Apr 25, 2014

1927 Singer Sewing Cabinet Restoration Pt. 2 - Beware What Lurks in the Shadows

I could also subtitle this:

 "Why disassembling a project prior to restoration is not such a bad idea, especially if it's easy to take apart, has been in storage a long time,  and is really really dirty with lots of crevices that are hard to clean"

But That's a lot to type and it doesn't fit so nicely on the page, besides, 

"Beware What Lurks in the Shadows" 

has such a nice ring to it.

Any who, I just know there is some one out there who has read part 1 and has thought to themselves.  

"What a waste of time!  
"That top is the only thing that looks bad. Why on earth is she going to take that whole cabinet apart?  She could  work on as it is and it'd look just as good!"

I know this because the same thought went through my head for a second.  
Followed by:

"Yep, I could do that!  But...... "

 But, there are a few really good reasons to disassemble this piece before I start restoration.  

  1. It's got lots of crevices, and it's filthy in those crevices.  I can't get it really clean as it is.  Most of the pieces are just screwed together, so it comes apart and should go back together pretty easy.
  2. It's a learning experience. I can see first hand how the fastenings and mechanisms work.
  3. Working on individual pieces, I'm less likely to accidentally drip the denatured alcohol (which will dissolve the shellac) somewhere it doesn't belong.
  4. The most important reason! I can easily check for things I wouldn't find other wiseThings like hidden damage, 
or these guys:

Talk about a monster case of the Heeby Jeebies! 

It's true, I dropped my tools and took rather large and swift step back when I saw the first one.  I probably gasped a little too, and I don't feel a bit ashamed about that!  After all, this cabinet spent some quality time in an attic before it saw the inside of my house.  In these parts it pays to be wary of things that have spent a lot of time in cellars or attics.

A prod with the screwdriver confirmed the spiders weren't alive.  I continue to take things apart, finding more "dead spiders" as I worked, but not without the nagging feeling that something seemed "off" with my new friends.

So I took a closer look.  Then I saw it!

It's legs are sticking straight out!
Spiders usually curl up when they die. 

Those aren't dead spiders, those are shed spider skins!  

I quickly Goggled "shed spider skins" and scanned the pictures. 

Hmm, those look an awful lot like the ones here on this page about how to identify brown recluse spiders. 

A shiver ran up my spine and my skin began to crawl at the thought.

This cabinet was sitting inside my house for at least a month before I started to take it apart! 

I scanned the floors expecting to see hoards of creepy crawlies marching toward me.  

Whew!  Cat hair, dust, and plenty of crumbs, but no spiders.

Once the panic subsided and rational thought returned, I decided the spiders were probably long gone before the cabinet even got to my house. 

I also realized my floors are filthy and need a good cleaning.

Up Next: 
Pt. 3- Disassembling the Cabinet

Apr 23, 2014

1927 Singer Sewing Cabinet Restoration Pt. 1 - Assessing the Damage

Warmer weather is here!
The garden is planted and although free time is still hard to find, I'm making time to turn my attentions back to Freddie Mae, or more specifically, her cabinet.  

 It wouldn't be right to put her back into a time ravaged cabinet, now that she's been revitalized, would it?

Step 1 Assess the damage.

Like other singer cabinets of it's time, this one rolled off the factory floor with a pristine shellac finish.  But time and water have taken their toll.
(shellac really doesn't like water, and that's it's downside) 

Looks pretty bad doesn't it?  Believe me it's worse in person.  

The bad news: 

The top is in bad shape.  In addition to the obvious water damage, there are speckles of what I believe to be white paint on the top plus, the veneer has lifted in a few spots.  

The bottom line is that the finish on the top can't be saved.  It'll have to come off.  But that's the upside to shellac.  It'll be pretty easy to remove and I think, I can manage it without loosing too much of the patina.  

The good news:

 Aside from a few small scratches and some dirt, the sides are in good shape and won't need to be stripped.

  The plan:
  • Disassemble the cabinet.
  • Use denatured alcohol and very fine steel wool to remove/level the worst of the shellac on the top.
  • Clean the rest of the piece with my new favorite homemade fine furniture cleaner.
  • Apply a fresh coat of boiled linseed oil.  
  • Add a fresh coat or two of shellac.
  • Buff with superfine steel wool to remove the "brand new" feel.
  • Apply a coat of good quality furniture wax.
  • Put it all back together.
Next Up:

Apr 21, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 4 From Grassy Spot to Garden Plot a.k.a "Can you dig it?"

