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My Inner Debbie Allen

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A few months ago I had a really grand idea for a dress design. It was comprised of a strapless bodice attached to a fitted pencil skirt with a sheer, flowy overlay at the waist- the dress equivalent of a mullet, but with business AND a party on the bottom. I knew that this dress wouldn’t be difficult to make because I had all the pattern blocks I needed, each tested and tweaked from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book: a strapless bodice, a pencil skirt, and various versions of a full-bodied skirt depending on the fabric I decided to use.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJLWiVkBx1C/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

On my August trip to The Fabric Store I came across this really cool mauve-colored cotton that I fell in love with (I am sure this type of fabric has a name, but I don’t know what it is). Essentially it has a sheer cotton background with appliques made of the same sheer fabric and cut in the shape of flowers that are placed on top. I thought it would look beautiful as my sheer overlay skirt, so then I searched the store for the perfect accompaniment fabric from which to make the fitted dress. I came across a polyester blend in Barbie pink- it had a tiny bit of sparkle and what I thought at the time was a nice, stable body, but it turns out that was just wishful thinking; the pink polyester was much more suitable as a lining, but I didn’t figure this out until the entire dress was made and I stood in my mirror with a dispirited look on my face. The bodice was fully lined with several tracks of boning attached to the lining, but the outer fabric was just too thin and showed each pucker, nip and tuck of the structure underneath. It gaped and folded at odd places and looked cheap (not as a fabric by itself, but in the way I had tried to manipulate it). Add to this my lack of care in working with the synthetic fiber (read: I TRIED TO IRON POLYESTER) and you can imagine the frustration it brought me. But the pink polyester fabric for the bodice/pencil skirt was not the only ill-fated choice I had made in the construction of the dress. The mauve overskirt fabric, while gorgeous on it’s own, either wasn’t sheer enough (or the Barbie pink fabric not bold enough) to show the details of the pencil skirt of the dress underneath, so my shiny pink fabric ended up getting lost anyways. My choice of using a circle skirt for the overlay pattern was also misguided- the shape didn’t serve as a big enough contrast to the pencil skirt underneath. From far away it looked fine, I guess, but up close, and in comparison to the dress I had imagined in my head, it was a disaster.

But I didn’t consider it a total loss- I had a good idea of what I needed to do to make this style of dress work, and step one was to abandon this pink failure and start over from scratch. On my next trip to The Fabric Store I immediately found the perfect fabric to use as my overlay, a completely sheer organza- type fabric with colorful bold stripes printed across it, and then I searched the shelves for a more appropriate fabric to use for the bodice/pencil skirt combo underneath. A midnight blue, full bodied (yes, like wine!) fabric that is apparently called Noil Silk, but looks like an imprint of woodgrain to me, ended up fitting the bill for my underdress, and this time, I made ALL the right decisions and the dress is a success! But more on this project in a future post!

After all that work, I was stuck with a pink polyester mess attached to a beautiful overlay skirt. Like most sewers, I hate to throw away nice fabric that I have inadvertently sewn into a disaster, but the overlay skirt was particularly difficult to think of getting rid of. It had taken me a couple of hours to figure out how to eek out a circle skirt from my cut of fabric (I seem to always err on the side of too little rather than too much when determining yardage) and I had just BARELY managed to make it work. And then I had spent a lot of time creating beautiful french seams for the inside since they would be seen through the sheer fabric. And it was all for nothing! But alas, I realized a few days later after heaving the pink dress into a corner of my craft room that if I had enough fabric leftover, I might be able to create a waistband for the skirt and just wear it as a separate… and I could maybe even get some semblance of the original silhouette I had in mind, depending on what I wore with it.

