Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Grow Your Blog


When you start a brand new blog, it can be tricky trying to figure out how to get more traffic coming your way.  You may sit there and think, "I'm sharing great ideas here, but my mom and husband are the only ones who see them!"  It's hard to want so much to share, but not have an audience. 

So today I'm going to spread the love a little and give you a few ideas for ways to grow your blog without feeling like a nuisance.  The ideas I'm sharing today are in no particular order and definitely are not a comprehensive list, so if you have additional blog-growing ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.  

Oh, and I guess I should also say that the things I'm about to share mostly apply to creative blogs, but some of the ideas below (like linking up your e-mail) can be applied to any style of blog.

Submit your tutorials to a round-up style blog
Some of my favorite roundup or "searchable" blogs are One Pretty Thing and UCreate.  Both of these blogs are sites that feature multiple tutorials each day.  They do a lot of work searching out great tutorials, but both sites also welcome reader submissions via e-mail.

I've had quite a bit of personal experience e-mailing Rachel of One Pretty Thing and I can tell you that she is nothing if not super nice.  I haven't yet had any personal experience with Kari on UCreate, but I hear she's super awesome and nice too.  While neither of these sites share every single tutorial sent their way, they do feature a lot of them.  Yours might be next!


Promote yourself through Flickr groups
Most of the blogs you read every day probably have Flickr groups.  Flickr is a photosharing site where multiple users can upload photos to their own profile or into groups they join.  If there's a blog you've made something from using one of their tutorials (or even if it's just something you've made that was inspired by something you saw there) upload pictures of your finished project and post one or two pictures to their Flickr group.

And if you're hoping that this will increase traffic to your blog, go ahead and give a brief description of what's in your photo and then write something like, "Blogged about it here..." with a link to your blog post talking more about what you did.  Many bloggers will do round-ups of photos from their Flickr groups and share the things you've made.  Give it a try!

And even if you're not featured in a round up, sharing pictures in the Flickr groups of your favorite blogs is a great way to say "Thank you" for all the work they did in sharing the tutorial with you in the first place.  Bloggers love nothing more than seeing that what they've shared is useful to and loved by somebody else.


Link your e-mail to your Blogger profile
You're a nice person.  You leave happy, encouraging comments on the blog posts you enjoy.  So why don't you ever get a nice reply back from the authors of those blogs?

Chances are, the people who write those blogs would love to reply to the nice comments you leave... but they can't!  If you haven't linked up your e-mail address to your Blogger profile, there may not be an easy way to get in contact with you.  If you'd like to change that, do the following:

  • Go to your blog and sign in.
  • Click on "customize" up at the top.
  • Click on "Dashboard" up at the top.
  • Click on "Edit Profile" (second option down next to your profile picture).
  • Check the box (third line down) that says "Show my email address."
  • Scroll down a little.
  • Make sure your e-mail address is entered in in the "Identity" section.
  • Scroll all the way down to the bottom.
  • Click "Save Profile."

Most bloggers use e-mail reply to respond to questions you may ask in a comment or simply to say "Thanks!" for the kind words you leave.

But being accessable to other bloggers can also be a fun way to network and get to know others in the blogging world.  And having bloggy friends can open up a lot of doors to you that you didn't even know existed.

Also, I'll just add this since I know a lot of you are thinking it.  If you're worried about your e-mail suddenly getting clogged with spam, you're probably worrying about something that isn't going to happen.  While I do have a few friends (although most of them have smaller blogs--go figure) who have problems with spam comments and other possibly blog-related spam, I've never had a problem with it and I've been blogging since 2008.  So if that's the only thing holding you back from making these fun connections, I'd say give it a try and see how it goes.  Chances are, you won't have any problems.

Edited to add: As per popular request in the comments (okay, so maybe it was just my mom) , you can see the link to my feelings on the good karma of leaving comments HERE.

