So That's How You...

Help Wanted

Flatten a rug corner, slice perfect brownies, and get a pen stain out of jeans. Master these and other around-the-house jobs with expert tips.

By Alonna Travin
Illustrations by Trina Dalziel

…build a roaring fire

With this top-down method from Ashley Eldridge of the Chimney Safety Institute of America, you can achieve a brilliant blaze using only wood and matches. Make sure the wood is dry. Store it outside, offthe ground, in a loose stack for at least six months before burning it.

1. Arrange a row of the biggest logs on the grate in the hearth, leaving an inch or two of space between each one. (Or lay them directly on the fireplace floor; you don't have to use a grate, Eldridge says.)

2. Stack slightly smaller logs on top, arranging them perpendicular to the first layer.

3. For the next two layers, add kindling (twigs and narrow logs), alternating so each row is perpendicular to the one below it, with each layer smaller than the one below it, so the stack comes to a peak.

4. Add the final layer, tinder, which is made of small pieces of wood, like chips and shavings. (The top of the stack should be about halfway up the height of the firebox.) The top layer will light easily with a match, so you won't need newspaper. As the fire burns, it will ignite the wood below it, producing a robust blaze.

…pop a champagne cork

First make sure the bottle is properly chilled, says Cheryl S. Stanley, certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Submerge a room-temperature bottle in a bucket filled half with ice and half with water for 30 minutes. Or let it sit on its side in the fridge overnight.

Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle pointed away from your body; no one should be in front of you. The correct angle will prevent an overflow of bubbles and give you control when air escapes.

Peel off the foil. With your left hand, place a dish towel over the cork and the cage so if the cork makes a fast escape, it will get trapped in the towel. Place your left thumb on top of the cage. Unwind the key of the cage with your right hand so it's loose around the bottle, but don't remove it.

Holding the cork and the cage in place with your left hand over the towel, grab the bottom of the bottle with your right hand, and twist it back and forth. (Turn the bottle, not the cork.) You'll feel the pressure build through the bottle and up to the cork. Eventually the cork will give and produce a soft pfft sound. Hold the bottle at 45 degrees for a few more seconds as the gases escape.

…get a pen stain out of jeans

Covering the stain with a few spritzes of aerosol hair spray is the tried-and-true method, says Ingrid Johnson, a professor of textiles at the Fashion Institute of Technology. You'll need a formula with a high alcohol content (it should be one of the first ingredients listed), and ideally you want to treat the stain while the ink is still wet. Douse the spot with the spray, and let it dry. Don't touch it! "Rubbing it will only embed the stain into the fabric even more," says Johnson. Almost immediately, the alcohol will pull the ink to the surface of the fabric, where it will bubble up and dry within minutes. Then you can flake it off with the edge of a knife.

…polish silverware without silver polish

You can make silverware gleam again using this electromagnetic science experiment courtesy of Leslie Reichert, author of The Joy of Green Cleaning. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Bring a pot of vinegar––enough to fill your baking pan about an inch or two deep––almost to a boil, then add a tablespoon of baking soda. Pour the solution into the pan, then add the silverware. The solution will cause the tarnish on the silver to transfer to the foil. Remove the pieces once the tarnish is gone, rinse them with cool water, and pat dry.

…keep the ends of a rug from curling up

"Rugs often spend three to six months rolled up in a warehouse, and they need time to flatten out," says Cameron Capel, vice president of national accounts at Capel Rugs. First try reverse rolling it, keeping it rolled in the opposite direction, for 48 hours. If that doesn't do the trick, lay the rug down on your floor, then set a stack of heavy books on each corner for a few days to press the corners back into place. If one corner is extra pesky, try folding it under first. Or pick up NeverCurl ($13,, a thin, rigid, L-shaped piece of plastic that attaches with adhesive to the underside of a rug corner to straighten it out.

…remove glued-on labels from jars

A solution of rubbing alcohol and Goo Gone will de-gunk most glass and plastic, according to Marie Browning, crafter and author of Mason Jar Gifts. Combine 2 ounces of Goo Gone with 9 ounces of rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. Spritz the label enough to completely soak it, let it sit for a few minutes, then rub the label off with a paper towel. Repeat if needed. If the label won't budge, let the wholejar soak in the solution for 10 minutes before rubbing off the label with a paper towel.

…untangle a knot in a chain

A pair of sewing needles and a few drops of oil (olive, vegetable, or baby) will help you get your favorite necklace back in rotation, says Amanda Gizzi, a spokesperson for Jewelers of America.

1. Place the chain on a flat, hard surface, and gently rub a small amount of oil on the knot. The oil will serve as a lubricant to loosen the tangle.

2. Find the center of the knot, and use two sewing needles to loosen and pull it from its center. Your goal is to expand the knot slowly; be patient or you could make the gnarl nastier.

3. When you're knot-free, dip the oily part of the necklace in warm water (mild soap is optional), rinse, and pat dry.

…cut perfect brownies

Prevent gooey crumbs from mucking up your bars with these tips from Sabrina Sexton, a program director at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

1. Lightly butter the bottom and the sides of a baking pan, then cut a piece of parchment paper so it fits snugly inside the pan with two generous ends of overhang. Butter the top of the parchment. Prepare the batter, pour it in the pan, and bake according to the recipe instructions.

2. Let the brownies cool in the pan for at least an hour. Grabbing both ends of the parchment overhang, carefully lift the cooled brownies out of the pan, and place the parchment and the brownies on a cutting board.

3. Using a large knife, such as a chef's knife or a carving knife—but nothing serrated—make a single cut straight through the brownies. Do not use the knife to saw back and forth. Between cuts, run the knife under warm water until it's clean, then wipe the blade with a dish towel before making the next cut.

…pack a dress without wrinkling it

Linen is guaranteed to rumple, so this method, courtesy of the Fashion Institute of Technology's Ingrid Johnson, is best for knit, jersey, wool, and synthetic blends.

Place the dress facedown on a bed. Fold the sleeves in, then fold each side in 2 to 4 more inches.

Lay a sweater or shawl (whichever you intend to bring along) on top of the dress.

Roll the two garments together from bottom to top. The sweater or shawl will act as a buffer to prevent the dress from getting crushed. Place the dress on the top or the side of your suitcase, away from heavy items like shoes.

Online bonus!

so that's how you… fold a fitted sheet

Go to for a demonstration of the right way to tackle the toughest folding job out there.