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Monday, December 31, 2012

Saving a Cricut Mat


One year for Christmas, my mother-in-law graciously gave me a Cricut. I can not tell you enough how incredible this machine is... or how expensive.

Fortunately I found a way around paying $60 for a cartridge, by purchasing Sure-Cuts-A-Lot to use on my computer, which can connect via USB. However, until recently, I was still paying $8 for two mats, which are required for the device to work.

You’d think you could keep using the same mat over and over, right? The catch, is that they are sticky. They have an adhesive on them which keeps the paper stuck tight to the mat, and once that adhesive wears off the blade will actually tear up your paper, rather than cutting it. Unfortunately, that adhesive isn’t exactly all that long lasting.

In the middle of another project, I became incredibly frustrated with my Cricut because it kept destroying the design I was trying to cut.

So after some research, I found a way to make the mat sticky enough to work again.

Go to any craft store - and sometimes even Wal-Mart - and pick up a bottle of Aleene’s Tack-It Over & Over Glue and a foam craft brush.

It must be this brand, and this type of glue, and it must be a liquid. Do not cheat on this step by getting something cheaper, because I promise you, you’ll end up with a mat covered in glue that isn’t sticky - or one that is so sticky, your paper never comes off. It isn’t very expensive, and you won’t use much so it will last a LONG time.

Once you have the glue, get a small plastic container with a lid. Choose something you won’t miss, because you’ll be storing the extra mixture in it and you probably won’t want to eat out of it again.

Mix equal parts glue and water into the container, and stir it up. It should be a bit on the watery-side.

Next, wash your mat with warm water. Try to scrape off as much of the paper remnants you can. Once it’s clean and dry again, paint the glue mixture onto the mat, keeping an even coat. You won’t need to put more than one coat on it. Set it aside to dry.

Once it is completely dry, you should be able to just touch it with your finger, and the adhesive should be strong enough to stay stuck to your finger while you lift it up.

Now that it’s sticky, put your hands on the mat, and pull them off again - and repeat this several times. I basically just made sure to touch the whole mat twice over. You need to condition it, so it doesn’t rip your paper later on.

It is now ready for use! I tested it by cutting out the Wonder Woman logo I’m using for another project. After applying the new adhesive, it works like a dream! This is a fast, cheap, and incredibly easy way to salvage your old mats.

Monday, December 24, 2012

DIY Ruffly Belt

By: Courtney Patach

I saw this gem on Pinterest and I knew, right then and there, that I was going to have to try this DIY project. I’ve noticed that, the older I’ve gotten, the more my inner five year old child is coming out. If something’s pink, lacy, or has sparkles: Hell yeah, I want it!

Supplies Needed:

  • Ribbon – as wide as you’d like your belt to be. I used 1.5 inch grosgrain for my belt, but you could certainly use something else entirely. Just make sure it will lie nicely on your waist.
  • Fabric – I used four different types of material with similar tones; two fabrics in different shades, a shiny ivory tulle, and a soft ivory lace. Different textures make for nice variation when they’re all mixed together. The scrap remnants or fat quarter bins at your local fabric store make great places to start if you don’t want to purchase large amounts of fabric for this project.
  • Needle
  • Thread


For the complete tutorial, see Rachel’s detailed explanation of a similar headband on her blog. But the gist is this…
  1. Cut your fabric into about 2 inch squares. You’ll need about 2 squares per flower petal so you’ll want to cut a ton of squares.

  1. Make your flower petals by stacking 2 squares on top of each other, rotating the top square slightly to create an X. Place a few small stitches through the base of each flower petal to secure. I suggest making a bunch of flower petals before you start attaching them.

  1. Find the center of your belt and start attaching the “flower petals” there. I suggest cutting your ribbon longer than you think so you need. This will allow a little room for error, an off center look, or a big bow.

  1. Attach as many flower petals as you’d like, rotating textures and colors for definition. I believe I used about 45 flower petals in all.

There you have it; a custom, lacy, fluffy, belt in no time. With a little imagination the possibilities are endless! This tutorial can be adapted to create numerous lacy, fluffy, ruffly items. I think a headband is next.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Last Minute Holiday Projects

DIY Tutu (Adult Size)
By: Courtney Patach

I had the pleasure of running my first 5k this past weekend; The Color Run, OMG it was a blast! The website boasted it was the happiest 5k on the planet and I think it lived up to its bold statement. However, this race was the prequel; the race I signed up for is in January. We have a team named Sweating for the Dress. After seeing numerous tutus at this race and a pink sign that read “I LOVE TUTU’s”. I have decided I MUST have one for the next race coming up!


