This & That (Aka. Social Saturday, but on a Wednesday)

A plate of cranberry tarts in front of a vase of holly berries and fairy lights

Happy Wednesday Dear Readers! It’s not Saturday, but I only had bits and pieces of things to post, and since some of the things I wanted to share are Christmas related, I didn’t feel like waiting until Social Saturday. (It kind of reminds me of The Lego Movie, where they change the name of the day from “Taco Tuesday to Freedom Friday… but still on a Tuesday!”)

Anyway, enough about Lego and onto the Christmas content.

rolling out pastry to make tart shells and tart pans filled with cranberry tarts

Firstly, the baking has begun. Today, we’re making Christmas tarts, which is our family’s main seasonal tradition. Pretty much all of our traditions revolve around food. That’s pretty grand, now that I think about it. We make Cranberry Tarts, (also called Mock Cherry Pie) and Coconut Tarts. Discovering that I am sensitive to gluten was so sad, because I couldn’t eat the tarts anymore, until we found this excellent gluten free pastry recipe.

cup of tea with a piece of christmas cake sitting on the saucer

The other recipe we make every year is my mom’s excellent Mincemeat Christmas Cake. Our house is divided on this, with people either loving it or hating it. I love mincemeat, so I’m firmly in the “Love It” camp. Do you like spiced mincemeats and Christmas cakes?

New this year, we also tried making our own chocolate covered cherries. They’re still full of everything that’s bad for you, but they did turn out very good! They have more of a Creme Egg style centre, rather than a liquid centre, but apparently the longer you wait, the runnier they get. We followed this recipe, which was really easy to make, and we had everything on hand already.

advent scripture cards hanging from mini clothespins on a string across the mantle

In other Christmas news, we have started a new Advent tradition. We were a bit late to the party, only getting these hung up on the weekend, but we purchased the printable “Truth for The Day” Advent Cards from Home Made Lovely, and strung them across the mantle with mini clothespins. I absolutely love how they look- the illustrations are adorable- and it’s so fun to turn over the card each day as we approach Christmas.  I also just love how we decorated the mantle this year! My Grandma gave my mom these silver deer candlesticks she had, and they look so great against the stone fireplace. And of course the fairy lights on top of the garland add such a nice sparkle.

mantle decorated for christmas with a silver deer candlestick and a garland with fairy lights

Another download, a free one this time, is this adorable printable from Sincerely Marie Designs for 12 Days of Christmas ornaments. I haven’t printed them yet, since I want to see if I can transfer them onto small wood cookies. I saw a set of ornaments like that earlier this year, and I think that would be so cute.

baby headbands with bows and fabric yo-yos

Onto other topics, I’ve been making baby headbands again. We’ve got so many little ones on the way in my church, so I’ve been working on making these yo-yos and bows and have been listening to The Silmarillion audiobook as I stitch.  I tried reading the book, but it was so dry I had to give up. Then I thought to get an audio book from the library, which is so much more enjoyable. (The copy I got is voiced by Martin Shaw).

felted beret and mittens with a flower added to the hat

I also made a brown felted wool flower to add to the wool beret I made a couple of years ago. I never wear this hat, because it’s too stiff to maneuver and “flop” and so it always just looked like it needed something; the felt flower is the perfect touch. I also made some felted wool mittens to match earlier this year, but I don’t think I ever posted them, so here they are now. If you want to make your own, here’s my tutorial.

screenshot of poshmark shop new listings

I also made a few more headbands and hair clips for my Poshmark shop. That pink flower is one-of-a-kind. While I love how it turned out, I won’t make another out of that pink satin, because it was so hard to singe the edges! Once they started melting, they kept going, and I had to throw away so many petals with holes in them. It would look so pretty tucked into an updo for a formal occasion, wouldn’t it? I also added some more photography and other artwork, including some of my favourite mini art cards and paintings.

reorganized closet with capsule winter wardrobe hanging

In other topics, I also recently reorganized my closet; the way I had set it up last January just wasn’t working for me anymore. Basically I had categories too spread out, with some things on shelves, some in drawers and some hanging. I have now separated it, putting all of my loungewear and working clothes (as in grungy work) out of the closet and into my dresser drawer. I took all of my sweaters and cardigans off of the shelf and hung them on padded hangers. Then I put my large purses on the top shelf above the rod, my berets on my shoe shelf, all of the winter hats on stands on my dresser, and my scarves and fur collars on the back of my door (except for one that is too big, which is hanging). It is working so much better for me to be able to clearly see at a glance all of the pieces in my winter capsule wardrobe, without being distracted by loungewear and other things that don’t go in that capsule! I have found over the years that if I don’t have things out where I can see them, I just won’t remember to wear them, so it’s working so much better to have out-of-season items stored on the side shelves in my closet, and the in-season items out in front.

