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Today’s guest is Lisa Bass is a homeschooling mom of 6 kids, ages 11 to 4 months. She and her husband make their living in their 1890s Victorian farmhouse, sharing food from scratch, natural living and a handmade home. I’ve been stalking her Instagram account because her photos are beautiful! When I grow up, I want my house to look like Lisa’s.
One of the things I love about her style is that she’s actually making and creating it herself. In fact, she recently released a book where she provides many of her handmade projects. Now, if that’s not your thing that’s totally cool. But I think there’s something to be said for creating a home that you love.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #248 5 Tips to Create a Handmade & Vintage Home of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
Melissa: Lisa, I love that a lot of your pieces you’re actually showing us the step by step to create them and how to create an environment in your home that you love, that is also natural and homemade. For someone who is just starting out on a handmade journey and wants to incorporate it into their decor and everyday life, what are your best tips? How would they go about getting started?
Lisa: I think a lot of DIYing in my house had to do cheapness more than it had to do with the aesthetic. Now it’s blossomed into a unique collected look over a Hobby Lobby redo. I like things that come together over time. In the beginning, though I had two thoughts: how can I make this and not have to completely decorate my house and not spend a fortune? So I like to collect a lot of vintage things by buying a set of sheets from the thrift shop or an old tea towel or large tablecloth with crocheted edges. And then making them into something else.
It helps if you’re just starting out because the fabric can be really expensive. If you jump into this hobby full force and go to Joanne’s you could spend $100. If it’s your first time and you mess up, you might end up with something not that great and then you’ve might’ve wasted those materials. What I liked to do when I first started sewing dresses for my little girl, I would get vintage pattern curtains from the local thrift shop and make ruffles and experiment.
Also, start with things that are really easy. You could cut a large square fabric, put hems on all four sides and make a tea towel or a tablecloth or a really simple pillow cover. Don’t start with ruffles and slipcovers. Start with straight lines.
Melissa: I was really fortunate. When growing up money was really tight when I was little and my Mom sewed so much. She would sew a lot of my clothing but back then buying notions, zippers, buttons and the fabric itself was more economical. It was more frugal to actually sew your own clothes. But now in this day and age, I feel that unless you have a phenomenal coupon, it’s not always cheaper to sew your own things.
My mom and I just went shopping in the thrift stores for my birthday. We went thrift store shopping because it’s my favorite thing in the world. It’s such fun to find good stuff and fun fabric. We were specifically looking for fabric. I mentioned that my mom used to sew things for me. Now, I can do a hem, sew a straight seam, and I can quilt but actually sewing things on the sewing machine, not so much. I was spoiled growing up because my mom would do it all for me. I didn’t jump in and learn as much as I should have. I feel like I’m getting that education now.
When we were at the thrift store going through the vintage area at some of the fabric and stuff, she told me which ones I didn’t want because they had too much of a high polyester blend. I wanted to use the fabric for stuff in the kitchen but didn’t understand why and needed an explanation. I know that polyester isn’t the greatest because it’s synthetic but I didn’t know why it’s not good for the kitchen. In case you’re wondering, it’s because it holds the grease and stain whereas if you get 100% cotton it won’t.
My point is to bring us to this question: When you’re picking out the fabric, are there certain things that you want to look for, especially if it’s for something that you want to be nice and have some longevity and use in your home?
Lisa: I just go by feel. If I’m going to be making a dress for my daughter and it’s a home decor weight fabric and it’s really heavy, I know it’s not going to make the best ruffles because it’s not going to drape nicely. Or if it’s going to be a pillow cover, that would hold up a lot better. You can tell by feeling it what a good application might be. Also, with anything you do, you just figure it out more as you go. I know I definitely used the wrong fabrics for the wrong things a lot in the beginning.
The more you make, the more you realize what would work for different things. I like to look for anything, especially at the thrift shop that has a detail that would be expensive to buy today. Like a crocheted edge or something like a quilt. That would be so time-consuming to make on my own. If I see something like that, I will get it and figure out something to use it for because it took someone so much time to do it and it can be repurposed into something really beautiful.
