Cross stitch bluetit bookmark

Feeling on a bit of a roll with my homemade stitched gifts, I recently attempted another cross-stitched bookmark, this time for my mum’s birthday.

I say homemade, but as with the puffin bookmark I made for my sister’s birthday, there was a certain manufactured element to it – I bought the pattern for it from Samuel Taylors at Embsay Mills, near Skipton. Yes, I did have a bit of a field day in there! I also bought a lighthouse bookmark pattern, which I will be making for myself very soon, so watch this space.

Bluetit bookmark

This pattern was a bit more advanced than the puffin one, and took me a great deal longer. The most challenging bit wasn’t the cross stitch, it was the backstitch details you sew after you’ve done all the cross stitch, and, of course, the infamous French knot. The instructions tell you to leave the knots until last, and with good reason, or you may well throw down your sewing in exasperation and give up the whole lot!

Before attempting the dreaded stitch I looked at various ‘how-to’ pages online. I had heard through word-of-mouth of the difficulty of the French knot, but was determined that I was going to buck the trend and get it right first time. Ohhh the ignorance of youth! (28’s still young, right?!)

Bluetit closeup

Well, I read through the instructions various times – the best were at – and gave it a go. After the third unsuccessful attempt I was a little disheartened as getting it right first time was clearly out of the question. After the tenth attempt I let out a howl of exasperation and decided to just tie little knots in the thread and try to push them down to the spot against the aida where I wanted them. You can see in the close-up pic how they turned out – not ideal, and probably not as neat as a French knot, but they sufficed. Sometimes a bit of improvisation is called for!

As with the puffin bookmark, once I’d completed the pattern I folded over the two ends of the aida strip, turning in the corners, and ironed them flat against the back of the stitching. I teased open the hole in the middle of the stitched circle at the bottom of the bookmark until it was large enough to fit the tassel cord through, then tied this in place. I then cut a strip of paper – using tissue paper this time – to slot in-between the aida and backing felt and put it in place before sewing the light blue felt strip to the back of the bookmark. Last time I used blanket stitch, but this time I decided to just use small backstitch, and it ended up much neater.

Mum was thrilled with the present, and I was pretty chuffed with the result too!

For more handmade gift ideas, check out my little sister Amie’s blog Amie’s been crafting away for years and has given me material for some of my posts but has only recently set up her own blog, so please do have a read and comment on her creative projects, which so far include a bag for mum’s sewing stuff, a dressmaking course, and a spot of butterfly shadow quilting! 

Backstitch motorbike

You only turn 30 once, so to mark the occasion of my fella’s thirtieth birthday I wanted to get him something special, and what’s more special than a personal hand-made gift?

Framed backstitch motorbike

He’s a big fan of motorbikes and owns a Yamaha FZ6 Fazer S2. As I’m cracking on with the cross stitch, I thought I’d try to create a motorbike pattern, so I used one of those online tools which makes a cross stitch pattern from a photo you upload. However, as his bike is black and the photo itself was pretty dark, I ended up with about ten different shades of black and not much definition beyond a motorbike-shaped blob.

Motorbike sketch

As all that detail on the bike seemed just too complex to sew, I decided to give backstitch a go, and just focus on the outline. This of course developed into an outline of every part of the bike, and after much faffing about leaving just over a week until his birthday, I feared I may have bitten off more than I could chew!

I’d picked up some beige fabric from Samuel Taylors at Embsay Mills the last time I was up north with a similar project in mind, so I used this for the background. After printing off a photo I found on the internet of the right model of bike, I sketched the bike freehand onto the fabric, before securing it in an embroidery hoop to keep it taught while I stitched.

I decided to just use black and one shade of grey for the bike to keep it simple, plus yellow for the lights (I didn’t have orange). As I stitched along my faintly sketched lines I kept referring back to the photo as well. With only the final bit left to do – the engine – I have to confess I made up a few bits! My boyfriend’s bike is only half faired, which means the engine is exposed, making a more interesting but difficult task of backstitching, hence the making up a few bits!

