I spend quite a lot of time each week on digitizing or tinkering with the website, but I also like to work on other crafts and projects. This page showcases a few of the things I've been working on -- most are embroidery-related, but some show my other interests as well. Many, though not all, are gift items for friends and siblings, many of them for Christmas, the biggest gift-giving time of the year in my family.

If any of these project ideas interest you, please let me know and I'll put together some detailed instructions for posting.

Wool & Walnut Shell Pincushions

I'm not a collector of pin cushions, and I don't need them to be fancy, but I do like them to be functional, and because I have several sewing machines, I also have lots of these good old sewing tomatoes. But they are awkward and unpleasant to use, and I've come almost to hate them!

One of my biggest complaints is that you can't actually jab a pin through the green stamen on top, because it's glued in place and is as hard as armor plate, so you end up having to push pins in at an awkward side angle. And since the cushion is typically too light to stay put when you're trying to insert pins with one hand, you have to take both hands off your work in order to stick in the pins at all. Infuriating!!

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, the filling isn't dense enough to keep hand needles from sinking to the inside. (I once extracted more than three dozen needles from one of these pincushions, which I acquired as part of a vintage sewing machine purchase. Yikes!)

There really has to be something better than this!

There is.

We've all seen this simple "petal" style pincushion, and many of us have made versions of them in the past. I know I had.

They're pretty, made from heavyweight cotton prints and filled with polyester fiber stuffing material, and it's true that they are easier to stick pins into one-handed.

But . . .they are still too light to be really practical, and the pins can too easily poke right through the bottom of the cushion and prick your fingers.

The real brainstorm, though, was the ground walnut shells.

I knew they would help to keep the pins sharp -- after all, they're used, among other things, as a sandblasting medium -- and since I had some around from a different project, I decided use them instead of the polyester fiber to fill the pin cushion.

Then one day I had an AHA! moment. I had finally decided to try out the circular stitch attachment for my sewing machine, using a remnant of wool fabric left over from another project.

Because I knew that the wool would wick away humidity and help keep the pins from rusting, I decided to use it with the circular stitcher to sew up a petal pincushion.

The combination of wool and walnut shell has proven a winner. The ground shells fill the pincushions quite densely, so needles aren't as likely to slide to the inside, nor perforate through to the bottom. And because the fill is heavier, the cushions stay put when you're inserting the pins.

Some of my pin cushions are plain, while others have a decorative stamen. That detail is made from wool felt and stitched, not glued, in place, so that the pins can still insert easily. I've now got one by each of my machines, and have scattered a few more wherever I sit to do hand sewing.

You don't need an embroidery machine to make these, of course -- you can sew them on a regular sewing machine, as I did the first couple. But once I saw how much I liked the wool and walnut shell combination, I went ahead and digitized the embroidery design anyway. You can find it free at the bottom of this page, and download the PDF instructions if you decide you need them.

No More Cap Button Irritation

My husband took to wearing baseball caps when he lost all his hair during chemotherapy treatment. He now has quite a collection, but they all share the same problem: the back of the rivet that holds the cap button in place protrudes on the inside of the cap. These metal protrusions are sometimes quite sharp, and can cause irritation and even injury to a tender scalp.

This past week I tried out a modification to pad the uncomfortable metal point. It worked really well, and now his caps are much more comfortable.

It takes only a few minutes to add this padding to each cap, and best of all, it barely shows on the outside.

As it happens, I have a lot of felt scraps on hand, so I used them to make the padding.  I chose a matching color for the padding on each cap, and stitched it in place using invisible thread. 

I began by placing two small rounds of felt over the metal rivet point. You can use a dot of fabric glue to hold them, but I found that this isn't really necessary.  

Next, I covered these two small rounds with a larger scrap of felt, using pins on the inside of the cap to hold it in place.

Because I will be sewing from the top of the hat, I flipped it right side out and re-pinned the felt scrap in place. Then I removed the pins from the inside of the cap.

With the felt securely pinned, I slipped the hat into position on my sewing machine and stitched carefully all the way around the button, using a short stitch length.

I'm stitching with invisible thread, and using a zipper foot so I can get as close as possible to the cap button. Take care with this step, as the button is metal and may damage the needle if you hit it. 

Once the stitching is complete, remove the pins and trim around the felt, close to the stitching, leaving a neat round on the inside of the hat.

All done! The metal protrusion no longer irritates, and the modification hardly shows from the right side.

I've modified a dozen or so of his caps and the whole thing took only a few minutes.

A Trekkie Stocking for John

I'm a bit of a Christmas nut, and I just love making gift and decor projects, especially Christmas stockings, for my favorite holiday. Every year since I can remember, I've made at least one Christmas stocking, and I often make more than one. 

A few years back, when my sister wanted to gift her friend John with a special Christmas memento, she asked me to make him a special stocking. We decided on this Trek theme because John's a huge fan of both the original series and the subsequent generations and iterations.

As it happens, John's also a medical professional, so his stocking is blue, the color worn by Star Fleet science/medical officers in the first series.

The arrow-head badge is the science/medical variation introduced in the second series, and I digitized the name with a Trek-style font.

I chose a shiny satiny fabric for the black cuff, and added three metal buttons along the left side as an accent. I was originally going to place the name on the top band, but I decided it would look better on the toe, leaving the band clean and uncluttered.

