Preparing the Raspberries

After our harvest of raspberries last fall, we did nothing…

Raspberry BushesAs the weather got colder, the raspberry canes went dormant. They lost their leaves and the parts that bore fruit dried up.

Fruited CaneHere’s a close up of a cane that fruited last season. These withered canes adorned our front porch all winter because I wasn’t really sure if and when I was supposed to prune them.

Jeremy found this video from the University of Maine. I found it to be very helpful. Now, Mr. Handley’s raspberry operation is clearly a lot larger than mine, but I followed his instructions nonetheless.

1. Mr. Handley says that he likes to wait until late winter/early spring to prune his raspberries. This way the spent flora canes are sending nutrients back to the roots during the winter. This was great news for us, since we waited until March to tackle pruning.

2. Remove all spent flora canes. These are the canes that produced fruit last year but will not bear fruit in the upcoming season. In the video, he identifies these canes by their grey, brittle appearance. In my case I did not have full canes that fit that description. Instead I just removed the dead parts – like the withered parts I captured in my close-up. Since our raspberries are heritage and produce fruit twice a year, I think these same canes may bear fruit two seasons in a row.

3. Attach healthy canes to the trellis. Create a “V” shape with the canes, allowing for maximum sun exposure for all canes. Like in the video, I used some hemp thread to tie my canes to the trellis. I fashioned my trellis out of twine and wooden stakes – less sophisticated than Mr. Handley’s metal and wire trellis. I tightened up the sagging twine of my trellis before attaching the canes.

Pruned RaspberriesThe improvement is subtle on film, more noticeable in person. The canes are stripped of their dead parts, all standing upright with the help of the trellis. Next step is to clean up the bed – clear out the leaves, pull any weeds and re-mulch.

Buds and LeavesThere are buds and a few green leaves already on the raspberry canes. We are super excited about two harvests of raspberries this year. We might even celebrate with a raspberry-chocolate stout.

What spring pruning are you doing? I am ready for the Azaleas to bloom!

Dishwasher Dreams Come True

Ever since we moved into our house in July 2009, I have been dreaming of a new dishwasher. The one in our house was ugly, loud and didn’t do a great job cleaning the dishes.

P1080544Our friends have the same dishwasher in their house, and have the same complaints. In the photo above, the kick panel is missing because (spoiler alert!) it was right before we uninstalled it. That yellow thing under the dishwasher is a piece of fiberglass insulation. I guess someone else also thought the dishwasher was loud and thought that would help?

Recently Jeremy became annoyed with the failings of our dishwasher and we started discussing replacement options. We knew we wanted something quite, with a stainless steel tub, for not a lot of money. We gravitated towards Bosch because Jeremy’s parents have one and it is super quiet and they seem to like it a lot. Also, when we vacationed with our friends at Deep Creek Lake this past fall our rental house had two Bosch dishwashers. Implying to me that these dishwashers can take the abuse of a multitude of users.

We found the Bosch SHE55M12UC in white on the Sears Outlet website. The Sears Outlet is where they sell floor models and refurbished appliances (among other items). This Bosch model had everything we were looking for: stainless steel tub, fold down racks on top and bottom, 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 3 gallons of water per cycle, half-load option… and lots of other features. The price wasn’t so bad either, $450. The problem is, that is just the cheapest available dishwasher – and it was in Charlotte, NC. The closest dishwashers were still an hour away for more than $500 to pick up in store for an additional $100 to have it delivered. So, we put that option on hold.

Jeremy searched Craigslist for Bosch dishwashers. Now that we knew what we wanted, it made the search easier. We found a white Bosch Dishwasher in Annapolis for $300, and from the pictures it looked like it was the one we found on Sears. When we saw the dishwasher in person, it was a different model. This was Bosch SH55P02UC, which appears to be the older model of the one we liked. The SHE55P02UC has a stainless steel tub, folding tines, operates at 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 2.8 gallons per cycle, and it offers all the same wash options. The only difference I know of is that this model is no longer in prodcution.

New Bosch InsulationLet’s talk about why this dishwasher is so quiet . As you can see above, it is encased by insulation. This is the thick stuff, and it was securely attached on 4 sides of the dishwasher. Let’s compare to the insulation found on our original dishwasher:

Sad Dishwasher with InsulationThis sad insulation was like yellow fiberglass encased in a trash bag. It only wrapped around 3 of the sides, and was not securely attached.

There are other features that make the Bosch run quietly. It has two pumps to help minimize noise and vibration, and a solid base. Our old dishwasher was propped up by 4 little legs, but the Bosch rests solidly on the floor.

