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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Sharing Some "Techspertise" — Learn to Excel at Passwords

Do you Excel by eSheep Designs
Harness the power of an Excel spreadsheet,,,
One of my first independent consulting gigs was to comb through some extremely looong Lotus 1-2-3 files and break them up into sections/pages. It involved the creation of macros to allow the process to operate on its own. (I remember leaving it running overnight and crossing my fingers in the morning that it would not encounter any hiccups.)

That was so long ago that the exact specs of the job are fuzzy, but it was the first time that I realized the power behind a spreadsheet.

Absolutely nothing that I've used a spreadsheet for since then has been anywhere near as complex as that project, but I still deal with several of them on a daily basis. (The only difference is that they are no longer Lotus 1-2-3 files, but Microsoft Excel. Interested in that story? Take a look here.)

Examples? A multi-tabbed spreadsheet keeps my bank accounts balanced. Finance and accounting were, of course, the main reasons for the invention of an electronic worksheet. Over the years, however, one spreadsheet in particular has become more and more important, and it's the one I want to share with you today: my password keeper.

If you are guilty of using one password for everything, you might want to read on and find out how to change your habits without driving yourself bonkers trying to remember fifty (or more) different passwords.

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Anyone using an electronic device of any sort to connect to the internet these days is, at a minimum, juggling several passwords. (I have 86 rows on my password spreadsheet!)

We are told to use different passwords so it is essentially impossible to remember them all. We are also told to change them frequently, so quite often when we do remember passwords, they might be last year's or last quarter's password. (It's policy at some corporations for everyone to change passwords every three months.) Compounding the problem is the fact that commonly accessed sites/apps don't require us to sign in all the time. Without using those passwords on a regular basis, we are bound to forget them.

In order to follow the rules — and make no mistake, the make different and change often rules of passwords should be followed — I've been using this spreadsheet as my personal password assistant for over ten years now.

password keeper spreadsheet
My password keeper spreadsheet...

It's simple, with only six or seven columns. You won't need to create macros to make this work for you.

[And yes, I know that you can buy/get password management software to help you keep track of your passwords. Call me paranoid, but I'm not about to trust my passwords to the cloud or to some stand-alone program/app that might just lock me out. Google it; it's happened.]

I'm using Excel here because most of us have access to Office. (I'm currently using Microsoft Office 2013.) Make sure you use a version that offers password protection for the file, which is probably all versions with the exception of MS Office Starter 2010.

Step 1: Give Your File a Nondescript Name

What can I say? Don't name this file, MyPasswords, or PasswordKeeper, or PasswordRegister...!

Call it KijijiSales, call it LibraryBookList, call it RoversVetAppts, but don't give it a name that has any reference to passwords in it. This file is meant to sit quietly on your hard drive and be as inconspicuous and uninteresting as possible to anyone who might have occasion to snoop. To be sure, the chances of your personal computer being hacked is pretty darn low, but let's not give anyone the heads up as to what your file contains.

And no, my file is not named per any of the above suggestions.

Step 2: Password Protect Your File

To encrypt and add a password to a file in Excel 2013, go to the following screen (File, Info):

add encryption and password to Excel file
Add encyption and password protection to an Excel file...

The following window pops up for you to enter your password:

Add password...

Note the warnings. After you enter your password — you'll be asked to enter it twice — ensure that you keep track of it somehow. This will be one password that you don't want to lose or forget!

By the way, to reiterate: this file on your private computer is not likely to be hacked. (If you float it up to the cloud to back up, the risk increases; whether you take on that extra risk is your call.) Generally speaking, you don't need to make this password fifty characters long. You might find yourself opening this file quite regularly; don't make it hard on yourself with an awkward password.

Step 3: Enter the Data

Set up the spreadsheet as shown above and use one row for each password that you need to track.

The columns should be fairly self-explanatory. Platform is for name of the company, website or app... everything from Amazon to Zomato.

Under URL, record the web page where you would log in to that platform.