  • 45-50 yards tulle*
  • Elastic (enough to fit snugly around your waist)
  • Needle / Thread (to stitch elastic together)
  • Scissors

Wrap elastic around your waist, measure, and cut. The elastic should fit snugly; you want it to stay put when running, dancing, and straight out shaking your booty! Also measure and cut all of your tulle strips. I used a 27” piece of tulle for each tie to achieve a 6.5 inch tutu.

Take one single 27” piece of tool and fold it in half, like a hamburger bun. Then fold it in half again, only this time, like a hot dog bun. Then fold in half again and create a loop with your fingers and the elastic belt. I found if you stretch the elastic band over a chair back it will hold it in place for you to attach all the ties.

Finish attaching pieces to belt and voila; you have poofy, girly, twirly, tutu! Look out Color Run 2013, team Sweating for the Dress is coming through :D

*Please note, I used 6" pre-cut rolls of tulle (not whole bolts); I used 2 rolls in all.

Hot Chocolate Balls
By: Courtney Patach
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips* (about 2 cups) * I prefer a creamier hot chocolate and will substitute with ½ milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Makes about 9-10 hot chocolate balls.

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Microwave for one minute intervals, stirring often, until the mixture is combined and very smooth and silky. When you first start stirring, after the first minute or so, you'll wonder if this mixture will ever come together. It will look grainy and messy but after it heats thoroughly and is whisked to combine, it will magically become beautifully smooth. Be careful not to overheat as the chocolate can seize. The trick is to stir often since the mixture will blend together even when it looks like the chocolate chips haven't melted completely.

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Microwave for one minute intervals, stirring often, until the mixture is combined and very smooth and silky. When you first start stirring, after the first minute or so, you'll wonder if this mixture will ever come together. It will look grainy and messy but after it heats thoroughly and is whisked to combine, it will magically become beautifully smooth. Be careful not to overheat as the chocolate can seize. The trick is to stir often since the mixture will blend together even when it looks like the chocolate chips haven't melted completely.

To make the hot chocolate: pour 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (depending on how rich you like your cocoa) milk into a microwave-safe mug. Carefully drop one unwrapped truffle hot chocolate ball in the milk. Microwave for about 2 minutes. Stir well until the chocolate is combined with the milk. Serve warm and don’t forget the tiny marshmallows!

Blackberry Cobbler (Pioneer Woman HGTV)
By: Courtney Patach

  • 1 ¼ cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Self-Rising Flour
  • 1 cup Milk
  • ½ stick of butter (melted) and
  • Butter to grease pan
  • 1 ½ cups Blackberries (washed/dried)
Watching t.v. on a Saturday afternoon, while folding laundry, when this recipe was featured on Food Network’s Pioneer Woman. It claimed to be so easy that it would become a staple in your dessert menu. This is by far the easiest cobbler recipe ever! I love simple recipes; tasty treats made with real ingredients, really fast!


1.Start by greasing your pan with the extra butter. If you think you’re using too much butter, you’re not!

2. Next, mix 1 cup sugar, with 1 cup self-rising flour, 1 cup milk, and ½ stick of melted butter. Your batter will be thin; don’t freak out, it’s supposed to be this way.
3. Pour your batter into a 9x13 greased baking dish. Add the blackberries by dropping them on top of the batter and try to distribute evenly. The blackberries will settle, and the batter will bake up around them. Bake @ 350 for 1 hour.
4. Let cool to warm and enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or your favorite whipped topping!
Holiday Ornaments
Recently, Kandis and I spent a weekend at the House of Awesome working on creating our own ornaments for our trees. She has three trees at her house, one of them dubbed the 'Geek Tree', and so she spent time painting ornaments. My own tree was full of cheap store-bought ornaments, so I thought I'd join her in the ornament making banaza.

Glittery Dinosaurs

It really wouldn't be my tree if it wasn't covered in dinosaurs. That sparkle. To make this happen, I purchased some small dinosaur toys from Hobby Lobby and the dollar store, a box of different colors of glitter, some Elmer's glue, screw-in eye hooks, and a Mod Podge spray sealant.
This craft is glitter intensive. Glitter at your own risk. You know what happens when you use glitter.
The first step was to lay out the dinosaurs and figure out where to place the hooks.
Then, using a pair of pliers, I screwed in the eye hooks into each dinosaur. Pay attention to where the bulk of the weight is, so the toys will hang nicely and not upside down.

