Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How-To: Homemade Soap - Recipes

Basic Soaps

Lard Soap- Hand stir method
2 pound recipe

Basic soap

  • 1 ½ cups of melted tallow
  • ½ cup of olive oil (can substitute with extra tallow)
  • 6oz of cold, distilled water
  • 4 Tbs. of lye
  • molds

  • essential oils or fragrance oils- about 1 tsp. per pound of fat
  • preservative of your choice
  • colorant of your choice
  1. Prepare the lye solution by adding 4 Tbs.'s of lye to 6oz of distilled water. Stir it constantly until the granules have completely dissolved. Let it sit until cooled to room temperature.
  2. Melt the fats and oils together in a large glass or stainless steel container. The fats should also be at room temperature when you mix it with the lye solution. (This can be checked by simply feeling the outside edges of the container. Never dip your fingers in to check.)
  3. When both the lye solution and the fats are at room temperature, slowly and carefully pour the lye solution into the fats. Stir immediately and continue to stir for 15 minutes (if you are using grapefruit seed extract as a preservative, this is when you should add it). You can then take a break for 5 minutes, then stir for 5 minutes (the 5-5 method). Do this until the soap mixture traces. This particular soap usually takes an hour. If you are using grapefruit seed extract, the trace time is significantly decreased. Don?t be alarmed, just be ready to pour your soap!
  4. At trace, add your essential oils, herbs, or colorants if you choose and make sure to fully incorporate them into the soap mixture.
  5. Now you are ready to pour your soap into the molds. Be careful while pouring because the mixture has active lye in it. Insulate your molds and leave them covered for at least 24 hours (old towels or blankets will do quite nicely for this purpose).
  6. After 24 hours, unmold you soap and cut into bars if necessary. Store it in a dry place with good ventilation for 2-4 weeks.

Hand Milled Soaps

Lemon Scrubber

This bar is considered to be an abrasive soap and is good for toning the skin and removing dead skin cells. Lemongrass adds a zesty aroma which is uplifting and fresh.

  • 1/8 cup of yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. of Lemongrass essential oil
  • ½ tsp. vitamin E oil
  • 3 oz. Water
  • 1/3 pd. Grated soap

Lavender Scrubber
This bar is an abrasive soap and is good for toning the skin and removing dead skin cells. The lavender in the bar is antiseptic and soothing. The blue cornmeal in this bar gives it a light lavender color.

  • 1/8 cup of blue cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. of Lavender essential oil
  • ½ tsp. vitamin E oil
  • 3 oz. Water
  • 1/3 pd. Grated soap

Pumice Soap

This bar contains pumice and is considered to be abrasive. You should not use this particular bar if you have very sensitive skin due to the risk of scratching. Be sure that the pumice you use is very finely ground.

  • 1 Tbs. pumice
  • 2 tsp. Musk fragrance oil
  • ½ tsp. vitamin E oil
  • 3 oz. water (replace half the water in the recipe with goat milk or milk)
  • 1/3 pd. Grated soap

How-To: Homemade Soap - Required and Optional Supplies


A blender is in the supply list because some of the recipes in this booklet are designed to be made in the BLENDER (there are also "hand stir" recipes given). I know this may sound strange but it can save you hours of work and heartache. The only drawback to using this method is that you are limited to making 1 pound batches or possibly 1 1/2 pounds. As a beginner, it is best to start out with smaller batches anyway and begin your experimenting from that point. The blender that you use should be used only for making soap and you should never use it for edible items after exposing it to lye.


A kitchen scale which measures in ounces is needed to measure the lye. It is not necessary to purchase an expensive scale (I bought mine for $5.00) unless you want to use the exact saponification values and need a scale which reads digitally. The digital scales can usually be purchased for around $60.00 through mail order or at an office supply store.

Rubber or plastic gloves

Rubber or plastic gloves are necessary to protect your delicate hands from the lye. No matter how careful you may be, there is always the possibility of spilling your lye solution or touching the soap which has the active lye in it.

Wooden spoons

Wooden spoons are necessary because you should never expose lye to aluminum. It is safe to use stainless steel but I prefer wooden for their cost. They can usually be purchased in packets with five or more for about a dollar at variety stores. This gives you the piece of mind to throw them away when you feel they have "had it"! I use only two spoons for making soap, so I have a nice supply waiting when I need them.

Measuring cups

A heavy plastic or glass measuring cup is necessary for measuring and mixing the lye solution. I use an 8oz Pyrex cup with a pouring spout. Whatever you decide to use for this purpose, you need to be sure that it pours easily. You will be adding the lye solution to the fats directly from this container and you do not want to chance spilling the solution. To weigh the lye, I simply use an old measuring cup which I place on the scale. I set the scale to zero and begin spooning in lye until I reach the desired amount.


Molds can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Any container that can withstand heat and is semi-flexible will be suitable for holding your soaps. Some suggestions include: microwave containers; candy molds; candle molds; PVC pipe cut into small sections; or small cardboard boxes lined with saran wrap. The possibilities are endless and you will soon find yourself searching for a potential mold everywhere you go.


Lye can be purchased in most supermarkets or home centers. Simply look where they display the drain openers such as Draino and Liquid Plumber but please do not confuse these with lye. The brand which is most readily available is Red Devil and it is 100% lye. It contains crystals or granules and has a very difficult to open cap. Lye should always be stored where children and pets do not have access to it. There are safety measures you must take when handling it and always use common sense when using chemicals. The following are some general safety precautions to follow while handling lye:

  • Wear your gloves to prevent burns.
  • Try to avoid breathing in fumes from your lye solution. There will be some definite fumes at times depending on the liquid you choose to use for a batch of soap.
  • Some soapmakers may even wear goggles to protect their eyes from the fumes.
  • Carefully pour your lye solution to prevent spillage.
  • Never use your materials for anything other than making soap once they have been exposed to lye.
  • Never use aluminum utensils, pans, bowls, molds, or anything with lye. It will "eat" right through it.
  • Always remember to add the lye to the liquid, never the other way around.
  • Use a mixture of 50/50 water and vinegar to rinse your skin if you happen to spill or splatter lye on your skin.

I always measure the liquid in my Pyrex measuring cup then add the proper amount of lye to it. You must stir until the lye is completely dissolved into the liquid. The solution will become very hot during the initial chemical reaction and will often smoke and sizzle. Do not let this worry you, it is supposed to do that. The solution will soon become clear and *that is when it is ready to pour into the fat or oil (*this applies only to the blender soap method).

Fats and Oils

Animal fats have traditionally been used to make soap but today there are many vegetable source oils available. The saponification chart lists the many different oils which can be used. The process of rendering animal fat can be very time consuming and there are simple instructions given later in the booklet. Since my goal is to keep things simple, the only animal fat in my recipes is lard, which can be purchased easily at the supermarket. The recipes also call for vegetable oils and shortening. There are finer grade, more expensive oils which can be used such as coconut and palm. Feel free to use these oils or wait until you gain some experience and confidence in your soap making ability before spending more money.

The most commonly used fats/oils in soapmaking and their qualities:
Tallow- is the end product of rendering suet or beef fat. It is mild to the skin.
Lard- is the end product of rendering pork fat. It can be easily purchased at the supermarket. Lard based soaps are mild to the skin but they do not always later well.
Palm oil- comes in different grades and colors. It can be located in Middle Eastern, Asian, and African stores or through mail order. Palm oil soaps are very mild and have long lasting suds.
Coconut oil- is hard to the touch at room temperature (similar to shortening) and melts easily when heated. It can be harsh on your skin if used in large quantities in soap.
Vegetable shortening- makes a softer bar of soap but it is a good substitute for animal fats.
Olive oil- comes in many grades which can all be used in soap making. It produces very hard bars of soap which are mild, long lasting, and lather well.
Vegetable oils- come in many different varieties and give good results in soap making. They tend to lather well but they take longer to dry

These supplies are not required to make basic soaps. They are added to soap to give it special qualities and character. As you gain experience, you will probably find yourself experimenting with various fragrances, herbs, and colorants.

Essential Oils

Essential oils add pleasant fragrances which diminish that ?lye soap smell? that can develop in some batches. They also provide Aromatherapy value and can be used for a variety of conditions.

Some commonly used essential oils include:
Lavender- provides a very popular aromatic fragrance. Lavender has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It also helps to calm and relieve the symptoms of stress headaches. Lavender is soothing to the nerves and helps to induce sleep.
Ylang Ylang- is aromatic and is said to have aphrodisiac qualities. It helps to balance oily skin.
Rosemary- is very aromatic and has astringent qualities. A good essential oil to use with lard based soaps (it covers the scent very well).
Peppermint- is aromatic and a good choice for holiday soaps.
Rose- has a sweet fragrance and is very popular. It can usually be found in the form of rose geranium. True ?rose essential oil? is very costly. Rose Geranium vitalizes and regenerates skin cells.
Patchouli- is an earthy, aromatic scent. It helps to regenerate skin cells. Patchouli is also antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial.
Eucalyptus- is very therapeutic for colds and allergies. It is also used as a bactericide (kills bacteria) and insect repellent.
Marjoram- is soothing to the nerves and helps to induce sleep.
Spearmint- is a cool, fresh scent that blends well with other essential oils.
Tea Tree- is very therapeutic for the skin. It helps to relieve irritation and problem skin.
Anise- is a classic fragrance used for soap making.
Lemongrass- is a fresh, clean scent that is said to uplift your spirit.
Citronella- is a distinct aroma which helps to repel insects.
Sandalwood- is an earthy scent which is antiseptic and astringent.
Bergamot- is an earthy scent. It is antiseptic and is also said to help calm nerves.
Clove- is a spicy, distinct scent. It is antiseptic and has analgesic qualities. It is also said to help repel mosquitoes and moths.

