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!

Owl Be Seeing You

Owl Be Seeing You

Quick trivia: what is a group of owls called?

diy-stuffed-fabric-owlsThese cute little fabric owls were inspired by many similar ones found on Pinterest. Some of those pins include instructions, others good tutorial photos (I forgot to take some), but inevitably something important is left out. Using elements from several of them, I came up with the three different sizes of whimsical hooters shown here. In fact, this project really took flight, and I made an entire parliament of owls! (Yes, that’s the official name.) Read on for a basic pattern and step-by-step instructions, which I hope are clear enough to follow without pictures!

These owls are a great way to use up scraps of material and supplies left over from other projects. I sewed on buttons for the eyes; glued-on circles of felt or googly eyes would be cute, too. I chose to keep my owls fairly simple, but of course you could add more adornment; how sweet would flirty little embroidered eyelashes be?! I added ear tufts with yarn, and feathers which keep escaping from an old pillow, to a couple of my owls.

woodland-fabric-owlsThe birds’ bodies are gathered at the bottom, so a base made of a cardboard circle gathered in fabric helps them to stand straight. Note that glue simply won’t hold here; you really need to sew the base on. It’s a little fiddly but finishes the raw edges and the hole formed by the gathering nicely. Instead of this base, you could glue on a circle of felt, even cutting it into the shape of birds’ feet! I think the felt base would work best if you weight the owls (more about that below).

fabric-owls-diyThese critters would make charming tree decorations: skip the base (use felt instead), and add a hanging loop at the top – or just perch the owls amongst the branches!

They could serve as adorable pincushions, too, particularly if they’re weighted with sand, ground walnut shells, dried beans or rice. I’d encase this material in a little bag sewn from muslin or other tightly-woven fabric, then tuck it inside the polyfil stuffing near the bottom of the owl.

To make these wee beasties, you’ll need a few basic sewing supplies plus a sewing machine. For each owl, there are only two seams on the machine, and the rest is done by hand. So, let’s get owling!!!

Materials Needed:
• two different fabrics, one each for the back and front (belly)
• paper; pencil; ruler; protractor; compass (optional, or trace something round)
• sewing machine
• scissors; pins; needle; thread; embroidery floss (optional)
• polyfil stuffing
• thin but rigid cardboard
• buttons, felt, sequins or stick-on “googly” eyes
• yarn or feathers (optional)

Here are the basic pattern and the measurements needed to make the small, medium and large owls shown, which are all fairly round and plump (and really not that big!). To make larger or more elongated ones, increase the length of the sides and adjust the angle of the front (belly) piece accordingly; the smaller the angle, the slimmer the owl.

stuffed-fabric-owl-patternSMALL (2.25” tall)
Back/Sides: 12.5 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 12.5 cm sides, 45° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3 cm circle

MEDIUM (2.75” tall)
Back/Sides: 15 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 15 cm sides, 50° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6.25 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3.25 cm circle

LARGE (3.25” tall)
Back/Sides: 18 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 18 cm sides, 55° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6.5 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3.5 cm circle

To Make the Owl:
• Draw pattern using the dimensions listed above, using a protractor for the angles. (The circles don’t have to be perfect.) Cut fabric and cardboard pieces.
• Lay the Back/Sides and Front pieces right sides together, matching one straight side. Pin if needed. Sew using ¼” seam allowance, stopping ¼” from the end, or narrowest point, of the “V”.
• Sew the other straight side in the same way, being careful to fold any material you’ve just sewn near the point out of the way. (When you try it, you’ll see what I mean.) The two stitching lines will meet to form the point of the beak.
• Trim the seam allowances across the top and sides of beak for easier turning. Turn owl right side out.
• Hand sew a loose running stitch around the bottom of the owl, using ¼” to ½” seam allowance. Leave thread ends untied.
• Fold the point of the beak over the belly about 1/3 to halfway down and place a pin along the fold line; this prevents the stuffing from entering the beak area.
• Stuff the body with polyfil until fairly firm; pull thread ends to gather fabric and tie off securely.
• Remove pin and tack the underside of the beak to the belly with a few stitches, or use embroidery floss to tack down and embellish the beak.
• Add eyes by sewing on buttons or gluing on felt circles, sequins or googly eyes.
• Sew a loose running stitch around the edge of the fabric circle using a ¼” to ½” seam allowance. Place cardboard disc inside and gather fabric around it; tie securely.
• Sew the circle to the underside of the owl, covering all raw gathering. Pull stitches snugly and try to hide them amongst the folds.
• Add any other embellishments, such as ear tufts, that you wish.

stuffed-fabric-owlsNow, wasn’t that a hoot?!

