Category Archives: DIY

Scrappy Improv Heart Blocks

A couple of nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, and, in that semi slumber state when I was letting my mind wander while trying to go back to sleep, I thought of a solution to a puzzle that had been nagging me for a couple of weeks.  I love it when things like this happen.  It proves what I tell my kids all the time when they are working on something and having trouble with it: Go away and do something else.  Your brain will keep working on it even when you don’t think you are thinking about it.  This is especially true for creative endeavors like writing, but can also be true for more quantitative puzzles.  Our brains are amazing.

Now, the result of my midnight ponderings is this block for the June quilt of my do. good stitches group, aspire circle.  I wanted something really scrappy because my scrap bins have been filling up lately, but I did not just want to dig through my scraps for pieces that would “fit” in a pattern.  What I really wanted to do was use up were those little odd shaped triangle scraps and other little odd shaped scraps that are hard to fit anywhere else.  However, I didn’t want it to turn out to crazy looking, which is often what happens when you just throw a lot of scraps together.  I had been playing around with an idea to make heart blocks and, in the middle of the night, I hit upon an idea to marry the two ideas together.

The heart portion of the block is pieced using an improvisational piecing method that I read about here.  I started off by piecing together a bunch of little odd shaped blocks.

Generally speaking, I just tried to pick two pieces that had one side that were approximately the same length and then sewed those sides together.  Sometimes, I chose a few at a time like below, and sometimes I started with one piece and dug through my scrap bin until I found one that matched nicely.

Once you have a bunch of little pieced blocks, it’s important to trim them a little before going on to add more.  You want to cut off those little tails and just straighten up the edges to make it easier to keep piecing.  I tried not to add pieces that would make it look too regular because I was going for a more random look.

Generally speaking, I tried to have mostly straight edges with obtuse angles.  Once your pieces start to get bigger, this becomes more important.   You don’t want all those inside angles because it is hard to add pieces at those spots.

The goal was to get a piece that I could trim to 6.5 by 12.5 inches for each half of a heart.  When my pieces started getting bigger, I started to try to match them up a little to make rectangular-ish shapes.

For each pair of hearts, you will need two of these pieces, with some extra for the middle of the smaller heart.  The final pieces before trimming looked quite crazy!

However, once trimmed down, it looked much neater.  If your trims a big, save them.  You might need them for the smaller heart.

Once you have two rectangles each measuring 6.5 by 12.5 inches, you will need cut your background pieces.  I used just plain white.  You will need:

two 6.5 inch squares in white

four 3.5 inch squares in white

Draw a diagonal line on the wrong side of each background square.

Here are the pieces you need for the big heart.


Right sides together, match a large background square to one end of a scrappy block and sew on the line.  Then, sew another line 1/2 inch away from the diagonal line on the corner side.

Now, do the same with the 3.5 inch blocks in the top corners of the scrappy block.  Here’s what you will have after this step for each half heart.

Now, cut in between the sewn lines.

Do this again to the second scrappy block, making sure that the diagonal line is mirrored for the bottom of the heart.  In the picture below, you can see how I made sure I was mirroring the pieces before I got too far in my sewing.

Iron the pieces and then add the other corner block in the same way.  You will end up with two halves of a heart.

Sew the two halves together to make a big 12.5 inch square scrappy improv heart block.

Now, we will use up those odd half square triangles to make the smaller scrappy heart.  You should have 4 small and 2 large half square triangles.

You will need to trim the half square triangles (HST)  down to make an 8.5 inch square heart.

Each small HST should be trimmed to 2.5 inch squares.

Each large HST should be trimmed to 4.5 inch squares.

You will also need:

One 2.5 by 8.5 inch scrappy rectangle.

For this, I sewed some trimmings together to make a piece big enough to trim down.  How’s that for using up scraps!

For the background, you will need to cut

two 2.5 by 8.5 inch strips in white

two 2.5 by 12.5 inch strips in white

Altogether, you should have this:

Sew all the pieces together, beginning with the heart and then adding the background sashing pieces to make a 12.5 inch square block.

