Sunday, December 3, 2023

How to Make Upcycled Embroidered Cardboard Ornaments


This tutorial was originally published on Crafting a Green World.

Clean out your recycling bin and your floss stash to make embroidered cardboard ornaments!

I am very drawn to patterns and geometric designs, and I’m always looking for ways to incorporate them into my favorite crafts. These embroidered cardboard ornaments are an easy winner, because although they lend themselves very well to creating spirals, mandalas, and other mathematical designs, they also lend themselves very well to… well, anything!

So whether you’re obsessed with soothing symmetry like me, or you like to make your stitching free-form or representative, you can stitch the design of your dreams onto these embroidered cardboard ornaments. Here’s how!

To make embroidered cardboard ornaments, you will need:

  • upcycled cardboard. I know that I usually have a recommendation, but for this project, both corrugated cardboard and food packaging-weight cardboard work equally well. I prefer corrugated cardboard for smaller embroidered cardboard ornaments, just because I think the additional width keeps them from getting lost on a Christmas tree. Thinner cardboard is easier to work with, though, and works well, I think, with more intricate designs that require a larger diameter of cardboard. I prefer thinner cardboard for all the ornament backings, but more corrugated cardboard would work, too.
  • measuring and cutting tools. You’ll want scissors, of course, and something to trace to make the ornament form (for these ornaments, I used a Mason jar lid and a saucer). For wheel designs, you may want a divided circle template; two templates that I often use are linked here and here. To poke holes in the corrugated cardboard, use a safety pin or thumbtack.
  • embroidery floss and tapestry needle. tapestry needle has a blunt tip, which will keep you from poking holes that you don’t want to poke through the cardboard. It’s also useful for stitching plastic canvas or cardstock. Even cheap cotton embroidery floss works perfectly for this project, but my favorite embroidery floss actually comes from my local thrift shop!
  • tape and hot glue. You’ll use both on the backside of your ornament, so that nothing shows on the front but your beautiful stitching!
  • ornament hanger. Ribbon, more embroidery floss, yarn, or anything that you have on hand!

Step 1: Trace and cut an ornament template.

Find a circle template, anything from a jar lid to a ceramic saucer, and trace it onto cardboard. Cut it out with sturdy scissors.

To make ornaments with radial symmetry, you’ll probably want to mark divisions around your cardboard circle. You can actually eyeball this up to a fairly high number! But it’s also not cheating to use a template. I use my DIY circle template to divide my cardboard circle into twelve, and I use the templates linked here to divide it into 50 or 100.

With these cardboard ornaments, you DO have to pre-punch the holes you want to stitch through. Sometimes, I just cut eensy little slits or notches around the edges of thinner cardboard. With corrugated cardboard, or in the middle of either kind, use a safety pin to poke holes where you want to stitch.

Step 2: Embroider the cardboard ornament.

Thread your needle, and either tie a knot at the end of the embroidery floss OR tape it down on the backside of the ornament.

Embroider your ornament however you’d like. When you reach the end of the floss or you want to change colors, tape the end of the floss to the back of the ornament.

The tape won’t show, and will keep the embroidery floss super snug on the front of the ornament. Nobody wants saggy embroidery!

Step 3: Add a backing to the ornament.

When your embroidery is complete, add a backing to hide the ugly side of the stitching.

But first, hot glue an ornament hanger to the backside of the ornament. I like ribbon, but yarn, twine, more embroidery floss, or anything that you have on hand is fine.

Cut another cardboard circle (I prefer thin cardboard for this) the same size as the first one. Hot glue it to the back of the ornament to hide the rough edges of the ornament hanger and the ugly side of your stitching.

You can also embroider this back piece, or write a name and date, or really just embellish it however you’d like. Or not! I personally like the look of the plain cardboard back to contrast with the fancy embroidered front.

I know I said that mathematical designs are my favorite, but any simple embroidery pattern works well for this project. Monograms are super cute, and a Google search will reveal all sorts of inspiring holiday patterns and other cute designs. Feel free to also experiment with floss weight, or even to switch to yarn for younger crafters or thread for making intricate, detailed designs.

If you prefer crafting with natural materials, get out the drill, because you can also embroider wood slices!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I Read The Emotional Lives of Teenagers and Now I'm Not Quite as Emotionally Illiterate (Although I Am Still PLENTY Emotionally Illiterate...)

