Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Going Soft-Hearted For Valentine's Day...

It's that time of year again, Christmas and New Year have passed, January has almost finished, and February can only mean one thing...Valentine's Day! Hearts and flowers and love in the air...Hearts are everywhere, in jewellery, accessories, fabric design, home decor, and crafting - especially in crafting!

I found these two gorgeous heart designs in a French cross-stitch design book Coeurs : Broderie traditionnelle et au point de croix by Agn├Ęs Delage-Calvet &  Anne Sohier-Fournel, http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/250107761X/ref=cm_sw_em_r_am_it_ws_gb?ie=UTF8 and adapted them as the centre panels for two cushions (as you may have noticed, I love cushions!)

The first design is worked in one colour on a contrasting background, and is a large heart made of other tiny hearts, no two are the same. One features a dove, another has roses and the centre, another has a bow, some have beading incorporated into them, but  they are all gorgeous, and the overall effect is stunning. I designed my own 'lace heart' border to frame the main heart, frayed the edges of the Aida, and then appliqued it on to a toning gingham cushion cover, adding a wooden button in each corner of the panel...and yes, even the buttons were heart-shaped!

The back of the cushion cover simply overlaps, and is secured with metal poppers, covered over with more heart shaped buttons, so there was no fiddling around trying to fit a zip (because although I know how to do it in theory, it never quite seems to work out as it should!)

And this is the same basic design, in a different colour.

The second cushion I call my  'Love Letters' cushion. The heart on this one is comprised of every letter of the alphabet, in a different font style. I chose a range of eight or nine colours of a similar palette - in this case, browns, coppers, and spicy ginger colours, on a cream background, and worked 2 or 3 letter in each shade.

This design ends up more rectangular than the previous one, which is pretty much square, so I decided to make it look like an actual letter, and added the outline of an envelope in a colour slightly darker than the aida I was using, so the effect was quite subtle and didn't overpower the heart. I made the cover from some recycled cotton fabric, which gave it a rustic look,  made the opening in the same way as the first cushion, and then just sewed the cross-stitched panel into the centre - and I it!

These designs can be worked in any combination of colours to suit your decor, and once you've stitched the panels, you can turn them into almost anything, bags, wall-hangings, anything you like. So why not make yourself a Valentine's gift this year as well?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Beautiful Biscornu - Our Original 'English Wildflowers' Design

 A year ago, I had no idea what a biscornu was  (If you’d asked me, I’d have probably thought it was some fancy French pastry and expected to eat it) – and now I know,  I’m designing my own!

Traditionally, biscornu were made and used as pin-cushions, although many people will now add some dried lavender to the stuffing, and attach a ribbon so that they can be hung in wardrobes to scent your clothes, while others just like them for the curiosities that they are, and keep them as purely decorative objects.

I first saw them during a trip the Stitch & Craft show in London last spring – a tall glass cabinet full of them; some that would fit into the palm of your hand, and others that were almost big enough to be used as footstools! I was fascinated by them, not just because of the beautiful designs, but the shape too – I just couldn’t imagine how you could make something that looked like that without a degree in geometry or a miracle... but actually, it’s not as complicated as I thought it might be.

These are the first two biscornu I made – I can’t remember where I found the first pattern from, but it was a fairly easy one to begin with, as it only uses one colour!

The lavender one on the right was made from a pattern designed by Rainburst Embroidery.

So, having made some designed by other people, I decided to try making my own design, and here it is – The English Wildflower biscornu....

It’s sewn mainly in shades of pink and green, and depicts English wild flowers, great willow-herb, with beaded centres, and also wild honeysuckle. I made mine using 14ct Aida, and the finished biscornu measures approx. 10.5cms across, although it could be made smaller by stitching it on 16 or 18ct Aida.

You Will Need:

Two squares of 14ct Aida, approx 6” square
8 colours of embroidery thread (see chart below for colour suggestions)
Small amount of stuffing
2 decorative buttons
Seed beads (optional)

Thread suggestions

Fold your squares of Aida into quarters to find the centre point, then count out from the centre to begin stitching. All stitching uses 2 strands of thread, and both sides of the biscornu are worked identically.

Once you have completed the main part of the design, make a running stitch border around the outside, using 2 strands of thread. This will form the seam of the biscornu  when you assemble it

If you want to add any seed beads to the design, do so now, knotting the thread securely (I put a small white seed bead at the centre of each pink flower)

Now you can start to assemble the biscornu.

