I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 2: Gadget Testing

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which support the blog at no cost to you. The Joann and Walmart links are non-affiliate links.

I don’t usually like to buy things. I’m a big fan of repairing and making do, which is why my three-year-old wears sandals that are glued together and I still cook in Grandma FP’s spare slow cooker. But I may have gotten a little carried away buying tools for the project I’m working on, making a skirt (using The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from the library). I have been to Joann Fabric and Crafts approximately 97 times and have gotten extremely adapt at downloading their coupons to my phone.

So here’s what I’ve been buying, its cost, and why. (Prices are approximate, as they reflect percent discount coupons and tax.) If you just want to see how much money I spent, skip to the end. Hint: Buying a whole, brand-new skirt would definitely have been cheaper. But way less fun.

1. Blind hem foot ($9.23, Amazon)

This is a nifty little gadget that can obviously be used for blind hems–which I don’t need, because I don’t wear things that fancy–but also for edge stitching, a trick when you stitch as close as possible to a fold (as in making a pleat). It has a fabric guide that keeps you from wandering off to the right, making it easier to stay straight and close to the edge. (As far as wandering to the left, you’re still on your own.)

Edge stitching with regular foot. I'm sure I would have gotten better with practice.

Edge stitching with regular foot. I’m sure I would have gotten better with practice, but see how far away from the fold it is, and uneven.

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

First try with blind hem foot. Worse than without it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That's more like it!

Third try with blind hem foot. That’s more like it!

Necessity Level: 3 of 5. I could probably have practiced and gotten a pretty straight line eventually, but not as straight as with the blind hem foot.

2. Rotary cutter and small mat ($15.26, Joann)

Even more unusually for me than shopping at all, this was actually an impulse purchase. I wasn’t going to buy one; Grandma FP made beautiful garments using only shears. But… well… I had a 50% off coupon, and I knew I would need one in the future if I wanted to make a bias hem, and I thought it would be fun and handy. So I bought this Fiskers kit with their basic 45 mm cutter and a 6 by 18 inch mat. It’s worth noting that while Walmart has better regular prices on both cutters and mats, they can’t match a 50% off item coupon at Joann.

I’ve been practicing cutting with it; there’s a bit of a learning curve to cutting corners cleanly and to following curves (see freezer paper, below).

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. May save time in the long run, but not needed for this project.

3. Freezer paper for patterns ($6.50, Walmart)

This is awesome! Joann apparently does not carry pattern paper; they (and Walmart) carry Pellon-brand interfacing that is designed for making patterns, at a cost of around $1.50-$3 per yard (depending on sale conditions). It looks handy, since it won’t slide around as much as regular paper, but I thought it was too pricey.

Extensive further research revealed that you can use freezer paper, like what you might find wrapped around an ancient roast at the bottom of Grandma’s chest freezer. Not only is this thin enough to trace through–no tracing wheel needed–but if you iron it, shiny side down, onto your fabric, it sticks in place gently and peels off easily. You can stick the whole pattern on before you even cut it out. I tested it with some leftover muslin, drawing a shape and then cutting it out for extra rotary cutter practice. I hear you can stick it several times before it loses stickiness (and then you could just pin it or weight it down if you didn’t want to make a new pattern).

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could have used wrapping paper, but that wasn’t very satisfactory and then I just would have had to buy more wrapping paper eventually anyway.

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

This is what the pattern looks like in the book

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the lines for my size.

Lines clearly visible through the freezer paper so I can trace the markings for my size.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines.

One piece of my homemade pattern. I used a ruler for the straight lines, and you can see I made a false start.

4. Hem gauge ($2.25, Joann, or here on Amazon)

A handy little gadget for measuring hems more quickly and accurately than with measuring tape.

Necessity Level: 1 of 5. Will save a few minutes, but it’s really just for fun.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

Hem measuring made easier. Still one of the most tedious parts of sewing.

5. Thread snips ($6, Joann; couldn’t find this kind online)

Cut thread closer than scissors and should also be good for cutting those tiny little triangles that help you match up pieces.

Necessity Level: 3 of 5 (for this project). There is very prominent top stitching and I don’t think I could have gotten close enough for my satisfaction with my shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

Practice topstitching, cut with shears.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

And cut with snips. I still want to make it look neater at the bottom.