Melissa: Yes, I agree. I like to look for embroidery work as well. Some pieces will have a stain or discoloration which can sometimes add to the charm of it but if it’s a nasty looking stain I try to evaluate if it can be cut out and use the rest of the fabric for something else. Like if it’s a large tablecloth could I cut the stain out and make napkins or placemats out of it. Just because some of it is damaged doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be able to use the other part of it. I’m glad you brought that up.
Lisa: Embroidery is definitely something I look for because you’ll see hand-embroidered things just tossed away and forgotten. You could take a small portion of that, cut it out, and put it in maybe the waistline of a girl’s dress to hand down like a little apron. Or make a pillow cover where just the front portion of it has that pattern or embroidery work. You don’t want to pass those details up.
Melissa: Some of the things that I enjoyed that you had in your new book is that you share how to do things like working with beeswax and other things like that in the kitchen. What are some ways that you’ve brought the handmade and natural living element into your kitchen? Not specific to food?
Lisa: The beeswax wraps are my favorite way, but I like using those kinds of things that can be used over and over again and in a natural way. So the beeswax wraps are really great because they can create an airtight seal without having to use plastic wrap. Anything beeswax, anything linen. I try to bring in a lot of antiques so that I can create a look that is functional but then also really pretty because you leave a lot of things out on display. I like to have my aprons displayed on a hook in my kitchen and a vintage crock full of wooden spoons. I like to be able to put the pretty on display that is also really functional. That’s definitely important to me because we have a house that isn’t huge. I can’t feasibly put everything away all the time. So being able to keep it where it’s pretty and functional is always my goal with anything.
Melissa: That’s my goal too. I’m currently in the process of redoing my kitchen organization. It looks like my cupboards threw up all over the counters. I know you guys just moved which gives you an opportunity to reevaluate because it’s a brand new space. But it also makes you look at everything that you have to determine if you’re really using something and how can you use it to it’s best functionality. Do you have any tips or criteria that you use to evaluate? Like when you’re using what you have or even looking to bring in some new pieces?
Lisa: I feel like I do the organizing constantly. Everything looks great, I have things where I want and then things constantly change or I need things during different seasons. I want the organizing to be a one and done type of thing but it’s isn’t. It’s a constant reevaluation of whether I still need something. What I try to do is not allow one use things to take place in my kitchen. If something is just a unitasker it usually has to go. But there are things that I will allow to take up a ton of space on the counters and the pantry even though they’re huge and not pretty. An Instant Pot for example, but I don’t use it for just one thing. I use it to make yogurt and bone broth and other things that happen multiple times a week. So it gets to stay even though it’s big and ugly. If it’s something that gets used at least once a week I will find a place for it.
Melissa: I was late to the Instant Pot craze. I finally got one two years ago and I’ll tell you what, even though it’s a modern appliance I love it. It’s great for natural living, made from scratch kitchen. I use it for yogurt, bone broth, and just when I’m busy and forgot to thaw the meat out ahead of time. Sometimes I use it two or three times a day like if it’s a big prep day and I just need to get a bunch of stuff done.
Lisa: You were probably late to the party because you were already doing all of those things before and thought you really didn’t need another thing because of that. I don’t know about you but I was finally convinced that it was going to be a lot easier and it really was.
Melissa: Yes! Same here. Before I would do my bone broth and simmer it on the back of the stove. We have an electric stove and I wasn’t super comfortable leaving that stove on for 48 hours to get a good gel on your bone broth. I wasn’t comfortable leaving it on when we were sleeping or when I was still working my day job. So I would use my slow cooker and even then, my slow cooker was tied up for 48 hours to really get that good gel. In the Instant Pot I can do it in one hour and it gels like nobody’s business.
Do you actually leave the Instant Pot on the counter or does it just have a prime place in the cupboard where it’s close by but still covered? Or do you just leave it out?
Lisa: I do put it back away in the pantry. That’s probably just because our kitchen renovation is fresh and I still like looking at it. But I bet when it’s not fresh anymore it’ll just stay on the counter.
