A Cheap and Easy DIY Sewing Cutting Table


Kelly, tired of hunching over the floor while she works on sewing her uniform, asked me to make a cutting table for her tiny sewing room, which is located in a vintage 1920s shed in our backyard. Using the Garden Fork TV ethos, “done is better than perfect,” plus a time limit of one day, I set to the task.

Cutting table dimensions
A cutting table should be just a bit lower than your palm when your elbow is bent at 90 degrees. Architectural Graphics Standards suggests that work tables be in the 36-inch to 38-inch range. My parents met in a club for tall people and Kelly’s dad played basketball in college which means that work table height around our compound needs to be higher. I ended up going with 36 inches, since that’s the size of the bathroom cabinets I scavenged for the project. I may end up raising the table, at some point, when I’m in less of a hurry to get things done.

Opinions about width and length for cutting tables vary in the sewing community. At minimum, a cutting table should be at least 3 feet by 6 feet. Slightly wider and longer would be better but there’s not enough room in Kelly’s 10 by 12-foot shed.

cheapandeasyMaking a cheap and easy work table
When I built my workshop I discovered a formula for creating work surfaces. I used a similar process to make the cutting table.

Step one: go to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or ReUse People of America and find two or more matching kitchen or bathroom cabinets.

Step two: get a sheet of melamine at the big orange store.

Step three: cut the sheet of melamine to size. To do that I bought a plywood blade for my circular saw (I don’t own a table saw). I clamped a scrap of plywood to the board as a guide and ran piece of masking tape along where the cut to prevent chipping. You could also get the lumber yard to do this for you.

Step four: attach the melamine to the cabinets with screws.

Step five: Apply iron-on edging tape to the melamine to cover the edges.

Step six: Pop open a beverage of your choice and call it a day.

Look closely and you’ll see that Kelly’s cutting table also accommodates 20 gallons of emergency water since that’s how she rolls.



The Root Simple Anti-Subscription Box


The Apocabox

Concurrent with the worldwide success of decluttering author and guru Marie Kondo has been a puzzling trend: subscription services that will send you a box of random crap. Averaging around $20 USD a month, these services will send you everything from dog toys to sex toys. You don’t get to choose the contents. Birchbox sends you beauty supplies. Blue Apron sends you food. Apocabox has you covered for the zombie apocalypse. You can even get 12 months worth of moss.

Marie Kondo would not approve. But I suspect she might approve of a new service offered by Root Simple: the anti-subscription box. For just $100 a month I will come to your house, while you’re at work, and remove a box of random crap. You don’t get to supervise, edit or comment. I have the final word. My guiding principle will be William Morris’ dictum, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”


My new uniform.

When I told this idea to Kelly and a visiting house guest they accused me of attempting to “disrupt” and “Uberize” the “legacy industry” known as burglary. I suppose corruption could enter into my scheme if I tried to resell the stuff I remove from people’s houses. To get around this I promise to donate all goods to the Salvation Army.

If you like this idea you can help fund the anti-subscription box’s parent company: the Root Simple Institute for the Present. If you don’t like this idea, as Marshal McLuhan was fond of saying, “I’ve got others.”



092 A Mattress Made of Sand


Photo courtesy of Michael Garcia

Stephanie Wing-Garcia and her husband Michael Garcia devised an innovative solution to Stephanie’s crippling back pain: they handcrafted a bed made out of sand. We visited Stephanie and Michael in their Los Angeles home and tried out their bed. Stephanie tells us the story of how, while spending a sleepless night toughing it out on a hard floor, she had a flash of inspiration. That inspiration would heal her back and lead them to start their own company: The Ultimate Earth Bed.

Our conversation also ranges over the history of how people used to sleep, from ancient Rome to the patent on the first mattress in 1850, the ecological consequences of conventional mattresses and the connection between the Earth Bed and barefoot running.

For those of you who can’t listen, we also posted about them yesterday.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.