My favorite thing about making this is that you essentially can make two blocks for not much more effort than making one.  I must admit to feeling a little proud of these blocks and they were such fun to make.   I still have a lot of scraps, so more of these might be in my future.

For now, I am really looking forward to seeing what my friends from the aspire circle will make with this method.  It should be a fun and cheerful quilt!

Good for Now

Many people have been asking me lately if the kitchen is finished and the answer is yes.  And no.  Officially, according to the building department of our town, we are finished.  We had our final building inspection last Friday and we passed easily.  In a lot of ways it is true that the kitchen is finished.  All of our appliances are working, the plumbing is all functional, and the cabinets are all full.  (that last one took at least of week of unpacking and organizing to accomplish)

There are still some things that remain undone, though, most of which are cosmetic.  For example, we still need to replace the window trim.  It has to be remade because the old stuff won’t fit anymore over the extra layer of drywall that was added when the plasterer came to do his work.

There are also some trim panels that still need to be put up to hide unsightly bits of hardware and gaps behind cabinets. We are also contemplating putting up a decorative panel on the side of the peninsula next to the doors. It just looks a bit blank there. We’re not sure how that would work with the options that Ikea has, however. They do sell decorative panels, but they are flat and pretty boring, which is sort of what we have already. Another option is to buy a matching door and mount it instead so that it would at least match our cabinet fronts. My guess is that we will wait awhile to decide because none of us are really eager to make another trip to Ikea anytime soon.

Two other big things that you will notice that still need to be done are the toe kicks and the flooring. Those sort of go together and since we probably will not be doing the flooring for at least a year due to budgetary constraints, the toe kicks will have to wait as well.

The kitchen has seen a good bit of action already as a site for science experiments. I’ll be honest and tell you that I did not jump into the kitchen right away and start cooking and baking a lot. It took me a couple of weeks to get myself and the kitchen organized. It turns out that not doing something for a couple of months can really break some habits, such as cooking!

One of my favorite features about the kitchen layout is how we can open the dishwasher and unload most of our dishes and silverware right into the cabinet that faces it. The boys especially love this since it is their job to unload.

Now that I have used them for a little while, I have really been enjoying the new appliances, especially the stove. It’s wonderful how the burners light up right away and pots of water actually come to a boil.  Our old stove did neither one of those things.

I have yet to take the oven through all its paces, but so far, it has baked cookies, cakes, a few loaves of pan bread and a cobbler quite nicely. It has yet to be subject to my high temperature baking or any broiling, but I have no reason to doubt that it will do well.

Another thing that I love about the kitchen is the number of electrical outlets! It’s wonderful to be able to plug things in at multiple locations and not have to juggle them all out of one or two sockets.

So, this is about as finished as the kitchen is going to get for the time being and I am OK with that. We did enough home improvement work in the two months that it took to get to this point to last us for quite awhile. For now, we are just going to enjoy the fruits of our labors and get to the other things once we have the proper motivation. In the meantime, as you can imagine, we have a lot of other things to catch up on that we have been quite neglecting, not the least of which is the lawn.  It’s almost the end of May and we have yet to mow the lawn once.  I say we, but it’s really the husband.  Poor guy has lost of lot of sleep and time over the kitchen and now he has to go straight to yard work.  Home ownership is a lot of work!

Mostly Functional

If you are following me on Facebook or Instagram, you will know this already, but I will repeat it here. We have a working kitchen again!! Woohooo! From the first day of demolition to last Tuesday when we had the plumber came to hook up the dishwasher, oven, and sink, we had 49 total days without the use of our kitchen. We had many a late night working on the kitchen, but as we all knew it would be from the beginning, it was worth it in the end.

So, let me catch you up on what has happened since the wall cabinets were installed.

The first big thing was installing the countertops. I think I did mention there was some drama about our countertops in an earlier post. The last time we talked counters, I showed you a picture of one of the slabs that we picked. Here it is again so you don’t have to go searching back.

