Coffee Table Revamp

Yesterday I saw a post on Tin Barn Market‘s Facebook page about a coffee table that was redone in Annie Sloan’s French Linen Chalk Paint, which got me thinking about my own coffee table makeover. I did this about 2 years ago and I guess I knew that one day I would have a DIY blog, because I documented the process. And who doesn’t love a good Before and After story?

before and after2

Ick, I hated those vertical slats. This table was taking up a lot of room in our apartment without offering any kind of storage space, and the yellowish finish was not really my style. I was inspired to fix it up instead of scrapping it by this picture of a stained wood top coffee table that I found from The Feminist Mystique:

feminist mystique coffee table2

You often hear people complaining that they don’t like their furniture and can’t afford to replace it- but a little bit of elbow grease goes a long way! This coffee table came from my sister and brother-in-law when they moved to Thunder Bay for school, and it totally didn’t match any of our stuff. But it was free a good size, so we picked up some stain, some paint, and a piece of wood to fit a shelf on the bottom and Bob was our uncle! Actually Bob is our friend, but that is neither here nor there.

This was one of the first pieces of furniture (maybe the first piece of furniture?) that I ever attempted to refinish, and the main thing I learned was that it takes time, patience, and sanding. A lot of sanding.

2012-09-09 16.23.51

Haha, neighbors! You thought you were going to have a quiet evening? Noooo.

2012-09-12 13.25.36

After I sanded the snot out of the top, I applied Minwax stain in Special Walnut (couldn’t find Regular Ass Walnut anywhere).

2012-09-12 16.31.16

Once the top was stained, we did a few coats of polyurethane and removed it from the frame after it dried. Then we disassembled the frame and went to town bashing the slats out, so we could install a shelf on the bottom.

2012-09-12 18.24.58

My husband made the shelf out of a pine board that we purchased from Home Depot, and attached it to the frame with screws.

2012-09-12 18.41.12

I painted the frame with white paint- in retrospect we should have used melamine but the guy at Home Depot talked us out of it for some reason. Not the biggest of deals but it probably would have been glossier and had a nicer finish if we’d ignored him and used melamine anyway. After a few coats of paint, we attached the stained top, and voila! The finishing touch was finding storage boxes that fit our board game collection, which made a huge difference in our living room.

2014-01-07 18.37.59

I was really happy with how it turned out, it was a huge improvement in both appearance and functionality. We use our coffee table all the time- way more than we use our kitchen table or dining room table! Most often you can find us eating here.

signature 6


Some of you reading this might be wondering where my somewhat recent obsession with DIY came from. I’ve been reflecting on this for a while, trying to reconcile the seemingly distinct aspects of my personality: how exactly did I become a scientist who crafts, makes, sews, and bakes? I hate to get all psychoanalytical on you but I think the explanation lies in my childhood. My family immigrated to Canada when I was very young and for the first few years while my Dad started his business, we lived pretty frugally. My parents bought an older home and fixed it up gradually, room by room. Just because my sister and I were kids didn’t get us off the hook from helping them; we were given small jobs like changing out the old electrical outlet faceplates with new ones. Years later when my parents purchased a summer cottage, it was the same story- it needed a lot of TLC. I learned that a fresh coat of paint and a thorough cleaning can transform even the shabbiest of dwellings.

cathy working at 6

Probably not safe for a small child to have a screwdriver near an outlet, eh Mom and Dad?

cathy painting at 13

 Painting helped distract me from how horribly awkward those braces were

When I grew a bit older, I loved coming home after school and watching home reno shows like Trading Spaces with my mom, where we would talk about the things we did and didn’t like in the final reveals. My mom also taught me how to sew, and I would spend many hours making my own PJ pants, handbags, curtains, etc. My love of making things extended to the kitchen, where I was handy with a wooden spoon and mixing bowl. As soon as I learned how to make our family recipes, I pretty much became the designated family baker!

the cake

Super proud of baking a multilayer angel food cake

As much as I loved getting my hands dirty fixing things up, creating things out of fabric with a sewing machine, and concocting yummy things to satisfy my sweet tooth, I thought that I would have a hard time trying to make a living out of any of those things. So when the time came to choose a career path, I followed my other love: Science!


