Pleated Panels & Burger Photobombs

I’ve always thought that curtains are the unsung hero of room makeovers because everyone’s quick to talk about how paint can make such a huge difference (agreed, it totally can) but I’d argue that curtains can rival the whole “wow, paint totally changed that room” because they can:

So there it is. My name is Sherry, and I’m a fan of curtains. Just look at the nursery wall without any:

And here it is now with some happy green-apple deliciousness going on:

This room is still far from finished (we’re planning a colorful large-scale mobile for over the crib – maybe something like this – and the bare wall across from the crib still needs furniture and art). But back to the curtains. They make such a difference, right? I also tried a new pleated approach this time, along with an extra thick hem at the top and bottom to give them some added heft, and I’m a complete fan. It was really easy, so I’ll just stop yapping and dive into the details.

When it came to picking the fabric for the nursery, we knew we wanted something happy and colorful since the walls and built-ins are a neutral palette (Clara’s white-walled yet super colorful room has taught us that safer choices on those harder-to-change surfaces leave things wide open to layer in a lot more personality and color with other accents like textiles, art, and accessories). We considered everything from a bold pattern to a fun dip-dyed look or a band at the bottom, but thought one solid hue would be nice because we didn’t want anything that would look too busy next to our patterned rug and crib bedding.

We were actually really inspired by the different tones of green in the Target box that we recently grabbed for the built-ins, along with our old stacking tree game, which both showed us how great a vibrant apple green color could look with a darker kelly tone in the mix.

We hit up a local place (U-Fab) as well as JoAnn fabrics, and ended up falling for a cheerful apple green color at JoAnn. We thought it would layer in nicely with the kelly green bedskirt, bike art, and chair pillow without being too matchy or flat. I bought five and a half yards of fabric, which was listed at $6.99 a yard (it’s 100% cotton, and the color is Solid Apple if that helps you track it down at JoAnn) but I used one of those 50% off coupons so my entire purchase was $19.22, which means each of my panels breaks down to being under ten bucks.

The first thing I did when I got it home was pre-wash it (this helps you avoid shrinkage on the back-end, which can result in highwater panels if you wash them later). Then I laid my fabric on the floor and folded it in half (length-wise, not width-wise) and cut along the fold so I was left with two equally sized 99″ panels. My desired finished length was 88″ so that meant I could have a nice weighty 5.5″ hem at the top and the bottom. First I hemmed the top and bottom of the panel just about an inch from the edge with hem tape, like so:

Heavy duty Heat N’ Bond is a favorite of mine, just because I’ve made a few curtain panels with my sewing machine and others with hem tape and find that hem tape is easier for me to get a nice straight seam instead of a slightly meandering one. I’ve also had luck with durability (and washability) in a nursery/kids room with it over the last 3.5 years (all of Clara’s curtains have been hemmed with the stuff) so that made it an easy choice.

After making that first 1″ hem on the top and bottom of the panel, I folded each one of them over again to make a 4.5″ cuff, so I was left with a nice finished looking edge on each end (that’s why I did that little 1″ hem first). Even though it’s the back of the panel, it doesn’t take much time to make that extra little fold, and it ends up looking nice and clean.

Again I used hem tape to secure that flap of fabric at that 4.5″ mark.

After securing each of those top and bottom hems, I hemmed the sides (just with simple 1″ one) to keep the panel as wide as possible, but give it a finished edge. Here’s what one panel looked like on the floor with the backside-up, wrinkles and all.

Next I ironed each panel to get a bunch of the wrinkles out (they honestly still could use a steam-session now that they’re hanging in place) and then it was time to give the whole “pinch-pleat effect” a try. Instead of my usual MO of clipping rings to the top edge of the fabric (so the curtains hang like this or like this), I pinched the fabric in ten equal increments and secured the clip to the back of the top hem, about 2.5″ from the top of the panel. Burger was intrigued.

Here’s a close up for you of that top hem along the back of the panel (again, I just used ten ring hooks and spaced them out by eye in as-equal-as-possible increments).

This is John holding up the rod after I strung one panel on so I could snap a picture of the back for you guys.

And here’s what they look like from the front after hanging them with the anchors and screws that came with the rod we picked up at Home Depot:

Don’t those pleats add a little something extra? I like that they’re not super perfect & uniform (it’s more of a casual pleat if that makes sense) but they still feel a bit more upgraded than the regular old ring-hook look that I’m used to. If you’re at home thinking “I’d make those, but I wish each pleat was identical and super uniform” – fear not. You could probably stand on a stepladder and tweak the clips in the back to even everything out. John and I just thought they looked sort of effortlessly cool this way. Either that or we’re too lazy to break out the step-ladder.

Update #1: We’re getting a bunch of questions about if we’re planning to use blackouts and/or if these curtains can close to block light. They can close (they’re each 56″ wide) but we have light-blocking faux wood blinds on all of the upstairs windows (more on those here) so we typically just close those instead of the curtains. Although I might add some blackout panels to the back of these panels like we did in Clara’s room if this guy ends up loving total darkness like her. Will keep you posted!

Update #2: Also getting questions about where the chair’s from. We bought that from Joss & Main a few years ago (it used to be in the corner of the kitchen across from the fireplace in our old house, and was in our office at this house until we realized it made more sense in the nursery). The white pouf is a sale find from J&M too.

It’s definitely feeling a bit more like home (and making this baby on-the-way thing feel a bit more real) to see how much this space has changed since we bought the house.

I’m telling you, curtains make the difference. Ok, and a new floor, some wall paint, a pair of built-ins, crown molding, and furniture help too.

So that’s what’s new in the nursery. And Operation Homemade Mobile is actually in progress, so I hope to share that with you guys soon – along with some updates to the completely blank wall across from the crib. Have any of you ever done pinch-pleats, either with the sewing method or the ring-clip method? Do they make you feel fancy? Was your dog super interested the entire time?



Email Answer: Second Guessing A DIY

Question: Are there any projects that you wish you hadn’t DIY-ed? I’m in the middle of one that’s not going smoothly and I’m second-guessing my decision not to hire it out. – Holly

Answer: This question comes up fairly frequently – it even popped up during the Q&A portion of our talk at the Richmond Home & Garden Show earlier this month. The truth is that we both have trouble recalling a project that we got to the end of and said “man, I wish we hadn’t DIYed that one.” Maybe it’s that post project rush of victory, the relief of completion, or the joy of saving money? Or maybe it’s like childbirth and you forget the pain in hindsight? But there definitely have been PLENTY of projects that have elicited a major “what were we thinking?!?” moment mid-way through. I’ll even cop to shedding a few tears over one. Okay, maybe two.

So I thought I’d break down four projects that nearly broke me down and share what each one has taught me (spoiler: it’s not to stop DIYing, it’s just to DIY smarter).

#1: The Bathroom Demo. I was still working my 9-5 at the time and Sherry was pregnant with Clara, so I carved out a Saturday to smash out all of the existing tile in our first home’s only full bathroom. This was my first major reno project and I just totally underestimated the time, strength, and endurance it would require as well as the gigantic mess it would make. You can practically feel the exhaustion in the words of my post from back then.

Lesson Learned: Seemingly simple projects like removing the old stuff can be just as taxing and time consuming as installing the new stuff – especially in an older home where you’re dealing with mortar and metal-mesh behind every last tile. But learning this the hard way means that we’ve become better at accounting for that step in our planning moving forward, and renting equipment that makes it easier (like the demolition hammer that saved me at the end of bathroom demo). So now, whether it’s removing old carpeting or clearing the land for our deck (this is foreshadowing, btw) – we go into it expecting it to take time and energy, instead of blindly saying “we’ll have that done in an hour, tops.” In some cases it has even lead us to hire out a demo step, like removing the beams in our home’s sunroom for $200, so we could get to the fun stuff faster and save our aching backs.

#2: The Patio. This was a project that we actually contracted out at our first house, but decided to tackle on our own at our second one. The crew at the first house knocked it out in a day, but we knew better than to expect any sort of speed for ourselves. We did rely on a local stoneyard to help us calculate and deliver materials, but somehow in ordering three tons of gravel we didn’t quite the connect the dots that we’d later be manually moving and spreading three tons of gravel into place. So despite our best efforts to manage expectations, it still turned out to be a back-breaking job that had me and Sherry crying for mercy more than once (though not literally crying – that one comes later).

Lesson Learned: Moving materials from point A to point B can be a lot harder than it sounds, so take advantage of any help you can get – whether it’s having supplies delivered to your site (which we did) or having a few extra sets of hands around when it comes time to haul something (which we didn’t). There isn’t much glory in hauling or lifting stuff, so it’s something we’ve become more willing to pay for in dollars, instead of paying for it in lost time or aching muscles.

#3: The Deck. If I weren’t going in chronological order, this is the one that would probably top my list of Most Second Guessed While It Progressed projects. And it took virtually forever to complete, so there was a lot of time to freak out. Oddly enough, in the end I have great pride in completing this project – and I gained lots of new confidence in my abilities – so I don’t wish I had contracted it out at all. It truly is one of my proudest accomplishments to date. But there were a few times that I was on the brink of turning the project over to the professionals.

It was a perfect storm of some of my least favorite things about any project:

The one element we were sure to eliminate from the story was a time crunch. We didn’t give ourselves a deadline, which is the only thing that made all of those “hiccups” (that’s putting it gently) bearable. And again, it’s probably the project I have the most pride in completing – probably because it was my toughest. Oh yeah, and it totally made me cry once thanks to being totally exhausted and then falling and hurting my back. Still not sure whether it was the exhaustion or back pain that brought on the tears.

Lesson Learned: If all else fails, try to eliminate or reduce the time pressures of a project or loosen up a super strict budget if you can. Giving yourself the gift of a more flexible deadline or a budget with a little more padding can really turn those “how will I ever recover from this mistake??” moments into an “I can get through this” Rocky-music rally moment. And oh yeah, make sure your next house already has a deck so you don’t have to build one again. (I’m kidding. Kind of.)

#4: The Hardwood Floors. This one makes the list because we totally disregarded the lesson that we learned from the deck: don’t rush yourself. When our second house sold much faster than we expected, it caught us by surprise… and suddenly gave us a deadline for removing all of the upstairs carpeting, painting all the trim and doors up there, and installing the hardwoods. While we owned the house for a while before moving in, the priority had been to get our second house ready for sale. Then when our old house sold before even hitting the market (as opposed to around 6 weeks later, which is how long our first house took), suddenly those six weeks that we thought would be built into the process were gone and our closing date was looming a few weeks away, with all of that carpeting, trim, and hardwood flooring to deal with.

We did our best to learn from our previous projects by carving out time for demo (i.e. carpet removal) and enlisting my parents to watch Clara a few times so we could have two sets of hands doing as much as possible. But we still found ourselves racing the clock at the end, which translated to some super long and tiring days of under-pressure floor laying. This one made me shed tears of frustration more than once, and this time I can’t deflect blame an injury. I was just dead tired and ridiculously ready to be done with laying plank after plank, day after day, in every seemingly endless room, hallway, and closet. And Sherry was right there with me. We were like a couple of cooks cutting onions. At midnight. While laying floors.

Lesson Learned: Even the best laid plans can blow up in your face. So by now we just do our best to expect at least one or two project derailments (and sometimes four or five) while reminding ourselves why we’re DIYing something in the first place. Maybe we’re saving money (which we definitely did with the floors). Maybe we’re learning a new skill (which can propel your whole house-journey forward and allow you to tackle bigger and better projects down the line). And maybe at the very least we’re proving something to ourselves about perseverance and determination (there’s nothing like dusting your shoulders off when you’re done, both literally and figuratively).

But if those things aren’t the in cards, perhaps you’ll decide that you’re dealing with a job that’s best left to the professionals – and there’s no shame in handing it over. Especially if you did a little bit of the up-front stuff before realizing it was best left to an expert (every little bit helps, so that supremely annoying realization probably comes with some money-savings from the stuff you did before hiring someone). In a strange way, as our DIY know-how has grown, we feel more comfortable with calling in a pro. We’ll gladly contract out work like our bathroom plumbing issue, our yard-leveling adventures, and larger electrical or load-bearing jobs that are just plain out of our skill set. After all, when you know just how taxing certain jobs might be, there’s definitely a tiny thrill when you get to watch someone else take that off your plate. Especially if it leaves you enough steam to tackle something else on your list at the same time…

PS: If you want to read more about how we decide whether or not to tackle a project ourselves before starting, check out this post which bullets some of the evaluation criteria that we use before diving in.