The second slab was supposed to be a bookmatch to that one, meaning it would be a mirror image. We saw it at the warehouse and confirmed that it did indeed look like the bookmatch. Both those slabs were put on hold and the numbers were sent to our fabricator.

We then had to delay our schedule by a week at that point because we knew we could not get the cabinets installed in time. In the meantime, our slabs were supposed to be ordered by the fabricator and then delivered to them. All seemed fine. We got our base cabinets installed and the fabricator came to make the template for our counters. The next day, I went to place the templates on the slabs. Everything still seemed fine until they moved the top slab and revealed the second slab that was delivered.

And here is the first one.

Kitchen renovation day 42:  Placing the counter templates on the slabs was fun.  #kitchenremodel #gettingexcitednow #thegraniteplace #canyouseethewolfshead?

Hmmm, the boys and I agreed that they were really different from each other and one was very different from the slabs we had chosen. Despite some niggling doubts, we went ahead and placed the templates, but as soon as I got home, I checked my photos and slab numbers. That’s when I discovered that the warehouse had sent the wrong slabs. Neither one of the slabs was a match to the ones I had ordered! One of them was from the same lot, but it was not the same number. The second slab that looked very different was from another lot altogether.

What followed was a couple of hours of discussions back and forth with my fabricator with photos being texted back and forth. There were calls from my fabricator to the warehouse. It turns out that one of the slabs that I had picked had a crack in it and could not be sold. Or at least that’s what the warehouse said. So instead of calling anyone to let us know, they sent a slab from an entirely different lot of stone? And that doesn’t explain what happened to the other slab I ordered, for which we never got an explanation. At this point, my fabricator was saying that if they did not have the slabs by the next day, they would have to reschedule. Which would mean delaying the completion of the kitchen. Fortunately, the one slab that the warehouse sent was close enough to the ones I picked that we decided to keep it if they could find the next one in line. Natural stone slabs are cut like slices of bread. You know how awkward it is to make a sandwich with slices that aren’t right next to each other? Well, stone slabs can vary quite a lot, even in the same “loaf”, so if you need more than one slab, it is best to choose adjacent slices. Fortunately for us, they had the next slab in line, and they were willing to ship the next day (it was their mistake after all). Here it is.

That afternoon of stress actually marked the beginning of the phase of Kitchen renovation that I am calling “Project Fatigue”. Up until this point, regardless of the obstacle, I still felt energetic and enthusiastic and ok with spending all my waking energy on the kitchen. However, after the incident with the counters, I was decidedly ready to be done with it. Thankfully, at that point, we really were nearing the end of the project. After a few more days, the fabricator came to install the counters.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of steps, so the guys had to roll the counter over the grassy hill in front of our house.

We were really impressed that they were able to cut the counters and install them without any seams.

What a transformation! It’s hard to know when you are designing a kitchen and picking out all the things that go into it whether or not they will all look good together. It’s even more stressful because there is a lot of money involved in making these decisions, which is why the problem with the warehouse was a big deal. It all worked out in the end, though, and we love the counters.

Kitchen renovation day 48:  countertops today!  Woohoo!!! #kitchenremodel #soapstone #gettingexcitednow

My advice to you if you are still in the planning stages of your project is to stay on top of all the details. Don’t assume everyone is doing what they should be doing and don’t be afraid to ask to check on any detail. It’s your project and your money that is paying them after all.

After the counters were in, I had one more loooong day with the plumber. I won’t go into the details of that day here if you don’t mind. Suffice it to say that it was the cherry on top of my week of “Project Fatigue” and it was a day of torture for me. I think I just want to forget that day and focus on other things now.

Like what a joy it is to have running water in the kitchen and a working dishwasher.

Those are the things we missed the most. Well, I did miss baking a little bit.

We still have some things to finish up before we can call the kitchen officially done, but it’s mostly fun stuff like organizing cabinets.  Next time, I will try to show you some better pictures of the kitchen as a whole because it really is an amazing difference.



