Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A New Plan

As a girl who lives by her lists, it helps me to have a place to keep them together so I don't wind up with post-it notes all over the house. I talked about keeping a sewing calendar in Sew Organized for the Busy Girl, which has been really helpful to me in my creative work. Nowadays I keep a lot of that information in a monthly calendar on my phone, but I also like have something on paper where I can write down the daily steps that get me to those weekly goals. I spent the last week of 2019 looking for the perfect planner to carry me into the new year, but after several hours spent combing through what was available both online and in stores, I came up empty. So this year I decided to try something new: I made my own planner pages from scratch on Adobe Illustrator.

I had originally planned to bring the file to the local office store and have it printed and spiral bound, but my mom encouraged me to live with the pages in a binder for a few weeks first so that I could make adjustments as needed. It was good advice. I've found a few ways to streamline the page as I go along.

While I often have special appointments in my schedule, most of the items on my to-do list fall under a recurring set of categories: cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, writing, and sewing. There are some things that I need to do every single day, but can easily forget to do (feed the dogs) or forget whether or not I've done them (take my allergy medicine) if they're not on a list in front of me. I love having these daily chores already built into the page so that all I have to do is check them off. There's also room to write down extra tasks that come up as well as a spot at the top for special activities or important things that need my attention right away.

In my drive to work through a checklist, it's easy for me to forget about the small everyday things that are going on in my life, so I added room at the bottom of the page to keep track of those too. There's a place to list what I'm reading, listening to, and watching every other day. I like that this will not only help me stay faithful in keeping my annual list of what books I've read, but it will also let me see what's influencing my thinking throughout the year.

My favorite feature, though, is the small section in the lower right corner for moments that I want to remember -- little victories, quirky happenings, funny things that the girls say. Just looking back over the pages I have already, I can't help but smile at the memories I'm recording, things that could have so easily been forgotten otherwise. The time we were watching White Christmas for a family movie night, and James declared that the pale yellow socks that Danny Kaye was wearing were the height of fashion...so of course I had to track down a pair for him online (he loves them!). The day that Bunny scored a 98% on both her history AND science semester finals. The night when Bear lost a tooth not five minutes after the girls were talking about how much they wanted ice cream (we celebrate every lost tooth with ice cream in our family; it's a tradition). The morning that Mouse came to me excited because she had actually enjoyed a math lesson for the first time ever. "Because," she added (I kid you not), "multiplication and division are the death of all good things." I ran right over to my planner to write that one down before I could forget it, let me tell you...

I love hearing what other people are doing when it comes to planners and organization. What do you use to stay on top of your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule? Do you like using a planner or not? Have any of you tried making your own? What are the most helpful tricks you've found when it comes to getting your to-do list done each day? Please share!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Coffee with James

Coffee and Cake on a Riley Blake Designs Shortcake Fabric Placemat by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

As much as I can't wait to go on vacation when the holidays roll around, I'm just as content to get back to the school routine once they're over. I like the stability of a schedule, the sanity that it brings to the kids and to me. The only sad part is not having my husband here with us. There's not a doubt in my mind that the biggest perk of being married to a teacher is getting to have him home for weekends, holidays, and vacations. It's given us the chance to do so many things together as a family, and I never take it for granted.

We were driving home from lunch early last week in my minivan, music playing on the radio while the girls chattered together in the backseat, when James turned and asked if I would join him for coffee and sweets when we got home. It was the start of a beautiful new habit which we hope to continue on the weekends. Every afternoon for the rest of the week we sat down at the dining room table with mugs of coffee and something sweet -- usually chocolate -- and talked about what was on our minds: goals for the new year, lesson planning, my next book, the girls, our own struggles and how to beat them. It was like dating again only better: all the interest and attention of those early days when we were getting to know each other mixed with the comfort and familiarity of all these years of shared history together.

Now I'm sitting here at the table after lunch, and I miss my coffee with James. And I'm counting down the hours until Saturday afternoon...

