Friday, November 22, 2013

New Pattern Releases and This Month's Winners of the Birthday Club!

I have new rug hooking designs to share with you, along with a cute little 14" standing Santa you can make from wool or wool felt.  I mentioned in a previous post how much I loved sharing pomegranates with my mother when I was a child, so I decided to work that wonderful memory into three rug hooking designs for a bench runner, a table mat and a floor rug. These patterns will come to you pre-drawn on either monks cloth or beautiful hairless linen and you can also get them as a complete kit--just click on the pictures for more information. The bench runner works up real fast and the original model is sitting on a pine bench in our hallway. I'm hoping the in-laws will reek with jealousy when when arrive for Thanksgiving.
Just sayin' . . .

Olde Colony Pomegranate Fraktur Bench Runner (13"x22 Rectangle)

The round table mat is on my rug hooking frame right now and I can't wait for it to be done!  I think it would look great in the center of a table with a jar candle in the middle? This design is also available pre-drawn as a round candle mat or as a full-size floor rug on monks cloth or linen and also as complete kit (again, just click on the pics if you want details).

Olde Colony Pomegranate Fraktur Table Mat (14" Round)

Olde Colony Pomegranate Fraktur Rug (20"x30" Rectangle)

I also want to officially introduce "Belsnickel Christmas" my pattern for a cute 14" standing Santa you can make from wool or wool felt.  I released this as a test pattern in my Etsy Shop a short time ago and it has done well, so now I think it's time to let everyone have a go at it. All the templates are included in the pattern, as well as instructions for "boxing" his bottom so he'll stand up straight, and I hope you enjoy making him as much as I did!

"Belsnickel Christmas" (14" Standing Santa)

And now the news you've been waiting for!  If you're not already a member of my Birthday Club, I hope you'll join! You'll receive a WHOPPING 25% OFF ALL PATTERNS AND KITS DURING YOUR BIRTHDAY MONTH Plus, winners are drawn each month from all Club Members with a birthday that month!  It's sooooo easy to join and costs you absolutely nothing--it's just my way of saying "thank you" to all my friends.

So Who Are November's Winners?  I'm in the holiday mood, so I'm doing an extra-special giveaway in November and December.  This month, TWO LUCKY WINNERS have won their choice of (1) any pattern, (2) any kit, or (3) any rug hooking pattern from my website, drawn on their choice of monks cloth or linen!  Those winners are Kathryn Worley and Paige Hamblin--congratulations ladies!  I'll be running another giveaway for Birthday Club members in early December, so be sure to click here to become a member!

Well, I'm headed back to my worktable.  I'm working on a crazy-cute wool applique penny rug that I think you'll love, plus my rug hooking projects are wrestling for attention.  I'll bet your life is just as hectic, and I hope you are safe and happy.  Until next time, Happy Stitchin'!   xoxo--Melanie

Thursday, November 7, 2013

For the Love of Pomegranates . . .

Gal-friends, you have probably figured out I’m a bit eclectic and compulsive, which is why I jump from one type of handwork to another. I go from rug hooking one day to working on wool applique the next and stitching happily away on a quilt two days later. Are you like that too? Or is your personality a bit more organized, letting you concentrate all your time and love on one pursuit?

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that lately I've been rug hooking and will be releasing three new designs this weekend, along with a great giveaway for all my Birthday Club members. The thing I find different about rug hooking from all other handwork is that the images we hook usually reflect strong memories and our favorite things. Rug hookers rarely choose a design based solely on how cute it is.  Instead, our rugs invoke some special feeling or memory and they often tell a story, like a small snapshot from our lives.  All three designs I’m releasing this weekend tell a story about my childhood love of pomegranates.

[Unnamed] Pomegranate Bench Runner
As I worked along, I remembered how, just after the first frosts arrived, my mother would bring home deep red pomegranates and share them with me. We both loved pulling the fruit apart to reveal hundreds of glistening red jewels that were both sweet and tart, and our fingers and lips became stained as we popped the tiny orbs into our mouths.  My father didn’t share in our appreciation of this fruit and my husband is the same, so now when I bring home pomegranates I have the memory all to myself, except for tiny tidbits I am forced to share with our greedy schnauzers, Lucy and Baxter.

[Unnamed] Pomegranate Bench Runner
As we create our rugs, our hands busy with the wool and hook, a sort of deep calm comes over us where our thoughts are allowed to travel and memories are beckoned.  I don’t think of worries or bills while I hook; instead, my mind often moves to things that make me happy, such as my parents’ love, my home and marriage, and the warmth of the fire and hot tea I am sharing while I hook.  I think this mental “wandering” that takes place when we hook is what attracts us to this hand-art, more so than the mere desire to create something that will decorate our walls and floors.

