Daughter’s Favorite Afghan Needed Help

Katy L from New Jersey texted to ask if I did repairs on afghans. Her daughter’s much-loved granny square afghan, done in pale yellow, baby pink, mint green, and periwinkle blue, needed some TLC.

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square out

My first challenge was to find matching worsted weight acrylics for the job. For some squares, I could harvest the yarn and re-crochet with it, which is the way to keep the color as consistent as possible. I do this when the yarn is in good enough shape, but not when it is old, brittle, fuzzy, etc.

Actually, I had *this* much that I removed as I pulled out areas that had been destroyed/come loose/needed redoing:

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I did have to shop for more yarn, though, and had trouble finding the same shades as were originally used. Ventured out to several stores (Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and a few yarn shops) before I found what I deemed satisfactory.

So the crocheting began. And yes, I’m left-handed, so it’s backwards to what you’re probably used to seeing:

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Had to make up several squares–I forget how many–but I know I crocheted at least eight. At one point, I sat at my 94-year-old Aunt Dot’s house, with Mom and my husband, and worked away while discussing the family history. My aunt used to produce the most lovely hand stitching—beautiful crewel work pillows,  cloth dolls whose seams and clothes were lovingly stitches by hand. Oh, she could work a sewing machine, but like me, she preferred the more tactile approach, cloth against the palm of one hand, needle gripped between forefinger and thumb.  I must’ve inherited the gene from that side of the family. Recently, I saw on an ancestry.com census that a great great aunt was listed as “Seamstress” for her occupation.  Oh, and while we sat that day in my aunt’s all-Victorian-furnished sitting room, I asked her for the one thing I really, really wanted to inherit from her: the set of chair covers that she had embroidered. She got right up and went to get them, saying she was happy that I wanted them. I knew where she kept them. I watched her go slowly over to that chest in the corner, where she’d shown them to me a few years ago. Her back is hunched now, her Collins blue eyes blurry now from macular degeneration.

Would you like to see what I wanted to remember her by, one day?

Let me run take some photos!

And here are my treasures:

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Aren’t they great? They’re Erica Wilson’s designs on linen. I don’t have them on chairs yet. I don’t even own chairs to put them on. One day, I’ll buy some, though, just for these. Or I’ll frame them, I haven’t decided yet. I just know when I look at them, I’ll picture Aunt Dot sitting there, looking down at her needle going in and out of that linen, over and over. And I’ll remember her handing them to me, and telling me, as I thanked her, that she was happy I wanted them.

I really digressed! But to bring it back to my customer’s repair, let’s just say that the crewel I inserted in here illustrates just why I have customers in the first place: needlework means something to people. It means someone cared enough to create something and pass it on.

And so, I work to complete the repair on Katy’s afghan. Once I’ve completed new squares, I sew them in:

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This picture below shows *a few* squares out at that time. There were others.

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Not a bad match! My stitching is newer, so it appears not as, soft? as the rest, but it’ll all even out over time.

And once we’re all seamed up again, as I often do, I tuck in some loose ends. This takes a while, but it’s well worth the time and the expenditure. When yarn or thread has been cut too short when it’s tied off, as is often the case, that knot can pull loose SO much more easily then when the original crocheter leaves long ends. So I pull the knots out, take it back out of stitches, add yarn or thread, and then re-knot and re-stitch or replace within a seam. I hope that makes sense! Here is what I’m talking about. I did a LOT of these. Like, 40, maybe? Many were pulled out, pulled back, added to, and recrocheted. You get your money’s worth with me. Seriously.

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And finally, finished!

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Apologies for the dark photo. This was off my iPhone.

