Oh! Christmas Tree Quilt
Began January 2016 • Finished December 2016
It’s finally finished. I started this once I saw the QuiltMania magazine it was featured in. It is a pattern from Wendy Williams of Flying Fish Kits. I had a companion in the making of this, in Wendy Welsh from New Zealand. She was about a month ahead of me in construction and was such a great help, especially in untangling the borders dilemma. All of the posts about the making of this quilt are referenced in the Quilt-A-Longs tab, up above.
I did finish it by my goal of December 1st, but had to find the right
locale accessories, like the lumber-jack looking guy above. (By the way, the most important man in this photo is unseen, holding up the Christmas Tree quilt. Thanks, dear!)
I had written about how I quilted the center: a meander with tiny stars here and there.
As usual, I printed out my quilt with partial transparency and doodled and doodled, coming into a dead end always. But finally, inspired by an idea from *here,* I chose to do swirls around my stars with a spiral in the center, linking them all together.
I quilted the cream background fabric around the wool felt appliqués, then in around those red triangle points, leaving them unquilted. I did outline them in a straight stitch, helping them to stand out from the background.
And then we went looking for more evergreens for backdrops, a near herculean task in Southern California. We finally found these pines in the university parking lot. I told my husband that Marsha, in Vermont, could photograph hers out in the woods amid the snow, but that typical to our climate and locale, we have to pose in an asphalt parking lot.
The back is a series of panels and fabrics from Cori Dantini from her Merry Stitches line, purchased at Quilt Market this past May and available now. It’s fun to use them on the back.
This quilt (or parts of it) have gone to Spain, all around my town, and then finally tucked in at home to be finished with the quilting. I took inspiration from all of those who followed along on the Quilt-A-Long and on Instagram, but am indebted to my husband for his love of my quilting and constant support. Lastly, the design for Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus are found here on the blog. Uusually we say that what’s important about Christmas isn’t found under the tree.
But in this case, it is.
I hope your Christmas season is merry and bright and filled with the love of our Savior.
Today is Step 4 of our Oh Christmas Tree Quilt-a-Long (#ohchristmastreeqal), following a pattern by Wendy of FlyingFishKits and which was published in Simply Moderne issue #3, by QuiltMania. As always, we have an assist from Wendy of Wendy’s Quilts and More (blog) and wendyquiltsandmore (IG), as she is slightly ahead of us in her creating.
Here’s the twist: instead of creating the under-the-tree scene this month, I’ve gotten so many queries about sewing these things on to the background and the tree, that I think we’ll head that direction instead. Go with the flow, right? Above is my tree, everything sewn on. I’m heading this direction because a lot of those questions have to deal with the idea of how much embroidery to put on that outer edge? Should you leave a space for attaching and more embroidery? Should you go right to the edge?
The basic idea for attaching is this: lay out your circles, birds, and leaves to your liking, using the pattern and photos as a guide. As I go through the rest of the flower photos, I’ll have some tips, so please read through to the end. But first! Wendy has some tips for us about what’s ON the tree:
She writes: “I thought I had too much white space in certain areas. I’ve added 4 more small leaves and 4 more small circles, keeping the additions symmetrical because the gaps were symmetrical. I just felt some areas were less densely filled than others and I didn’t want gaps in the middle of my tree. That’s probably because I didn’t exactly follow the pattern for the size of my leaves and flowers, but also because things move slightly as you sew them on.” She sent me two photos. The “before” is above.
This is the after. You can see extra circles and extra leaves. (And yes, I love her under-the-tree scene! Next month, next month.). In addition to adding these extras, she attaches them differently than I do. First she lays them all out, takes a photo so she can remember where they are, and then takes all off but the items closest to the tree trunk. She sews those down first then adds in the decorations bit by bit, moving from the center to the outside, because she said she got tired of being stuck by pins.
I couldn’t face the thought of re-attaching the flowers after I’d gotten them arranged, so I used appliqué pins (shorter than usual) and sewed on the decorations moving from the outside toward the center. Since I use really small pins, and put my hand around the flowers and birds as I sew, I didn’t have too much trouble. One IG reader said she used a bit of glue to secure the decorations and from her photo it looks like she’s attaching them from the inside to the outside. Again, try what works for you.
You can see me scrunching things up in my hand. Since I worked from the outside in, I had very few pin pokes. I attached the leaves by using the same stitch I used on the trunk: a separated back-stitch (refer to this post for more info).