6. Water-soluble marking pen ($3.75, Joann; again, couldn’t find online)

Grandma FP always used chalk, but I wanted something a little tidier and more precise for marking where my pleats should be and whatnot. The gadget I got has one end that’s a wipe-clean marker and another side with disappearing ink.

Necessity Level: 2 of 5. May make for slightly more accurate pleats.

7. Invisible zipper foot ($2.50, Joann, or on Amazon here)

Haven’t tested this yet, but supposedly it’s necessary for putting in a zipper that is invisible from the outside.

Necessity Level: 4 of 5. I could probably have found some other way to make it work.

In Conclusion…

Notice that technically, I could have completed this project without buying any of the things on this list, even though the book I’m using listed them all as required tools. The only things that I didn’t already own and without which I would not have been able to complete the directions were dressmaker’s tracing paper and the tracing wheel, for marking darts on the fabric.

Total cost of the items above: $48.84

Plus the tracing paper and pincushion: $56.70

That’s almost $60 on durable supplies alone! That’s not even counting the fabric! Again, though, please note that I could have done this much more cheaply. Instead, I chose to look at it as taking up a hobby. I’m having a ball fiddling around. In my next post, which might be after I get back from vacation in a few weeks, I’ll break down what it will cost per garment if I make several.

Also, hopefully I will eventually have, you know, a finished skirt to show you.

Do you have any making-things hobbies that don’t actually save money? What’s your reasoning?

 

 

I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice

This post contains affiliate links, which in theory would support this blog at no cost to you. But you should check your books out at the library. The links are just there for you to research. Although if you happened to buy something while you were at Amazon, I would get money and that would be nice.

I’ve taken it into my head to make myself a skirt on my sewing machine. I have two primary reasons for this:

  1. My current wardrobe is lacking. If I had to work more than four days in a week, I’d be pushing it to find enough appropriate outfits. This is partly because my work-appropriate wardrobe has been largely composed of pencil skirts, all of which make me appear to be trying only semi-successfully to conceal a second trimester pregnancy. (The baby is 3.)
  2. I hate shopping with a white-hot passion, but I enjoy sewing. Given a choice whether to spend a few hours trying on skirts or a few hours making one, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. Plus I can’t shop while the children play outside in the yard. Have to bring the little buggers with me and that always ends in tears.
Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day. On the left, the apron I made after several years of service. Grandma FP made the pink one I'm wearing.

Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day, featuring my last completed project, an apron I made for a dear friend (left, after many years of service). Grandma FP made the pink one I’m wearing.

Note that “save money” was not on the list. Since I spend almost no money on clothes, it would be impossible for me to actually spend less than I have been spending. And even if I decided to go out and buy, say, 3 skirts, I could probably buy them as cheaply or even more cheaply (if I got lucky at Goodwill) than making them, considering the start-up costs. The first one, with all the “sewing notions” I’ve been snatching up, is costing at least as much as a very, very nice brand-new regular-price skirt. Improving my wardrobe in the way I prefer is the sole goal here.

I am using the book The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from my local library. (It involves using dressmaker’s tracing paper to create your own pattern, so the book’s pattern is not damaged by people using it.) To give you an idea of my skill level going into this project, I am fairly comfortable using a sewing machine for straight hems. I can’t do anything fancy like blind hems, and I have not completed a garment since about 2006 (when I made an apron as a gift). That was also the only garment I ever completed without assistance from Grandma FP, a very talented seamstress who can make all kinds of fancy things.

If you are not comfortable with a sewing machine, you might want to start with a lower-level book like Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time. The Essential A-Line assumes that you are comfortable with general sewing terms like presser foot and seam allowance.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

Anyway, the book suggests making a practice skirt, which I have completed. First, I had to make a pattern. I had forgotten to think about buying pattern paper, so I used wrapping paper. It took me a couple of tries to get the idea right, but it worked. For the record, wrapping paper is not ideal for the purpose because it is slippery enough that the tracing paper can smudge, and it is thin enough that it doesn’t take kindly to the tracing wheel.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to  start right at the top--it made the ugly knot you see up top.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to start right at the top–it made the ugly knot you see up top.