User Name is the name that you use to sign in. This is typically your email address or a unique name. Note that in cases where you can open an account with a user name, you may be tempted to use the same name everywhere. Changing it up ever so slightly each time, however, adds an additional layer of hacking protection.

Password, of course, is for the current password.

learn how to create better passwords eSheep Designs
learn how to create
better passwords...
This next one is optional: Class is for classification. I have about seven different types or classes of passwords. For example, one is Finance (i.e., for banking related passwords) and another is Shopping. I follow the rules of password creation in that all of my passwords are different, but I use common elements throughout. Within each class of password, those elements are used in a different order.

Sound cryptic? Password creation should be somewhat cryptic. I don't want to overwhelm you with details here, but the idea of creating small password elements and putting them in a different order for each type of password is very effective. It automatically produces passwords that are easier for you to remember in everyday usage, but aren't easily guessable/hackable. (If you're interested in knowing more about this method of password creation, take a look at my perfecting passwords page. I promise you that if you're at all intrigued by the idea, you'll find the discussion enlightening!)

All that aside, if you don't intend to categorize your passwords, you don't need to have this column.

Last Changed is the date that you last changed this particular password. Most of my passwords are changed once a year. With this information, you can always tell when you're overdue to change a password.

Finally, (OLD) NEW Password is a place to keep track of the previous password, or to "plan" the next password. What I mean by that is, if it's almost time to change a class of passwords, I work out what the new arrangement of elements should be for that class and then enter the proposed new password into that cell on the spreadsheet. (In red text.) When it comes time to change those actual passwords, I can then just copy and paste. It makes the whole "time to change passwords" process a lot less stressful and easier to manage.

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Step 4: Maintain the Data & Keep Current

This whole exercise is pointless if you don't keep it up, so anytime you change a password, open up this file and make sure you record your changes as you go. If you follow my advice about pre-planning your password changes, it will be a snap.

One final tip about this process. Keep your rows in alphabetical order for easy reference. I understand that when you start to put the file together that you will likely enter whatever is first and foremost in your mind, so use the sort function (Home, Sort & Filter, Sort A to Z) to sort your rows once you're done.

sorting in Excel
Sort your rows into alphabetical order when you're done...

Highlight the rows and all of the associated columns that you want to sort. For this command, do not include the header row. Immediately afterwards, you should see the rows in order from A to Z.

sorted Excel data
After sorting...

This is the simplest use of the sorting function in Excel. By default, it is sorting strictly on the first column. Take a look at the Custom Sort option if you want to sort by other columns or by several columns at once. For instance, you may want to list all of the data by Last Changed to see what the oldest dates are.

Make friends with the Undo button and you'll feel confident to explore!

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Have you seen news stories about how family members are helpless to access the online accounts of loved ones after a sudden death?

Can you see how having a spreadsheet like this — with the password and name of the file stored with important documents such as your personal directive and will — could help your survivors find their way through the maze?

I mean, we all "know" certain individuals only through social media platforms. But if something were to happen to you — and I use "you" in the sense of referring to anyone with whom I have had contact via this blog — I might care to know about it. (I'd also like to think that if I suddenly disappeared from my Saturday postings that a few of you might be curious as to my well being!) But if your family members can't even log on to your email accounts to reply that we are sorry to report that... etc., we would all just perpetually wonder, "whatever happened to...?"


Anyway, I hope I've encouraged you to think about this and about using Excel to help you out.

To end on a more upbeat note, take a closer look at the graphic at the top of this post. I will be back at a later date with part 2 of my blog housekeeping topic, where I will discuss how Excel can help you track and maintain your internal and external blog links.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Cold Hard Truth About Commenting

Blogging can be like speaking into the great abyss...
If you could — with just a few minutes of your time and no money at all — make someone happy, would you do so?

In theory, I believe that the vast majority of us would. In practice, only about ten percent do... at least in the particular circumstance that I'm talking about.