The arrowhead and the name were stitched using metallic gold thread for added sheen, and the stocking is lined with a gold-toned Christmas fabric. 

Reusable Nylon Grocery Bags

I love reusable shopping bags, and have made a variety of totes and cloth bags over the past few years. But tote bags can be bulky and cumbersome to carry, and it's easy to forget to bring them into the store with you.

This nifty nylon version tucks into its own integrated pouch, so it's easy to carry in a purse or pocket. I recently grabbed some ripstop nylon from the thrift store, and spent a couple of days sewing these bags.

They're roomier than the plastic kind, and they're also stronger, so they'll last for a long time. Plus, they're washable, colorful, and eco-friendly.

My version is fairly large -- I cut the fabric to 19" x 45", then used a plastic store bag as a guide for cutting the  handles. I finished the edges using the serger, and stitched the bottom closed on the sewing machine.

The image below is just a guide; it's not exactly to scale, but it will give you an idea of the general shape.

To make the integrated pouch, I cut two pieces of fabric, one approximately 4x4" and the other approximately 4x6" wide. I serged all around the edges, then hemmed one edge of each piece. I folded a tuck flap in the larger piece and seamed the two pieces together along the sides. Then I lined up the bottom of the pouch with the side seam approximately at the position of the notches, and stitched it to the inside of the bag, where it's out of the way when the bag is in use.

To fold up the bag into the pouch, fold it in three lengthwise, then roll up the bag body to a size that will fit the pouch, then flip the pouch over  to contain the folded bag. Hubby has declared these a hit -- he took several when he picked up groceries the other day and was very impressed with how much they hold and how strong they are, so it will be easy to convince him to take them along on future trips to the store.

In-the-Hoop Rag Doll

My friend recently informed me that as a kid she loved Raggedy Ann, so I decided to add a mini doll to her Ornament-of-the-Month collection.

Because the doll is intended to be a tree ornament, she's quite small; I added the thread spool to the photo to give a sense of scale.

I had already digitized the appropriate doll face, so I decided to see if I could stitch the entire doll body on the embroidery machine. She was stitched in the 4" embroidery hoop.

I used three hoopings to make her -- one for body and face, one for arms, and a third for the legs. I added rosy cheeks using a crayon, and plan to paint on the black boots with acrylic paint. Then I'll add yarn hair and dress her in a tiny Christmas print.

I'm planning to make a larger version for my friend's baby granddaughter, also stitched on the embroidery machine. Stay tuned for that one to appear in a later project update.

I thought I'd post an update about the little Raggedy Ann, since I have added hair and have clothed her since last week. She's looking pretty fine now.

I made her hair using nubbly yarn and something called a "Singercraft Guide" which allows you to wind yarn and stitch along it to make a looped trim. Then I hand-sewed the resulting trim to her head, framing her face and filling in the back.

I made a bibbed apron for her, but realize now on having looked at a vintage doll that the apron is actually a simpler construction than this one, so I may change the apron style if I make a subsequent doll. The red trim was stitched on my Model 500 Rocketeer, using cam #6. 

I'm not sure you can make out the tiny print on the dress, but it's Christmas holly, in keeping with her status as a tree ornament.

She stands about 7 and 1/2" tall and will be able to perch on my friend's Christmas tree as a nostalgic ornament.

My friend is always intrigued to hear what I've been making in the craft room, and I sometimes bring a show and tell when we get together. On our last visit, forgetting for a second that the doll is intended for her, Hubby announced that I had made this mini Raggedy Ann. She expressed surprise that I hadn't brought the doll along for her to see, but fortunately she didn't see the look on my face when he made the remark, and I don't believe she suspected anything. I'm positive she'll be thrilled when I do present it to her as one of her ornament collection.

More Christmas Gift Bags

I've been giving some of my vintage sewing machines a workout with a few small projects just to keep them tuned up and sewing smoothly.

These new Christmas gift bags are the result. They began as a way of using up small oddments of leftover fabric, but they've turned into a more elaborate production now that I know how popular they are. 

DH uses them for nearly all his wrapping, and my sisters like them, so I wrap some of their gifts in them too. I make them in all sizes, depending on the fabric pieces I have on hand.

I've added embroidery to all these latest bags, and must say I love the way the designs sew out on white flannelette.

On some, the embroidered panel is incorporated into the structure of bag, while on others I used a raw-edged applique technique to add the embroidered segment as a patch.

I like to place the panel/patch fairly low on the body of the bag so it's still visible when the drawstring is pulled tight. The decorative stitching around the edge of each patch was made with one of the following machines: Singer 411G, Singer 500, Singer 631G, or Kenmore 158.1802. I've used decorative ribbon on a few of the bags as well, and stitched it on with invisible (nylon) thread in my Singer 201.

When my friend saw the finished bags, she asked me to make a selection for her as well, and several of her family and friends have asked to receive their gifts in the bags.

FSL (Lace) Cartoon Cat Snowflake

This project combines four of my favorite things: a digitizing challenge, a freestanding lace project, a Christmas ornament, AND Looney Tunes! What could be better?

