Wool Felt Pincushion
Carolyn Phillips © 2012
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If you’ve ever accidentally, or intentionally, tossed a wool garment into your washing machine, you already know a lot about how wool felt is made! The warm water, the soap, and the machine’s agitation all conspire to turn your favorite wool sweater into a shrunken, matted mess. But all is not lost; you can always use some of it to make a new pincushion.
One of the most appealing things about wool felt, besides its velvety texture, and its softly muted colors, is that the edges of wool felt can be cut into any shape, and they won’t unravel. This, of course, means there’s no need for seam allowances. One cut edge is simply butted against another cut edge, and are held together and anchored by embroidery stitches. The best stitches to use are those that bridge across the seam line to keep both pieces of fabric in place. Examples of some of these stitches are Cretan, Herringbone, Feather and Chevron. To keep the piece aligned and stabilized, be sure that your embroidery stitches nip into the muslin foundation.
For inspiration, special templates, and step-by-step instructions to help you make evenly-spaced, uniform stitches, check out Robbie Fields’ Embroidery Success Strips at www.embroiderysuccess-strips.com. They’re reasonably priced, and very easy to use.
For more information on making and using wool felt, please visit http://www.woolcrafting.com/wool-felt-fabric.html
Living in southern California, you’d think it would be slim pickings for finding wool clothing, and you’d be pretty much right; but some of the most beautiful pieces of wool I’ve found here are from thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Another good source for wool felt may be your local quilt shop. Some shops offer wool on bolts, as well as 9” x 12” squares, or similar sizes. Pure wool is very expensive, so most shops offer a blend of 80% wool and 20% rayon, which works very well for most projects. My local JoAnn Fabrics store offers by-the-yard bolts of six or more colors, including gold, brown, dark green, black, and even white. Be sure to check their remnants bin! Google, or Bing “wool felt” to find more sources.
Making the Wool Felt Pincushion Cover:
The wool felt pincushion cover, shown below, and the pincushion, shown in Photo #11, are made separately so the embroidered cover won’t be damaged by the rough handling necessary to stuff the pincushion.
The pincushion cover, shown above, was made in one piece so there would be no break in the flow of the design, and there would be only one seam to close.
The pincushion cover is worked on a muslin foundation, shown below in Photo #4.
Preparing the muslin foundation:
Cut the fabric for the muslin foundation 8” x 10 ½”. Find the center of the fabric by folding it in half both lengthwise and widthwise, using an iron to set the creases. Using the pressed center line as a guide, draw the template as shown below in Photo #4. The width between the vertical lines is 5”. The length/height is 7 ½” between the horizontal lines. Be sure to extend both the horizontal and vertical pattern lines at least an inch beyond the large dots.
Make a paper copy of the background pattern shown below in Photo #5, and transfer the pattern lines onto the muslin foundation.
The paper copy can then be cut apart and used as templates for cutting the wool felt fabric pieces. See Photo #6, below, to see the colors used for each section.
Please note that, for clarity and accuracy, the background pattern pieces have been divided into sections #1 through #10.
It’s important that the construction of the background, including all of the decorative seam treatments, be completed before adding other elements like the flowers, leaves, or bee. Please be sure that the decorative embroidery stitches along the seam lines stop about ¼”- ½” from the vertical pattern lines to allow for fitting the pincushion cover over the pincushion. If it’s necessary to clip any of the embroidery stitches, you can use Fray Block or Fray Check to keep the floss from unraveling. Any missing embroidery stitches can be repaired later. Fray Block comes in a blue and white tube, and Fray Check comes in a clear plastic bottle. The difference in the two products is that Fray Block leaves the thread and wool felt very soft, while Fray Check tends to be a little stiffer. Both products work very well.
Section #4, shown in Photos #5 and #6, above, is the painted silk beehive scene. The edges of the scene are attached to the muslin foundation with small stitches. The blue felt in sections #3 and #5 overlap and cover the raw edges on either side of the scene. The clouds, #1 and #2, cover the top of the painted scene. You can add more clouds if necessary, or desired, to cover any gaps. Section #7 is a blue pond. Sections #6, #8, #9 and #10 are four different shades of green. Adjust the sections as needed, and then baste them in place, as shown above in Photo #6.