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During my first trip home after almost a month in Savannah, tackling this project was the very first thing on my mind! I carefully removed the polyester bodice/pencil skirt dress from the overlay and the zipper it had been attached to and proceeded to cut out two simple rectangles for the waistband (one for the outer band and one for the facing) in the width I wanted, plus seam allowance. Because my fabric is sheer, I lined it with some organza silk I had in my stash to give it stability instead of using interfacing, then I sewed everything together and attached an invisible zipper. I was worried that the fabric would be too lightweight to hold a zipper without puckering at the seams, but it held it’s shape just fine. Since I had re-sewn the pieces of the circle skirt and the edges seemed to be a little uneven, I let it hang overnight so the bias could re-acclimate to it’s new shape, and I evened out the edges and hemmed it the next day.

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To complete this look, I paired it with a Nettie bodysuit I made from a Closet Case Files pattern a couple of years ago. I was hoping the deep color of the bodysuit would give just enough contrast with the mauve to show through the skirt so that I could fully channel my inner-Debbie Allen, and I think it works beautifully. This is another look I have always loved and never found the RTW items to pull off: a maxi dress/skirt with bloomers underneath. The look came back on my radar after I saw a few scenes of Netflix’s show The Get Down. In all of the big disco scenes they shot, there are TONS of stunning outfits on the actors, but the all white maxi dress with the hip-high slit in the middle and the white bloomers peeking through was PERFECTION. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and this skirt and bodysuit for me is a much more casual iteration of that look. Eventually I would love to go full out and make a dramatic RedCarpetDIY version of that dress, but for now, this is a nice, safe stepping stone to the look.

 

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Even though this dress didn’t turn out the way I intended it to, it feels like a massive success. For one thing, I was able to learn from all the mistakes I made on this dress and apply my knowledge to a new version of the dress by starting over (if at first you don’t succeed, trycurious again!), and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the make was not a total loss. I have talked about this before on the blog, but figuring out how to salvage my mess-ups, how to Tim Gunn it and make it work, how to make lemonade out of lemons, has shown me exactly how far my sewing has come in the few years that I have made it my main hobby. Sewing requires such a vast array of knowledge and techniques that it seems impossible to ever to get to a point where anyone knows it ALL, so to be reminded that I haven’t hit a wall and am continuing to learn more feels really good.

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My film Suicide Kale will be screening in Atlanta this weekend (check out www.suicidekale.com to find out more info!) and this outfit will be making it’s debut there! When filming a show, particularly on location like Underground, it’s rare to have opportunities for red carpet and PR events, so it seems a little ridiculous that I have focused ONLY on #redcarpetDIY makes in the past couple of months. But at the same time, if fancy fabrics are what grab you, it only make sense to go with them. So excited to high kick in this getup at the panel discussion after the screening, just to make Debbie Allen proud!

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Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack

I took a break from the endless fitting and adjusting of Ginger jeans-making to work on a relatively quick and satisfying project for some instant gratification: behold the Retro Rucksack!

1.3_blogIn my last post I talked about how this is a pattern I would never have made without seeing this version of the bag first. I love the fabric choices Cut Cut Sew used- the colors are simple and sophisticated, the waxed canvas is super cool looking, and the Pendleton wool gives the bag a dose of sturdiness and a nice texture. I was inspired to make a near-exact replica of her lovely version, but thick wool isn’t a smart material to use in Los Angeles with the weather here generally being on the warmer side of mild. So instead, I copied her use of waxed canvas, a material I had not worked with before, and traded the Pendleton wool for a grid-designed medium weight canvas from Miss Matabi. I absolutely love the way the waxed canvas feels, looks and operates- it has the visual effect of well-worn leather without being finicky to sew with (although I do think this bag would look amazing in leather, too- maybe next time!)

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The whole reason I was inspired to make this bag is because I made THREE of the Desmond Rolltop Backpacks for gifts this past Christmas, and I was all too pleased with how they came out. But although I love the design, the finished product is a bit bigger than the everyday-use/over-the-shoulder bag I was looking to add to my own wardrobe. The Retro Rucksack pattern seemed to blend a lot of the elements I liked about the Desmond with something a little…well, daintier, for lack of a better word. After having made both of these bags (numerous times, even), I have to say that I am more impressed overall with the Desmond Pack because of it’s excellent instructions (and accompanying sew-along posted on Taylor Tailor’s blog) and its’ super-smart design. Sewing together square edges for boxes while using thick fabric is  known to be a tricky maneuver, but the Desmond uses a design that is easy to sew and makes the seams on the bottom of the bag look crisp and clean. Not so much with the Retro Rucksack though- you basically have to sew a rectangle onto a curved edge once you get to constructing the exterior of the pack, and because there are so many thick layers, there isn’t a good way to ease the fabric into the seam. It took me about 30 minutes to get the seams for the bottom of the bag sewn relatively straight and wrinkle free, and they are still far from perfect. I am sure there are all kind of tricks to sewing sharp seams with curved edges, but I personally prefer patterns that take these matters into account with the design.

