Friday, November 28, 2014

Believe It or Not

I've been neglecting the blog, but not the house.

Last strip, up but not trimmed
The William Morris wallpaper in the dining room is up.  Can you believe it? As of last Sunday night, after a good-- how many? seven? weeks of working on it.

It wasn't procrastination that made me take so long, it was waiting until I had an extra pair of hands available.  I did a lot of it myself, but some places I simply needed a helper.

Especially for the corners.  I didn't like the way my previous method for turning them was eating up so much pattern.  I found this method on YouTube and decided to try it.

I succeeded at the first one, in the northeast corner-- eventually.   But not after having the piece going onto the adjacent wall (all 5" of it) flop down on my head, onto the steps of the ladder, get stepped on, dirty, cat-haired . . . miracle it wasn't trashed.  I cleaned it up, repasted it, and got it on the wall, but after that experiment I decided no more corners until I had help.

That came in the form of my friend Lizzie*.  Between my work schedule and hers it would run two or three weeks between the times she could come and help.  And as the video says, the method takes time.  Lizzie and I were lucky if we could pull a corner turn off in an hour.

My walls are screamingly old and out of square and going around corners there was often a goodish amount I had to trim out of the piece going onto the adjacent wall.  At the top, especially.  That wasn't fun.  I was afraid to use the X-Acto knife to trim it (as the paperhanger in the vid does at 11:00 min.) because I was afraid I'd cut through both layers.  Instead I'd crease it with my thumbnail to give me a guideline for my scissors.  The worklight doesn't cooperate at such times.  It washes out the shadows and with my lousy eyesight the cutting was often hit-or-miss.  Still, at eye level the pattern looks pretty darn continuous and matched.

The scissors method doesn't work in the dead corner (southeast, in this room).  There I sucked up my courage and used the craft knife to trim the last piece in the corner.  Gently, gently . . . almost managed to do the whole cut without piercing through the bottom layer.  Almost.  Of course it had to be about six feet up, where the bookcase won't cover it.  Trimmed an eensy piece of wallpaper and shoved it into the inch-long slot, to bring the top piece out and eliminate the shadow.  It worked; at least, I have to be looking for it to find it.

It was a toss up as to whether a given whole strip would go up peaceably or fight me all the way.  The one after the turn around the northwest corner took Lizzie and me a good hour, just to get it matched.  Not sure why.  We blamed the settling of the house and let it go at that.

Dead corner, done and trimmed
Time and again the hanging got precarious.  Too bad: trashing a strip and starting over with a new one was not an option.  But this Britpulp is thick and pretty forgiving; you can even smooth down minor tears (not that I had more than one) so they're not obvious. In the end, I came out with a whole full strip to spare. Would have had a full, unopened roll had I given more thought to the cutting at the start, but them's the breaks.

Since it takes me so blinking long to hang a strip I've had to cope with popped seams here and there.  That's where an artist's detail brush comes in handy.  I gently lift the loose edge, poke in some wheat paste, wait five minutes, poke in some more, wait another five minutes (normal relaxing and booking time for a Britpulp paper like mine), then gently smooth it down with a clean, just-damp sponge.

All in all I think the installation looks good.  I'm no pro but I'm getting better.  Full strips matched up nicely with partial strips above and below windows, and in the dead corner the pattern's only off by a half inch (compare that to nearly an inch and a half in the living room).  Except for a couple of unobtrusive places I don't have any overlaps, and there they face away from the light so you have to run your fingers over them to detect them.

So now, at last, it's finished.  I wish I could post better pictures.  The "Savernake" pattern's so subtle it's impossible to catch on camera.  But the color turns out to be fine.  It changes depending on the time of day and the light, from cream, to yellowish, to off-white, to palest green, but never does it bellow "Celery green!!!"   And the pattern makes the room look bigger.