Monday, January 6, 2020

Sew Cute Fruit Pouch

Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama for Zakka Workshop Fruit Pouch Sewed by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I've been influenced by zakka -- the Japanese concept of making pretty, practical items to beautify your everyday life -- since I first started sewing back in 2011. This has led me to spend a lot of time finding books and fabric by Japanese designers, which are full of wonderful inspiration in this area. My latest purchase is Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama. I had already bought a copy of the book from my favorite online shop Sunny Day Supply when I got an email from Lindsay at Zakka Workshop asking if I would be interested in joining the book tour, so the timing was perfect. I'm eternally grateful to Zakka Workshop, which has taken so many wonderful Japanese craft books and translated them into English so that even more people can enjoy them.

Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama for Zakka Workshop Fruit Pouch Sewed by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

For my project, I chose the round fruit pouch, because I had never made a pouch like this before. This is one of the things I love about Japanese sewing books: they always seem to be full of interesting techniques that I haven't tried yet. I was pleased with how easily the pouch came together, including the applique on the front, which is something I don't get the chance to do very often. Thankfully my dear friends Mary and Shawn at Sunny Day Supply had the zipper I needed in stock, and they were kind enough to send me the leaves and flower for applique as well. Be sure to check out their shop this month, because they're going to have all kinds of wonderful supplies for the projects in this book on hand if you need them!

Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama for Zakka Workshop Fruit Pouch Sewed by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

The back of the pouch was supposed to be a four square block, but I fell so completely in love with this new print by my friend Elea Lutz (of which I'll be sharing more with you next month during her fabric tour!), that I just couldn't resist using it all in one piece. I used the tiny floral print from my Date Night collection for the lining and binding on the pouch which gave a nice continuity from the outside to the inside of the project. I love the color and small scale of this print, and I'm going to be so sad when I run out of it!

Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama for Zakka Workshop Fruit Pouch Sewed by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

The hardest part of this project by far was sewing in the zipper by hand. The directions were perfectly clear and helpful, mind you. I'm just not used to putting a zipper in this way, and it took me a few tries to get my stitches right. Once I got in the swing of it, though, it came together nicely.

Sew Cute Quilts and Gifts by Atsuko Matsuyama for Zakka Workshop Fruit Pouch Sewed by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt

I'm so pleased with this sweet little pouch, and it feels great to tuck a few more skills under my crafty belt. The book is chock full of adorable projects featuring more techniques that I haven't tried, so I'm probably going to be pulling this title off the shelf now and then in the next year whenever I want to learn something new. If you're on Instagram, be sure to stop by my post to leave a comment so that you can be entered to win a copy of this book for yourself. I really think you'll like this one.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

What I Learned in 2019

Big Bear Cabin Quilt from Patchwork USA for Lucky Spool by Heidi Staples
My Big Bear Cabin Quilt from Patchwork USA

Happy New Year, friends! It's been a whirlwind of holidays and activities, family time and friendship over the past two months, and I've loved every second of it. So much has been happening in real time that it's been difficult to slip away to this space, but I'm tiptoeing back into the blog, and it feels great to be here with you again.

2019 was good to me. There were things to celebrate and not too many things to mourn. There was plenty of learning and growing which is always helpful. And there was a conscious decision to set aside time for family which was probably the best thing of all. I sat down this morning to think about what stood out to me over the past 12 months, and this is what came to mind...

1. biggest sewing accomplishment: Patchwork USA has been in the works since 2015, and I was thrilled to see it finally released into the world last July. This book is dear to my heart for many reasons, which you can read about here. Getting beautiful messages from readers who love it has brought all kinds of joy to my heart. To each one of you who bought it, thanks a million! And to those of you who haven't, you can still get a copy of your own. I hope you'll love it as much as I do.

2. biggest life change: This was the year that I felt the definite shift from being the mother of 3 little girls to the mother of 3 preteen daughters. It's been wonderful, terrifying, frustrating, exhausting, and exciting all at once, but we're finding our way one step at a time. Having my amazing husband and parents here to support me has been a lifesaver in this area more times than I can count, and together we make a great team. I'm learning the value of perspective and patience, and that sometimes it's better (but not easier) to hold my tongue and listen when the girls are having an off day. I'm pretty darn proud of these young women we're raising, who are each so smart and strong and fun. Being their mother is the hardest job in the world, but it's the best one too.

