The Living Room Project
Wanna see the pictures from the project?

Every once in a while, I get the urge to do something creative. A lot of times, this revolves around home improvement and more often than not, is a time consuming task. I normally do this when Jeffrey takes a weekend trip without me. It keeps me from being too bored, lonely, or scared.

On the weekend of April 12-14, Jeffrey took off for Minot, ND. I set out to tackle two projects. The first was making new cushion covers for the couch and the chair. I had taken the old covers off so much to wash them that they were starting to rip. Evidently you're not supposed to wash the covers. Of course, this isn't a concept I fully understand. I mean, they zip off so if I'm not supposed to wash them, why do they come off in the first place?

The second project was to tile our coffee table. Jeffrey thought it was looking a little scraggily and decided that something should be done about it and that I should be that someone.

The Hunt
I probably should have known that these projects weren't going to be easy when the easy part of the project (finding the materials) proved to be rather challenging.

First, the tiles. Jeffrey and I spent a weekend visiting tile shops. After touring two, we finally walked into one that had a great collection of interesting tiles. We found some that we both liked. We didn't the like price, however. I then took the task on myself and went to more tile shops on my way home from work. I went to five tile shops (and tried to find two others but the darn directions I had were either out of date or just plain bad). I found tiles that were less expensive but not ones I liked as much. The really big downside was the timing - it would take 2-6 weeks for the tiles to come in. I wanted to do my project 5 days later.

I went to the trusty internet. Surely there would be a shop that sold tiles on the internet. You can find obscure videos and CDs and mason jars and nostalgia candy from yesteryear and all sorts of things that you can't find in local shops anymore. Why wouldn't I be able to find tile? Interestingly enough, I couldn't. Lowes and Home Depot on-line didn't sell tile. The good tile sites (from the manufacturers of the tiles I liked) were in Spanish and German (maybe Dutch). The on-line shops I did manage to find were located in New Zealand or the UK. I figured that it would probably take 2-6 weeks for the order to arrive and I would have to pay international shipping.

After hours (yes, hours) of searching, I finally found a shop that sold tile on-line. They had a variety of colors. The only drawback - the tiles were 3/4ths of an inch square and they came as individual tiles and not conveniently strung together with a mesh in one square foot sections. I did the math (yes, it was tough) and figured it would take roughly 1500 tiles to cover our little coffee table. 1500! That's fifteen HUNDRED. That's halfway between one thousand and two thousand teeny, tiny, little tiles. The really cool but expensive tile I liked came in 12 inch squared sheets (the tile itself was 2 inches squared but they come on a matting so there are 36 of them in one shot; I would only need 6 sheets to cover the table).

I spent a half hour just staring at our coffee table that night (Jeff kept making fun of me) contemplating the pros and cons. Do I get the expensive tile that all I have to do is plunk down 6 sheets and be done with it but have to wait several more weekends before the order would arrive or do I get the cheap tile that would arrive by Saturday but would involve aligning and spacing 1500 little tiny tiles perfectly and evenly? In the end, money and the desire to say, "Yup, I did that. I nearly died doing it, but I did it ALL BY MYSELF" was too great and so I bought the 1500 little 3/4 inch tiles. Of course, I expected that Jeff would come home on Sunday to find me rocking in a corner muttering, "Fifteen hundred tiles. That's all it would take. Fifteen hundred tiles" over and over and over again. :-)

After all that, one would think fabric shopping would be easier. Ha! I went to four shops in various locations throughout the Twin Cities (let's just say that I put over 100 miles on my car in one afternoon and I only went to three) and tried to find one more (what's with these darn internet location finders' maps?). I was absolutely amazed at the price of upholstery fabric - the cheapest was $17 a yard! I did find fabric that I really liked but when I asked the salesperson how much (there were no price tags), the price was over $20 a yard for each. Yikes! I put them back on the shelf and continued to look. I finally dragged Jeffrey to JoAnn Fabric. They were having a sale on upholstery fabric. They had a huge selection at fairly cheap rates (although 11 yards cost almost $100) but after an hour and a half of wandering around the store, we did manage to find something we both liked. Jeffrey picked out one (for the chair) and I picked out the other (for the couch). After making the covers, I found that I actually liked the one he picked out better than the one I picked out.

The Project Begins

So, after all the struggling to pick out the materials, the weekend of the project finally arrived. I rushed home Friday night (I got home around 3:30) and was disappointed that my tiles hadn't arrived yet. I had planned to do the tiling Friday night and the covers Saturday and Sunday. I had to switch gears and dive into the re-upholstering project first.