Photo courtesy of The Ultimate Earth Bed



The Ultimate Earth Bed: A Mattress Made of Sand

sand bed in bedroom

Michael and Stephanie’s sand bed.  Photo courtesy of The Ultimate Earth Bed

In 2013 I wrote a post called “A Homemade Mattress?” It was just an off-the-cuff complaint fest on my part, but the response to it revealed a vast population of deeply dissatisfied bed users out there in Internetland. It remains one of our most visited posts, and the lengthy comment section is filled with tales of people who, in desperation, have made, modified or improvised their beds in an effort to avoid the mattress industry entirely.

It seems many of us are sick of sleeping on these expensive, over-engineered contraptions stuffed full of petroleum-based foam and doused with fire retardants. Worse, these beds are not even all that comfortable, or don’t maintain their firmness for long, and just make the whole experience a little more squalid, when we can’t stand them any longer, we have to drag them to the curb and send them off to clog the landfills for the next few hundred years. No wonder so many of us search for alternatives, from hammocks to Japanese style futons to homemade straw mattresses.

Recently a friend and frequent Root Simple commenter who goes by the handle “P” here, sent us an intriguing note. Like us, she lives in the Los Angeles area, and like us, she’s been obsessed with the idea of a mattress alternative for a while. Then she got a lead on an exciting bed option, and she shared it with us, saying basically, “I know this couple that you have to meet. They’ve made a bed out of sand!”

So we went to meet Michael Garcia and Stephanie Wing-Garcia and their sand mattress. They live just a few minutes from our house, in a big, sunny apartment full of beautiful things–and they sleep on a king sized bed which consists of a low wooden platform, a pair of twin-sized canvas mattress casings filled with ground white marble sand, which in turn are topped by an inch thick natural latex mat and a layer of sheepskin.

Version 2

Peeling back the layers: platform, 3″ deep sand filled mattress, 1″ natural latex and sheep skin on top (not pictured).  Photo courtesy of The Ultimate Earth Bed.

They love their bed. The idea for it came them in a flash of inspiration, and it has changed their lives. Stephanie credits the bed with healing the excruciating chronic back pain which she’d been suffering from for seven years.

It’s a great story, and they’re great people– which is why we recorded them for our podcast. They will be on tomorrow’s episode, so stay tuned for more! (The podcast is now up–here’s the link)

But in brief, and as sort of a preview, here’s few points which we’ll be covering in more detail in the podcast:

  1. Sleeping on a firm surface is a well known solution for tricky backs. Many people find that after an (admittedly uncomfortable) period of adjustment, the body seems to stretch and realign against the resistance offered by the firm surface. Using sand as a substrate provides an incredibly firm sleeping surface which is just a tad more forgiving than sleeping on the floor. The top padding provide insulation and a little bit of cushioning for the joints.
  2. The clean, dry crushed marble they’ve sourced makes a bed that is non-toxic, inflammable, allergenic, bug-resistant and deeply recyclable. If the mattress casing can be washed or patched. The sand can be washed or returned to the earth. It is an elemental bed. And theoretically it would last a lifetime.
  3. They’ve found a side-effect to sleeping on the crushed marble sand is that it seems to be curiously grounding and sleep-inducing. They fall asleep fast and sleep hard. I will say that I noticed that while I was sitting on the bed during our visit. Though I was drinking caffeine and conducting an interview–things which would ordinarily have me jacked up like a Chihuahua–I felt like I could just stretch out and take a a quick nap right there.
  4. Erik and I are intrigued with this idea, and are tempted to compare sleeping on this surface to barefoot running. (We’ve done the barefooting, but haven’t tried a whole night on the mattress.)  Both may be uncomfortable at first, but they build resilience, and perhaps, healthier bodies over time. In both cases, we have been told we have to buy complicated “supportive” contraptions made of cushioning foam and polyester fabric to have a good run, or a good night’s sleep. More and more we’re questioning whether that is a good idea.
  5. Michael and Stephanie loved their bed so much that they started to make sand beds for friends and family. The response has been so positive that they’ve started a company called The Ultimate Earth Bed, so that now they can share their idea with you, too.









How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

Thanks to reader CW for turning me onto this book!

How to be a Tudor is a book written by a re-enactor about the nuts and bolts of everyday life for Tudor-period people. It is not an all-encompassing encyclopedia, but rather a personal tour through what I suspect are Goodman’s favorite parts of Tudor life.