Be a guest
Okay, we all see people "guest blogging" on another blog all the time, right?  But how do they get asked to guest blog in the first place?  Well, chances are, a lot of those opportunties to guest blog are coming from people they've made friends with over time.  And likely that's because they're open for e-mails and leave lots of nice comments themselves.  But every now and then you may see people open up their blog for reader-submitted blog posts/tutorials.  When you see an opportunity like this--jump on it!  Even if you don't think you're cool enough (I think we all think that--haha) just give it a try.  Read their directions carefully and do what's required to submit your post/idea/tutorial and see what happens!  The worst that can happen is that they'll say no.  But they might jut say yes!

One open invitation opportunity that I know is going on right now is on Helping Little Hands.  Polly (my big sister) who runs Helping Little Hands is having Reading Month in March and has invited any who wish to participate to submit their idea for a reading activity via e-mail.  Guest posts included in Reading Month will get a quick blurb on Polly's blog, but the actual post/tutorial will go up on your own blog.  This kind of guest post is the best for getting some new traffic to your blog.  If that's something you'd like to participate in, you can read more about it on Polly's blog HERE.  And, depending on how things fill up, she may even accept submissions during the month of March.  So give it a try!

Be yourself
 The very best thing you can do to promote your blog is to be yourself.  The best blogs around are the ones written by people who love what they do and love to share it.  You don't have to do what's trendy or follow a regular format in order to have a successful, growing blog.  Just be yourself and those who share your style--the kind of readers you really want--will come and stay.





 Best wishes in all you're working for!  Having a blog and sharing with others can be so rewarding.  You'll do great!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Simplicity


I've been thinking about simplicity.  I've been thinking about it for a long time, actually, but it's especially been on my mind again lately for a number of reasons.  And I guess this is one of those things that makes sense in my mind as a big, unified idea, but it's really kind of a messy conglomeration of a lot of smaller things.  So I'll start by talking about the smaller things.

Streamlining
Every year the women in our stake get together for a Saturday afternoon full of wonderful talks and workshops.  And every year that I've been a member of this stake we've had the privilege of having a woman named Alice Fulton, author of It's Here... Somewhere, come and speak to us about  what she calls "streamlining."  Basically, streamlining is the process of getting rid of the material things in your life that you don't need, want, like, use, or have room for. 

Listening to this woman's workshop is empowering to me every single time I go.  Mostly because it makes me feel like someone is giving me permission to get rid of the junk in my life.  Of course nobody has to give me permission to do that, but it's nice anyway. 

Inevitably, after listening to her at the work shop every year I come home ready to tackle our whole apartment and do a major purge.  Luckily Bryan has always been on board with this and he's supportive about dropping whatever he's doing to jump right in and help out, which I'm super grateful for.  Because it's definitely a team effort.  It's important that we're both there so I can say, "Hey, do you still want this?" so I don't accidentally throw away something that he does still want to keep.

Let me just say that if you have never done this, it's time to give it a try.  Because all of us have stuff in our homes that we don't need, want, like, use, or have room for.  And if you're living in a home as tiny as mine (about 600 square feet) then you probably have an abundance of things that you don't need, want, like, use, or have room for. 

So what does this have to do with simplicity?  I'll tell you.  It has everything to do with simplicity.  So often we accumulate things that the world tells us we should have.  They may not be bad things.  In our case, one of those things was as simple as a dresser.  It's not that dressers are inherently bad, it's just that we didn't need ours or have room for it.  And when we moved all of our clothes onto the shelves in our back closet and put our socks in some tubs and baskets we already had, it truly did simplify our lives.  Not only did it make our clothes more accessible, but it gave us more room to breathe and move and do good things in. 

Anyway, I'm not saying that your life will be better if you get rid of your dresser.  But I am saying that your life will be better if you evaluate the things in your life and decide whether those things help you live the way you want to live.

Balance
Finding balance in our busy lives is a task that I believe will always face.  And I personally believe that the test of finding and righteously striving for balance in our lives is one of the most important ways we'll prove ourselves in this life.  Balance is so central to who we are and who we are trying to become.  But we are always changing.  Our circumstances our always changing.  And so it's easy to get thrown off balance. 

