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February is a short and cold but jam-packed month chez Biologist, so the smart Biologist picks her house battles carefully and with those limitations in mind.  The second stop on my room a month tour is my Laundry Room.

20100214_LaundryRoom.jpgThis strange looking picture is a composite (it's hard to get a full on good shot because of the whole long/narrow issues with my house layout).  This organizational embarrassment is my laundry area (it's not really a room -- more of a largish closet).  You'll also note the server in the top right corner -- my poor laundry room also serves as our home network closet and houses not only the big honking server (nicknamed "gargantuan" because of its capacious harddrive room) but also a variety of satellite TV equipment and other miscellaneous home networking miscellany.    And as if that wasn't enough functionality for one closet the top left part of space is taken up with some storage stuff.

Over the years I make attempts at making this space better.  The wire shelving, the shelving between the machines were part of those attempts -- and I'm happy with that stuff. My big mission in this space is not to refurbish (what I wouldn't give for a front loading washing machine!) but simply to get it cleaned up and more functional. 

The goals for this space:

  • Go through all cleaning products and discard any that I no longer use. 
  • Get all clean laundry (that pile on top of the drier is actually clean <sigh>) to where it belongs.
  • Get the laundry in the bag with the blue markings taken care of -- this bag is my sweater bag of shame... mostly because I discovered some garments with, horror of horrors, moth holes.  Anything in this bag needs to be washed, discarded or taken to the dry cleaner.  I have some good sweater cleaning supplies from The Laundress that I bought last year to help me with this task. 
  • Sort through stored junk to make sure that all of it has a reason for being. 
  • Find a way to keep the server stuff organized and out of the way.  I've resolved myself to the fact that this hardware has taken up permanent residence, but the monitor, keyboard (buried under clothes) and other things have to have a way of being stored neatly when they are not in use (which is most of the time... it's just that when John needs them, he needs them to be there)
Wish me luck... this space is small, and seems manageable, but always very resistant to actual change!

January Room Wrap Up -- Play Room

With January behind me, it's a good time to wrap up on the first room in my house that I took the time to work on: Z's play area.

You can find the "before" view and my goals in the post here.

To review my goals:

  1. Get a second toy storage frame so that the two can be placed back to back and Z can have an area to play on top of
  2. Replace the toy bins and label them so that toys like Legos and Tinker Toys have a dedicated storage area -- hopefully this will also help others get the toys back to the right place.
  3. Get rid of the metal crates and get a real book case of some kind for her books.
  4. Cull out old toys she doesn't play with and find a place to donate/share/recycle.
I'm actually pretty pleased with what I accomplished. 

20100201_PlayArea3.jpgI found it really hard to photograph the area because of the dimensions of the room and the lens I was using.  This is the view from north to south.   I was able to get the extra Trofast storage unit from Ikea, and I replaced the bins that Z had broken or damaged.  We also purchased an Expedit bookcase from Ikea -- selected because it wasn't specifically "kid furniture" and could be put into service somewhere else, if necessary -- getting those things pretty much knocked out goals 1, 2 and 3.

20100201_PlayArea1.jpgThis is a detail shot of the corner with the easel and the bookcase.  In addition to the storage, I wanted to start to create an art area for her.  That easel was also from Ikea, and, at $15 it was something both John and I could agree on.  It has a chalkboard on one side, a white board on the other and a nice way to hold a roll of paper for her to draw on, too.    The blue circular bin behind the red chair is also an Ikea purchase.  It is being used to store balls and balloons and a few stuffed toys.  I really like the Expedit unit and all the uneven height shelves.  This makes it perfect for storing toys and books of a whole variety of sizes -- and most things are at kid height, but there are still some areas out of reach for things that we need to go into "time out".

20100201_PlayArea2.jpgThis is the toy storage area.  We already had the bottom Trofast system, we purchased the middle and top units.  The top unit will hold art supplies (things that should be out of reach unless adult supervised) and the middle additional toys.  We're not sure that this is the final configuration.  Right now we're also trying out having the second large unit sit at a right angle to the first unit (along the carpet line) so that Z can have two areas to play on. 

As far as goal 4 is concerned, we're still mid-sort.  Not surprisingly, I didn't find too many books or toys worth parting with, and once I had the bins to sort things into, it made it easy to start to find all the pieces for things that I thought were broken or missing too many parts to be worth keeping.  Just goes to show that a little organization can go a long way towards understanding what we really do have!