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I also like how the Desmond pattern stresses the importance of sewing multiple lines of stitching over areas of heavy use. I ended up using a lot of the techniques I learned for the Desmond pack in making the Retro Rucksack, but despite some of the less-than-clear instructions, I am super happy with how the rucksack turned out and I think it’s a good pattern. I wanted my bag to be lightweight, small and portable, like the canvas grocery store tote I had been carrying around with me for months, and that has most definitely been achieved.

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I decided to nix the zipper for better accessibility to the inside of the bag (and also to eliminate a bit of weight and bulk), but I wish I had added a looped strap in the top of the bag to hang it on a hook. The side pockets successfully accommodate an iPhone and there are good sized pockets on the inside of the bag, too (although I accidentally put my lining in backwards so the zipper pocket touches the front of the bag instead of the back of it- NBD, but I will be sure NOT do that next time).

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I used some random (stained) linen in my stash for the lining that had been given to me years ago, and the tea-colored stains give the inside of the bag an aged, vintage look, although I hope that the old fabric holds up to consistent use. Thankfully, replacing the lining in the future wont be too much of a hassle because the lining and exterior are only connected at the top seam of the bag (and then I can re-insert the lining with the zipper pocket on the correct side!)

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The Desmond Rolltop Backpack construction was a little more involved than the Retro Rucksack, but it is absolutely worth all the extra work that goes into it. I love the detail of the webbing sewn onto the straps, the use of the hooks and D-rings (I used some of the same ones I bought from Taylor Tailor’s shop on my Rucksack), and the extended outer zipper pocket on the front of the bag.

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For Claire’s bag (shown in this post), I used a herringbone upholstery fabric for the exterior and a plain un-dyed canvas for the lining. The first time I made the Desmond bag I made a crucial mistake in the placement of the band on the top of the bag that holds all the straps in- somehow, some way (I swear I wasn’t drinking), I sewed that whole section like, four inches below its’ intended placement. So when I tried the bag on to admire my work, you can imagine my horror when I saw how short it was and realized I had messed up the placement and I needed to redo everything. And there is A LOT OF STITCHING there because that’s where most of the weight for the bag is held, so the straps need to be sewn down with many rows of stitching in several different places. It took me forever to rip all the stitches out. FOREVER, I tell you! But you better believe I never made that mistake again! Each of the three Desmond bags I have made have been well received- this will definitely be a staple in my pattern stash- I think the design is pretty flawless and there are so many cool ways you can personalize the design elements, with color blocking, using denim topstitching thread, and even incorporating leather.

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Thanks to Claire for these awesome pictures! You make my work look so good 🙂

Below are a couple of snapshots of the Desmonds in the wild:

@bishilarious gets gifted #desmondbackpack number 2!!! And it's looks great on her! Merry Xmas, Binty!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

Brittani with her Desmond pack made of duck canvas fabric for the exterior and steel grey webbing!

https://www.instagram.com/p/-fWqdVxF_S/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

This cute blue version was gifted to my friend Lawrence- I don’t have any pics of the bag except for this one close up. It was modeled after Taylor Tailor’s bag on his blog- made of extra denim I had in my stash and used with the reverse as the right side.

Claire used this bag as a carry-on when we were traveling over the Christmas holidays and it was STUFFED TO THE BRIM. I was so nervous that the seams were gonna rip, but this bag is much sturdier than I even gave it credit for.

Happy bag making, friends!