What kinds of rug designs do you hook? Can you see bits and parts of yourself in your rugs? I bet if you’re hooking a rug with animals, you or someone you love has strong attachments to our natural world of flora and fauna, and if you’re hooking a homestead with fields and flowers, it invokes memories or desires for the comforts and safety of home.  I believe we are what we hook, and that is why once we begin rug hooking, it is a hand-art we naturally return to again and again.

Well, I’m headed back to my worktable to finish my hooked rug bench runner and put the finishing touches on my November giveaway that starts this weekend.  Since we’re revving up for the holidays here in the US, my November and December giveaways are going to be extra special and you won’t want to miss out. If you haven’t done so already, I hope you’ll join my American Pie Birthday Club so you are automatically entered to win.  In the meantime, drop me a comment and Happy Stitchin’.  xoxo--Melanie

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rug Hooking: Choosing the Right Backing for Your Next Project!

I’ll admit choosing which backing to use for your rug hooking project can be daunting.  Rug hookers use all types of backing materials with names like burlap, Scottish burlap, monks cloth, linen and rug warp, and to further complicate things, some terms used to describe the backing materials are used interchangeably.  In the beginning, I didn’t know what all those names meant, and with some backings costing upwards of $25-$27 a yard, I didn’t want to make any mistakes!  In addition to my confusion over different weaves and levels of coarseness, I also became confused by the multitude of colors that backings come in, ranging from white to tan and gray, as well as the words used to describe those colors, such as bleached, natural and unbleached.  I worried I might not be using the “right” backing and my work would look amateurish.

So, I scoured the internet and books on rug hooking, ran polls on Facebook, and even emailed rug designers to ask what everyone was using.  Do you know what I found?  There’s no right answer!  That’s right, you’re not doing anything wrong by picking monks cloth over linen, or picking rug warp over Scottish burlap.  There are pros and cons to each type of backing, including how much you invest and where you intend to display your finished piece, but there are no hard and fast “rules”!

Scottish Burlap in Tan and Gray (Foreground) and 100% Linen (Background)

So where do you begin?  How do you choose?  Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the most popular types of backing for your hooked rug:

Burlap, Natural Burlap, Angus Burlap, Root Ball Burlap:  Many rug hookers begin with this type of backing because it is inexpensive (about $3 to $6 a yard) and can be found at Walmart and other department stores.  It is made from jute and is nearly identical to burlap used for feed sacks, which incidentally, colonial women often used for backing material.  There are several different grades; for example, angus burlap is made with a flatter fiber and has a more uneven weave and Scotch or Scottish burlap is woven with a rounder fiber and is more consistently even.  Burlap is often used for primitive hooking (meaning hooking with wool strips that are at least 1/4” wide).  It is very coarse and rough to the feel, and the threads, sizing, space and coloration are often irregular.  Obviously, since feed sacks were not designed to last forever, rugs made with burlap backing sometimes disintegrated over time and as a result, very few of the rugs hooked during colonial times are still around today.  If you are making a rug you want to last a long time or which will receive considerable wear, you may want to choose a different backing material.

Burlap; Natural Burlap; Angus Burlap; Root Ball Burlap

Scotch Burlap, Scottish Burlap, Premium Scottish BurlapAlso made from jute but much better quality than angus or root ball burlap, this backing is usually available in 48” and 60” widths and is easy to use and economical (approximately $15 to $17 a yard for 60” widths).  The threads are pretty much uniform and it is a stable backing.  This backing is popular with rug hookers and works well for primitive hooking (hooking with wool strips that are at least 1/4” wide), is rough to the feel and "sheds" little fibers.  It comes in colors ranging from light tan to off-white and gray.  If you are confused as to whether you are getting Scottish burlap, ask your supplier about the feel and texture of the backing--it should be somewhat rough to the feel and “shed” little fibers.  

Scotch Burlap; Scottish Burlap; Premium Scottish Burlap

Monks Cloth:  Made of cotton, this backing is very popular with rug hookers because it is good quality and economical.  It stretches more than burlap, so you can pull it tightly across your rug hooking frame.  If you hook without a frame, this backing can be more of a challenge for the beginner.  It is stronger and more durable than burlap, and is soft and pliable.  It has an even weave and is available in widths from 72” to 144”.  It does not “shed” little fibers as you work.  Unfortunately, huck weaving cloth is sometimes sold as monks cloth, but you can tell the difference by the “grid” thread woven at regular intervals in monks cloth (see the white line woven into the monks cloth in the photo?).  With monks cloth, it is essential to give your piece a good iron steaming when finished so it lays flat, particularly if you pack your hooking a little tight.  You can use monk's cloth for fine or primitive hooking and it sells for approximately $15 to $17 a yard.