I wanted to practice making pleats, so I followed the directions for the “sailor” skirt. And I’m glad I did, because there’s a mathematical error in the directions and the practice skirt came out too big. Now that I see the problem, I’ll correct for it. I had to read the directions approximately 97 times and refer to them at each stage, flipping back and forth between the general directions and the ones for the specific skirt. Eventually, though, I had an unfinished skirt shell-thing to try on, featuring with nice sharp pleats. The darts, however, were uneven, so I will mark them more carefully next time, and my edge stitching was crooked because I had not yet acquired a blind hem foot (more on that next time).

Finished practice skirt.

Finished practice skirt.

I already owned some basics like straight pins, thread, decent scissors, and other geegaws, but I needed fabric and some odds and ends just to get started. I began by buying the minimum (except for the pin cushion), just to make sure the whole project was going to work. These are the supplies I purchased in the practice stage, all from Joann Fabric and Crafts. Make sure to check for coupons as they generally have excellent ones; the prices below reflect a 20% discount that I downloaded on my phone.

I believe it's actually required by law that you purchase a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

I believe it’s actually required by law that you obtain a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

  • Muslin for practice skirt: $2.16
  • Pin cushion: $2.16
  • Tracing wheel: $2.16
  • Dressmaker’s tracing paper: $3.54

Total cost: $10.02

Consumable supplies: $2.16

Durable supplies: $7.86

Stay tuned for the next installment, when I go a little crazy buying gadgets and the cost mounts.

Do you ever make things that you could buy just as cheaply? What’s your reasoning?

Lifestyle Inflation and Coffee Beans

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

Mr. FP found this Contigo mug abandoned in his classroom and now it goes everywhere with me. Work, the grocery store, library story time, etc.

I love coffee a lot, as perhaps I have mentioned. Never drank it at all until I was over 30. When Big Brother was a baby, I was doing an online graduate degree and the only time I had to do my homework was when he was napping–so right after lunch. Ever tried to concentrate on homework right after lunch? Enter the most wonderful bean.

Despite my affection for the stuff, I don’t grind my own coffee beans. I buy ground coffee (Seattle’s Best, #4) at the grocery store. I was joking about the “horror” of this with  the awesome Mrs. Frugalwoods, who is in the midst of an experiment to determine whether Costco beans, at five-something a pound, are a sufficient replacement for their fancypants ten-something a pound beans, which I can only assume are roasted by unicorns. She joked back, “I’ll buy you a coffee grinder.”

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

Chickpeas thawing for hummus-making, a common sight in my kitchen.

The exchange got me thinking about why I don’t grind my own beans, and it’s only partly about buying a grinder. It’s more about taking on another chore. See, on one recent morning, I was straining cold-brew coffee a little at a time, boiling water to make pasta for pasta salad, heating milk in the microwave to make yogurt, pre-rinsing the bodily-fluids laundry, and feeding the children breakfast, all simultaneously. And I had to be at work by 11. Do I really want to add “grind beans” to my to-do list?

“Lifestyle inflation” is a term usually used for things that cost money, like buying a nicer car when you get a raise or moving to a bigger house when your second child is born. But I find I also need to be conscious of revenue-neutral or even money-saving kinds of “lifestyle inflation”–chores that benefit the environment or have taste, health, or other intangible benefits but take up my finite time.

I want to do, well, everything. But every new chore I take on means just a smidge less time for everything else.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Grandma FP gave me her spare slow cooker several years back and it is still my workhorse. I often run it several days in a row.

Freshly ground coffee beans probably are better, and after the initial cost of the grinder, I would not be spending more money on an ongoing basis. But I would be committing to a new chore, when my life is already pretty full. A person can do anything, but not everything. There are plenty of things, besides bean grinding, that I think would be good to do that I just don’t:

  • Using cloth trainers at night for Little Brother. I got tired of the smell and the laundry and the rinsing-in-the-toilet (PLEASE let this be over soon) and now he sleeps in (gasp!) disposable pull-on training pants
  • Making bread. I can buy it for $1 a loaf at the bakery outlet
  • Line-drying the family clothes
  • Taking the bus to work instead of owning a car
  • Gardening
  • Shopping for local produce/meat/dairy instead of just buying what’s on sale at Sprouts
  • Changing our oil/doing basic car maintenance
  • Making chocolate syrup for Mr. FP
  • Making more snacks from scratch instead of serving Goldfish crackers from Costco
  • Making seltzer

Etc.

