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Entries in inventory (4)

Friday
Feb242012

Inventory: Squarespace

Happy Friday lovelies! The weekend is looming and it feels good doesn't it? We've been having some warm weather these last few days in Southern California and I'm liking it. Today I'm wearing shorts even! I hope we haven't completely said goodbye to chilly weather and knowing SoCal, it will fluctuate back and forth. Is spring starting to show itself in your part of the world yet?

Today I wanted to do an Inventory post on Squarespace which is the online platform I use to design, host, and maintain my blog. Over the last few weeks I've received a few emails from readers asking about website hosting and blog templates and I thought maybe other new bloggers are curious about the same thing. By sharing my blogging experience, hopefully I can answer a few questions and educate you on one possible blogging option which I have been extremely happy with. 

When I was first looking to start a blog (almost two years ago) I spent a lot of time researching my options for hosting and design and templates. I had two main criteria for my search. One, I wanted my photographs to stand out and be a big focus of my blog. So I wanted options for my images, mainly sizing options so that I could size my images larger than normal. Basic Blogger and Wordpress templates size images at 500 pixels...I size my images here at 680 pixels to fit a 700 pixel grid. That's a lot bigger. You can see a lot more detail at that larger size and that is exactly what I wanted. Two, I needed a cost effective option because I didn't have money to hire a designer. But I still wanted my site to look more custom and personal than a basic template. I didn't know coding so I would need to be able to make those changes myself. When I discovered Squarespace I knew this was the right option for me because it answered all of this criteria (and beyond!).

Squarespace is a completely online platform, so I go to squarespace.com and log into my account to access my blog. I then have access to do all kinds of things like change the layout of my site, add columns, change column widths, set fonts, add widgets, change design templates, manage posts & comments, add pages, and so on. You have complete control over your site which you can change and update whenever you want. And you can make all these changes without knowing coding (although you can use the platform to build a website from scratch too). The above image is what you see when you log in. My blog is always in the background (so when I make changes, I see them update live) and then the drop-down Dashboard menu acts as your starting point. From the Dashboard you can look at overviews, look at the structure of your site and make changes, manage file storage, and get real-time analytics. It's a great home base where you can easily find what you're looking for.

When I go to Overview, I see something like this above. The latest comments get posted on the left and I can manage them: delete ones if necessary or reply to readers. On the right I see my real-time data for popular posts, keywords, and my top referrers. You can organize these charts by day, week, month. This is a great way to get a quick update on what is going on with your site. And it comes with your account, all built in and ready to go from day one.

You can also see more detailed analytics from what you see in Overview. This data is real-time so you can know exactly who is coming to your site, from where at all times. I love the graphs and charts since it's a quick way to grab the information you need. I still have a Google Analytics account (which is free) and the information you find there goes more in depth but I use both tools and am so impressed with all the data I find. It is a great way to gauge content and see what your readers are loving. As a blogger it is so important to know what content is resonating with your readers and with these tools you'll never be left wondering that again...you'll know.

This image shows how you can easily select a pre-designed template in Style mode. All the templates are clean and well designed. Use the template as a starting point and then customize from there, making changes to fit your preferences. You can set fonts and colors too. For example, whenever I include a link in one of my posts, Squarespace automatically set it at a different color (in my case light blue) so that readers can differentiate between the link and regular text. This saves time since all these options are set beforehand.

In Structure mode you can easily add widgets, buttons, and banners to your columns. Squarespace has a lot of built in widgets, likes ones for Twitter, but you can also insert code blocks or pictures. The pictures I have running down the right-hand side of my blog - I made those in Photoshop and then just uploaded them. I can change their order around at any time or easily delete them.

Overall, I think the Squarespace platform is really easy to use but it does take a little time to feel comfortable with it. When I first got it I made changes and tweaks for days, just trying to learn all the features. It's fun to play around with though. And when you do have questions or you feel stuck, there is a community forum and a help & support page to find answers. I have found both to be extremely comprehensive. You can also contact the Squarespace support team directly. When I contacted them they were super quick in replying with great customer service.

