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Jeans, More Jeans, and a Beach Cover-Up: More Sewing Projects

After I finally, at very long last, finished my skirt project, I was kind of on a roll and tackled a few other jobs.

First I patched a pair of jeans. See, sometimes you want old jeans, right? But my jeans wear out at the inside thigh, which makes them go instantly from “presentable” to “might expose flesh” overnight. So if I want to have serviceable old jeans, I have to patch this area.

I have iron-on patches, but they’re kind of stiff. Instead, I like to cut up an even older pair of jeans and use that. Big Brother had these wide-legged 4T jeans that passed the point of repairability, so I used those. I cut a piece using pinking shears and sewed it down, using a zigzag stitch over the most vulnerable area. Before I owned pinking shears, I used a zigzag stitch to attach the patches, which is serviceable but makes a more noticeable repair (as the stitches can more easily be seen from the outside than a straight stitch.) You can really only see it from the outside at all because I accidentally caught a tiny bit of fabric as I was sewing.

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Over time, the double hem creates a line on the outside of the jeans. Blech.

Next, I had a pair to hem. Now, I know cuffing jeans is in fashion this year, but I’m so short that I would have way too bulky a cuff unless I hem (being as I could not find Short in my size). I consider the ideal leg width for skinny jeans to be “exactly as wide as my sewing machine in free-arm mode.”

I tried a new method. In the past, I have simply cut some off and double-hemmed using dark blue thread, but this is a pain and I don’t like the way it look as it wears.

So instead I used this tutorial for preserving the original hem. I hear that the flap of fabric created on the inside can be annoying, so I chose to stitch it down across the front and not just at the sides. These stitches are technically visible from the outside, but you can’t really see them.

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Inside view. I did the zigzag BEFORE cutting off the excess. My machine does not like to sew too close to the edge of the fabric.

I like the way it looks… but I accidentally left them too long, so I still have to cuff them. Oops!

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Real quick, I mended the side of an old bath towel. It is otherwise perfectly serviceable, and you can’t have too many bath towels. I cut off the frayed strings. Part of the edge was still in place, so I zigzagged stitched it back down. This being an old bath towel, I didn’t worry about buying special matching thread!

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For my piece de resistance, I had an impulse to turn an old jersey sheet into a bathing suit cover-up. This is more a cutting project than a sewing one. I used this tutorial, which claims to be twenty-minute project. It took me a couple of hours. I kept having to cut and cut and cut more. Then of course I probably cut too much. The only sewing was attaching the braided straps. I was afraid that they would not fit under my presser foot, but it worked just fine. I made a little box to hold each strap in place.

After I sewed these on, I cut down the surrounding fabric.

I think it kind of looks like I made it from a sheet. But it will serve for getting the kids to and from the pool at our apartment complex, at least!

Now I have put away my sewing machine for a while with firm intentions to work on my scrapbook, although I did promise Big Brother a new apron soon.

What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?

Well, That Got Out of Hand: I Made a Skirt Without a Pattern

This post contains affiliate links for research purposes. I got my books from the library.

If you’ve been following along, you know that first I made skirts from library book patterns (here’s the first and the second). Then I tried making a gathered rectangular skirt, which does not require a pattern. The waistband came out pretty well, but the result was unflattering.

Then I took it into my head to learn pattern drafting.

Friends, I am not sure what I was thinking. Man, that was hard.

First, I made a straight skirt sloper just from taking my measurements and drawing things on freezer paper. I was very pleased with myself. Then I slashed and spread the pattern and raised the waistband to make a high-waist flared skirt sloper. So far, so good. Although it took me a couple of tries to get the fit right, so by this point I had been fiddling with the project for some weeks.

The flared, high-waisted sloper. Down to 1 dart per side because the other is where I slashed and spread. You must forgive me for not modelling i.

Now I was ready to move on to the actual sewing. The book I was using, Skirt-a-Day Sewing*, gives very specific directions for making specific designs rather than expecting the reader to do so. To make the pattern for the design I chose, there was yet more slashing and spreading involved to turn the darts into pleats.

*I think it’s important to note that this refers to having a different skirt for every day of the month, NOT the length of time they take to make!

A major weakness of the book is that it does not give instructions with this pattern for truing the waistline or the hem after all that slashing and spreading. Not sure it came out right.

