Tag Archives: cross stitch

Selfless? Selfish? Self-agnostic? Sewing: Gift Bags for Xmas

In our house, there are two types of Christmas wrapping: presents from Santa, which come wrapped in paper with store bought tags, and presents from Mom, which comes in handmade fabric gift bags. When Frances was younger and sold on Santa, this was a great bit of holiday magic: *obviously* Santa was real, because otherwise where did the paper wrapping come from? Mom would *never* use paper wrapping. Now it’s just tradition (also I still have two rolls of pretty xmas wrapping to use up).

Everyone else gets a gift either in a previously received paper gift bag still in good condition, or a handmade fabric gift bag. There’s a hierarchy, I won’t lie: a fabric gift bag is a mark of trust. It’s saying, I know you will appreciate the time and effort that went into making this bag and keep it in circulation for the rest of time to displace the use of more wasteful wrapping types. It’s saying, if you leave this sitting in a heap in your basement storage area or god forbid *throw it out* I will come back from beyond the grave and haunt you with my fabric scissors and needlebook. And if you use this bag for trapping snakes, as happened to one friend’s handmade gift bags, you will spend eternity in a hell full of rusty fabric scissor blades with bent pins all over the floor. It’s saying, but I know you would never ever do such a thing.

But it is also kind of selfish sewing, because every year I sew four or five new bags, and half I use for gifts for friends, but the other half I use for Frances. Which makes clean-up on xmas morning super easy. Yes there’s paper to tidy up from the Santa gifts … but most of it is just fabric bags, and all I need to do is pick them up, stuff them all inside the largest bag, and put it in the closet. Hey presto, tidy floor. No recycling or garbage. Next year, the wrapping is basically taken care of, and there’s little easier than stuffing something in a drawstring bag and pulling it closed. I even reuse the tags; since they’re handmade they tend to be pretty robust.

This year’s new drawstring bags.

Most of the bags are simple drawstring bags: french seams, to keep the insides tidy and thread-free; occasionally serged if I’m running out of time; double fold at the top to make a channel for the ribbon, which doubles as a draw-string and as gift decoration (I make the ribbon quite long so that there’s lots to tie around the gift). It takes about an hour. There’s no pattern; I improvise the size I need for the gifts I’m wrapping that year. If the print is directional, as some of the ones above are, I cut the fabric in half lengthwise and sometimes add a matching width of a non-directional print at the bottom.

This year I decided to drastically complicate my gift bag sewing experience by turning some holiday cross stitch projects into quilted patchwork gift bags with handles. It took a lot more than an hour.

The cross stitch owls came from the November 2013 issue of Cross Stitcher magazine, which I think I’ve mentioned before is my favourite cross stitch magazine and I wish it were more easily available here. These owls are freaking adorable, and I cross stitched two of them, but had no idea what to do with the finished pieces until I got what seemed like a brilliant idea: gift bags!

The patchwork is an improvised sort of log cabin pattern; the fabrics came from Needlework, and the one bag is mostly leftover from this season’s other overly-ambitious holiday project: a new tree skirt. The insides are lined with leftovers from Fabricland. One bag has twill tape handles, and the other matching cotton handles.

The first bag is quilted. I know, what was I thinking? The process was:

1. Assemble the patchwork front and cut a back in a matching size.
2. Baste batting to the reverse of each with a 1/2″ seam allowance, and trim away the batting within that seam allowance.
3. Sew the front and back together; press seams open.
4. Trim a 2″ wedge from the bottom corners, and sew together to make a boxy shape.
5. Cut, sew, and trim a lining in a matching size, omitting the batting.
6. Baste handles to the bag exterior.
7. Sew lining to exterior, right side to right side, leaving a gap on the back bag to pull them through.
8. Pull through, press lining to the inside of the bag.
9. Edgestitch all around the bag top to close the opening in the bag back.
10. Insert a small cutting board into the bag, and safety pin the front quilt sandwich, being careful to make sure there are no folds or puckers in the lining and that both layers are flat and smooth.
11. Stitch in the ditch along the patchwork lines in the front to quilt.

