A Knitter’s Fantasy workshop

For the second time, I have had the delightful opportunity to attend a workshop in Youngstown, Ohio called “A Knitter’s Fantasy”.

The workshop has, in the past, been run as a rotation among three Ohio knitting guilds.  I understand however that the event has become too much work for one of the guilds involved, and it may no longer occur at all in future years.  It is too bad, because it is a wonderful event for attendees, although I can’t imagine the amount of work that is probably put on a few individuals from each guild.

The format of the workshop is what makes it really amazing, it’s like a mini-convention or expo (comparing to my other niche-hobby frames of reference:  boardgaming and quilting).  For $45 (this year), you get admission to a charming “Yarn Market” of about 20 or so vendors, access to a morning class and an afternoon class, and a lunch.  There is also a fashion show at lunch, door prizes, a “swap” table where knitters can destash and other knitters can pick up free yarn, tools and patterns, and, for the two years that I have attended, there has also been a demonstration room for machine knitting hosted by a machine-knitting guild.

The classes themselves are what really make this event great.  As far as I understand, all of the teachers are volunteering their time.  The cost of attendance is included in the $45, but some classes cost an additional small fee for materials or extensive hand-outs.  I find the quality of teaching and/or expertise of the teacher has varied widely, but all the classes have still been a lot of fun.  One year, for example, I took Tunisian crochet and the intended teacher had gotten sick, so two very enthusiastic volunteers learned the skill the night before, printed lots of handouts, and ran a great class!  It was tough for them to answer questions of any depth, however, I really felt that they made the class fun and I did successfully learn the basic Tunisian crochet pattern.

knitted broomstick lace swatch

Swatch of Knitted Broomstick Lace that I worked on in class

This year, I learned the Broomstick Lace knit stitch.    I was hoping there was a little more to the class than just the one stitch, as I have tried a little crocheted broomstick lace and there is a lot you can do with the crocheted version.  I’m not sure if there’s a lot you can do with the knit version, because the class really only covered the one stitch.  It was a tricky stitch to learn though, so I’m glad to have had the class to help me get into it.  If you’re curious, there is a very good video on this technique here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GerQQRmTuc0

Her written knitted broomstick lace pattern actually makes a little more sense than the version I was given in the class, which caused a lot of confusion for myself and other class participants.  Luckily, the teacher was able to straighten us out.

The Freeform Knitting class was really my favorite of this year.  The teacher, Sandy Hardy, was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable.  Someone had volunteered a load of plain and novelty yarns, and everyone was encouraged to bring in yarns to share as well.  This is the first time I’ve seen novelty yarns really go to an amazing and versatile use! Usually, I think of “novelty yarns” as the uni-taskers of the yarn world – they might do one thing really well, but you’re probably not going to want an every-day sweater out of it, and the appeal of the item you make might be limited to just a year or two before the look is out of style.  Normally I approach novelty yarns with extreme caution, but after this exciting class I’m wondering where I can get a grab-bag or someone’s destash!

Sandy began the class by trying to establish a relaxing atmosphere for creative exploration of a knitting form that is really versatile.  She then encouraged all the students to grab yarns from the share table, and gently pushed students with more subdued palettes to add in bits of yarn with more sparkle and contrasting color.

We received a handout with lots of resources as well as a few basic stitches, and she coached us through starting a mitered or garter block as a foundation, and then picking up stitches to make small units that could be pieced together later for handbags or other items.

Sandy had the most amazing example piece that she had created.

freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, front (photo used with permission)

She used a purse-form from a local yarn store (River Color Studio, which is my favorite yarn store, in Lakewood, OH, just sadly not very local to me anymore), but mentioned that plastic needlepoint canvas should work as well as a stabilizer and foundation to sew on the modular units.  I did admire the purse-form she had, as it was more flexible than rigid plastic canvas, however, I haven’t found the exact same thing online yet. [Update:  Sandy emailed me a link to the Lacis catalog, search TM22 to find the plastic mesh frame she used in her example.]  I think I might do ok with buckram (a stiffened linen) for my purposes.

From the resources in Sandy’s handouts, and the books she passed around, it seems like one of the luminaries of the freeform knitting arena is Prudence Mapstone.  Check out Ms. Mapstone’s inspiring freeform knitting gallery!

To add to the spirit of adventure, Sandy walked around the room and dropped small crocheted buttons or contrasting bits of yarn on the students’ desks and encouraged them to figure out how to add these extra bits.  I was very impressed by how she really got everyone to move beyond their comfort zones, and I found it quite liberating myself to stop thinking about pattern or count, and just pickup and add stitches, decrease and increase willy-nilly!

