Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Pillowcase-Sham, Fungi-Edition

January 26th, 2014 4 comments

A dear relative has made her life work the pursuit and study of the mushroom.  I wanted to make her a set of silky pillowcases so that she could spend her drowsing moments with images of her favorite obsession.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find serious mushroom prints on fabric?  Oh, sure, the cartoon mushroom is everywhere; so are psychedelic interpretations of the honorable fungi, colors and shapes distorted beyond recognition.  And fungi with elf-dwellers below: there is plenty of that.


Fortunately, a chance stop at a vacuum cleaner/sewing machine shop fairly far from home turned up this lovely print complete with proper identifications in Latin.  I was stunned!  So was the clerk, who pointed out that I was buying the last of a whole bolt — and that the store had gotten two in.  She said she couldn’t imagine how they’d ever sell it . . . and yet, it was disappearing like mad.


I whipped the pillowcases up in no time, but these aren’t ordinary pillow sleeves.  Although these can be used like standard pillowcases, I deliberately designed them to be used differently.

fpc-gpI dislike, intensely, this (shudder) ugly gap, in which the pillow, and its under-dressings, show through the opening.  Surely this is not how pillows are meant to be used!


Is this not much nicer?  It’s still a light, comfy pillowcase, but how much better!  There will be no pillow slippage here — where one wakes up in the morning to discover that the pillow has wrestled itself half outside the case, seeking an unclothed domination over the bed.  There will be no uncertain moments during the night when the coarser cover of the pillow itself sullies the sleep experience.

Also, an encased pillow just looks nicer on the bed, even if under the covers.  Make sure you plan ahead, though, since you will need to cut the front side of the pillowcase longer, which will affect how much yardage to buy.  My finished flap was about five inches, plus about three-quarters turned under on its raw edge, so my front piece had to be at least that much longer than the back.*

All I did was stitch up three sides of the pillowcase (French seams, of course, for a neat finish), and hemmed the back open edge as usual.  The front edge then got a deeper hem.  Then I turned the pillowcase inside out, and folded the deeper hem against the inside front of the case.


I then stitched along the existing seam line to hold the deep hem in place. It doesn’t show here, but I also bar-tacked at the end (within the seam allowance), rather than simply back-stitching, since the lower edge of the deep hem will be subject to unusual stress when folded over the pillow.

The pillow can be slipped inside just as usual (in the Philistine fashion!), or it can be popped into the case, with the deep hem folded over the opening, so that nothing shows but your preferred fabric.


It was a small gift, but it bundled up quite nicely.

I admit that when I replace our current set of pillowcases, I’ll probably serge the seams, which is far less elegant, and correspondingly more efficient.  (Mr. Noile sleeps with nine pillows; do you blame me for wanting to cut the labor short?)  For a gift, though, French seams and the neatest of finished edges are the right thing.

*Thanks, commenter LindaC, for having noticed that I left this crucial bit of information out!

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In My Drawers

March 3rd, 2012 8 comments

Sadly, this isn’t a post about knickers.  It’s about kitchen drawers.  Our kitchen cabinets are classic metal cabinets, installed in 1952.  Though they show a few of the ravages of time, we love them.  Call me crazy, but I much prefer them to modern wooden cabinets.

However, there are occasional issues.  For instance, the drawer fronts are held on by tabs that have been bent onto the sides, and melded in place.

Over time, the upper tabs on our most-used drawer separated, leaving a gap at the top of the front panel.  You can see it in the faint red circle above. (That printed stuff?  Ancient contact paper.  It will never come off, but fortunately it’s plastic, and scrubs clean.)

Using my trusty Dremel, I was able to drill a hole in each side of the drawer, and another one on the back side of the front.  A girl’s best friend is her Dremel!

The dark spot in the red circle is a hole on the  interior side of the drawer front; it’s the same shape as the tab that is supposed to be holding the drawer together.   It’s also the trick that allowed me to do a proper fix on the drawer.

Using long tweezers, I was able to insert a nut behind each of the holes I’d drilled on the drawer fronts.  I then placed an angle bracket in each corner, holding a hidden nut behind the bolt as I screwed it in place.

That’s all there was to it.

