Friday, March 10, 2017

DIY Market Tote from a Feed Bag

Like many dirt road dwellers, we have a tendency to collect animals of all shapes and sizes.  From chickens, to pigs, to sheep, cows and horses.  (We draw the line at goats, but I know many people love them.)  There are usually a few dogs and cats to round things out as well.  Keeping these animals fed and happy generally involves buying bags of feed.  Raising a few 4-H pigs can require a huge pile of feed.  We end up with feed bags stuffed with other empty feed bags and often those bags end up in the trash.
I hate the idea of throwing away packaging that is actually tough and possibly useful, so we try to re-use feed bags as much as possible.  I use them to bag up empty pop cans until time to recycle them because regular trash bags fall apart too easily.  I use them as sandbags to hold down row covers in my garden.  I use them to line the ceiling of my chicken coop to hold in the insulation.  My sister uses them to line the inside of her barn.  I had been playing with the idea of making a tote out of the feed bags since many of the reusable market totes you can buy seem to be made from the same stuff and some feed bags have fun designs on them.  I finally decided to try to make one for myself.  It turns out I'm not the first to think of it.  There are lots of feed bag totes available on the internet.

I decided I would try to do a tutorial on how I make my totes.  It isn't especially complicated, but it does take time and the feed bags work up differently than fabric would.  Also, I forget to take pictures as I sew, so if the bag color suddenly changes, it's because I tried to take pictures as I made several bags in hopes that I would get enough useful pictures to show what I do.
Fabric pins don't work very well so for my first few bags I used paper clips.  They weren't quite tough enough so I upgraded to binder clips.  They have a tendency to get hung up on the table and sewing machine, but they hold the pieces together, so I have stayed with them.

The first step is to choose a feed bag to work on, clean it up and decide what part of the bag you want on the front of your tote.  I like to wash and cut several feed bags at a time since getting my cutting board out is kind of a pain and takes up most of my bed.  My "craft room" is also my bedroom.
Most market totes are about 13-15 inches tall.  Figure out what section you want for the bag and add 1/2" for the bottom seam and about 1 1/2" for the top.  Depending on where you want the bag from, you may need to make the top seam a little smaller.  I have gone as small as 1".
From the remaining pieces you will need to cut a bottom piece.


For most bags, I use the fold lines that are already in the feed bag as guides.  This makes it easy to measure 1/2" past the folds on the front for the seam allowance and then measure how wide the feed bag is and add 1" to that.  I also cut the straps 3" wide and about 24" long.  On this bag, I cut three inches from the bottom and then cut it in half to make the two straps.








 Now, it's time to put the bottom onto the bag.  I clip the corners to help it lay down in the corners better. These seams are made by folding both layers over toward the bottom and stitching.  I found that sometimes the inside layer would move, so I started doing a quick baste stitch to hold the two together while I wrestle with the side seams.  You can skip the basting step and go right to the folding and sewing if you feel like it.

 Line up the fold lines and let the extra be free for now.  I don't stitch all the way to the fold line to allow myself a bit of room to work with the corners.



 I also get the straps folded and stitched at this time.  I fold them in half lengthwise and crease the fold as well as I can.  Next, I pull out my little sewing ruler and fold one side in to make it 1" wide.  Once that side is all folded in, I fold the other side in to match it and clip it together.  Finally, I stitch close to the edge, making sure to catch both sides. If I want to make it look even, I stitch on the other side as well, but I is just for looks.



 Now it is time to fold the bottom over and clip it.  You should be folding over about 1/2", but you may need to adjust a bit to get the corners to work.  Once I get it clipped all around the bottom, I turn it right side up and stitch along the edge.  The corners can be tough and I haven't figured out how to make it look wonderful.  I stitch as close to the corner as I can, making sure to keep the next side out of the way of the needle.  I take a stitch or two back and come forward again, to lock it.  Then, I leave the needle down, turn the bag and pull all the extra material toward the stitches I just made and help the needle step over the bunched up corner.  I do a little forward and backward stitching to lock it again and head to the next corner.  You can tell that this is the most tricky part, because I didn't take any pictures.  Sorry.



