Category Archives: Tutorials

Before and After

I’ve been hating the chair I’ve been using for my bedroom vanity.  It’s too wide, it’s always in the way and it’s too tall. It’s a good chair in the wrong place.

The search was under way for a vintage stool.  I had a really fabulous one but Thing 2 desired it for her room and it fit her bedroom décor perfectly.  Besides, I needed something with a smaller footprint that could almost disappear in my tiny bedroom.  It also needed to be a lower so I can see into my make up mirror.  I felt like I’m hunching over my mirror – something I’m not used to since I top out at 5 foot.

Last Saturday, on my way to get the Prius a badly needed wash I spied an estate sale.  I love a good estate sale.  Especially if it’s a TRUE estate sale – not a “we think our crap is nicer so we’re calling it an estate sale.”  I love to walk in and feel like I’ve stepped into the past.  The furniture, the carpet, the appliances,  Grandma never updated.  These are the types that yield treasures.

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Vintage Vanity Stool

It looked like slim pickings as I walked in.  I chose the path of least resistance – choosing the less crowded back bedroom.  There it was – sitting by itself and ignored by everyone else.  Who would want this drab little stool with its tacky brass and brown combo?  Me!  Me!  Oh, I’ve been waiting for you!

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Drab Brown Stool Seat

The vinyl brown cover was carefully removed and a pattern was made.

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Pattern from the Stool Base

The frame was sanded down and gilded with pretty silver finish.

A small piece of faux white ostrich leather fabric from my stash had been saved just for something like this.

It was sewn into shape and a new button was fashioned with pink fabric just to lighten things up a bit!

It’s sooooooooooo much better now!  The stool takes up less room.  It’s the right height and it feels oh so glamorous!

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Vintage Vanity

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Wine Cork Christmas Tree with Beaded Twisted Wire Garland Tutorial

Christmas is a big holiday for my friends over at the Barker Ranch.  Every holiday is celebrated and the house is decorated from floor to ceiling – especially Christmas.   (Or Christmas Hell depending on who you’re talking too)  Every nook and cranny is stuffed with festive décor and it’s a wonder to behold.   I’m not exactly sure how it happens – it’s seems almost magical, even though I’ve been at the start of “Christmas Hell” .

Another well known fact about the Barker Ranch is that they’ve collected quite a few wine corks over the holidays.  Yes, the Barker Ranch heartily supports the California Wine Industry.  It was inevitable that the Wine Cork Christmas Tree was made.

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Wine Cork Tree Tutorial:

You will need:

  • You need cardboard paper cone form – easily found at your local craft store.  Don’t buy the foam kind – foam and hot glue are natural enemies.
  • Glue Gun
  • 15 – 20 hot glue sticks (depending on your glue gun and your glue gun skills)
  • Friends who drink wine… a lot of wine… (Caution: this project requires approximately 90 – 100 corks I do not recommend drinking all the wine in one sitting.)
  • Fine gauge wire (approx. 15 – 20 feet)
  • Decorative Beads that fit the width of the wire.


Start at the bottom of your cone form, gluing each cork and pressing it to the form.  The trick is to butt one cork right up against the other – you don’t want to see any gaps.

When you get to the end of the row – you might find yourself with a gap.  Skip it for now (we’ll come back, I promise) and start the next row – over lapping where two corks meet below.  (If you’re anxious over the missing cork portion – I recommend you open another bottle of wine)

Rinse and Repeat, continuing to the top.

When you’re ready to fill in the gaps – take a cork and eyeball where you will need to cut it.  It needs to fit the size of the gap.  Corks are really easy to cut with a sharp knife.  Place the cork on a cutting board and position your knife.  Press the knife and roll the cork, (with your knife) cutting as you go.  This will make an even cut.  Now you can go back and and glue the smaller pieces to fill in the gaps.  I use the blank corks (with out writing) to fill in the gaps.

At the top of the wine tree, you have a choice.  You can either glue wine corks all the way to the top, but if you also drink Champagne, you can easily drill out the bottom of a Champagne cork to fit over the last bit of cone.

Make the Beaded Twisted Wire Garland.

Even a wine cork tree needs a little holiday bling. (Especially if it graces the Barker Ranch).  I saw a lovely beaded garland at my girlfriends charming shop – Mulberry Row – during her holiday open house.  It was so gorgeous I had to buy it.  It seemed perfect for the wine cork tree I made for the Barker Ranch.  But after being commissioned to make 3 more wine cork tree’s, I realized I had to make my own beaded garland.

Luckily, it’s a snap to make!

Measure a length of the wire by loosely wrapping it around and around your wine cork tree.  Bend the wire to mark your spot. Double the length and cut your wire.

Thread all your beads onto the wire.  Move one bead to the middle position.

Twist the wire around the bottom of the bead to secure it.

Move another bead about an 1 inch or 1 1/2 inches from the first bead.  Twist in the opposite direction that you twisted the first bead.  If you twist in the same direction, the first bead will untwist.  I found it easier to grip the bead and twist it around the wire.

Repeat until you have the wire completed beaded.

I left a long tail which I used to attach to the top of the cone form.  Then I hot glued the corks over it, to secure the wire in place.  After wrapping the beaded garland around the cork tree, I secured the other end by using a staple, pushing it into one of the corks on the end.

