Category: Crafting

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.

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.

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!

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.

stamped paper table runner

hand-stamped paper table runner

A long table runner for a big Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to cost more than the turkey! This 14-foot table runner is simply a strip of kraft paper I cut from a big roll. Two years ago, it survived Thanksgiving dinner without any cranberry stains on it, so I saved it to reuse in the future — and this year I decided to fancy it up a bit.

The hand-stamped leaves were completely inspired by this table runner you can purchase from Minted. The leaf motif is very similar to this one (there’s a printable pattern!), but I drew my own by hand on an index card.

I bought a thick sheet of craft foam at Joann for $1.49 to use as my stamp. I traced around my paper pattern with a permanent marker, cut out the foam shape with an X-Acto knife, and glued it to a piece of sturdy foam core for stability — and to give me something better to grip. Michaels only carries thin sheets of craft foam, so if you can’t find thicker foam, you can just cut out several identical versions of your stamp from thin foam and stack them together.

cut your own stamp from thick craft foam

Then I just grabbed a white stamp pad and stamped away! I used Frost White pigment ink by Color Box because that’s what I had on hand.

hand-stamped paper table runner

I love how the table runner turned out, and I’m already dreaming of other simple stamps I can make with the rest of the sheet of foam. Oh, and those candles are fragrance-free soy candles I made in my crock pot. I’ll be sure to get any little wax bits out before I fill it with mashed potatoes next week!

numbered felt bean bags

numbered bean bags

Probably every mom with a sewing machine has made bean bags for her kids. Am I right? This project certainly isn’t original, but these brightly colored felt bean bags were fun to make — and even more fun to show Ethan when he woke up from his two-hour (!!!)  morning nap.

numbered bean bags

I followed this tutorial for tracing and cutting out my felt numbers, and it was so easy! Then I stitched the numbers on, sewed and filled the beanbags, and did a surprisingly fun photo shoot. I couldn’t stop arranging the bean bags in new ways!

The bags are made from 4×4-inch squares, and the font I used for the numbers is Berlin Sans FB Demi Bold. If you want to make your own, you can download and print this PDF to use as the pattern for your numbers.

numbered bean bags

The ideas for games and activities we can do with these bean bags are endless. Of course my two school-age step-children will do different things with them than my 11-month-old son will, but I’m eager to see what they all come up with.

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags

numbered bean bags



giant canvas alphabet art

giant painted canvas alphabet art

My baby sleeps in an IKEA crib, keeps his clothes in an IKEA dresser, and gets his diaper changed on an IKEA shelf. But little by little, the bedding, artwork, and other decorative items in his room are being lovingly handcrafted by his mama.

This giant canvas was a deeply-discounted impulse purchase at Michaels back in 2011. I had no idea what I would paint on it, but for twenty bucks, I couldn’t resist buying a blank 3-by-4-foot canvas. The man behind me in line was convinced I was a painter (who else would buy such a huge canvas?), and even though I denied it several times, he persisted and even asked if I do commissions. Ha! He must have thought I was being modest, but I was being honest. I don’t paint!

Fast forward two years, and this giant canvas now hangs on the wall of Ethan’s bedroom, adding a big, bold splash of color. I still would never call myself a painter, but I did successfully paint the alphabet onto a canvas.

handpainted canvas alphabet art

Here’s how to make your own painted canvas alphabet art:

STEP 1: Design the artwork.
I created an image in Photoshop Elements, moving and resizing the letters until I was satisfied. I wanted ultra-bold letters, so I used a free font called Bemio. This is also when I decided which color to paint each of the letters and which ones should be on top when they overlap.

STEP 2: Convert your design into a traceable pattern.
I hate to say it, but this step was clunky. If you have access to a video projector, just project the image onto your canvas, trace the outlines of the letters with a pencil, and continue to step 3. If you don’t, you can do what I did.

I added black outlines to my letters in Photoshop, then hid the colorful letters. (If you don’t know how, try following this quick tutorial.) I then divided my large image into 28 smaller 8×10″ images by selecting/copying a portion of the original image and creating a new image from the selection (File > New from Clipboard). I printed out those 28 images onto 28 sheets of white 8.5×11″ paper and then taped them together to make one large image. It’s not difficult, it’s just repetitive and somewhat annoying.

If you prefer, you could also have a 36×48″ image printed as an engineering print at Staples, but that would have cost more than $7, and that seemed too expensive for an intermediary step in a project. However, your sanity may be worth it.

STEP 3: Trace your design onto the canvas.
Now that you have a large, unwieldy, taped-together paper with your pattern on it, lay it on top of your canvas, center it up properly, and tape it directly to the canvas in a few places. Slide a sheet of graphite transfer paper between the pattern and the canvas. Use some kind of stylus (or pencil) to trace the outline of each letter, pressing firmly as you go. Depending on the size of your transfer paper, you’ll need to move it at least a few times as you trace. Try hard not to shift the big paper pattern on top!

STEP 4: Paint!
Finally, the step you’ve been looking forward to the most! Paint the letters! I used a 1/2-inch wide flat brush and four different colors of acrylic paint. I saved a picture of the design on my phone so I could refer to it often while I painted the first coat. Not only did I need to see which colors to paint the letters, but I had to keep checking how the letters overlapped, since I had traced the complete outline for each letter. I ended up painting two coats of most colors and three coats of the navy blue.

The paint colors (and brands) I used are Laguna (Apple Barrel), Real Navy (Apple Barrel), Citrus Green (Folk Art), and Neutral Gray (Americana). The colors coordinate with Ethan’s quilt… which is currently a stack of triangles stitched together to make squares.

STEP 5: Outline your letters.
I wasn’t originally planning to do this, but the edges and corners of the letters weren’t always as crisp as I would have liked, and I thought the added definition would help. It was absolutely the right decision for my project. I used a 1/8-inch flat brush to outline the letters in black.

STEP 6: Seal your painting with ModPodge.
I accidentally bought glossy navy blue paint, which was very obviously different from the other paints, so I brushed a coat of ModPodge over the entire canvas to even things out. I’d recommend this even if all of your paints have the same finish — it gives the project a nice finished look.

The canvas has been hanging in Ethan’s room since Saturday, and I’m still afraid I’m going to look at it one day and realize that I missed a letter. I didn’t, did I?


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