Monday, September 18, 2017

From the Kitchen: Maldon Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

My sister-in-law made these cookies for a girls' night - they are SO good!  I am a sucker for the sweet/salty combo.  The Maldon sea salt is what completely makes these cookies - I bought it on Amazon, but they also sell it at Central Market locally.  They're huge, crunchy flakes (as opposed to crystals) of salt - they give a perfect salty crunch to these cookies!

These cookies are made using frozen dough; the recipe below yields a large batch (40 cookies), so the dough is perfect to make in advance and pull out of the freezer for homemade cookies in minutes!  I freeze the dough on a cookie sheet and, once frozen, transfer the dough to a freezer Ziploc bag.

Maldon Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Draper James
Yield: 40 cookies


1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup butter (two sticks), room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
Maldon sea salt for sprinkling


Place the oatmeal in a blender or food processor (I used a Magic Bullet) and blend until it's a fine powder.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the 2 sticks of butter, brown sugar, and sugar, and mix on medium speed until fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and 2 eggs, and mix until well combined.  Add the dry ingredients (oatmeal powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon), and mix until just combined (do not overmix).  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Using a cookie scoop (I use this one), drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet.  Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour (the cookies are baked using frozen dough).

To bake, preheat the oven to 350.  Place frozen cookie dough on a greased or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with Maldon sea salt, and bake for 12 minutes.  The cookies should be lightly browned on the edges but soft in the middle.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Baby 101: Pumping Basics - Frequently Asked Questions

Pumping might be the thing friends ask me about the most - and completely understandably, because pumping can be tricky!  You've just barely got nursing figured out and then suddenly you go back to work / need to leave baby with a sitter / want to do anything for more than 3 hours without being tied to your baby, and pumping enters the mix.  I'm certainly no expert, but I went back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave with my son and pumped successfully enough for him to be exclusively breastfed until he turned one (woohoo!), so I have some firsthand experience.  

Here are some of my tips and tricks for the questions I get asked the most:

What breast pump should I get?

This is personal preference, of course, but I love my Spectra S2 and prefer it to the Medela Pump In Style Advanced I used with my first - read more about the differences here.  

Don't run out and buy one - most insurance plans cover 100% of the cost of one breast pump per pregnancy.  Check with your health insurance company to see which DME (Direct Medical Equipment) supplier(s) they work with.  I used Aeroflow for both pregnancies (I got a new pump each time, since the motors can wear down) and had a great experience - they handled everything (insurance, contacting OB/GYN, etc.).

When should I start pumping?

I had a LOT of lactation consultant help with my first baby, and their advice was to wait to pump until baby is 2-3 weeks old.  The first couple of weeks (especially with your first!) are stressful enough with figuring out breastfeeding, and it can mess with your breastmilk supply if you start too early (causing oversupply, which can result in foremilk/hindmilk balance issues, engorgement, mastitis, etc.)  

By 2-3 weeks, your milk supply will start to regulate, you'll hopefully be through the painful/confusing/stressful part of breastfeeding and have time to add in pumping.  This timeline allows plenty of time to introduce a bottle to your baby between 3-4 weeks, which is the ideal window to ensure that your baby will accept a bottle without causing nipple confusion.

How often should I pump?

This depends on the reason why you're pumping.  If you're still nursing full-time and just want to build a small freezer stash for the occasional babysitter, I was advised to pump twice a day; once AFTER nursing (to get the extra out for a "rainy day" and tell your body to keep producing that much milk), and once INSTEAD of nursing (to allow you to feed the baby a bottle of pumped breastmilk and ensure they'll continue to accept a bottle).  

If you're going to be away from your baby (going back to work, traveling, etc. - i.e., NOT nursing full-time), you should pump the same number of times, on approximately the same schedule, as your baby will be taking bottles while you're gone - for example, if your baby will take 3 bottles every 3 hours during the time you're gone, you should pump 3 times, approximately every 3 hours.  Pumping less frequently than your baby is eating will tell your body to slow down milk production.

