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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Scrappy Cuff Bracelets [FSC Pt 4]

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
Guess what this is?
Time for part four of my fabric swatch challenge. Today's project is definitely a departure from my normal, as it's my first foray into something that qualifies as jewelry.

The inspiration came from the creative team at Dritz. Yep, the same folks who make all those nifty sewing tools and hardware.

I found their Make Something blog last fall and came across a cuff bracelet made out of fabric covered cord (direct link at end of this post). I bookmarked it at the time, thinking it merited future consideration.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
Two fabric cuff bracelets made out of Spoonflower swatches...

Who would have thought that a Spoonflower swatch yields the perfect amount of fabric to create the bias strip needed to make this bracelet!

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The original Dritz design features four "bangles", like the one with the button shown above.

When I made the first one, however, I decided to go with just three, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't know how long a fabric strip I would get out of one swatch, and second, I was using a much thicker cord (rope) than the project called for and didn't want the additional bulk.

My wrist is rather small, so I used the cord to measure the length needed before I began. If you go by the tutorial's specs, you'll get a supposed "one size fits all" solution, but that may not be optimal if you're making this for yourself.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
My version of the Dritz fabric covered cord bracelet...

Being that the tutorial comes from Dritz, they showcased the finished bracelets with fancy hook and eye closures from their line of products. Since I'm in the habit of "making do with what's on hand", I — of course — went a different way.

In terms of what was on hand, it was these little paracord bracelet clasps.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
"Back" view... I used little paracord bracelet closures instead of the fancy Dritz hardware...

To make this with a Spoonflower swatch, cut it into 1.5" wide strips diagonally (i.e., on the bias) and then sew them together to make one long strip.

Spoonflower Swatch - eSheep Designs
A couple of Spoonflower swatches cut diagonally into 1.5" strips...

The two swatches shown here are Zig Zaggy and Zig Zag Multi, respectively. The ends of these strips are then sewn together to create one continuous length of fabric.

Spoonflower swatch turned bias strip - eSheep Designs
One long bias strip made out of one Spoonflower swatch...

The tutorial instructs you on how to join the strips, pinning them right sides together at a ninety degree angle and then sewing a seam.

I found it easier to do it this way...

Spoonflower swatch turned bias strip - eSheep Designs
My method was to make a seam and then sew from the top...

That is, I folded a quarter inch seam to the wrong side on one strip and then placed it on top of the next strip. I then sewed it from the top, very close to the folded edge. This resulted in a very straight strip of fabric.

When I used the method from the tutorial (which I did on the second bracelet), I ended up with an uneven edge because it's hard to be precise with the placement of the strips. Your mileage may vary; I'm just giving you an alternative method.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
Triple and quadruple "bangle" cuff bracelets...

Now for the part of the construction that gave me the fits! (And the reason why this post is not tagged under "easy sewing projects".)

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The whole process of the "turn right side out with the help of a cord trapped inside" is a method I have seen before, generally used to turn skinny tubes. In this case, the instructions tell you to sew close to the cord for a snug but not overly tight fit.

It's all very well in theory, but both projects literally took hours to complete because of how difficult these are to turn right side out.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
Modelling the bracelets...

And the thing is, leaving a lot of room and having the fabric be loose around the cord isn't a good look. But if you strive for a snug fit (which I did, and which the project pictures from Dritz show), you'll have a heck of a time turning this right side out.

I managed to do it per the instructions for the first bracelet, mostly because it was shorter (i.e., it had three "bangles" rather than four) and I didn't lose my patience.

For the second one, I gave up after about a quarter of the way and just yanked the cord right out. (It's a fairly stiff poly cord.) I then turned the tube itself right side out, which was not easy, but I progressed at a faster pace than I was achieving with the cord still inside. Once that was done, I used a bodkin to thread the cord back in. I remain convinced that it was quicker to finish it this way than if I had continued with the prescribed technique.

