Friday, December 21, 2012

Let's Make Christmas Cards, FAST!!

I knew this would happen...Christmas is sneaking up on me, and I have so many little things yet to finish.  I realized last night that I should have mailed Christmas cards a week ago.  Even if I get them into the mail today, I'm not sure they will arrive by Monday.  Oh, well...I won't let that stop me!  With the advent of email and text messaging, people don't get much 'real' mail anymore, and I want to be a person that doesn't stop sending cards (and letters) just because. 
So, I need to make some cards, FAST!  Lucky for me, my sister sent me a box of mostly Christmas stamps about a month ago.  Great -- something new in my stamp collection to use!!  She found them for a dollar each at a thrift store...some still with price tags and never used!  After looking through my idea book, this is what I came up with. 


I started by cutting 8.5" by 11" blue cardstock in half lengthwise, to  make the card a 'top fold' style.  After folding the cards in half, I used Versamark ink to stamp the large snowflake (Hampton Arts, studio 6) in the upper third of the card.  I tried out several different colors of embossing powder, and decided to mix my own custom blend.  I used two parts Silver Pearl by Personal Stamp Exchange, and one part each white by Jo-Ann CraftEssentials, and Pearl by Judi-Kins.  The blend of finer powder (the silver) and coarse grains (white) created a happy snowflakes look 'distressed.' 

I worked assembly-line fashion...after cutting and folding all of the paper, I stamped all of the snowflakes, and sprinkled them with embossing powder.  When I was finished stamping, I went back and tapped off the excess embossing powder, and heat-embossed each card, one after another.  I made a template from a scrap of cardstock (green in the photo) and traced the shape on the inside of each card front.  Using scissors, I cut each card, to give it a shorter, rounded front. 
It's hard to stamp a greeting on dark paper, so I wanted to add a white liner inside the card.  To dress it up, I decided to run it through a dry embossing folder.  I just wanted the bottom 2 inches of cardstock embossed, so I inserted the cardstock only that far into the folder.  I trimmed the liner to 5 1/4 " by 4", so it was a smidge smaller than the card.  The result was exactly what I had in mind.
I added a greeting (Stamp City, 1999) and the cards were finished!  It took me less than two hours to create 24 cards! 
Well, they were almost finished.  Someone once said 'Artwork isn't finished until it is signed.'  A long time ago, I found a stamp with my name on it.  Now, everyone who gets one of my cards knows that I took the time to make it myself. 
Need to make about 30 more cards to finish up my mailing can bet the next design will be a simple as this one! 
Even if you aren't on my mailing list, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

It isn't Christmas without Cookies!

It's that time of year again...time to dig out all of my cookies cutters, baking sheets, cooling racks and large crock bowls to mix up several batches of Christmas cookies!

I like to bake, but as my children have grown older, I do it less and less (fewer class parties and lazy weekends with nothing to do).  While I may mix up a small batch of cookies once in a while, the Christmas season brings on a flurry of baking.  This year, my daughter and future daughter-in-law joined me in the kitchen to help.

Today, I'm going to share a treasured family recipe that has become our favorite -- Grandma Coerver's German Chocolate Cookies. 

Grandma Hilda Coerver
When I was a child, my Grandma Coerver would come and stay with us for a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving.  Walking into the house after school was heavenly -- she had been baking, and the house smelled delicious!  Her German chocolate cookies were the best.  The recipe is a little labor-intensive, but it's worth it!  Here goes!
They don't look 'magazine worthy,' but they taste amazing!
Grandma Coerver's German Chocolate Cookies
1 cup of butter (no substitutes), softened
2 cups white sugar
6 ounces Baker's German (Sweet) Chocolate - this comes in a 4 ounce box in the baking section
2 large eggs*, fork beaten
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Put butter in a large bowl.  Allow it to come to room temperature, or microwave it for 20 seconds to soften.  Add sugar, and cream together using a spoon until well blended. 
Finely grate the chocolate into the bowl.  Stir well to incorporate the chocolate into the butter mixture.  Break two eggs into a separate bowl and beat with a fork for a minute or two.  Add to the butter mixture and stir well. [*A note about eggs.  Size does matter...if you use 'medium' eggs, start with less flour (2 3/4 cups); if you use 'extra large' eggs, you may need to add more flour (4 cups or more) to create a stiff dough.]   
On a piece of waxed paper or in a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.  Add to the butter mixture, and stir well to form a ball of dough.  The mixture may be somewhat may need to finish blending the dry ingredients by hand to create the dough ball.  When all of the flour is incorporated and a ball of dough is formed, cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or more.      
After dough has chilled, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease or spray cookie sheets.  Sprinkle a little flour on the countertop.  Take about 1/3 of the dough from the bowl, and flatten it a bit with your hands.  Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness, sprinkling more flour on the underside of the dough to keep it from stitcking to the countertop, if needed.  Cut dough with cookie cutters, and transfer to the greased baking sheets.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until edges of cookies just start to turn brown.  Remove the cookie sheet and let cool on a wire rack.  Continue with remaining dough, chilling the scraps of dough if needed.  Frost and decorate cookies as desired.  Makes 4+ dozen, depending on the size of your cutters.   
It took me a few years to figure out a technique that makes cutting out the cookies go a bit faster.  After I roll out the dough, I arrange ALL of my cutters on the dough, nestling them up against each other, before I press down.  This lets me 'cut to advantage' -- it creates fewer scraps, and speeds things along.  
 I have amassed a large collection of cookie cutters, but this easily would work with three or four.
You could frost the cookies with store-bought icing, but if you'd like to make your own, here is the Wilton buttercream frosting recipe:
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons of milk (or water)
1 cup butter (or hard Crisco)
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4-5 cups)
1 Tablespoon of meringue powder (optional)
Put vanilla, milk and butter in a mixing bowl, and mix on medium-low speed until blended.  Slowly add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating on medium-high speed, until you reach the desired spreading consistency (at least four cups of suger, more if you desire a stiffer frosting), scraping bowl occasionally.  Beat another minute until smooth and creamy. 
I have other, old family cookie recipes that I make every year, and some newer ones that have become favorites of my kids and husband, and I'm sure many of you have as well.  I encourage you to get your hands dirty an make up at least one batch of home-made goodness this year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Christmas Gift...