 

Side Boob DON’T into a Maxi DO

I don’t want to bore anyone with my tales of woe regarding Burda Patterns, because I know it’s not a solitary camp of one. I’ve read your blog posts about your love/hate relationship with them; I relate to how easily you fell for their dazzle and glam and gorgeous designs, and how disappointed you were when you read the instructions and realized that they were severely lacking…that they were missing some steps…that they might have even been missing some pattern pieces (true story). I have vowed off and on over the past few years to never buy another Burda pattern again, yet I have a collection of at least 20 unmade Burda PDFs in a folder on my computer, just waiting for me to feel weak and desperate enough to take another plunge into that dark abyss. Despite my issues with Burda, I find them to be a source of endless inspiration, and I have seen far too many beautiful makes by seamsters way more patient than I to write them off completely. But they get a lot of side-eye from me. So. Much. Side. Eye.

A few years ago when I was getting into sewing a lot and I hadn’t yet discovered that Burda patterns were an accurate depiction of my own personal hell, I  chose a gorgeous long dress pattern with a beautiful open back and lovely cap sleeves called the Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111.

Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111

The look was feminine and flirty and romantic, or at least that’s how the styling for the model was on the accompanying photo. When I pieced together my 100 sheets of printed paper and finally got to cutting the pattern out, I noticed that the skirt pattern required about half a mile of material at the waistline which was supposed to be gathered. I was worried that all this fabric would create unnecessary bulk at my waist and swallow me up, so I cut the skirt pattern down to half  it’s size in a gradual A-Line, and I felt proud of myself for catching this design flaw. This should have been a red flag right here, but instead of examining all the other parts of the dress to make sure they would work for me, I just kept going.

Finished dress. Note the angle of the camera so you DON'T see the side boobage.

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Construction was a nightmare: when I finally sewed all the bodice pieces together and tried it on, it gaped at the sides, but also needed way more coverage for all the side boob that I was showing (and I don’t even have that much boob in the first place). The front of the bodice seemed to float away from my body instead of laying down properly against my bust and I thought that carefully sewing bra cups into it would give it some shape but it didn’t at all- it just made it feel bulky.

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The bodice was so ill fitting that it pulled the skirt up in the back at the waist, so the bottom of my skirt drifted up higher behind me than in front. I was so excited about actually finishing this garment that I was in denial about how poor the fit was, and I even wore it out a few times. It was quite an ordeal though- in order to get the bodice to stay put I had to line my whole torso with stay tape so that the dress wouldn’t shift around and expose anything.

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I guess the design of the dress was dramatic enough that no one really noticed how wrong it was on me (I still got plenty of compliments) but I was never comfortable in it, and once summer was over, it went into storage and I forgot about it…until this year, when I begrudgingly hung it back up in my closet when it got warm again. I don’t know anyone else with my exact body size and shape, otherwise I would have given it away. My other options were to trash it or donate it, and I didn’t want to do either. Even though the fit left much to be desired, I really loved the fabric. I wanted a large print to balance out the length, and I found this sort of interesting cotton floral fabric at The Fabric Store that met my criteria, but it wasn’t bowling me over…until I turned the fabric over and saw that it had this hazy, worn, vintage look to the underside of it. This was one of the first times I thought outside of the box in terms of design choices on a garment, so saying goodbye to it felt weirdly sad.

fabric detailJust a few days ago, as I pushed this dress to the side of my closet for the umpteenth time and cursed it for taking up so much space, I had a thought- the bodice was awful, yes, but the skirt? The skirt was actually pretty great- it was the perfect maxi length to wear with flats, it was easy to wear and comfortable, and the fabric, as I said, was really cool. I decided that I would NOT throw the dress into my goodwill pile where it would most likely get sent to the dump anyways, and instead I would lop off the bodice and add a waistband and a button.

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Perfection!