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, back (photo used with permission)

Gorgeous Freeform knit purse by Sandy Hardy, back (photo used with permission)

Just one more testament to Sandy’s skill as a teacher: in addition to teaching veteran knitters, there were actually two brand-new beginning knitters that had just learned to knit in a morning class and she coached them with equal finesse in the art of freeform knitting.  I think I remember that the brief teacher bios said that Sandy holds a TKGA educator certificate of some kind.  I’ll have to find out more about this, as I would like to try my hand at teaching again some day after I’ve gotten a little farther in the Master Knitter program.

The final dose of inspiration in the freeform knitting class was that one of the students happened to have a needle-felted handbag, which prompted a lot of discussion about the possibilities of needle felting by machine (either dedicated machines or with a needle-felting attachment to a regular sewing machine).  Thinking about this in context with freeform knitting had me visualizing all kinds of fun hybrid pieces with knit, crocheted, needle-felted, and sewn embellishments.

freeform knit swatch

The beginnings of my first freeform knitting project


My mind has been whirling ever since!  I hope I can capitalize on this momentum and have a great project or two to share in the next few months!


Spencerian Penmanship Theory – A review

In my quest to improve my handwriting, I have picked up some interesting reproductions of the Spencerian Penmanship school books that would have been widely used in the American classroom from the 1850s until about 1900 as more simplified, easier to teach writing styles became more popular.

My hope is that by reading (and in some parts re-reading repetitiously) the theory book, and doing the exercises (which will probably take me at least 50 hours, at a guess), I can really begin to retrain my hand/mind so that I can write with a script I can be happy with.

I’ll discuss my progress with the copy books in a later post, but the reason for obtaining the Theory book might be less self-evident, so I want to review the Theory book first.

The book

Disclaimer:  I’m trying something a little new here.  I’ve never made money from this site, and I’m not sure I ever will, but I want to try the whole “monetize by affiliate linking” experiment.  I apparently get over 350 viewers per month, and only one of them is my husband, so I assume everyone else who visits my site is lead here by search engines.  I am delighted that you’re visiting, and I have had an uptick in “likes” and “followers” lately.  I guess that means I’m writing about something that some people want to hear about.  But I don’t really know what lead you here.

So if this new commercial gesture offends some, I do apologize, but if people are here because they like my reviews, perhaps they will be interested in helping me buy more crafty things to review. As a matter of course, I was going to link to Amazon anyway, just to show you the book I’m talking about. Now perhaps, the links will do something for me.

Spencerian Penmanship (Theory Book)

If you buy the books from either of the links to Amazon on this page, I will apparently get some tiny percentage back as an “advertising” fee. However, my review as follows is my very honest unbiased own opinion, I bought the book with my own money earned from my day job, and I don’t need you to buy the book to eat, so please don’t feel obliged.

The texture of history

First, let me say that these are LOVINGLY reproduced books. When I bought this sight-unseen, I assumed like many historical reproductions that it would be a cheaply produced, copy of a ditto of a typed-on-a-typewriter reproduction with blotchy inscrutable copies of the woodcuts.  Instead, everything is nicely laid out with a crisp and clean font, and a modern sensibility for interline spacing.  All the diagrams of pen strokes have been redone, and the woodcuts that are present are as cleanly reproduced as one could hope for, given that they are presumably based on woodcuts from over 150 years ago.  The cover has a vellum-like satiny finish which I find to be an interesting texture, and is printed to graphically evoke a leather-bound book.  The pages themselves feel nicer than cheap copy paper, which is more than I expected.

Hand positioning for geeks

The Spencerian Penmanship Theory book goes into exhaustive and pedantic detail about every angle of how one should sit, how one should precisely hold a pen, what exact strokes make up the foundations of writing, exactly what angle the downstroke and connecting stroke should have to the horizontal, and so forth.  This is NOT going to be entertaining to everyone.  It’s pedantic and dry, and there are some terms and definitions that simply do not match up with the modern world.  Of course, I found it charming.

Reading this Theory book, I can really visualize the Victorian era classroom, the schoolmarm or master drilling fidgety pupils at little wooden desks in one-room schoolhouses or boarding schools.  It’s so Anne of Green Gables.  So charming!

And it’s such a product of the rote style of learning era, drilled questions, “measure and analyze the Capital C”,  “describe and form the First Principle “, etc.  And yet, I feel like I can get a lot out of some of the repetition.  I am finding myself opening the theory book every time I sit down to write, just to re-read the hand-position section in the beginning of the book.  I think I need to try the rote/repetitious style in order to overcome nearly 30 years of bad handwriting habits.

