lucky us

lucky us

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! I think this is the first time I have ever hung up St. Patrick’s decor in my home. It’s not a holiday I really celebrate, except that I make sure to wear green and maybe buy a shamrock shake. But I recently made this simple “lucky us” banner and hung it on the wall in our stairway… and I love it.

It’s so easy for me to focus my attention on the challenges in my life, the things that are different than I wish they were, and the ways that I don’t measure up to who I want to be. But this “lucky us” banner serves as a little attitude check for me. It reminds me to be grateful for the wonderful things that those challenges represent. It reminds me to thank God for the blessings in my life. And it reminds me to look for the good in others and myself.

In a few days, I’ll probably be ready to tear off those shamrocks, but I think I’ll keep the rest of the banner up for a while. Because I can always use a sparkly little attitude check.

an adorable stuffed penguin

handmade penguin

Isn’t this the cutest penguin you’ve ever seen?! I bought the pattern for this penguin back in November, intending to give it as a Christmas gift. Then life got busyI set aside the half-finished penguin, and I ordered a set of Melissa and Doug blocks* instead. I recently realized that spring was on its way, so I set a new goal of finishing the penguin before all the snow melts!

I finished sewing this penguin last night, and when my two-year-old walked into my crafting area this morning and saw the penguin sitting on a shelf, he laughed the sweetest little giggle as he ran to pick it up. As I write this, that brave little penguin is getting a first-hand look at what exactly Ethan does in his bedroom when he’s supposed to be napping.

This is the second stuffed animal I’ve sewn (the black sheep was my first), so I felt a bit more confident heading into this project. One sewing tip I’ve learned from the pattern designer, Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps, is the value of placing pins really close together when aligning curves. She recommends placing the pins 1/4″ apart, and while it may look a little crazy, it kept everything in place while I sewed.

pinning fleece on a curve

This year I’ve been blogging less than ever and pouring my creative energy into Instagram, but I think I’m ready to get back into the swing of blogging again. So to those of you who still follow my blog — thanks for sticking around! Good things are coming.

* Setting aside the half-finished penguin and buying those Melissa and Doug blocks for Ethan (who had just turned two) was the best decision ever. He plays with them every single day.

Note: links may be affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I make a tiny commission at no additional cost to you.

a friendship bracelet with hearts

heart friendship bracelet

Knotting a friendship bracelet is definitely not an efficient way for a busy mom to spend her time… but sometimes inefficient projects are good for the soul, especially on a snowy day! This sweet little friendship bracelet was the perfect project for a school day that started with a two-hour delay and ended with an early dismissal.

friendship bracelet embroidery floss

I originally learned to make knotted friendship bracelets when I was a kid at summer camp, but I relied on this tutorial to learn how to make a friendship bracelet with hearts. The process is more complex than the standard striped bracelet or even a chevron pattern, so if you’re taking care of three kids while you make one, you may need to untie some misplaced knots as you go…

heart friendship bracelet

How old does an object have to be before it’s considered “vintage?” I’m afraid my clipboard from high school might soon qualify!

heart friendship bracelet

This little heart friendship bracelet would be a fun Valentine’s gift to send your best friend since childhood — if you’re lucky enough to have one of those! Or maybe you have a tween daughter who would enjoy making one for her BFF.

If you make a heart friendship bracelet and share it on Instagram, feel free to tag me (@rachelswartley) — I’d love to see it!

an adventure to the Altitude Design Summit

business cards

Tomorrow morning I’m heading out on an adventure. It’s the kind of adventure that requires business cards and gold jewelry — a rare kind of getaway for a full-time mom. I’m heading to the Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City, which is a conference for creative bloggers and entrepreneurs.

I’ve been familiar with Alt since 2011, I think, and I’ve listened to keynotes online, followed the #altsummit Twitter feed, and gleaned as much as possible from other bloggers’ written recaps. Up until a few weeks ago, I expected this year to be the same — learning as much as I could from a distance. But on the day after Christmas, I won a ticket through a random giveaway on Instagram, and so this year I’ll be experiencing Alt first-hand.

There will be keynote speakers, breakout sessions, design camps, roundtable discussions, parties, sponsors, and more! And throughout the conference, each of us will be trying to show our best, most authentic self to the other bloggers, entrepreneurs, and brand representatives that we might want to collaborate with. It’s quite an event, and from what I’ve seen in pictures, the Grand America is quite a hotel.