Fabric Covered Cord Bracelet crafted by eSheep Designs
I used a button and elastic hair tie closure on this one...

Once you accomplish this task, however, you can relax and let creativity take over. Apart from the varied Dritz products, closures can be as simple as a button, as I've done here. (An elastic hair tie is used to loop around the button.) This project would also be a good way to use up small scraps of different fabrics. Here's the link to the original tutorial on Dritz's blog.

By the way, I suppose a final project idea for Spoonflower swatches is to make your own funky bias tape out of them by joining together strips like the ones used here. I just might do that with the many that I have left.

And on that note, my personal Spoonflower swatch challenge is officially over... for now!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Fabric Swatch Sleep Mask [FSC Pt 3]

Sleep Mask crafted by eSheep Designs
A sleep mask made out of an 8.5" square of fabric
Maybe one of the things you want to improve on in the new year is your sleep. Perhaps this little item can help.

Today I continue with my "what to do with Spoonflower swatches" challenge (part one here, part two here) by sharing another quickie project: a sleep mask!

If you go slowly around the curves, it's very easy to make. The pattern is from one of my regular spots to browse: Sew4Home (direct project link at the end of this post).

As always, though, I did my own thing with it. The original called for satin fabric on the back and piping along the edges. While it looks (and probably would feel) luxurious with satin on the underside and piping is always a nice touch, all of that required extra effort (and materials) that I didn't think belonged to this particular challenge of using a swatch.

I came across other free sleep mask patterns too, but this was the first one that fit onto the Spoonflower 8.5" square. (The one shown here is DICIS Phrases (Neon).)

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It's weird trying out a sleep mask... you go to look in the mirror and can't see! So to make things easy, my panda will model for me again.

Sleep Mask crafted by eSheep Designs
My favourite bear models my sleep mask...

One of the neat things about this sleep mask tutorial is that it makes use of an elastic headband. Such a smart idea! It really makes for a more finished look that is — to be honest — sometimes missing in the other sleep mask patterns out there.

As with all things that are meant to be worn like this, take a few moments to ensure that the sizing fits you. The recommended length of the headband in the original tutorial was too big for me. (Guess I have a smaller head than average!)

Sleep Mask crafted by eSheep Designs
"Back" view... (it's technically reversible)

Here is what I did with the pattern template so that I could determine the best use of the fabric. I printed out a second copy and cut out the middle (leaving just the seam allowance) and used it as a "window" to frame the best location.

Sleep Mask crafted by eSheep Designs
A second template lets you choose what fabric area to cut...

It's a common trick used for fussy-cutting. (On a Spoonflower swatch, you won't have a lot of leeway to fussy cut, of course.)

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The original project calls for just a single layer of batting between the fabrics. I interfaced one of the fabrics with fusible fleece and then added an additional layer of padding as you can see here.

Additional padding with a scrap from a blanket...

This layer (a piece of the blanket that I've been recycling all over the place) was cut a good 1/2" smaller than the fabrics and glued to the fusible fleece. (If you plan on making one of these and want to use it as a mask under bright conditions, consider adding a layer of tightly woven dark fabric.)

Then I pinned both sides together, sewed and turned right side out through an opening across the top (where you see the elastic poking through). Some topstitching around the perimeter was then used to close up the gap.

All in all, much quicker than the version with piping, but as I said, piping is always a nice touch if you can manage it. Check out the original Sew4Home sleep mask pattern & tutorial project here, and stay tuned for part four of my Spoonflower swatch challenge.

This little thing is going on the plane with me on my next vacation.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Of Life, Hope and Calendars

blueline botanica weekly planner
My 2018 "daytimer"...
When the clock rolled over into 2018, I was fast asleep. Had I been awake, I might have said "good riddance". The end of 2017 was a rough ride.

But let me start by going back about forty years...