Well, as the pictures reveal, we bought the white Bosch and uninstalled our old dishwasher. Here’s how we did it:

  • Turn off the power to the dishwasher. Our fuse box had a switch just for the dishwasher. If you want to be extra safe, turn off all the power in the kitchen.
  • Turn off the water where the dishwasher connects under the sink.
  • Disconnect the drain hose from the disposal. Ours was a white hose attached with a clamp. Loosen the screw on the clamp and pull the hose off. We reused the same clamp for our new hose.
  • Disconnect the water pipe (should hook up near where you turned the water off). Our pipes are rigid copper pipes. After loosening the bolt, Jeremy had to give the dishwasher pipe a good tug to get them to separate. If all else fails, use a hacksaw.
  • Remove the kick panel from the front of the dishwasher. Open the electrical box and un-wire the dishwasher. Of course, if you have a multimeter, check for any electricity before you do this step. Many new dishwashers just plug in to an outlet – both our new and old dishwashers were wired.
  • Look around under the dishwasher. You should be able to see where either the drain hose or water pipe connect. Disconnect them if you can. Our rigid copper pipe attached in the back, and we couldn’t unhook it.
  • Lastly, un-mount the dishwasher from the counter top. Most likely it is attached with two screws on the underneath of the counter.

If you do all of those steps, then your dishwasher should be free from any connections and you can just pull it out.

Dishwasher HoleThere you go – a dishwasher hole. You can see the white electrical wire coming out of the wall, and above that, on the side of the cabinet, the hole for the drain hose and water pipe. Oh, and the filth. I think that dishwasher has been there since 1996.

New Bosch InstalledTo install the dishwasher, you just do all those steps in reverse. Jeremy wired the dishwasher to the power while I connected the pipes. Then we turned the power back on and ran a half-load of dishes.

Inside the DishwasherIsn’t it beautiful? The main criticism we found in reviews is that the tub is too small. I think the tub is a reasonable size for Jeremy and I. We ran a full load after three days of dirty dishes. I will admit that I am having trouble loading it though. After 3.5 years I knew how to load our old dishwasher, we had a good systems for what dishes fit where. These new racks have tines going in different directions and I just haven’t mastered the art of loading this dishwasher. Our largest dinner plates do fit in the bottom rack, but depending on how you pull out the top rack, the spinning arms on the top rack hit the dishes.

Oh, and it is nice and quiet. We can have a conversation in the kitchen and watch TV in the living room at a reasonable volume while it is running.

What upgrades have you made recently? In the market for a dishwasher? Fan of the Bosch?

Foyer Curtains

In August 2011 I made some magnetic curtains to hang on either side of our front door. A year and half later, they’re looking pretty rough:

Old CurtainsOld Curtain Close-UpThe curtains are slightly too narrow, letting light creep in along the edges. At the top the backing has pulled free, due to the strong magnets. We want curtains covering these windows for a few reasons, mainly: to protect the bamboo floor from concentrated sunlight and prevent fading; and privacy from people looking into our house. I originally chose this fabric because it tied in the blue of the living room walls, and the wood tones of the floor and furniture in the living room. Now I’ve lost interest in the fabric, and the curtains’ poor performance gives me reason to replace them.

Disassembling the Old CurtainsJeremy found me these super strong magnets to hang the curtains (since the door frame is magnetic). The magnets are so strong though that many pulled free from the glue that was holding them to the curtains. The back of the curtains is a light vinyl, chosen because it blocks out the light, and offers a little insulation. Also, it’s white, so form the outside you see white instead of patterned curtain (just like with our blinds). I picked up exactly the amount I needed from a JoAnn’s remnant bin (an excellent score). So, I disassembled the curtains so I could reuse the backing.

New Curtain ConstructionThis time I approached the construction differently. I decided to employ my quilting skills and my binding tool to attach the new fabric to the backing. I cut the fabric an inch wider than the backing, making the binding 1/2″ wide. Then I stitched along with edge of the binding with a zig-zag stitch.

New CurtainsBy attaching the backing this way the curtains will lie flatter than the old curtains. I was also able to maximize the area, making the curtains wider and longer than before. Oh, and I love the new fabric! Jeremy was unsure at first, but I think it is growing on him. The colors are rich and bold, and still tie everything together. Blue, brown, tan, greens and off white – these colors are found in the foyer, living room and media room.

Attach the MagnetsThis time I traded the super strong magnets for the adhesive magnets – from the fireplace vent covers project. I cut inch-wide strips and stuck them to the top and bottom of each curtain. I don’t trust the adhesive, so I also stitched the magnets on each end.