What tasks I take on is based on a constantly shifting assessment of my time, our family’s needs, and my personal priorities and preferences. (I don’t particularly like trying to grow plants, but I do like sewing, for instance.) Over the next few list, things from the top list might get dropped and things from the bottom will probably be added. But the coffee tastes good to me, so for now, I’m filing it under “Ain’t broke. Don’t fix.”

Do you hold the line on chore inflation? How do you decide where to focus your energies? Do you have a list like mine of things you kind of wish you did, but don’t have the time and energy for?

July 2015 Net Worth Check

So… I am two months plus behind on this. Haven’t done it since January. Oops!

Obviously our situation has changed since we bought a house–not so much as far as our actual net worth, as where it is distributed. In other news, we have switched from Mint to Personal Capital. I just found Mint very clunky and awkward to use, and kept hearing good things about PC… we’ll see.

ASSETS

Cash: $3840.75 (includes our emergency reserve of about $2K)

Investments: $53,389.03 (This used to be more, but we spent my Roth IRA on a giant pile of bricks). New in this category: Mr. FP’s traditional IRA. We will owe taxes on the capital gains that were part of my IRA balance when we cashed it out, so decided to do a traditional IRA to help offset that.

  • My rollover IRA: $18,222.11
  • Mr. FP’s traditional IRA: $2,944.28 (He is rather depressed that this has already gone down–he just opened it with $3K a couple of weeks ago!)
  • Mr. FP’s old 403(b): $32,221.88

Property: $308,000 (assuming that the value of our house is exactly what we paid for it). We do not count our cars in this category.

Total assets: $365,229.78

LIABILITIES

Credit Cards: $2873.70

Mortgage: $293,278.43

Total liabilities: $296,152.13

TOTAL NET WORTH: $69077.65

Since January, that’s a change of $883. Hard to believe it has stayed so steady! On the other hand, at least it hasn’t gone down. The market has not been great and we have been seriously hemorrhaging money on things for the house. Normally we don’t run around buying used pianos and photo prints and whatnot.

When I started this blog in January 2015, I was surprised to find that our net worth was over $50K–it was at that time $51,681.47. That’s an increase over the last year and a half of $17, 396.18, or 33.7%.

Let’s call that “good, with room for improvement.” The next big question: When will we add that fifth zero?

How’s your net worth growing? How do you track it?

Look, I’m Growing Something!

Our new house came with no flower beds or garden of any kind. We have four different surfaces:

  1. Rocks
  2. Concrete
  3. Questionable grass
  4. Rubber mulch
  5. More rocks

And did I mention the rocks? So many rocks.Trying to keep the rocks out the rubber mulch and the mulch out of the rocks and both of them out of the grass is my new part-time job.

An experienced gardener would probably not have been deterred by this obstacle, but I am anything but an experienced gardener. The only thing I have ever planted in the ground is knockout roses. And if you live in the Deep South, as I did, knockout roses are pretty much the easiest thing you can possibly plant. They look nice and live forever.

So, no time this spring to create a garden. The whole backyard needs some kind of master plan involving a garden, a garage and many fewer rocks.

But I still wanted to try growing something, so I took over some of the containers that were already set up by the side of our house. The swamp cooler is already set up to drain into them, so less watering!

I have a rosemary plant that I bought at Sprouts, two basil plants (same) and several green onions (also, actually, from Sprouts). I cut off the green tips for use in a recipe, replanted the white bulbs, and they really did come back up!

On the left, you can see the little hose that runs from the swamp cooler up through the bottom of the container.

On the left, you can see the little hose that runs from the swamp cooler up through the bottom of the container.

And for decoration, the coneflowers I received for Mother’s Day. These are not super-healthy looking, but they are technically alive, so I’m calling it a win.

I'm such a newbie that I thought the plant was dead the first time the blossoms died. Then they returned.

I’m such a newbie that I thought the plant was dead the first time the blossoms died. Then they returned.

Maybe it will all die off. Maybe not. I am enjoying seeing things grow, but I’m honestly not prepared to get emotionally invested right now. I’m a person who likes to operate by baby steps, so the goal for this year was really just to get my hands dirty and enjoy some summer color and flavors.

Do you garden? Did it come naturally to you? How did you get started?