I've been shellacking and remounting the dining room window trim as the pertinent walls get papered, but that's another post.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Early this morning I got to thinking, maybe I can do this wallpaper hanging by myself.  I got the long strips of horizontal blankstock on the wall successfully, why not the vertical wallpaper?  And if I wait till next week when my friend Hannah* might be able to assist, the latest batch of wheat paste will probably go bad, even if I do have it in Tupperware in the refrigerator.  I’ve wasted too much money already letting wheat paste go bad; I can’t afford to squander any more.

So after a long day of teaching and working at the Big Blue Box Store (and after only slightly more sleep than I’ve been making time for the past week or so), I launched in and tried it.

I think it came out fairly well.  Not professional grade yet, but aligned, on the wall, with no tears or rips or bubbles to poke.  I hung three sheets in all; well, two full-length ones and one split in two above and below the righthand north window.

Some of the seams are excellent, if I say so myself.  You really have to look for them to find them.  Others I tented a little too much, and though the strips don’t actually overlap, today you can still see the line between them and feel the protrusion.  The most worrisome is the one at the bottom of the wall where I have a slight gap.  It couldn’t be helped, not by me at my present level of ability: It’s a function of the curve of the brick and plaster wall.  A pro would be able to stretch the paper just the right way to close that up.  Me, I’m hoping the baseboard covers most or all of it.

The biggest problem is keeping the edges of the strips wet enough with paste so the seams get stuck down.  Or maybe I’m waiting too long to roll them?  I looked up Robert Kelly’s report on seam cycles and he says 11 to 12 minutes for a Britpulp machine print like my “Savernake.”  But is that from the time you begin to apply the paste or from the time you get the abutting strip on the wall?

I could email him and ask, I suppose . . .

I’m glad I recut to adjust the pattern.  Now the heaviest elements will be balanced, top to bottom.  The way I had it at first would have spelled aesthetic disaster.

As for the color, I think it will be all right.  I really do.  Lying on the table or juxtaposed next to the pinky-manila-toned blankstock, the strips look very green.  But together, as a field on the wall, it eases out and goes more brown and neutral.

Beige?  Heaven forbid!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Still Waiting

It’s Sunday night, and no dining room wallpaper is up.

Yes, Lizzie* came over yesterday.  But I didn’t get around to sizing the blankstock will mid-afternoon.  And whether it’s because I overthinned the paste or because it’s supposed to do that, the size bubbled the liner off the wall in several places.  Watch Kate run around with a paste pot poking paste up behind loose seams!  See her slit long bubbles with an X-Acto knife and dab paste into them!

In the end, after we’d had pizza and talked and she’d gone home, the liner dried and the bubbles went down smooth of their own accord.  Of course then I was spending hours on the Internet trying to find out if they re-adhere as they dry.  And trying to find photos of wallpaper literally falling off of walls, to determine what caused it.

It will be all right, won’t it?  I mean, that blankstock is definitely Up, isn’t it?

Before supper Lizzie helped me find the center point between the two north windows and mark the vertical line I’ll butt the first strip of “Savernake” up against.  Of course when I went back to check it later I found one or the other of us had let the straightedge slip and the cross point was marked 3/16" too far to the left.  Either that, or the windows are so far out of square it throws everything off.

Will I notice it if that’s the case?  I want that strip to be centered as possible, since I usually sit at the end of the table opposite that wall.  The way my previous-owners-two-back papered the room, starting at the southeast corner and working around so the seams fell where they might, the pattern sat five or six inches off center for ages.

No more.  Not if I can help it.

I considered flying solo with the Morris paper this evening.  But a distant cousin is letting me log in to on his password so I can contribute to our mutual family tree, and well, when you’re breaking down long-standing brick walls, it’s easy to avoid papering the plaster-on-brick walls you stare at every day.

