Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm Back with 9 Tips for Your First Craft Fair


I have to apologize for my lengthy absence on this blog.  Obviously, Halloween kicks off the holiday season for everyone and it is a busy time of year.  However, for me, November included preparing jewelry for my first craft fair ever, my husband undergoing surgery, and Thanksgiving... along with everyday normal life and full time job teaching.  I'm breathing a sigh of relief and giving myself an extra glass of wine now that I've come out of that for a bit... just in time for Christmas craziness.

Earlier, this year, I wrote about setting up my Etsy shop, Juvel Lera.This was a big step for me, but it was also part of larger dream to become more of a "teaching artist" rather than an "art teacher".   I hope to share more of this process and my entrepreneurial arts journey with you as things continue.  Another important part of that larger dream was to put myself out there in real life, not just online.  I applied to a local craft fair, the Selden Handmade Fair.  This is a very cool event that happens in Norfolk every winter, along with many other local holiday-timed craft fairs.  It focuses on indie crafts and art.  I applied for this back in September and was overjoyed to be find out in mid October that I was accepted. 

However, after that initial excitement subsided, I was hit with the staggering realization that I had absolutely no idea how to set up a booth at a craft fair and now had to make more jewelry than just the sample available on my Etsy page.  I actually had to stock a large table.  The level of production that I went up to led to a lot of pre-winter hibernation in my apartment, lots of chores being piled up, a lack of blogging, loads of quick fix dinners like EasyMac, undereye circle, and reduced endurance from a lack of running.  And blogging took a huge step to the backburner.

All of that said, the Handmade Fair was an amazing experience.  I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had.  I fulfilled a desire to push myself and was rewarded with people actually liking my work enough to buy it.  I made a small profit on the weekend, thanks in a large part to the support I had from some amazing friends who came out to visit and purchase holiday gifts.  And while the weekend was positive and there are aspects of the event that went well, there are also things that I would adjust in hindsight.  Putting these together, I've written a list of tips for all of the aspiring artisans out there.

  1. Determine if the event is realistically worth your time and effort.  This particular fair took place on Friday and Saturday.  I had business on Friday night and all day Saturday, but made NO sales on Friday afternoon.  While I had lots of time to make jewelry on Friday morning and afternoon, in retrospect, I would not have set up until 5 PM during the work week.  If everyone you know is going to be at work during the hours, chances are the foot traffic will be low, and you could wind up just hanging out.  Similarly, I was lucky to be at a well publicized event with a great deal of foot traffic.  I would not choose to do something off the beaten path or under the radar unless the booth fee was LOW.
  2. Don't compare yourself to seasoned vendors.  There were some amazing artists in the booths around me, so much so that it was intimidating.  The booth next to me was run by a husband and wife woodcarver team who have a little over a year of experience under their belts.  During the fair, they frequently came up to me, asking what my sales numbers were and how I was doing.  This was veiled with concern and friendship, but it was still a competitive interaction, and one that got under my skin on the first night.  I would love to take back all of the self consciousness I began to feel that night; it sucked the energy out of me.  I'm a big believer in the phrase, "Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle." and should have reminded myself of that frequently.  Just stepping out there is an achievement in and of itself.
  3. That said, be as professional as possible.  I spent a lot of time researching booths on Pinterest to find a display idea that I liked- one that was rustic, chic, and elegant.  Craft fairs can sometimes have a bad reputation for being housewifey rather than business savvy.  Figure out an aesthetic for your booth and make sure you present it.  Also, keep yourself stocked with business cards, gift wrap (tons of it), change, and consider picking up a card swiper.  With the amount of options out there (Square, GoPayment, Paypal) and popularity of using a debit or credit card rather than cash, you're kidding yourself if you think it isn't a smart business strategy.  The majority of my sales were done on my Square, and I highly recommend it.
  4. Be active and enthusiastic.  As I said before, the self consciousness I felt on the first night got to me.  I began to sit down at my booth more and had less fervor in my interactions with passersby.  On the second day, I approached things with a "fresh slate" mindset and kept up the enthusiasm.  I stood up for most of the time, working on necklaces, and greeted as many people as I could.  You will be amazed at the difference just standing up makes.  It makes you look more active.  Does anyone want to give money to someone who looks like they're just hanging out?  No.  People want to support someone who is friendly, warm, and working their ass off.  Look like that's you, even if you don't feel it.  
  5. Take care of you.  My desire to create and create and create inventory led to many 2 AM bedtimes and 5:30 AM wake up calls the week of the fair.  On the first day, I was sleep deprived in the extreme, and I know that it impacted my interactions and mood.  After that first day, I was exhausted, and actually went to sleep while guests were over at my apartment, falling asleep in my day clothes and leaving my husband to entertain and clean up.  The second day, I felt a hundred times better... because I had actually taken car of my own basic needs the night before.
  6. Diversify your inventory.  I brought loads and loads of bracelets and necklaces.  I didn't even think about the possibility of selling Christmas related items... like ornaments.  Looking back, all I can think of is what a huge hole that was in my potential sales.  A metalwork jeweler had made ornaments that fit her nautical aesthetic, the glassblower had made ornaments, and the woodworkers had made ornaments (they shared with me that the ornaments made up the bulk of their sales for the weekend).  After talking about the weekend with a colleague on Monday, she suggested that my beadwork would lend itself to making wine charms.  I think it's a great idea to diversify my inventory.  In hindsight, my booth was extremely specific and that likely hurt my financial outcome.
  7. Similarly, have a large spread of stuff prepared WAY in advance.  I applied for the craft fair on a whim, thinking maybe I would get in and maybe I wouldn't, and I didn't ramp up production until I found out.  Filling a 6 foot table is harder than you think, and some people will push the "8' by 10' square of floor space" to the fullest, bringing in custom shelving.  You want to look like you're selling more than just your extra personal stuff.  The week of the fair, I called my father in a panic, hoping for some "we believe in you" comfort.  When I mentioned how much jewelry I was making, he replied with, "Well, unless you're famous, no one wants to buy the last of anything from you, so I would make more stuff."  Harsh, but true.  
  8. Don't expect people to get what you do.  Advertise it.  I make all of my ceramic beads by hand.  It's why the jewelry is special, I think.  However, I was shocked at how many people, and how many informed artistic people, assumed that I bought mass produced beads and just strung them.  The reality is that plenty of people do that.  Customers immediately warmed up when I told them that all the beads were made by hand and could show them my fingerprints on some of the jewelry.  By day two, I had made some quick signs advertising "handmade beads".  Before the next fair I do (whenever that is), I will probably make some cooler looking, custom signage to inform passersby. 
  9. Finally, just do it.  If you want to pursue a venture, try it.  Do your thing.  Seize the day.  Lean in.  Follow your dreams.  Don't just hang out on the couch watching Bravo and Pinteresting photos of work other people have done in the pursuit their dreams.  Nothing is going to go perfectly, but it's worth it.  That's all super corny, but totally true.   
I hope that this post is inspiring and helpful for you if you've been thinking about putting your art out there.  On that note, now that the craziness has subsided a bit (just a bit, I have now applied to be consigned at a local boutique... because I'm a glutton for work), I hope to be back with more (likely holiday themed) DIY home projects.  Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Instagramming in the Kitchen: Raspberry Rolls with Homemade Whipped Cream