FP 1, Disposable Culture 2

As you might imagine for someone who sometimes carries drinking water in an old jam jar, I do not like throwing things away. (The only exception is pens. I feel a great sense of accomplishment if I manage not to lose a pen long enough that it runs out of ink, as opposed to ending its life in the dust bin at the grocery store, as I suspect most of my pens do.)

Avoiding throwing things away is hard in a culture, like ours, that makes things easy to replace and hard to fix, and Mr. FP and I have had a run of bad luck over the last month or so:

  1. He dropped his phone and broke the screen.
  2. My phone suddenly went dead.
  3. The TV also suddenly went dead.
  4. The printer went from working “intermittently” to “never.”

Mr. FP called Motorola to ask about having his phone repaired. We don’t do that, they said, but for $100 we’ll send you a brand-new phone. Reasonably good deal for us, sure. But one point for disposable culture.

My phone was an HTC Evo 4G LTE from 2012. About three years old. Turns out that the battery is integrated and can’t be replaced. (Things I wish I’d known before I bought it.) I actually bought a special set of tiny screwdrivers and tried taking the thing apart anyway, but I failed. HTC told me that the phone was “end of life.” Really? I have a kid as old as that phone, and he still wets his pants. But off to the recycling center with the phone. Another point for disposable culture.

I did, however, learn from the experience. I ordered a replacement phone from Glyde (of course) and this time was more careful. I decided that I do not need the LTE capability because I almost never use data anyway, and then usually for email, and that opened up some options. I settled on a Samsung Galaxy S3. You can actually still buy that one new, so I figure there will be a longer period of support as far as being able to get replacement parts and Android updates. And yes, the battery can be replaced. So maybe I can keep this one out of the jaws of disposable culture for a few years. I opted for “Good” rather than “Excellent” condition to keep the total cost under $100 and I’m glad I did. There are some scratches to the case but none to the screen, and the case scratches (a) are not very bad and (b) are hidden by the protective case anyway. One point for the FPs.

Then, the TV, which is at most three years old. Mr. FP took it to a local repair shop and was quoted $250 to repair it because the job requires replacing one giant, integrated board–disposable culture trying to make us buy a new one. Now, that gave us pause, because you can buy a new 40-inch LCD TV for less than that (albeit not from quite such a good brand as we have, evidently). We agonized for a few days while huddling around one laptop to watch Game of Thrones (HBO comes free with our cable Internet for reasons best known to ComCast).

Then we decided to just cough up the money. Here’s why we opted for repair over replacement:

  1. Enrich a local business instead of the businesses making junky TVs.
  2. Avoid having to learn a new TV, program a new remote, and all that nonsense.
  3. Save the time researching a new TV purchase.
  4. Keep our old TV out of the landfill.
  5. Save a few bucks ($30-$50) over a comparable replacement.

I would say that we beat disposable culture on that one, but only sort of–we did get stuck with the hefty repair bill because the TV was designed to be hard to repair. So let’s call that one a draw.

The printer’s death  was less distressing because it’s at least ten years old, maybe twelve, so it had a good run. It was a multifunction color inkjet, but here’s the thing about color printing: 90% of the time when we printed in color, it was an accident. After enough accidents, we would have to replace the (expensive) color cartridge. Then, guess what part of the printer broke? The color cartridge compartment. The printer lost the ability to recognize it and, for reasons of its own, declined to print even in black and white on the grounds that it could not feel the color cartridge.

So for a replacement, we went with this multifunction laser printer. Laser printing is cheaper than inkjet, we won’t have to worry about color cartridges, and laser printers have a reputation for being less temperamental, so we hope it will be easier to own. Let’s call this one another draw.

Well, everything is up and running now at a total cost of $600. Now, if we were REALLY frugal, we would have saved the whole $600. Every single thing that broke is a luxury item.

How do you decide whether to replace something, repair it–or just not have it anymore?

Thank Goodness It’s Shorts Season, or My War with Preschooler Pants

As of mid-May, Big Brother (age 4) owned zero pairs of pants that were his current size and had no holes in them. That’s not even counting pants with patches–all his patched pants had new holes. Even the pants that I bought brand-new for him in January had holes. Fortunately, then the sun came out.

