Sleep? What sleep?!

A few weeks ago, we bought a new mattress. Our old mattress cost us a small fortune, and just three years after we bought it, we started having problems with it. Unfortunately, the dealer who sold it to us went out of business, and we never got a response from the manufacturer, so we were a little leary of buying another expensive mattress. So instead, we bought a low priced yet very comfortable mattress, foregoing the box springs this time around. Our box springs are still in excellent condition, so we didn’t see a need to replace them. We waited for a week for the mattress to be delivered.

I wish I had my old mattress back.

This mattress has been terrible. The comfortable mattress we tried out in the store is not what we received when it was delivered two weeks ago. While the model is the same, the feel is vastly different. The day after the mattress was delivered, we went to the dealer and told them we wanted to exchange it because it was so uncomfortable. Our sales lady told us that normally, they want a customer to use the mattress for at least 30 days before exchanging it, but I told her that wasn’t going to happen; I’d gotten a grand total of about two hours’ sleep the night before because this mattress was a ROCK. We tried the mattress in the store again, and again, it was not comparable to what was delivered. They agreed to exchange it after we used it for a week. Last Thursday, we went back and picked out a new mattress, which is supposed to be delivered tomorrow. But the last two weeks have been excruciating. And we’re still not getting any sleep.

So that’s why I haven’t been really active lately. I’m just so far beyond tired, I’m not even sure what I’m doing anymore. The lack of sleep has cut the productivity levels for both of us, and I’m way behind on soap making. And making everything else as well. Over the weekend, I did actually order in some t-shirts for some Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Easter designs. I’m not even sure how many Valentine’s Day shirts I’m going to make this year, because we only have a couple of shows before the holiday. Instead, I might make myself one or two to wear to shows and then concentrate on the St. Patrick’s & Easter shirts. One thing I do know is that I seriously need to get more soap made, and fast!

I’m still working on re-organizing the studio/office and storage room. Today I finally got my Container Store order, and I began working on the storage room. It seems to be somewhat mindless work, which is what I need right now. It will take me a while to get it completely done, but it’s still being worked on, and eventually I’ll be finished.

The other thing I’m working on is a complete rebranding of my entire business venture. I’m combining the embroidery/fabric arts and soap/cosmetic businesses in to one entity, and I’m building an entirely new website, complete with new photos, a vintage/retro feel, and some new products. I am hoping to roll out the rebranded business the first of February, and I’m really very excited about it. I’m using WordPress for my website, so I’m learning a lot as I go along – this is the first website I’ve built that didn’t have some sort of pre-built “plug & play” template that guides me every step of the way. I did buy a skin for it, to give it the look I want, but I’m doing all the work myself. Fortunately, since I’ve used WordPress for my blog for years, using it for my website isn’t completely foreign to me. It feels a bit like a new pair of the comfy shoes you’ve had for years, but now need to get used to the new pair. Keep an ear to the ground to find out more about the relaunch/rebranding!

By the way, are you following me on Instagram? If you’re interested in finding out what I’m doing, head on over there and follow me. I post photos of fabric projects, soaps, embroidery … you know, whatever I happen to be doing that day. Maybe you’ll see me doing something you just can’t live without! 😉

And in closing, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t ask if you’ve signed up for the Soap of the Month Club yet. Each month, you’ll receive a new bar of themed soap. February’s soap has a Valentine’s theme, and I have to say, I can hardly wait for it! I already have March, April and May soaps planned out, and I assure you, they’re going to be super awesome. So don’t forget to sign up. Shipping fees are already included in the price, so if you buy the option that’s less than $50, just choose local pick up. Soaps will go out the first week of every month, and if you sign up now for the first shipment in February, you’ll receive a free gift with your first shipment! And don’t forget, shipping is free when you spend $50 or more in a single order.

Well, that’s pretty much it for now, but like I said, stay tuned; big things are in store for Old Fashion Soap Co., and Jill’s Fabric Arts!

The Apron

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I met Jerri at a show in the fall. She was working for a vendor at one of the high school FFA shows I did, and she was interested in getting some embroidery done for Christmas gifts. So, I did an apron and chef’s hat for her middle granddaughter, and bags for all three of her granddaughters. I also did some bags for her daughter and daughters in law, and when I delivered them a week or two before Christmas, she asked if I could do an apron for one of her daughters in law. I said I would be delighted.