This weekend, I was in the mood to make a really indulgent brunch.  However, both nights, my husband and I stayed out way too late, so I needed to make something that super easy and quick.  I pinned a lot of complicated brunch/breakfast recipes in the hopes of tackling them, but after sleeping in until 10:30 on Sunday morning, I took this recipe as an inspiration to create my own easy recipe for raspberry sweet rolls.  I did luxe them up with some homemade whipped cream, though, which is tooooootally worth A) the calories and B) the four minutes it takes to make it.

Raspberry Rolls with Homemade Whipped Cream (serves 2 or 3)

  • 1 package of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • Raspberry jam to taste
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Flour for prepping your work surface

Whipped Cream
  • 3/4 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 cup of heavy cream

First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a loaf pan with some nonstick spray.  Prep your work surface (I used my cutting board) with a sprinkling of flour.  Roll the Crescent Roll dough out into a rectangle.  I used my finger to smudge the precut triangle lines together.  Spread the jam on the dough rectangle.  I wouldn't say I put a thin layer on, but you don't need to overfill it.  Afterwards, you should roll the dough up into a spiral or a tube shape.  Then, slice the dough spiral into small, 1 1/2 inch chunks.   Place these chunks side by side, spiral up, in the loaf pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown on top.

While the rolls are baking, combine the powdered sugar and heavy cream with an electric mixer on high.  Beat until the cream is thick, fluffy, and forms peaks.

Serve the rolls hot, topped with the whipped cream.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Things I Love About My Home: My Pup (5 Reasons a Dog Is the Best Thing for Your Home)

If you've read any of my DIY posts, you'|ve probably seen my sweet puppy, Wicket.  She's not really a puppy anymore; she's a year old.  Since my husband and I got her when she was eight weeks old, though, it's hard for me to not see her as the little five pound ball of fluff that entered our life last January. She also hasn't calmed down a bit, either, so she's still my zooming ball of fluff... even though she weighs fifteen pounds now.

Taking on the responsibility of a dog at a young age was a big leap for us, but my husband and I both grew up in dog families and the reality was that even though we had each other and had an apartment that we loved in a neighborhood that we loved... it would never feel like home without a dog to us.  We found our sweet girl on Craigslist (A military family had just gotten her and then got orders to Korea a few weeks later.  They wanted to find a home for her before their children got more attached.) and have been happier and happier ever since.  Don't get me wrong; Wicket is a normal dog who begs for human food (especially expensive things like lox and sushi... she's fancy like that) and a normal dog who has accidents and a normal dog who wants attention when I have to work... but she is still the best thing we ever brought into our home.

With that in mind, here are the five reasons a dog is the best thing for your home:
  1. You will get tons more exercise.  I liked to work out before I had my dog, but I absolutely get more exercise now that we have her.  Wick isn't a dog that needs tons of long walks or runs (she's a Shih Tzu), but I still walk her many times throughout the day, usually a mile or so.  I run around the apartment with her because she loves to play chase and race her up the stairs to our walk up.  That doesn't add up to a crazy killer body, but it does add a lot more serotonin to my brain and our walk up stairs haven't caused me to be out of breath in months.
  2. You get in touch with your neighborhood and neighbors.  Having a dog forces you to be out and about.  Luckily, I live in a dog friendly neighborhood, where many businesses put out bowl of water or allow dogs inside and TONS of people have dogs.  I have met so many more people in our neighborhood than I would if I didn't have a dog.  I would never have a reason to be outside so often and I wouldn't stop to talk to so many people.  
  3. You see your partner in a new way.  There is nothing like watching your partner love and care for something.  It melts my heart to see my husband carry around our teeny dog, to see him play with her, and to see him light up when he sees her when he comes in from work.  I see him a totally new light now that we both take care of her and I appreciate him so much more.  She has strengthened our relationship so much.
  4. You prioritize fun more.  Wick has interrupted the writing of this post two times to play already.  My normal life before having a dog was working, having dinner with my husband, working out, and working on side projects (DIY, art, or continuing my work from the school day).  I come from a family that really prioritizes work and it's a daily struggle for me to stop finding things that need doing.  However, because I have my dog and she is so high energy, there are times when I just have to shut the laptop, put the grading away, or put the paintbrush down and chase my dog around or wrestle with her for toys.  It's so much more healthy than working constantly.
  5. It's healthy for it to not just be about you.  Everyday that I stay late at work, I think about the time that I'm missing with my dog.  Extra errands that I take on often become a question of, "Is this necessary?  Because I could be walking my dog..."  It amazes me how many extra little things get filtered out by that.  I don't really need to go window shop at the mall, I don't really need to stop at Starbucks for a coffee, I don't really have to drive all the way to Virginia Beach just for a trip to Whole Foods.  What I do need to do is get home to my dog, my husband, and our friends.  It's so much less about me and the things that I like and so much more about my relationships with others and this animal that I'm responsible for, and that is absolutely better for me.
I hope this post relates to things you love about having a dog or inspires you to think more about adding an animal to your family.  What do you love about your pets?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A DIY Industrial Rustic Table Part 2: The Tutorial

Yesterday, I shared the story behind the creation of my industrial rustic table here, including all of the ups and downs along the way.  Today, I am sharing a tutorial for how to make it, without all those ups and downs.