I also learned to put a regular pin right in the middle of my decorations just before I started sewing them on, so they wouldn’t buckle. I have one bird who looks like she is expecting, as the wool can shift as you are attaching, bubbling up. I’ll show the Mama Bird to you later.
Now for some general tips about attaching the flowers and birds. Before we talk about different ways to sew them to your tree, here’s a couple of photos of circles before attaching, showing various state of “close-to-the-edgeness” of the embroidery.
After I pinned these to the tree, I went in and added another circle under the red one, giving it a bit bigger presence. Ditto on the purple circle below. You may find yourself making small alternations after you get everything pinned down, either adding leaves and circles as Wendy did, or giving another border to a too-small/wrong-color flower, like I did.
I group the way I sewed these down into two categories: A) snuggle a stitch in or around the existing embroidery, or B) adding another ring of decorative embroidery to affix it to the background. Let’s do the A-category first. You saw the flower medallion above; I attached it with tiny stitches at right angles to the outer edge in a matching thread.
Wendy often leaves the wings undecorated, using the “attachment phase” to put the stitches on, but I’d already embroidered them when she told me this, so I sewed it down to the background by using a small matching (green) thread in between the existing decorative (pink) stitch.
I used the small perpendicular stitch again here in matching (blue) thread, but varied the length of them slightly, so the longest are between the yellow stitches and the shorter stitches are near the yellow.
I also decided to keep some flowers simpler, and did a simple backstitch around the outside edge. Keep it smallish and even, and you’ll get questions like I do: “Did you do it on the machine?” No, and if you look closely, you’ll find the bobbly places. Remember, this is folk art and we aim to enjoy ourselves! More backstitching:
This is a slanted buttonhole stitch. It’s done exactly the same as a regular buttonhole, but instead of keeping the needle perpendicular to the outside edge, you slant it. I like the look of this one a lot.
This bird was sewn on with a matching yellow thread, buttonhole stitch. But I slipped a smaller seed (or regular) stitch in between the existing red buttonhole stitch on the yellow bird’s wing to sew that down.
Photography of women depends on flattering angles, but I dropped the camera down low so you could see my pregnant bird. She didn’t start out that way, but the wool shifted. The bubbling up is exaggerated from this angle–it’s not really noticeable from the front, but now you know why I started putting that pin in the center of my birds and flowers as I stitched them down. Didn’t have that trouble with the leaves, for some reason. She’s attached to the background with a simple backstitch. I also did a line on the birds’ beaks. I tried to make them happy birds (It’s Christmas, remember?) by the slight curve of the stitching, but some of the birds turned out a bit moody.
We are definitely getting closer to the end, now, and I’m pretty excited. Next month (June 2nd), I’ll have an alternate scene for you for under the tree, and then we’ll roll out from there.
No giveaway this month, but here’s a recap of our schedule:
January, Step “prepare”: buy the magazine, books, gather your fabrics, buy the felt/wool, buy/find the pearl cotton.
February, Step 1: Make the tree on the background and stitch it down.
March, Step 2: Make 21 flowers.
April, Step 3: Make 10 birds and all the leaves.
May, Step 4: Appliqué down the flowers and birds.
June, Step 5: Scene at bottom of tree–make, then appliqué onto background.
July, Step 6: Sawtooth border (reds); sew together and attach.
August, Step 7: (finish up Quilt-A-Long): Make wonky star blocks, sew them together and attach border #2.
September, Step 8 Show and Tell, just in time for school starting again.
Yes, we cut a month off our sewing, so you’ll have plenty of time to finish your quilt before December.
Happy Stitching and we’ll see you in June!
I’ve been haunting the IG feed #ohchristmastreeqal and love seeing all the progress of where the trees are and how things are coming along. We’ll finish this tree up in no time flat, but I think I’d like to keep sticking to the schedule (below).
First up, this post is co-authored by Wendy of Wendy’s Quilts and More (blog) and wendyquiltsandmore (IG). Wendy has been a great partner in this Oh Christmas Tree QAL. Because she is about 4 months ahead of us, and I can send her different questions and she is unfailingly helpful. I asked her if we could use a lot of her photos for this particular post about the flowers, and she was happy to allow me to post them, so get ready for a photo-heavy post.
