Megan Recommends

Megan Recommends blog series

In my “Megan Recommends” blog series I share with you things I have been loving lately, whether they be computer applications, movies, cooking tools, etc. In this instalment, I share with you some items that have been helping me calm my busy, often anxious, mind. If you need a little help with relaxing, maybe they will help you, too!

My big fancy day planner:

I tried using multiple different apps and calendars on my computer and phone to keep myself organized, plan my days, and get my ideas down, but I just wasn’t sticking with them and everything was just staying in my head. But, trying to keep all my plans and to-do lists in my head was not working so great either ūüėź

In comes a big and pretty planner! I went to Michael’s and purchased an actual paper planner (just like the good old days) and started using it to plan my weeks. My planner is a Happy Planner, which is a large line of planners with matching accessories (such as stickers, washi tape, and folders). I got my planner in July and it is for a year and a half (and are probably on sale now!), but you can also get ones that start in January and¬†are for just a year.¬†planner

The planners are pretty and functional on their own, so you don’t need all the ad-ons, but if they inspire you, then go for it!¬†There are some folks out there that make absolutely beautiful planners – they really are works of art – but for me, just writing in the planner is enough of an investment. On Etsy you can find artists selling their own handmade planner accessories, such as stickers and bookmarks, so you can really make your planner unique. My friend Krystle of Heartsprinkle has started making some really adorable bee ones!

The Headspace app:

Headspace is a meditation app for your computer or phone. Now, don’t get scared away by¬†the word “meditation”. This isn’t your stereotypical¬†chanting, incense burning, cross-legged, gong banging meditation, but a down to earth, daily, mind calming practice for everyone.
headspace

I have always liked the idea of meditating and thought maybe it would help my anxious monkey mind, but could never get into the habit of practising it daily Рplus I always felt a little awkward doing it. But Andy Puddicombe, the creator and voice behind Headspace, makes meditation accessible to anyone. You can watch him talk about it in his TED talk.

The app gives you 10 free guided meditations that are just 10 minutes long, the first stepping stones to getting into the habit and learning what meditation is all about. Then you can subscribe to gain access to a variety of different guided meditations with different themes and lengths.

The app has cute little cartoon characters that star in short videos that guide you along in understanding the concepts of meditation, making the concepts easier to grasp, understand, and actually implement. Plus, you can have the app send you reminders each day to practice, as well as follow and encourage other friends who are enjoying the app with you. I highly recommend at least giving it a try and testing out those first 10 free sessions for yourself.

My gym membership:

Growing up I danced several times a week at a dance studio. I did tap, jazz, ballet, and modern. I was super active for hours each week. Then I went to university and I continued to take dance classes, as well as gym classes such as step class and kick boxing. I remained really active. Then I finished¬†school and didn’t have access to a gym anymore, and the cardio sort of ended. I didn’t have that outlet of energy, that break from being stationary, anymore. Walking a lot wasn’t enough, I needed to sweat and get my heart pumping again! So I joined the YMCA (a popular gym found throughout North America).

I don’t enjoy running around a track or on a treadmill, or even running around the woods. I like to do cardio that makes me think, that has choreography, that gives me no choice but to think about the exercise, otherwise I would get totally lost. When walking or running my mind wanders (even when listening to a podcast or audiobook). So when I go to the Y, I am always there for a class with an instructor. Classes such as step or Zumba (a dance fitness class) keep me so engaged I am more mindful of the activity and my brain gets a break from my usual thoughts. There are of course the many physical benefits of exercise, but I actually started going to the gym again because I noticed a change in my mental state when I wasn’t¬†going. If you also struggle with an overly anxious body or mind, give the gym a try, especially the super fun dance classes – everyone looks silly doing them, but everyone is focused on themselves anyway, so let loose!

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Until next time,
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My favourite free photo editing and graphic design sites

Megan Recommends blog seriesI have a MacBook, but it is showing its age and likes to be super slow and shut down programs in the middle of use (especially Photoshop!). I mostly use my little Acer Chromebook computer now, and I am loving it.