Here is my “normal” hand position.  I clearly need help!

hand gripping pencil in a fist

My lousy default hand position

Exhaustively detailed letter forms

The part I found less entertaining comprised the latter two-thirds of the book.  It contains lengthy descriptions of each letter and number form in a question-answer format.  I do think I will enjoy referencing this section as I approach each letter form through the practice exercises in the Copy Books.  But not being interested in memorizing the entire book like a 19th century school kid, it makes for a fairly dull read-through.


Adults:  If you are an adult trying to reteach yourself beautiful handwriting, I think you should only consider this book if you are:

  • Charmed by “old-timey” books or historical reproductions
  • Have a historical or re-enactment reason for wanting to pursue Spencerian handwriting
  • Learn really well from reading (there are not tons of diagrams for hand position)

I kind of fit all of the above.

Teaching Children:  If you are trying to teach your child cursive handwriting, consider whether your child learns well by doing drills.  If so, this might be a really excellent guidebook, but the rote methods of learning aren’t really in favor in the education world these days.  I won’t be able to test it out on my kid for many years yet, and I think I might consider modifying it for a modern audience unless he really wants to play “historical schoolroom” or something.  That is, assuming he’s even interested in learning cursive, because I’m 99% certain that no style of cursive will be taught in school by the time he goes through and I’m not going to force it on him.

If none of the above reasons apply, and/or you learn better by watching, there are a number of good videos out there that will demonstrate the hand position or the motions of writing.  Here’s a video demonstrating hand position that I thought was very nice (her old hand position looks a bit like my default one!). I’m sure it didn’t hurt me to get a look at someone practicing the skill.

hand writing in copy book

Better grip (correct? time will tell) as influenced by the Spencerian Penmanship Theory book, writing in Copy Book 1


I’ll review the copy books fully in a later post, but whether or not you get the Theory book, if you are on a mission to try Spencerian cursive, you should strongly consider the set of copy books.  I don’t think the Theory book really “works” without the scripted exercises in the Copy Book series.  You essentially spend an entire page working on the downslanted stroke, another page working on a downslant plus the connecting stroke, and eventually work your way up to letters, words, and phrases.  You might be able to find downloads of the copy books somewhere on the internet, because I think the whole lot fell out of copyright at some point before being picked up by the current publisher.  I could not find them, but didn’t try very hard since the set of reproduced copybooks seemed worth a shot.

Spencerian Copybooks 1-5, Set, without Theory Book (Spencerian Penmanship)

FTC disclosure:  Within this post, I have used some “affiliate links” which means that if you end up buying the listed product from Amazon.com, I will supposedly get a small percentage as an “advertising fee”.  So far, this is a hypothetical situation, as I have just started trying it out.  I am only going to share links of items that have been useful to me.  I am not going to write a more favorable review in the hopes that someone buys something.  So far, I have bought all the items reviewed.  Thus far, no brand or company has come by offering to give me product in exchange for reviews, however, I am open to that as long as you don’t expect an uncritical review of your brand/product.


The art of writing by hand

It’s been a severe limitation in my paper-craft journey that I truly, passionately hate my handwriting.  Whether block letters or script, my writing has always looked (to my eye) crabbed at best and sloppy at worst.   

The best I can say about it is that I think it’s legible, I’ve never had anyone comment that they couldn’t read it.  But not at all beautiful.  I’ve even had it suggested that perhaps I was really meant to be left-handed because my handwriting is so lousy.  I do have several reasons to believe that I was born to be ambidextrous, but the fact is that I learned most skills right-handed so the left hand just doesn’t have the fine motor practice for me to particularly want to train it in skills that the right hand already performs adequately.

While I’m not one of those who lament that no one learns cursive in schools, I do think it’s a valuable skill for many artistic reasons.  How can I make a beautifully titled page or do journaling that I’ll want to look back on if I can’t write beautifully?  I also adore the look of the recently-launched Ali Edwards subscription stamp club, but they seem pricey to me (especially if you also add the cost of her associated monthly Story Kit, which I want too), and what I really love about her stamps is that the style of writing on them is so juicy and vibrant.  What if I could write like that?  I could save a lot of money and a lot of fuss just by being able to write titles in a style that I like.  Not to mention the joy of being able to title things with my own words rather than what some other artist put on a stamp.  My story = my words, right?

I recently read that “there are a surprising number of people who do wish their handwriting was better”, from an article extolling the virtues of good penmanship from The Art of Manliness, (which, as a disclaimer, is a strange website and I can’t claim to understand or have an opinion on it’s point of view, I just enjoyed the article about cursive).  It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my wish to write more beautifully.  I have noticed this theme in real life as well, as many people comment on the typewriter in my office (we have required paper triplicate forms, I hate my handwriting, ergo typewriter), my response about my hated handwriting more often than not elicits a comment about the visitor’s own dislike for their handwriting.