And of course, you already know what I am talking about: commenting on someone's blog. Apparently, studies have shown that this practice follows the unfortunate 90-9-1 rule.

There are at least a couple of interpretations of this rule, but in a nutshell, if you have a blog, 90% of your visitors will never leave a comment. Call them career lurkers. One or two of them may unlurk at some point, but for the most part, you are never going to hear from a whopping nine out of ten of your readers.

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And the other "one"? Depending on which interpretation of the 90-9-1 rule you go with, it may be that nine times out of ten, you'll get the occasional comment. That last one time out of ten — essentially representing that special one out of one hundred visitors — you can expect will engage with you with some regularity.

Which begs the question: if I don't have a hundred readers, will I ever get regular comments?

It would be funny if it wasn't mostly discouraging, right?

Let's put it this way, this blog barely has a hundred regular readers. So I know from one week to the next that chances are high about the number of comments being low. It's just a reality that I accept. (I've also come to accept that I'm no good at predicting what type of post might elicit more of a response — since even wildly popular posts see almost no activity in that respect — so I don't bother trying to "gear" my blog posts towards getting more comments.) And while I've been very fortunate to have a tiny number of regular readers — thank you, thank you; you know who you are; please know that you fill me with gratitude by your interest — I also know that they can't be expected to comment on every post... let alone read every post for that matter.

Examples of AllFreeSewing's
paid commenting...
[By the way, being "big" or well known does not automatically guarantee you more more comments. Why else would AllFreeSewing be willing to pay people to leave comments across their family of sites?]

Before I started this blog, I commented maybe three times in total. Like many of you lurkers, I didn't want to leave a breadcrumb trail of my opinions all over the web... for various reasons. Let's just say that my thoughts ran very much differently when I found myself on the other side of the fence as a blogger, wondering about the absence of comments.

But I'm not here to berate you for your silence. I get it. I've been there. If I hadn't been inspired to start blogging, I could still be there... silent as a mouse (the rodent kind, not the computer kind).

Having read about the subject of commenting, I also understand that potential commenters — especially first timers — have their own bouts of insecurity when it comes to composing a comment. They want to make a difference and say something that is not "same old, same old" as what's already been said.

I don't mind admitting that if there are five other comments already saying the same thing, I'm not going to jump into the fray just to say "me too, me too!" I'm not that kind of person in real life and my online persona doesn't go there either. It's hard to be genuine under those circumstances.

That's why I like commenting on posts where there aren't a lot of other "speakers". Or, I like to be the early bird who gets to say what everyone else is going to say. ;-)

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Still, there are times when I have to leave a comment, regardless of who's been there already or what their thoughts are. If a blog has helped me in some way that I've put into practice, I like to thank the blogger. In this case, it's doesn't matter if there are two hundred previous comments; it's a principle. When people help you, you thank them. (That's not just blogging, by the way, that's life.)

The ironic thing is, despite the desire for comments, bloggers sometimes shoot themselves in the foot over the whole process of inviting comments. Let me change hats now and suggest a few things from the point of view of a potential commenter.

#1: Don't make it hard for me to comment.

Having to log in, having to create an account, having to enter a CAPTCHA, having to wait for the comment to be moderated before it appears... all of those absolutely deflate my enthusiasm to comment! Comment killers, they are, absolute killers.

These conditions will pop the balloon of a lot of people's enthusiasm. Er... I have to do all that first? Fuhgettaboutit! Or...what? I just wrote this fantastic comment and I can't even see it?? (Or I come back five days later and I still can't see it?? Yes, this has happened to me!)

I know why you've created these hoops and hurdles. You've been spammed. But unless you're being spammed big time, 24/7, lose the barriers if you want people to leave comments. I've had my share of spam, most recently from the same silly individuals who leave "templated" comments with an advertising link at the end. When they're posted, I just flag them as such and they disappear.

#2: Allow me to remain anonymous.

