Saturday, November 9, 2013

DIY How to make a personalized Embroidered Christmas Stocking

One of the traditions I've started for our family, is making a personalized stocking. The first three I made were ones I picked up at a local craft store. The design and all the material came in a pack and it helped me learn all the tricks of embroidery. After making three, I decided I would try designing my own and it turned out beautifully. The best part was including caricatures of our family, which made it more fun and meaningful. The first design I came up with and made included a scene where our family of four was singing Christmas carols and I gave it to our youngest (at the time) who loved it.

Somehow, I got a bit behind and wasn't able to make a stocking for our son before our last baby was born. Since the baby would be using our plain stocking I decided I better get to it and make one for our little guy. I decided to use a snowball fight scene and love how it turned out:

If you're interested in making your own personalized stocking, but don't have much experience with applique, or embroidery, then you could start out with a kit that includes all your supplies, and instructions (like Bucilla's stocking kits), or if you feel brave you could try it on your own (like I did here). There's so many good tutorials and guides on embroidery that you can find on the web. So you shouldn't feel completely lost. Here's a basic outline of how I made mine:

First, I got flannel as fabric for the front and then cotton gingham for the inside. I already had a lot of leftovers of felt for my scene. You can find felt in any craft store as well as embroidery thread, beads, and sequins. After cutting out the shape (make sure to account for the seam allowance and cut it out bigger than you'd like the finished product to be), I sewed another piece of fabric so the inside would look nice, and so the goodies Santa brings wouldn't snag on embroidery threads. Just put right sides together and then later it will flip over so you'll have a beautiful seam. Only sew the top. Don't finish the sides until your design is complete.

Then I drew what I wanted the scene on the stocking to look like and cut out the background first (a sledding hill).

Then  I pinned where I wanted other pieces of the picture to go:

I'd then start to cut out pieces of felt to make the characters. Here you can see I changed how my arm and the position of the baby with the felt versus where it was in the picture. When the top part of the body was done I started the hair.

For the hair I wound embroidery thread around a couple of times trying to make it a tad longer than I wanted the length of hair to be. I then would stitch the thread to the top of the head (I wasn't too careful about how it looked since I knew the hats would cover the hair).

Since I was making it for a child, I made extra stitches to make sure the hair was nice and secure.

Once I was done I'd snip the ends to the desired hair length and would add a hat:

Here's how I made the pom pom on top of the hats. Grab the color/colors you want:

Wind the string around your finger. Do it loose enough you'll be able to pull it off. Then take a needle to the top or bottom of all the strings and tie them together a couple of times. Make sure they're all secure then snip the top to desired length and fluff the strings.

You'll wind thread to make bangs as well:

Then stitch the bangs securely in place and cut to desired length (see the bangs on the side haven't been trimmed like the bangs on the right):

Here's a trick I'd keep track of all the small felt pieces I'd cut out: I'd baste stitch on top of my picture and would adjust to how I really wanted the pieces. I also pinned the pieces to make it all really secure:

Here's how you can make curly hair: Double up a long piece of string as shown in the picture. Then, begin to twist the tops and bottoms in opposite directions...

Then push your ends towards each other and the strings will wind around each other even more like this (except you will have two hands since you won't be taking a picture):

I stitched the curls to the head leaving extra to hang over side so the curls would stay. I actually didn't cover this girls hair and just sewed it in place...

After all your caricatures are pieced and sewn together, you can add stitches to make the face. You can also add thread and sequins to add details to your picture to make snow flakes, Christmas lights, eyelashes etc.You can also add a little stuffing to add depth and a more 3-D feel.

My kids all loved that Daddy was laughing about a snowball getting him really good. Who do you think plastered him?

I like adding thread to the bottom of the scarfs for detail. I also did french knots to make polka dots. I've used french knots to make eyes before as well.

After you're done add your child's name to the top (examples on stockings below) and you're done! While it takes a lot of time, these stockings will be cherished and much more special than a plain ol' one you can pick up at the drugstore.

Here are the first two stockings I made from Bucilla. They came with all the supplies and explained how to do all the stitches. So, if you need a more in depth tutorial, or don't think you can come up with a fun scene of your own, these are beautiful and fun as well. I found that my own design went a lot quicker though since it wasn't as intricate as these so if you want it done before Christmas I suggest you get started soon!

Should I Use Friesen Press or Lulu to Get My Book Published?

