AIM TOOLBOX: Saddle Stapler Review

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

You may or may not have heard of a saddle stapler– but let me tell you, I love this sucker. I mainly use it for binding small booklets, but it’s handy for any project that you need to staple further “in” than the 1-inch you get with a regular stapler. Plus they are heavy-duty, sturdy, and have lovely lines. (I’m not sure why I’m quite so fond of a piece of metal.)

My journals and booklets typical have about 10 sheets of text weight paper, and a 100# weight cover. I use a bone-folder to fold the inside sheets in half (with the grain) 3-4 sheets at a time for a crisp fold throughout. I like to score my covers before I fold them (also with the grain) to make sure that I have a nice smooth spine.

When I’m ready to bind, I’ll slip one side of the paper into the curved opening of the stapler, and the spine with lay smoothly along the stapling edge.

My stapler is a little picky about where it staples, so I usually have to hold the paper down with a finger on either side of the spine. Then I staple, trim, and voila…

Journals! (You might notice I used the corner rounder on these, as well.)

IMG_7161Although my saddle stapler isn’t very old, they have discontinued the model. You may be able to find this exact model online (it’s a Swingline 615 Saddle Stapler) you can buy the very similar Stanley Bostitch Booklet Stapler at Amazon*. Both use standard staples found just about anywhere, so you don’t need to stockpile anything.


The one feature that appears to be missing on the Stanley version is the measurement guide, a little piece of metal that can be adjusted to line up the staple location if you’re doing multiple books. I typically make a mark where my staples should go or eyeball it, so I seldom use the guide anyways.

If you love journals, or staplers, this is a must-have. If you’re in a pinch, and local, I might even let you use mine.

*Support Adventures-in-Making by shopping from our Amazon store. We’ve selected a few things that we love, and think you will too. If you purchase through us, you pay no more for those items, but we get a small portion of the sales to further the adventures.

AIM DIY: Scrap Paper Ironwork Letter

IMG_6993From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

I’ve been playing with black card stock a lot lately, which deposited a nice collection of paper scraps in my “use it this week or dump it” pile. I decided to use the Diy Craft Challenge as an inspiration to use them, and play with another thing that’s been catching my eye– quilling. (Although, in typical fashion I looked up a couple of tutorials on You Tube, promptly forgot what I learned, and did things my own way.)


• A 5×7 Frame without glass, painted black to match the paper
• A print of a favorite letter, sized to fit inside the frame (I printed my letter backwards using a setting on my printer called “emulsion side up”. It works just fine to print it the right way round, you just might have to erase your tracing paper lines.)
• Black paper (I used 100# Cardstock)
• Tracing paper
• A piece of cork to pin to (A cork trivet like this works, or a bulletin board or pinning board. Styrofoam also works in a pinch.)
• Straight pins
• A few toothpicks
• Tacky glue
• A craft knife and ruler

First I measured the depth of the frame, and cut a bunch of strips of paper that width using a craft knife and scissors.

I cut the paper against the grain so that it would curl as evenly as possible. (Grain is very important, especially when working with thicker papers. For a little more about grain, and to find the grain on the paper you are using, check out yesterday’s post.) You will use less of the paper than you think, but it’s better to have too many strips of paper than too few! (I used about 15 pieces of 8″ lengths for mine.)

I used tracing paper to trace my letter onto a larger piece of black card stock,

then carefully cut it out with a craft knife.

IMG_6819Next step was to outline my letter with a strip of paper. I dipped a toothpick in a pond of glue and drew a light line of glue down the center of a strip of paper.

Then I slowly wrapped the paper around the letter, holding the piece down to give it time to attach. At sharp angles I either folded the paper (if I could) or tore the strip and started a new one there. This task is finicky, but forgiving. I found that as long as I went slow and worked with the paper, it turned out fine.

IMG_6830I made sure to outline the whole letter, then I gave it a few minutes to rest and dry.

Once it was mostly dry, I moved to my cork backing. I used straight pins to firmly place my black frame so that it would not shift around on the cork, and decided where I wanted my letter to fit in.

I applied glue with a toothpick all the places my letter touched the frame, then used pins to secure it as well. I set pins up against the letter wherever it felt like it might flex or slide.

Finnicky steps done, now to the decoration!

