Saturday, January 31, 2015

Some simple after-Christmas crafting

Super simple gift tags
Since Christmas, I've been able to craft a few simple items so thought I would quickly share them.  One of my goals this year is to nurture my creativity, so I'm not losing any time getting started.  I'm trying to do something creative every day, even if it's only cooking or thinking of a creative solution or tactic in homemaking.
For Christmas gifts for my daughters and several friends, I made these fabulous "Best of My Days" cards from Ashley at Under the Sycamore.  I had such fun designing the packaging.  This is one that I made as a New Year gift for a friend. 
Christmas Star dishcloth
Gift tags from 2014's Christmas cards
Winter-themed table topper (more pics on my regular blog)
More of the simple gift tags I made from the metal-rimmed paper tags and small embellishments
These projects are simple, but they have been fun for me and have definitely helped me stay sane during a cold and busy January!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Another fun after-Christmas buy

A couple of days after Christmas we visited our local Marshalls.  We love to go in there after the holiday and see what we can find for deals.  Holiday coffee is one thing we always look for at 50% off or more.  You can get some neat flavors and we have found that they are just fine in the freezer until we are ready to use them.

This year we did get a bag of coffee, plus the nifty little house lights I showed pictures of earlier.

We also found the pretty mug shown at the top of the post.  The photo isn't the best, but you may be able to see that is has a pretty, old-fashioned looking design along with the words "Season's Greetings/May Your Days be Merry & Bright".  I may keep it, or I may add it to a gift basket next year.  Either way, it was a great buy at $2!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some fun papers with snowy themes

"Snow Globe" themed papers
I'm usually not much into impulse buys on the way out of a store, not even in places like Jo-Ann Fabrics where they have those nifty bins of $1 items to tempt customers waiting for the next cashier.  Just before Christmas, however, I was waiting in such a line in Jo-Ann's -- a very, very long line, even though it was a weekday afternoon.  I had gone into Jo-Ann's looking for something very specific -- a large gift basket to fill with goodies for some friends with a large family.  I found it, too!  On clearance already, since it was so close to Christmas!  It was definitely worth waiting in a lengthy line for, since I'd looked a few other places already and had found nothing that would work.

As I stood in line, I browsed the $1 bins a bit.  I also made a quick foray OUT of the line.  The lady in front of me had her arms filled with pretty Christmas tins.  These tins were a bit different in that they had a large, round window in the lid to show whatever the contents of the tin might be.  She was planning to use hers for caramel corn.   Immediately I knew one of those would be perfect for the cinnamon pretzels I planned to include in the gift basket.  The lady told me where to find one and I quickly exited the line, leaving my shopping cart in place.  I found the tin and scurried back just as another shopper approached.  These great tins (which I wish I'd gotten a picture of) were also on 75% off clearance, which made it even sweeter.

Back to the bins.  Sometimes I am not sure if the items in those bins are all $1, or not, and the signage isn't always really clear about that.  So when I spied some really cute little packages of winter-themed paper, I wondered if they could possibly be $1.  Thankfully, Mr. T was with me and he took the paper to the nearest price finder.  Yes, $1!  By then the line was moving, or I would surely have picked up a couple more packages.  This paper is so cute!
"Hot Cocoa" themed papers
Not sure if you can still find this at Jo-Ann's at this point, but it's worth checking if you are interested.  I'll be sure and post about any crafting I do with these papers!

Friday, January 23, 2015

So sweet

I love the insides of some of the small vintage cards.  Not only are the greetings or messages more interesting and thoughtful than in today's cards, but often there are sweet little vignettes in there as well, often a small picture that echoes the scene on the front of the card.

The other day I was gathering cards to include on my winter ribbon board, having taken down the Christmas one.  I decided to use the card below, which is not one of my favorite vintage cards, but I thought it would look nice with the other snow scenes on the board.

I've scanned the interiors of many of my vintage cards, but had never even looked inside this one,  so I was surprised to see the sweet little ornament pictured at the top of the post.  It is so cute with its reflection of a candle flame. Not really what I would have expected to see inside this particular card!

The greeting is also nice, so I scanned that as well.  And what an adorable font!