With all of the beading, sewing and crafting that I enjoy, you'd think that every gift I give is handmade.  Alas, that isn't the case.  Although I put a lot of time and materials (read:  money) into the things that I create, sometimes I feel like they just don't measure up to what other people give.  I question whether my stuff reads 'expensive' enough for gift-giving.  It holds me back from gifting a lot of what I make. 

However, I'm hopeful that the little Christmas gift I just finished measures up.  I'm attending a brunch on Sunday, and we're supposed to bring a gift in the $20-25 range. 

I found this project in Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting magazine (Nov/Dec 2009).  Designed by Kelly Mueller (, it looked like it would take only a couple of hours.  I dug through my stash to find some coordinating Christmas prints.

Fabrics from my stash!
Unfortunately, I didn't have everything I needed, so I made a quick run to Cloth and Bobbin, a small but mighty quilt shop in Narberth, Pennsylvania (  I found a dark green background fabric, a yellow print, and two white on white prints.  They were kind enough to cut fat quarters of what I needed! 
I made a copy of the full-sized pattern that was printed in the magazine, and applied fusible webbing to my fabrics. After tracing and trimming the pieces, I fused them in place on the background fabric, and was ready to sew!   
Tracing around the pattern pieces on fabric backed with fusible web.

Another reason I love my Bernina Artista 635 -- it has a great blanket stitch!  I can't imagine doing all of the blanket stitching by hand.  What would take hours took me about 20 minutes by machine.   I was able to vary the length and the width of the stitch.  It was much easier to sew around the mustache with a shorter, narrower stitch.  There were two faceted glass buttons in my button jar, and I searched through my embellishments and got lucky -- I had four red jingle bells!  I only needed three to tack on the ends of the praire points, but they do give the pillow an added punch.  The finished pillow is roughly 14 inches by 12 inches.  It took nearly 20 ounces of poly fiberfill to stuff firmly. 
If I can find a kitchen tea towel in green, I may add the applique to it and include it with the pillow.  So, tell me, do you think this gift is worth $20-$25??

Happy sewing!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Using One Strand of Beads to Create Three Necklaces

Not too long ago, my daughter and I went to a bead show.  As we browsed the tables, looking a beads and findings, she spied a strand of chunky red coral beads.  She had been searching for a red necklace, and liked the look of these beads, but she didn't have an idea about how to use them. 

Five minutes later, I won an attendance prize -- a $15 gift certificate good for any vendor in the show!  That $14 strand of coral was suddenly 'free'!   

Beads are typically sold on a 16 inch strand, strung on cheap fishing line.  There were 24 coral nuggets on this strand, but my daughter didn't want to simply restring them on beading wire or knot them with silk cord. 

I have a binder of beading ideas that I clipped from magazines and catalogs, and I started my search for ideas there.  This first necklace was based on a design by Jennifer Judd Velasquez, which appeared in Stringing Magazine in the Summer 2009 issue.

I used silver-plated chain and some smaller 'rice' shaped coral beads I had in my stash.  I added the 2 mm silver balls between each bead to give them some breathing room.  The beads are strung on a short piece of beading wire, which I crimped to the chain.  The finished neckace is 16.5 inches long.

 The second necklace is done up in gold tones, with small, freshwater pearls and vermeil spacers between the coral nuggets.  It looks a little 'dressy.'  I took my inspiration from a similar design by Patricia A. Henry.  Her "Royal Jasper" necklace appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Stringing Magazine.  The beads toward the back resemble 'paper' beads, but are gold plated.  This necklace is a little longer, with a finished length of 22 inches. 