We're big Looney Tunes fans at our house, and in the past few years we've amassed quite a lot of LT-themed Christmas ornaments. And though store-bought ornaments are beautiful and we have several, we also like to have a good proportion of handmades on our tree. I make new ornaments each year, and at last count I'd estimate that at least half of our Looney Tunes ornament collection was created in my craft room. 

I love the delicate look of freestanding lace, and a lace snowflake seems an almost perfect Christmas tree ornament!

I started with an illustration of Sylvester, making sure that it was exactly symmetrical. Then I repeated the image to make it six-sided, and worked from there to digitize the snowflake.

This kind of lace is stitched on water-soluble stabilizer, and begins with a dense underlay that forms a foundation to hold the stitches together. When digitizing it, you have to ensure that the design stitches are fully integrated so that the finished lace will hold together when you dissolve away the stabilizer.

To give the ornament a bit of body, you can leave in just enough stabilizer to stiffen it, or if you prefer, you could use a sugar solution such as used to be used for old-fashioned crocheted doilies.

Here you can see the ornament on my Looney Tunes tree, along with a mix of purchased and other handmade ornaments.

Vintage-Style Souvenir Doll

As a toddler visiting Scotland with her mum, Gwen was gifted with three small souvenir dolls similar to those shown at right. Although these were tourist items and not really intended as toys, the little dolls were colorful and detailed, and fascinating to a young child.

For reasons no one has ever discovered, she called them her "B'ys", and she loved them. Not having been built for play, they of course didn't survive for long, but it was memories of those first early souvenirs that inspired her as an adult to collect a selection these vintage cuties, almost all of them dressed, like the originals, in Royal Stewart, the official tartan of Scotland.

It just didn't seem right that she didn't have a doll costumed in her family tartan, so I decided to create one using a scrap I happened to have on hand.

In keeping with the scale of the rest of the collection, I chose a vintage 8" tall 'dress-me' doll, and clothed her in a dancer's garb of white shirt with lace jabot, black bodice, and tartan tam and skirt, complete with brass kilt pin. I like her so well that I may yet add some more, clad in provincial tartans.

Zippy Gets a New Suit

These stuffed monkeys with the vinyl hands and faces were very popular toys when I was a little kid, but they've been out of fashion for decades and are very difficult to come by nowadays.

So I was delighted a couple of weeks ago when I found this little Zippy in the local thrift store for only a couple of dollars. He's about 14" tall, with his adorable molded features and especially the right hand holding a banana, which I remember so clearly from back in the olden days.

He was in pretty rough shape, though, with gaping holes in both his arms, but he really wanted to come home with me, so for the sake of nostalgia, I brought him along.

Zippy had a very dirty face and hands when he got here. I had already given his face a wash before I thought to take pictures, but you can still see how soiled and torn his coat was.

I knew when I rescued Zippy from the thrift store that I'd need to remake him completely, so I got to work dismantling him, taking care not to damage the vinyl parts as I removed the stitching. 

I also worked carefully so I could save the fabric pieces to use as a guide for creating the new body pieces.

He turned out to be stuffed with a weird combination of dark-colored fibrous material and flecks of styrofoam (you can see some of it clinging to the fabric in the photo below, left). I removed all of this mystery material -- keeping the vacuum cleaner handy, because the styrofoam bits flew everywhere -- and decided to fill the new body with polyester fiber.

I used the original fabric pieces as a guide for making a new pattern, with only a few small changes. To make his new body, I drew from my stash of vintage fake fur, saved from my days of designing soft toys. I chose tan and pale yellow, then traced and cut out the pieces. I stitched him together by machine as far as possible, and completed the rest by hand.

Most of the hand sewing involved stitching the vinyl pieces into the fabric body; for this purpose I used a modified blanket stitch and a thick string to do the sewing. (Finer thread risks slicing through the vinyl when pulled taut). The longer needle aids in this process, because you have something to grip when pulling it through the plastic as you sew.

Below you can see the face from the inside, after the sewing is almost complete. Once that's done, I'll stuff him with the polyester fiber and stitch the opening closed.

To close him up after stuffing, I used buttonhole thread to do a ladder stitch, which closes up the opening so that it's nearly invisible -- the back of the head has been completed in the photo at right.

Below, you see the finished Zippy looking resplendent in his new suit, and as good as he must have done when new. And judging by his expression, he's as chuffed as I am at how well his new clothes turned out!

Personalized Felt Dog Paw Ornament

My friend's beloved little dog is now 16 years old, but he's still a light of her life, so I've included a few in her Ornament of the Month collection to celebrate the bond they share.

To make the paw ornament, I chose felt in two shades of tan/brown, the main colors in Kirby's coat, and stitched the ornament on two layers of tear-away stabilizer (this one isn't stuffed). I went with white for the heart and gold for the name stitch-out, although on reflection I kind of wondered if I should have chosen a shade of pink for the heart, just to brighten the color a bit.

When I'd finished, I wasn't quite happy with the brown look, so I decided to add some sparkle. I chose peach sequins to outline the heart, and used a toothpick to add a tiny bit of gold glitter glue to the letters. The back is plain tan felt, but I added the date on it before I made up the ornament. This one stitches out fairly quickly and is a great memento for a dog or cat lover. 