Hope you have enjoyed this look inside a little vintage card!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A fun vintage card

I was just taking down my vintage Christmas cards and came upon this little card that I thought I'd share with you.  It's funny how some of the plainer cards get lost on the ribbon board

and don't get noticed as much.  I thought others might enjoy a closer look at this sweet, simple little card, which you can see at the very top of the ribbon board.

I like how the block letters have various Christmas symbols inside them -- ornaments, candles, evergreen branches, holly, even a stocking and a candy cane.  So simple. but really sweet.  I also love how the red background is sprinkled with snowflakes.  The small rectangular shape makes this card appealing, too.

Hope you've enjoyed this fun little card from my collection!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A finished project with a December theme

This is a scan, so it's not as nice to look at as a photo.  But it was easier!
I posted this scan of my finished "December" sampler on my regular blog, but just had to put it here too, since it's appropriately Christmasy.  I know that not everyone reads both of my blogs -- there are some who only visit this one.  So, for their information, I am posting this here as well.  For those who might be interested, it's the "December" chart by The Prairie Schooler.  I'm happy to have finished it.  Now, to figure out framing ...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Planning for handmade gifts, Part 2

Little Sam was happy with his Thomas pillowcase!
Today I'm following up on yesterday's post concerning handmade gifts.  Yesterday's post was about brainstorming and planning; today's will be more practical and hands-on.  I think it was back in 2007 when I first posted about my Christmas notebook, so some may have missed those posts.  (You can access them all by clicking on "Christmas notebook" in the label cloud.)  The one I'm sharing today is adapted from a 2007 post.

The Handmade Gifts part of my Christmas notebook is an idea I got from someone on the craft forum at Our Home for the Holidays some years ago. I tweaked it a bit, I think, to make it work better for me; I'm not sure I completely understood the concept. But the way I've done this works well for me.

Basically, I took a look at the different things I wanted to craft for Christmas gifts and decorations. I then divided these up into categories based on what type of craft technique they involved. Of course these categories will vary depending on what sort of crafts you like to do.

The categories I came up with were : Sewing; Crochet; Embroidery/Cross-Stitch; Paper/Printables; and Miscellaneous.

For each category, I used one of those manila divider pages that has a pocket in it. I placed an index tab on each one with the name of the craft technique in it. Then, in the pocket of each divider, I placed the printed instructions for each craft item in that category. For example, I wanted to make my husband a new checkbook cover for a stocking stuffer, so I placed the instructions for this project in the divider for the Sewing category. (Obviously, this won't work if your instructions are part of a book or magazine, but read on.)

Also in each category, in addition to the divider, I have timelines: a number of sheets of lined paper where I've outlined just what projects I want to do in that category; how many of each; materials required, and what date I'd like to be finished by. On this lined paper I would also add the information as to where to find the instructions if they are part of a book or magazine and not conducive to placing in the divider page.

For example, in the sewing category, I might have:

10 -12 foldable fabric baskets
Materials - Christmas fabric, plastic canvas, thread, ribbon

Finish by: June 25

5 fleece pillow quilts
Materials needed for each - 2 1/2 yds. fleece, pearl cotton to match

Finish by: October 25

In both cases the instructions were such that they'd fit into the divider pocket. But if they weren't, I'd add a line that says something like this:

Gooseberry Patch Christmas Book 1, page 25


Crafting Traditions magazine, Dec. 1995, page 20

or whatever your book or magazine is.

As far as what date to choose to finish by, a lot of the ladies on the craft forum like to plan to be finished with all handcrafted gifts by the end of November, some even earlier.  This makes December more relaxing, plus gives you time to make an ornament or a decoration that catches your eye.

When deciding a target date for finishing a particular gift, I let it depend on how time-consuming a gift is and allow a longer time for making a more complicated item, or many of the same item.  

I also take into consideration portability of projects; for example, crocheted pot holders or dishcloths can be done anywhere; riding in the car or on public transportation; sitting at the beach or at a picnic table while camping.  I might choose to finish those in the summer.  Something like the pillow quilts that needs a lot of space to lay out and cut and requires the use of the sewing machine is best done during a season when I am home and more likely to be indoors.

