Thursday, July 21, 2011

Undercover: How to Turn Milk Crates into a Side Table for the Patio

I have a list about a mile long of unfinished projects: projects I’ve bought some or all of the materials for and haven’t even started; projects I started and need something or another to finish; projects I’m just thinking about and planning. So earlier this month I decided to get to work and get at least one thing done that I had supplies on hand for. Does anyone remember making stacked “milk crate” furniture in college? Yeah, I still have some of those crates around. Don’t worry, it’s not in my living room or anything, but I had two crates in storage that were just the right size for a little table out on my balcony.

Problem is, they looked like two old stacked milk crates. I while back I bought some burlap to make a cover for them. I took some measurements to get an idea of what size pieces I needed to use, added in for seam allowances, and then just kinda rounded off when it came time to putting it all together. I’m visual so I made a little drawing which I forgot to photograph. Trust me, it is no work of art, but I was able to figure out my measurements from it.

I chose to do a somewhat tailored cover with corner pleats. To make the pleat, you basically need 3x the length of fabric as the size of the pleat – so for instance for a 4” pleat, you need 12” of fabric to account for folding the fabric in and back out again. I used a dishtowel and a tape measure to practice the fold and figure out the amount of extra fabric – I’m very scientific that way. No really, this heavy-duty engineering stuff only really makes any sense to me if I can see it. So 12” of fabric for each corner times 4 corners, plus the circumference around the crate, plus seam allowances meant I needed about 106” of fabric for around the table. I think I bought 2 yards of fabric, so I had to seam it together to get to the 106”. For length, I just cut the fabric through the middle long ways and that gave me enough length for seam allowances plus some overhang for a more slouchy look. I used the selvages for the hem so I didn’t have to sew one. I sewed the 106” into a circle, cut out a roughly 13 ½” square piece for the top and then pin fit the skirt to the top. I started by pinning one of the seams of the skirt to the center of one of the edges of the top. Then I pinned the opposite side of the skirt to the center of the opposite side of the top. I mostly just eyeballed and pulled the skirt out to find the centers – I guess you could measure if that is your thing. Then I did the other two opposite sides the same way.

Once I had the center point of each side of the top pinned to the center point of each side of the skirt I just continued pinning down each side until I got to the corner.

When I was finished, I had a “bubble” of extra fabric at each corner which I just folded over in each direction to make the pleat – remember I was working inside out at this point, although burlap doesn’t have a right or a wrong side – and pinned into place.

Then I went to the sewing machine and started sewing along my pin lines.

Two lessons learned: pin perpendicular to the edge of the fabric, not parallel, and use pins with large heads. I actually knew the first from regular sewing from a pattern, but this was the first time I’d pin-fit anything and it seemed easier to almost create the seam line with the pins – it is hard to get the pins out as you sew up to them when you pin like this. The second point is specific to the burlap – the small headed pins kept slipping down into the large weave of the burlap and were hard to get out or they went all the way through and didn’t do their job.

Burlap also doesn’t iron well and it is hard to tell where you did and where you didn’t iron. Do I anyway, it does make a subtle difference in getting the seams to lay better. Where my seams look a little wonky is actually just bad ironing and the rain has smoothed it out a bit now too.

So overall, I think this is a vast improvement over two tacky stacked milk crates. Ignore on my tacky plastic chairs – they were cheap, the color I wanted, made in the US, and are 100% recyclable. I have no idea how this will hold up to the elements - we've had some rain and a ton of hottness here lately and all seems A-OK. I think if I were to do it again I’d chose a lighter weight fabric, but overall I like the effect and I’m pretty amazed my corners came out in the right spot and don’t look too bad. I had considered doing a navy piping at the juncture of the top and skirt, but considering the bulk of the fabric, am glad I opted not to this time around. All told I spent maybe $6 on the burlap. And on to the next project.

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