How long should I pump?

This varies depending on the individual and the pump.  I find that my Spectra pump is much more efficient at removing milk than my Medela PISA was, so I generally pump for about 12-15 minutes (as opposed to the 20-25 minutes I pumped with my Medela).  I pump until fully emptied (milk stops flowing), and then I press the "letdown" or "massage" mode button again to encourage a second letdown.  Many women naturally have a second letdown around the 12 minute mark, but you can use the letdown feature on your pump to try to trigger another one once milk stops flowing from the first letdown.  

After the second letdown, I pump until milk stops coming out, and then for an additional 2-5 minutes to encourage my body to maintain production.  If you're pressed for time, you can skip the second letdown and additional 2-5 minutes after milk flow stops, but you'll want to fully empty your breasts to avoid clogged ducts, mastitis, or an unwanted decrease in your milk supply.

What should I bring in my pump bag to work?

How do I know if I'm pumping enough?

This varies so much by person - there is a huge range.  If you're pumping in lieu of nursing, your goal is obviously to pump enough to replace the breastmilk your baby consumes by bottle during the same timeframe (so if your baby consumes 15 ounces of breastmilk while you're gone, you'll want to pump at least 15 ounces to stay "even").  "Normal" production from pumping in lieu of nursing is 2-4 ounces per session for both breasts combined.  

If you're pumping while nursing full time (to build a stash), you can expect your output to be much less - "normal" is considered 0.5-2 ounces per session for both breasts combined.

Keep in mind that milk production is normally higher in the morning than it is in the evenings, so you may see different outputs from pumping sessions depending on the time of day.  Also, remember that a baby is much more efficient at removing milk than a pump - your pumping output is not indicative of your milk supply.

What if I pump too soon to when my baby wants to nurse and there is none left?

Again, a baby is much more efficient at removing milk than a pump; even immediately after you pump, there is still milk remaining in your breasts that a baby can remove that the pump could not.  Also, breastmilk is constantly replenishing, so even as you finish pumping, your body is already producing more.  The milk flow may be slower than baby is used to and they may get frustrated, but don't worry that there isn't any left - there is.  Allow your baby to nurse longer and/or switch sides back and forth.

Why is the suction on my pump weak?

If you're not getting good suction on your pump, first make sure everything is plugged in / assembled correctly - the tubing is well secured, both to the pump and to the flanges, and there is nothing (bra/shirt) in between the flanges and your breast breaking the suction.  If you're only pumping on one side, make sure that you disconnect the tubing for the second side and use the little plug to "block" the tubing connection.

Double check the suction settings on your pump to make sure they haven't been accidentally adjusted.

If you're using battery power (rather than a wall plug-in), make sure the battery is fully charged and/or replace the batteries if using a battery pack.

Inspect the membranes (on a Medela PISA, these are the white rubber circles) or the valves (on a Spectra, these are the white duckbill parts) for any tears; it is good practice to replace these parts every couple of months anyway, because they weaken over time and they have a big impact on the pump's overall suction.  

I'm not pumping enough milk - how do I pump more?

First, make sure your expectations for pumping output are reasonable - see "How do I know if I'm pumping enough?" above. 

Next, make sure there aren't any suction issues with your pump - see "Why is the suction on my pump weak?" above.  You'll also get more milk out if you "prod" your breasts while pumping (some people say "massage", but I don't use motion - I just jab a finger or two into the breast tissue and hold them there while the pump is doing its thing, moving them every couple of minutes to trigger production from different ducts).

If you truly need to increase your milk supply, here is a detailed post on maintaining your milk supply.  In short:
- drink more
- eat more
- add galactogogues (fenugreek, brewer's yeast, oatmeal)
- pump more frequently
- pump longer / pump through 2, even 3 letdowns

Keep in mind that lots of things can impact your milk supply - time of day (milk production decreases in the evening), return of your period (my milk supply took a permanent hit when I got my period back at 7 months), illness, stress, and certain medications, including birth control.