I won’t belabor the history and practice of script-style writing versus block lettering versus machine-printing, there are a lot of great resources on the web to tell you about the evolution from Spencerian to Palmer to D’Nealian (including the article mentioned above).  What really jumps out at me is that the trend that was in place when I was a child was to make the cursive easier to learn at the expense of beauty.  I’m not faulting the schooling practice, and arguably the cursive form was already quite redundant and useless by the time I reached adulthood.  I’ve only ever used it to write checks after the grade-school learning process, and checks are nearly outmoded by electronic billing.  But maybe if the focus were on beautiful penmanship, a generation of now-adults wouldn’t hate their handwriting.  I have a feeling that beautiful cursive leads to better block letters, too.

So in the last couple of years since I’ve taken up paper crafts, I’ve felt increasingly convinced that I need to re-teach myself writing, both script and better block lettering.  I adore typography, and I have some artistic hand skills, so why can’t I work on perfecting some hand-drawn letter forms?

For a recent pocket scrapbook page, I even went so far as to seek out gorgeous handwriting-like fonts, learn how to use Inkscape since I no longer have access to Illustrator (a vector-based drawing program good for formatting type blocks with more flexibility than word-processor programs), set up a pocket-card sized template, typed up my journaling and titles, printed them onto transparency film, cut them to fit photo-pockets…. and all so I could avoid putting my ugly handwriting directly onto my pretty paper title and journal cards in my scrapbook.  The technique turned out beautifully, but I have to say I’m rather daunted by doing that process again.  And it also looks a touch impersonal.  I don’t think I can avoid it much longer, I’m a hand-craft kind of person, so I really need to work on my handwriting.

And to do this, I need practice.  

Some resources for writing practice workbooks:

Peterson Handwriting

Donna Young’s Cursive Handwriting

  • The Donna Young website also includes Free Printable Handwriting Paper including the 1/4″ size that might be suitable for adults trying to improve their script writing

I’m also eagerly awaiting some Spencerian copy books, which I hope to review in a later post.


Reviewing craft storage – Recollections Hanging File Cube

With a craft studio move planned for over the summer, I was given some birthday money to spend on craft storage solutions.  This coincided with a sale at Michael’s on storage items, and I was able to pick up some of the Recollections line of storage cubes.  I was intrigued by their relative cheapness per unit and modularity, but I thought I should test out one or two before envisioning some long-term project to line my entire future studio with these modules.

Here is a brief review of the first that I have assembled: 

The Recollections Hanging File Cube, for 12×12 papers

Cost:  Regular price $44.99, sale price $26.99

In the box:  Various panels, slide rails, rods to hold the hanging files, assembly hardware (screws, dowels), a drawer pull, some decorative screw/dowel hole covers, and 4 hanging file folders.  That last bit was annoying, because I couldn’t find on the box anywhere how many file folders (if any) were included.  The answer, for mine at least, turned out to be 4 included folders.  Maybe the company doesn’t mention it so that they can cheap out later and include just one or something, or maybe they used to include 12 and have already cheaped out!  It’s not unusual for companies to be a little vague on the packaging if they plan to make adjustments to the product over time.

Some assembly required:  Let me preface this comment by saying that I enjoy assembling, following directions, I build with LEGO even as an adult, and I generally like putting things together.  I found this FUN to assemble.   The parts are all labeled, small hardware is in labeled bags, the instructions are very nice and clear, i.e., attach A to B using screws from bag #8.  So easy.  Everything was machined very precisely, I had no adjustments to make.  The cube assembled flawlessly.  I often shop closeouts and thrift stores, and I have picked up another brand of craft storage unit with assembly required that did NOT assemble flawlessly, so let’s say my expectations were not high.  I have read a lot of reviews where people were very intimidated by the assembly of this item, or had difficulty with the assembly.  I can only say that I had no problems with the one I received.

Quality of materials:  When I buy a furniture storage item, I expect to get what I pay for.  But here’s where I may differ from a lot of people:  I expect to pay through the nose for quality.  Chain stores don’t EVER put something on sale for a price that they can’t afford.  Yes, there is such a thing as a loss leader (an item priced at a small loss to the company to get you in the door to hook you for something very profitable), but this isn’t Walmart and we aren’t talking about a hot toy at Christmas.  Michael’s categorically puts storage items on sale often, so if they are putting that category on sale often, it means that they are probably still making a profit even at their frequent sale price.  Therefore, I expect a $27 furniture item to be kind of cheap in quality.  Thus far, I feel the quality is better than I expected.

