Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fab Little Quilt Sent!

Okay, finally the post about my finished Fab Little Quilt! I sent this quilt almost a month ago now, but I haven't had the time to do a real post about it. When we last saw this little quilt it was just pieced together. My partner really loves dense quilting, and had a lot of favorites with just that featured. So I did a lot of free motion quilting - I used three or more bobbins of thread on a quilt that is only 15 x 20". The grassy fields were quilted with tiny little blades of grass, and one tiny flower.
The sky's quilting mirrors two of the swirly patterns in the sky, while the grey "clouds" have a looser cloud pattern.
The sun, of course, has some sun rays quilted in it.
With the quilt bound in a scrappy binding that almost mirrored the lines in the picture quilt (so as to keep the wonky improv theme in the binding), and a tiny cycling mouse (courtesy of Heather Ross' Nursery Versery) appliqued on the back, the quilt was finished! I literally stitched the last of the binding on the morning of the mailing deadline, and sent this quilt to my partner in the afternoon.
Here is the label. As you can see, my partner's flikr name is Quilting Cyclist, which made the mouse print perfect for the label. That is, of course, me wearing my baby, chatting with Mona, ready to hop on her bike!

Mona received her quilt super fast - within a week - and she really loved it. I was so happy to make something that cheered her up so much. For me, that is what swaps are about - sending a little piece of joy and happiness in the mail to someone far away. This was a fun swap and I once more enjoyed creating a tiny quilt for someone else.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tutorial: How to Make a Simple Softie or Stuffed Toy - Part One: Hand Sewing

My friend Kris doesn't sew. But she has decided to take the plunge this Christmas and make some little hand made softies for her two boys. She asked me to teach her how. If we lived "close" to each other, like we used to (25 min. drive), I would pack up the boys and drive on over. We would have tea in big mugs, the boys would play in the basement, and I would show her how to make a softie. Unfortunately she now lives in New Brunswick, and I do not. So I made this tutorial for her instead.

Any other novice sewers, either adults or children ages 8 or so and up, can also use this tutorial.

Materials you will need:

  • Polar fleece or Wool Felt (I am using a thrift store sweater I felted)
  • Two needles: A small needle (called a "sharp") for stitching around your softie, and an embroidery needle (one with a big eye for embroidery floss) for decorating your softie.
  • Thread in a colour that matches your fabric (or not).
  • Polyfil to stuff your softie.
  • Sharp scissors.
  • Pins.
  • Embroidery floss, bits of felt or fleece and buttons to decorate your softie.
  • Pencil and paper.

First, make a pattern for your creature.

 Decide what you want it to look like and draw an outline of your softie on paper. You will want to make it simple and round so it is easy to follow, and easy to stuff later. For your first go at making a pattern, I would draw the shape of the softie you want to end up with first. Then add about .5 cm to the entire outline so you have some space to stitch. Keep everything wide, so you will be able to stuff it later. If you can't fit a pencil into an ear or arm hole, it will be difficult to stuff.
Cut out your pattern.

 Next, take your fabric and fold it in half. Pin the pattern and the two layers of fabric together.

Cut out the two layers of fabric around the pattern. You might have to cut a little bit outside the outline at this point. See how some of the ears lines are not quite like the pattern? Now that you have the general outline, go in and trim those little lumps off.

Now, cut a piece of thread. If you cut too long of a piece, your thread will be getting tangled on everything. If it is too short, you will need new thread every 5 seconds. 30 - 45 cm is a nice length. Put one end of the thread through the eye of the needle. Pull about 15 cm through so you don't keep losing your thread.

Tie a knot on the end. Form a loop in the thread, then wrap the tail of the thread through the loop.

Then pull it tight so it looks like this. Do two or three of these knots right on top of each other, so you get one nice fat knot.
Okay, time to start stitching.

 First, you want to make sure the knot ends up inside the softie, so you want to just put the needle through one layer of fabric. Pull it tight and gently tug it, so the knot is secure but doesn't slide through the fabric. If the knot keeps sliding through the fabric, you need a bigger knot. Add more knots to increase the width of your knot.