Motorbike sketch 2

My nemesis throughout the whole thing was the tyres – as I discovered, I need a bit of practice at sewing in a circle! The resulting effect of the bike looking like it has two flat tyres is not really what I was going for, but at least I know what to work on for next time.

Once I’d finishing stitching I took the fabric out of the embroidery hoop and discovered to my horror that no amount of ironing would completely get rid of the oval mark from the hoop. My mum suggested wetting the fabric a little next time, perhaps just using the spray function on the iron.

I then put the piece in a black frame I’d picked up from Wilkinson’s for about six quid. The fabric needed cutting down a little to fit in the frame, before I glued it to the back of the white card surround placed within the frame. Et voila! One personal, home-made thirtieth birthday pressie!

Puffin bookmark

Now I’ve re-acquainted myself with cross-stitch, for my sister’s birthday present I decided to move on from stitching owls to sewing a puffin.

Amie's puffin bookmark

I bought a pattern for a bookmark from Samuel Taylors at Embsay Mills, which included all the threads, needle, 14-point aida, felt backing and a tassle. The first thing I did once I’d excitedly torn open the packaging and was gazing perplexed at the tangle of threads in front of me, was to use a hole punch to make a row of little holes along the bottom of the paper containing the pattern. I then separated the threads into different colours and threaded each colour through a hole then tied it in place.

Threads for puffin bookmark

Thankfully this pattern has a simple border, so I made a start on this, sewing a line of half cross-stitches, then sewed back along the line in the other diagonal direction to complete the cross-stitches. I always used to sew each full cross-stitch before going on to the next, which often resulted in a long line of stitches looking higgledy-piggeldy, so this technique of doing a row of half-stitches first before going back over was brilliant. I’m sure this is the way all cross-stitch aficionados do it anyway, but as a relative newbie it was a revelation for me!

Row of half cross-stitch

I have a habit of jabbing needles into my fingers when sewing, and have drawn blood several times, so the slightly blunt needle provided in the pack was a blessing. The aida seems to be of a high quality and was soft and lovely to sew on.

I worked diligently on the bookmark for several weeks and forgot how long cross-stitch takes, especially if you’re not yet particularly good at it and have to keep going back and unpicking tangles! I got there in the end, and after a good fifteen minutes of frustration spent trying to force open one of the aida holes to fit the tassle through, I finally managed it. All that remained now was to blanket-stitch the felt strip to the back of the aida, after folding down the top and bottom inch. Sadly I can’t say my blanket stitching has improved much since my first go with the Pride and Prejudice bookmark, but hopefully my sister Amie will spend more time looking at my handiwork on the front than the back!

Pride and Prejudice cross stitch bookmark

We’ve just a week to go before the show opens, and the cast and crew of One Off Productions’ Pride and Prejudice is busy preparing to tread the boards at the Kings Theatre in Southsea.

Pride and Prejudice bookmark

We’ve had a few cast birthdays throughout the run-up to the show, including mine today and Leigh aka Jane Bennet’s two weeks ago. Rather than buy smellies or wine I decided to make her a birthday present, and what could be more fitting than a Pride and Prejudice-themed gift?

Given I’ve recently taken up cross-stitch again, I thought a cross-stitched Jane Bennet would be both achievable and a nice individual touch. Searching online, I couldn’t find a pattern for Jane but did find one for Lizzie, at a website called daisy daze. (They have a selection of costume drama cross stitch patterns, including characters from Our Mutual Friend and North and South.)

I altered it slightly to look more like Jane (blonde hair, no cap) and chose from the limited selection of colours I already had in my sewing box – mainly blues and greens from a complicated butterfly pattern I had not yet dared to attempt. The peachy skin colour and yellow for the hair I got from my work colleague Liz.

Taking a bookmark I already had, I drew faintly around this onto some 14-count aida, then cut out the rectangle and a rectangle of light blue felt of the same size to go on the back of the bookmark.