Fragrance oils

These oils are synthetic (man made) fragrances which offer an alternative to natural oils and come in a variety of scents not available with essential oils. They do not have the therapeutic value of their natural counterparts but are very useful in soap making.

Some examples of fragrance oil scents are:
Green Apple





Lily of the Valley

Baby Powder


Ocean scent

Pina Colada


Passion fruit
Tutti Fruiti

There are several other fragrance oils to choose from which are also interesting and unique. You can even purchase the oils in designer fragrance scents such as Beautiful, Dune, Opium, Hugo Boss, and Polo.

Ground Herbs, Spices, and Food Additives

Ground herbs add bulk and texture to soap while also providing therapeutic qualities. You can purchase these in the finely ground form or prepare them yourself using a small coffee grinder. Another option is to use the contents of herbal tea bags. Most herbs can be purchased in bulk form from your local health food store or through mail order. Perhaps you grow your own herbs? Well, this is yet another way for you to use those precious plants in your garden.

Food additives are also very useful in soap making. They provide their own therapeutic qualities.

Some commonly used herbs, food additives, and spices for soap include:
Lavender- Once again, this herb can be used in the dried flower form in your soap. It will add color, scent, and texture.
Chamomile- will add texture and skin soothing properties. I suggest that you use tea bags unless you can very finely grind the flowers. The dried flowers have small stems which may scratch your skin. Chamomile has a distinct apple like fragrance.
Rosemary- adds color and an extra ?punch? to the soap?s scent. It can be used fresh or dried.
Oatmeal- adds skin soothing properties to the soap. It is a very good selection for irritated skin.
Elder flower- is good for skin cleansing and soothing. Make sure you finely grind the flowers because they can scratch the skin.
Clove- in the ground form is an excellent, aromatic addition to lard based soaps. It also adds a little color to the batch.
Cornmeal- is another food item which can be successfully added to soaps. It adds an abrasive action which cleanses the skin. It also gives the soap a light yellow color.
Kelp- is a sea vegetable that can be added to soaps for cleansing problem skin. It gives the soap an earthy green color.
Clay- adds bulk to your soap while providing soothing qualities. It also helps to draw out excess oils from the skin.
Goat milk- is very soothing to the skin. It gives your soaps a creamy natural color.
Milk- adds emollient qualities to your soap. Use milk in the dry powder form.
Honey- is antiseptic and helps with problem skin.
Aloe Vera- is an ancient plant which has been used medicinally for centuries. It is soothing to irritated skin. Use it in pulp, gel, liquid, or powder form.
Ginger- is aromatic and helps to draw toxins out through the skin.
Pumice- is ground volcanic rock and should only be used if it is very finely ground. It is abrasive and helps to remove dead skin cells.
Barley grass- is rich in nutrients and gives your soap a creamy green color.
Carrot crystals- are rich in vitamin A, the ?skin vitamin?. They will give your soap an orange glow.
Dried beets- are rich in nutrients for your skin and give your soap a rosy color.
Cinnamon- is a very aromatic spice which gives your soap a speckled brown color. It will always remind you of Christmas.
Calendula- is well known for its skin soothing properties. Use it in dried or fresh form. There are also Calendula infused oils which you can add to your soaps.
Floral essence waters- come in a variety of scents. The most common are: Rose; Lavender; and Jasmine.


Colorants should be used at the soapmaker's discretion. I use them only when I know I will not like the natural color of a batch or for special occasions requiring colored soaps.

Some commonly used colorants include:
Liquid fabric dyes- can be found in most supermarkets along with your other supplies. These dyes are sodium based and should not be used by people who are sensitive to or react to sodium. You should only use a small amount, usually 1/2 teaspoon to each 3/4 pound of soap. I usually use 1/2 teaspoon or less per pound, just to be safe. These dyes work better when used during rebatching because they are not exposed to lye.
Food dyes- can be used with inconsistent results. They do not hold up well over time and you cannot depend on the color. I once added green food color drops to a batch and it turned a lovely peach color. You may have better luck if you use a cake decorating color gel rather than liquid drops. These dyes work better when used during rebatching because they are not exposed to lye.
Pigments- are natural coloring agents that are usually used for pottery. To prepare the dye, it should be mixed with a small amount of water and then added to your soap mixture. If you choose to color your soaps with pigments, refrain from using them on infants.
Natural colors-Paprika = peach, Turmeric = yellow, Cornmeal = yellow, Cinnamon = brown,
Clove = brown, Kelp = green, Barley grass = green, Goat milk = ivory, Carrot crystals = orange, Dried beets = rose
Clay- green clay, red clay, or pink clay will add color to your soap in muted tones.
Color crystals- are commonly used in candle making. Some supply houses carry crystals which can be used for coloring soap.

If you decide to use colorants in your soap, make sure you test your first batches. The suds should be white. If the suds happen to match the color of the soap it is okay to use it but you are risking staining your towels and skin! Just remember to use less color the next time.


Vitamin E oil, Lemon Rind powder, Benzion, and Grapefruit seed extract can be used to help preserve the shelf life of your soap. The question about whether or not to use preservatives is controversial. Some soap makers claim that it is unnecessary, some would never make a batch without it. So, the decision is up to you. I use vitamin E oil which is in a base of wheat germ oil for the majority of my soaps. These products can be purchased at your local health food store or through mail order.


Fixatives help to retain the scent in soap. They include benzoin, vetiver, myrrh, and castor oil.

Super fatting oils

Superfatting is a term used for adding extra oil to soap after saponification. Most soaps can be super fatted with castor oil, mineral oil, sweet almond oil, vegetable glycerin, and coco butter.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Stop Pipe Water Leaks

Diagnosing plumbing leaks

Pipes leak or burst for a number of reasons — freezing, blockages, corrosion, and failed joints and seals, to name a few. To stop a plumbing leak, determine if the source is the home's water-supply or water- and waste-removal system. Supply lines are under constant pressure. When a fitting or pipe springs a leak, water will spray or pour from the break. Water quickly pooling on the floor or dripping from the ceiling is a good indication of a supply-line problem. Shut the supply off, either at a fixture or elsewhere in the plumbing system, to stop the flow. Pinpointing the exact location of the leak can be difficult. Be prepared to search behind walls or remove a portion of the ceiling to make a repair. Loose fittings and blockages cause most leaks in the drainage system. Leaks usually appear as a slow drip under or near fixtures. Clearing blockages will prevent toilets and sinks from overflowing.

Temporary Fixes for Broken Pipes

After you've located the leak, there are a few quick fixes you can make. Using a hose clamp or a C-clamp and a piece of wood, secure a piece of rubber over the leak until a full repair can be made. Or buy an emergency plumbing-repair kit, available at most hardware stores. An old plumbers' tip: If you find a pinhole leak, break off the tip of a pencil in the hole and then cover it.

Shutting down the water supply

Most plumbing systems have shut-off valves at numerous locations, allowing you to isolate problems. Find the one nearest to the leak and turn it off while you make repairs. Faucets, toilets, and appliances such as water heaters have individual shut-off valves. Find the valve and turn it clockwise to stop the flow. On gas-fueled water heaters, don't confuse the flexible gas line with the water-supply line. The water-supply line usually enters through the top.

Turn off the main water supply if you can't find a valve close to a leaking or burst pipe. Normally, a single pipe delivers water to your home. Find the valve located where the supply pipe enters the house — or the one next to your water meter — and turn it off. This cuts off water to the entire house. Every family member should know where this is located. Then look for a valve closer to the fixture so you can restore water service to the remainder of the house while you fix the problem.

Stop Roof Water Leaks

Roof leaks can be very deceiving; they rarely become evident at the source. Typically, water enters through broken shingles or flashing, then flows along roof sheathing or attic rafters until it finds a convenient place to drip down (see inset at right). There are several likely sources.

Broken shingles are a good tip-off. Anything that protrudes through the roof — such as chimneys, vent stacks, dormers, and skylights — is a possible source. Scan your roof (use binoculars) and look for broken shingles or damaged flashing. If there is no obvious problem, head to the attic during daylight hours.

Look for wet spots or, in dry weather, water marks on the wood. Track the evidence of dampness to its source, then look for a small ray of light coming through the ceiling — the offending hole.

