why I said yes to making a custom order

wedding card box bunting

How do you decide which projects and ideas to say “yes” to? I have a hard time turning down a project that interests me, even when I don’t really have time to take on one more thing. So when a friend from high school reached out on Facebook and asked whether I would create a few decorations for her upcoming wedding, of course I said yes!

But as I sat hunched over my sewing machine, cranking out a 50-foot bunting, I wondered why I had agreed to do this! I could have been spending that time making something for myself or my family… or for our upcoming Summer Bible School at church.

So why DID I say yes?

1. It gave me an excuse to create. I love creating things, but I often find it hard to make it a priority when so many other things (and people!) are clamoring for my attention. In the daily routine, creative pursuits are a luxury, not a necessity. Dishes have to be washed, and diapers need to be changed, but I do not have to sew felt magnets for our play kitchen or design paper invitations for our annual summer ice cream party… although I feel happier when I do.

2. This was a paying project. As a full-time mom, I rarely get paid for anything I do, so the opportunity to work on a money-making project appealed to me. It’s been years since I’ve sold anything I made, but recently I’ve been dreaming about some new possibilities for selling handmade items, so it felt good to take on a paying project again.

3. It aligned with one of my goals for 2014. Six months ago, I was the happy owner of a Silhouette Cameo that intimidated me just a little, so when I developed my goals for the year, “learn to use my Silhouette Cameo” was on the list. I’ve used it quite a bit since then, but I knew this project would give me an opportunity to do some things with the machine that I hadn’t tried before.

wedding card box bunting

4. This was an unusual request. Her wedding decor is rustic and simple, but not the vintage, cottage-chic aesthetic that is all over Pinterest — they’re decorating mostly with orange, green, burlap and Realtree camouflage! The bride wanted me to create a few items to add some color in keeping with their theme, and I couldn’t resist the challenge of creating a little bunting to cover up part of the National Wild Turkey Federation logo on their wooden box for cards.

5. I was flattered to be asked. Obviously, this is NOT a good reason to say yes to something, but it does help tip the scale if I’m on the fence! When someone reaches out to me for creative assistance, it feels good to be able to help, especially when they are products that I’m very comfortable making.


As it turned out, the item the bride originally requested was not one of the three items she ended up needing. I made the little bunting for the card box, a 50-foot bunting for the reception in a barn, and 850 pieces of 1-inch confetti shapes for the tables. And I’m glad I said yes.

P.S. TO MOMS! I’m so glad some of you have been participating in my Beyond Board Books summer reading program. I love hearing about all the books that you’ve been reading, and have added a couple of them to my list to check out next time I visit the library. We have a wonderful group of creative moms who are sponsoring the weekly prizes, and have announced two winners already! If you’re trying to decide what to read next, come see what other moms are reading.

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Hey moms! If you’ve ever secretly wished you could sign up for your kids’ summer reading program — and win cooler prizes! — I’ve created a summer reading program just for you. Beyond Board Books is a fun way to encourage moms to take time to read this summer, and I hope you’ll participate!

There’s no assigned reading list, no deadlines, no pressure. Just read any book you want and leave a comment on the reading log page telling me what you read and something about the book. Every book you read between June 15 – August 31 will give you a chance to win a great prize from one of our sponsors in the weekly prize drawing! All of the sponsors are moms who run an online shop or blog, and I’m continuing to line up more.

Beyond Board Books kicks off this Sunday, and if you help spread the word on social media, you can enter to win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (sponsored by me). If you’re a mom, go check it out! I’d love to have you join in the fun this summer!

wise words by Maya Angelou

success is... - by Maya Angelou

I learned of Maya Angelou’s passing on Facebook yesterday morning when my friends began posting some of her wise, memorable words. One of my favorite quotes of hers is one I just discovered during the past year, and I’ve been wanting to frame these words to hang in our home.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This morning I scrolled through my quotes board on Pinterest and found some more of Maya Angelou’s wise words that I’ve collected over time.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

printable quote cards: wise words by Maya Angelou

I’ve made these three quotes by Maya Angelou available as printable 3×4″ cards that you can add to a Project Life album or hang on your refrigerator. The PDF with all three cards can be downloaded here.

