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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Free Pattern/Tutorial: Stacking CD Baskets

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Make a charming basket out of a couple of discarded CDs!
I'm not exactly overrun with CDs that need to be repurposed, so this project more or less uses up the last ones that are cluttering up my space.

In a very pretty way, I might add.

As I found out before deciding to upcycle CDs into coasters, there aren't a whole lot of simple ideas for reusing CDs, as is. Most of them involve breaking them up into small pieces. So when I came across a variation of this basket on icreativeideas.com (direct link at the end of this post), it jumped out at me.

CDs are used to form the lid and the bottom of this basket. You'll also need some polyfil (mine was left over from my P&P pillow project). Fabric-wise, you can make one basket with a fat quarter. A button and an elastic hair tie completes the list of required materials.

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The name? Well, if you make more than one basket, you can stack them together!

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Make two baskets and stack them together!

There are loads of possibilities for how to use this fancy little fabric basket. In the photo at the top of this post, I've put some jewelry selections in it.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
An elegant way to use up a couple of old CDs ...

It would do well in your guest room to hold candies and mints.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Interior of basket...

It looks like a natural container for cotton balls. Or maybe potpourri? (Does anyone use potpourri anymore??)

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Underside of the basket...

In the sewing room, you can use the stacked version to store clips, buttons, and other small bits that are relatively lightweight.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Basket holding my collection of clips...

In terms of this set, one is being used as a thread catcher. The one with the lid is in my bathroom, holding various chargers and cords for my cell phone, mp3 player & speaker.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Do you find yourself charging your gadgets in the bathroom overnight?

The original project was hand-sewn. You don't need to be reminded again of how much I dislike sewing by hand (although I just did remind you), but for those who share my sentiments, let me say that I have transformed this into a machine sewn project.

Ready to make one?

Cut two circles out of your chosen fabric, 10" or 26cm in diameter. (You probably have a dinner plate that you can trace around.)

Establish where the middle is on the wrong side of one of the fabric circles and place your first CD there. Top with the other fabric circle, wrong side down.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Place one of the CDs in between the two fabric circles, right in the middle...

Place the other CD on top to guide you in pinning through both layers around the first CD, trapping it between the two fabric circles. Use a fading marker to draw a circle around the CD; that will be your sewing guide. Pin around the outer edge as well.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Pin around your CD and then draw a circle around it for sewing...

Carefully stitch around the CD.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Stitch around the CD, completely enclosing it in the middle of your fabric...

A cutting mat comes in handy here: use pins along the edge to divide the circle into eight equal parts.

The next step is to sew from the edge of the CD circle to the outer edge along those divisions.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Sew eight lines to create "pockets"...

If you need to make actual sewing lines, go ahead and do so; I can usually just follow my pins.

Once you have the divisions sewn up, cut appropriately sized pieces of polyfil and stuff them into the resulting "pockets".

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Do not overstuff or you'll have trouble sewing up the edge...

You don't need a whole lot of fill to make this work, so don't overdo it (as it might make your next step unnecessarily tricky).

The next step is to close up the circle — and the stuffed pockets — with a 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance. (Definitely pin the edges closed first, before you start sewing.) If your fabric is especially prone to fraying, you might want to follow up by zigzagging the raw edge also.

You have a choice as to how you want to do the next step.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Hand or machine baste in some gathering stitches...

I sewed the gathering stitches in by hand onto the top edge of this basket, but you can also machine baste — just be sure to use a high quality, strong thread — and then pull the threads afterwards to gather.

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When it comes to deciding how much to gather, place your remaining CD on top as a sizing guide. The finished lid will only be a tiny bit bigger.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
The basket part is done!

Tie off the gathering stitches appropriately and you already have a functional basket! In fact, as a thread catcher, this is enough; you don't really need a lid.

I had a fabric scrap that was perfect for the lid, but wanted some way to tie it back to the main part of the basket. I decided to cover a button with the main fabric.

covering a button with fabric...
How to cover a button with fabric...