Quick Cover-up

To stop a roof leak temporarily, unroll enough 6-mil polyethylene sheeting to cover the leaky area, plus enough extra to extend several feet over the roof ridge. Wrap each end around a 2-by-4 and staple along the fold; sandwich the sheeting with a second 2-by-4. Place this assembly over the ridge, toward the non-leaking side, then spread the sheeting over the leaking section.

Repair a Broken Asphalt Shingle

1. Remove the nails from the broken shingle, taking care not to damage the shingle overlapping the broken one.

2. Nail down a new shingle. Use a utility bar to drive the nails to avoid damaging the overlapping shingle.

3. Apply roofing cement. Dab it over the new nails and under the edges of all the shingles you disturbed.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Keeping Your Asphalt Driveway in Top Shape

Maintaining and repairing your driveway on a regular basis will help ensure many years of service. Fortunately most driveway maintenance is a job that most home owners can do themselves. Although not difficult, it can be messy when it comes to applying sealer. Be sure to wear old clothes and a pair of shoes that you can throw away when you are done.

The first step in maintaining your driveway is to see what problems you will need to repair. Take a slow walk across and down your driveway. If you see impressions left by car tires or tilting, or buckling or cracking, then you will need to call in an asphalt driveway contractor to rebuild the drive. Unless your driveway is very old and has been neglected, you'll probably see minor cracks, crumbling and small chuck holes. These problems can be repaired by the average do-it-yourselfer. If your driveway has large cracks and potholes, the repair materials will need to cure before seal coating. This may take several days or longer depending on the plan accordingly.

What to Buy

If you have cracks you will need to purchase crack filler which typically comes in a caulking tube or a pour bottle. Chuck holes require asphalt cold patch which comes in a bag similar to redi-mix concrete. To complete the job you will need a good sealer. Sealers usually are sold in a "Good" "Better" "Best" selection. Just like paint, it's best to purchase top-quality material...the job will last longer, look better, give better service and in the long run save you the time of having to re-do the job sooner.


  • Squeegee/broom for sealing Detergent
  • Trowel Masonry Chisel
  • Machinist's Hammer Stiff Bristle Broom
  • Garden Hose w/Pressure Nozzle Wire Brush
  • Oil Spot Primer Asphalt Driveway Cleaner
  • Gloves Shovel
  • Safety Glasses Tamper or 4"x4"x6'

Safety Precautions

When working with asphalt materials, avoid prolonged contact with skin and excessive breathing of fumes. When chipping or chiseling old blacktop wear safety glasses. Keep all materials away from high heat or open flames. Be sure to read all manufacturer's instructions.

Repairing Cracks

It's important that cracks be filled properly to prevent water from getting under the slab and causing more serious problems. If the crack is less than 1/2" wide it can be filled with crack filler. Anything over 1/2" must be filled with asphalt cold patch. The most important thing to remember when you are repairing cracks is that the crack must be completely cleaned or the repair will not hold. For narrow cracks, sweep out all the dust and dirt that you can. You may need to use an old screw driver and wire brush to loosen. Then use your garden hose and spray nozzle to "blast" away any dirt that remains deep in the crack. Be sure to wear safety glasses when doing this job.

If any area being repaired is covered with oil or grease drippings it must be scrubbed with a driveway cleaning agent and thoroughly rinsed. Cracks over 1" also need to be thoroughly cleaned and then filled with asphalt cold patch.

Pot Holes

Pot holes are repaired with asphalt cold patch which is a heavy duty stone and asphalt mix. First dig out any loose material and dirt down to a solid base. Then undercut the edges so they slope in slightly to provide a "key" for the patching material. Next clean all dust and debris from the hole and surrounding areas. Clean off any oil or grease that might be surrounding the hole. If the hole is very deep it should be filled within 4" of the top with gravel. Be sure to tamp the gravel before filling the hole with patch. Apply 2" of cold patch and tamp, then apply the remaining 2" and tamp. Now add enough material to form a slight mound and tamp again. The patch should be rolled which can be done by placing an old piece of plywood over the area and then driving over the plywood slowly back and forth. If you have repaired any major holes with asphalt cold sealer, you will have to allow the patch to cure before sealing. This typically would be 12 to 36 hours, although some products take as long as 30 days. Check the manufacturer's label.

Seal Coating

After all crack and pothole repairs have cured, it's time to seal your driveway. The entire driveway surface must be clean before you apply sealer. This includes dust, dirt, grease, oil, and debris. Sweep the driveway. Remove grease and oil spots with cleaner and detergent. Rinse thoroughly and squeegee water from any puddle spots. Allow the driveway to dry.

Using the squeegee/broom, apply the sealer to a small area at a time. Don't spread the sealer to thinly. Allow small cracks and weathered areas to "drink" the sealer. If you have a sloped area, you can sprinkle the area with sand before the sealer dries for better traction. Allow the sealer to cure according to the manufacturerís instructions. Block the end of the driveway with the empty cans (add water to keep them from blowing away). You may want to rope off the sides too to keep anyone from walking across the area until it dries. If you have house pets you will want to keep them away or inside the house or you might end up with dog prints across your carpet!

Tips From the Pros

  • Prior to sealer application, turn buckets upside down to help aid in the ease of mixing.
  • Beat the heat by working in the early morning hours.
  • Brush sealer in a side to side motion starting from your home and working toward the street.
  • Check your driveway surface monthly. Small problems should be corrected quickly to avoid costly repair.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shutters: A Hot New Architectural Element

Shutters have been a traditionally favored trim that has been used on the exterior of American homes for many years. In recent years, however, shutters have made an appearance not only as an exterior window covering but also as an innovative architectural element gracing the interior of contemporary homes.

Classic shutter styles may be purchased at virtually any home improvement center. You may also be fortunate enough to locate shutters at yard sales and flea markets. A great place to search for unusual shutter designs is at a new "hang out" for many interior designers. Commonly referred to as "Architectural Salvage Yards", one can find everything at these design treasures, from mismatched fencing and fountains that have minor flaws to vintage trims and moldings.

Classic wooden shutters can be painted or stained in any color of the rainbow. Shutters also lend themselves to many of the innovative faux paint techniques that are currently hot in today?s design market. Other decorative options include rubber-stamping and stenciling of patterns onto shutters.

With a bit of imagination and a dedicated investment of time, a do-it-yourselfer can transform a wooden shutter into various creative uses and applications. Shutters can easily be hinged together (standing vertically) and used as decorative screen dividers for a designated space. Or, place hinged shutters behind any bed and you've got a brand new headboard, for significantly less of an investment than had you purchased the headboard at a retail store.

If you are looking for an inexpensive coffee table, why not design one, by transforming two classic shutters? Simply cut one shutter in half and attach each half at either end of the uncut horizontal shutter. You have created an instant whimsical coffee table. Customize by applying a coordinating paint technique that matches your room?s interior.

Create a faux window for a dark room by hanging hinged shutters on a wall leaving space for your imaginary window between the shutters. Close shutters in the evening or open up to expose your faux window on the wall.

Shutters are popping up quite often in contemporary homes in the form of unique wall art. One idea is to hang a shutter on either side of a favorite framed print, to provide symmetry. Shutters used as wall art add depth and texture to an otherwise flat wall.

In children's rooms, consider converting simple shutters into shelving and use for storage of toys and books. With the help of your local hardware store or home improvement warehouse, it is often easier than you may have expected to devise a simple plan that will bring your home improvement project to life.

For a modest price, shutters can dress up a decorative wall niche near the ceiling. Simply prop up a hinged shutter and place in a grouping with an interesting piece of pottery, behind a silk or dried flower arrangement or adjacent to an interesting piece of artwork. Shutters often provide the much-needed height to compliment the tops of kitchen cabinets, a hutch or an armoire.

On your next shopping adventure, if you are fortunate enough to spot a closeout, marked down or slightly damaged pair of shutters, grab them and create a stylish decorative accessory that will blend in with most any room of your home.

Wallpaper: Spruce Up Your Home; Enhance Your Mood

Take a fresh look at your surroundings and consider redecorating. Whether you are considering some touches to simply brighten a room and celebrate the season, or a major decorating project, wallpaper is one tool you should not overlook.

The New World of Wallpaper

Today's technology has transformed the world of wallpaper that our grandparents knew. From the wide range of patterns available, to its ease and affordability, consumers are discovering a whole new world of wallpaper. Wallpaper can help you create a fresh new look in your home. In today's hectic, fast-paced society, the most important thing about decorating your home is to create an environment that provides you with a sense of comfort and serenity. A home should soothe your soul and offer a warm, comfortable retreat that you enjoy going to each and every day. Wallpaper can transform a room and help you can create almost any mood you like.

Wallpaper is Turning Up Everywhere

Although kitchens and baths are the two most popular rooms to wallpaper, you should consider wallpaper's potential for every room in your home. You can wallpaper entire walls or simply choose a special border to add personality or create a particular ambiance. Consider working with a select manufacturer that has a few selections to choose from with the same pattern or color scheme; you can mix and match wallpaper patterns from the same "family" - instantly creating a pulled-together look.

