Cats and elephants and what to do with them

Sometimes, usually much to my own surprise, I do manage to finish my finished projects. That is to say, rather than stuffing them into my “stitched models” folder I turn them into something useful or decorative (or, if I’m feeling particularly inspired, both). Over the past few weeks my small elephants (variations on the bigger Remember the Day elephant) were given the useful-and-hopefully-decorative treatment and turned into a gift tag (or place card, or favour tag) and a felt bookmark. The bookmark is on the large side, which is why I’m showing it off marking a large book smiley.

Bookend elephants made into a bookmark, and an elephant tag The elephant bookmark in action

The freestyle Elegant Cats couldn’t possibly be allowed to languish in a plastic folder; for one thing, Lexi wouldn’t allow it! Fortunately I bought a selection of satin-covered boxes from the wonderful Viking Loom a while back, and even as I was stitching the cats I had a vague idea in my mind that there was a rectangular box of that sort of size in my box of boxes – and that it might just be dark green. There was, and it was, and it was just the right size, and Lexi was deeply impressed with the result, as you can see…

Elegant Cats mounted in a jewellery box Elegant Cats with an elegant cat

PS When posting some of these pictures elsewhere people asked me about the artist whose book the elephants are marking. He is a Dutch artist called Rien Poortvliet who started out as mostly a wildlife painter, but who wrote and illustrated many books on a variety of subjects, including the history of his family inspired by a chest belonging to one of his ancestors, a life of Jesus, books about dogs and horses, a book about “whatever happened to come into his mind”, books about gnomes, and this one about Noah’s ark. I admire his art as much as I admire his simple but profound faith.

Preparing for the Christmas Craft Event

Another November, another Christmas Craft Event – I don’t know how many of these Dunchurch Baptist Church has organised over the years, but this is my ninth. Perhaps I should start recycling craft projects instead of trying to come up with a new one every year! On the other hand, thinking up new projects is fun, so perhaps I’ll wait until I’ve got a back catalogue of at least ten projects before dipping into it for future events.

Bookmarks having featured rather largely in my stitching recently I thought I’d put together another one for this occasion. Not a Hardanger one, obviously, as it needs to be one of a number of crafts the children cram into two hours; and as all the children are under twelve and many of the ones ending up at my table are 7 or 8, it needs to be something relatively easy so they can all complete it (with a little help from mum or dad or gran if necessary).

Rummaging through my stash I found some star sequins and crochet cotton in various shades, as well as scraps of felt both plain and sticky-backed. Cut the felt with pinking shears, put it all together and you get two varieties of bookmark – with a name worked in whipped running stitch, or with a running stitch holly leaf and and whipped berries. The sticky felt is cut smaller and used to cover up the back of the stitching, adding some stiffness in the process. (I need to buy some more of it, and will probably go for black as it’s more neutral than green, so I’ll be able to use it for other things as well.)

2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks 2014 Christmas Craft Event - bookmarks

Aesthetically I suppose the holly version would look nicer with a fly stitch leaf and satin stitch berries, but we simply don’t have the time – I have to remember it’s not a class, and anything they learn has to be picked up on the fly. But the bookmarks are decorative, they’ll make lovely gifts, and they will be something of which they can say proudly, “I made that!”

A pressing problem concerning bookmarks

Well, not really – but as it involves bookmarks and ironing it was too good (or bad, according to your definition and taste) a pun to miss. My two bookmark testers did their worst, and they (the bookmarks, that is) bore it all with fortitude; even the one with the weak spots did not go to pieces under the strain, and the stitching stood up to it all beautifully, without so much as a cut end poking out at the end of the test period. The only mild criticism from both testers was that the bookmarks are relatively chunky, which could be a minor problem when used in very light, thin books.

Far be it from me to suggest that everyone should read only thick, heavy books, and although the felt will probably compact a little with use quite naturally, I wondered whether it might not be encouraged to do so a bit more quickly. In other words, I planned to iron them. Felt being what it is, my theory was that ironing them at a higher heat than wool would normally find comfortable might cause the fibres to fuse, making the bookmark both thinner and stiffer. Time, then, to heat up the iron and put my theory to the test. There would have to be a layer of some sort between the iron and the bookmark or I’d probably end up with a ruined iron (not to mention the bookmark), so I confiscated one of my husband’s older and tattier hankies to sacrifice to this great scientific experiment.