Snowman Variation on the Felt Piper Ornament

After completing the kilted Gingerbread ornament shown further down the page, it occurred to me that a Snowman would also work well, so I digitized one of those too. Like his Gingery pal, he's made out of felt appliqued with a small-sett tartan print, with the same sporran and bagpipes theme. And as with Ginger, you can change the look of each Snowman by varying the tartan. 

The Snowman Piper is made up in exactly the same fashion as Ginger -- stitched completely on the embroidery machine, then lightly stuffed through a small opening at the top of the head, and closed on the sewing machine. To make the hanging loop, I tucked in a loop of heavy fishing line in place of the wire I used for the Ginger version.

I ended up making two slightly different Snowman ornaments because after I'd made the first, I thought the ornament might be sturdier if the arm were crooked and anchored to the side of the Snowman. I still like the look of the first (top) version, but I will likely choose the second design for future stitch-outs.

As with Ginger, I gave the pipes a bit of  added stability by inserting a straight pin through each, dipping the pin in a little bit of glue beforehand. I did the same thing on the extended arm of the first version of the ornament, to help keep it straight.

If I were giving the ornament directly to a child, I would probably skip this step, but I do like the stiffening that will help the ornament last through years of Christmases.

Hogwarts Banner

Machine's up and running again, and I was able to finish up the project I was working on!

One of my sister's friends is crazy about all things Hogwarts, so he'll be plenty pleased when he finds this door banner under the tree next Christmas!

The finished banner is about 8" wide and roughly 18" long. I made the color-blocked body in much the same manner that I used for the Hogwarts stocking below -- stitching the red/green segment and the yellow/blue segments, pressing them flat, and then stitching the two together. I pressed all seams flat and then appliqued crest in the center using gold metallic thread. I used the applique "H" Crest in 3" size (find it on the Magic page here).

I cut a black topper about 4" deep and embroidered the name before sewing it to the top of the color-blocked section. I then trimmed the bottom into a point  before finishing it off with loops at top to take the hanger, plus a gold tassel and black backing fabric. Once I had turned it right side out and pressed it flat, I topstitched all around the edge using invisible nylon thread.

The font I used for the name is called Boere Tudor. I originally planned to use the Magic Font that I digitized for the site, but I found that, for this project, I didn't actually like it as well as the Tudor one. See what you think:

Costume Jewellery Conundrum

My machine tech is busier than ever now that he's retired, and I'm still waiting for him to arrive and rescue my embroidery machine from its woes, so I'm afraid it's another non-embroidery project for this week.

If you've got a keen eye, you've probably already spotted the raw material underlying these pretty brooches: they are made from jigsaw pieces. I'm not much of a puzzle enthusiast, but I am fond of costume jewellery, and a puzzle collector I know happily provided the raw material from a few puzzles that were missing pieces.

To make each brooch, I selected several puzzle pieces with interesting colors or designs. Depending on their size, you can use anywhere from two to five pieces for each.

Once I had the pieces laid out in a pleasing arrangement, I glued them together with tacky glue, then finished the backs and raw edges with a coat of Mod Podge. 

When the pieces were completely dry, I added decorative details with squiggles of glossy and glitter fabric paints in complementary colors.  After the paint had set, I attached jewels, fancy buttons, sequins, and other small embellishments -- I like to use Goop to glue these on because I want a permanent fix for my bejewelled brooches. I finished by attaching a pin finding to the back of each one, again using Goop.

I've had some of these pins in my collection for 25 years, and I've received lots of compliments whenever I've worn them.

They're a great way to use up pretty little embellishments from a crafting stash, and make lovely small gifts for women and girls on your list.  You can make them in sizes from 1 1/2" to 3", depending on the size and number of pieces you select.

Can you spot the little lizard emerging from the foliage on this one? It's one of my favorites.

If you look closely you can see a leopard face peeking out from among the embellishments on this animal-print brooch.

I love the tones of green and copper picked up by the fabric paints on this pin.

Two of my sisters have blue as a favorite color; the pink and gold accents really pick up the intensity of the blue.

Dark jewel tones and angular lines give this one a more futuristic look.

It's hard to go wrong with pink and purple for a princess you know.

"German Bell" Folded Paper Ornament

While I was working on a project two days ago, my embroidery machine sprouted a "main motor lock" error that recurs despite my tinkering, so it's time for a visit from the local tech. While I wait for him to come, I've been playing with some other projects, including this very pretty German bell ornament.

My friend and I share a love of Christmas finery, so for her January 1st birthday this year I decided to gift her with an ornament of the month: one new handmade ornament on the first of each month, for the whole year. This one, April's ornament, will be the fourth.

These can be made fairly simply with any printed card stock, but I created this design on the computer, especially for her. The two crests are those of her family and her husband's family, and the blurred print you can see is their surnames.

If you google "German bell" you'll find tons of instructions for making these -- start with a square of lightweight card stock, and with a few simple folds and some glue, you've got a beautiful ornament. You can make them in a variety of sizes but I find that starting with about a 4" square gives a pleasing finished size. 

I like to add dangles to the bottom and a beaded segment to the top, so I insert a little wire loop at the appropriate points before the gluing is complete, so I have somewhere to attach the dangles. I also like to finish with a coat of Mod Podge and a light dusting of iridescent glitter, and I trim the seams with fused bead trim or ribbon. And for a different look, you can hang the ornament pointed-end down if you prefer.