Trim the excess aida from all sides, leaving a margin of 3 or 4 squares outside your outline. This will make turning the corners a lot easier.
Using the same colour thread as you used for the running-stitch outline, attach the corner point of one face to the central point at one side of the other face, and begin to whip-stitch the two sides together.

 You do not need to sew through the fabric, just take the needle under each of the running stitches in the outline

By the time you reach the next corner, it should look like this

Making sure the central points are exactly aligned, turn the corner and continue in whip-stitch.

As you progress around the sides, the biscornu will begin to take shape

When you are 7/8 of the way round, stop sewing and begin to fill with stuffing through the remaining opening.

Use the blunt end of a pencil or knitting needle to push the stuffing firmly into the corners, to ensure your biscornu has its distinctive shape. You will need to pack the stuffing in quite tightly. When you are finished stuffing, sew the opening shut, and secure tightly

Next you need to form a ‘dimple’ to sew your buttons into. You may like to find a volunteer to help with this part, as an extra pair of hands will be very useful!

Using a neutral colour thread, and a long needle, make a stitch at the centre of the top face of the biscornu and knot it tightly. Then, using either your free hand or your volunteer, squeeze the middle of the biscornu as tightly as possible,  insert the needle back into the centre, and out again at the centre point of the bottom face. Pull the thread as tightly as you can, and secure. Repeat at least twice more. (It is possible to attach buttons at the same time, but I find it easier to do it in two stages)

You should now have a well defined dimple top and bottom

Now repeat the process, using all 6 strands of a piece of embroidery thread for extra strength, and attaching the buttons as you go.

Make at least three passes through the biscornu and the shanks of the buttons, before knotting off the thread (It may be easier to change back to your smaller needle to knot the thread)

Snip off the remaining thread – the knot should be hidden under the face of the button as it sits in the centre dimple – and you’re finished!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Weird Gifts...How To Make A Tentacle Box!

A surprisingly easy, decidedly creepy gift!

You will require two different shades of Fimo or your preferred polymer clay - one for the base of the tentacle, and one for the suckers.

I made this as a Valentine's gift last year - I'd recommend giving it only to people who know you very well! I must apologise for the blurry images; they were taken on an unfamiliar camera so the focus isn't amazing. I had perhaps been reading a little much Lovecraft before I made this; see what you think:

You Will Need

2 Different colours of Fimo Clay
1 Wooden Box
Woodstain/ Varnish
Fimo Sculpting Tools
1 Paint Brush
Glue Gun
Fimo Glaze

Cut off a little clay from your base-colour block. Warm it up between your hands and roll it out on a board to form a conical length - that is, wider at one end and tapering to a blunt point at the other. Don't use too much clay, or the tentacles will become too heavy to bear their own weight.

When you have four tentacles, or as many as you feel your box suits, position them on the box according to how you think looks best. It may be possible to wire them internally so they hold their shape without needing to rest on something. You will need to squash the wide parts of the tentacles against the wood of the inside of the box to provide an area for the glue to hold.

Roll out a quantity of your second colour of clay. Cut small amounts off and roll them into balls. With your paintbrush, pick up a ball and push it against the tentacle. Pressing hard will result in a dent in the middle of the ball; this is exactly what we want to create the effect of suckers along the tentacle. Graduate the size of the suckers to match the width of the tentacle. If you've very steady hands you may be able to create two rows - I only managed a single line. This is the point you may begin to wish you'd just bought your beloved a DVD or something instead.

When these are completed, this is pretty much how your box should look. Now you're ready to bake it, to set the clay. It may be useful to leave the project overnight in the open air to allow the clay to harden slightly, the better to keep its shape in the oven. Bake your clay according to the instructions on the packet. You won't be able to put the box in the oven, so you may find it useful to drape the tentacles over an upside-down loaf tin or something similar to help them maintain their shape.

While the tentacles are setting and cooling, varnish or stain your box as desired. When the tentacles are cooled completely, give them a coat of fimo glaze. Leave to dry, then give them a second coat. It may be worth using the time to give the box a second coat of varnish, too. Do not attempt the next step until both tentacles and box are entirely dry, according to the varnish manufacturers' instructions.

Once both box and tentacles are completely dry, position your tentacles in their previous positions. They may have changed shape slightly during the baking process; it is unlikely that this will be serious enough to affect their placement on the box. Warm up your glue gun and place a drop of glue on the underside of each tentacle, on the part you squished down to grip the box. Leave to cool, and this should be your tentacle box finished! Present it to your beloved and watch the confusion spread across their face.