Next was the question of when to iron the bookmark; that is to say, at what stage of production. I chose to try it both at the tasselled-but-otherwise-untouched stage and at the stitching-attached stage. Ideally I would like to use the first method as it means I can pre-iron the bookmarks in the kits; however, if by ironing them they end up so stiff and/or solid that attaching the stitching becomes a problem, I’d have to add a note to the kit instructions about ironing the bookmarks after making them up. Not an insurmountable problem as most people have an iron kicking around the house, but nicer if they don’t have to.

Because the felt I use is handmade, no two bookmarks are the same thickness. For this experiment I chose two of the turquoise bookmarks, which seem to have come out a little thicker than the other colours on average. Here they are pre-ironing, a front view and a side view.

The two bookmarks, one with patch and one without, pre-ironing A pre-ironing side view

Using the handkerchief as a buffer between the iron (set to “Cotton”) and the felt, I got to work. Nothing much happened. The bookmark looked a little smoother, and a little thinner, but there was no fusing. Perhaps this is what I should have expected from pure wool. I tried ironing a bit without the handkerchief. No fusing, no bits of bookmark sticking to the iron. More ironing. The bookmark got a little flatter and smoother still. After a while we seemed to have reached maximum compaction, so I stopped.

So was this experiment a success? Well, the fusing and stiffening I had rather hoped for didn’t happen. On the other hand, the bookmarks are definitely thinner and smoother, and they as they didn’t stiffen it is fine to iron them before attaching the patch. This is a definite plus as the one I ironed with the patch already on it came out looking just a little, well, flat. The stitching looked a bit lifeless and had lost some of its 3D quality. The enhanced smoothness doesn’t show up very well in the picture below, although it will at least give you an idea, but the side view does show the bookmarks to be thinner than they were.

The two bookmarks, one with patch and one without, post-ironing A post-ironing side view

As the bookmarks definitely looked better ironed, as well as being a bit thinner, I decided it would be worth ironing the ones already in kits, as well as the ones I’ve got ready tasselled for my charity stitching. And as I was on a roll, I then did the two small stacks of untasselled ones I have in stock as well. Out of curiosity I decided to measure the stacks; both were 6cm high. Post-ironing one was 4.5cm high, the other 4.8cm – a 20%-25% reduction in thickness! It’s always nice to get confirmation that you’ve done the right thing smiley.

More about bookmarks

Three more felt tag bookmarks have been finished – they really are very quick which is just what I want. True, I pre-tasselled the tags and pre-cut the threads and fabrics, which makes the whole process a bit quicker still (quite a production line, in fact), but I do think that an experienced stitcher could put together one of these, start to finish, in about 2 hours. Ideal for charity stitching, or indeed for swiftly producing a good number of small Christmas presents. It might be an idea to put some kits together!

Three more felt tag bookmarks

As straightforward running stitch is not quite secure enough for my liking in attaching the patch (the first bookmark has been unpicked and restitched) I tried two different patterns: a zigzag (below right) and running stitch turned 90 degrees – perhaps you could call it perpendicular running stitch (below left). Both use more thread than ordinary running stitch but both definitely look and feel more secure. Another observation: the slightly stiffer Hardanger fabric (left) behaves better than the softer, floppier Oslo (right).

Two different ways of attaching the patch

On the whole I incline towards perpendicular running stitch as it is quicker to do, and also a little less noticeable. Both methods, if pulled fairly firmly while stitching, make the patch “puff up” and give a slightly padded effect. Both methods should not be looked at too closely on the back of the bookmark, but I hope people won’t mind that. One way of making the back neater is to attach the patch with thread the same colour as the tag, but unfortunately that would make it stand out rather on the front, and I’m not sure it would look as good as with white securing stitches.

Talking of colours, the Blooming Felt tags come in eight different shades; one of them is Ivory, which wouldn’t work unless you used coloured fabric, then the six colours I’ve got, and one more called Apple Green. The picture on their website, however, looks more of a mossy green. A very pretty colour, but not particularly apple-y. (It didn’t help that the picture of the Turquoise tag looked quite a different shade from the turqoise tag I’d just been using, making me think they might have changed the colour since I last ordered from them.) So I wrote to ask what DMC shade Apple Green was closest to, and quickly got a very helpful reply saying that they sell DMC soft cotton in shades to match their felts, with a link to the one that matched Apple Green. Well, what can I say.