New CurtainsNew CurtainsMuch better! The wider curtains, with magnets on top and bottom, stay in place better and are not letting the light creep through. I was worried about the strength of the magnets, but the curtains have not fallen since we hung (stuck?) them a week ago. With the larger curtains I wondered, would it be even better to make long panels to fill the entire space on either side of the door? I think that would look really cool, and be an easy way to make a big impact in a foyer. Alas, I will not pursue this plan because we’d rather get a new door(s) without windows.

Matching PillowWith some extra fabric I made a throw pillow for the couch. Now you can better see how the colors all work together. The brown and blue birds are a match for the couch and blue throw pillows. My only regret is that I didn’t have enough leftover to make two pillows! Oh well, I love the fresh green mingling with the darker hues upstairs.

Have you reworked any projects lately? What did you modify? What did you learn the second (or third) time around?
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What’s Going on Back There?

On Monday we posted about our utilities and what we’ve done to cut the cost. We mentioned our BGE SmartMeter, which allows us to view our energy usage online. The BGE website also has tips for how to save monies. One that we hadn’t considered before was cleaning the back of the refrigerator to help it run more efficiently.

Floor Behind Fridge

Back of FridgeWe pulled the refrigerator away from the wall – uncovering filth on the floor and a lot of dust on the back of the fridge. This dust can clog up the coils and cause the fridge to run inefficiently. We read some posts online about cleaning the coils. People were removing panels off the back of refrigerators to clean the coils. The back of our fridge warned us to not remove any of the panels. We certainly did not want to electrocute ourselves or unplug the fridge. So, I just did my best to vacuum the back vent. I also cleaned that gross mess on the floor.

Clean FridgeThat’s better! We haven’t cleaned back there since we got the fridge in July 2009. So, that was long overdue.

Is our fridge running more efficiently? We’re not sure. We haven’t noticed – and I think that’s a good thing. There have been times where we have heard the fridge running from our bedroom. Since we have cleaned the back vent, we haven’t really noticed the fridge at all. When I have noticed the fridge running, I definitely think it is quieter.

Anyone else having cleaning adventures? Tricks for making appliances run more efficiently?

Hanging Dish Towels

Now that Christmas is over, I can share some of the gifts I made/gave this Holiday season. My mother-in-law and grandmother received some hanging dishtowels. The idea came when Jeremy’s mom and I were at a craft show and a vendor was selling crocheted hanging dish towels. She hinted that she needed some new ones, and suggested that I could sew instead of crochet the hanging part.

Country Kitchen Dish TowelsHere is one set of towels that I made. I was inspired by this tutorial, and made some modifications. The most important thing I learned is that one regular towel results in 2 hanging dish towels. So, it is easy and inexpensive to make a set.

Pattern piecesI started by making myself a template (on the far right). I like to make life easy by placing the pattern piece on the fold (hence why it is half as wide). Utilizing the fold allows the finished piece to be perfectly symmetrical.

Sew the pieces togetherNext take two of the pieces you cut and sew them together, right sides together (leaving the bottom open). I made my template with a 1/2″ seam allowance. For the white floral print above, I backed one side with muslin, so the print wouldn’t show through. After you sew the pieces together, trim the corners and cut the trunk part (where it gets skinnier) like you would a shoulder seam. Then turn the piece right side out and press.

Buttons and HolesNext I determined where to place the buttons. I wrapped the trunk (what do I call it?) around the handle of my oven door. From the photos you can see that the buttons are placed approximately an inch below the beginning of the “trunk”. Now its is time to attach the towel!

Finished Towels

 

Take the hanger and fold under the bottom edge an inch, press. Take your dishtowel and cut it in half – lengthwise. Now take the towel and pleat or gather it so that it can be inserted into the hanger. The original tutorial used gathering, I pleated/folded. Pin the towel in place and stitch closely to the edge.

Finished Towels Close-upI really love the finished product!

P1070803For my mother-in-law I made special hangers with loops so that they can be hung on knobs. I used the same pattern piece to make the hanger, I just removed the “trunk” and made it a true pentagon.

Snowmen SetMy grandmother got the full set – two towels and a hotpad! She loves snowmen and her kitchen is accessorized in red, so this fabric worked out perfectly! What I love is that this set was completed with a fat quarter.

This project was simple, yet fun, and provided some practical gifts. Some of the designs are available at my ETSY store. What gifts did you whip up this holiday season?