If none of these things work, consider speaking to your physician about prescription medication to help increase your milk supply - Domperidone or Reglan.  I have no firsthand experience with these, but it's an option that's available if nothing else works.

My pumping output is vastly different between each breast, is this normal?

Yes, this is totally normal - many people have "a stud and a dud", where one side consistently produces more than the other side.  You may also switch back and forth between which side produces more based on which side the baby last nursed.  

Pumping is painful, is this normal?

Pumping should not be painful; of course, if you are engorged, there may be some discomfort from the engorgement, but there shouldn't be pain from pumping itself.  

Make sure that you're not setting the suction on your pump too high; contrary to logic, a higher suction setting does not guarantee more milk and/or quicker expression.  Slowly increase the suction to the point of discomfort, and then reduce it from there until you find the setting that is most comfortable for you.

You may also be using the wrong flange size if you're still experiencing pain; flange size is not related to breast size, so small-chested women may still require a large flange size, and vice versa.  Most breast pumps come with a "medium" 24 mm flange size, but there are both smaller and larger flange sizes available.  (Medela: 21mm24mm27mm30mm36mm; Spectra: 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 32mm)  You can use the graphic below to gauge whether or not your flange size is appropriate (although I find this hard to do); a lactation consultant can help fit you to the right size, or you can try a few sizes (they're inexpensive, or you can borrow from a friend) and use trial and error until you find the best fit.

Image result for breast pump flange size

You may also want to lubricate the inside of the flanges to reduce the friction - you can use coconut oil or lanolin cream (I like the Lansinoh brand).

How do I store pumped milk?

First, I always pump into bottles, rather than bags; some brands of breast pumps are compatible with breastmilk storage bags (allowing you to pump directly into a bag); however, these bags generally do not freeze flat, and the ounce measurements on the bags are not accurate since the bag is not a rigid storage container (making it difficult to accurately measure how much you've pumped).  I keep my pumped milk in a refrigerator at work (there is a dedicated mini fridge in the "wellness room"), although you can also use a cooler with ice packs if you don't have access to a refrigerator.

You shouldn't combine warm milk with cool milk; to combine milk from different pumping sessions, only combine warm with warm, or cool with cool.

I pump during the work week; Monday through Thursday, I use each day's pumped milk to supply the next day's bottles.  On Friday, I freeze the pumped milk in breastmilk storage bags, and on Monday, I thaw previously frozen breastmilk to make bottles.  Freezing Friday's pumped milk and using (older) thawed milk on Mondays keeps my freezer stash current.  Right now, I'm using Lansinoh storage bags; you can read a comparison of milk storage bags here.

Pumped milk is good at room temperature for 4-6 hours; refrigerated for 5 days (you'll be able to smell if it's spoiled), in a regular freezer for 6 months, and in a deep freezer for 12 months.  Read a more detailed post about milk storage (freezing and thawing pumped milk; rotating a freezer stash to keep it current, etc.) here.

How do I find the time to pump?

It is hard!  If you're nursing full-time, you probably only need to pump once or twice a day to have a small stash in the freezer.   Try utilizing baby's nap time or consider pumping one side while baby nurses on the other side.

If you're pumping during the workday, you have to guard your pumping time!  I block mine off on my calendar so the time will appear unavailable to my coworkers if they try to schedule a meeting.  I try to stick to my pumping schedule closely; if you start letting it slide (delaying or skipping pumps), your milk production can suffer (and people will learn that your designated pumping times are flexible - it's a downward spiral).  Another time-saver to consider is pumping while driving; I pump each morning during my commute to work, which saves me one pumping session out of the workday.  You can read more about how to pump in the car here.

I think having a hands-free pumping bra is a must-have; it will allow you to nurse, type, wash bottles, read, talk on the phone, etc. while you pump.  My favorite is the Simple Wishes brand.

How do I clean pump parts? 