There are always going to be those who hesitate to start that breadcrumb trail. Let them stay under cover. On Blogger, you can stipulate whether or not to allow anonymous comments:

There is no problem with allowing anonymous comments. If they end up being spam, you can remove them. By allowing them, you are effectively taking away that last hurdle. (Are you still reading, all you quiet folks out there? You can leave me an anonymous comment, add a virtual ton of radiant sunshine to my day, and no one in the universe will ever know who you are!)

#3: Don't ignore my comment if you're a small blogger. (Or maybe there are no small bloggers, just small blogs...)

I've had this discussion before and I believe that universally, people want to be acknowledged when they take the time to leave a comment. (Yes, even if it's slightly negative... how bloggers handle constructive criticism "in public" is a good indicator of the character behind the digital persona.) For small bloggers not to respond to someone saying good things about what they've created is inexcusable.

I once left a comment on a blog where my comment was the only one. (And no, it wasn't just a simple statement of "Nice whatdyacallit!") No response. In another case, I added my thoughts to about six others. Nothing. In both of these cases, it was a first time interaction on my part. Beyond a few times of checking back to see if I had been responded to, I have not returned to either blog. Even if I do return in future, I am never going to leave another comment. (Remember when I compared myself to Mr. Darcy? Sometimes it really is that simple.)

Oh, and I don't imagine that those two bloggers were being overwhelmed by the amount of comments they were receiving. I've left comments on blogs where I can tell "it's a busy place" and I don't expect those bloggers to acknowledge me. (Even though they often still do... obviously, they know the value of their readers' interactions.)

#4: Respond in kind.

Do you want more than a "one off" comment from someone? Well, then — show some interest. If you receive several sentences of effusive praise or extended discussion about your post, it might be somewhat deflating for the commenter to get a mere "thank you" in response. It's like reaching out to someone who doesn't return the effort.

Don't have time? A well thought-out reply that comes two days later will build more solid relationships with your commenters than a quick acknowledgement that's unabashedly shallow. There's a reason the saying "quick and dirty" exists in our language.

That said, if someone leaves a three word comment, it's perfectly all right just to say "thanks".

#5: And when you do respond, email me if possible.

Of course, this is impossible if I've commented anonymously or if I happen to be one of those "no reply" people, but if you have access to my email address, do me the favour of forwarding me your response.

It took me awhile to learn and implement this myself, but it really does help a great deal if after I comment "somewhere", I don't have to go back to that "somewhere" to check on the acknowledgement. This is especially key when a person is making a first visit. (I've often lost track of where I've been and may not come back to see the response.)

Bloggers sometimes want to make public their responses and that's all good (and definitely recommended if someone has asked a pertinent question that others would like to know the answer to), but cc the commenter by email for his or her convenience.

So that's it... my rather long post about comments and why many of us don't get enough of them.

Do you have any comments to make about this?? If you've never commented before, did you gain some perspective?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Free Pattern/Tutorial: Quilted CD Coaster Mug Rug [Version 2]

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug by eSheep Designs
The quilted CD coaster mug rug version 2: the "Lucky 8"!
Or... the "Lucky 8" version!

In my first go-around at CD upcycling, I made a trio of coaster mug rugs using some scrap fabric, old CDs and fleece that I harvested from an old sweatshirt.

Today, I have a variation on the same theme to share: a double CD coaster/mug rug that's the perfect size for keeping your coffee and cookies off the table.

In terms of making it, it really is not much more difficult than making the one with a single CD.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug by eSheep Designs
Double-ended design is perfect for drink and snack!

Its fun shape is reminiscent of an "8" — which is my husband's lucky number. Well, it's also the current decade of my mom's life, which is the more significant fact as this is her Mother's Day present this year.

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If you want a more detailed explanation, refer to the original tutorial for the single CD coaster. But really, the pictures tell the whole story of how to do this.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 1: Make a pattern...

The first step is to place two CDs side by side and trace around them. Then make several marks 3/4" (2cm) out from the edge of those circles and draw an outer shape as shown. Cut out the resulting pattern template.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 2: Cut out pieces in fleece...