In high school, we had to read Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, which as you may know, is the first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I'm not a fan of the fantasy genre, but in reading FotR, I found someone to admire in Aragorn. When the full story was made into movies, my main reason for going was to see this character come to life.

In the second movie, The Two Towers, Aragorn says something inspiring to a young warrior worried about their chances. When the boy despairs of having no hope, Aragorn replies, "There is always hope."

The line is not from the books, but it was a worthy moment. Hope is one of my favourite words. Because there is always hope. The foundation of it may be weak, but hope is something that we all cling to during life's turmoils. It's part of what keeps us going.

Count me among those who had several reasons to hope over the past few weeks.

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In mid-December, I received one of "those" phone calls. The caller ID indicated that it was my cousin (the one I made the wallet for). The thing is, while we are close, we rarely speak on the phone unless it's an occasion or something is up. Also, by the hour on the clock, it was later than she would normally call if it was just to chat. In short order, I learned that an uncle had suffered a massive stroke.

A Sunday night that had been winding up rather lazily and ordinarily, suddenly changed on a dime. And my immediate thought was that once again, life was demonstrating that it doesn't care about the calendar when doling out bad stuff.

This uncle was my mother's younger brother. December is already a hard month for Mom because some years ago, my dad died between Christmas and New Year's. It's all I can do to make sure she gets through the holidays without getting too depressed. This phone call delivered a wallop, and just like that, the holiday season had the potential to be an even bigger challenge this year.

In due course, we drove down to visit my uncle in the hospital. The prognosis wasn't good. Six days later, he was put into palliative care with a DNR notice. Within twenty four hours of that, he was gone.

When I initially received the news about his stroke, my immediate hope was that he would get better. After I saw him and heard the prognosis, my hope was that he would not linger and suffer needlessly. When his condition worsened within days of our visit, my expectation was that he would die soon, but my hope then was that nothing related to his eventual death would wind up sharing the anniversary date of my dad's passing.

My inspiring floating charms locket...
In the end, the only hope that came to fruition was for him not to linger. Life's circumstances once again, however, ignored the calendar. The funeral wound up being scheduled on my dad's anniversary date.

For those who don't know, I live in Canada's — and by extension, North America's — most northerly located metropolitan area. It's not normally warm during the last week of December, but the weather this year was especially frigid. (Actually, it wasn't a localized thing; the vast majority of Canada and most of the north and northeastern US has been, and in some cases still is right this minute, under a horrendous deep freeze.)

When we headed south, it was -30 C (-22 F) and colder with wind chill. Coming back home, it was colder still, with wind-chill assisted temps approaching -40 (which is that lovely magical mark where both Celsius and Fahrenheit meet in simple agreement that it's FREAKIN' FREEZING). Perversely, despite the bitter cold, it also managed to snow for the first quarter of the trip.

If you've never done it, you don't know how much of an onerous feat it is to travel by car in that sort of weather. You have to worry about keeping your vehicle's engine warm, plan for emergencies by packing way more than you need, and drive extra carefully for the fact that ice on the road may look exactly like no ice on the road.

In the two to three days before Christmas, three people died in accidents on nearby highways. I thought about their families' plans for the holidays being changed in an instant.

Around the world, life continued to deliver random sucker punches, in total defiance of what the calendar was preaching.

Down in California, a large wildfire didn't get substantially contained until Christmas day, taking out almost 800 homes during the weeks that it raged. Meanwhile, what started as "just" a major typhoon in the Philippines developed into a string of tragedies that you wouldn't want to see happen at any time of the year, much less the holidays.

My hope in 2018 is for all of us to have fewer ill-timed events. Coping with many of life's realities is tough enough without them landing around calendar dates that encourage us to make merry.

I'm doing fine, being rather pragmatic in nature. (And this post is certainly not meant as a "poor me" complaint; I know that things can always be worse.) My mother, on the other hand, has a tendency to connect the dots around bad events, essentially snaring herself in the process.