 Once the bottom is finished, it is time to add the straps.  For most bags, I measure 3" from the crease and clip it in place. I stitch it in place and remove the clip.  Then I stitch the strap with an x to give it stability.




















Finally, I fold the top inside the bag, making the straps stand up.  Stitch close to the folded edge and then again to hold down the inside edge, and you are finished!
























As I said at the beginning, making these bags isn't horribly difficult, but it does take some patience and sewing know-how. I've been on a bag making spree and I even made some egg carton totes for the lady that buys extra eggs from me.  If you would like a feed bag tote, but just don't want to pull out the sewing machine, you can buy one from my etsy shop here: Cowgirl in the Garden






Monday, March 7, 2016

DIY hat rack out of old pitchfork

 
 I have accumulated my share of hats, and its a good thing too because between my husband and kids they get pretty beaten up and destroyed.  Ok, if I'm honest, I do my fair share of wear and tear too.  I made a coat and hat rack out of discarded railroad spikes and some old barn boards (easy enough to make with some spikes, a drill and a drill bit that is just a bit smaller in diameter than the spikes-maybe I'll show how to do that project if there is any interest).  Yet, I still wanted another hat rack for my special cowboy hats.
 
   I went walking about to see what I could find in a few of my favorite scrap piles and discovered a broken off end of a pitchfork that was missing the 2 middle tines.  Perfect!  I love re-using, re-claiming and re-purposing!
 


I was going for rustic and simple so I dug out an old weathered piece of scrap lumber, used my chop saw to even out some rough ends and made a square-ish base to attach the pitch fork end to.
     After considering several methods to attach the pitchfork end to my base I went with the most simple idea I had.

 I measured the diameter of the metal end where the wooden handle would normally jut out, found a drill bit just barely that size and drilled a hole through the center of my square little board.  Next I took a rubber mallet and tapped the metal end into the hole.  It was surprisingly very snug and very stable!
 

Now I decided I wanted the old metal and old wood to shine so I sprayed it with some clear lacquer and waited for it to dry.
     Once it was dry I drilled a few holes in my base so that I could mount it to my wall easily with a couple of screws.

     Done!  It was a blast to make and I love how it looks above my rake head that doubles as my chaps, spurs and scarves holder!




Friday, March 4, 2016

DIY make your own old-fashioned/faux antique child's desk out of reclaimed/repurposed materials

   
My version of a faux-antique , old- fashioned child's desk
 When I was growing up, my mom had a tiny, antique student desk that all of us kids loved to sit in.  It was sturdy and built to last and was perfect for drawing, writing, coloring,... you name it.  It still is today as my children love to sit in it and play when we visit Grandma.  I had looked all over trying to find one like it in size and construction and, frankly, had given up.  It is just awesome and apparently, "one-of-a-kind."  Recently I decided my little ones still need a desk like that, so I began hunting around for one and once again, came up empty (or way out of my price range).  So I had the thought, maybe I can build something similar on my own and make it look a little like the antique I wanted using mostly second hand materials and old odds and ends.
   