I've made quite a few of these using Christmas cards and printed card stock, and have decorated them with ribbons, beads, and dangles. They're quite pretty on the tree and very lightweight, so they can hang at the tips of branches. The Ho Ho Ho Santa one is quite small -- I began with a square of about 2 1/2" -- and is extra cute.

Gingerbread Piper Felt Ornaments

I love the idea of "themed" gingerbread felt ornaments, and have made quite a few over the years. After coming across an actual gingerbread cookie decked out in a paper kilt, I decided to create a felt ornament in the same vein. Scottish iconography is a big deal where I come from, and I know my sibs will love these. 

My kilted Ginger ornament is made out of felt appliqued with a small-sett tartan print, and is complete with sporran and a set of bagpipes. Varying the tartan gives each one quite a different look. 

My Ginger is stitched completely on the embroidery machine, then lightly stuffed through a small opening at the top of the head, which is then sewed closed on the sewing machine. Before closing up the opening, I inserted a small loop of wire to enable me to hang the ornament with a hook or string, but if  you preferred, you could insert a ribbon or cord into the opening and sew that in place instead.

I chose wool felt instead of the more commonly available polyester; although I suspect it may be more subject to fading over time, I like the effect better.  And to give some added stability to the pipes and keep them upright, I carefully inserted a straight pin through each, dipping the pin in a little bit of glue beforehand. If I were giving the ornament directly to a child, I would probably skip this step, but the pins will keep the pipes from drooping and will helppreserve my ornament for years to come.

Turns out there are several versions of Scottish-themed Ginger ornaments on line; since digitizing mine, I've found at least five different styles, some of them quite intricate. I like this version, though, because even with the kilt they still have that simple "gingerbready" look that makes them perfect as Christmas decorations.

Sewing Machine Cabinet - Light Table Conversion

When I acquired it a few years ago, this vintage Kenmore cabinet was in rough shape -- not only was it pretty beaten up, but someone had attempted to adapt it to hold a different machine. The adaptation was rather crude, and pretty much ruined it for housing any sewing machine.

Since I couldn't install any of my machines in it and didn't need it as a desk, I decided to repurpose the cabinet, making it into a light table as a gift for a photographer friend.

I first removed the oak boards and sewing machine lift mechanism, leaving a large open hole.

I added four support strips around edge of the opening to hold the plexiglass insert that would become the surface of the light table.

Then I used a chemical stripper to remove the finish from the whole thing .

Once the cabinet had been given a new coat of urethane finish, I installed three light fixtures and a standard switch into the recess.

I chose household light fixtures so my friend would readily be able find replacement bulbs when necessary, and positioned the lights so that the surface would be illuminated without shadows.

For a modest cost, a local glass shop cut a piece of translucent plexiglass to the exact size I needed.

Now my friend can easily work on sorting his negatives and slides, and the poor old cabinet has been kept from the landfill.

(Note the built-in storage tray that will come in handy in its new life as a photographer's light table.)

The cabinet looks a whole lot better now, and when not in use, the delicate light table surface is protected by the fold-over desktop. Plus, with the lid closed it can serve as a writing desk.

(Note that I had to move the switch to the leg of the cabinet because it interfered with the bottom panel I installed after the whole thing was finished.  It's not as unobtrusive as I'd like, but it's easier to reach and operate. I wish now that I'd used a line switch, but what's done is done.) 

This was a really fun project, and very satisfying since I got to turn something worn out into something practical and attractive.  In fact, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for another suitable cabinet so I can make a light table for myself.

Sewing Decal Ornaments

I made these embroidered ornaments for  myself, to hang on the little Christmas tree that stands in the window of my third-floor sewing loft each Christmas.

I knew as soon as I finished digitizing this Fancy Red Eye decal design that it would make a spectacular ornament. And, of course, it would equally look amazing stitched on a tote bag or a sewing machine cover, or any sewing room decor.

The ornament at right, like the rest of the embroidered ornaments on this page, was made following these directions. It's stitched in 4" size on black felt, using metallic gold thread for sparkle. It's going to look great on my little white sewing room tree.

This second Singer ornament was made somewhat differently, using decorative stitches from my model 500 Rocketeer. To begin, I embroidered just the "S" from the Singer Word design on yellow felt. I trimmed the felt into an oval, then appliqued that to white felt with a bead stitch (setting BM on the Rocketeer or 401). To applique the white felt to black felt, I used a scallop stitch (setting JL), and finally finished off the black border with a chevron pattern (cam #21) in gold colored thread. 

I glued the finished patch to a second (plain) piece of black felt, sandwiching a piece of cardboard between, and stitched around the edge with black thread. To finish off the ornament, I hand-sewed a border of red fused beads around the edge of the ornament.  

Spilling Stocking Ornament

I saw a similar idea on Pinterest and wondered if I could create my own version on the embroidery machine. The design took a little fiddling, but after several adjustments I'm quite pleased with the outcome.

The ornament is made from felt and, when assembled, is  about 8.5 - 9" tall. The motifs spilling from the stocking are attached with 6-pound fishing line.