With the aid of a calendar change, she too is finding good reasons to turn the page emotionally.

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Speaking of calendars, that topic was touched upon last week — rather coincidentally, given that the post itself was written some time ago. (I typically have two months of blog posts stacked up in readiness; occasionally, the schedule is interrupted by a "real time" post like today's.) I wondered if anyone still uses calendars.

I use three: a desk calendar, a wall calendar, and a day planner. The first two are free — from our bank and from charities that we give to — but every November, I hunt down a specific type of day planner (two page per week format). It may seem odd for someone who has used computers for as long as I have, but I don't trust my deadlines and "to do"s to electronic devices.

This year, I opted for the one that you see at the top, from Blueline's Doodleplan collection. It has colouring pages/elements built into it (unfortunately, the paper stock is more suited for use with pencils than pens). Because of all things, colouring is the therapeutic activity that I keep returning to.

In this early 2016 post, I described some crafty things that I intended to do that year.

blueline botanica weekly planner
A calendar that lets me deal creatively with life and hope...

While I ended up making some more paracord bracelets over the past couple of years, the paper quilling and string art never became more than a lingering thought. For awhile, I was also into zen doodling.

Meanwhile, whenever I was faced with not being in the proper frame of mind to write, sew or design, I would open up a colouring page. Whether I do it manually with actual pens and pencils or electronically (as shown above and below), it truly is an activity that leaves me with no other thought than picking a colour and a spot to put it in.

blueline botanica weekly planner
"Electronic colouring" using Paint Shop Pro...

I did quite a bit of it over the past few weeks.

What activity has the most therapeutic value for you?

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Techie Transitions From 2017

Turning the page on 2017...
First of all, let me say that it's alarming that I'm looking back on 2017, when it feels like I just hung up a new calendar a few months ago. (By the way, do you still hang calendars or is that too old school for you?)

Today's post is a series of ramblings about stuff that's happened over the past twelve months with regards to technology and the online world through which we connect. Some of it's personal, some not, but most of it has a sewing/crafting angle to it.

Oh, and be forewarned — it's going to be a long one. (I have to make up for the brevity of last week... LOL.)

If you're not intrigued enough to read further, please accept my best wishes for 2018!

Personal Technology Issues Continue in 2017

In January, I posted about my tech problems from 2016 and hoped for a better year. In fact, I said something about hoping for world peace and taking my technology for granted in 2017. As we all know, that first wish has almost gone nuclear and the second, well... here's the continuation of that story.

In April, my technology problems escalated to sky high levels. Not only did we have to ship hubby's new little Acer out for repairs (it was BSOD-ing several times an hour; turned out to be a motherboard issue), my own computer — running my preferred Windows 7 — died suddenly on the evening of April 30.

One second I was looking up something using Google Chrome, the next second the entire screen froze. As I've typically had to do over the past year, I performed a hard boot, but this time, the power wouldn't even come full on. All I heard was the fan.

Upon calling my tech guy the next day, he pronounced the unit dead over the phone. He then told me to save my money and forgo any further diagnostic visit.


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While the new solid state hard drive that I purchased in June of 2016 would survive, the constraints of Windows 7 meant that it could not be re-installed on a new machine. Having just lived through a nightmare with the Acer failing, failing, failing and failing yet again to update (although we were now a bit reassured that the hardware had at least partially been at fault), I was dreading the move to Windows 10.

My computer was an all-in-one, a form factor that I prefer, even with the knowledge that when something dies on it, it's often more complex to fix. I had started to hone in on a Dell AIO when I discovered that Staples sold a wide variety of refurbished machines. (It wasn't an untried arena for me. I actually still have a working Windows 98 IBM laptop that was purchased refurbished; it's currently Mom's backup computer.)

