The Brellis House


Category Archives: Projects

[Failed] Experiments with Natural Dyes: Pokeweed

Posted on October 17th, 2014 by Susanna

Last year I successfully died fabric with black walnut, which was my first try at dying fabrics with natural plant material. My end goal is to have about 10 or so colors so that I can make a quilt similar to this beauty. This year I decided to try my hand at pokeweed. I had read that it can be difficult, but we have so much pokeweed around our neighborhood I couldn’t help but try. A 25:1 ratio is recommended, 25 pokeweed weight to 1 fabric weight. I ended up with about a 35:1 ratio. Then I picked all the berries off the stems. This part took FOREVER.  pokeweedAnd it made my hands look like this. It’s a bad sign for dying fabric that this washes right off your hands with soap and water.

pokeweed handsUsing two books from the library (one of which is a really beautiful book called Harvesting Color) and the internet, I read that a vinegar mordant helps the fabric hold the dye, so I pre-mordanted the fabric in vinegar, which was done by simmering (160 degrees) the fabric in water with about 1 cup of water. To prepare the berries for the dye bath, I mashed them in the dye pot, filled the pot with water and 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of water for a pH of 3.5. I heated this for 1 hour over low-medium heat, then strained the berries out. The pre-wetted/mordanted fabric went right into this dyebath and soaked on medium heat for 2 hours. I turned the heat off after 2 hours and let it soak for about 30 hours.

I ended up with fabric that looked like this. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic, but worried it would all wash out like it did on my hands.

pokeweed fabricWhich is exactly what it did. I let it sit and dry for over an hour, then brought it to the sink. The color immediately started to rinse out, and I was basically left with a piece of dirty looking fabric, with a SLIGHT pink hue if you squint (or just pretend). Oh well! Maybe I’ll try again. There are a few things I think I could possibly do better, such as being more precise with measuring exactly how much vinegar should be added to the dyebath and using pH strips to get to exactly a pH of 3.5 in the dyebath. Also, using a thermometer because the dye is very temperature sensitive and the color will be destroyed at temperatures too high.

pokeweed fabric

Here are the three fabrics I have so far. Pokeweed on the left, black walnut method #1 in middle, and black walnut method #2 (soaked overnight) on the right.

natural dyes fabric




Refinishing the Staircase

Posted on October 4th, 2014 by Susanna

Refinishing our staircase has been on our to-do list for years and we finally got to it! Particularly after we refinished our wood floors, the orangey wood with paint splatters was really bothering us (probably really just me). Plus I had been lusting over the painted riser-dark wood stained tread look on pinterest. So one weekend we tackled it and wonder why it took us so long to get to it. Here’s what it looked like before, although we didn’t really get very good photos of how bad the wood really looked up close.

stairbase before

All we had to do was sand down the treads (sounds easy but it took HOURS), vacuum, and spread on two coats of stain and two coats of a clear coat.staining staircase

Then I painted the risers with one coat of primer and two coats of white paint and voilà! They are so beautiful.staircase after

DIY Wall Art: Grandfather Clock Art

Posted on January 21st, 2014 by Susanna

I love creating our own wall art and am always looking for ideas- and when I saw this pin I immediately wanted to re-create it. I love grandfather clocks and we really don’t have room for one in our house, so this is a perfect compromise.  It was super quick and easy to make- luckily we’ve got large rolls of paper, so we cut out a piece, taped it to the wall and got to drawin’.

grandfather clock art

Finding a frame for this would be impossible so we decided to go for the canvas look. We had some strips of wood in our basement and nailed together a wooden frame. Then we wrapped the paper around it tightly and used a staple gun/hammer to attach the paper to the wood.

grandfather clock art

We were pleasantly surprised how easy it was to wrap the paper around the wood frame- we thought it would be too loose and look bad, but we’re pretty happy with how it turned out. 

 grandfather clock art

Wintery Wreath

Posted on December 10th, 2013 by Susanna

The Brellis House: WreathMy mom has always had the ability to seemingly effortlessly whip something crafty together and it always turns out beautiful. She’s especially good at making wreaths and floral/green arrangements so I decided to give it a try myself. Dan and I wandered around a nearby park and walked around the forest edge and found lots of grape and honeysuckle vines, a few pine and holly sprigs, and also gathered some wisteria vines from the backyard. I started out with a hoop that was actually from an old lampshade I took apart a few years ago.