The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate AdolescentsThe Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents by Lisa Damour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been a running joke around the house this Thanksgiving break. Both teenagers are home for the holiday, and the college student, seeing the book on the coffee table, turned to her younger sister and said, laughing, “OMG is this for YOU?!?”

“It is for ME!” I retorted.

Just between us, it *was* originally for her, ahem, but I was less than a chapter into the book before I realized that it actually *is* for me. There’s not much that I actually do need to change about the way that my teenager handles her emotions, but there’s a LOT that I, as her parent, could be doing to better help her learn to manage them.

My biggest takeaways are as follows:

1) The goal is to help teenagers have reasonable emotional responses, not just help them be less sad. Sad things and stressful things are SUPPOSED to make you sad and anxious! So even though it’s uncomfortable to witness and I know it’s even more uncomfortable to feel, I shouldn’t try to rescue my teenagers from their anxiety about college applications or their nervousness before a big test or their sadness after losing out on a cool opportunity, etc. I mean, I don’t rescue them from stuff like that, but I DO feel helpless and anxious and guilty as hell about their negative emotions. But Damour writes, “Feeling the emotional impact of difficult experiences helps us grow up.” Apparently, learning to manage those emotions is an important part of the learning process, which is of course not news to me, but it actually also kind of is news? I… should probably learn how to do that for myself, tbh, because managing my painful emotions for me probably isn’t why God invented Delta-8…

2) A lot of the time, you don’t need to fix your kid; you need to fix YOU. One of Damour’s pieces of advice is literally to every now and then apologize to your kid for whatever mean things you might have done to them lately that they were too polite to call you out on at the time. I actually tried that one the other day, using those words almost exactly. My kid blinked, thought for a beat, then smiled and said, “Okay”--y’all, I think there actually was something I had just apologized for! I followed up, of course, with the usual litany that she should always feel free to let me know when I’d overstepped, but I remember enough about being a teenager to also remember that adults are terrible pretty often and how exhausting would it be to have to call out every one of them every time? Blech. I’ll just go ahead and keep a monthly blanket apology on my calendar, thank you very much.

On a related note, Damour writes the following passage that I thought was very interesting, because I have noticed this, especially with my college-aged kid:

“And, like me, you may have noticed that our teenagers also tend to be many steps ahead of us on topics related to social fairness and quick to point out our blind spots or narrow-minded thinking.”

I definitely get salty when my child tells me something that I said is narrow-minded, but yikes, who wants to be a bigot? Thank goodness for these kids who can save me from my Gen X Southern grossness (although I’m still not sure why they also want to save me from open-toed shoes?).

When the kids aren’t chastising me and I get a turn to parent them, I thought that this statement was reassuring: “Studies show that teenagers benefit from having high standards set for their behavior.” That one’s easy money, of course, since I already do that, but this was a perspective that I hadn’t thought of before: “These conversations often go best when they’re less about what we want for our teens and more about the priorities teens usually have for themselves.” That makes a lot of sense, and I can see how it also helps build self-motivation. It’s a good perspective shift for me to have to rearrange my thinking from why *I* want my kids to behave a certain way to why *they* should want that for themselves.

Damour discusses numerous mistaken ways in which parents think they’re helping their kid but are actually doing them harm. I pricked up my ears at this note that speaks to the ongoing--and especially current--censorship attempts in many school libraries:

“[S]everal psychological studies have confirmed that reading helps to foster empathy. Far from being harmful to teenagers, reading compelling narratives of lived experiences builds compassion and the ability to take another person’s perspective.”

I find this information really helpful! My kids have always read widely and at will, but I sometimes feel hesitant about the books that I assign them as schoolwork. Not only do they STILL both rag me about Bridge to Terabithia, which broke both their hearts that time that we all listened to it together on a long road trip, but I can easily think of numerous book passages that I personally find upsetting, and I always sort of thought that, well, who am I to deliberately put something upsetting into their young minds? They’re already empathetic; must I really make them also experience, say, the depths of dehumanization suffered by the Jewish people in Night, or the scenes of sexual assault in The Kite Runner or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

But this month my teenager and I are actually listening to the audiobook of Twelve Years a Slave, a book I’ve never read before and only suggested because I wanted a narrative depicting the lives of enslaved people in pre-Civil War America and the teenager balked at the runtime of Uncle Tom's Cabin (20+ hours!!!). It is harrowing, and upsetting, and there’s a part in which a slave owner is openly discussing sex trafficking a small child that really disturbs me, but it also humanizes these concepts that seem historical and abstract, and makes them real and immediate. I get, now, why we shouldn’t try to shelter our teenagers from material like that.