Tsum Tsum Darth Chocolate Lip Smacker
At least my internet has been problem free this year,
what with Darth Vader protecting my router...
(That's a Lip Smacker for those who are curious!)
Not to bore you with too many details, I settled on a refurbed Lenovo ThinkCentre with Win 10 Professional. I had enough personal experience with Win 10 Home to know that I wanted to avoid that version like the plague. That, combined with 8 GB of RAM on board, has made my transition to a new computer as pain-free as possible.

[And if I can give you any advice, let me just say that if you haven't yet switched over to Win 10, when you do, ensure that your computer has a minimum of 6 GB of RAM. Yes, Windows 10 technically runs on as little 2 GB, but I guarantee you'll find yourself climbing the walls waiting for it to update.]

Oh, and the thing that totally made up my mind for me about this refurbed unit? It came with a three year warranty. That's virtually unheard of, even for a new unit!

In August, my mother's laptop began having issues powering up. While the current solution has been to keep it on all the time, I'm expecting that at some point, it will kick the bucket.

So goes my technology life.

Significant TOS Changes in 2017

Having owned a brick and mortar business for the better part of two decades, I'm always interested in keeping up with business news and sharing thoughts about what's happening on that front. Sort of like why I was moved to write a post about Sears a few weeks ago.

Two items came to my attention this year that merit further discussion, because they're about how online businesses make money. Specifically, about how they're finding new ways to do so on the backs of customers who initially made their business... and the semi-sneaky method that they use to communicate those changes: through terms of service updates.

A Story of How Free Ends up Being Very Expensive

In late June, I noticed that the slideshow widget at the top of my blog sidebar was showing this somewhat ominous graphic:

The Photobucket image that's now all over the the internet...

My initial fear was that my stuff had been hacked in some fashion. As it turned out, it may have been a better situation for some to have been hacked than for what actually happened.

If you were online in any fashion during the early part of the summer, you probably saw the unfortunate effects of Photobucket's decision to change their business model... that image was literally all over the place. People like me saw the end of free access to photo storage through that company, since their new plan for "not free" was about $400. Ha! Had it not been so very horrible for some webmasters and online businesses who truly did not see this coming, it would have been supremely funny.

All I had stored on Photobucket's servers were ten to twenty photos that were circulated on that slideshow widget. As you can clearly see, that widget is still running; I easily found an alternative for the small bit of storage that I need. Plus, I had copies of those photos so I didn't even bother downloading them when I closed my account.

For those who ran Etsy, Amazon and eBay stores using Photobucket servers exclusively to hotlink their pictures, the magnitude of the loss was on another level entirely. And if they didn't have copies of those photos stored on their own devices, getting them downloaded from Photobucket was a problem compounded by the fact that Photobucket had gotten extremely slow to use over the years, with ads popping up with every key press and mouse movement. I even heard that at this juncture, downloading was only feasible one picture at a time. It's no wonder that users were complaining about being held hostage.

This is the only plan offered by Photobucket that allows 3rd party hosting...

The problem at Photobucket was that ads weren't creating enough revenue. All of those users who had come on board for free services over the years were going to pay, and pay mightily. At least that appeared to be the plan. I'm not quite sure how well that plan has unfolded. The company still exists, but I haven't heard any new news since the initial flurry in July. The price to have any sort of third party hosting has remained unchanged at $399, and I imagine that some of those users who were hit hard probably paid up just to keep their businesses going... at least for the immediate future.

Moral of the story: don't rely on a free service to stay free. Have a backup plan that can be implemented ASAP if there's a revenue stream involved. Most services likely won't be as completely asinine as Photobucket was in this instance, but this has surely set a precedent for "you just never know".

But then, I've brought this up before (here and here). By the very nature of something being free, you have no control over it. Blogger itself — the very platform by which you're reading these words — is free. And I admit, I have regular thoughts about what would happen if it were to go "bye bye" all of a sudden.

But that's a post for another day.

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Craftsy Launches New Subscription Based Service

Did you know about this one?

