Home is where the Element is - Amy Schmitz

Home is where the Element is

June 10, 2017

I've recently become fascinated with van lifers. For those of you unfamiliar with such a life, picture the tiny house trend but on wheels.

My favorite van-life Instagram account is by Brianna Madia. She, her husband, and their two dogs roam the desert and mountains in Bertha, a bright orange 1990 Ford that's been modified to go wherever they want.

But don't worry. Mikey and I aren't about to make another major life change. There's no way in hell I'm leaving my beautiful new home! And even though I plan to keep the Element moving until I can't find parts for it anymore, I'm not about to start living in it for more than a week or two at a time.

So here it is! After almost six months in our new home, I finally created an online tour of our house in Bainbridge Island, Wash.

And because this is a sewing blog, let's start this tour in my new sewing space. It's the first room to get a new paint color (because priorities.) And I have not spent near enough time in it yet. With unpacking, furniture shopping, painting, finding a job, and so on, I've made only three garments in six months.

And I'm wearing one of them in these photos. Hurray! I finally got the black cigarette pants I wanted after making my red wool blazer last year! 

The room has a few updates from my old sewing/dining room. I stole a standing desk Mikey had hidden in the old basement (so nice not to bend over when pinning!) and built two Kallax shelves from IKEA. I also added a huge cutting table. This past weekend, we installed a new ceiling fan with much better lighting — it was tough working in the old lighting on those black pants!

I was working on Mikey's Belvedere vest when I took this photo. Also, most of those books had been in plastic tubs in our old basement. It's so nice to have our library out now.


We've already had a few house guests, and this is their room. Except for the bookshelf (which was Mikey's grandfather's), we got all the furniture in Washington. We never had a real guest bedroom before, so we had to furnish it.

The first piece of furniture we bought, an antique Italian wardrobe. Because I figured our guests wouldn't want to hang their clothes with our camping gear in the closet.


Welcome to our room! Which has nothing in it from our old bedroom. The buyer of our Kansas City house bought our old bedroom furniture, so we had to completely furnish this room, too. A woman on the island helped us find our nightstands, dresser, and chest of drawers and refinished them. (She also sold us the antique wardrobe at an antique/consignment shop on Bainbridge.) So while we waited for her to finish those, our clothes remained on the floor and in boxes.

Oh, and this room ended up in what Mikey and I have been calling the "color of the year." Although at this point, it's probably approaching two years of popularity in our household. We used my phone case as inspiration, and it's in the same family as this dress.

Let's get a couple of sewing photos out of the way. I hunted for this fabric most of last year. I couldn't find any stretch black cotton anywhere in Kansas City. I even looked at Stitchology when I drove through Albuquerque in December. But on my first visit into Ester's on Bainbridge Island, I asked the owner, and she had this in stock!

It has a velvety feel to it. So I had to be mindful of the nap (the direction the fibers lie). And actually, the wrong side of this fabric was quite pretty, so I even considered using that as the right side. I tried to keep track of the velvet's direction as I sewed the welt pockets, but there was a certain point when I just finally sewed the damn things on and hoped for the best.

I also used a pressing cloth of self-fabric. And a walking foot because I suspected that texture might grab and shift. 

The pattern is my modified Sewaholic Thurlow trousers. When I made the maroon pair, I drew final alterations on the pattern pieces but didn't cut them away. This time I made sure to actually make those changes to my skinny Thurlow pattern. But I wanted this pair to fit a bit tighter because that velvet looked frumpy with any bunching. So I took them in an additional quarter- to five-eighths-inch throughout the side seam. I think it might help to take a bit more out of the back pattern piece next time.

I wanted these to end up shorter than the maroon pair but not capri length. I took 4 inches off during the fitting just so I could try them on and ended up using that with a 1 5/8-inch hem.

And back to the house! This is our master bath. Isn't the open shower cool? We plan to update the sinks (there's an identical sink across the room), but otherwise it's perfect.

Our bedroom is just off the main room, which you can see is quite open. We haven't painted in here yet. It's going to be a big project. But I want to soon, so we can hang our artwork.

We were going to buy stools for the kitchen island, but Winston has been using the pillow there a lot lately.


The kitchen was the first room to get unpacked. Also, it's been nice to have so much more counter space.