....and here's another, made in different colours, and leaving the box unvarnished.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cupcake Pin-Cushions That Look Good Enough To Eat!

This is a quick, simple project that will fill a rainy afternoon, costs very little and is great fun to make with children. The end result is a cute cupcake, with sprinkles and a cherry on the top that, while intended as a pin-cushion, would also make a pretty ornament or birthday gift for a friend - an everlasting birthday cake that is completely calorie-free! - Or you could make a whole batch for a school fundraising sale or Girl Guide project.

You will need:

Silicone cupcake moulds (mine were approx 6.5cm diameter, 2.5cms high)
Some beige cotton fabric, approx 18cm sq per cake
Some pastel coloured felt
Red beads, buttons, or small silk flowers
A few assorted seed-beads
A small amount of polyester stuffing (or use fabric scraps)
A few ounces of uncooked rice
Hot glue gun and glue-sticks

Firstly, cut a circle from your piece of fabric, approx 17cm in diameter, leaving a small margin around the outside - I used a cereal bowl to draw around. It doesn't matter if your circle isn't exactly perfect.

Then cut your icing from your piece of felt - I made a shape like this, rather than a perfect circle, so it looks like the icing is dripping down the cake once it's completed - This will need to be about 7cm across at it's widest points

Once you have your icing cut to shape, sew a red bead, or button in the centre, as a 'cherry' - then start to sew the seed beads at random points all over the felt, as 'sprinkles'. It's really easy to get carried away with the beads (they're so pretty!) but remember not to overcrowd the felt - there needs to be enough room for all your pins and needles to fit afterwards! If you'd prefer not to use beads, you can make your sprinkles by embroidering tiny crosses, or French knots.

When you have finished, your cake 'topping' should look something like this...

Next, take your piece of beige fabric, and fold it into quarters to find the approximate centre. Heat up the glue gun, and put a small dab of glue on the centre point, then lay the topping over the glue, lining up the bead at the centre with the spot of glue beneath. Do not glue the entire topping to the fabric beneath, as the glue will harden as it cools, and make it difficult for pins/needles to pass through the fabric. Allow to cool. 

Now neatly back-stitch around the edge of the topping, securing it to the fabric underneath. 

Next, make a running stitch around the outside of the fabric, leaving a margin of about 1cm round the outside. Use quite strong thread, or several strands, as this will be pulled quite tightly when you form the cake.

When you've gone all the way around, start to draw up the thread to form a bowl shape

Put a small amount of your stuffing into the 'bowl' pushing into the centre with your thumbs to form a well in the middle

Carefully pour 1-2 tbps of dry rice into the well in the centre. This will give your pin-cushion added weight, and make the pins and needles easier to insert and remove. Again, push the rice into the cake with your thumbs, to distribute it evenly.

Add the rest of the stuffing on top of the rice, until your cake is stuffed sufficiently, then draw up the running thread around the outside even tighter. It may be useful to have an extra pair of hands to help you hold the cake together, and knot the thread off tightly. As I was on my own, I found it easier to pull the first thread as tight as I could, and then with the other hand, start to sew a second thread through all the pleated fabric, pulling it tighter as I went. Make a couple of circuits of the opening, then knot securely, and trim all excess threads. Squeeze the cup-cake into shape.

Heat the glue gun up again, and get your silicone cake-mould ready

Squeeze a generous amount of glue into the bottom of your mould - you may also like to squeeze a line around the inside of the mould, about halfway up

Finally take your 'cake' and insert it into the mould, and onto the molten glue. Try and squeeze the cake into a longer, pointed shape as you do this, to make sure the bottom of the fabric actually makes contact with the base of the mould. Still squeezing, push the cake down hard against your work surface, and hold for about 30 seconds. This will help to ensure the base of your cake stays flat, and will sit on your work table securely while you are using it. Gently mould the sides of the cake in your hands as the rest of the glue cools and sets.

And there you have it - a cute little cupcake that looks almost good enough to eat!

Alternatively, you could make the basic 'cake' without the topping, and sew on small brown or purple buttons (or small spots of felt) to make chocolate/blueberry muffins instead. Recreate your own favourite cake!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Topiary Hearts and Roses Cushion

With Valentine's Day on the horizon, you might like to try your hand at making one of these - Another of my cushion projects, following on the heels of the The Button Tree & Owl, and Sleepy Cat, this cushion again features the use of buttons as 'leaves' on the trees, along with a pretty little embroidered bird, flying off with a stolen rose for his mate, braid trimmed appliqued felt planters, and ribbon rose buds.

