Heart Felt

Heart Felt

♥♥♥  Happy Valentine’s Day!  ♥♥♥

small-felted-heartsWho needs candy – too sweet, goes right to the hips – when you can give a Valentine that will last forever? I made these needle felted “Sweethearts” (also known as conversation hearts, or “Love Hearts” in the UK) as a gift for my mother. Fourteen little hearts for February 14!

Did you know that the real Sweethearts candy – those pastel confections printed with messages such as ‘Be Mine’, ‘All Yours’ and ‘Kiss Me’ – aren’t available in North America this year? This is due to the recent bankruptcy of the Massachusetts-based manufacturer which had been making about 8 billion of the hearts every year since 1901. Fortunately, rights to the candy have been acquired by a company that promises to re-introduce Sweethearts in the next year or two.



The origin of conversation candies goes way back to Shakespeare, who mentions “kissing-comfits” in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Comfits were molded sugar paste squares flavoured with musk, orris powder and ambergris. They were chewed to freshen the breath, but they also contained a secret: tiny slips of paper printed with mottoes asking for a kiss!

In America, comfits became “cockles”: scallop-shaped candies containing a paper message. In the mid-1800s, “conversation candies” or “motto lozenges” began being exchanged at weddings and parties. Messages were now machine-stamped in red dye directly on the sugar paste, asking rather racy questions such as ‘How do you flirt?’ or ‘Do you polka?’ One might be asked to ‘Send a lock of hair by return mail’! Sweethearts even made it into the beloved novel Anne of Green Gables when Anne receives one that says ‘You are sweet’.

needle-felted-sweet-heartsWell, you certainly wouldn’t want to eat my version of Sweethearts! Each is made of soft Corriedale wool roving in colours with luscious names such as Lavender, Lemon, Cupcake, Grape Jelly, Raspberry and Lime – pastels I chose to replicate the candy we all remember from childhood.

I used a heart-shaped plastic cookie cutter as the “mold”, stuffing it generously with roving before starting to felt. When the heart was fairly firm, about 75% done, I popped it out of the cutter and cleaned up the edges with my needle, working the halves of the heart equally to keep the contours symmetrical. Each heart is about 1” (2.5 cm).

felted-valentine-sweet-heartsI found a dollar store package of linen bags patterned with roses – perfect to present these tiny valentines as a heartfelt gift.

Wooly Winter Blues

Wooly Winter Blues

blue-needle-felted-bowlAnother needle felted bowl – they’re so much fun, I can’t stop making them!

This one is the “Agate” bowl, named for the random striations of storm grey and two shades of turquoise which remind me of my favourite stone (see second photo). I almost called it the “Labradorite” bowl, as these colours can also be found in the gemstone with the intriguing blue-grey flash (first and third photos).

felted-blue-bowlI returned to using styrofoam forms to get a nice, uniform shape. I started off layering pieces of roving around the bottom of a foam coffee cup to get the desired base size, then switched to a 2.5” (6.4 cm) ball to build up the curving sides and the inwardly-rolling rim.

small-blue-felted-bowlThe pretty colours in their overlapping layers didn’t need any other ornamentation, although shiny glass beads would make this bowl even more gemmy. The Agate bijoux bowl is 3” diameter x 2” high x 0.4” thick (7.6 cm x 5 cm x 1 cm).

Felt of the Forest

Felt of the Forest

needle-felted-sherwood-bowlThere’s something about a container – a bowl, box, basket, coffret or chest – that is just so appealing. And when that container is small, it becomes even more intriguing (because good things always come in small packages). What tiny treasures does it conceal? What secrets could be stashed within?

As I learn needle felting, I’m beginning to think that bowls and other containers may be my favourite item to make. Take this diminutive “Sherwood” treasure bowl, for example. (See my first bowl, “Ocean Jewels”, here.) Those are just my first two; there are so many ways to make and decorate felted containers, I want to try them all!

felted-bowl-with-seed-beadsUsing five different colours of green wool roving to evoke a lush forest, I felted the bowl freehand instead of using a foam ball as a form, starting flat and overlapping and alternating small chunks of each colour in an ever-increasing, spiraling circle. I shaped the bowl as I went, cupping it in my hand to coax it along and adding more roving wherever the walls were too thin. This method might take longer than using a form, but at least I didn’t have to spend time picking out a million bits of shredded styrofoam!