It should look like this:

Now hold your two layers of fabric together with one hand. With the other hand, poke the needle through both layers of fabric, about .25 cm from the edge of the fabric. Let go of the needle, shift your hand to the other side of the needle, and pull it through the fabric. Congratulations, you have acieved your first stitch!

Now put the needle back in to the fabric about .25 cm from where it came out. Push it through both layers of fabric again. Pull the needle through. You now have two stitches.

The stitches should be about this far from the edge of the fabric. If you can actually see them that clearly, pull a little bit tighter, or your softie will come apart when you stuff him, or the first time little hands make him "fly".
Now you just need to keep stitching until you start to run out of thread.

When you start to run out of thread, push the needle through one layer of fabric only (the same as when we started out). Pull it through the single layer.

Make a small stitch that just catches the inside of the fabric, but not the part where you will eventually see. Do not pull this tight.

Instead, pull it until you have a nice little loop like this.
Push your needle and thread back through the loop. I often do this backwards, because I always misjudge the amount of thread I will need to tie a knot. Kris won't have to do that, becuase she's smarter about these things than I.

Now pull it tight, and you have achieved a knot. Cut the thread close to your knot. Cut a new length of thread and repeat the process until you have outlined almost your entire softie. When you have about 10 cm left to go, stop. When you have finished stitching, check out the second part of this tutorial to learn how to finish your softie.

Tutorial: How to Make a Simple Softie or Stuffed Toy - Part Two - Stuffing and Decorating

Welcome to the second part of my tutorial. Part one of the hand stitching tutorial is here .

I should preface this section of the tutorial with a disclaimer: no happy bunnies were harmed in the making of this tutorial. Felt creatures enjoy having faces sewn on, no matter how gruesome the photographs might make it seem.

So, at this point you should have stitched all the way around your softie, leaving a hole that is a couple of inches big for stuffing.
Take a handful of polyfil out of the bag:

Squish it a few times until it gets smaller, like this, and then stuff it into the hole. Stuff the extremities first: legs, ears, tails, that kind of thing. You want to stuff it firmly enough so that it is 3 dimensional, but not so firmly that it looks like it is about to burst.
If you are finding you can not pack the stuffing in as much as you would like with your hand, use the flat end of a pen or the eraser end of a pencil. I did this for the ears:

See, I stuffed the legs and the ears first, since they are almost impossible to get to once you start stuffing the middle. If you find you have a section where you stitched too loosely, so that even a tiny bit of stuffing is pushing the two sides apart, go back and re-stitch it with a new piece of thread.

Once you have done the legs and ears, stuff the arms, and then the middle. You will find that the fabric stretches. This is okay, so long as it doesn't thin out so much that you start to see the stuffing through the fabric. You can see that my bunny is now taller than he was before. When it is nicely full but not overstuffed, stitch up the hole. Start about a cm. away from the beginning of the gap, and stitch 1cm over the other seam on the other side.

You should now have a softie that looks something like this guy below.

 It is now time to embellish!  I will show you how to do basic embroidery (a back stitch), put on buttons, and add contrasting felt decorations. You should know that I have sort of learned all these things on my own, so my techniques are not professional. They do, however, get the job done.

Thread your embroidery needle with your embroidery floss. If you want a thinner piece of thread, you can divide your floss. Cut the length you want, and then pull apart the number of strands you would like to use for the project. Because I am lazy, I usually use all 6. You might have to lick the end of the floss and flatten it with your finger to help manouver it through the needle. You could use a little bit of lip balm on the end if you are averse to giving away a creature that contains your saliva.

 After your needle is threaded, tie one knot of the end.

Decide where you want to place your first button eye.

Poke your needle into and out of the fabric. Hold the button nearby, so you can make sure that your stitch will be hidden under the button.

Pull the thread through. Try to pop the knot to the inside of the fabric by tugging gently. If it doesn't work, clip the thread close to the knot (but don't cut into the knot or it will unravel). Put your needle through the hold in the button, and pull the thread through.
Lie the button flat against your guy's face. Poke the needle through a button hole opposite to the one you just used and into the fabric below it.

