Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains

It’s been almost a year since I pulled out my trusty sewing machine and settled down with a new project. While living in the pop-up camper for 7+ months, there was never any consideration of bringing it along for the ride. Space used to be so limited, but not anymore with our new RV!

On our recent side trip from Yuma to Atlanta, we eliminated our storage unit and brought back with us a few key things. This stash included skis, a snowboard, snowshoes, kitchenware, and yes, my sewing machine.

But the first order of business wasn’t a new skirt or handbag. It was something much more practical: curtains.

You might wonder why a brand-new RV would need any sort of upgrade so soon, but the window coverings have been pissing us off since day one. You’re probably familiar with the type of blinds I’m complaining about here…the cheap roller shades that look like this.

But that malfunction with every use and only go up about this far (if you’re lucky) after a dozen attempts.
One of my favorite things about the new RV is how many windows there are and how much natural light comes in. Every morning when I wake up, I love to open the blinds and look out at the view for a few moments before getting up to start the daily routine of yoga/breakfast/work. Mornings would be even more pleasant if those impossible blinds were replaced by user-friendly curtains that added some character to our new home as well.

While sewing is “my thing,” creating patterns is not. My spatial skills are subpar, and I have an incredibly difficult time figuring out how to come up with a pattern from scratch. The husband, on the other hand, excels at these sorts of things and never fails to remind me about it. He has also finally accepted the fact that I don’t do “sewing speak” and prefer terms like “loopy bits” and “holdy bits” over stuffy technical terms.

Here are the patterns he came up with to design curtains for our office and living room.
The next step was to shop for materials. Convenient fabric stores were very limited in the area we were camped in while attempting this project, so we had to make the best of what we found.

I wasn’t terribly excited about this fabric (plain, light blue, cotton blend), but it was the best option available without making a big hassle over it. Besides, who knew if the curtains’ first attempt would even turn out? It was also a challenge to find something that wouldn’t clash with the overhanging interior fabric that came with the RV.
The next step was to make the curtain rod. We picked up a cheap wooded stick at Home Depot and sawed it off to size. This was one of the husband’s part of the project. He also bought a fancy new drill to drill the hardware into the rod to hang it in the window frame. There’s no such thing as a workbench while living on the road, so he made do with a picnic table.
After measuring out the fabric, it was cutting time. Again, large tables are in short supply in camper life. The largest clean space in the RV was the bed. So we placed an X-ACTO mat that we’d also retrieved from the storage unit onto the comforter and started whacking away.
Fortunately, I’d also remembered to grab the fancy iron that my mom gifted me with last Christmas from the storage unit to bring along on our journey. Initially, I used a fleece blanket between the curtain fabric and the X-ACTO mat. But that was a stupid choice because the fleece got stuck to the iron when it touched the edges and had to be scraped off after cooling.

The next time around, I just put down a bath towel as makeshift protection. It’s not ideal and any real seamstress would just die seeing this, but I got a couple hard creases out didn’t start any fires!
Next came the pinning stage to create hems around the curtains. I flipped on the bedroom television for some pinning entertainment and tuned into dramatic soap opera on the one Spanish channel that was coming in through the antennae.
Now here’s where the real fun began. None of the table/chair surfaces in the RV are very conducive to sitting down with a sewing machine, so I decided to stand. I used the little table between the driver and passenger seats as my base and hunched over to make it work. Fortunately, my back hasn’t yet suffered the effects of aging. But this may be the thing that takes it over the edge!
Of course, the sewing machine jammed a few times and I had to use a seam ripper to fix my mistakes. Sewing is never easy, and it’s even more challenging when you’re out of practice.

In addition to sewing the big rectangles, there were also the loopy bits that go around the curtain rod, the hangy bits that tie the curtains back, the Velcro to make that stay, and the border at the bottom.
Although the color and style of these curtains is not the least bit exciting, my favorite part of these curtains was the bottom trim. I picked out this owl border because it matched and because creatures are fun. My mom used to collect owls, so I think she’ll get a kick out of seeing this when she visits us soon.
Ultimately, we decided that loopy bits around a curtain rod were not ideal because they wouldn’t scoot across well. So instead, we picked up key chain rings at a craft store and attached them with grommets. This gave the curtains a shower curtain-feel, but none of that actually shows up anyway the top. And besides, the grommet/ring strategy meant easier scooting and less sewing for me!