Categories: Home, Misc Tags:

Not Martha/Not Sewing

February 3rd, 2012 Comments off

(With apologies to the actual Not MarthaReal Martha, America’s favorite domestic diva and best-known upper-crust felon, wouldn’t be impressed with this project, either, but there you go.)

Our pull-down attic stair was replaced recently, first, with a horrible, flimsy aluminum ladder that swayed when it was looked at, and then by a sturdy wood ladder which has its own shortcomings, but is stable and strong.  I’ve finally stained and sealed the attic panel and trim.  Here it is, taped up and nearly ready for my tender ministrations:

The carpenter who did both installations was apparently pretty annoyed at having to re-do his first faulty job, and, whether through pique, carelessness, or incompetence, managed to destroy the trim around the opening when he removed it for the second time.  This was a problem, as all of the (matching) trim in the house is 60 years old.  The color — ancient varnish and stain from technologies long gone — was not easily replicated.

A really helpful guy at our local hardware store patiently opened can after can of stain for me so that we could figure out what would look as close as possible to the old trim.  So this is what I did this week, instead of sewing:

It’s not a perfect match, but it’s very close, and we can live with it.

Both stair sets came with white strings, and flimsy white plastic pull tabs.  Control is important when raising these panels, and the plastic tabs were hard to hold onto.  A ring would have looked great, but could have led to finger amputation, so I replaced the tab with a T-shaped lawnmower pull handle. The T shape allows us to get, and keep, a good grip without risking any digits, and, as a bonus, it’s also comfortable to hold.

However, the metal faceplate was pretty tacky.  I covered it with a little bit of rust-colored Ultrasuede (which should probably be dark brown, instead):

I also replaced the white nylon cord with a sturdier black cord, which won’t show dirt nearly as  readily.

Staining the stairs seemed like an unnecessary aggravation, but I did stain and seal the hand rail, since it gets constant use, and holding onto what would have eventually become a grubby rail was not a pleasant prospect:

That aluminum-looking, textured silver stuff above?  It’s an insulated cover that isolates the attic from the rest of the house with a thermal barrier; it helps keep heating and cooling bills lower.

I made one other improvement when the ladder was first installed.  The pull cords were just threaded through a hole drilled in the wood.  I think that’s sloppy, so I added a washer on the inside:

When the cord is pulled down, the inside knot rests against the washer.  Continual use of the cord won’t wear away the edges of the washer, as it will an unreinforced hole drilled in bare wood.

Most useful new trick I learned on this project?  The helpful fellow at the hardware store sold me this full, round, brush; he said it was the best tool for applying the urethane to the grooved molding trim.  It gave me a beautiful result with less effort than a rectangular brush would have required, and far better, and more even, coverage.  And it really was much easier to use than a conventional brush.

It’s not sewing, sadly, but it did need doing.  Sewing is best, but getting these projects out of the way is satisfying, too, even if it’s a rather different type of satisfaction.

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From Tee to Cushion (With Fungi)

January 14th, 2012 8 comments

I have a dear relative whose life’s work has revolved around fungi.  You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to find this in a shop last fall:

I’d been looking for “mushroom fabric” for quite a while, but everything was too kitschy, or cutesy, or just plain horrible.  I didn’t have any specific project in mind, and the pickings were so dismal, it looked as if nothing inspiring would ever turn up.  Then, when I least expected it, I stumbled across this:  not only beautifully reproduced mushrooms, but mushrooms with their Latin names appended!

There was one problem.  This is a tee shirt.  My relative does not “do” tee shirts. What, then?  The best idea seemed to be to turn this tee into a cushion.  Not, however, a pillow of the stuff-the-tee-shirt-and-call-it-done variety.  That fungi graphic needed some respect.  I went looking for loamy corduroy, and found a nice mid-wale in the right shade of brown.

I measured like mad, decided on the dimensions, and cut the tee shirt apart.  (I would have liked to have dumped the “mushrooms” text at the bottom; it worked on the tee shirt, but not so much on the cushion.  I couldn’t, though, without sacrificing important fungi labelling.)