The panels are made of MDF, which is essentially a nicer kind of particle board (here’s a helpful article on MDF vs particle board vs plywood).  MDF is ultra smooth, pretty sturdy, and holds up laminate pretty well.  The downside is that like any particle board, the boards have just a bit of give to them when struck or under constant pressure (think of a cheap bookshelf with a bowed board under years of heavy book holding).  What this means for the Recollections storage line is that when they pack all those panels into a box, they protect each other a bit, but their corners are a bit vulnerable to the dings and dents of shipping.  Especially because the box doesn’t include much padding.  If your MDF is compressed by a ding, it’s really easy to chip off the laminate covering.

Now I picked up my box at a local store, and was pleasantly surprised when I unboxed it that there were only one or two corners marred by transport to the store, and then only a little bit.  Again, I expect to get what I pay for, this is an unsurprising issue common to MDF, I want this for functionality and looking nice is just a bonus, but I know some people SUPER care about this kind of thing.  So if I super cared about dings, I would be pretty hesitant to have this shipped from the online store – I just don’t think there’s enough padding in the box unless they put a lot of packing in an overbox.  But again, I bought at the nearby store, so I can’t attest to that.

Another small quality issue that I believe will bother some, is the peculiar smooth domed hole covers.  Among the hardware is included plastic hole caps for the external screw holes, but the one end of the cap is designed to slot into the Phillips-head screw head itself.  This is difficult because the screws end up at various heights within their screw holes and can’t necessarily be reached by the plus-shaped end of the hole cap.  To check if I had overtightened, I loosened a few screws to a depth for which the caps could reach the screw, but found that this made the connections between panels a little too wobbly for my taste.  Luckily, they also include little white vinyl stickers as an alternate solution to covering the holes.  This worked just fine, and isn’t terribly noticeable, but again, some people might be disappointed by the look.

Use:  I haven’t put it through it’s paces over time yet, so I will update this later when I see how it holds up.  My expectation with MDF is that if the unit is exposed to any flexion through rough use or moving while full (or disassembly, which I don’t intend), the screws would begin to strip the small particles within the screw holes.  Over time, this would break down the units to a point of unusability, so I plan to be as careful as I reasonably can be when it comes to moving them around and ultimately moving them into the new space.

The drawer pulls out fairly smoothly, not like the action of standard metal office hanging file drawers, but as you would expect for particle board along plastic rails.  The hanging files move around fairly well along the metal rods as long as they are not weighed down too much.  The folders that were included seem to be able to handle the weight of about one 12×12 paper pad each, more than that seemed to distort the hanging folders.  The included folders did not have labels.  Supposedly the Recollections 12×12 Hanging File Folders sold separately do have labels.  The drawer itself does not have a base, so don’t expect to be able to stand your paperpads between folders of loose paper, there is nowhere for them to stand.

Compatibility of file folders:  My only real frustration with this unit so far is that I purchased another brand of 12×12 hanging file folders and they did not fit.  Buy any letter sized or legal hanging file folders anywhere and they should fit your normal drawer but apparently those rules don’t apply to the world of hanging files for 12×12″ paper.  I bought Iris brand, simply because my local Michael’s had them in stock and not the Recollections brand, and they DID NOT FIT.  I don’t know if anyone else sells a compatible folder, but from now on I will buy the specific brand and not fiddle with alternatives.

As part of a storage system:  I haven’t tried any of the others yet, so I will have to update this topic later.  I am excited to see that they include stacking dowels, to make a sturdier tower of cubes.  Don’t take that “tower” idea literally, I think they recommend going no more than 2 or 3 cubes high.

Verdict:  Because I don’t have a good place to store 12×12″ paper, I was most excited about this cube from all of those in the set.  But without more hanging files, I really can’t say if this unit is sturdy enough to hold enough paper pads to be worthwhile for the kind of paper I usually get.  Paper pads are just so dense and heavy.  I think this would be great if you had lots of random sheets of loose paper and you wanted to sort by color, but I suspect that if you are a paper pad stasher, as I seem to be, this might not be the cube you are looking for.  I do like the general quality of the product, and think it might work very well for loose paper.

I will update this post after I’ve picked up more hanging files, and I’ve had more time to live with the Recollections Hanging File Folder cube.

Update 9/17/15:  As far as I can tell, Michael’s no longer sells the 12 x 12 hanging file folders.  The entry is still up on their website, but seems to be permanently “Out of Stock”.  I’ve also had no luck at the local Michael’s stores.  I never returned the Iris brand ones that did not fit, but maybe I can modify those in some way to make them work.  You can be sure I’ll post about it if I come up with a clever solution.