Monks Cloth with its Characteristic White "Grid" Thread

Rug Warp, Rug Warp Cloth:   Woven with single strands of tightly twisted 100% cotton, it resembles woven string.  Rug warp is one of the heaviest backings available for rug hooking, which can be a disadvantage, especially when working on a large piece.  It enables you to hook with both wide and narrow strips of wool or yarn, and suppliers state it allows you to hook without skipping spaces.  Although rug warp is a good quality backing and exceptionally strong, it is heavy.  Some rug hookers prefer the weight, as they claim it won’t allow their rugs to buckle or ripple.  Rug warp usually comes in 60” widths for about $20 a yard.

Rug Warp; Rug Warp Cloth

Linen, Scottish Linen, Natural LinenLinen is the most expensive of the backing fabrics and can be found bleached (off-white) and unbleached (tan or grayish).  It is usually sold in 60” widths for for $25 to $27 a yard.  It is an even-weave material that enables you to hook with both wide and narrow strips of wool.  It is very strong, soft, flexible and easy to work with.  You will notice a quality difference immediately if you place it against Scottish burlap, and many rug hookers refuse to hook on anything but linen.  Most experienced rug hookers claim it will probably outlast other backings.  In my experience, good quality linen is very soft, does not shed a great deal and has a slight “sheen” to it  (if your linen is not soft and relatively smooth, you may have received an inferior sample or the supplier has it confused with Scottish burlap).  Linen can “beard”, meaning small fibers may poke to the top of your work while hooking, which is especially noticeable when hooking with darker wools.  These fibers may be simply trimmed with scissors or picked off with a pair of tweezers.  Do not store linen folded, as folds can weaken and split the fibers over a period of time (it is best to roll it on a tube for storage).

Linen; Scottish Linen; Natural Linen

I hope this helps clear the muddy water so you can choose the right type of backing for your next rug hooking project.  Please feel free to email me if you have any questions, or leave me a comment if you'd just like to say "hi!"  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!  xoxo--Melanie

Monday, October 7, 2013

October Winner and a Brand New Newsletter from American Pie!

And the winner is . . . Karrie Milheim, who hails from Florida!  Karrie has won her choice of my "Ghoultime Friends" or "Snow Days" kit, which comes complete with the full pattern and all the National Nonwovens Woolfelt she needs to complete her project!

"Ghoultime Friends"                                         "Snow Days"        

Karrie is a member of my American Pie Birthday Club, so she is automatically entered to win in my monthly giveaways, plus she gets a coupon for 25 PERCENT OFF anything on my website during her birthday month. This giveaway was also open to all "likers" of my Facebook page, "American Pie Designs", so just remember, you've got to enter to win.

Members of my Birthday Club also receive my new newsletter that contains special monthly coupons for discounts on patterns and kits, as well as links to free patterns by special "Guest Designers".  My October 1 newsletter contained a code for 15% OFF your purchase, plus a free pattern from Hayley Crouse of Welcome to the Mouse House for appliqued towels.  If you haven't joined my Birthday Club, there's no "downside", because I don't share your information with anyone else, you get discounts and free patterns, and you are always automatically entered to win my monthly giveaways. I hope you'll join!

Sample October Newsletter from American Pie!

So What's Coming Next?

My rug-hooking friends will be pleased to know I'm breaking my long rug-hooking hiatus and releasing three new designs during the first week of November. The designs (a rug, a bench runner and a table mat) will all be offered pre-drawn on linen or monks cloth and will also be offered as kits, complete with all the wonderful hand-dyed wool you need to finish the project. 

Well, I'm back to the drawing board, gal-friends, and in the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!  --xoxo--Melanie

Friday, October 4, 2013

Want Great Hand-Dyed Wool?

NEWS UPDATE (June, 2014):  I'm sorry, gals, but Christy Mason, who was previously showcased in this blog post, encountered some health problems this spring.  I wish her the best of luck and full recovery.  In the meantime, I got busy with the dye pot and introduced a line of beautiful hand-dyed wools you can find on my website at  Visit me to see samples of "Some Like it Hot", "Red Riding Hood" or "No Moon Tonight" and many other colors, or email me for free swatches!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Two New Projects That Combine 100% Wool and National Nonwovens Woolfelt!