Blooming Felt's Apple Green felt tag Blooming Felt's Apple Green soft cotton

With such a difference between the two pictures it would be anybody’s guess what Apple Green actually looks like, but fortunately I remembered that some DMC’s soft cotton shades match their stranded cotton shades, and both this one and the turquoise soft cotton happen to be shades I have in my stash. Turquoise is definitely like the tag I already have, and Apple Green is bright rather than mossy. In a way that’s a shame as I rather like mossy green; and this bright green will probably not go with any of the Anchor Multicolor perles. What it comes down to is that I’ll just have to order one to see what, if anything, it will go with.

But first there’s six more tags to finish. So far I’ve used woven bars and dove’s eye for all of them, and I’ll do one of each colour that way. The other four, which are duplicate colours, I’ll vary a bit; especially if I’m going to make them into kits, it would be good if the patch wasn’t exactly like the Mini Kit ones. I’m leaning towards using sunburst stitch (as used in Floral Lace: Forget-Me-Not and Song of the Weather: November) but haven’t quite decided yet what bars to surround it with. So far I’ve only used it with woven bars, but I’ll try it out with wrapped and double wrapped as well, plus perhaps some slightly different backstitch motifs.

Sunburst stitch

Worrying thought: I haven’t actually tried out any of these bookmarks in a book…

Charity bookmark ideas

Not having stitched at all for some time now (I just can’t seem to get round to picking up a project), I felt I needed something small to get me back into the swing of things. How about some of those charity bookmarks I’d been thinking about? But I still needed to work out some simplified finishes – the variegated buttonhole edge looks lovely but unfortunately is the most time-consuming part of the whole bookmark. Idea: stitch the adapted bookmark design, attach it to felt with running stitch, then cut around it with pinking scissors, and fray the fabric up to the running stitch. We’re preparing for a trade fair at the moment (for the day job, not for Mabel), but I’ll try this out when we’re back.

Then I had another idea. (Two ideas in one day, I was obviously on a roll.) Remember those felt gift tags from Blooming Felt? How about threading a tassel through the hole of the gift tag, then attaching a little Hardanger motif to the tag, and using it as a bookmark? It wouldn’t be quite so long as most bookmarks, but after all there is nothing against slightly shorter ones. Might even be useful if you read a lot of small books.

Gift tags and a purse from Blooming Felt

I worked it out in a bit more detail. Use the matchbook design, working the backstitch motifs in a variegated perle #8 to match the colour of the tag. Make a tassel from some more of that variegated perle together with a little white perle, and attach it by feeding a loop through the little hole in the tag, then pulling the thread ends through the loop (I’m sure there’s a name for this sort of fastening but never having been a boy scout – or even a girl guide – I have no idea what it is).

Felt tags and variegated perle to make bookmarks

Here I hit the first snag. When pulling the tassel taut, the thin edge of the hole pulled away from the tag, leaving me with a disconnected tassel clinging on to a wispy scrap of felt, and a hole-less tag. Hmm. This obviously needed some thought. I decided to trim the tag so it looked nice and tidy again, then use a needle to pull the bunch of threads through the felt until there is an equal length of threads on both sides, and knot the whole bunch together. This worked better and the tassel withstood my experimental tugs admirably. The little Hardanger motif was soon stitched, so all that remained was to attach it. I realised it would be difficult to trim the fabric after it was attached to the felt, so I trimmed it first, then worked running stitch all around it, two threads from the edges. Fray up to the running stitch, and voilà, bookmark!

The tag with its tassel, and the finished stitching Prepared tags with their tassels The finished gift tag bookmark

Now I did say “first snag”, a little while back. There were two more. One is that it’s quite fiddly to get the motif on to the tag straight. I kept tugging and adjusting while putting in the running stitch, and it still came out ever so slightly crooked. We may just have to accept that as being part of its genuine hand-made charm. The final snag is that although I think the running stitch is secure enough, in one spot it looks as though the fabric might one day try to escape, especially if it is handled a lot – which, as a bookmark, of course it will. So I may use a slanted stitch for the other ones, which should prevent any of the frayed edge from working loose. And then all people need to do is buy them at the Charity Fair!

Bookmarks

Stitchers are fortunate people. For all sorts of reasons, but the one I’m thinking of at the moment is that they always have the means to make a very personal gift for people who are getting married, celebrating a birthday or having children, for people who have done something that needs a Thank You, or for people who are going through a difficult time.

And they needn’t be big projects either. Of course it is possible to stitch an alphabet afghan for the baby or a poster-sized sampler for the bride & groom, but often a card or small gift is equally appreciated. Cards with the birthday boy’s or girl’s age (be tactful here!), the anniversary celebrated, or the baby’s initial are quick yet personal and can be framed by the recipient if they would like to display it more permanently.

Age Initial
from "1-2-3" from "A-B-C"

If you prefer to give something that can be used, there is once again a whole range of possibilities, from large projects like bedspreads or table linen to smaller items such coasters, cotton shopping bags or bookends, or (my subject of today) bookmarks.

I love bookmarks myself – I’m generally reading about three books at any given time, so they come in very handy. But they also make great gifts. They are easy to personalise; they are usually relatively quick to stitch; and there are at least five different methods of finishing them. Don’t believe me? Here they are!

I’ll just mention the first two briefly, because they are fairly self-explanatory. One is to use ready-finished bookmarks to stitch on. I haven’t actually done that yet, but I do have one in my stash for a future occasion. The second is to use a double fold aperture bookmark, in which you mount your stitching in much the same way as you would in an aperture card.

Pre-finished bookmark Double fold aperture bookmark

Then there is the option of stitching on a material that can be cut and doesn’t fray, like vinylweave or perforated paper. Once it has been cut into shape it can be backed with adhesive felt, or for a slightly neater finish (which is unfortunately also more labour-intensive) you can cut some felt to the size of the bookmark and attach it with blanket stitch. Below is the back of the Assisi bookmark you can see in the Gallery.

Bookmark finished with blanket stitch

A very decorative way of finishing a bookmark is with four-sided edging. This is a very neat and quite sturdy finish, and if the back of your stitching will stand inspection you could leave it at that. If you are afraid stitches might catch or come undone, or if the bookmark uses cutwork, it is a good idea to back it with felt cut slightly smaller than the bookmark. If you attach the felt with matching thread by catching the upright threads of the four-sided edging it will be almost invisible. Below is the back of the complimentary Matchbook bookmark you can see in the Gallery

Felt-backed bookmark Felt-backed bookmark, close-up

Finally there is the whipstitch finish, which comes in two variations. For a whipstitch finish you first backstitch a bookmark-shaped outline around your stitching. You then stitch an identical outline on a second piece of fabric which will form the back. Cut about 5 threads away from the outline, fold the hems in, and then whipstich the two pieces of fabric together (I’ll show this in more detail a bit later). You can choose to backstitch and whipstitch only the long sides of the bookmark (placing some thin wadding between the two layers if desired), then stitch a line of double running stitch across the short sides and fray the fabric up to that line.

Whipstitched & frayed bookmark, close-up Whipstitched & frayed bookmark

The other variation uses backstitch all round the bookmark, and can be rectangular or have a point at the bottom. This is what I used the other day to finish two bookmarks for friends of ours who are going to be baptised this Sunday. What do you need? First a stitched bookmark with a backstitch outline. If you use a whipstitch finish for something that will be stuffed (like a pincushion) keep the backstitches small, as this will make the seam stronger. For a bookmark I use backstitch over 4 threads for the straight lines, and over 2 for the diagonal lines. Next you’ll need an outlined back as well, and if your bookmark uses cutwork, some felt to go between the two layers and show through the cut areas. Cut the felt so that it is about 5mm smaller all round than the outline.

A stitched piece with a bookmark-shaped outline An outlined back, felt, and perle cotton

Fold the hems in and press them with your fingers. Make sure your hands are clean – you’ll be fingering the edges of your bookmark a lot! Now decide whether you want the whipstitching to stand out or blend in. For an invisible finish, use a colour matching your fabric both for the backstitch and the whipping. For a decorative, cord-like edge use a contrasting colour for the whipping; here, I matched the whipping to the felt. Now tie a knot in the end of your thread and take a few small stitches along the top of the felt; fit the felt inside the folded edges of the front of your bookmark, and bring the needle up between two backstitches a little away from the top right-hand corner. Place the back fabric against the front, and whipstitch all around the bookmark by taking the needle underneath facing pairs of backstitches.

Whipstitching Whipstitching, close-up

Finish off with a knot around the first whipstitch, then take the needle down between the two layers and bring it up a few centimeters further; pull firmly so that the little knot disappears into the fabric, and cut the thread. And that’s all!

Whipstitched bookmarks, side view Whipstitched bookmarks