If you want to do this, you'll need a button with a shank. Cut a small circle of fabric sufficiently bigger than the button and then baste, gather, and tie off. (It doesn't have to look nice on the underside because no one will see it.)

I didn't take many pictures of the rest of the lid making process because it's really quite simple. (Check out my CD coaster project if you want some similar visuals.)

Cut two fabric circles about 3/4" or 2cm larger than the CD. With right sides together, sew around the perimeter with a 3/8" or 1cm seam allowance, leaving a large enough gap to slide in the CD.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Ensure you leave a gap big enough for the CD to fit...

Turn right side out and give it a press.

Use the CD as a template to cut a piece of polyfil about the same size and then stuff both inside of this fabric "pocket".

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Add the fill to the top of the lid...

Use clips to help you keep the turning gap closed, and then carefully — very carefully — topstitch around the entire outer edge... avoiding the CD, of course.

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
Both of my fabrics were Robert Kaufman Imperial Collection selections...

All that remains is to attach the button through the middle of the CD and then slip the hair elastic around it. (FYI, if you want that tight "button in the middle of a pillow" look, anchor the button with another on the reverse side.)

Stacking CD Baskets by eSheep Designs
What might you use these stacking baskets for?

That's it for this week. If you're interested in taking a look at the original inspiration behind this project, you can find it here.

Like it? Want to keep it? For a copy of this tutorial in PDF format, go to my Craftsy shop and download it for free!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

You Just Can't Fix Stupid

The original "inspiration"...
My husband and I ran a business for eighteen years and then sold it. I like to joke that the business was our "child" and that we successfully got rid of him at the age of majority.

Once can never assured of that same success with a real kid... ;-)

Over the course of those eighteen years, we survived enough crazy employee stories to fill a book. Then there were all those "incidents" — involving both employees and clients — that could stand in the dictionary beside the word "stupid".

Hard hat sticker...
Many, many years ago in some discount store, my husband came across the sign that you see above. It was eventually hung on the door leading to the back warehouse/storage area in our office. When we sold the business, it was one of the items that he claimed back.

We came across the sign a couple of years ago while doing a major house cleaning and it renewed his interest in finding similar items. That's when I got him that hard hat sticker on eBay.

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When I made my DICIS bear buff, hubby hit upon the idea that it would be clever to make up a bunch of those with some custom fabric featuring the phrase "you just can't fix stupid". He figured they would be an easy sell to his buddies.

You might say that this was our first collaborative effort on the creative front. (My other half is supportive about this little enterprise of mine in most ways, but he's not "hands-on" with it at all. In fact, he has never read my blog. I could give away his secrets here every week and he would be none the wiser.)

The design on both the sign and the hard hat sticker are quite frankly uninspired and boring, so I had to start from scratch. This was one of my early drafts.

You Just Can't Fix Stupid fabric by eSheep Designs
Design draft #2...

Then I thought to make it look more chaotic, so I tipped over the "Y", adjusted the case, added some yellow and got this...

You Just Can't Fix Stupid fabric by eSheep Designs
Final design...

We agreed that this was the one that we wanted to go forward with, so I proceeded to make a fabric design out of it. Played with some different colour combinations but stayed with a couple of bold ones in the end.

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Here is the primarily yellow version (the white part is the edge of the fabric)...

You Just Can't Fix Stupid fabric by eSheep Designs
YJCFS performance piqué fabric from Spoonflower...

And here is the primarily black version...

You Just Can't Fix Stupid fabric by eSheep Designs
YJCFS sport lycra fabric from Spoonflower...

I like how the overall pattern seems to have a wavy look to it, courtesy of the words "you just" with the slanting "Y".

We purchased two different types and cuts of fabric, a yard of the sport lycra (which yielded six buffs) and two fat quarters of the performance piqué when it went on sale two for one. (As a permanent tribute to the uniqueness of our collaborative effort, the fabric is for us only; i.e., not for sale.)

But yes, he did manage to sell a few of those buffs to his buds. :-)

Oh, and remember what you can do with roostery?

roostery chairs from eSheep Designs
Mockups of "stupid" chairs from roostery.com...