Do you like to work with wool or woolfelt?  I certainly do!  You might remember from some of my earlier posts that I have trouble choosing which to use for my projects, since I love the luxurious feel and colors associated with hand-dyed 100% wool, but am also crazy excited when I get to work with National Nonwovens Woolfelt® (sometimes referred to as “craft felt” in your local fabric store).  Both 100% wool and Woolfelt have their own benefits and drawbacks, and I know I'm not alone when I have trouble choosing!

What's the Difference Between Wool and Woolfelt?  When I buy hand-dyed 100% wool, it comes pre-felted. That means the wool was placed in a warm or hot bath and then dried (usually in a dryer).  This causes the wool to shrink or "felt", as the industry calls it.  The "felted" wool can now be cut for rug hooking, quilts, applique templates and just about anything, because it can no longer fray.  That's wonderful, because now you don't have to worry about turning the edges under, which opens up a whole world of creative possibilities. 
There are many advantages to using 100% wool, and the most important are (1) unlimited color possibilities and natural mottling variations, (2) durability, and (3) it is washable. Once wool has been properly felted, you don't have to worry about further shrinking, so you can wash it and give it a little steaming to return your project to brand new. The main disadvantage is hand-dyed 100% wool is expensive and can ultimately run $30 to $50 a yard depending on where you get it. However, if I am working on an heirloom project that I want to last for 300 years, then 100% wool is my choice.

Sorbet Bundle by Bunnyhill Designs

Woolfelt is a Whole Different Animal!  Here in the United States, woolfelt is manufactured primarily by National Nonwovens in Massachusetts. There are many retail distributors of woolfelt, one of which is Commonwealth Felt (if you are buying in large quantities) and another is Woolfelt Central (a perfect source for smaller quantities). The woolfelt I use is a 20/80 blend or 35/65 blend of wool and rayon.  The advantages are (1) it is inexpensive, (2) it comes in lots of delicious colors, and (3) it is already felted and ready to use. Unfortunately, woolfelt should not be put in a washing machine and is not suitable for projects that will get heavy use in your home, like a bed quilt or a hooked rug.  However, woolfelt is great for table runners, candle mats, wall quilts, penny rugs, etc!

Autumn Accents by National Nonwovens

Woolfelt for Quilting!  Yes, that’s right—I love to combine fabrics and wools together in the same project!  One of my newest designs, Bee-Haven”, is a cute little 17” x 19” table quilt/candle mat which combines my love of quilting fabrics with National Nonwovens Woolfelt®.  No matter if you’re an experienced quilter or a beginner, because you’re sure to learn something new with this easy project.  It’s embellished with lots of fun embroidery stitches, and my pattern goes into full detail on how to complete the stitches, together with easy diagrams.  I have to admit I had so much fun making this quilt that I was disappointed when it was time to call it quilts and lay it out on my entryway table!

"Bee-Haven" by American Pie Designs

How About Combining 100% Wool with Woolfelt?  I couldn’t find any reason not to combine both of my favorite materials, 100% hand-dyed wools and National Nonwovens® woolfelt, in the same project.  Check out my new pattern, “Ghoultime Friends”, a cute little 16” candle mat that combines wool with woolfelt in the same great project.  Woolfelt was the perfect choice for the background and backing for the mat, because it has a wonderful texture and is inexpensive to use for large areas.  I switched to 100% hand-dyed wool for the skeleton, pumpkin, vampire and Halloween cat, and was very pleased with the result!  Again, my pattern explains the decorative stitches in full detail, and the best part is you don’t need a sewing machine to complete your project.  You can get the pattern alone or you can also get it in a kit with all the National Nonwovens Woolfelt® you’ll need to complete your own “Ghoultime Friends”!

"Ghoultime Friends" by American Pie Designs

We’ll, gal-friends, I’m back to the drawin’ board working on new ideas on how to combine fabrics with wool and woolfelt, and I’ve also got a hooked rug design running around my head.  Don’t forget to drop me a line or a comment, and I hope your week is busy and bright!  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin’!  xoxo--Melanie

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to Make Decorative Embroidery Stitches for Quilts and Applique

This is Part One (additional tutorials follow next week) - for a printable version, click here

Have you ever been reluctant to try a project that features decorative stitches or hand-embellishing because you weren’t sure how to do the stitches?  If so, you’ve been missing out! Decorative stitches are fun and easy, and I’ve often said that embellishing is my favorite part of creating a new design. Decorative stitches only look complicated, but we’re going to break them down into individual steps so it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another. Before long, you’ll be happily stitching away and your friends will want to know how you do it! But first, let’s quickly cover the types of threads to use:

