Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to test vintage and antique furniture for lead paint

Like anyone who loves a good furniture makeover, most of my DIYs come from thrift stores, estate sales, and other sources that leave me unfamiliar with the piece's history. So I've been making over furniture pieces, including sanding them and using paints and stains that have warning labels about the dangers of lead, but not thinking much about the potential of lead.

The One-of-a-Kind Piece
But that changed on one recent night at work as a radio newscaster. I was scheduled to play a government-produced Public Service Announcement on the dangers of lead paint, especially around small children and babies. I must've played this particular PSA dozens, if not hundreds of times before, but this time I paid attention. I was fresh off the high of one of my favorite purchases ever:

vintage toy box

vintage cowboy toy box

A vintage cowboy-themed toybox with bright paint colors. It was just $12 at a local thrift store and came just as we were re-doing our son's room, and could not be any cuter. But after hearing that PSA, the toy box became a big concern because it's painted (whereas many of my furniture makeovers until now have started out only stained), it clearly came from an era when they might've still been using lead paint, it's chipping in some areas, and most importantly, was destined for my two-year-old's bedroom.

The Lead Paint Ban
Lead paint was only relatively recently banned in the United States, in 1978--the year my husband was born. That date came as a shock to me; my own mom, the daughter of a housepainter, had guessed the ban at at least a decade earlier. And much like asbestos, just because lead paint was banned in a certain year doesn't mean people no longer used it...cans of the  stuff likely hung around in garages and sheds waiting to get used up. That means furniture painted as late as the 1980s could contain lead.

As for why it was banned, I'll let Wikipedia do the talking:
Lead paint is especially hazardous to children under age six, whose developing bodies are susceptible to lead poisoning. It causes nervous system damage, stunted growth, kidney damage, and delayed development. It is particularly dangerous to children because it tastes sweet, encouraging children to put lead chips and toys with lead dust in their mouths. Lead paint is also dangerous to adults and can cause reproductive problems in both men and women.
A myth regarding lead-based paint claims that children must eat lead-paint chips to develop lead poisoning. In actuality, ingestion of lead dust, which can be dislodged from deteriorating paint or can be generated during painting, also occurs when children get lead dust on their hands and then touch their mouths.
Does It or Doesn't It?
I came home from work on that night I heard the PSA and did some Internet searching on vintage furniture with lead paint, and found this awesome and helpful article from Country Living. It's a must read for parents who love vintage and antique furniture, and it's not all bad. While it said lead furniture does not belong in home with small children, it said you can keep your beloved lead furniture as long as it's where kids don't go, or if you seal the paint with a varnish (re-painting would mean sanding, which would mean releasing lead-laden dust, which isn't healthy for anyone). Those options weren't good enough for my concerns, but it again gave me hope when it said lead tester kits are available at most hardware stores.

Finding and Purchasing the Lead Paint Tester Kit
I was afraid how cost-prohibitive these tester kits might be, and we found just two options in the paint section at our local Home Depot; this $28 kit by Klean-Strip that included six tests and appeared more to be for testing walls and trim in old homes, and one from 3M for about $9 that contained about two tests. We went with the latter based on affordability and that I appeared easy to use, especially on furniture.

lead tester kit

The Test
The tests remind me of these teeth whitening samples I once received: they're little cardboard tubes with glass inside that you break. Once broken, liquid saturates a cigarette-style filter which you rub on the paint. If it turns red, that "means lead."

lead test kit

Alright, I've written this entire post up until here prior to administering the test. Time for me to make a video so you can see first hand along with me whether or not the toy box has lead...


(Spoiler alert: lead free! Can't wait to clean and fix it up and get it in his bedroom.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Simple moss stitch cowl

I had two skeins of this Lion Brand Thick-n-Quick (that's what she said...) in my stash, so I stitched up this moss stitch cowl.

The thing is, this yarn IS so darn thick and quick that my largest circulars did not accommodate it, so I had to use regular straight needles. Which meant that rather than knitting it top-down or bottom up, I had to knit it sideways and stitch up the two ends.

I'll think I'll stick to knitting cowls with circulars from here on out, but I suppose it got the job done because the end result was a big, chunky knit cowl--just what I was going for.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A DIY-ish gift for the traveler, and an Artifact Uprising review

The holidays and my family's "birthday season" are upon us, so that means some DIY and semi-DIY posts coming up, provided I get around to posting them.