Going to the Altitude Design Summit feels like a pretty big deal, so I’m both excited and nervous. I’m really good at comparing myself to other people and finding all the ways I don’t measure up. I have a blog, but I don’t post frequently. I’m active on Instagram, but I don’t have many followers. I love to make things, but there are lots of people who are far more creative than I am. I’ve sold a few things I’ve made, but it’s far from a full-fledged business. I can think of lots of reasons that I don’t belong at Alt.

So why am I going to Alt?  I’m going because I have a blog and I dream of selling handmade items. I’m going because I want to connect with and be inspired by other creative women. And I’m going because in spite of my self-doubt, I know I belong at Alt. (And, when you win a ticket to Alt, you don’t turn it down.)

business card

So ready or not, here I go! I’m packing up my handmade business cards, crossing my fingers, and heading out on an adventure. I’m sure I’ll be posting on Instagram more than usual, so feel free to connect with me there. I’m Rachel Swartley, and I’m creating a life I love.

DIY draft stopper

draft stopper

In the back of one of our closets, there is a small door that leads to our “attic.” On the other side of that little door you’ll find Christmas decorations, bins full of clothes the kids have outgrown, and a million or so cardboard boxes that I’m hoarding saving. There’s a small gap at the bottom of the door, and during the winter, there’s usually a quilt or blanket shoved up against the door to keep the cold air out.

This winter I’ve been using a mattress cover that was sitting nearby that I’ve been meaning to fold and put away. Classy.

So after four years of blocking the cold air with whatever was handy, I finally dug into my fabric stash and made a proper draft stopper.

draft stopper

The black and white striped fabric is from IKEA. I made the fabric tube 6″ in diameter, and cut it several inches longer than the width of the door. At each end of the tube, I folded the edges of the fabric to the inside of the tube, then folded and pinched it together a lot like a milk carton. After I sewed the first end shut, I used a funnel to fill the tube, and then stitched up the other end.

If you search for “draft stopper” or “draft dodger” to get ideas for making your own, you’ll find that a lot of people fill them with rice, or maybe kitty litter. I didn’t feel good about using anything that might possibly attract rodents, so I filled the draft stopper with poly pellets. Poly pellets are tiny plastic beads that can be used to fill bean bags, make weighted stuffed animals, or… fill draft stoppers.

I bought a 32-oz. bag of poly pellets (I purchased mine at Joann) and still have a quarter to a third of the bag left. But the door to our attic is narrower than a standard door, so if you’re making a full-size draft stopper, a 32-oz. bag would probably be enough. (But no promises! I didn’t actually try it.)

I’m so glad to finally have a proper draft stopper to block the cold air. And it’s so much better than stuffing a blanket into place with my toes…

Note: Links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I make a tiny commission at no additional cost to you.

oh, hello 2015.

pigeon painting on canvas

Happy 2015, friends! I hope your year is off to a good start.

Like everyone else, I’m determined to make 2015 a great year. When next December rolls around, I want to feel excited about writing my paragraph in our family’s annual Christmas letter. I don’t want my personal summary of 2015 to be essentially the same as 2014… and 2013.

January 2015 is already very different than any other January in my life. Last Friday, I won a ticket to the Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City, which is a conference for creative bloggers. It’s less than three weeks away, so I’m scrambling to get ready! I’m looking forward to attending a small dinner sponsored by Joann Fabric and Craft, which is one of my favorite places to shop and dream.

I usually create a list of goals for the year, and sometimes I’ve chosen one little word to focus on. I have LOTS of ideas swirling around in my head of ways I want to improve my life in 2015, but I haven’t developed a specific list of goals yet that I’m ready to share with you. My overarching desire is to continue to pursue my personal goal of “creating a life I love.” And as I do that, I intend to blog much more frequently in 2015 than I did last year, which was an unusually quiet year for my blog.

Now, about that pigeon up there… Many of you will recognize the pigeon as a character from Mo Willems’ books, such as “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” I snapped a picture of the pigeon from one of the books, photoshopped it to death, and printed it out. Then I transferred the outlines to a 16×20″ canvas with transfer paper and a stylus. I’m not a painter, but I managed to more or less follow the lines, and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I originally created this when Ethan was six months old and hung it in his bedroom. Now he’s two years old, and it hangs over the toilet in the bathroom. It’s fun to think of the pigeon greeting my older kids in the morning before I do.

So hello, 2015. Let’s create a good year.

my first December Daily scrapbook: the title page

December Daily title page

In my head, I’m a scrapbooker. In reality? Not so much.

