. Prices for mid-century pieces run the gamut from $10.00 to hundreds of dollars. I picked up this charming winter scene at a thrift shop for one dollar!

                                     Below is a landscape that I spotted at a thrift shop.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Recover a Victorian Chair

                                                       And My Sanity to Boot


Eastlake style Victorian chair

 My Eastlake style Victorian chair had been looking pretty sad for years. Not only was the circa 1970's fabric grimy, I never did like it. I recall a time when it was covered in a crushed and ancient burgundy velvet. That's when I fell in love with it and it's husband. My grandmother's chair set beside the French windows in her Victorian living room. But the thought of using velvet made me wince. I did this during an August heat wave and the very thought of velvet made me queasy. 

While drawn to larger patterns, I realized that a large print would cost more in yardage. So I limited myself to a smallish print, one that was on sale. The elephant print in my chosen fabric made me smile. It suited the chair as well as the rest of the room. Think British Colonial India. Think PG Tips black tea. Think gin and tonic with a slice of lime. 

The fabric needed to match a long piece of trim that had been on the shelf. Why waste it. That stuff's expensive!

As I pried off the old Laura Ashley style material (just what a 1970s mom would pretend her teen-aged daughter actually wanted for her bedroom) I noticed some nasty scratches. Rooting around in the supply closed, I found a bottle of Old English scratch cover for light wood. I also found a bottle of cheap liquid shoe polish. Blending the black polish with the oil on a piece of very fine steel wool, I rubbed the chair frame using a little elbow grease on those disgusting, glormy oft touched spots. The next day, I went over the wood with a soft cloth. 

I filled all the old tack holes with wood filler. Face it, that chair had been redone several times in its long life. 

Before attaching the fabric, I stuffed batting under the old padding and resewed the padded roll around the bottom of the seat. After all, I wanted the chair to be comfortable as well as attractive. 

After watching several youtube demonstrations, I decided not to use the old fabric as a template. Mistakes can be made. I jut laid the fabric on the chair, lining it up in a pleasing manner. Then I tacked it down first on one side, then the opposite repeating for the front and back leaving 3 inches or so between tacks.

 It's a good idea to keep checking and smoothing as you go. 

After the initial tacking (or stapling if you prefer)  fill in the gaps between the tacks so there is only 1/2 inch or so between fasteners. 

I once made the mistake of hemming fabric before tacking it down on a chair. This made the edges too bulky. Adding the trim with a hot glue gun will prevent fraying. 

I was quite happy with the result. At the time I was recovering from a personal tragedy. Grief can leave you feeling unmoored. But following logical steps toward an obvious conclusion allowed me to focus and gave my life some sense of order and accomplishment. I may still be sad, but at least the chair looks good.

Victorian chair with its new look

Close up of the old chair with its British Colonial look

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mrazck Czecho Peasant Pottery Made in Letovice Not For Sale

 Pottery produced in the early 20th century by the Czecho Peasant Art Company is easily recognizable by  simple, brightly colored designs based on traditional peasant art of Eastern Europe. Joseph Mrazck who emigrated to the United States toward the end of the Great War purchased a DIY ceramics kit from Macy's Department Store in New York City. The kit contained a dish, paint brushes, and paint. Once decorated, you could take the item back to the store to be fired. 

Mrazck Pottery Plate

Joseph experimented with the process, soon producing enough pottery to sell to neighbors and friends. He bought a kiln, quit his job, and opened The Czecho Peasant Art Company. On a visit to Czechoslovakia, he located a site for a factory in the town of Letovice. You can see the name of the town on the back stamp shown below.

Mrazck Pottery Backstamp

Moving his operation to Letovice, Mrazck hired workers and began producing pottery pieces painted with simple designs. The factory operated until 1933. The distinctive pottery is collectible today and easy to find on ebay and other sites. 