I framed the knit on either side by cutting strips of corduroy carefully along the wale, and then pinning in the ditch where the knit attaches to the corduroy.  The precise cut allowed the seam guide on my presser foot to keep an exact distance from the “ditch” that the needle traveled while sewing the pieces together:

Corduroy has always been a favorite fabric of mine, and I used to wear it quite a bit.  I’m a bit picky about wales, and I really wanted the seam between the knit and the cord to follow the line of the corduroy wales perfectly.  This kind of persnickety requires mad basting, or, in my case, precise pinning, and that fine, fine accessory foot.

See what a beautiful edge this made?  The seam follows the wale perfectly:

I wanted this pillow to have a removable cover, so that it could be washed, if necessary, so I cut the back in two pieces, and inserted a zipper under a flap.  Then I used the technique described above to attach the back to the front sides, so that the seams would be just as smooth there as on the front of the pillow.

Here are the front and back, assembled, but without the pillow form:

The usable dimensions of the tee shirt had determined the size of the cushion, so I couldn’t use a store-bought form.  Instead, I whipped up a liner of muslin, filled it with the nicest poly stuffing I could find, and stitched it closed.  Then I popped it into the newly made slipcover, and this is what I had:

There’s a bit of a fish-eye affect going here, but you get the idea.  An alternative method would be to put a gusset all around the pillow — that would keep the shape more obviously square — but I wanted a slightly more informal cushion, and one that would be more scrunchable.

Corduroy was a good choice for the ancillary fabric; it gives the cushion a little gravitas, which I hoped would allow it to fit into my relative’s rather nice living room.

Tee shirts, it turns out, might be well worth mining for the kind of quirky or idiosyncratic fabric themes that are so lacking elsewhere, whether you think of them as apparel or not.  If you’re lucky enough to stumble across that one-in-a-million wonderful tee shirt, but can’t bring yourself to wear it, this might be just the trick to enjoying it anyway.

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Half-Circle Napkins

December 22nd, 2011 5 comments

Need a quick, last-minute gift?  These napkins are fast and easy to make and can be folded in a number of ways, depending on your mood, or whatever is going on at the table.  If you use appropriate colors, you can achieve a “Christmas tree” effect, which is how you’ve probably seen them done around this time of year.

To make them, I drew an 18 inch circle on paper, then folded it in half.  I cut the circle along the fold, took one half, and added a seam allowance to it.  I used a one-quarter inch allowance, because I think it makes a nicer edge, and I didn’t want to trim the seam after I’d sewn it.

Then I cut my pattern out of cardstock, and used it as a template to mark the shape on my fabric.  In this case, since I wanted something festive, durable, and quick-drying, I used two tablecloths with a damask-like texture for my fabric.  Tracing the template made the cutting go very quickly, and was quite accurate, as well.

I sewed them up, right side to right side, all around, leaving a small opening to turn. Then I edge-stitched all around, closing the opening in the process.

Most of the folds are simple to figure out, but the tree fold is little tricky.  Start with the half-circle, laid out flat, and then fold about a third of it underneath, on the right side.

Then imagine two lines from the point of the napkin to the outer edge, equally spaced.  Make a fold along the imaginary line that is closest to the left upper edge of the napkin, bringing the fold to the top of the napkin.

Do the same with the next imaginary line, also bringing that fold to the top, straight, edge of the napkin.

That’s it!

I thought that “half” napkins would be too small to be practical, but discovered just the opposite.  These are nice and big, and stay on laps much better than similarly-sized square napkins.

Wouldn’t these be charming as smaller cocktail or tapas napkins?  There’s no reason they couldn’t be all one color, either, or any of hundreds of other variations, in prints or solids of all types.  Anyone could work the evergreen theme by using this red and green, or green and brown, if yours isn’t a Chrismas household.  A couple of shades of blue,  or blue and silver, would be nice for Chanukkah, too.

Here’s a close-up look at the folds.  I’m sure there are many more variations; this is just what I did immediately.

A fan fold, red side:

The same fold, green side up:

Side pleat:

Bishop’s mitre:

And the tree, right side up:

I actually purchased a single-sheet pattern at the fabric store; it was a little silly, since these aren’t difficult to make, but I like to support entrepreneurial pattern makers.

