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Friday, November 25, 2016

Politics and Nesting Totally Mix: DIY Chair Cushions

Step 1: The Decision
Sometimes sentiment dictates what décor ends up in our homes. For example, I inherited the chairs for my breakfast/dining table from my grandmother. They aren't necessarily my style and they aren't the most comfortable, but they have sentimental value and I love them. However, I did want to make them fit into my home and life a bit better and that meant making them more comfortable for daily use. I needed to make seat cushions.

A contributing factor to this decision was that November 8th was approaching and I knew I needed something to occupy myself while I watched the election results. Nesting is soothing for the nerves. So, on November 8th I drank whiskey sours, made seat cushions, and watched the votes come in. Given the amount of shouting, pacing, and whiskey flying around that night I'm actually quite pleased with how well the cushions turned out and how few times I stabbed myself with my sewing needle.

Step 2: Reconnaissance 
After my initial decision to make the cushions I had to address the facts that I don't have a sewing machine and that my hand-stitching skills are more "serviceable" than attractive. I needed a way to cheat. "Just buy seat cushions," you say? Neither my budget nor my nesting nature would stand for it.

A chance encounter in the sale aisle of Home Goods provided the solution. I found a set of 4 placemats on sale for $8.99. I liked the fabric and the material was both heavy and stiffened, making it ideal for daily butt traffic. The placemats were also double sided, meaning all I had to do was take out the stitching along one side, stuff some batting in between the layers, and sew the opening closed. I returned home triumphantly with my spoils.

The 16"x16" placemats were the perfect size for my chair seats and the mudcloth-eqsue look was exactly what I wanted.

Step 3: Stuffage and shapeage
Remove the stitching from one
side to create a pocket
The first order of business was to use sewing scissors to remove the stitching from one side of the placemats, creating a pocket. Think of it like preparing to stuff a piece of pita.

I had some spare pillow batting, salvaged from a husky attack on two throw pillows during Saffi's puppyhood, and I used this to fill the cushions. It took a few tries before I found the right amount of batting: too much and the cushions looked too puffy on the chairs, too little and their purpose was moot.

Next, the rounded backs on my chair seats meant I needed to do some shaping. I folded the back two corners in to create an angle and sewed them to fit (more or less) the shape of the chair seat. I then sewed the cushions shut.

Step 4: Anchorage
The last step was to add ties to anchor the cushions securely to the chairs. I had recently bought a lipstick at Anthropologie and the pearl-grey cotton handles of the bag they gave me for my purchase was perfect for my purposes. Upcycling, indeed!

I cut each handle in half to make 4 ties and singed the cut edges to ensure they wouldn't unravel. Be careful here: there is a fine line between cauterizing and flambéing. Then I folded each piece in half again and sewed the centerline to the back cushion corners.

Step 5: Congratulate yourself 
Et voilà! Instant chair cushions with minimal sewing required. Our butts and those of our friends have already reaped the rewards, and no one has even suspected they were made from placemats and shopping bag handles. Which is good, because the election results are going to make for some looooong dinner conversations!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hostessing 101 Lesson Learned...Again

Hello all!

It's been a while. The holiday season is my favorite time of year, but it is also the most stressful time of year. Mid-November heralds the annual student freakout period as well as the heaviest grading period of the semester. Holiday travel plans must be made and budgeted for, which usually involves complex family negotiations. Perhaps the most stressful thing about this fall, however, has been my volunteering to host a potluck party for the specialized academic program of which I am student chair.

While the party had seemed like a great idea at the time I proposed it, by the week before the party I was deeply regretting the decision. The program is interdisciplinary, and invitees included not just other anthropologists but students and faculty from programs across the university. Perhaps most terrifyingly, my entire doctoral committee would be in attendance. The people I look up to most in my field would be in my house, my inner sanctum. My professional relationships were about to reach a whole new level of personal, and the same part of me that seeks their approval in my research wanted to impress them with my home. This was a Code Red hostessing situation.

The day before, and of, the party my husband and I scrubbed every surface of our home: walls, baseboards, windows, and the tops of picture frames. We took the rugs and blinds outside and washed them down with the garden hose. We laundered throw pillows, curtains, and the dog beds. We washed and brushed the dogs. I sanitized and polished every square inch of the bathroom, including the toilet brush and plunger. We pruned and weeded the yard and I planted pansies to bring some color to the front porch. I rearranged the furniture about 4 times.

Less than 2 hours before guests were to arrive I had just put a cake in the oven and was about to mop the floors while David prepared to poop-scoop the backyard. I did a final wipe-down of the kitchen when, suddenly, Murphy's law struck. The sink backed up. We abandoned mopping and poop-scooping in favor of taking apart the plumbing and trying to clear the clog, but it was to no avail. The clog was somewhere in the piping back behind the wall. We reassembled everything but discovered another problem: the threading where the piping attached to the sink's base was stripped. There was no way to reconnect it tightly.

With no time to run to the hardware store, we did what we could: put a large bowl underneath the sink to catch water. There was also no time left to mop the house or de-poop the yard. My perfectionist nature was in agony. My squeaky clean baseboards were all for nought. Everyone would arrive and see our un-shiny floors and backed-up kitchen sink. Some professor I don't even know would step in dog poop on their way to the firepit. I poured myself a (rather large) glass of wine and steeled myself for our guests.

About 30 people came to the party that night and I didn't catch one person staring at my floors or peering down my sink drains. Instead, people I didn't even know complimented our home and requested tours so they could ask about particular items. Everyone gamely watched out for dog poo on their way to the firepit. Wine, beer, and whiskey flowed and much food was consumed. Our collection of musical instruments was put to good use. Professors looked nostalgically through our 1970s-heavy record collection and kept the music playing all evening. We laughed and joked and by the end of the night I had forgotten all about our unmopped floors and out-of-order sink.

A good party can bring out the best in your home. Do I regret putting in all that extra effort to make things look nice? Absolutely not. But, despite the state of my floors and plumbing, my relationships with my committee members remain excellent and I was once again reminded of the importance of embracing imperfect hostessing.