We can't (and wouldn't for the cost) buy these chairs but they do look nice, don't they?

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I also took this opportunity to check out a sample of Spoonflower's peel and stick woven wallpaper. This (1' x 2') swatch costed me $7.50 plus shipping. Will be able to get 24 decals out of it so that hubby can plaster his favourite saying wherever he pleases.

You Just Can't Fix Stupid wallpaper by eSheep Designs
Wallpaper "swatch"...

I carried on with the same theme for his birthday last year, taking the design to Vistaprint and getting a t-shirt and sling bag made up with the phrase. The t-shirt is high quality but I was a bit disappointed with the sling bag.

You Just Can't Fix Stupid items from Vistaprint
YJCFS b-day gifts...

Quality-wise, it's nothing like his regular bag, which is a Swiss Army/Wenger model. We've yet to determine if he will keep or try to sell this rather unique "man purse".

Which leads me to the question of the day: does your man carry a "bag"?

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Quasi-Tutorial: Quick Sew Crop Top

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
A super quick crop top project to enjoy this summer...
We're now just four weeks away from Canada's 150th birthday, so it's time to unveil my fourth Canada Day themed project: a fat quarter friendly quick sew crop top.

It's a project that can probably be done in ten minutes if you're like those brave people who can be seen cutting away freehand in YouTube videos.

This is made out of one of my Canadiana fabrics (Maple Leaf Multi 3D on White) from Spoonflower. It's a fat quarter of performance piqué ($12.00), measuring 18" long by 28" wide. Again, due to how the fabric is printed, there is always a bit of white along all four sides that can be used in a pinch to "extend" the fabric.

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This "crop top over t-shirt" fooler top was the inspiration behind the project.

fooler crop top and t-shirt combo from Sears
One piece crop top and t-shirt fooler...

It's technically one piece, but the black t-shirt part of it extends all the way up to attach at the shoulders, so the amount of material is the same as two pieces.

Anyway, I had the idea to make the crop top part of this out of one fat quarter of Spoonflower performance piqué. It wouldn't have the exact same dimensions, but it would be close. The patterned top part of this fooler — which is a North American size 2-4 — measures 18" wide across the hem, and 16.5" long from shoulder to hem. The fat quarter only allows for a length of just over 14".

I did some creative folding with the fabric first to confirm that the result was achievable.

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
Imagining a crop top that can be worn over any t-shirt or tank...

As a sewing project, this can't get much simpler. All that needs to be done after squaring the fabric is to fold it in half with wrong side out, sew a seam along both edges and then cut a neckline out of the middle. The fabric doesn't fray so none of the edges need to be finished. Construction is very much like the quick sew kimono-inspired jacket that I made with P&P fabric.

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One word of caution before proceeding. In this particular case, I'm using the width of the fabric as the length of the finished item. If you do the same — in whatever fabric you use — choose one that does not feature a discernible directional pattern, as well as something that has a bit of two-way stretch for when you put it on.

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
Fold in half and pin along the edges...

In the above picture, the folded edge measures over 18" across, due to the white space around the printed fabric. The distance from top to bottom is about 14".

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
Straight side seams...

You can sew the side seams straight as shown above, or sew them at an angle as shown below.

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
... or angled side seams
Whichever you choose, ensure that the total length (when measured straight along the side) is no more than 6" or 15cm.

After sewing up the side seams, fold the whole thing in half. Similarly fold a piece of clothing of your choice and place it on top to use as a guide for cutting the neckline.

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
Trace a neckline from another top...

Refer back to my second "sew up side seams" picture above. If you want the front of your crop top to have a different neckline, fold just the front section (while matching the side seams) and make an additional cut to create — in my case — a "v" neck.

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I realize that making this out of a single fat quarter means that it will only fit those who are on the smaller side.

However, you can easily take two fat quarters and sew them together with pretty much the same results. All that's different would be a need to sew a shoulder seam. Not to mention that you would then be using the fabric along its 18" length and not its width.