Not related to closets entirely, but sort of, I enjoyed this post by Gillian Dunn, about using your special items everyday.

I also was going to share this post about Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s fashion inspiration in my last Social Saturday, and I forgot, so here it is now. I love how classic her looks are. You can obviously tell it’s the 90’s and yet it’s still elegant. (And I absolutely love her neutral palette.)

And finally, unrelated to anything, this post about the themes in A Tale of Two Cities (one of my favourite books!) is very good. I read the book back in May, but didn’t see this blog post until a while later. It’s a very good article, but DO NOT read it if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities, since there are major spoilers!

Well, I think that’s all that I have for today. I hope your week and your December is going well…there’s only 11 days until Christmas!

Upcycled Christmas Card Gift Tags

diy wrapped gifts with upcycled christmas cards turned into gift tags

I love Christmas cards! Whether I make them myself, or buy them (usually the year before on-sale after Christmas) I love picking out a sweet design and mailing them to friends and family far away. Traditional Christmas cards seem to be a dying tradition, with many people opting for photo cards or e-cards these days, but I do still receive a few old fashioned cards in the mail.

There are some really pretty card designs, and I always hate to recycle them after the holidays, so last year I saved all of the cards I and my family received, and upcycled them into gift tags to use this year! I love wrapping gifts, and it was nice to be able to reuse the cards, coordinating the wrapping papers and ribbons to go with each tag. This was such a quick and easy DIY, it’s can’t even be called a tutorial, yet I did want to share the idea with you, in case you also hate to toss greeting cards!

supplies needed for the craft all laid out on the cutting mat: templates, blades, hole punch and greeting card

I used my Creative Memories oval templates and blades to cut the tags. This is the cutting system I got a long time ago…maybe 18 years? After all these years, it’s still going strong and I love it!

lining up the template and oval cutting guide

Centre the template onto the artwork and cut it out.

lining up cutting system template and blade onto old greeting card

Punch a hole in the top of the card, and then string a piece of twine or ribbon through. I used the Fiskars small holepunch. A few of the cards had writing on the back, so I cut out an oval the same size out of green paper and then glued the two ovals together to cover it up.

Punch a hole in the top of the card and thread a string through

That’s it! As I said, not really a tutorial, but more of an inspiration for gift wrapping. I know Fiskars makes some large tag punches, so that could work if you don’t have oval/circle cutters. Or, if you don’t have any punches, you could cut the fronts of the cards off, measure a 45 degree angle across the top corners and cut them into traditional tag shapes.

I wrapped all of my gifts this year in reused kraft paper bags and wrapping paper. I also reused old pattern paper as tissue paper.

finished upcycled christmas card turned into a gift tag

I even wrapped one gift in an old parchment paper document. And all of the ribbons were saved from previous years as well…these are very zero waste packages!

Do you like wrapping gifts? How did you wrap yours this year?

zero waste christmas wrapping

kraft paper wrapped gift with twine and an upcycled card tag

Cozy Christmas Decor | Bedroom Tour

garland of juniper with red and tan berries and fairy lights hanging over a window with a lace curtain over it

Is it too early to start wishing everyone a Merry Christmas? I don’t know why, but I’m just feeling the Christmas spirit early this year! And by early, I mean the last week of November instead of the first week of December. Growing up, we never put up our Christmas decor before December, and because we always get a real tree, you truly can’t put it up too early or it will be dry and dead by Christmas Day. However, I do now like to put up my other Christmas decor before then. And for some reason, this year I was just itching to pull out my boxes and get my room in holiday mode, so I decorated this week.

top of the bookshelf styled with christmas decor including mini christmas trees and a candle on top of a vintage book

As always, I used pretty much all the same decor, but styled the pieces in different ways to keep things interesting. The only new acquisitions were the adorable mini Christmas trees, which I picked up a few weeks ago from the thrift store for $3.00. (There were also some larger bottle brush trees in the bag, but I gave those to my sister) Honestly, no one ever need buy new Christmas ornaments, trees, tablecloths and tins ever again; I’m sure there are more than enough available at the thrift stores!