  • Vintage sewing table legs, detached from the treadle (I found mine on eBay for around $45 plus shipping.  Find similar ones here.)
  • 4 pine boards, 6 feet long, 12 inches wide, 1 inch in thickness.
  • 1 package of wood screws, 1 1/2 inches long
  • 4 carriage bolts, 5/16 inches in diameter, 2 1/2 inches long (the size specifications here are to my tabletop thickness and the openings in the table legs for bolts.  Modify this as needed for your table)
  • 3 steel threaded rods, 5/16 inches in diameter, 70 inches long (I wrote about my difficulties with threaded rod in the previous post.  In my search, I only found the steel threaded rod in very short and very long sizes.  I cut the rods down to size myself and that was much easier than I anticipated.  Another important note: while I am partial to Home Depot because of the great customer service at the store in my area, they do not carry steel threaded rod.  They carry steel plated zinc threaded rod and zinc threaded rod.  DO NOT use this.  It bends over time and creates an unstable piece of furniture.  However, Lowes carries steel threaded rod in a variety of lengths and diameters.)
  • 16 hex nuts, 5/16 inches in diameter
  • Minwax Wood Stain (I used Jacobean, as I love the dark tones in it)
  • Minwax Polyurethane Satin or Semigloss, oil based
  • Wood glue (I prefer Liquid Nails brands of glue)
  • Sandpaper
  • A solvent for cleaning your paintbrush (I prefer Murphy's Oil Soap, but you can use turpentine, linseed oil, or even dishwashing soap)
  • Black or oil rubbed bronze spray paint

  • Cordless drill (make sure you pick up larger drill bits if you need them.  I had to pick up a 5/16 drill bit to create holes large enough to accommodate the larger bolts.)
  • Hammer
  • High quality paint brush (for the wood stain)
  • Paint roller (I used foam rollers; I find they give a smoother finish with paint and with sealant)
  • Paint tray
  • Hack saw with steel blades
  • Metal file
  • A rag (old is fine, it just needs to be clean)
  • Tarp or plastic drop cloth
  • Pliers
  • Adjustable wrench

The Process:
Step 1: Do some research.  As I said in Part 1, some of my difficulty stemmed from not having an exact tutorial for what I wanted to do.  However, I did pull from some fabulous tutorials for DIY dining/kitchen tables.  Here are the ones I found most useful as I was planning and building my table: Apartment Therapy: How to make a sewing machine dining table, A Beautiful Mess: Elsie's DIY Dining Room Table, Stylizimo: New trendy dining table in 1-2-3!, and Apartment Therapy: Gregory's project, the stereo cabinet, house of stain #5.

Step 2: Make a sketch and plan.  I find that drawing my idea out helps me to visualize what will work best for me.

Step 3: Pick up any materials and tools that you need.  For my table, I used three pine boards for the tabletop.  The fourth pine board I had cut in half (Home Depot and Lowes will both give you a few cuts for free.  For a renter with limited tools, like me, this is extremely helpful.) and I used those two halves to connect the three tabletop boards together.  The supporting boards need to be long enough to reach all the tabletop boards, so if you are planning a wider or skinnier table, you should adjust the size of the supporting boards accordingly.  Another materials note: you can use any type of wood for this table.  I chose pine because I love how "knott-y" it is; I thought that that texture would be especially pretty with the dark stain (and it's a very affordable wood).

Step 4: Prepare the tabletop and glue the support boards down.  Choose which side of the board you want to the be on the top and which directions those boards should go.  Then, lay all the boards down on the floor exactly as you want them to be in the finished table (nice, neat, all together), with the top side down.  Next, take the two half boards and spread wood glue all over them (I made a zig zag pattern) and place those boards across all three tabletop boards.  I placed mine diagonally to give the tabletop boards more support.  Place some heavy objects on top of those "support boards" to press the boards together while the wood glue dries.  I don't know that the weight of a puppy, as shown, really helps... but it didn't hurt the process.

Step 5) Attach the support boards to the tabletop using a drill and wood screws.  After the wood glue has dried fully (I let it dry overnight), use a cordless drill and wood screws to fully connect the support boards to the tabletop.  I went a little crazy with the  drilling and placed a screw about every inch or inch and a half.  I did this on the underside of the table, because I did not want those screws to show on the tabletop.  I chose 1 1/2 inch long screws specifically so that they could attach both boards (each board is 1 inch in thickness), but wouldn't break through the top.

Step 6) Sand, stain, and seal the underside of the table.  Lay down a tarp or plastic drop cloth and position the newly stable tabletop on it.  This will prevent any staining of your floor.  I sanded down the boards thoroughly, especially the support boards and edges, which are more likely to come into contact with hands and knees.  You should follow the instructions of your specific stain.  The one must I have to pass on is the recommendation to use a high quality brush.  With painting, you don't need to worry about this as much, but with stain, it definitely matters.  I spread the stain on quickly, allowed it to penetrate the wood for about twenty minutes (I wanted a dark stain, so if you're working with something lighter, like a honey color, you may not want to leave it on as long.), then rubbed off the excess with a clean rag.  Make sure you do this thoroughly, as any drips that are left get really sticky.  Also, make sure to check that nothing dripped between the boards and if anything has, wipe off that excess as well.  Clean your brush thoroughly after you finish to maintain it's softness and suppleness. 

Step 7) Determine the position of the legs, mark the holes for the bolts, and drill the holes.  The table legs I used had two spots for bolts on the top.  Some other legs may have more spots for these, and I would recommend attaching bolts in every spot you can.  The more stable the better.  I positioned the legs as if I were attaching them and used a Sharpie to mark where I should drill a hole for each bolt.  These bolts should go through the support boards and the tabletop boards for maximum stability. Make sure that the two legs are going to be attached parallel to each other; they must be parallel because you have to put the steel threaded rods through the legs..  Then, ask someone to help you by holding the tabletop up, to prevent you from drilling into the floor.  Use your cordless drill and a large drill bit (I used a 5/16 drill bit) to drill the holes for the bolts.