The pump parts that require thorough cleaning are the flanges, membranes/valves (yellow/white parts), and obviously the milk collection bottles - all of the parts that come into direct contact with your milk.  Tubing does not require cleaning; if you notice milk (or worse, mold) inside the tubing, you should just replace it. It's a good idea to keep an extra set of tubing on hand (you can buy Medela-compatible tubing here and Spectra here).  If you see condensation inside the tubing, keep your pump running after you disconnect the tubing from the flanges to allow the tubing to dry.

You can read the CDC's recommendations for cleaning pump parts here.  In short, they recommend washing with hot water and soap, and then air drying (or washing in the dishwasher) after each pumping session.

I will admit that I do not follow these guidelines during the workday; I pump 3-4 times at work each day, and washing and air drying them each time is not realistic for me.  I store my pump parts in a sealed Tupperware-style container (this is the exact one I use) in the refrigerator between pumping sessions (I do not wash or rinse them first).  Some people use gallon Ziploc bags, but I don't like the idea of throwing out a Ziploc bag every single day.  Refrigerating the pump parts will slow the growth of bacteria on the pump parts in between sessions.  You do NOT want to keep the pump parts at room temperature between sessions, because bacteria will grow too quickly on the residual milk on the parts.  While refrigerating pump parts in between sessions is a widespread practice, it is not something I would recommend for a premature or immune-compromised baby.

I wash my pump parts each evening, either with hot water, Dapple bottle soap (rinses clean faster than normal dish soap), and a bottle brush, or in the dishwasher, and then air dry them on a drying rack (I use the Boon grass).  

How often do I need to sterilize pump parts?

I sterilize infrequently - when the parts are new (or coming out of storage for another baby), after illness (to kill any germs that survive the normal washing process), or when I'm traveling and unable to wash and dry the parts as well as I do at home (e.g., washing in hotel room bathroom sinks).  When new, I sterilize pump parts in boiling water for 5 minutes; for all future sterilizing, I use the Medela microwave steam bags, which are great - each bag (5 come in a box) allows for 20 uses, so one box = 100 sterilizations.  

If you have a premature or immune-compromised baby, your doctor may recommend sterilizing more often; for a healthy baby, daily or even weekly sterilization is not necessary.  Think about it - are your breasts sterilized when your baby nurses?

How do I handle pumping when I'm traveling?

This was intimidating to me at first, but I quickly learned the ropes and took numerous business trips while pumping for my first child.  In short, know that the TSA allows you to fly within the US with an unlimited volume of pumped breastmilk.  Read my detailed post on this topic here.

Do you have more questions about pumping that weren't addressed here?  Leave a comment and I'll add it to this post!

Monday, September 11, 2017

DIY: Pottery Barn Kids Inspired Growth Chart Ruler Tutorial

I've seen these wood growth charts at Pottery Barn Kids and loved the idea - tracking your kids' heights as they grow like our parents used to on a door frame or wall, but on something transferable in case you move or repaint.  But, like everything at PBK, the price tag was hard to swallow - $99?!  This is something I knew I could copy for a fraction of the cost, and it took less than an hour of effort (plus drying time).  My board cost less than $10, since all I bought was the wood board - I already had sandpaper, leftover wood stain, a black Sharpie, painter's tape, and Command strips on hand.

1" x 6" x 6' wood board (I bought this one from Home Depot for $8.78)
100-grit sandpaper
Wood stain (I used Minwax) or paint
Rags or brush for staining
Black Sharpie
Painter's tape (I used Frog Tape)
Mechanical pencil with metal tip
Template for numbers - stencils or computer-printed numbers for tracing 
Command Velcro strips for hanging

First up - prep and then stain or paint the wood board.  Lightly sand the board using 100-grit sandpaper to even out any rough spots.  

 I decided to stain mine; I mixed 2 colors of Minxax stain that the previous owner of our house left in the garage (one was too light and one too dark, so I mixed them to make a mid-tone color).  