I started pretty much as soon as I got home. The little devil in me (some may say big devil) tried to coerce me into goofing off for a couple of hours but the more practical side in me insisted that I start right away because, afterall, wouldn't it be nice to be done early? When Sunday night rolled around, I was indeed happy that I started when I did, but I get ahead of myself.

I pushed all the furniture in the living room out of the way and rolled out the fabric for the chair on the floor. I decided I wanted to keep the same feel of the design from the old cover. This meant cutting six separate pieces of fabric and sewing them all together. The alternative would have been easier (making it "pillow like" with two big pieces of fabric sewn together) but I wanted a challenge and a challenge I got. Again, getting ahead of the story (I'm bad at subtle foreshadowing).

I measured the cushion, wrapped the fabric around it to give me some perspective and began marking out cut lines. I don't cut very straight at all so I had to make hundreds of little marks in order to make sure everything was even. Of course, I had dull scissors so cutting was an adventure in itself.

In addition to being a meticulous line maker, I am also a huge fans of pinning. The reason is the same for making sure my cut lines are straight - I don't do well with free form lines. If it's not in a straight line to begin with and if the pieces aren't pinned together so that they can't move apart and form unstraight lines, I will make things uneven. I used one of Ogden's least favorite toys as a pin cushion. He didn't like that.

The whole cutting and pinning process took three and a half hours. This also began the weekend long battle with the sewing machine. The bobbin didn't want to be cooperative - from being loaded with thread to being threaded through the machine to not bunching when sewing.

When I left for dinner with Dawn and Joel an hour later, I had only sewn together one part. I returned at 10:00and decided that I should continue with the chair cover instead of doing something fun. I sewed all the pieces to each other. I wrapped the cover around the cushion to get a feel for how the whole thing should sewn together when I realized that sides were not meeting up with the back piece. I was missing two pieces! I quickly measured the fabric, made my little cut lines, cut out the pieces, pinned them together, and sewed them to the rest of the cover. I then spent the next hour trying to figure out how to sew the cover together. Every way I turned it, something didn't align correctly.

The cats laid together in a heap at the edge of the living room. They wanted to go upstairs to bed but weren't about to go without me.

It was now 12:30am. I rationalized that I was too tired to think straight and went to bed. Of course, since Jeffrey wasn't home, I had trouble falling asleep. I stayed awake until 2:30 and then got up at 8:30 in the morning.

Before jumping back into project world, I went to McDonald's, got my daily sodie and, at the last moment, decided to also get breakfast. It turned out to be a very wise decision because I didn't eat again until 4:30. I was hungry throughout the day but couldn't decide what to eat that didn't take any amount of effort - even a sandwich meant taking a few minutes out to plop down bread and filling....

With the freshness of the morning came an epiphany. The reason I was having so much trouble figuring out how to sew all the pieces together was because I had forgotten two more pieces! I couldn't figure out how I had thought that the previous additional two pieces would be suitable without these two new pieces. It had to balance, right? Again, I measured, made cut lines, cut out the material, pinned them together, and sewed them to the rest of the pieces. For those of you doing the math, I now had 10 pieces of fabric to wrap around a 3-dimensional square.... I then wrapped it around the cushion to see my progress and suddenly realized that I had been a goof. I didn't need the new two pieces afterall. I didn't even need the previous two pieces. I had been right the first time! Six pieces was all that was needed.

I ripped the additional four pieces off, agonized over the additional work and lost time, and managed to correct the problem to produce a wonderful new cover for the chair. As soon as I put the cover on the cushion and the cushion back in the chair, Mr. Ogden hopped up and slept on the new cover.

After that fiasco, making a pillow and a cover for the ottoman went VERY quickly. Of course, my battle with the sewing machine and the bobbin continued. Once the bobbin realized that I had outsmarted it (I successfully managed to wind the bobbin so that it was taut and evenly wound; I also learned how to "cheat" the threading process so that I didn't have to spend a half hour trying to get the top thread to catch the bobbin thread), the rest of the machine started acting up. The needle foot fell off. I didn't notice it until I started removing the pins from my sewn material. I looked down and saw something metal stuck in the fabric. I thought, "When did I attach the zipper?" because the foot looked like a zipper. I finally wrestled the foot back on only to have it fall off one more time later in the sewing process.

Sometime in the middle of my chair cover experience, my tiles arrived. I forced myself to finish the chair project before diving into the tile project. I did allow myself to open the box to look at them. I also started the ungluing process. The tiles came glued to paper (not the convenient cohesive mesh) and I had to remove the paper by soaking the tiles in hot water for 5 minutes.