The small beehive scene at the top of the pincushion cover was painted with acrylics on dupioni silk. For those who don’t paint, a similar look can be achieved by using a small sewing-themed image printed on fabric. Be sure the fabric used isn’t too stiff or thick to stick pins and needles into.
As you can see in Photo #6, above, my background looks pretty wonky, but that’s okay. What matters is that the edges of the wool felt extend out to the vertical pattern lines, and can extend ¼” or more beyond the pattern line. Any extra felt will be trimmed away as the cover is fitted over the pincushion.
The four large dots at the corners of the muslin foundation template, shown in Photo #4, indicate where the corners of the pincushion will be. The horizontal and vertical pattern lines intersect at the large dots in each corner, giving you guidelines as you work on the background. Be sure that both the horizontal and vertical guidelines extend at least an inch beyond the pattern lines.
All of the decorative stitching in this project is done with a single strand of DMC rayon or cotton embroidery floss, unless otherwise noted. I’ve used the rayon DMC, because the sheen of the floss so beautifully complements the soft, matte texture of the wool. Some people don’t like working with rayon floss, as it tends to tangle when stitching, but all that’s needed to make it behave is to dip your fingers in water and pull along the length of each strand before using it.
Tiny dots of Tacky Glue, or Roxanne’s Glue Baste It, can be used to keep smaller pieces of felt in place while the edges are finished with Blanket Stitches.
In most cases, I’ve used floss that is a little darker or lighter than the fabric color being used in that section. This is your pincushion, so please use colors and threads that make you happy.
Referring to Photo #3, above, and working from the top down:
The scalloped edges of the clouds are worked in Blanket Stitch with white floss. Cloud #2 slightly overlaps cloud #1.
The edges of the two blue sections, #3 and #5, are worked in blue Blanket Stitch. The hollyhock flowers are worked in two shades of pink, using Blanket Stitches worked in a circle. A French Knot, or a small yellow bead, can be sewn in the center of each hollyhock flower. The green stalks are Stem-stitched, and the edges of the leaves are worked in Blanket Stitch. The buds at the top of the hollyhock stem are made with French Knots in both pink and green floss.
The little blue pond, in section #7, has lines of horizontal Back Stitches to represent the surface of the water.
The bee is worked in long and short stitches in uneven bands of yellow and black stripes. Her head can be satin stitched in black, and her eye with a white French Knot. Or, a black bead can be used for her head.
After you have cut out the large flowers and leaves, refer to Photo #7, pin them in place; make any changes you’d like, and then tack them in place with tiny dots of Tacky Glue, or Roxanne’s Glue Baste It. The edges of the flowers are worked with Blanket Stitches using a matching color. The flower centers are cut from yellow felt, and are Blanket Stitched with yellow floss. The tallest flower is blue, and is Blanket Stitched with blue floss. The pink flower center is Blanket Stitched in pink. Most of the flower centers have pink French Knots in their center, but black or brown would be good, too. The long flower stems are stitched in a shade of green that will contrast with the background. The edges of the large leaves are Blanket Stitched in green, or in red, as shown below in Photo #8. The center vein lines are worked with Feather Stitches.
For a more whimsical look, I’ve worked up a beehive scene, shown above in Photo #9, which uses wool felt, embroidery, and maybe a few beads. The pattern is shown below in Photo #10. To make this version, omit background pattern sections #3, #4, and #5, and substitute one large piece of blue wool felt. The bottom edge of the blue felt will butt against the #6 strip of green felt, and will be kept in place with decorative stitching along the seam line.
Referring to Photo #9, above, and the pattern in Photo #10, below, cut the beehive and the larger bee’s teardrop-shaped body from gold wool felt. You can use a tiny dot of Tacky Glue, or Roxanne’s Glue Baste It, to hold the pieces in place. The edges of the beehive and the bee’s body are Blanket Stitched in matching thread. The tiny bee’s head is cut from black wool felt, and is Blanket Stitched with black floss. Or, you can use a black bead for her head. The stripes on her body are done with Short Stitches of black floss. Her wings are Lazy-Daisy Stitches in gold metallic thread.
Referring to Photo #9, above, there are two examples of ways to make the tiny bees. The bee to the left of the beehive is made with two yellow beads and two black beads. The bee at the top right of the beehive is made with a black French Knot for her head, and a long Lazy-Daisy Stitch using two strands of yellow floss. The stripes on her body are made with black floss. The bee just below her shows the Lazy-Daisy Stitched body before the black stripes are added. All of the bees’ wings are done with metallic gold Lazy-Daisy stitches. The tiny flowers scattered in the grass are French Knots. The hollyhock flowers are made with Blanket Stitches worked in a circle.