Step 8) Attach the legs to the tabletop using carriage bolts.  Have that helpful individual keep holding the tabletop while you push a carriage bolt into each hole.  You may need a hammer to really pound the bolts in; I did.  Next, slide the table legs onto those bolts and add a hex nut to the end of the bolt (on the underside of the tabletop.  Twist the bolts as tightly as you can with your hands, then use an adjustable wrench to twist them on further (you may need to hold the edge of the bolt with pliers to make sure that the nut is turning rather than the bolt).  Pay attention to the top side of the tabletop while you're doing this; it is possible to begin to sink the bolts into the wood if you're using a soft wood like pine.  You want to make sure these don't go too far into the wood.

Step 9) Insert the threaded rods for additional support.  If your table legs are like mine, you can probably wobble them considerably.  My table legs had three holes for the original iron rods to go through.  Before you put the steel rods through the holes, twist two hex nuts onto the threaded rod until they are approximately in the middle.  Slide the rod in one hole, then in the other (you may need to twist the nuts a bit to get this to happen).  Add another hex nut to the end of each rod (so essentially, you have one nut to border each side of the each table leg on each rod.  These lock the legs into place.).  If you, like me, will need to cut the rods down, make the process easier on yourself by pushing the rods far more to one side of the table than the other, so you only have to cut one end off, not both).  Twist the nuts as much as you can on either side of the table leg and then use the wrench to twist these as much as you can (the rods may bend a bit in the middle, stop when this begins to happen and the legs are straight up and down, perpendicular to the tabletop).  Repeat this for each rod.

Step 10) Cut the steel rods and file them down.  Use your hacksaw to cut the long end of the steel rod down.  This sounds like it will take forever and I put this step off forever.... but for realsies, it takes about ten minutes and is so easy.  I recommend putting a towel or something down under the rods to catch as much of the metal shavings as you can.  These ends are going to be sharp, so immediately file the ends with a metal file.  Be a little obsessive and file all around.  Check it for sharpness with your own hands.  It's so likely that someone's knee or ankle (or  your pets) could brush against these and you don't want anyone getting cut.  Immediately after filing, shake the towel out into a trash can, and then vacuum the floor around it to get all the metal shavings up so you don't cut your foot later on.

Step 11) Turn the table over, sand the top and edges, stain the top and edges, and seal them.  Have that friendly individual help you yet again to turn the table right side up.  If your table is big, like mine is, you need help.  Don't be a hero.  Then, thoroughly sand the tabletop and edges.  Run your hand over the top and edges to make sure it is smooth and won't give you or anyone else splinters.  As you can tell, I'd rather be the victim of metal or wood splinters than someone else.  I'm a good hostess and good with the tweezers.  Stain the top and edges of your table, again working quickly to ensure even application.  Let it penetrate the wood for about twenty minutes, rub off the excess, and then seal with some polyurethane.  I did a second coat of poly on the tabletop.  The reason I chose to seal the wood was to protect the tabletop as much as possible; it gets a ton of wear and tear.  Let the poly dry overnight.

Step 12) Spray paint the steel rods.  This isn't necessary, but I was bothered by the mismatch of the steel against the ironwork.  I carefully spray painted the steel rods, using a piece of paper to catch the extra spray.  If you have a garage or an outdoor space for this, I would recommend it.  If you, like me, don't have access to this, make sure you keep the area ventilated.

Step 13) Doublecheck your stability.  My table will wobble about an inch in either direction if it is pushed.  However, it should be no more unstable than that.  It should not wobble when you lean on it with your elbows while sitting and you should feel confident that it can withstand normal wear and tear.  If needed, tighten the nuts up more. 

Step 14) Enjoy your table!  We use our for meals, as a workspace, and as a central place for friends to gather.  While this table was a lot of work and was not exactly cheap to make, it was significantly less expensive than a new table made of similar materials, and it is a unique, industrial, rustic piece that gives new life to something old.

If you attempt this table or this tutorial inspires to you create a beautiful piece of furniture, I would love to hear about it!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A DIY Industrial Rustic Table Part 1: The Story


I m so, so, so excited to finally share this DIY with you.  It is without a doubt the most complicated one I have ever made and has had more stumbling blocks than any other project I have eve undertaken.  I wanted to make sure that I had a foolproof tutorial before posting, but I have spent some time thinking about how to best present it.  When you spend such a long amount of time on something, you want to share the whole process: the ups and downs, the inspiration, the splinters, the stained hands... I can't just write a clean cut tutorial on something that has meant a LOT to me.  Today, I'm sharing Part I: the story of the table.  Tomorrow, I will be posting Part II: the tutorial on how to make it.

My idea for this table first began with this image: 

I pinned it ages ago.  I have this love for anything industrial, and I've always found the construction of old sewing tables beautiful.  There's just something about a curving, feminine shape in the form of very masculine iron that strikes that perfect combination of soft and tough.  These old sewing tables have turned up at auctions I have gone to and at thrift stores I frequent time and time again, but often, they're still in that table form. I have no idea how to begin disassembling all that ironwork and would never want to get in over my head so deep.

I keep a saved search on my eBay app for "vintage industrial".  I love almost anything with that tagline, be it signage, furniture, or containers, but I noticed after a while that these sewing tables showed up ALL.  THE.  TIME.  Often, the listings were even just for the legs of the table, already disassembled from the gears and treadle.  It just made the project too tempting; my first roadblock disappeared.  I began watching the listings and eventually managed to snag a pair of Singer legs for a low price and reasonable shipping. 

Those table legs shipped fast and they spent a long time (over a month, actually) just sitting in my dining room looking pretty.  At the time, my dining table was a cheap Craigslist purchase that was meant to fill a need rather than be an investment.  I finally made the choice to sell that table (again on the CL) to force myself to tackle the project of building a new dining room table using the sewing machine legs.  Sometimes I need an extreme amount of motivation.  It's a flaw.  I'm living with it.