For the past couple of years, I've been working on writing a book. I really don't know if it will go anywhere. In fact, I really felt compelled to write this book for my kids, and maybe some friends and family. I thought maybe, just maybe, others might be interested (you know, like my grandma's neighbor, or mom's friend). I really have put a lot of time and effort into it though, so I figured I'd look into different publishing options. I sent an inquiry letter out to one company, and they actually offered me some advice rather than completely reject me. Because they showed a little interest, I decided to make use of their suggestions. I'm not naive enough to believe they'll be interested in the completed manuscript, but I figured since I wasn't completely turned away, I should also look into self-publishing as plan B.

My husband and I have a relative who used FriesenPress, and I was curious about the company. It was difficult finding very many negative reviews on-line. This made me skeptical. Their claim to have published Harry Potter made me even more leery. That's why I continued my search. I'm sure many others have also toyed with the idea of publishing with them. I really found these sites helpful and figured I should share. Here's one about Lulu. This woman blogged about her experience with FriesenPress and shared the last two links which I found to be particularly helpful. This one is about FriesenPress. Finally, there's a thread I found helpful here.

If I don't find a publishing company to take my manuscript right away, I might still self-publish, but I think I'll do it solo. I'm hoping this will be helpful to other real and wanna-be authors. For those who know a thing or two about publishing, what route did you decide to go, and if you're done...are you pleased? I'd love to know. I'm also curious if works the same way.

Anyhow, our relative seems pleased with FriesenPress for the time being, and just got his second book out through them. He's been working on a trilogy. I haven't read the finished results of his first book, but enjoyed his first draft and know he put a lot more work into it later sprucing it up. If you're looking for a book, why not buy a copy or two to help him out? I'm certainly planning on buying them to put under our Christmas tree.

By the way, if you're thinking about sending a manuscript/inquiry letter into a publishing company, I found a website with a list of publishing companies who you can send your stuff to directly, without an agent. I'll have to find the link and post that soon.

Top 10 Ways to Save So You can Put Your Husband through School while Your Family Grows

So in my last post I mentioned how we provided for our kids while Daniel was going through grad school and didn't have a full time job until just recently. We were able to pinch enough pennies so that we'll be debt free before he graduates! While not everyone will be able to do the same, there are a lot of tricks we learned that helped us be frugal. Here are some of the things that helped us stay afloat:

1. Couponing and price matching at Wal-Mart: We were able to do this while living on the West Coast much more then we can now. We used pinching your pennies' coupon website and price matched everything. If I ran into a sale on clothing for kids, I'd stock up on clothes for several years in advance. Now that we're in the East Coast, I've struggled to be as thrifty. Perhaps, it's just this particular area. Couponing isn't an option because I usually have three kids with me at the store. In other words, I have to move people! Otherwise naps, or meals, are missed and a hungry/tired toddler or baby times three is never a great idea at a store.

Price matching also isn't an option here since we don't have a store near us that does price matching. Needless to say, it's easier in some areas and circumstances to get better deals than it would be in others. If you can't price match, or coupon you can just pay attention to deals and stock up on things you use a lot. I've finally found a couple of stores where they have amazing deals and I plan our meals around what's on sale. We're also lucky being in the military because we get a food stipend which has also helped because the East Coast is not cheap.

2. I Have a Free Phone: Well, kind of. We had one cell phone between the two of us, that did not connect to the internet. Paying for one plan without all the unnecessary gadgets saves tons. My husband has the phone and lately I've been using my Ipod. Did you know you can use pinger/textfree to text and receive calls for free? That's what I use. People can even call and leave you a message! It's basically like having a cell phone. The downside is you can't call 911. However, if you have an old cell phone you can call 911. Did you know you can use an old phone without coverage to dial 911? You just have to have the battery charged, or have it plugged in. They have charities that collect old cell phones for battered women and other people in need so they can call police in emergencies. So if you have some old cell phones you're looking to get rid of, it's worth looking into some of these charities (just click on the links, or google more if you're interested).

Anyhow, as long as I have a connection to wireless internet, I receive calls free, and can text for free. Why pay for a second phone line? We likely will invest in a go-phone or TracFone so I can have something to call people back on just because it is inconvenient to have to wait to make calls with Daniel's cell phone, and in other situations, but you can have just one line/cell phone if things are tight. It's more than possible.

3. Car: Do you really need more than one car? We went almost eight years sharing one vehicle. We finally gave in and became a two car family this year because Daniel's commute to and from work took hours each day versus under an hour by car. We used our tax refund and paid for our commuter car in cash. Paying it off in full right away means we didn't have to pay extra from interest. We did the same thing when we had to buy a "new" old van after our first van's engine quit on us. I can't say enough about scrimping by as much as you can so you have money for rainy days while putting a spouse through school.