The bowl, which is 3” in diameter and 1.5” high, is studded inside and out with glass seed beads in subtle woodland hues: spring green, umber, golden yellow, autumnal orange, brook blue and azure sky. The beads are sewn on with clear nylon beading filament which completely disappears within the felt and serves a second purpose of adding more stabilization.

To me, this little treasure bowl represents a leafy bower deep in Sherwood Forest where the gems of the Sheriff of Nottingham, pilfered brazenly by the rogue Robin Hood, lie cleverly cached. Zounds!needle-felted-sherwood-forest-bowl

Taking a Stab at Needle Felting

Taking a Stab at Needle Felting

I’ve been wanting to try needle felting for some time, so I was excited to take my first “stab” at it a few days ago. If you’re unfamiliar with this art form, needle – or dry – felting involves shaping small bits of carded sheep’s wool (roving) by poking it with a special needle. As you jab repeatedly, the needle’s tiny barbs hook on to individual strands and gradually tangle the wool fibres together, shaping them and making them denser as you work.

needle-felted-beehiveIt doesn’t take long to create balls, ovals, cylinders, etc., which hold their shape firmly but give slightly when you squeeze them. You can build more complex structures (a figure or the body of an animal, for example) by felting one component to another; the idea is to not use glue or thread. I decided to try a beehive for my first project. I approached it purely as a learning experience as I got used to handling the needle, how to create shapes and contours, what it feels like when you’ve reached that ideal firm-but-springy stage, and how to apply details.

needle-felted-bee-on-beehiveThe beehive – which is not as domed as I would have liked (I now know how to do it better) – has its own resident bee, attached firmly to the surface underneath with a few jabs of the needle. I’m quite happy with how the bee turned out! The door and flowers (there are blue ones at the back, not shown) are “needled” or pushed in so they’re flush with the surface of the hive. This piece took me hours, but I learned a lot from it, so my next two projects worked up more quickly.

needle-felted-toadstool-in-bottleThis tiny toadstool-in-a-bottle is about two inches high and nests in a clump of “soil” and some mossy grass – roving which I left mostly unfelted. Mushrooms are a lot of fun to make; I’ve got another larger project in mind which I think the faeries and snails will love!

needle-felted-mushroomAfter carefully pushing the toadstool into the vial, which is about 3.5 inches tall, I corked the bottle then added an acorn cap, and tied on a bit of twine for the final touch.

Needle felting requires some kind of pad underneath while you’re working. Those needles will often jab right through your piece, so you need to protect your work surface – and the needles, which are very thin and delicate and can break easily. The pad is also helpful for rolling your pieces on, to speed up the felting and shaping process. Foam blocks or a cleaning sponge are popular, but I chose to making my own by sewing a 6” x 6” muslin-lined linen pillow filled with rice (shown above). This makes a firm yet forgiving surface, and it cost me nothing, as I already had the materials on hand.

I quickly found that needle felting is addictive. It does take patience, but it’s an ideal craft to relax with on an afternoon or evening; you can do it in front of the TV – as long as you don’t take your eyes off the needle when you’re working – the needles are extremely sharp! I highly recommend some silicone, rubber or leather finger guards as protection from those painful – and inevitable – jabs.

needle-felted-trinket-bowlMy third project was the small “Ocean Jewels” ring or trinket bowl. I mingled sea colours – marine blue, purple, dark and light greens – and formed the basic shape around a styrofoam ball. That’s great for getting a relatively uniform shape, but styrofoam will start to disintegrate the longer you work it, and I ended up with tiny white bits which needed to be picked out of the felted wool with tweezers. Even more time-consuming than felting! The next bowl I do will be completely freeform. (Who needs perfection, anyway?) Once I was happy with the shape and size of the bowl (3.5” diameter), I used nylon beading thread to sew an encrustation of jewel-toned glass beads around the rim.

needle-felted-ocean-jewels-bowlI’m already working on another project and have ordered a batch of luscious roving colours – can’t wait for them to arrive! Expect to see more felting projects here. I hope you enjoy learning along with me – and that you won’t say “Baa humbug” to it all!

