Curb Finds: Refinishing a small dresser for Tami

Turning thirty might have triggered a lot of self-reflection and deep thoughts, but it also brought the best present ever…a carefully-orchestrated surprise visit from Tami.

What a sneak.  She and Read secretly schemed to plan a visit from Oregon, and she flies in this week! When I found out I texted her a hundred exclamation points, which I felt appropriately conveyed my excitement.

Tami’s visit inspired me to spruce up our spare bedroom. A couple weeks ago on my morning walk with Sam, bleary-eyed and cold, I passed this wooden dresser out on the curb.

P1020010Ten minutes later I sort of registered what I had seen – an extremely ugly, but nonetheless apartment-sized piece of solid wood furniture. FOR FREE. In the time it took me to circle back someone had stripped off all the hardware. Weird. But I lifted and limped it home all the same. I ended up with two big hip bruises, but by god I got it up the porch steps (I imagine that in times like this I resemble one of those burrow-dwelling ants, slowly dragging something backwards into the front door).

What was under that hideous and non-ironic olive green? Yesterday, armed with paint stripper, gloves, and a scraper I found out…

The green paint bubbled and puckered and scraped off to reveal a dusty rose.


Under THAT was a layer of shiny varnish. Geez this thing was like a gobstopper.

The little neighbor boy wandered over, curious. “Is that boring?” he asked, and I had to confess (to him and myself) that it’s actually incredibly satisfying. I like to pick things and pop zits and scrub grime. So an afternoon with a can of paint stripper is great fun. After a few hours I had gotten it down to this:
P1020026And then I brought in some rough sandpaper and took off what remained of the old varnish.

After running tackcloth over everything I applied a dark walnut stain, waited 5 minutes, and rubbed it off. The wood grain was really starting to shine through.

I added about $20 of new burnished brass hardware and rubbed Pledge furniture oil over everything. How’s that for a curbside makeover?



A New Sewing Nook

After bringing all that fabric back from Los Angeles I’ve been hell bent on creating a sewing station. Wall space is at a premium here, but there’s a connecting door between our bedroom and the spare bedroom and I figured that by permanently shutting it I could carve out a few feet. To the left of that, where Read has his keyboard set up, I wanted to make a cutting table out of two used kitchen base cabinets and a big board covered in cork… like this.

I drove the streets of Boston for miles yesterday, stopping at Habitat for Humanity’s Restore in West Roxbury, a ginormous Goodwill, and the Reuse Center at Boston Building Resources. Turns out everyone sells used cabinets as a set…you have to want a whole kitchen’s worth.  So sad. The only things I found were random bits of architectural beauty that have no place in our apartment, like this intricate metal gas fireplace for $200:


The trip was a total bust. At home, mopey and disheartened, I searched furniture on craigslist. And there it was.  Two blocks from our house. A kitchen island, solid wood, for $30. YEs! I could feel my project adrenaline returning!

The island had these castor wheels on the bottom so my big plan was to wheel it all the way home. Only the wheels weren’t attached, so every time it hit uneven ground one or more fell out of their sockets. I was putting wheels back in every few feet. The woman who sold it to me looked very confused when I declined her offer to have her husband drop it off on Monday when he got back from his work trip. “He has a truck,” she said. I thanked her politely, but inside I was like, MONDAY?! MONDAY?!!! HAHAHAHA ARE YOU CRAZY? I HAVE TO BUILD THIS THING TONIGHT LADY! I have zero patience when it comes to projects.

Read helped me carry it home. He even stopped watching March Madness to help me carry it home. I know, he’s too nice sometimes.

Here’s what I made with it…

Sewing Nook

I extended the table workspace with a 1/2″ board from Home Depot, and I painted the bottom shelf and the top board a deep navy. Three rattan baskets from Target hold all my fabric underneath and notions fit in the drawer. I put a little cloth on top and hung an IKEA paper light overhead. It needs some artwork on either side of the door, and I may hang a long curtain in front to hide the mess.

