Ikea hack – patterning/cutting table

My previous cutting table was a length of solid oak benchtop sitting on adjustable height trestles. Beautiful, and handy that you could also convert it to a standard height table, but at 61x150cm narrower than I’d like and hard to move around, which was necessary because my sewing room doubles as my study and spare bedroom. I was also finding it rather annoying that I had nowhere handy to put scissors, patterns, pins etc once fabric was laid out for cutting. So, off to the internet to look at ideas for cutting tables. After coming across the Ikea Hackers site I also added a secondary project: to use an Ikea product for my cutting table and post my hack on that site*.

My initial thought was to get an adjustable height desk such as the Ikea Skarsta or Bekant, and add lockable castors and a shelf underneath for scissors etc. The main downsides of this option were the expense of the base unit and potential difficulty making modifications to a metal frame (my experience is mainly working with wood) plus it was proving tricky to find castors with the correct thread size to fit into the existing mounting holes on these desks which were also suitable for use on polished wooden floors and with sufficient load rating, in part because of pandemic-related supply chain interruptions in Australia. Another option I considered was to add castors to a drop leaf table such the Ikea Norden – a more compact storage option but not that easy to move when fully unfolded, no capacity for height adjustment, and the particular castors I thought would work best were again hard to source (these castors attach to the side of the leg via a bracket rather than being mounted on the bottom and so are better for skinny wooden legs).

Accepting I’d have to compromise, I eventually decided that adjustable height was the least important feature. I also realised that if I started with a table that had a fairly low-profile frame and omitted the under-table shelf, the finished cutting table could be stored by nesting it over the top of my Horn sewing cabinet.

Step 1: the base table

I purchased and assembled the simplest, cheapest Ikea solid wood table I could find: Ikea Ingo, 120x75cm, $99.

Step 2: raising the table and making it mobile.

The available lockable castors which were sufficiently heavy duty and also suitable for use on polished wooden floors only came as a screw-on-plate option which put the fastening screws too close to the edge of the timber legs, risking splitting.

I came up with a novel solution to attach the castors which is height adjustable and also completely reversible: slip-on castor boots.

These are made from dressed pine, with a central core which has the same cross section as the table legs. Handily, Ingo legs are 42mm square which is a standard size for dressed pine, so all I had to do was cut a purchased piece to length (length of core = total height raise minus castor height). This is wrapped in 4 pieces of 12mm thick dressed pine cut to twice the length of the core to create a socket at the top for the table leg to slide into. You could use 12mm MDF instead for a cheaper but slightly less attractive result. All joints were glued with pva then pinned through with tiny dowels cut from bamboo skewers. The castor plate is screwed onto the bottom of the boot, which is 66x66mm compared with original table leg size of 42x42mm. Pre-drill all holes to avoid splitting. I also drilled a small hole near the bottom of each socket to vent it – it’s not a major problem with the Ingo legs which have the sharp corners rounded off slightly, but if you use table legs which fit tightly into the boot you will tend to get a piston effect which makes the boots hard to get on and off.

The boots I made are 150mm total length with a core 75mm in length, and in combination with the castors raise my table height to around 87cm – a comfortable height for me for patterning and cutting, and giving 1-2cm clearance over my sewing cabinet when packed away. It is possible to raise the table height further by adding removable “biscuits” (cut from timber left over from the boot cores) into each socket. These biscuits should have a hole drilled through the centre to stop them getting jammed due to the piston effect discussed above, and also so they can be hooked out with a piece of coathanger wire if they do get stuck.

Step 2: fold-down table extension

The Ingo table is only 120cm long, which is ideal for fitting over my sewing cabinet with the least amount of wasted space, but a bit short for a cutting table. Ideally you want your table to be at least 160cm (long enough to be able to lay out a pattern piece for a full-length garment). I decided to add a fold-down extension at one end, using spring loaded folding brackets rated to 50kg and a 46.5x76cm pine panel (an Ikea Ivar cupboard shelf left over from another project). This shelf was the same thickness as the table top and required only minimal cutting down to make it the same width as the table top. The extension does not have to be the same thickness as the main tabletop, as you can simply adjust where the bracket is mounted to compensate. If you don’t already have a suitable panel and don’t want to pay $20 for a brand new Ivar shelf, a cheaper option would be to find a flat cupboard door or cover panel in the Ikea as-is section.