To make the various curls I used inside the frame, first I ran the strip against my nail to loosen it up a little. (Kind of like curling that terrible plastic curling ribbon) Then I wrapped it around a clean toothpick to get the size curl I wanted. I also played with folding then curling, curling multiple pieces, and curling different ways. I basically went curl crazy.

IMG_6867When I had a nice pile of curls to choose from, I was ready to place and glue them.

Gently I squeezed each curl in place, and used my glue-toothpick to apply glue to any place a curl touched another part of the piece. I left the space around the letter pretty open so that the R would stand out. When I had everything glued in, I let the whole thing sit for an hour to let the glue dry.

IMG_6985bI really love the way these turned out. They’re crafty, but classy, and they are now hanging in our guest room for our two most frequent guests.

I bet you can do even better! You still have a few days to enter our DIY Craft Challenge by March 30th.

AIM TIP: Finding the Grain in Paper

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

I’m working on a super fun tutorial for tomorrow, and I thought I would take a minute to share a tip about finding the grain in paper.

What is paper grain?

Very simply- Most paper is made up of long fibers that align parallel to each other, which means that the paper will be more flexible in one direction (with the grain) than the other (against the grain.)

Why is grain important?

If you work with paper at all, you will find yourself working or fighting with the grain of paper. Because the paper will naturally want to flex with the grain, it will behave very differently depending on the way it is cut. This is especially true when you are working with thicker paper or cardstock.


What direction is the grain of this paper?

I always test the grain of a paper before I start planning a project or working with it. Some people will tell you that the grain typically runs parallel to the long side of a piece of paper, but I’ve found several instances where paper is cut the other way.
To find the grain of the paper:
• Take the paper in your hands and gently flex it one direction, then rotate it 90 degrees and flex it again. Depending on the thickness of the paper, you may want to flex it until it’s almost folded.
• It should flex more easily one way. That way is called “with the grain”.
• Sometimes I will make a light pencil mark along the flex, to show me which direction the grain is running.


What’s the best way to work with grain?

Here are a few activities that you might do with paper, and how the grain should be aligned.
• Book Binding – Book covers and guts should have the grain running parallel to the spine. If the grain goes the wrong way, pages will be difficult to flip, and the cover may warp.
• Folded Cards – You should always fold with the grain, meaning that your fold will be parallel to the fibers of the paper. That way your fold will happen in between the strings of fibers, rather than breaking them.
• Quilling or curling – If you are cutting your own quilling paper, it’s a good idea to cut against the grain, which means you’ll cut the fibers of the paper shorter. The paper will curve more fluidly this way, and you’re less likely to get ugly creases in your curls.
• Resistance projects – conversely, if you want to play with the stiffness of the paper rather than curling it up, you should cut with the grain so you have long strong fibers. (This is the kind of paper I was working with for my paper bird project.)
• Gluing – if you are duplexing, mounting, or otherwise gluing two pieces of paper or paperboard, you want to make sure the grain direction is the same for each piece. When paper is introduced to moisture from glue or even from the air, it will start to curl one direction. You want the grain direction to be the same on both pieces so that they don’t pull on each other.
• Tearing – Paper is always easier to tear along the grain (because you are pulling strings of fibers away from their neighbors instead of tearing them in half.)

What happens if you ignore the grain?

Terrible things! Books that don’t flip! Warped duplexed paper! Rough folds on your cards! Bends and creases where you don’t want them!

Know the grain. Respect the grain. Keep making stuff.

How do you play with paper? Does the grain effect you?

AIM DIY: Quick and Easy Faux-Etched Letter Frame

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

I love the look of etched glass, but I try not to use my dremel on anything too delicate. When I rediscovered this awesome Window Film I knew exactly the project I wanted to do.

Want to make you own?


• Etched Glass Window Film: The version linked here uses water to cling to glass, which makes it repositionable, removable, and amazing.
• A printout of the letter you want to use.
• Transfer paper (or any other means of getting the design on the backer)
• A craft knife
• A frame with glass or plexiglass

IMG_6655First cut off a small piece of the film, remove the backer, and set aside. Lay your letter template on top of the backer with a piece of transfer paper in the middle. Hold your stack firmly and trace all the way around the letter.

When you have your design on the backer, reattach the film by smoothing it down with your thumbnail until it it well attached. Using the template lines you can see through the film, cut the design out carefully with a craft knife, then remove the backer.