Project Budget
$30 – kitchen island
$13 – 2’x4′ board
$39 – three rattan baskets, 17″x10″
$0.50 – a pint of navy paint from the “mess-up” shelf at Home Depot

If I can find a curtain for less than $16, then the whole thing will still come in at less than $100. As for the cutting station, I might just get a big roll-up Xacto mat to lay out on the kitchen table.

I leave you with a portrait of a gentleman:

The hidden costs of a good deal

Who doesn’t love a good deal?

There’s a family story that involves a 3-year-old-me and the new Easter hat I wore to church. An older lady across the aisle commented on what a nice hat it was and politely asked, “Where did you get it?”

“ON SALE!” I shouted.

Last week Read suggested that one of my steals was turning out to be more work than it was worth. I’ve been guilty of this before…the $4 thriftstore dress that just needs some tailoring, the free piece of furniture that needs fixing, the hand-be-down chair with a funny smell…

Often I’m swayed by not only a cheap price, but also the thought of remaking and reusing something that otherwise would be discarded. What about for you? At what point is the investment to fix something (in time or repairs or sweat) not worth the savings?

"Lily" yellow shirtdress

I bought this Lily shirtdress for half off because it's missing half the covered to make covered buttons?? hmm

This most recent situation started with that LLBean wool sweater that I got for $3 at the neighborhood yard sale. I deconstructed it and was left with oodles of triple-stranded dark gray wool. I washed the hanks and stretched them to dry, then knit a test swatch with 10.5 needles. YIPES. Way too thick. I’d start overheating in any garment that heavy.

reclaimed wool

Unwashed crinkly wool (left) and washed, stretched, and dried wool (right)

The only option was to separate the strands. I had Read sit on the opposite  side of the couch – he took a double strand and I took a single – and we wound, wound, wound. The excruciating part is that the yarn gets so twisty it knots on itself, so every few yards you have to stop and untwist. One hank took a couple hours to separate. Read said he felt like Mose in that episode of The Office where Dwight makes him un-ply the building’s toilet paper to save money. He shook his head a lot, but bless his heart he kept winding.

Plain & Simple Pullover

the start of a Plain & Simple Pullover

The single-ply yarn is becoming a Plain and Simple Pullover…so far so good. Separating the strands basically tripled my yardage so I’ll get to choose a couple more projects after the pullover.

What lengths have you gone to fix, retrofit, or mend something you got for cheap (or free)? Was it worth it? Any epic fails?

Things the neighbors don’t want

Our neighbors get rid of cool stuff. So much so that I’ve generally replaced going to thrift stores with early morning walks at the turn of the month, when people are moving in and out of apartments. This year I’ve dragged home a few treasures, including…


An old weathered wooden box with faded gray/blue paint. It holds all of our scarves, hats, and gloves…


A solid wood double-doored console thing that serves as a media stand…


And an old windsor chair with a broken seat, but it remains to be seen if I can fix it.


This morning Read and I walked out the door and into a neighborhood-wide yard sale – it was like a whole year’s worth of moving sales in one morning. Amazing! It felt like a block party, but with rows and rows of $1 bins and used furniture and stacks of books. We met some more neighbors, all of whom are super nice and chill, and made plans to grill out in our shared driveway later this summer.

Combing the house we came up with $39 in cash. With our first dollar we bought some lemonade from the kids next door. The little girl had the best blond goldilocks curls and a cheery chipper voice. She also had a cold, so as she chattered away, a big wad of snot marked her breathing by moving in and out of her nose. Hahaha She remained unfazed. “These cookies have cow’s milk and these don’t! All of the money goes into this cup because it’s the money cup! We’re making a lot of money huh?!”

Thirty-eight dollars later, we had brought home…

Edith's yard sale find

 A pink collar for Edith…

Yard sale loot
An antique dresser to put at the entryway and a puffy insulated dog coat…

Deconstructing a sweater for yarn

…and a $3 XL virgin wool LL Bean sweater that I started to deconstruct for the yarn. That ball above is from just one sleeve, so maybe I can get a couple projects out of the sweater! I’ve had Calvados on my queue for a while and it would look nice in dark gray.

