Sunday, November 16, 2014

Learning How To Play Cricut

A few years ago, I found out about the device called Cricut and I've been wetting my pants with excitement to get one ever since.  It's a die cutting machine that lets you make so many things, it would impossible for me to even touch the tip of the Cricut iceberg in just one post.  Google if it you don't know what it is.

The biggest drawback has always been the price.  It's sooooooo not cheap.  And the first models required that you buy cartridges of images that you would plug into the cricut, kind of like the original Nintendo.  You couldn't play without the cartridges.  But the cartridges cost as much as a small island.  Another deterrent.

Fast forward to 2014 and today's model has no need for cartridges thanks to the internet and the cloud.  But it has a slot to put cartridges in case you've upgraded.

And apparently with these newfangled times in which we live, there is no need to include instruction manuals.  There are a few quick tip guides and then you're pretty much on your own.

The price hasn't gone down because the machine has gotten fancier, but now the possibilities are so limitless, your head would spin right off if you started thinking  Paper, leather, plastic, vinyl, fabric- just about anything you can slide into the machine can be cut!

I got the Cricut Explore for school, through a fabulous website called so I didn't acutally have to cough up the million dollars it would otherwise have cost.  I have grand plans for using this in my classroom.

Rather than fight with it at school until I know how it works, I brought it home to try to figure out all of the ins and outs so that when I bring it back to school to use, it will work like a dream.  Plus, when the gremlins my students are hounding me to hurry and print something, it can be kind of nervewracking.

The first thing I discovered is that it really requires a lot of space.

It connects to any computer, but since I have a laptop which should make things easier, that means two things that have to sit on this small, round table.  Add the papers and materials to my already overcrowded kitchen and it was a little wild at one point.

Like so many techy things these days, no CDs are necessary, so I had to go to the website and download the software.

I guess a software update was created in the 3.5 minutes it took to download the first set because I was immediately told to update.

So I did.  But it didn't like what I did.  There was a lot of waiting.  And a lot of these faces.  And more downloading until it was eventually satisfied enough.

I'd been putting off actually opening the box and getting started because I imagined it would take a lot of time to get going with it and I don't have a space where it can sit out all the time right now.

Just as I suspected the first evening was rough.

Eventually, I got into the software and started playing with things.  And then I realized, I had so many things I wanted to do, I didn't even know where to begin.

They give this packet of introductory materials to cut, but they don't give any suggestions about what to do.

This was good and bad because it let me make decisions and be creative, but it also left me wondering what the heck to do!

I somehow decided making snowflakes was a good first project.  Snowflakes have nothing to do with my classroom, but nothing French was coming to mind in those first hours.

I was really impressed at the quality of the cuts.  I quickly discovered that my card stock isn't really heavy duty, so when I started transforming these into gift tags, they curled and weren't as awesome as I wanted.

They are fine but not as firm as I'd like.  The package came with a silver marker and after googling and watching a video about what to do with it, I finally figured out how to make it write, as you can see with the black one.

Oh good, now I can go buy markers to do even more things.  I'm a tad overwhelmed with all of the possibilities...

I'm not sure why, but this package came with A LOT of vinyl.

It didn't come with the handy tools like the super slim spatula that would help get the cut material off the sticky mat, but I have vinyl up the wazoo.

How surprised was I when I went through the effort of cutting some vinyl snowflakes and discovered this isn't window cling vinyl, it's sticky vinyl to make stickers.

So, these snowflakes are now stuck to the slider and might need to be scraped off at a later date.  I had grand plans of them just peeling off to use again next year.  They make window cling vinyl which I actually think will stick to my walls at school and I would be able to reuse it, so that's next on the investigation list.

I also quickly learned that the material you are cutting really needs to start in the upper left corner at all times.

Otherwise, it just cuts into the mat and your item isn't complete on the material.

This is one of the things I'm shocked about.  There was no kind of guide that said "don't do this, don't EVER do this, it won't do this if you do this..." etc.  I've literally just winged the entire thing.   Being a child of the technology generation, this hasn't been too difficult but trying to imagine someone over the age of 40 just  winging it and making it work is really surprising to me.

That goes for the images too.  There's a lot you can do with making backgrounds disappear and deciding what to include in the cutting, but I only figured it out because my hours spent playing with the Microsoft office suite and knowing how to manipulate things in word, powerpoint and publisher.