Follow the instructions included with your film to attach it to the frame’s glass. (I put a thin layer of water down on the glass, laid the letter down, and used my nail to smooth out all the bubbles.)

Voila! Quick and easy “etched” decoration for your picture frame.

IMG_6692 IMG_6717What’re you doing with letters?

AIM SHOW + TELL: Watch Ali Draw Words

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

I think that it’s one of life’s small miracles that no one has to listen to all the noises that go on in my head while I’m working. The cajoling, the reassuring, the brainstorming, the problem solving, the bickering, the promises, the compromises… you get it. It’s noisy, but generally productive (“What were you thinking, Ali?” “You can do it, Ali!”) That’s my process.

Since this month’s craft challenge is all about LETTERS, and so am I, I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into the sketching steps of my lettered pieces.

img_6405I showed you my travel kit of supplies, but my sketches rely on just a few tools. A mechanical pencil, a ruler, a compass, clipboard, lots of erasers, and some thin white card stock.

img_6411I usually have a concept that I’m trying to convey in words. Often it’s one of the mantras I repeat to myself while I’m working (which makes the whole process very meta.) I will write down a bunch of phrases, and think about…
• Priority of words (Visual Hierarchy) – The most important words should generally be biggest and easiest to read to reinforce the message of your piece. I like to think that if you only read the big words, it would be like a summary of the whole statement. As fun as it is to make a really big and elaborate THE, it doesn’t make much sense. (THE message gets hidden.) You can also use visual hierarchy to hide a message and make people really look.
• What shapes I can use in the phrase: Is there a representative shape I can work into the overall form of the lettering? If I’m writing about lemonade, should I make it fit into the shape of a glass?
• What kind of typography would best represent the words? – Some words want to be formal (“Typography”) and some want to be flourishy (“Passionate”). Sometimes it’s fun to mix those up.

I’ll also start looking at the way a word is structured so I’m sure to give it enough space per letter.

When I have a general idea of the shapes I’d like to play around with, I’ll build myself a make-shift grid with the ruler and compass. I find that I like to make mostly symmetrical pieces, so I’ll map out the middle of the page and go from there. I end up with a lot of extra reference lines, but that’s fine.

Then I will start very lightly penciling in the skeleton form of letters. I do A LOT of erasing, so light lines are important. Usually while I’m working on the basic structure of the letters, I will start to think about the shape they will take in the end.

img_6421I am constantly working to find the center of a word or phrase. I can count letters in my head, but nothing beats a quick jot down of the phrase. I’ll then count (including spaces) and mark the middle. (This is also helpful because if a word has a lot of skinny letters – like Ilif – it will be much shorter than one with fat letters – MmNn)

(More penciling.)

At some I will inevitably get a “better idea” and shift a bunch of letters to work better. In this case I shifted my grid up, erased and re-lettered.

Practice makes better.

One of the best consequences of lettering practice is that I’ve started to think of writing as “drawing letters” which makes it sometimes possible to write backwards or sideways. This helps with lots of things including spacing words from the center line (see above). It is also SUPER handy when you’re a lefty who loved to drag your hand through wet ink all the time.

When I have the skeleton of the letters basically where I want them, I will make decisions about how to flesh them out. My first inspiration was the word “Letter” which reminded me of a typeface I love in my very precious American Wood Type book. (We’ll be showing our favorite lettering books later in the month!)

I love to keep printed samples of type on hand to look at. I used to try to look at inspiration on a screen, but it never translated right in my brain. I’ve started saving all sorts of printed materials (filed by style) to look at when I’m lettering.

img_6435Again using a light touch, I will start to add details to the letter using my inspiration pieces. Sometimes I make little changes in a letter form to better fit my space (hey, I can do what I want!)

Sometimes the skeleton of my letters will have to move to allow for more space for some letters

and sometimes the letters stretch outside of my borders.

Once I’m happy with the general form of everything, I’ll start erasing the extraneous pencil marks.

IMG_6443Once they are gone, I will sometimes look at the whole thing and decide to make changes.

img_6501Like for instance, I might change the phrase itself.

But that’s okay- it’s just a sketch. If I love it I’ll take it to the next level with paints and ink, and if I don’t love it I’ll put it away to inspire me another day.

What’s your sketching process? Is it anything like mine?