Instead of a zipper, this skirt uses button-down tabs. When you unbutton, you can open the tabs and step in and out. There’s also a hidden snap holding the tab in place. It only took me 8 tries to make a passable four-step buttonhole.

The big knot is where the bobbin thread ran out. It goes faster than I expect.

I was worried about lining up the button and buttonhole and the two parts of the snap, but this seemed at least moderately forgiving. I did not have trouble. And I got to use the sew-in snaps that my grandmother gave me circa ten years ago (when my mom gave me a sewing machine for Christmas and grandma gave me a stocked sewing basket) and have not yet had a use for. Rather satisfying.

As always, there were some hiccups. For one thing, my machine is getting wonky. Sometimes it makes a giant knot instead of sewing. Oiling it approximately every 28 minutes helps, but is tedious. When it happens in an important place, like the right side of the hem (I am lazy and always hem with  straight stitch), I pick it out and start over. When it happens in an inconspicuous place, I pretend I don’t notice.

Reverse side of the front tab where the machine went wonky. Why is it white on the back? I ran out of fabric. Oops.

Another hiccup was my decision to add pockets. All skirts and dresses should have pockets, no? I traced a pocket shape from another book, Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking. But those pockets were designed for  a rectangular skirt, and this has curved side seams. They hung weird at first. But a little ironing seemed to put them right.

Honestly, I’m still not sure about the skirt. I’m in love with the basic premise of a full skirt made of polka dots. Very 50s-ish and the silhouette is flattering. But possibly I will find the pleats waaaay too fiddly and always be adjusting them. The ones in the back I actually sewed down because I found that I did not need to open them to get the skirt on, but I think I made them too tight. I might need to move the front buttons and re-press the pleats closer to the middle.

Sorry for bad photo. The children were not feeling cooperative this morning.

My next two sewing projects are no-pattern easy things: Hemming jeans and making an awesome new boy apron for Big Brother. But I bow to conventional wisdom. The next time I make something for myself, I will take the easy road and buy a clearance pattern, even though I will lose the bragging rights. (“Thanks! I made it! From a library book!”) I think I need more time to develop my skills without the pressure of pattern drafting.

What are you making lately? How’s it coming out?

I’m Learning Patternmaking: My First Sloper

I’m much too cheap to buy patterns, even on clearance. I have made a couple of skirts using patterns from library books–they are printed on thick book-type paper, as opposed to the thinner sort of pattern paper, and one traces them. (Freezer paper is excellent for this purpose.) My first foray into making a skirt without a pattern ended badly–the muslin was wildly unflattering.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I wasn’t that happy with the skirts I had made from patterns. They are fully lined with no waistband, and the lining never even came close to lining up with the outside. They also don’t really have enough volume to accommodate pockets. (I used The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, and I still think it can be a good starting place. I wear the skirts regularly, I just think I can do better.)

For my next project, I chose the book Skirt-a-Day Sewing, which I had rejected before as being too difficult. I think I’m ready now. This one offers 28 different skirt designs and walks the reader through how to take measurements, draft a basic pattern, and then alter it for each specific design. So the final result is prescribed and the instructions are very specific… but there is no pattern to cut out or trace.


Another one that I looked at is How to Make Sewing Patterns. This was a little too much like drinking from a fire hose for my current needs. The many complicated measurements that it prescribes probably won’t improve my results until my skills catch up–at which point I might find it very helpful. And it offers only a little design guidance.

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My first pattern. I was trying to “true” the darts. I still don’t understand this part and am not sure it’s important.

Guys, I’m having a lot of fun! All the measuring and drawing has been an enjoyable challenge and has really improved my understanding of garment construction.

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Yes, this is me, in my spectacularly messy bathroom, trying on my fitting shell while also wearing a pajama top and taking a selfie. This is not the glamorous part of fashion design.

So far, I have gotten as far as making a basic sloper–basically a fitting shell. Next, the book suggests making a second sloper that is specific to the basic type of skirt (flared, in this case). Since flaring the skirt involves “slashing and spreading” the pattern I made from my measurements, I think that’s worth the four dollars of muslin. (Maybe gingham would have been better but I couldn’t bring myself to pay seven dollars for two yards’ worth.)

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“Slash and spread”–not as violent as it sounds.

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My makeshift hip curve. I found it did not match my actual curve well.