Squarespace is not a free option (see pricing here) but when I saw how much came with my subscription I knew it was worth it. I don't regret hosting my blog here one bit and for me, I was willing to spend a little bit of money to be able to be so involved in the design and content of my blog. It is so hands-on and I really like that. Check out the Squarespace site to see examples of all the features. You can also try it for free and I definitely recommend that too. I think this is such a great option for new bloggers and those wanting to create sites that look a bit more professional. Give it a try, have some fun with it.

Do any of you use Squarespace already? Are you happy with it? Are you looking to move your blog to the next level? What other hosting and design options have you found? I'd love to hear your experience in these areas and any suggestions you have. There are many options and this is only one of them, one that I can attest to, but it definitely isn't the only way to produce a great blog or website.

*I do not receive any compensation for my Inventory posts. My opinions are based solely on my own experience with the product. I blog about these products because I like them and think other crafters or bloggers could find them useful in their own work. Thanks! 

Tuesday
Dec062011

Inventory: TeuxDeux

Happy Tuesday blog world! Today is all about organization and what I use to keep my schedule and deadlines in order. I must preface this discussion by admitting that I am very fickle when it comes to organizational systems, specifically day planners. What I mean is that I will start out one year with a specific system but part of the way through I stop using it and resort to something else. I have been doing this since middle school. My school gave us these large, 8.5x11 sized planners and at first I was all organized by subject, writing all of my assignments with pretty colored pens and drawing flowers and hearts. By the end of the year I was scribbling a few lines on a loose sheet of paper or just mentally taking note of my homework.

The whole point of organization is about creating a system that works for you and helps bring balance to your life. So if you need to change what you've set up in order to better work for you, all the more reason to make the change. But my non-loyalty is still humorous to me. At the beginning of 2011 I was using a Moleskine planner. I loved it, I felt totally organized, everything was mapped out. But sometime around the middle of the year it stopped working for me. I stopped writing down my deadlines and projects. I tried to just remember what was coming up (I got behind on a couple little things because of it). I knew I needed a new system of organization but I also knew the old way wasn't working for me anymore.

My planner in the beginning of the year compared to the end of the year. Just a little bit different.

Not too long ago I was reading the blog of Pip Lincolne Meet Me At Mikes and she had a wonderful post about online organizational tools and apps. She wanted a simple format which essentially acted as an online cross-off, to-do list without all the fancy bells and whistles. She recommended Teux Deux (along with other tools so check out her post for all the details). It looked simple enough and so I headed over to the Teux Deux website to see how the site worked.

The interface and design of the site is so simple and clean which I really like. It was designed by Swiss Miss who definitely took the look of the site into consideration and it shows. Teux Deux really is an online to-do list and you can add tasks by day and just cross them off as you finish them. The tasks that you don't complete will just transfer over to the next day, such a nice feature if you tend to be overly ambitious about what you can accomplish in a day. You can move tasks around and jump into the future to mark upcoming deadlines. I like that the home screen displays the entire week and not just a single day so that I can get a better grasp on my week. There is also a section at the bottom labeled 'Someday' where you can write your general goals that don't necessarily have a deadline.

This is such a simple system but that is why I love it and so far it has been super effective for me. It is all online (free I might add too!) so I just keep my Teux Deux tab open throughout the day and periodically come back to it to check things off (so rewarding to make those checks). There is also a Teux Deux iPhone app which you can download to your phone. It costs $2.99 but that is well worth it to stay organized on the go (a perfect feature for shopping lists).