I gave myself a break on the second bag and didn’t use batting or quilt it; it’s just lined patchwork. And it took forever, but it’s so pretty I have a hard time convincing myself not to make another one. Maybe a cushion cover next time?

The current gift bag stash

~~~

Of course, people who regularly sew gifts or decorations etc. for Christmas know that you don’t start in December, because if you do, you won’t finish in time. So there’s a pile of holiday sewing that doesn’t count, including the tree skirt:

A couple of tree ornaments made with scraps, which is a great scrappy project if you’re looking for something–and I don’t think it needs to be holiday fabric. This pattern is M3777:

Gifts in progress for Jenn
A finished bird–that we kept

Some of these were even made up completely during December. I traced the pieces out onto oak tag so I could reuse them endlessly without them falling apart.

A few new cross-stitch tree ornaments, Because:

And some cross-stitch gift tags, also Because:

A pair of ponte leggings for Frances, and a pair of cotton jersey leggings and a couple of t-shirts, and her annual Christmas Eve Pajamas:

Bought the tags at Needlework. They are, objectively, the best.

The leggings are modified from an Ottobre pattern to get the front-leg seam and waistband, and match some Old Navy leggings Frances wears to death. The pajamas are B5572; bottoms are Robert Kaufman flannel and the top is a bamboo jersey, so it’s extremely soft and comfortable. I ventured into fabric painting for the reindeer that Frances specifically requested for her xmas pjs this year. That was an interesting process.

Also made her holiday dress from red and white striped bamboo jersey, OOP pattern M7160. I didn’t want her to look like a candy cane, and what I like about this pattern is it gives options for juxtaposing stripes in different directions, which has a side benefit of reducing the need for stripe matching–though the bodice was a bit finicky.

Also! Cushion covers.

One with flannel scraps from Frances’s xmas pjs, in a simple star pattern, because this fabric is too delicious for the scraps to go to waste and it seemed perfect for snuggling up in bed with while making art or writing stories. It’s quilted, because, apparently, I have a seasonal incapacity to correctly assess available time. It wasn’t quite ready for Christmas, but I’m still counting it.

And this rainbow chenille pillow, backed also with flannel scraps. My favourite gay teenager is all about rainbows these days, and this is a particularly fuzzy rainbow, which is even better.

Welp. I feel like that’s enough.

Santa Sewing

Santa Sewing being the presents you sew up to give people over the holidays, or to make for special holiday occasions. And there was a pile in December, mostly for Frances, who is not super keen on modelling so this will mostly be pictures of garments on hangers.

The excitement of figuring out how to fit Frances for pants went to my head, Dear Readers: After the jeans, I made her three pairs of leggings: one black bamboo jersey (so soft!), one taupe cotton jersey with fun animal heads for pj pants, and one a really plush grey stretch velour (even softer!). The velour pair is one half of any needed fancy-pants holiday get-ups, as Frances is a girl who generally dons a skirt or dress only under intense social pressure.

To go with it, I made her up a drapey long-sleeved top I’d previously made her in bamboo jersey, this time in a sparkly gold foiled spandex. No chance at a photo of this one yet, but soon!

A red sweater–some kind of textured poly knit, bought in the summer for dirt cheap, and finally sewed up. Frances loves this one and has been wearing it constantly since finished. This is a raglan sleeved Ottobre pattern (I can look up the issue for anyone who’s interested).

A large-loop cotton terry sweatshirt in the same pattern, slightly long to be worn with leggings.  This fabric came from Needlework and was a bit on the pricey side but so worth it. It is super soft and comfortable and very, very warm. Unfortunately even with differential feed turned up to max and the longest stitch length on my machine, and even after throwing it in the washer/dryer, the hem bands werestill super wavy. !!! Lots of hot steam and pressing has mostly repaired it, thank goodness.

Finally finished this very colourful cardigan. I think it’s acrylic but I’m not 100% sure (ends table). You could have knocked me over with a feather when she chose this fabric and the red sweater one above, after so many years of wearing nothing but blue, grey and off-white. Also an Ottobre pattern.