The brackets are mounted onto the table legs – note that unless you have a helper it’s really difficult to position the brackets on the legs to mark the screw holes while you have the full weight of the extension top on them, so use a smaller strip of wood the same thickness as your top to gauge how far down the legs to attach the bracket (so that the top of the extension panel is level with the top of the main table). Attach the brackets to the table legs first, and then attach the panel to the brackets. As the screw holes will be fairly close to the edge of the panel, pre-drill all holes to avoid splitting, being careful not to drill right through! When you mark the screw holes, make sure that they are lined up parallel to the edge of the panel, as the bracket has some sideways movement until all the screws are fastened. Also, I did need to slightly notch out the underside edge of the table to allow for the swing arc of the bracket mechanism. I haven’t put any bracing under the extension top at this stage, but may add it in the future if I notice that the part which isn’t directly supported by the bracket starts to sag (the largest bracket available is 30cm and the panel is 46.5cm)

Step 3: tool well

I could have added a second fold-down extension at the other end of the table, but having had to give up on my original plan for a shelf or drawer underneath in order to allow the table to nest over the sewing cabinet I needed an alternative for easy access to scissors and pins. I took inspiration from woodworking benches and decided to add a tool well instead, just deep enough to keep the tallest item (brass pattern weights adapted from curtain rod finials) below table level. The tool well is basically just a butt-jointed open box made from 140x20mm thick pine boards plus some other scrap timber I had on hand, mounted so the top edge is flush with the table surface. The joints on this were glued and nailed (nails punched in and holes filled). You could use thinner timber, but this heavier weight helps to balance out the table extension at the other end. I sized the tool well in such a way as to minimise the amount of cutting required because I don’t have a band saw and had to hand cut/plane all the pieces. It was easier to have a simple flat back design that fit between the table legs and then to add a couple of filler pieces on top than to try and make the well full width with a complex shaped back to accommodate the table legs. The well attaches to the table frame using 3x low-profile hex-socket bolts. This provides a much sturdier fixation than screws, and it’s a lot easier to get an allen key into the tool well than a screwdriver. Tip: make sure you site the bolt holes so they don’t clash with any of the existing table frame screws or brackets.

Step 4: finishing, table top tape measure and ruler storage

I finished the table with two coats of an oil-based satin varnish (water-based varnish would be equally ok, but this was what I had on hand). The main reason for finishing (especially the table top) is to stop fabric snagging on the surface and to reduce superficial damage from pins and scissors – pine is annoyingly soft and marks easily. If you were making this project from scratch, one option would be to substitute a laminate top for the main table, and then cut up the pine top to make the extension and tool well. Another option would be to attach a thin, replaceable sheet of masonite (which is already nice and shiny) onto the table top using double sided tape.

After finishing I added a screw onto one of the table legs under the tool well to hang my 60cm straight edge, and attached a 1m length of self-adhesive metal tape measure along one long edge of the table. This is fairly low profile, but if I find that the corners are tending to catch on fabric I’ll put clear contact over the top (recessing it into the table top is waaaay too much trouble).

Costs:
table $99
castor boot timber $30.50
4x 50mm lockable castors $25
2x folding brackets $22
table extension – from my stash (a new Ivar shelf 83x50cm costs $20)
tool well timber $15.50
self-adhesive tape measure $5.10
screws, nails, bolts, pva glue, varnish, sandpaper – from my stash ($40-45 to buy new)

Tools: hand saw, mitre box, plane, drill, screwdriver, allen key

TOTAL COST: $197.10 (approx $260 if you have to buy everything)

The cutting table folded down for storage and slid in over the top of my Horn sewing cabinet

Possible future modifications:

One thing I’ll definitely do is install a shallow (magnetised?) tray which sits at the top of the tool well to hold my container of dressmaking pins. I’ll keep my eye out for something that’s a roughly suitable shape before I try to make anything from scratch.

I’d also like some sort of fold-away document holder (or at least a mounting point for one) to use for holding sewing instructions, and a collapsible rubbish bag holder attached to the side of the table so I can easily clear away fabric and paper offcuts as I work.

I’ve thought about adding additional storage below the tool well. I’m not entirely convinced this is a good idea as things will tend to rattle around and possibly get damaged when the table is moved, but one option would be to attach an Ikea pegboard panel to the legs at that end (I’d need to to trim down the panel width from 76cm to 72cm) and then use the matching pegboard hooks and containers. Or maybe a stack of very skinny drawers?

*Woohoo! Article has been posted by the Ikea Hackers site as of 9 Feb https://www.ikeahackers.net/2021/02/fabric-cutting-table-sewing-patterning.html

Spiced syrup

This recipe is based on Persian sekanjabin, a traditional honey/vinegar/mint syrup used as a dip for crunchy fresh lettuce leaves and as a drink base. This version is similarly versatile and can be used as a dipping sauce, as the base for a marinade for red meats (just add some red wine or grape juice – it’s especially nice with venison or kangaroo), or add a few spoonfuls to apple or grape juice, cider, dark beer or red wine to create a spiced drink which can be served warm or cold. Mmmm, instant mulled wine!

2 cups brown sugar
¾ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup water
2 cinnamon quills
4 star anise
12 whole cloves

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer very gently for 10 minutes, then allow to cool and place the liquid and spices in a clean 500mL bottle. Improves with keeping. Store in a cool dark place, but does not require refridgeration – I’ve used some which was over a year old and it was still delicious.