Hand-Dyed Embroidery Threads by Barefoot Shepherdess

Threads come in all types of fibers, including cotton, wool, polyester and silk, to name a few. You can also use metallic threads, yarn and just about anything you can string through the eye of a needle. I’ve been asked many times what threads I use for my patterns, so here’s my secret: I use plain old embroidery floss I buy at my local craft or fabric store (yep, that’s as secret it gets). I use embroidery floss because it’s cheap, comes in a gazillion colors and creates a beautiful result, but mostly because I already have a huge basket of it in my workroom. Now, I’ll admit I sometimes get a little fancy and use hand-dyed embroidery floss or lovely threads by Valdini like you’ll see below, but I usually stick to whatever is in my floss basket.  If you’d like to learn how to dye your own embroidery floss (called “overdyeing”), you can find a nice tutorial on my blog at

Valdini Threads

So Let’s Get to It! There are hundreds of decorative stitches, but they all boil down to several basic stitches that are worked with slight variations. We’re going to start with seven of the most popular, and then I’ll show you more stitches in later tutorials coming next week:
  1. Basic Running Stitch
  2. Back Stitch
  3. Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch)
  4. French Knot
  5. Cross Stitch
  6. Herringbone Stitch
  7. Daisy Chain (Daisy Stitch; Lazy Daisy; Chain Stitch)
Basic Running Stitch:  This is probably the easiest decorative stitch to learn. It can be worked in straight or curved lines and is used for outlining and making stems and vines.  Bring your needle up from underneath. Next, weave the needle in and out of the fabric, taking two or three evenly-spaced stitches. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired. If I am working with a quilt or other material where I am stitching through layers, I like to make one stitch at a time, rather than loading two or three stitches on my needle at once. Stitching one stitch at a time makes each stitch look fuller and more finished.

Running Stitch
Back Stitch:  This stitch is a variation of the basic running stitch. I use it for outlining, making stems and vines and anywhere that I want a bolder line. Bring your needle up at A, down at B and back up again at C. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired.

Back Stitch
Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch):  This popular stitch is often used to finish the edges of baby blankets and when appliqueing on wool. When worked with small stitches, it can also be used for outlining. The stitch is worked from left to right. For a standard-size stitch, bring your needle up from underneath at the edge of your patch or template. Move to the right approximately 1/4”. Push your needle back down through both the patch and the background at a point about 1/4” from the edge of the patch and back up again at the edge of the patch. Be sure to loop the thread under the needle as you complete this stitch. Each stitch should be about the same length and distance apart.  Remember, you can vary the size and width of your stitch depending on your project.

Blanket Stitch
French Knot:  I use french knots for flower centers, bird’s eyes, etc. It can also be used in clusters and worked close together to fill an area, which will produce a textured, nubby result. To make the french knot, bring your needle up from underneath. Hold the needle in one hand and with the other hand wrap the thread around the tip of the needle once and pull it snug around the needle. Wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a second time, again pulling it snug. I often wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a third time so I get a bigger knot, but if you are a beginner I suggest you stick with just two wraps around the needle. Now, while continuing to keep the thread snug around the needle, re-insert the tip of the needle back down into the fabric exactly next to where you came up.  Slowly pull the needle through while your other hand keeps the thread taut. Once the needle has pulled all the way through, use your fingertip to hold the knot in place while you pull the rest of the thread through the fabric. Snug it up so it forms a nice knot and you are finished!

French Knot

Cross Stitch:  There is more than one way to complete the cross stitch. It can be worked one stitch at a time, or it can be worked in rows such as when embroidering large areas on a pillowcase or similar project. To work it one stitch at a time, bring your needle up from underneath at 1 and insert it back down through your fabric at 2. Bring need up at 3 and back down at 4. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired. If you want to work rows of cross stitch to fill an area, work the first half of the stitch all the way along the row and then return and work the second half of the stitch back to the beginning of the row.

Cross Stitch (Illustrated Singly and in Rows)

Herringbone Stitch:  The herringbone stitch is a variation of the basic cross stitch. It is often used to embellish crazy quilts and also often used as a decorative stitch in borders. Bring your needle up from underneath at A and insert it back through your fabric at B. Bring your needle to the front again at C and back down at D. Bring your needle up at E, down at F and back up again at G. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Herringbone Stitch
Daisy Chain (also known as the Daisy Stitch, Lazy Daisy and Chain Stitch: This is a very popular decorative stitch used for outlining and can also be used to create flower stems and other embellishments. If worked in a circular direction, it creates the look of petals on a flower as shown below. To begin, bring your needle up at A and then insert your needle back into the same hole and out at B, carrying your thread under the needle point. Pull your needle on through. Point B is now the beginning point of the next stitch.