3. most surprising new habit: I've spent my whole life as a night owl, but this year I dabbled in being an early bird, and I'm still amazed at how much I like it. I don't do it every day, but getting up before dawn and sitting down with a cup of coffee (another new habit, believe it or not!) and my Bible to have a bit of quiet time before the girls are awake has been an anchor for my soul in the mornings. I'm craving more of that peace as I go into the new year.

4. most challenging new habit: I started intermittent fasting at the end of November, which basically just means that on most days, I don't eat after 2:30 in the afternoon. It's been a slow adjustment, but so far I've been pleased to see that it's really helping some of the health issues that were plaguing me last year. Like most things, it seems to get easier the longer you do it. We'll see how it goes over the next few months.

5. favorite unexpected project: I had so much fun designing some enamel pins and vinyl stickers for Maker Pin Co. last spring! They're still available here if you like that sort of thing. It was a dream assignment for me, and I love sharing them with friends when I can.

6. most influential read: The book that had the biggest impact on me this year was definitely Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I had been hurtling through life at breakneck speed for too long without realizing how much it was costing me, and this book was the wake up call I desperately needed. I'm still figuring out a lot of this stuff as I go along, but the change has been real and important in how I spend my days, and I'm so grateful.

7. favorite new accessory: My glasses are a permanent fixture now that I've crossed over into my 40's, but I like seeing a more interesting face look back at me in the mirror. Being able to read without feeling like I'm going blind is pretty nice too.

8. biggest schedule change: Now that my girls are getting older (they're currently in 4th, 5th, and 8th grade), school is taking a lot more of my time each day. We do a DVD based home school program where the girls watch their classes (taught by amazing teachers in real classrooms) at their desks, and then I make sure that they do their assignments, help them study for quizzes and tests, reteach lessons or tutor as needed, and grade all their papers. As the work is getting more challenging, the time I need to devote to teaching each day is growing. I'm perfectly happy with that since my daughters' education is the most important work I do, but it's meant that I've had to get creative sometimes when it comes to finishing the rest of my tasks each day. Exploring new ways to do this better is on my list of goals for 2020.

So those are the highlights that come to mind at the moment. I had another birthday last month, and it feels surprisingly good. The best thing about being 42 so far is realizing that I no longer need to make excuses for who I want to be. I don't need to apologize for wearing message tees, listening to Billie Holiday, reading old books about the Civil War, and staying home at night watching reruns of Psych with my husband instead of going out on the town. I don't have to feel guilty about lying down for 15 minutes with a good book in the afternoon, letting the dishes sit on the kitchen counter until later in the day, or sneaking off to get ice cream on the weekend without my daughters. The best thing I'm learning is that I don't have to be an all or nothing person in every area of my life. I can ease into new habits, tweak them a bit here and there, and take time to see what works instead of feeling like I have to start a new regime and get everything right immediately or it's no good. It takes a lot of pressure off when you stop trying to live up to the Pinterest boards and give yourself permission to be a human being.

But seriously, don't tell my daughters about the ice cream, because I still feel a little guilty about that one...

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Love Letters Sewing Kit

Tinkandstitch Sewing Kit by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt featuring Love Letters fabric by the Cottage Mama for Riley Blake Designs

About 90% of my sewing time these days is spent on secret things, and most of that has lately been spent on samples for my next book. Each book is its own wonderful journey, but sometimes I need a break from it to refresh my mind and get inspired again. Thankfully, I had signed up months ago to be on the Love Letters fabric tour for my friend Lindsay of The Cottage Mama, and I can't tell you how glad I am that I did!

This fabric is exactly what I needed in my life. I love it so much. How much, you ask? So much that it might just be my favorite Riley Blake collection from all of 2019. The vintage Valentine card illustrations stole my heart immediately, but the supporting prints are just as good. So many cute details are in there like heart stamped envelopes, tic-tac-toe games, and blank postage labels. It makes my vintage loving heart happier than I can say...

Tinkandstitch Sewing Kit by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt featuring Love Letters fabric by the Cottage Mama for Riley Blake Designs

My friend Cheri recently released her Tinkandstitch Needlebook pattern which makes the cutest little sewing kit, so I thought I would put the two together to make something adorable that I can use all the time. It's a great pattern for customizing, as Cheri has shown by sharing so many adorable versions of the needlebook on her Instagram account here.