A Chromebook is basically a computer with a browser, and that is it. It¬†is super affordable, super basic, and super fast (it turns on in seconds!). The only problem with a Chromebook is that¬†I can’t download software to use on it, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. However,¬†I still use my Chromebook for all my photo editing and graphic development for my website – I simply use all online tools, that are free! There are three websites that I use consistently:

Pixlr

My favourite website for editing photos is Pixlr. It is very similar to Photoshop, and has everything I need. I can resize the photos, change the brightness and contrast easily, as well as use a paintbrush to make clean solid white backgrounds (I use a method similar to Stacey of FreshStitches).

PixlrEditing
A recent Instagram picture after editing with Pixlr.

The program is free, fast and I can easily download my finished photos to my Google drive when I am done. The only disadvantage is that there are advertisements on the side, which make the working area on the screen a little smaller, but it is still large enough for what I need. Or, of course, you can always pay to have an ad free experience.

Canva

For most of the graphics for my website, advertising, and CAL badges, I use the website Canva. This site is so fun to play around with. While there are features, fonts, and images that you have to pay for, you can do a lot for free (everything I have made has been free!). I can also upload my own images to to site and use them in my designs.

All my blog titles and graphics for my newsletter are made using Canva:

How to read amigurumi patterns by @hookabee

Press and Publications of hookabee crochet

tuttifruttiCAL

I created an account¬†with Canva which allows me to save all my designs and go back to them whenever I want. I love that the site¬†has pre-made templates for particular elements on different sites, such as social media, so you don’t have to look up what dimensions you should use. For example, there is already a template for an Etsy banner, so you just choose the Etsy banner and it¬†is already the perfect size for your Etsy shop. They also have templates for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, as well as for blog posts, flyers, posters, cards, and invitations. It makes things so easy!

PicMonkey

PicMonkey is somewhat in between Pixlr and Canva Рit is great for photo editing (but does not have all the tools Pixlr has), and it is also useful for graphic design (but has different features than Canva).

I use PicMonkey a lot for the images in my patterns and blog tutorials
– when I want to add text, arrows, or need to highlight certain stitches. It is also super easy to resize and round the corners of my images, as well as make collages.

Joined rounds in blo for amigurumi by hookabeearmattachmentantennaAttachment

So, those are the three programs I use on a daily basis for my photo editing and graphic design. I highly recommend all three of them – I cannot do everything using just one, but need all three in combination for my creations. Maybe try them out for your website or ravelry project pages!

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Getting started with cross stitch

CrossStitchI recently finished my very first cross stitch project – a Toronto Blue Jays logo for my brother:

2016March_BlueJayXStitchCollageIt was a super fun and easy project, so I thought I would share what I learned about cross stitch so you can try your hand at stitching something too!

What is cross stitch?

It is a specific type of embroidery, in which you use thread and a needle to stitch many little crosses on to fabric and all the crosses together form an image on the fabric.

Materials

To get started, you will need some fabric to stitch on. There are two basic kinds used in cross stitch: Aida and evenweave. They are both easy to use, just different! I started with a 14-count Aida fabric because it does have more obvious holes to stitch into than evenweave, but I am sure you can figure out evenweave as a beginner, too. To help you choose, you can learn¬†more about each fabric on the¬†Cross Stitch Guild’s website.

Both Aida and evenweave come in various colours, so make sure you choose one that will go with the design you want to make Рit does make a difference to your overall project. You can usually get both kinds of fabric, in a variety of colours, in most general craft stores.

Of course, you also need something to stitch with: embroidery thread (floss). The most common type, and the one most recommended for beginners, is DMC cotton floss. This floss is 6 ply, which means you can separate it into 6 different strands. In most cases, you have to separate them and use only 1, 2, or 3 strands at a time, not the full 6. You can see a great image of how the thread splits on the DMC website. Floss comes in a crazy number of colours, so have fun shopping for just the right shades for your project!