Perfect Grassy Spot - check
 Soil Test - check
Following the Rules for Gardening with Clay - check

For weeks we dug off an on as time and weather permitted.  We took the garden section by section.  Digging the clay, amending the soil, breaking up clods and tossing the worst clay chunks aside.  My little guy had a blast digging into the soil with gloved hands and his tiny little guy sized shovel to mix in the compost and break up the chunks of clay.    

Once a section was prepared it was planted and watered. We made use of the bricks and pavers, left by the previous owner, to create a border and pathways.  In the center, we created a mulched path edged with brick to provide a knee friendly work area.  

Everything was coming together so well, and I thought to myself:
"Nice!  But......."  

" if I extend the garden another 4 feet off of the closest paver path, it would look even better and we'd gain 24 ft of planting area."
"Yep, I'm sure I can knock out that last section in an hour or so."

 With Hubby and the kids otherwise engaged, I started digging.  Minutes later, I hit a little snag.

3 coaxial looking cables ran across my newest garden section.  buried at a depth that varied from 1"- 6" beneath the sod.  One end disappeared beneath the fence and into our neighbors yard ominously pointing toward the corner of their house, the other end pointed to a distant utility pole.  

Theory 1:  That's my neighbors cable line.  
(I like them, better safe than sorry.)

I put down my shovel and picked up my phone.  The next few days saw a parade of utility trucks and technicians with their brightly colored spray paint cans.  Each utility marked their lines and a week after the digging had stopped the verdict was official.  

Theory 1 was busted!  

No one had a clue what these lines were for, or why they were there.  ATT didn't claim them.  Our WOW/Knology/Cable technician said "Yep! They look like cable lines, but they don't feed your house or your neighbors.  The only way to tell is to cut into them, and I'm not comfortable doing that."  He also said that distant utility pole they seem to go to is too far away to provide a strong enough signal for either house if they were connected.

Technician: "Just try to work around it."

Me to myself:  "Seriously?!  That's all you've got? I've been twiddling my thumbs for a week for this?"
(Shaking head thinking about the wasted week when I could have been digging.)

Then it rained and my little hole became a little pool. 

While I waited for things to dry out, I worked on some other projects including one involving power tools and wood stain, which I might show you someday.  While working, I  came up with another theory about the cables.

 Theory 2:  Garden Gnomes are stealing cable from the neighbors.
(hmm....  now that I'm typing that something else occurs to me.  Perhaps I need better ventilation for those projects involving wood stain.)

Eventually, the ground dried up and I was able to "work around the cables" to finish the garden plot, put up a trellis, and get the last section planted.

I can't wait to see what it looks like all grown up!

Apr 18, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 3 Four Rules for Gardening with Clay

Remember this picture from our soil test?

See the mason jar of orange-brown liquid in the back? 

 That's our soil sample mixed with distilled water, shaken and left to sit for about an  hour.  Over a month later it looks about the same.  The soil particles still haven't settled completely.  This is pretty common with clay soils.  

For those of you not experience with the red clay soil found in North Alabama,  it is special stuff.  

  • It stains clothing well enough to be used as a dye.  
  • Holds on to water and minerals well.
  • It's pretty good for making bricks.  
  • Slightly purer deposits can also be used to make pottery (granted according to my potter friend Wendy the pots are quite fragile).  

In general, it's pretty useful stuff.  But as gardening goes, it's a pain in the tooshkuss! 

 Many home gardeners around here avoid working with the stuff all together.  Instead, the build raised beds that they fill with truck loads of commercial or home mixed "garden soil."  That can get pricey fast, but if you have money to burn, it's a fine choice.  

We have 3 kids.

 (translation:  we have no money to burn)
We are on a budget, and I'm trying to do this as cheap as possible.  That means, working with what I have and following the rules for gardening with clay.

  Rule #1  Never dig wet!  
Ignore this rule and you'll end up with huge heavy inseparable clods that dry as hard as brick.

Rule #2  Don't dig dry!

