A Mermaid

Lynn Schoeffler © 2006

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  I went down to the sea one day,
To see the fish jump and play,

And watch the mermaids swing and sway
To the music of the sea.

Cab Calloway


  These little trinket boxes were found at the Salvation Army for $1.50 each. Looking at them, I thought I could separate the layers of the boxes, cover them with CQ, and glue them back together. Because the boxes were sturdy enough to re-glue, I wouldn’t need to make my own boxes. After the lining pieces were gently pried off, and the original fabric removed, they were sprayed inside and out with an acid free finish. 
  Using the box lid as a template, cut a foundation piece several inches larger. After machine piecing the first wavy line, I decided to hand appliqué the remaining pieces of the sea floor because I found the pieces were easier to place in the exact position I wanted them. 
  Making waves! To add further dimension and to shade the sea floor, I used a piece of teal polyester organza. To make the waves, pin narrow random pleats of fabric to the ironing board. Using the iron set at the hottest setting (test it first to make sure it doesn’t melt the organza), carefully steam the pleats into the fabric, pressing the iron firmly until the pleats hold their shape. (This technique was adapted from the process my long- suffering mother used to teach me how to iron my own pleated skirts.) 

To shape the organza to the top of the sea floor pieces, burn the edge of the fabric with the wedge point of an inexpensive wood-burning tool. The much—maligned polyester is great for taking a burned edge, because it melts, forming a bead that inhibits raveling. I like the look of burned edges, and the wood-burning tool is fantastic for this purpose. No more wavering candle flames!

When using the wood-burning tool to burn fabric, make sure you are in a well-ventilated room, and keep the tool on a stand on a tempered glass (not plastic!) cutting board. Keep a thickly folded rag near to periodically clean the burnt residue from the point of the tool.

When you have finished burning the fabric, gently rub the burned edges with your fingers or a soft cloth to remove any bits of char, so they won’t stain other fabric.

  The mermaid pattern was transferred onto a piece of moleskin for shoes (Dr. Scholls!) and cut out, leaving the backing paper still on. You do not need a fully shaped head, because the hair is added after the mermaid is placed. After carefully ascertaining her correct position on the background fabric, remove the paper backing and press the shape firmly to the background. The mermaid’s hair is Edmar Boucle’ thread in three colors, pulled through the moleskin around the hairline, and then couched in place with fine gold thread. Using the original mermaid pattern, trace fabric for the tail. I used a non-raveling polyester swimsuit knit. For best adhesion, glue the tail fabric to the tail with fabric glue. Add details of your choice, but remember the adhesive on the moleskin is very strong, and difficult to sew through. 
  For the fins at the end of her tail, use a wide polyester wired ribbon. With the narrow point on the wood-burning tool, I simply “drew” a ragged edge at the bottom of the ribbon piece, and a tiny zigzag at the top. Gather the ribbon tightly at the top edge with matching thread, and sew into position on her tail. Couch the tail fins in place with beads. Add details as desired—I included the necessary treasure chest, appliquéd from silk tie fabric with plenty of jewels. Friends include an appliquéd seahorse, and a lobster that began life as one of a pair of earrings. 


Cut a piece of muslin foundation the length and width of your box size (use the original fabric as a template) leaving 3-5 inches extra muslin on all edges. Piece with a variety of fancy fabrics—remember, the heavy embroidery will cause a certain amount of shrinkage. Again, embellish as desired.

A few details: The beaded sea urchin was found in a gift store—a costume jewelry piece. I cut it off the metal backing, stuffed it with a little batting and simply sewed it on. The reef behind it is Venetian lace hand-dyed with Ozcraft Dyes.

If you can’t find seashells with holes already drilled in them, try this. Wrap the shell tightly with a piece of fine net or organza. Twist the organza into a tail at the back of the shell; tack with another thread. Using a large chenille needle, make a hole in your background fabric, and thread the organza tail through it. If the shell wobbles a bit, secure it with a few stitches underneath the shell.

  Everyone loves this catfish idea: thanks to Christina Pirnie. My version has an appliquéd body with fins cut to shape from large sequins. The silvery school of fish below was cut from a silk tie, and hand appliquéd. 
  The seaweed and the fins on the striped fish are both burned organza ribbon using the technique described above. The original rust-colored ribbon was too wide for this application, so I just burned it to the size I needed, and couched it on with beads. 
  To finish the box: Trim the pieced fabric to size, leaving about l/2” at the top and the bottom.
Gently pull the embroidered fabric around the outside of the box, securing fabric on the edges of the box with strong pins as you go.
Tuck one side edge under approximately l/4”. Secure the edge with a tight blind stitch (as for appliqué). Couch a piece of yarn or ribbon seaweed over the seam. 

Very carefully notch the top and bottom edges of the pieced fabric. Using an acid free fabric glue, carefully glue the top edge to the inside of the box, making it as flat as possible. Do the same with the fabric on the outside bottom of the box. Let dry overnight. Re-glue the lining pieces back to the inside and bottom of the box.


To finish the lid: Carefully position the box lid on the back of the pieced fabric. Pin in place around the edges. Turn to front, and check position, adjusting as necessary. Trim fabric to about one inch from the lid edge, and carefully notch with scissors. Glue and let dry overnight. Re-glue the lid lining piece to the underneath side of the lid. Trim edges of lid with a small braid or ribbon if desired. 
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