Especially when you’re still a little scared.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Please consider the usual apology for long silence made.  Let me announce rather the wallpapering of the dining room is moving forward.  (Pause for trumpets, or at least a kazoo). After literal years of contemplation, hesitation, and self-doubt; of picking at the old stuff and planning for the new; of stripping and scrubbing, prepping and priming, the walls as of early this (Friday) morning are finally lined with blankstock, sized, and ready for paper.

A big part of the hold-up has been getting extra pairs of hands to help.  My friend Janet* from England aided me with hanging the stairhall paper (the Morris “Blackthorn” green) in the spring of 2012.  My local friend Frieda* contributed mightily to my getting the living room paper (the Morris “Owen Jones” red) up the subsequent fall.  But Janet's far away in Essex and Frieda's current work schedule sucks away nearly all her time, and there's something that shrivels up in me when I think of asking just anybody to help me with the house.

But a couple weeks ago a church friend I'm calling Lizzie* expressed herself willing to lend a hand.  Or two.  We were planning for her to come help put up blankstock the third Saturday in September-- until I got an emergency call to come work that day at the Big Blue Box Store.

We tried again last Monday the 29th.  Together got five strips of blankstock up.  Railroaded.  Yaaaayyyy for us!

I won’t go into the convolutions that put us through; suffice it that I learned or was reminded of enough hanging technique that I was able over the next three days to hang the rest of it myself– even the 12' strips at the tops of the west and south walls.  Without bubbles, wrinkles, or disasters.  Unbelievable, but true.

Lizzie is coming again tomorrow afternnon (later today?) to help me hang the actual paper, the very William Morris & Co. “Savernake” No. WR8480/5, and you know what?  I’m scared.

Not scared of any part she might play in it, but of all the things that could go wrong, now I know that the stakes are so high.  Didn’t I title one of my previous blog posts on the subject “On the Verge”?  Yeah.  On the verge, and hoping to God I don’t fall off.

What’s all this trepidation about?

Well, first, I dread I’ll get it all done and I won’t like it.  I’m still kicking, kicking, kicking myself for not buying the paper back in 2004 when it was a) a lot cheaper, and b) produced in the creamy tone I really wanted.  Having looked and looked it’s this Morris pattern or nothing, and the pale celery tone with the brownish figure isn’t bad for a dining room, and as greens go it’s the sort I like, but for a whole room it’s not really me.

I’m telling myself it will be all right once the drapes are up and the chairs reupholstered.  I hope I’m right, but my gut tells me No.

And I’m scared I’ll run out of full strips of paper before I’m through.  I was an idiot when I started cutting the strips for tomorrow and a) didn’t look hard enough at the pattern and correctly choose the cornice line, and b) when I wrote down the correct measurement of 8'-7" (including margin top and bottom) but for four whole strips I assiduously made the cut at 8'-5".  Maybe the all-nighters I pulled hanging blankstock are catching up on me?  Aaaggghhh!

The measuring error was a blessing of a perverse kind.  It forced me to start over and recut.  If I hadn’t, the pattern imbalance would have been noticeable, very.  But by the time I discovered it I had only six and two-thirds whole double rolls left.  Eyeballing the walls I conclude I need twenty full strips to cover them without horizontal seams.  Twenty is exactly what I can get out of what I have left.

So what if I muck one of those full strips up?  What if due to corner cuts I need one more?

Yeah, I know.  Do a horizontal double-cut and splice in a piece at the bottom of the wall in a corner and stick the bookcase in front of it.  But my pride suffers agonies at the thought.

And then I’m spooked by the paper itself.  That stuff was running 18 quid a double roll back in 2003, around $33 at the time.  I got it for £27; about $45 each, in 2009.  You know what it’s going for now?  Before shipping?  A bleeding $98 a double roll!  Mon Dieu, at that price it’s practically sacred!  At that price I should have auctioned it off on eBay and paid my mortgage the next month and a half!

But I didn’t. Almost half of it is cut, and the rest will have to follow.  And for better or worse, scared as I am of mucking up the job, it has to be hung.