I hunted around and found a beaten up and broken up, homemade children's chair that my mother had rescued from somewhere.  Hmmmm.   I started thinking that maybe starting from a second-hand, small child's chair would be perfect for the size and budget range I was looking for.  I pulled the chair in to my house and got measuring, brainstorming and designing.  This blog is simply what I did- an easy project to make an antique looking, old fashioned children's desk out of a second hand children's chair using re-purposed lumber and inexpensive hardware.  I believe the basics of this design will work for most children's chairs, second-hand or new, be they of wood construction or metal.
     1st I made a trip to my mother's and took measurements of the small desk.  I returned home and put together a design based on the classic desk, but tweaked to fit what I had on hand.  I took a walk through my favorite scrap wood piles and brought back my loot to see what I could salvage and utilize.
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     2nd I started taking my little second-hand chair apart very carefully.  The back rest and seat had been made of very thin plywood and much of the construction was wobbly and inadequate for the sturdiness I needed.  I had found a few great scraps of boards that would lend themselves to a new seat, backrest and desktop as well as a nice 2x2 piece that I could use to re-enforce the wobbly legs. (Just a quick side note here: If you are just looking for a quick and simple child's desk without the antique look, you can use just about any building material that you have on hand or some inexpensive plywood and paint it all up nicely and you've got it. Or you could paint the desktop with a chalkboard/blackboard finish for a unique and fun chalk-art desktop.  Use what you've got and have fun with it!)
3rd I measured and cut each piece to length and spec. with my chop saw and jigsaw.  Then I took my grinder, (still my favorite power tool!), put a flap pad sanding attachment on and smoothed and rounded edges.  That done I decided to use my grinder to hollow out a seat depression and add some curvature to the backrest as well.
4th it was time to put this thing together!  I decided to pre-drill the spots where I would put screws in to avoid splintering or splitting. When I took apart the chair, I kept the frame intact and just removed the arm rests, seat and backrest-so I just replaced those parts with my new ones and added my new bracing pieces to the legs at the bottom.
     5th With the chair back together, it was time to put on my attached desktop!   First I bought a large metal corner brace that was almost the width of my desktop to use as the support for my desk.  It didn't have pre-drilled holes where I needed them to be so I drilled a few more of my own and painted it black for an older look.  
(Doing a few gentle sprays with some rust colored browns and orange spray paints added to the black creates a very nice antique and or old metal look.  I have used this little mix on other projects with great results but for now I decided to just stick with the black to see how it would look!)     I attached the corner brace to the little chair leg and surveyed the result.
     
6th With the brace attached it was time to put the final piece in place!  I pre-drilled the areas where my screws would go on the arm of the desktop (and where it would screw into the back of the chair) as well as underneath the desktop to attach to the corner brace, and got to work. I used whatever screws I could dig up in my tool boxes and so I ended up with a smattering of all kinds of shapes, widths, lengths and head types. No one has noticed that and I think it adds to the charm of my little project.  (As soon as I had it together, my little boy gave it a test drive! Truth be told so did everyone else, little and not so little.  It was sturdy and strong- no wiggling!)  
     7th The only thing left were the final touches of staining, lacquer and black metal paint touch-ups.  Here again you can choose any paint style.  I wanted mine to look like an old fashioned child's desk or antique so I picked up a dark stain (walnut I think) & started sanding.

 I didn't do a very thorough job sanding (any wood craftsman would be appalled) but like I said I wanted it to appear old with lots of imperfections and signs of use.  If I was going to do a good job of it, i would have probably taken it apart and carefully sanded every piece.  I didn't and I'm happy with my quick job.  I also wanted a small amount of "distress" on my desk as any antique or well-used piece of wooden furniture will certainly have.   I decided to let my toddler "play" on the desk and utilize it as much as his little heart desired for a few days to do some "distressing" for me.  (If he was a bit more gentle than his usual self I would help it along with a few soft whacks, scrapes and pokes from different simple tools like my screw driver, a bolt, a thumb tack, etc.  - I usually let my kids participate in any "distressing" projects I have as the job goes faster and is considerably more random- plus they enjoy getting permission to do things that they get in trouble for otherwise!) 

Next I got to staining.  It was cold outside so I hurried. Again, I figured it didn't need to be perfect.  Once it had dried (mostly anyway) I did a little sanding on the edges with a little piece of sandpaper to give the effect of wear and tear.
Next it was time to hit it with some clear lacquer to make it shine and seal it up a bit.  (Its also easier to wipe off food and drink spills when its got a nice coat of lacquer!)  Once it was dry it was finally finished!  Im a lousy photographer but you get the idea.  The kids love it as do my husband and I.  I hope your project is as rewarding!