For other fabric choices, a fat quarter of Spoonflower's cotton spandex jersey ($13.75) comes in at 18" x 30", which gives you a little extra material to work with if sticking to the one fat quarter method.

Crop Top Made from Canadiana Fabric by eSheep Designs
It's wearable!

I like how it turned out. Don't you think it's a handy cover-up for a camisole or tank top that might be too skimpy on its own?

For many years now, I've been wanting to have something simple to wear on Canada Day, apart from cheap t-shirts made overseas. (And in fact, I don't even have any of those anymore. They just seemed tacky to me.)

This will do the job nicely on July 1st... and any other day for that matter.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Sharing Some "Techspertise" — Learn to Excel at Passwords

Do you Excel by eSheep Designs
Harness the power of an Excel spreadsheet,,,
One of my first independent consulting gigs was to comb through some extremely looong Lotus 1-2-3 files and break them up into sections/pages. It involved the creation of macros to allow the process to operate on its own. (I remember leaving it running overnight and crossing my fingers in the morning that it would not encounter any hiccups.)

That was so long ago that the exact specs of the job are fuzzy, but it was the first time that I realized the power behind a spreadsheet.

Absolutely nothing that I've used a spreadsheet for since then has been anywhere near as complex as that project, but I still deal with several of them on a daily basis. (The only difference is that they are no longer Lotus 1-2-3 files, but Microsoft Excel. Interested in that story? Take a look here.)

Examples? A multi-tabbed spreadsheet keeps my bank accounts balanced. Finance and accounting were, of course, the main reasons for the invention of an electronic worksheet. Over the years, however, one spreadsheet in particular has become more and more important, and it's the one I want to share with you today: my password keeper.

If you are guilty of using one password for everything, you might want to read on and find out how to change your habits without driving yourself bonkers trying to remember fifty (or more) different passwords.

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Anyone using an electronic device of any sort to connect to the internet these days is, at a minimum, juggling several passwords. (I have 86 rows on my password spreadsheet!)

We are told to use different passwords so it is essentially impossible to remember them all. We are also told to change them frequently, so quite often when we do remember passwords, they might be last year's or last quarter's password. (It's policy at some corporations for everyone to change passwords every three months.) Compounding the problem is the fact that commonly accessed sites/apps don't require us to sign in all the time. Without using those passwords on a regular basis, we are bound to forget them.

In order to follow the rules — and make no mistake, the make different and change often rules of passwords should be followed — I've been using this spreadsheet as my personal password assistant for over ten years now.

password keeper spreadsheet
My password keeper spreadsheet...

It's simple, with only six or seven columns. You won't need to create macros to make this work for you.

[And yes, I know that you can buy/get password management software to help you keep track of your passwords. Call me paranoid, but I'm not about to trust my passwords to the cloud or to some stand-alone program/app that might just lock me out. Google it; it's happened.]

I'm using Excel here because most of us have access to Office. (I'm currently using Microsoft Office 2013.) Make sure you use a version that offers password protection for the file, which is probably all versions with the exception of MS Office Starter 2010.

Step 1: Give Your File a Nondescript Name

What can I say? Don't name this file, MyPasswords, or PasswordKeeper, or PasswordRegister...!

Call it KijijiSales, call it LibraryBookList, call it RoversVetAppts, but don't give it a name that has any reference to passwords in it. This file is meant to sit quietly on your hard drive and be as inconspicuous and uninteresting as possible to anyone who might have occasion to snoop. To be sure, the chances of your personal computer being hacked is pretty darn low, but let's not give anyone the heads up as to what your file contains.

And no, my file is not named per any of the above suggestions.

Step 2: Password Protect Your File

To encrypt and add a password to a file in Excel 2013, go to the following screen (File, Info):

add encryption and password to Excel file
Add encyption and password protection to an Excel file...

The following window pops up for you to enter your password:

Add password...

Note the warnings. After you enter your password — you'll be asked to enter it twice — ensure that you keep track of it somehow. This will be one password that you don't want to lose or forget!