Birthday Philosophy

It’s that time of year again, which make me feel reflective.  I thought I would share the following navel-gazing thoughts about birthdays, my “birthday philosophy” if you will.

When I was younger, I felt awkward about my birthday because I didn’t see what was worth celebrating. Not that life was bad, just that “birthdays” seems like a really weird concept when you are shy and don’t want extra attention. After all, it was just the day I was born, I didn’t do anything special.

As an adult, many people find that the birthday is a bad reminder, but I have never been one to dread aging. I don’t spend enough time in front of mirrors to worry about looks, and other elements of senescence and mortality can come to the unlucky young, as well as the old.

But sometime in my late twenties I realized what it is about birthdays that I could really find worth celebrating. As an adult, birthdays become a milestone that mark an achievement: Each birthday represents another year in which I have kept my **** together. That’s super important as an adult. And sadly, not something everyone can say every year. Maybe it’s a low benchmark, but seriously, it is really worth celebrating every year. I am doing a passable job at being an adult.

And so here we are, another year as an adult, and I feel I am doing a passable job keeping it together. Go me! I have made my minimum benchmark and that is worth celebrating!

On top of that, my particular role and circumstance at this time means I am helping keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, keeping a small child out of trouble, maintaining a good relationship with my spouse, my friends and my family. And on top of that, I can make pretty things and delicious thing with my hands, which adds a lot to my life. I have so much to be grateful for throughout the years of my life so far, and this year feels like it has been an especially good one.

I have plenty of blessings that I cannot take credit for, and so much help along the way from friends and family also. So really, the one thing I can say I have truly achieved is keeping it together another year. Good job, me!


Speedy Successes with Project Life App

Having had some initial success in getting a scrapbook layout done quickly with Project Life, I had some curiosity about the related app.  I couldn’t find ready answers to my particular questions, so as the app itself was quite cheap $0.99 on iTunes, I thought the best way to find out was to experiment.

So here’s a quick overview of answers to a few of my questions, in case it helps you:

  • In-App purchases:  While there are some, depending on your intentions using the app, you may not need any.
  • Layouts:  There are many layouts in the app that are equivalent to the in-person pocket-pages, and they are named in a corresponding manner.  However, not every app layout accessible appears to be available physically, and vice versa.
  • Card sets:  I haven’t explored these exhaustively, but there are definitely card sets available in-person (e.g. the Animals theme pack) that are not available for the app.  I don’t know if the reverse is true.

So, if you’re not reading this because you found this blog looking up a quick answer to one of those questions, then maybe you are wondering why I asked those questions.  I had the notion that maybe I could use the app to plan layouts that I could do later with the physical materials.  Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to tote around my phone or maybe our iPad than it is to tote around a box of photos and a bag full of card kits.  So when I have a spare moment during the day, I can set myself up for a faster craft session later by figuring out a layout.

This has been fantastic!  The app is fun, pretty, and easy to use.  I did buy all the extra layout packs for versatility, and a handful of the card themes.  Laying a story out in advance on my phone or iPad has helped me crank out several new pages already, in one or two evening sessions.

But there are limitations, particularly in ways that the app doesn’t correspond perfectly to the real-life version.  I’m comfortable with this and learning to work around it, but I’m hopeful that the company will eventually take steps to fix some of these things.  They aren’t bugs, just limitations.  And really, they are only limitations if you are using this app to draft layouts for redoing as real-life pocket pages.

Let’s consider the app in more depth.

In-App Purchases:  For my purposes, buying the extra layout packs was essential.  There are 3 at $0.99 a piece.  You wouldn’t need these if you were using the app for digital layouts or layouts that you planned to print using the app’s associated printing service.  Likewise, there are a few card sets (3 or 4) included in the app, such as Kraft and Midnight, so depending on your plans, you would not necessarily need additional sets.  If you did choose to buy extra card sets, they range from $0.99-1.99 each, depending, I would guess, on the number of card options within each set.  I bought a couple of additional sets to play around with, but mostly I am using the cards as placeholders, since I will be redoing each one as a physical page.  If you felt you needed to have everything, I suppose this could get very pricey, as there are a lot of card sets available.  I count about 35 sets as of right now.