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Flourless Tutorial for rolling out Cookie Dough

Every year my girlfriend KP hosts THE best cookie exchange party!  It’s a wonderful event where a group of friends can catch up (sometimes from last year’s exchange party) and have a little bit of mommy/adult time (no kids allowed).  It really puts everyone in the Holiday spirit.  And of course, you come away with a variety of yummy cookies.  I think they were exceptionally great this year.  The past few years (with the exception of last) I’ve made gingerbread snowflake cookies.  Giant snowflakes decorated with white on white frosting and silver dragees and a dusting of sparkling sugar.  They are gorgeous and almost too pretty to eat.   The gingerbread dough recipe is a famous Martha Stewart recipe and it makes THE BEST gingerbread cookies!

This year, I felt it was time to change it up.  I broke out my prized copper reindeer and sleigh cookie cutters.  These over sized cutters make large cookies that make a bigger statement and are more fun to decorate.

But they are tricky to use since they have a solid back.  If the dough sticks to the cutter, you can’t use your finger to nudge the dough out.

I’m going to share with you my method of rolling out dough without dusting the surfaces with flour.  I’ve never seen anyone do it quite the way I’m going to describe (but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m not the only one).

The first key tip is your dough should always be chilled before you cut it and before you bake it.  Otherwise it gets sticky and tricky to cut out.  And it gets puffy in the oven and doesn’t hold the shape.  No one likes a fat reindeer – they can’t fly and they certainly can’t pull Santa’s sleigh.

When I first make the dough, I separate the batch into halves or thirds.  This makes the whole process more manageable.  Each portion of dough is placed on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Flatten it out a little with your hands – then top with another piece of plastic wrap.  Now roll out the dough with your rolling pin – no flour needed!    You will need to frequently lift off the wrap and reposition.  Roll the dough out to a thickness of around ¼”.  I place the dough on one of those flexible plastic cutting boards and place it in a stead spot in your refrigerator.  This way the dough chills flat.  Chill for about 15 – 20 minutes.

Once the dough has chilled – peel off the top layer of wrap and save it for later.  Place a silpat liner upside down onto the dough (or the right side to the dough for you sewers) and flip.  Now your flexible cutting board is on top, remove that and remove the top layer of plastic.  You may need to give one last roll to smooth any wrinkles or imperfections in your dough.

Cut out your shapes, peeling away the negative space dough.  I pile that excess dough back onto the removed sheet of plastic wrap.  If you’ve done this quickly enough, your cookies can go straight into the oven, but if you’re like me and take your time or get distracted by other things, you may need to chill your dough again.

Take the remaining dough and gently knead it back together and repeat the steps above.   This method yields perfectly shaped cookies and is far less messy!

And guess what!  Martha Stewart agreed!  She asked her viewers to submit their cookies this year and out of hundreds, thousands of people – she chose to show mine on her Friday episode last Dec. 16!  Hearing her describe to her audience the “fine work by Nicki Simpson” made me feel like I won the lottery!  Thank you Martha!!

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Curb Collected Vintage Patio Bistro Set

Oh I love me some curb collecting…. and they leave out the best stuff in my hood. They know the curb fairies soon will come by and magically remove it from the curb. It’s a little embarrassing…. oh hell, no, it’s not. I’ve curb collected some really great stuff. This adorable vintage patio bistro set for example! And no, it didn’t look like this to begin with…. (Sorry, no before picture). Its paint was chipped and worn, and the table top was missing the glass.
I’ve always wanted a little vintage set like this and it’s the perfect size for my little yard. I had it sandblasted and powder coated a new clean white. The seats were recovered with a trendy black and white outdoor fabric in a coral print.
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Here are the steps involved- pretty standard chair covering techniques.

Step 1
Remove the old fabric – always an adventure, you never know what you’ll find. This time the boards were a little musty and had to be replaced. I got some outdoor resistant plywood and traced the old boards onto them. Then I cut them out and sanded them down. You’ll thank me later when you place the boards back on the chair and mark where the screw holes go. I used a small bit and I pre-drilled the holes to make mounting the screws easier. It’s a good idea to mark where the back or the front goes.
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Step 2
Use the new boards to trace the pattern on new foam for the seat cushions. This is where investing (and by investing I mean dig through the kitchen stuff at your favorite thrift store) in an electric knife is going to make this job a cinch. (Your mom might have one in her drawer that she doesn’t use anymore….) Cut out the foam with your handy dandy new electric knife (this is fun).

Step 3
Layer the board, the foam, a thin sheet of quilting batting and lastly your fabric. Staple the fabric to the board in standard upholstery method. Pick one side, staple, then immediately staple across at the other side, pulling the fabric taunt. (Think North, then South) Be sure to keep the holes that you pre-drilled clear or you’ll be cussing later. Next staple East then West, again pulling the fabric taunt. Start filling in between, again stapling across from one another. Fold gathers into the fabric to make it look neat.
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Step 4
Trim away the fabric from your staple job. You can add a circle of fabric to cover up your staple job (glue it on if you must) but I live under the assumptions that people aren’t picking up my chairs and looking underneath them. That being said, the chair backs were viewable from the back, so I traced the chair back board directly onto a piece of the same fabric. Then I trimmed it about 1/2 smaller and glued it on the back to cover the board.

Step 5
Screw the pieces back onto your chair frames, brew yourself a fabulous latte and enjoy al fresco Dining at its best!