Fix it and Flaunt it

Usually when we set out to fix anything broken our goal is to make the repair invisible. We take great care to match the wood grain or paint, to sand down the seams and make the item good as new.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

When I saw this chair in the trash I could tell it was brand new: not a scratch was visible and the original box was folded nearby on top of a stack of cardboard. Cursing our society of waste (while blessing my lucky star for the incredible find), I pulled the chair out from the pile of trash bags only to discover why it was there. One leg was missing, probably broken off in shipping. Since it was made of molded plastic, it could not be fixed.

I tried to walk away, but I couldn’t do it. Even broken it seemed like too much of a waste. I grabbed it and hurried home, ignoring the looks of passers-by who obviously considered me the worst kind of crazy-lady-trash-hoarder.

It’s important, when collecting trash for recycling purposes, to use the momentum of your discovery and transform it immediately into treasure — otherwise you will have just another piece of rubbish in your home and you run the risk of turning into a real crazy-lady-trash-hoarder. That very night I rummaged through my closet and pulled out a piece of steel, a pre-drilled angle iron left over from a broken equipment rack I had saved*. I cut the metal at the right height and at a slight angle, to match the existing curved legs. I drilled four holes in the plastic and used assorted recycled nuts and bolts to attach the heavy prothetic leg to the elegant plexi body. To avoid scratching the floor I molded a piece of sugru around the steel foot. In under an hour I had the perfect entryway chair.

This chair is better than new. The repair gives it poignancy and meaning it didn’t have when it was just a pristine, pretty little chair. It stands there bravely in the entryway, challenging people to sit on it. Though at first strangers can be hesitant, the chair is strong and has never failed. “See?” it says “I’m not trash!” This chair is not ashamed; it flaunts its repair.

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Don’t hide your repairs, be proud of fixing your stuff!

* if the closet is neat and organized and you can access salvaged items when needed it’s not hoarding


Vegan Egg

My latest crazy food endeavor was much more successful than the cake with nothing in it. This dish looks exactly like a sunny side up egg but tastes nothing like it. It’s a delicious desert made with fresh mangos and coconut milk. The yolk oozes out exactly like it should, the white is easily sliced with a fork just like its model. Click here to view step by step instructions, but I must warn that there are some hard to find ingredients (like sodium alginate,  a seaweed-based powder). It was a lot of work to get this to come out right, but who am I to resist such a challenge?

A New Summer Dress

I haven’t written much about sewing because I’m not that good at it and my technique is embarrassingly poor. I’m just too impatient to go through all the necessary steps, ironing, pinning, basting, etc. Despite this unforgivable laziness, I think this dress came out pretty well. I put it together in a couple days with some left-over upholstery muslin for the lining, and an old sheet of my sisters for the trim. The cotton print I got at a steep discount because it had a manufacturing defect (small holes every few feet) but I was able to cut the pattern around it. All told the dress cost about $5.

For the pattern, I used a comfortable dress of mine which fits well. I laid fabric and dress flat on the table and just traced with a piece of chalk the outline of each piece. I then cut it 1/4” bigger all around, for seam allowance. The most important thing to remember when you are laying out the fabric is to match the direction of the weave: the skirt and bust were cut on the bias, and the dress wouldn’t have draped properly if I had cut them otherwise. It’s also a good idea to match the weight and feel of the fabric. I once copied a slinky little number with some fairly stiff silk (designed for upholstery rather than dressmaking) and though the pattern was identical the end result was completely different. I can still wear the dress, but it’s not the same animal.

I won’t attempt to go into the details of manufacture, but my point is this: if I can do this, so can anybody. Just take a very close look at your favorite (and possibly threadbare) summer dress. Most dresses are really very simple to reproduce. This one was a bit more complicated than some because of the lining and cut, but an A line dress, for example, is no more difficult to sew than a square pillow.

All About Glue

In Henley’s Formulas, Recipes and Processes there are literally hundreds of recipes  for all kinds of glue: paste, mucilage, or cements for all purposes. There is a special formula for labeling skeletons and another for “medical” paste for living tissues, glue for affixing metal to wood, fabric to glass or rubber to cork. I took a few of these recipes, tested and adapted them, added more recipes from other sources, and posted them all on instructables.