And yes, 12 Years a Slave is banned in some places.

Another part that I found very helpful was Damour’s discussion of how/why parents should talk to their kids about suicide. Previously, I think I’d gotten the idea that we shouldn’t talk about suicide, I guess because it might encourage someone considering it, or promote a suicide cluster, or otherwise put the idea into someone’s head? Fortunately, earlier this year I earned a certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid, during which we were explicitly instructed to openly discuss and ask about suicidal ideation with our kids. So now that’s something that I do. Damour also gives this explicit instruction, and accompanies it with these reassuring words: “[R]esearch show that asking nonsuicidal teens about suicide does not leave them feeling worse, but for teens who are feeling suicidal, it relieves distress.” That’s hugely helpful to hear, and I think probably a lot of parents would find it to be new information.

Damour has caused me to think about children’s emotions in ways that I hadn’t previously. Like, I haven’t been spending my entire parenting journey encouraging my children into emotional numbness or anything (I hope?!?), but I’d sort of thought that my job was to help them calm down when they were upset, all that “Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth” stuff. But I guess that immediately calming down isn’t the goal; the goal is processing, and Damour encourages us to engage with our children about their painful emotions. She writes (about girls in this particular quote, but also about all kids), “[W]e want to reinforce her right to express her anger by giving it our attention.” I love that. Supernanny and the naughty step and time-out corner, etc., were big deals in my very, very early parenting years, and they didn’t really work for my kids, and now I feel pretty shitty about all that time they spent shrieking in the corner while I sat across the room and pretended to ignore them. They were in pain, and leaving them alone to sort it out themselves probably wasn’t actually very helpful or healthy. I like much better this advice to engage with my older kids about whatever is distressing them.

I also really like two other pieces of advice: that teenagers find regular ways to be of service to others, and that teenagers make time for pursuits that are “meaningful and important to them and are not done for the sake of a grade, a credit, or their college applications.” Happily, this isn’t a parenting issue that I struggle with (yay for not feeling like a failure!), but it’s good to be reminded of its importance and reassured that I’m not on the wrong track for making volunteer work mandatory and encouraging my teenager to spend as much time on her art as she does on her homework.

Overall, this work is probably the most interesting and pragmatically helpful parenting book I’ve ever read, so much so that I’ve already enacted numerous takeaways. I’m also thinking a little bit more about increasing my own capacity to accept and manage emotional discomfort, while I guide my teenagers through developing these skills in themselves.

View all my reviews

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Sunday, November 26, 2023

DIY Coloring Book with an Upcycled Cardboard Cover


This tutorial was originally posted on Crafting a Green World.

A DIY coloring book lets you customize exactly the coloring pages you want!

I was in the market for a new adult coloring book the other day, but I just could not find what I wanted! Honestly, how hard could it be to find a small-scale book with spoopy images that would be fairly quick to color and would have no swears, but also wouldn’t be baby-ish?

Ugh, it was SO hard!

Eventually, I went back to the only sure-fire way to get something that is EXACTLY the way I want it: DIY!

I modified my go-to DIY journal with a cover made from upcycled cardboard, and filled it with coloring pages downloaded from the interwebs. It’s exactly what I wanted, and here’s how you can make one, too!

To make your own DIY coloring book with an upcycled cover, you will need:

  • coloring pages. Yes, you CAN print coloring pages in an eco-friendly manner! For each coloring book, you’ll want 10-12 coloring pages, printed two-to-a-page on cardstock. You’ll only be using one side of this cardstock, so feel free to use up the back sides of cardstock that’s already been printed on one side.
  • upcycled cardboard. You need two pieces, each about 6″x7″. Any weight from cardboard food packaging to corrugated shipping box cardboard works well–in these photos, I’ve used both!
  • metal butter knife. A bone folder or back of a spoon also works well.
  • stapler and (optional) rubber block eraser. If you don’t have a long reach stapler, I’ll show you how to get the same effect with a regular stapler and a wedge eraser.
  • measuring and cutting supplies. I used a gridded quilting ruler and guillotine paper cutter.

Step 1: Arrange and trim the coloring pages.