I still need to size the blankstock.  But that can wait till daylight.  I stay up any later I’ll just add to my mistakes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

This Is What Is Known as "Existing Conditions"

My big goal after prepping the dining room last month for wallpaper was simply to get all the bills and receipts and tax documents entered and sorted out so I could have a clean Study for the first time in months.

Have I achieved this?


I've  been Writing, and obviously not on this blog.

I've had the fiction writing bug for a few years, but not very seriously:  ideas rattled around in my head but I seldom got around to writing any of it down.  Kind of like a renovation project that always in the planning stages and never gets built.

And then one day you finally get out the shovel and start digging, and who knows what you'll find.  In my case I found writing obsession, broken by periods like the present one when I'm a little stuck and I'll mess around on the Internet for hours rather than do the work to push on through.

Last November I started a writer's blog where I could post my productions and moan and groan about the turmoils of an amateur fiction writer's life (what there is of it).  I put it on WordPress because for various reasons I didn't want my Google/Blogger name(s) St. Blogwen/Kate H. attached to it. But I have mixed feelings about WeirdPretzel (which I describe here), so a week or so ago I started a doppelganger Blogger blog, under a separate Google name and account.

All right, now I've revealed all that here, my cover is blown.  Obviously.  Never mind, there's a method to my madness.

Both blogs are named The Writer Sits Down, and you're invited to pop on over to your choice of platforms and see what my mind has been building while my power tools have been idle.  The novel I'm presently revising is about two architects, so that's renovation related, correct??

 But speaking of DIYers and existing conditions, may I present this:

"Human Remains Found Behind Home."

That is why contractors demand more money for Contingencies.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the Verge

Barring a ceiling I do not want to repaint, my dining room is ready for wallpaper.

Yaaaayyyyyyy!!!! from the peanut gallery.

This means in the past month I got the rest of the old paste off the walls.

Handy scraping tool

And finished washing the yucky mill dirt off from behind the trim.

And used Gardz to stabilize the surface of the drywall on the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.

Gardz = shiny

And used the Big Wally's to close up a plaster crack over the "archway' to the living room.  And to stabilize the plaster at the bottom of the left side of the north wall, and at the bottom edge of the west windows.

And spackled and sanded all the dents and holes and all that sort of thing.  (Used joint compound, actually, it being what I had on hand.)

And took down the register cover and spray-painted it hammered bronze.

Screen wire cover, to keep the kittehs out of the ductwork

And used paint and walnut-tinted shellac to fake a natural finish on the silly undersized cornice molding.

And shellacked the window jambs and heads where they'll be exposed once the trim is back up.

And primed the whole room (and was glad I had enough left to finish the job).

And touched up the perimeter of the ceiling with primer where the shellac got out of hand.

And did the Big Wally's on a couple of corners of the ceiling where I discovered it was sagging a litle when I was touching up the perimeter.

And spackled and sanded the holes left from that, and hope no one notices, since a big enough chip of the ceiling paint didn't stick to the Big Wally washers such that I can get a computer match at the Big Blue Box Store, and I do not want to paint the ceiling!!

Before sanding.  Definitely.

Of course it helps to have an excellent Inspector of Works.

Wallpapering, which will entail railroading blankstock under and hanging the good stuff on top, will have to wait until I can be sure of a second pair of hands.  It's not a job I can do alone.

And yes, I'm pretty well reconciled to using the celery-green-tinged William Morris "Savernake" paper I have eight rolls of.  Not like I can return it after five years.  Or sell it on Ebay and replace it with another dye lot, the price has gone up so high.  I'll deal with it.  It should be fine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Scraping Along

What was the name of that instrument the Romans used to use to scrape the sweat and dirt off their bodies?

Oh, yeah, a strigil.  Pretty effective tool, a strigil.  If you didn't have soap and water, or if soap and water wouldn't do the job, a strigil was the tool for you.