It hasn’t exactly been a delight …

I used See & Sew pattern B5125, and the pattern states, “YES! It’s EASY” so like a sucker, I fell for that. And honestly, it SHOULD be easy, but the directions were sort of stupid. The part about attaching the flounce was fine, but the binding around the neck and arms? Stupid. The directions made it appear as though a raw edge would be the product of constructing this area, which was ludicrous, and it wasn’t reflected in the photograph on the pattern envelope. Being a quilter, I decided to do it more or less the same way I bind a quilt, though I had already cut the pattern pieces out and felt obliged to use them. I could explain how I managed this, but suffice it to say, it sucked. Next time I decide to make a pattern like this, I will instead cut and make wide bias tape and use it to bind the appropriate area.

I had originally hoped to have the apron done in three days, but that didn’t happen because of the problems I had with the binding. I spent a lot of time, and tried a lot of options, before I landed on one that I thought would be the best way to finish this particular piece, and I’m fairly happy with the way it turned out, though next time I’ll be better prepared and have a solid game plan. I ran in to further problems with the pocket, which was not part of the original apron View A. I took the pocket from View B, and cut out two of them. On one, I monogrammed it as the customer requested, and then I sewed the two together to make the pocket appear to be lined. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the apron, even though it took far longer than I expected, due to design issues, the holidays and my daughter landing in the hospital for several days. At any rate, the apron is on its way to it’s new owner, and I am on to the next project … more on that on Wednesday.

Another year, another attempt to organize

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If you follow me on social media, you might know that I have a fairly consistent problem with organization. I mean, I can find things most of the time, but not always. I tend to lose my phone in the studio a LOT. It’s become so frequent, Chris bought me a Tile for Christmas so I can find my phone AND my keys! I am more organized in the studio than I am anywhere else in the house, and that includes my office. In fact, my office is so bad, you’d think a paper factory blew up in there and that all the papers started reproducing instantly. It’s really, really bad.

I mean, it’s mind-blowing how bad it is. And no, I won’t share photos because I’m far too embarrassed about it.

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But I’ve realized that part of the reason why I keep having this problem is that I have all these revelations when I’m cleaning, but I promptly forget them as soon as I am “finished.” So, I’m writing this post while I clean and organize so that I can refer back to it when I need help (and hopefully, to keep me from needing help like this again).

  1. I wait until the paper piles on my desk are threatening to fall over and bury me in an avalanche of paper before I will address the issue of filing.
  2. I am really bad about accumulating a bunch of stuff without stopping to think where I might store said stuff.
  3. I don’t take advantage of offers for help. When someone says, “I’ll help you with that,” I either wait for them to tell me they’re ready to help, or I just don’t ask for assistance.
  4. Never start tearing a room down eight hours before you’re supposed to host dinner, even if the guests are your family. You’re never going to get it back in order in time for dinner that evening. Or the following evening, and maybe not the evening after that.
  5. Try to plan this type of project for a time when the weather is supposed to be good, or try to have another area largely cleaned out so you can just pack the room up and move everything out of it. This gives you a blank canvas with which to work, and it makes things SO much easier. If you don’t, you end up moving things in shifts – empty one bookcase on to the table and move it, then empty the next bookcase in to the one you just moved, and move it, and repeat. It’s like a bizarre game of leap frog, and really no one ends. You mostly just end up feeling like a frog that’s been run over.
  6. Organizing costs a LOT of money.

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I started writing this post more than a week ago, and I’m still not finished with the organization of the studio or the office, though I have made significant progress. The studio and office are now combined in to one space, and I am using what was once my office as a storage room. But life keeps getting in the way, and I haven’t been able to devote large chunks of time to this project. I am really hoping that I can, by the end of the coming week, be mostly done with the studio/office area. The storage room might take a little more time, if only because there are a LOT of things in there, and I need to find homes for them all. Right now, it’s usable space, and I can find things, but it’s not very organized. Also, we have plans to add some additional storage elsewhere in the house, but that will require a trip to Ikea, and we have not had the opportunity to do that just yet; I’m hoping that will be possible this week as well.