Happy Hallowe’en!

halloween-drilled-pumpkinsAnd a blessed Samhain to all!

I’ve been wanting to try making drilled jack-o’-lanterns instead of carved ones for a couple of years now, and here they are!

I cleaned out the pumpkins first. Then, using an electric hand drill, I added geometric/floral designs using three different bit sizes (1/4” – the largest one I have – 13/64” and 5/32”). I just went by eye, not bothering to draw on a pattern first; the veins of the pumpkins help with spacing, etc.

drilled-halloween-pumpkinsAfter drilling, I had to go back and remove the “strings”, or shreds, that the drill produced on the inside, and then use a wooden chopstick to clear out debris from each hole. (The chopstick helps enlarge the holes a little, too.) The entire process was pretty time-consuming, but I like the results!

These pumpkins each have two LED tealights inside.

drilled-jack-o-lanternsI hope that tonight, when the veil between worlds is thin and our ancestors are close, the ghosties and ghoulies you encounter are of the nicest kind. May you treat and be treated well this All Hallows’ Eve!

• • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

You are invited to join me in my parlour at Flagstones & Fog for a spooky new ghost story! – gillyflower

Autumn Craft: Fabric Pumpkins

Autumn Craft: Fabric Pumpkins

Happy Thanksgiving from Canada! Here is a craft to get you in an autumnal mood. These cheerful fabric pumpkins make me happy every time I look at them, and they were pretty simple to put together. I made the four shown here in one evening – and I got to use my new sewing machine for the first time! (Really, each pumpkin requires only one sewn seam, plus a bit of hand basting.)

fabric-pumpkinsThe idea came from Pinterest; there are lots of examples and tutorials out there. I used this tutorial, but after trying it changed one step. I also finished the pumpkins using my own variation on the leaves. See the tutorial for step-by-step instructions with photos; I’ve included my version (without pictures) below.

diy-fabric-pumpkinsThis project is a great way to use up fabric scraps in your stash. (I found an orange polyester tablecloth and plaid cotton placemat, plus the wide green ribbon at the dollar store; the smallest multicoloured pumpkin is made from a fat quarter I already had.) I used typical autumnal colours, but you could go non-traditional to fit your décor, use cotton, muslin, flannel or burlap, and add any type of embellishment you like. A gathering of these pumpkins would make a great centerpiece, or would be wonderful to sell at a bazaar. Imagine a whole table covered with these bright beauties!

To make this project, you’ll need:

fabric for pumpkin • sewing machine (optional) • needle & thread • polyfil stuffing or batting • twine, string, yarn, embroidery floss or narrow ribbon for “veins” • glue gun • small stick or cinnamon stick • ribbon, felt or fabric for leaves, or artificial leaves • raffia, twine, wired twine or pipe cleaners for tendrils (optional, not shown)

The Pinterest tutorial gives directions for round or squat pumpkins. I like the squatty ones – plus, they sit better; to get this shape, the fabric length needs to be two and a half times the width. (For round pumpkins, the length is two times the width.) I cut the fabric for my pumpkins as follows:

6 inch dia. pumpkin (orange):  10” x 25”
5 inch dia. pumpkin (plaid):  8” x 20”
4 inch dia. pumpkin (orange):  6” x 15”
3 inch dia. pumpkin (multi):  5” x 12.5”

small-fabric-pumpkinsNow, start making!

• Cut pumpkin fabric and fold lengthwise with right sides together so that the short ends meet. Machine- or hand-stitch the short end closed using a 1/2 inch seam allowance. This is the pumpkin’s side seam.
(This is the step I changed from the Pinterest tutorial) With right sides still together, hand-baste a loose running stitch around one open end of the pumpkin, using a 3/4 inch seam allowance. Pull the thread ends to gather the fabric evenly and tie off as tightly as possible with several knots. This is the bottom of the pumpkin.
• Turn fabric right side out. Check the gathered bottom to make sure no raw edges are showing to the outside; if they are, poke them back in and adjust the gathers as needed.
• As you did for the bottom, hand-baste a gathering stitch around the top of the pumpkin. Gather slightly but don’t tie any knots.
• Fill pumpkin with stuffing until fairly firm.
• Gather the top closed and tie off as tightly as possible with several knots.
• Cut three lengths of twine (etc.) that will encircle the pumpkin to create vertical “veins”, dividing it into 6 sections. Wrap each piece around the pumpkin, tying at the top. When adding the last piece, loop it around the first two underneath the pumpkin to help keep them centred and in place. Trim ends.
• Cut stick (I found a fallen branch with lichen on it) to desired length for the stem. Add a dab of hot glue to the centre top of pumpkin and push in the stick. A cinnamon stick would also make a lovely, fragrant stem!
• To hide the knots around the base of the stem, add leafy embellishments: cut leaves from fabric or felt (or use artificial leaves) and hot-glue them to the pumpkin. Instead of leaves, I used 1.5” sheer ribbon, looping and tying it loosely around the stem and tacking it down with hot glue.
• If you’ve added leaves, you might want to finish the pumpkin by tying raffia, twine or ribbon around the stem. “Tendrils” can be created by winding wired twine, ribbon or pipe cleaners around a pencil or marker and fastening the curlicues around the stem.