So the key, I think, is to know where the center of our balance lies.  For me, that center balance is Christ and my Heavenly Father.  When I find I'm focusing too much on one thing and not enough on another it helps me to take a step back and ask myself what my Heavenly Father would want me to put as my first priority.  When I evaluate things that way, everything just seems to fall into place.

I found myself working through this process of evaluation just recently.  Almost on a whim I decided to start up my Etsy shop.  And anyone who's ever started an Etsy shop knows how quickly it can consume your whole life.  You fall asleep wondering how to fix a certain problem you're having.  You wake up in the morning thinking about how to make things better.  And soon you find that much of your thinking is spent worrying over and analyzing sales and profit margin and products and so on. 

It's good to work.  And it's good to like to work.  But, as in all things, there must be balance.  And spending all of my time and thoughts on my little shop was not the most important thing in my life, nor did I want it to be.  My family is most important to me, but I wasn't acting like it.  So I took a step back, talked things through with Bryan, and calmed down.  Of course I still think about my shop.  It's fun to make things and sell them!  But it's my family that I focus on now. 

Although maybe I'm brushing over things a little too much.  Because it's not like there's just some switch that you flip that automatically brings balance and harmony back.  It takes conscious thought and effort and action.  So I didn't just say, "Okay.  Things are out of whack.  I'm going to focus on my family first," and then--poof!--it was done.  No, of course that's not the way it works.  For me, it takes actual plans to make things happen.  So I've started planning meals for the week.  And I've started getting back into planning daily preschool lessons with Olivia. 

And even though those things may seems small, they really help.  They help me redirect my focus and my plan for how I'm going to spend my time each day.  They make my life more simple. 

It's not the same as Easy
The thing that sort of brought all of these thoughts together for me was the simple wisdom my sister in law Lisa shared on her blog a couple of days ago.  She was talking about an episode of a radio show she listened to recently called "Conversations" with Elder and Sister Holland.  Lisa says,
During the interview he said something about "simple is not the same as easy." Simple is not the same as easy. Gospel principles are simple. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple. That doesn't mean they are easy. I strive to simplify my life. That doesn't mean it'll be easier. But it's more fulfilling.
(You can read Lisa's entire post and find links to the radio show HERE.)

I've been thinking a lot about what Lisa and Elder Holland said since I read it a couple of days ago.  And I've been thinking about how it applies to streamlining and finding balance.  And, in thinking about all this, I realized that I've been striving for simple for a long time, but hadn't really ever verbalized it, even to myself. 

But now that I have this tangible thought, I'm loving the way it applies to my life and the way that it gives me courage and strength.  Having courage to live simply means having the courage to be true to myself and to my Heavenly Father.  And having the strength to live simply means having the strength to make those changes necessary to living a simple life.

Because Lisa is right.  Living the way Heavenly Father wants us to live--living lives that are streamlined and balanced and simple--isn't always easy.  But it is infinitely more fulfilling.

Are you with me?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with String


I have a sweet neighbor who purchased some of my buttons recently.  Of course I told her I wouldn't charge her for shipping since it takes me about two minutes (if that) to walk her front door.  So I didn't need to use one of my regular bubble wrap mailers, but of course I still wanted to package them up nicely for her.  What to do?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Basic Pants that'll last for quite a while


Have you been following along with all the fun Celebrate the Boy projects on MADE and Made By Rae?  If not, you really must go catch yourself up on all the goodness going on over there.  Even if you don't have a boy.

Wait, what?  Even if you don't have a boy?  

Sure!

Obviously I don't have any little boys of my own to sew for yet, but that hasn't stopped me from soaking up all the awesome projects being shared in the Celebrate the Boy series.  Like most patterns and project ideas, a lot of what's being/been shared is certainly adaptable for little girls too.

And I must admit that I am thrilled to have so many not-so-overly-girly projects to be inspired by.  I've never been into princesses and pink and all things girly.  So while I do definitely dress Olivia in her fair share of pinks and purples, she also wears a lot of neutrals and blues and reds too.