To make the candy cane, bauble, wrapped gift, and candy, I stitched through three layers of felt, then trimmed close to the stitching with detail scissors.

The stocking and the little stuffed teddy were constructed using the same methods I use for my Mini Stocking ornaments and Tiny Animal toys. 

After I made the first couple of ornaments, I decided to try an all-purple version, personalized for Michelle whose favorite color is purple.

My sister, recalling the oranges that could always be found in the toes of our childhood stockings, suggested that the bauble be replaced with an orange, so I made a couple with that change as well.

I'm going to add one of these to my friend's monthly ornament, and I'll certainly do one for my own tree.

Hogwarts Christmas Stocking

I don't usually post images of half-finished projects, but I've been working on this stocking for a new baby who won't be arriving til July.  At that time, I'll add the name in gold lettering along the black band at the top, and finish out the stocking with a plain back and lining.

The front was constructed of a blocked panel in the four colors of the Hogwarts houses. The stocking is shaped with an understated toe in order to better balance the color blocks.

I assembled the sock by stitching red and green together, then yellow and blue together. After pressing both seams open, I sewed the red-green segment to the yellow-blue segment and pressed the resulting seam open.

I embroidered the "H" crest applique design in the  center of the color blocks, using black felt and gold metallic thread, and I'm really pleased with how it looks.  (Find the applique crest design here). I then stitched the black band along the top, on which I will eventually embroider the baby's name.

Once I had completed the color-blocked front, I used that as a template to cut the plain back of the stocking from black fabric. Once I'm able to embroider the name, I'll complete the stocking and post updated photos.  And then I might just have to make one for my own Christmas decor!

"Retrobritening" Yellowed Plastic

In addition to digitizing and doing machine embroidery, I also love to tinker with my beautiful vintage sewing machines. Although I mostly focus on machines from the first half of the 20th Century, my collection does include a few 70s models.

Some of these machines have plastic housings and cases, which unfortunately can turn an ugly dingy yellow over time, especially when exposed to UV light. I really dislike this discoloration, and was delighted to discover that there is a remedy, so I recently got busy with three of my machines -- a Singer Model 354 Genie and two Kenmore 158.1040 machines. Here's what they looked like before treatment.

The Genie was discolored all over, but on the Kenmores it was mostly the plastic accessory containers that were yellowed. The body of these machines is paint on metal, so they weren't affected the same way, but the contrast made the yellowed bit look even worse.

To restore them to brightness -- "retrobritening" as it's colloquially known -- requires a creme-style hydrogen peroxide bleach designed for use in hair salons.

To make this process work, you need at least a 30-volume solution, much stronger than the drugstore stuff. The one I used was 40-volume, and the 32 fl oz bottle cost me under $10 at a beauty supply store. 

Be sure to wear latex or vinyl gloves when handling the bleach and wash your hands afterward, because it *will* discolor clothes, hair, and even skin. My fingers went leprous white, though thank goodness the effect was temporary. Plus, the stuff can sting.

Apply the solution directly to the yellowed plastic using a brush, as evenly as you can -- try to avoid streaks or heavy areas, which will make the plastic lighten unevenly. Then cover the machine with plastic wrap or a large clear plastic bag to keep the bleach moist, and set it in sunlight for a few hours. How long will depend on the time of year (the sun is stronger in summer) and on how much yellowing you need to correct. Check the item frequently to ensure it doesn't over-bleach -- every half hour in the summer -- then unwrap and wipe clean with a damp cloth. I've successfully treated several of the 70s models I own and the process really does work, even in winter when the sun isn't super high in the sky. 

I should mention that this treatment doesn't prevent the item from eventually yellowing again if exposed to UV light, but the results are quite startling when you compare how the machines look after treatment to how they looked before.

I'm not sure that these photos really do them justice, but hopefully you can see how much better my little Kenmore looks with its accessory box restored to brightness. The difference in the Genie is obvious too, especially when you compare the restored front cover to the still-untreated back of the machine, shown in the picture at bottom right.

For more detailed instructions, check out this video (not mine) or search "retrobriten" on youtube. The process works for other plastic appliances as well as sewing machines.

More Embroidered Ornaments

I recall with fondness those vintage Looney Tunes movie shorts that aired in a cartoon show on lazy Sunday afternoons when I was a kid. This beloved memory is one I share with DH and several of our friends, and these two-sided embroidered ornaments are a fun bit of nostalgia for Christmas. Click here for PDF instructions on how to make embroidered ornaments from almost any embroidery design. They make great stocking stuffers or ornament-exchange gifts, or add them to your own tree.

Teddy with Embroidable Tummy

I made this little green bear with the embroidered tummy as a surprise for my friend Crystal, who loves her football team -- its colors are green and white.

The finished bear -- with or without an embroidered tummy patch -- stands about 13" tall and is perfect as a beginner's project.

Crystal sent me a picture after she received her bear. She was thrilled to have him-- the only green Riders bear in existence, and made just for her -- so I know he's found a good home.

The pattern for this bear is quite simple, and he's quick to make for anyone with even a little bit of experience in toymaking.

His tummy is a single flat pattern piece, so it can easily be personalized with an embroidered motif before the bear is assembled using a conventional machine. Make the tummy the same color as the rest of the body, or use a different color to showcase the embroidery.