But what's that got to do with preparing my dining room for repapering?

A lot.

Remember I said Monday that removing the old paste was a long, wet, messy, tedious job?  Well, it is.  And using only spray cleaner, a scrub brush, and an abrasive coated sponge, apparently an ineffective job, too.

I started on the east wall on Tuesday evening.  That's the wall that's clad in drywall.  Now, it's not like I've been working on this steadily since Sunday night.  I have other things to take care of, like work and gearing up a new used laptop computer.  I do what I can on the walls, and leave what I must for later.

Anyway, either I was deceiving myself on how well the old paste came off the plastered north wall, or it was thicker on the drywall or the drywall holds it more.  I know I was scrubbing and scrubbing and it was still sticky and gooey.  The Simple Green was not working.  The brush and sponge just spread the goop around.

So, back to first principles.  What is the time-honored way to loosen and dissolve old wallpaper paste?  A 50-50 mix of vinegar and warm water, of course.  And if the sponge is leaving the wet residue on the wall, well, time to start scraping.

Like with a strigil.  Or in this case, a plastic wallpaper smoother.

Spray, spray, spray.  Scrub, scrub, scrub.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  Rinse, rinse, rinse.  Wipe, wipe, wipe.

Oh, my.  It's scary how much pasty glop accumulates on the edge of that scraper.  Once, twice, three times I have to repeat the procedure on each yard-square area of the wall, before I can even begin to fool myself into thinking it's no longer sticky and the paste is gone.

I'm still working on that one east wall with the drywall.  I'm barely half done with the room, if that.  And if I have to go back and redo (scrape) the walls I already have done, I'll wish I had a few of those sweaty Romans around to help me out, strigils and all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Well, That's Done

By which I mean the dining room wallpaper stripping, as of around 11:30 last night.

Went on and scrubbed the mill dirt off the plaster around some of the windows, too.  That and general cleaning to remove the old paste and any remaining bits of wallpaper backing will go on for a bit, as it's a long, wet, filthy, tedious job.  If one could enchant a broom into bringing endless buckets of clean water (à la The Sorcerer's Apprentice), it'd be tempting to consider making it happen.

Before cleaning

There's probably lead dust in that bucket, considering the plant a little way up the river.

Clean.  Relatively-speaking.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Highly Valuable Use of My Limited Time

(She says with just the right tinge of snark.)

Here's where I got to as of 6:15 this morning, when my second bottle of wallpaper remover ran out and I decided to call it a night:

Finished publishing the previous blog post by 6:40 or so, whereafter I set the kitchen timer to ring at what I thought would be about twenty after nine and crashed out with the dog on the sofa. It went off, I heard it, but I didn't bother looking at a real clock.  No, I just reset the timer to ring at what I thought would be about 10:00 AM.  Plenty of time to make it to church.  But it took me to more like 11:30, and too late.

Whereupon I got up, used the can, fed and toileted the animals-- then crawled between my bed covers and slept (still in my clothes) till 6:30 PM.

Whereupon I fed and toileted the animals again-- and have been on the computer ever since.  My excuse is that I'm having second thoughts-- again-- about the color of the "Savernake" dining room wallpaper I bought from the UK in 2009.  Hey, I wonder if the color is better now, and if they'll take the eight rolls I have (all unopened) in even trade?

But now that the site has my location code it keeps reverting to the US page and tells me the company won't ship that William Morris paper to me here.  And that even if it did, it would cost me $98 a roll!  (I think I paid around half that in '09).  That won't keep me from giving them a transAtlantic call sometime this week, but still, this doesn't get dinner (breakfast) eaten or the remaining beige-with-pink-roses paper off the wall.

So now I'm also wondering if I would have been better off to have gone to bed at a (semi-) decent hour last night.

But moaning over what can't be helped is a further waste of my limited time.  And maybe I can redeem myself with some progress pictures.  Enjoy!