Repair of Grandfather’s Crewel Embroidery

Jed C. had inherited a large, beautiful crewel embroidery that his grandfather stitched in the early part of the century—a pre-stamped pattern of a house surrounded by flora and fauna. It had typical issues for its age and wool factor, including moth damage to the crewel yarn, and lovely, heavy linen fabric that had yellowed. Still, it was so large and wonderful and well worth saving. Here is a photo:

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I own a lot of vintage yarns and threads that I’ve collected from various places—mostly from thrift stores and antique malls. They work great for blending in with others of their generation. The biggest problem I face with vintage wools is that very few of my repairs involve the vivid pinks, blues, greens and yellows of the 1970’s, and yet I seem to find a lot of those tones. However, I did have most of the colors I needed for repairs on Jed’s grandfather’s piece. I sourced the borders’ olive green and peach colors, locating them 8 hours away in Cincinnati, while visiting my sister. I used Appleton’s, whose strands are thinner, so I used double ply (double the strands) where the original was single.

Here are some photos of my border work. You can see a slight difference in the color, but it was close enough:

I faced a major issue with this repair, and the weird thing was, I didn’t notice it at first. Having never had bug issues before, and because this piece was “busy,” with lots of colors and areas, I couldn’t tell what was happening until active moth larvae started munching on my border wools I *knew* I’d already added. Soon as I realized what was creating more work for me, I researched and researched (hence the earlier blog on pest damage) and discovered Grandfather’s crewel needed to go into the deep freeze. So off we went, to wait a while until I could freeze and thaw it repeatedly. That is THE solution for all stages of bugs in needlework. I had bug bombed my craft room and put down powdered borax around its perimeter, but though some adult moths died afterwards and showed up under this piece—didn’t need that added evidence by then because I *knew* the buggers were in it—my battle would not end until crewel picture plus all wool or silk in my office went through a deep freeze. If they weren’t in Ziplocs (I store many in sealed baggies) then they went into the new, used box freezer in my garage in polyethylene, aka Space Bags. Space Bags tolerate the cold without cracking like regular plastic bags.

When all was out, we started over with the repairs. A lot of bites had been going on for a few months and I kept thinking, “Is it me, did I miss something, or is this worse off than when I took it in?” My work on the piece ended up being far more hours, but in the end, all involved knew we had conquered the beasts living within and that the embroidery was saved.

More Before and After photos of my work:

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And finally, here are some views (thank you, Jed, for the photos) of Grandfather’s crewel embroidery all framed and in the C’s home:

Coxon's embroidery in their home        more Coxon in home

Pleased to Repair Another Crocheted Bedspread

Fran B had a dilemma on her hands with her cotton crocheted bedspread. I think I first heard from her by phone when she told me that her bedspread had gotten stained and her “fix” had not worked. Well, the trouble was, she’d tried painting over the stain with white acrylic paint. Oddly enough, I’d heard of a needlework piece that’d had a similar fate to Fran’s just a few weeks earlier when another customer had phoned from NY to say her mother had crocheted a large Lord’s prayer and given it to a church. It’d gotten dirty, and someone had painted it white to try to get the clean look back. Hm. Paint is hard, hard, hard to get off once it’s on fabric. Doesn’t make for a good reversal, and it’s always a plus if whatever you do to a piece of needlework can be taken back out.

This repair took quite a while to complete. First it went to the textile cleaner, but we still had issues. Though she got most of the spread snowy white, she had to hand clean the rather large paint stain, and as she tried to get the paint out, she spread it and it turned from a white paint stain to a set-in yellowish color. Yikes! Fran had her send the spread back to me to see if I could remove the affected area, as it was extra long and we could still get it to fit her bed.

I began this repair while at the beach on a trip to Florida to help a friend work on her rental condo. My work goes on most getaways with me, as I always seem to be working! I am blessed to be able to do any sort of needlework in the car while my husband drives, and there is *nothing* better for a stitcher than a long trip on which to sew in wonderful daylight!