For example, some designers or homeowners put a border or molding along the walls (horizontally) so they can mix and match two different wallpapers on either side. With wallpaper you can be creative and develop almost any look you like. Today, designers are finding unique ways to use wallpaper, from lining the interior of special armoires, to glow-in-the-dark wallpaper borders for young boys and girls. The possibilities are endless.

The Importance of Light and Color

Light and color are two of the most critical considerations when decorating and have a significant impact on the final result. Here are just a few important guidelines:

  • Using light bright colored wallpaper can make a room appear larger and airy.
  • Using large patterns help create the feel of a small and cozy space.
  • Small patterns create a feeling of more space.
    Consumers can also solve a wide range of decorating challenges with wallpaper. For example, vertical stripes make a ceiling appear higher, while horizontal stripes make a narrow room seem wider.

Color for 21 century

Spice colors such as terra cotta, sage, red, and olive tones are especially popular right now. Spice colors create a warm and inviting feeling and can be used in lighter shades, too. Another emerging trend is the use of white and black, in a wide spectrum of hues, from pale grays to deep grays.

Metallic colors are also hot this year, such as silver, gold, pewter and copper. The most important color of the year is blue. Blue will increasingly be found in many hues, from icy blue to country rich blue, traditional blue and white combinations, and navy blue. Blues create a cooler feeling and "open" a room. One of the hottest color combinations of the season is a metallic color, such as silver and blue. Color is one of the most important tools to consider when decorating because it can change your mood and the feeling of a room.

Adding Texture to Your Walls

There are many different types of textiles used to create a variety of textures in wallpaper. Some of these include fabric, vinyl, grass cloth, fiberglass and silk or satin. Vinyl wallpapers are the most durable and can help protect your walls from mold, mildew, stains and other problems. Not all wallpapers are stain resistant, but if you clean an unexpected stain correctly and do not let the stain penetrate the wallpaper texture, almost any stain can be easily removed.

International Flavor: Bringing Home the World

Today's global society doesn't just impact how easily it is to communicate and travel. It means more decorating options. When designing your home with wallpaper, there are an endless variety of ways to bring the rich flavor of other cultures to your home. Asian and ethnic design has become a leading influence and more and more consumers, decorators and others are creating a Zen-like Asian feeling in a broad spectrum of rooms in the home.

Using elements from nature has also become popular. Large botanicals, animal skins, pressed leaves and insects are increasingly being seen in wallpaper patterns and throughout the home. You can also bring depth and texture to a room by using architectural elements such as columns. Simply using a special border featuring architectural details can transform a room.

Nature Comes Indoors

"Bringing the outdoors indoors" has become another popular way to create a certain mood when decorating. Leaf patterns are being seen more often than ever and create a feeling of being home with nature. With leaf, flower and bird motifs, you can create an airy, rustic and nature-loving theme in any home.

Pre-Pasted Wallpaper

Wallpaper has been around for many years. Through the development of technology and the ever-changing interior design trends, wallpaper is more popular than ever. Wallpaper is very accessible to the average consumer and it is a cost effective and economical way to decorate and improve your home. Many wallpaper borders and papers even come pre-pasted today.

Consider how to transform your surroundings and bring new life to tired walls. Remember, your home is a reflection of your personality, and you have the power to create a your own special, personal space. The following are more spring spruce-up suggestions:

  • Paint your bedroom door a bright, canary yellow.
  • Add light - open the shades, buy more lamps and let the world in.
  • Special pillows in bright colors are an inexpensive way to add new life to a couch and a room.
  • Flowers, flowers, flowers! There is nothing like a fresh bouquet of flowers to brighten and room.
  • Potpourri can instantly change your mood by adding wonderful fragrance to your environment.
  • Are you a budding photographer? Take your camera outside to capture the season. Buy inexpensive frames for your home and create a montage of photographs that bring the season indoors.
  • Use special bowls and crystal to arrange colorful, fresh fruit on a variety of tables in your home.

What to Do with Ugly Paneling

Here are six great paint treatments designed to ease the pain of living with dated paneling. From knock-your-socks-off color and pattern combinations to country crackle and cottage whitewash finishes, these techniques turn pedestrian partitions into winning walls.

Getting Started

Make sure your walls are free of dust and grease. We used 60-grit sandpaper and a palm sander to rough up the surface and remove the paneling's shiny finish before priming. For some types of paneling, you may be able to skip the sanding step and simply prime the walls. Ask your paint dealer which primer will work best on your paneling.

After sanding, wipe the walls to get rid of the dust and use a roller with a 3/8-in. nap to apply a coat of primer. When the primer dries, fill the nail holes with putty, sanding the putty for a smooth surface. Apply your base coat color with a 3/8-in.-nap roller.

After the base coat dries for two days, it's time for the fun to begin. Look into our designs for painting inspiration or come up with your own special treatment. Remember, it's only paint - if you're not happy with your design, paint over it and start again.

Whitewashed Pine

Create charming cottage appeal with a simple rag-off technique. Base-coat the paneling with a latex flat or eggshell paint that matches the wood tones in your home. If your wood finishes are warm, use colors that have a yellow undertone; if they're cool, use deeper putty-colored browns.

For whitewashing, start with white or off-white oil or alkyd paint and a pile of lint-free, cotton rags. Alkyd paints have a prolonged drying time, allowing you more time to work.

Working in 2-ft. sections, apply paint to the wall with a roller. Dampen a rag with paint thinner and place the wrinkled (but not balled) rag on the painted section. Pull the rag off. Because it's important the paint stays wet, this technique works best with two people; one rolls on the paint, the other follows with the rag. Experiment, removing the paint until you get the texture you desire. If you apply too little or remove too much, simply roll more paint on and rag it off. As you go around your room, keep the look evenly random, making sure that you can't tell where the sections start or end.

Tone on Tone

Paneling provides a perfect template for a vibrant striped paint treatment. Our designers say this technique works best when you use variations of the same color. Choose three to five shades nearest each other on a paint card, and you're ready to go.

Base-coat the walls with the lightest shade of paint. Let dry two days. Apply painter's tape to the panel lines to mask off your stripes. (For not-so-perfect stripes with slightly wavy edges, skip the tape and just paint between the lines!) Use a 3-in. latex or nylon-bristle trim brush to paint between the strips of tape. Apply the paints in a set sequence (say, light blue, medium blue, and dark blue) or mix up your stripes in a random manner (medium blue, medium blue, dark blue, light blue).

This treatment works as well with pastels as it does with jewel tones. If you want to make a room appear larger, try using off-white tones mixed with creams or light taupes.

Vibrant and Funky

Color-splashed and pulsating with pattern, this paint treatment supplies feel-good, bright-as-a-rainbow cheer. Okay, it might be a bit too much for your living or dining room, but it's perfect for a kid's room, a basement rec room, or a small breakfast nook. If you like the look, but are afraid it might overpower a small space, try using it on just one wall and paint the rest of the walls a solid color that coordinates with your design.

Start with a base coat of a medium-tone latex paint. Plan your design on a piece of paper; incorporate stencils or finger-painted curlicues if you wish.

Using the panel lines as guides, alternate freehand diamonds and vines painted with an artist's or foam brush and acrylic paints. Paint the diamonds a deep orange and the vines a blue green. Inside the first row of diamonds, paint a solid purple diamond accented with a splash of metallic gold. Dab green paint dots between the diamonds. Add red circles with gold dots in the center of the second set of diamonds. For the vines, alternate green leaves with red stems and light green stems or bright purple dots.

Crackled Country

Give your outmoded paneling today's fashionable old-fashioned, rustic farmhouse look with latex paints and gum arabic, available at paint or art supply stores, or a commercial crackling medium. The trick to a great-looking crackled finish is to choose two contrasting colored paints. Think combinations like red and white or yellow and blue. (We base-coated our walls with a yellow green latex and topped it with a darker blue green.)

Once your base coat has dried for two days, roll on a coat of gum arabic. Make sure you brush a coat of gum arabic around the top of the walls and in the corners where walls meet. Let the gum arabic dry for about 30 minutes and roll on your topcoat. The finish will immediately begin to crackle.

After the topcoat dries, dip an artist's or foam brush, slightly larger than the panel lines, into red acrylic paint. Run the brush down the lines, painting your way around the room. Next, use a thin artist's brush and gold-leaf acrylic to paint lines on the outside edges of the red lines.

Diamonds Are Forever

Fashion a fanciful yet formal look by incorporating the panel lines into your design. After base-coating the panel, paint free-form diamonds in a vertical pattern, using the panel lines as guides. With a foam or artist's brush (experiment until you find the brush type and size that works for you) and acrylic paints, alternate large and small diamonds between the lines. We "drew" large and small diamonds with putty-colored acrylic, accenting them with charcoal, gold, and white lines.

In the center of every other large diamond, paint a solid green diamond with a gold-leaf fleur-de-lis in the center. Place a green dot in every third small diamond. Dots of gold leaf acrylic mark the points where the diamonds meet.