However, when I got home, I discovered that, though the page was nicely produced, the instructions weren’t very helpful.  Instead of using half-circles, the author’s layout used full circles, which wastes a lot of fabric, and I found her directions for folding to be incomprehensible.  Sigh.  At least she got an “A” for effort, and whatever profit she made on the single sale, even if I can’t recommend her pattern here.

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Organization -1798 Style

April 7th, 2010 Comments off

Philadelphia has had to stretch a bit to capitalize on its association with Benjamin Franklin; sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  I suspect that many of the visitors to 322 Market Street leave believing that they’ve seen a replica of Ben’s own office, but the restored room actually belonged to his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache.

It’s still historical, and still of interest, whether or not the association with the founding father is direct, so it doesn’t particularly bother me that the two Bens get a bit conflated.  As often happens, it’s the small artifacts of life that catch my eye most frequently.  Here’s what I saw on the wall at the address in question:

bb-fkln-400Grandson Benjamin published his own newspaper, The Aurora, here in the late 1700s, and this was his wall file.  Butterick’s got nuthin’ on Ben Bache.  (You’ll need to click on the third picture from the left, directly under the large picture at the link to get the specific reference.  Heaven forfend a pattern site link should actually be useful.)

Categories: Home, Organization Tags:

The Kitchen Sink

February 12th, 2010 4 comments

Note: Edits added 1/24/2012, added in italics, and bold, below.

There’s been precious little sewing, and even less sewing blogging, around here lately.  There’s always a long list of things that need doing, not many of which require needle and thread.  Here’s one of them; I decided to post it because I think that anyone who can sew can probably handle this particular bit of home repair.  It was actually kind of fun, and I loved not paying a plumber a hundred bucks or more to install it.  Here’s our old kitchen faucet, dating (I think) from around 1970:

fau-old-400It’s ugly, it’s never been maximally useful, and it developed a loathsome drip.  We’ve always hated having a faucet that was so low — almost on level with the top of the sink — since it’s difficult to get deep pans under it.  I decided I’d rather replace it than deal with taking it apart just to fix the leak.

So I trotted over to Lowe’s and found a new one.  As it turned out, there weren’t many options for us;  at all of the hardware stores in our area, there were only two faucets that would work in our particular situation.  (I’ll explain that later.)  Most people won’t have that much trouble finding a replacement.  Figuring out which one to buy isn’t usually a problem either;  in general, sinks have standardized holes in the stainless or porcelain.  You just need to know the number of  holes, and the configuration.

I found a faucet assembly that would work, got the tool kit out of the basement, cleared out the cabinet, and reached in to turn the water off.  And couldn’t.  The valve handles wouldn’t budge.  Stymied at the first moment!  The first step for this home repair project, much to my surprise, involved these tools:

fau-wp-400WD-40 is my best friend.  When using it, tap gently, or you’ll end up calling the plumber after all.  It took only a couple of minutes’ work before I was able to turn the handles.  With the water lines closed off, I crawled into the cabinet and peered under the sink:

fau-bef-400Ours is a four-hole sink, but the 1970s faucet uses only two (you can see the water lines above, one hot, one cold, which go to the appropriate faucet handle). The fourth hole, on the far right, holds a brass plug in place over the hole where a sprayer would go.   Yeah, that sink needs replacing, too, along with the 1952 counter, but that’s a project for another time.

I reached up and unscrewed the rather weird little rods holding the faucet in place.  There was nothing else keeping the faucet assembly steady, so I went slowly, making sure that I could ensure that the assembly would end up resting on its side, instead of falling into my porcelain sink and chipping it.  If your sink is in better shape than mine, you might want to  hedge your bet a little and line it with a towel against damage.

Under the faucet was horrifying:

fau-rem-400Blech!  Getting rid of this, alone, would have been a good reason to replace the old faucet.  Weirdly, all of these deposits and the grime scrubbed off very nicely — without even much effort.  I used a non-metal scrubber, cleanser, and polished like mad. It was beautiful when I finished, which apparently amazed me so much that I forgot to take a picture.

