Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coordinating Card Sets

If you are at all a creative person and enjoy papercrafts, I probably don't need to tell you that sets of cards make great gifts.  I especially love giving a set of handmade thank-you cards as part of a teacher gift, a shower gift, or a graduation gift.  Teachers, I've learned, go through TONS of thank-you cards, so even if they like to make their own (teachers are generally pretty crafty), it's still nice for them to have a "stash" of cards and not worry about running out.  Brides and new graduates typically receive lots and lots of gifts, so some extra thank-you cards can really come in handy, especially if you toss in a booklet of stamps, too.  But I also like to make cards as "just because" gifts -- to surprise a friend or let someone know that I'm thinking of them.  A set of all-occasion cards can be a great gift for Mother's Day or a birthday, too.

When I make a set of cards, I like all of the cards to have something in common.  Typically, all of the cards will have similar sentiments (all thank-you cards, all "thinking of your" type cards, all birthday greetings, etc.), and I generally like to pull from a common stash of supplies to make all of the cards in the set.  While I love using paper scraps from my scrapbooking to make cards, I generally DON'T use scraps if I'm making a set of cards, because I usually won't have large enough pieces of three or four coordinating patterned papers to made several cards.  So, instead, I start with three full 12x12 sheets of patterned paper that are all from the same line, and that mix well together.  Then I'll make anywhere from six to twelve neutral, but coordinating, card bases (obviously depending on how many cards I'm going to have in the set).  Then I'll pull out some embellishments that go with the colors in the papers and that can be used in multiple ways (stamps, paper flowers, brads, ribbon), and I'll start creating.

As I think I mentioned in my last post, where I raved about the Card-a-Day book, I used to think that all of my cards had to be creative originals.  Now I love to use sketches or ideas for cards I find in scrapbooking magazines for inspiration.

Here are four more cards from the "thinking of you" card set that I made today.

As you can see from the photos, for these cards, I chose a light blue floral print paper, a brown paper with light blue stylized flowers and vines, and a paper with a small all-over graphic pattern.  All of the papers are from the new "Best of K&Co." paper stack that I found at Jo-Ann's last week for a mind-boggling $15.  My card bases for this set were light blue and tan.  I also used mini brads in browns, pinks, and blues, as well as a Quickutz tag die, Prima paper flowers, and some 3-D layered embellishments that I had leftover from a mini album that I made (I have a special drawer where I store little leftovers like that).  Then I pulled out a few clear stamps that I recently purchased, and I decided to use the same Quickutz font (mini Blossom, one of my favorites) cut from dark brown cardstock for most of the sentiments on the cards.

Each of the resulting cards is clearly different than the others, but because I used the same papers on all the cards and I picked embellishments from a small, coordinating stash, the cards clearly form a cohesive set and look nice together.  Because these are meant to be note cards, I left all of the insides blank, but if I were making birthday or other "special occasion" cards, I'd probably stamp a sentiment on the inside of the cards.

My favorite way to package up cards, by the way, is simply to stack the cards (half with the folds going one way and half the other), then stack the envelopes underneath, and tie up the whole shebang with some wide, sheer ribbon in a coordinating color.  This makes a really pretty presentation, and it's easy to tuck the set of cards in the front of a gift bag if the cards are only part of your planned gift.

A set of handmade cards makes such a nice "extra" for a bigger gift, and even if you don't start with scraps, you can make a dozen coordinating cards for mere pennies each.  So do YOU know a graduate, or bride, or mom-in-law, or teacher, or friend who would love to receive a crafty and useful gift?  I thought so.  So go on, pick some supplies and get going! 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cards and an Inspiring Book

Shown above are some of the fun cards I've made recently.  I used to make tons of cards back when I did a lot of rubber stamping.  But once my creative interests turned to scrapbooking, I forgot about cards for awhile.  Now they're back on my creative radar, because they're such a great way to use up scraps, especially patterned paper scraps, that I've accumulated from my scrapbooking endeavors.  The funny thing is that while I always thought it was perfectly fine to scrap-lift or use sketches to make scrapbooking layouts, for some reason, I thought ideas for cards should be original.  Cards are small and simple, so anyone even mildly creative should be able to produce a whole slew of original, beautiful cards without much effort, right?

Well, maybe.  But then I discovered that, since my long-ago days of rubber stamping, all kinds of card magazines and card creating resources had come out, jam-packed with awesome card ideas.  I suddenly realized that card-making could be a lot more fun (and I could get a lot more cards made) if I started with cool ideas from some of these resources, rather than feeling like every card I produced had to be a copyright-worthy mini-masterpiece.

The cards above were all inspired by cards appearing in a fantastic book called "A Card a Day," which is pictured to the left.  This is a softcover, very inexpensive volume that is absolutely chock-full of wonderful ideas.  There really is a card idea for every single day of the year; in fact, there are MORE than 365 card ideas shown in this book.  While many of the cards are specific to the various holidays, there are also lots of simple "thinking of you" type cards.  Even better, a large number of the cards, even though created for a certain holiday, can be easily adapted to other themes.  The cards in the book also run the gamut from simple to amazingly ornate, and there are many that are aren't feminine in tone.

