September 2015 archive

How to Decorate a Wickedly Beautiful Halloween Mantel

Tips for decorating a wickedly beautiful mantel for Halloween -- Often Charming

Pumpkins, black cats, witches and ghosts…combine the fun of a little scare with all the crisp, colorful delights of Fall, and Halloween is the perfect time to start getting festive around the house.

Fall is my absolute favorite season, so when September rolls around we try to help usher the hot Texas summer out by hanging garlands of golden leaves and piling up fat pumpkins. I hang our Fall wreath on the door hoping that will somehow bring the cool weather here a little faster. I know it seems silly, but after weeks and weeks of hundred-degree days, we are ready for the changing of the leaves and all of the fun that signifies the start of the holiday season.

The fireplace mantel is the centerpiece of our living room, and decorating it really sets the tone for the holidays in our home. I like to use a few unexpected, non-traditional items when decorating the mantel for Halloween.  It keeps things affordable and gives you a unique and beautiful result.

Here is our mantel from last year.

Tips for creating a sparkling, spooky Halloween mantle -- Often Charming

I had a simple formula for this mantel: Color, Texture, Shine. Yes, I stuck to the well-known rule of arranging everything into a kind of triangle with the peak in the center, as well, but the most important thing to remember for beautiful spookiness is: Color, Texture, Shine.

Color, texture, and shine create a sparkling, spooky Halloween mantle -- Often Charming

Color: Pumpkins, leaves, books, strips of tulle, artwork/frame

Texture: Cheesecloth, tulle strips, leaves, raven feathers

Shine: Mirror, mercury glass, candelabra, vase, stars on tulle, foil on books

Pumpkins are mandatory. (This one is ceramic and I bought it at Hobby Lobby several years ago. It comes out every Halloween.) I like the Fall leaves for the color they add, running the length of the mantel and anchoring either end in silver vases (more shine!). The ratty, ripped cheesecloth is classic Halloween, adding fun texture and creepiness. The mirror, mercury glass owl, candelabra and black tulle really bring the magic; their sparkle attracts your eye and offsets all of the dark elements.

Confession: The tulle strips are actually fabric scraps I had leftover from a tutu I made for a friend’s daughter! They get bonus points here because they add color, texture AND shine. The metallic gold stars on the black background are just a bit witchy in combination with the rest of the mantel. The tarnished candelabra gives height to the arrangement and offers the perfect perch for a faux raven. Real and fake books do double duty by raising up smaller objects while encouraging you to come a just little closer, dearie, to have a better look.

The artwork in the center is one of my favorite pieces; it was a free printable! I put it in a black frame I had lying around, removed the glass and called it good.

Nothing I used is too perfect. In fact, some of these things are a bit battered and rough, and that is actually preferable! That poor raven has been in my box of Halloween stuff for YEARS. His feathers are scraggly and he only has one eye. Perfect. Ditto the candelabra. It’s all tarnished and nasty. Excellent! I like it with no candles, but black ones would be fun, too.

Cast your spell for a wickedly beautiful Halloween mantle with three magic ingredients: Color, Texture, and Shine -- Often CharmingThe mirror and the owl live on our mantel all year long, but they take on a decidedly dark quality thanks to the cheesecloth draped over them. That cheesecloth has seen a lot of Halloweens at our house, too. Buy a package at your local grocery store, cut holes in it with your scissors, rip and pull and wrinkle it up until it’s marvelously mummy-like. It’s easy and fun! The kids will have a ball helping you out.

The Magic and Poison “books” are actually storage boxes I picked up at Michael’s last year. The gilded one leaning against the artwork reads, “Paris” on the spine, but it went along with the rest perfectly and cost less than $1 so I put it in, too.

Paris can be spooky, right? It’s quite haunted, isn’t it? Sure!

The black leather volume of Edgar Allen Poe is real, and ridiculously right for this arrangement. I’ve had it forever. In it goes.