Once the surface was clean, I placed the new faucet assembly into the holes.  (I debated scrubbing off the rust underneath, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  There’s a stainless steel sink in our future.)  Here’s what the assembly looked like from the underside:

fau-cncts-400The new faucet is just set in place here.  The gray water hose on the left isn’t connected; it’s just sitting there.  See the threaded steel post on the right, just above the whitish connectors?  There’s another one on the left, though you can’t see it as well.  Those posts are what holds the faucet in place.  This is possibly the kludg-iest connecting system imaginable, but it’s also exactly the one that held the 1970s assembly in place, so apparently it’s got tradition going for it.

Here are the parts that get attached to those posts:


The little round tube is a spacer.  You twirl the rectangular bits onto the posts until they are braced against the bottom of the sink.  Wacky, no?  It does seem to work, although it looks pretty dicey:

fau-undr-300You can see the rectangular bit, the tube, and the nut that holds them in place.

Edited 1/24/2012: I found that the toggles that  go across the holes underneath the sink tended to slip, so I picked up a couple of large washers and threaded them onto the bolts before replacing the toggles.  Now, under the sink, there’s a washer up against the underside of the hole; then the rectangular bit (the “toggle”); the tube, and finally, the nut that holds it all in place. The washers provide a more stable resting place for the toggles than just having the open hole, and prevents any slippage that might occur as the faucet handles are turned again and again over time.  You want to be careful when tightening a porcelain-finished sink; the washer gives you a little more leeway for keeping things snug, without risking cracking the porcelain finish.

Once the faucet assembly is centered and firm, you re-connect the waterlines to the new assembly:


Because it uses a lever instead of two handles, the new faucet doesn’t use the right and left holes for the water lines; instead, all of the connectors go through the large, center hole that the 1970s faucet didn’t use at all.  The two gray vinyl tubes are the hot and cold water lines, and the patterned hose goes to the new sprayer, which replaced the messy cap that originally covered the fourth hole in our sink.   I checked the connections very, very carefully, and that was it.

The whole installation took less than an hour.  Here’s the new faucet:

fau-inst-400Well, that’s what it’s supposed to look like.  Because we have a portable dishwasher, our faucet has to have an adapter on the end of the spigot; it was this that severely limited our choice of hardware.  It seems that modern faucets usually have some kind of fluted end, many with sprayers built into the spout, and we can’t hook our dishwasher onto any of those.  It may be 1952 in our kitchen, but the dishwasher is a critical part of our 2010 life, so fancy faucet tips were out of the question.

Our new faucet doesn’t look quite as nice (or maybe just doesn’t look quite as finished) with the dishwasher adapter on the end:

fau-dw-300But it stands a lot taller than the old one, swings out of the way much more effectively, and, although we don’t use it, it’s a lot nicer to have a sprayer installed in the fourth hole than an ill-fitting blank.  (By the way, I did have to uncoil the sprayer hose under the sink and let it sit for a day before it un-kinked enough to allow us to lift the sprayer head.)

Because we realize that we’re likely to sell our house someday, I put the correct head into a plastic bag, labeled it, and taped it to the pipes under the sink.  That’s so that we will have it handy when the real estate agent explains that we’d better get the house in shape to sell it.

Related:  Sinking, Not Sewing

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Cork-Backed Tiles

February 10th, 2010 Comments off

When Mr. Noile and I started eating hot pot for dinner, we realized that it would be a great idea to have something larger than a trivet to put underneath our cast iron kettle when it is on the table.  The solution turned out to be more versatile than we expected:

tl-bwl-400I found 12in by 12in sheets of ceramic (technically, these may be glass) tiles at a local hardware store, and cemented them to a thin layer of cork.

Here’s what one of those squares looks like:

tl-sngl-400I made four, so that we could use them in various configurations.  Here’s our table with the tiles arranged by twos:

tl-twtw-400Four in a row, down the center of the table, they look like one continuous set of tiles:

tl-tps-nosp-300Using just three, with spaces between, looks completely different (yeah, it also looks different because my photographic skills need help; working on that):

tl-trpl-300One advantage to these mats is that they store very easily, as they’re quite thin.  We tend to keep two on the table, and two more on a coffee table in the dining room, which gives us a place to put cups or snacks if we’re sitting there.