I could have gotten away without buying anything, and at first I did. Some people say you can draw the curved hip portion of a side seam using a dinner plate, but I tried that and it wasn’t even close to the right shape. Which makes sense, because hips are not actually circular. So for a while, I used a downloaded hip curve ruler, which I pasted to a Cheerios box for stiffening and cut out. That worked OK. But I decided to go ahead and buy a flexible curve ruler (about $10, bought with Amazon reward points).

Skirt-A-Day prescribed a hip curve, but I thought the flexible curve, recommended in Make Sewing Patterns, would be more versatile. I guess time will tell.

Onward with the second sloper!

What are you making lately? How are the results?

Mending Roundup: Yeses and Nos

This post contains affiliate links for your researching convenience. As always, my opinions are my own.

I’ve made a couple of repairs to our wardrobes lately… and “noped” out of some others. For all, I have made do with supplies on hand. Here’s how it looks.

1 school uniform shirt (not pictured)

Don’t get me started on the uniforms. Shirts are $10 apiece(!) for a school that is ninety-percent-plus free and reduced lunch (yes, my kids, too)  stain easily, and often wear out in a single school year. And this year the sizes changed and Little Brother will wear only last year’s grubby shirts because the new ones are too big.

Anyway, within the first two weeks of school, the seam under Big Brother’s armpit gave way in one of the new shirts. Stitched it up with needle and thread, by hand.

1 Goodwill sweater

I like this sweater, which is Loft brand and was $5 in excellent condition (thanks, Grandma FP). The underarm seam started to give way. I didn’t have any yarn-type thread, so I just used a double strand of regular thread. I didn’t have yellow so I just used white and tried to keep all the stitches on the inside. So far, the results are satisfactory, although the repair is visible from the outside if you look really closely. (Fortunately, people rarely shove their heads under my arms.) When I buy sweaters new, I generally do a pretty good job of keeping track of the repair thread, but this was from Goodwill, so no such luck.

1 Brassiere

I do not own a lot of bras so I was dismayed when I went to put this one on and felt a pop in the back. The little slider that adjusts the straps had broken.

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Broken slider.

Fortunately, I already had a set of lingerie repair doodads (Dritz Lingerie Strap Slides & Rings, if you want to get fancy–I probably bought them at Joann or Walmart) from a dress I had repaired and even had the right color.

Unfortunately, I got confused and snipped off the strap that was NOT broken. So  I had to re-sew both sides. I sewed by hand while watching TV using a thimble that came in one of those hotel sewing kits–you have to push hard to get through multiple strap layers.

Nope, not worth it: Old Navy pants

Both boys had these Old Navy cargo pants for school. They were on sale and I thought they were cute. Unfortunately, the fabric is thin and wears through quickly. Also, the narrow legs and knee gussets make repair challenging. While I have a package of iron-on patches, they tend to peel and I like to machine-sew them in place. Machine sewing also helps the patch adhere to the ripped area.

I tried to keep these going, I really did. But patch after patch after patch… No. It looks dreadful and is a ton of work. You can see below how the patches are a mess inside, layered on top of each other, and visible from the outside, and then new holes are showing. I was going to the half-price day of a semiannual consignment sale event and just got LB some replacement pants for a couple bucks each.

I am hoping that Costco will get in a new shipment of their French Toast uniform pants in the fall. These are nice thick fabric. I had bought maybe 7 pairs altogether for Big Brother at $10 each. Only one pair has ripped, and Costco gave my money back. LB was too small for them this year as the smallest size they had was 5, but by fall, he should be able to wear them. At least in a “to grow into” kind of way.

What are you mending lately?

Domestic Hits and Misses, or That’s Why You Make a Muslin

This is a roundup of various success and failures I’ve had at home this month.

Drawer Repair

I went to open my bottom drawer and this happened.

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You may admire all my vertically folded KonMari’d clothes.

Then I pulled it out, removed the clothes, and foolishly left it lying on the floor. Little Brother tripped over it and then it was in five pieces.

Now, it seems like this should have been an easy fix. Spread wood glue on pieces, reattach. But after I put on the wood glue, I had trouble getting the pieces to line up properly. They didn’t go back tightly enough and the drawer would not fit in the space. It stuck out halfway. Aaaand now the glue had dried and it was fixed in that shape,

Now, at this point more than one person suggested I should abandon the project. But I like that dresser. It is old and sturdy and fits the space well. Taller and the TV would be too high. Shorter and there would not be enough room for my clothes. Wider and there would not be enough room for the Christmas tree. Plus, it was already there and I didn’t want to devote hours of my life to selecting and purchasing a replacement and reorganizing my clothes.