Layouts:  There are several layouts included with the app, plenty to play with if you don’t want to buy more.  Each layout pack has several layouts (maybe 8?  I didn’t count before I bought the rest).  For my purposes, having layouts that correspond with the real-world available pocket pages is essential.  Each pack, including the set that comes included in the app, contains a few of the most popular real-world ones plus some extra from a “Squared Away” series of 15 designs that seems to exist only digitally.  The “Squared Away” designs feature tiny little squares that are probably 1″-3″ when printed out.  The remaining designs are labeled Design A – Z, but as far as I can tell only Designs A – L have been produced as real pocket pages.  [3/19/15 UPDATE:  I don’t know if I missed it when I first wrote this post, or if this is a recent release, but there do appear to be “Small Variety Packs” that cover the remaining L-Z designs available for physical pocket scrapbooking.]  The naming convention is the same, with in-app Design A being the same configuration as the real-world Design A pocket page.

The great news is that the app layout designs include some of those clever narrower design pages G – J that allow you to add some interesting variety to your real-world scrapbook.  I’m pleased to be able to experiment with these in the app before committing to buying the real-world version.  I do wonder if you printed these pages using the app’s associated printing service, if it would be difficult to find a page protector that matched those dimensions nicely?

Initially, I was disappointed that the 8×6″ designs were not available, but they actually exist in the “Photo Collage” section.  I am excited about this, as I have been working on an 8×8″ baby book, and hoped to add some of these 8×6″ pages, but would like to play with the app version first.

I am not concerned that designs M – Z are not available in-person, nor that [update 3/19/15:  M-Z are available] the “Squared Away” designs are not available in-person.  I have to figure from the company’s standpoint it has to be cheaper to program a set of layouts for the app than it is to produce, market and ship a physical product.  If they’re clever, they may even have a way to track what layouts people are using most in their apps, and might use the app as a testing ground for physical designs.

Card Sets:  I mentioned that there are over 30 card sets, and they seem to cover a lot of the currently available stock.  I didn’t explore the correspondence on these exhaustively, but I can say that there is an app version of the Maggie Holmes mini kit that I have, while there isn’t an app version of the Animal Theme pack of which I have a physical version.

For the most part, I am just using these cards in the app as placeholders, but there are a couple of advantages to picking up the app versions if you plan to buy the real versions. The first is the same as getting the app and layouts, it’s just nice to be able to flip through the options when you are away from home.  The second is the opportunity to fully preview the set.

I got the app version of the Baby Edition for Him core kit as a way to preview it for possible real-life purchase.  For $1.99, I was able to check out the cards in-depth, play around with them in layouts and consider whether they might work for one of the two scrapbooks I am currently working on that include baby pictures.  My determination is that while they are cute, and the journaling prompts are helpful, I have already gotten a lot of the basic information and layouts already done for my baby book, so this won’t help me much for current projects. There you have it, I have just saved myself $28 since I don’t have to run out and buy that particular core kit (MSRP $29.99).  I will say that I will consider picking up a Baby Edition core kit if we have a second kid… I’m pretty sure that it would be a big help when starting to plan a baby book, and I highly doubt that I will ever have as much time to scrapbook as I did when baby #1 was still a sleepy newborn.

General Pros:

  • It is really easy to make pretty happen with this app.  You can drop in photos and pretty cards quickly, swap layouts and card sets easily if you want to try different looks to go with your pics, and type on the journaling cards in one of a variety of fonts and sizes.
  • You can gain a lot of scrapbooking opportunities that you might not otherwise have had. I did three layouts in a 30 minute workout on my stationary bike using our iPad!  Yes, I’m weird, but I really like to not think about how boring it is to be working out (normally I play videogames).
  • A seamless photo previewing interface with your iDevice’s photostream or camera roll.  It can apparently also do Dropbox, which I need to explore for those handful of photos I take with my nice camera.
  • Nice options for exploring layouts and card sets that you don’t necessarily have to buy in real life.
  • I haven’t tried this out, but other fans of the app rave about being able to easily order prints, and the joy of getting 12×12 prints done for you.  One website apparently even offers waterproof scrapbook-sized prints (Persnickety Prints?).  I’ll have to consider whether my kid needs a bathbook version of his scrapbook.  I’m only partially in jest.  I think there are some creative opportunities here.
  • Even if you aren’t doing prints, it’s easy to export the digital version (see below!) for your website or wherever.
  • I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it might be really smart to layout photos shortly after you take them, and use the add-text feature on the journaling cards to write out your thoughts on the story shortly after it happens.  That’s the sort of advice I see in books about traditional scrapbooking.  It has never before translated to my real life (I usually get prints months later, and never ever journal).  With this app, I might actually do this sort of thing.
  • Based on the bullet point above, I can see a world in which I am actually mostly caught up with my current-life scrapbooking, and can turn my attention to other scrappy projects like the family history book that has been more of a wish than a reality.