Yuletide Craft: Nature’s Ornaments

Yuletide Craft: Nature’s Ornaments

wreath-with-natural-ornamentsThese rustic decorations speak of an earlier time when folk used whatever elements they had on hand and brought nature indoors to brighten up their homes for the holidays. I used natural materials such as muslin, twigs, dried oranges and the fragrant spices and herbs – cinnamon and nutmeg, star anise, bay leaves – so evocative of our seasonal celebrations. With a bit of glue and a drill (optional), it was very easy to put these homespun ornaments together.

cinnamon-stick-ornamentThis spicy little “yule log” is made of several cinnamon sticks (about 4 inches long) wrapped in a scrap of gauzy ribbon and cotton lace. I glued the fabric seams at the back and added a whole anise as a starry embellishment.

cinnamon-stick-star-ornamentFive-pointed stars or pentagrams are traditional symbols of luck and protection. I hot-glued 6-inch cinnamon sticks together, then wrapped baker’s twine around the joints for added interest and stability (you can skip the glue if you wish, as it’s easier to get the right shape just by tying). A sweetly-tinkling silvery bell adds another element to this scented ornament.

mini-besom-ornamentBroomsticks or besoms, whether full-size or miniature, symbolically sweep away negative energies from the home. For this little besom, a twig with a hole drilled at the top for hanging serves as the handle or stave. I cut 4-inch lengths of green twine, folded them in half and hot-glued them (with the folds facing up) about 1.5 inches from the bottom of twig. When the glue was dry, I snipped open the folds, then rubbed each strand between my fingers to unravel them and fluff the “bristles” up. Add a band of binding with more twine – or tightly-wrapped 18 gauge copper craft wire, as shown here.

Scandinavian-star-ornamentOnce I’d made this folded Scandinavian or Swedish star of nubby, unbleached muslin, I aged it by dabbing the fabric with a strongly-steeped tea bag. (The effect is a little hard to see in the photo.) Forest-coloured buttons add woodsy interest. Nestle these stars amongst tree branches as-is or add a hanging loop.

cinnamon-stick-ribbon-tree-ornamentA six-inch cinnamon stick forms the trunk of this ribbon tree. Use a square knot (right over left, left over right) to tie on grosgrain ribbon, cut the “branches” to shape, then carefully singe the ribbon ends with a flame to prevent fraying. Thin strips of fabric would also work well. I drilled a hole at the top of the stick for hanging (I suggest doing this first, in case the cinnamon stick shatters – or use a twig), but you could also glue a hanging loop on if you don’t want to bother with a drill.

orange-and-spice-natural-ornamentThis spice ornament brings together pretty colours and those classic Christmas scents. Dry thinly-cut orange slices (1/8” to 1/4” thick) on a baking sheet in a 175°F oven for about five hours, turning occasionally. (Watch for signs of scorching; lightly cover with parchment paper if desired.) The oranges may still be slightly sticky; poke a hole in one segment and hang to finish drying over several days. I drilled holes in cinnamon stick fragments and a nutmeg and strung them with bay leaves on twine. Apple slices, cranberries, other types of nuts or clementine leaves would be beautiful, too.

Enjoy nature’s bounty this season – or any time of the year!

Yuletide Craft: Scandinavian Stars

Yuletide Craft: Scandinavian Stars

“Starry, starry night…” – Don McLean

diy-scandinavian-fabric-starsThese no-sew 8-pointed fabric stars are based on traditional Scandinavian or German folded paper stars, which are themselves a variation of the three-dimensional Moravian and Froebel stars popularized in Europe in the 1800s.