I also think about how heavy a project might be to work on; for instance, I wouldn't work on a crocheted afghan or throw in summer because it would be too warm and heavy to hold in my lap.  A scarf or potholder, though, is doable.  

So just use common sense in setting a target date to finish each item.

It also helps a lot to list the materials you need for each project.  In some cases, you might have everything you need right in your stash!  Other times, it might require an online order or a trip to a craft or fabric store.  Listing the materials keeps you from that last-minute panic of not having what you need to complete a gift.

Yesterday I mentioned that handcrafted gifts can also be non-traditional; that is, you might write up a memory book or a personalized cookbook as I have done many times.  Just keep in mind that if you choose to do something like this involving printables, that one material you'd better be sure to list is printer paper and ink cartridges.  (I have good reason to know this.)

So there you have it -- planning for handmade gifts, in a nutshell!
For me, this has been a great way to organize my Christmas crafting. Hope it's helpful to someone else!

Josiah with a pillow fight shield.  I made about seven of these, I think.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Planning for handmade gifts

Three of our grandkids with a handmade gift from 2013
Yesterday Susan asked a question that I hope to answer with this post. 

She asked, "For your handmade gifts, do you usually make multiples of one thing for several different people, or do you make something unique for each person (such as maybe a knitted scarf for one person and a table runner for another, for example)? I'd love to make handmade gifts, but I'm wondering how best to approach it."

There are varying points of view on this, of course.  Many people would prefer to make something unique for each person.  Others feel that if you make multiples of one thing for a number of different recipients, then you can craft the items assembly-line style and thus be more efficient about it.

I've done it both ways.   Most often, though, it's a combination of both.  I might make several gifts alike for several different people, but then all of the others will be unique.  Other years, I'll do a lot of gifts alike, with just a few unique ones.

One downside to doing a lot of gifts alike is that it could become "boring".  I don't allow my grandchildren to use this word -- that's why I "whispered" it -- but it can become tiresome to do many of the same item.

Last year, one of the gifts I made for quite a few grandchildren was a crocheted scarf.  It was a very fast pattern and the fact that I used different colors of yarn for each one kept it interesting.  If you had a pattern like this for a relatively small and easy item like a scarf, it would be a simple matter to do quite a number of them.  I've seen some fantastic tutorials for scarves, both sewn and crocheted.

The felt play mat the children are inspecting above was quite a bit more complicated, and I made only two of these, as family gifts for the kids in each family to share.

This year, I made pillow quilts (some call them "quillows"; you are probably familiar with them) for all of the grandkids except the new baby. Again, the fact that different fabrics were used for each one kept it relatively interesting.  That and the fact that I was trying to do this as cheaply as possible!  That meant some creative piecing and lots of online shopping for sale fabric, batting, etc. as well as using twin sheets from Walmart for the backing.  This was a case where it was good to do many of the same item, since each quilt used half of a twin sheet.  It was also a case where practice in putting the project together was a good thing.  I never did quite get it down to a science, in spite of making nearly a dozen of them!
Josiah unfolds his M&Ms pillow quilt
Julia shows off her forest critters pillow quilt.
Really, I think it's up to the individual and what you think will work best for you.  I think my starting point would be to brainstorm about handmade gifts -- who to make them for, what they might like -- and then to browse Pinterest or your own craft idea files, patterns, books, etc. and get some ideas for what to make.  If it's an idea that lends itself to making in multiples, and you think you can sustain your interest in the process through a number of gifts, then go for it.  If you prefer to do something unique for each person, that's fun too. 

You may find, also, that as you give someone a unique gift, that someone else hints that they would like one of those next year!  That's happened to me!

Another thought, too, is that not all handmade gifts require crafting as such.  I've made Christmas memory books for my adult kids and their families, and I've made at least couple dozen of handmade cookbooks over the years.  Those require more computer work than actual crafting.

Tomorrow I will share a few practical thoughts about how I plan out my handmade gifts using timelines and such.  It often (not always!) has helped me get them done in a timely fashion.

