A failure and two successes

My husband tells me I am a wimp. I’m afraid he has a point.

Yesterday I was definitely and finally going to tackle the sewing machine to make up Isobel’s door hanger. But somehow I kept finding other things that urgently needed to be done first – and exactly the same thing had happened the week before. It’s remarkable how many urgent things you can find to do when you really want to.

Halfway through the afternoon I gave in and admitted openly that I felt terribly nervous about the sewing machine and didn’t really want to do it at all. This is where the wimp comment came in. In the end we decided that it would be a marvellous idea to take all the materials with me when we go to see his parents in a few weeks, and ask my mother-in-law, who is an extremely good seamstress, to hold my hand while making up the door hanger. I breathed a sigh of relief and carried on working on my other two planned finishes, the biscornu made from the two versions of Shades, and the pen holder. I won’t say too much about the biscornu, as instructions for making one can be found all over the internet. The only change I made to the usual pattern is that I didn’t indent the centre with beads or buttons; I thought it had plenty of beads already, and rather liked its plump shape (you can see larger pictures in the Gallery).

Shades made into a biscornu Shades made into a biscornu

The pen holder is, as far as I know, my own idea, and just in case you think it’s the perfect thing to do with all those smallish pieces of stitching you’ve got lying around, here’s how to do it.

First of all, decide how large you want your pen holder to be. I based mine on a section of kitchen roll tube, and looking back I think I would have preferred something slightly wider, but if you don’t need to keep too many pens and pencils in it, it’ll do just fine. Measuring my present pen holder, I decided on 12cm for its height. I cut the cardboard tube to about 13.5cm, then made 1.5cm cuts at one end, about 1cm apart, and folded those in. I put double sided tape on them, and then stuck a cardboard circle to them to make the bottom. That’s the basic framework of your pen holder done!

At which point do you decide which piece of stitching to use? Well, it all sort of happens at the same time; if you are absolutely sure of the piece you want to use, then that will dictate the size of the pen holder. On the other hand, if you want the pen holder to be a particular size, you’ll have to find a piece of stitching to match. Fortunately there is some leeway, as you will see. I decided to use Douglas.


I had chosen to make my pen holder 12cm high, and its circumference was 16.5cm. Now, because I picked a piece of Hardanger it meant that the cardboard would show through the cut areas, so it would have to be painted or covered. I thought felt would look best, and because Douglas looks rather nice against a black background, I applied black felt to the tube using double-sided tape. This made its circumference 17cm.

To hem my stitching I used four-sided edging, which is stitched over 4, and as my favourite 25ct has 10 threads per centimeter is was easy to work out that the long side would need to be 43 stitches (172 threads). The short side I made 31 stitches (124 threads) so that the tube would not stick out. After all that I had one black felt tube, and one hemmed rectangle of fabric. (The next pictures are all clickable).

Making a pen holder

I’d originally intended to whipstitch the short sides of the fabric together first, and then slide it over the tube, but it was going to be quite a tight fit, and I didn’t think it would slide well over the felt, so I stitched it together (whipping twice in each stitch) directly on the tube; a bit fiddly but not too bad. It ended up looking rather like a laced corset!

Making a pen holder Making a pen holder

And here it is put to its proper use:

Douglas made into a pen holder Douglas made into a pen holder

If you decide to make one yourself, I’d love to see pictures of it and show it off in the Stitchers’ part of the gallery!

So what do you DO with it?

Some time ago I wrote about my unfortunate experiences with a sewing machine that had a mind of its own. The intention had been to finish a door hanger as a Christmas present for our niece. It is now February and I am ashamed to admit that the pretty turquoise/navy initial "I" is still a flat piece of Hardanger. So this Saturday I am determined to tackle that sewing machine and get to work on it – keep an eye on the Gallery where I hope it will appear by Monday!

All this answers (to some extent) the question in the title; one that is often asked by non-stitching spouses, relatives and friends. In a way it is a non-question. I don’t know about you, but I stitch because I enjoy stitching. I enjoy choosing (or designing) a chart, getting all the materials together, perhaps making changes to the colours or adding some embellishments, seeing the design take shape under my needle … Whether the finished article ever gets put to any use (be it decorative or practical) is of secondary importance. And if you find that people are challenging you about this, ask them what they DO with a game of cards they played, or a round of golf, or with a book they read or a film they watched. Unlike all those hobbies, stitching not only gives you a very pleasant time while working on your project, you also have something to show for it at the end. Taking it a step further and turning your stitching into an object for use, display, or present-giving, is nice when it works, but it’s no disaster when it doesn’t happen.

Even so, most stitchers (myself included) do like to do something with their finished projects, if only because it seems such a shame to just bung them in a drawer and forget about them. Framing is the obvious choice, although quite a few stitchers find that after a few years they start running out of wall space. And if, like mine, many of your projects are relatively small, framing may not be the best option (for one thing, it is quite expensive!)

This is one of the reasons for the Gallery – it shows some ideas for making up finished pieces of stitching. And by the end of next week I hope there will be a few more ideas than there are now!
Besides the tuck cushion door hanger there should be two other finishes, one decorative-but-not-particularly-useful, and one which you may actually use on your desk (or give to a loved one with a desk job). The former is a biscornu (basically a wonky cushion) made from the two versions of Shades; the latter is a pen holder.

Nothing much surprises my husband about me, but I think even he was taken slightly aback when I asked him in the middle of the night whether the formula for the circumference of a circle was indeed 2πr and what he thought the diameter of a toilet roll was. He kindly answered my questions, though, and I scribbled a few quick notes on the pad by my bed. The idea is to hem a piece of stitching with four-sided edging, cover a carefully measured cardboard tube with felt or paper in a suitable colour for shining through your cut areas, whip-stitch the two short ends of the four-sided edging together to make a cylinder, and slip it over the cardboard tube. The tube needs a bottom, of course, and the stitching may need to be attached to the cardboard in some way (though I hope to make it such a snug fit that it’ll just stay put), but that should make a very attractive pen holder with not too much effort!

That may be a case of Famous Last Words, of course …