First up is this photo book I made for my sister, which falls under the semi-DIY category. I got to choose and arrange all the photos, but that's where my DIYing ended: a printing company did all the hard work. Which means it has the personal edge of a homemade gift, but the professional look of a store bought present--the best of both worlds!


My baby sister has spent a lot of time overseas in her academic and professional careers. This latest round was a 6-month stint in Mexico for...who knows what. It's so hard to keep track of all her trips! But I know she cherishes each overseas stint, so for Christmas this year I made her a photobook of this year's Mexico trip.

How did I get access to her photos to make her present? I used her Instagram. I'm sure she took a lot of pics on her "real" camera, but her Instagrams were accessible to me (kinda--more on that in a minute), attractive, full of personality, and probably full of memories for her.

Once I settled on a book (as opposed to a poster, magnets, or any other random Instagram gift), I had to choose which company to make a book with. It was between Blurb, Keepsy, or Artifact Uprising. All three touted their Instagram books as gifts, but the only options I could find to make the book were with my own Instagram account and photos. WTF, who gives gifts of their own Instagram  photos? "Oh hai, here's a book of my #selfies. Kthxbai." Apparently Keepsy used to have the option to make a gift book with someone else's photos, but when I emailed them about it, they responded that the option no longer exists. That actually kinda made me not want to use Keepsy for some reason, since I now had the extra step of having to somehow download all of my sis's pics anyway.


Obtaining the photos.
So, first I'll tell you how I managed to "steal" her pics. That's why it's so difficult to make an Instagram gift with someone else's pics: most of the Internet world sees downloading or accessing someone else's pictures as "stealing", creepy, and stalkerish. I think the idea of using them to make a gift must not have occurred to much of the Internet world, rather, anyone wanting to save someone else's Instagram pictures must be up to no good... so finding out how to download my sister's pics was a daunting task to say the least.

There's Free Instagram Downloader, which I will not link to because it's a pile of crap. Despite CNet's glowing review for it (which indicates the App may've at one time worked), Free Instagram Downloader does not work. The software just claims whichever user you've typed into the search bar has no photos. It also comes with the added bonus of some malware, which takes forevs to get rid of. Stay away. And thank you CNet, which I no longer trust.

I checked out Instagrabbr, which is pretty cool for downloading pictures one at a time. Instagrabbr does not have a batch downloader, and there is no way I was going to open each of the 200-plus photos and right-click save them manually. So that was out.

Finally, I found 4k Stogram, which worked awesome, but again I will not be linking even though it worked, since it came with some malware of it's own. When all was said and done, I had my sister's entire Instagram stream saved, but also a couple of programs and toolbars I didn't want. To get rid of the programs, I had to delete everything in the program manager that had been added that day except for Stogram-- three extra programs. Then I had to get rid of the toolbars in both of the web browsers I use. So, that was annoying, but 4k Stogram did the trick and I'm warning you to USE IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Is there something out there I'm missing, a better way to download someone else's Instagram photos?


Making the book.
Now that I had the photos, I had to choose which site to publish the book. Ultimately, it was this blog post I found through Google that pushed me toward Artifact Uprising, which I'd been leaning toward anyway, based solely on it's handsome layouts. I'm still curious about the other two sites, however, and may give them a shot in the future (even though Keepsy annoyingly eliminated the "use someone else's Instagram username" feature, which adds an extra step).

Artifact Uprising has an easy-to-use interface. You just upload the pics, and choose between several different layouts for each page. Annoyingly, you can't switch between book sizes once you've selected a size, so if you want to switch from the 8" square to the 5.5" square you have to start over again. You also can't switch cover layouts once you've selected one, and surprisingly, there are fewer cover options for the larger book. You also can't drag pages later or earlier in the book once you've perfected your layout, or move pictures to other spots on the page without hunting it down in your gallery again. So it's kinda hard to make edits, whether it be photo placement or page placement.

I chose the larger book because I wanted something more substantial and to fit more pics, even though all the glowing reviews I'd read online were for the smaller book. The larger book gives you the option to have the Instagram photo fill a whole page, or with just a small margin, but when you use those page layout options it gives you a "poor resolution" warning. So I don't even know why they offer that layout on the 8" book. One layout they offer for the larger one but not the smaller one is a 3 by 3 grid, or 9 pictures total. I used this one a lot, allowing me to fit lots and lots of photos.

All in all, I found it easy to design an attractive book, but not so easy to make adjustments to it.


The book.
Of course I had the book shipped to myself instead of my sister. I wanted to check it out, wrap it myself, and it's going to be her first Christmas home in years anyway.