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with my first month's efforts.  I think that keeping the goals simple and manageable made it easier for me to keep my eyes on the prize.   Tonight those bins will get their photo labels (an idea from the comments on my first post that I thought was brilliant -- thank you Anna!), and I will get a chance to play with my new laminator for the first time!

Now it's time to pick the next room!

Before I start talking about this room, I'd like to talk a little bit about the challenges inherent in my house.  A standard Chicago city lot is 25' wide by 150' long.   Houses tend to be long and narrow -- the house is roughly 18 foot wide as there must be 3' on either side of the house.   Our house is on a road that runs east-west, so the long dimension of the house runs north-south.  We're on the south side of the street, and our best light comes into the south side of the house. 

Our main floor is composed of only two main rooms, the living room area takes roughly the front half of the house, while the kitchen, dining, family area comprises the other half.  The ceilings are tall in both rooms.  I think they are 10' in the front part of the house and 12 in the back part, since there is a step down from the front to the back level. 

The play area is essentially part of the back area of the first floor.

  This is the view of the western half of the room where Z's play area is located.  There's a fireplace at one end and the sliding glass door out onto our deck.  The floors are all hardwoods and all the walls are still (sadly) white.

20100104_PlayArea2.jpgThis is the same half of the room, only facing north (the rocking chair is for reference). The door is to a small pantry.  The window faces onto the deck of the apartment building next door and we don't get much light through it.

20100104_PlayArea3.jpgThis is a better view of the toy storage.  We are using an Ikea storage system because it is relatively inexpensive, flexible and the bins are cheap to replace.  And, yes, that is a real keyboard in her toy stash.  She loves "sending email" to people.

So, what do I want to do here?


I think the secret to me making this work is for me not to get over the top ambitious. For instance,  I would love to paint this room (even just this wall), but I don't think that it's realistic to try to do that in the dead of winter.   Instead, what I want to focus on is organizing her area better and making the space into a place where we can hang out better.  You'll notice there's really only one chair (the old rocking chair) that doesn't belong to our main dining room table.

My goals:

  1. Get a second toy storage frame so that the two can be placed back to back and Z can have an area to play on top of (this may be a little challenging since it's out of stock at both local Ikea's with no restock date... but I will persevere).
  2. Replace the toy bins and label them so that toys like Legos and Tinker Toys have a dedicated storage area -- hopefully this will also help others get the toys back to the right place.
  3. Get rid of the metal crates and get a real book case of some kind for her books.
  4. Cull out old toys she doesn't play with and find a place to donate/share/recycle.
Seems reasonable, I think.  If I get really ambitious, I might consider art for the walls... but I think that needs to happen after the painting!

Woven Spring Dishtowels

In spite of a weekend with weather that reminded me more of February than the end of March (can you say waking up to snow on Sunday morning?), it was a good weekend for taking a deep breath and letting my mind and hands wander.  There was knitting, weaving and baking and a bit of reading (often while knitting), so both mind and hands were happy with the weekend.

I've had these dishtowels finished for quite some time.  On "problem" I have with posting about weaving, is that because I am learning, I have all these things that I want to talk about.  Color, texture, technique, weave structures are all possible discussions for even a simple project.  Often, it's the pictures that I take (or forget to take) that end up shaping what I talk about.

These cotton towels all came from the warp I talked about a little while back.  My original plan was a set of 4 identical towels for my kitchen, but after weaving the first towel and getting a good handle on what it would take to deal with all the color changes, I decided that I would rather use the rest of the warp for experimentation and that my experimentation would get divided into towel shaped parts at the end.

20090323_CottonTowels.jpgThese are three of the towels before they went through the washing machine.  The one to the far left was my original design.  The one in the center was my bastardized "basketweave" attempt and the one on the right was an experiment in warp and weft faced "lace" patterns on my rigid heddle loom (achieved with the help of the pick up stick).

20090323_OriginalTowelPatte.jpgThis is a more up close and personal look at the first towel.  While I like the pattern a lot, after a while, I got tired of fiddling with 4 shuttles and hiding the ends with a thick cotton yarn.  My design did not work well for carrying the unused colors up the side.  So after one iteration of what I wanted to try I moved onto something else. (Yes, there are the same number of picks in the center square as in the ones to either side of it, somehow my beating got uneven).