So I turned once again to sfgate’s home guides. I ordered a package of glue syringes (specifically, Big Horn Glue Injector Kit, from Amazon)–who knew there was such a thing? They come empty. I used one to precisely squirt white vinegar at the glue joints so they would come apart. With ten or fifteen minutes of soaking, a little tugging and a little poking with a flat-head screwdriver, this was effective. I had 5 pieces again. (The directions I looked at called for drilling into the  glue, but I did not find this step necessary.)

This time, I tested the fit before gluing. Then I used another of the syringes to sort of shoot glue into the joints with the drawer already assembled. I don’t know if it’s enough glue for the long term but it is holding for now. It fits into the space more tightly than before, but it does fit.

Sewing Fail

I am not sure why I thought a gathered skirt would look good. Because the instructions I was using (from Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking) involved some things that were new to me, I made a sample first out of a curtain I bought at Goodwill. I did everything carefully both to practice my skills and because I thought it might come out wearable. I made and learned from a wide variety of errors while doing this, so that’s good. See below how dreadful I still am at attempting to finish a fabric edge by zigzag stitching, and see also where I managed to sew a zipper inside the waistband.

(Side note: A more experienced sewist told me that Tilly’s patterns are basically garbage anyway. I am not sufficiently knowledgeably myself to verify this.)

But once I had it all put together except the hem, I decided it was hideous and abandoned the project. I will find something else to do with the “real” fabric. Sunk costs: Less than five dollars and many skills learned.

I Made a Chalkboard

When we were married in 2001, the XFP’s stepmother made us a commemorative counted cross-stitch. She seemed like a nice lady (we met her only that once) and it was rather attractive as counted cross-stitch goes, and we dutifully hung it in our bedroom for 15 years.

I had been wanting to make a chalkboard from an old frame ever since I read about it in the Frugal Girl. So, no longer desiring a commemorative cross-stitch from my wedding, I disassembled the whole thing, removed and cleaned the glass, and painted it with chalkboard paint that I bought at Hobby Lobby. Glass chalkboard paint turns out to be kind of a pain to use as it had to set for four days(!), then be baked in the oven to finish. But eventually it was done.

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Perhaps I should revise phrasing so it does not appear that Daddy is on the supper menu.

I use it as a menu board. You may notice that Saturday has only an activity listed (who cares what’s for dinner? POPCORN NIGHT!) and Sunday was blank. It is not perfect. But I can talk to the boys while I fill it out about  what our week will be like and when they will be at Daddy’s house, so it adds some nice predictability. The paint was about $4 and I have enough to do a little more glass if I wanted to.

The mistake I made was trying to use a regular sponge. The directions said to use a cosmetic sponge. I didn’t have any, so I tried using a kitchen sponge, which made for a very striated first coat. For the second coat, I used a foam paintbrush, which worked much better. In fact, it was a TOY foam paintbrush stolen from the children. I am not wild about the rippled texture but it doesn’t seem to do any harm. I am in general pleased with this project and I like the nice bright markers (which were about $5). Some people complain that chalk markers don’t erase well, but I am not having that problem so far.

What projects have you been working on lately? What are the results?

No Domestic Backup

I have never lived on my own. Mr. FP and I went directly from the sophomore dorm to our first apartment, the summer we were all of 19 years old. As I recall, we had camping chairs for furniture and a National Geographic map thumb-tacked to our living room wall for decoration.

At first, giddy teenagers in love, we did all the things together. Grocery shopping. Laundry. As the years went on and our domestic responsibilities increased and increased some more, we began to specialize. Laundry was all me. During times we had a yard, that was all him. He set up all the utilities, I arranged all the repairmen.

Well, he doesn’t live here anymore, and I’ve had to learn some new skills. Here’s how it’s shaking out.

Cutting the cat’s claws

Kitty Paragon in repose.

Kitty Paragon in repose.

Difficulty: Low

Time involved: 5 minutes

Potential for mishap: Medium

Result: Satisfactory

I seem to have been left with Kitty Paragon. She is a nice cat and a devoted user of her scratching post, but nail-trimming was never my job. She cooperated reasonably well and only ran away once. However, when I first went to do the task earlier in the day, I couldn’t find her. Still don’t know where she was (she is strictly an indoor feline). I just waited until she turned up, after the tots were in bed.