When I opened the box I was initially underwhelmed. The book was lightweight and not quite the quality I'd hoped for. Perhaps the 5.5" square would've been the better choice after all, based on the web's reviews.

But when I just took it out again to take photos for this post, I had a change of heart. It is lightweight, but the paper is still pretty nice quality. The prints are pretty good for being what they are; low resolution iPhone photos sent through an app and downloaded again. They're vibrant and pretty true to how they appear online. So don't expect a NatGeo quality coffee table book--this is a cute and fun way to save and enjoy social media photos.

I know have the photobook fever, especially after seeing posts like YHL's Family Yearbook and this DIY Alphabet Book. I know many people think books are antiquated, and that photo albums and such are a bother when you can see the photos on your computer or phone. But I think it's actually easier to enjoy an abbreviated photo collection without having to wade through hundreds of pictures on a digital device every time you want to reminisce. I'm looking forward to making a family yearbook like YHL, and if you follow my Instagram you may've noticed that I've started taking weekly pics of my newborn...I'll give you one guess what that's for.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sew Sweetness Kennedy Bag in vintage tea towels

Here's my rendition of the Kennedy Bag, a new pattern from Sara of Sew Sweetness. The pattern is free!

tea towel purse
I made it up in vintage tea towels, you can see what they used to look like on my flickr. One was a calendar tea towel from the bicentennial, the other a souvenir tea towel from Massachusetts.

sew sweetness bag
This bag marks my first serious foray into both online sewing contests and bag making, save random totes (one of my first three sewing projects as a little girl was a tote) and one "purse" I hand sewed about 15 years ago from fake cow print fur, nylon straps, and dice print flannel lining. I got lots of  compliments on that monstrosity, but I think it was more like those kinda compliments you get when someone doesn't know what else to say.

tea towel tote
I pinned this pattern as soon as it was released, as I prefer messenger bag style purses that I can wear cross-body, but hadn't really planned on sewing it up for quite a while. It took the announcement of the Sew Sweetness Bag Contest to really push me into trying it out! I thought it would be fun to start joining some online sew-alongs and competitions next year, so now seemed as good a time as any.

tea towel bag
I knew from the get go that I wanted to use some of my vintage tea towels to make the bag and settled on two with a similar feel and color scheme, and also chose some quilting cotton for the accents and lining.

sew sweetness kennedy
I really enjoyed sewing my first bag and would make this again if a family member asked for one, and possibly one more time for myself with leather accents. The changes I made include:
  • Accent fabric on the bottom instead of using a tea towel
  • No flap accents; the main reason being that I didn't want them covering up "Precious Moments Betsy Ross" as I've come to call her. Also, I wanted to get the bag done on time to enter the contest and have tons of other Christmas projects, so I left them out to save time. And all that hardware was getting a little cost-prohibitive and making the bag heavy. I may include them on any future renditions made up in a more plain "main fabric" as I do think they add something to the bag.
  • I left the hardware off the side accents as well, for the same reasons as above. I didn't stitch the accents down so I can clip pens to them and to keep it from looking pieced together.
  • I left out the interior zipper pocket; I never use those.
kennedy bag back
I learned a lot about bag making from this pattern. Mostly, interface the crap out of your bags and they turn out much nicer!

vintage tea towel bag
I only made one mistake when sewing up the pattern, a record for me: the part about sewing the side accents didn't really mention a seam allowance, so I went ahead and used the .5" called for in the rest of the pattern. I knew it was wrong as soon as I sewed up the first seam, but did the next three anyway. I finally gave up when I couldn't turn them, and cut new side accent pieces rather than bothering to unpick them. I used the quarter-inch SA mentioned a few steps back, that time they looked like the picture and I could actually turn them! Also, the pattern said to sew the divider line between the two interior pockets at 6" in, but the halfway point is actually 7.5", so either I was doing something wrong there, or it's a typo.

purse tea towel
So that's it, wish me luck in my first online sewing contest, and good luck if you've entered one too!

Contest Update: Thanks for your kind comments! I didn't even make the top 15. :(

Linked at: Ginger Snap Crafts, Someday Crafts, Lady Behind the Curtain, Skip to My Lou, Making the World Cuter, Crafto Maniac, Sew Can Do, Say Not Sweet Anne, Creating my way to Success, Uncommon Designs, Tip Junkie, Sugar Bee Crafts, Ladybug Blessings, Naptime Creations, Home Stories A to Z,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Baby viking hat, and a DIY Sheriff Rango costume

We're well into November, but I'm just getting around to doing a Halloween follow-up now! Such is life when you have a newborn.