If you dig when it is completely dry, the ground is already hard as a brick and if you can manage to get your tools into the ground, you'll have hours of back breaking work ahead of you.   

So when the heck should you dig?
  About 1-4 days after a good soaking rain in the Fall is about right.

You have to find a sweet spot of soil moisture when it's wet enough to dig, but dry enough that the clods can be broken apart by hand or with tools.  The first season you work the soil, expect to spend extra time breaking up clods, and know you will end up with some pieces that won't break up at all and will dry into pebble or rock sized bricks.  These are usually the bits with a higher clay content.  You'll know them because you can knead them in your hands like putty.  I try to pull these out by hand now or later when it's time to plant.  I've also used these "super clay" bits in the past as chinking/mortar in brick borders.

What's that you say?  It's not Fall.  

You're right, it's spring!  So there is an added challenge of trying to time this "sweet spot of soil moisture" in between the frequent torrential downpours, tornado watches, and schizophrenic temperature fluctuations of a North Alabama Spring.  Not an easy task, but not impossible.  

Rule #3  Amend! Amend! Amend!
By nature, clay is sticky, prone to compaction and slow to drain.  So slow in fact that this 6" deep hole in the garden, where we started digging and had to stop (more on that later), is still filled with water nearly a day after the rain stopped.

 The fix for all of clay's problems is to add as much organic material, like compost, as you can.  Add more each year, and over time, you'll end up with some pretty awesome stuff.  We bought compost this this year, but are starting a compost pile for next year's garden.

Rule #4  Keep Out!
Once the soil is amended,  your little tootsies should never touch it again.  When you step on soil, it gets compacted and the plant's roots have a harder time growing.  Clay compacts easily enough without you walking on it, and you can't have strong plants without strong roots.  So incorporate paths to work from into the garden design and stay out of the growing area.

Up Next:  Pt 4 - From Grassy Spot to Garden Plot

Apr 16, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 2 Soil Test

With the location decided, hubby took on the chore of ripping up the sod to reveal our wonderful (if you want to make bricks) Alabama red clay.  

  While he did the grunt work, I did a soil test. 

PH -on the acid side of neutral.
Nitrogen- non-existant.
Phosphorus- plenty
Potash- good enough

This soil is better than the soil at our old house which in addition to being the same lovely clay was more acidic and had an assortment of construction debris, tree roots, and rocks.

Up Next:  Rules for Gardening with Clay 

Apr 14, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 1

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd tell you later about my adventures in gardening.  Well, it's later!

We've been in this house nearly a year and a half now, without really changing or adding anything new to the existing landscape.  That whole time, I've been itching to get my hands in some dirt and plant something.  

This year, as Spring was first trying to spring, I felt the overwhelming need to scratch that itch, but how?  
Flowers?  Herbs?  Vegetables? 

Then, it was obvious. We enjoyed the fresh veggies from our fall CSA so much last fall, but at an average of $40 a week, it wasn't cheap.  

"What if we plant our own veggie garden?"  
 At the old house we had an herb garden, and occasionally grew beans and tomatoes there.  But that was for fun, this would be for food.  
"Could we actually do it?"
 "It would so much work and we'd have to invest some money.  But not as much as a full or even half share of our CSA. " 
"It might be fun."

I got the hubby and kids on board, and it was settled.  I just had to pick the spot and make a plan.

This is the spot we chose. It's our only open bit of fence and runs along the ENE edge of our lot.  

The fence prevents the garden from getting the early morning's sun, but somewhere around 10:00, the sun starts peeking over the top.  From then until dusk, the spot is bathed in full unfiltered sunlight. 
The ground here has a very slight slope which should help with drainage, and we never use this part of the yard for anything, but it is close enough to our house, water hose, and gardening tools to make it convenient.  It's also easily viewed from the back of the house and driveway so every time we come and go we'll be reminded to tend it. 

Up Next:
Adventures in Gardening Pt. 2 - Soil Test

Apr 10, 2014

Birhouse Gourds - also for the birds

Last year, I planted bird house gourds along our only open section of fence, and aside from scattering some wild flower seed, it was the only bit of planting I did.  

Apparently, they liked the location.  They grew beautifully climbing along the fence with such vigor that my neighbor told me her husband thought that we'd planted Kudzu on the fence.  After assuring her that the vines were not Kudzu, but rather Birdhouse gourds, she was relieved.  Not wanting to be a bad neighbor, I would sneak into their yard when they weren't home to coax the vines back on our side, and cut back the pesky bits that didn't want to cooperate.  

