Remodelista Best Office Space Finalist

Remember when I converted the shed in my yard into a work space?
Well to my delight, the space is one of five finalists for the Remodelista Considered Design Awards best amateur office space ! 

Please take the time to head on over to Remodelista and vote and please do pass on the word. I know it is kind of tacky to ask but because you can vote more than once this could become a bit of a popularity contest and I could use all the help I can get on that front :)  The link to vote is here.

If you missed my post on the shed redo the first time around, you can find it here.



The bougainvillea in my yard is about to achieve its full summer regalia.
These vines are going on seven years old and are getting quite hardy.

The east side vine is a little ahead in bloom of the west side one.

This year I pruned back the bushiness at the bottoms so they don't cover the front of the windows on either side of the doors.

We're in a drought here in California so I don't water my lawn at all which is why it is completely brown, however I do have these feather grasses which are naturally spreading and taking over. I love them, it makes the yard feel all scrubby and wild and beach like.


How to Make Rat Barriers for Backyard Fruit Trees

If you've been following my blog for some time then you will know that I've been fixated on a few things over the years: the apple trees in my yard and rats. Yes, rats. You can see some of my hopeful posts about my little espaliers here, here and here and some of my more bitter posts about rats here and here. Well, it's that time of year when these two obsessions converge. 
You see, I have a pretty decent crop of apples… and I have signs of rat activity in the yard. That's a big rutrhoh. Last year when that happened the apples dwindled down to nothing. It was so sad.

So this weekend, I built these little rat defender cones made from flashing for some of my trees. I got the idea for this here

The process is like building a lampshade. I roughly eyeballed my dimensions on the back of some wrapping paper, 

and traced it onto the flashing. It is just your basic aluminum flashing that came in a roll. I forgot to take note of what gauge it was, but it cut easily with my metal sheers.

When cutting a tight circle in flashing, it helps to cut a relief line first and always use gloves, that s%*# is sharp.

These really need to be attached with some zip ties but I'm out and that will require a run to the hardware store. The cone length is about 10" long, which I hope is enough. I think the slipperiness of the metal and the awkward angle is really what makes this an effective system. The cone is held together with some machine metal screws and nuts.

The next thing I did was build these barriers along the wall against which the espaliers sit. There is a concrete ledge there and vines on either side of the trees that provide another way onto the espaliers if you are a sneaky rat.  

Basically I just nailed a 14x28" piece of sheet metal along the concrete lip so that the rats can't traverse the wall onto the trees if they climb the vines on either side.

I used these really tall cylinders for the two little free standing trees. They are made out of some scrap zinc. I may also add a reverse cone to the top of these because I'm not entirely sure they are slippery enough to deter climbing.

I'm not really sure why there are so many rats in my yard aside from the fact that it is the city and almost all of the yards on my square block are very lush, which I hear is what they like. And clearly there are not enough cats… Meow :)

p.s. Getting a cat has been a big topic of conversation in our house. My husband used to be allergic but may not be anymore, but we're not 100% sure. We need to test drive a kitty.

Anybody out there got some other tips for this problem? I'd love to hear.


How To Make A Tangle Bag

Hey, I actually made this!
Pray tell, what is it you say?

This my friends is a top tube mounted bike bag (called a tangle bag) which I made for my older guy's bike trek from Seattle to San Francisco. I used this tutorial for guidance, but basically this bag's construction is like a box pillow set on its side, with the zipper on the face, rather than the side.

I used the stiffest canvas I could find, which was natural and required dyeing. One lesson I learned is that canvas really shrinks so dye first and then cut. I used black, which came out looking kind of purplish in these photos but in reality is faded grayish-black. I used contrasting blue for the edge piece. Make a cardboard template that fits the dimensions of the bike and cut with a 1/2" seam allowance. 

Finish the cut edges with a zigzag stitch and mark inside and outside of both pieces then determine zipper placement. Be sure to place the zipper high on the bag so contents don't fall out when opening. Cut fabric along zipper line.

Use the non-zipper template piece as a size guide, place the zipper at the correct height and the cut two pieces on either side of it. Fold over fabric edges to be sewn to zipper and press. Here, the lost width caused by the folds is made up by the width of the zipper. Use a zipper that is longer than the templates to make this step easier, just remember to sew a stop on the bottom on the zipper later. 

This is how it should look all aligned prior to pinning and sewing.

Sew in zipper.

Add a flap at the top of the zipper for tidiness and to help with waterproofing. I used a scrap piece and eyeballed it for placement and then trimmed the excess fabric after.

Here's the tricky part… Sewing the panel that connects the front and back pieces.  The finished width of this panel for my project was 3" -which is the maximum width it could be without the risk that Ethan's knees would bump it when riding. I determined the length of this strip by adding up the perimeter of the back template and adding a little allowance for a folded, overlapped end. I sewed the strip together, making a loop, before I sewed it to the back and then front piece. As with a box pillow, work with the bag inside out.

The corners were tricky because of the stiffness of the fabric. I found that cutting a relief slit at the corner helped to maneuver the fabric.

The velcro stripes which secure the bag to the bike are added at this stage of sewing. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around what went where and connected to who at this point but did manage to get it right the first time :) Three strips for the top (6 in total with the pairs) and one for each end (2 pairs).

Some views of the velcro after it's been sewn in. I sewed the strips in first and then trimmed them to the proper length after fitting it to the bike.

Here's how the velcro wraps around the top, head and seat tubes.