Yard sale season is in full swing. Have you picked up anything good lately?

Grand opening of the balcony garden experiment

Until this past weekend, our 2nd story balcony had a very short and pitiful resume:

– place where I take self-portraits of finished knitwear

– place where I stand to shake out the floor rugs

– place where the cats crouch to spy on birds and neighbors

Edith at the windowsill

It takes a couple oblivious sparrows for Edith to venture beyond the windowsill

My new plan to give the balcony self-confidence and purpose is to turn it into a container garden. It faces west, so there’s a ton of sunlight, and I found a stack of abandoned pots in the basement to get us started. On Saturday we went to Mahoney’s Garden Center and stocked up on soil, seeds, and a fabric Smart Pot that looked very intriguing (it’s behind Read in the photo below).

Container gardening: phase one!

(front-back) Lettuce, Arugula, Peas, Collards, Peas, Read, Carrots & Radishes

Our big puzzle is going to be watering. I’m either going to rig up some sort of pulley system for the hose in the yard, or run a piece of tubing from the bathroom sink. I dunno…we’ve gotta do something. Read claims he didn’t mind watering it with bowl after bowl of water but that doesn’t seem like something I want to do all summer while he’s in Mexico.

In launching the balcony garden experiment, I’ve found a lot of tips, ideas, and inspiration on a blog called Life on the Balcony. The blog’s related Flickr group is also fun. Based on my lunchtime meanderings there, here’s what I’m planning for “Phase 2”:

– Find and revamp discarded junk (like this old metal BBQ) into more cheap planters

Plant potatoes in a trashcan

Plant strawberries and cucumbers vertically using old wooden pallets

Oregon radishes circa 2008

If all goes well, or even mediocre, hopefully I’ll have photos of Boston-balcony-garden-edibles in a couple months. What are you planting this time of year? If you have any tips for container growing, please share!

Osoberry: the free foxflat-illustrated purse pattern

Thank you friends for all of your (fun and unpretentious) name suggestions! I’m going to give the award to Sandra, landscape architect extraordinaire and former roomie, who suggested “Osoberry”. Sandra, I’m sitting here with Samson and we’re commiserating about how much we miss you. He even confesses to missing Rider…

Sandra and Rider

So, back to this bag and its new name. Osoberry, also called “Indian Plum,” is native to the Pacific Northwest and it’s one of the first plants to flower in early spring. Yeah!! What a positive namesake. And appropriate. For some reason the bag feels very Pacific-Northwesty…maybe because most Boston ladies I know carry nice leather handbags. I’ve considered assimilating, but with my track record of busted pens and spilled hair oil, investing in a pricey handbag seems ill-advised.

Osoberry, also called Indian Plum; Syn. Nuttallia cerasiformis (c) J.G. in S.F.

I had in mind a tall fold-over shape, but wasn’t sure how to construct the bottom until I saw the $4 reusable bags in the checkout aisle of Market Basket in Somerville (best grocery store ever, by the way). The body of the Market Basket bags is made from one piece, which just needed a little height to reach the fold-over shape I was envisioning. I added a reinforced bottom that doubles as a set of exterior pockets, and replaced the double handles with one long shoulder strap.

Osoberry bag- folded over

Unfolded, it can fit a lot...lunch, a knitting project, some books...

The blue fabric is from IKEA, and the orange and purple are dissected thriftstore pants. I used light blue thread for some fun contrast. Last week someone asked where I bought it, which as all knitters and sewers know, translates as “that doesn’t immediately strike me as homemade.”  Exccccellent…

bag closeup

Osoberry bag closeup. Blue IKEA fabric plus two pairs of thrifted pants

Inspired by an  Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook that I bought at a used book sale this fall, I wrote out the pattern by hand. So if you’re in need of a new bag, a one-day project, and a way to use up some mismatched fabric, click here for the very special foxflat-illustrated Osoberry Bag Pattern. Happy Spring!


My birthday present from Read is peeking out of the upper right-hand corner. No more sharing a laptop with a grad student in residence! yay!!