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spice syrup 2

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Red and green salad

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200g mixed red and green lettuce
½ raw beet, peeled and finely shredded
1 raw carrot, peeled and finely shredded
6 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds*
¼ cup roughly chopped walnuts**
2 tbsp packaged fried shallots to garnish**

Honey mustard vinaigrette dressing:
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or other good quality oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp dijon mustard (also helps emulsify the dressing)
½ tsp honey
Place all ingredients in a small jar and shake well.

Serves 6-8

*pomegranate seeds freeze well, so I remove the seeds from a whole pomegranate and freeze them in small batches to use when pomegranates are out of season.

**the salad can be prepared ahead of time and kept for several days undressed. Add the walnuts and fried shallots at the last minute so they stay nice and crunchy.

Really nice served with cold roast duck or quail.

Creamed corn and bacon tart

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
small tin creamed corn
3 rashers bacon
3 eggs
4 spring onions
½ cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 180˚C.
Defrost pastry sheet and line a greased 15-18cm flan tin. Trim edges.
Put pastry-lined tin in the fridge (uncovered) while you prepare the filling.
Lightly cook the bacon by grilling or frying, then chop roughly.
Chop the spring onions into small pieces.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs then add bacon, onions and cheese. Mix well.
Pour filling into refridgerated pastry shell.
Bake in oven 30-40 minutes or until filling is set.
Serve hot or cold with crusty bread and salad.

Serves 3-4 people.

Walnut ink

About 18 months ago I finally planted a walnut tree in my garden, to provide shade and to harvest the nuts and timber. I love not only the ripe nuts but also pickled walnuts which must be prepared from green walnuts at just the right stage of maturation, a near-impossible task unless you have ready access to a tree. The husks make a beautiful dark brown ink and dye, and the timber is lovely to work. Unfortunately a severe heat wave last summer caused all the leaves to drop off the tree and then torrential rain led to pooling around the base and collar rot as well. The tree died, but not before I had one small harvest of 9 walnuts which I saved to make ink. I have also saved the timber to make some (extremely expensive) pens or spoons. I plan to plant a new tree next winter and will take MUCH better care of this one. Maybe I need to put a shade cloth over it for the worst of the summer.

Here is a small turned walnut salt dish (70mm dia x 30mm H) that I made several years ago which shows off the natural brown colour of the timber:

There are several methods for making walnut ink. The simplest method is just to boil up the dried husks in rainwater. The resulting ink is quite watery and not great for use with a pen, although it works well as a wash for use with a brush. It will also go mouldy unless used quickly or a preservative added.

Here are the walnuts several months after harvesting, with the husks still on. If you are going to eat the walnuts, peel off the husks and put aside. I didn’t bother separating off the husks as the nuts were so small and shrivelled they were not worth eating. Warning: the husks will permanently stain nearly EVERYTHING they touch to a deep dark brown-black colour – skin, fingernails, benchtops and clothing. Wear protective gloves and be careful where you put them.

The liquid which results from gently simmering in rainwater for several hours. The liquid can be boiled down further to concentrate the pigment. To make a darker/blacker ink, add some iron to the liquid by boiling a couple of rusty nails or a piece of steel wool in with the walnut husks. I personally prefer the sepia tone of plain husks.

I added some Langridge artist’s preservative to prevent mould, and also a tiny amount of gum arabic to try to give the ink more body. This latter didn’t do much – I should have added powdered gum rather than gum arabic solution (if you add powder, gently warm and stir the ink to dissolve it, then strain to remove any residual lumps). I got about 45mL of ink from the nine walnuts.

Testing the ink:

Pen and ink drawings using the finished ink.

Christmas sewing project

I finally finished this skirt which has been sitting in the sewing pile for months. It is a simple tube construction with an elasticised waist and a faux-underlayer of contrasting green fabric. The top was a great op shop find for only $4 and picks up the colour from the flowers very nicely.

To complement the outfit I made a pair of earrings from beads in my stash: jade leaf-shaped beads; amethyst, purple glass and pearlised glass beads on threaded onto flat-headed pins and linked to purchased earring hooks.

 

Welcome

panel.painting

Welcome to Covet My Art, a site which showcases my art and craft projects. I work with a wide range of contemporary and historic materials and techniques and I also enjoy the research and experimentation which is an integral part of reproducing some of the historic techniques.

I hope you enjoy the blog and perhaps begin to explore some of the art and crafts I talk about here, through the additional material and links on the site. If you have any questions or would like further information please contact me.

Further links:
the index page for my Flickr album where you can view the rest of my artwork
my YouTube channel, which at some point will have instructional videos
background research and technical information for some of my projects
technical notes from some of my previous workshops and classes
where to source tools, materials and reference books