Pajamas. It’s impossible to find pajamas that fit her well in stores, and we have a tradition of new pajamas plus reading materials for a Christmas Eve present, so: flannel pajama bottoms, yarn-dyed plaid, with an ivory cotton jersey pajama shirt. Coordinated, and extremely comfortable and warm. Somewhat Christmas-y but still wearable all winter.

“Label” in the back of the PJ pants

And then another pajama top out of the same animal-print cotton jersey to match the leggings/pj pants.

I don’t know–do you think that’s enough for one person?

She’s just about all done growing so I can finally sew her things without fear of them becoming too small, hence the deluge.

A couple of drawstring bags for wrapping gifts. French seams to ensure that the bags last forever. I mean–come on–animals dressed up for an ugly sweater party. How could I resist?

There was another one with owls in Santa hats but I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of it

A couple of cross-stitched gift tags to accompany them. Yes, I know, work–but the tags and bags can be reused endlessly and with essentially no effort.

A new tree ornament.

I made a card for a dear friend, Jenn, who is (if you can believe it) largely committed to a social-media-free existence, so I can’t link to her. But she does read here, so Merry Christmas, Jenn!

Cross-stitch front of the card. No chance to take a picture of the finished card, but I folded a few extra inches for framing back, tacked them flat, and then used temporary glue to afix it to a piece of xmas-patterned red cardstock.

And this–which I’m still not exactly sure how I want to finish. It’s supposed to be for a gift tag but the aida count I used made it a bit too big for that.

But come on. Who doesn’t love an owl in mittens and a Rudolph costume?

(The cross stitch patterns all came from The Cross Stitcher magazine; mostly back issues, except for the card which I believe was in the December 17 issue. But it might have been January 18.)

A thematically-appropriate pencil/pen/brush/crayon/whatever holder  and zippered pouch for my Aunt Heather. If you click through to her author site you’ll understand immediately. Poor woman’s going to be swimming in seahorses (no pun intended) someday.

And hey, a few things for me, too:

This lovely pale pink foiled spandex, turned into another gathered-neckline Renfrew. Can be paired with skirts or jeans, so good both for dancing and holiday festivities. This and the gold I used for Frances were both bought at Fabricland on sale for $8.something/metre, and this was the 0.7m at the end of the bolt, so it was a $5 or $6 shirt. The foiling basically is plastic so sewing, and particularly hemming, were challenging. I had to redo one portion of the bottom hem four times. But it finally turned out and I like it, though I’m petrified to press the seams and melt the foil.

And a velour long-sleeved shirt, the softest ever raspberry polyester (not a phrase I imagined myself ever using) turned into a dress, a finally completed hot pink foiled panne velvet dress and dusty pink lurex stretch velvet dress–which will have their own posts at some point.

Still needed hemming at this point.

This is a metric tonne of pink. Maybe I should branch out.

It was a lot of sewing. And while I’ve enjoyed taking a bit of a break over the holidays so far and catching up on some reading, I can’t wait to get back to it.

Positive Self-Talk Via Cross-Stitch, Hurrah!

I read a number of years ago in Snoop that motivational posters are essentially a form of self-talk, and one of the most reliable external indicators of a neurotic temperament. Science. Gotta love it. Apparently people buy them, not to communicate to other people their commitment to Excellence or Overcoming Fear or Success, but to remind themselves of the kinds of people they want to be.

ambition
Just for giggles.

It made me incredibly insecure about anything that might be considered a motivational poster in any of my spaces. Oh my god. I’m advertising my neuroticism. Laying bare my inadequacies for the viewing pleasure of any passing pizza delivery person.

One exception to this rule has been this poster:

frankejamesdonottalk

Proudly displayed right above the sofa, for many years now. Except at Christmas when it’s replaced by a seasonal cross-stitch. Anyway:

Backstory is that our former PM, Harper, had a very anti-science and secretive attitude, and this artist, Franke James, was outright censored by the government for her views on climate change. You can read her story elsewhere, but James put together a series of posters and stickers, and a really funny book, about her experiences. And this is one of those posters. (I also have the book. Worth reading.)