I also only used about a 1/3 of the Christmas decor I have, because it would look like a decorating store exploded in my room if I used it all. I only have two storage boxes with decor, but it’s not that big of a room either.

mini christmas trees sitting on the tops of picture frames in a gallery wall

As for those new mini Christmas trees, I arranged a couple on the top of my shoe shelf, but wasn’t sure what to do with the others since they are a different colour and style. Then I realized they fit perfectly on the picture frames in my gallery wall! It’s a subtle detail that makes this wall look so festive.

gallery wall with mini christmas trees interspersed

top of my dresser with a vintage wooden bowl heaped with pinecones and orange slices

Another recent acquisition, though not holiday specific, is this wooden bowl from the thrift store. It was a salad set of 5 pieces and I only wanted one small bowl for another project, but decided to keep them all rather than split off an incomplete set. The bowls were in pretty bad shape; cracked, and in desperate need of an oiling, but for $3.00 for the set, I took a chance. I sanded them smooth, glued and clamped the cracks back together and then oiled them with linseed oil and they look gorgeous now! (I didn’t remember to take a before picture, so you’ll have to trust me!) The large bowl was the perfect place to display some dried orange slices and pinecones on top of my dresser.

antique dresser with a mirror over it. A few books are stacked and on top is a jewelry box and a hat and necklace stand. A wooden bowl with pinecones and dried orange slices is sitting beside it.

I also redecorated the top of my dresser with some of my fashion books instead of a tray. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, but I’m not sure whether this was a smart idea because I’ll have to move everything off if I want to look at my book! But it does look nice in the meantime. And again, this year my woodburned garland found it’s way to the top of my dresser mirror.

woodburned garland hanging on top of an antique dresser mirror

juniper garland with red berries and tan berries and fairy lights over top of a window

Now for the statement piece of the room: the garland over my window! I decided to try a garland across my window this year, rather than doing a bouquet with berries and branches like I’ve done in the past. We have a massive juniper thicket growing at the edge of our treed area; you can gather branches from it every year and never even notice they are gone, so it’s perfect for winter decorating! (I don’t know how I’ll decorate if we move!)

juniper garland with berries hanging over top of a window

Juniper has a fairly long cut life. I’ve had bouquets last 2 months before in a vase, and even when it starts to dry, it just gets lighter in colour and crispy, but doesn’t drop needles. So, I don’t know how well this is going to last, and if it’s going to make it to Christmas Day, but I thought I’d make a garland out of live branches. They are up high so even if they do get dry and crunchy, they’re not going to get mussed around. I think if I just leave them there, and don’t touch them, they should be fine.

juniper and berry garland over top of a window

They did smell very strong and earthy when I first brought them in, and I wasn’t sure about the smell since it’s in my bedroom, but after an hour it dissipated as the branches warmed up.

And I love how the window turned out! The red berries are festive, but not too bright, and the tan berries really give it a nice natural feel. And of course the fairy lights add the perfect sparkly touch (and they make a great night light too!)

evergreen and berry garland with fairy lights over a window, lit up in the evening

garland with fairy lights lit up over top of a window in the evening

For the rest of the room, I added my paper crafted house and tree made out of book pages that I made last year, and some pinecones to my bookshelf.

paper crafted miniature house sitting on top of a stack of antique books

miniature paper crafted house and christmas tree sitting on a shelf with antique books

I also hung up my favourite little winter scene by encaustic artist Donna Hanson on the wall by my closet. I always get so excited to hang this one up in Winter- I love it!

encaustic artwork of a winter snow scene by Donna Hanson

And as a final touch, I hung my mini silver wreath over my gold oval mirror, placed an evergreen bouquet on top of my shelf, and scattered a couple of beeswax candles around. I have been enjoying burning them in the evenings when I read, which just adds such a nice hygge atmosphere.

top of bookshelf styled with christmas decor including a vintage book, miniature trees, beeswax candle and juniper bouquet

silver wreaths hanging over a vintage gold oval mirror

I think we’re going to decorate the rest of the house this week, which I’m looking forward to. We’ve got some renovations going on, so the areas to decorate are fewer than previous years, but it’s still nice to put out a few festive touches despite, or perhaps as an antidote to, the chaos.