Draping the tulle and cheesecloth haphazardly and putting the books at odd angles adds more interest and ups the creepy factor.

Scrounge around in your craft supplies, garages, bookshelves, china cabinets and sewing boxes for would-be decorations. You might be surprised at what you can use, and the price is certainly right!

Then you have more money for candy.

Set a spooky and spectacular tone in your home by mixing it up on your mantlepiece -- Often CharmingHappy Haunting.



Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


DIY Monogrammed Onesies

DIY Monogrammed Onesies -- Often Charming

I have a very stylish friend whose darling little boy has just celebrated his first birthday. Because he’s such a fashionable little guy, I thought he needed something a bit fancier than your average, everyday baby wear. I found these very cute nautical onesies at Carter’s and I knew just what to do with them.

Is it pretentious for a one-year-old to wear his monogram? No. He’s a little gentleman and he can do what he wants. Well, whatever his mama wants. And she’s a monogram kind of girl. So there you are.

I made these monograms using my Cricut Explore out of iron-on vinyl. I like to get my vinyl from Expressions Vinyl, because they have a huge selection of colors in several different sizes. They have outdoor vinyl, iron-on vinyl, regular adhesive vinyl, glitter vinyl…so much crafty vinyl goodness.  I have gotten iron-on vinyl from my local craft stores, too, but they don’t have as many colors to choose from, and they make you buy a whole big roll of the stuff, which can get pricey. Yay, Expressions Vinyl!

I’m sure you could do this project with other kinds of craft cutters, but I have a Cricut and that’s what I know. Here’s my shameless plug for the Cricut: I have the Cricut Explore, which lets you use your own fonts and images you’ve designed (like monograms), and that gives you the ability to make whatever you want! I LOVE THIS THING. There. I think every mom should have one.

Now, there are lots of ways to design your own monogram. For this project, I followed this tutorial from With Glittering Eyes. It was SO easy. There are several styles to choose from, including the circle style and the anchor I chose. It’s really a lot of fun to play with. Try it!

Since onesies are pretty small, I decided to make the monograms no bigger than 4″. The anchor is about 4″ by 3.25″, the circle monogram is 3.75″ by 3.5″. You decide what looks good to you, based on the size of the shirt you’re personalizing. It can help to cut a paper sample out first and lay it on the shirt, to get an idea of what the finished monogram will look like. That can save you from wasting your vinyl if you aren’t happy with the size or color the first time around.

I went with navy blue and white vinyl, sticking with the nautical theme.  The tutorial walks you through the details, but the basic steps are:

Make your own iron-on monograms in just a few easy steps with the Cricut Explore -- Often Charming

  1. Designing the monogram (either directly in the Cricut Design Space, or by uploading a completed design from another program).
  2. Setting your machine to cut correctly. DO NOT forget to tick the box for Mirror Image for Iron-on! Then turn your little dial to Iron-on.
  3. Make sure you put the shiny backing of the vinyl down on the Cricut mat. The iron-on setting will cut through the top (vinyl) layer of the material, leaving the shiny backing intact for you to use when ironing on the design.
  4. Weed out the excess vinyl carefully. Be sure to get any little bits in the “windows” of your design. Refer back to the original design if you need a guide. It can be tough to see them all if your design is small, or if you’re using glitter iron-on.
  5. Position the design on your shirt and iron it on! Easy!

I made a few button-down shirts this way for the birthday boy, too. A guy likes to have options, right? I just sized the monograms down to fit the space for these.

Personalized shirts and rompers are easy  to make and fun to give. -- Often Charming

The plaid one is actually a romper. I was really tempted to put a little anchor on the tush, but I resisted. Your call on that.

You can use these steps to put designs on other things, too. Once you see how easy it is, you’ll be monogramming everything. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful. I promise, Cricut has no idea who I am or what I do in my craft room.