Plunging the toilet

Difficulty: Medium

Time involved: 5 minutes

Potential for mishap: High

Result: Satisfactory

I had perhaps trimmed the cat three or four times in the years she has lived with us. Plunging a toilet, never. I am not proud of this, but the one time I attempted it, I became so distressed that I, umm, cried until Mr. FP came and did it. (Let the record show that I do not, EVER, personally clog toilets, but small children are luxuriantly profligate with toilet paper.)

Well, I’m not exactly sure what I did. I wrapped a towel around my person for protection, plunged ineffectually a few times, and eventually it seemed to get better even though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing it right.

Using the trimmer

Resplendent weeds. Sorry I do not have a picture of it freshly trimmed. I am procrastinating.

Resplendent weeds. Sorry I do not have a picture of it freshly trimmed. I am procrastinating.

Difficulty: High

Time involved: 3o  minutes

Potential for mishap: Very high

Result: Unsatisfactory

The actual lawnmower I don’t mind. Our yard is small and mostly dead and we have one of those manual push mowers, so there was no gasoline involved. But I made a hash of the trimming. I invariably either exposed bare dirt or failed to actually trim anything. Mr. FP’s instructions consisted solely of “cut the grass, not yourself” and the few YouTube videos I watched were not very illuminating.

Vacuuming

Goodwill vacuum now working.

Goodwill vacuum now working.

Difficulty: Low

Time involved: 3o  minutes

Potential for mishap: Low

Result: Acceptable

Our marital vacuum was a Hoover Runabout that we had owned since 1999 and had never even needed to replace a belt. They don’t make Runabouts any more. I was sad, but it seemed fair for Mr. FP to have it since in our sixteen years of cohabitation, I vacuumed perhaps eight and a half times. I went to Goodwill and researched the models on offer there. For ten dollars, I bought a well-reviewed one that was, at that particular moment, running but not actually sucking anything.

It just needed a new belt (which was entirely missing) and filters. I wonder how many vacuums wind up at Goodwill just for lack of routine maintenance? At any rate, I got it working with a little help from Amazon Prime, but vacuuming does not come naturally to me. I can never figure out what places I’ve already vacuumed and I run into things and get the cord stuck and just generally flail around ineffectually. The carpets looked like they had been vacuumed, however ineptly, and I suppose I will improve with practice.

Well, so far, so good for the most part. I have not had to outsource any tasks that Mr. FP customarily performed, and I feel like a more completely rounded adult human. I can do All The Things. (Incidentally, I’m sure Mr. FP is having many of the same experiences but with different tasks. The children always seem to be wearing freshly laundered clothes, for instance.) In the future, should I be in a relationship again, I won’t have to do All The Things, but it will be nice to know that I have the capabilities.

What tasks have you taken on? How did it go?

I Made Another Skirt!

This post contains affiliate links for research purposes. I got both books from my public library.

Results are in for my second effort at sewing a skirt. Two highlights:

  1. I had dropped one size.
  2. I got the zipper in on the first try (see “Caught in the Zipper” for my previous travails).

I did have some snafus. When I sewed the pleats, the skirt came out a little smaller than it was supposed to. I overcompensated when I made the lining, so it was too small and had to be altered. Twice. Grandma FP said I should sew a new one from new fabric but I was too lazy to face a new set of darts, so I just sewed a strip of fabric into the side. (And then a large strip when the first one wasn’t big enough.) Probably not the approved method, but hey, it’s a skirt. The zipper space in the lining, for some reason, is not as long as the actual zipper, but I can get it on and off, so who cares?

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You can see the white fabric sticking up way past the end of the zipper. Oh, well.

Also, the darts don’t quite match up between the skirt and the lining. Well, one of them does, and the other looks like this:

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I used the “contrast pleat” pattern from the same book I used last time, The Essential A-line. I consulted a second book, Skirt-a-Day Sewing, but it seemed too complex for my current skills. Their designs feature waistbands and interfacing rather than full lining, and the suggested sewing kit is much larger. (I can’t imagine that I will ever invest in a “tailor’s ham,” for instance. It is a ham-shaped hard pillow thing used for ironing darts, apparently.)

I think next time, I will stay away from pleats altogether and try something a little simpler. I really want a black skirt and have not found a satisfactory one in stores. Note to retailers: Not everyone likes pencil skirts. Some of us look pregnant in them.