True to Snoop form, it is of course a statement to myself of the kind of person I want to be: committed to environmental values, willing to take an unpopular stand to communicate my commitment to environmental values.

But since the election of Justin Trudeau in the fall, it is also out of date.

Cue parade, streamers, marching band. Hurray! So glad it’s out of date!

This meant it needed to be replaced. And the sooner the better. I don’t want to have to look at any Harper Era reminders for any longer than I have to.

It’s been replaced by this:

love-3
Just a minor shift in tone.

Soon to be joined by the most adorable little threadpainting. It’s going to be a corner of nauseating sweetness. Frances and I will snuggle up with Simba and talk about our days under a nice little “LOVE” banner (plus the threadpainting), possibly while using the critter cuddle quilt. Maybe I’ll call it the Saccharine Seat.

The backing fabric is a hand-dyed aida bought at Gitta’s Charted Petit Point (favourite embroidery store in the known universe, Dear Readers. Did you know you can buy embroidery fabric off the bolt?). What I love about hand-dyed aida is, well, first off the colours are fabulous, but I also find the slight mottling introduced by the hand-dyeing process tricks the eye into seeing it as a regular fabric, at least from certain distances, rather than a grid.

Never let it be said that I lack self-awareness, Dear Readers. (Though it’s true sometimes.)

I could say I made it just because of how wonderfully the colours work with the grey-blue walls. I love the contrast between warm and cool. Give me a room to decorate, I’ll put a warm or cool colour on the walls, and then the opposite for the furniture and fixings. And the golds in the cross-stitch work so well with the golds in all the other art hung over the couch.

love-2
Not sure that I love that the one in the middle is the only one with so much white in it. Might be a smidge too heavy. Hmm.

And I could talk about how mentally I have just not been up for sewing. The massive purge has contributed, yes–but even then. Sewing (even pouches and tote bags) requires a kind of focus and concentration I haven’t had much of. Whereas cross stitch is like paint by numbers on fabric. You can set yourself up on the sofa with something on the TV and just plug away, one little x at a time, and as long as you count correctly, you’ll end up with something gorgeous. But that begs a whole other question, doesn’t it?

The TV appears to be important, because otherwise I end up fruitlessly ruminating on unhappy memories.

And you don’t want to hear about it, but fruitlessly ruminating over unhappy memories is, in the main, incompatible with a hobby that requires focus, concentration, some math, and the use of machines with strong engines and sharp edges. An easy, mindless project that can be carried out on the couch while watching sci-fi shows is much more the thing.

According to WordPress I’ve written about 25 versions of the rest of this post. Not that I’m indecisive or anything, but apparently I can’t decide how to end this. Dear Readers, let’s try #26:


 

Once upon a time, a young girl at daycare stared, puzzled, at a boy who was sobbing brokenheartedly as his mother left. “Why would you cry,” she wondered, “just because your mother is leaving?”

She thought about this hard all day, but her thinking brought her no closer to an answer. She decided to try this for herself, the next time her mother dropped her off there, and she did. Wailed. Her mother left and the daycare workers comforted her. “Nope,” she thought. “I still don’t get it.”

She would never cry for missing her mother. Not once, in her entire life. There was nothing to miss. Her relationship with her mother was like a three-prong electrical cord trying to fit into a two-prong outlet, like the outline of where a person should be.   Fear, anger, and sadness were subject to evaluation and her reasons for being scared, sad or angry were never good enough. Eventually nothing would make her cry–not disease, not death–not where anyone could see, but she suspects the jewelry box she hid a scalpel and a bottle of aspirin in is probably still in storage with the rest of her childhood things.

One day she would find herself in a psychologist’s office, after having made so many mistakes that she could no longer chalk them up to circumstance, and realizing that she didn’t know what to do with her life except try to fit three-prong electrical cords into two-prong outlets. That psychologist would have a number of things to say, like, “I don’t know why you still have a relationship with those people,” and “Asking why is pointless. A doormat can ask the feet that walk on it for a million years why they’re walking on it. If it really doesn’t want to be walked on, it needs to roll itself up and go under the chair,” and “You are more disconnected from your emotions than anyone I’ve ever met.”