I consulted tons of online tutorials.  There was no exact tutorial for what I wanted to do, so I improvised and combined as much of the knowledge from the table building tutorials I found online as I could.  I sketched out a detailed plan and went to the hardware store with my friend, Erin, to buy all of the lumber, bolts, and stain that I needed.  I bought four long beams and bought additional small beams for underlying support.  I drilled all the boards together with the help of my sweet puppy, Wicket, and then excitedly began staining the underside of the boards.

However, as soon as I came to the part of attaching the legs of the table, I began to hit roadblocks.  First, when drilling holes through the boards in order to create an opening for a bolt, I drilled a hole in my wood floor (hopefully it can be refilled so I can get our security deposit back!).  Then, I attached the legs to the tabletop, but as soon as I flipped the table over (with the help of Erin and Kat!), the legs immediately slid outwards and rested diagonally rather than vertically.  HUGE PROBLEM.  They didn't break off, thank goodness, but the table appeared ready to collapse at any minute.  I looked closely at the legs and noticed that they had three holes where some kind of pipes or rods had originally been used to help distribute pressure evenly, locking the legs in place and preventing this problem. 

Immediately, I went to Home Depot to find a solution.  The helpful salesman directed me towards threaded rod.  I bought zinc rod in the right length, as well as some hex nuts to hold the legs in place.  These worked... kind of... they held the legs more upright.... but zinc is pretty bendy.  While initially the table felt sturdy, after I had finished sanding and staining the top and using it a few times, it began to become more rickety.  My husband, Jon, was very apprehensive, but I insisted that as long as I continued to adjust the tightness of the hex nuts, it should stay pretty stable.  And he loves me, so he let it go.  That being said, we had this conversation in June, so since I didn't post about the table once during the summer, I clearly had my own misgivings despite my protests to the contrary.

I spent time researching other options, but was unable to find steel threaded rod precut to the length that I needed.... turns out that stuff either comes in a really short length or a really long length, and I didn't need any more than six feet (the length of my table).  They do make shorter round steel rods, but after I discussed this with a sweet salesman at Home Depot (who, I kid you not, spent 45 minutes walking through the hardware aisle in an attempt to help me problem solve), realized that nothing could attach well enough onto that to hold the legs in place.  At this point, I started thinking about unbolting the legs and taking them to a welder to see I could just have iron rods welded in place, but that potential cost of that dissuaded me.

Finally, some friends came to visit us in September for Labor Day weekend, and while my Jon and his best friend, Brent, were hanging out in the dining room, the table shifted dramatically (allegedly, it nearly collapsed on their feet and would have if they had not caught it). Jon was pretty frustrated and chose the moment to put his foot down dramatically and told me that we had to figure out a solution or we had to find a new table.  Not unlike the earlier scenario I inflicted on myself of selling my dining table to force myself to build, I now had the motivation to find a solution.  Also, knowing that my husband had reached this point of frustration with the table gave me the courage to express my doubts and frustrations about the table to him.  I didn't want to give up; I loved those table legs and was now really passionate about the idea of upcycling those legs and using something so old in a new piece of furniture, but I couldn't find a way to make it work.  After I poured my heart out to Jon about the project gone wrong, he brought up the possibility of buying the absurdly long steel threaded rod and just cutting it.

It was so simple; I should have asked that question earlier, but I didn't think it was possible.  In my mind, that was something that happens in a factory with large machinery.  If I had had the courage to share my doubts about the project with my husband, an avionics tech who is familiar with all kinds of materials and machinery that I am not, this problem would have been solved so much sooner.  Excited, I asked him to take a serious look at the table and see what else I was missing.  He noticed that I could also increase the size of the bolts I was using to attach the table top to the legs to decrease any of the wobbling.

After picking up steel threaded rod, reattaching the table with the thicker bolts, and then cutting the steel bolts down to size, I'm happy to report that the table no longer wobbles or looks like it's on the verge of collapse, and it's held up for over a month like this.  This DIY taught me so much about perseverance and about humility- I've always been the type to insist that I can do things on my own, but asking for my husband's input was the best choice I made.  I still got to do all of the work and take credit for everything (cutting through steel is surprisingly easy!), but I don't know all the answers to everything. 

Tomorrow, I'll be posting a step by step tutorial for building the table, complete with a shopping list and loads of pictures.  I hope you'll stop back by and check that out now that you have made it through this long story of a DIY that very nearly became a "Nailed It!" style failure.  I'm so proud that it didn't. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Instagramming in the Kitchen: Balsamic Skirt Steak with Polenta and Roasted Tomatoes

One of the apps I am most frequently using on my iPhone is Instagram.  I love it.  I love how flattering the filters can be on people's skin tones, I love the vintage look it gives pictures, and I love the idea of using an art form (photography) as a key part of social media.  I think it brings people together in a way that is happier and warmer than simple Facebook statuses.

I find myself using it a lot to photograph my projects around the house and this extends to my cooking in addition to DIY projects.  I love food and trying new recipes and have decided to share that love through this blog in a new series called "Instagramming in the Kitchen". 

The first recipe I want to share is from Martha Stewart, originally posted on her website here: Balsamic Skirt Steak with Polenta and Roasted Tomatoes. The recipe was originally published in 2008 in the Everyday Food blog, hosted by her main site.  It's so incredibly easy, but it looks so impressive.  It's a great working night dish.

Balsamic Skirt Steak with Polenta and Roasted Tomatoes

  • 2 pints grape tomatoes (I have used grape tomatoes and roma tomatoes at different ties when making this.  Any type of tomato will work, but the grape tomatoes do add extra sweetness.) 
  • 6 scallions, white and green parts separated and cut into 1-inch pieces (I have used scallions, shallots, and yellow onions.  Shallots were my absolute favorite with this dish)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak (cut into 2 or more pieces, if necessary, to fit in skillet) (I tend to buy steak as it is on sale, so I have used skirt, strip, and flank steak, all with a good result.)
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Roasted Tomatoes
First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees for roasting the tomatoes.   *Note: At this point, I also begin boiling water for the polenta (see below).  In a large baking pan, toss the tomatoes with scallion whites   and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Put the pan of tomatoes in the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes or until the tomatoes have split skins.  Upon removing these from the oven, add scallion greens.

Bring four cups of water to a boil in a large pot.  Once it is boiling, add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water and slowly pour the cornmeal in while whisking.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently for 10 minutes or until the polenta is thick.  A grainy texture will still be present, but the polenta should be soft.