The pieces displayed here belonged to my mother. She bought them at a flea market when she was in a I'm-buying-this-item-because-it-was-made-in-a-country-that-no-longer-exits phase. What a fun collection! The trouble is that I have, like many baby boomers, way too much stuff and am really wanting to get rid of some. Some of my inherited dishware is very old and quite beautiful. Say what you want about Mrazck pottery, but beautiful it is not. Or to me anyway. The other thing about my favorite possessions is that most of them have a story as well as belonging to someone that I either loved or am related to. Okay, the pottery has an interesting back story. But when you are trying to cut down on china, what's a girl to do? I packed it in a box of stuff to get rid of. 

The stuff to get rid of box goes to a thrift store after friends and relatives rummage for anything they might like (just as I, sadly, rummage through theirs). One evening, while pouring through a book on dishes with my sister, I spotted an example of Mrazck pottery.  Because it was there in a book with lots of really cool dishware and because I liked the story of Joseph Mrazck, I began to regret tossing his wares off so lightly. I knew that someone at the Goodwill store would snatch up the bowl and plate and make themselves big money on ebay. (Not really that big, I checked the next day, but still). My regret began to annoy and amuse the rest of our little party. 

(Below find another photograph of the pottery for your viewing pleasure.  You can see the pretty yellow inside the bowl.)
Czecho Peasant Art Company Bow
Sometime later, my sister, who lives in a different town, came to visit me, bringing a gift. It was a surprise! I opened the gift bag and there, wrapped in tissue were the Mrazck pottery pieces that I believed gone for good! My sister had rooted them out of a get-rid-of box. We laughed. How wonderful!

So these little dishes will stay with me until I die. Not that I find them particularly attractive, but they have not one but three stories attached to them. And all the stuff, whether old or pretty, it's all about the story. 

Mrazeck's bright colored, simple pottery

(If you have a piece of this pottery with a back stamp that has been painted over with a black bird, then you own an early version of the product when it was still being made in the USA. Those old versions are rare and quite valuable)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Keep Potted Geraniums Through the Winter

Geraniums are a popular and old fashioned container plant, decorating porches and front steps during the summer. They are not expensive, but if you want to be thrifty and save the plant for next year, geraniums can be overwintered in a cool spot. These cheerful plants are not annuals, though we treat them as such, but tender perennials that don't stand up to cold temperatures. The first frost will kill them. 

Native to South Africa, English botantists introduced them to Europe hundreds of years ago. The plant we usually call Geranium are actually Pelargoniums. They thrive in full sun and grow in tidy mounds reaching two feet tall and wide.

Here is a picture of my red geranium when I brought it in last Fall. The flowers look a bit skimpy as I had stopped feeding the plant as the weather cooled. Planning on winter storage, I did not want to encourage new growth by using any kind of fertilizer

Geranium in container

I brought the container indoors when the weather turned cold and a frost was predicted for the evening. Setting it in a sunny window to introduce it to the indoors, I soon decided to move it to a cooler location so the plant would go dormant for the winter. Though some of the following pictures show a pretty sad little plant, the geranium came back beautifully by the following May.

Remove any flowers as well as flower buds. 

Cut back one third.

Set the plant on a basement window sill by an East facing window. The plant does need some light. Temperatures in our basement are quite cool in winter. When heat vents are closed, the temperature feels close to the mid 50's Fahrenheit.

Water sparingly, maybe only once a month at best. 

When Spring returns and evening temperatures rise to the mid fifties, return the geranium outdoors. 

The geranium looked pretty sad and I did not have a lot of confidence in its return. You can see that most of the leaves were brown and shriveled. A few healthy leaves reached toward the light.

Mostly dormant Geranium looks pretty sad.

                                 Cut back all the dead leaves.  Now it doesn't look so bad.

Geranium - cut back dead leaves

 Water thoroughly and place in a sunny location. Begin to lightly feed with your favorite fertilizer. I like to sprinkle some bone meal on the soil to encourage blooms. 