I started the tile project at 4:00. I had ordered seven different colors (5 shades of blue, two shades of yellow) and had to create a pattern. The hard part of creating a pattern was patience - how many tiles do I have to lay out before I can get an idea of what it will look like expanded to a 38 by 21 inch surface? I laid out several before deciding on a mostly blue pattern with random droppings of the yellow. I called it a calculated pattern with a bit of randomness.

Dawn and Joel took me to dinner around 5:30. They also took me to Home Depot so I could buy more mortar. The supplies had been donated by one of Jeff's co-workers but he didn't have enough mortar for the job. The smallest bag Home Depot had was 50 pounds. It didn't look heavy but damn! We had to get a cart because I wasn't sure if I could make it to the checkout counter.

I spread newspaper on the floor around the table (I have tendency to make a big mess with anything I do) and then plunged into the mortaring portion around 8:00pm. The annoying thing about the mortar was that the directions on the bag told you how to mix the entire contents of the 50 pound bag but nothing smaller. I needed about half a pound of mortar. I mixed in some water until I thought the consistency looked right. It wasn't too soupy and it wasn't too thick. I discovered right away that I wasn't going to be friends with the trowel. I just couldn't get the hang of it. My mortar wasn't evenly applied but I said "Screw that muck" (in much more colorful language) and did it my way - which was uneven mortar. Eventually I learned the finger method. I could tell the evenness of mortar with my fingers so I spread it on that way. Of course, before I could place the tiles down, I had to wipe my fingers off. Usually it was on my pants....

I encountered my first tiling project mistake about 10:30. Jeff's co-worker had let me borrow two tile cutters (one big one and one hand held one). Both shattered the tile. I wasn't concerned about spacing because I figured I could cut the edge row pieces to fit the space left. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to happen so I had to quickly move as many of the tiles that I could (which wasn't a lot; mortar dries quickly when you don't want it to). My tiles are perfectly spaced and even.... for the about eight inches square on the lower left hand corner of the table. The top two rows have much more space between them than any other rows and two rows on the right hand side have more space than the others.

I was glad I put down the newspaper. Mortar plopped off the table and onto the newspapered floor. After stepping on it once with bare feet and feeling the cold stuff ooze between my toes, I made a mental note to be more careful. The second time that happened, I knew it was going to be a long night.

I finally finished around midnight. I was going to put tiles around the edges of the table but they kept slipping off. I determined that the table would have to be propped up on end for the tiles not to slip but it was another case of "I'm too tired to make sound decisions" so I cleaned up and headed up to bed at 12:30am. Poor Ogden was sad that we didn't get to spend time together for the second straight Daddy-less night.

Of course, I didn't fall asleep until 2:30am again and got up around 7:45am on Sunday. Again, I went to McDonald's to get my sodie and some breakfast before plunging into project world. I wouldn't eat until Jeff picked up dinner at 7:30.

I started the day by finishing the tiling project. I tilted the table up so that I could work on one of the edges. I quickly figured out a new pattern for the table edge and applied it. While contemplating what to do while I waited for the mortar to dry so I could turn the table to work on another edge, I decided to put tiles on the three drawers. I created two more patterns and applied them to two drawers. I stared at the third drawer (it was 35 inches long) and decided to nix that idea. The side drawers were enough. I didn't have to tile the big drawer. I was a little sick of the whole tiling project and just couldn't bring myself to lay down 200 more tiles. At 11:00, I turned the table and tiled a second edge.

While waiting the hour for the edge to dry, I decided to get started on my other project - recovering the couch cushions. I took the cover off the back cushion, traced it on the fabric spread over the floor, and cut it out. Since there were no straight lines on the pattern, I didn't have to waste time measuring. The cushion had a lot of goofy curves and weird turns. After it was cut out, I wrapped it around the cushion to see how it looked. It was too small and didn't really look like the cushion at all. Frustrated, I plopped the actual cushion on top of the fabric on the floor, traced around it, cut it out - without even pinning it (can ya tell it's two days into the project?)- and sewed the edges together. I stuck the cushion in the new cover and discovered what it was like to be Goldilocks. This cover was too big. Argh!!!

At first, I thought I could live with the incredibly huge cover but then I decided that I should do the project right and began to trim down the huge cover.

By now it was noon and time to turn the table once again and apply tile to the third edge. Ogden was starting to get frustrated that I didn't have time to play with him. He followed me around and when he realized he shouldn't get too close (scissors are pointy), sat just far enough way to not be in the way, but not far enough way that I wouldn't notice him.