I’ve taken tons of photos, bought a few Project Life kits, and jotted down some quotes from my kids that I want to remember. But when I try to pull it all together into a scrapbook, I feel totally stuck and can’t seem to create what I’ve imagined. In the past two years, all I’ve made are two decent title pages (2013 and 2014) and half a dozen layouts that are just OK.

So I have decided to jumpstart my scrapbooking aspirations with a smaller, more focused project. December Daily is a memory keeping project developed by Ali Edwards, and this year I’m going to join in the fun.

December Daily title page

Throughout the month of December, I’m going to capture some of the images and stories of the Christmas season and compile it all in a small album. December is such a special time of year with unique decorations, food, celebrations, music, activities, traditions, and togetherness, and I want to record some of those memories.

The album I’m using is the 6×8″ faux leather album by Simple Stories, and I’m using photo pocket pages by Becky Higgins (Project Life) and Simple Stories. I’m not using Ali Edwards’ December Daily kit, but I have gathered some supplies that fit my clean and simple aesthetic, and will design the rest myself. I’ve also gathered lots of inspiration on my December Daily board on Pinterest.

December Daily title page

I cut out the word “december,” the numbers, and the white frame with my Silhouette Cameo. The cursive font is Wendy LP, and the numbers are Open Sans Condensed. The background paper with white snowflakes is actually wrapping paper that I recently found at HomeGoods, and I added a few little white snowflake punches. I love white on kraft, and especially like the hand drawn look of the snowflakes.

December Daily title page

I’ve learned that a lot of people prepare their pages in advance by putting in papers and embellishments ahead of time, and then add the stories and photos throughout the month. As an inexperienced scrapbooker, I find it impossible to anticipate how I will want each page to be laid out, so I’m just going to create the scrapbook as I go.

If creating a scrapbook during the month of December sounds crazy to you, let me assure you — it sounds crazy to me too! If I don’t finish it before January, that won’t bother me at all. (I’ve seen some people online recently talking about needing to finish up last year’s December album before this December begins!) I’m going to try not to feel pressure to change what we do just to make our life look good for a scrapbook. However… if this project helps to make the Christmas season more meaningful, and encourages me to live with more intention, more joy, and more gratitude, that will be a wonderful added bonus.

Note: Links may be affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I will make a tiny commission if you make a purchase.

stuffed patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

stuffed patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

If you’ve ever seen English paper piecing and immediately concluded that it’s a good project for your grandma, perhaps this stuffed patchwork ball will change your mind.

It changed mine.

I had heard of English paper piecing occasionally over the years, but for the longest time I had no idea what it was, and didn’t think it sounded interesting enough to find out. When I finally realized what English paper piecing was, all of the projects I saw looked too old-fashioned for my taste, and I never considered trying it. (Just do a Google image search for “English paper piecing” and you’ll see what I mean.)

For those of you who don’t know, English paper piecing is a method of quilting in which you use a paper template to easily sew a precise geometric shape with fabric, most often a hexagon. The shapes are then stitched together to make a quilt, a table runner, or other decorative item.

Usually.

English paper piecing pentagons

In August, I saw a tutorial for a patchwork ball on the While She Naps blog. It had never occurred to me that English paper piecing could be used to make a three-dimensional toy for a young child, but I immediately knew that I wanted to make one with modern colors.

Later that same day, I plunked down six bolts of flannel on the cutting counter at JoAnn Fabrics. “That’s a great color combination,” said the younger of the two women behind the counter, her tone of voice indicating that she could hardly believe I found those colors on their shelves. I bought just four inches of each color for a whopping total of $2.52, and could probably make half a dozen balls with that fabric.

stack of brightly-colored flannel

My favorite time to work on a new project is ASAP, so I washed, dried, and pressed my fabric that night. The next day I used my Silhouette Cameo to cut out a dozen little card stock pentagons and started sewing.

I followed this video tutorial for the basting, but instead of lightly gluing the template to the fabric, I first punched two holes in each template and stuck a pin through them to hold the template in place just until the fabric was cut and basted. The basting was quick and easy, and I could have created fabric shapes all day. Seriously, I LOVED basting all those little fabric pentagons.

English paper piecing pentagons

English paper piecing typically uses hexagons, but by using pentagons instead, this project becomes three-dimensional when the sides are joined together. (And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, it’s a stuffed dodecahedron!” you’re in good, nerdy company…)

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball assembly

Stitching the pentagons together is where I got bogged down, since there are 30 seams to sew, and I actually set the project aside for a couple months. Last Friday night I invited some friends over for a bring-your-own-craft night, and this was the perfect project to work on while we sat around chatting and eating pumpkin bars.

