Cynthia Treen designs beautiful, whimsical wool felt animals. You can make Cynthia's charming animals using her kits which we sell on our website! Second only to designing is her talent for teaching. Cynthia offers several resources to perfect your stitching technique and she's joining us today to share some of those tips and tricks. Welcome, Cynthia!
As a felt enthusiast and designer, I'm always thrilled to collaborate with the Benzie team. Since you're here, you probably know that felt is versatile and easy to use even for the most beginner of beginners! With a bottle of tacky glue in hand, anyone can dive into a pile of felt, craft without fear, and create to their heart's content. For those wanting to go beyond the glue bottle, stitching is the next step. In this two-part series, I've put together several fundamental techniques that make what was already fun even better!
Skill Level: Beginner
While spooled machine thread can technically be used for hand sewing, embroidery floss is stronger and more enjoyable to use. Embroidery floss comes in 8 meter (8.7 yard) skeins that are perfectly sized for smaller projects. Depending on your needs, you can stitch with single or multiple strands, either for strength or to create a thinner or thicker stitch line. My go-to is DMC embroidery floss. It's widely available and the floss is double mercerized, a process that strengthens the strands and increases the luster.
The choice of needle is directly related to the thread you are using. Needles are made for every purpose, but with embroidery floss, the long eye of an embroidery or crewel needle is a must! If you are new to felt, a #8 needle is a great starting place. This size needle is slim enough to pass through felt nicely while still having a good-sized, threadable eye. Eyesight and experience vary, so I recommend choosing the smallest needle you can happily thread. I often sew with a #9 or #10 because smaller sizes pass through felt more smoothly!
With most needle styles, small sizes are big and big sizes are small. Needles are generally sized from 1-12, with twelve being extremely delicate.
If you want to treat yourself to a fabulous needle, I suggest Tulip brand needles. They are made to exacting standards in Hiroshima, Japan and are transcendently smooth! They're extra sharp, strong, thin, and are polished with lengthwise striations that reduce drag and make for a fabulous sewing experience. They also have large, easy-to-thread eyes that have been polished to remove pesky burs. Burs inside the eye can weaken and break thread.
I have two techniques to share with you. The first uses a resource that we all have on hand, and the second, a bit of beeswax.
Saliva - It turns out that spit is a magic fluid when it comes to needle threading. We all use it to wet the end of the thread but, for my first trick, you fill the needle's eye with it too! When the thread comes in contact with the fluid-filled eye, it absorbs and magically draws the fibers together, rather than splitting or fraying.
1. Wet the cut thread end (or ends if using multiple strands).
2. Cleanly cut end(s) that will pass through the eye.
3. Pinch the end of the thread between your thumb and index finger. Slip it down between the pads of your fingers so it is just visible and supported by the fingers (not flopping around).
4. Wet the eye of the needle, filling it with spit.
5. Ease the needle eye down over the thread end.
Beeswax - This technique is, perhaps, even more magical than the first! All you need is beeswax. This is particularly good for threading tiny-eyed needles
1. Press the end of the thread against the wax, then pull it through to coat the surface of the thread.
2. Pull the end through pinched fingers/fingernails to remove any wax buildup. This creates a smooth thread end that refuses to flop and bonds any fibers that might want to catch on the eye's opening.
3. Thread the needle with confidence!
Some folks have a talent for wild, haphazard stitching that is strikingly beautiful, while others make precise, even stitches. One or the other may come more naturally to you, but both can be learned with practice. Because I'm one of those precise stitchers, even depth and spacing are right up my alley. Even stitches create strong seams that can withstand tightly packed stuffing and never have a dreaded "blow-out".
Strong Seams - The illustration below shows the difference between a strong and a weak seam. The key to a strong seam is to catch both sides of the felt (perpendicular to the seam) at equal depths.
Even Stitching - For me, even stitching starts with how I hold the work. With practice, you'll refine and adjust this depending on the shape of what you're stitching. I use a 1/16" seam allowance for my kits and patterns and space my stitches 1/16" apart. I never measure as I'm stitching, and I don't recommend you do either. Practice on some scrap felt to get the hang of this technique.
1. Cut two small, matching felt rectangles and mark a guideline 1/16" from the edge with a chalk roller.
2. Match the felt pieces with the chalk lines facing out. Hold the seam in your left hand (if you're right handed) lightly pinched between your thumb and ring finger and your index and middle finger.
3. Orient your thumb and index fingers just below the chalk line so they can be used as a guide for the needle as you stitch. You'll become used to the finger position and distance from the felt edge with practice. Like everything, we develop muscle memory for how this looks and feels.
4. As you make each stitch, eyeball its placement forward about 1/16". Use the chalk line as a visual guide for the 1/16" spacing. As you draw the floss down to the edge, pinch your thumb and index finger over the spot where it enters and exits the felt. This action stabilizes the floss as it is drawn down to the edge and prevents it from flopping forward to backward. Lastly, give the thread a little tug to tighten it around the seam line with each stitch.
5. Here is a brilliant trick for stitch spacing a student shared earlier this year: Mark the end of your thumb with small, evenly spaced lines to help guide your stitch spacing.
That is it for today! I hope these little tips help to make your projects more enjoyable. Next time we'll dive into my favorite stitch - the whipstitch. I like to call the variations I use Hybrid Whipstitches. This extraordinary yet simple stitch can be used in so many ways!