Speaking of dumps, the bodice of this dress has NOT been thrown in the garbage yet, because I have not given up on this Burda design. I am keeping it in hopes of redrafting the bodice pattern into something that will actually work on my frame. All it needs is for the front piece to be extended on the sides to cover up that side boob and for the back bottom pieces of the bodice to be cut longer so that they follow the natural waistline instead of riding up. By the way, I am not a stark opponent of the side boob; like most design elements, side boob has it’s time and place. Like at a red carpet event with styled hair and lipstick and heels. But side boob does not (for me at least), belong on a dress meant to be worn to picnics and flea markets.

 

2.3For all my criticism of the fashion industry, I know am not blameless in the act of being wasteful and greedy for fashion’s sake. I still spend time and money on making things that are virtually unwearable, and if I can’t gift those end results to anyone, into the garbage they will go. This happens less often the better I get at sewing, but some things are simply un-salvageable, and I REALLY hate throwing yards of fabric into the garbage. It felt really great to take this dress, a garment that I was sure I would eventually throw away, and instead recycle it into another wearable version of itself. I would love to be able to do this with every single one of my failed makes, but that’s not realistic. I can at least attempt to salvage my disasters, though; if only a handful of them turn out as successfully as this one did, I could count myself lucky.

Viva la refashion!

New year, new rack.

COAT rack, that is! (ba dum ching)

When we first moved to LA, my wife and I rented a really cute house across from a beautiful, hilly cemetery and started to try and build up our pitiful collection of furniture. We had lived in furnished spaces for our previous four years in Vancouver, and everything we had kept in storage in NYC was cheap and ugly and falling apart. It was the need for a nice, big, solid dining room table and my disgust at how expensive furniture can be that inspired me to try and learn how to build it in the first place. Anyways, as you can imagine, in our first few weeks in Los Angeles making our new home, there were tons of trips to Home Depot, and just as many to the Rose Bowl flea and Ikea and World Market and Target and vintage home goods stores, where we could fill in all the holes of what we needed but could not make for ourselves. Our unfurnished rental had a large living room with a fireplace and a tall, arched ceiling, but no foyer or entryway space, so on a whim, I purchased a ridiculously (and unsurprisingly) overpriced iron coat rack from World Market. expensive ass coat rack

Full disclosure, I love/hate World Market. Their aesthetic is awesome, but their quality is shitty. Sometimes I just go in there for a little inspiration and a root beer, but I complain the whole time about how we shouldn’t buy anything cause it’s just gonna break unexpectedly.
So anyways, a few months after moving to LA, we bought a house and had to move again, with all the furniture we had made work for our rental space. Most everything translated well in our new home, including the the cute antiqued coat rack, which has provided an excellent space for us to put all our leaving-the-house shit for the past couple of years. However, this year when we got our Christmas tree, we had to move the coat rack out of the way and into the office to make room for it. And holy shit, what a difference the absence of a coat rack made! Our house is bigger in square feet than our old rental, but the living room/dining room is much smaller, and the ceilings are normal height. It was only through living a few weeks without the coat rack that we realized how awkward it had been in the room and how much space it took up.

photo 1The above photo doesn’t really do it justice, so you will just have to take my word for it- it crowded the area and ruined sight lines to the big window we have in front. So we got rid of the thing, kept it in the office for the holidays, where it continued to be in the way and take up too much space, but was less obvious. I needed a solution, something to house our bags and scarves and jackets, but something that didn’t involve having to use that bulky (expensive) coat rack. You see behind the rack to the wall next to the chalkboard? All the empty space on the left side? I hated that about as much as our huge rack (!). It was only apparent when you closed the door, but that space was usable and felt weirdly empty with nothing there. So, problem solved: get rid of the coat rack in the house and make a wooden something-or-other to hang on the wall in that empty space.

The next part was pretty easy; assembling some hooks and proper screws and finding a nice old piece of wood to reuse (this was from a shelf that had mostly fallen apart in the backyard when it flooded/ rained for the first time in a year). photo 2Claire sanded the board down but kept most of it as is cause the color and distress in it looked nice, and I screwed in some hooks on the front, and a few smaller ones on the bottom side of the board). photo 3

Positioned her on the wall, screwed her into the stud (!!)) and voila! Bye, bye, iron coat rack. The hooks used don’t all match each other, cause I couldn’t find four of the same ones, but I kind of like the mishmash look of them all together- plus, you can’t really see the hooks when they are covered in chilly weather accoutrement.