Drop 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over a high heat.  I usually give it about two minutes to fully warm up and swirl the pan several times to coat it.  Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper (I prefer to use salt and pepper from my grinders for this portion rather than table salt or pre-ground black pepper).  Add the steak to the skillet and cook, turning only once, until the steak is medium rare.  It is crucial that you only turn the steak once.  The more you touch and squeeze meat with tongs or a fork, the more juiciness you push out of the meat.  After both sides have been cooked (the whole process usually takes about six minutes for me, but our stove top runs hot and I prefer a rarer steak) transfer the steak to a plate and cover it loosely with foil.  Let the steak rest for at least five minutes.  Add vinegar to the skillet and boil on high heat until it has reduced to a 1/2 cup.  This takes about 7 minutes and during this time, I usually shut the kitchen door, as the smell created by the boiling vinegar lingers for a long time.  Turn off the heat and add in any juices from the resting steak to the vinegar. 

Fill a bowl with 3/4 cup of polenta and top with slices of the steak and the roasted tomatoes.  Drizzle several tablespoons over the polenta.  Sprinkle Parmesan over the mixture to taste and serve.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Etsy Shop: Juvel Lera

I'm so excited to finally be able to post a big announcement on this blog regarding my art.  For the past year, I've been creating polymer clay jewelry for myself and for friends.  Over the past few months, I began to investigate the possibility of entering my work into craft fairs and from then, I began to prepare an inventory for an Etsy shop.

This week, I finally launched the Etsy shop, Juvel Lera. Feel free to check it out here and offer any feedback that you have:

Juvel Lera

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Vintage Bedside Lamps


First of all, let me express my regret that I haven't updated in the past two weeks at ALL.  The pace that life rushes past at never ceases to amaze me.  For those of you who do not know, my passion lies in my day job as a high school art teacher.  School starts after Labor Day here in southern Virginia and this year, I find myself teaching five different classes (Introduction to Art, Drawing/Painting 1, Crafts 1, Advanced Crafts, and Sculpture/Ceramics 1) and sponsoring the National Art Honors Society.  Teaching a large course load and facilitating after school community art programs requires a huge time commitment beyond the school day, and I just now am starting to feel like I have a grasp on my schedule.  I am hopeful that as the school year continues I will be able to post weekly, but I am sure that during peak busy times (i.e. finals week), there will be some gaps.  I hope you'll indulge me!

While I have been slowly working away on refining a DIY table project that I hope to share in the near future, I have also been diligently scrolling through updates to my saved searches in eBay.  For a while, I had been looking for a pair of wall mounted bedside lamps, preferably antique ones.  These are surprisingly difficult to find (I suppose because a majority of wall lamps are sconces that connect to the wall's inner electrical wiring?) in general, but especially for a reasonable price. 

However, lo and behold, one day these popped up in my saved search:

Hobnail glass, intact wiring, wall mountable and could plug into an outlet.  They were PERFECT.  And they were $38 (for the PAIR) and a "buy it now" option, which was even better. 

After they arrived, I picked up some cheap mini shades from Lowes (I am normally partial to my local Home Depot- between the two in Norfolk, I find that I get better service there), which has a great lighting section.  Now, these are brightening up our bedroom.  They are perfect for reading before bed (or, as is often my case, grading before bed).  They're also a great vintage decor touch.  I think that small things like lamps are great way to add personality to your home- I have found that that is something easiest to do in the details of a home rather than in the bones of a home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Apartment Inspiration

How did I ever get by without Pinterest?

I ask myself this ALL THE TIME.

It is seriously the best resource I have ever found for decor ideas, DIY help, recipes, workout tips, teaching ideas, artmaking ideas, etc....  It has been INVALUABLE in helping me navigate the process of decorating our apartment.  After signing the lease, I quickly made an inspiration board to help me figure out what to do with the space.


If you've never made an inspiration board before, whether on Pinterest or on a good ol' corkboard (like I used to in college), basically, it's just a collection of images that inspire you.  For my "New Apartment Plan" board, I pinned images of home decor that I found beautiful and more importantly, could be achieved.  Our apartment building was built in the early 1900s and it definitely shows.  There is no point in me pinning images decor in modern structures, even if I love it.  A home inspiration board, in my opinion, should always be achievable and should focus on building the best space you can, rather than focusing on something that you can't have.

After pinning lots and lots and lots of images, I realized that I love neutrals, lots of white and beige, gallery style collections of art, and multiple layers of texture.  I love a mix of traditional and modern furniture and prefer repurposed storage rather than newly bough or assembled storage items.  While I'm sure that I would have come to these conclusions along the way as I decorated, flipped through books at Barnes and Noble, and pulled images from magazines, being able to instantly pin and compile a collection of images brought me to the consensus of what I like very quickly.


I wanted to share some of these images that I find most inspiring and beautiful in the hopes that perhaps you do too!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

DIY Chalk Board

Before beginning, I should preface this post with a confession:

My name is Elizabeth Shafer and I cannot remember anything without writing it down.

I mean, sometimes I can, but anything important or professionally relevant must always be taken down in notes or put into a list or it will be out of the sieve that is my mind by the end of the day.  I'm a visual-tactile learner and because of this, I think the constant stimulation that I have going on each day while teaching can often push the day to day things I need to remember out to make room for new stimuli.

Because of this, I am a list making machine and have dozens of notes open on my phone, saved as files in my computer, or written down in my sketchbook (which is often covered with Post It notes when I need to write something down at my desk in my classroom and my sketchbook is not handy).  I'm sure that you've seen the likely hundreds of tutorials for chalkboards in blogs and on Pinterest, as I did.  I thought that making my own chalkboard, to be prominently displayed in our kitchen, would be a great way to keep track of household things like shopping lists, grocery lists, and various to-do's.  It also is great way to let your husband know what needs to be done!