The symmetrical, three-dimensional Moravian star, which has 20, 26, 32, 50, 64 or 110 points, originated at a German boys’ school as a geometry lesson, quickly became an Advent and nativity symbol in the Moravian church, then spread worldwide. The 16-pointed Froebel star was supposedly invented by Friedrich Fröbel, founder of the Kindergarten, who encouraged paper folding as a way to introduce simple mathematical concepts to preschool children – although the form may have been around far longer than that.

Scandinavian stars are a fun and easy type of “fabric origami”, for it requires only folding and weaving. Making them can be quite meditational once you get on a roll; after you make a couple, they get easier and faster! I learned how to make them from this tutorial by Betz White.

origami-fabric-starFor each star, you need four 3” x 14” strips of cotton fabric, so it’s a great way to use up scraps or fat quarters from other projects. I used four different prints for each one, but I’ve also seen them done in a single colour, or two patterns for each. I’d like to make some from unbleached muslin with a dusting of glitter for a natural yet shimmering Yuletide adornment!

The only other supplies you need are a ruler, scissors and an iron (but see below for a couple of suggestions which will make your star-making life easier).

You can try making these stars smaller, which will be a bit fiddly, or larger, at which “point” the stars will start to get a little floppy. The ones shown here hold themselves together nicely and are the perfect size for all kinds of different uses.

A couple of suggestions: as you’ll see from the tutorial, you need to feed each fabric strip in between layers of other strips, which can be snug. I used a pair of blunt tweezers to reach up underneath and pull the fabric through; much easier than using my big ol’ fingers! A grippy-type bodkin would be ideal for this, too.

Once done, you can leave the stars as-is, as they should stay together pretty well. However, I’m a cautious lass who never likes leaving anything to chance, so I used my trusty Weldbond glue (fabulous stuff – can’t recommend it enough!) to tack down the raw ends of each strip. They are hidden under previously-woven sections, so no one will ever know the glue is there! I think the glue just adds a bit more stability to the finished product.

swedish-star-ornamentsThis craft is great for when you need homemade gifts quickly; you can make up a bunch in an evening, especially if you have a “bee” going on. (Bring on the nog and gingerbread.) Adult supervision is needed if kids are going to make them, as there’s cutting and pressing involved.

I’m going to add hanging loops to each star with gold or silver thread to make these into tree ornaments. The purple ones will be a gift for a friend who decorates her Christmas tree exclusively in that colour. Another stack, bundled up with pretty ribbon, will go to a co-worker. You can bedeck a wreath or garland, too (my photos of these stars on an evergreen wreath sadly didn’t turn out). String them together on their own to make a starry garland, or use them as colourful gift tags or package embellishments.

And you don’t have to limit their use to Christmas, either. Depending on your fabric choices – of course you can use all sorts of pretty paper, too – they’d be appropriate all year long!

fabric-scandinavian-stars“We are all of us stars and we deserve to twinkle.” – Marilyn Monroe

Yuletide Craft: Old-timey Trees

Yuletide Craft: Old-timey Trees

bottle-brush-trees-door-knobsI embarked upon the Yuletide season with a trip to the country and a bit of antiquing. My sister and I spent a festive afternoon exploring the garland- and light-bedecked market stalls, on the hunt for vintage Christmas ornaments with their faded colours, tarnished tinsel and that nostalgic old-world feel.

One of my favourite decorations at this time of year is the bottle brush tree. Whether they’re plain green, bleached ivory, or dyed soft pastel, have tips touched with snow or glitter, or are adorned with tiny glass balls in rose, pale green, blue, burnished gold and silver, they make wonderful decorations that can be displayed in so many ways. One vendor had this display of modern bottle brush trees cleverly fitted with antique door knob/cabinet pull bases, and I couldn’t resist bringing home the three on the right – even though I knew I could easily make something similar myself. (I loved the chipped red one, but alas, the state of my pocketbook ruled it out.) Indeed, the next day…

bottle-brush-tree-ornaments… I found some inexpensive yet good-looking cabinet knobs at a discount store. (Each style came in a pack of two – a true bargain.) One looks and feels like weathered bronze and is quite heavy; the other has a shiny brass finish which I briefly considered trying to scuff up and give an antique patina. (I decided I liked the play of all the different finishes, so I left it alone. Probably a good thing.)