This month is the flowers. The basic idea is to layer up felt circles, or use a piece of medallion-style fabric appliquéd to a felt circle, then embellish it with embroidery stitches, using pearl cotton. I originally started cutting out a lot of circles, from the prepped up freezer paper circles in my numbered baggies (see previous Oh Christmas Tree QAL post on tab above), but realized that it might be better to be more of a one-by-one process. So let’s do one circle and you’ll see what I mean.
I cut out a medallion print (meaning that it’s a design that is self-contained in a circle), and pinched the edge under all the way around the outside, to set the edge for turning under (a Becky Goldsmith tip for appliqué). Here are some examples of medallion fabrics, from Wendy:
And here are some of mine (above). After writing back and forth with Wendy, I went through all my fabric stash and found even more than this. It’s surprising how many I’d overlooked. We do have some the same. Okay, back to the stitching.
Placing the circle on a larger piece of felt, I sewed down the edge, stitch by stitch, scooping the raw edge under with my needle, sometimes swishing the needle tip left and right under that edge if there was a tuck/sharp point (above). Often it’s what’s happening underneath that bumpy edge which determines the smoothness of your appliqué, so pay attention to what your seam allowances are doing, even trimming them further to a scant 1/4″ inch if you need to. I also try to have my needle come out the “center” of that folded edge, not on the top. That way the stitches won’t be too obvious, and then I don’t pull it too tightly. I want my circle to float.
As I mentioned, I am appliquéing this medallion to a larger piece of felt. Wendy picked up this tip from Wendy Williams, the author of this pattern (and found on IG at Flying Fish Kits–also a resource for stitching ideas), and this tip is also found in Williams’ book, Wild Blooms and Colorful Creatures.
Then just cut around the circle evenly, and you have your first completed appliquéd medallion. Wendy of Quilts and More recommends a medium-blade scissor (although I used a lightweight pair of larger shears, shown in the photo, but they are SHARP). Her scissors are below:
She writes “Once the fabric flowers are on, Wendy just cuts the felt circle free hand, keeping an even margin around the fabric. She says it’s meant to look hand made, and the circle doesn’t need to be perfect. Keep the scissors in the same position and turn the felt with the other hand, rather than cutting around corners. Use very sharp scissors with medium length blades. Not tiny embroidery scissors, not huge dress making scissors. I use the orange ones in this photo.”
Layer it up, and save it for a good TV program (Wendy of Quilts and More has a great shot of herself stitching while she watched a cricket match) when you can stitch away. This is circle #1, and is the largest circle of the bunch.
Next up is my auditioning another fabric medallion against several colors of wool felt. I added more info about where to buy wool felt to the original “Prepare” post, and yes, you can mix the felted wools and the wool felt, without any Quilt Police coming after you, if you want to purchase some. I am using Kaye Buckley’s scissors, which have one serrated edge that grips the fabric and helps me trim them evenly.
Being the Nervous Nelly that I am (it took me weeks to screw up the courage to start the flowers), I layered the circle over one of the smaller appliquéd flowers to kind of get the size I needed, then cut halfway around. I took off the freezer paper, and finished up the job.
So here is my first batch of prepped-up circles; some have fabric and one doesn’t.
To make my life easy, I pulled out my Sue Spargo book and leafed through some ideas.
I am using wool appliqué size #22 needles, which have a nice big eye and a sharp point and aren’t too long. Then I pulled up Wendy’s IG feed (all the photos below) and got a few more ideas, then just put my needle in the center and began. I happened to think about what I wanted to do and decided to stitch them all layered up like this. However, you may, on some circles, choose to embroider one circle, then add it to the next. I was still trying to gather my courage when I began this, so stabbed my needles into the center of the magenta circle, close to the edge and ran the orange #5 thread all the way out to the edge of the yellow-green circle, working my way around. Then, I took a small catch stitch over each of those “rays,” close to the outer edge of the magenta circle.
I switched to the thinner #8 thread and did straight stitches in between the others, then went back and added the yellow French knots at the top of each of those “rays.” I threaded on the blue thread, and did a few more French knots (odd number) in the center, not really caring how they landed, as I wanted a clustery look to them. Then I did an open Laisy-Daisy stitch on the outside, creating a row of “petals” with my thread.
Truth-in-Stitching: the back.
Here’s another. On the left, the beginning. You can see on this flower, I chose to echo the print of the center fabric. I am doing the first layer of felt by itself. I then layered it onto the second (gold) layer and kept stitching. This is the biggest flower, destined for the top of the tree, so I wanted something bright, yet echoed the colors throughout.