Did you get your Christmas decor up early this year, or are you still planning to wait a while? Do you like to try new things each year or stick to a tried and true formula? What is your favourite Christmas decoration?

view of the window side of the bedroom with christmas decor including mini trees in the gallery wall and a garland hanging over the window with a lace curtain under it

How to Sew Felted Wool Slippers Out of an Old Sweater

green and grey felted wool slippers with an embroidered button on top

I’ve never been much of a slippers person. Usually in the winter I go around barefoot in the house because I’m in danger of being too warm, not too cold. However, there have been a few cold days so far this winter where the house has felt rather chilly and I’ve been trying to bundle up rather than turn up the thermostat. I don’t have any super warm socks, so I decided that the next item I would make would be some felted wool slippers out of a sweater. So far I’ve made mittens, a beret, and some baby boots and shoes, so it follows that the next item to make would be slippers.

I actually ended up making five pairs of felted wool slippers, so the technique was pretty well perfected by the time I got to this pair. I didn’t love how my first attempt turned out, so my sister took that pair. Then I made a pair for my mom. Then I attempted another pair for myself, but they ended up too small, so I donated them to the women’s shelter. Then I made a pair for my brother-in-law. Finally I made this pair and, after all that practice, they turned out pretty nice.

I estimate that they took about 1-2 hours to sew, so they are a relatively quick afternoon project. (Not including the time to felt the wool) If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for someone, then these would be the perfect handmade option!

finished felted handmade wool sweaters

To Make Your Own Felted Wool Slippers, You Will Need:

  • A 100% old wool sweater. Make sure it is real wool content, so it will felt for you. I know you can also use blends that have a high wool content, but I’ve never done that myself, so am not sure whether they felt differently or not.
  • Needle & thread/ sewing machine
  • Button to cover, or a decorative button of your choice 
  • Elastic to make the slipper fit tighter around the ankle, optional

folded shrunken april cornell green wool sweater

The first step is to felt your wool if it isn’t already. You can put it in your washing machine on hot, with a bit of detergent and then wash as normal. If you put in a few sweaters, they will felt faster, because of the agitation. Check your wool once washed, and see if it is felted enough- if not you can repeat the process until it is. Then let it dry.

I would not recommend that you take a perfectly good wool sweater and felt it, because it always seems like a waste to cut up something in good shape that someone could actually wear the way it is. However, there are so many wool sweaters in thrift shops that are no longer in good condition. Whether it’s due to the previous owner accidentally shrinking them, or they are full of moth holes and runs, the thrift shops are full of them. This project is a perfect way to recycle and refashion those sweaters that are completely ruined and useless into something new! I’m using a green boiled wool coat and the binding from a grey cardigan.

pattern with dimensions for slipper

To make your pattern, trace your foot and then round out the curve. You can make a “left” and “right” sole if you’d like, but it isn’t really necessary because the wool will mold to your foot. You can make one pattern piece with 1/2″ seam allowances and one without, or you can simply trace the pattern piece, adding the seam allowances on your fabric. My sole pattern piece measures 3.75″ wide by 9″ long.

The slipper top pattern is shaped like a “U”. Measure across your foot at the widest part and draw a semi-circle with that width. My foot is 5.5″, so my pattern piece is 6.5″ across with seam allowances. For length, I made it the same as my sole, plus 1/2″ for seam allowance (finished length 10″). You can double check the measurements of the outside edge of the piece with the outside of the sole. This isn’t super exact and the wool is a rather forgiving material to experiment with (if you make it a bit too long, you can always shorten it). Make the “U” cutout inside the semi-circle piece the width of the opening you want for your foot. Or, measure how high up your foot you want your slipper sides to be, and make your “U” in those dimensions. My upper pattern piece measures 10″ long and 6.5″ across. The cutout inside measures 5.25″ long by 1.25″ across. I’m a size 8.5 for reference. These dimensions include a 1/2″ seam allowance around the outer edge of the upper pattern piece. (For the pair I made my brother-in-law I added an inch to the length of the sole and then replicated that length onto the top piece.) Also note, I angled the back edge a little bit so it would slope into the heel.

Cut 1 upper piece for each slipper.

I’m sure you could make the slipper soles with one layer, but I did two layers of wool for extra warmth. Cut 2 insoles using your pattern with no seam allowance added. Cut 2 outer soles with the seam allowance added- see the picture below.

Felted wool doesn’t have a grain, so you can cut your pieces wherever they fit.

pieces of felted wool cut into pattern pieces

Place your insoles (the grey pieces) on top of your outer soles (the green pieces), smooth them flat and pin around the edge. Using a zig zag setting, stitch the two pieces flat around the edge to create one piece.

sewing the insole and outsole pieces together

Next, stitch the top heel ends together. I lapped mine rather than using a normal seam, so as to reduce bulk.

stitching the top of the slipper heel together

Now take your top piece, and pin it to the sole, easing the fabric around to distribute the bulk. Make sure that the right sides are pinned together: this means that your insole is facing outward. I made my mom’s with the smaller insole on the outside, but I think they look better with that raw edge flipped to the inside of the slipper.