Cost for materials was under $20. I did not buy any new gadgets! I was really, really tempted to buy a real metal invisible zipper foot, but I resisted the urge and I actually found that my cheapo plastic one worked much better this time under my more-experienced hand. It did not fall apart even once! I bought new polka dot and lining fabric and used up some of the leftover houndstooth from my first skirt.

Here are some pics of the finished skirt. I’m a librarian, so I can do stuff like go to work wearing a homemade polka-dot-and-houndstooth skirt and low-top Chuck Taylors (not shown).

What are you making lately, or what new skills have you learned?

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Selfie. Arms not long enough to show whole skirt, but this one shows the color the best. The houndstooth is not really that crooked.

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Big Brother needs to work on his photograph skills.

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More Misadventures in Appliance Repair: The Oven

I was trying to cook dinner one night and just not making much progress. The pork chops were still pink inside after what seemed like a long time. And the apples underneath them were still crunchy. I couldn’t understand why.

And then Mr. FP realized that the top heating element in our oven (it’s called the broil element, and you should remember that because it’s going to be important later in the story) was not working. The bottom element was working, so the oven felt generally hot, but it was not hot enough to cook pork chops. I finished dinner in the toaster oven.

So I needed a new heating element. No problem; I did a little Internet searching and ordered the cheapest new OEM part. In the meantime, at least I could use the toaster oven and the cooktop, right?

That was true until I blew the circuit breaker. When the new part arrived, I flipped off the circuit breaker, then I remembered I wanted to use the stove and tried to flip it back on. Except it wouldn’t go back. It was stuck in the middle, tripped position.

Also, I had ordered the wrong part. I had ordered the BAKE element; I needed the BROIL element. Silly me, thinking they would be interchangeable.

Well, I know my limits. The thing about electricity is that if you do it wrong, you burn your house down. So I called an electrician to replace the circuit breaker. It wasn’t done quite right before and neither was the one for the dryer, so he fixed, that, too. This repair totalled a princely $311. Evidently my circuit breakers are manufactured by unicorns.

The electrician informs me it is not uncommon for a bad oven heating element to take the circuit breaker with it. I am told that in the future, immediately cutting power and not using any part of the range until it is repaired may spare the breaker.

A few days later, the correct part arrived. (The part was $40 and it cost me $12 to ship back the one that was wrong, for a total cost of $52.) I flipped off my brand-new circuit breaker and removed the old element. Here, I hit a snag. See, here’s the number one rule of replacing oven heating elements: Do not let the wires fall back inside the oven.

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Close-up of the hole that the wire had fallen through, seen from the back. The little metal doodad you see hanging down is what connects to the element.

You see where this is going, right? Well, when pulling out the old element caused the wires to snap back inside the oven, I nearly despaired and called a repair person. Then I thought, well, how would the repair person get those wires out? I asked Google. Turns out all I had to do was pull the oven out from the wall and remove the back. Now, I could tell this wasn’t going to be hard because it came off with a regular screwdriver. I have a theory that when a manufacturer wants to keep you from messing with something, they use oddly shaped screws. (Like the star-shaped screwdrivers I needed to take my dishwasher apart.)

Once the back was off, I easily located the wires. It actually made installing the new element easier, because I could attach the wires from behind the oven rather than inserting the top half of my person inside the oven. My arms aren’t long enough, anyway. Several more minutes with the screwdriver and we were back in business.

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Re-assembled back of oven. Sorry for bad photo quality–as you can imagine, it was dark behind my oven. And kinda filthy.

I don’t know how much money we saved, paying for the circuit breaker but fixing the oven myself. But I had a plumber at my house a few months ago and I asked him how much it would cost if, in addition to the job for which I had hired him, he also tightened my loose faucet. To tighten this screw, he said, he would charge $179. So I’m guessing I saved three figures.

And equally importantly, it was extremely satisfying. I would like it noted that at no point did I ask for or receive any assistance from Mr. FP. This was my show.

What home repair successes or debacles have you experienced recently?

How I Used A Hacksaw To Clean My Dishwasher

Caution: This post contains disturbing imagery. Do you view unless you have time to clean your dishwasher immediately.

This week’s learning experience: I attempted a minor household repair that people often outsource. I made a tremendous hash of it, but with the help of Internet strangers, I ultimately prevailed.

See, the dishes were not getting clean in the dishwasher. A vinegar cleaning was not effective, so I knew I needed to take the floor apart and clean the underneath.