I designed this bear as a simple first-time toymaking project for the women in my little craft group. The chocolate brown one in the photo above and the white one at right were actually made in about three hours by two people who had hardly any sewing experience and who had never made any kind of  toy before. There was lots of excitement in the sewing room when the bears were taking shape and the women were justly thrilled with how they turned out.

Antonia's little cutie is pleased to pose beside the machine on which he was created -- you'll no doubt recognize the lovely little Singer 185.

Merry Christmas Bunting

In recent years I've gone a little crazy with Christmas decorating, and this year I was inspired by a vintage Merry Christmas bunting that I saw at someone else's place. It was made with letters cut from felt and strung on a cord, so I thought I might be able to do something similar on the embroidery machine.

I started with the playful letter outlines and filled in the interiors with a variety of Christmas-themed mini designs. Click here to see the complete instructions. The whole effect is cheerful and fun -- just right for a Christmas entryway. The original had sequins stitched on and I toyed with the idea of adding them to my machine-embroidered letters but I decided once it was all assembled that I didn't really need them. I must say I'm thrilled with the way the Christmas minis stitched out. You can find them all here, and the bunting letter set here.

Simple Drawstring Gift Bags

DH hates Christmas wrapping, and as a result he tends to put it off til the absolute last minute -- which for years meant that we didn't get to spend much time together on Christmas Eve, because he was busy fretting and fuming over the chore of wrapping my gifts.

I solved the problem by making lots of these drawstring fabric bags. Hubby loves them, especially for oddly-shaped gifts that he otherwise finds challenging to wrap. All he has to do is pop the gift inside and pull the cords, and he's done.

You can make simple ones in a few minutes and leave them plain to show off pretty fabric, or decorate them with an embroidered motif before you finish stitching up the sides. I make them in a variety of sizes for gifts large and small.

I've embroidered directly on the fabric of the bag, as on the blue plaid one at left in the picture, but I find the embroidery shows up better if I stitch it on a plain color patch appliqued to the front of the bag.

If you're adding the embroidery while the bag is under construction, you can complete the entire process right in the embroidery machine. Hoop the main fabric, then float a piece of plain fabric and embroider the motif through both. Finish with one of the borders in your machine, then trim around the patch with pinking shears, leaving a border of about 1/4".

I have tried a variety of fabrics for the applique, including some left over bits of satin, but I find that cotton flannelette or plain felt works best.

I've also been able to attach an embroidered patch to an existing bag without opening up the side seams. I simply trim around the design stitch-out with pinking shears, then place and pin it to the front of the finished bag. Turn the bag inside out and carefully insert it under the presser foot of a conventional sewing machine. Gently pull the excess fabric out of the way of the needle, and use one of the fancy stitch settings to sew the patch to the bag. 

We wrap everything at our house, including stocking stuffers, so these bags have saved a lot of time and stress over the holidays -- and DH doesn't dread wrapping so much anymore.

Coordinated Fabric-Embroidery Stockings

My friend Louise loves foxes, so when I found this remnant of Christmas print I knew I had to stitch up stockings for her and her hubby.

To make the stockings extra special, I digitized coordinating designs to match the fabric. And because the print is quite busy, I stitched the embroidery on a plain white panel and appliqued it in place. On Louise's sock I couldn't resist adding the punning phrase "Christmas Vixen" beneath the image.

Custom Underwear for the Guys

It's just so darned difficult to find things to sew and embroider for men that I was thrilled to discover how much my guys really like these custom-made cotton knit underpants!

I make some every year for hubby, and recently started making them for others as well. I usually add a bit of embroidery, as I did here for our handy friend Mike, who loves his "Super Mike" motif (see inset).

The style my guys like comes from this Kwik Sew pattern, #3298; it's an older pattern but as far as I know it's still available. (I'm not affiliated with Kwik Sew in any way; this is just the pattern I happen to use.)

The guys on my list love these personalized underwear and both hubby and Mike swear these are the most comfortable underwear they own. It's great to be able to sew and embroider a gift they will actually use. 

Mini Stocking Ornaments

Mini Stockings make a great friendship or hostess gift, and are quick to make up. There are just so many ways to personalize them, and you can add any one of more than two dozen mini toys.

The girls at Fredie's Fish & Chips, where my sister goes often, just loved their personalized mini-stocking ornaments, complete with lighthouse motif and Tiny Fish toys.

Here I made the little fishies in two different colors, and they look great in these seaside-themed mini stockings. Find the ornaments and the free fishie here.

Customized Santa Hat

We wear Santa hats for our Christmas Day festivities, so I generally keep a few on hand. I like to add something extra to the purchased hats to make them uniquely our own.

To make this one special, I added some embroidery in the form of appliqued holly leaves with red jingle bell berries. I made the leaves freestanding by appliqueing the green tartan fabric to two layers of green felt sandwiched over the hooped stabilizer. Then I attached them to the hat by stitching down the center line of each leaf with invisible thread. The jingle bells were stitched on afterward by hand.

Kaleidoscopic Cats Ornaments

They're not embroidered, but these custom ornaments are a great way to showcase a favorite photo or image, and the repeating motif makes a kind of kaleidoscopic effect no matter which angle you view it from.

