k.willa.designs

wood & textile designs

Sewing Fun

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Working on the sleeves for my dress.

For the past 7 weeks I have been taking a Fashion Sewing class at MECA, through their Continuing Studies program. For the class we were expected to choose a pattern, and then follow it, ending with a finished garment.

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Sleeve Construction.

With one class left, I have a dress! – Almost. It’s been so much fun taking this class, not only because I love classrooms and learning new things, but also because the application of this new knowledge has resulted in some other projects already, and I am so excited to see what the future will bring for my practice.

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Sneak Peak.

Here’s a sneak peak of the dress, but I have to finish the hem and some minor sleeve adjustment before showing the entire piece. With lots of work and a little luck that will be early next week, so stay tuned.

In addition to working on the dress, I am making a blazer to go with it (which is part of the original outfit design), and I’m working on a small clutch purse as an entirely unrelated project.

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Leftover vintage silk cut from my dress.

Brett and I are attending a holiday party at the beginning of December, so I’m making a festive clutch to go with my dress, just for fun – well, and because who would waste such lovely fabric scraps?

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Vintage silk, with an organza buttonhole.

I’m still figuring out exactly how to do this, because I’m not following a pattern and I’ve never made a purse of any kind before. But I have faith that with some determination I’ll figure it out in time. 7 days and counting…

 

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November 1st is 2 Days Away

Tomorrow is Halloween, folks, which has got me thinking: how on Earth did the summer fly by so quickly? I have a sneaking suspicion that March was only yesterday, and yet, looking back, I can’t even believe the number of projects that we attempted to tackle over the past few months.

We have some changes going on here at the farm. Firstly, we have some roommates! A few of our friends have come to stay with us for varying times, and have been assisting us with projects around the property in exchange for room and board. Since we first moved to this house and began to plan the urban farm of our dreams, other people have always been a very important part of our future plans. From inviting our neighbors to take part in the gardening and property planning, to asking our friends for help with specific projects, we have had high hopes that other people would soon see the value of this property and join our excitement for it’s potential. With three additional sets of hands on board, and with the land behind our house finally ours to play with, Brett and I have been able to make a few of our dreams a reality.

The front, street-facing-side of our shed has been sided!

The front, street-facing-side of our shed has been sided!

As winter approaches, not only am I thinking a lot about the projects we have finished, I am also starting to seriously plan for the projects we have yet to begin. As mentioned above, we got an amazing amount accomplished in a short time this summer:

  1. Finished renovation on rental property
  2. Sold rental property
  3. Partially demoed our flooded house
  4. Painted our living room
  5. Tilled a new garden plot 50×50
  6. Built a new shed
  7. Finished siding the first shed
  8. Planted 30 new trees
  9. Built a lumber storage roof
Liz, Me, and Kayla, the day we finished the renovations.

Liz, Me, and Kayla, the day we finished the renovations.

Lumber Storage Roof

Lumber Storage Roof

As the weather gets colder, and with more hands on board to help, we will turn our attention toward some indoor projects. Not only do we have several face-lift jobs to do around our home (replacing light fixtures, new coats/colors of paint), we also have a lot of THINKING to do. We are in negotiations with the City of Portland to see what we will be allowed to build on our property, and how we will be allowed to use the land. Unfortunately, there are many laws that seem to exist solely to discourage potential small urban farms, but we haven’t let this deter us.

We believe that this piece of land we have acquired is special, and rare, and we want to see it not only preserved, but cultivated and improved upon in a careful, sensitive way. We want to encourage biodiversity and nurture the important ecosystems that exist here. As urban dwellers, we are acutely aware of how little wilderness there is left, and that a plot like ours, with just over an acre of tall grass and trees, surrounded on all sides by rows of houses, should be kept safe at all costs.

Our friends who now live with us on the farm share our beliefs and are more than happy to help us achieve this goal. With their help we have cleaned up and decongested the natural trees in our field, and added 30 new ones. They have also helped us clean up the soil, filtering out unnecessary bits of trash that ended up there over the years, and planting new cover crops to make the ground healthier: we will plant flower beds over much of the “lawn” in the spring. Soon we will be setting the chickens up for a cozy winter, and battening down the hatches before snow fly. The extra help is much appreciated.