The bag gets waterproofed with wax. I had this chunk of beeswax from another project which Ethan cut and melted in a double boiler. (Take extra care melting wax -it's super flammable, duh).

This is sort of a two-man job at this point. Ethan brushed on the wax (use a disposable, natural bristle brush) while I heated it with a blow dryer. The melted wax absorbs into the fabric and disappears.

This project did test my sewing skills but was very appreciated by Ethan and looks tre professional. 

Materials needed for this project:

1 yard stiff canvas
22-25" plastic tooth zipper
1 yard (1 1/2 to 2" wide) velcro
matching thread
cardboard for template
bees wax 


Distracted by Tie Dye

My older son is taking a month-long bike trek this summer. He saw a cool, top tube mounted bag online, which he naturally assumed his sewing mom could churn out in a jiffy.
Well, I did make it but it was a bit of a mo-fo, I have to admit. It did, however, turn out spectacularly and does deserve a post all its own later.

Anyhow. One step in making said bag was dyeing the natural canvas, which is and activity that Kit loves.  

Because we are working outside, and this decrepit table is headed to the hearth anyhow, Kit does all the steps independently without me worrying about spills, etc.

 I mean, what boy doesn't like to make a good potion?

After rinsing the canvas pieces for the bag, it was me who was ready for some more fun. It seemed like such a waste to toss all that dye.

When I recently made those linen kitchen towels, I sewed some all white ones that I never got to dyeing. Ethan and I tressed them up (and a tee shirt for him).

I will admit I have a sort of love-hate thing with tie dye. Always fun to make, but sometimes ending with hideous results! The odds of making something good is improved dramatically by sticking with one color, I think.

These I like but if I were to do a second batch, I'd go for more blue and less white so I guess less folding and rolling prior to binding.

Fan of tie dye of any kind or no? Tell.


How to Build a Picnic Table: Part One

I have spent the last couple of weekends building this picnic table with Oliver.

It has very straight forward construction and was pretty fun and easy to make in spurts. Aside from the long rails that connect the two triangle end-pieces, the entire thing is held together with bolts and doesn't require much meticulous woodworking.

We made an exact replica of this table (without the built-in bench) that we bought off craig's list 7 years ago. We bought it from this sweet couple for 20$ who had made it themselves -god knows how long ago. This thing weighs a ton and for sure is going to go to its final resting place as firewood (although I'll probably salvage the top planks for shelves).  All the bolts are rusted together so we're going to have to cut it apart :/

We began the process by making a simple sketch of the construction method and wood dimensions.

We decided to build with dried cedar 2x4 stock. Using dried wood is important so that the table doesn't warp and move as the wood dries over time. Cedar is more naturally resistant to water too so is good for outdoor applications and isn't as expensive as teak or ipe, which are more dense woods so are much tougher on tools and harder to hand-cut (but are more water resistant). We bought two 9 footers and six 8 footers for about 280$. We bought everything at Beronio Lumber in the city, which is an awesome source for all specialty wood products and has the most friendly staff, which is always a big bonus in my book. (Not a sponsor, btw).
The first step in the construction was to build the two ends. All these angles correspond -set the cross cut saw to 26 degrees and make all cuts at once.

Find the centers of the intersecting pieces to drill for the bolt. The simplest way to find the center of any dimension (even if not square) is to draw an intersecting line from corner to corner -this method requires zero calculations and measurement, just make an X ! 

We have a drill press but this could be done carefully with a hand drill.  Use a 9/16th bit for a 1/2" bolt and use a piece of scrap under the finish piece to avoid blowout on the underside.

Buy bolts that closely fit the thickness of your wood stock for a nice, clean look. I used a deck bolt for corrosion resistance.

Once the two ends are cut to dimension it is time to cut the half lap intersecting joints for the rails that join the two together.

This is the joint assembled and is much easier than it looks. 

Because I don't own a table saw, I cut these by hand. This could be done very precisely by crosscutting at the correct height with a dado blade if you did own a table saw. I made my cuts with a japanese crosscut handsaw. Make these joints on the four corresponding pieces (8 cuts/joints in all).

Once I've made the parallel cuts, I chopped out the center with a sharp chisel and mallet. Be as precise as possible but this part of the joint is hidden (and in this case the joint is adding almost no structural strength so it needn't be perfect). 

Alternate with downward and sideways cuts. In order to have a clean looking joint on both sides, work the joint from the other side once hitting the midpoint to avoid blowout.

The two long rails that join the two end pieces get their strength from the double support rails connecting them (this is called triangulation). These support pieces are exact right triangles -so 45 degrees for the top and bottom trim cuts.  

To avoid having to make a lot of precise measurements to make the right triangle for the support rails, we used these steps. Find the center of both long rails and mark. Remove the bottom rail. On the lower rail, measure out from the center (in our case 2 1/2")mark and drill bolt holes. Replace bottom rail to end pieces. Loosely bolt bottom rails and clamp to top rail at a 45 degree angle. Use a pencil to trace the hole location on the top rail. Remove top rail and drill, then assemble. We assembled all the pieces inside to insure we were flat and square.

I am making the top out of concrete which will be part two of this post. I used a 96"x36" piece of 1" plywood (pretty crappy grade) for the core and used Simpson Strong-Tie A23 brackets to attach the top. I used 10 total in order to insure that the top is really synched to the base to avoid warpage which could cause the concrete to crack. (I also attached a band of cedar trim around the ply as you can see in some of these pictures which will also be in part two).

Sneak peak at top which has been poured but not polished and sealed.

What do you think, would you try this project instead of buying?