Thursday, December 1, 2016

tips and tools for making my heirloom ornaments


Hello! I love to design heirloom wool felt Christmas ornaments. As you might imagine, I've made a lot of them. My patterns include very detailed instructions for you, but I thought I'd share a compilation of additional tips and tricks that will make crafting your hand-sewn ornaments easier and quicker! (Are you an embroidery newbie? Here's another post about stripping embroidery threads. Is precision cutting a challenge for you? Check these two posts.)

SULKY® PRINTABLE STICK 'N STITCH (aka Sticky Fabri-Solvy)
First and most obvious one. Can't say enough about this magical felt craft and embroidery helper.


This sticky-backed stabilizer is the key to making these ornaments. I live in terror of it being discontinued. I miiight be hoarding it.


You simply print (or copy) the pattern to the Sulky stabilizer, peel off the backing, apply it to the pre-shrunk* wool felt and start stitching right on the lines. It's FANTASTIC. No pattern tracing or transferring embroidery designs. (Note: if possible, use a printer with toner as opposed to ink – some inkjet inks are water soluble and may stain your floss.)

When you are finished embroidering, you cut out the piece on the outline and soak it in cold water** about 15-20 minutes. The stabilizer dissolves away, and when your piece has air dried you have a perfectly executed embroidery design with no trace left of the stabilizer. So good.

You may notice the felt and stitching feels stiffer after it's dry, like it's been starched. That's perfectly normal. It's a leftover invisible residue from the stabilizer, and I actually prefer it because it helps secure your stitching and adds body and durability to the ornament.

And of course, Sulky Stick 'n Stitch also works great for your regular fabric hoop embroidery projects. You can get it at your local craft/sewing store and also at sulky.com, walmart.com, amazon.com, or Shiny Happy World.

*You should allow a day to pre-shrink your wool or wool-blend felt sheets before you make the ornament by simply soaking them with cold water, blotting them on a towel, and letting them air dry. 

** The package instructions say warm water for a smaller amount of time, but I prefer to use cool water for a slightly longer time to discourage shrinkage. If you have hard water you may want to use bottled or distilled water to both pre-soak and soak away the stabilizer. According to some users, hard water seems to make washing the stabilizer away more difficult. However, if you have the old packaging you may also have a faulty batch if the adhesive turns clear and won't wash away. Please read this.

THREAD MAGIC (formerly known as Thread Heaven)


Do you guys know about Thread Heaven? (Late note: it appears to have been rebranded and repackaged as Thread Magic.) I love this stuff. If you do a lot of embroidery or hand sewing you need to have this right next to you.


It adds a siliconey (technical term) coating to your needle and thread, which keeps knotting and snarling at bay as you sew. It makes the whole process of sewing French knots way less frustrating. If you coat your needle along with the thread it makes poking through the stabilizer as smooth as butter. Mm. Butter. But anyway, I love it and you can get it wherever sewing supplied are sold, but I bought mine here. It seems to last forever because I can't remember when I bought this one and I still have plenty. I might buy the rebranded stuff just to get the nice new packaging.

STUFFING FORK


Do you guys have a stuffing fork? You might need one. So much better than a dowel, crochet hook or that leadless pencil you've been using. It can't be matched at stuffing tiny, hard to reach areas. Here's a closeup of the business end:


You are perhaps saying, 'So it has a tiny fork at the end, big whoop.' That's because you don't realize the fork is GENIUS. You take a loose pinch of stuffing, press it against the smoothly rounded fork and spin the fork like you are eating spaghetti. It makes a compact ball of stuffing that you slide into place in the tiny spot you are trying to stuff. The fork also makes positioning stuffing inside an ornament a cinch. It grabs and repositions the stuffing whereas a dowel just pokes through it. I use my stuffing fork all the time with this ornament series. The store I purchased it from doesn't seem to have them anymore, but this is the website listed on the handle: Barbara Willis Designs.

There's a stuffing fork I've seen online made by Clover, but I can't find a closeup of what the end looks like. It's not as long but if it has a little fork on the end it would also be very helpful for these ornaments. Anyone have one? Also I've tried another stuffing fork out there by a major brand, but the fork was so sharp that it continually snagged the inside of my ornaments. Not good. I love the Barbara Willis version.

DRITZ® FRAY CHECK


Dritz® Fray Check is listed as optional on my pattern supplies, but it's really nice to have. It's a clear, quick drying liquid that keeps things from raveling. Think of it like the hand sewing version of nail polish on your pantyhose.


Metallic embroidery threads tend to ravel and come untied, so just adding a dot of it to your hanging loop attachments and hanging loop knots ensures they won't ravel with use. I love it for sealing the ends of cut ribbon also. You can see by the (somewhat alarming) label that it's flammable when wet and you shouldn't expose it to heat, so keep it away from your iron. It's available at all your local sewing and crafting stores.

ALEENE'S ORIGINAL TACKY GLUE


Whoever Aleene is, I'd like to hug her. I love this glue. It's widely available in the US at any self-respecting local craft store or Wal-mart or Amazon.com. I use it on all my ornaments where glue is needed and also to baste tiny pieces in place (which is more accurate than pinning). It's nicely thick and dries to a clear finish pretty fast, but not so fast that you can't reposition if needed. If used sparingly, I never have trouble sewing through it. If I get a smear of it on something I can easily wipe it away with a damp cloth if it's still wet.

I keep mine stored upside down in a cup at all times so that it stays ready to dot on when I need it. I also cut the hole in the nozzle as small as possible to control the flow of the glue.
(Update: I just saw a newly packaged bottle that is designed to sit upside down on its own – thanks, Aleene!)


I never said it was a pretty cup.

Just as important as having the right glue is knowing to use as little as possible to get the job done. It doesn't take much. I hardly ever squeeze the bottle. I just dot it on. In most cases when my patterns call for glue it's just to tack something in place long enough for you to sew it down without using pins. For basting, just a hint of glue is usually sufficient. Always, always, always just tiny dots or even smears.

In some instances, glueing is used instead of sewing to hold something permanently in place, like wings. In those cases, you'll want to use a little more glue, but it still doesn't take a lot. You'll know this if you ever accidentally glue two felt pieces together and then try to get them apart.


Are you Glob Challenged? Do you have problems with accidentally adding too much? Easy solution: squeeze a glob of glue on a scrap piece of paper (the leftover backing from the Sulky stabilizer is good for this because it's coated) and use a toothpick to apply the glue instead of the glue nozzle. Voila!

COTTON PIPE CLEANERS AND WOOD BEADS
You'll notice a lot of the patterns call for cotton pipe cleaners and unfinished wood beads. First, cotton pipe cleaners. Here's a shot of the ones I'm using:


So why cotton pipe cleaners as opposed to the more easily found chenille stick/craft pipe cleaner?


Here's a side by side comparison of the two. The white one is a BJ Long's cotton pipe cleaner and the gray one is a cheapy craft pipe cleaner from Joann.

The cotton BJ Long on the left has soft, dense cotton fuzz so that the interior wire is not easily visible, and the skinnier look works better visually for my ornaments. The cheap one on the right has a thinner fuzz that is wider, and you can easily see the wire in the middle. The width can look a bit fat with my ornaments. Also the wire in the middle of Mr Cheapy is pretty flimsy compared to the BJ Long. If you need a different color than white I have seen and purchased packs of colored cotton pipe cleaners on eBay, but it might be easier just to dye the cotton pipe cleaner yourself with a few strokes of a fabric marker and let it dry. Another advantage of the cotton.

I buy mine here, but you can find smaller packs in local cigar/pipe shops too. Other brands I've tried and liked are Ideal and Dill's.

Note: I do specify regular chenille sticks for the hair on some of my people ornaments, and also some accessories. So sometimes you'll be using both kinds!


OK, unfinished wood beads. Several of my ornaments use 8 mm (5/16 inch) wood beads and 20 mm (3/4 inch) wood beads. If your craft store is a nice, big one they might have those available right on the aisle. In my town these sizes are not usually available, so I ordered them from Etsy. There are several shops that carry them, and you can find them by doing a quick search for the size you need. The ones shown above came from here and here and they were great quality beads.

WOOL FELT AND WOOL-BLEND FELT
It's really important to get the right kind of felt for these ornaments. Both 100% wool felts and wool-blend felts work great. Wool-blend felts are a mixture of rayon and wool fibers and are less expensive than 100% wool felts. Most of my samples are made using wool-blend felts. Both kinds work wonderfully well!

I buy my felt online because my local craft store doesn't carry it. I have a few vendors I like listed in my FAQ if you'll scroll down to the question about wool felt. There are also links to them in the back of all my patterns in the Resources section. Are you outside of the US? I have a list of international sources also.

I have worked with two wonderful US felt vendors very closely to provide sewn samples and color guides to go along with the kits that they sell. (Please note: their kits do not include my patterns.) You can see my color guides and find links to their kits here:
Benzie Design (wool-blend felts)
Felt On The Fly (100% merino wool felts)


Photo courtesy of Benzie Design

For my ornament series just say no to acrylic craft felts! They are plentiful and cheap, but they won't work for these ornaments. Besides having a limited color range and not being very durable or dense, there are other some fatal drawbacks:
1) They don't adhere well to the Sulky stabilizer or the Tacky Glue
2) Small pieces fray and fall apart
3) They are not dense enough to hold as small a seam allowance as is called for
4) They melt if you iron them
5) They appear a bit shiny and can have an almost greasy feel (they are a petroleum product made of acrylic and polyester, I believe)
6) They develop an unattractive halo of fuzz and pills after being handled for a time
So. Please use wool or wool-blend felts only.

So that's it for the tools and tips. I hope this post has been helpful! The heirloom nature of these ornaments and the time it takes to sew them make it worth getting the right tools and supplies. You'll thank yourself!

36 comments:

  1. This post is FANTASTIC. I just love all the extra detail you've gone to, I just wanna jump online now and order some of that stabiliser stuff. And I didn't know about stuffing forks either, and I love the comparison between the fake and real pipe cleaners. It's all in the details right? You've shown me new tips and I've been a crafter forever. Not only that but your ornaments are super cute. I'm pinning them right now!

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    1. Hey, julesmadden, outstanding! I'm so glad it was a useful post. I was just going to share about Thread Heaven then I thought of a bunch of other stuff so it kind of snowballed. :-) Thanks a bunch!

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  2. Thank you for this post - I am planning on making a complete set of 12 days of Christmas - one for my lifelong friend and one for myself. So far I have made The Partridge and Pear (2), and the Colling Bird (2) and my two French hens are both 50% done - I had to find some perfect pipe cleaners, and now I have I am working on getting them finished for Christmas - this year! I love the tips on this page and I am going to get some of the silicony stuff and a stuffing fork because I do have difficulty in getting the stuffing where I want it. Your work is wonderful and I am so glad I found you. Oh! Nearly forgot to tell you that the Milkmaid is AWESOME!
    Pauline
    perry94022 at hotmail dot com

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    1. Hey, Pauline,
      Lovely! You'll love Thread Heaven and the stuffing fork! Thanks so much! :-)

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  3. My sister and I are doing this series - she makes the evens, I do the odds - we each make two and then gift one to each other each Christmas.

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    1. That's a cool way to do it, Julie! :-) Have fun!

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  4. Hi. I love your pattern but am really reluctant to do the printing myself. Are you ever going into selling the patterns already printed on the stabaliser?
    Thanks Karen - karen.schulz@paradise.net.nz (as I am a no reply blogger)

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    1. Hey, Schulz family! I will probably look into getting pre-printed ones at some point after the series is complete.

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  5. This is such a terrific resource! The only thing I would add is a fabric glue stick. I'm. . . um. . . liquid-glue-challenged and prefer to use the stick to hold pieces together for hand sewing. :-)

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    1. Hey, Wendi! Oh yes, I love a good fabric glue stick. I use those for appliqué (thanks to you) and love them! However on these ornaments the pieces are small and a stick might be too large to work with in some instances?

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  6. Nice blog and so informative thank you for sharing us.

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  7. I couldn't find your email address anywhere to email this instead - but you should sign up as an amazon affiliate if it's available in your state! Maybe you're like DUH I know, everyone knows. But. Just in case :) I am so intrigued by that stuffing fork, I want one!

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  8. I have had problems with some printer ink bleeding (when soaking after completing embroidery) and permanently staining the embroidery floss when using the sulky stabilizer :(

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    1. Hey, Kathleen,
      I use a laser printer and haven't experienced that. If you are using an inkjet printer the ink may be water soluble? I'd try a laser printer or copier.

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  9. I will try that, Larissa. Thank you

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  10. Has anyone else had problems with their inkjet printer ink bleeding after soaking the Sulky? Haven't started my ornaments yet, but concerned about this. Thanks!

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    1. Hi, Kitty, the commenter just above you was having issues with that. I guess it depends on your inkjet ink. Some is water soluble so in that case it might bleed. I use a laser printer and/or copier and those work well. You may have to try a test piece to see abou the ink. HTH!

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    2. Yes, I saw the above comment and that's why I was concerned. I'll try a test piece first and if it bleeds, I'll see if I can get the patterns printed on a laser. Thanks Larissa!

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  11. I just saw your ornaments on a blog and had to go a take a look myself. Love them. I'm really into wool felt embroidery/applique at the moment. I've made a few Wendy Williams quilts (from Australia). I have heaps of offcuts. Perfect for your ornaments. I loved seeing your hints and tips. I've found someone in Australia who stocks the stuffing fork! Have you tried Roxannes Glue Baste-it? Highly recommend because of the fine tip. I'm off to buy some of your patterns.