Melissa: I have one cupboard door that’s large enough that I can just slide it in and it’s just right.
Lisa: That’s actually the spot that describes where I have my grain mill.
Melissa: That’s funny because my grain mill has a permanent spot on the counter. I actually feel my grain mill is a little bit prettier so it sits on the countertop.
Speaking to keeping it looking nice, do you have any tips that you use in your daily routine to help keep things tidy, organized and pretty in the kitchen?
Lisa: I have to be honest, I really don’t My only way that I’m able to stay anything close to organized is by constantly decluttering. My husband and I area the same, we always have a bag in hand every time we go upstairs and just start throwing things in it. I don’t really know how we ended up with so much stuff, but I think it’s just because all of our kids are like little pack rats. They bring home so much stuff.
I would have to say that decluttering is my tip. Don’t keep anything on hand that you don’t need. But with that being said, I still do have to do a major organization thing probably once every three months because I do have so many hands helping. I have six kids with the oldest three being 11, 9 and 6. They can help put things away but that also means that can become a little bit out of order.
Melissa: I love it. It’s one of those things that I can’t complain when they help. Like if they fold the towels wrong, which is one of my pet peeves. Or when they put away the dishes things aren’t where they have been designated to go. But I can’t really complain. One thing I started doing in the kitchen is to try not to leave dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day. That’s my rule because I find if I wake up in the morning and it’s already compounded with dirty dishes from the day before…makes for a rough start to the day. So even though I’m sometimes really tired at night, I do the dishes no matter what. It helps keep my counters clean and the kitchen more picked up. Otherwise, it feels like the counters are a magnet that just draws in more and more stuff.
Back to the sewing, which I know you share in your book, on Instagram and your YouTube channel. I can sew a straight line but I can’t cut a straight line which is why I bought a rotary cutter. But if someone were to want to venture into some of the more complicated things like ruffles or clothes, do you have any tips or advice for them?
Lisa: I would say to start with things with elastic. I have a tutorial on my blog for a shirred dress that uses elastic thread, but it’s really forgiving. Starting with those kinds of things that are forgiving to where, if you make it the wrong size, it’ll probably still fit you. It’s a really go place to start so that you don’t feel discouraged by something that you really can’t wear.
My advice is just that. Keep practicing. The had made a slipcover for my couch first about six years ago and it wasn’t the best, but totally worked. Then the next slipcover I made was better. And the next one after that was even better still. So there’s something to be said for just trying things. You can read up on it but that doesn’t make your hand guide the fabric through the machine any better than it did before reading up on it. So definitely more and more practice is my advice.
I think most people get discouraged just with the machine in the very beginning. The bobbin thread gets bunched up, something goes wrong with the tension…so if you can just get familiar with your machine, you’re going to be really getting somewhere.
Melissa: I completely agree. I would use scrap fabric with my machine and test out different tensions and settings. The other thing is to make sure you have a seam ripper. It’s probably my most used sewing tool after a good pair of fabric scissors.
Lisa: I still use seam rippers because sometimes you’re not thinking so you sew the sleeve to the skirt. It just happens and the seam ripper will save you every time.
Melissa: Is there anything that you would like to share about going into creating a handmade home?
Lisa: Just start with something small. Work a little bit at it each day and you’ll definitely be there. I have people tell me they can’t sew and my response is, Well, you can’t sew now, but if you start you will be able to.
If you would like more information on growing your own backyard fruit and vegetables I am doing the Organic Gardening Workshop which started March 18, 2020. There’s still time to join and learn! You get to watch all of the videos on growing your own food for free! But you need to be registered so that I can send you the links each day to watch the videos as they go live for only 24 hours. Just click HERE to register. We’re covering seed starting, crop rotation, companion planting, succession planting, cold frames, and so many other great things, not just from myself but from other teachers as well. Jill McSheehy of The Beginner’s Vegetable Garden Podcast is going to be doing an awesome session on raised beds. Marjorie Wildcraft is doing a session as well so be sure to grab your seat! I can’t wait to see you there!
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.