Once you’ve pinned the life out of them, sew around the edge with a zigzag stitch, following the edge of your insole. (I realized when looking at these photos that I added a 1/2″ seam allowance to the pattern, but sewed my seam at only 3/8″. It turned out OK though.)

sewing sole to the top of the slipper

Turn the slipper inside out and try them on to see how they fit. If they fit well, then you can grade the seam a bit to reduce bulk.

slipper top and bottom sewn together

If the slippers fit well as they are, depending on the thickness of your wool, you might be able to finish the slippers off at this point with a blanket stitch along the top edge. If they are too loose to leave like that, then you can move on to the next step which is adding a cuff to the top.

I cut the binding off of the collar of a sweater to create a cuff at the top of my slippers. You can also use the hem of a sweater. (I used all of the hems we had on the other slippers, so all I had left was this one grey piece!) Cut the binding piece 1-2″ smaller than the opening of the slipper.

cut binding off of the collar of a sweater

Stitch the ends of the binding together to form a loop.

stitch binding/cuff into loops

Next, with right sides together, pin around the top edge and stitch the binding to the slipper top.

pin binding to the top edge of the slipper and stitch together

Then, fold the seams to the inside and pin it liberally! (If you think that you will want elastic around the top, you can add it now, which is a bit tricky, or you can thread it through at the end like I did.)

Now, for the trickiest part of the process, from the inside, stitch the pieces “in the ditch” or slightly onto the top slipper piece. This is hard to describe, but if you look at the photo, it should make sense. If your binding has a finished edge, you don’t have to fold your seam under, which makes this step a bit easier. However, my binding was a cut edge and I didn’t have enough length to felt it, so I decided to fold the edge under for neatness. I probably could have left it raw, but this worked out OK.

topstitching the cuff to the slipper with raw edges encased

It isn’t perfect in all places, and the stitches show through on part of the cuff on the front of the slipper, (it must have shifted during sewing) but it is sturdy. And as my brother says, quoting one of the creators he follows, “It’s not just good, it’s good enough.” I’ve been trying to embrace that philosophy a bit more in my projects. I tend to be a perfectionist, but sometimes that means that projects don’t get done. I’d much rather that there are a few stitches showing, but I have usable slippers, than a pile of unused felted wool in a basket on my shelf.

slippers sewn together with some stitches showing on the front of the cuff

Once I put the slippers on, I realized that the cuff was a bit too loose for my foot. While I could have tried wetting the slippers and shrinking them a little bit, I was afraid that they’d end up too small again, so I decided to instead add a small piece of elastic to the top of each slipper. I cut two pieces of this small round elastic, and then threaded them through the top of the slipper. I simply sewed the ends of the elastic together and then hid the end inside the seam.

threading elastic into top cuff to make them fit better

Then for the final step, because this sweater had all these cute embroidered buttons, I decided to add one to the top of each slipper, just for fun!

embroidered wool buttons and elastic added to the finished felted wool slippers

And there are my cozy warm felted wool slippers perfect for the cold days this winter! Of course we only had a few really cold days since I’ve made them, but I’ll be ready for the next cold snap! They’ll be perfect for Christmas morning too.

I’m really enjoying making projects out of felted wool; it’s such a great way to use up old sweaters. We’ve had a bin of sweaters for years, and making all of these actually used up quite a bit of them- what will I do when they’re gone!?

Are you a slippers person? Do you think you’ll try making your own felted wool slippers? What project should I make next out of the wool? What other projects have you made with felted sweaters?

finished felted wool slippers details

green and grey handmade felted wool slippers

An Antique Empire Style Dresser Restoration

The finished antique Coye Furniture Company dresser, painted black with a wooden top. There is a large fashion poster leaning on top of it, with bouquets of baby's breath and a stack of vintage books.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’ve been working on a furniture refinishing project…and here it is! I thought it was going to be a weekend project, but this antique Empire style dresser ended up needing a lot more work than that. However, after a few twists and turns, I’ve finally finished it, and I absolutely love how it turned out.