I started by first going in search of a large vintage frame to mount the chalkboard in.  You can find these at thrift stores, at estate sales, or at antique/salvage stores.  There is a phenomenal shop in Norfolk called Country Boy Antiques.  While I automatically associate the concept of an antique store with high end and high markups, over the years, Country Boy has really become more of an architectural salvage shop with a large selection of dusty, rusty picked items on the cheap.  It is a maze of a shop and you spend the whole experience worried that a teetering pile of stuff may fall on you, but I have never gone in there and not walked out with what I needed, whether it was plantation shutters, glass doorknobs, marquee letters, decorative china, vintage art, or a frame.  I picked up this large, ornate frame for about $12.

It definitely needed some cleaning and priming, but after that, I painted it a deep, dark eggplant color that is very nearly black.  I painted this with a basic foam brush and I think it took about three coats (disclaimer: I may have been watching the Real Housewives while I worked on it).

After finding your frame, you'll need a board and some chalkboard paint.  Lowes or Home Depot will cut a board to size for you for free (awesome).  I bought some cheap, thin plywood board.  You're going for lightness in weight, so it's very budget friendly.  To find the right size board, you need to measure your frame from the back side, from where the board will attach to the inside frame, rather than the picture window.

For this project, I used chalkboard spray paint rather than a liquid chalkboard paint.  It has held up well and at the time I was buying it, I assumed that I would be spray painting something else to be chalk-able in the future.  After sanding the plywood down to a smooth finish (you do want it to be a writing surface, after all), I primed it and then applied three coats of the chalkboard paint.  The paint has to overnight before it can be written on.

After it had cured, I simply used hot glue to attach it to the inside of the frame.  I imagine that wood glue or Liquid Nails would work well too.  Finally, you hang up the chalkboard (attach d-rings if necessary) and start the list making!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Find: Vintage Living Room Rug

This week, our living room got a much needed update.  I had been searching for a long time for a large rug (minimum 8 x 10) for our living room.  I had a smaller rug in there originally, but having all the furniture clustered around a small focal point made he room look much, much smaller than it was.  I moved the small rug underneath our dining room table a while ago, and it is a much better place for it.  However, pulling up the rug exposed wires leading to our surround sound speakers and left a a very hard wooden floor for us and the dog to stretch out on.

I have spent a few months searching for a reasonable alternative it he right size, but the thing is, rugs are EXPENSIVE.  Super, duper expensive.  Initially, I was looking at a few short sale websites (One Kings Lane, Joss & Main), but even with the enormous discounts that those sites put out, a large rug was still between $400-$500.  If I'm going to spend that money, I wanted to really love the rug, and I have a hard time falling in love with anything mass produced or done in a really modern way.

This led me to look instead at eBay and Craigslist, hoping something vintage, unique, and most importantly affordable I'm really big on not settling when it comes to important, focal point pieces. I think you should always love them; if I don't love something, I find myself looking around for something to replace it almost within a week. 

I had several searches that I looked at daily for "vintage Persian rug", "antique Persin rug", and "Persian rug".  I wanted something with an intricate pattern, in good shape, but also unique.  I found some absolutely stunning rugs on eBay, but it took me about two months to actually obtain one.  The bidding was pretty intense and there were times when someone outbid me within the last minute and times when prices got too outrageous.  However, I finally found a rug that was the right size and gorgeous and the right colors and was selling for an insanely low $57.  Somehow, the price didn't go up above that (I think due to the presentation of the rug in the photographs) and after two weeks of waiting for the shipment to arrive, I finally have this gorgeous rug in my house and our living room looks SO.  GOOD.

SO GOOD!  Even if the couch is slightly unkempt at the moment... And do you notice my sweet puppy in the corner?  We just had her spayed last week and contrary to what we expected, she loves her cone.... Weird.

I adore all the detail in the pattern, both centrally and along the border.

Wicket the Cone Doggie adores the rug (it is super soft).  I just love how one piece can change everything about a room.  The whole space feels larger and more inviting now.  I love it!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Five Tips for Buying Furniture on Craigslist

I came across this meme a while ago on Pinterest....

And I found it relatable, but also something to disprove.  I mean, sure, if your taste ranges towards Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware and fabulous antiques.... and you're in your twenties.... and have an average job for someone in my age bracket.... no, you totally can't buy that stuff.  Buying a Pottery Barn lamp new would be something that I would have to really budget in.  As much as I love a gorgeous faux industrial piece, I love eating, going out, and paying bills on time more.

However, as pretty much any stylist will say on a blog or Bravo/E! television show, you do not need to have much money to have great style.  And I don't think that you have to have a lot of money to prove that you have great taste.  There are so many resources for furniture and decor on the cheap, one of which is Craigslist.

I know that Craigslist can be synonymous with benign things like curb alerts for free firewood and more horrifying things like murderers luring in victims with shady hookups, but seriously, you can find some awesome furniture if you are willing and patient enough to sift through everything.  Over the past few years, I have found some really awesome pieces, from an English roll arm sofa (for FREE!) to a canvas and wood deck set (also FREE!), on Craigslist.

To help anybody starting out who may be wary about turning to the CL (as I fondly call it), I've put together my top five tips for buying furniture off of Craigslist:

1) Be patient.  You're not going to go online one day and furnish your apartment or house with some recent postings.  I mean, you can.... but it will look like shit.  If you want to find something great or something in particular, you have to be patient.  A great couch is not going to show up immediately, but it should within a month.  In the meantime, you will see some awful couches that have had dogs chew at them for years.  Don't.  Don't.  Even if it's free.  Something beautiful, vintage, and perhaps even well cared for will come along.  Just because you're poor doesn't mean you have settle.  Remember that most people in America have way too much stuff and somewhere, someone would really, really like to get rid of something that you want to make room for something new that they want.

2) Be vigilant, convenient, and speedy.  The good stuff goes quick.  In this case, do what works for you, whether that is checking the website on your computer daily or (in may case) having the app on your phone.  I think it helps to search the "all for sale" for a set of specific terms, like "couch", "sofa", "settee", etc.   The good stuff will go very quickly.  I emailed the seller (or giver, rather, since it was free) about five minutes after they posted the couch and offered to pick it up the next day.  They had other people contact them; I was simply the first and could get a couch out immediately.  Previously, I had contacted a seller about a gorgeous vintage loveseat.  The problem that arose was that he was in Richmond and I was in Norfolk (an hour and a half away).  Initially, he was able to deliver the couch, but the next day, he got a local offer.  It was disheartening, but completely understandable.  As someone who has also sold furniture on Craigslist, I know I'm more inclined to give preference to someone who can get my furniture out as quickly as possible.  If there is something you really want, be on the lookout and have a plan for picking it up as soon as you can.