Apply the stain using some rags (specifically, my husband's old holey undershirts that I cut up into rags for projects like this), making sure that the front, top, bottom, and side edges were all evenly stained.  I did not stain the back, since it won't be visible and it would have added to the drying time.  

Let the board dry until it is no longer tacky to the touch (the can said this would take 4-6 hours; I let it dry overnight).

Once the stain or paint is dry, use a ruler and a black Sharpie to mark small dots along the edge of the board every inch.  

Next, you'll mark the "foot" lines; to do this, first decide how high you want to hang the board. I decided to hang mine 6" above the floor (to allow room for the baseboard), so the "1 foot" line would be 6 inches (not 12) from the bottom of the board.  This means that the board can be used to measure up to 6'6" in height overall.  Apply Frog Tape down the length of the board so that all the lines would be the same length, with the foot lines being just shy of 1/2 the width of the board.  Using a Sharpie, use a ruler to draw a line from the left edge of the board to the Frog Tape, beginning at 6" from the bottom of the board and every 12" thereafter.

After labeling the "foot" lines, move the Frog Tape approximately an inch closer to the left edge of the board to draw the "quarter" inch lines (e.g., 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/4 inch), which are really 3 inches, 6 inches, and 9 inches from each "foot" line.

Finally, move the Frog Tape another inch closer to the left edge of the board to draw the "eighth" inch lines (e.g., 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, etc.), which are the 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11 inch marks in between each "foot" line.

Print out a template for the number labels - I used Century Schoolbook font in size 275 in Microsoft Word.  Using a mechanical pencil with a metal tip (with the lead pushed in so the metal tip was exposed), trace the outline of each number just beneath the applicable "foot" line by pressing the metal tip of the pencil through the paper; the wood should be soft enough that the pencil leaves a visible indentation.  

Use the black Sharpie to trace over the indentation and color in the interior of the number.

I haven't hung my board yet since we're having the house painted next week, but I plan to use Command Velcro strips to hang it on the wall (the large size support up to 16 lbs, and the board weighs approximately 5 lbs).  Follow the directions - including wiping the wall with isopropyl alcohol beforehand - exactly for best results!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From the Kitchen: Pioneer Woman "The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever"

It's hard to go wrong with a Pioneer Woman recipe - they are all SO good (probably because they're so unhealthy, but I try not to think about that).  I needed a dessert for last weekend when we had some of B's high school friends over for dinner; however, I was helping a friend out by watching her 3-year-old son while she went to a funeral that day, so I needed something I could make a day in advance.  This was my first time trying this Pioneer Woman cake, and it was delicious - and tasted great even though it was made a day ahead of time!

All of the Pioneer Woman's recipes are scaled to feed a small army; this is a halved version of her recipe so that it makes one 9x13" Pyrex-sized cake.  (Her original recipe makes a whopping 18x13" sheet cake that "feeds 24".)

Pioneer Woman's "The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever"

Serves: 12 (makes one 9x13" Pyrex cake)


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 heaping tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (you can use regular milk + 1 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar instead)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
  • 7 tablespoons butter (7/8 stick)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and use cooking spray to grease a 9x13" glass Pyrex baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter.  While the butter is melting, measure 1 cup flour and 1 cup granulated sugar into a mixing bowl.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of baking cocoa to the melted butter in the saucepan.  Stir, then add 1/2 cup boiling water.  Allow the mixture to bubble for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and pour into the mixing bowl over the flour and sugar, and stir to mix.

In a measuring cup, pour 1/4 cup buttermilk.  Add 1 egg and beat with a fork.  Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and stir to mix.

Pour the milk/egg mixture into the mixing bowl and stir.  Pour into the greased 9x13" baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the cake bakes, melt 7 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan.  While the butter melts, finely chop 1/4 cup of pecans.  (If you don't like nuts, you can just omit.)  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of baking cocoa to the melted butter in the saucepan.  Stir, and allow the mixture to bubble for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and add 3 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Stir, then add 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar.  Whisk the icing until no powdered sugar clumps remain.  Stir in the chopped pecans.