A lot of it wouldn’t make any sense at the time, but would become clearer as the years passed, until she was able to say to herself, “I don’t know why I have a relationship with these people either.” Until she became the kind of person who regularly wore waterproof mascara and carried kleenex in her purse, who was teased by her daughter for crying at everything. Who learned that crazy doesn’t look like crazy from the inside, that the people closest to a situation often see it least clearly, that children normalize whatever it is they’ve grown up with. That Philip Larkin is at least a little bit wrong, and so are The Clod and The Pebble.

That people who have grown up in houses with empty outlines instead of people develop a sense of humour that is quite distinct and often not appreciated, and she could find her tribe by telling a joke and seeing who laughs.

That people only change when they want to, and they almost never want to. Dragged  to the edge of a cliff, held  by the collar of their shirt over the edge, while life says “change or die.” They’d rather fall. They do fall, reciting a litany of reasons why falling was inevitable, why falling isn’t actually falling, why they’re falling up instead of down, why actually everyone is falling and those clowns standing there looking so smug are falling too even if they won’t admit it. It was a kind of gift, she knows, to have been dragged to the right cliff at just the right time. It wasn’t a given.

Eventually plenty of tears would be shed over what should have filled that outline–the words, gestures, and expressions that might have existed, but didn’t–a kind of meta-missing. Like missing a friend you’ve never had. A country you’ve never seen. But decades of looking for what wasn’t and couldn’t be there would eventually drive home the point that if it was to be found, it would need to be found elsewhere; and that regardless, it would need to be begged, borrowed, stolen, bought, or created out of popsicle sticks and duct tape, for her daughter.

(That part didn’t turn out to be so hard. Her daughter is pretty lovable.)

 

Finally Finished: the Cross-Stitch Project

blog-1-1And it even took less than a year!

I know it’s small. The thing is, cross-stitch takes forever. Every one of those stitches is an even little x (at least, as even as I can make it with my deteriorating eyesight; I need glasses and don’t yet have them), so each one takes several seconds to complete, and when you have around 200 stitches in an inch of fabric (and sometimes considerably more) and a design of a foot square–that’s approximately 55 hours according to my rough calculations.

Yes, to embroider a little decorative bit. I know. It isn’t a wise time investment. But it is fun, and it made this pretty little picture.

I had a lot of fun modifying the pattern (originally from The Cross Stitcher magazine).  They called for a regular cream aida, replaced with this hand-dyed and nicely variegated tea-colour. They also called for standard DMC floss colours, which I completely ignored and just used whatever silk and/or variegated cotton flosses I had on hand that were similar in colour.

I’d picked up some Madeira silk flosses a couple of years ago for the stash and, if you think you may ever be in the mood for embroidery with silk flosses, let me warn you: those little packages are very clever and cute but they don’t hold a lot of thread. I ran out of both the bright blue in the border, and the teal in the letters, partway through. The blue I was able to replace online; the teal I replaced with a similar colour from another company. You can totally see the difference in the picture, but I tell myself it’s not as obvious in real life.

Now I have a question for you:

In the pattern, there are a number of single-x bits I haven’t stitched in, because I wanted to replace them either with small sparkly beads or with single-x stitches in a sparkly floss. Which do you think I should go with? Beads, or floss?

Also, the pattern recommends making this up into a cushion. I’m not convinced that’s the way to go. For one thing, this is destined for a home with small animals and children in it. For another, most of the flosses I used are silk flosses; I’m not 100% sure that the colours are wash-fast (they’re supposed to be, but you never know) and I’m also not sure if it’s the kind of thing I’d keep on my couch, under the circumstances.

The other option is framing it. Definitely safer, not as touchable.

What do you think?