So for some background, my uncle gave me this Empire style dresser several years ago. It had been stored in his workshop for a while and, as he was clearing some things out, he decided he wasn’t going to refinish it. He knew that I liked antiques, so he passed it on to me. I didn’t have time to refinish it then, so I put it in the garage and left it for a couple of years…but I finally decided to tackle it this summer!

antique red empire style dresser before restoration

It was in rough shape and desparately in need of some help. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to strip and stain it or paint it, but when I unearthed it from the garage and brought it into the workshop, I discovered that there was more damage than I had remembered.

antique empire dresser, before restoration, drawer and sides

antique empire style dresser, alligatored finish on the drawers and chipped wood

As you can see in these photos, the finish had crazed and “alligatored” over time. This can, apparently, be caused by heat and sunlight (being stored in a shop/garage for several years probably didn’t help that much). The top of the dresser was also extremely warped and cracked. I wasn’t sure if it was salvageable, or if a new top was required. The wood was also chipped along the bottom of the side panels, so the decision whether to paint or stain was decided in favour of painting.

At this point I was contemplating painting only the sides and drawer divider frames black and then leaving the fronts of the drawers stained wood. I’ve seen a few pieces of furniture done this way and it can look really beautiful. However, I wasn’t sure if it was something that I was going to love for a long time, or whether it was going to be one of those trends that would date the piece in about 10 years and I’d get tired of it. I was a bit hesitant to put the time and effort required into a piece that I wasn’t sure would stand the test of time….so I debated this for a long time. (Ask my family- I drove them nuts trying to make this decision!)

But before any of those kinds of decisions were made, the first step was to dismantle and sand the entire piece to get rid of the alligatoring. I unscrewed the top from the dresser, and immediately cracked the wood around one of the screws. This wasn’t off to a good start! When I removed the top, I also found these artifacts tucked up inside, but I can not find much info online about Laco Lamps. This advertisement is apparently an ink blotter, and there is one for sale here from a different store.

vintage laco lamps ink blotter advertisement from rocky mountain house furniture store

I had originally assumed that the dresser was veneer, but as I dismantled it, I was surprised to discover that the drawers were dovetailed and the rounded drawer fronts were solid cherry wood! That was my first clue that this dresser was old. The finish on the dresser was very interesting, as well. I had originally thought that the pattern of the wood was the grain of the wood, but realized that it was actually a design printed onto the dresser, and then stained over the top with red stain in order to make it look like an exotic wood.

After the dresser was apart, I started sanding. And sanding. And sanding. After half an hour with the orbital sander, the finish on the drawers wasn’t even coming off. It was getting dusty and scuffed, but that alligatored texture was not smoothing out.

Thus I switched to Plan B, which was doing a test to see what kind of finish it was: shellac, varnish, lacquer, acrylic… I did a test with alcohol and the finish did start coming off, so I determined that it was shellac. This was interesting, because shellac has not been a commonly used finish for many years; it fell out of favour after the 1920’s as a commercially used product. That was my second clue that this dresser was fairly old.

I spritzed alcohol onto the drawer fronts and wiped them with a rag. Again, after half an hour, some of the red colour was coming off onto the rag, but the finish wasn’t dissolving enough to completely come off. I was beginning to wonder if this was why my uncle had decided he didn’t want to refinish the dresser…

using paint and varnish stripper on the antique empire style dresser outside

So, of course, it was a long weekend and the hardware stores were closed, but we had some paint and varnish stripper from a previous project and my brother had mineral spirits on hand for me to use to clean up. I put on a ventilator and got to work with the stripper. While I was hoping to avoid the use of solvents, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. Oh and, I forgot to mention, we had a heat wave as I was trying to do all of this! I got up at 6:30 each morning and went out and worked on the dresser for about 2 hours until the sun got too warm to work in. It took a looooooooot of application and scraping, but I eventually was able to dissolve all of the finish off. (I lost count but I think it was over 10 hours.) However, the red stain colour was soaked into the wood and would require a ton of sanding to bring back down to bare wood. The red stain was a less than lovely colour; I don’t mind cherry wood stains, but this one was a bit too maraschino for my taste.

sanding the antique dresser drawers and top

Thus, at this point, the decision whether to stain or paint the drawer fronts was decided for me by the dresser… and that was to paint the entire dresser, staining only the top. (This piece of furniture had a lot of opinions about how I was going refinish it!) At one point in the stripping/sanding process, I had tossed around the idea of painting the dresser a creamy white, but somehow this dresser just wanted to be black. One of the most important things about refinishing furniture is in going with what will enhance the beauty of the piece. I do sometimes shed a tear when I see people painting beautiful antique pieces without a thought of whether they are improving or degrading the beauty and integrity of the piece. Even though I do love white furniture, the heavy rounded shape of this dresser demanded a dark colour! Fortunately I had some black Country Chic paint on hand from previous projects.