The process of making new curtains took several hours on a few different days, which was longer than I ever expected it all to take. In the end, the curtains certainly aren’t perfect (somehow the living room curtains ended up too short?) but they are DONE, and they are thick enough to block the sun and deter peeping toms. That’s really the whole point, right? Thankfully, I’m no perfectionist.
The office curtains ended up being just the right length though. Here’s a shot of them pulled back with the Velcro ties.
After all this work, I’m in no rush to tackle the bedroom windows. But maybe someday.

Even with all the hassles and headaches of working on arts and crafts, these types of projects take my mind away from the routines of work and travel planning. Crafting doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s always an uphill battle. But after the projects are done, I can appreciate the way they make my brain work and laugh about the finished project, while feeling a little bit accomplished at the same time.

With my sewing machine now back by my side, I also feel a bit more grounded…like I’m living a “normal” life instead of a transient one on the road. There’s a balance there that touches on pursuing hobbies without standing still. I never seriously considered putting much DIY work into our old pop-up camper. I loved it, but it always felt a bit temporary. Meanwhile, this new place of ours feels like home.

I’m not sure what my next DIY RV project or craft idea will be, but you’d better bet it’ll be moderately crappy, terribly frustrating, and absolutely awesome.

Camper Life Month #8 in Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla

Well month #8 kicked off with a bang because this is when we traded in our old pop-up for a 33-foot RV. As I wrote in my “upgrade post,” this one decision turned our February upside down, for the better and worse.

Related: We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

Before I get started with my monthly recap, I suppose I should explain the title a bit. We’ve been trying to come up with a name for our new RV, which is no easy task. You see, it has to be incredibly random, relevant, and packed with inside jokes…all at the same time. For instance, my Jeep’s name is Chief Surfs with Manatees.

Well, at least for now, we’ve settled on a name: Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla. It roughly translates to “a large mounted infantry that has been threatened and coerced into the mountains to be named the king of butter.” He/she will go by “Dragoon” for short.

Anyway…

Places We’ve Been: Month #8

Month #8 can largely be summed up by one phrase: “Stuck in Yuma.” It’s funny, because we never actually intended to go to Yuma, Arizona at all. We actually had a campground booked in the Palm Springs area of California back in mid-January but were scared away by excessive rain and flooding. Yuma was a backup plan, and we stayed there in one way or another for over a month and a half.

We stayed at two different campgrounds in Yuma, and then decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week of pure vacation. While in Mexico, we settled on the idea of upgrading our camper and bought a new one in Yuma. This decision sent us on a side trip all the way back to Atlanta, Georgia to take care of a slew of logistical nightmares. I couldn’t stand to go back to our old Yuma campground with the new RV, so we switched to another one. Then after a long-cross country drive back to Yuma, we finally got unstuck and made our way to San Diego.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Switched campgrounds for one with more space and fewer annoying people, first few days in our new RV!

For less than 24 hours, all of our worldly possessions were in one place at the same time: RV, Jeep, 5×8 U-Haul

  • Lowlights: We are STILL in Yuma?!, new campground is out in the middle of lemon fields – kinda nice but so far to get to anything

Yuma to Atlanta Side Trip

  • Highlights: Seeing my best friend and meeting her one-month-old baby girl, drinking bubble tea, an awesome AirBnB in Chamblee, GA, donating lots of lots of stuff to Goodwill, squeezing in a hike at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico on our last day of driving

Best AirBnB (studio apartment) I’ve ever stayed at

10+ donation loads later…

Nice to see mountains and cacti again after a trip back east…missed New Mexico.

  • Lowlights: Driving 30 or so hours each way, having to leave our new camper behind because it’s a gas-guzzler and doesn’t make financial sense for a quick cross-country trip, dozens of logistical nightmares, DMV license and registration issues for the RV and Jeep, cleaning out and totally eliminating a 10’x12′ storage unit, being exhausted all the time and never sleeping, getting bug bites from cheap motels

San Diego, California: Home on the Road #34

  • Highlights: Amazing campground (Sweetwater Summit Regional Park), successfully towing our Jeep here with no issues, incredible weather, trails for running, greenery and wildflowers everywhere you look outside, pedaling the Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking in the fog from the Chula Vista Marina, cute “island” town of Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter outing in downtown SD, surprisingly no traffic anywhere, sitting outside in the sunshine to work

Yep, Monkey’s in the trailer!

  • Lowlights: No Wi-Fi but not a big deal, lots of bunnies outside that drive Monkey (and therefore, us) crazy

Yep, Monkey’s in that kayak with me too. Nice to have the boats back with us again. She’s an old pro at boating.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • During month #8, I started to understand why people DON’T full-time travel and just plop down in a house instead with occasional trips here and there. The logistics of making this work really get to you and can make the whole thing feel totally not worth it at times. Society is not designed for people like us and seems to just wait for us to fail and fall in line. I felt like this a lot in month #8. However, I know that if I just gave up and plopped down somewhere, I’d have nothing but regrets.
  • We upgraded to the new RV at the absolute perfect time. We were both getting a bit burnt out on the lifestyle for various reasons, and this new home on wheels has totally recharged us and reminded us why we’re doing this.