I don’t have photos of the paint still on the squares, but I do have photos of areas that still had spots on them after the textile cleaner sent it back to me. I suspect that she stopped working on smaller spots once she couldn’t get the paint out. These stains were the “rusty” types that are often found on vintage textiles:

Fran bedspread rusty stain

First job was to remove any square that had any sort of stain. This photo shows the removal of just the painted area taken out:

Fran bedspread center removed

Next, I took other pieces out around the open area, then filled in the missing squares with clean ones, thus shortening the bedspread:

Fran bedspread pieces to be stitched inFran bedspread pinned pieces

These replaced squares were whip-stitched into place:

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Once the bedspread was whole again, it looked very good. Sorry, this is a dark photo:

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But…the tassels were all twisted up on each other, so I needed to untwist them:

This is a task that seems easy and fast, but it’s actually extremely time-consuming. Plus, I ended up untwisting these tassels—there must’ve been 200 on this luxuriously-endowed spread—more than once because I kept tackling a few tiny stains, trying to get it perfect, which meant wetting down different areas in order to get the stain remover out of the thread. That would lead to moving the piece around, and tassels bunched up again. Anyway, the photos below show my straightening job finished. However, the bottom right photo shows the fringe *before* I sprayed it with water and smoothed it. Water smoothing really makes it look great:

And here I am, untwisting and untwisting! I also snipped off very tiny tips of the fringe, to even it out:

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Once I had it all clean and bright, with no paint remaining, all stitched up and the fringe straight, I was ready to ship it back to Fran. But first, a few more close-up shots of where I’m tucking in some thread ends that were out in various areas of the spread:

And now it’s really ready to return home:

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My customer said:

Hi Melissa:

Attached are 2 pictures.  It looks stupendous! I am so very pleased. It was well worth the wait as all your efforts paid off. I can’t believe how tedious it must have been to straighten all those tassels. And, I couldn’t find any stains. It’s unbelievable! I know my mom is pleased too.

As you can see the spread fits the bed very well; shortening it worked fine since it has a baseboard. Your talents are very much appreciated. I will recommend you to anyone in need of such help.

And here are her pictures (with such a wonderful bed for it):

Fran's bedspread on her bed 1       Fran's bedspread on her bed 2

Names/Dates Embroidered on Christening Gown

I’ve known Jan H a long time. We met through our boys from elementary school to post-college! They had a family friend who made Jan a beautiful cotton batiste christening gown. Cotton batiste is often used for christening gowns because it is soft and doesn’t irritate baby’s skin and it drapes well. Ribbons, lace and embroidery add memorable detail for special occasions.

Jan’s beautiful example is actually a gown and matching coat, the latter of which is embroidered with the names of each child who has been christened or baptized in it, along with their birth dates. It was made for Jan by a treasured family friend who has since passed away. She used to add the names and dates for the babies, and kept a tidy Ziploc Brand bag with vanishing ink pen and embroidery thread for that purpose.)

Jan’s request was a rush job, since twin grandbabies were being baptized on Easter Sunday and I had about a week to get the embroidery done. That wouldn’t have been bad, but I was, as always, backed up with work. Still, it was a pleasure to work on this beautiful coat while I thought of the babies named on it, and pictured the little twins who would share it (granddaughter in the gown and the grandson in the coat) that coming Sunday.

Below are photos of the coat. I’m sorry these shots are so dark:

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And here are some close-ups of Jan’s friend’s delicate sewing and hand-stitching:

So I begin adding my own work to hers:

I wish I had a photo of the babies, but I heard it went well, and I’m so glad I was able to help. 

Oops! Bedspread Returns for More Repairs

Well, I’m dreadfully embarrassed to say that one of my repair projects came back to me. My customer, Kay, was very understanding, though, and I do appreciate it. Kay’s crocheted bedspread had so much handwork in it that it is easy to see why areas would come loose and need work. After six or seven hours’ worth of putting things back together, however, I do believe that several other areas literally “came out in the wash.” My textile cleaner June does a great job, but though the spread was nice and white and looked great after its bath, it sure had many places that needed to be re-stitched. The spread is, however, so beautiful, and Kay says that her mother worked on it while pregnant with her. What a great piece to own! I know she sure is glad to have it all nice now. Here are more areas I worked on lately. The rest of this story is in an earlier post:

And here are a few more action shots of the bedspread repair. Kay marked spots with her safety pins, but I found a bunch more and marked them for her with orange thread that she can snip off once she receives the bedspread. Thanks for your patience and understanding, Kay!

