Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to make a pincushion

Eye-Catching Pincushions
(Originally published July 10, 2008 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel)

I recently stumbled upon two new craft books featuring pincushions—not a project I would normally think deserved much energy. Let’s be honest. A lot of household items can double as a pincushion—from a retired SpongeBob Beanie Baby, to an old sock stuffed full of dryer lint, to excess garden zucchini.

As I considered the project further, however, I realized that while a pincushion must primarily be functional in design—the right size (small), shape (compact), and density (enough to hold a pin up straight)--it can also be eye-catching.

Besides the two books (“Pretty Little Pincushions” edited by Susan Brill and “Warm Fuzzies” by Betz White), I explored the Web for great pincushion designs. Felt seems to be the fabric of choice, which apparently can be used to make pincushions resembling a wide array of objects: sushi, geodes, tea cozies, snow globes, beehives, and even planet earth (what’s the symbolism there, I wonder?). Some designs feature friendly animals—mice, pigs, deer, teddy bears--that seem way too cute to be sticking pins in. Other designs are more sadistic in nature, featuring food (eggs and bacon, strawberries, pears), body parts (hands, torsos, eyeballs), or dolls resembling ex-boyfriends or unpopular political leaders.

So, I picked three designs to make that were either appealing, or appropriate, or both. I think any of them would make nice little gifts. And the supplies come from things you already have on hand or can buy cheaply at a thrift shop.

  • Wool sweaters, wool socks, and craft felt
  • Needles, pins, scissors, sewing and embroidery thread
  • White glue, buttons, beads, poly-fill stuffing, rice
  • Sewing machine (optional) and green fleece (for cactus only)

Felted Cupcakes

The sweaters are felted (washed in hot water to melt the fibers together) so that they won’t unravel when you cut them up. To felt wool sweaters or socks, wash in hot water on a high agitation setting. Use just enough water to cover the items, and add detergent and an object to enhance the agitation like a tennis ball or a flip-flop. You can wash again and again if you want a tighter, thicker result, but for this project, thinner is better. Shrink further by drying in the dryer.

(Notes: Your pincushions will get more cupcake-like after you’ve made a few, so save your favorite colors for later. Also, keep thinking about the shape of a cupcake as you form the felt.)

To begin, cut two strips of fabric from two different colored felted sweaters, each measuring 5 x 12 inches long. Fold the two strips in half length-wise and roll them up tightly, one on top of the other, folded edges together, with one color starting ½ inch ahead of the other. Roll until the spiral is about 2 ½ to 3 inches across, then trim the excess so that the ends are either together or opposite each other. Sew the ends in place with a whipstitch. Push the center of the spiral up a bit to form a mound on top of the cupcake. Trim the bottom of the cupcake to flatten it.

Cut a strip of ribbed felt from a third sweater or sock. The width should be the height of the cupcake plus ½ inch (about 3 inches total). The length should be the circumference of the cupcake plus ¼ inch. Whipstitch the edges together to create a cuff. Pull the inside-out cuff over the top of the cupcake about ½ inch, and whipstitch in place. Then fold the cuff down over the cupcake, creating a folded edge at the top of the cupcake.

Cut a circle of fabric the same color as the cuff, which is the diameter of the bottom of the cupcake plus about ¼ inch all around. Baste around the circumference of the circle piece, close to the edge, and cinch it around the bottom of the cupcake, underneath the cuff. Sew in place to the bottom of the cupcake and the cuff.

The cherry can be made with a small square of red craft felt, stuff to cherry size, and cinched with a basting stitch to create a ball. Stuff the bottom of the cherry into the center of the cupcake whirls and glue in place along with a small green felt leaf.

Fleece Cactus

From green fleece (or felt), cut two rectangles 4 ¾ x 3 ¼ inches. Cut rounded corners at one end of the rectangles for the cactus body. Cut four rectangles 1 x 1 ½ inches, and sew two together, close to the edge, to create two arms (don’t turn). Baste each arm to the right side of one body piece (the front), facing inward, positioned at different heights.

Cut one long rectangle of fleece for the gusset, 2 x 12 inches. Sew to the front body piece in a ¼ inch hem. Sew the back body piece to the other side of the gusset, and then turn the cactus right side out. Using buttons for eyes, a bead for the nose and embroidery thread for the mouth and eyelashes, add the facial features. Add a flower made from ribbon or embroidery thread.

Cut one more rectangle of fleece 2 x 3 ¼ inches for the bottom. Turn the cactus wrong side out, and sew the bottom in place, leaving one short side open for stuffing. Turn right side out again and stuff ¾ full with poly-fill. Add some rice to weight the bottom (a funnel helps direct the grains) and finish with more poly-fill. Whipstitch the opening closed.

Felt Eyeball

Cut a square of white felt 3 inches wide and trim to a circle. Cut an iris and a pupil from felt and glue the black pupil in place. With embroidery thread, accent the iris. Sew the iris to the white circle with sewing thread. Add red veins with thread if desired. Add a running stitch to the outer edge so that it can be cinch up into a mound.

As you did for the cupcake, cut a ribbed cuff and round bottom from a felted sweater. Sew them together and stuff. Sew the cuff over the cinches edges of the eyeball and add more stuffing as necessary to finish.

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