It is my fervent hope that my next post about this subject will be to share photos of how far I’ve come, and how much nicer the overall functionality of the space is, and I further hope that post happens before the end of the week. So keep your eye on the blog and watch for a wrap-up post about organizing the studio … it’s time to put this to bed!

And so the Soap Club was born

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When I was a kid, the Doubleday Book of the month club was really popular. As an avid reader, I was thrilled when I grew up and was able to join the book of the month club myself. I read many books that I received through that club, and it was magical. I haven’t seen anything about the book of the month club in a while, but it still exists (I had to Google it to be sure) and I bet it’s still magical.

Now that I’m older and more busy, I don’t have as much time to read. Back when I first met Chris, I made a comment about not being able to read as much as I would like, and he told me that he listened to a lot of audio books. And that’s how we now have some 300 or so books on Audible. If you haven’t ever tried Audible, and you love reading, I suggest you try them out. It’s also magical.

These days I subscribe to the Sew Sampler box from Fat Quarter Shop. Now, this is TRULY magical for me, because I never know what’s going to be in the box. I LOVE getting this box every month – there is always some cute fabric of some sort, often a tool, always a pattern or two … it’s one of those things that just makes me happy, every single time I open it. I tried out the Quilty Box, too, and I loved it, but after losing my job last year, I had to cut back to one box, and FQS won out because it was cheaper. To be fair, Quilty Box always had fat quarters, and the box from FQS often has charm packs, but the cost of the box from FQS is half the cost of the Quilty Box, and when you are trying to start a business, that’s important. 😀

A while back, I was thinking about how much I enjoy receiving those boxes from FQS, and how much I loved the book of the month club. I started thinking that it would be super awesome to offer a soap of the month club, and the seed was planted. I thought it would be so cool to make a special soap each month for the box, and as a “featured soap” for the shows that month. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I started checking in to ways to set it up. My original idea was to set it up as an ongoing subscription, but my old shopping cart couldn’t do that. For reasons completely unrelated to this idea, I decided to move my website to a new host provider, and thus a new shopping cart and I put the idea aside for a while. But once the website was up and running on the new host, I started thinking about the idea of the soap of the month. Now, this host does have the ability to use plug ins for the shopping cart, but the reality is that for what I want to do, the cost for this particular type of function isn’t feasible. I mean, maybe I’m the only one who likes surprise packages in the mail each month (I doubt that, but you just never know; people can be so ODD! 😉 ). Anyway, earlier this week, I mentioned the idea and my roadblock to Chris, who came up with a surprisingly easy and yet elegant solution.

Chris suggested I set up the club for a certain number of months. So we agreed that three, six, nine and twelve month subscriptions would be good. And then he suggested that I offer the option of receiving one bar of soap or two. If the customer wants two bars of soap each month, one bar will be the soap of the month, and the other soap will be another bar of my choice (for example, In the Air Tonight, Tiny Dancer or some other bar that we have in stock on a regular basis). My plan was to offer a single bar of soap; two never crossed my mind. I thought all of this was brilliant, and so the Soap of the Month Club was born!

The great thing about the Soap of the Month club is that you get a new bar of soap every month – something that no one else has tried, and that we think you’re going to love! And you’ll get it first – the packages will ship the first week of each month. We’re already working on the soap for the first month, which will be February. We’re not going to reveal what it is just yet, but we will give you a hint – February is the month for lovers!

If you sign up for the February soap, you will also receive a free gift with your first month’s shipment!

So head on over to the website now and sign up for the Soap of the Month Club, because you definitely do NOT want to miss out on this!

Planners and Me

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I have told myself many times that I wouldn’t be one of THOSE bloggers who write a post about bullet journaling and/or planners. But here I am, writing a post about bullet journaling AND planners. But I’m not going to show you all the cool things I do with my journal, this is more of a cathartic purging of thoughts and frustrations with the available planners I’ve been able to find. Once upon a time, I used a Franklin Planner, and for work, it was great; for home, not so much. I would love to find something that has the flexibility of a page (or two) per day, but also a place to keep ongoing project lists and such. I also cannot imagine how bulky that would be! My frustration runneth over, because despite what “they” say, I have come to realize that it is not possible for me to use one planner for all my activities. There is never enough room in a planner for me to track all the things I need to do in a day, but for me, a bullet journal is not conducive to long term planning, which is a necessity for my business. We are one day in to 2017, and I already have two planners, neither of which are going to work for my day to day to-do list. It is VERY annoying.