This is supposed to be a simple procedure with a few basic steps:

  1. Remove lower spray arm by removing the nut holding it in place.
  2. Take out screws with special star-shaped screwdriver.
  3. Disconnect white tube thing at back and remove the screw under it.
  4. Lift up filter, clean, then reassemble.

That seemed straightforward, so I started by turning the nut with needle nose pliers. Or sometimes I held it still and spun the arm.

Oops.

Oops.

Now that would have been fine. There were two problems with my plan: One, the nut in my particular machine doesn’t actually come off. As I was told in the MMM forums, the arm is supposed to sort of walk up the nut and come off, leaving the nut behind.

Two, it’s a right hand bolt. I had been turning it in the wrong direction for like half an hour. By now, I could not get the nut to move. The arms were jammed underneath the threads of the nut and would not “walk” back up. I waited thirty-six hours for Mr. FP to come back from his trip because he’s better with unscrewing things. No dice. Still stuck.

I despaired. There may have been tears. Since he got back Thursday, New Year’s Eve, I knew that even if I had wanted to blow a bunch of money calling a plumber, I wouldn’t be able to do that until Monday. And I emphatically did not want to drop a hundred some dollars on plumbing, especially with my car needing work this month.

Instead, I decided to destroy the nut. Lacking any suitable cutting tools, I bought a mini-hacksaw at Walmart and sliced off the top of the nut. Removing the top was super satisfying. Then I had to poke around in there with a screwdriver and whatnot until I was able to pull up the spray arm.

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What was left of the retaining nut after I hacked at it.

That exposed the screws I needed to unscrew. I already owned a set of star-shaped and other “precision” screwdrivers left over from when I tried unsuccessfully to disassemble my phone. It was a little flimsy for the task, but got the job done. Then I needed to sort of yank on the white tube on the back to expose another screw and detach it from the bottom tube, but that came off surprisingly easily.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot. I put the dishwasher one in backwards so I’ll remember which one to use next time.

Friends, under there was the most disgusting thing I have ever been a part of in my entire life. And I have children. It was like a slime palace. It was like there was a slime emperor, the Nero of slime if you will, and he had stripped all the riches of his slime kingdom and used them all to build this extravagant, vulgar imperial monument to his own slimy grandness.

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I read that you should remove the water under there with a wet vac if you have one. I don’t, so rather than use towels (ewwww), I used my turkey baster. I’m sure I can disinfect it later. I removed a lot of the loose goo with a plastic putty knife before I started wiping. This part was not actually that difficult, although it was gross and smelly. All the goo wipes up with a damp paper towel, no chemicals or elbow grease required. The hard part was accessing the goo, much of which was in hard-to-reach places. I often used a pipe cleaner.

Just when I thought I was done, I discovered that the filter comes off the little table thing underneath and discovered a new store of ickiness to clean.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

Having done that, I was still left with the problem of having destroyed the retaining nut. A little searching gave me the part number, then I found it on Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s an $18 piece of plastic. On the other hand, it was available with Prime shipping. (Amazon did not recognize my model number, so I had to consult other sources.) I was emotionally prepared to wait at least a week for the part, so you can imagine how psyched I was to get two-day shipping. ‘Cause I am not enamored of sink-washing dishes.

It arrived. I remembered where it went and installed it. I put back in all the little star-shaped screws. And then… I could not get the spray arm back on. It wouldn’t engage with the threads. Indeed, I had the disorienting sensation that the spray arm was threaded backwards from the nut.

The indented part at 9 o'clock should be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o'clock should be pointing down.

The indented part at 9 o’clock need to be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o’clock needed to be pointing down.

That’s because it WAS. I went back to the Mr. Money Mustache forums and consulted again with my new friend, the one who told me about how the arm is supposed to walk up and encouraged me to try the hacksaw. From a picture I posted, he diagnosed the problem–I had deformed the spray arm. I was all set to buy a new one, but he said I could fix it with some needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver. I just needed to push one side up and the other side down, forming a sort of helical shape to engage with the threads. Once I had done that–and it was not pretty work, but since the damn thing was already broken, I had nothing to lose–I gave it one more try and it spun right back on. Phew! I would have done an end-zone dance right there in my kitchen, but I was too busy starting the dishwasher. (Empty load with vinegar to finish cleaning it out.)

