Monday, February 29, 2016

Handcrafted liquor bottle

Anyone who knows my boyfriend knows he loooooves his liquor.

When we were snowed in for four days last month, his favorite pastime rapidly became inventing new mixed drinks and forcing me to take a shot of each one. His goal (yes, a thing he actually anticipated eagerly) for his last birthday party was to drink until he puked (fortunately for all of us, he didn't succeed).

But anyway, if it involves alcohol, it's pretty much guaranteed to be a winner with him.

So when I found this gift box of a hip flask and two steel shot glasses on Choxi, I knew that was a Valentine's Day gift with his name on it. Except, it didn't actually have his name on it!
Having seen plenty of decorative flasks in the world, I knew this plain steel one wasn't quite enough. So I decided to monogram it for him with my Dremel! 
Fortunately, a week before V-Day, I came to my senses and realized that I've never engraved metal before, and my first attempt probably shouldn't be on someone else's gift.
So what could I do to personalize the bottle? Some of the flasks I've seen have been wrapped in little sleeves (like the one to the left, except, camouflage? Really?), so I decided I'd make one of those and put the monogram on that! That way if I messed up, the bottle would still be unscathed.

To make the sleeve, I used an old suede coat that was gifted to us by a former housemate. It was too big for Al, and a little worn and stained, so I didn't feel too bad cutting off the end of one sleeve.

I thought the buttons at the end of the sleeve would make a great accent!

I was just not sure how I was going to make this soft leather conform to the concave side of the bottle without gluing it on (and I didn't want to do that because it would make washing the bottle nearly impossible), so finally I decided I'd give the sleeve a bottom, which would help it keep its convex shape down there, and then just allow the top to take whatever shape it will.

Lots of measuring ensued. I measured and drew and wrapped and re-wrapped, and tried to get the slightly angled scrap of leather to line up parallel to the top of the bottle, and...I don't even want to describe how much work that was.

Creating the bottom was relatively easy, as I just traced around the bottom of the bottle. But then attaching the bottom to the rest of the sleeve was torture! The leather was too thick for me to push a needle through, so I had to run it through the sewing machine, laboriously hand-cranking it stitch by stitch and then repositioning everything to ensure the curve was sewn right. At first, I attached the wrong sides together, so the seam would be on the outside, so I had to take it all apart and re-sew. Then, even after carefully examining the pieces and putting them back together, I made the same mistake! 
The third time, I finally attached the pieces the right way, but there was so much curvature and so much leather bunched up under my machine, I couldn't quite sew the short sides neatly at all. In the end, I got a rather sloppy looking sewn seam at one edge, and glued the remaining pieces together at the other.
<--Don't try this at home, kids!

Things got a little hairy at this point, since it was approximately the day before Valentine's Day. I am absolutely certain I took some photos at this point, but I can't find them now. Anyway...
I had positioned the top layer of leather so I could use the original buttonholes, but I needed to move the actual buttons. More slow hand-cranking of the sewing machine got this accomplished. Since the leather around the buttonholes is so thick, I used a toothpick to separate the button from the leather below it and create shank. The buttons are sewn with love and actually functional; however, it's easier just to slide the sleeve on and off the flask without touching the buttons.

The last steps were just a few strategically placed drops of glue to keep the whole thing together!

I finished the whole project the day before Valentine's Day, boxed it up in the original packaging, and wrote some sappy notes on it (fortunately I forgot to take pictures of those!) On the weekend of its arrival, my boyfriend proceeded to carry the flask with him to get his taxes done and drank from it every night whilst watching TV, which I guess means he likes it. One of my rare (these days) non-clothing crafting projects, and it was a success! Phew!
Here it is in its place of honor on our liquor shelf

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our crappy apartment

To begin this post with full disclosure, our apartment could be a lot more crappy. The location is good, the building is clean, and we haven't suffered any major problems with the utilities, the neighbors, or pests. 

It's aesthetically pleasing, with its shiny (faux) wood floors and pristine bone-white seating. The brick wall in the living room adds an ambience you don't get in most rentals, and the choice of wall colors, while a bit too dark for my tastes, certainly show an elevated style over the usual institutional white.

But the beauty of this apartment is the very definition of skin deep. It was pretty clear from the moment we moved in that the owner hadn't exactly gone to great lengths to make the property livable.