I see planners, planners EVERYWHERE!

I see planners, planners EVERYWHERE!

I guess this leaves me with having a planner for long term planning, and a bullet journal for the day to day tasks, which is exactly what I was trying to avoid. But I just do not see a way to do it otherwise. I could dig out my old bullet journal to use for the new year, because it still has pages in it, but I think I will just use this new purple Moleskine that’s been sitting in my desk drawer. I purchased it some time ago, when I first started bullet journaling, in anticipation of completing one book and moving to another. However, that never happened – I gave up on bullet journaling when I realized that it wouldn’t work well for my long range planning. While I know that I could draw in calendars in a bullet journal, or set up a listing type calendar, I am a very visual person, and I want to be able to see a month at a time when I’m planning the shows in which I want to participate. When I first realized that I need a pre-printed planner, I purchased a Plum Paper planner. I thought that I would benefit most from a somewhat unstructured layout, so I chose the horizontal notes & days layout. However, I found that the notes section was too free form, and the days didn’t give me enough room for much of anything. One or two birthdays and a couple of appointments, a task or two, and there’s no more space left to write anything in the day space.  I knew within a week that it just wasn’t going to work out for me. It’s through no fault of Plum Paper – the planner itself is beautiful and well made. The paper is nice and thick, and the cover is very sturdy. The layout just doesn’t work for me.

Plum Planner Horizontal Layout with Notes & Week

Plum Planner Horizontal Layout with Notes & Week

When I attended the Houston Quilt Festival in November, I happened upon Stephanie Palmer and her Quilter’s Planner. It’s cute, the cover is sturdy, and the days are broken in to hourly increments. There are small spaces for each week’s to-do lists: Personal, Work, Quilting and Notes. And it has some very cool quilt block patterns and some free motion quilting suggestions. There is even a section for tracking projects and a reference section. While I like it better than the layout of the Plum Paper planner I ordered, it’s still lacking enough room for my daily work lists. It’s not going to be enough for me, either.

The Quilter's Planner is closer, but still not quite there.

The Quilter’s Planner is closer, but still not quite there.

Understand that I do not in any way place any of the blame on either of these planners for not being what I need. I doubt there are tons of people out there whose to-do lists consist of making 100 pounds of soap each week along with various embroidery and sewing projects. I’ve even attempted to set up my own planner pages, and even I can’t always predict what I’m going to need to do in a day. And that’s why I need some flexibility that the bullet journal offers.

Bullet Journal for the day to day tasks

Bullet Journal for the day to day tasks (Yep, I wrote down 2016 at first … ugh!)

So all of this has led me to realize that what will most likely work for me is use to a pre-printed planner for the long-range planning and the bullet journal for daily tasks. The planner will contain shows, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, while the bullet journal will be used for tracking daily tasks and notes. Most likely, the planner will reside on my desk in my studio, while the bullet journal will go with me everywhere. It isn’t the ideal set up, but it’s the best I have been able to come up with over the last couple of weeks. And while I know that there are a whole lot of people who love to decorate their journals and make them look really cool, I am not one of those people; it’s not how I express my creativity. For me, the bullet journal is completely utilitarian, meant to list daily tasks and notes, and not much more.

I may end up tweaking the system as I go through the year, but I’m going to see how this works for now. I will let you know how it’s going in a future post.

 

So long, 2016

It’s difficult to believe that we’re standing at the cusp of another new year. It seems like only last week that I was wondering what the new year would bring, and what I’d be doing after being laid off from the job I’d held for the previous six years. Little did I know, expect or imagine that I would be where I am today. While others may not agree with me, I think that this year has been an amazing journey and a lot of fun, and I’m glad I’ve been able to shift gears and find something new to do that I truly enjoy.