Finding very thin cork for the backing was a little tricky; an office supply store had thin cork, but only in pieces too small for these tiles.  I found a roll at a local office/art supply place, and used an Olfa cutter and a steel ruler to cut it to size.

I tried several different adhesives before I found the right one; you’ll probably have to experiment, as what you’ll need will depend on your particular tiles, and the backing on which they’re sitting.

Attaching the tiles to the cork required some dexterity, since there are small spaces between each tile.  I had to put a drop of adhesive on the back of each tile; I managed this by doing the first row, and then applying adhesive and rolling the tiles onto the cork row by row.   I put weights (stacks of heavy cook books) on the tiles until the adhesive had set — in this case, overnight.

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Grab Loops on a Window Shade

January 6th, 2009 Comments off

The second task of the new year was this somewhat peculiar project. Our laundry room has a window above the washer and dryer, but I’m just too short to reach the shade that covers it. The shade itself is ugly, I’m afraid, but it’s also very different from (and better than) anything I could find to replace it. It’s very heavy vinyl, and completely blocks light. It also works very, very well. And, as I couldn’t help noting when I considered replacing it, it’s already installed. Putting up new shades in the sewing room was a nightmare I’m not eager to experience again.

grab-trim-3001What I needed was some kind of handle. I probably should have crocheted a small ring and strung it from the bottom, but I’m just not up for crocheting right now. Instead, I put up a yellow and blue valance, and found matching colors in grosgrain ribbon for this trim-and-grab-loop solution.

The yellow quarter-inch ribbon is stitched over the blue, one-inch grosgrain. I had a sewing machine foot that I thought would make the job of sewing one to the other easy by letting me thread the narrower ribbon through the foot, but it turned out that the ribbon proportions were wrong. After a few practice scraps, though, I figured out how to feed the ribbons evenly by hand, and got a pretty good result.

I couldn’t find an adhesive that worked on the shade, so I had to figure out how to get the stripe to stay in place. In the end, I ran the ribbon completely around the shade, going through the slot at the bottom where a wooden slat goes to make the shade more sturdy. Underneath the trim, and just above the slat, I carefully cut two buttonhole-like slits, and ran the back of each loop through each one. That way, when I pull on the loops, the pressure is on the slat, not on the shade itself.

The horizontal ribbon strip is just pinned inside the slat’s sleeve. (Don’t tell anyone!) Logistically, it was too difficult to try to stitch it, and I was worried that I might need to tighten it up later. The loops are discreetly hand-stitched closed, since putting the entire shade under the sewing machine wasn’t an option.

Mr. Noile isn’t wild about the look; he says it’s a bit utilitarian, and he’s got a point. Considering the issues, though, I think it’s a good solution for now. And that dreadful fringe? Well, that’s for another day. In the meantime, I’ll just call it vintage, and appreciate its historical value.

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The New Year, In a Small Way

January 4th, 2009 Comments off

The family has gone, and the house reassembled, so, obviously, it’s time to start sewing again! Several things were left unfinished after a mad final quarter in 2008 when I was frantically filing and organizing the house. On Friday, I got them done.

First was this small valance for the upstairs bathroom. Neither of us is entirely crazy about having this wonderful print on a wall, exactly, but it does fit the personality of our 1952 bathroom just fine:


In keeping with my new-found resolution to use up as much stash as possible, the curtain is lined with a sheet that’s been kicking around, allegedly as ‘muslin’, for a few years. Instead of sewing a rod pocket across both fabrics, I attached the main fabric to the lining with enough of a seam allowance in the lining to allow me to make a pocket for the rod in in the lining alone.

Making the pocket rod a little snug keeps the valance in place (no lining creep in the top), and lets the main fabric fall directly from the rod. Unless a curtain is gathered, I really don’t like the way the rod pockets (and stitching) look when you can see them from the front.. This was a good way to keep the focus on the print, not on the construction.

(Yes, that’s an awful line on the blinds where my hand-cleaning stopped. It turns out that you CAN remove 30 years of accumulated dirt from fragile blinds — you just have to go very slowly, one slat at a time. I’ll be getting back to that one of these days. I got distracted by all the more necessary blinds that were breaking, and thus in dire need of immediate attention, on the other twenty-six windows in the house.)

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