screenshot of my pinterest board featuring black and wooden dressers

I decided to try an antiquing method, watering down the paint slightly, painting sections and then wiping some of the paint off in strategic areas around the edges of the trim, knobs and drawers to mimic the look of a timeworn historical piece. The most important part was in making sure that the wear pattern wasn’t too uniform, so it would appear as though the paint had rubbed off in high use areas. It turned out just as I was hoping for! The maraschino red colour actually looks very pretty when it’s just peeking out under paint, rather than covering the entire piece. (Ps. you can see my inspiration Pinterest board here).

painting the antique dresser black with Country Chic paint and then distressing it, as the paint is wet, with a rag

As for the top, I was able to salvage it. First I sanded it down to bare wood, as much as I could. There were some red patches left behind, but I figured they would blend into the new stain, which had a red undertone anyway.  After sanding, I wet the bottom of the wood with a towel to encourage it to swell and go back into shape, but I didn’t think to clamp it, so it warped again as it dried, even worse than when I had started. Oops! It also caused a lot more of the red dye to bleed out (which I had to eventually sand again…I was really getting tired of sanding that red dye!) So, then I googled how to fix the top, and found a few woodworking tutorials about straightening boards. I then wet the wood and clamped it between boards to encourage it to dry straight. However the clamps weren’t strong enough, so I ended up wetting it for a third and final time, laying it out on the garage floor, covering it with towels so it wouldn’t get scratched and then piling three layers of bricks on top to weight it as it dried. That worked! While there is still a slight bend in the wood, it was enough to be able to attach to the top of the dresser, and I don’t think anything could have gotten that warp out of such old wood. I also didn’t worry about the cracks; I had originally planned to use wood filler, but decided to just leave them as “character”.

staining the wooden top of the antique dresser with the Varathane Mission Oak oil stain

After the top was reattached, I stained it in three coats of “Mission Oak” by Varathane. I wasn’t sure about the resulting colour and wanted to stain it a bit redder and darker, but after buying a stain which ended up being the completely wrong colour, I decided to just leave it as is. And, after a few weeks of living with it, I’ve decided that the colour is just fine.

antique dresser wooden top before staining and after

I oiled the top with Tried and True linseed oil, which is a product I’ve used before and really like. It smells like fish and chips when it’s first applied, but it at least it doesn’t have any chemical dryers, so you can apply it indoors!

waxing the black painted sections of the antique empire dresser

As for the black painted section of the dresser, I waxed it with the Country Chic natural wax, because I’ve never done a piece of furniture that way before, and well … I’m not in love with it. The wax didn’t cure well or dry very hard- it almost has a bit of a tacky feel to it in spots and the dust has stuck into the wax some areas. I don’t know if I didn’t buff it enough or whether something else went wrong? I’m going to leave it for now, but I am planning on getting a buffing pad to attach to a sander and will try going over it with that to see if it will polish it smooth. At worst it might remove some of the wax, but that’s OK. It will just make the piece look even more aged, right? I wish, in hindsight, that I had oiled the painted sections, because the linseed oil cures to a dry finish, which is also quite a historical look. The wax is historical too, I just am not sure if it was the right choice for a black piece of furniture. Black shows everything!

fixing the broken wooden knob by molding a new piece to fill in the section and then painting it to match the other knobs

One of the other fixes that needed to be done was the knobs; one of the small knobs was cracked in half. The bottom had been glued back together, but a piece was missing. I was hoping to be able to buy a new small knob to replace it, but I couldn’t find this shape of knob anywhere. Then, I thought I’d replace all four small knobs with reproduction brass ones from Lee Valley, which would have been nice, however, their store is several hours away and I didn’t want to order online because I needed to match the brass colour of the keyhole hardware. Finally I thought of sculpting a piece of clay to fill in the broken section of the knob. However, when I talked to my brother, who does mini figure models, (and the one who came to my rescue with the mineral spirits!) he said he could mold me a knob to match! Even better! I am a novice at using the material he made the knob out of so my sanding/smoothing abilities on the knob were less than excellent. However, I painted it brown and red to match the colour of the other ones, and then painted it black, and you can’t even tell which knob it is…except for the fact that I just showed you!

closeup detail of the repaired knob made with resin on the antique dresser

Finally, the last step was to line the drawers. The drawers were strong and sturdy, just needing a bit of glue and tightening up, but the some of the insides were damaged and splintered so I decided to line them with wallpaper. I was browsing on Rona and Home Depot to see what was out there, and was envisioning a soft vintage inspired floral, like this, or even something fun and quirky, but softly coloured like this, but as soon as I saw this Art Nouveau paper, I knew it was the one!