4. Credit cards: We don't use them. If we do, we pay it all off in full right away so we're not paying interest.

5. Christmas and Holidays: We've always given frugal gifts. Many of them were home made, or inexpensive. The average family spends almost a thousand dollars on Christmas! We'd spend $100-200, and our kids would have never known they were any different (especially since they were spoiled by relatives). There are also a lot of benefits of not going crazy during the holidays. My kids don't think about presents when they think about their birthday, instead they think about how they want to celebrate it (at least they do now). Often if they're asked what they want for their birthday they'll answer what type of cake they want, or how it will be decorated. In fact, our kids don't really make requests for what they want for their birthday, or Christmas and have always been thrilled with everything they've received, which is rare in the entitled culture we live in.

6. Food Storage: Being Mormon, we tried getting our food storage going right after we got married. Our food storage supply was used all the time. We stocked up on different foods we used all the time to make things like spaghetti, tuna casserole, BBQ beef, Costco's pancake mix, oatmeal etc. We lived off of our food storage for the most part. In fact, we still do. We had a huge supply of food we'd buy in bulk when we saw deals.

7. Dates and family activities: My husband and I couldn't have a babysitter watch our kids. We couldn't afford one. There were a couple of times we'd swap babysitting with another couple, but since going out usually meant spending money, we usually just had free and inexpensive dates at home. Our family also enjoyed doing free, or frugal activities. We would go on walks to the library, bike, watch free movies, visit with family and friends, and do other activities that were fun and free.

8. Television: Unless cable was free, we didn't have it. Instead, we had amazon prime where you can watch movies online. You can also watch shows free off on most major network's sites and we get free two day shipping on most items we buy through amazon. The best part was it was cheaper for us since Daniel was a student.

9. Instead of paying to get my hair cut, I'd donate it to locks of love. I'd go to Fantastic Sam's or Great Clips and would get a free haircut (although I did pay a tip) and would get to donate my hair to help make a wig for a child with cancer. I'd say that's more than a win-win. And with all my pregnancies my hair seemed to be four times as thick and grew very quickly which made my donations pretty substantial. There are some pluses to what those hormones can do for you.

10. Continuing to Live Like Poor College Students: We're lucky to have a housing stipend through the Army which has allowed us to live in a gorgeous home, but it's interior is filled with all of our beat up furniture and we don't plan on doing any interior decorating any time soon. Even now that we're being paid a full salary we haven't changed our spending habits so we could save up enough to be debt free. After we pay off loans and save enough that we'll have emergency money that will last a year will slowly start spending more, but it won't be much more. That means we'll be hanging on to all our hand me down furniture until we've got quite a cushion. 

By following these guidelines not only were we able to make it out of grad school debt free (with the help of the Army), but we'll also be able to provide for our family. I'll share more about how we have and plan to continue to provide for our kids financial needs later. While we are frugal I don't think my kids have ever felt poor or neglected, and we couldn't have done it alone.

In fact, I truly believe Heavenly Father was looking out for us. Looking back I feel like he provided manna and raiment/clothing as he did with Moses and his people (see here). There were times when things were so tight that first year that I wondered how we could make it through the rest of the month, let alone the next four or five years. Yet, when we'd get to the point where it didn't seem like what was left of our budget would be enough to cover groceries, miracles would happen: someone would randomly drop off groceries, or bring over produce from their garden, or do something else that would get us through to the next month. Every. Single. Time.

When we needed baby clothes, I'd happen upon an amazing sale where clothes were only $1, or people would randomly drop off their kids' old baby clothes. We even had people leave us a box filled with food the first Thanksgiving after Daniel began going to grad school and was unemployed. The next year Daniel's work decided to be our Santa that year. We were given tons of gifts anonymously. Every Christmas Daniel and I would discuss the small gifts we planned to purchase and how it would help the kids learn to appreciate the little things. When Christmas would roll around those few gifts would be lost in the sea of gifts others had brought for our kids.

Besides having countless earthly angels watching over us, there were several other miracles. When our van died we found out we had to pay out-of-pocket for our third child (remember this is also when I decided to stop using WIC). Not knowing how we'd afford all our new expenses we just continued forward in faith. We were saved from having to take out another loan by a large tax refund that came right in time to be able to afford buying a vehicle, and we were able to get a huge discount for hospital bills by paying in cash before the baby was born. After all was said and done, I was grateful I hadn't back peddled and gotten back on WIC and tried to get on medicaid. After such a test, I was even more sure that Heavenly Father would provide.

Those are just some of the ways we were able to stay frugal while Daniel continued his education and as our family continued to grow. What are some ways that have helped you provide for your family when finances were tight?