One of the first things I discovered when moving in my possessions was that the kitchen cabinets were overflowing with dishes. When I asked the landlord whether it was OK if I got rid of some of them, he admitted he had no idea they were even there. Which just goes to show where his attention to detail is. When we moved in, the walls were covered with dust bunnies and the kitchen cabinets coated with years' worth of sticky grease. (He did offer to have cleaners come in to finish their job, because apparently there were still things they were planning to do, but I think they mostly planned to clear out some clutter, which I preferred to keep—if you move into a messy apartment, at least you should get some free stuff in the bargain!).

As far as I can tell, only one burner on the stove actually lights. And the bathtub faucet spews water when the shower is running, which troubles my conservationist heart. However, I am in charge of paying the 50-dollar copay for any repairs, so I've decided to live with both of these issues. It helps that I'm not a cooking person, and the management company pays the water bill.

Whoever installed the shower curtain rod was far from a tradesman. The screws they put into the drywall were never adequate to hold the rod in the first place, since the door frame prevents it from touching the wall, so the shower curtain was falling down on a regular basis. I finally took the initiative and reinstalled the shower curtain by screwing it into the doorframe.

The day that we came to sign the lease, we nearly suffered a catastrophe when one of the dining chairs collapsed when it was sat upon. The landlord kindly offered to throw away the wobbly table and iffy chairs, but I decided I'd keep them and fix them up. I bought bolts with my own cash to convert the table from a health hazard to a usable piece of furniture.

As time went on and fall crept into winter, we learned that the apartment's insulation is in dire need of improvement. The big glass doors that are pretty much the only light source are also, it turns out, all off-kilter, leaving open spaces for air and even insects to get through. I already added weatherstripping to the place where the sliding door meets the frame next to it, but the misalignment is so bad that that's not even enough to actually seal the crack. On a chilly day, you could feel the cold pouring in from the myriad gaps all around the frame that remain unsealed. Again, I had to take the initiative and purchase a can of foam insulation to stop up most of it.

But that doesn't fix the worst problem yet! The bedroom, the place where I would prefer to spend most of my time, is the coldest room in the unit. Even with the living room being so drafty, even when I've closed all the heat vents elsewhere in the apartment, the bedroom is still a good 4 degrees colder than the rest of the apartment.

Oh, and those shiny floors that drew me in at first sight? They show every drop of water that ever spills on them, and every footprint that ever steps on them, and they streak when you try to clean them!

Yesterday, the in-unit washing machine (one of the pluses of living here) backed up into the kitchen sink, and no amount of plunging could get it to drain. The one thing that helped: running the disposal. Internet sources indicate there might be a clogged vent somewhere, which will surely necessitate the calling of a plumber at my expense, and possibly getting the building management involved.

Every day we live here, I find more things to hate about it, and the worst thing is that I'm entirely at someone else's mercy for getting any problem repaired. But for now I'm going to take a few deep breaths and hope the drain fixes itself.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sewing ability: A blessing or a curse?

A few days ago, I took inventory of my closet and realized that probably a good third of what I own has been considerably handcrafted by me. From mending to subtle resizing to restoration of pills and fading to removal of stains to converting to something entirely new, I've done it all. But what I do the most, is sewing.

It's kind of ironic how much I sew, considering that I don't actually like to sew. I like to have clothes that fit well. I like to not let good garments go to waste because of a small flaw. I like being able to buy clothing online with confidence,  knowing that even if what I buy isn't quite right, I have the skills to fix it. But no, I don't actually like the process of sewing. 

Tangling blobs of thread, fabric refusing to advance in the machine, breaking needles, and snapping thread are regular occurrences. And, how many times have I sewn an entire seam before realizing it's inside-out! And then there's the pain! My boyfriend knows me well enough to know that when I bust out with an "OW!" while crafting, the next thing he should say is, "Did you stab yourself with a pin?" because 9 times out of 10, the answer is yes. The other 1 time is when it's with a needle. I love creating new things, but I sure hate putting them together.

But for all that it distresses me, making new things to wear is kind of my raison d'être. And sewing is kind of a lost art—one that I'm proud to practice. Being able to sew is what gives me the confidence to embark on these massive tailoring projects and enables me to create works of art (if I may indulge my self-important side) from my old clothes and those of others. But at the same time, it's given me a huge amount of work that I'll never quite be done with! 
Obviously I vacillate a lot between opinions on my hobby. Sometimes I think my life would be so much easier if I just gave up my refashion habit and stuck to buying new clothes. But then I look over at the tantalizing bit of floral chiffon hanging out the top of my Projects Box, and I'm like naaaaahhh. I'll never be able to resist a pretty fabric.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Blah

By some miracle, in 32-and-a-half years of living, I have never once done anything for the Super Bowl. I've never once gone to a Super Bowl party; I've never once watched the game at home; I've never once watched it in a bar. I've never watched the Puppy Bowl, nor the Kitten Bowl, nor the ads, nor the halftime show. I've never once watched any of it at all.