Pour the icing over the warm cake, spreading evenly.  Allow to cool slightly before serving (or, if you're like me, make it a day ahead of time and warm in the oven.)  This cake is great served with vanilla ice cream!

Click here to see my other Pioneer Woman recipes!

Monday, September 4, 2017

DIY: Faux Chenille Baby Blanket Tutorial

I made one of these faux chenille blankets when I was pregnant with my son and used it as the backdrop for all his monthly baby pictures; despite the time-consuming process to make it, I wanted my daughter to have one of her own (#secondchildequality).  It's a good thing I'm not planning to have a ton of kids because I'm not sure how many more of these blankets I have in me, but I LOVE the end result and hope it is something my kids will keep forever.

Let me begin by saying I am VERY beginner-level at sewing.  I haven't sewn anything since my last pregnancy, so....nearly 3 years of complete inactivity.  This blanket really only requires the ability to sew in straight lines, so if you can do even the basics on a sewing machine, you can do this!

  • 1.25 yards patterned fabric
  • 3 x 1.25 yards 100% cotton flannel (solid colors)
  • 2 x 250-yard spools thread that matches the patterned fabric (plus a 3rd spool of thread if your quilt binding is a different color)
  • 2 x 3-yard double-fold 0.875-inch-wide quilt binding
  • Fabric marking pencil
  • Yard stick
  • Safety pins
  • Straight pins
  • Slash cutting tool

First, fabric selection: you will have one patterned fabric that will be the "front" of the blanket, and then 3 colors of cotton flannel will be used to make the faux chenille texture.  The "front" patterned fabric can be whatever fabric content you want (mine happened to also be cotton), but the 3 colors of flannel MUST be 100% cotton in order for it to fray properly.  The flannel doesn't have to be solid colored, but any pattern on it is not really going to show up once you cut the chenille, so solid is usually easiest and cheapest. If you're going to spend money somewhere, spend it on the "front" patterned fabric and get cheaper solid flannel for the chenille.  My front fabric was $12.99/yard and the flannel was $2.99 yard, for reference.  The flannel colors you choose should coordinate (or contrast) with the "front" patterned fabric.  Similarly, the thread color should coordinate with the fabric (especially the "front" patterned fabric) so that it blends in and hides mistakes/wonky lines.  The quilt binding can either match or contrast your other fabrics, depending on your preference.

For this blanket, I used a pink-patterned floral fabric for my "front" patterned fabric, and 3 varying colors of pink flannel for the chenille.  I used pink thread and navy contrasting quilt binding (note: if you use contrasting, rather than matching, quilt binding, you will need a 3rd spool of thread in a color that matches the binding).  By using 1.25 yards of each fabric, you should end up with an (approximately) 45-inch square blanket.

The first step is prepping the fabric.  I do not wash mine in advance because I am brave/lazy like that and do not like trimming all the threads that come loose if you pre-wash.  You run some risk of shrinkage in the finished product this way, but I did it anyway.  Lay the "front" patterned fabric upside down (wrong-side facing up) on the ground.  On top of it, layer the 3 solid-color flannel fabrics.  The color on the very top (furthest from the "front" patterned fabric) is the color that will be most visible, so put your preferred fabric color on last.  Use scissors to trim any uneven edges if your fabric doesn't line up perfectly.

Use 10-12 safety pins to pin the 4 layers of fabric together, since the fabrics will shift some while you are sewing.  Since this is a project that will likely take several days to complete, I like to use safety pins instead of straight pins since they are more secure.  

Flip your pinned fabric over and use a yard stick to draw a straight line with a fabric marking pencil from one diagonal to the other.  This will be the first line you sew, and you will work your way outwards to the corner.