Really, I wanted an excuse to make said newborn a viking hat after seeing a very cute, but very expensive (something like $30 for a fleece baby hat!) at a toy store in Mendocino, CA. What better excuse than Halloween? I starting Googling baby viking hat patterns when we got home from our trip, and mostly found ones for knitting. I just didn't want to commit that much time.

Then I found this awesome and adorable hat pattern from Fleece is Fun. We all know how I feel about fleece, but my inspiration hat was made from fleece, so this Halloween Hat Pack pattern is perfect. Also, fleece projects are so easy and fast, I may have been won over. We'll see.


Lemme start by saying, my first kid has a giant head. My second kid ended up with a tiny head? According to the delivery doctor anyway. And compared with his older brother, I guessed she was right. It was the first thing the doc said when he was crowning (#TMIalert): "he has a really small head!" He was born September 20th, so by Halloween he still had small head status. But when I chose the smallest size baby hat from this pack and used the suggested .5" seam allowance, my husband made me start to worry that the hat was turning out too small. I tried it on the baby and it fit, but barely. A word of advice about this pattern: a supposedly small-headed 1-and-a-half month old came close to not fitting into the smallest size!

I moved the horns higher on the head than in the pattern, but they were hard for him to balance, so I recommend leaving them as-is in the pattern. I added a silver band at the bottom to make it look a little more viking and a little less buffalo.

Other than that, I love this free little pattern and highly recommend it. There are now two other hat packs on the site and they fit all the way up to adult size. They'd make adorable Christmas gifts!

Meanwhile, with a new baby, I just didn't have the energy to sew an entire costume for my older son like I did last year. He loves the Johnny Depp movie Rango, so we DIYed a Sheriff Rango costume. We had the suede cowboy vest and hat, I bought him a red and white Hawaiian shirt from the thrift store, and he already had a green dino hoodie to wear under it. The only thing I had to make was the green tail, and I decided to make the mask last minute on Halloween since I had so much of that green felt lying around in my stash anyway (you may recognize it from my last year's Kermit the Frog Fascinator I made for Halloween).


Good thing I didn't make the 2.5 year old a costume from scratch--he refused to wear it anyway since he doesn't "get" Halloween yet!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Before and after: quick plant stand makeover

First thing, a quick spray-painted makeover. I kind of liked these rusty plant stands that came with our house as-is, but my husband got it in his head that he didn't want my basil (which we'd be eating) touching the rust. So he dug out our spray paint cans and, after brushing them down with a wire brush, coated one with a high-gloss green, and the other a satin yellow.
Left: rusty before
Right: Spray painted after
I have to say, I rather like the extra dose of color it gives our boring backyard!

Here's the same stand now that my husband has added some of his succulents.
plant stand after
Rustoleum Key Lime
And the yellow one...
plant stand makeover
Rustoleum Lemon Grass
In other news, I'd hoped to share a sewing project this week, but I hated the way it was turning out, so in the wadder pile it went. It was a self-drafted tiered maxi-skirt--perfect for wearing both these last couple months of pregnancy, as well as the dreaded "fourth trimester" when the uterus is still shrinking and the baby weight is still clinging. But I chose to make it out of a blue sheet, which had terrible drape for this type of project and also reminded me of something hospital scrubs would be made out of. I also decided I don't do well with so much volume on the bottom; I need a more narrow, column-like skirt.

But I did work on a couple of other things this week:
quilt progress 8-2-2013
I got more seams ripped and more blocks cut for my vintage sheet quilt.

sweater progress 8-2-2013
And I finally dug out my stitch holders so I could get my Caramel's sleeve stitches onto them, meaning I can hopefully start zoning out on my stockinette stitch while watching TV and knitting the rest of this sweater.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Little victories: hardware update

Sometimes it's the smallest projects that take the longest to do.

These knobs have sat in the kitchen junk drawer since we redid our nightstands more than a year ago. The knobs came from World Market for probably about $3-$4 each and were destined for the laundry closet doors, which are in the kitchen. Switching them out, obviously, was as simple as unscrewing the old ones and tightening the nuts on the back of the new ones...but whenever there I had spare time, it always felt like there were bigger, more intensive things I should be working on.


Finally buckling down and ditching out the old gold/brass knobs went a long way toward getting rid of the rest of the house's gold hardware, which I last mentioned on this "To Do" list. In fact, pretty sure that little list was the impetus that finally got my butt in gear to get this little switch done.


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