The final neckace I created with the coral nuggets also resembles a piece found in the Winter 2007 issue of Stringing Magazine (designer unknown).  I love mixing chain with beads, and this allowed me to create a longer necklace using just a few beads.  I used gun metal colored chain in two styles, and picked up some antique silver filiagree beads to help balance the coral.  Although the coral beads are bright red, using the slightly larger silver beads gives them equal weight.  It is hard to see in this photo, but I used 4 mm black Swarovski crystals between the red beads, and 6 mm crystals between the silver beads.  They add just a bit of sparkle to an otherwise 'flat' piece.  I didn't put a clasp on this necklace, because it is 26 inches long.  My daughter wanted a longer piece to wear with sweaters.   
After finishing all three necklaces, I still had three beads left!  I'm sure I'll find something else to do with them.  And, instead of having just one red necklace, my daughter has three from which to choose, each with its own character -- flirty, formal and fun! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

More Craft Room Organizing Ideas

Take a peek into my assured, it doesn't always look this tidy!

I promised more organizing ideas for your craft supplies, but I guess I'm really just sharing what works for me. 

First of all, I am very fortunate to have a room to call my own.  That wasn't always this case in this house.  For the first several years here, all of my supplies were in boxes in the attic, and my sewing machine was put up and taken down many times a month.  When we finally started working on the basement, I was able to carve out some space for a sewing room, and was happy down there for several years. 

But my four children grew up, and the youngest boys weren't so keen on sharing a room when they were home from college, so I gave up my sewing room for my son, and my husband and the boys started roughing out a space for me in the attic. 

My studio is 10 feet by 15 feet, but has sloping ceilings along the 10 foot walls.  I have two windows on the wall facing the street, and a door in the opposite 15 foot wall.  While I would love to have floor to ceiling shelves on all four walls, the sloped ceilings prohibit that, so I've had to make the best of the space.  On the wall between the windows, there is a large computer desk. My embroidery thread racks are up top, along with binders of beading, quilting and sewing projects that I have kept from magazines. I have space for my laptop, and some storage underneath. 

 On the right side of the room, I have a full size dining table, including the leaf, as a cutting/work table.  I used bed risers to make it the right height.  There is plenty of space underneath for Rubbermaid bins (mostly fabric storage) and a bookshelf and plastic drawers provide storage for smaller items. The plastic shoe boxes hold rubber stamps and other craft supplies.  Even though they are clear, I still label everything.    

On the left side of the room, I have two hand-me-down dressers.  The one on the left holds beads
and jewelry making supplies, with the bottom drawer filled with scrapbooking paper and dies for a Cuttlebug die cutting machine.  The one on the right has a whole drawer for buttons, pressing tools, glues and other adhesives, book-binding supplies, and larger sewing equipment.  On top is a two-drawer antique thread box that was my grandmother's.

My sewing table is an island in the center of the room, with space to walk around it on both sides.  It is a little over 6 feet long.  I bought this at Ikea about 20 years ago.  The base is made up of two cabinets -- one has double doors, the other has a single door.  I keep a lot of sewing supplies in these cabinets -- again, stashed in clear shoe boxes, so I can find zippers, velcro, bias tape and cone thread easily.  I keep the sewing notions that I use frequently in that small brown tackle box on top of my sewing table.  It's within easy reach of my machine. 
 Across from my sewing table, next to the door, is a tall bookshelf.  Plastic bins hold more sewing and embroidery supplies, the pizza boxes and binders hold rubber stamps, two other tackle boxes hold beading tools, and there is space on the shelves for some scrapbooking supplies. 

There is another, small bookshelf to the left side of the door, which holds 30 quart Rubbermaid bins of quilting fabrics, t-shirt knits, patterns, and antique linens and laces.

Yes, I've labeled just about everything.  That is the hardest part about moving into a new space...things are not where they used to be.  Although I found a place for everything, I don't want to spend too much time looking for my supplies, so I labeled as much as I could.   
My dear husband (d.h.) had made me two large pegboards for my basement sewing room, but I just didn't have the wall space for them in the attic.  So he kindly offered to cut one down for me, and you see it fits nicely around the window.  (The other one somehow ended up in his workroom!)

I picked up the clear plastic pegboard shelves at two different stores that were going out of business.  These hold ribbons (at the very top), some rubber stamps, punches and scissors, embossing powders, and other papercrafting supplies. 

There are few other things in the room.  A small wooden bookshelf holds sewing, beading, stamping and craft books.  You saw my carousel for rubber stamps and ink in the last post; I also have an Iris cart with other small stamps tucked between the dresser and the bookshelf.  And I have the rocker I bought when my oldest was born, right next to the computer desk.  It's important to have a place for visitors to sit in the studio, because someone is always popping in to chat while I work (or while they are waiting for me to finish mending something for them).  One last little cabinet holds my special things. 

My grandfather was a skilled carpenter, and he built this child-sized cupboard for my mother when she was a girl.  When I was little, my brother painted it white and gave it to me on Christmas.  I played with it for many years, and after I moved out of the house, my mother used it in her sewing room.  I inherited it when she died.  It holds many little sewing related knic-knacs, including my grandmother's sewing basket.  Behind the upper doors are music cd's.  The drawers and lower cabinet are used to store keepsakes and supplies for my letterboxing hobby.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of my studio, and picked up a few ideas to incorporate into your own crafting space, no matter how big or small.  If you will indulge me, I'd like to reiterate:  label as much as you can, so you don't waste precious time looking for what you need.  Then you'll have more time to craft! 

Now, go make something fast!