Tinkandstitch Sewing Kit by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt featuring Love Letters fabric by the Cottage Mama for Riley Blake Designs

I used a bit of red RBD wool for my needle pennant (decorated with some of Lori Holt's buttons and a few adorable donut pins from my friend Vicki at The Cherry Chick) and added a fabric stamp on one side of the inner pocket with some embroidered postage meter lines on the side. A bit of elastic paired with a vintage white button that belonged to my grandmother makes the perfect closure, and I absolutely love that red, white, and blue stripe for the binding and the faux washi tape on the inside.

Tinkandstitch Sewing Kit by Heidi Staples of Fabric Mutt featuring Love Letters fabric by the Cottage Mama for Riley Blake Designs

This project was so much fun, and I'm thrilled to now have this beautiful little needlebook to use as I go back to the secret sewing on my table. This, I remind myself every time I look at it, is why I love to sew.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tilda Club

A quick invitation to all you Tilda fabric fans out there: my friend Julie of The Intrepid Thread has a monthly Tilda Club subscription box that only opens for enrollment twice a year, and this is one of those times! You can find all the details on her website here, but I wanted to share it with you because A) I love Tilda fabric, and B) I'm designing half of the patterns for her boxes this year. My first project was this sweet little Spool Case in the photo above. It's a simple pattern that lets you have fun with a bit of your fabric right away while still having plenty leftover for other projects. Just the sort of thing I love to make myself...

I have the fabric for next month's project spread out on my cutting table as I type this, but I didn't want to forget to share the news with you since enrollment closes on Thursday. Hop on over to Julie's website to check it out!

Monday, September 2, 2019

That Handmade Touch

It's been a crazy start for school this year thanks to a flock of unwelcome germs that descended on our house just days after we started classes. Bunny was the first to get sick, followed closely by Bear. I thought for sure that we were finished with it all after making it through last week with no new symptoms until Mouse came down with a fever last night...just in time for her birthday next weekend, of course. She's devastated at the thought of missing out on all the fun we've planned, and I'm trying to get her over this as quickly as possible.

The only thing that made her eyes light up was the sight of this bag that I made over the weekend. I've known my friend Svetlana for so many years now, all the way back to when I first started blogging and sewing. She has such a clear sense of her own style; I can look at a project in my Instagram feed and instantly know that it's hers even before I see the name. Her new book That Handmade Touch is so perfectly her from beginning to end, full of useful projects that are beautiful yet simple.

I chose to make the On-the-Go Project Bag, mostly because I can never have enough of this sort of bag in my life. It's a sturdy bag in a great size that will be perfect for carrying all sorts of things. The leather handles are a nice touch, and I love the drawstring opening. I used linen and canvas for both the exterior and lining, and to keep the bag soft yet structured, I used batting, which has become my favorite interfacing these days.

The only changes I made to the pattern were to box the lower corners instead of folding them up and to make the handles just a bit wider. I really like that it includes an inside slip pocket as well for corralling small things, always helpful for someone like me who is constantly digging in the bottom of her purse for that one thing I can't find.

I'll be perfectly honest with you, friends: this bag was going to be mine. I had every intention of using it for travelling sewing projects this year, and I was looking forward to all the adventures we were going to take together, this bag and I. And then I saw Mouse's eyes when she saw me carrying it into the family room. "Are those llamas?" she asked excitedly. And I knew I just couldn't keep this one to myself.

So I've decided that this will be the gift bag for Mouse's birthday present from all of us. My daughter is obsessed with three things these days: llamas, swimming, and Disney's Zorro television show from the 1950's. I used to watch reruns on the Disney channel when I was a kid (Zorro and Davy Crockett were my heroes back then), and I've loved sharing it with my girls. We've managed to watch a few episodes on YouTube and the old Sign of Zorro movie on Amazon, which is really just clips from the first season all put together. Happily, I was able to find a set of dvds from the first and second seasons on Ebay that wouldn't clean out our bank account, and I'll tuck those into this bag so that we can give it to her on Sunday.

I can't wait to see her face.
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