3) Be wary.  There are creepers.  This should go without saying, but ALWAYS BRING A WINGMAN, preferably an intimidating one.  I consider myself a feminist and I believe that women can do almost everything that men can do... except intimidate rather threatening gentleman with ill intent.  To be fair, I also think that not every man can intimidate a creeper either.  I have the advantage of having husband in the Navy who like to work out and is familiar enough with my Craigslist searching ways that he will come with me to pick up items (even something as small as a lamp) wearing ripped up jeans and a sloppy white tank top, which has become trashy costume of sorts that exposes some hot tattooed arms.  In cases when he's been out of town, I've asked friends' husbands, boyfriends, or some of my husband's buddies to come with me.  It may feel like you're imposing at first, but trust me, your friends care about your safety and will probably be mad if you go meet a stranger alone after a brief email or text exchange.

4) Know your limits.  Before you commit to buy something, know what you can and cannot fix.  You're buying something used, but there is a lot of variance as to how used it may be.  For me, this means that I am ready to reupholster a tight back or tight seat chair, but I know that I can't reupholster a couch (nor am I interested in paying a reupholstery shop for that).  I would never purchase a couch or loveseat that had terrible fabric on it for this reason, but I will buy pretty much any dining chair as long as it is structurally sound.

5) See the potential. This tip really goes hand in hand with the previous one.  Again, you are buying something USED.  Sometimes you can find amazing pieces that have been well cared for, but don't write something off because it's the wrong color, has a bad fabric (and is a piece you feel comfortable refinishing) , or has a few nicks and scuffs.  These small things are fixable and can save you a lot in comparison to buying something new.  There are so many great tutorials for refinishing furniture on Pinterest and in the blog world.  You can fix much more that you think you can.

I hope these tips have encouraged you to think outside the retail realm and to look towards Craigslist for furniture and decor needs.  Buying used is great for your wallet, great for the planet, and great for your creativity.  Have you bought or redone something used lately?  Do you have any tips to share? 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DIY Cane Chair Reupholstery

I am a huge believer in adjusting and redoing classic, vintage pieces of furniture over buying something brand new.  I care deeply about investing in furniture that is classic, well made, and will last.  In my price point, that is more likely to be a historical piece rather than a contemporary one.  You can find amazing pieces at estate sales, auctions, thrift stores or as hand me downs, and it is surprisingly easy to refinish or reupholster them.

I have a great pair of chairs that I was given by my friend Cate when she moved from a house to an apartment and needed to edit her furniture a bit.  to be honest, they aren't a perfect pair (there is a slight difference in the cushioning in the back, but there are the same cane sides, arms, and legs, which create a uniform look.  Cate had gotten the chairs hoping to work on them someday, but never got around to it.  When I first got them, they were very 1960s, with a walnut stain and pink and orange velvet upholstery.  I never took a formal picture of the before stage, but they did make an appearance in a Christmas tree picture a few years back:

I have not every taken an upholstery class and do not claim to be a expert; I've followed a lot of tutorials on blogs and via Pinterest.  While it is not as difficult as you first anticipate it to be, it is something that I have gotten better at as I've gone along.  In our old apartment, I first reupholstered these chairs in a white and yellow chevron.

While these chairs worked okay in our space at that time and I enjoyed experimenting with patterns, ultimately I always want my projects and artwork to look high end.  I am always on a budget, but practice, research, and self teaching are free.  I believe in reworking on projects, whether it is a home DIY or more fine arts related, until I am completely satisfied and feel like the product looks sophisticated.  Once we moved into our new place and developed a plan for the colors, textures, and prints in our new place, I chose to keep the wood painted white and to pick a luxurious textured linen fabric in a sandy taupe color.

First, I removed the old fabric and used it as a pattern, leaving about two inches of extra border to help pull the fabric taught.  I used pliers to help pull the fabric tightly across the seat and back as stapled it to the frame.  This a trick I learned from stretching canvases across a wooden frame in painting classes in college.  Keeping the fabric pulled tightly is essential to keeping the upholstery job looking professional.  Any lumps, tears, excesses, etc., make the item look like a cheap hand me down rather than a piece that is classic, antique, or well cared for.

While I know that some high end furniture stores, specifically Restoration Hardware, has been featuring deconstructed pieces with raw fabric edges, I don't trust myself to pull off that without it looking clearly inauthentic.  You can't fake the wear that an antique, French flea market piece would have, or at least, I can't.  I wanted to finish the edges and hide the staples and raw edges with double welting made from the same fabric.  If you want, many upholsterers can make this for you or you can buy cording from any fabric store to make it.  Or, if you need the cording in a larger quantity, like I did, than your fabric may have on hand, you can use clothesline or rope from Home Depot to make the welting.  to do this, I started by first wrapping the clothesline in the fabric and pinning the fabric shut.  I then stitched as closely to cording as possible using the double stitching setting on my sewing machine, removing the pins as I went.

A nice perk to this step is that my sweet puppy loves to sit by the sewing machine while I work.  She's helpful like that.  

Afterwards, I trimmed some of the excess fabric, but left a half inch or so border so that I could ensure I had enough to attach the welting to the cushion and cover the staples.  To attach the welting, I used basic tacky glue for fabric, applying it liberally to the excess fabric and then pinning it.  To be on the safe side, I let it sit overnight.

The next day I repeated the process, this time facing the cording upward rather than downward.  The following day, I applied glue between the two cords and then pinned them together to create the double welting, leaving the chair looking polished and professional

I so proud of how the chairs turned out.  Overall, the cost per chair was around $45 each.  The chairs were given to me, the paint I had, the fabric was purchased on sale, and many of the tools I already had on hand.  Plus, the feeling accomplishing a furniture makeover on my own is pretty satisfying and motivates me to continue to work on things throughout our apartment, making it more and more our own beautiful space.

Have you ever done reupholstery?  What has worked well and what hasn't?