Now, I’m not a sewing expert, but I’m learning and willing to try new things. The stakes are a little lower with clothes for preschoolers because tots just aren’t that picky, so it’s a great place to practice! Grandpa FP always used to say, “It’s already broken,” meaning I couldn’t make things worse. So in that spirit, I get out the sewing machine and the special sharp scissors and I just Google some tutorials and go for it!

I have tried a variety of methods for dealing with holes in the knees, starting with patching. The problem here is that the pants kept springing holes AROUND the patches. My patches, accordingly, kept getting bigger and bigger as the winter went on. I have also discovered that self-adhesive patches must be sewn on as well. I could do this by hand, but no. I hate hand-sewing with a fiery and intense passion, and also I am terrible at it. So I do it on my machine, even though I often accidentally sew the front of the pants to the back of the pants and have to start over (not much room to work in a pair of jeans worn by a 42 pound preschooler).

I tried to patch/sew up the small hole above the patch separately, but that didn't work. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

…but that was a fail. These pants now have enormous patches (not pictured) ready for cold summer evenings.

IMAG0136

I tried to patch and sew up a small hole that appeared in these jeans above the patch…

Then there are pants not suitable for patching. First, a pair of sweatpants (not pictured)–it just seemed like a patch would look strange. But as it happens, now that the weather’s warm, Big Brother desperately needed shorts! I measured a pair of shorts that fit him to figure out a good inseam. There was plenty of length to work with here, so I just did a traditional finished hem (double fold). Because the fabric was a little stretchy, the hem came out a little wobbly, but, well, I didn’t make them to enter in a hemming contest! Big Brother was delighted to see his favorite “running pants” come back to life as “running shorts.”

Next up, black cargo pants. With these, the hole was awkwardly high, close to the pocket–not much extra length. So I tried a new trick and used hem tape. I’d never done it before, but I remember Grandma FP using it, rather indulgently, when I was a teenager and insisted that my favorite dress had grown too short and needed to be let down.

I cut off the pants right at the rip and zig-zag stitched the cut edge, then sewed the hem tape as close as possible to that edge. (Actually it was self-adhesive hem tape, so I pressed it down first). Then I just barely folded over the hem tape, and sewed it down. The idea with using hem tape this way is that it lets you fold over just a tiny bit of the fabric, instead of losing the full half-inch minimum required by a proper hem.

Hem tape sewn in place.

Hem tape sewn in place.

005

Hem tape pinned down, ready for sewing.

I was thinking that the color of the tape was not important, since it will be on the inside, but of course it is sometimes visible–these are shorts. Fortunately, the neutral beige looks fine, almost like it’s an intentional embellishment. Good thing I didn’t use pink lace or something!

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Finished result. Definitely imperfect, but pretty adorable on.

Lastly, we have the unsalvageable. One pair of khaki cargo pants ripped right up to the pocket, leaving no room for repair. Then a pair of jeans which ripped underneath the large patches (not pictured). I was thinking of making shorts of the jeans, but Grandma FP pronounced them unworthy (too threadbare in the butt). I am saving both of these to cut up for future patches. (See my upcoming post on Adult Pants Problems for how I have already used these!)

Cargo pants are always tricky--the pockets limit one's options.

Cargo pants are always tricky–the pockets limit one’s options.

I feel like I spent all winter trying to keep Big Brother in pants, so I am very glad that part of the year is over. No word yet on whether he will be allowed to have patches on his uniform pants at his new school next year–I hope so, or it could be an expensive winter!

How are your mending skills coming along?

Well, My Time with Leapforce at Home Is Done

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been doing just the minimum to get by with Leapforce at Home–frankly, mostly to try to keep getting referral bonuses–but then my smart phone died and “minimum” became “nothing all month.”

I received a notice this week that I am no longer an active agent and would need to re-take the qualification exam. (No word on whether if I did so, I would retain my preferred agent status and pay rate.)

I was actively trying to keep myself alive with Leapforce, but now that they’ve let me go, I have no plans to try to get back in. With my new job, I have barely been keeping up with my other, better side gig (fact-checking trivia questions) and don’t need the money as much.

It’s a bit of a relief, really. Besides having to steal the time from other projects,  I haven’t been performing very well on the new rating tasks using one’s smart phone, so that was an added source of stress. No one likes to get unsatisfactory performance ratings from anonymous algorithms. Now, since I have already failed, I don’t have to worry about it any more! What I feared has already come to pass, so I’m free.