The Brellis House: wreath ringThis next step was a terrible idea, but I thought that if I fattened the ring up a bit with newspaper then I’d need less vines to give the wreath some thickness. What I didn’t realize was that all my vines were so thick that they wouldn’t really cover up the newspaper. By the time I realized this I was too far into it, so I just continued and hoped it would be covered enough, which ended up working.The Brellis House: newspaper wreathThe Brellis House: Wreath Making The Brellis House: Wreath Making The Brellis House: Wreath MakingOnce I used up all of the vines I had gathered, I stuck a few of the greens on one side, salvaged a ribbon and stuck it on the door. I might keep my eye out for some red berries (holly or winterberry) to pop in for some more color.The Brellis House: Christmas Wreath

Cornhole #3

Posted on October 29th, 2013 by Susanna

The Brellis House Custom Cornhole Set

We made our first cornhole set for our wedding reception. It wasn’t too difficult by following directions from Cornhole How To. It does take some time and the lumber is surprising expensive (about $50-70). Even still, for Dan’s older sister’s wedding, we decided to collaborate with his younger sister and her boyfriend to make them a cornhole set as a wedding present. Lessons learned: an outdoor duck cloth fabric is crucial for the bags! We thought we’d get fancy with a cool canvas pattern, but unfortunately, the bags ripped after a few games… (cornhole is an intense sport).

Even still, one of her bridesmaids liked the idea so much that she asked us to make a set for a party celebrating her wedding. We saw this as a perfect excuse to buy a table saw- which we found at a yard sale. The table saw made it a lot easier and we used sturdy fabric and simple color patterns. She was happy with them.

The Brellis House Custom Cornhole Set Blue


Experiments with Natural Dyes: Black Walnuts

Posted on September 5th, 2013 by Susanna

black walnut dyeI got the idea about a year ago to make a quilt with all naturally dyed fabrics. Even though I haven’t finished my second quilt, I got started with the dyeing process this past weekend. Most of the plant material I plan on using is “ready” this time of year. My first experiment was using black walnuts. This isn’t meant to be a full tutorial, there are lots of good sources online and books. I’m simply documenting and presenting what worked (and didn’t work) for me.

Before dying, I scoured the fabric by simmering with some washing soda. This removes any waxes or junk on the fabric that would keep it from dyeing evenly.

scouring fabric

At first I didn’t mordant the fabric. I gathered about 10 black walnuts from the ground below a tree, they were mostly green, some browning slightly. Then, following directions from two books I got from the library (Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess and The Handbook of natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr), I cracked the hulls and separated the nuts (which I left in our backyard and hopefully someone will eat them).

breaking walnut huskswalnut husks

Then I put the hulls in a 5 gallon bucket and added water and let fester in my basement for 2-3 weeks.  The water quickly became dark dark brown and stinky. Once it seemed ripe, I strained the liquid into a pot and brought the liquid to a boil, then simmered with the fabric for about 30 minutes. I had two pieces of fabric in the pot, so I decided to see what difference time made. I took the first piece out after 30 minutes of simmering, the second piece I let steep overnight. Then I rinsed and rinsed the fabric until the water ran clear(ish), let dry, and here’s how they looked:

walnut fabrics

While the colors were lovely (they both kinda appear white in this picture, they were actually much darker), I was expecting a much darker brown rather than a light gray. I had done lots of research and a lot of people said a mordant was unnecessary with black walnuts, but I also read that some people used one so I decided to experiment. I kept the darker of the original fabrics (the one that sat in dyebath overnight) and mordanted the lighter fabric and redyed it. I created an alum mordant by  simmering 20% alum per fiber weight, then let fabric steep for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Additionally, I decided to try boiling the black walnut water with the black walnuts for an hour to try and extract more of the dye from the husks. After boiling for an hour, I added the fabric and soaked for about an hour on medium heat. Then I let it steep overnight and rinsed the next morning.

black walnut dye

What a difference those extra steps made! It’s now a much deeper brown, almost olivey.  So I have my first 2 colors- I need about 10 more to create the quilt I have in mind! This may take a few years. 🙂

Framing a Mirror with Fence Boards

Posted on August 23rd, 2013 by Susanna

wooden-mirror-frameFor years I’ve been collecting inspiration and watching out for the perfect wood to frame our gigantic floor mirror that I inherited from my grandmother. Here’s a picture from our upstairs renovations of the unframed mirror:unframed mirror

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted after collecting photos on pinterest.  I always wanted to use fence boards from my parent’s old farm, but that never worked out so when I saw this on craigslist I immediately jumped.