So, even though I don't have a little boy to sew for, Celebrate The Boy is right up my alley.  Because, in a lot of ways, it could really even translate to just plain ol' Celebrate the Kid.  Because all kids--girl or boy--are playful and dirty and fun.  :)

Oh, and did I mention that I'm going to be sharing a BOY project with you a little later in the Celebration?  Keep your eyes peeled for that.  :)


Aaaaanyway, last night I finished my first Celebrate The Boy project!  I made this simple little pair of pants for Olivia using one of my favorite (but ripped) pairs of pants and Dana's Basic Pants pattern and tutorial.

I wanted to try the pattern just the way it was, even though it's size 2-3T and Olivia's still wearing size 18 months.  I figured I'd get used to the way it went together before I started messing with the pattern.  And it was great!  I especially love that this pattern fits more like store-bought pants since the front pattern piece is shorter than the back piece.  Really, it makes such a difference.

Front

Back

Dana's Basic Pants pattern and tutorial are wonderful.  But, of course, I added a few of my own personal touches.  :)

Alteration #1: Buttons
First, I added some of my buttons to the front.  I just sewed them onto the front once I was finished (right through the elastic and everything).

Buttons available HERE in my Shop.

I love the way this simple addition makes the pants look more like "real" pants (i.e. pants with a button and fly).  But, unlike, "real" pants, these pants are much easier to get on and off.  And since these pants will fit Olivia until she's well out of diapers, I'm sure easy on/off pants will come in handy for potty training.

Alteration #2: Bias Tape
The second addition/change I made was to finish the casing edge with bias tape rather than serging (since I don't have a serger) or folding the raw edge under a 1/4".

Despite my sloppy stitches here (remember, this was my "tester" pair, so I made some minor mistakes along the way--it's okay) I really think the bias tape adds a fun professional touch.  I think it would be fun to use printed bias tape or fun, bright colors.  It's the little things that count, right?  :)

Oh, and that tag is just a t-shirt scrap folded in half.  Super easy.

Alteration #3: Clean Cuffs (i.e. more bias tape)
My third addition to these fun pants was arguably a very minor and unnecessary detail, but it makes a huge difference in a lot of ways.

I knew these pants would already fit Olivia around her waist (especially since she's wearing cloth diapers that are slightly bulkier), but they're waaaaay too long for her right now. But no biggie.  I figured we could just roll them up until she grows a little taller.  Only problem?  As I mentioned already, I don't have a serger, so I had just finished off the inside seams with a zigzag stitch.  Which is fine if nobody's ever going to see the inside, but it looked a little ratty when I tried rolling them up.

So... ta-da!  Enter the bias tape!  (Again.)  I sewed some strips of bias tape part way up each side seam so that, now, when we roll up Olivia's pants, it just shows a nice finished seam!  And I really like the extra little bit of style this adds to these fun, simple pants.

And not only does it add style, it adds a longer life to these pants.  Because now we can just roll them up!  So she can start wearing them right away and they'll probably fit her until she's 3, depending on how fast she grows.

Want to do the same?  Here's a quick how-to...

Step 1: Make your pants using Dana's Basic Pants pattern and tutorial.

Step 2: Roll up your pants
With your pants right-side out, roll up your pants as high as you'd like.  Use a safety pin to mark how far up you want your bias tape to go.  (In other words, how high up you want to roll your pants will determine how long your strips of bias tape will need to be.)  I ended up marking mine at about 7".

Step 3: Turn your pants inside out.

Step 4: Pin bias tape in place
Fold the raw end of your bias tape in just a little so you'll have a nice clean edge at the end of your piece.

Measure up as far as you want your bias tape to go and begin pinning bias tape in place.  I wanted my bias tape strips to be 7" long, so I started pinning mine 7" away from the bottom hem.

When you pin your bias tape on, make sure it doesn't go past your existing seam.  You don't want to sew into the pant leg, you just want to cover up your seam allowance.