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

stuffed sheep

I feel so lucky that we live just a mile or so down the road from a farm with sheep. And my 17-month-old little boy is pretty lucky that his mama takes the time to stop the van and visit the sheep with him several times a week. Ethan hangs on the fence and says “baa!” over and over, and if the sheep come close enough, we feed them dandelions.

visiting the sheep

When I stumbled across a free pattern for an adorable stuffed sheep, I knew immediately that I wanted to sew one for Ethan. The pattern is by Abby Glassenberg, who designs and sells patterns for stuffed animals and writes a blog called While She Naps. I binge-read her blog when I discovered it a few weeks ago, and I was so inspired by her transparency and authenticity in her posts about blogging and running a creative business. Abby’s cute Baa, Baa, Black Sheep pattern is available for free at Sew Mama Sew.

stuffed sheep

Abby made her sheep with faux fur, which looked a bit more wooly, but I just used regular fleece to make my soft and snuggly sheep. The sheep came together pretty quickly and easily, but the trickiest part of the process was embroidering the features on the sheep’s face, mostly because I didn’t know how to successfully trace the stitching lines onto the fleece, but also because I simply found it hard to embroider on fleece.

stuffed sheep

I bought a couple hemostats on Amazon for just $3.59 with free shipping, and they were an extremely helpful tool for turning the legs and tail right side out and later stuffing the finished sheep. Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have gotten those little legs turned without them. Ethan picked up the legs when they were still inside out, and thought they were socks. (dock! dock!) I’m sure I’ll use the hemostats for other future projects, so I’m very glad I bought them.

stuffed sheep

Several friends of mine are expecting babies this year and I’m thinking about sewing up a few more of these sheep as gifts for the new little ones. I rarely make more than one of anything I sew, but I might have to make an exception for this adorable little sheep.

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. However, links to products on Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you order them, I make a teeny tiny commission.

my goals for May 2014


Whoever said that “April showers bring May flowers” wasn’t kidding about the first part! Yesterday we got 5-7 inches of rain that I (and later, we) worked very hard to keep out of our basement. I lost two pounds (what?!) and our basement stayed dry. We’ve gotten a couple quotes for fixing our water drainage issues, but the work won’t be done for another month or so.

Today, the first of May, is a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the doors are wide open.

And it’s time to set some new monthly goals. These are my goals for the month of May:

  • spring clean the house. As you can see from the picture above, I’m starting with the chest freezer.
  • finish the kids’ bathroom makeover. This is one of my goals for the year, and my progress has stalled. I still want to paint, make new curtains, and hang some art on the walls.
  • add a project gallery to the blog. I want to make it easier for you and others who stop by to find older projects that are still worth checking out.
  • sew something. It’s been far too long since I sewed anything, but last night I reorganized some of my sewing supplies, and I’m eager to work on a new sewing project.

choosing a fresh start

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I never intended to take a three-month break from blogging, but somehow that’s what happened. There’s no particular reason that I haven’t been posting. Life has been full and rich and wonderful, just as it was before the blog silence, and I’m doing fine. There’s also no special reason that I’m starting to blog again today, except that I finally really want to.

I have a Pinterest board where I collect quotes that inspire me, and several of them have been on my mind a lot as I considered my return to blogging and what I want this online space to become. I’m so quick to doubt my skills and value as a creative blogger. It’s easy for me to compare myself to other bloggers and develop a lengthy list of ways my blog and I don’t measure up. I can think of lots of reasons you should read other blogs instead of mine.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

But none of that really matters, does it? Because I enjoy blogging! This is one of my hobbies, and rachelswartley.com is something I enjoy creating. I love spending time on a hobby that challenges me and gives me opportunities to stretch myself, develop new skills, and interact with others who share some of the same interests. In addition to all of the projects and activities I share on my blog, the act of blogging itself — the writing, photography, design, promotion — is one of my hobbies, and I’ve missed it.

quote card: you may have a fresh start

So today I’m choosing a fresh start. On the screen, it may look like a mere continuation of more than 7 years of blog posts, but for me, it’s a turning point. I’m intrigued by this quote from Mary Pickford, an actress who wrote these words in 1936. “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

If you need a visual reminder to stop doubting, stop comparing, get back up, and choose a fresh start, I’ve made these little quote cards available as a free printable. The cards are 3×4 inches, so they will fit nicely into a Project Life pocket page, but you could also hang them on your fridge or bulletin board.

free printable Project Life quote cards

Download the printable PDF with all three quote cards.

(NOTE: The crop marks at the corners indicate the cutting lines. The rectangular outlines are part of the design. Cutting along the solid lines will result in cards that are smaller than 3×4″.)

new dinner foods in January

I’ve gotten into such a rut with the foods I cook for dinner. I feel like I make the same things over and over — for two good reasons. First, one of my kids is an especially picky eater, so sticking to foods that we all love results in a more pleasant meal time. And second, when one child is practicing her trumpet, one child is reading aloud, and one wobbly child is either hanging onto my legs or climbing the step stool, it’s just easier to cook something that I can make on auto-pilot without having to consult a recipe 13 times.