“Diaper Dazzler” Embroidery Completion for Client

Just completed a finishing job for repeat client Gayle K from CA. Gayle’s mom was a member/student of White Pines Michigan Embroiderer’s Guild, and she chose some really complicated patterns to attempt! I’m impressed. The needle artist and instructor for this project was Ann Strite-Kurz: who was certified by the National Academy of Needle Arts, Levels 1 and 11. Not sure what that means, but having completed two of her pieces, I can tell you that she knows how to stitch and design like few do! Here is a bio I found online:

Ann Strite-Kurz
Biography

Ann Strite-Kurz
Ann Strite-Kurz has been an active teacher and designer for seventeen years. She is certified in canvas embroidery by the National Academy of Needlearts (NAN) and teaches regularly at seminars sponsored by the Embroiderers’ Guild of America and the American Needlepoint Guild. She is available for workshops and programs for local chapters of these groups and taught three group correspondence courses for EGA for over a decade. She also holds a Master Craftsman certificate in canvas from the Connecticut River Valley Chapter of EGA. In 1992 she published her first book, The Heart of Blackwork. Her second book, Potpourri of Pattern, was published in June, 1995. Both of these books explore innovative styles of open patterning which have become the hallmark of Ann’s recent work. Ann continues to teach and to publish a line of commercial designs and pamphlets and is a regular vendor at both the TNNA and INRG tradeshows. She has recently published three additional books on pattern which include CDs to display the illustrations in full color.  These titles are Backgrounds: The Finishing Touch (2003), Creative Canvas Couching (2005) and Diaper Patterns (2007).  An expanded resumé on education background, teaching experience, and noteworthy needlework accomplishments follows.

Here is an example of her patterns and instructions:

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Here’s the first area I did finishing work in Area 3, combining alternating diamond and cross units:

(Diamond Eyelet Variation with Double Straight Cross Tiedown + Four-way Tied Oblong Cross Cluster with Double Straight Cross Variation Tiedown)

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Second area: Area 4 (turquoise) with Combo of Double Straight Cross and Diagonal Hungarian Units in a Cluster, followed by Double Straight Cross Units in Two Colors:

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The next step was Blackwork (not always done in black thread on white, but always a colored thread in white background) which I’ve never done before, but enjoyed very much. That’s the red part above that looks lacy. It was used on cuffs and collars back in the 1600’s in Europe. Fancied things up a bit! Spain and England were fond of it.

Here are a few historical examples :

      

And here is how my blackwork took shape:

Here is the finished piece. Wish you could see it close-up. The colors are richer, like in the photos above.

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Cotton Counterpanes–Bedspreads of Yesteryear

My client’s crocheted bedspread repairs are completed, and it’s ready to go to the cleaner’s. Here are a few more steps I took while finishing up my work:

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The above photos show a bad place that needed repair, and the 2nd photo is taken from further away but shows the reweaving/re-crocheting.

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These two photos also show an area that needed repair and was fixed

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This (above) is a shot of the pattern. Shows the lovely popcorn stitching

 

Now everything is coming together in the main counterpane. On to the fringe repair:

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The fringe had several issues. First, parts of the crochet chain stitch to which it was knotted had come undone, so I had to repair that. You can see it in the left photo just above this writing. Once that is repaired, then everything has to be unknotted. See the little fringe hanks that I’ve taken off? They all follow a knotting pattern from the top, down. So you have to un-knot the top ones and take them off. Then un-knot everything else. Re-do the top knots, and then re-tie the other two levels.