They're made from twenty circles of cardstock folded and fitted carefully together, then trimmed with glitter. You can use the same image for all the circles, or try different combinations like the one below, which uses two different images of vintage sewing badges.

The ones above feature our cats, past and present. An Internet search will turn up full instructions for making these geodesic ball ornaments. 

Christmas Birthday Stocking

Although I made this stocking a few years back, it's still one of my favorites, and one I wish I had thought of years ago. It's perfect for someone who has a birthday over  Christmas, when the celebration tends to be eclipsed by the larger holiday.

On this sock, I used the Balloon Alphabet to create her name, and the large size of the  "My Birthday is December 25th" for the main image on the middle of the stocking. The toe is decorated with a piece of Christmas birthday cake.

This is quite a large stocking with room for both Christmas and birthday mementos; the design would work equally well for a Christmas Eve birthday too, using the "My Birthday is December 24th" design.

Small Door Banner

This small banner is just the right size to hang on an entry door (about 8"w x 14"h).  I've made several of these as gifts for friends and family, many of them by request. The phrase means  "a hundred thousand welcomes" in Scots Gaelic.

Other possibilities present themselves as well -- a clan/family crest makes a good small-sized banner (left, below), as does my friend Murphy's favorite beverage on the banner I made for his basement bar (right, below). I used an extra large size of the designs (7" tall) to sew these two banners.

Vintage Style Christmas Stocking

These Christmas stockings are reproductions of family heirlooms from 1954. Appliques on the originals were stitched by hand, along with the sequins, but the appliques on these were done on the embroidery machine.

After the appliques were stitched and trimmed, I highlighted them with hand-sewn sequins, just like on the originals.

To attach the sequins, I secured each one with a spot of tacky glue, then sewed them in place using invisible (nylon) thread. 

The original stockings -- which belong to the children's grandparents -- were red, like the one above, but the design looks just as nice done on green. You can embroider the name using a cool font, as above, or for added sparkle, you could sew it out in sequins as I did on the green stocking.

Custom T-Shirts

Each year I make customized tees for several of the guys on my list. The Harry Potter fan in the group will be sure to like his Hogwarts Alumnus shirt, while the blue tee with tilt-a-whirl applique will be a fun surprise for a fan of the classic circus ride.

Special-Interest Stockings

The definitive Christmas special when Shaun was a kid was A Charlie Brown Christmas, so I couldn't resist adding this embroidered Snoopy to his Peanuts-print Christmas stocking. For his name and other details I used a cartoon-style font. And I'm sure Liam was equally thrilled with his football stocking featuring the insignia of his favorite team. The plain insert panel in the middle gives a nice background for the embroidery, especially when the print is busy.

Embroidered Patches

I made 15 of these patches for a friend who was attending a TOGA gathering in Bangor, ME. I'm told they were a hit with the attendies.

To make these mementos, I used the Domed Sewing Machine case design in 3" size (find it in the Vintage Sewing collection) and replaced the caption with the title and date. I stitched them on felt backed with two layers of medium-weight tear-away stabilizer, then trimmed the felt to a narrow border. They can be stitched to a garment  or attached using fabric glue.

Large Teddy Bear

Soft toy design has been a hobby of mine for years; way back when, I even used to design toys for magazine features, and published two books of my toy designs.

I don't do as much of this kind of sewing as I used to, but I do like to keep in practice, and recently made this bear for a friend's first grandchild.

This bear stands about 30" tall and takes nearly two pounds of polyester stuffing. He's been customized with an embroidered heart showing the baby's name.

Re-Upholstered 50s Chair

I taught myself upholstery years ago so I could refurbish some of my garage-sale furniture. This Scandinavian chair, dating from the 1950s, was one of my earliest purchases back in the early 80s. It's most likely Danish, and although I'm not expert I believe the wood is teak.

I've re-done the upholstery several times over the years, including stripping the chair right back to the wood foundation and replacing the foam and padding.

I'm happy to report that its most recent incarnation seems to hold little interest for my cat, who shredded the previous fabric but hasn't touched this version so far. We're only a couple of weeks in, so it remains to be seen if my luck will hold.

Matchbox Ornaments

Each Christmas, I make new crafty ornaments for friends and family. Among this year's offerings are these nifty matchbox ornaments.

Each box in this collection was handmade with a printed tartan sleeve, and can be opened to reveal the memento inside -- in this case, a sign that reads "Cape Breton Christmas".

The embellishments on the outside of the boxes include these 1" tall freestanding lobster motifs, digitized and embroidered specifically for this purpose since I couldn't find any mini lobsters to fit the boxes. I also made the medallions. 

Embroidered Ornament

I'm not much of a fan, but my best friend is crazy about the mouse, so she'll be hanging this one on her Christmas tree from now on.

Like the Looney Tunes ones higher on the page, this ornament is two-sided, with the same design on front and back, although if you like you can use a single embroidered design and leave the back of the ornament plain. Here's how I made it by stitching the embroidery design twice (once in reverse).

The silver bling was attached afterward with glue and hand-stitching, and I added a touch of iridescent glitter glue to give the stars and moon a bit of shine. The finished ornament is about 5" tall overall.

I've made several of this kind of ornament using a variety of designs -- they make great custom gifts.

Look for more freebies throughout the site!