Daisy Stitch; Daisy Chain; Chain Stitch

Lazy Daisy

It Looks Complicated, But It’s Not!  Like I said, decorative stitches look complex and hard, but it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another--easy peasy! In no time at all, you’ll be embellishing your quilts, jackets, pillows and other projects with decorative stitches and your friends will be in awe and wondering how you do it. If you’d like to share your secret, there’s a full-color printable version of these instructions here, and of course you like to share, right?

Be Sure to Check Back Next Week!  I’ll be posting more tutorials on decorative stitches next week, so if you are a late-comer to this blog you’ll be able to locate them by typing “stitch tutorial” or “decorative stitches” into the search box at the top of this blog. I hope you get excited about decorative stitching and embellishing, and remember to relax and enjoy yourself, since creating is part of the fun!  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin’!  xoxo -- Melanie

Friday, July 19, 2013

Do You Wanna Applique? Here's the Easy Way!

My worktable is topped off with a new design I'm going to release soon that features easy wool applique combined with small doses of traditional applique. This pattern will be great if you want a fun, fast project or if you are new to applique and want to get your feet wet.

When I mentioned applique on Facebook recently, I received several comments asking about my applique methods. There are all types of applique, depending on the fabrics and materials you choose, and I'm going to show two of my favorites. There are lots of tutorials on the internet explaining the craft, but many of the techniques and instructions are vague or produce naaaasty results. I'm going to let you in on my secrets to produce perfect applique every time. For ease, I'm breaking my methods into two sections, so you can easily skip up or down this post to the type of applique you're interested in:
  1. Freezer Paper Applique
  2. Hand-Applique with Wool or Woolfelt

Freezer Paper Applique

When I want to do traditional hand applique with quilting fabrics, I always use the freezer paper method. It is simple to do and produces perfect results every time. Some gals like a similar method called "Needle-Turn Applique" (where you turn the edge of the patch under with the tip of your needle as you stitch along), but in my opinion, the simple freezer paper method is the only way to fly. Like anything else, there are lots of ways to do freezer paper applique, but I've found the following is the simplest method and achieves the best results:

Making the Patches:  Trace your pattern template onto the non-shiny side of freezer paper. Carefully cut it out along the traced line and then position it with the wax-side-up against the wrong side of your quilt fabric.  Use a small dab of washable glue to temporarily tack the freezer paper to the fabric. A lot of tutorials recommend expensive fabric glue, but I've had great success with plain old washable glue sticks I find in the crayon section of my local department store. Cut around the template, leaving a scant 1/4" margin of fabric on all sides.

Beginning along one edge, use your fingertip to fold the edge of the fabric over onto the freezer paper, following your fingertip with the point of a hot, dry iron. You may need to carefully clip any curves or points as you work along. The fabric will temporarily fuse to the freezer paper as you work your way around the shape.  Leave the freezer paper there for now; you will remove it in a later step.

Appliqueing the Patches:  I recommend using a small, fine needle (sometimes called a “straw needle”) and a single strand of thread. I go against convention by recommending you use thread that closely matches the background fabric, rather than the patch. Using thread that matches your background fabric tricks the eye and causes it to skip over and miss the stitches, making them nearly invisible. In the picture below, I used a single strand of cream thread for my applique, and it's nearly impossible to see my stitches. If I had used blue thread, it would have shown up against the cream background (no-no!):

Begin by tying a small knot in the end of your thread. I often use plain old embroidery floss, because it comes in almost unlimited colors and I have a huge basket of it in my workroom. Come up from the back and bring your needle up through the background fabric at a point just exactly next to the patch.  Take your needle back down through the very edge of the applique patch, catching only a thread or two of the edge of the patch. Working from right to left so you can see where to next place your needle, move over approximately 2/8” and come back up through just exactly next to the patch, and then back down, again catching just the very edge of the patch with your needle. The intent is to make tiny, controlled stitches for nearly invisible applique. You are going to get a nice rhythm in a very short period of time and you'll find it takes no time at all to finish stitching around your patch with perfect results.

You might notice that I ask you to come up from underneath the patch and then back down through the edge of the patch.  Again, I'm going against convention here, but I find that this method ensures the patch fits snugly and evenly against the background.

Removing the Freezer Paper Backing:  When you are done stitching all the patches to the background, turn your project over so it is face down and cut a small slit in the background fabric just behind each appliqued patch. With tweezers, reach through the slit and remove the freezer paper (if you tug carefully, the freezer paper should come out in one piece). Use a fine needle and a single strand of thread to whip-stitch the slit closed.