Finally - time to start actually sewing!  You will go through many, many bobbins of thread while making this project, so I like to thread at least 3-4 bobbins at a time to limit the number of times I have to stop sewing to rethread bobbins.  Make sure to sew with the "front" patterned fabric facing up, because the stitching on this side will be more visible than it will be on the back/chenille side, so you want to make sure you aren't bunching the fabric.  Start by sewing a straight line from one corner to the other on the pre-marked line.  This is the longest line you will have to sew, so they get shorter from here!  Backstitch at the beginning and end of each line to avoid unraveling once you start cutting the chenille.

After completing the first line, shift the fabric to the right so that the right edge of the presser foot is aligned with the line you just sewed.  I find it helpful to roll up the excess fabric to keep it from bunching too much against the machine.  Sew another line, keeping one-presser-foot distance from the first line.  

Keep doing this, sewing lots and lots (...and lots) of straight lines until you eventually reach the left-hand corner of the fabric.  When you reach the are halfway done!  Turn the blanket around (with the "front" patterned fabric still facing up, but moving the completed half to the right-hand side and the uncompleted half of the blanket on the left) and do the same thing for the other half of the blanket.  If you run out of thread in either the spool or the bobbin mid-line, don't worry - just reload, backstitch, and keep going.  There will be so many lines that it won't be noticeable in the finished product :)

Once you are done sewing lines, it's time to start cutting the chenille!  You will want a slash cutting tool for this part - trust me!  I can't even imagine cutting this many lines with scissors.  

Place the blanket on the ground or flat surface with the flannel side facing up.  You want to cut the 3 flannel layers in between each line WITHOUT cutting the "front" patterned fabric.  I find it easiest to use a small pair of scissors to snip the flannel between each sewed seam to "start" the cut - it makes it easier for the slash cutter to do the rest of the work without having to pull too hard.  

Then, stick the slash cutter under the 3 flannel layers (but on top of the patterned fabric) and push the tool, parallel to the ground, towards the other end of the blanket to cut through the flannel layers.  Cutting 3 layers of flannel at once, many, many times (between each pair of lines) will dull the slash cutter blade quickly, so when it starts becoming more difficult to push the tool to cut the fabric, make sure to rotate the blade to reveal a "fresh", sharp section of the blade (if you don't do this and use a dull blade, you will eventually use so much force to push the tool that you will rip out a seam).  You will also have to pick flannel lint out of the blade every few cuts to keep the blade from getting clogged up.

Once you have cut the flannel between all of the lines, use a yard stock to "square up" the edges of the blanket and trim off any excess fabric (since it likely shifted some during sewing), including the fabric selvage on the "front" patterned fabric.  Don't worry if trimming involves cutting off some of the backstitching on the lines you sewed - the quilt binding will ensure that the seams don't unravel.  

If you want your blanket to have rounded edges like mine, use a rounded object (I used a salad plate) to trace and then cut a rounded edge on each corner.  Trim off any remaining loose threads.

The last labor-intensive step - the quilt binding!  Use straight pins to pin the quilt binding around the outer edge of the blanket, making sure to sandwich all 4 fabric layers between the 2 sides of the quilt binding.  

If your binding is a contrasting color, make sure to rethread your sewing maching with an appropriate thread color to blend in (my beginner sewing skills make sewing on the quilt binding the hardest part of the whole process, so I like to hide my mistakes as much as possible with thread that blends in!)  Use your sewing machine to sew along the inner edge of the binding - as close as possible to the edge while still "catching" the binding on both sides of the blanket (I check the back side every few inches to make sure my seam isn't running off the binding).  This part is very slow and steady for me, and involves a lot of seam-ripping and re-doing, especially when going around the rounded corners (but again....beginner-level skills).  

Once you're done, double check the binding to make sure that there aren't any gaps in the seam all the way around.  When you're satisfied that the edges of the blanket are fully encased in the quilt binding, it's time to wash!  Wash the blanket (a regular wash cycle on cold water should be fine).  Because I didn't pre-wash my fabric before sewing, I use a Shout Color Catcher sheet to soak up any dyes that might run during washing.  Make sure you wash the blanket BY ITSELF - the cut flannel will generate a huge amount of lint that you don't want sticking to other things in the same wash load!!  Machine dry the blanket on low or medium heat; if you remember, clean out the lint filter halfway through the drying time because IT WILL BE FULL.  Like, really full.