Roomies working in the field

Roomies working in the field

During the long, dark cold of winter, I will be hunkered down inside with my knitting and my sketch books, researching and plotting our next move. Thank goodness in advance for blankets and warm socks, hot tea, and good friends to bounce ideas off of.

Why do we fall?

Well… It’s been about two months since my last post.

If you have read any of my past posts, you may know about our home, and my studio, flooding. Just as I started to get my creative groove on in my new space, everything was ruined. My desk drawers filled with water, which meant that all of my crafting supplies; colorful paper, fabric scraps, glue, markers and colored pencils, etc., were ruined. And that’s just a small taste of the things that were ruined. I can’t even quantify the damage that was done, because I honestly haven’t been able to force myself to go through everything yet. It’s too painful.

I spent years dreaming about that space, months planning and building it, and I only got to use it for a few weeks before everything got soaked. It was a very emotional time for me.

Since then, not only did we have the busiest summer that I’ve ever had, I also just didn’t feel very creative. It was almost like that flood washed away more than just my hard work, it washed away my desire to make anything new. I’m slowly coming around and starting to make things again, but it has been a struggle. I couldn’t even bring myself to write – something that I love! – because I felt that I didn’t have anything worthy to say.

Well, worthy or not, here it is. I decided that the only way to get back in the saddle again would be to force myself to make something. And, from my experience as a college student, there is no better way to force yourself into making something than to take a class. So I am.

I signed up for a 10-week Fashion Sewing class, which may seem a bit out of the blue, if you’ve been following my work thus-far, but it actually makes a lot of sense. I believe that the skills I will pick up or improve on in this class will only strengthen my upholstery skills. Not only that, I think that being in a class will kick-start my creative potential again, and I’ll be making things again in no time. That’s my hope, anyways.

As I stepped back from making things for the summer, selfishly indulging in my sadness over my ruined studio, I poured all of my frustration and excess energy into house renovations (on a home that wasn’t mine), and into plans for our homestead and next year’s gardens. Although these were worthy endeavors, which needed to be focused on, I feel that I will soon be ready to spend some time re-organizing my space, and hope that in the new year I will be able to reinstate my studio practice. After all: Why do we fall?  –  So that we can get back up.

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And the Beet Goes On…

That’s right, folks! Pickling time is here again!

Straight from the garden, freshly washed.

Straight from the garden, freshly washed.

It seems too early in the year for putting up food; it’s mid-August and the 80 degree days are trying to keep winter far from my thoughts, for the time being. We’ve had an incredible year in the garden, with veggies literally overflowing from their beds, and as they ripen and are picked, the next question is always: What to do with them now?

For those of your veggies that don’t make it into a meal, or neighbor’s hands, preserving is always the best way to proceed. From pickling and canning, to making jams or sauces, to hanging and drying, the possibilities when it comes to storing food for later months. Today’s project: Pickling Beets!

Cooling Beets.

Cooling Beets.

Beets must be boiled for about 30 minutes (this time changes depending on the size and freshness of your beets) before they can be prepped for canning. Leaving the stems and roots attached for this step ensures maximum color-retention. Once they pass the fork-test, they need to cool until they can be handled.

Removing the skin.

Removing the skin.

Once the roots and stems are cut off, the skin must be removed. The boiling process should have made this very easy – if it isn’t, the beets aren’t ready yet! I drag a knife blade sideways across the surface of the beet, from top to bottom (just like wood, certain vegetables also have a grain-direction!). You can do this with your fingernails, also. The skin should peel right off, leaving you with a perfectly smooth beet to cut into pieces.

Skin-free beets awaiting slicing.

Skin-free beets awaiting slicing.

I like to cut my beets into rough heart-shapes. Regardless of whether you choose to make them into a shape or just cut them into discs is up to you! We will be giving the completed jars away as gifts around the holidays, so I think the added effort of shaping the beets is a nice consideration. Don’t worry! The “leftover” parts that I cut off during the shaping process are still used! I throw them in as little filler-chunks, or make a few jars with oddball shapes, for us to use at home.

Adding the vinegar mixture.

Adding the vinegar mixture.