Final look: photo 5

Cleaner, opens the space and makes it much brighter, and provides a better spot for our armchair (not seen in the pic) which used to be shoved up next to the coat rack. The room looks so much bigger and less cramped, and I love being reminded of how important it is to rearrange furniture every once in while. Sometimes it just takes new eyes to recognize old problems. And speaking of old problems, I have a bulky expensive coat rack to give away if anyone wants it.

DIYing It Up

Thanks to a blog post I read in November of 2012, I was introduced to a new book that had just come out, called The Handbuilt Home, by Ana White. It was purported to  be a book that gave easy, comprehensive instructions to make furniture, no matter your experience level. On a whim I put the book on my Christmas list, and on the plane ride from Florida, where we spent the holidays with my family, back to Los Angeles where me and my partner had just moved, I read the book cover to cover and was penning a list of all the things we needed to buy at Home Depot on a drink napkin. Since putting all our stuff in storage in New York and spending 4 years in furnished rentals in Vancouver, we had no furniture to speak of, and more than anything, we needed a table and some places to sit; our first days in our LA rental found us in one primary spot in the house: a mattress in the middle of the living room floor, where we slept, ate, watched tv, read and cuddled. It took hardly any time at all for the coziness factor to wear off.

Anyways, my logic was this: we could either spend over a thousand dollars on a finished beautiful dining room table, or we could spend half that money on tools and materials and build one ourselves. Then, if we found the process to be fun and worthwhile, we could KEEP building furniture, making the investment of tools more cost effective with each project. Unfortunately, after our first two projects (a Farmhouse style dining room table and a matching bench), Claire’s interest had waned, but mine grew, and over the past year and some change I have continued to build furniture by myself, becoming more competent and taking on more challenging tasks. So far we have built the aforementioned dining room table and bench together, and I have worked solo on a coffee table, bookcase, printer console, upholstered vanity stool, and a rolling kitchen island, along with a slew of other smaller woodworking projects.

I wanted to share my latest furniture DIY creation here on my blog, because it is my most ambitious project to date. We recently got a master bathroom renovation to turn our tiny, barely functional hallway bath into an en suite with much more space and efficiency. In trying to make the most of our budget, I decided to take on the task of building our vanity, which, if purchased in the style and materials we wanted, would run us no less than $1500. With some free plans from Ana White’s website and a bit of advice from our contractor, I built the tile topped vanity from scratch and tiled the surrounding backsplash for $490, and it was custom built to fit the exact measurements inside our new bathroom. The project took about 11 days from start to finish, and the most difficult part of the whole project was the tiling. I had never tiled before and it was WAY more intense than I anticipated- I sprouted stress-induced fever blisters within hours after all the grouting was complete. I don’t think you can put a price on fever blisters, but all in all, the project came out beautifully and I am very very proud of it!

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I built the wood part of the vanity in my garage and when it was ready for the next steps, our reno crew moved it to the inside of the bathroom.

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I had to space out the tiles to get an idea of placement and figure out which ones I needed to cut.

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I had no idea that tiling was such an intricate process and that there were so many PIECES involved! Edge tiles, corner tiles, border tiles…the list went on and on! Thankfully we used a simple subway style tile for our vanity so our local hardware stores always had what I needed.

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After adhering the tiles to the surface and edge of the vanity, they need to be taped so that gravity doesn’t pull them down and the edge pieces fall off.

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It took a while to find the perfect knobs and hinge hardware for these cabinet doors, but we eventually found some pretty crystal knobs that elevated the Tiffany blue color of the vanity (which was spray painted for a smoother finish).

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Tiling is complete here and the sink was installed by the reno crew. The sink was purchased at the Habitat Rehab store for only $20, and it was like brand new!

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Finished vanity with tiling, and you can spy the gorgeous black and white penny tile underneath (a tiling project that I did NOT undertake- I left that to the professionals!)