After a couple episodes of Downton Abbey, they are embellished. I wrote to Wendy and asked her how long they took her to stitch (hence that hashtag on IG of #startyourneedles), and she replied that she can get two done in an evening. That’s about my speed, although I think I as get more familiar with stitches, I’ll be faster. Pay attention to your pearl cotton/felt colors. I loved the fabric in the pink one, upper right, but after I stitched it? Not so much. Either I’ll put that one where it’s not really noticed, or stitch another. I also started with the bigger circles; I’m sure the smaller ones will go faster.
Okay, now for the photo gallery from Wendy:
You can see Wendy has a great variety of stitches, and uses the appliquéd fabrics to great effect.
I searched “embroidery stitches” on Google Image and came up with tons, including these two:
A recap of where we are:
January, Step “prepare”: buy the magazine, books, gather your fabrics, buy the felt/wool, buy/find the pearl cotton. February, Step 1: Make the tree on the background and stitch it down. March, Step 2: Make 21 flowers.
—-> I just have to make a comment here. We have until June to get our flowers done, as well as the birds (which will go really fast because we’ll be so experienced, right?) So no panicking, please. Just #startyourneedles, steadily stitching and by the time it comes to stitch down the flowers, you’ll be ready.
April, Step 3: Make 10 birds.
May, Step 4: Scene at bottom of tree.
June, Step 5: Appliqué down the flowers. (Wendy gave me some tips for this last week, which I’ll pass along.)
July, Step 6: Appliqué down the birds and the scene.
August, Step 7: Sawtooth border (reds); sew together and attach.
September, Step 8 (finish up Quilt-A-Long): Make wonky star blocks, sew them together and attach border #2.
See you April 2nd for the next step: birds. I have a few tips on these, too, courtesy of Wendy. You’ll enjoy visiting both her website and her IG feed for great ideas and to see a master quilter and stitcher at work, and take a look at how far she is on her tree. Inspiration! Thank you, Wendy, for all your help.
Reminder: If you tag your IG photos with #ohchristmastreeqal, we can all help each other out with ideas for stitching, plus it’s just fun to see what you are all doing!
Here we go. I have two giveaways, and I’ll choose the winners from comments here.
First is another magazine, if you know someone who wants to jump in, or doesn’t have their own copy. It’s courtesy of QuiltMania, who gave it to me at QuiltCon, when I explained what we were doing. I’m sure if you wanted to subscribe, they wouldn’t mind a bit, or order the Simply Moderne #4, if you want another eye-popping design (way below).
Second giveaway is an envelope full of fabric medallions, my choice (I’ll cut from my extensive stash of medallions). You can use some, share some. There will be at least a dozen to help you get going on your stitching.
I’ll announce the two winners on Friday. Indicate in your comment which you are most interested in: Simply Moderne #3 magazine (with our tree on it) or medallions. Yea, you have to choose.
UPDATE: Comments closed. Winner announced tomorrow mid-morning.
#startyourneedles for the #ohchristmastreeqal
See you April 2nd for Step Three!
Of course you want to subscribe! (I’m an enabler, for sure)
I’ve been busy shopping for wools, wool felts, felted wools and all combos in between. See below for an explanation of what they all are, although you’ve probably figured it out by now. For those of us just joining in, the first step we did was to prepare by purchasing the Simply Moderne issue #3, which has the pattern we’ll be using; we also purchased all our supplies of wools, threads and fabrics. It’s never too late to join, just look for the Oh Christmas Tree QAL tag at the bottom and click to locate all the posts on this blog (plus a wee giveaway to reward you for wading through all this). We are also on Instagram with the tag #ohchristmastreeqal.
Let’s talk about wool, specifically FELTED WOOL and WOOL FELT:
I found some 100% wool sweaters at the thrift store, threw them in the washer with three tennis balls and an old tennis shoe, then dried them. This process — using hot water, soap and agitation — is called fulling, with the result of felted wool. I did that twice. You can see in the top the difference between the two sweaters (they were originally the same size); however, one is called a “washable wool” so it won’t felt. Some felted more evenly and better than others, but all of them looked like they could fit a toddler, even though they started out as an adult-sized sweater. I plan to use some of this newly felted wool with my flowers and birds.