The trees also came from the bargain store. (They and the cabinet pulls were the only items I had to purchase for everything I made here; all other supplies came from my disconcertingly large craft stash.) A dab of hot glue to affix the wire stems in the hole in the knobs, and I had instant old-timey décor!

diy-bottle-brush-treesI had some trees left over and didn’t have to look far to find more bases. And so… I “planted” the largest tree in an old glass inkwell that came from the same antique market on a previous trip. First, I filled it with glittery silver vase-filler pebbles, to give it a bit more interest. The cloudy glass and subtle glimmer (hard to fully appreciate in these photos) mimic the metallic sheen of mercury glass – one of my very favourite things ever. Not wanting to damage or mar the inkwell, I stuck the tree stem into a cork that just happened to be the right size (okay, I have about four bags of assorted craft corks), and wrapped the neck of the bottle with ivory lace. I’ll probably change out the red ribbon (all I had) to something a bit more aged looking, like dusty pink or celadon green.

The little round “topiary” is glued into a thimble that came from one of those emergency sewing kits. It was the perfect size for this tiny faerie tree! All it needs is a sprinkling of pixie dust, and the Wee Folk will be celebrating.

When I bought the bottle brush trees, I also found a sweet spirally wire tree ornament that fit one of my cabinet pulls. I removed the hanging loop and a jingle bell that was attached to the bottom. With a bit of hot glue, I had yet another type of door-knob tree in about one minute. (Of course, these and the bottle brush trees, with their various bases, would make lovely hanging ornaments, if they’re not too heavy.)

bottle-brush-tree-ideasI could have gone on making an entire forest of these adorable trees, which look so great grouped together, especially since they’re not all the same. I love the subdued mix of metals and glass, colours and textures, combined with the shimmery snow-tipped branches. For bases, there are so many other possibilities! Wooden spools, wine corks, (drilled) toy blocks, miniature teacups, shot glasses, tiny gift boxes or vases, apothecary or essential oil bottles, will all lend an old-time air. Use cork, florist foam, Styrofoam or sticky-tac putty for tree stem stabilization if necessary. I kept my trees fairly plain (except for one), but of course you can dress them up any way you wish, or go nuts with the glitter. In fact…

… see the ivory-coloured tree? I made that one! I’d read that bottle brush trees can be bleached to turn them pale green or white, but only if they are a natural material such as sisal. I’m pretty sure my trees are synthetic, in which case the bleach probably wouldn’t work, so… I dug out a roll of sisal twine and some craft wire, followed online instructions and made my own. My ivory tree needed some glitz, so I painted the tips with matte Mod Podge and sprinkled on some silver micro glitter (also hard to see in the photos). Okay, so it’s not exactly the classic bottle brush shape, but I’m pleased with my vintage-y sisal tree!

mason-jar-snow-domeAnd finally, I love snow globes and domes, and I’ve always wanted to try making one with a mason jar. First, I embellished a bottle brush tree with glued-on pearly “gems”, then hot-glued its base to the inside lid of a large mason jar. I wanted the tree to be just barely glimpsed through a perpetual snowflake swirl – as if the dome had just been shaken – so I painted the inside of the jar with a thin, even coat of gloss Mod Podge and threw in a few pinches of clear, iridescent glitter, quickly turning and rolling the jar to distribute the glitter where I wanted it. (Concentrating some of the glitter at the bottom makes it look like a snow-laden sky when the jar is inverted.) I was pretty heavy-handed with the glitter, but I rather like the misty, dreamy effect. After everything was dry, I tucked some fluffy faux snow around the base of the tree and screwed on the lid. Et voilà – instant waterless snowdome!

bottle-brush-trees-and-snowdomeStay tuned for more Yuletide crafts, coming soon!