Use the template to cut two pieces of fabric (I used two different fabrics this time) as well as two pieces of fleece. Then cut four circles of fleece the same size as the CD.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
... and in fabric...

Stack the pieces as shown above.

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Pin the pieces together.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 3: Stack and pin the pieces together...

Stitch together each set of pieces with a 1/8" (3mm) seam allowance and then quilt them in some fashion.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 4: Stitch together and then try some free motion quilting!

Pin both pieces with right sides together. Mark off two sections that will be kept open at each end in order to slide in the CDs.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Use pins to mark off the section that will be kept open (at both ends) and ensure that the CD fits...

Make sure that the CDs will fit into those openings before going any further.

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After pinning, sew the top and bottom seams together with a 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 5: Sew the two pieces together along the top and bottom edges...

Notch the curves around the sewn areas and then turn right side out. Press well after turning.

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug Tutorial by eSheep Designs
Step 6: Clip curves and turn right side out...

Slide the CDs into the openings at either end and then use clips to continue forming the remainder of the seam.

Topstitch around the entire perimeter with as small a seam allowance as you can manage (aim for just under 1/8" or 3mm).

Lucky 8 CD Coaster Mug Rug by eSheep Designs
Our famous Canadian coffee promo...
And that's all there is to it.

Sewing around the curved edges may prove challenging for some, but as with my fab fabric flowers tutorial, there's value in taking on projects like this where you can practice and hone your skills using just scraps of fabric.

For me, I really enjoyed the opportunity to try some free motion quilting on something small and inconsequential. (And I didn't even lower the feed dogs or change out the sewing foot!)

CD Coaster Mug Rug by eSheep Designs
Download the free PDF!
And as I've said before, sewing is not like laying concrete. If it doesn't turn out well the first time, pick up that seam ripper and try again!

Like it? Want to keep it? For a copy of this tutorial in PDF format, go to my Craftsy shop and download it for free!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Wanna Buy My "Handmade" Chair?

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
I truly never knew this nondescript fabric of mine
would look so designer-y on a chair!
It'll only cost you $469 USD.

What's more, the shipping is free... only to the US, however, which is actually the only place where these humongously heavy things — I would imagine — can be shipped at present.

I hadn't been paying the strictest attention when Spoonflower announced its partnership with Roostery last year, to bring to life certain types of home decor products made out of Spoonflower fabric. While I recall opting in to having my product line be featured in other marketplaces (including the likes of Etsy, eBay and Amazon), I didn't investigate any further... until a couple of weeks ago, when we were massively snowed on for two consecutive weekends (in the latter part of April), resulting in a bit of cabin fever on my part.

Upon digging around Spoonflower, I noticed that some designers showed an option for a pillow — made out of their fabric — being sold via roostery. So of course, had to check that out!

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Within a few minutes, my own shop was up and running.

eSheep Designs' roostery shop
image from my roostery shop...

At roostery.com, you can purchase ready-made pillows, napkins (both with two styles to choose from), tea towels and placemats, all featuring custom fabrics from Spoonflower. They also sell wallpaper, although that one's a puzzler since Spoonflower already sells two kinds of wallpaper.

As indicated at the top of this post, the chairs — and there are two styles of those too — can only be shipped to US addresses. The one shown above is called a Maran Slipper Chair. Fabric is Handmade with Love in gray, one of my very first fabric designs.

This one here is the Venda Sloped Arm Chair, shown in my Sunrays fabric, another of my first designs.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Venda chair in my Sunrays fabric...

Is it shameless of me to say how much I LOVE this? The fabric by itself has never popped out at me, but seriously, if anyone south of the border wants to bestow a gift on me — and somehow ship it up here — this would be it!

Mind you, you'd have to think me worthy of spending five hundred-some-odd USD on, but you never know, right? Price for a Venda actually varies from $515 (Eco Canvas) to $525 (Linen-Cotton Canvas) to $535 (Faux Suede). Hmmm... faux suede.