The French Knot flower buds at the top of the green Stem Stitched stalk are worked using both pink and green floss. Arrange the clouds, making additional clouds as needed. The bees’ dotted “flight paths” are Back Stitched in black floss.
Making the Pincushion:
Before choosing a fabric for your pincushion, test it to be sure that both a pin and a needle will slide through the fabric easily with no resistance. I used a lightweight pillow ticking (JoAnn Fabrics), shown above, for my pincushion. Heavier muslin will work well, too.
Cut two pieces of fabric 5¼” wide x 4” high. With right sides together sew a ¼” wide seam all around, leaving about 3” open in the middle of one long side. Please see Photo #12, below. Turn right side out and press well.
The inside of the pincushion is lined with a layer of *lamb’s wool (optional). As you begin filling the pincushion with a stuffing mixture of nearly pulverized fabric and thread scraps, be sure to keep the layer of lamb’s wool pushed against the walls of the pincushion. Leftover pieces of fabric and thread are often referred to as “ort.” Please see Photo #12, below. Concentrate on stuffing the corners of the pincushion first. Each time you add stuffing, push it firmly away from the center. When you think the pincushion is full, hold the opening shut, and stick a needle or pin into all areas of the surface. It takes a good amount of time to fully stuff a pincushion. It is possible to over-stuff them, but most of us don’t use nearly enough stuffing. If you can no longer stick a pin or needle into the pincushion, you’ll need to remove some stuffing. Be sure to redistribute the stuffing, and test it again. When it feels quite firm, and needles well, lay a piece of lamb’s wool over the top of the stuffing, and Whipstitch the opening closed. Sign and date it. A hundred years from now, when the cover is all tattered and worn out, some seamstress in the future will know that you made this pincushion.
*Note: The lamb’s wool has natural lanolin in it, which coats your pins and needles, and helps them to slide easily through fabric. Besides that, it makes your finished pincushion feel really nice.
The Best Pincushion:
A good pincushion feels quite firm when squeezed, but not so firm that you have trouble pushing pins and needles into it. It holds its shape well, and should feel heavy for its size. A needle stuck into it should be supported, and should not disappear beneath its surface. Making a hard-working pincushion like this takes a little more effort, but the reward is many years of useful service.
Use a rotary cutter to cut the fabric and thread scraps until they are nearly pulverized, leaving no pieces larger than ¼”.
Fitting the Cover onto the Pincushion:
Fold the muslin foundation under along the upper marked pattern line, and pin one of the large dots onto each of the two corners of the pincushion. Leave the wool felt loose and unpinned. Straighten and tighten the cover, being sure that the pincushion is centered between the two vertical pattern lines on the muslin foundation. Secure the cover in place, using long straight pins as shown in Photo #13, above.
Fold under the muslin foundation on the lower pattern line, leaving the wool felt loose and unpinned, just as before. Straighten and tighten the cover, being sure that the pincushion is centered between the two vertical pattern lines on the muslin foundation. The bottom set of dots on the muslin foundation should butt up against the upper set of dots. If the folded edges are too far apart to meet at the pincushion’s seam line, unfold a bit of the muslin from each edge until they butt up against each other. If the edges overlap, fold under more fabric.
When the two folded edges of the muslin foundation are pulled tightly together, pin the wool felt out of the way, and stitch the opening closed.
Baste the wool felt cover onto the pincushion as shown above. Trim away the extra wool felt with care, being sure not to trim off too much at a time. Butt the edges of the wool felt, and use a decorative stitch to close the seam.
A Herringbone Stitch works really well to both tighten and close the seam.
Trim and fold under the muslin foundation, and Whipstitch the edges together. Carefully trim the wool felt so the two edges butt against each other. Just as you would wrap a package, fold the sides in, as needed, butt the horizontal edges together, and close the seam with a decorative stitch. Repeat for the other side seam.
Bags of lamb’s wool, as well as beautiful wool felt: Magic Circus is a
delightful site, chock full of items for children...and certain adults.
Their wool felt is available year round, but bags of wool are offered only
once a year, when the lambs are shorn. Call or email them to pre-order the
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