I was active with Leapforce at Home for over four and a half years, and I continue to recommend it for at-home parents and others who want to make a little extra money with not too much commitment.

It gave me something to do during naptime and (back when I was doing more hours and thus performing better) let me feel like I was still pretty good at something besides deodorizing cloth diapers and loading babies into back carriers without assistance. It kept my brain active and introduced me to some funny YouTube series and a few interesting factoids. (Did you know there’s a part of the human spine that looks like a Scottie dog?)

I might have more free time in the fall if we succeed in getting Little Brother into our local public preschool. But if I do, I’d like to use that time for more creative, productive endeavours, like sewing or getting back into writing fiction.

Have you ever felt immediate relief upon “failing”? What have you trimmed from your life recently?

Why I Spent More To DIY My Bike Chain

Before we go any further, a clarification: This is not a post about HOW to replace your bike chain. I’ve only done it once and there are many sets of directions out there on the interwebs. This is a post about why I did it–even though in the short run, it was actually more expensive. It’s also meant to be encouraging, as I am inexperienced, lacking in upper body strength, notoriously uncoordinated, and responsible for supervising two preschool boys simultaneously with any repair attempts, so if I can, you can!

A few months back, I had my bike at the local bike shop for a gear problem I couldn’t resolve myself. The bike mechanic mentioned that my chain was near the end of its life. I had two options:

  1. Pay them to replace it. This costs $15, and they give you 15% off the chain.
  2. Replace it myself. This would require a $15 tool, and I would have to pay full price for the chain. The total was thus slightly higher.

Well, I bought the chain and the chain tool (the mechanic called it a “chain breaker,” which sounds awesomer, so I’m going to call it that, too). A chain breaker is a unitasker. It does only one thing–push connecting pins in and out of bike chains. But without it, you simply can’t do the job. Fortunately, it is small and not too expensive.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Post-repair, the thing was no longer nearly this shiny.

Obviously, I will save money next time I need a new chain, because I already have the tool. But to save $15 every year or so, was it really worth learning a new skill and, well, getting my hands filthy? Obviously, I think so. For one thing, there are four people in my family. If I replace four chains a year, that’s $60 a year, not $15. I already worked out, back when I learned to wax my own eyebrows, that saving $15 four times per year, with compound interest, works out to $904 over ten years.

Then there’s the one-more-thing factor. I’ve realized that I probably actually save more money than I thought by doing my own eyebrows because inevitably, I got my hair cut at the same time. So sometimes I was getting my hair cut because my eyebrows were a mess, and sometimes vice versa.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won't need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I took this picture of the chain so that next time, I won’t need to go to the bike shop to buy it as I will know what I need.

I imagine it would be much the same thing with a bike chain. Go in to get the chain replaced, wind up with a couple new gadgets (rear view mirror? clearance bike shorts?) and some additional services you only kind of need.

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

Pay particular attention to which way the chain goes under and over these little wheels (shown upside-down).

It’s a pretty easy job. There were a few points of challenge:

  1. Turning the chain breaker to push out a rivet is surprisingly difficult. Those little pins are in tight.
  2. Re-winding the chain was tricky. I took a photo (see above) of the chain path, but the harder part was getting the chain under the little metal guards. Then it was hard to hold the ends together and shove in the closing pin at the same time.
  3. The special closing pin had a guide portion that, once the chain was joined, had to be broken off with plyers. This took several tries.
  4. The trickiest part of all: The kids kept running away with the chain breaker.
I used old dishwashing gloves--the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet--and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

I used old dishwashing gloves–the ones I normally use for rinsing grossness in the toilet–and they helped, but eventually I just grabbed the chain with my bare hands.

How are your bicycle mechanic skills coming along? Am I the only one making slooooow progress?

Hacking Mini-Blinds

So I mentioned a few weeks ago that one does not count lightbulbs when one is looking at houses. You know what else you don’t notice? Whether or not the mini blinds have strings in them.

Yes, all the mini blinds that came with the house are missing at least some of the strings used to open the blinds. I don’t mean that they are broken. Someone clearly took the blinds down and carefully extracted the strings. Why, you ask? Excellent question. The sellers had small children, so I suppose it’s possible they removed the strings in a burst of excessive caution. Except, then why did they leave some of the strings behind?