And now, here is the bedspread at it looks with all the repairs completed!

 

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This got me to thinking about my own counterpane/bedspread, for which I once accumulated over 150 small balls of Aunt Lydia’s Fast Five cotton thread!! (Yes, it IS in a very large plastic tub in my attic.) This particular counterpane pattern I’m knitting is from Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips, c.1989. I know I began working on mine around 1990. I think I have 24 squares (the quarter units of the big square.)

I’ve pulled it out lately to see my progress. When people ask me how long something takes to complete, it’s really hard to gauge because I do have things I do other than knit or do needlework. However, I’ve noticed that with my busy schedule, when I’m only working on a knitted square for my counterpane, it takes a whole week. Each ball of thread is ONE unit, and each unit is ONE-FOURTH of a complete square for the pattern stitch.

So, here are a few pictures of mine, which Ms. Phillips created based on her sketches and photos from a late 1800’s counterpane she viewed in Larnach Castle, New Zealand:

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This (above) is 4 units (each unit taking 1 week to complete) sewn together into one pattern square

Look how many I’ve done so far:

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Once I complete all my quarter units + sew them into the larger squares, then I have to do a border insert. Once the border insert is completed, then there is a lace edging to be done.

Three thoughts:

1) I am a glutton for punishment, as I always choose ridiculously complicated projects for myself

2) There is a reason why Montgomery Ward, Sears and such began manufacturing bedspreads in the turn of the century

3) Why oh why did I have to do this for the king-size bed and not choose at least to do a full size instead, for the guest room?

4) Denise, I should listen to you and just make what I have right now into pillows, but no, see Thought #1 above

5) No dog or cat or grandbaby (way off right now but by the time I complete this project I’ll surely have some) will ever lie, sit, sleep, get a diaper changed, throw up, etc,… on my counterpane!!

Punch Needle Art Piece Now Stabilized & Acid-Free

My client, Christina from MA, sent these photos of a piece she had recently purchased that needed help:

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It’s a beautiful piece, very well done by the needleworker, and I don’t think it was from a kit at all. The way the stitcher used a lot of different colors of silk thread for shading makes it special. The problem lies in the deterioration of the fabric she used to punch thousands of little loops through to create the picture. It’s dirty, has holes, and was attached by very rusty nails. The wood it was backed with is also acidic, and it needed to be off there as soon as possible.

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Pictured above are the nail tacks, and here is the wood the piece was tacked to. The plan was to make the whole thing acid-free and to stabilize it. The photos below shoe where, once the stitching was taken out of the frame, little pills came off and some of the piece was in danger of being lost.

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Now we get to work. First I took matching thread and sewed into the loose side of the picture (the side showing above.) A lot of sewing up into the layers actually secured the pills in place and kept more from coming off. Once I was sure that side was firm enough to add some border fabric, I took washed, unbleached cotton muslin and machine-sewed it to all four sides.

Below, you can see the new border fabric. Then the gray is the original fabric, which was trimmed a bit. You can see my seams on both fabrics. My finger is holding back a new cotton backing that was hand-stitched (at sides) to the piece (actually to the border near its seam, because the gray original fabric is still too unstable to hold new stitching.

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Next, a piece of foam core board (acid-free) is laid against the new backing, and the new border is laced fast to the back with cotton string. The edges are slip-stitched down:

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Here is the final result. Most was saved and now it’s in good shape for its future and ready to be framed!

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There are still a few places that aren’t 100% stable but once in a frame, it should be fine. Two reasons why these spots: 1) I wanted to save as much of the picture as possible, and 2) the backing on those spots was just gone and therefore the stitches had nothing to adhere to. I am going to tack the one on the right down more, for the framing. The other is fine for framing.