Monday, February 22, 2016

DIY make your own inexpensive library ladder for your bookshelves

   
 I've always had a fascination with library ladders.  They have always just seemed awesome!  I guess it's an easy leap to make as I love books and libraries and bookshelves. When my husband and I got married we realized that between the two of us we had thousands of books and both of us were stubborn about keeping our several hundred favorites of differing shapes, sizes and degrees of shabbiness.  Yikes!  What to do with all of those books figured into our house designs when it came time to build our own home.  Our living room plans changed into a library/living room and every free wall changed into a bookshelf-most with closing doors to hide the mix-match of textbooks of every subject, worn classics, coffee table books, favorite novels, children's books, family photo albums and scrapbooks.  One of the problems with that was that we had planned the entry into the kids' loft along a wall now designated as a library bookshelf.  I was tasked with figuring out a way to make some sort of staircase entry into the loft while keeping as much bookshelf as possible.  My solution was something I've always wanted anyway: a library ladder!



     The bookshelf itself needed to be functional but structurally strong enough to hold the ladder weight and the weight of the kids and my husband and myself.  I am no great craftsman so for the bookshelf construction I turned to a local family who specializes in this sort of thing-"Generations Cabinetry." (They are not on the web!  If you are in the Southwest Wyoming area call Bruce at 307-679-0122)   They put up with me and my crazy ideas and built us an amazing set of shelves & cabinets that are also our main entry into the kids' loft.
     (Side note: Even though our bookshelves were custom made, I think these simple ideas for building and securing a library ladder could work for most bookshelves!)


 I told them I would deal with the hardware and ladder myself and so this blog is about how I did just that with recycled lumber and some inexpensive hardware.  (My husband and I made the pulls on the cabinet doors on our bookshelves out of discarded railroad spikes.  To see how, go to my post on railroad spike cabinet pulls )

1st I realized that my ideal ladder on wheels idea needed to be re-examined- I needed a ladder that was less moveable so nobody would get pushed for a wild ride while trying to climb up!  (I know my kids.)  I did want to be able to re-position the ladder though, just not while someone was climbing on it. (Out go the industrial strength wheels and rollers!)  Hmmm.  I decided that I needed a metal pipe or runner of some kind to hold my ladder just far enough away from the wooden bookshelf to not scuff it while allowing some limited movement of the ladder from one side to the other.  I chose some simple screw-in bookshelf supports and a decorative curtain rod that adjusted to the width of my bookshelf.  My husband and I wanted to make sure that the curtain rod was sufficiently strong so we pulled it open, measured the inside diameter and purchased a smaller metal rod to go inside and add more core strength.  (A regular metal pipe or conduit would've worked fine with little or no re-enforcing required, but we wanted some fancy end caps and found that curtain rods had more selection on that score.)
2nd we attached the shelf supports to the bookshelf and then measured on the curtain rod where the holes in the shelf supports lined up.  We drilled through the curtain rod and core and secured the curtain rod to the shelf supports with a few bolts and nuts.

3rd With the rod in place and secured to the bookshelf it was time to work on the ladder itself.  I took some measurements and drew up my plans based on what I thought would be ideal for this particular situation (and the materials that would be inexpensive or that I already had on hand).  I needed some hooks now, instead of rollers, that would hold the ladder in place securely while someone was on the ladder but that would allow me to move and adjust the ladder when no one was on it.  They needed to be strong enough and long enough to keep the ladder on the bar safely.  I made my sketch and got to work!

I knew I had some lumber odds and ends so I planned accordingly.  I also know that my childrens' little legs might have trouble with ladder rungs placed too far apart so I planned a ladder with rungs slightly closer and easier to navigate than a typical hardware store ladder.
4th I hunted around until I found some previously used 2x4 boards.  I found several that had been used as bracing and other temporary fixes during our house construction.  I love re-using and re-purposing lumber and when all it costs me is the time it takes to pull a nail or two, I am loving it.

5th I placed my long side pieces (called stringers) against the bookshelf at the angle/steepness I desired the ladder to be and used my tape measure and small level to get the steps at the correct angles and distances apart that I had chosen.

6th Once I had the angles drawn with pencil,  I used my circular saw on its shallowest setting(1/4") to cut into my stringers where the steps/rungs would go.  After running the saw through several times, I finished cleaning out the space with a hand chisel and hammer.  I used my cross cut saw to cut my stairs/rungs all the same length and began piecing together my ladder. I decided I would pre-drill all the holes I would require to attach my handrail and screw the steps/rungs into place before I tried to finish/stain or lacquer my ladder.