Pin down the length of your side seam until you reach the bottom of your hem.

Once you reach the bottom of the hem, cut your bias tape about 1/2" or so past the hem.

Fold the raw end of your bias tape under, just like you did when you started.

Pin in place.

Do this for all four side seams (both side seams in each pant leg).

Step 5: Sew bias tape
Go ahead and edgestitch your bias tape in place, making sure that you're only sewing into your seam allowance and not into the actual pant leg.

I found that it's easiest to start sewing on the end that's partway up the pant leg, rather than started down at the bottom hem.  This way things are less bulky when you start and you'll be able to maneuver things better when you get to the bottom hem where it is a little more bulky.

And you're done!

Now your child's pants will be more wearable fun for a longer time and for both cold and warm seasons!



"Behyee button?"











Love these pants!  (And the kid inside.) 
Have fun making your own pants!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jumbo


Can I tell you something?  I love buttons.  And I truly am loving all the work and thought that goes into making my own buttons.  I hope you're not sick of me talking about them.  Because I am having so much fun!

Last night as I was getting more buttons ready for the shop Bryan commented to me, "You haven't sewn very much lately."  And he's right.  But it's not really because I'm overwhelmed or overly busy with things I have to do or anything like that.  It's just because I've been having fun tinkering around with my buttons.

And one of my recent button-tinkerings has been a bit of product testing.  When I first started making my buttons I wasn't sure how well they'd do in the wash.  Obviously that's kind of a big deal since most buttons get sewn onto clothes and most clothes get dirty.  Right?  Right.

So my first round of "product testing" (Doesn't that sound official?  Hehe.) involved some hand-washing tests.  Here's basically how it went down:

Water: no problem!
Soap: no problem!
Scrubbing: no problem!
How does the button look after it's been washed?: Great!  Exactly the same as before!

Excellent, right?  Exactly what I was hoping for.  :)


But, let's be honest, who really washes things by hand on a regular basis anymore?  Nobody I know.  That's who.

So the product testing continued.  Next up?  The washer and dryer.

Here's how that went down:

Washing machine: no problem!
Dryer: ok, but not the best option

Let me explain a little here.  The buttons do great in the washing machine (we washed ours on a regular warm setting).  The button colors don't bleed (in fact I haven't seen them bleed on anything at all yet, so I wouldn't worry about that), the buttons hold their shape perfectly well, and--really--they come out looking exactly the same as when they went into the wash.  Which is what we want, right?  Right.

When the buttons went through the dryer they came out the same as they went in... but softer.  So, no, if you throw these buttons in the dryer by accident it's not going to be a big problem.  It won't come out in little bits and pieces and ruin your whole load.  The buttons hold together just fine.  But they will be slightly malleable (bendy-ish) for a while.  So what to do if you send one of these buttons through the dryer?  Just let them lie flat until they return to room temperature.  Once the buttons have returned to room temperature they will be hard again, just like they were before.

Spring Dress post HERE--Simple Red-Orange buttons available HERE

However, the much simpler (and, really, more cost and energy-efficient) way to get around this problem is to simply line dry the item that the button is sewn onto.  Go ahead and send it through the washing machine and then just hang it up to dry!  It'll give your clothes that fresh air feeling and save you the cost of a dryer load.  And--let's be honest here--line drying clothes is really cute.  And it kinds of makes you feel like a classy vintage housewife.  Which is definitely a plus in my book.

But none of this has to do with the title of the post.  What's so "jumbo" about my product testing?  Well, nothing, actually.  I kind of just got off on a tangent there.

But here's what is JUMBO!

My latest batch of buttons!

Jumbo Teal with dotted edge--available HERE

My regular buttons measure about 1/2" across.  These friendly giant jumbo buttons measure a full 1 1/2" across.  Hello big, bright, and beautiful.  (Not to mention functional.  Awesome.)

Jumbo Red with dotted edge--available HERE
 Doesn't it make you want to crochet hats just so you can sew this button on the side?