Once I had all of the eyelets in place, I organized my dinosaurs by the glitter colors I was going to use. I didn't want all of the triceratops to be the same color, so I organized them first.

Next, using a cheap, throw-away paint brush, I painted them all with Elmer's glue, and then sprinkled glitter over them until they were fully covered.
 Once covered, I hung them all on strings to dry, making sure they weren't touching each other. I put a sheet of freezer paper under them to catch any glitter or glue drips while they dried.

Once they were all dry, I took them outside and sprayed them with a Mod Podge sealant - to make sure the glitter didn't drop off whenever they were bumped. Once dry, I simply hung them on my tree - a fantastic, glittery, dinosaur tree.

Sculpey Ornaments

Sculpey clay is just amazing. You can make anything you want, bake it, and paint it. You don't need to be an artist or have any prior experience - just grab it, mold it, and have fun. The Sculpey we used was a bit older so it took a lot of work to get it soft enough to mold just right, but we were able to make some amazing ornaments.

Once molded, we simply baked them according to the directions. When ready they seem to get rubbery, but harden considerably when cooled. We made sure to insert holes to hang hooks before we baked them, too.

Once they're cooled and hardened, paint them!


Then hang them on the tree and enjoy. Make anything! I think I need to create a Golden Snitch ornament next year.

Weeping Angel Tree Topper

As a huge Doctor Who fan, I felt like my tree was lacking an angel. A certain kind of creepy, stone angel who moved when you weren't looking. The tutorial for making a Weeping Angel has been popping up all over Pinterest, so Kari and I made our own.

There's no need to reproduce the tutorial which is already well written - so here's a link to the original.

We used a generic Barbie-type doll for ours - but at times we wished we'd forked over a few dollars to get an actual Barbie! The dolls we used were so cheap that at times their arms and legs would simply fall out of socket! Our wings are made out of foam rather than clay, and our hair made of hot glue. Additionally, we found a 'stone textured' spray paint - and although it isn't the stone grey we would have liked, the end result was still.... creepy.

Shinky Dinks

Nikki and Priscilla decided to decorate their office tree - with Shrinky Dinks! Shrinky Dinks are wonderful because you can draw anything you like on them, cut them out, pop them in the oven watch them shrink down. They have a tiny tree, so Shrinky Dinks were absolutely prefect!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cargo Mat

I recently bought a new car, and I use her to transport my dogs and dog training materials all over the place. My car is a hatchback, and the seats fold down nicely giving me an extremely large area of space where I can store my crates and other items for safe traveling

Since I frequently travel with my dogs, I decided to make a cargo cover to prevent the dog hair from taking over the car. This cover had a few basic requirements:
  1. It must attract the dog hair. I decided to use fleece for this project; the fabric is a magnet for hair.
  2. It must be easy to clean. Fleece is easy enough to wash.
  3. It must be waterproof. I figure tarp or some kind of plastic ought to work.
  4. It must be easy to put in and remove.
I started by going to Wal-Mart and finding a $4 tarp. It was silver on one side, and blue on the other. It was cheap, plastic, and large. Once I got home, I took it out to the car, folded down my seats, and crawled in there with it. I used a sharpie to outline the basic flooring of my car. Once I had the basic outline, I cut it out.

My stencil didn’t come out perfectly even, so I just trimmed it down a little bit to make it more flush.

Once it is trimmed down, and you open it up; you should have something that is roughly the size and shape as the cargo area of the car.

Next you’ll need to cut the fleece. I lay mine out on the floor, and lay my tarp over the top, both folded in half.

Once the fleece is cut out to match the tarp, pin it all the around with right-sides together to keep it in place while you sew, then sew one continuous seam all the way around - making sure to leave a hole in one corner to turn it right-side out.

Once you have it sewn, if you are anything like me - you’ll have left quite a seam allowance. Go ahead and trim that down to about a quarter of an inch, otherwise it will be very bulky once you turn it right-side out.

Now as I was making this, I was suddenly worried that by sewing into the tarp - I was making it less waterproof since I was perforating it with the needle. I decided to take an extra cautionary step, and use my hot glue gun to go over the seams on the inside. Hopefully this will keep the tarp from tearing.

Once your seams are glued, turn it inside out from that corner hole you left open. To close the hole, just fold the extra fabric inwards and pin it down, then sew it closed.

Now the last step is to basically give it some grip so it will stay put in your car. I used my handy glue gun again, and put out several blobs of glue all over the mat.