Only in Texas.

  • My anxiety levels were at an all-time high in month #8 due to all the hassles of trying to beat the system for the sake of keeping the lifestyle going.
  • But in the last week, things have slowed down and we have more time to relax because of simple time-sucks that aren’t an issue anymore (walking across a campground to use the bathroom, do dishes, etc.). With the extra time, I’ve found myself starting to play guitar again, organizing drawers, and catching up on shows (recently added Big Love to my mix).
  • Exercise-wise, I’ve finally worked up to doing 100 push-ups, squats, and various ab crunches per day. We retrieved some resistance bands from storage, so I’m looking to add these to the mix in Month #9.
  • Dealing with the sewage system in the RV isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

My go-to road trip fare: egg, avocado & veggies on flatbread.

  • Camping with a pit bull mix has been getting increasingly difficult. We have run into blanket dog breed bans the most in Grand Junction, CO and Palm Springs, CA. Some campground owners are idiots and flat-out tell you that your dog is unsafe and unwelcome there just because of who it was born to. Other owners are apologetic and make excuses about their insurance policies and safety clauses, but it doesn’t make it much easier to accept. And it’s not just pit bulls either…doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and others are being discriminated against as well. Everyone who meets Monkey loves her. She is obsessed with people, getting petted, and rolling over to get better petting angles. If these assholes would simply meet her and give her a chance, they could have had our business. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes have enough trouble getting adopted from shelters as it is. If people knew about these types of hassles caused by faulty perceptions, it might be even harder. It all just makes me really sad and angry.
  • Totally unrelated to all that, we’ve also been trying to train Monkey to not pull on the leash. It really makes walking and hiking miserable, and it’s gone on for too long. The current strategy is using cheese as a non-pulling bribe, AKA “cheese therapy.” We’ve tried other things in the past, but we’ll see how this goes.

On a positive note, Monkey is starting to take to our new RV and loves staring out her very own window 🙂

  • We are literally spending hours looking for campgrounds that meet our needs lately. And honestly, our needs aren’t that unreasonable: internet and phone service in one way or another, campers under 55 allowed, pit bull mixes allowed. So much time wasted by the inefficiency of this industry’s searching and booking systems. I’ve heard about some tech-savvy people trying to improve this process and bring it up to 2017, but an industry disruption needs to happen sooner than later.
  • We downsized our storage unit in Atlanta (10’x12′ for $200/month) to a much smaller unit in Yuma (5’x5′ for $41/month). Not only is this helping us become more minimalist and cut the waste, but it’ll also make RV loan payments easier, keep the adventure going for longer, and save our extra things on the side of the country we’ll likely plop down on someday!
  • The San Diego area seems pretty ideal as a potential plopping spot, but damn it’s pricey.

  • We are now “those people” you love to hate on the highway…RVers with a really long towing set-up cruising at 66 max. On our last full day in Yuma, we got a tow bar installed on the Jeep. Five hours and $1,300 later, we are totally “those people.”
  • We have a checklist of probably 50+ items that are part of our new RV take-down process. This includes everything from draining the sewage to locking the outside storage cabinets and raising the jacks. I’m learning a lot, and it’s actually not as intimidating as I thought it might be. It involves less manual labor than the old pop-up did, but perhaps more brain power. Of course, it’ll all get quicker and easier each time we do it.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

We finally made it to California, nearly two months late, so we’re planning to stay here for a while. We’ve only been here a bit so far, but we’re already VERY familiar with all the issues of camping in California:

  • Private campgrounds are freaking expensive
  • Limited internet and phone reception in state/regional parks – an issue for full-time work
  • Discriminatory bans against pit bulls and other dog breeds
  • Silly 55+ age restrictions

However, we’ve gotten our next couple places lined up in the Banning, Burbank, and Santa Barbara areas of California. In fact, I’ve arranged for my parents to come out to Burbank to meet us for a long weekend! They’ve never been to SoCal before, so we’re planning to do some Hollywood/L.A. touristy stuff, and I think they’ll get a kick out of seeing our new RV.

If anyone reading this that I know is in these areas and interested in possibly meeting up or sharing some must-see tips, comment here or email me please! We’ll make the best out of you yet, California. It took 8 months to get here, and there’s no turning back now.

Catch up with the journey: