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

Fantasy Landscapes

Back in 2016, I posted a couple of my attempts at “art” using inexpensive washable markers (Crayola, Elmer’s) and a water mister. I’d seen some examples on Pinterest, and Crayola had this idea (for kids!) on the back of their boxes. I already had some markers, watercolour paper and a mist bottle (for hot flashes!), so I thought I’d give the technique a try. I also tested out another Pinterest idea using melted crayon.

Let me emphasize that I am not an artist – but I do love nature, and trying new things – so I call these pieces “fantasy landscapes”.

Storm’s Comin’ • 8” x 10” washable marker • Inspired by Ontario lake-scapes, this was my first attempt at using the “spritz” technique – laying down broad strokes of water-based marker on watercolour paper, misting lightly with water, then tilting the paper so the colour fans out and blends. I added the trees last, using very little water in order to retain some detail.

September Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • Colours will bleed into each other if laid close together or touching, or if sprayed at the same time or with a lot of water. Squiggly border lines form when enough pigment flows to the edge of an area and dries there.

Autumn Mist • 5” x 7” washable marker & watercolours • I let the colours blend too much on this one and lost some definition, but it’s a good example of the misty, feathering effect and map-like edging that can be achieved.

Blowin’ in the Wind • 5” x 7” washable marker, watercolours & ink • With the spritzing technique, you never quite know what you’re going to get! This take on a poppy field was an attempt to salvage an experiment gone wrong. Let’s call it ‘whimsical’!

Hot Mess (detail) • 8” x 10” melted crayon on paper • Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing fabulous works of melted crayon art! Trying to melt broken crayolas with a heat gun (a hair dryer doesn’t work) onto paper was ridiculously laborious, not to mention dangerous, and just blew the bits around – and all over the room – in ugly globs of colour. This detail of a very abstract piece is really the only half-decent part of the end result.

Heather Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • After a long hiatus, I got out my markers and paper again to make this recent picture. In addition to a spray bottle, I found by happy accident that a raindrop effect can be achieved by dropping or flicking water onto the pigment, whether wet or dry. Unhappily, I discovered that glitter washable marker does not blend well when wet (but could be used to highlight dry areas) – but I was sufficiently pleased with the overall result to give this one as a gift to a family member.

Billow • 5” x 7” washable marker • To me, this picture, which took hours to make, looks sort of like batik. I was careful to work section by section, allowing each to dry sufficiently before starting an adjacent area or colour. I kept most colours separate, or layered pigment wet-on-dry, and used white space to enhance the composition. In addition to a mister, I used an eyedropper to add water to specific areas and push it along as needed. This allows more control over the final result than just spritzing.

True Colours

True Colors 2 seed bead & sterling silver rainbow necklace © Gillyflower Faire

Pride Month is in full swing, and today was Toronto’s annual Pride Parade. The colours of the rainbow may not have shown themselves in the day’s grey and drizzly sky, but they were flown proudly everywhere in the city.

This week I had the sudden and shocking news that the facility where I’ve worked for five years – a job I love and a place where I’ve made many friends who’ve become family – has closed its doors. Shock has already given way to a bit of anger, lots of mourning, and a path of slow acceptance. As I learn to deal with what was perhaps an inevitable change, I will take time to understand the situation from as many angles as I can, and ensure that our “family” doesn’t fall apart. On Friday, some of us got together to talk, to reminisce, to mourn (I looked at our gathering as somewhat of a funeral), and just to be with one another. We ended the evening on a positive note and with assurance that each of us, in our own way, will be alright.

The day of the “funeral”, I sat down at my worktable and made a new perfume, just to lift my spirits. It worked out exactly as I’d intended (which is really saying something), and I wore it to the gathering. The fragrance is a balance between grounded earthiness and something uplifting, and was perfect for the mood I was in. I’ll share the recipe soon.

Today, when I’d normally be working all day, I needed to stay creative. Cheerful colours were in order to counteract the rain that fell in a steady, gentle curtain all morning. In celebration of today’s parade, I made a simple beaded necklace (above) in the colours of the rainbow (which correspond with the chakras): red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. A version of this bright, summery necklace will join other rainbow/chakra jewellery in my Etsy shop. Here’s a sampling:

Clockwise from top L: Over the Rainbow Czech glass necklace; Chakra bracelet with quartzite, aventurine & amethyst; anodized aluminum Rainbow Chakra chainmaille bracelet; True Colors seed bead necklace © Gillyflower Faire

I’m proud of what I achieved at the place-that-no-longer-is, through lots of learning, honing skills and hard work, professional development and professionalism. So, this summer and as long as it takes for positive change, I will wear the necklace with pride and remembrance, and hope for a brighter future.


Once again getting in just under the wire, this is my submission for the Photographic Monthly Meet-Up hosted by Wild Daffodil. This month’s prompt is Scale.

My interpretation is a chainmaille pattern called Dragonscale. I’d never tried it before, probably because it’s a rather daunting-looking weave that’s classified as intermediate in terms of difficulty. However, despite a slow start and some frustration, I did eventually get the hang of it, coming up with this sample piece made of green and silver anodized aluminum rings:

For this Dragonscale piece I used 14 gauge 3/8″ ID (9.9 mm) green anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 4.9) and 18 gauge 1/4″ ID (6.7 mm) silver anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 5.5) which worked perfectly for this weave. Gauge is SWG; supplies from The Ring Lord.

Dragonscale is a relative of the original European 4-in-1 weave used to make medieval chainmaille armour. Two sizes of rings are used to produce a dense yet flexible weave; I chose to go big for my first couple of pieces, just to see how they’d turn out. Some clever maillers make awesome accessories such as pouches and bracelets from Dragonscale, even reenactment clothing and armour. Inspired by some lovely Fairy Dragon Eggs crafted by Mrs. Cobs over at Cobweborium Emporium, I wanted to use this pattern to make my own version of dragon’s eggs. There are examples of egg-shaped Dragonscale pendants online, but there aren’t any tutorials to be found, so I had to fiddle a bit to figure out how many rings and rows I needed. I was able to make this blue “egg”:

Using the same ring sizes as the green sample, the egg is 4 large rings across and 12 rows high, with a few extra rings added at the top to create a more oval shape, plus a large ring as a hanging loop.

The finished piece is almost the size of a real chicken’s egg. To get the shape, I folded the squarish rectangle in on itself (the weave goes cone-shaped when you do this – and I almost did, too, trying to get this thing done). Then I “stitched” up the small gap at the back with a few extra rings wherever the existing weave allowed. The back isn’t as neat as I’d like, and the egg doesn’t quite taper to an oval at the top, but it’s a start.

The shape is perfect, however, for acorns and pinecones – all I need are the right colours, and I’m off to the races. I might carry on with the green sample, perhaps introducing other colours to make a small wall hanging.

And, just so I can weigh in on another type of scale for this challenge, here’s a photo of my brother – an avid fisherman – proving that holding a small fish up to the camera to make it appear bigger Just. Doesn’t. Work.

The April photo challenge starts tomorrow, and the prompt is Yellow.

Speaking of colours, my theme for this month is A Blue & White Love Affair. (I’m not so into yellow, just so you know, but I sure do love blue in all its beautiful hues, especially when it’s partnered with white.) Stay tuned!