Crafting Tips

Tips & Tricks of the Trade
 
Always use the right tool for the job.
 
Let's talk crafting injuries.  Yes, we have all had them -- usually due to our own lack of common sense.  And then you are mad at yourself because:
 
1.  You are in pain.
2.  It's hard to craft when you are bandaged up.
3.  Explaining how you injured yourself really makes you sound stupid!
 
I can't begin to tell you how many dumb things I've done throughout the years.  Lots of scissor cuts, stabbing myself instead of the fabric with a needle, hot glue burns galore . . . one time I even hot glued a craft to my favorite tank top.  The craft survived, but my tank top did not!
 
But my worst injury by far was the time I zoomed my rotary blade over the end of my finger -- cut through the nail and all.  Lots of blood, lots of pain, and it took FOREVER to heal, for the entire nail had to grow out again.  I was in a hurry and didn't bother to use a guide.  I will never do that again! 
 
All that aside, it has recently come to my attention that some of you (not naming any names) are using a scissors to cut the shanks off of buttons -- and incurring injuries. 
 
Well, ladies, they make a tool just for that purpose and if you don't have one in your craft toolbox, you should purchase one today.  I have had mine for years and it snaps them off like nothing flush with the back of the button. 
 
It's called (obviously) a "button shank remover".  Mine is Fiskars brand, but I don't think they make them anymore.
 
Remember . . . safety comes first!
 
**************************************************************************
 
Making a fabric snowman nose.
 
In many of my snowman patterns, I suggest you buy orange cotton fabric to fashion the noses.  Well, in all honesty, I don't use boring, plain jane, orange fabric. 
 
I actually use patterned orange fabric and it really makes a snowman's face "pop".  (For example, check out my "Wreaths for Sale" snowman pattern.)
 
My two "go-to" fabrics are a fall leaf and a pumpkin fabric.  The fact that they both contain some gold metallic shimmer makes it all the better!
 
Once these fabrics are fashioned into noses, you can't even tell they are leaves or pumpkins - just gorgeous swirls of orange colors.
 
This crafting tip came to mind as I was shopping in JoAnn's this past weekend.  (Man, I love browsing fabric in that store!) 
 
Wait until fall and Halloween are almost over.  That's when the fall fabrics will be going on clearance, and that is the perfect time to stock up.  And it doesn't take much, either.  One yard will make a LOT of snowman noses!  I think I've been working on my fall leaf fabric for a couple of years now. 
 
It just never goes out of style.
 
**************************************************************************
 
White vs off-white plush felt.
 
Plush felt is available in both white and off-white.  It just seems logical to use"white" to make snowmen, right?  Wrong!  Definitely purchase the off-white. 
 
The white is just too bright.  The finished product doesn't look natural or "crafty".  The off-white gives it a softer look (and in my world, it's much easier to photograph and not have the end result look washed out).
 
I use off-white plush felt in SSOOO many of my patterns (snowmen, polar bears, penguins, etc.).  Love, love, LOVE the stuff!  It is just so easy to work with.
 
Unfortunately, many of you have contacted me looking for a place to purchase it, since you don't have any local source where you live.
 
I personally buy it (by the bolt) from my local Hobby Lobby store.  I realize not everyone has access to one of these awesome stores.  In fact, I used to have to cross the state line to Wisconsin to shop there.  You have NO idea how excited I was when they decided to build one within walking distance of my home.  Talk about an early Christmas present!
 
Anyway, the good news is you can purchase it at their online store at the link below:
 
 
The color is actually called "vanilla".  They change the name of it every so often, so I just refer to it as "off-white".  If you visit Hobby Lobby's home page before shopping, you can click on their 40% off coupon and save BIG! 
 
Note:  If you want an entire bolt, you need to order 8 yards.
 
**************************************************************************
 
It's all black and white.
 
Have you ever stood in front of an extensive display of thread spools in every color of the rainbow and wondered what on earth you should buy?  Or try to find a color to match the project you are working on?  Or asked the confused person standing next to you what she thought of the color match you were considering?  This is yet another reason I consider myself a crafter and not a true-blue seamstress, for I like to break the rules.
 
Want to keep it simple?  Here's my secret:  Being a purist, most of my craft patterns will reference using the appropriate matching thread color, but the truth is I rarely do!  I will use a red color for my Santa projects, but for everything else, it's strictly black or white thread.  Period.  End of story.  I use fairly close stitches and you can't tell the difference.
 
As far as brand of thread I recommend, I have tried them all and come back to Gutermann every time.  A bit ironic since it's a German product and my maternal grandmother (this business's namesake) was 100% German.
 
Gutermann thread is strong and doesn't leave nearly as much thread "fluff" in my sewing machine.  And both the black and white colors are available in BIG 1,094 yard spools, which last a long time.  When I see a thread sale at JoAnn's, I always stock up on these two basics.
 
It will save you time in the fabric store, space in your sewing basket, and help you breeze through craft projects, for you rarely have to change colors on your sewing machine.
 
Life is complicated enough . . . keep threads simple.
 
**************************************************************************
 
It's okay to make mistakes.
 
I'm not a big fan of sewing.  Okay, so my secret is out.  Hard to believe, isn't it, considering I design craft patterns?
 
But I don't consider crafting to be actual sewing.  Crafting is forgiving.  Crafting is stress-free.  If you sew a seam a bit crooked or hot glue something a bit off-center, guess what?  No one will know and it makes each item a one-of-a-kind.  I've glued heads on a big quirky and improved my design by doing so, for it added character.
 