Leery of drawing the design freehand? Use a ruler and a pencil to mark the diamonds. Don't like diamonds? Use the lines as guides for squares, rectangles, or even giant Xs.

Simply Stenciled

Here's a paint treatment that's as flexible as they come. Whether you like bunnies, hearts, twining ivy, or tall-stemmed flowers, stencils make it easy to outfit your walls with personalized style.

Base-coat the wall in a neutral hue so your stencil will show up. Next, choose a stencil or a mix of stencils that work well together in a vertical stripe. Measure the different areas on the paneling you'll be stenciling to make sure the stencil will work in all of them. Choose your colors; use acrylic paints or stencil paints, creams, or crayons. Tape your stencil to the wall and apply paints with a stencil or foam brush. Make sure you dab some of the paint off the brush on a plate or paper towel before stenciling. Let dry.

Working in sections, roll on a transparent oil glaze. Remove the glaze with a dry cloth to create texture. Have your paint store customize your oil glaze with earthy umber liquid tints. The glaze ages the look and softens the colors of the paint.

Decorating Basics for Home Offices

When it comes to decorating a home office, you want to be sure that the flooring and wallcoverings you choose are both easy to care for and durable. But this doesn't mean that you have to sacrifice beauty in order to achieve them.


Hardwood. Wooden floors offer warmth and character to any decor. They are durable and come in any number of wood types and finishes. Many are stained and sealed with a clear hard urethane in matte or gloss finish. Other finishing choices include stained, bleached, or painted.

Wooden floorboards come in various sizes, but the standard is a 2.5-inch strip or plank with a tongue-and-groove edge to ease installation. The types of wood available include oak, mahogany, maple, walnut, pine, cherry, beech, and ash.

Parquet flooring is squares made from short pieces of wood that are glued together to create a pattern in various tones. Standard size is 12 x 12-inch squares. Parquet flooring adds visual texture and polish to an area.

Hardwood floors are a great choice for all decorating styles. Light oak compliments a country decor, dark, high-gloss walnut or cherry works well with a light and airy modern interior, and knotty pine planks are great with casual furnishings.

Tile. Tile flooring adds beauty to a room along with durability and minimal upkeep. The many materials available include marble, ceramic, slate, terra-cotta, and stone.

Ceramic tile is one of the most versatile and popular flooring options. It is made from fire-hardened clay that is usually glazed, making the surface stain-resistant. It resists moisture and can be cleaned easily. Ceramic tile comes in numerous colors and hues to fit any decor.

Quarry tile is fired clay that usually comes in earth tones like terra-cotta. Its natural-looking stone quality is ideal for informal decors.

Mosaic tiles are small squares that are attached to a grid for installation. They come in many colors and are made of glazed or unglazed clay or glass.

Vinyl. There are two types of resilient flooring: sheet vinyl that is sold in rolls of 6-, 9-, or 12-foot widths and individual square tiles that are generally 12 inches square. Both types are good choices for installation over any type of flooring including basements.

Sheet vinyls are more expensive than the same quality in tiles, but come in a wider range of colors and designs and provide the advantage of seamless construction. Inlaid vinyl is the best sheet flooring that you can buy because it is constructed of solid vinyl made of layers of vinyl granules that are fused and built up to make it thick and highly wearable. The other type of sheet flooring is rotovinyl, which is constructed by using photography of a floor design, such as stone or brick, and layers of clear vinyl on top. The thickness of the top layers determines wearability. Consider a thickness of between 10 mils to a maximum of 25 mils for true durability. Vinyl tiles are also easy to install because they are lightweight and maneuverable for cutting and fitting.


Unlike hardwood, vinyl, and tile, carpet enhances a room by unifying the furnishings, walls, and accessories. There are many different choices in style, color, and construction methods from which to select when buying carpeting. Most carpets come in standard widths ranging from 9 ft. to 15 ft. Density is important to the durability of the carpet. To check, pull back the pile and see how much of the backing shows. If you see much backing, you have less carpet fiber to stand wear. Remember, durability is what you're looking for in home office carpet.

Listed below are the various fibers from which carpets and rugs are constructed:

Wool. Offers a deep, rich look with exceptional resilience and durability. Expensive. Resists soil, but requires special cleaning.

Acrylic and Modacrylic. Nonallergenic, close to the characteristics of wool. Available in a wide range of colors. Resists crushing and mildew, but can pill. Cleans well.

Nylon. Excellent durability and resiliency with good color retention. Nonallergenic and resists mildew. Resists soiling and is easy to clean.

Polyester. Comes in a variety of textures and is very durable. Looks like wool and resists soiling. Easily cleaned.

Polypropylene Olefin. Very strong, durable, and moisture-resistant. Can be used indoors and out with the appropriate backing. Easy to clean.

If you decide to put carpet down in your home office, it's best to choose a darker, neutral color with a short pile.


Feng shui, the ancient Chinese philosophy on the relationship between energy movement and interior design, suggests that the best color for a home office is yellow because it stimulates thought, creativity, discipline, and mental activity.

In fact, many interior designers recommend keeping everything in your home office from the furniture to the walls and window dressings light in color. This promotes a feeling of lightness so as you enter the office, you don't feel depressed.

Feng shui experts also suggest colors such as oranges and other warm desert colors for your walls as they stimulate socialization and collaboration. Red however should not be used in the office since it whets the appetite and reduces concentration. And finally, experts warn against painting your ceilings dark colors. If you do, you'll always feel as if there's a dark cloud hanging over your head.

Feng Shui Decorating Suggestions

  • Place red flowers in the upper left corner of your office or desk. They can bring financial success.
  • If you don't have a window in your office, hang a plant or a picture of a plant in your line of sight. It will calm you down.
  • Keep only healthy plants in your office.
  • If your desk sits opposite the bathroom wall, block any energy from the bathroom by hanging a thick, decorative fabric on that wall.
  • Round-edged furniture stimulates creativity.
  • If your office is at the end of a hallway, place a 100-watt bulb in the hallway to illuminate the path to your office

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Decorative Painting Tips

Using paint to decorate a room or furniture has never been so popular, probably because it's never been easier. Even the not-so-artistic do-it-yourselfer can create paint finishes and glazes that rival the professionals. All it takes is a little imagination and some paint to transform Plain Jane walls into an interesting and appealing accent. A piece of discarded furniture can become the focal point of a room with a little creative painting.


For an interesting effect on painted surfaces, try sponging or ragging them with a topcoat of paint. The techniques are good coverups because they give a surface depth and dimension and distract the eye from imperfections. Use a tone-on-tone effect by top coating a color with a lighter or darker shade that blends with it. For example, on pale pink wall, choose a more intense shade of coral or rose to deepen the color. Cover a dark color with a lighter shade to brighten it. For these glazing techniques use latex paint because it's easy to work with and clean up afterwards. Before you try these special effects, experiment on paper and practice creating the effects you like best.

Start with a clean painted surface and apply the glaze coat to one area at a time, which helps keep the pattern uniform. If you are working on a piece of furniture, glaze one leg or drawer front at a time, if it's a wall, work on a 4-ft. wide section from top to bottom.

To produce a stippled effect, apply the paint with applicators made of small pieces of sponge. The random holes in the sponge create an interesting relief-like pattern. Pour the paint in a flat open container, i.e., a Styrofoam food tray. Dab the sponge applicator in the paint and squeeze it out to remove excess paint. Then push the sponge pattern on the surface. Try to be consistent with the pressure you apply and turn the sponge over several times to vary the pattern. When the pores of the sponge fill with paint, it's time to change to another applicator. Cut small sponge wedge to get paint into tight corners.


Ragging a surface produces a completely different effect, which is very attractive. The preparation is the same as for sponging but use rags or wads of plastic food wrap as an applicator. Change them frequently as they become soaked with paint.


Pickling is a technique used on unfinished wood to create a transparent finish that highlights the wood's natural grain patterns. It's best achieved using flat alkyd (oil-base) paint that dries slower than latex so there's time to work with it before it sets up. Some alkyd paints are thick and can be difficult to wipe off. Spread the paint on a small test area, and if it doesn't wipe off easily, add a few ounces of mineral spirits (not more that 2 oz. per gallon) to thin the paint.

To pickle a surface, brush on a light coat of paint to a small area and then wipe it off with a scrap of burlap or other heavy material. The more paint you rub off, the more the wood grain shows. If the paint begins to set up and gets too sticky to wipe, switch to a rag dampened in mineral spirits. It is better to remove more paint than you think necessary because if the finish is too light you can always go back and add another coat. The opposite is not true if you allow a heavy coating of paint to dry.

When you've pickled the surface entirely, let it dry completely. For added protection apply a topcoat of satin water-based polyurethane.

Reupholstering a Bench

Level: Easy

This is an easy reupholstering project that anyone can tackle. It actually doesn't involve any sewing. Reupholstering a vanity bench finishes off a bedroom for example, to match the new drapes, a dust ruffle, toss pillows, and fabric-trimmed lamp shades. It was the finishing touch my guest bedroom needed to coordinate everything perfectly.

