Saturday, March 31, 2012

Make it sew: decorative centerpiece

Having recently acquired a magnificent sewing machine, I've been anxiously toying with ideas about what to create as my first piece. I have great costume patterns, but I must admit I don't have the experience to succeed or the courage to fail as I just begin to use this beautiful machine (named Agnes, for reasons unknown).

After two weeks (I know!) of bumbling around with no patterns or material, I figured maybe I could make up my own. So off I went to the thrift store and came home with some patterned scraps left over from someone else's probably-way-more-fabulous project. I folded some printer paper, cut out what later turned out to look like lips, and sewed it all together with extraordinary cleverness. I have yet to devise a plan for creating fabric flowers, but never mind. One success at a time.

Today I have recreated this masterpiece in a similar pattern step by step to show you. Because anyone with fabric and a needle and thread is clearly in want of a decorative centerpiece on which to exhibit flowers and a natural sewing talent. (You don't actually need natural sewing talent, but a sewing machine helps to fool people.) The great thing about this project is that you can do it with or without a sewing machine, and with or without great amounts of sewing experience.

Here's what you'll need:

15" x 24" sheet of fabric (or two 12" x 15" sheets)*
One 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper*
Ball-ended knitting needle (or long pencil)
Thread (spool and bobbin if machine sewing)
Sewing machine (optional)
Fabric shears
Iron and ironing board

*If you want to make one twice as large, use two sheets of fabric at least 25" x 30" and tape two sheets of paper together.

1. Start by ironing your fabric flat.

2. Fold the sheet of paper in half twice (until it's 4.25" x 5.5"). Draw a simple design on it in such a way that when you cut it out, it will be a single piece (not four!).

3. Cut out the design.

4. Unfold the paper to make sure the design is what you want. It should be completely symmetrical. Adjust if needed. I recommend not making it too scalloped or it will be hard to shape later (these scallops were hard enough!).

5. Fold your fabric (or place your fabric sheets) pattern-side together.

6. Use pins to secure your homemade pattern to both sheets of fabric. Give the pins at least a 1/2" margin from the edge for when you're sewing it.

7. Cut out the design. Give yourself a good 1/2" margin for that as well.

8. Sew a seam along the edge of the pattern. You can do this with a sewing machine or by hand. If by hand, I recommend using the backstitch technique to avoid gaps and to strengthen the seam.

9. Take the pins out as you go along. It's ok to sew over the paper because you can pull it out later, but try to keep as close to the edge as possible to maintain the symmetry and uniformity of the piece.

10. Leave a gap a little wider than your thumb without a seam. You'll use this to turn the piece inside out. If you do sew around the pattern completely, use a seam ripper to create about a 1" gap.

11. Check the pattern when you're done before removing the paper pattern entirely. If there are places that are far off the pattern, don't be afraid to use a seam ripper to pull out the stitch and redo it (I had to do that for the shoddy seamline you see below).

12. Peel the paper off the fabric - make sure to get all the little bits out from under the seam.

13. Cut out the corner of the extra fabric near the points so that when you turn the piece inside out, the fabric on the inside doesn't create an unsightly bunch on the outside.

14. Push the fabric inside out through the gap using a ball-ended knitting needle (or something with a strong thick end - even a pencil would work, just not the pointy end).

15. Pull the rest of the fabric through by hand once you've gotten some fabric through the gap.

16. Push the pointed end of the pencil or knitting needle into the pointed end(s) of the fabric to define the point (be careful that you don't poke through the fabric).

17. Use your forefinger and thumb to work the edges out, especially in areas where the seam is rounded. You won't see definition to the scalloped shapes if you don't work the fabric out to the seam.

18. Fold the ragged edges into the gap.

19. Iron, iron, iron! Flatten the piece into the shape you want it - all the seams, curves, points, and the gapped edge. Be ruthless.

20. Thread your needle and sew up the gap now that it's flattened into place. Make the stitch invisible by sewing just on the inside of the gap.

21. Survey your work. If any curves or points in the design fail to make their presence known, the iron can help. And it's ok to turn it back inside out and pull some seams. To be honest, I got fed up and actually threw this project away halfway through because I did a rotten job the first time, but in the end I pulled it out of the bin and tried again. Practice makes perfect!

You're done! If you want to leave it as it is, it makes a lovely centerpiece, especially with flowers or some other decoration on top. A perfect Easter centerpiece!

Look for my next post on embroidering this piece soon. We'll give definition and personality to this decorative centerpiece. 

If you try this project, I hope you'll post a comment or email me and tell me how it went!


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