Regardless, the situation was this. The main living area had four sets of blinds. Only two of them went up and down. And those two had broken slats.

Kitty Paragon reclines by the window. Maybe their children broke the slats?

Kitty Paragon reclines by the double window in the living room pre-repair. Maybe the sellers’ children broke the slats?

Now, I was seriously tempted to throw them all away and go buy real wood blinds (I have ethical and environmental concerns about vinyl). But… real wood blinds are expensive. And while I think it would be “better” to buy real wood, the best case is generally to fix what you have.

See below for details, but here’s a quick summary of tips:

  1. You can restring horizontal blinds. It’s easy.
  2. If you hang new blinds, when you shorten them, save the extra slats from the bottom to use in future repair jobs.

Step 1: Restring the dining room blinds

These weren’t too bad. This set of blinds originally had two strings, only one of which was missing. These blinds had been shortened correctly and none of the slats were broken.

Horizontal blinds laid out on striped rug.

The string on your right was removed for unknown reasons.

So I took it down and restrung, using this excellent tutorial and some twine we had lying around. The cotton twine was not really the ideal string for the job, but it worked with a little finessing. Because it tended to separate at the ends, I used a large plastic yarn needle to help thread it through the slats.

Working the new string through. You don't need the needle if you are using the proper kind of cord.

Working the new string through. You don’t need the needle if you are using the proper kind of cord.

This is what happens if you get a slat backwards. I had to start over. Watch out for this!

This is what happens if you get a slat backwards. I had to start over. Watch out for this!

The new string needed a tassel and a cord stop, which is a little clear plastic doodad. This doodad is EXTREMELY important (not but pictured). It prevents small children from being able to strangle themselves with the cord, which is a real thing that real children have done (not just a theoretical danger). Fortunately, I had some on hand. You can order them for free from the Window Covering Safety Council.

The hardest part was getting the string out from under this part of the mechanism at the top of the blinds.

The hardest part was getting the string out from under this part of the mechanism at the top of the blinds.

Tip: If you try this at home, make sure to run the new cord to the INSIDE of the ladder strings holding up the slats. It will help the slats stay in place better.

Step 2: Single living room blinds, broken slats

The set of blinds facing the street, miraculously, had both its strings intact. It was, however, missing three slats. It had also never been shortened, so when fully extended, it hung perhaps a foot below the end of the window. In a rare case when two wrongs DID make a right, I was able to take the excess slats off the bottom and use them to replace the missing ones.

This part I found easier to fix with the blinds still hanging–no need to take them down since I was not restringing. The process involved taking the little buttons off the bottom and cutting the knot off the bottom of the strings. Then, I pulled the string out above the broken slats, slid new slats in from the sides, and worked the string back down.

Pulling out the string.

Pulling out the string.

Sliding in a new slat.

Sliding in a new slat.

Step 3: Double living room blinds, broken slats and missing strings

On the side of the living room was a double set of blinds 41” wide. The ones on the left had only one string, while those on the right had two strings out of four (enough to function). Both sets had been shortened and they both had several broken slats (see picture above with Kitty Paragon). Boo.

Nothing to do here but buy new blinds, since I had no extra slats to work with. However, I had the brainstorm of buying only one set. Our 2” faux wood blinds come standard from Home Depot. We measured the space between the strings to determine that they had been cut down from a 42” set. We hung the new ones, shortened them and saved the extra slats for future repairs, and then cannibalized the now-defunct set for the spare slats we needed to fix the other old ones.

If you look closely, sure, you can tell that the ones on the right are old and the ones on the left are new. So what?

If you look closely, sure, you can tell that the ones on the right are old and the ones on the left are new. So what?

I could have run two new strings through this other old set, of course. But since two do the job, I decided to leave them alone. I’m not a fan of doing extra work just for the hell of it.

So instead of buying four new sets of blinds, I bought only one. Is it better environmentally to buy one set of vinyl blinds or four sets of wood? Well, I’m not sure, but I suspect that once you factor in all the energy and waste from the manufacturing process, plus the shipping, I did the right thing.

It was certainly the right thing for my pocketbook. The new blinds were about $40. The wood blinds would have run at least $280 for the most basic, more if I wanted upgrades like cloth tapes over the strings.

What have you saved from the trash bin or avoided buying recently?

 

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