Print 10-12 coloring pages two to a page on cardstock, so that you have 5-6 of these sheets for your coloring book.

Trim the excess paper from the top and bottom of your sheets. If you have a good guillotine paper cutter, you can stack the sheets together and trim them all at once!

Step 2: Measure and cut the upcycled cardboard book cover.

Most types of cardboard should work well for this project… even thin food packaging, like this empty popsicle box that I rescued from my recycling bin!

Open the box so that it lies flat, then fussy cut two pieces of cardboard to serve as the book cover. You want the dimensions of the cover to be slightly larger than the dimensions of each page; for this half-scale coloring book, with top and bottom margins trimmed away, 6″x7″ was perfect.

Step 3: Trim and tape the book cover.

Order the coloring book pages, then fold them sharply in half, coloring images to the inside. Burnish the fold with the butt end of the butter knife to make it even sharper.

Compare the sizing of the finished quire to the book cover, and trim as needed. Above, I’m using the quire as a visual aid to mark where I want to trim my cover, because I’m too lazy to measure.

Now comes the magical part! Lay a length of duct tape, sticky side up, on your work surface. Set the two pieces of book cover on the tape, with about a 1/8″ gap between them. Tear off enough tape to fold over the spine completely and overlap just a bit. There shouldn’t be any sticky side left uncovered!

Use your fingernail or knife tip to burnish down that crack between the two halves of the cover, then turn the cover over and burnish the other side, as well. When you’re finished, you will have a complete book cover with a duct tape hinge.

Step 4: Staple the pages into the book.

Center the coloring book pages inside the cover so that the fold of the pages lines up with the duct tape hinge of the cover. You’ll have to flip this whole book over and staple it from the other side to keep the staple ends hidden, so feel free to secure the quire to the cover with a bit of washi tape, if you’d like.

If you’re lucky enough to own a long-reach stapler, just staple the cover to the pages from the outside. However, if you have a standard stapler, get a rubber wedge eraser or, as in the photo above, a stamp-carving blank, and center it underneath the spot where you want to staple.

Unhinge the stapler and staple the hinge from the outside, stapling into that rubber wedge eraser. Repeat for each of the other two staples you’ll put into the hinge from the outside.

Turn the book over and remove the rubber eraser, and you’ll see all the pointy staple ends sticking up alarmingly.

To solve the problem of pointy staple ends, just use the flat side of the butter knife to push them down!

This is a handy little coloring book to keep in your backpack in readiness for any time that boredom might strike.

Are your kids interested in other bookmaking projects? My kids LOVE bookmaking, and we've done a TON of bookmaking projects together over the years!

P.S. Want to follow along with my unfinished craft projects, books I'm reading, cute photos of the cats, high school chemistry labs, and other various adventures on the daily? Find me on my Craft Knife Facebook page!

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Here's How to Make an Easy Macrame Plant Hanger


This tutorial was originally posted on Crafting a Green World.

This easy macrame plant hanger makes a comfy home for all your favorite plants!

Like every city planner faced with overcrowding, I am dodging population control measures with my houseplants by instead going vertical. Every window is fair game, as is every corner with ambient light. Even the central room with no exterior windows now has a couple of ferns hanging under the skylight.

Plant hangers are great for getting your houseplants off your crowded shelves and into those sunny windows. They also put all of those tempting spider plants and inch plants and other delightfully dangly leaves out of the reach of cats, dogs, and toddlers.

Especially if you’ve got an older house, though, or any place with unconventional windows or other spaces, you’ve probably found that store-bought plant hangers just don’t fit your space exactly the way you’d like. Or maybe they’re just not the right color. Or maybe, like me, you simply don’t want to have to buy something when you’ve already got everything that you need to make it.

That’s why I found myself making my latest stash of plant hangers: the houseplants had a bumper year, and after dividing them and giving tons away I still had more than I have room for on my shelves. But my weird old house with its half-vaulted ceilings and oddly-sized windows doesn’t lend itself to the comfortable placement of most lengths of plant hangers. AND about five years ago both of my kids went through an epic paracord crafting phase, one that left me with a large stash of unused paracord after they both eventually moved on to using up all of my embroidery floss on super elaborate friendship bracelets.

I have made SO many macrame plant hangers this summer, using my easy technique that lets me make them exactly the length that I want. Here’s how you can make yourself an easy macrame plant hanger, too!


