Raleigh blogger urges women to tackle home improvement projects

schandler@newsobserver.comAugust 30, 2013 

When she was 5, Brittany Bailey’s parents decided to renovate their home – themselves. So she and her sisters worked right alongside them, tools in hands, learning how to make improvements large and small.

But that, she says, is not what made her so handy.

PrettyHandyGirl.com, the DIY blog Bailey started in 2010, actually stems from years of trial and error, asking questions and building confidence and technique.

“I’ve learned, one project at a time, and just kind of built up the skills,” says Bailey, 42, who lives in Raleigh with her husband and two young sons. “You’re not handy overnight, you’re not born with the skills, usually. You’ve got to build up that library of skills over time.”

The take-home lesson Bailey hopes to share – especially with other women – is that anyone who has desire and a willingness to learn can successfully tackle home improvement and repair projects.

“A lot of women are brought up to believe that they should be sewing, or they should be cooking, and not using power tools,” Bailey says. “If it was reversed, if they were brought up believing that, I don’t think women would have any problem being handy.”

Prettyhandygirl.com gets more than 400,000 page views a month, with each post offering step-by-step instructions on practical home projects such as retrieving something that’s fallen down the drain, converting recessed light fixtures to pendant fixtures and making a coat rack out of an old door.

Bailey doesn’t have to go far for inspiration – the ideas she writes about come from projects she’s tackled in her own home.

“Anything that happens in my house, I blog about,” she says, “because I feel like there’s probably somebody else out there who’s going to have to deal with the same thing.”

A blog wasn’t really what Brittany had in mind at first. A friend was always asking what she was working on and suggested she teach classes on DIY projects locally. Great idea, Brittany’s husband said, but he suggested she might reach even more people online.

“I started it in June 2010,” Brittany said, “and honestly, I haven’t looked back.”

Each post is illustrated by photos that show each step in detail, drawing on another skill Brittany is handy with – photography. She knew the basics from a background in art school and graphic design, but she’s thought a lot and learned a lot about what kinds of photos work best when the goal is instruction.

“It takes twice as long for me to do a project because it’s like, ‘Do it, stop, take a picture. Do it …’ ” But, she says, “it’s just what I have to do. … Just knowing that it’s making a difference in someone’s life, that they can actually look through and figure out how to do it, that makes a big difference.”

Whether she’s blogging about a project that is simple or complex, whether the result is a repair, an upgrade or just a decorative touch, the theme of empowerment runs through them all.

“She’s empowering moms to work on all the projects they want to do to their homes without waiting for their husbands to come home and use the drill,” says Molly Fisher, a mother of two (with a third on the way) who lives near Chapel Hill. Fisher said she has been reading PrettyHandyGirl.com for about a year and has been inspired by Bailey to make several “little fixes” in her own home.

Bailey says she hears from lots of readers who say they have gained confidence through flexing their DIY muscles. Whether a woman lives on her own or happens to be home alone when the toilet overflows, she says, “it’s important to know how to do that stuff.”

And, she insists, learning home improvement and repair skills is easier than ever.

“Back in the day, when families all lived together and they all grew up on the farm or wherever, the grandfather would say, ‘this is how you do this’ and everybody kind of worked together to teach parenting and cooking and cleaning and building and fixing. But our generation didn’t have that,” she says. “But we’ve got the Internet. We’ve got Google! Google and YouTube alone are huge, huge resources. They’re like our virtual grandparents.”

Her own family exposed her to DIY at a young age, but it was the confidence, not the instructions, that stuck with her, she says.

“Now, I don’t remember exactly how he showed me how to wire an outlet,” Brittany says of her father, “but I remember he believed I could do it.”

Along with that confidence and maybe a few power tools, Brittany says all you need to succeed in a DIY project is a little bit of courage.

“If it’s something like hanging drywall and you do it wrong, you take it down and you just do it right the second time. It’s like riding a bike – you don’t do it perfect the first time,” she says. “So you kind of have to be OK with making mistakes, and have the guts to just try it.”

Create a Magazine Crate Brittany Bailey of PrettyHandyGirl.com believes strongly in upcycling – reusing or repurposing an item instead of throwing it away – and many of her decor projects reflect that. In this tutorial from the blog (edited here for space), she stains a simple wine crate to make a rustic-looking storage solution for magazines. Time to roll up your sleeves, plug in your drill and get to work. See the full tutorial at prettyhandygirl.com/2011/07/rustic-wine-crate-with-rope-handles.html. Materials: Wine crate or wooden box (Bailey suggests asking for one at warehouse clubs, grocery stores, restaurants or wine shops. Craft stores sell plain wooden boxes). Dark brown stain Paintbrush Paper towels Damp rag Rubber gloves Medium grit (100 grit) sandpaper Sisal rope Scissors Drill w/bits Instructions:

Clean off your crate with a damp rag. Then brush the stain on and let it sit for a minute.

Wipe the stain off with paper towels. Add a second coat if you want your crate darker. Allow it to dry thoroughly. It might take several hours or overnight.

Sand any words or other printing on your crate until you start to see some of the wood coming through. Be careful not to sand too deeply.

Wipe dust from the crate, then mark the location where you want the handles to be on the sides of the crate. Be sure to measure the same distance from the top and edges on both sides.

Choose a drill bit slightly larger than your rope. Drill holes at your marks.

Insert one side of the rope through the hole. Tie a double knot inside the crate to keep the rope from slipping back through.

Determine how long a rope handle you want and tie a single knot in the middle of the handle.

Thread the other end of your rope through the other hole and tie another double knot on the inside of the crate.

Fray the edges of your rope by untwisting them.

Fill your crate with magazines, blankets, or decor goodies and display it!

Chandler: 919-829-4830

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