I always go back to trying to imagine my grandmother trying to understand a contraption like this.  My family is rolling on the floor gasping as they imagine that because she never could understand the VCR, let alone a Cricut that's actually attached to the computer.   A computer!  It is easy to use but not as innate as some pieces of technology are in this century.

One thing I didn't quite figure out last night is the new thing you can do with your own images.  You can upload something of your own, manipulate it just as you want and then teach it how to cut out right around your image.  My issue was my image, not the machine.

But, the calibration process is pretty cool.  It prints this to your regular printer.

Then you put it on the sticky mat and put it in the Cricut and it starts cutting on lines and you tell the computer which lines it cut well on so it knows how to cut future images that you put in.

Forget my grandmother, I'm not sure I can comprehend the scope of what this can do!

I picked a less than awesome picture of the Eiffel Tower and by the time I was done editing, it didn't look good at all, so I didn't save it and will work on it another day.

K-ster is pretty fascinated with the idea of the Cricut but he wasn't home when I started playing.  He's only seen the aftermath of my first attempts.  I know if he sits down, he will be equally hooked and we'll have piles and piles of strange things that we've cut and glued.

My initial plan was to make stencils so I could paint the names of French speaking countries on the mats that we use in every class.

Then I thought I'd customize some great materials that would be ideal for my specific classroom.

Then I thought when we have our silent auction fundraiser, I could make some cool cards and things to auction off for our PTO.

Then I thought I might just plaster my entire classroom with amazing vinyl stickers.

Pandora's box is wide open so watch out!

One thing I love is how neatly it packs away in its own bag.

*all comments and opinions about the Cricut are my own and I am not affiliated in anyway with the Provo craft company or any of its subsidiaries.  I am madly in love with the Cricut and would be happy to demo anything that Provo would like to send my way.*

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Green Tomato Pie Adventure

When we had a near freeze about 2 weeks ago, I decided to go out and pick all of the tomatoes.  Those that were starting to turn red came to the window sill and we ate about 30 of them as they ripened. 

Those that were completely green went into the freezer for my future plans of green tomato pies.

I'd never had green tomato pie, so I thought this would be interesting.  It's made just like apple pie, but with green tomatoes and it's supposed to taste like apple pie.

So, I cut up a bunch of tomatoes and put them in the pie crusts.
 I was so excited about it, I imagined we'd love it and it would become the new Thanksgiving pie.  Since I always have some green tomatoes that never ripen, I'd freeze them and make green tomato pies all the time. 

In fact, it made more sense to me as I was making it that this should be a Thanksgiving pie since it's a very timely harvest.

It smelled and look great.  I didn't tell k-ster what kind it was.  The tomatoes came out a little darker than green apples (I always leave apple skins on when I make pies), so he was alerted right away that something was different.

And then we each took a bite. 

We won't be doing that again.  The rest of the green tomatoes went right into the compost and the pie went right into the trash.  It was like eating something sort of rotten.  The tomatoes didn't taste like tomatoes, but they didn't taste like apples either.

They were really yucky.

It wasn't pleasant.

I followed the recipe to the letter.

No more green tomato anything for us!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Winter Means Ponyhats

The temperature went from 60 degrees on Wednesday to 30 something last night, with no hopes of seeing 60 degrees outside for a while.

This means it might be late fall and looking like winter.

We've had a great fall.  Very mild and surprisingly warm.

And we had a really nice summer.  Very little humidity and not many days with temps that were over 80.  We didn't even put the AC in the window and there were less than a week's worth of nights that we regretted that decision.

I fear that two mild seasons in a row means we are due for a winter from hell.  Everyone's proclaiming how cold it will be but I wasn't believing them until I saw the forecast for next week.

Lots of 30 something degree days.

That can only means it's time for these.


There's a stretchy hole at the top for your ponytail to come out so:
a) it's not so itchy under there (I'm not the only one that finds winter hats to be sooooo itchy, am I?) b) it looks like you're ready to have fun with that perky ponytail bopping around
c) it makes you look a little more feminine (I'm not the only female that looks like a 12 year old boy when I put on a winter hat, am I?)

I've been making and selling them in my etsy store for years, and this year, I've embellished them a little.
 Instead of just a plain hat, I've made some with some fun noodles coming out the top so it's a little more feminine (I'm not the only one that looks like a 12 year old boy... did I say that already?  I have a serious complex about it, can you tell?)