I should say that these recipes are no better than commercial glues. They even have certain disadvantages: they don’t keep, they might provide food for certain small creatures you may not wish to feed, and in some cases they might even cost more. Don’t let that stop you! There’s something very satisfying about making your very own Elmers with a bit of skim milk, some baking soda and vinegar.

This photograph shows my brand new seashell necklace being reinforced with a dab of white glue.

Train yourself to train your dog

Although training a dog isn’t really “making” anything, it will make your life with your canine friend much more pleasant.

The best way to learn to train a dog is to pretend to be one. Two people are needed for this game (which children delight in playing too). One person is the designated trainer, the other plays the dog. No need to go on all fours and bark, you are taking the dog’s role, not mimicking the animal. The trainer thinks of an action for the dog to learn: sit down and scratch its head, for example. No miming or physical contact is allowed, no words may be exchanged, not even “yes” or “no.” You want to avoid using any cues or hints which a real dog wouldn’t be able to understand. Stand facing each other, and wait for the “dog” to try something (with a real dog you will need to give it a few treats to start out, to push it into action). When a desired action is taken, the trainer makes a brief clicking sound, which would be the equivalent of a treat. The dog’s goal is to earn these treats, and it will try all sorts of actions to get them. As dog and trainer face each other in silence, both players will understand that it will be impossible to guess and perform the entire trick. It needs to be taught step by step. If the dog makes a slight movement like it might sit down, click that. Click it again three or four times till the dog is repeating the movement, sure that this is what is expected. Then stop clicking that movement. The dog will understand it needs to do more and will go further: click when it sits. After a half a dozen times clicking a sit, stop clicking and wait for more. Click a hand movement, any movement. Then only click if the hand is moving towards the head. Click when it touches its hair. Finally click when the dog scratches its head, and give it a big kiss. Then switch roles and play the dog. Smart as we like to think ourselves to be, this game is hard!

Using a clicker (or making another specially designated sound like snapping fingers) with a real dog is also very useful. Train the dog to recognize the sound by clicking right before you give it a treat. After doing this a few times your dog will perk up the second it hears the sound. The clicker has several advantages over real treats:

You can click while the dog is making the desired action rather than afterwards which makes it much easier for the dog to make the connection between its action and the reward.

A particularly food obsessed dog might have trouble focussing on the game and might just stare, slobbering, at the hand holding treats.

You can reduce the number of treats because you don’t need to give one every time you click. Either make it random, to keep the dog guessing and alert, or use it as an extra cue: almost (click) almost (click) yes! (click & treat).

When playing the training game with a real dog it is also a good idea to keep it silent. Wait until the dog has figured out the complete trick before giving it a name. You don’t want your dog to think that the command “roll over” means “lie down.” Work exclusively on a single trick over several short sessions spaced over a few days and only give the trick a name once it is complete. Then use your chosen vocal or hand command for a few sessions before practicing the new trick interspersed with older ones.

Read more about dog training here


A trim but no shave

My whole family (with the exception of the dog) came under my shears today, and although I’d love to be able to write a nice tutorial on how to do it, the truth is I don’t really know. The key to learning is to pay attention when a professional cuts your hair, then to be friends with people who are broke and not too vain. That would be my high school boyfriend. Then pretty much all the guys in my college dorm, but I temporarily quit that unpaid job when one of my friends insisted on reading the paper as I cut his hair (“It just doesn’t feel right otherwise”) and another got really upset (and a new professional haircut) after I messed up and gave him a bob. So there can be some painful moments, like this morning, when I snipped off a piece of my knuckles, but as I pointed out in my award winning instructable* on saving money, this is a great way to economize.

* I won a T-shirt

Egg Hoax

This sounded just too cool: write on a hard boiled egg with a special ink made of vinegar and alum powder, let it dry, peel the pristine shell and your message appears written on the white albumen below… I read about this somewhere and even found this video… It’s all over the web, with lots of different people claiming to be its author… It’s a fake! It doesn’t work! I tried everything: I used ammonium alum and aluminum sulfate. I tried applying the “paint” on a raw egg then cooking it as instructed, but I also tried painting a pre-cooked egg and leaving it overnight. I tried pre-treating the eggshell by soaking it in vinegar. Nothing. Don’t waste your time or eggs on this one (above you can see one of the victims of my experiments).