You will also need a needle. For cross stitch you use a blunt tipped tapestry needle, NOT a sharp embroidery needle. You don’t want to pierce through the fabric itself when cross stitching (unless you are doing a fancier stitch), but instead through the holes of the fabric. The most common sizes used are 24 and 26. The size you use depends on the fabric you have chosen, and how many strands of thread you are using. If you are using a fabric with larger holes to stitch into and more strands of thread (2 or more), than use the larger size 24 needle. If your fabric is finer and you are using fewer strands¬†(2 or less), use the smaller size 26 needle. A good test is to pass the needle through the fabric – if the needle makes the hole larger, it¬†is too big.

I used a size 24 needle and 3 strands of thread for my project, but from what I have read since, most people use only 2 strands on 14-count Aida. Working with three strands worked out fine for me Рmy stitches were simply thicker and more raised from the fabric. It is all a matter of preference, so experiment using the fabric you have choosen. Next time, I plan to experiment and try only 2 strands.

You may also want to get a hoop to hold your work as you stitch. A hoop is made up of two wooden or plastic circles, one small one that fits inside a larger one. You stretch your fabric across the small circle and keep it taut and in place with the larger circle. You can see how it works on the DMC website. Many stitchers use a hoop to help hold the fabric for them and keep it taut while stitching, but others prefer not to use one at all and simply hold the fabric in their hands. Try out both methods and see which you prefer.

Hoops come in both wood and plastic, in a variety of sizes and shapes. Again, you need to experiment with each kind to see which you like to use – there are mixed reviews! When using a hoop, make sure you choose a size that is larger than¬†the pattern you want to stitch – you don’t want your work to be pressed in-between the two hoop pieces.

There are alternatives to hoops, such as scroll bar frames and stretcher bars, so if you aren’t a fan of the hoop, check these out and see if you like using them instead.

Finally, you will need a good pair of really sharp scissors that are used exclusively for your stitch work. You may already be familiar with the stork scissors that many people use for embroidery and cross stitching, but of course, a normal pair also work, just make sure they are super pointy for cutting the fine threads accurately.

How to Cross Stitch

I won’t go into the details here on how to actually cross stitch because there are so many great resources already out there. The two websites I referred to the most were:

The Cross Stitch Guild

and

DMC

These two sites are really all you need to get started reading a pattern and making a cross stitch project of your own, but if you prefer books, I have also read parts of¬†The Cross Stitcher’s Bible – see if your library has it (that is where I got mine!) because it has some great tips and techniques to improve your stitches as well as embellishments to try.

Pattern Ideas

There are so many really great cross stitch pattern designers out there. A good place to start is Etsy, but of course just Googling something you want to stitch is also quite effective (I found the Blue Jays Logo as a google image).

I already have a number designers on my “to stitch” list. Here are my favourites so far (maybe they will inspire you, too!):

The Frosted Pumpkin Stitchery

Satsuma Street

Crafty Like a Fox

cloudsfactory

andwabisabi cross stitch

sew sew n sew

Another neat website for some quick and simple designs is the Daily Cross Stitch website. Visit it everyday for a new free pattern!

You can also try your hand at creating your own design. You can convert any¬†image into a cross stitch pattern by using a program that will¬†turn it into a bunch of little squares, just like a cross stitch design. While I haven’t tried it myself (yet!), there are free options out there to try for yourself (just Google it).

Finishing techniques

Once you are done your project it is a good idea to wash it, even in just water, and to press it using an iron. This will remove any wrinkles and other things that may have gotten on your fabric while you were stitching.

Now you have a beautiful design on a piece of fabric, but what do you do with it?!? I simply put mine back in the hoop to frame it and sent it off to my brother. In the hoop, it can be hung up as a piece of art on your wall, or sit in a stand on a table. I followed the video by Shiny Happy World on how to frame using a hoop.

You can also place your work in a normal picture frame to hang on your wall. Or, you can turn it into a bookmark, a pin cushion, a pillow, a greeting card, etc. I have started a Pinterest board with ideas on what to do with cross stitch projects.

And that is all I have learned so far! I hope it helps you if you want to start to cross stitch, too. I highly recommend it as a relaxing craft.

For cuteness sent straight to your inbox, sign up for my amigurumi newsletter to receive emails filled with ami fun. You can also follow me on facebook, twitter, instagram, and pinterest to keep up to date on all things hookabee.
Until next time,
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