Hats off to zolotiyukeri, whoever he may be in the real world, the nicest guy on the Internet. He took apart his own functioning dishwasher to better examine its workings so that he could advise me. He answered questions again and again and again. I have no doubt I would have had to call a repairman without a little hand-holding on this one.

I would rather not have spent the $21 dollars, but at least  didn’t have to shell out for a plumber. And next time I clean my dishwasher, the chances are excellent that I will manage NOT to destroy the retaining nut, and it won’t cost my anything.

I probably won’t even need my hacksaw.

Have you ever overcomplicated a simple job? What was your outcome?

This Year’s Homemade Presents

We had a lovely little at-home Christmas here at FP central, and I hope you did, too. Having already made three trips East in a year and a half, we thought we’d stay in Colorado (although one Eastern friend came to spend the holiday week with us). I would like you to know that I produced an entirely credible roasted turkey AND homemade gravy from the pan drippings.

We do a simple Christmas, but only a few of our presents were homemade. I usually only make things that I cannot, for whatever reason, purchase. This year, that means that I helped the boys make two kids of Christmas tree ornaments, and I made them some kid-friendly aprons.

I think it’s important to get kids understanding early that Christmas is for giving, not just receiving, so I helped them make presents for friends and relatives. We did these adorable reindeer photo ornaments first:

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I made them from a picture I found online and it took a little trial and error to figure out the best procedure. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Cut craft sticks down if necessary and paint them brown. (I used scissors to cut, but if you do, watch for flying wood pieces!) Let dry.
  2. Glue sticks together to make frame; let dry.
  3. Meanwhile, cut out heads, ears, and tails from brown felt or maybe cardboard. (The felt heads were a little floppy.) Glue ears, eyes, and noses to the heads and let dry.
  4. When everything is dry, glue heads and tails to the frames. Let dry.
  5. Meanwhile, glue the photos to cardboard (I used corrugated, but cereal boxes would probably have been easier and quite adequate) for better support. Let dry, then cut out. I used a craft cutting wheel for this step.
  6. While everything is drying, make antlers out of cut and twisted fuzzy craft sticks. Glue them to the frame behind the head. I used hot glue for this step because I didn’t have any craft glue and Elmer’s School Glue (which we used for everything else) didn’t work. Glue a loop of ribbon to the back as a holder.

The boys did the painting and the gluing of the eyes, ears, and noses; I did much of the assembly and all the cutting.

Then we also made cinnamon-scented ornaments (at Big Brother’s insistence). This was a GREAT one to do with preschoolers because they could really participate in all the steps. I used this recipe (I halved it, and we preferred the natural look rather than decorating) and we kept a couple for ourselves. Including this broken Santa–as Big Brother pointed out, it still smells good.

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I already owned a giant container of cinnamon, googly eyes, felt, paint, glue, and craft sticks. My cost for the craft sticks, cookie cutters, ribbon, and the photos was about $7.50.

Lastly, I made the boys Montessori-style aprons from this great pattern. I really wanted them to have aprons and just wasn’t happy with what I was seeing to buy; everything was either too boring, too expensive, or both. Plus, they all have ties, requiring an adult to help put on and take off. These Montessori ones have kid-operated hook and eye fastener and elastic necks. So I took them to Walmart and let them pick out some fabric, not telling them what it was for. Big Brother picked Ninja Turtles. Little Brother wanted Minnie Mouse. Now, I don’t object to him wanting a girl mouse, but… he’s fickle, and his attention span is short. So I made the lining in plain mouse ears in case he changes his mind. I’m not a fast sewer, so the two aprons took me most of three evenings, while people who are fast can make two in one night. (There’s a whole lotta topstitching. At least I got to use the fancy topstitching foot I bought for my skirt project.) At any rate, the aprons were a big hit. Big Brother, in particular, declared himself a “waiter” and wore his apron around for hours, assisting with breakfast preparation and serving. The pattern said it was for ages 3-6 but as you can tell, it’s a better fit for Little Brother. Big Brother’s seems a little short and the waist seems a little high. He is not yet 5 and actually on the short side for his age, so I would recommend making the pattern larger for older preschoolers. It works for now, though! I spent about $14 on the fabric and elastic; I already owned the hook and eye fastener. I saw very plain aprons for sale as low as $7 each, but they were definitely not as nice as these!

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don't worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don’t worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse.

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse. I admit, I talked him out of the pink and purple Minnie Mouse into the simpler black and red fabric.

What did you make this Christmas? How did it turn out?