On the more affordable side of things, this is a Sherama square throw pillow (19" x 19"), priced from $38 to $44, in fabrics from Silky Faille, Eco Canvas, Organic Cotton Sateen, Linen-Cotton Canvas, to Faux Suede. Oh and the actual pillow insert sells separately (◔_◔) for $8 extra! (Er... maybe they should call these pillow cases.)

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Sherama pillow in my Floral Chain (Eggplant) fabric...

The fabric in this case (Floral Chain) has never before been unveiled; it's part of my Psychedelia collection, in a colour combo called Eggplant. I've never sampled the design, so it's not actually available for sale. But I like how it looks, so next time I order up a sampler, it might be one to include.

The other pillow/case — a knife edge style — is called Catalan and measures 18" x 18". Prices range from $35 to $41, plus $8 again if you want the insert included.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Catalan pillow in my Winter in the City (Night) fabric...

The fabric here — Winter in the City (Night) — has garnered some actual sales for me. However, beyond the original samples, I don't own any of it myself. It's always been one of my favourites, but I just don't know what to make with it.

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What's the cheapest item? Cocktail napkins! Called Frizzle-Cloth, you can get a set of four of them (10" x 10" each) for $26 to $28, depending on your choice of fabric, Organic Cotton Sateen or Linen-Cotton Canvas.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Cocktail napkins in my Ode to Mondrian (or ode to the Partridge Family bus) fabric...

This particular fabric — Ode to Mondrian — has never been sampled either. (And yes, it was due to the Partridge Family bus that I came to know the artist Piet Mondrian.)

You can also purchase a set of Amarela-Cloth dinner napkins, which are the bigger ones at 20" x 20". A set of four will set you back anywhere from $46 to $48.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Dinner napkins in Smile (Bluesia) fabric...

Also part of my largely unsampled Psychedelia collection, the above fabric is called Smile and the colour combo is bluesia (i.e., blue & fuchsia).

Again, not sure why they sell more wallpaper at roostery, but here you go. Their Isobar wallpaper is priced at — whoa — $180 for a double roll, 24" x 27'. (It's been awhile since I hung wallpaper, but that strikes me as really high end pricing!)

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Isobar wallpaper in my Strips 'n' Stripes (Blanche) design...

The design is again from my Psychedelia collection, in a colour combo called Blanche. (Which does not refer to blanche as in French for white, but as in Blanche Devereaux, one of the Golden Girls in the sitcom that ran from the mid-80s to early 90s. She wore an outfit with those colours in one episode. Haven't I expressed before that inspiration can come from the oddest places?)

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Want to wipe your dishes in style? A set of two Orpington-Linen tea towels, each 16" x 24" in Linen-Cotton Canvas, with a hanging loop incorporated into a corner, sells for $34.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Tea towels in my Blooming 1 fabric...

These tea towels feature another of my previously unseen fabrics from my as yet unveiled Ice collection, so named for the shades of blue and grey that all of the designs have in common. This one is called Blooming 1.

To round out your kitchen decor, how about a set of four placemats? Cost for these 13" x 19" table toppers in Eco Canvas, Organic Cotton Sateen or Linen-Cotton Canvas ranges from $50 to $54.

Roostery Custom Products made with eSheep Designs Fabric
Placemats in my Stars On fabric...

The Stars On fabric is also part of the Ice collection.

Obviously, I design more fabric than I know what to do with, but roostery has sure been helpful in allowing me to see how the designs appear in context with real life items. For instance, I've always had an issue with my designs running bigger than I intend them to be. How handy is it that this virtual, visual marketplace allows me to see exactly how big a pattern is by splashing it all over something like a chair?

Don't you think that's really ultra cool?

In terms of the other products sold by roostery, I would really recommend — from one crafter to another — that you buy the fabric directly from Spoonflower and make your own. Along with the ideas from this post of mine earlier this year, you should have no shortage of inspiration.

Maybe you can even upholster a chair!