Jumbo White with scallop lace edge--available HERE

But I have to be honest with you.  My all time favorite buttons right now are these lacey white ones.  Scallop edge?  Sweet little dots?  A full 1 3/8" across?  Swoon.  With such classic shape and color, these buttons would be fun for so, so many projects.

Now you see why I'm having so much fun with my buttons!  :)

If you'd like to have some fun with them too, feel free to browse the SHOP and pick some you like.  See you there!

Have a great day everyone!



Oh, and if you missed it yesterday because of the holiday, be sure to check out my Skinny Camera Strap tutorial.  It'll take you all of about five minutes, and will make your little point and shoot so much more accessible!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Skinny Camera Strap (Tutorial!)



Today I'm going to show you how to turn this:

Into this:



Ready?  Let's get started!


Materials:
  • 1 flash drive lanyard
  • 3/8" twill tape
  • general sewing supplies


Step 1: Remove lanyard hardware
What you really want from your flash drive lanyard is this part.

That's because that little string part will fit through your camera the same way the strap that came with your camera does.  Convenient, no?

So go ahead and snip off the lanyard as shown.  Toss (or make something else out of) the lanyard and just keep that little black piece of hardware.

Step 2: Cut your twill tape
Grab a measuring tape and measure from your hip, up around one shoulder, and back down to your hip.  This measurement should give you a good idea of how long you'll want your camera strap to be.  (Of course, if you want to make it longer or shorter to fit you differently, just measure that instead.)

My fun pink twill tape (that I got on clearance a while back--score!) is 3/8" wide.  The opening on that little piece of hardware we saved is actually about 1/4" wide, but it's okay.

I cut my twill tape to about 58 1/2" and it fits me perfectly.


Step 3: Thread hardware onto twill tape
Thread one end of your twill tape through that little hardware piece.

Slide the hardware down the twill tape to keep it out of the way for the next few steps.

Step 4: Sew raw ends together
Making sure your twill tape lays flat all the way down (so you don't have any little twists), match up the raw ends of your twill tape.

(Note: I was very careful to make sure that I didn't have any little twists, but because of the way things get folded, I ended up with one anyway.  So maybe you do want one twist in there?  I'm not sure.  Feel free to experiment to see what's best for you.  In the end, I was fine with the one little twist.)

Pin ends together.

Sew ends together using a 1/2" to 3/8" seam allowance.

*TIP: If your sewing machine tends to eat small things like this, keep a firm grip on your thread ends and use the hand wheel on your machine instead of the foot pedal and it should hopefully keep your sewing machine from turning into a mean mean monster.


Clip off any crazy frayed ends.

Step 5: Enclose raw ends
Hold the sewn ends of your twill tape like so.

Fold both ends over.

Fold over again, so that the raw ends are now enclosed in your little cinnamon roll-looking thing.   
(Very technical, I know.)

Then, making sure to keep your little "cinnamon roll" intact, slip your finger in between the top two layers of twill tape.  Unfold that top layer so that you now have a straight line of twill tape, with the "cinnamon roll" in the middle.

It should now look like this.  Pin in place.

Sew "cinnamon roll" together by sewing a square all the way around the perimeter and an X through the middle.  This will keep your strap nice and secure.

You're Done!
Like I warned you about before, if you followed the tutorial exactly you'll end up with one little twist in your strap.

If this bothers you, just move the twisted part into the spot down into the hardware (as shown) and it'll be less noticeable.

Also, I just wanted to add that I had originally planned on sewing a little line right down next to the piece of hardware to keep the hardware from sliding down the strap.  If you'd like to do that, do it now!

However, I decided to skip that step because I realized that I really like having the hardware be able to slide down the strap.  That way, when I'm wearing it and I want to take a picture, the strap doesn't get caught on my shirt and make everything all bunched up.  Instead, the strap stays in place and the hardware (and camera) just slide up the strap without any fuss.  Hooray!

This is how the strap hangs normally.

Olivia wearing her SPRING DRESS and Me


So now you're ready to be on your way!  
Happy photographing!