Attending my first conference and feeling like a grown up… taken before I tripped and wiped out in my heels

Completing a degree in Biochemistry was challenging and time consuming, and my creative hobbies had to take a back seat so that I could put the necessary time in to attend lectures, write lab reports, and study for exams. After graduating, I decided to gain more laboratory experience by completing a Master’s thesis. All in all, my university education took 6 years full-time, and 1.5 years part-time to complete. Once I finally defended my M.Sc thesis, I was elated! But when the relief wore off, I found myself thinking what do I do now? I was so focused on reaching the milestone of graduating and finding a job, and when it happened, I wasn’t sure what to do next. It didn’t help that I had also moved to a new city to start my career, and being far away from my friends and family meant that I was bored a lot of the time outside of work.

graduating with my MSc degree

I worked so damn hard for that piece of paper

I needed to find a hobby, something to fill my spare time now that I wasn’t constantly studying. I started attending craft shows, where you can find tons of unique items handcrafted by local artisans. But they are often pricey, and when I looked closely I realized that I lot of the stuff I liked, I could actually make myself! I looked online for help getting started and visited flea markets, where I found lots of inspiration for things I could try to make, like an old frame that I turned into a chalkboard. When my husband and I inherited some old furniture, we decided to refurbish it to better match our style by restaining and slipcovering! Planning our wedding also helped me to remember how much I enjoy making things. When I saw beautiful sashes and other bridal accessories and decorations that I loved but that were out of my price range, I decided to just make my own.

staining coffee table

Who cares if it’s the wrong colour? I do!

Since embracing the DIY mentality, I haven’t looked back! I find it so satisfying to plan a project and see it through to the final reveal. That’s not to say my harebrained schemes always work out- there have definitely been some “Pinterest Fail” type disasters, but I try to take them as learning experiences instead of getting discouraged.

I’m grateful to all my friends and family for being so wonderfully supportive of my blog and DIY adventures, and I look forward to sharing more with you! And thanks to my new blog buddies, I have found the blogging community to be pretty warm and welcoming so far!

signature 6

Follow me on Bloglovin’!

A few people have asked me where I find some of the blogs I follow. The truth is that I spend a shameful amount of time on the Internet (I blame my husband for being a bad influence). The first thing I do when I want to tackle a new project is Google it, like “how to sew a slipcover”. If I find I keep going back to the same few blogs for help with different things, I usually become a loyal reader.

But you don’t have to invest the time that I have on Google Search! Bloglovin’ is an easy way to find blogs you might be interested in for a variety of topics… parenting tips, home décor, recipes, DIY, you name it. And now I’m on it too!–> Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I’ve already found a few new blogs to follow, because it suggests similar results after you show it a few examples of what you’re interested in reading. Ahh, the wonders of technology!

signature 6

One Step at a Time

Now that the weather is getting warmer, it’s time to break out all my favourite spring/summer clothes. Normally I would be super excited about this- I pack away seasonal clothes so it’s like shopping from my own closet when the weather changes- but I got a bit of a shock when I tried on my bright green skinny pants: they don’t fit any more! I knew the winter had been a particularly cold, lazy, snuggly, TV-watching, comfort food-eating one, but I was not prepared for the proof before my eyes.





So when I saw a post on Honeybear Lane about making one small change to become healthier, it resonated with me. Her goals were pretty reasonable: to go to bed before 11 pm and to avoid eating anything past 8 pm. I’ve decided over the next few weeks to try this too! I know I can’t completely change my habits overnight, so this way it’s a lot more manageable. Trying to make healthier meals, depriving myself of sweet treats, and exercising more sounds too daunting to tackle all at once so I’m going to try it a little bit at a time.

The reason I decided to write a post about this is to commit myself to it- it’s too easy to just tell myself that I’m going to try, and then not stick to it. The first small change that I am trying to make is to squeeze a bit of exercise into my schedule. Nothing huge- for instance, last week I did a 30 min yoga DVD from Jillian Michaels (good God, that woman makes you work) and I joined a coworker for a 20 min jog over lunch. I’m also thinking about hitting up the free swim hour at my local indoor swimming pool. As soon as I feel like this is part of my routine, I’m going to move on to eating a bit better- namely, eating something more substantial than a granola bar for breakfast and including more veggies in my diet. Sounds pretty doable, right?

Wish me luck! I’d love to hear if you’re going to join me- there’s nothing like group motivation!

signature 6

Making Invitations with Inkscape

feature image

I have used Inkscape a lot in the past few months since learning how to use it for our wedding invitations. It’s a really versatile illustrating program that uses SVG (scalable vector graphic) format, which means you can resize images without losing resolution. Best of all, it’s open source so you can download it for free!