20090323_ModifiedBasketWeav.jpgThis is the modified basketweave.  Since I couldn't lift two side by side warp threads at once, I did two warp shots into each shed (the fabric is rotated on it's side so that the warp is horizontal in the picture).   But after a bunch of inches of this, I got bored with it, too, and decided to pull out my pick up stick and play with woven "lace".


20090323_YellowLace.jpgHere you can see how different the fabric looks when I use either the white, blue or yellow yarn as the weft for an extended period of time.  In the white and blue examples. you can see that there are warp threads "floating" over a group of weft threads.  For the yellow example the opposite is true: the weft threads are floating over the warp threads.  Of course, these fabrics are not the same on both sides.  If you were to flip them over, the blue and white fabrics would have floating weft threads while the opposite side of the yellow area would have floating warp threads.  I really liked the look and texture of the white and blue "samples" so I extended them for longer regions.

20090323_PullingIn.jpgThis picture (taken before I cut the towels apart) illustrates another property of woven cloth: plain weave is "wider" than weave structures where you go over and under two or more threads (this has to do with how the threads can pull together, and I'll probably talk about it more some other time when I can show some better examples).  So if you're going to have a project like this one, you want to make sure that you maintain a similar number of warp threads that you go over and under during the course of one unit in your project, otherwise the edges will get wonky -- not unlike matching knit ribbing to stockinette. 

Just like the original project changed, even the final location of the results changed.  I didn't really know how much this cotton would shrink (yes, sampling would have good for this) and it ended up shrinking more than I anticipated (measuring before and after would have been a good idea, too...) so the final towels were smaller than I expected.  So rather than dishtowels, I'm going to use them as hand towels for my powder room.  Their different sizes won't be so obvious used that way, and I'll get to enjoy the woven texture more, too.

Tranquil Lighting

For my first post of the year, I outlined some things that I wanted to work on.  One of those things was to launch into re-decorating (or maybe just decorating) our master bedroom.  Over time, it had become one of those places where things just got stored, rather than one of those places that I wanted to be.  Which is unfortunate, because it's also one of the places in the house that gets the best natural light and I always found myself coming upstairs to knit there.  And then I would end up sitting on the floor. 

The first part of the project has involved simple changes.  For instance: making the bed every morning.  I can not put my finger on why, but it just makes me happy to see it all made up, to see my pretty pillow shams and duvet cover looking the way they were meant to.  I've also managed to eliminate most of the clutter.  The maternity clothes and nursing equipment are packed away.  The old speakers and stereo equipment moved to a place where John can get them ready to go on craigslist.  I thinned out my closet and organized my clothes better with a promise to myself to hang up or wash bin my clothes when I take them off.  Yarn and spinning wheel relocated to my guest room in the basement (which is not nearly as bad as it sounds, since the guest room is also my new fiber area).   All little things, but en toto they make a big difference.

Now that the room is mostly free of clutter, I've been letting myself get on to the decorating part.  There are new green velvet curtains for the balcony doors.  There is a lovely soft green runner with embroidered water lily blossoms on the dresser.   A vase filled with silk magnolias. And now this:

20090127_HannahsButterfly.jpgThis lovely lamp was something I found via the design*sponge blog -- which is a fabulous source of all sorts of decorating and design ideas and inspiration.  This lamp is the creation of Hannah Nunn  (please be sure to take a look at her Etsy shop -- her pictures show off more details than mine) an artist in the UK who works in parchment to create beautiful, nature-inspired lamps.  Given Ms. Z's love of butterflies, this lamp was an easy choice.  It looked beautiful on line and once it arrived in Chicago, it was just as lovely as I imagined.  When I plugged it in, John thought it looked like it was lit by a candle instead of a light bulb.

It is not bright enough to read by (at least not with the bulb that it comes with), but it will be perfect for soft mood lighting in our bedroom -- which is exactly what I wanted.  I think it would be a lovely night light in a child's room as well, or any place that you wanted some gentle lighting at night.

I'd also like to say that Hannah was very quick to answer my questions, shipped quickly and kept in touch about the process.  It was a pleasure to work with her -- and I hope to again, just as soon as I figure out which design I would like to have on our other nightstand. 


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