There is a little something in here for any DIY geek. CW’s recommendation came in reference to homemade beds– Goodman covers them, and she has made them all and slept on all of them: straw, wool and feather, and has some good insights into the different materials. Turns out that maybe you don’t actually have to choose one, but you could use all three to make an ideal bed! This is a definite read for the bed-obsessed, and she conveniently covers beds right at the beginning, too.

But beyond that, there’s so much fun stuff in here. If you’re into brewing, baking, sewing, the practice of apprenticeship, archery, table manners, dance, sewing…whatever….there will be tidbits to please you.

My favorite might be her description of rush floors. You may have noticed that in historical and fantasy novels the floor of the great hall is always “strewn with rushes”– leaving the modern reader imaging a tangled cesspool of greenery underfoot. Apparently it was actually quite pleasant floor treatment. Reading her description, I realized it was deep bedding for people!!!! It all makes sense now!

Oh! And I almost forgot. Hygiene! Her thoughts on Tudor bathing/non-bathing and resultant stinkiness/non-stinkiness are worth the price of admission alone. Spoiler: no-pooers will feel vindicated.

Also, they cleaned their teeth with soot. And yes, I’m going to try it.

Sometimes she goes off in idiosyncratic directions, such as a lengthy section on how to sew, starch and form your own lace ruffs using heated rods and some judicious dabs of glue. Where else would you ever see that described? Yet somehow, I feel better for understanding the making and maintenance process of these things. Now the ruff seems less like the inexplicable product of an alien civilization.


Just think, someone (many someones) made that ruff and all those baubles and do-dads by hand

Did you know folks could change the color of their ruffs in and out by treating them different colored starches? Or that there were colored ruffs at all?  (And yes, she tells you how to make starch, too.) Prostitutes wore blue ruffs. Honestly, who knew?

To go off on an idiosyncratic tangent of my own, a short aside she made about her daughter is really sticking with me. As a child, the author’s daughter learned a craft called finger loop braiding, which produces decorative silken cord. Tudors used this stuff a lot as trim on their garments. She started doing it for fun, as some girls get into weaving friendship bracelets, but she really took to it and sold some to a costumer. Thus encouraged, kept doing it, and as an adult she produces this stuff for high end theater and film production.

Because she has been doing it since she was a child she has tremendous speed and dexterity with the weaving which allows her to not only produce cord much faster than any hobbyist, but also make weaving moves which would seem awkward if not impossible to someone not raised to the craft. Once she was filmed weaving and they had to ask her to slow it down because the eye could not follow what she was doing. (I believe those are her hands weaving in Wolf Hall Episode 4, 55:51)

This made me think about the value inherent in the kind of deep, traditional craft production that starts with the apprenticing of children. We look at old quilted silk waistcoat in a museum or an intricately carved wooden balustrade or a silver tea pot or any number of graceful surviving mementos of past ages and we shake our heads and say, “We don’t make things like that anymore.” It occurs to me that in some areas we don’t because we don’t employ children to these tasks as we used to.

I’m not saying we should set kids to fiddly work so they can end up stooped and half blind by age 15! I’m just thinking about the idea of mastery, and the kind of work and time that takes. As well as just raw hours spent at the task, there is the advantage of asking a body, muscle, nerve, bone and brain, to grow into the craft, to develop into that specialty. We’ve kept up the practice of early apprenticeship in just a few areas, like music, dance and sport–but in the world of craft, we generally adopt our crafts in adulthood, and bounce from one craft to another, because few of us make our living from them–so of course we will not become masters.

Master craftspeople are rarities now, but imagine the streets of London in Tudor times. Every other doorway must have held a master of some craft: blacksmith, brewer, rope maker, dyer, tanner, painter, tailor, bookbinder. And heck, every good housewife had to know how to do a whole lot of stuff, from sewing to cheese making to brewing, and was a master of those crafts as a matter of course. How wonderful it would be to walk those streets and watch it all going on! For those of us who like to engage in this kind of wishful thinking, Goodman’s book is a close second to a long visit.

Note: She’s also written How to be a Victorian. There’s another rabbit hole for you!