 

 
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Scrap Flowers

I love sewing, but I have accumulated a lot of scraps. I picked up the book Fabric Leftovers by D’Arcy-Jean Milne for ideas on how to use up said scraps. I decided to try the fabric flowers project.

The petals for the flowers are made from squares. I started by cutting my cotton scraps into squares of different sizes – ranging from 2″ to 4″. To make the petals you fold the squares along the diagonal to make a triangle, then you fold the triangle in half. Then you baste along the raw edge and gather the bottom of the triangle to make a petal shape.

Next, you string the petals together. The book recommends 5 petals per flower, but I made a few with 4 and 6 petals.

Use a button and floral wire to make the stems. Lace the wire through the button holes, and insert the wire through the center of the flower. I used hot glue to secure the button to the center of the flower.

With my collection of blue flowers I put together a basket arrangement:

I made leaves by gluing single green petals to floral wire:

And put the arrangement together with the following supplies:

Baskets, dry foam (oasis), and Spanish moss. I picked up these items from Michael’s, for about $15. I plan on making 5 arrangements, so that’s around $3 per basket of flowers. I’ve only finished one so far:

But I am halfway to completing my cowboy arrangement:

I think the arrangements are super cute. It’s fun to put the different color combinations together. Are you a fan of these scrappy flowers?

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Tablet Shoulder Bag

My mother-in-law requested a small over the shoulder bag for her Acer tablet (10.5″ x 7.5″ x 1″). So, I whipped one up for her to match her laptop messenger bag.

Materials:

  • Two 9″ zippers
  • One 1.5″ fashion buckle
  • 1/2 yard of flannel
  • 1/2 yard canvas
  • 1/3 yard fusible fleece/interfacing (padding)

The pink fabrics above are both canvas, and the green is flannel. I chose to use flannel because it is soft and safe for electronics, without being too bulky (like fleece was).

To Make the Front Zipper Pocket:

You will need two of each (one flannel, one canvas): 7″ x 9″ rectangle and 5.5″ x 9″ rectangle. Start with two rectangles of the same size and make a sandwich: right side of flannel, wrong size of zipper, right side of canvas. Like so:

Using a zipper foot, stitch the sandwich together. Now, pull back the fabric and expose the other side of the zipper. Make the sandwich again, using the other two rectangles.

Stitch this side of the sandwich together. Peel back the fabric and iron everything flat.

So far, we have the front of the bag, with lining in the front of the pocket. Now we will add the rest of the lining to the front pocket, and some padding. We need flannel and interfacing rectangles, 12.5″ x 9″ each. Layer the pieces with the interfacing on the bottom, then the fleece, then the zipper panel. Baste the layers together, 1/4″ from the edge.

Now the front of the bag is complete. In the picture above you can see the pocket is completely lined. Time for the next step!

The Strap

I chose the fashion buckle so that the strap didn’t have to be too long, but the bag could still be worn across the chest. This way, you could open the strap and fasten the bag like a seatbelt across your chest.

On the front of the bag (left) I attached one end of the clasp. For the strap I pieced together three 3.5″ wide strips of canvas to achieve a length of 45″. I folded the rectangle in half and again sewed along the edge with a 14/” seam. Then I spent ten minutes (or more) turning that tube right-side out. After ironing that flat, I basted the strap, right sides together, to the back panel of the bag.

Putting It All Together

For the back panel and lining cut 12.5″ x 9″ rectangles – 2 flannel, 1 canvas and 1 interfacing. After attaching the strap pieces (described above) it’s time to make another zipper sandwich. For the back panel you want the layers to go flannel, zipper, canvas, interfacing. This way the interfacing is attach to the bag (and not the lining) when we turn everything right-side out.

Above is the result after you attach the second zipper. We are looking at the exterior of the bag. All we need to do now is attach the sides and bottom. Pin the outside of the bag together and the lining of the bag together.

Above you see the rectangles pinned as described. Stitch along the outside of the bag, 3/8″ from the edge, turning corners and leaving a 3″ gap in the lining. You can see my hand in the gap. Stick your hand into the opening and push the zipper open. Turn the bag right side out. Iron everything flat and close up the lining.

At this stage, I adjusted the length of the strap. I shortened the strap about 10 inches. Attach the end of the strap to the second clasp, folding under the raw edge.

You can find bags like this on Etsy for $20 – $40. This bag was particularly cost effective because I already had the canvas. The additional supplies cost me $12.41, with lots of interfacing to spare (it was a remnant).

I can’t wait to get the bag to Mom so we can test it out with the tablet! I am also planning a Kindle-sized bag. I didn’t realize there would be a market for bags such as these. Let me know if you use the pattern/instructions!