Another Colour Inspiration Tuesday – and finally, that ornament tutorial…..!
Well, thanks to you guys, I have learned another new thing this week! As you are probably aware by now, I have been working on writing up a tutorial on the Christmas Bells ornament I created for last week’s Colour Inspiration Tuesday. But I still wanted to give you a mood board this week, and somehow link it all together.
So, this week, when I noticed that my Hoya plant is in flower, all my bloggy wishes came true…… I got a photo for a mood board and another idea for an ornament using the same technique as for my bell. For my Hoya carnosa has star shaped flowers, and stars are definitely relevant to Christmas. I stole the shapes and colours of my Hoya’s flowers and plagiarised them into this:
And in the process of working through this week’s Christmas Stars idea, I found out something. Did you know that Hoya carnosa (also known, among other names, as the common Wax Flower) is an Australian native? I didn’t. I had always assumed all Hoyas were exotics. It turns out that there are at least seven Australian Hoyas, and Hoya carnosa is native to Queensland (Australia) and several other locations in Asia. I love learning new things, especially happy things.
Perhaps you like learning new things too. Then you might like to try making your own Christmas ornaments like those I have been making this week….. Christmas Bells, Christmas Stars and Christmas Trees. Oh yes, I made a Christmas Tree version as well…… if an idea is fun, you should flog it til it’s dead, right?! Of course! hahahaha 🙂
How to make “String Art style” Christmas Ornaments
The inspiration to make Christmas decorations in a string art-like style came to me from a fusion of ideas that started many many moons ago. The first seed was planted when I discovered Deb Layt, an Australian quilter who at the time was embellishing her quilts with a netting made from pearl cotton couched onto soluble stabiliser. She calls this netting geoweb. If you have ever made freestanding lace on soluble stabiliser with an embroidery machine, it is essentially a cruder, hand-directed version of this. I have dabbled with this technique over time, making the occasional bookmark and adding highlights to art quilts such as the hot air balloons on the quilt I entered into this year’s local state guild show.
Then, much more recently, I participated in this year’s Ornament Exchange blog hop and spotted this tutorial by Emily at Two Purple Couches. It is a very cute string art Christmas Tree! She has very kindly allowed me to use a picture to show you, thus saving me a thousand words!
Now, I have many times eyed off string art pieces as pre-cursor ideas for thread painting or quilting designs, but to date, I have never acted on these ideas. But in seeing Emily’s ornament, I was reminded – hmmmmm, I could make “string art” tree ornaments with that geoweb technique…….
And then the idea sat there in the gloomy depths of unresolved creative thoughts until last week. When I suddenly fused it with the ideas that I have already laid out for you in the Christmas Bells Colour Inspiration Tuesday post. Here is how I did it (and how you can do it too).
You will need:
- A sewing machine set up for zigzag/satin stitch
- A thick thread for the backbone of your ornament. I suggest starting with a size 3 pearl cotton, but I have also successfully used thinner (size 8) pearl cotton, as well as thicker cotton twine from the hardware store.
- Sewing machine thread – rasant, poly-cotton or 100% cotton will do. Put the same thread in the bobbin as you have running through your needle. This is a good opportunity to use some of those old or cheap threads you have somehow accumulated that will (should) never end up on a quilt – you will have the most success if you match the colours of your thread to your pearl cotton and don’t use fancy threads (rayon, metallic etc) until you are comfortable with the basic technique.
- water soluble stabiliser (sorry, I don’t know the brand of mine, I purchased it as yardage off a roll and have had it a long time). The stabiliser I am using was originally purchased to facilitate machine embroidery on towels. It is 100% soluble and clear, it is not the disintegrating fibre, opaque type sometimes used for appliqué.
- a biro, and a paper template if you do not wish to draw your own design freehand. I have supplied you a downloadable sheet of Christmas templates for the 3 shapes I used. Update: there are now also instructions for a Christmas Bauble shape option in a guest post on Days Filled with Joy.
- beads and ribbon for decoration and hanging.
What to do:
Trace the outline of your shape onto the water soluble stabiliser. Biro works well for this and doesn’t leave traces after washing out the stabiliser. I have tried using permanent markers and found they partly transfer from the stabiliser to the couched threads.
You do need to know that your finished ornament will end up slightly smaller than your original design. How much smaller will depend on the thread you are couching onto the stabiliser, the brand stabiliser you are using, the tension settings on your machine and how tightly you can keep the stabiliser stretched while you are sewing.