I’ve learned a lot about how to run a business, and what I’m good at (the creativity of coming up with new products) and what I need to work on (dealing with people who ask questions designed to either stump me, make me feel or look stupid, or people who have ideas about handmade soaps that are incorrect). I’m better at talking to people than I thought I was, but Chris excels at it. Both of us being somewhat anti-social, that was a big concern for me, but we’ve both handled it quite well, and Chris exceptionally well. But to be honest, that man can do ANYTHING he sets his mind to, so I shouldn’t be so surprised at how well he does with salesmanship. I’ve also learned that I cannot please everyone – a difficult concept for me when I first started out, but less difficult as time goes on.

“Do you have Sandalwood soap?” (“Not right now, but I am thinking of adding it because I get asked for it a lot.”)

“I bought this soap from  you last year, but you don’t seem to have it now.” (“It wasn’t me, but maybe we can find something else you like even better.”)

“Are all of your soaps vegan?” (“No, I like the fluffy lather I get from using lard, but let me show you which soaps are vegan.”)

“I’m looking for all natural soap; is your soap all natural?” (“There is no such thing as ‘all natural’ soap, but here are some that don’t have fragrance oils in them.”)

And so forth and so on.

The single biggest issue I’ve had is running out of stock and not having some of my most popular fragrances all the time. In our defense, I’ve made about 50 or so different soaps over the last nine months, and I didn’t know starting out what was going to be a big seller and what wouldn’t be. We took half of July and the whole month of August off from shows, and set about making soaps for the fall. We had NO idea that we’d run out of all of that soap in September! I mean, we just did not expect that sort of response. I’ve tried cutting back the number of soaps we have in our “core line up” but the reality is, every time I take a soap off the table, we either get requests for it, or our sales slip. We never do as well when we’re out of our best selling soap, Pride & Joy, for example, as when we have it. But we see almost an equal slip when we’re out of Born to be Wild and In the Air Tonight. I am currently working on building up stock for all of our soaps, and it’s going to take a while. The plan is to make four batches of each soap, and when we start selling the third batch, to make another two to four batches, depending on how quickly it seems to be selling. I also think that a big reason why we do so well at most shows is because we do offer a large variety of soaps, so we’ve decided to have at least 20 different types of “core” soap at each show, as well as a few seasonal soaps. Start looking for some Valentine’s fragrances coming in the next couple of weeks, along with some St. Patrick’s and Easter soaps to follow very shortly. I am also expanding our regular line of lotions and creams, and I will be making them in larger batches so they’re always available.

But what about the embroidery side of the business, you may be wondering.

Well, I’ve learned a lot there, too. I need to get more items done and photographed well to put them on the website. In addition, I will be adding some new things like place mat sets, table runners, small quilts and the like (it is, after all FABRIC arts). It will take time to get all this stuff done, but as it’s completed, I’ll take photos and post them on the website. And don’t forget – this side of the business is completely customizable, so you can contact me at any time to request something and I can make it for you.

I’m learning about website design. Earlier this month, I transferred my hosting from eHost to Shopify. There are a couple of reasons for this, but most importantly was that I wanted the shopping experience to be fun and pleasant for my customers. I’m still working on it – I have photos that need to be taken and I’m not completely thrilled with the way the site looks right now. But I’m no webmaster, so I’m having to learn a little at a time, while trying to run the business, and do the books for both my business and Chris’s business. I could work 20 hours a day and still not get everything done I need to do, but I’m trying. If you know anyone who can do a killer website who might want to barter for soap or custom embroidery, let me know. 😉

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has purchased soap and/or embroidery from me over the last nine months. To be perfectly honest, I’ve put a LOT of applications/resumes out there to go back to work, and no one is beating down my door to hire me. This business HAS to be successful, and 2017 is the year it needs to be successful. So every time someone buys something from me, and every time they come back, or they tell me just how much they love something I made, it is just the most incredible feeling in the world. I never want that to change, because I enjoy it so much. So, head on over to the website and make me feel good by placing an order. 😉 If you do, I’ll give you a 15% discount off your $20 order; just use coupon code EOY15 at the checkout. At $50, you get free shipping, too! This offer is only good until Saturday, January 7, 2017, so don’t wait. Order now and make sure you get the items you really want.