I think this method would be perfect for a pincushion, too. I’ll probably try to make a velvet pumpkin- or tomato-shaped pincushion. (See more about my passion for pincushions here.) Stay tuned!autumn-fabric-pumpkins

Pins and Needles

Pins and Needles


Seen at the market: Shaker-style spool caddy with pincushion circa 1940

I promised to share my collection of pincushions – and here they are!

I’ve been collecting sewing implements for years, including a variety of pretty pincushions. I’m proud to own two antique examples, one of which – the shoe, below – I picked up just recently at an antique market. I was absolutely thrilled to add it to my collection!

There are other special ones, too, handmade by talented fabric and bead artists and given to me by my mother. I will treasure these one-of-a-kind gifts forever.

The last group consists of Pinterest-inspired projects. These Mason jar pincushions are fun and easy to make and require only fabric scraps, minimal sewing (there are no-sew methods, too), some stuffing and a bit of glue.

Pincushions have been documented in Europe since the Middle Ages and over the centuries were called pyn pillows, pimpilowes, pimpilos or pin-poppets. These sewing implements weren’t just practical; they were an opportunity to show off one’s collection of pins and needles, which, being made of metal, were expensive and rare. Early pincushions were often made of fine fabrics and embroidered with intricate designs, and could have a base of ivory, bone, wood, silver, pewter or porcelain in different shapes such as birds, baskets, dolls, tuffets, acorns or fruits. They were cherished objects that took pride of place in the lady’s parlour.

antique-pincushionsVintage and lovingly handmade (clockwise from bottom left): Early 20th century silver-plated Art Nouveau shoe pincushion made by Jennings Bros., a metal foundry established in 1891 in Connecticut. The bottom is marked “JB 515”, the company’s mark and model number  •  Victorian-style velvet apple pincushion with vintage glass-headed hatpins  •  Antique metal pincushion with original velvet cover and sawdust filling  •  Beaded strawberry by First Nations beadwork artist Naomi Smith who learned the craft from her mother. The strawberry is sacred to the Fish people, Naomi’s clan; the pincushion is a copy of an antique pattern. Following old ways, Naomi takes care never to make two pieces exactly alike.

pincushionsModern whimsy (clockwise from bottom): The iconic tomato-shaped pincushion that we all grew up with – and which is still commonly available today – was a Victorian invention. It was a folk custom to place a tomato on the mantel of a new home to keep evil spirits away and protect the household. When tomatoes weren’t in season, ladies made fabric tomatoes stuffed with sawdust, cotton, wool or horsehair instead. Often, they included a small strawberry filled with emery powder for keeping pin ends sharp and clean  •  Owl pincushion weighted with sand  •  Felted wool “geode” pincushion handmade by a friend of my mother’s. Lanolin in the sheep’s wool helps keep pins and needles conditioned and rust-free.

mason-jar-pincushionsDIY Mason jar pincushions: This Pinterest tutorial was the basis for these cheerful pincushion/storage jars, perfect for holding buttons, thread, pins, embroidery floss, bobbins, beads, clothes pins or other needlework tools. I made the largest jar into a basic sewing kit with thread, extra buttons, a needle pack, measuring tape, scissors, thimble and a seam ripper. How pretty would this be on the sewing table? It would also make a great gift for a sewing beginner or a student going off to college, and it could serve as a useful emergency kit at the office.

For the large- and medium-sized examples, I used Mason jars with two-part lids; the lid insert is placed inside the filled, gathered “pouff” which is then pushed up through the outer ring. The overstuffed cushion of the medium-sized jar stayed in place on its own and didn’t have to be glued; more modest domes will have to be hot-glued to the inner rim of the lid’s ring.