top dresser drawer lined with the Crown wallpaper in Flora Art Nouveau pattern

This wallpaper is by Crown and it is the Flora Art Nouveau pattern in Peacock Green. (They also have a Russet colour way available). I love William Morris and Arts and Crafts wallpaper patterns, but they aren’t something that I would ever do on my walls. However, a peek of pattern and colour in a dresser drawer is just perfect. After I got the wallpaper, I learned that it is actually an archive print from 1910, which would explain why it’s got such an authentic Art Nouveau feel! I love seeing at it every time I open a drawer and the colours in the pattern perfectly match the red and black tones of the dresser. I attached it using Mod Podge because I wasn’t sure whether starch or wallpaper paste would stick to the rough wood. The Mod Podge stuck very well, and if the wallpaper ever gets ruined I will just replace it with new wallpaper, so I’m not concerned about potentially ruining the wood with the glue.

coye furniture company imprinted stamp on the back of the dresser

So remember how I said that as I worked on the dresser, I was starting to get the idea that this was a pretty old piece of furniture? Well, there is a stamp on the back that reads “The Coye Furniture Company”. Upon looking into it, learned that the company was founded in 1899 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin by Mr. William Henry Coye who had moved to that town from Grand Rapids. There is very little information about the company, but I did find a couple of print records. One is this “cordial invitation extended to visiting buyers” from the Coye Furniture Co. in this Grand Rapids Furniture Record, Volume 31, Page 114 from 1915. It says that the Coye Furniture Co. will be exhibiting in the Karpen Building in Chicago, although they, sadly, didn’t run any other ads in the catalogue. I would have loved to see what furniture pieces they were showing! Maybe they were showcasing this model?

That’s pretty much all I could discover about the company until 1916. In that year, another furniture factory owned by the Joerns Furniture Company located in Sheboygan, Wisconsin was destroyed in a fire. The Joerns company had been founded by the three Joerns brothers in 1889. After the fire, they purchased the Coye Furniture Company factory in Stevens Point and began operating it as part of their furniture manufacturing company. Any mention of Coye disappears after that sale, while the Joerns company is still in operation today (Although they’ve renamed, and instead of residential pieces, they now make hospital and healthcare furniture.)

Antique black and wooden dresser with a fashion poster and vases and books on top of it. The sunlight is shining onto it casting shadows

So, while I don’t have hard proof, this information, coupled with the fact that the drawers were solid dovetailed wood, and the piece was finished with shellac makes me think that this piece dates from before that 1916 transfer of ownership! I don’t think any pieces made after the company sold would be marked with the old Coye company name, although I could be wrong. There also was that Laco Lamps advertisement, which I thought dated later, but that eBay listing has it placed between 1910-1915 although I couldn’t find any other information as to whether that’s an accurate date or not. When I first got this dresser, I had assumed it dated from the 1940’s or later, but finding out that it is over a hundred years old makes me happy to think that I “rescued” it and restored it back to it’s former beauty, albeit with a different look. And, it’s also so perfect that the wallpaper pattern I chose is from the same time period. How serendipitous!

Details of the antique dresser: a brass keyhole and the curved wooden knobs and front detail

I don’t have a permanent spot for it yet. Because it’s an Empire style dresser, it is very big, and very heavy measuring 46″ wide and 22″ deep. It doesn’t fit in my bedroom, so I’ll have to squeeze a spot somewhere else in the house. I’m using it to store linens, silverware and decor in it; the deep drawers hold so much! I also forgot to mention that there is a matching mirror, but the structure that held it is missing. I didn’t refinish the mirror since I’m planning on using the dresser as a buffet, but maybe I will fix it one day.

I can’t say that I really enjoyed every step of this furniture refinishing process, it was a bit of an unexpected journey, but I do love saving and repairing things, and I’m so happy with how it turned out!

Have you ever started a project only to discover it was going to be way more work than you first thought? Or that you had to change your original plans as you went along? Do you know any other information about the Coye Furniture Co.? 

Restored antique dresser painted black and with a stained wooden top. Made by the Coye Furniture Company

The wooden painted knobs of the antique empire style dresser.

Antique black dresser sitting against a white wall. There is a black and white fashion poster leaning on top of the dresser and there is an arrangement of vases with baby's breath flowers and vintage books on one end.