By June, the overwintered geranium had perked up quite nicely, producing leaves and beautiful red blossoms.

Geranium in Full Bloom

 There are other methods of keeping a geranium indoors over the winter months. Some people like to store it bare root. Lift the plant from the container and shake off soil. Trim off flowers and most of the foliage. Enclose in a paper bag and hand upside down in a cool, dark place. Once a month, remove from bag and mist lightly. 

I have not tried this as sometimes my basement feels a bit damp in winter. Dampness can cause the growth of mold or mildew. I have not been successful in storing tender plants bare root. But the method I have suggested worked very well, as you can see!

Though geraniums are not expensive and this will not save you a lot of money, it's nice to keep your old friend over the winter. Of course, if you have several, saving them over the cold months is a thrifty practice.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fun Alternative Christmas Trees

Folded book page Christmas tree

During the holidays, I love to have a few alternative Christmas trees around the house. Of course you can buy a small artificial tree, but it's so much more fun to be creative and make your own. Here is a folded book page Christmas tree that I spotted in a shop last year. The tiered cut pages offer such a nice form that they need no added ornaments.
Folded book page Christmas tree

Last  year, we made several of these fold book page Christmas trees out of old Reader's Digest magazines. The one on the left was made of a book that I found in a garbage can (well, actually on top of someone's recycle can). Since it was so plain, I spray painted it gold and added a gold sprayed, dried flower head on top. Instructions for making this one can be found here.

Stuffed fabric Christmas tree

For the crafter or someone who sews, you know that you always have fabric scraps. Here are some stuffed Christmas trees made out of fabric, lace, and some trim. I love the soft white look. These little trees are such pretty shabby chic and make use of some of those hoarded pieces of fabric piled up in the sewing room. 

Stuffed fabric Christmas tree

Here is another example of a stuffed fabric Christmas tree. This one features some vintage style fabric and tea dyed ornaments. You can make them in several sizes to create a group. Here one is set beside some osage oranges. You can find out how to make these simple trees here.

Record album Christmas tree

What to do with all those old record albums? Use them to create a crazy Christmas tree on the front lawn. While some vinyl aficionados may cringe, I thought that the look was awesome. I saw this one on the front lawn on 36th Street in Hampden in Baltimore, Maryland, a place famous for its beautiful outdoor Christmas decorations.

Tomato Cage Christmas Tree
The little Christmas tree that shines just below the porch is made of a tomato cage. We simply wrapped  the cage with outdoor lights. It looked rather cheesy during the day but at night it added a nice touch.                  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Baltimore's Biggest Salvage Warehouse - 2nd Chance

Second Chance is Baltimore's biggest salvage yard. Located at 1700 Ridgely St, Baltimore, Maryland 21230 near the Raven's Stadium, 2nd Chance is a series of warehouses filled with industrial salvage, antique furniture, used hotel furniture, antique hardware, used restaurant equipment, old appliances, office chairs, patio furniture, salvaged kitchen cabinets, and granite counter top material. 

Vintage Stoves
Look at these beautiful vintage stoves! Here is an old Chambers stove all polished up and ready to go. Many of the gas stoves feature an insert where you can place a pot of soup, an early slow cooker! There are some old electric stoves as well.

Old Tin Ceiling Tiles

2nd Chance is a great place to find flooring and other old building materials including tin ceiling panels. This wall is covered with old tin ceiling squares - isn't it awesome? Several rooms have been set up to display just what you can do with salvaged materials.

Large sections of old flooring have been used to create this unique wall.  The old salvaged wood makes for a very modern look!

Visiting 2nd Chance is like going to a museum of cool stuff. I love to shop there and recently found an old wicker sofa for $10.00! I've bought ceiling tin which I used to create a wall hanging. Several years ago, I found a metal relief of Lenin's head from a building in the old Soviet Union for my husband's collection of the heads of famous men. (I started that collection for him)