7th I decided to call up my cabinetry folks again and ask them for the color of stain they had used on my bookshelf so I could match it.  I was going to try to router the edges of my steps as well as the stringers, stain and lacquer them up and then screw everything together.  These kind folks, offered to router, stain and lacquer everything for me so that my ladder would "fit" the design and stain of the bookshelf exactly.  They did a great job at a very affordable price and I was excited by the result-I've got to admit it was much better than my job would've been.  (They even went so far as to give me an extra wooden rung or two just in case, and put it all together for me, minus the handrail that I was still working on.) Thanks Trevor and Bruce!

8th While my ladder was getting routered, stained and lacquered up, I turned my attention to my handrails, hooks and braces.  I felt that a metal pipe for a handrail would be easier for little hands to hang onto than a 2x4 or 2x2.  So I walked into my local hardware store and found 2 steel pipes about 10ft long and 3/4" in diameter.  The ends of the pipe were sharp so I grabbed 4 rubber chair leg covers with the appropriate diameter so that they would fit snugly over the rough metal ends.
 That done, I found four, 7" long 1/4" diameter bolts with washers and locking nuts and four, 1 1/2" long spacers with 1/2" diameter.  I wanted the smooth spacers to hold the handrail just far enough away from the ladder to make it comfortable for little hands (and my own as well) to grab the railing.  Next I hunted down some corner braces to screw under each stair rung to re-enforce them so that they could easily handle the weight of someone as large as myself or my husband (or both of us together hauling furniture items up the ladder).
That done I started looking for metal hooks.  I couldn't find a type of hook that I wanted for my ladder (to hang onto the bar on my bookshelf) so I picked up a plain metal strap about 30" long and 1 1/2" wide and about 1/8" thick to make some custom hooks myself. I took them all home and spray painted everything black (except the strap and long pipes) to match the hardware I had already for my bookshelf.


9th Next I picked up my ladder all stained and pretty and measured on my metal pipes where I wanted my handrails to fit.
I had already pre-drilled holes in my ladder so I just marked on each pipe where the holes needed to be drilled and got to drilling.  I had some extra pipe lengths to cut off- a task easily accomplished with my hand grinder (my favorite power tool!) and the metal cutting disc attachment- and so while I was at it I cut my metal strap in half as well.  That done I set my straps aside and painted the newly drilled and cut to length handrails a nice black to match my other metal pieces and pulls.


10th Once my metal pipes had dried, I attached my handrails!  I couldn't wait to see what the ladder would look like propped up against the bookshelf at this point so I hauled it upstairs and showed it off to my kids, nieces, nephews and my husband, who all tried it out.  It was at that moment that my husband requested that the ladder be about 4-6" narrower and one more step added at the top of the ladder for the convenience of the little ones. So... back to work!
After I un-screwed everything, measured for the new top step, cut a space for it with my circular saw , chiseled out the rest, measured and cut each rung 5" shorter and added a new rung, I put it all back together, hauled it back upstairs and got the thumbs up to finish!)

11th I added my nicely painted corner braces under each step for additional support.  (I was glad I had waited 'til now to screw them on!)

Just a quick side note here:  to make the metal screw heads match my new black paint job, I used a black paint pen, but I have used a black marker before and had similar results.
12th I took my metal straps out to the vice and secured one end in the vice. I bent the straps by hand over a scrap piece of pipe the exact same diameter as my curtain rod.  That done, I drilled several holes in the areas where I wanted to secure the straps/hooks to my ladder.
13th Next it was time to paint!  After the straps/hooks had dried, I used my drill and secured the hooks to the ladder.  At this point I decided I wanted to put a soft surface between the hooks and the rod so I added a couple of peel and stick felt bumper strips to the inside of my hooks.

14th Time to throw it back up and survey the scene!  We love the ladder and the hardware!  Here's hoping that this was helpful and that your projects are fun and rewarding too!