By fall,I had about 10 nice sized gourds which I set aside to dry.  My inexperience with the drying process led to a few issues with moldy gourds that had to be tossed, so by Winter, I was down to 6.  The first sunny days of spring, I scrubbed the gourds clean and cut holes in them with a hole saw.   Most fared well, but one broke, giving me a nice opportunity to turn it into a scoop for potting mix.

Next, I painted the gourds with white exterior paint to reflect the hot summer sun so baby birds don't cook. 

On a whim, I decorated 3 of them.  I'm not sure they'll attract any birds, but at least they're nice to look at.


Apr 7, 2014

This is for the birds!

 Actually it's from the birds.  Barn swallows to be precise.  They have arrived and bring gifts.

Last Spring, we were excited to see that 2 pairs of Barn Swallows built nests under our front porch.  We watched as they came and went marveling at their mid air performances each night as they decimated the local insect population.   When the babies hatched, we were overjoyed to know we'd have a front row seat to watch them grow.   
It was going to be great!

Then it got real!
The poop started piling up.  I'm not talking about little piles either.  You could wash a good cup sized pile of the stuff off the porch in the morning, and by evening, it would magically return only bigger and smellier.  

In addition to copious amounts of poop, the new brood also turned the moms and dads into dive bombing lunatics, which was a big problem since these little kamikazes built right above the front door to our house.  As they saw it, people on the porch was a declaration of war, and they would defend their newly claimed territory at all costs.

Not wanting to disturb this "miracle of life" (no matter how annoying it had become) and legally unable to do so since these guys are protected around here, we surrendered.  

We used the back door and braved hosing off the porch only enough to keep the health department at bay.

After the babies flew away for good, we removed the nests and didn't give it another thought.  Until the warmer weather brought the familiar song of barn swallows back to the front porch. 

This year, we are initiating a two pronged passive aggressive attack.

1. Make the old site less attractive.
2. Provide an alternative site nearby.

From what I've read, we should really wash the old mud off and spray the area with a light food safe oil, but we haven't gotten to it yet. 

My oldest son and I build this nesting box over the weekend using this plan. We also build a second, but haven't put it up yet, and may try this plan as well. The new "nesting box" is just a few yards from the old one, but hangs over the garden side of the porch so piles of poop won't be a nuisance.   If they accept the new site, we may still have to fend off kamikaze attacks, but it'll be an improvement.  If they don't accept it, perhaps another species will move in.  
Only time will tell.

Apr 4, 2014

It's Spring, It's Spring! What a wonderful thing!

I am loving the warmer temperatures and sprinkling of sunny days we've been having.  
**Present morning excluded of course since we're having thunderstorms and general yuckiness.**
I've been outside more and at my computer less, so I've blogged zip in the last month.  But that doesn't mean I've been idle.  On the contrary, I've done plenty.

We inherited a fabulously landscaped yard from the previous owners of this house.  

The front of the house has Lireope lining the path, with Azaleas and Lilac to brighten things in the Spring, plus Lilies and other perennials for summer color.  A prolific Clematis climbs the porch railing putting on a show all season with Knock-Out-Roses and Barberry bushes in supporting roles.  There is also a mature Japanese Maple, a Crepe Myrtle, and countless Nandina.  

In the back, more Crepe Myrtles dance along the fence with enormous, as in could swallow a man and his horse whole, stands of Pampas grass as their partners.   We also have garden Phlox, Hostas, Jackson vine, Jasmine vines, a Dogwood, Birch, several Forsythia and Butterfly Bushes, lots of Lantana and my favorite, a Winter flowering Cherry tree.  

There are many more plants and trees out there that I could name, but I think you get the point.  

It's gorgeous and most of the year it's maintenance free, aside from cutting the grass.  
But in late winter/early spring everything needs attention and lots of it, and this year, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I've decided to add a veggie plot into the mix.  

I'll share that adventure later, but for now, I'm going to enjoy taking a break on this rainy yucky day knowing that soon my gardens will be literally bursting with the fruits and flowers of our hard work and my neglected blog (which I have not forgotten).