Serious sewing is a whole different story.  I don't have the time or patience to sew clothing.  Too putsy and detail-oriented for me.  And if you make a mistake, you have to tear your stitches out again.  Glory days!  I don't think so.
 
I tried quilting.  I even took a class.  Being the over-achiever I am, while the rest of the class was making a placemat, I set my sites on a bed quilt.  Needless to say, I had five times the amount of homework of the other students. 
 
Did I complete the bed quilt?  Yes. 
 
Did it turn out nice?  Yes. 
 
Did it drive me crazy with its preciseness?  YES!
 
My mother-in-law is an expert quilter and she has my utmost admiration, for she has the most important quality a quilter needs to possess . . . PATIENCE!  But she stumbles when it comes to crafting, because she feels each stitch needs to be perfect.
 
But that's the beauty of crafting . . . mistakes are allowed.  You can make a mistake and end up with an even better product. 
 
That being said, I'm all for people learning to sew.  Without the basics, you can't craft with fabrics.  And everyone at least should know how to sew on a button.  Life skills seem to be woefully lacking these days.  If there isn't an app for it, heaven help us.
 
So take a daughter, grand daughter, niece, or young neighbor under your wing and teach her to sew!
 
They are the crafters of tomorrow.
 
**************************************************************************
 
Create your own.
 
When designing my "Flakey Snowman" pattern, I decided to use plaid flannel for his hat, but it just seemed too . . . well, boring.  It just needed to be jazzed up a bit.  Snowflakes were definitely in order, but how?
 
Then it hit me -- wouldn't it be cool to have plaid snowflake flannel?  So I hauled out my white acrylic paint, stencil brush, and trusty snowflake stencils and got to work.  Stamping snowflakes all over the flannel was fun, fun, fun.  And after the paint dried and I fashioned it into a hat with white, furry trim . . . let's just say it was definitely the missing ingredient.  It inspired to me to add both a Santa and penguin to the "Flakey" family.  (Don't we all have a few flakes in our family?)
 
Everyone wants to know where I managed to find such neat, winter flannel.  It makes me wonder why they don't sell snowflake flannel.  I bet they would sell a ton of it. 
 
(So many ideas, so little time . . .)
 
**************************************************************************

Crafting on a budget.
 
I get lots of questions from my customers about where I found such a cute piece of fabric or fleece.  Where do I purchase my fabric?  How can they find that exact pattern?
 
I'm afraid I'm never of much help.  You see, I don't buy fabric off the bolt (besides felt).  Why buy retail, if you don't have to?  I'm probably the most thrifty person you will ever meet.
 
I'm a garage-saler and you sure can find some great deals on those tables!  I've been known to walk away with yards of great fabric for less than $5.00.  One year I bought a bed sheet with the cutest paw print pattern for about a dollar.  It became the lining of my "Santa Claws" cat stocking pattern.
 
And if you have a JoAnn Fabrics in your town, check out the remnant bin.  Super deals there, too -- especially after a fabric sale!  And my patterns don't require that much yardage of fabric or polar fleece.  Scraps are all you need.  I have boxes of scraps that I dig through when designing a pattern and figuring out colors.
 
Don't be afraid to tell your friends, family, and co-workers, either.   I used to work with someone who made fleece blankets.  When her blanket was complete, she was kind enough to bring me a ziploc bag full of colorful scraps.  The pieces weren't very large, but were perfect for making earmuffs or hat pom-poms.  I saved them from being thrown in the trash.
 
In fact, they call me the "trash collector".  I collect fleece & fabric scraps, empty boxes for shipping, packing peanuts or pillows, and cereal boxes (since I eat oatmeal).  The boxes are perfect to cut craft templates out of. 

Though I prefer to be called a "recycler".
 
**************************************************************************

Let's talk "stuffing".
 
I'm often asked what brand of stuffing I use for my craft projects. 
 
I have tried many brands, but the one I keep coming back to is Poly-fil.  It just has the perfect stuffing "consistency". 
 
Some are too hard and make for a stiff, lumpy snowman.
 
Others are too soft.  By the time you stuff enough into your snowman to give him shape, your stuffing is almost gone.
 
Poly-fil brand is just right.  And when you buy the 5-lb. box, it lasts you a lllooonnngg time.  Open the top flaps, turn the plastic bag right-side up, remove the twisty-tie, and watch it expand and grow before your eyes.  We are talking a seriously generous amount of stuff.  It's a big box that holds a LOT of premium stuffing.
 
I purchase mine at my local JoAnn's store.  It's not cheap, but when you have a coupon, it's a steal.  For those of you who don't have a nearby JoAnn's store, you can purchase it at the link below and have it shipped right to your front door.  (Be sure and check for on-line coupons.  They run some very good deals.)
 
 
And, no, I don't get anything for promoting their brand (though I wish I did).  I just love the stuff and have to pass it on, so you can get the best bang for your buck, too. 
 
We crafters have to stick together.
 
************************************************************************
 
Forming the perfect snowman mouth.
 
I personally am not very good at "eyeballing" something and having it come out looking halfway straight.  And whenever I look at it afterwards, it will bug me that it looks crooked.
 
So when you are working on one of my snowman patterns that involve hot-gluing black beads to form a mouth, you may wonder how I manage to have them so evenly spaced.
 
The answer?  
 
Use straight pins!
 
Those same pins you use to hold your project together before sewing can serve double-duty.  Push them in to form the mouth.  Rearrange them to your liking and then (one by one) pull them out and replace them with a black bead hot-glued in that spot.
  
You can never own too many straight pins!