I sewed the cover for the second time, wedged the cushion into the cover, and held my breath. It fit! And it looked good! I took it off, traced the second one, cut it out, sewed it together, and pushed the cushion into it. It, too, looked good and fit right!!

It was now 1:00 and time to turn the table one last time to apply the tile to the fourth edge. Ogden's attempts at catching my attention weren't really working. He started "talking" to himself. Considering Ogden is not a very talkative cat, this was very weird. He sat by the balcony door and cried softly to himself.

After that edge was done, I turned my attention towards the arm rest covers on the couch. They looked easy enough replicate - it was two shapes attached as one. How hard could that be? I cut two rectangle parts (one for each arm) within a couple of minutes. I also cut out two half circle parts, too (in some worlds, that might make a full circle). Then the head scratching time arrived. I could not figure out how the curved part of a circle could attach to a rectangle! Finally, I figured it out and went to sew the pieces together. Once up at the machine, the knowledge escaped me and I had to go back to the drawing board. Ten minutes later, I solved the problem again - you had to have the circle placed in a particular angle in order for the attachment to work. If you flipped it the other way, it didn't work. I quickly made two arm rest covers (and stuck myself good with a pin and bled all over the sewing machine).

Sometime during this portion of the project, the sewing machine's needle bent. I had to go out to get a new one. When I got back, I found Ogden trying to play with Wensley. He wanted to play so desperately that he was willing to play with Wensley, the cat that just doesn't quite get it. She was confused by his attempt to play with her and walked away. Ogden was all alone and now very bored. He sat by the balcony door and sighed loudly every couple of minutes.

Still not quite understanding when to quit, I made two throw pillows for the couch using the old fabric from the couch covers. The first pillow had the old fabric on one side and the new fabric on the other. The second pillow used the new chair fabric on one side and the new couch fabric on the other.

When 4:00 rolled around, I opened the bag of grout, read the instructions (these were more helpful than the mortar bag's instructions), and began to grout the table and drawers. I couldn't quite get the grout to stick along the sides of the table (the whole angle thing again) but was too tired to do the propping thing again so I said, "Screw this muck" again (but with more colorful language) and skipped it. Grouting was fun - and easy - but very messy, worse than the mortar. Grout flew in every direction.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned how sturdy the tiles on the edge of the coffee table were. One of the drawers fell fairly lightly against the edge of the coffee table and ping! One tile fell off. By the end of the night, two more had fallen.

Twenty minutes after the grout was applied, I got to wipe it down to see what it would kinda look like. I wasn't happy. The tiles were textured and the grout filled in that texture. Only little portions of the tile poked through the grout. I decided I liked the table much better without the grout. Of course, now that it had been applied, it was too late to do anything about it. I was stuck with the look. Or was I?

It was now 5:30 and I flew into Risky Business mode, minus the hooker and cracked crystal egg thing. I had moved furniture to make room for laying out the fabric and my tools (buckets, bags o' mortar and grout, bowls of tiles, scissors, pins, yard stick, remnants of material, etc) were all scattered about. I had one hour to get everything put away, picked up, and cleaned before Jeffrey would come home. I vacuumed up the thousands of fabric strings and little pieces of thread, cracked tiles, crumbs of mortar and grout, and anything else that managed to fall onto the carpet over the weekend.

Ten minutes (yes, really 10 minutes) before Jeffrey came home, I sat down for the first time all weekend, completely done with my projects. Of course, Ogden, who had wanted desperately to play with me all weekend, promptly went upstairs and sulked for the rest of the evening.

Okay, not completely. Nothing is ever complete, right? I sat down on the couch, picked up the deflated new throw pillows and began adding stuffing. After Jeffrey came home, I decided I had to do something about the grout in the tiles so I got out a knife and began to scrape it out. When that became too tedious (there was an awful scraping noise involved), I switched to Q-Tips. Twenty minutes later, I had only cleaned two square inches worth of tiles - and not very well.

With my weekend now over, my projects are 90% complete. The throw pillows need their stuffing holes stitched up; the covers on both the couch and the chair need closing mechanisms (it was the zipper that bent my sewing machine needle); grout needs to be applied to the edges of the coffee table, and I need to continue to scrape the grout out of the tiles. Other than that, I am completely done with my weekend project.

I had planned on making a wonderful dinner for Jeffrey but nixed that idea when I realized I had been working for 10 straight hours. My back, knees, calves, fingers, hands, wrists, and big toe hurt. He got me pizza and I went to bed at 8:30 with an electric heating pad, a microwavable heating pad, and a bag of ice.