On the Level

Kitchen renovation is not for the faint hearted.  Even if you are not doing any of the work yourself, it is still a roller coaster of decision making, crisis management, and active problem solving.  There is no such thing as an effortless kitchen remodel, just as there is no such thing as a perfectly level wall, floor, or ceiling.  While I am at it, there seems to also be no such thing as a kitchen remodel that comes within the original budget.  Maybe someone out there has done it, but if you have, please don’t tell the rest of us!  We would like to hold on to the feeling that our experience is the norm.

Anyway, this week, we are back with another  leveling problem.  I know I mentioned this last week, but I have to say that just because we managed to solve it on one side of the kitchen did not mean that the problem went away.  In fact, on the other side of the kitchen, it seemed worse.  Mostly, this is because of our design.

We have cabinets facing in all four directions.  One of them faces the family room here, while the other one is at a 90 degree angle and faces the fridge.

Kitchen renovation day 37: It turns out that yesterday was more of a layout day.  Today is leveling and installing.  Maybe.  I hope.  #kitchenremodel #crazyweirdhouse #tired

The two middle cabinets face the fridge also as well as does the end cabinet closest to the sink.  The last cabinet by the dining room door, faces the hallway.  Since the cabinets are facing different directions, we could not use the rail system.  The cabinets had to be installed to the floor.

This is when we found the biggest flaw to the Ikea cabinet system: the feet.

The base cabinets come with these plastic feet that do not get attached in any stable way.  There is a groove that they can slip into, but you cannot move the cabinet while there is any weight on the feet.   If you try to move the cabinet while it is resting on the feet, the feet will come off or break off.  This means that in order to move the cabinet, you have to lift it, even if is just an inch.  And these cabinets are hard to lift.

Why?  It’s the rails on top.   Most cabinets are box shaped.  Ikea base cabinets are U-shaped with rails connecting the top instead of another piece of “wood”.  This leaves you nothing to grab unto or lift from without risking damage to the cabinets.  Maybe we were being overly cautious, but we were afraid to lift these very heavy cabinets by the rails for fear of distorting or making the rails come off.  Once the cabinets were in place, the rails were a non-issue, but it took several days to get to that point.

Why did it take several days? Well, it took several days because not all of the cabinets were square and because they were not square,  they were having trouble sitting next to each other without unsightly gaps.  This problem also made it difficult to level the cabinets.  If you are just considering Ikea cabinets, just be aware when you are building them.  It’s much easier to make sure they are square during the building stage than it is to correct them when you are trying to install them.

Also, if you want your counter to be level, your cabinets have to be level.  If you want your cabinets to be level, it would help if your floor was level, which ours was not.

We had over an inch of variance in the level of our floors.  To deal with the floor and the problematic feet, the husband made plywood boxes that the cabinets could rest on.  This all meant that we spent a lot of time laying on the floor adjusting the height of the feet and the boxes underneath using shims to get all the cabinets level.

Eventually, after many hours of work, we got all the cabinets in place and leveled and could begin attaching them.  For this, we needed a special tool.

This is a right angle extension for a drill.  It helps to drill things in tight spaces, which we definitely had.  It was useful for the boxes underneath the cabinets and also the box which we built as a spacer behind the two middle cabinets.

Since we were not using the wall to attach the cabinets, we decided to pull everything away from the wall a bit to increase our counter space.  Oh, and I am sure you have wondered why we have a U shaped layout over on this side of the kitchen.  It is a bit unusual, we know.  Our first plan was to make a matching L shape to oppose the sink and stove side of the kitchen, but the space from the sink and stove to the other side of the kitchen was too wide, about 5-6 feet.  It was not enough space for us to put in an island (you need 3 feet of space all around an island), but it was just wide enough that it was not efficient.  It was two big steps from there to the stove or three little ones and when you are cooking, all that inefficiency adds up and we found that we did not use the L for cooking or prepping.  We decided to try adding another section of counter  and, despite the fact that it makes it harder to pass through the kitchen, we loved it.  We found that we used that little bit of extra counter more than any other bit of counter in the kitchen.  It was within easy reaching distance of the sink, stove, fridge, and the area where I have my mixer.  So, here is where we stand now.