How do you stay organized? Is it through an online website/program like this or do you still write out everything manually (like I used to do not that long ago)? As I said in the beginning, I am fickle so we'll see how long Teux Deux works for me. It might have staying power though because of the convenience of being online. Also there are no labels or alerts which I kind of love. At one point I tried using Microsoft Outlook and just loathed it. Ugh, there were way too many buttons to click and decisions to make when you created a new task. And you had to open a whole new program...annoying. But my Mom used to love Outlook so like I said, whatever works for you.

What are your organizing tips and tricks? Please share, I can always use new advice.  

*I do not receive any compensation for my Inventory posts. My opinions are based solely on my own experience with the product. I blog about these products because I like them and think other crafters could find them useful in their own work. Thanks!

Wednesday
Nov162011

Inventory: Martha Stewart Knit & Weave Loom

It has been awhile since I wrote an 'Inventory' post, where I share some of my favorite products that I am currently using, so today I decided to review my most recent purchase, the Martha Stewart & Lion Brand Yarn Knit & Weave Loom.  I saw this loom at the craft store recently and was super intrigued by the prospect of learning basic knitting without using needles.  I don't have much knowledge in this area but I figure that knitting on a loom is easier to learn than the more traditional alternative.  Does anyone have any experience with both?  Am I right?  The kit is definitely expensive, retailing around $45, but I was lucky enough to snag a 50% coupon to Jo-Ann's so it was a much more feasible purchase (especially because you need to add new pretty yarns into the total cost).  

But the high price tag is understandable considering all that the kit includes.  You can make all kinds of loom configurations with the pieces so there is no way your creativity would be stifled.  You can make hats, scarves, blankets, and even stuffed animals.  At first you learn just the basic stitches, which is the stage I am at but eventually I am looking forward to making more advanced things like this...

How fun would it be to make your own blanket to snuggle under on cold days?  The kit includes three patterns but you can find more of them, including the ones above, on the Lion Brand Yarn website.  There are patterns for this loom as well as standard knit and crochet patterns too.  Of course the patterns suggest using the Martha Stewart brand yarns but they are significantly more expensive than other brands.  I love the Martha Stewart colors but I found similar hues in other brands and saved a lot of money that way.

I most definitely want to learn real knitting (and crochet) in the future but for now I am liking this loom process.  The directions are pretty easy to follow and I think I am understanding it all.  The book teaches a couple of stitches but I have only been working on the basic knit stitch so far.  Here is the first little square I completed:

I messed up a bit and still need to figure out the correct way to cast off but I was pretty proud of my little blue square.  It's so soft and I can already imagine wrapping myself in a knitted blanket of a much larger version (really getting ahead of myself).  

I have started on my second piece and so far things are going along pretty smoothly.  I am pretty happy with the kit too.  Placement of the loom while knitting is a little awkward.  In the book, they show it placed flat on a tabletop but for me that setup doesn't really work.  I have been holding it in my lap which is ok but it slips around a bit because of the shape of the loom.  But I'm still learning so I figure I'll create a system that works best for me soon.  I should probably learn to work at a tabletop.  

The kit claims the pegs stay put but I noticed they wiggle a bit.  After knitting a few rows I usually need to push them down back into place which doesn't really bother me.  Overall I really like the kit so far and am glad I purchased it.

The knitting process is really basic.  It just involves wrapping the yarn around the pegs and then using the tool to pull up and over...well, that's all I have had to do for this first basic stitch I am learning.  It probably gets a bit more complicated in the stitches coming up but we'll see.

Once I get a little more familiar with this loom I'll write another review of it and update you guys with my progress.  Maybe I'll be knitting a blanket before I know it!  Has anyone knit on this particular loom or any others?  What was your experience like?  

*I do not receive any compensation for my Inventory posts.  I bought this product for my own use and paid for it myself.  My opinions are based solely on my own experience with the product.  I blog about these products because I like them and think other crafters could find them useful in their own work.  Thanks!  