Then push the needle kind of flat and poke it back out of the fabric. Make sure all of the stitch will be covered by the button, then pull it tight. Now push the needle through the button hole you started at and pull tight. Repeat two or three times for each set of holes. This takes a bit of needle wrangling, but its the best way I know to secure a button.

Now, poke the needle through any hole. If you want the buttons to be a bit more secured (and your mass of threads to look a bit tidier) wrap the thread around all your previous stitches once or twice. Then tie a knot the same as you did when you were ending a thread while stitching along the sides. Make sure the knot will be covered by the button as well, and clip your thread very short.

Congratulations! You just sewed a button on. If you are not making a cyclops, sew on a second button.

Now for a mouth. The simplest way to do this is by using a basic embroidery stitch called a back stitch.

Figure out where you want your mouth to be. Draw it on with some chalk or a light white crayon line if you want. Tie a knot on a fresh piece of embroidery floss and thread it into your needle. Now insert your needle at the very edge of the line.

Push the needle through about .5 - 1cm, depending on how big you want your final stitches to be.

Pull the thread through. If possible, pop the knot inside the fabric or clip the thread close.

Now, reinsert the needle in the spot where you want the mouth to start (this is why it is called a back stitch). Push the needle back out where you want your second stitch to end.

Gently pull your thread through. Don't tug too tight, or you'll just pucker the felt and you won't be able to see the embroidery stitch. Congratulations. You have achieved a backstitch.

Now back stitch again, putting your needle into the fabric right next to your first stitch, and pushing it out of the fabric where you want your third stitch to be. Repeat until you have a mouth the length you want.

If you don't like the shape of your finished mouth (it takes practice to not make a really evil looking or just really crooked mouth), cut the string off and pull the stitches out. You can do this by sliding your needle under the stitch and using it as a lever to pull the stitch out. If you sew for any length of time, you will become really good at taking stitches out.

Now, for your last stitch, you want to put the needle into the fabric close to your last stitch, like before, but push the needle through a lot of stuffing and out somewhere else on the head. Pull tight and clip the thread close to the fabric. Push the thread around with your fingers until it disappears into the fabric. This should keep the stitching in place. Congratulations, you have just done your first basic embroidery.

You can also use backstitches to add any other details you might like. If you want to make circles, or fill things in, do a vertical backstitch (where the stitches are next to each other instead of end to end).

Now I will show you how to add felt decorations. If you are a pro stitcher, you can use a blanket stitch. If you are not up for learning another new stitch right now, follow my stitching hack below (note that this only works for fabric that will not unravel).

Cut out your felt shape, and decide where you want it to be. Thread your needle with a fresh piece of thread and tie a knot on the end.
Put the needle into the fabric in a spot that will be underneath your felt piece. Push the needle out through the fabric and the felt piece about .5 cm in from the edge.

Pull your thread through. Push the needle into the fabric just behind the felt piece.

Push the needle so that it comes out through the fabric and the felt piece. It should be .5 cm to one side of your original stitch, and .5cm from the edge of the felt piece.
Now, pull it gently, so it is flat but not too tight, and you have your first stitch. Repeat this until you have gone all the way around your shape.

When you are done, make a small loop and tie a knot just underneath the felt. Clip the thread close to the knot.

You are finished! Congratulations on completing your first sewing project!

If you make one of these little guys, please leave me a comment and let me know.

Happy stitching!

Tutorials Moving In . . .

Just to let you know, I'll be moving in my tutorials from my other blog over the next few days, so they are slightly polished repeats of the tutorials from Life and Times of Jill.

I am going to take a new set of photos for the wonky teacup tutorial, so it may be a few days for that one to show up.
 Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Everything is in Progress These Days . . .

It seems like everything here is always in progress. Some examples: Knitted hat - one ear flap and some blanket stitch left to go:
Kitchen table - never completely cleared of stuff:
Threads Together Quilt: binding stitched on one side only
Laundry: never ever ever ever finished
Kitchen floor: inevitably spilled on 10 seconds after mopping is complete.
Sigh. And that doesn't even begin on children and myself . . .

What's in progress at your house?