However, I want to be clear that flannel is NOT the ideal fabric for this project. I was pretty sure of that before I even bought it, but I went ahead and tried it, and now I know for sure. Flannel is soft and cozy, but it has a looser weave than regular cotton fabric, so the stitches that join the shapes together are more visible. However, my hand-stitching is far from perfect, so someone with more experience would probably have better results.  You can’t really see the stitches in the photo above, but once the ball is stuffed, they’re definitely visible in the finished product.

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball

The paper templates stay in until you have stitched around all five sides of a shape. Then you can just stick the tip of your scissors or a pin in one of the little holes and pop it out, since none of the stitches go through the paper.

The sides of my pentagons are just 1.5″ long, so I probably should have left two sides open prior to stuffing instead of one to make it easier to turn right side out. The basting stitches stay in and are not visible from the right side of the project.

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball inside out

You could definitely just use your fingers to push the stuffing into place, but since my opening was so small, I was glad for the hemostats I bought a few months ago when I made the stuffed sheep.

stuffing a patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

I stuffed the ball until it seemed full and then I stuffed it some more, because I wanted it to bounce and not be too squishy and floppy.

patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

Ta-da! There’s my first English paper piecing project. I wish my imperfect stitches weren’t quite so visible, but overall I love how the ball turned out. I made it with my toddler in mind, but I’ve seen all three of my kids kicking and throwing it inside the house this week…

a birthday candy gram

candy gram

I envy those of you who always come up with the perfect gift for every occasion. If that’s something that comes naturally to you, be thankful! If gift-giving is something you struggle with, you can tuck this idea away for the next time you’re trying to figure out what to get for someone who has everything they need.

For my husband’s birthday, I helped my kids put together a candy gram. After looking up some ideas online, I bought a bunch of candy bars that I thought we could incorporate into the birthday message on the poster. Then after the kids got home from school, we typed up the message, printed it out, and glued the words and the candy to the poster. It was quick, easy, and fun! And best of all, it’s more personal than giving Daddy a gift card or another striped tie.

candy gram

If you’re considering making a candy gram, here are a few tips:

1. PRINT THE WORDS ON PAPER, then glue them onto the poster. Hand-written posters look charming and more personal, but I just didn’t trust that we’d be able to fit our whole message on the poster if we hand-wrote it. Printing it first allowed us to arrange it all on the poster before we glued everything down. The font I used is Bubblegum Sans.

2. MOUNT YOUR CANDY GRAM ON FOAM CORE. Standard poster board seemed like it would be too flimsy to accommodate the weight of all the candy, so I used a 20×30 sheet of foam core. It costs more than poster board, but it’s sturdy and easy to transport. Plus, you can prop it up against the wall instead of laying it flat.

3. ATTACH THE CANDY WITH HOT GLUE. Strong tape would probably work too, but hot glue was quick and easy. Several candy bars did jump off the board a few days later, but I figure they were just begging to be eaten…

candy gram

Every time my toddler sees his daddy’s candy gram, he puts his arms in the air and says, “Birthday!” This candy gram was obviously created for a birthday, but it could be adapted for almost any occasion. If you search for “candy gram” on Google or Pinterest, you’ll find tons of great ideas out there, and you’ll quickly see that I borrowed parts of our text from other candy grams.

If you create a candy gram, feel free to share a link to it in the comments. I’d love to see what you make!

a knock-knock joke birthday card

knock-knock joke card

I’d love to be the kind of aunt who sends cool cards and awesome little gifts to my nieces and nephews on their birthdays, but unfortunately, I’m the kind of aunt who rarely sends anything, and when I do, it’s usually late. In typical fashion, I created this card on the day after Simon’s 7th birthday. But instead of scrawling “Sorry this is late!”, I embraced the lateness and made it into a joke.

knock-knock joke card - inside

The classic knock-knock joke with the “orange you glad” punchline can easily be adapted to fit a variety of situations. In this card, we said, “Orange you glad we didn’t forget your birthday?!” Orange is Simon’s favorite color, so of course he got a kick out of it.

knock-knock joke card

I was aiming for a bit of a comic strip vibe, so I used the font SF Cartoonist Hand. The door knob is a brass fastener, although I suppose it would be more accurate to call it a brad, since it’s actually silver in color. You can find those at a craft store like Michaels.

Do you send birthday cards or gifts to your nieces and nephews who live at a distance? I have all of their birthdays on my calendar, but somehow they always seem to sneak up on me and I don’t get things mailed in time. If you send fun little treats (other than money), I’d love to hear your ideas!

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