Make sure you use a drapery-weight fabric that blends with the rest of the room, or one of the fabrics you have used elsewhere in the room. The project is still simple even if the vanity bench needs new padding. Read on:

enough fabric to cover your bench, plus extra
staple gun or upholstery tacks


1. Using a soft measuring tape, not a carpenter's rule, find the length and width of the bench. Measure over the top of the existing cover. It may not be necessary to remove the old cover unless the color or pattern shows through the new fabric.

2. Decide on what direction the pattern will sit on your bench and whether it is necessary to center it before cutting the fabric. Allow plenty of extra fabric under the bench because you can always cut away the excess.

3. If new padding is needed try to find upholstering batting that is stiffer and more resilient than quilter's batting. Don't wrap this batting around the seat board because it will add too much bulk. Instead, cut a piece the size of the seat board. Two layers of this batting will be plenty and make it more comfortable to sit on.

4. Remove the screws that hold the seat to the bench and remember where the holes are positioned so you don't cover them up when attaching the new covering.

5. Work upside down on a solid surface and line up your layers before beginning. New fabric should be wrong side up, then the batting, and lastly the seat board. Upholstery tacks will work but a staple gun is much faster and easier.

6. Starting in the center of one long side of the seat begin stapling. It is necessary to keep the fabric in a straight line but not pulled tight at this point. Having a second person to help hold the fabric straight will make the job easier. Now work from the opposite side and pull the fabric taught before you staple. Don't staple the entire bench until you check to see if the fabric is straight and centered. Occasionally turn the bench over to see how it looks.

7. The corners are tricky on any upholstery job so make sure they are smooth and as flat as possible. The heavier fabrics will make this project easier. Try a corner before attaching the fabric to the short side of the bench because the job is easier when you have loose fabric to fold and play with until you get the fold you like. Sometimes it is necessary to cut away fabric to make a neat corner but do this carefully and thoughtfully so you don't cut away too much.

8. After attaching the new fabric around the bench, cut away the excess to make the back neat and so that nothing shows when the bench is put back together. Attach the screws that you removed so that the seat is firmly anchored to the bench. Now you have a new bench. Good job.

A Heart-Shaped Pillow for Your Sweetheart

Level: Easy

Anyone can buy flowers, candy or perfume for a sweetheart on Valentine's Day but it's fun to be more creative and make a lasting gift. All sewers have a stash of fabric that are in small oddball sizes and shapes. If you would like a way to use the scraps and have fun doing it, then follow these step-by-step directions for a strip-quilted, heart-shaped pillow.


1/2 yd. of muslin (washed)
red scraps or 1/8 yds. of 5 or 6 red fabrics
12 in. square of red backing fabric
red thread
laces and ribbon for embellishment (optional)
package of loose Fiberfil for stuffing


1. Cut a brown paper grocery bag into a square approximately 12 in. by 12 in. Fold this square in half and then draw only one side of a heart shape on this folded paper - with the fold lining up with the dip and the point of the heart. Draw the shape until you get something that is filling up most of the paper and is a pleasing round and plump heart shape.

2. When you like the shape, using your paper scissors, cut on the drawn line to make a pattern for your eventual pillow. Cutting both layers at the same time allows you to make a perfectly symmetrical heart without much effort.

3. Tear a piece of muslin approximately 12 in. by 12 in. and lightly draw around your heart shape onto the muslin - don't cut this muslin yet.

4. Sort your red and white scraps trying to find four or five or more, dark and light prints that remind you of Valentine's Day.

5. Cut some of these scraps into strips that vary between 1 in. and 3 in. and are all different lengths.

6. Lay the first piece of fabric strip in the center of the muslin square which will be in the center of the heart shape. Lay the next strip face down on top of the first scrap lining up the raw edges on one side of the scrap. Sew these two pieces to the base muslin by making a seam along that one raw edge. Don't worry if it doesn't cover from one edge of the heart to the other.

7. Add strips of fabric trying to vary light and dark, until you cover the entire heart shape that you drew on the muslin. This method of creating a new piece of unique fabric is called strip quilting and it has many uses.

8. Once all the raw edges have been covered and the piece of muslin is now covered with red fabric, you can use your heart shaped pattern again to actually cut a heart shape from this new piece of fabric.

9. Lace or ribbon can be sewn on top of the strips on the seam lines criss crossing each other to create added embellishment.

10. Before sewing the back on the pillow cut a piece of eyelet trim to fit around the outside edge of the heart shape. Sew this onto the pillow top beginning at the dip between the two parts of the heart shape. The heavy edge of the eyelet will be on the seam line and the decorative part will be toward the center of the pillow top. Baste this in place before sewing it on.

11. Now for the back of the pillow. Cut a 12 in. square from a red fabric. But don't use your heart-shaped pattern this time. A square work well. Lay this square on top of your pillow front, right sides together and using the shape of the heart to guide you, pin these two layers together. Don't cut this backing piece until after you do the final sewing. Start sewing the layers together along the long side of the heart leaving a 4-in. opening for turning. Now you can trim away the backing and clip into the dip between the two lobes of the heart before carefully turning the pillow right side out through the 4 in. opening in the side seam.

12. Lightly press the pillow shape before stuffing with loose Fiberfil. This is better to use for stuffing a shaped pillow but it is necessary to use plenty of it and to carefully poke it into all the point areas as well as the lobes of the heart shape.

13. Using matching thread and a small hand-sewing needle carefully close the 4 in. space in the side of the pillow that was left open for turning.

Creating A Designer Lampshade

Level: Easy

When I recently redecorated a guest bedroom I realized how difficult it sometimes is to find all the accessory items to finish the job. In the case of the bedroom I needed two wall lamps above the bed to serve as reading lamps and general lighting.

I didn't want swing arm lamps that would hang out over the bed and be in the way. It seemed to be all that I could find. The other problem was that my electrical situation called for permanently or hard wired lamps and not wall mounted fixtures. Here is how I solved the problem of wiring as well as decorating.

I bought two, small wooden light fixtures that I knew could be painted easily. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that the shades were very uninteresting - plain white. All the beautiful fabrics I had been using in the room needed to be on these white lampshades so I got busy to see what could be done. I have covered lampshades before so I knew that was more than I wanted to do.

Going around the bottom of the shades with a narrow strip of the drapery fabric solved the problem. From my sewing experience I knew that to accomplish this I would have to cut my strip on the bias for maximum stretch. When you go around a curve such as the bottom of a shade it is necessary to have enough stretch in the fabric to hug both dimensions.

To cut a true bias you need to fold the fabric at right angles and cut on the fold. Measure around the shade to find the length of strip needed and then fold the fabric in order to get this length. It takes more fabric to cut on the bias but it is necessary. Use the leftover fabric to do another project in the room.

Now that you have a bias cut you need to make the bias strip. I wanted my shade to have approximately 3/4 in. trim at the bottom so I cut the bias strip 3 1/2 in. wide. Fold both cut edges toward the center and carefully press the strip. Either hot glue or heavy tacky glue can be used to attach the strip to the shade. Light white glue doesn't dry fast enough and might bleed through the fabric.

When the strip is glued to the shade half of the strip will be on the inside and half will be on the outside and both will have folded finished edges. If the fabric is tightly woven and won't ravel then you can just cut the strip after you have enough to go around the bottom but you might have to turn this end under and glue it in place. When gluing the strip on you might need to stretch it slightly in order that the folded edge conform to the shade shape. I think you will be pleased with the transformation from a plain white lampshade to a decorator's custom shade. So easy!!!

Now a quick word on the conversion of a lamp with a cord to a hard-wired or permanently-wired lamp with no cord. I purchased metal surface mounted circular junction boxes by Wire Mold and wired the lamps into these small boxes which I painted to match the wall color of the room. Because of this I didn't have to see cords running down the wall and I still had decorative stylish lamps in the newly finished bedroom. If you feel uncertain of doing this yourself call your friendly electrician and see if he or she can help. Good Luck!

Add Variety With Accent Pillows

Level: Easy

Decorative or accent pillows have always been used to spark up almost any decor, whether it be on a sofa or a bed. When you want a quick spruce up on top of a bedspread or a well-worn sofa consider making new toss pillows in bright colors or bold patterns. It will appear as though you have re-decorated the whole room. Shop for remnants or mill ends in a drapery department and look for pillow forms when they are on sale. Go bold with 14- or 16-inch pillow forms. And don't stuff them with loose fiberfil because you won't get a professional-looking pillow.

Supplies needed:

1 � yds. decorator fabric 54 inches wide
12-inch zipper
thread to match fabric
two pillow forms

Step-by-Step for a flat ruffled pillow:

1. Cut 2 squares of fabric that measure 6 inches larger than your pillow form (ie. 14-in. pillow form + 6 inches = 20-in. square of fabric). These squares will be your pillow tops.

2. Using an erasable fabric pen mark a 14-in. square in the center of this 20-in. piece of fabric.

3. If you desire trim or flat lace, sew it on the outside of the square now. Use the marked square as your guide for attaching this trim. Simply sew the trim onto the flat piece of fabric with a pivot at the corners or cut four pieces of trim and overlap them at the corners.

4. Cut the pillow backs to measure 20 in. by 25 in. Cut this piece in half to make 2 pieces that measure 20 in. x 12 � in.

5. Sew the 12-in. zipper between the two backing pieces. There will be extra fabric on each end of the zipper.

6. Center this backing piece over the pillow front with the right sides together. Carefully pin this sandwich together and then sew these two pieces together using a 5/8-in. seam. The pillow back may be larger than the pillow front depending on how you installed the zipper so sew them together using the pillow top as your guide for the seam allowance.

7. Trim the excess from the seam allowance and the corners so that when you turn the fabric right side out you have sharp points. Open the zipper to turn this right side out and carefully press. It should measure about 19 in.

8. Using the 14-in. square that you have already marked, stitch a square through all the layers pivoting at the corners, so that a pillow form fits snugly inside the stitching lines. Many pillow forms are skimpy so if the form doesn't fill up the pillow, the square needs to be smaller. Remove the form and resew the square to be smaller.

9. Unzip the zipper and insert the form making sure the corners are filled with the corners of the pillow form. The zipper makes this pillow very easy to wash when necessary.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Grand Garlands

Deck your halls with fragrant and fanciful festoons.

Gardener's Delight Garland

Supplies and Tools

  • 1 package of eucalyptus
  • 1 package of dried hydrangea blossoms
  • 1 package of raffia
  • 1" clay pots
  • Paperwhite and crocus bulbs
  • 6"-wide woven ribbon or netting
  • Variety of seeds (e.g., peas, corn, etc.)
  • Floral wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Hot glue gun, glue sticks

1. Braid several strands of raffia to create a garland of desired length. Secure ends of raffia with floral wire.

2. Run a length of floral wire through the hole in the bottom of each clay pot and up over the rim. Hot glue paperwhite bulbs into clay pots.

3. Cut squares of ribbon or netting and fill with crocus bulbs and different seeds. Gather ends of ribbon and secure at top with wire to form a pouch.

4. Wire the filled ribbon pouches and clay pots onto the raffia braid.

5. Hot glue sprigs of eucalyptus and hydrangea behind the pots.

Spicy Fruit Garland

Supplies and Tool

  • Raffia
  • Kitchen string
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Cranberries
  • Bay leaves
  • Whole cloves
  • Whole allspice
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Lemon juice
  • Large needle
  • Scissors
  • Glue gun, low-temp glue

1. Cut apples in thin slices crossways. Dip in lemon juice. Set on a cookie sheet and place in a 200° oven until dry.

2. Cut oranges into 1/4"-thick slices. Set on a cookie sheet and place in a 200° oven until dry.

3. For a 3' strand of garland, cut 5' to 6' of string. On one end, make a loop about 12" to 14" long. Knot. Thread needle onto string. Thread cranberries first. Press a whole clove into each cranberry to allow berry to dry naturally. Vary the order of other items as desired. Choose from cinnamon sticks, two slices of apple glued together with string in between the apples; two slices of orange glued together with string in between the oranges; and/or bay leaves.

4. Decorate the apple and orange slices with cloves, allspice, bay leaves, and/or cranberries. Complete the pattern to a 1 1/2' length. Repeat the pattern in reverse order for the second half of the garland.

5. When the 3' length is completed, tie string into second loop, making it the same size as the first loop. At each end of the garland, tie two approximately 2' lengths of raffia into a bow.

Snowbird's Feast Garland

Supplies and Tools

  • Preserved or fresh cedar branches
  • Small gourds
  • Sunflower heads
  • Barley stalks
  • Wheat stalks
  • Birdseed
  • Floral wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Hot glue gun, glue sticks
  • Drill, drill bit
  • Sandpaper

1. Wire cedar branches together to form garland base. Continue to add branches to the desired length.

2. Drill several holes close together in each gourd to create one large hole that allows birds to reach seeds. Sand edges smooth. Drill two small holes in the back of each gourd so wire can be inserted for attaching the gourds to the garland. Wire the gourds in place.

3. Glue wheat and barley stalks and sunflower heads to garland.

4. Fill gourds with seeds.

Make a Grapevine Basket

Several years ago I took a class to learn how to make a vine basket that I've since used for just about everything. In the fall I fill it with pinecones and ghords, in the spring and summer it goes outside with pansies or petunias and come Christmas it collects our Christmas cards.

This is sometimes called a random-weave basket because there's no two alike. Making this type of basket is suprisingly physical. Twisting and turning the vines is rough on your hands, and it's messy as can be weaving the wetted-down vines back and forth as you create the framework and then fill it in. But it's well worth the time and effort.

You need bundles of grapevine, honeysuckle vines or any plant that's native to your area with long, spindly vines that go on forever. You'll need a pair a garden clippers, a wide-mouthed bucket or barrel with warm water and a pair of work gloves.

Here's the basic steps to make a vine basket:

1. Remove leaves and tendrils from strands of vine and then soak it in warm water so it becomes more pliable.

2. The height and width of the basket are determined by one long continuous piece of vine that you use to form two large hoops. Determine the approximate height of the basket you want and wind the vine around creating a hook double that height. One side of the hoop will be the handle and its opposite side will be the bottom rib of the basket.

3. Continue with the same piece of vine to make another hoop at right angles to the handle/bottom hoop. Where they join lash or weave the two hoops together. Set the basket on a surface with the handle upright and you'll be able to see that the second hoop forms the rim around the basket and creates its shape.

4. You can reinforce the hoops by lashing them together with short sections of vine.

5. The next step is filling in the sides and bottom of the basket beginning at the rim and working down. Use short sections of vine and twist and turn them to fill in the framework.

6. Turn the basket over and fill in the bottom beginning in the center or bottom rib and moving toward the rim on the sides. Use shorter strands of vine and weave them back and forth to fill in the open spaces. Weave the vine completely around the rim every time to secure it.

7. Use the garden snippers to cut off any loose jagged edges of the vine.

Decorative Paint Techniques: Stencil a Wall or Border

Skill Level: Beginner

Stenciling is perhaps the most widely used decorative painting technique. In part, the reason must be its aesthetic appeal and that it takes no particular skill or talent. Anyone can stencil anything. Stenciling also can be an inexpensive fix for decorating and architectural problems. Border a too-small window to make it appear larger. Use a border on a wall just below the ceiling to warm up a cold room or to make a high-ceilinged room more cozy. If you like the look of a chair-rail molding but aren't up to the carpentry involved, try a stenciled border there, too. You need very little paint but likely several colors. Choose colors that coordinate with your furnishings.


  • Live in an apartment and can't paint the walls? Pulverize colored chalk, add a little water, and you have a completely removable "paint."
  • Bring a dimensioned sketch and some fabric samples as you shop for stencils and paints.

Materials List

Tape measure
Ladder or stepstool as needed
Spray mounting adhesive
Craft knife
Latex, acrylic, or stencil paints
Painter's tape
Stenciling brushes (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and/or 1")...or
Mini foam paint roller
Marking pen and pencil
Numerous shallow containers for paints
Level (2' or longer)
Drop cloth

1. Purchase or Make a Stencil
Whatever your taste - teddies holding hands, bold geometrics, or subtle floral designs - there are precut stencils you can buy at paint, decorating, craft and hardware stores. Generally, the less formal designs such as flowers and vines are easier to work with than geometric patterns, especially for borders around windows and doors, which have mitered corners.

Feeling ambitious? Find a design you like from books or wallpaper sample books. Using a copy machine, enlarge/reduce it as needed. Then trace it onto 7-mil Mylar or a clear plastic file folder with a marking pen; or use the copier to transfer it to clear acetate. Using a craft knife, carefully cut out the areas that you want to paint. Make extra copies if you are making a separate stencil for each color. Stack the stencils together and use a hole punch to create registration marks (see Step 4) on the lower edge of the stencils about 1 inch in from each end.

  • Acetate or Mylar stencils are transparent so you can see previously applied colors. This makes it easier to align the pattern as you move the stencil along the surface in Step 7.
  • Make extra copies so you can bend or cut them as needed at corners.

2. Draw a Guideline
To keep your lines straight, level, plumb, and parallel to ceilings and trim, you may want to align your stencil on a guideline. If for example you want the bottom of the stencil to be 12 inches below the ceiling line, measure down 12 inches from each corner and make a mark. Make additional marks as needed to connect them with a long straightedge, and very lightly pencil a line.
Safety Tip!If the area being stenciled is out of easy reach use a sturdy ladder, stepstool, or low scaffold to gain access, not chairs or other unreliable jury-rigged setups.
3. Mask Cutouts
While it's faster to apply several colors at a time, doing so may increase chances for error. Beginners especially should mask the cutouts for all of the colors except one (unless, of course there's one stencil for each color).
4. Affix the Stencil to the Wall
Spray mounting adhesive onto the back of the stencil and carefully align it with your guideline. (Or use low-tack painter's masking tape.) Place a small piece of masking tape on the surface under the registration holes. With continuous designs start in any corner. With noncontinuous designs plan each wall separately so the pattern stops equidistant from the ends; center the first stencil or place it to the left or right of the centerline, whichever produces the best result.

You need to plan carefully if you are bordering a window or door; the design will need to be mitered ("cut" at a 45-degree angle), just like the corner of a picture frame. You want this "cut" to be made in a relatively open area in the design so any mismatch is less noticeable. Test your plan by tracing it on paper.
5. Load Your Brush
Hold your stencil brush very close to the bristles. Use very little paint. Dab the brush in paint and then dab or swirl it on a paper towel to evenly distribute the paint across the tips of the bristles.
6. Start Stenciling
Dab and/or use small swirling motions working from the edge toward the center; don't brush across the stencil, which may force paint under the stencil. With most designs you don't want to completely cover the surface with paint, but rather allow some show-through for subtle variations in color and tone. Dab some paint on the tape you placed under the registration marks in Step 4.

  • If you do want solid colors, consider using a mini foam paint roller, rolling out a little of the paint on paper before you roll the surface.
  • Shade or accent the edges of a stencil by swirling the brush around the edge but not in the center.
  • If paint gets under the stencil edge, move the stencil to cover it and paint that area again to get a sharp edge.

7. Reposition the Stencil
Carefully peel the stencil off the wall and clean the paint off it. Reposition it on your guideline so that the registration hole/notch aligns with the previous registration mark. (If you move to the left, the right-hand registration hole will align with the left-hand painted mark left by the previous stencil.) Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 until you finish one color and it dries, and again for subsequent colors.

  • To wrap an inside corner, measure the distance to the corner and transfer the measurement to the back of the stencil. Score (don't cut through) a vertical line at that point on the back of the stencil with a utility knife and it will bend nicely. If you're wrapping an outside corner, score the front face of the stencil.
  • To miter a corner - around a window, for example - run a horizontal stencil past the corner and apply masking tape at a 45-degree angle, then paint up to the tape. (If your stencil is 8 inches tall the top edge will be 8 inches longer than the bottom point.) When that paint is dry, reposition the stencil vertically, aligning the patterns a best as you can, and again apply tape diagonally to protect the already stenciled area.

Create An Alphabet Quilt

Difficulty: Moderate

If you have ever given a baby shower and wondered how to get your guests acquainted and relaxed but entertain them at the same time, here is an idea for you. This baby quilt is definitely a group activity. Everyone attending the shower can help as well as those who are far away.

Instead of playing traditional baby shower games, let the guests help design and make the blocks for this quilt. The quilt will then be finished after the shower and given to the baby as a group gift.

Fabric for blocks - sashing - backing - binding (100% cotton)
1 - 1 � yds. - blocks
1 � yd. - sashing
1 � yds. - backing
� -¾ yd. - binding
Thread to match fabric
Polyester quilt batting
Permanent fabric markers - found in craft stores or quilt shops
Masking tape
3 or 4-in. letters to trace or stencil

As an example, it's nice when the blocks are signed by the guests. It becomes a lovely memento for the mother and the new baby. The preparation for this project is simple and inexpensive and could be divided among the guests. The largest expense is the fabric and batting, so the cost would be minimal if everyone wanted to contribute. The sewing is simple but some experience putting a quilt together would be helpful.

1. Purchase and wash 1 yd. of 100% cotton fabric for the squares - light color or muslin works best.

2. Cut or tear the fabric into (26) 8 x 8-in. squares.

3. Purchase a selection of colored fabric pens with various size points or tips. Be sure they are permanent on fabric and will not bleed.

4. Purchase a set of foam letters - usually sold as bath tub toys for small children - about 3-4 in.

5. Let the guests each choose a letter to use on their block and explain that they will use that letter in a bit of advise or wisdom for the new mother, father, or the new baby. Their message just has to use the letter, not necessarily begin with the letter. Suggest that they embellish the message in creative ways that will make the blocks very colorful.

6. Prepare a counter top or table where the blocks can be taped down with masking tape securely before beginning.

7. Mark each square so there is at least a 1/2-in. border on all sides. This allows plenty of room for sewing the blocks together.

8. Have a few extra squares cut to size in case of mistakes. The number of people attending will determine how many squares each person needs to do but don't forget to save some squares for missing guests or relatives.

9. The best arrangement of these blocks or setting for the quilt is 5 blocks by 5 blocks. The left-over square, the Z block, can easily be appliqu�d to the back of the quilt.

10. Ask the mother-to-be to get involved with the choice of a fabric for sashing between the blocks and for the backing and binding fabric. It's especially nice if the quilt matches a color scheme or theme in the nursery. Purchase about 1 � yards of fabric for sashing.

11. Cut or tear this sashing fabric into 2 � in. strips. Then cut some of these strips into 8 in. lengths. Join the blocks together horizontally, and then use the remaining strips to join them vertically. When all the blocks are joined together it should measure approximately 45 in. square

12. Cut or tear strips to border this square on all four sides. I used a 4-in. wide border. Sew this border on to opposite sides of your quilt top and then to the top and bottom of your quilt. It is not necessary to miter the corners.

13. Prepare the backing piece after measuring your finished quilt top to determine the size back you need. Be sure to give yourself an extra 2 inches of fabric on all sides for the back. Your quilt top is now wider than 45 in. because of sashing and borders therefore you'll need to seam two pieces of fabric together for your quilt back. Beginners: be sure to give yourself extra fabric on the back due to shifting while putting the quilt layers together in Step 14.

14. Make a quilt sandwich with your backing, a piece of batting and then the quilt top. Carefully pin these layers together and either hand quilt or machine-quilt them together. I did a lot of "stitch in the ditch" technique between the blocks.

15. Cut strips to bind the edge of the quilt from a contrasting fabric or left over backing or border fabric. The finished size of the quilt is about 54 inches square, which is an ample size to make this useful for infants and toddlers or to hang on the wall in the nursery.

So have fun with this project and make a one-of-a-kind gift! Don't forget to appliqu� the block with the letter Z on the back of the quilt.

Affordable Decorating: Fabric Boxes

Level: Easy

I imagine that boxes have always been used to store things, but boxes are now used as a decorative accent in many room decors. That doesn't mean they can't still be used to store things though.
Think of all the little worldly possessions that you can stash away in these wonderful covered boxes. I think you'll find that this is a fun project for all ages.


Heavy weight white glue


1) Boxes will add to the finished look of a bedroom because you can coordinate colors and fabrics in the room. You can use some of the left over fabric scraps from the drapes, upholstery, or a dust ruffle. Let your creative juices flow and combine all those wonderful fabrics you have used in the room.

I used striped fabric from the dust ruffle. Any box can be covered but it must be a rigid, sturdy box that will hold its shape. I found heart shaped boxes in two different sizes at the local fabric and craft store.

2) I wanted these boxes to be soft so I started by covering them with a layer of fleece and/or batting that a quilter or crafter would use. Lay the lid of the box on the fleece and trace around it to get the shape for the top and the bottom of the box. Measure all around the sides and cut a strip to wrap around the sides.

3) Lightly glue these fleece pieces in place on the box. Begin by covering the bottom first. That way you can practice in an area that will not show before working to the top that show.

4) Trace around the bottom again as you did before but this time allow an extra inch to overlap on the sides. If you are covering a round or heart shape box, it will be necessary to cut slits around the curves to eliminate the fullness when you glue it in place.

5) Once the bottom piece is glued in place, measure and glue the side strip. Again, allow an extra inch for a fold at the bottom edge of the box and an extra inch to fold over the top of the box toward the inside of the box.

6) The strip can be from the straight grain of the fabric. This is where a stripe fabric can help you cut and fold straight. On this strip of fabric for the sides, press the bottom inch up with an iron before you glue it in place. This folded edge will cover the overlap from the bottom of the box. The top edge will be turned over toward the inside of the box and then glued in place.

7) If you were covering a heart shaped box I would start by attaching the side strip at the dip of the heart. A narrow turn down at the end of the strip will finish it nicely and prevent raveling of the fabric.

8) Use a heavy weight white glue so that it doesn't saturate the fabric and bleed through, which will dry as a stiff hard piece of fabric. Hot glue is not recommended for this job.

9) The inside of the box needs to be finished in the same way so that when you open it you see something pretty and finished. You can use a different fabric that coordinates with what you put on the outside. Glue the interior fabric much like you did for the exterior of the box. The only difference is that you'll put the folded and pressed edge of the strip to the top edge of the inside and overlap on the bottom slightly.

10) Then cut a piece of shirt cardboard the size of the bottom of the box. Cover that piece of cardboard with the fleece and then the fabric and slip it into the bottom of the box. It should fit snuggly in place and cover all the overlaps to create a beautifully finished box. If you need to hide any glue joints, add a lace or trim used for lampshade edging. It can be glued in place and hide any problems on this cloth-covered box.