The second version uses red buttons, burgundy felt, cream rosebuds and features a tiny cardinal bird stealing the rose....

You will need:

A cushion cover and pad (mine was approx 18"/45cm square)
A small amount of green (or red) felt
80-100 green (or red) buttons of various sizes
Ribbon/braid to trim
10 small ribbon roses
embroidery threads in shades of Green, brown and pink (or red)
Small amount of hemming web (optional)
.....and an awful lot of patience to sew on all those buttons - but the end result is well worth it!

Cut out the template for the planters from your pattern, and pin on to the felt – cut out 3 planters.
If you wish to add ribbon or braid trim to the planters, sew or glue it onto the felt before attaching them to the cushion cover
Pin the planters on to your cushion cover, making sure they are evenly spaced. Alternatively,  pin then put a small amount of hemming web under each planter and iron to secure the felt to the fabric (ALWAYS use a cloth/spare piece of fabric  between  the iron and the felt) Then you can remove the pins , leaving the felt firmly anchored for you to sew around.
Trace the outlines of the stems of the trees, and the hearts, onto your fabric with a pencil

Start to sew around the edge of each planter using blanket stitch, in a colour to match your felt.
When all three planters are secure, start to embroider the tree trunks. I used stem stitch worked in 6 straight lines, and three slightly different shade of brown  thread – The middle two rows used the darkest shade, then a row either side of those on the medium shade, and finally the two outside rows in the palest shade.

Once all three trunks are done, outline the hearts in chain stitch, with green (or red) thread.  Do each side of the hearts separately, working from the bottom point up to the central point, so that the ‘chains’ run in the same direction.

You are then ready to attach your buttons to each tree.  I find it really helpful to use the template when doing this, ‘mapping out’ the positions of the buttons on the paper heart shape first to see which buttons look right, which fit into the space you have etc, then transferring and sewing  them one at a time into their chosen positions on the fabric. I used the same colour thread that I’d used to outline the trees, as it gave a nice contrast against the dark buttons. Remember  to leave three blank spaces on each tree to sew your ribbon roses into later. When you have finished, your trees should look something like this...

Large tree (L) takes approx 28-35 buttons, depending on the sizes of buttons used,  smaller tree (R) takes 25-30 buttons.

Next, trace the bird from the template below on to your cushion with a pencil

Bird template for green version of cushion....

....or the Red Cardinal bird for the red version...

Fill in using stem stitch, as seen in previous photographs, or any filling stitch of your choice.

Then you are ready to sew on the ribbon roses – Sew one onto the top of the stalk in the birds’ mouth, and three on to each tree-top. It’s worth taking the extra time to sew them (and the buttons) really securely, especially if your cushion will be in a house with small children or animals.
Insert your cushion pad into the cover, and you’re finished!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

An Embroidered Notebook

One of the most difficult parts of crafting is finding fresh ways to use old techniques. Many needlecraft companies are experiencing a surge in sales of kits for cushions, tea cosies and other three-dimensional items, and a cursory glance at any craft magazine will attest to the trend. But what happens when you want a small project, something quick to stitch, maybe to give as a gift?
Well, you could try stitching a notebook. A small cross-stitch motif or simple blackwork pattern can turn an ordinary Moleskine journal into a work of art worthy to hold all your crafty ideas and sketches. The best part? The Moleskine cahiers are available with plain, lined and squared paper inside, so when you’re done, you can use your journal to plan your next projects.

Once you’ve got your notebook, you’ll need a piece of squared paper or graph paper to use as a grid. Cut this to size and glue it to the inside of the front cover, leaving a small margin of blank space.

Next, take a sharp pin and pierce where the lines on the paper intersect. I embedded mine in some Blue-Tac to save my finger, but if you have a glass-headed pin you may not need to.

Once you’ve pierced your holes, you can stitch your design as normal. I chose to place my blackwork design in the centre of the cover, but a small cross-stitch motif to the bottom right corner would look classy too – maybe an initial? Here’s the pattern I used; luckily the repeats fit neatly in the space available.

Lastly, stitch your border around the outside if desired and cover the back of your stitching. I used double-sided tape and the front page of the journal to hide the messy back of mine – I found it easiest to pull the film off the double-sided tape and simply close the book to secure it. If you don’t want to use the front page, you could cut a piece of thin card to fit.

There! A journal fit for an artist, ready for bright ideas.