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    1. Hey, Helen! Thank you! Yay about the stuffing fork. I love mine! I have not tried the glue baste-it. I'll look into that. :-)

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  12. Larissa: Have you ever tried "Stick 'n Stitch" by Sulky? I don't know if this is a new product, but it sounds like it might work with your ornaments . . . when you run out of Sticky Fabri-Solvy. I'm almost finished with the black swan and am loving the process. Now I have to order the other 7 and get working on them. No rush, but I'm really looking forward to seeing the last four!

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    1. Judy S., yes, thanks! It's actually the exact same product, just rebranded with a more accessible name! Haha. I need to do a post about that! I have a big stack of it on my desk right now. Happy sewing! Number nine is underway and the others will follow this year.

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  13. does anyone have issues peeling the Sulky off the felt? I'm not talking about soaking it after it's stitched, I'm talking about just peeling it off the small pieces that aren't embroidered. Seems to be so sticky and I'm afraid of distorting the pattern by pulling so hard. I LOVE these patterns and the use of colors everyone seems to be using on Instagram, I just thought maybe I was doing something wrong with the Sulky sticking so much.

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    1. Hi, Linda, I'm so sorry to be late in replying. I missed this somehow. Hmm, I do not have an issue with this. It's true I find the stabilizer tends to stick better to 100% wool felt as opposed to blends, but I've never had trouble getting it off of unembroidered pieces. I have heard from Wendi Gratz that if her stablizer was exposed to too much heat it got gummy and tackier. Is this maybe the case with yours? Also high humidity might be a problem as well, since it's water soluble. I noticed once when my fingers were damp it created a problem also. If it continues to be an issue may I suggest contacting Sulky America? Their customer service is fantastic and they stand by their products.

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  14. These are sooo lovely!! I just bit the bullet and bought the wool from one of your suppliers. I've got the other items you recommended on their way as well. I'm very tempted to buy the 1-6 bundled patterns but if you're close to just having all of them in one batch I might hold off. I bet this is your most-hated question: how long do you think I'll need to wait? Did I tell you how much I super love these patterns?:)

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    1. Hello! Thank you. Haha! No worries! I'm confident it will be released by the end of January, so you don't have a long time to wait! It might be before but I can't commit to a certain day because as soon as I do, life happens. I'll shout about it on all my channels when it releases, believe me. :-)

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  15. Thank you for all your tips about the felt ornaments. I just wish there is a metal die cut that will cut out all pieces then we can just sew on it easy! :P

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    1. Hey, Petti! Here’s the thing: I’m not sure a die cut would work well. After embroidering, the pieces tend to pull in and warp a bit, so die cutting after embroidery would not work well. Die cutting before embroidery would make the pieces hard to hold and some of them impossible to hold. So cutting them by hand is just the best option! A tiny pair of sharp scissors is essential to do that easily. Happy stitching!

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  16. Great tips here, thanks. I've just started making these, and wondered why the hanging loops aren't attached while sewing the pieces together, so that the knots and ends are hidden inside each ornament. Are they added afterwards so that they hang better? Thanks

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    1. Hello, Jo!
      Yes, that’s exactly it. The loop is best added after so that you can check how the ornament hangs first. The raw ends are still hidden inside the ornament if you follow my method of adding the loop in the pattern. Great question!

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  17. Hi
    I have done all the embroidery now for all 12 in the series. The patterns are fantastic so easy to use and anybody could have a go at making these lovely ornamets. I am making them for my daughter, we do an advent house which is like a calender but more work and extra cost !!!!
    It started as being just sweets and goodies but ha grown and grown. The house is felt and houses 24 gift for her to open. Christmas 019 is going to be special with these felt pieces. Our plan is to give her a pot grown tree with these 12 days of Christmas to hang on and the alternate days another small gift.
    The only part I am struggling with is the faces so going to leave these to last as this could make or break the look. Just a word of caution try the wood first with the pens you are going to use as mine bled into the wood and have wasted two beads already.
    This is quite an expensive project but the enjoyment making and giving will be worth it.

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    1. Great comments! I'm so glad you are enjoying the makes, and what a cool gift idea for your daughter! :-)

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  18. Hi Larissa! I am looking all over for your needle recommendations. I could swear that I read them somewhere, but I can't find them. Please help!

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    1. Hi, Jill! I use a size 5 embroidery needle for most of the embroidery on my patterns. I think you might be looking for this post? https://mmmcrafts.blogspot.com/2018/06/hey-larissa-what-do-you-mean-by-4.html

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    2. Thank you! That's the post I was looking for!

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