P & P bookmark blanket stitch

With no graph paper I had to plan the bookmark solely in my head, rather than on paper as I would have preferred. I figured a border would be a good place to start so chose a colour that complemented those I’d picked for cross stitching Jane, and got stitching! I counted in three squares from the edge then stitched a single line of cross stitch all the way around the edge. I then counted in an equal number of squares from the top and bottom and sewed two thin bands with a gap in between (see photo above). To complete the border I sewed six stars/flowers in each of the four bands, sewing each stitch over two holes rather than one.

I then counted the aida squares in to the middle and sewed the Jane Bennet figure in cross stitch before stitching an outline in backstitch. Next came the words – Jane above the figure and Bennet below. I tried to make each letter equal in width but there was one or two that had to be one square narrower than the rest. I’m just rather chuffed I managed to make the words legible!

Finally I attached the felt strip to the back using blanket stitch, which I found out how to do from diagrams displayed on a Google image search! As you can see from the bottom pic, the stitches weren’t the neatest, but it was my first attempt at this stitch. Hopefully practice will make perfect. The biggest mistake I made was not using a larger piece of aida and folding over the edges before stitching it to the felt. Instead I cut a piece the exact size I wanted the bookmark to be, which meant the edges became very messy and frayed. When I got to the blanket stitching I ended up trying to cover up the messy edges with the stitch, which didn’t always work!

The finished bookmark is certainly no work of art, but considering I managed to make it in two and a bit evenings I’m quite happy with it, especially as a first attempt. The lovely Leigh seemed delighted to receive a homemade gift, and hopefully it will come in handy when reading a spot of Jane Austen in between rehearsals.

Individu-Owl cross stitch

The faint scraping sound of thread being pulled through aida is a familiar and comforting memory from my childhood. My mum and grandma were cross stitch crazy, forever separating threads, threading needles and working up delightful masterpieces. I tried my hand at this craft, notoriously popular with ladies of a certain age, but didn’t seem to have the patience.

In the last couple of years crafts have seen a huge revival, and that includes the practice of cross stitch. After interviewing Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective a year ago (sadly the interview never made it into the magazine I was writing for), I realised there was a whole community of cross stitchers out there who were hip, adventurous and under 40.

IndividuOwl cross stitch 2

This lovely bunch of people even includes men (shock horror!), including the aptly named and super-cool Mr X Stitch. Aside from activism (craftivism), one major reason so many of these busy young people have taken up cross stitch is to relieve stress. A notorious stress-head myself, one year on I decided to finally return to cross stitch and give this stress reliever a go.

I started out with a beautiful butterfly pattern that ended up being far too large and rather too ambitious for a first go, so settled with something a little smaller instead. While up north for Christmas I went into Embsay Crafts and a funny little owl pattern caught my eye. Wittily named ‘Individu-Owl’, as you can see above it depicts a scene where three owls are giving a fourth owl, who is hanging upside down, a funny look, as if to say, ‘what are you doing?!’.

As the piece is no more than 10cm across, it didn’t take too long and gave me the chance to get back into stitching and see some results after not much time. I did my best to keep the back of the sewing as neat as possible – mum always stressed the importance of this – and after a few lunch breaks spent cross stitching I have a cute little picture.

Now the question is, what to do with it. Ideas on a postcard please! I actually just sewed it for the sake of it, and it was a lovely feeling to do something without thinking about the end result, or with a specific goal in mind. I should do things just for the fun of it more often.

My creative Christmas – festive finger puppets

Now we’re well and truly into a wet and blustery January I thought I would cheer myself up by thinking back to all the lovely creative things we got up to over Christmas.

I got back into cross stitching, my sister Amie tried to teach me how to crochet (let’s call that one a work in progress), I had a whale of a time sticking and stitching Christmas and thank you cards, and the ladies sat round the dining room table one afternoon making Christmas finger puppets.