Hand-Applique with Wool or Woolfelt

The easiest method of applique is wool applique, which is often used for folkart and primitive projects. You can buy 100% wool off the bolt or internet, or you can recycle it from used clothing. 100% wool needs to be prepared so it does not fray (you can prepare 100% wool by washing it in very warm water, rinsing in cold, and then placing it in the dryer on warm setting until dry). I also like to use a product called "Woolfelt" for projects like the one shown at the top of this post.  Woolfelt is a wool/rayon blend fabric I purchase through Wool Felt Central. Woolfelt does not need any preparation, is ready to use as-is, and comes in many colors.

Making the Patches:  To applique with wool or Woolfelt, place your pattern template pieces face down onto the non‑shiny side of freezer paper (freezer paper has a wax coating on one side and you can usually find it alongside plastic wrap in your local grocery store). Trace around the template pieces and then loosely cut around them, leaving a small waste margin around each piece. Place the freezer paper pieces with the wax-side-down onto the wool or Woolfelt and use a fairly warm iron to briefly bond the freezer paper to the wool. The freezer paper will temporarily stick to the wool, but will not leave a permanent residue.  Once the pieces are ironed to the wool, carefully cut out each piece along the traced lines and peel away the freezer paper.

Lay out your wool pieces against the the fabric you have chosen for the background. When you are satisfied with the layout, use washable glue to temporarily tack the pieces into place so you can stitch around them. Again, you can use expensive fabric glue from your quilting store, but I've had great success with plain old washable glue sticks I find in the crayon section of my local department store. If you make a mistake, carefully remove the wool patch and dab the back with a warm washcloth to remove the glue.

Appliqueing the Patches:  The wool patches are attached to the background with one or two strands of your favorite threads. I like to use two strands of embroidery floss, wool thread or Valdini brand threads. I most often use the "blanket stitch" around the outside edge of each piece, which you can see in the photo above and as illustrated below. The blanket stitch is worked from left to right.  Bring your needle up from underneath at the edge of your patch. Move to the right approximately 1/4”. Push your needle back down through both the patch and the background at a point about 1/4" from the edge of the patch and then come back up again at the edge of the patch.  Be sure to loop the thread under the needle as you complete the stitch.  Each stitch should be about the same length and distance apart:

I finish by embellishing the patches and background with charms, buttons and decorative embroidery stitches:

That Sums It Up . . .

Except . . . you might be wondering how do do all the decorative stitches that are often used to embellish applique, particularly if you are working with wool.  A lot of ladies tell me they don't choose projects that need much embellishing, because they are not sure how to do the stitches.  Coming next week, I'll do some picture tutorials showing you several of the most commonly used stitches, such as the daisy chain, running stitch, feather stitch and many more.

Stay tuned, and leave me a comment or email me if you have any questions. In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!   xoxo--Melanie

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How To Make Your Husband Really Mad: A Decoupage Adventure

If you follow my Facebook page, you know the hubby and I have been in the middle of a huge remodel that encompassed almost the entire second floor of our home.  It included a complete gutting of my workroom and the hubby's office, removal of a wall to let the light flow in, and renovation of a long stairway that we now like to joke "leads to heaven".  This is the story of how that all went very wrong.

Although the hubby is an electrician and I'm not a stranger to construction, I'll admit I was naive about the extent of what we'd endure for almost a month.  I figured we'd cut out the wall with a hacksaw, move some outlets and light fixtures around, and Shazam! the remodel would be finished.  In fact, I admit I relentlessly nagged my poor hubby to get started, since I was sure he could bang out the remodel in about a week.  Righhht.

While hubby labored to remove old wall coverings, tear up flooring and refinish our stairway in hardwood, I puttered happily along in what was left of my demolished workroom, refinishing some old file cabinets and creating messages from wood letters I hoped would inspire me during periods of lagging creativity. The words "Dream", "Imagine" and "Create" were going to adorn the walls, and although I was pretty sure my efforts at decoupage would be successful, I had no idea how I was going to actually attach 18 wood letters from the alphabet to the walls.  I bullied forward, figuring I'd jump that hurdle later.

I found the letters at Michael's craft store and was pleased at how inexpensive they were (most were only a dollar or two each).  However, by the time I added fancy printed papers to my shopping cart, a couple bottles of decoupage goop, some colorful paint and foam brushes, I checked out nearly a hundred bucks poorer.  I should have known then I was headed down a hard path.

