Wednesday, December 11, 2013

DIY mistletoe pillow.

I'm a little bit in love with my new Christmas pillow. We don't have a lot of holiday décor--despite my best intentions, I never get my holiday shopping started before Thanksgiving, which means there's just enough money to buy presents and not much for the fun decorations.
Plus, this year we have a toddler. And her favorite part of the holidays so far (besides the Bubble Guppies special "The Puppy and The Ring") seems to be undecorating the tree and any other surfaces that may seem festive.

I saw this pillow at and had to have it. I decided that I was going to break down and buy myself some holiday décor. Until I saw the price tag. $145. That's more than I spend on each child with their gifts and stockings combined. And it wasn't an amount I could shave off the budget by being thrifty somewhere else.

But I couldn't forget about the pillow--its adorable French holiday message, the fluffy mistletoe, its charming messiness.

One night as I was getting ready for bed, it popped into my head: I could make one.

I shook that notion right out and tried to sleep. I've never made a pillow. I am in the very, very early stages of learning to sew.

But I drifted off thinking of my canvas drop cloth, which I'd just used for a painting project. About one-third of the drop cloth remained clean during the project. That could be enough for a pillow. And I had some batting left over from a project two years earlier. I was planning to get rid of the batting. I also had an old green sweater, which I'd used to make stockings for homeless high-school students. And half of a piece of green felt. And some black fabric paint. I could make a pillow out of things I had lying around the house--it would be free, so if I screwed it up, I'd only have wasted some of my time.

I got started the next morning, when I should have been getting ready for work. I downloaded some templates for mistletoe and cut them out of the sweater and felt scraps. I created a stencil for the saying using my Silhouette (and one of my favorite fonts, Lavanderia).

Over the next few days, I worked in pieces--an hour here, 30 minutes there.

I created the mistletoe and sewed the first three sprigs onto the drop cloth fabric, then used fabric glue on the other sprigs, as it was getting a bit thick for my sewing machine. I used a scrap of red gingham fabric to create a bow, then sewed that on the fabric.

I created the pillow by folding the drop cloth fabric in half, then sewing the wrong sides together, leaving a hole to turn it right side out and then stuff. Then I top-stitched the front of the pillow. I'm sure there are better ways to create a pillow.

I still love the pillow from Wayfair. But for $0, I think my copycat isn't so bad. And it adds a sweet, festive touch to our home.

I already have plans to make another one sometime during the new year, when things have calmed down and I can spend some more time--and perhaps money--on some of the elements. I'd like to add a border to the pillow and experiment with other ways to create the mistletoe, perhaps sewing on a few pearls too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Picture-perfect teacher gifts

I am convinced that some of the most amazing people in the world go into special education--as teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals. Each Christmas, I wish there was a way to truly express how grateful our family is for the magic they work in our lives every single day.

Sadly, I'm constrained by a budget--and the fact that this magic requires a heck of a lot of people.

We do write thank you notes--and I hope that the people who work with Xander know that I mean every word.

When it comes to gifts, it's hard to think of ideas that aren't tacky but won't eat up our entire holiday budget. This year, I was really excited to think of one--which I will share in detail later. I'm going to order poinsettias from the local activity center, which provides a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities. It's where Xander will spend his days after he leaves school--and where many of his teacher's and paras' graduates wind up.

I can easily drop these off at Xander's school. But his after-school life skills program is pretty far from our house and I began to worry that with all of the hustle and bustle, I wouldn't have time to deliver the flowers. So I wanted an alternative, something that could fit in the backpack he brings to the day program.
These picture-frame ornaments from Michaels fit the bill perfectly. To make the gift extra special, I tucked each one into a red chevron-patterned paper bag and added a tag that I designed to match the gift. The best part--these tags can be used a lot this year, as I'm giving family photos to several people on my list. I'm putting them in larger frames, wrapping in tissue paper, then sticking the sticker on the tissue paper, putting the gift in a box and wrapping. So simple, but adds a layer of delight!

Want to print some tags out for your picture-perfect presents? Click here. If you have one handy, a 3-inch circle punch works great for cutting these out. If not, a pair of scissors works well too.

What are you giving your child's teachers this year?

Free printables to make DIY nutcracker kits for gift-giving

I have some young boys on my Christmas list--young boys I  see only during the holidays. So it's hard to know what to buy. I know their interests but not the things they already have.

We exchange gifts with these relatives a few days before Christmas. I remember well what those last days before the Big Day were like with young boys--school is out, anticipation is high and boredom is a given.

So I decided to give them a gift that would break that boredom: A paint-your-own nutcracker kit.

I bought a set of six unpainted nutcrackers at Hobby Lobby, then bought some empty tiny paint canisters in the art supply section.

I bought a set of brushes (I can't stand the super-cheap brushes that always come with kids' art kits). I also got some clear plastic containers from Pick Your Plum.  Then I designed some labels for the various parts of the kit.

The last and most frustrating part was finding a container that could fit the whole kit. I  could have avoided some of the pain by simply measuring everything and figuring it out. Instead, I kept ordering containers only to have them delivered and discover they wouldn't hold the kit. Then, I saw these cardboard suitcases in one of the Christmas sections of Target. They were perfect--and exactly the kind of thing a young boy would like to have to store treasures in long after the kit was used.

To make sure they could continue to use the suitcases, I affixed the outer label with temporary adhesive. I printed the other labels onto sticker paper, then cut them out and stuck them on the containers.

The containers include--a long, skinny one to keep the paints in and two short, square ones. One of those has two stocking stuffer toys (a small car and a Christmas kaleidoscope) and the other has Christmas gum drops (hence the "goody goody" label).

I can't wait to give these presents--although I kinda wish I'd made one for my own kids (and myself). They look like a lot of fun, and I bet they'd work well for boys and girls of many different ages. If you'd like to make a kit, you can download the labels here (one outer label and the "oh what fun!" and "goody goody" circles), here (just the outer label) and here (the labels for the paint containers, plus different circle labels).

What are some great ideas you have for the kids on your list?