Finding the perfect vinegar recipe to pickle with is a task unto itself. I’ve never pickled beets on my own before, which means I’ve never had to choose the brine! This year I looked through countless recipes, but they all called for something like cinnamon, or cloves, or orange peels… I like the way beets taste, and didn’t want to cover them up with a whole bunch of unnecessary (and very strong!) flavors. I chose to make up my own filler, using apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and salt. I added slices of raw vidalia onion to each jar, layering them with the beets, and poured the heated vinegar over top.

Heart-shaped baby beets!

Heart-shaped baby beets!

My friend Kayla helped me with this next stage of the project (along with taking some of these pictures for me). She used a butter knife to poke down into the jars around the sides; this helps to eliminate any larger air bubbles from the liquid. The rim of each jar then needed to be wiped to make sure they are not sticky, and that they are dry. Next up, lids! Make sure they are on tight before putting them in the water!

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Post water bath.

Post water bath.

More waiting to go in.

More waiting to go in.

All-in-all, this was less than half a day’s work, and we ended up with 2 dozen jars of pickled beets! I was even able to give the cooked stems and roots to the chickens. Next year I plan to plant many more beets – this was so fun!

Fessenden Street Kitchen Flip, And Our House Blew Up

Sci-Fi Set in my Dining Room.

Sci-Fi Set in my Dining Room.

Many of you are already aware of the interior flooding at our home; a pipe in the 2nd floor bathroom burst, consequently forcing us to tear out most of the kitchen and the dining room – this something we were planning to do anyways as part of a massive home renovation, but let’s just say we weren’t quite ready yet.

At around 2:15am on Sunday, August 2nd, Brett woke up to the sound of torrential downpour.

“Wow, it’s really pouring out,” he thought. He looked out the window and saw a beautiful, clear night sky.

I awoke a few minutes later to Brett yelling at me, “Get up! The house is flooding!” We have been sleeping in the sunroom on the 1st floor, because our dog cannot climb upstairs right now. Jumping out of bed, I ran into the living room; all I could hear was rushing water. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, yet still very sleepy and disoriented, I reached out and grabbed the arm chair that was closest to the noise and carried it to a safer part of the room. I ripped up the area rug and darted to the sofa (chartreuse green velvet, high-backed, original upholstery) and patted it all over to make sure it wasn’t wet. Feeling that it was safe, I turned to face the dining room, and felt my way along the wall in the blackness toward the sound of destruction.

The Day After.

The Day After.

Water was lapping over the doorjamb, flowing into the kitchen when we caught it. I used every bath towel, spare towel, hand, face, and dish towel, and even a blanket to sop up as much of the water as I could. Brett had rushed upstairs and turned off a valve, which stopped the flow of water. By the time we caught it, water had started to flow into the upstairs hallway, and was within about 20 minutes of pouring down our main staircase. The photo above shows my dining room and the doorway into the kitchen on the morning after. At about 3:30 in the morning, when we had cleaned up as much of the water as we could, there was nothing else we could do but go back to sleep and wait for the sun.

Aftermath.

Aftermath.

The next day a crew of water mitigation experts came into our home and started tearing out walls and the ceiling in the dining room. They taped off the living room, leaving us with chemical-spill-esque decor. The next day they moved to the kitchen; water had soaked through 5 layers of floors, illuminating just how old our house is, and how many transformations it has gone through.

Visible water damage.

Visible water damage.

Two days before this whole house debacle occurred, we had started work on the kitchen of our rental property; we wanted to give it a facelift before putting it on the market. Brett took a week of vacation from work, and we worked from 9am-6pm for 10 days straight. We were coming home every day, exhausted, to a house that was more and more torn apart.

There is something very gratifying about working your body until it aches, though, and that’s just what Brett, Kayla and I did all week long while we were working on Fessenden St. Brett worked on exterior nicknack projects like repairing soffit and molding; Kayla and I cranked away on the kitchen.

Before.

Before.

I forgot to take a true “before” picture, in my haste to get started, and had already removed the cabinet doors and emptied the carcasses of 4 large bins worth of kitchen items, when I took the shot above.

In-Process Doors.

In-Process Doors.