But as much as we love chili and chicken fajitas and baked macaroni and cheese, I’ve been getting pretty bored with eating — and cooking! — the same things all the time. So one of my goals for January was to make something new for dinner. And I did. Five times!

new foods we ate in January 2014

Here are the links to the recipes and image sources:

The kids have been very good sports about trying all of these new things! I talk about it as an experiment that we’re all doing together, and I always ask for feedback. The crispy southwest chicken wraps were our favorite, but all of them are foods I would make again.

I’m planning to cook more new things in February, but I have no idea what they will be, so I’d love to hear your recommendations for kid-friendly dinner foods.

Ethan discovers playdough

first experience with playdough

Do you remember the first time you played with playdough? I’m sure most people don’t — but it’s such a classic experience of childhood, isn’t it?

Yesterday was Ethan’s very first encounter with playdough. He’s only 13 months old, so he obviously didn’t create anything with it, but it was fun to watch him explore the squishy blue lump. I set up my iPhone on a little tripod in front of him and took a video while he played. There’s nothing dramatic or amazing in the video, but I love that I was able to capture such a simple moment of childhood exploration.

You can watch the video here. My favorite part is when he tears off a little piece of playdough and then looks back and forth between the two pieces. My least favorite part is his high-pitched squeal! Oh man, I hear that way too much these days! But it’s such a real part of life right now that I decided to leave it in the video.

Are you surprised that Ethan didn’t try to eat the playdough? I was too — but after I stopped recording, I sat down next to him and rolled a piece of playdough into a snake. He picked it up and promptly put it in his mouth. And when I rolled a piece into a ball, he considered that an invitation to throw the playdough.

We played with the playdough again this morning, but the magic of the very first time had already worn off, so I’m so glad I took the video yesterday!

my Project Life title page for 2014

Project Life title page by Rachel Swartley

While Ethan took a two-hour nap on Saturday afternoon, I created the title page for my 2014 Project Life album… and I love how it turned out! The color scheme and design is similar to my Project Life title page for 2013, and yet every element of the design is new and different.

For the Hello card, I used a card from the Midnight Core Kit as the background. I covered up the little camera in the middle of the card with a flag I made. The font is Wendy LP, which is the same script font I use on my blog.

Project Life hello card

The blue and white polka dot paper I used for the background on this card is actually tissue paper I picked up at Target last year. It’s from their Spritz brand of party supplies. The font is Open Sans Condensed — the main font you see throughout my blog.

Project Life: this is our story

I bought a Silhouette Cameo with some gift money last year, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t sat down and learned to use it yet. That’s one of my goals for 2014, but meanwhile I just used my hands-on method to trace and then cut these numbers with an X-Acto knife. The textured silver cardstock is by Bazzill Basics — and it’s actually left over from our wedding!

number cutout for Project Life album

I love these little arrows I made with washi tape. It was so simple! Just fold the end of a piece of washi tape in half gently and cut on the diagonal to get a symmetrical point.

washi tape arrows

Project Life is the original pocket-based scrapbooking system, and I started using it a year ago to document some of our memories. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually do much with it last year for a variety of reasons, but I’m still planning to go back and create an album for 2013. One of my goals for 2014 is to create a Project Life album, and I’m happy to say that I’ve already made progress beyond the title page.

If you don’t feel very crafty/creative, or simply don’t have the time, you can definitely do Project Life without making anything yourself! There are kits you can buy with cards that just slip into the pockets. For the rest of my album, I’m planning to use lots of pre-made cards from a couple core kits and mini kits I have, but I wanted the title page to be completely my own design. And for me, the time I spent on it was absolutely worth it.

goals for 2014

goals for 2014

I love setting goals. Choosing a specific goal helps me to stay focused on things that are important to me. Writing them down helps me to clarify and remember what I want to pursue. I set goals for the day, for the weekend, for the month, for Ethan’s naptimes… and of course I set goals for the year.

In 2014, I’d love to:

  • create a Project Life album
  • give the kids’ bathroom a makeover
  • make lots of new foods for dinner
  • take more photos of myself
  • learn to use my Silhouette Cameo
  • read a dozen books
  • finish buying Christmas gifts before the week of Christmas
  • host a craft night
  • develop a more interactive community on my blog/social media
  • shoot in manual on my DSLR

I’ve started on several already, and I’m eager to dive into the rest. And no matter how many of these I achieve by the end of the year, I’ll be thrilled.

Have you set any of the same goals for yourself this year? Which are you most eager to hear more about?

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