In short, I can't recommend this book highly enough, especially given its very reasonable price.  When I first got my copy, I pored through it endlessly, marking page after page of ideas that I couldn't wait to try.  I truly feel that I will probably never exhaust all of the creative possibilities offered in this book!  Oh, and the photography inside is beautiful, with a full color photo of each and every card.  The instructions and supply lists are complete, but they are in the style of Paper Crafts Magazine, which is the publisher of this book.  That means that they don't necessarily explain every technique used in detail, but rather expect the reader to have some basic level of paper crafting knowledge.  It's a knowledge level that every scrapbooker will possess, so don't be afraid to give this book a try.

Now let's look at some close-ups of the cards pictured above.  This lovely card features a couple of patterned paper scraps, some ribbon, and the word "friend" printed on the computer using a number of whimsical fonts:

This card features a vellum overlay that's been stamped all over, and three earth-toned buttons tied on with twine to give the card a rustic appeal:

This card uses a small, frame-shaped transparency as part of the background.  I'm going to admit that I had several package of those little transparencies cluttering my scrapbooking area, and I had never quite figured out what to do with them.  Well, now I know -- they look super cute on cards!

Oh, by the way, almost everything on the card above came from the dollar bins either at Target or at Michael's, including the transparency (four to a $1 package), the dimensional butterfly (a ton of dimensional nature stickers for $1) and the vellum phrase (a whole sheet of different words and phrases).  Here's another card using that same pack of transparencies:

Obviously, this card has a whole different feel than the one above, even though you can see that the basic design of the two cards is the same.  With two boys, I don't always use a ton of flowers on my scrapbooking layouts, so it's really fun to be able to use flowers to dress up my cards.

I hope these cards have inspired you just a little.  Now that I've discovered "A Card a Day," I'm becoming something of a card fanatic!  That's okay, though.  In addition to being fun to send to friends and family, don't forget that sets of cards make great gifts.  I've never met a teacher who didn't appreciate receiving a dozen lovely, handmade thank-you cards, tied up with a pretty ribbon.  Thank you notes would also make a nice "extra" gift for a bride-to-be, or a new graduate.  Just think of the possibilities!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hot Cross Buns for Easter

I am big on tradition in my house, so an Easter weekend would never go by without the fun of coloring eggs and participating in an outdoor egg hunt (Michigan weather permitting). Well, this year I think maybe I'm going to start a new tradition -- hot cross buns for Easter breakfast. I remember my mom and my aunts occasionally making buns like these when I was growing up, but it wasn't really an every-year thing, and I don't have the recipe that my mom used. But, I've got the next best thing. A wonderful recipe courtesy of, and one that is also super easy. How can a yeast bread recipe be super easy? Because it uses the bread machine to make and knead the dough! I love using my bread machine for things like this; it enables me to make fresh rolls for a meal when otherwise I simply wouldn't have the time.

Hot Cross Buns

3/4 cup warm water
3 T. butter
1 T. powdered milk
1/4 cup sugar
3/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 egg white
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 T. active dry yeast
3/4 cup dried currants
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1-2 T. water

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. milk

Add water, butter, milk powder, sugar, salt, egg, egg white, flour and yeast into bread machine in order recommended by manufacturer, and set program for dough. When about 5 minutes of kneading are left, add currants and cinnamon (many bread machines will beep when it's time for "add-ins" such as these). When dough program is complete, punch dough down and turn out onto floured surface. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape dough into 12 smooth balls and place in greased 9x13 pan. Cover pan and let rise in a warm place til double, about 35-40 minutes. Mix egg wash and brush onto tops of unbaked rolls. Bake rolls at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. When cool, make crosses on buns: mix glaze ingredients and using a clean paintbrush, brush an "X" on each bun.

I did a couple of things differently than the recipe. Even though the recipe calls for regular flour, I opted to use bread flour. Bread flour is high in gluten and it generally gives superior results in the bread machine. Also, I didn't have any currants on hand, so I substituted raisins. Another thing I did that this recipe didn't specifically say to do was that I slashed small crosses in each of my buns BEFORE I baked them in the oven. You need a really sharp knife to do this, and you don't have to slash the bun all the way from side to side; medium-sized crosses in the tops of the buns will do fine.

Here is a picture of my pan of rolls ready to go into the oven, with the crosses slashed into the dough and the egg wash applied:

The reason for slashing the rolls before baking is that it produces a pronounced and somewhat indented "X" or cross in each bun, once they're baked. Having that indentation makes applying the glaze a simple matter -- I just used a clean paintbrush and filled each indented cross with the glaze. As you can see from the top photo, the finished buns are really beautiful!

Oh, and they taste pretty good, too. The dough is wonderfully cinnamon-y and just sweet enough that you know this is a breakfast bread, but not so sweet that you couldn't slather a bit of butter on your bun if you wanted to. The crosses on the buns are, of course, intended to recall religious crosses, particularly fitting on Easter. But I encourage you to give these yummy rolls a try, regardless of your religious leanings. They are one Easter treat that I think we're going to make into an every-year tradition at my house.