In-Process Doors.

In-Process Doors.

Before and After.

Before and After.

Before and After.

Before and After.

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The goal with the kitchen at Fessenden was make everything brighter, and I think that we succeeded! I tried 6 different color samples for the cabinets. I had to fight for this one; Brett was worried that it would be too baby blue – which is fair – but I assured him that in combination with the wall color (hard to see here, but it’s actually a pale, pale green) would balance it and would have a retro feeling vibe. Throw on some hardware to match, and voila!

Liz, Me, and Kayla, the day we finished.

Liz, Me, and Kayla, the day we finished.

Long Overdue

Chicken Mom.

Chicken Mom.

Well, hello there, friends! It’s been far too long.

Things with Beatrix have been challenging to say the least; I haven’t been writing because I simply haven’t been doing anything that I felt was worthy of noting here. Now that I’ve been dragging around my 80 pound ball and chain for two weeks, I can say that in that amount of time I have managed to accomplish a surprising amount of projects around the house, but none of them seemed to be related in any way to the content of this blog thus far. I have always tried to be very contentious of the purpose of this blog, and of it’s theme. I have started and abandoned hundreds of posts over the year because they didn’t quite make “sense” to me, in the overall concept of my public running commentary.

When I finished with school last May, I really needed a break from being so rigorous with my studio practice, which is very much about recording my ideas, preferably in a physical, or tangible way. I have always preferred pen and paper to typing my notes, and my sketchbooks range from pages and pages of text, to colored pencil child-like sketches of wobbly chairs.

Fireplace Sketch.

Fireplace Sketch.

If there is one thing that I have embraced with my personal notes over the years, it is this: Nothing is too ridiculous. In my experience, we can never know what will be genius later on. Like a crime scene detective keeping every little bit of evidence, not knowing what the key to cracking the case will be, I try not to let any of even my silliest or most unfinished ideas escape before recording them in some way.

Backyard Sketch & Thoughts.

Backyard Sketch & Thoughts.

This results in many “interesting” notes, like:

“The ballerina lamp shade”

“READ some JACK LONDON”

a drawing of a chandelier

“make a kick-ass upholstery studio in the basement (see 13.1 on page 8) BUT NO – SERIOUSLY – DO IT!”

“New Flags & Poles”

many to-do lists

….just to name a few. There are some that I cannot write about – they’re too good, and I’m not ready to share them yet!

A Foyer Sketch.

A Foyer Sketch.

Over the past few weeks my sketching and note-taking has dramatically increased, due mostly to the fact that I have to sit quietly with my sedated and depressed Rottweiler, while I wait for her to fall asleep. Once she is, I try to move around the house as little as possible, especially avoiding the creaky stairs; waking her up would only mean I’d have to repeat the quiet time part. This means that I’ve been spending a lot more time outside, working in my garden and dreaming about our land. The past three weeks have given me a lot of time to think about things, and to consider how my goals have shifted in the past 10 years. I am trying to pay better attention to my inner voices, and notice these shifts as they occur, rather than in retrospect.

Dreaming Big.

Dreaming Big.

This has brought me to understand that the homestead and the garden and the house and my studio practice are all of equal importance to me. They all occupy roughly the same amount of time in my thoughts, even if this is seasonal. I spend more time in the summer thinking about my garden, because it’s growing and changing every day and I have to keep up. However, during the winter months, when fewer growing things need attention, my studio practice can draw more of my time and mental energy.

I have been struggling to keep all of these things separate, which begs the question: why? If all of these aspects of my life are of equal importance, why have I been trying to keep them segregated?

Part of the answer to this question is: Because I wouldn’t know what to call myself. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Not an Interior Designer. Not a Homesteader. Not a Furniture Maker, or a House “Wife”, or a Chicken Mom, or a Gardener, or an Upholsterer, or a Writer, or a Handy-Woman, or a Sporadic Philosopher.

Handy Woman.

Handy Woman.

I am all of these things and more, and therefore have nothing to call myself.

This blog has thus far been about my furniture and interior design projects and ideas. I have refrained, as much as possible, from putting in anything purely “homestead,” mostly because I was worried that it wouldn’t fit. I have had a change of heart.