Christmas finger puppets

Whenever I manage to get up north to visit my family, my mum sorts out a fun creative activity for us all to do. At Easter it was of course egg decorating, and for Christmas she bought a pack for making festive finger puppets. There were rectangles of different coloured felt, sequins, coloured threads to match the felt, googly eyes and an assortment of finger puppet templates.

Amie and I decided to make elves, mum an angel/fairy and Rudolph, and Grandma made a Rudolph and little penguin, though the reindeer got stage fright when we were taking photos and his nose dropped off.

To make my elf I cut two basic finger shapes out of skin-coloured felt and sewed them together using an oversewing stitch, which I then unpicked and did again as it was so messy! Perfectionist? Moi? Terribly so.

Elf finger puppet

I sewed the little chappie some ginger curls, then set about making the hat out of red felt with a green felt band. I sewed on a little green pompom for the bobble, then stitched the hat on to my elf’s head using backstitch (which I also used for the hat).

I wrapped a piece of red felt around the puppet and sewed it in place for the clothing – can’t have a naked elf – and stitched on some sequins for buttons. I finished off by sewing on a mouth, drawing on a nose with black biro, and gluing two googly eyes in place. The only difficult bit was finishing off the stitching for the mouth on the inside of the puppet, but I realised I could trail the thread down to the inside of the red coat and pull it through there for a few securing stitches.

Making Christmas finger puppets

There were a variety of techniques used – I stitched most of mine whereas Amie made a brilliant little elf sticking everything with glue – but regardless of what finger puppet we made or how we made it, we all had great fun. With turkey and stuffing still lining our stomachs, what better way to spend the afternoon than being creative with the people you love.

Handmade thank you cards a là Papercrafter

With so many lovely presents this Christmas I wanted to make my thank you cards that bit special. Normally I buy little notecards, but this year I decided to give them the personal touch and make them myself, with a little help from PaperCrafter

Papercrafter kit

I always make Christmas cards for my family but I’ve never used a kit before. With this month’s PaperCrafter magazine (or last month’s, depending on how you look at it), there’s a vintage inspired floral-themed kit. Rifling through the pretty patterned papers, dainty buttons and pop-out flower petals I found plenty to play with, and some fantastic ideas inside the mag. I’m aware this is starting to sound like a PR piece, but I’ve only just discovered the magazine so am a bit over-excited about how brilliant it is! Maybe it’s all the glossy pages and pretty colours…

Bird house thank you card

I spent Christmas up north with my family this year and made them this cute little number as a thank you for a lovely Christmas. Using a piece of green card I cut it to A5 size and folded in half to make the card base. I used a piece of one of the Bo Bunny papers free with the magazine to make the sky, and cut out some of the birds and trees from the vintage kit, then cut a cloud shape from white paper. The fiddly but fun bit was making the bird house, which came with the kit. There were admittedly several occasions when I wished I had smaller fingers, but I got there in the end! I stuck one of the owl cut-outs inside, just peeking out – I decided he’d snuck in the birdhouse and was keeping a lookout for the residents in case they should return. The birdhouse was stuck to the card with double-sided tape, though it did take a bit of persuading to stay on!

Flowers thank you card

This one I made with a heavy dose of inspiration from the pages of the magazine – one of the designs featured in the issue gave me the idea of using the flower-shaped buttons along with the pop-out flower shapes and sewing these on to the card instead of using glue. I stuck the patterned pink paper to a piece of card, folded it and glued the stripy zig-zagged strip over the spine.

Then I sewed on the flowers, layering two of the pop-out flower shapes under each button and stitching it all together and on to the card with about three stitches before going on to the next one, using the same piece of thread for all three.

Sewing flowers on cardOnce done I stuck the remaining inch of thread on to the inside of the card with sticky tape (I’m rubbish at tying knots) and glued a piece of white paper over the threads on the inside left side of the card. The pop-out ‘For you’ piece I stuck on with double-sided tape, though I would have preferred decoupage pads, if I’d had any!