The smallest example is a reused honey jar with a regular metal lid. I put a cardboard circle a tad smaller than the lid’s diameter inside the pouff, hot-glued the whole thing to the top of the lid and added lace to cover the edge. The lid can still be removed with no problem.

Other objects such as teacups, egg cups, little terra cotta pots, wooden spools or small tins can be recruited for this idea, too.

All these needlework-related posts have got me in the mood – I just bought a new sewing machine! I’m on pins and needles waiting for it to arrive so I can start more cute and colourful little projects – it’ll be sew much fun!

Oil Lamps and Old Lace

In a favourite chair on a shady deck under the tall pines, I’ve been devouring Bellewether (Simon & Schuster, 2018), the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley.

Set in the present and in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War, the story features a Colonial house on the tidal shores of Long Island. In the present day, the centuries-old house is being turned into a museum honouring one of its owners, a Revolutionary war hero. As she researches the house’s history and acquires artifacts for the museum, curator Charley learns of the local legend of a daughter and her forbidden love, a captured French officer billeting with the family. The 18th century love story is told with plenty of historical detail and atmosphere. I can almost touch the wind-bent reeds and smell the salt-whipped air as I imagine two-masted brigs sailing down the Sound. Privateering and shipwrecks, tobacco and West Indian trade, draft-dodging and slavery all make an appearance, in Kearsley’s concise style. And, as always, suspense and the paranormal are handled perfectly: Charley’s encounters with the house’s resident ghost and a mysterious light in the woods had me shivering deliciously.

An aside: As I wrote this article, long past midnight after everyone else had retired to bed, the “ghost ship” once again slipped eerily past our island. The Wenonah II, a ship modelled after the Victorian-era steamers which once plied the lakes, was returning to the town wharf carrying only a skeleton crew. With no passengers aboard, the large vessel sailed like a shadow, with a minimum of lights sketching its outline. She made barely a sound as she passed and was visible for just a few moments before disappearing through the Narrows into the bay. How fitting as I write about a tragic tale of lost love, old houses, ships and ghosts!

The bookmark I made for myself – a lover of antique keys – uses ivory crochet lace and moss-green grosgrain ribbon, embellished with a key charm.

Our 107-year-old cottage was made for reading. There are Muskoka chairs (also known as Adirondacks) placed at the most scenic points of the island, perfect for a relaxing afternoon read. In the evenings, too, with no television, radio or other distractions, we read. My mother, siblings and spouses spend our holiday together, and a family that stays together reads together. And page-turners need bookmarkers to hold their places whilst lemonade or cups of tea and a biscuit or two are fetched. So, for the female bookworms amongst us, I made some vintage-looking bookmarks of lace and ribbon, finishing each with a small charm to match the recipient’s personality or interest. They’re easy to make and can be hand- or machine-stitched.

This ivory cotton crochet lace bookmark with pale blue grosgrain ribbon and silver-plated heart charm is for my mother.

To make these bookmarks, choose 1” to 2” wide lace that has holes running down the centre, big enough to accommodate the ribbon you want to use. Gauge the length you’ll need from the book(s) you’ll be reading (I used a paperback). Double that length, cut the lace and fold in half, lining up the holes. (The folded end will be the top of the bookmark.) Pin if necessary, and stitch up both long sides. Using a darning needle, thread ribbon (I used 1/8” polyester satin and 1/4” grosgrain) through the holes up one side and down the other, making sure there’s a loop of ribbon at the top end to attach a charm. Trim the ribbon, keeping half an inch of excess. (Optional: singe the ribbon ends carefully with a flame to prevent fraying.) At the bottom end of the bookmark, turn ribbon and lace ends to the inside about 1/4”, and stitch closed, making sure the catch the hem and ends of the ribbon to keep them in place.

Instead of threading narrow ribbon through the holes, you could sandwich a wider piece of ribbon between the layers of lace so that the colour peeps through.

To finish the bookmark, add a lightweight metal charm using one or two jump rings through the ribbon loop at the top (or through holes in the lace itself, if not using ribbon). In addition to the types of charms shown here, you could use an initial, a faux birthstone or a tassel.

These two white cotton eyelet bookmarks were made for nature lovers. I chose an owl charm for my sister and peridot-green satin ribbon to match her August birthstone. The butterfly bookmark with apricot ribbon went to my sister-in-law.

Life is a Bed of Roses

Happy Sunday! Today I’m celebrating a couple of things: the 2-year anniversary of this blog, and the start of some R&R at the family cottage. I still have to commute to work for a few days here and there, but I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the forest — my kind of cathedral!

Rose Garden • 5” x 7” washable marker on watercolour paper © 2018 V. Barrett