To make this easy macrame plant hanger, you will need:

  • split o ring. This is the ring that holds your cute keychain. You want it to be VERY sturdy, but most keychain rings are.
  • macrame cordingCotton cording is availability in multiple widths and colors, and is natural, eco-friendly, and quite sturdy and long-lived when used indoors. Any cording that doesn’t stretch will work well for this project, however. This paracord that I’m using, although it’s all polyester and therefore an ecological nightmare, actually makes amazing plant hangers! Whatever you choose, you’ll need 80 feet, or eight 10-foot lengths, for the hanger, and 2 feet, or two 1-foot lengths, for the gathering knots.
  • tape. A lightly sticky tape, like masking tape or washi tape, will help you keep cords together as you knot them.

Step 1: Use a gathering knot to tie the cording to the split ring.

Cut eight pieces of cording, each approximately 10 feet long, and one piece of cording approximately one foot long.

Thread the eight pieces of cording through the split o-ring and center them.

Now, it’s gathering knot time!

With one end of the cord, make a long “u” over the spot where you’d like the gathering knot to be. I like mine just below the o ring.

Keep that “u” in place as you take the other end of the cord in hand and begin to tightly wrap the bundle with it. Each wrap should be just below the one above.

When you near the end of your cord, leave a long tail and tuck the end through the bottom of the “u.”

Put your hand back on the top tail above the gathering knot, and pull on it to tug the “u” bend, and the end of the cord that’s tucked into it, up inside the gathering knot. It’s a bit of a fiddly process to figure out exactly the right amount of strength to use, so don’t feel sad if you have to start this knot over a couple of times.

The finished gathering knot will look like the one above, with the “u” bend pulled inside to the middle. Notice that I left such a long bottom tail that you can still see it, but the knot itself is well-secured.

Trim both tails for a cleaner look.

Step 2: Tie four groups of five square knots below the gathering knot.

Separate out four adjacent cords. The cord on the right will be what the vertical sides of the knots will look like, and the cord on the left will be the center color.

Ignore the fact that I’m not working up by the gathering knot here. It was too hard to photograph single-handed!

Pass the cord on the left OVER the two center cords and UNDER the right cord.

Pass the cord on the right UNDER the center two cords and OVER the left cord. You can also think of this as putting it through that left loop made by the left cord as it prepared to pass over the center cords.

Pull the knot tight.

You can see that the vertical piece is created on the opposite side from where you started–if you lose count, you can use that to tell you what side you’re on. You can also see that the left and right cords switched places.

To finish the square knot, continue from the right. Pass the right cord OVER the two center cords and UNDER the cord on the left.

Pass the left cord UNDER the two center cords and OVER the right cord, or through the loop that the right cord made when preparing to pass under the center cords.

Pull the knot tight. It should tuck up right under the knot above it.

Repeat four more times to make a total of five square knots with that group of cords. Hint: you’ll have five vertical pieces on each side.

Repeat three more times to make a total of four sets of knots around the gathering knot. This will use up all your dangling cording.

Step 3: Make a second set of square knots six inches below the first set.

Measure down approximately six inches from the bottom of the first set of square knots.

From two adjacent sets of square knots, take the two right cords from the left set and the two left cords from the right set. These are the cords you’ll use for your next set of square knots. I like to tape them flat and in the correct order, because at this point it’s very easy to start getting mixed up.

Tie another set of five square knots (one knot starting from the left, then another knot starting from the right equals one set) with these cords.

Repeat with the remaining three sets of cording, until you have four new sets of square knots, each six inches below the first set and made up of cords from two adjacent sets above.

Step 4: Repeat the process 1-2 more times.

You have enough cording to tie four total sets of square knots, each set approximately six inches below the set above. That being said, four sets results in a plant hanger that is quite long, and I prefer to stop at three sets for most of my plant hangers.

Step 5: Tie a gathering knot at the bottom of the plant hanger.

Measure six inches from the bottom of your final set of gathering knots, and tape the cords together at that spot.

Using the second piece of foot-long cording, tie a gathering knot at this tape mark.

Trim the rest of the cords below the gathering knot.

On the left is a shorter plant hanger (three sets of five square knots long) mounted just above the window. On the right is a longer plant hanger (four sets of five square knots long) mounted to the ceiling.

These plant hangers are super versatile, and since you only have to learn two knots, they’re super beginner-friendly, too! Once you’ve mastered this simple version, feel free to fancy it up with more complicated knots.

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