I filled the back of my tiny car with (dirty, buggy) fence boards and headed home to start cutting. The mitered edges were tricky (warped, uneven wood doesn’t lend itself to nice, snug 45 degree angles) and we ended up getting my parents and their assortment of table saws involved. After many hours we finally got the edges to line up, screwed in some brackets and mirror clips to hold it on the frame, and finally we have an awesome floor mirror that didn’t cost any more than a few dollars for the hardware!

framing a mirror

wooden-mirror-frame-bottom-corner wooden-mirror-frame-straight-on

Unfortunately, we didn’t really consider our slopey cape cod ceilings when we were measuring out the frame and now the mirror is kinda squished in the space but we’re very happy with it and maybe it’ll fit better in our next house. :)wooden-mirror-frame-top-corner


Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by Susanna

My grandfather was a big collector of clocks towards the end of his life. I inherited a few clocks, and also a few pocket watches. They’ve been sitting around in a box for years and I’ve been wanting to put them in shadowboxes and up on the wall. Finally we did it! Here are some of the watches.


I had two frames from Ikea and another shadowbox from my grandmother that we were able to fit five of the seven watches in. After googling around for a minute about how to secure heavy items in a shadowbox with no real luck (most involve tape or sewing the item to the backing or pinning, none of which were an option since these watches are so heavy and we didn’t have real shadowbox backings that we could pin into) I got the idea to use fishing wire and try to dangle them from the top of the frame. It worked perfectly. Then I found a third shadowbox at a secondhand store that I was able to paint black and put the last two watches in. I ran out of fishing wire and ended up using thread which actually looks a lot nicer. Now if only we had done this years ago- it was so easy! Oh, and I was singing Fiona Apple’s Shadowboxer the entire time which was pretty annoying.

pocketwatch shadowboxgazelle head and artwork  horse head and artwork living room artwork

Second floor updates

Posted on March 10th, 2013 by Susanna

We’ve made lots of progress since our last post about our upstairs improvements.  After finishing the drywall, installing recessed lights, and putting in some extra insulation, we hung some bead board on the knee walls, painted everything (took FOREVER) and finally layed the new floor. Laying the floor was way too much fun, I seriously could lay floors all day long.


DSC_7927DSC_7943 The new floors made such a huge difference, especially once we put all the trim back up. We especially love our upstairs now because it’s like a giant dance floor- we’ve hosted a few dance parties, including a break dancing party:


So then we got started on our closet.  We decided to try and build it ourselves.

closet building

closet buildingcloset buildingcloset building

It worked out really well and is ridiculously more functional than our old single rod closet. Next post we’ll have some final photos and a budget breakdown!

Cornhole #2

Posted on July 5th, 2012 by Dan

Our first cornhole set was fun and not too hard. We made it for our wedding following the website: Cornhole How To. It was cool to have a custom set and (to me) even cooler that is was regulation size and everything!

Since we liked ours so much, we decided to collaborate with my younger sister (Jenny) and her bo (Justin) to make a set as a wedding present for my older sister (Mary Beth) and Jake. As you can see from the pictures, we were super precise and didn’t stage an shots to make it look like the workload was shared equally.

What are either of them doing? No, that's not a beer.

It's important to make sure the one board is level.


We decided to try and be fancy with a custom paint job to match the cool pattern fabric we bought for the bags. Jake loves plaid and Mary Beth is into flowers and Winnie the Pooh (when she was as a child). This ended up causing a headache since the fabric wasn’t really heavy duty enough for cornhole bags and ultimately ripped after a few games (you definitely need to use duck cloth).

Have you ever tried to paint plaid? Lots of tape went into this.

There it is.

Bees and flower.

This sharpie eventually smeared when we put a cover coat on top.

Until then, however, we were pretty proud of our custom paint jobs and fancy bags, plus we had fun making them. Sadly, we never took a final photo, but maybe someday we’ll snag one.