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Customer Review

Dear Melissa,

Guess what I received today?! The needlework is beautiful! I am so appreciative of your abilities. I was reluctant to try this myself because I was afraid that it wouldn’t look professional. It was interesting to read that you practiced the stitches before working on the piece. My husband is good at framing things so I’ll get him right on it. My New Year’s resolution was to finish things that I had started but am glad I extended it to include those projects of my mother’s which are yet to be completed. Thanks again!

Gayle K.

 

Needlework Repair—5 Reasons Why People Do It

People who end up emailing or phoning me generally know this: there is one main reason for getting a piece of needlework repaired: because you want to. That’s the answer in its simplest form. But for people like me, who tend to overthink just about everything, let’s break it down to five reasons from which we can choose (and of course some may overlap):

1) BECAUSE IT HAS SENTIMENTAL VALUE

This is probably the main reason why someone hires me. It’s their mother’s unfinished crewel embroidery, for example. It’s something she worked on with her own hands, that she put love and attention into. It may or may not be worth a lot to the rest of the world, but to this mother’s daughter, or this aunt’s nephew, it means “Mom” or “Aunt Trudy” made it. So it’s cherished. How do you put a monetary value on that? You don’t. It’s priceless. Therefore, it’s worth getting it repaired, framed, made into a pillow, or whatever needs to be done so the owner may enjoy it daily.

2) BECAUSE IT HAS ARTISTIC VALUE OR VALUE AS AN ANTIQUITY

There are people out there who collect things of beauty and they just have a great eye for what is fine, rare, what took a lot of work. I admire those people. I’m one of them, to a certain extent. I love trolling crafts fairs and antiques malls and seeing the things people have created, working for hours to turn a leg on an old chair, to cane a seat. Quilting is amazing, and it takes so long to cut, to piece, to sandwich fabrics and to apply all that hand-stitching that layers it and adds such interest. Some people know very little about how to create the piece, but they certainly appreciate it. And they know when something is worthy of restoration. They know restoration, preservation, completion, will add to the value of their “find.”

3) BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE CARES ABOUT IT OR WILL CARE WHEN THEY RECEIVE IT

Some items I have worked on have been gifts that the creator was working on and hasn’t finished, but would like to gift to someone else. It’s important because the person they want to give it to is important to them.

Other items are something a client brings to me to repair because someone else they care about wants or needs it fixed. Ex: a mother bringing her child’s blanket in for repair

4) BECAUSE IT HAS MONETARY (FOR RESALE) VALUE

I haven’t really worked on anything in this area. I’d had a few inquiries that may or may not have been from dealers who had a nice textile that needed repairing. They didn’t use me to do the work, but the pieces (or photos they sent of them) were great. I imagined that they might be antiques dealers, since they had clearly found something amazing, and if repaired, they could get a good price for it. But they might simply be collectors (see #2 above) who found something wonderful and wanted to fix it and keep it themselves.

5) PUPPY FOLLOWED ME HOME SYNDROME AKA BROKEN BUT CHEAP AND FIXABLE

This is MY personal favorite, since I do it SOOOO often! I have this thing about buying things cheap and fixing them…or at least, dragging them home and letting them sit around while I daydream about fixing them, or hold them for years in my basement with the thought of fixing them, before I end up sending them back out to a thrift store. And what’s wrong with that, I ask?? LOL It does tend to add to the clutter!

Seriously, there is something really heartening in finding a little wood table with faded needlepoint and 1 out of 4  corner brackets missing, with a badly scratched glass top, and being able to 1) stitch it a new needlepoint top, 2) find a guy named Brian who works at an ACE Hardware in the mountains who’ll make my brass corner brackets (all 4 for $15!!), 3) getting a new glass top made, and putting it all back together into a cute little side accent piece—when it was purchased for all of $10 at a rummage sale! It’s all a treasure hunt, a “puzzle pieces fitting together” high that keeps me dragging home items that need TLC.

So hey, send me YOUR items. I promise to always get to them first, and *then* work on my never-ending supply of “fix me’s.”