Our base cabinets are all installed, including the one that the husband had to build for the dishwasher.

We have all the wall cabinets built.  This took us as a family, working in assembly line fashion, less than two hours.

The boys have really been very helpful throughout this whole process.

Next time, I will have to tell you more about the Countertop Saga.  Like I said, no kitchen renovation happens without hitches.  In our case, it seems that every part has to have some sort of obstacle. Stay tuned.




Setbacks and Comebacks

After last week’s transformation, I was in high hopes that we would be able to install the cabinets and by now be waiting for our countertops to be installed.  Cabinet installation turns out to be harder and more time consuming than I had originally estimated, especially when things don’t go quite as planned.

The first sign that things were not going to according to my schedule was that our brand new refrigerator arrived with a big dent on the side.  Now, if it had been the side facing the wall, we would not have cared, but it was on the side that would have been in full view of anyone coming into the kitchen.  So, we had to refuse it.

Next, we had to install the sink cabinet so that the electrician could come and finish his work.  However, in order to install the sink cabinet, we had to install the corner cabinet.  Everything looks installed in this photo, but it is not.

Ikea cabinets are installed using a rail system, which is supposed to make it easy to level your cabinets and line them up just so.

That all works great if your walls are perfectly straight and at 90 degree angles to each other.  Now, our plasterer did a fantastic job.  These walls were as straight as they were going to get with the shape they were in before he began.  However, there are still slight variations in the wall that made lining everything up a bit more challenging.  Just hanging and leveling those two cabinets took an entire evening.

And then there was a cabinet we were trying to modify.  We have an extra 6 inches of space to use up between the corner cabinet and the oven.  Now, most people would just move the oven next to the corner cabinet and make the cabinet to the right of the oven a little wider.  However, we wanted a little bit more space to the left of the oven.  Before, when there was only the corner cabinet there, the space to the left of the stover felt cramped and difficult to use.  If we had a little more counter there, it would make working at the stove easier.  So, we decided we would try to modify a base cabinet to fit that 6 inch space.  However, as often happens when DIYing, we were just winging it and made a mistake in cutting which made it impossible to build that cabinet.

At that point, I think we both realized that we were not going to make our Monday deadline of having all cabinets installed and leveled.  We had family arriving the next day for a little spring break visit and we were exhausted, mentally and physically.  So, we decided it would be wise to push back our schedule a week.

Which turned out to be a good choice, because the next day I discovered that the outlet in the wall that was supposed to be for the microwave hood had been installed at the wrong height.

Ikea cabinets are limited in the size ranges they offer.  For wall cabinets, they only come in 15, 20, 30, or 40 inch heights.  If we wanted our cabinets to go up to the ceiling, which we did (wouldn’t you?), we needed to have that outlet fully above one of those pieces of tape on the wall.  As you can see, it would not fit in neither the 15 or 20 inch cabinet.

Thankfully, the electrician we hired has a satisfaction guarantee and warrantees his work for up to a year afterwards, no questions asked.  He came the same day and moved the outlet.  I was sad to have our pretty wall blemished, but it will be covered up by the microhood once it is installed.

At this point, we took a couple of days off to enjoy time with the husband’s sister and her two delightful daughters.  It was really nice to have a break from working on the kitchen and a little time to ruminate on next steps.  In the meantime, our new refrigerator, sans dents arrived and boy is it big!

After another trip to Ikea to buy some more things to make the 6 inch cabinet and also to buy the wall cabinets, we were ready to start working again.  The husband carefully cut the pieces.

And then joined them together.

It did take a little adjusting, but we finally got it to fit and be level with other cabinets.

We still have a long way to go before we’re done.  There are at least 16 more cabinets to install and a new deadline of this coming Monday for the base cabinets.  Stay tuned!