The first step was to paint the sides of the letters to match the pretty papers I wanted to decoupage to the wood.  Other than getting paint on all ten fingers and on one of my toenails, this part of the project went pretty smooth:

Next, I was supposed to place the wood pieces face down on the back of the pretty papers and trace around them.  I followed by cutting out the shapes with sharp scissors, and then noticed I'd left pencil marks on the sides of most of the freshly-painted letters.  I could hear the hubby swearing at the carpet he was removing from the hallway, but I pushed fearlessly on, knowing the next step in my project would be the "fun part."  I hurried and got my foam brush ready.

I applied decoupage goop to the front of each letter.  The instructions said that to avoid warping and bubbles in my finished project, I needed to apply a  healthy coat of decoupage, and I swear I followed the instructions.  Once the wood was coated, I was supposed to place the paper cutout on top of the goop, smooth out all the bumps and squiggles and "let it dry thoroughly." The manufacturer of the goop promised (via videos they produced on YouTube) that if I coated the surface with enough product, made sure the paper was smooth and let it dry thoroughly, the result would be "bubble-free".  I can definitely say I used enough product.  It was all over my hands, my worktable and even in my hair, which unfortunately I didn't notice until [much] later.  I can also say with certainty that I let it dry thoroughly, because it was at least 90 degrees in my workroom and I left to cook dinner and do a few loads of wash.

It was now time for the next step.  I reviewed my handiwork and happily noted there was not a bubble or bump in sight.  The instructions said to apply another healthy coat to the surface.  Okie-dokie now, I was cooking with gas!  Forty-five minutes later I finished slathering on the second coat and stepped back to admire my work.  Boy-Oh-Boy, I said to myself, my part of the remodel is going good!

And then I saw them . . .
Giant, dime-sized humps on the surface of my letters.  The big "D" in "Dream" had a particularly nasty bubble and the "C" in "Create" looked amateurish.  The really horrific part was that since I had let it dry thoroughly, it was going to be next-to-impossible to get  the bubbles out.

Well, despite the manufacturer's assurances there would be no bubbles, I noticed they had recorded yet another handy little YouTube video about how to correct the problem.  Nearly three hours later, I finished popping all the bubbles with a straight pin and injecting even more decoupage goop underneath the surface, and finished off the entire mess by mashing it all down with my thumb and applying another healthy coat of goop.  By now, the swearing coming from my husband's area was nothing compared to the distressing noises I was making.

The next morning, I padded into my demolished workroom in a fuzzy robe and slippers, ready to hurl the whole mess outside with the rest of the construction debris, but lo and behold, I couldn't believe my eyes. The letters looked almost perfect, as long as I squinted just a tiny bit and didn't look too close. Yes, the letters were keepers!

And now I've reached the title of my whole story: "How to Make your Husband Really Mad".  Looking back, I honestly don't know what my hubby thought I was going to do with all those letters.  Maybe he thought I was going to arrange them haphazardly on a bookshelf, or maybe he thought I was going to leave them on my worktable as some kind of crummy decoration.  I now know it was clear to me (but not to him) that I was going to attach all 18 letters to to the freshly painted walls in my workroom. 

So I went out and I bought some of those Scotch-brand double-sided sticky squares--you know, the kind you use to hang paintings?  I covertly borrowed my hubby's level from the garage and drew light little pencil lines on the wall so I could make sure everything was straight.  And then, I started sticking the letters on my freshly-painted walls, and as I worked, I noticed that Scotch-brand double-sided sticky squares sure do stick good!  I was humming along, already done with "Create" and "Imagine" and right down to the wire with the last four letters in "Dream", when the hubby walked in to see what I was doing.

I gotta' tell you, he nearly had a stroke.  I don't remember the entire conversation, but I do recall him saying things about how I'd ruined everything and we'd have to re-texture the walls when I got tired of the letters, and many other nasty hubby-like comments.  He never remotely said anything about how nice the letters looked or how pretty the paper was.  I also remember that his face turned the color of a bright purple beet and I decided it was time to head to the fridge for a cold one.

Somebody needs to let the Scotch-brand people know how good their sticky squares are, because I found that just the tiniest bit really makes those letters stick like crazy to a new paint job.  And somebody should also remind my hubby that the teeny-weeny bit of damage I did is nothing compared to all the woodwork the carpet guy destroyed or the fact I can't get the dang paint from the upstairs hallway out of my hair and my pedicure is destroyed.

So if you've been thinking about decoupaging anything, take my advice and buy a picture or a mirror instead.  They don't come with bubbles or bumps and you can hang them with one little ol' nail that the hubby can fill with spackle when you move out.  Or when he moves out.  Whatever.

Until next time, Happy Stitchin'!  xoxo -- Melanie