If you haven't yet seen, Craftsy has begun to sell unlimited access to its classes via monthly subscription. For $14.99 USD ($18.99 CDN; the price will depend on the conversion rate of your specific currency from USD) per month — less if you ante up for a whole year — you have a pass to an "all you can consume" buffet of crafting classes. The advertising indicates that there are over three thousand hours of high quality video at your disposal.

image courtesy of Craftsy.com...

Quite honestly, if you have a month off and want to go crafting crazy, it would be a tremendous deal. In that scenario, I can't complain about it at all. Or, if you've had your eye on several small classes, it would be an excellent way to check them out without the need to keep them. (Really, there are a lot of projects that — once you've done it once — you don't need much help to do it again... if you even want to.)

When this plan first came to light back in July, a minor volcanic eruption occurred among current Craftsy customers who thought that they'd be losing access to their purchased classes.

I've always been wary of this aspect of not being able to download something tangible when I pay real money for something. For those who have acquired many classes on Craftsy — and in a discussion thread, I found out that many people have purchased them for "future viewing" in their retirement years — that is putting a lot of faith in an online company being around "forever" without changing their terms of service.

The reality is that if you have purchased classes on Craftsy, you most likely won't lose access to them any time soon.

That is, unless it goes out of business. Or changes hands (again)... or

Screenshot from Craftsy's TOS, circa Dec 18, 2017

... they decide to "Photobucket" you. Their TOS more or less states that they can, just by changing it.

Ah, those pesky TOSs. The Photobucket debacle arose from a TOS change. The vast majority of customers didn't even bother to read it until it was too late.

Do you have any idea of what Craftsy's TOS is? I don't. I mean, I must have read it at some point, but am I clear about what it can and can't do over time? No. Have I kept up with what's changed over the past few years? No.

Here is a very important part of it:

Screenshot from Craftsy's TOS, circa Dec 18, 2017

You don't have to be a lawyer to know that any legitimate online entity's TOS is always going to be so skewed in their favour that you're left with virtually no rights... except to opt out of the service before ever opting in. I mean, what part of "EACH TIME YOU ACCESS OR USE THE CRAFTSY SERVICES YOU ARE ENTERING INTO A NEW AGREEMENT ON THE THEN-APPLICABLE TERMS" — displayed in all caps, even — protects either you or me as a user of their services?

Seriously, I don't know about you, but if I had a hoard of "unopened" classes on Craftsy, I'd at least get into them to download whatever patterns and other printed support materials are available and keep them on my own devices. As for the actual videos that can only be streamed but not downloaded, I can't offer a solution for that in a public forum.

Oh, and if you've purchased patterns via the Craftsy Marketplace that you still haven't downloaded, what on earth are you waiting for??

Let me be clear and say that I am not trying to fearmonger, nor do I have any inside information about Craftsy's plans. But just as I've always recommended that you back up what's important to you, I think you need to do all you can to protect yourself and your online purchases. Like I said above, Photobucket's audacious move set a dangerous precedent for TOS changes.

Here's the thing... I've gone the subscription route with intangible products. Earlier this year, I purchased a three or four month trial of Texture (the online magazine service). I liked that I could read whatever I wanted from a whole slew of publications, but whenever I found something that — in the old days — I would have torn out and kept, it wasn't possible.

When I buy a physical magazine, it's my property for life. After my trial period with Texture, I was left with no access to any magazine. I don't know if Craftsy is going to go the Creativebug route and allow subscribers to build up a collection of classes to keep over time, but even so, the ability to own any class in perpetuity depends on the site continuing to be accessible.

And sorry to say, but no one can guarantee that. (This doesn't apply just to Craftsy. Before you lay out money for access to streaming video from anyone, make sure you understand the full ramifications if the source of that streaming video is suddenly not available.)

You know what's really ironic? It may be old technology, but the only sure way I see of permanently owning any Craftsy class is to buy its DVD!


Other than happy new year, of course... ◕‿◕