When we looked at the house in November, it was raining hard (by Seattle standards, not KC hard). And it made a lovely sound on the many skylights throughout our house. I know a lot of people have a hard time with the gray winter here, and I think these skylights helped me deal with it. (I know I'm still new here, but I had no issues with the rain — and we had a lot of it, even for here.)

This skylight is one of them in the kitchen.

Where Winston waits for me to come home.


We just had the wood-burning stove cleaned yesterday. The guy who climbed on the roof said it was pretty dirty in the chimney.  I asked why, and they said we used it a lot! I guess we just aren't used to such a long winter. (It's about 60 degrees here today and almost 90 in Kansas City.)

Winston's favorite place to relax in the winter evenings was right in front of that stove. He'd fall asleep and come over to us panting and happy as could be.

Doesn't the purple sofa look fantastic in its new home?


Mikey said he wanted some houseplants after ours didn't survive the December drive through Wyoming. I've probably gotten a little more into it than Mikey intended. But he should know better.

Other casualties of the move include a sewing gauge (although I swear I remember unpacking that), a clear sewing curved ruler (no idea where that went), the top and fork for our chiminea (still looking though the sheds for those), and many plastic totes.

Let's head outside. That's where the really cool shit is!

Our new yard is a wee bit different from our old place.


Sometimes when I get up in the morning to let Winnel out, it feels like I'm walking around a campground. Bainbridge is a little difficult to describe. It's not exactly rural, but the feel isn't suburban either. We have a little downtown area by the ferry terminal, but most of the homes are spread out. Our yard is a half-acre, and it's heavily wooded. I went from one shady yard to another. 

The front yard: See that bit with a little sun? That's where we put our garden beds. The grassy area is common land shared with our neighbors/These little ferns are so cool! Over the winter, there's no sign of them, but this spring they've been popping up all over the place, and then they unfurl, eventually becoming much larger/I spotted these red flowers one day when I was turning the compost pile, which we did not have room for in our tiny KC yard/The ground looked like it was covered in snow when the trees dropped their flowers.


I took these photos throughout the spring, so I've been watching many flowers bloom, and there are new ones I haven't even photographed.


This little mess has been my project for a few weeks now. I cleaned the pond itself (scooped the leaves and shit out of it and drained it), refilled it, tried to fix the pump, and cleared the hose going through the fish. But it's still not flowing right. I bought a new pump, but it has a short cord, and power supply is a few feet away. So now I have to decide whether to try a bigger pump (with a long cord) or try to rip the hose out of the fish and replace it or both. And it's been so long since I cleaned it, I'll probably have to clean it again. But I will conquer my pond this summer!

Winston keeping an eye on me as I photograph our front yard.


And now Winston's favorite place to watch squirrels, the backyard!

Looking at the guest room (left) and sewing room.


Winston frequently searches for whatever critter is hanging out in the ground cover, especially the shamrocks. (I called these clover on Facebook, but I think they're more specifically shamrock.) 


There are rhododendrons all over the place here. I've counted four colors in my yard alone. When Jennifer and Susie were here, these were the first to bud out, and my guests checked every morning and evening to see whether they'd opened. They finally did the evening before they left.


One of three wood piles. Also, where we placed our new outdoor furniture.


One of the friendly little critters in our yard/The slugs, however, are not so nice. I've put a ring of copper tape on every pot and garden bed. And the slimy bastards who make it over the tape get tossed in my compost pile, where maybe they can do some good.


Whenever I'm running or walking the trails with Winston (he hasn't been able to do much running lately) and one of us is getting tired, I often think to myself "almost home" even if my route isn't from the house. My next thought is, "That's because home is where the Element is." It started when we were driving across the country and home was in transition. Plus whenever we go on vacation, we do live out of the Element. No wonder I enjoy following van lifers so much. 

So here it is, the Element in its new home.

With a few new stickers, including the skull from Petrified Forest National Park.


And now for a little housekeeping. I've had a few requests for email updates. So if you'd like me to email you when I've posted a new entry, use the E-MAIL ME link at the top of the page or E-MAIL link below the comments. Make sure you type your e-mail address correctly, and I'll reply to your message to let you know I got it. Otherwise, keep watch on Facebook and Instagram for announcements when I've posted something new.


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