I may not know yet what to call myself (“Supreme Mistress of the Universe” has a nice ring to it, and all, but I’m not settled on anything just yet…), but even without a job title, I believe that this blog can evolve to cover all of the things that I feel are important. With that in mind, readers can expect a more diverse array of subjects from my posts, effective immediately.

Front Yard Blueberry Harvest.

Front Yard Blueberry Harvest.

Pauvre Beatrix

As many of you know, our dog Beatrix tore her ACL last week and will soon be having surgery.

For those of you who do not know, the ACL is very important; it holds the knee bones together. Without it, each application of pressure on the knee, such as that which comes from taking a step, forces the top part of the knee to slide off to one side. Needless to say, this is very uncomfortable.

Apparently in dogs that are Beatrix’s size/age/breed, if they are at all active, this is an incredibly common injury. In fact, our surgeon told us that statics show 6 out of 10 dogs who receive this surgery on one leg will blow out the other within the next 4 years. At least we have something to look forward to.

So what does this mean for Beatrix (and myself)? Every time Beatrix wants to go up or down the stairs, either Brett or I have to carry her. She weighs 85 pounds, and Brett is not home during the day, leaving all of the heavy lifting to me. She has a raised ottoman in the living room so that she can look out the window to the street beyond – her favorite indoor activity is people-watching – which she cannot climb onto alone anymore, so one of us has to lift her. She can no longer go for her long walks, though she desperately still wants to, and it is up to me to tell her “No,” over and over while she stares at me pitifully.

She also is prohibited from playing by the stream – her favorite thing to do outside, except for walks – as that is where she got injured. She also can’t hang out in the back yard anymore, and has to be on leash at all times. She can’t see other dogs, and we have to be very careful about other people coming in, because she cannot jump up, or even wag her tail aggressively (as she is prone to do), as this could cause her to fall on her bad leg.

I also cannot work in my basement studio. The stairs leading into the basement are far more narrow than those leading to the second floor of our home, which are difficult enough to carry Bea up and down; she is not a small lady. I’m not supposed to leave her alone upstairs while I go down to work, either. For one thing, she sits at the top of the stairs and whines something terrible, but for another she cannot be trusted alone. She will undoubtedly try to climb the stairs or jump on the furniture. We are currently in the process of puppy-proofing the house, but it will take a few days to get everything in order.

It is hard not to be frustrated by this situation for many reasons, but I also feel lucky. We are lucky that I just recently left a job that required me to commute over an hour in each direction, and which required her to be in daycare all day. Now that I am home, we don’t have to worry about her in the care of others, or her interacting with other dogs. We have the luxury to make sure that she receives the best possible care during the day.

I have the living room painting to keep me occupied while she rests peacefully nearby. The living room is the first room I am tackling, but we plan to repaint the entire house eventually. I will be working my way through slowly, leaving all furniture in place. We don’t have enough space to close one entire room off at once. After the living room I’ll be moving on to the sunroom, which used to be my office. A friend of ours will be moving back to Portland at the end of this month and will stay with us for several weeks; the sunroom will be hers while she is here.

Library of Keaven

Part of my reference library, which is filled with many of my favorite books.

Part of my reference library, which is filled with many of my favorite books.

I cannot say how much importance I place on my library, and how often I use it. I am one of those people who keeps everything that I find amusing or interesting; old notebooks, funny magazine ads, quotes, photos, jokes, lyrics, etc. I have countless old journals, diaries and sketchbooks, all filled with things that I will probably never need to know again, but still enjoy perusing from time to time.

I have always loved writing and thought many times about being a writer when I “grew up.” When I was a teenager I fantasized over adventure-filled magazine pages, dreaming of one day being a traveling photojournalist, working for National Geographic (of course), and skipping about the globe snapping award-winning photos to pair with my witty observations. I even began school as an intended photography major…but we all know how that turned out.

Throughout my life books have been my constant companion, and writing seemed to go along with the territory. After reading a particularly excellent piece of fiction – Margaret Atwood is a personal favorite – I would be so inspired and would write for days. At the age of 14 I started a diary that I still keep today; I am currently on journal number 18, and have filled thousands of pages with my silly, naive, and mostly adolescent thoughts.