To get more experience using Inkscape, I volunteered to make the invitations for my nephew’s 1st birthday party. They featured a photo of him being adorable, a drawing of his favourite lion stuffed animal, and a fun paw-print design.

making postcard-style invitations with Inkscape

I thought I would share the steps I used to make them, because I know I was overwhelmed when I first started playing around with the program. With a few tools in your graphic design arsenal and a bit of patience, you can make something really cute in no time! The steps below are fairly basic and you can use them to make just about anything, not just invitations. I’ve also made posters and games for baby showers, not to mention all the stationary for my wedding!

Using Inkscape to Make Postcard-Style Invitations

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert and there are probably shortcuts to some of the steps below, but this is how I learned/taught myself. I have emphasized the important steps with pink circles so you can easily follow along.

1) First I looked at lots of different layouts and examples of invitations on Etsy, Pinterest, and Google images to decide on a layout. I wanted it to print as a 4×6 photo so I kept that in mind. My sister wanted a lion theme and wanted to include a photo of my nephew on the invitation as well, so we worked from there. When I was ready to start, I opened up Inkscape and adjusted the size of the page. To do this, choose Document Properties under the File menu and set the width/height to whatever you want. I adjusted the size of the page to 4 inches high and 6 inches wide.

adjust the page size in Inkscape

2) Next I added some layers to work with. If you’ve never worked with layers, don’t be scared. Think of layers like a pizza- the dough is the background, the sauce and cheese form the basic layout, and the toppings are what make the design! You can name the layers whatever you like so that you can easily keep track of them. To add layers, under the Layer menu select Add Layer. You can always add layers as you go, and move images between layers by using the Shift+Page Up/Down keys. You’ll know which layer you’re currently working in by looking at the bottom of the screen (don’t pay attention to my layers in these images because I didn’t follow my own advice). You can move around between layers by clicking on the dropdown menu to the right.

adding layers in Inkscape

3) In the bottom/background layer, I added a rectangle to form the background of my design. Using the rectangle tool, make a rectangle the same size as your page. Once you have your rectangle, switch to the select tool (the one at the top that looks like a mouse cursor), and under the Object menu, choose Align & Distribute. Centre the rectangle on the page horizontally and vertically. If you want a white background like I did, this step isn’t really necessary. But it’s handy to do in case you change your mind later, then you can easily select the background and change the colour (I’ll show you how to change the colour of an object later).

aligning objects in Inkscape

4) Once I had the background,  I started forming the basic layout in the layer above. This included a photo of my nephew as well as a text background to break up the invitation into defined areas. First we’ll look at how to insert a photo: under the File menu choose Import. Browse to find the location of the photo you want (note that first you should have cropped and adjusted the photo in another program). When prompted, choose Embed. Your photo will look gigantic but we will take care of that next!

importing an image in Inkscape

5) Once I had the photo embedded, I resized it so that it would cover the top left area of the invitation. Select it using the select tool and make sure you have the aspect ratio locked so it doesn’t distort. Select inches as the units (or cm or whatever you want) and then change the size so that it fits nicely on your layout. You could also drag the arrows around the image once it’s selected to change the size, just make sure you have the aspect ratio locked first!

resizing an image in Inkscape

6) The next element of the layout that I put in was a background for the invitation text. You can use any of the shape tools to make a square, rectangle, circle, ellipse, etc. I wanted an irregular shape so I used the Bezier curve/straight line tool to form it out of line segments. Using your cursor, click and drag to draw a line segment and click again to finish it. Keep going until you have a closed shape, making sure to connect the first and last nodes (the end of each segment).  You can hold down the Control key while you do this to maintain more control over the angles. If you don’t get it exactly the size/shape you want, use the same steps you used above to resize the photo. You may want to unlock the aspect ratio if you want to increase the width or height only.

creating an irregular shape in Inkscape

7) Next I changed the colour of the text background. To change the colour of any object, select it with the select tool and click on any of the colours on the bottom of the screen to set the “fill” colour. Holding down shift and clicking will change the “stroke” or the outline colour of the shape. You can choose no stroke, the same colour as the fill, or a different colour as the fill. Note that you can also modify the style of the stroke, to increase the thickness or make it a dashed line, etc. If you want to choose a custom colour, choose “Fill & Stroke” under the Object menu, and set the fill/stroke to whatever you want. I decided to use the eye dropper tool to choose a shade of blue from the photo, so that it would be complementary. To do this, just click on the eye dropper tool and then click on any image that has the colour you want. The colour will be taken from whatever area is under the eye dropper.