Thursday
May262011

Inventory: Custom Letter Stamp Kit

Today I am introducing a new feature to the blog called Inventory where I highlight some of my favorite craft supplies and products...basically the things I cannot live without in my work.  When I search blogs for inspiration I commonly wonder what certain artists or crafters are using to make their creations.  What tools do they find most valuable for their craft?  I also really like studio tours and behind-the-scenes pictures and like seeing the creative spaces of other professionals.  I am inspired by all this so I have decided to share what I have in my inventory of supplies.  I don't believe in keeping my process a secret because nothing I do is completely original...all the crafting techniques I use have been seen before and will be seen again.  So I may as well share and hopefully inspire or encourage some readers in the process.  

As a side note: The items that I will feature here are just my personal preferences and by no means do they represent a perfect item.  Maybe something that works for me won't work for you and your projects.  I recommend trying things out and seeing what supplies you like best.  Message me or leave a comment if you have any questions about anything you see featured.

And as a second side note: I am not being compensated for featuring these items.  My intent for sharing is not for personal reasons (I am not looking to gain anything) but to hopefully help my readers in their creative process.  I have learned a lot from other bloggers who are willing to share and I am wanting to give back and do the same.  

So for my first I-can't-live-without-this item...

The 2000 Plus Custom Stamp Kit!  A few people have actually emailed me asking about which letter stamps I use so I knew I had to officially introduce this baby here on the blog.  It runs around $30 but in my opinion, it is totally worth it.  I have used it countless times for packaging, wedding DIY projects, and even my business cards so to say the least, I've gotten my money's worth.  The one I've linked to is from Staples but I bought mine at Office Depot so I recommend checking around for it and finding the best price.  Here is what is included in the kit:

So you get two sizes of letters.  The small ones are pretty small and even though I have occasionally used them, I use the larger ones more.  You get two wood handles, the larger one giving you up to seven lines of text.  The included tweezers are definitely valuable because the letters are tiny and it helps in arranging them.  Even with the tweezers, the rubber letters can tend to "jump" away from you (I've lost a 'D' and a 'V' sadly) so arranging the text is not the quickest endeavour.  Yes, it takes a little patience but once you have the letters in place you can stamp until your heart is content.  So this kit works great for items you're stamping in bulk, like DIY business cards.  The stamp pad is also included but it isn't anything special.  I prefer Martha Stewart's line of ink pads.

So the slight downside is having to arrange the letters but I think the versatility of this kit makes up for that.  You can essentially say anything you want.  Like all letter kits, it has only so many of each letter so it could get tricky if you are trying to spell out an entire sentence, that has a bunch of 'e's in it for example.  But I haven't encountered too many problems.  I think the kit gives you sufficient vowels and popular letters.  It also comes with numbers and a bunch of symbols, even letters with tildes for Spanish words.  

Are you dying to see this baby in action now?  Here are a handful of examples where I used this stamp kit.  

I stamped the words "cozy" and "yummy" onto this shipping tag for my s'mores kit DIY project that I did for Valley and Co last year.

This is a custom s'mores kit that I am working on right now.  I stamped the couple's names and wedding date.  

Here is another example of stamping on a shipping tag.  This was a DIY project that I did for Postcards & Pretties, a mason jar save the date.  The tag wasn't the main focus of the project but it provided a nice detail for packaging purposes.

And for something a little different, stamping on a spool.  This project has yet to be revealed so this is a mini sneak peek.

I stamped this tag for my brother at Christmas time for some simple present wrapping.

Ok, so clearly I like stamping on shipping tags because here is another example.  This escort card DIY was featured on Emmaline Bride last year.  The dates were done with a date stamp but the names were stamped with this kit. But the dates could easily be stamped with this kit as well.  

I may have stamped a lot of tags but you can use this kit for cards or stamp text onto fabric.  Like I said, it is a very versatile tool and one that I love having in my studio.  

What do you think of this stamp?  Is it something you would use?  Have you found something that works better?  As always, I would love to hear everyone's thoughts.