Once it was dry, I tested this on my laminate floors, and they actually grip pretty well! It didn’t slide around on the surface. Now it’s time to put it in the car.

I think T.A.R.D.I.S. gives his paw of approval on the project. It fits my car pretty perfectly, so far it seems to grip pretty well, and it serves its purpose of attracting the dog hair.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Creating your own holiday cards

By Victoria Kulig

Every year, I love to send out personalized holiday cards to friends and family. I live very far away from my and my husband’s families, and we don’t usually see them. In some cases, it’s been several years since we’ve seen anyone. So our holiday cards are how we send them one picture that showcases who we are.

That’s a tall order, too.  I’m not a professional photographer, but I dabble quite a bit and know the basics of how to compose a decent photograph.

An example of one of my better shots. T.A.R.D.I.S. is a great model.

Now even though I can compose a decent photo, I’m not looking for a photo I can catch. I’m looking for a photo of myself, which is hard to do. I know not all of us out there can afford to hire a professional photographer, so what’s one to do?

Grab a camera, grab a friend, and go some place fun! My favorite photographs are never posed shots! Think about your favorite photographs from your family albums - they’re the ones you caught yourself. The ones of real laughter, the ones showing you playing, being silly, the ones that capture a part of you. Not the ones where you had to pose and force yourself to smile.

I enlisted the help of Nikki, a fellow author, and  headed off to Dinosaur World with two of my dogs, and my husband. I absolutely adore dinosaurs, always have. The park is inexpensive to get into, allows dogs, and is full of life-sized dinosaurs. What better place to capture a photo showing off exactly who I am?

Nikki is plenty capable of using my camera to point and shoot, and my camera isn’t anything special. I regularly use a Canon Powershot, and it works beautifully for my purposes.  It’s absolutely possible to get great photos with any camera, if you just pay attention to what you are doing!

There are six tips I’m going to share that can help you get great shots catching those special moments for a great holiday card.

#1: Composition. You have to identify what the focal point of your photo is - what do you want to draw the attention. Many cameras will try to automatically focus for you, so pay attention to what your camera is telling you! Also remember that the focal point doesn’t have to be dead center in the photo.

Notice how this photo is almost cut in half - the dog on the bottom half. The focus is on his nose and the weed, while the background appears almost blurry, which draws your eye straight to the center of the shot.

#2: Background. Pay attention to your surroundings. Too many times someone takes a photo, not looking at what else is in the shot, sharing it on Facebook and then having someone else point out some horribly embarrassing item in the background. The second thing to watch for is making sure you don’t have items that appear to cut people in half, or grow out of their heads.

This is a case where I didn’t pay attention to the background, and you can see my extremely distracting TV in this otherwise great shot.

#3: Lighting. Lighting matters. A lot. Lighting can create deep shadows or washed out photos. Not enough lighting can cause grainy photos with a lot of noise, too much light can make your subjects squint. Using a flash can wash out the subject or cause lazer eyes in animals and red eye in people.

Almost there - but not quite! Notice the poor lighting in this shot. The background is brightly lit, as is my husband’s face, but the dogs and I are in the shadows.

#4: Use a camera whenever possible, not a phone! Camera phones are great for sharing things quickly, especially on Facebook. But when you’re trying to catch a photo to print, use a camera.

This pretty much sums up everything I just said not to do. Photo taken from the phone, with a bright flash causing lazer eyes and glares on the ribbons,  and not paying attention to the background caught this weird cable thing growing out of his back. It’s just fine for a quick photo to share on Facebook, but it’s not something I would want to print or send on a card.
#5: Don’t be afraid to edit it. While a good photo is a good photo, sometimes you end up with a great shot that has a few flaws. As I said, I’m not a professional photographer, so I don’t get every single shot perfect. For those readers who have Photoshop - excellent! For those who don’t - try Gimp. Gimp is a free, powerful image manipulation program that will allow you to easily modify photos that need a little something more. Editing your photos can allow you to crop them down to something more interesting, or brighten up a photo with poor lighting.

Editing can mean the difference between these two photos

#6: Get a quality print job. Please don’t print your own cards at home. Even if you have an extremely high quality printer, the ink is expensive and quality degrades the more you print them. Wal-Mart has decent holiday cards, and can be as low as 28 cents a card - they’ll even do free site-to-store shipping for you. For an amazing job, though, pay just a little more and use a site like Shutterfly. The difference between the two sites is vast - you get what you pay for.

When you put all of those together, you should end up with something you’re proud to share with your friends and family.