Trim the stabiliser around your traced shape, leaving sufficient margin that you can comfortably sew around the edge of the design while not sewing your fingers! Cut out a second piece of stabiliser the same size as the first and lay it on top of the first. Secure the two layers together temporarily using pins.
Set your machine to a very small zigzag stitch. I set mine on the lowest width and stitch length possible when I am couching pearl cotton. I used the decorative foot, which has a wide groove underneath so that it runs over raised surface stitching more easily. While using a foot that has the centre line marked is very helpful to see where your pearl cotton should lay, a special couching foot is totally unnecessary for this project.
Lay the pearl cotton on the outline of your design, starting in a position where you will not be required to immediately turn any corners. Leaving a tail, sew enough stitches along the length of the pearl cotton to secure it to the design. Snip off the pearl cotton and thread tails.
Continue couching the pearl cotton around the main shape until you reach the beginning again, overlapping the start point slightly to secure the beginnings of all threads. Ignore the hanging loop and any projecting shape outlines (like the bell ringer) for the moment. We’ll come back to them.
Once you have stitched all the way around the main shape you can remove the pins, as your stabiliser layers are now fixed itogether by stitching.
With the needle in the down position, turn your work so that you will next sew across the design. It is easiest to make couching turns if the needle is down on the inside of the corner.
Sew across the design to the opposite edge. Make sure you catch the edge couching with a few stitches, then turn again and sew across the design in another direction. Repeat until you have filled the design. Make sure you catch the edge each time you finish crossing the design.
As you travel around the design you will eventually end up near a feature that needs adding….. take the opportunities to do this as they arise.
Once your couching is dense enough to look great, secure the end with a few backstitches and trim off the threads.
Thoroughly wash your piece to dissolve the stabiliser. If you have stitched correctly, the couched shape will be quite stiff, self-supporting and require no further treatment. Dry your piece and decorate as desired.
Decorate as desired……
To the bell ornament I added a green bell off an old cat collar plus a remnant of purple ribbon. I think the ribbon was about 30cm long…. I am not going to remove it now to measure it. You know how long it takes to make bows look good!
To the top of the Christmas Tree ornament I added a cherub button left over from an Advent quilt I made many years ago. I would have preferred a star, but I am trying to be good and use what I have. I also added beads from my collection and three rings as “ornaments”. Do you know what the rings are? Eyelets! I stitched the decorations on, but you could use glue.
Adding a hanging ribbon to these ornaments is easy…. Just thread it through one of the holes at the top!
Tips for making the “Christmas Stars” ornament
For the ornament to match the Christmas Stars mood board, I decided to see how far I could push the boundaries of this technique. So I used cotton twine for the backbone, with rayon thread for the white and yellow sections, metallic thread for the maroon centre and also a pink rasant thread for the detailing. The rasant is stitched over the finished ornament – I did not couch any thread under this stitching. The pearl beads and bead cap in the centre were inherited from a friend’s mother.
Using the twine and fancy threads was more difficult than pearl cotton and standard sewing thread. My tips? For twine use a wider zigzag. For fancy threads make sure you drop the upper thread tension on your machine. And sew slower.
When I wanted to change thread colours I did not cut the cotton twine, I just anchored the couching thread, swapped the top thread and started again where I left off. For the star I used white sewing thread in the bobbin regardless of which thread I had on top.
And there you have it!
I hope these instructions make sense….. if not, please ask questions. Because if you are wondering something, it is likely that others are also wondering the same thing.
Enjoy your creative time leading up to the holidays. If you make a string art-style ornament I would love to know….. there are so many shapes you could try…. what about a dove, a snowman, baubles, a stocking, a snowflake…..? You are really only limited by your imagination, (and time of course). And just so you know, shapes with corners are easier than those with curves.
Wouldn’t these make fabulous decorations to finish off a special gift?! Speaking of gifts, I am off to Days Filled with Joy to see what else Joy has put on her 12 Days of Last Minute Homemade Gift ideas list. Don’t forget to keep an eye on this too.
P.S. If Suffolk Puffs (Yo-Yos) and hand sewing are more your thing, why not give my friend Evija’s Christmas Ornament tutorial a try? Evija was my partner in the 2017 Ornament Exchange, and she sent me these two beauties that are now on my tree. Enjoy! 🙂
P.P.S. Sharing Christmas Stars on some of my favourite linkys:
Sew Can Do
Cooking Up Quilts
Love, Laugh, Quilt
Freemotion by the River
Let’s Bee Social
My Quilt Infatuation
Busy Hands Quilts
Crazy Mom Quilts
Also shared on Quilting Jetgirl’s monthly Tips and Tutorials linky for December.