Victoria Sponge

Victoria Sponge is such a simple cake, it's easy and fun to make with your kids. -- Often Charming

My little baker’s very first Victoria Sponge.

This recipe is so simple, it’s great to make with little ones who want to help in the kitchen. You’ll see evidence of this in my photos for this post.

Named in honor of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 until 1901, this cake has been popular for many, many years. As a result, there are many recipes for Victoria Sponge out there. Most call for 8 oz self-rising flour, 8 oz caster sugar and 8 oz butter, but there are several with subtle variations regarding the use of baking powder or milk. I use this one from the BBC, which is very straight-forward and has given me good results. I’ve served it to English and Irish friends, who have assured me it tasted authentic, so I can’t ask for more than that!

The main ingredients in a simple Victoria Sponge cake: self-raising flour, caster sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla. The recipe for this traditional, English cake is simple enough to bake with the help of little ones in the kitchen. -- Often Charming

This is a very simple sponge cake most traditionally paired with whipped cream and either strawberry or raspberry jam. The top is left plain, or given a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

If you grew up with a mum or gran who made this for you, you will no doubt prefer it her way. If you didn’t, experiment to find your own favorite flavor combo and then start a tradition of serving it to your own family, those lucky ducks.

Prepping the pans is really important for this particular cake. Be generous when buttering the pans, going all the way up the sides to the top.

Butter your pans well when baking Victoria Sponge, to prevent your cake from sticking. -- Often Charming

Trace around the bottom of your pan onto some parchment paper, then cut out the circle you’ve made. If you cut just inside your pencil line, you will have a circle of parchment paper the perfect size for lining the bottom of your pan, and no worries about pencil on your cake. Butter the pan and the paper when lining the bottom. Be sure to butter the sides of the pan well, all the way up to the top, because these cakes rise up like you won’t believe!

Even little bakers can help make this simple sponge cake. -- Often Charming

Making the batter is as simple as creaming the butter and sugar together, adding the eggs and vanilla, folding in the flour and adding a little milk. This is a great recipe for getting your little ones to love baking. The batter is quick to make and the cake is delicious all by itself.

But why stop there??

I love to make this with raspberry jam, as you can see.

Victoria Sponge with whipped cream and raspberry jam.  Sometimes the simplest things are the best. -- Often Charming

One more reason to love Victoria Sponge: this cake freezes really well. If the cake above looks too decadent, try a smaller version:  bake two layers, split one in half and fill it, and freeze the other layer for later.

And look! You can make miniature cakes for tea, or sharing with friends. Or just eating casually without guilt or restraint. I won’t tell. So cute and and so tasty.

Miniature Victoria Sponge cakes are perfect for tea time, or any time! -- Often Charming

The berries were so beautiful at the store here that I had to do a little berry-and-lemon-curd variation this time, foregoing my usual jam-and-cream treatment. It was still incredibly yummy, if less traditional.

A variation on traditional Victoria Sponge featuring fresh seasonal berries and lovely lemon curd -- Often Charming

Now, a note about butter: I have made this cake A LOT, and I have always used regular old store brand, unsalted butter with good results. I had recently served afternoon tea for an Irish friend and I thought it would be nice to have Kerrygold butter for her, so I had a bit left hanging out in my freezer. I thought it would be interesting to try out the Kerrygold in this cake, just to see.

Oh my. The difference was nothing short of amazing! The cake made with Kerrygold was so much moister, softer, and richer. I was astounded! It was so good, I plan to use Kerrygold from here on out. If you can get Kerrygold in your local store, it’s worth trying. If not, use your usual butter and your cake will still be delicious.

I love things that have a bit of history to them, and this cake certainly does. History stuffed with jam and cream. Delightful. Bake one and see.


Heather's Signature -- Often Charming


Note: This is not a sponsored post. Links provided in this post are purely meant to be helpful. I promise, Kerrygold has no idea who I am or what I do in my kitchen.