General Cons: 

  • No way at this point to save your progress from one device to another.  So at home, I may want to use the iPad, and on a break at work I might want to use my iPhone, but the layouts in-progress cannot be sent from one to the other.  They say in an FAQ that this is an issue they are working on, so that could be a plus later on.
    With version 1.6 released a couple of days ago while I was working on this post, they have fixed this issue so that working files can be exported by email or Airdrop to the Project Life library of your other compatible devices.
  • It seems like the option to add text is limited to cards that the company has decided are “journaling cards”.  I don’t know how other people use these cards, but I have definitely used some of the lighter patterned cards for titles or small amounts of text.  It would be nice if more cards had an add-text feature.
  • No way to easily view photo orientation (explained below).

Photo Orientation:  So far, this is my only real beef with the app.  This issue maybe has to do with the Apple interface, but the pics are all shown in the app photo selection stream as squared, and automatically size themselves nicely for your selected orientation. 

Which is great, except that if you are trying to translate this to real-life scrapbooking, you may end up investing valuable time in a layout that is inappropriate to the orientation of your selected photos.  

This is something I’m trying to get better at, but I feel like the app developers could maybe add a setting or something so that people could check orientations quickly if they wanted to use the app that way.  At least they do make it easy to swap out layouts on the fly.

Bottom Line:  If you want to try the pocket-page scrapbooking thing, I would highly recommend experimenting with the Project Life app.  It’s a low investment threshhold if you already have an appropriate device (available currently for Apple iPhone/iPad, I think coming soon for Android?).  It is really easy to use.  And it makes pretty things out of your photos.  Even if you never want physical photobooks, there is some value, I believe, to taking all those disparate photos and putting them into a context to enjoy later.


That Project Life craze

When I first heard about the Project Life style of scrapbooking, I thought it sounded like it would be a bit of a cop-out for me.  ‘A little too easy’.

Too easy?!  What was wrong with my thinking?!

Well, what has changed was that those were the halcyon, peaceful newborn days where my little baby slept almost as much as a cat, and I had lots of time to play in my craft studio and try to do artistic layouts.

Now, I have a very active toddler running around, getting into all the things, and sharing his opinions verbally.  And in those few months of newborn restfulness, I really never did end up with enough time/energy to get “good” at scrapbooking layouts so that it became easy.  Keep in mind that I didn’t start scrapbooking or paper-crafts until pregnant with my now 18-month old.  So no base skills in how-to-scrapbook.

I recently rediscovered the concept of Project Life, and the philosophy of “getting your photos out of the box and into a book”, and it sounded like heaven!

I loaded up on Project Life branded and knock-off supplies for pocket-page scrapbooking at my local Pat Catan’s (discount craft store), and plunged in, nearly creating a 2-page spread from start to finish in the two hours after my husband went to bed.  What a difference!  What a load off of my mind to think that there is a way to keep up with this memory-craft stuff without losing my marbles!  And I can still throw in an “artistic” 12×12 layout now and then when I have time or inspiration.

Then, reading some blogs about “getting started with Project Life”, I noticed that a lot of people were “quitting” Project Life.  Wondering if there was some quality critique I was missing, or if people were using it as a stepping-stone to more free-form memory-keeping experiments, I discovered the fact that a lot of Project Life scrapbookers out there have somehow gotten the idea that the “point” of Project Life is to do a layout or spread documenting EVERY WEEK of their life.  And then they feel the same burdened, guilty feeling of not keeping up that I had been feeling.

I wanted to laugh!  Or cry!  Or both!  Maybe it was a part of a previous marketing campaign that has since been dropped, because I can’t find the origin of the “weekly spread requirement”, but people sure made it sound like it was the point of the system.  Why do I find it so funny?  Of course, it’s cool if people want to document every week, or every day, that’s great!  I’m not sure my life is interesting enough that I want to recall every single week of it, but I’ve never been a good journaler for that reason.

But what I find funny is that I thought the system was made for people like me who didn’t have enough time to do put together more complex scrapbooks.  I thought the point was EASY.  And here someone figured out a way to make it hard!  It might have even been the company itself in an effort to push more product!  I’m not going to say the company was missing their niche, because I bet being able to crank out a fast spread really is a great idea for those who want to document every week of life.  And it sure would sell a lot of product if everyone challenged themselves to do 52 two-page spreads a year.  And hey, a weekly spread sounds like a neat challenge – I am a sucker for annual challenges (especially those just north of overambitious).

But I guess it says a lot about my life right now: documenting a few big things – one page per month, maybe – sounds like a huge achievement.  Maybe with the cute little pocket pages, I can actually manage to scrapbook our family life.