Susan, I hope this is helping to answer your question!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Working in my Christmas notebook

This is not my real Christmas notebook; just a mini one I am using for illustration purposes.
 I've spent a few minutes in the last few days working in my Christmas notebook.  (If you'd like to know more about this notebook and how I use it, click on "Christmas notebook" in the word cloud of labels in the sidebar for more posts about it.)

I've shared some of my planning with you before, but here's what I've been doing recently.

I like to take a fresh sheet of Christmas-themed computer paper (always on clearance, at least at Walmart, this time of year) and list down everything that we gave for Christmas gifts.  Of course, I had already made a list, but some things changed with the actual gift-giving:   I couldn't find a particular gift, I changed my mind, etc. etc.  I started the list in January 2014 and by the time Christmas came around, my list had been scribbled on, crossed out, and so on.  So that there will be no confusion next year and I don't give someone a duplicate book or whatever, I make a nice, neat list.  Then I tuck it in the "Christmas Past" section at the back of my notebook.

Then I take a fresh piece of lined notebook paper and start a new list for the coming Christmas.  Some things stay the same, pretty much.  For instance, we always give my mother-in-law a tub of bran muffin batter, a jar of hot chocolate mix (both homemade) and a bag or box of clementines.  So that is already on 2015's Christmas list next to her name.  The only difference is that she asked, for the coming year, that I make only a half batch of the bran muffin batter.  She can't bake them fast enough with only herself to eat them.  So of course I have noted that down.

Some gifts, like a science center membership for one family, a gift card for another, etc.  will be the same again next year, so I make sure to write those down.

I have already purchased a couple of items for next Christmas, so I'll make note of that.

Another thing I like to do is to look over my crafting time lines and add in new projects I want to start and note whether I need to buy materials for them.  This year, I only have a couple of  handcrafted projects in mind so far.

I also like to note any new recipes we tried and how we liked them.  And I make a note of any new decorations we added, where we put them, etc.

I actually have two Christmas notebooks: this big one, with its wealth of planning forms, gift ideas, and so on; and a smaller one which contains memories and family recipes.  I'll maybe share a bit more about that one tomorrow.

It's a great feeling to start with next year's Christmas planning.  Why not brew yourself a cup of holiday tea and get started?  You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The actual Christmas baking list

I posted my tentative baking list, and somewhere along the way I also posted our baking progress.  Now here's the actual list:
Chocolate Spritz (2 double batches)
Sacher Torte Cookies
Eggnog Logs
Whipped Shortbread
Almond Raspberry Thumbprints (gluten free)
Date Casserole Cookies (2 batches)
Date Balls (called Oddballs in our family)
Macaroon Kisses
Chocolate Mint Crisps
Eggnog Oatmeal Cookies (double batch)
Gingersnap Coconut Creams (2 double batches)
Gluten-free Gingersnaps
Gluten-free Chocolate Butter Cookies -- made some of these as chocolate spritz and some as Sacher Torte cookies)
Arlene's Easy Fudge (2 batches)
Heavenly Delight -- a layered chocolate peanut butter fudge  (2 batches)
Peppermint Bark
Chocolate-Dipped Orange Slices (3 or 4 batches)
Cinnamon Pretzels (2 batches)

Wow!  That looks like a lot!  (And we still have a lot in the freezer, awaiting use on cookie and fudge trays for potluck lunches at church.)

The other night at Walmart, we were buying chocolate chips and got into a discussion of cookies with the cashier, an older lady.  She said that she and her husband had baked 50 dozen cookies for Christmas!  We were impressed -- but as we thought over our own cookie production on the way out of the store, we realized that with all of those multiple batches of various kinds of cookies, we probably came close to baking 50 dozen ourselves!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year!

Scene from the inside of one of my vintage card; greeting added by me
 A warm thank-you to everyone who visited my Christmas Kitchen in 2014, and especially during the busy and wonderful month of December!  I hope that each of you will have a happy, healthy, and spiritually prosperous new year.

Like most of us, I have many goals for the coming year (but due to a family commitment I've not had time to articulate them yet).  One of my goals is to spend more time in my Christmas Kitchen in 2015, sharing projects, ideas and inspiration with all of you.  See you again soon!