changing the colour of an object in Inkscape

8) Once I had formed the basic layout, I moved to the next layer to add the text and other designs. To add text, use the text tool and choose the font and size. I used 2 different fonts for mine, one cartoon-y font for emphasis and a plain serif font for the rest. Note that you should be adding text one line at a time, ie. each line of text I have here is a separate object. This is important because it will allow you to change the spacing and alignment of the text as a whole.

inserting text into image in Inkscape

9) After forming the text, I played around with the layout using the Align & Distribute function. Select the background and all of the text with the select tool. Now you can align the text however you want, making sure that you have “Relative to” set to the rectangle so that the text moves and not the rectangle (I have “Relative to” set to the first object selected, so I selected the rectangle first and then the text). I then centered the text both horizontally and vertically on the rectangle. You’ll notice that I also have the first two lines of text grouped together because I wanted them to act like one object. To “group” text (or any object), just select the lines of text you want to keep together and then hit Control+G. You can reverse this by selecting Shift+Control+G.

aligning text and objects in Inkscape

10) Once all the important information was there, I could start dressing the invitation up. To add a fun text element like I did,  first use the text tool to add your desired text. Switch back to the select tool and adjust the fill/stroke of the text to whatever colour you want. To rotate it, under the Object menu, choose Transform. Under the Rotate tab, adjust the angle.

editing and enhancing text in Inkscape

11) To further enhance the text and make it look like it was popping off the page, I played with the font size. Switch back to the text tool and click anywhere on the text. Selecting one or two letters at a time, increase the font size moving from right to left. Don’t worry about getting the font size exactly right- move back to the select tool, select the text, then drag the edges of the box to make it the size you want.

invitations tutorial 11_watermarked3

12) Next I added a shadow in a complimentary colour to the text for emphasis. Select the text, then copy & paste it. Select the copied text and choose whatever colour you like. Move it to the layer below by selecting it and holding down Shift+Page Down, and adjust the position until it looks right.

editing and enhancing text in Inkscape

13) Remember that I said we wanted a lion theme? See any lions yet? Well, it’s time to make one! I couldn’t find an image of one that I liked so I took matters into my own hands. It really wasn’t hard at all, and I am not skilled at drawing. I formed it by combining different shapes and layering them. Use the circle/ellipse tool to make circles and ovals of various shapes for the body, arms, legs, face, eyes, etc. Then use the freehand lines tool to make the mane (making sure you close the ends of the shape) and the whiskers/mouth/tail. Use the Align & Distribute function and group, move, rotate, and modify the shapes until it looks right. Move the shapes between layers as necessary by using Shift+Page Up/Down.

creating images using shapes in Inkscape

14) To finish the invitation off, I added some a paw-prints to fill in some of the white space. I could have drawn a paw-print freehand but I cheated and used the “Trace Bitmap” feature, which is really handy. To do this I found a paw-print clipart image online, then I imported it using the same steps as importing the photo above. Once your image is embedded, select it and under the Path menu, choose Trace Bitmap. Play with the settings until you get it right… you will have to adjust the values and options depending on how complex your image is. If it’s just a simple black shape like mine, you can use the same settings. Once it’s “traced”, the traced image will be right over top of the old one, so drag it to the side so you can see both. Then delete the original.

tracing objects in Inkscape

15) Next I copied, pasted, rotated, and increased/decreased the size to make a fun pattern! If you want a regular repeating pattern, you could play with the Clone feature under the Edit menu to create tiled clones. I also changed the opacity of the paw-prints so that it wouldn’t be too overwhelming- the brown colour was originally the same as the lion’s mane, but decreasing the opacity lightened it. You can set the opacity in the Fill & Stroke menu, or just choose a lighter colour.

creating a pattern in Inkscape

16) Now all you need to do is export your invitation and print it! Select the entire design- you can do this by drawing a big rectangle around the page with the select tool. Group everything by clicking Control+G. Under the File menu, choose Export Bitmap. This will export the file as a .png image. You can then convert it to a .jpg or another image format in a different program, like Paint.NET. I saved mine as a .jpg because I wanted to print it on photo paper- if you want to print it on paper or cardstock, then skip the export step and just save the file as a .pdf. Then print away!

making postcard-style invitations with Inkscape

Yay! I hope this tutorial helps someone else. Making your own designs is fun and gives you complete control over the colours and layout- the best part is, once you invest a bit of time to make a basic design, it’s easy to modify for different purposes. I’d love to hear from you if you use this tutorial and have any suggestions to improve it or clarify anything!


signature 6