And then I got all sassy and made one with two colors to make it even more fun!

The darker colors that don't have the noodles can easily be worn by men because the ponytail hole isn't that big.  Anyone could wear it without a ponytail.

I have a lot of different colors on my etsy right now with some plain and some with the fun noodles poking out.  I can also make them in a color and yarn of your choice.  Go check them out and tell me what you think!

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

How I Hit the Jackpot

I walked into the teacher's room at school one day and happened upon two stacks of fabric that said free.  I couldn't believe my eyes and walked out with this.

 I sent a picture to my sister and the first thing she said was "are you sure it was free?" which  made me totally stop and check.

Who gives away fabric like this?

Yes it really said to take it.  And I didn't like all of it so I left about half of what was there.

What caught my eye first was this.
I immediately thought I should use it to make a new bag for my clothespins.  But now I feel like I would be wasting it when there has to be something amazing! 

I can't figure out what to do with any of this material.  It's mostly home dec fabric or that weight so it's not really wearable fabric. 

And someone must have used them in pairs for something because they seem to go together in pairs complementing each other.

So, your job, internet, is to tell me what I need to make with these.  Give me some ideas!!

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Keeping the Factory Hem When Shortening Jeans- A Tutorial

I've spent my life hemming pants and while I'm pretty happy with the way I do a blind hem, I don't like that look on jeans.  I want the hem to have the yellow thread that jeans have when they are hemmed at the factory.  Otherwise, it looks like you hemmed them and that's cheesy.

I've tried buying thread that looks like the special jeans hemming thread, but nothing works.  Everything's too thin and doesn't quite look right.

Somewhere on the web, I read someone's tutorial for hemming jeans while keeping the factory hem and I'm really happy with how it works, so I will share my version here.

Since I already had a pair of jeans that I had hemmed to the right length, I just took the new jeans and matched them in the exact places (these are the same exact jeans, so it worked) and got to work.  If they were a different style or brand, or if I hadn't made a pair to the right length, I would have tried them on, pinned them, tried them on, pinned them, tried them on, pinned them about 40 times.

You might have to do that too.

Then I like to cut them right where the factory hem is going to go, where I put the red arrow.
I always just do one leg and then try it on to make sure it's right before I cut the other one.

You're left with this.
You'd think I bought LONG jeans but they are just regular!  Cut the extra fabric to just a half inch above the factory hem.

Now, if you cut one leg and hem it and then do the other, you will be less likely to mess up the next part.  I don't know if you can see it in the above picture, but there is a direction to the fold of that outside stitching on the leg.  If you cut both legs at the same time, you might mix them up and put them going the wrong way.

Also, these particular jeans have one style of topstitching on the outside of the leg and a different one on the inside.  If you're trying to keep this looking original, make sure you get the right one in the right place.  Not that I'd know anything about putting the wrong part on the wrong side...

Next, put the right sides of the cuff and the jeans together so you can sew on the hem.  It's really important that you line up the seams on the legs and the cuff so that it remains looking factory made.    I always pin the entire thing.  These jeans are stretchy, so they work well for matching everything up.

Usually, I have this at my machine to help me sew, but for this project, you actually want to take it away, unless you have a machine that's recessed into the table.  It will still work, but I like to put the leg opening right over that part of the machine to keep everything from shifting.

For this hem, you don't have to worry about getting an exact color.  Something in the ball park is fine because unless the cuff gets really stretching, you wouldn't see it. I wouldn't recommend white, but any dark color works.

I put that line of my presser foot right on the edge of the original hem so that the needle falls just to the right of the hem as I sew.  Since this is not really denim, because no jeans made of actual denim exist anymore, I didn't use a special jeans foot.  Even this big seam here isn't too hard to go over because it's a thin, stretchy denim.  If you were doing "real" jeans made of thicker denim, you might want to hand roll it through or use a jeans foot if you have one.

When you're done, flip it around and tug on it to make sure everything is as you want it.  If you look very closely, you can see the line where the jeans meet the cuff but if anyone is every that close to your hem, you've got bigger problems than I can help you with.

Since I'm a professional tailor in my mind, I like to run the work through the serger so it doesn't unravel and looks nicer.  You could do a zigzag on your machine if you don't have a serger.  It's a bonus that I happened to have dark thread in the serger because I've been known to use any color for this part.