When the blanket is dry, admire all the flannel that has fluffed up into a soft chenille texture!  You did it!  It may be time- and labor-intensive, but the end product of seeing all those lines of chenille is worth it!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

DIY: Pottery Barn Patio Furniture Refresh

I'd been wanting a couch or sectional for our back patio for a while now; our toddler loves spending time in the back yard, so we spend tons of time out there with him.  We have a dining table and a couple of wicker chairs on the patio, but a couch seems so much more comfortable!  I started shopping around online and realized that patio furniture is NOT cheap - especially couches and sectionals since the cushions really add up in addition to the cost of the furniture itself!  On the low end, IKEA outdoor couches and sectionals start at $400-500, and more mid-priced options are well over $1,000-1,500.

Enter a secondhand sectional!  I LOVE Facebook garage sale/resale pages - the one in our neighborhood is especially active and great deals can be scored on there all the time!  I like that our page is local (meaning we won't have to drive too far to pick up), and it feels less shady than buying off Craigslist (since you have to know someone personally to get into the group and I can check out our mutual friends before buying).  

One of my friends from the neighborhood bunco group posted her Pottery Barn Chatham sectional for only $50 - it was in good shape but they're changing their patio setup to accommodate a dining table and needed it gone!  It's still sold at Pottery Barn - for the configuration she was selling (including coffee table and cushions), it costs a whopping $2,381 new (plus over $500 in shipping and taxes).  Although it needed some TLC, I was willing to risk $50 on a $3,000 outdoor sectional!  

The cushions were a natural "canvas" color but had some mildew/mold from being left outside in the elements all winter.  The sectional and coffee table themselves are wood (mahogany) but had some slight fading from the sun (the coffee table worse than the sectional).  Overall, though, the cushions were still firm, there were no holes or rips in the fabric, and the wood was very sturdy.  My father-in-law came over last weekend with his pickup truck to help us pick it up, and then we went to town giving it a little refresh!

Luckily, the cushion covers zip off!  I ran them through the washer with a hefty dose of Oxiclean, which got rid of many of the stains.  For the tougher mold/mildew stains, I tried Oxiclean spray, soaking in Oxiclean and hot water, and borax, which all helped some but didn't do the job completely.  Finally (I wish I had started here), I mixed up a solution of 1 part bleach to 8 parts water in a spray bottle.  The fabric care instructions say not to use non-chlorine bleach, but I tested the colorfastness on a hidden part of the fabric and it didn't change the color, so I decided to go ahead.  

The bleach spray worked great and got rid of EVERY trace of mold or mildew that was on the covers!  They look brand new!  I was thrilled with this since new cushions alone run over $500 (before shipping or tax!)  Since the inserts were in good shape, once the covers were clean, they were good to go!  We plan to bring them inside (or store in a deck box) when not in use to keep them from getting so mildew-y again, since I am not sure what the effects of continued bleaching might be (plus they are a hassle to zip on and off).

As for the sectional and coffee table wood, the stain was still in pretty good shape, but there was some sun bleaching and the wood was looking a little dry.  Since the Pottery Barn website says they are made from mahogany and the wood wasn't heavily varnished, we refreshed the wood using this teak oil.  We applied a couple of coats using rags (my husband's old hole-y undershirts).  It took less than an hour for the two of us to do the entire sectional plus the coffee table.  The sectional looks SO much better!  The coffee table was in worse shape so it looks better but still not perfect (it probably needs to be sanded and restained but we didn't want to hassle with trying to match the stain on the sectional right now).  We let the wood dry outside for a couple of days before putting the cushions back on.

Overall, we are thrilled with how it turned out - especially considering it was only a $60 investment ($50 for the furniture and $10 for the teak oil).
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