This year, though—this was the year my streak ended.

I'd like to say I went out with a bang – much like Peyton Manning is about to do (do you like how I'm working my vast knowledge of football into my prose?) – but alas, my ejection from the non-Super-Bowl-watching elite was sadly anticlimactic – much like the end of the Super Bowl was.

My big turning point was doomed to failure from the beginning. My boyfriend wanted to watch with his best friend Chris, neither of whom had any real interest in the two teams playing. The atmosphere leading up to the game was decidedly apathetic, and – to make it more difficult for me to mentally prepare myself – the plans were not solidified until about an hour before kickoff, .

They were as follows: We would go to Chris's condo, where we would watch the game in relative quiet with him and his girlfriend. Thusly, my initiation into Super Bowl culture would hardly even qualify as a proper party. At the last minute, I learned that Al's 12-year-old nephew was also joining us, effectively nixing any plans I might have had for drinking myself silly and practicing my own special touchdown dances.

The next thing that happened to ratchet down my already negligible enthusiasm was a stomach ache. In retrospect, this would have been the perfect excuse for me to avoid a lukewarm party, skip out on a boring game, and keep my 32-year record intact – and it probably was a subconscious last-ditch effort by my body to do just that – but unfortunately, it was too last-ditch, and the stomach ache didn't hit its stride until we were halfway to DC—too late to turn the car around and dump me back at home. So I instead spent the entire evening in varying degrees of abdominal pain.

On the way there, Al wanted to pick up chicken wings. That proved impossible, as the first place he stopped at was closed early for the game. The second place he stopped at was sold out of wings. He finally settled for pizza and sushi. All the wondering around made us late, so we ended up missing the start of the game. That meant I did not get to witness the national anthem as performed by one of my favorite singers: Lady Gaga—one of very few highlights of the Super Bowl, and I missed out on it! Of course, arriving late also meant less total time spent watching football, so I'm not going to complain too much.

The game itself was everything I could have dreamed—that is to say, completely uninteresting. I spent the first half of it paying no attention, meticulously feeding calzones and salad into my cramping stomach (the eating neither made it better nor worse, but did help to pass the time). Chris' girlfriend and her friend were there, both professing a similar lack of interest in the game, so we made conversation by talking about how quickly the time was passing. 

Perched on a bar stool in a remote area of the living room, I didn't have a great view of the screen, but what I could see of the 6-million-dollar ads – the ones that are supposed to be the saving grace of the Super Bowl for people who don't care about football – were solidly lackluster. I did pay attention to the halftime show, which instilled in me a new appreciation for Coldplay (I didn't actually realize all those songs were theirs until now), and then sat through half of the third quarter, which was dominated by a chat about our upcoming vacation plans.

At this point, Al's nephew suddenly took a rabid interest in getting to bed early for school the next day. I've never seen a kid so eager for school before, and I suspect his passion was more aligned towards getting away from the room full of boring adults and a boring football game (he likes soccer). But who am I to question his motives when they seem so responsible (and so beneficial to me!), so I agreeably packed up and shipped out. In the car ride back to his home, he and Al got into an argument about whether or not we could stop at our apartment first to pick up a ring he had left there. It was turning into quite the riot, so I quashed it with my patent Al's-scary-girlfriend sternness. Then felt guilty about it for the rest of the ride.

After we had finally dropped him off at his house (without his preciousssss) and he had stalked off without a word to his uncle, we headed for home in morose silence. Insert, for the sake of adding some kind of levity to this stretch of the tale, some joke about someone not getting a Super Bowl ring.

We did make it home in time to watch the end of the game, which I did at my boyfriend's urging, and it was everything I could have imagined. See above.

Long story short, Super Bowl 50 ended in a crushing defeat. No, I'm not talking about the Panthers. I'm talking about my 32 years of carefully cultivated disinterest, tossed to the wind in one evening of niggling failures, minor squabbles, and sweeping mediocrity.