By the way, to reiterate: this file on your private computer is not likely to be hacked. (If you float it up to the cloud to back up, the risk increases; whether you take on that extra risk is your call.) Generally speaking, you don't need to make this password fifty characters long. You might find yourself opening this file quite regularly; don't make it hard on yourself with an awkward password.

Step 3: Enter the Data

Set up the spreadsheet as shown above and use one row for each password that you need to track.

The columns should be fairly self-explanatory. Platform is for name of the company, website or app... everything from Amazon to Zomato.

Under URL, record the web page where you would log in to that platform.

User Name is the name that you use to sign in. This is typically your email address or a unique name. Note that in cases where you can open an account with a user name, you may be tempted to use the same name everywhere. Changing it up ever so slightly each time, however, adds an additional layer of hacking protection.

Password, of course, is for the current password.

learn how to create better passwords eSheep Designs
learn how to create
better passwords...
This next one is optional: Class is for classification. I have about seven different types or classes of passwords. For example, one is Finance (i.e., for banking related passwords) and another is Shopping. I follow the rules of password creation in that all of my passwords are different, but I use common elements throughout. Within each class of password, those elements are used in a different order.

Sound cryptic? Password creation should be somewhat cryptic. I don't want to overwhelm you with details here, but the idea of creating small password elements and putting them in a different order for each type of password is very effective. It automatically produces passwords that are easier for you to remember in everyday usage, but aren't easily guessable/hackable. (If you're interested in knowing more about this method of password creation, take a look at my perfecting passwords page. I promise you that if you're at all intrigued by the idea, you'll find the discussion enlightening!)

All that aside, if you don't intend to categorize your passwords, you don't need to have this column.

Last Changed is the date that you last changed this particular password. Most of my passwords are changed once a year. With this information, you can always tell when you're overdue to change a password.

Finally, (OLD) NEW Password is a place to keep track of the previous password, or to "plan" the next password. What I mean by that is, if it's almost time to change a class of passwords, I work out what the new arrangement of elements should be for that class and then enter the proposed new password into that cell on the spreadsheet. (In red text.) When it comes time to change those actual passwords, I can then just copy and paste. It makes the whole "time to change passwords" process a lot less stressful and easier to manage.

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Step 4: Maintain the Data & Keep Current

This whole exercise is pointless if you don't keep it up, so anytime you change a password, open up this file and make sure you record your changes as you go. If you follow my advice about pre-planning your password changes, it will be a snap.

One final tip about this process. Keep your rows in alphabetical order for easy reference. I understand that when you start to put the file together that you will likely enter whatever is first and foremost in your mind, so use the sort function (Home, Sort & Filter, Sort A to Z) to sort your rows once you're done.

sorting in Excel
Sort your rows into alphabetical order when you're done...

Highlight the rows and all of the associated columns that you want to sort. For this command, do not include the header row. Immediately afterwards, you should see the rows in order from A to Z.

sorted Excel data
After sorting...

This is the simplest use of the sorting function in Excel. By default, it is sorting strictly on the first column. Take a look at the Custom Sort option if you want to sort by other columns or by several columns at once. For instance, you may want to list all of the data by Last Changed to see what the oldest dates are.

Make friends with the Undo button and you'll feel confident to explore!

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Have you seen news stories about how family members are helpless to access the online accounts of loved ones after a sudden death?

Can you see how having a spreadsheet like this — with the password and name of the file stored with important documents such as your personal directive and will — could help your survivors find their way through the maze?

I mean, we all "know" certain individuals only through social media platforms. But if something were to happen to you — and I use "you" in the sense of referring to anyone with whom I have had contact via this blog — I might care to know about it. (I'd also like to think that if I suddenly disappeared from my Saturday postings that a few of you might be curious as to my well being!) But if your family members can't even log on to your email accounts to reply that we are sorry to report that... etc., we would all just perpetually wonder, "whatever happened to...?"


Anyway, I hope I've encouraged you to think about this and about using Excel to help you out.

To end on a more upbeat note, take a closer look at the graphic at the top of this post. I will be back at a later date with part 2 of my blog housekeeping topic, where I will discuss how Excel can help you track and maintain your internal and external blog links.