One pair of jeans that I hemmed this way insisted on flipping up, so I've devised a way to sort of prevent that.

Once you've serged or zigzagged, flip it up so that it's inside your pantleg.  Where my thumbnail is, I sew about an inch back and forth a couple of time to secure it.  I "stitch in the ditch" which means my needle goes right into the factory made seam on the pantleg and that helps to secure the flap so it doesn't peek out.  I do it on both sides.

One word of caution.  Since you are only securing that flap on each side, that leaves a lovely amount of fold to get your toes stuck in if you are trying to throw on a pair of jeans really quickly and you might take a tumble.  Not  that I'd know anything about that firsthand....

I haven't done this on any other kind of pants but if you wanted to do it on something like a pair of chinos, I would say you should only do it on darker colors.  I think it might be more obvious on a pair of khakis.

I did this same technique recently when I hemmed the sleeves on a jacket for someone and it came out fine.  The original cuff is still there and I attached it just like this and loved how it came out.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The World's Most Expensive Dog Bed

A woman I know thinks I am a fabulous seamstress because she's asked me to make some crazy things in the past that I've managed to pull off with some serious creativity.

There were cushions and pillows I made.  One set came from a valance that had ships on it and she wanted each ship to be its own pillow.  And didn't want to add any new fabric.  So I made it work.

There were the mambo sleeves that I made for 20 uniforms for the marching band.  That was probably my favorite because I really had to go out on a limb to figure out how to do that, but I made it work.

There was the the quilt that she started to make for her daughter and never finished and she claims I did a beautiful job finishing it and backing it.  I have no recollection of this at all.  I remember talking about doing it but I don't remember any of the colors or what the squares looked like or standing in my parents' cellar backing it and finishing it.

But she says I did it.

And there was a neat Red Sox quilt that I made, which I now think might have been what started the whole thing.  I didn't make it for her, but she won it in a raffle and discovered that I can sew.

I swear she sits up at night dreaming up weird things for me to make.

This time, it was a dog bed.  As we stood at the counter in the office, she told me about her 4 poodles (two standard and two smaller but not toy poodles) and the bed that her husband made for them.  Currently, they had a couple of outdoor cushions but she wanted one long cushion to match her kitchen.

Surely, I could make it, right?

We talked about the size and referenced the counter we were standing at and I left thinking it might be about 4-5 feet long and maybe 12 inches deep.


82 inches long and 25 inches wide wasn't quite what I had in mind!  It's like a mattress, not a cushion!

I thought for a long time about what kind of closure I wanted.  I thought I'd go with velcro but when I started looking at the velcro options, what I wanted didn't really exist and I didn't want to order it and wait.  I wanted to get this done so I'd stop thinking about it.

For a minute, I considered snaps.  I decided not to and I'm glad because this is indoor/outdoor fabric and when I've tried snaps on that kind of fabric before, they just ripped right through.

I knew I wouldn't find a super long zipper at Joann fabrics, but I looked at the choices to see what I could come up with.  I decided that two 30 inch parka zippers would do the trick.
I wanted to butt them head to head.  I figured that little opening wouldn't matter and I wasn't going to try to finagle a flap that would cover it since this would always be facing the wall.

The total length wouldn't be quite the length of the cushion but it would give a nice opening for putting the cover on and off.  And I thought the parka style would be nice and heavy duty.

Plus I really like how well they zip! It's so smooth!

One thing I didn't think about was how to make the bar tack at the end of the zipper.  Since it's meant for a jacket, the zipper can come right apart and I didn't want the bulkiness of the end tab.  If this was a small zipper, I would have sewn over it to make a bar tack and snipped the end, but this zipper is so thick, I had to hand sew the bar tack and then cut the end and probably ruin my scissors!

I thought I had a picture of the actual finished product of my bar tack but I guess not.  You will have to imagine.

As I cut the fabric for all of the parts, and held my breath a lot...

I realized that it frays really easily, so I serged all of it before using it.

I debated just using my serger with both needles so I would have to sew just once, but I was concerned that I might have to rip something out and ripping out serged stitches makes me swear.

Since I'm only a make believe seamstress, I really don't know what I'm doing 99% of the time, so I winged it.  When I cut this, I was only planning to add an extra inch to everything so I could use nice, thick, half inch seams.  But that seemed like it would be too small, so I was more generous in the cutting.  And then I ended up trimming it all and had only an extra .5 inch at each end.  So it would have worked the first time, but I was afraid of screwing it up and having to buy more.