In my studio I have only the books that matter the most to my practice, and this collection is always growing. We have a library room upstairs, now that my office has vacated the sunroom, and I intend to keep the majority of our books together in that well-lit and warmth-filled room: it is the perfect place to curl up and read for hours on lazy days (if I ever have one of those again).

The books in my studio are on Interior Design, Furniture Restoration, Refurbishment, and Design, Sewing, Knitting, Needlepoint, Upholstery, Leather Working, Quilting, Woodworking, Wood, Architecture, Craft History, and Craft Theory. I also have a large collection of some of my favorite Maine Home & Design issues (aka: as many as I could lay my hands on – they are all my “favorites”). I also have a book written by me, about my sofa upholstery project.

Currently I am reading a book called At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson. It’s fantastic. He’s a genius; funny, interesting, and incredibly, almost unbelievably, knowledgeable. Look it up, if you’re at all interested in learning things like: when the word “chair” was first used, what the cost of the most expensive building ever built was, who the greatest unsung heroes of invention were, what every aspect of any house was originally intended for, etc. One of the things that I love most about this book is that it is full of random tidbits – answers that we would all want to know, if we just thought to ask the questions in the first place:

“In humbler dwellings, matters were generally about as simple as they could be. The dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use, and was perched on the diners’ knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board.

I love learning things like this. I am always eager for new books, and am open to suggestions!

Obsessing Over Bent Laminations

Pulling rusted staples

Pulling rusted staples

There’s been some good progress made in the studio already this week, and it’s only Monday! There were about 1,000 rusty staples to remove from this set of 4 dining chairs, along with some definitely-unsanitary upholstery foam. Finally, though, it’s time to work on the frames!

Sexy bent-lams

Sexy bent-lams

One of the major reasons that I picked these chairs up when I found them was the bent laminations used for the back legs and the seat skirts. That’s something you don’t see very often, in these days of mass-manufactured furniture. These chairs were originally built in Maryland (according to a stamp on the underside of the seats) and, based on some research that I did on the company’s timeline, I would estimate that these were built in the early 1980’s.

A Google image that I grabbed for a quick illustration of what exactly a bent lamination looks like before/during a glue-up

A Google image that I grabbed for a quick illustration of what exactly a bent lamination looks like before/during a glue-up

Many of you may know that bent laminations are an excellent building technique because of their superior strength (multiple glue-layers create more strength than a single piece of wood could offer on it’s own, and because the bend is an illusion of sorts, there is less chance of the wood cracking with resistance), but I love them even more for their aesthetic. I love the repeating lines, and how perfectly parallel they are within the curves.*

( *You can see an example of my inclination toward bending wood simply for the aesthetic in this sculptural steam-bent piece that I built in my Junior Year at MECA.)

These chairs had been painted or stained some kind of medium brown color, but the finish is so old that it flaked off when I washed the chairs with soap and water. A little 220 grit sandpaper is taking off the remnants off it quite nicely. I do not plan to finish these chairs with another stain. I would like to get the wood as natural looking as possible; the grain is very beautiful and, as I said above, I believe the laminations are worth showing off. It would be nice to have the surface finished with a clear high gloss, or something natural like an oil or wax. I always have to spend some time with a piece, and get to know it, before I can decide how to finish it.

You never know what a piece will reveal to you when you pay attention.

today in the studio: Orange You Glad?

Removing staples

Removing staples

I’m finally working on these babies!

In just a couple of hours today I had all of the tacks and most of the staples removed from three of the chairs. The fourth is unfortunately putting up a bit of a fight – the original hardware holding the back of the chair in place has oxidized so badly that the screws are literally crumbling into little, useless piles of rust as soon as I touch them. I need to procure a metal drill bit tomorrow to get those taken out. It’s impossible to remove the old fabric without taking the seats and backs off of the frames first. It would also be very tricky to sand the chairs and apply new finish with the seats and backs in place.

This weekend, I will unfortunately be taking a break from the studio – but it’s for a good reason! Our little baby chicks are getting too big for their current digs far more quickly than anticipated, so our chicken coop building plans have been moved up a few weeks. I’ll be sure to post about this, as well!