Our first show for 2017 will be the Second Saturday show at Parkgate Community Church in Pasadena, so make plans to stop by and pick up some fabulous handmade soap!

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2017 be everything you want it to be!

The Downhill Slide

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Theoretically, the temperatures start to cool down, kids go back to school, and thoughts start to turn toward the Holiday Season. This year, it really hasn’t cooled down much in the Houston area. Quite to the contrary, I have been calling this the Summer That Never Ends. We’ve had few days where the temps stayed below 70 this Fall, and quite a few days where we got above 80. With weather like that, it can be difficult to get in to the Thanksgiving spirit, let alone Christmas spirit. But I’m doing my best. I’m listening to Christmas music as I work, and I’m thinking of all these great gifts going to people who are going to be surprised to get a custom item this year. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and I agreed that we would take Thanksgiving week off. No work, no social media presence. Just time to relax and unwind and enjoy a little bit of “me” time. Ha! Ha hahahahahahahaha. Well, for the most part, we did manage to take the week off. I embroidered a soft sided cooler to take photos for the Etsy shop.

Here, Fishy Fishy!!

Here, Fishy Fishy!!

I also posted it to Etsy (obviously).  And I did a couple of posts about Small Business Saturday and a Black Friday sale we’re having in each of the shops. But for the most part, I tried to put work out of my mind and enjoy the holiday. Well, as much as I ever enjoy a holiday in which I spend at least a full day baking.

Monday, Chris and I took a little drive. We were gone most of the day, and it was so nice to get out of the house and not try to remember which store we need to stop at next, or what we need to be sure to pick up before heading back home. Most of our excursions out of the house the last couple of months have been to the post office to drop off orders that are being shipped out, to pick up some item we need for one of the businesses, or to the grocery store so we don’t starve. But Monday, we just drove aimlessly around South Texas for a bit, and it was magical.

Tuesday, we spent most of the day cleaning. It’s amazing how bad a house can get when three adults live there, but are so busy, they are only doing the minimum needed to keep the house from being condemned by the Health Department. OK, it wasn’t THAT bad, but we really did have to do a fairly deep cleaning. Sadly, we didn’t finish, but we’re still working on it a little at a time each day. Wednesday, I baked. I baked a pumpkin cake, cheesecake, and a couple of pumpkin pies. Oh, and the cornbread for the dressing on Thursday night.

So, after all of that, and driving across town to my folks’ house and seeing family on Thursday, I was looking forward to doing a little sewing on Friday. NOPE! That didn’t happen either. I can’t recall what I did do, but it wasn’t sewing. In fact, now that I think about it, Friday and Saturday are a bit of a blur – I have no recollection of exactly what I did either day. I do know that I was bound and determined to get some sewing done yesterday, but alas, I woke up with a migraine. And thanks to all the medicine I had to take yesterday, that was full of caffeine, I got very little sleep last night. But today, I bounded out of bed and got right to work.

Of course, I wasn’t set up to get started right off this morning, because I was sick yesterday, so it was a bit of a slow start. But I did manage to get this King’s Towel on the machine this morning and get it completed.

The King's Towel

The King’s Towel

I just love this one! I still need to do a little clean up work on it, but tomorrow, it will be headed to Washington state. Washington state! (Note to self: Get a map of the US to keep track of where people are that order items). This one isn’t yet listed on the Etsy shop, but I will be adding it today or tomorrow. I will also be stitching out a Queen’s Towel that is just as cool as this one (but with a better crown LOL) to put up on the Etsy shop. These would make great gifts for those difficult to buy for folks on your holiday shopping list.

And then I had to make another fishy cooler this morning, this time in blue.

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In the soap shop, we have fresh batches of Pride & Joy, In the Air Tonight, Don’t Bring Me Down, and Boys of Summer! We have other great soaps as well, so check those out in the Old Fashion Soap Co. Etsy shop!

We have a lot of great gift ideas in both the Jill’s Fabric Arts and the Old Fashion Soap Co. Etsy shops, so get on over and place your order today to ensure delivery in time for Christmas. 🙂