And this fabric was NOT cheap, even on sale!  It's not Sunbrella, but it was still a fortune and the cushion is very dense foam and did I mention 82 x 25 inches?  I think she could have bought a car for what she paid and that was without my labor!

Once I had everything serged, I decided to tackle the zippered side first because it was causing me the most grief.  Then I finagled something to make the tabs work and it came together really nicely.

As I cut out the side strips, I  found that there was a repeating pattern to the stripes, so that meant some extra cutting to make them line up.  I was pretty pleased when I made that happen, especially for the front.

Because dogs are going to care if it looks right...

Once I was satisfied with the zipper side, I sewed all of the side pieces together and then ripped them right out.  I thought it would be better to sew each side to the large pieces and then sew the corners, rather than the task I had started to make for myself which was going to be more difficult, getting the big piece to fit in the pre-sewn rectangle.

It came together pretty much as I wanted it to.  I've done cushions before, but I'm always surprised by something, every time.  This time, it was the fact that I sewed the entire thing closed, inside out, and then had to play with the zippers to open it so I could flip it back around.

It took k-ster and me both to stuff it and work it and make it fit but after some serious grunting and knocking things off tables and walls, we got it all in and zipped.  I can't imagine her ever taking it off to wash it and then getting it back on....

Clearly they hated it....

I hadn't seen the bench ahead of time and I don't think she brought the foam into the house once she bought it, so we didn't know that the cushion is slightly deeper than the bench.  Her husband said he'll put a new piece of wood to extend it so it all fits.

And now I'm off to shorten sleeves on a jacket for her and start looking at prices for the private island I'll be able to buy once she pays me for all of this.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

If This Jeep Is Rocking...

Here's a true story to brighten up your week.

Walking back to the car, I remotely started it and unlocked it.  We both got in and got situated.  I went to put it in gear.


It wouldn't move.

I checked my foot on the brake.  Yep.

I checked to see if the emergency brake was on.  Nope.

I checked to see if I was losing my mind.  Not yet.

So I tried again.  Foot on brake.  No emergency break.  Car running.  No movement on the shifter.

So I tried again.

And then I looked at k-ster in panic.

"It won't move,"  I said.

"What do you mean?  Try it again," he said.

So I followed the same steps.

Nothing happened.

"Put your foot on the brake," he said, and he tried the shifter.


"Oh, it's because we are on a hill.  It's sticking.  This can happen." he said, and got out.

This sounded ludicrous.  The hill wasn't even a hill.  It was a small incline.  Surely I've parked on bigger hills, for longer periods of time with nothing sticking.  And this is a 2009 model, not 1942.

Nothing should be sticking.

I imagined being stuck there all night.  Having to call AAA.  Having to sleep over at his brother's when we hadn't planned on it.

And then I imagined that we'd keep trying and actually break the shifter right off.  And then what would happen?  How much would that cost?

K-ster went to the front and said if he rocked the vehicle, it would unstick what was stuck.  So, he started pushing on it to rock it.  And I sat there being so mad that this was happening.

It was moronic, him rocking my vehicle back and forth.  This can't be right.  He's pretty smart when it comes to fixing things and finagling things but this was the most absurd thing I'd ever heard him say.

"Ok, " he said, "when I rock it back, put your foot on the brake and then put it in gear."

I did this about 10 times.  He was getting it rocking more and more and still, nothing.  We had just had supper and I imagined him having a heart attack right there, rocking my vehicle.

"What happened?" they'd say.  "Well," I'd say, "I couldn't put it in gear and he got to rocking it to unstick it and well, he just dropped."

He changed positions and tried rocking it again.

And I sat there like a fool, putting my foot on the brake and trying to put it in gear with nothing happening except him getting more frustrated and me getting more mad.

Surely this was ridiculous.  This was not right.

"Ok," he said, "turn it off, put the emergency brake on and then turn it back on and release it and see what happens."

So, I turned off the car.

And discovered that when I had put the key in the ignition, I hadn't actually turned it forward.  It was running because I had started it from down the road.  But until you actually turn the key, nothing can happen.

So nothing was stuck.

Except the piece of my brain that was supposed to tell me to actually turn the key.


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