You can also do this with 100% wool woven fabric. You want it to felt down evenly so it is dense and won’t ravel. Many of you purchased already felted wool and are ready to go. Primitive Gatherings recommends using Steam A Steam 2 on the back to really stabilize the woven felted wool when you are working with it. If you have tips on working with felted wool, please leave comments on this post, where others can find the info. Many comments have already been left on the initial post on IG, if you want to look there.
I’m using what Wendy Williams recommended: 100% wool felt, which is that flat stuff your grandmother used to buy in the dime store to make toys, but is now available only in specialty shops (see previous Oh Christmas Tree post and the links below). Felt does not fray when cut and is extremely stable, although it does shed a bit on first cutting. It is wool fibers that have been felted together, and is not woven, nor knitted (as in the two examples above).
So these are my supplies (top) and some medallion fabrics (bottom). These fabrics have a circle pattern in them with fairly ornate decorative motifs inside. Wendy uses them with her wools to add some flair, especially when creating the circles.
I cut my background fabric, and I added about 1 1/2 inches to the measurements because I’m a chicken about these sorts of things.
I took the fabric to the ironing board and ironed in a soft crease. Don’t overdo it.
I labeled the crosswise branches on the feather tree in the right margin of the first diagram, which you can see in the red box, and following their directions, and put pins along that soft center crease to know where to place things.
I cut first one strip of blue (lighter) and then the dark one, and couldn’t decide between the two for my tree. So I laid out all my supplies on top of the strips. I liked the country French blue, but decided, finally, that the darker would bring more contrast to the finished quilt.
I cut the long center strip, using the measurements in the pattern. She asks you to taper the wool at the top, so I put a pin in the middle, then measured and placed others. I angled my 24″ ruler from that middle pin to the outer edge of the center and cut away that wedge. I didn’t cut enough on the first time, so did it again. I also cut the top a wee bit larger than she asked –just a bit–as I like the look of it.
I laid them out on my fabric, using the soft crease and my rulers, in order to get them on the fabric straight. You don’t want a tipping Christmas tree! I also used the 24″ ruler as I pinned each set, as the wool will bump up against it, helping you get it on perpendicular to your tree trunk. I was able to get it on fairly straight that way.
Although I initially pinned them by putting the pins parallel to the crosswise branch, I soon found that it made the wool and the fabric buckle, so I shifted to this method of pinning. Pin a LOT if you are using felt. If you’ve used the wool backed with Steam-A-Seam, it will be tacky on the back and it will be easily positioned. The felted wool people will then go to their ironing board after the first pinning step and press it down. As Primitive Gatherings notes: “Keep your iron moving at all times so you will not scorch your wools.” Wool is a natural fiber and can burn and scorch, but you might try using a lightweight pressing cloth in order to protect the wool and not give it a “shine” from too much pressing. (That’s my college Clothing and Textiles degree being put to good use–thank you, Mrs. Dimas, for your tailoring class.)
Now start stitching. I put my ball of pearl cotton in this little holder and boy was that handy. You can buy one from Bird Brain Designs. (See below for how you can win a couple freebies for yourself.)
Start with the crosswise branches, and do a close backstitch on them. I did mine right close together along the branches, like the top example:
I butted my ends of the crosswise branches together under the main tree trunk and stitched, lifting the “trunk” as I went underneath. I also tried it with the edges just under the edge of the trunk, leaving a space between them, but felt it was more stable with the wool tucked in further.
I did an expanded backstitch going up the side of the tree, leaving a space in between each stitch, using two separate threads (one for each side) as I went up. I decided to sew the tree trunk as I finished each branch, so it would feel quicker to me. The whole stitching down of branches and trunk took the better part of a morning.
I have this on high-power magnification on my camera. I promise you NO one is going to look at your stitches this closely, so if you make a mistake or it’s not quite right, don’t fret. This whole tree is in the folk/rustic flavor so an imperfection adds to the charm. You can see that I did a closer backstitch on the crosswise branches and an expanded, or open, backstitch on the trunk. It was easy to stitch.
Since we always want to prep up for the next step before leaving our project, I’ve also added to this step the tracing-off the patterns for the flowers and the birds. I’m using freezer paper, as it can be ironed onto my felt and used multiple times. There are a lot of circles to cut out of your paper in order to prepare. I’m using Kay Buckley’s Perfect Circles, matching up to what’s on the pattern and tracing around them. (Yes, I punch holes in my bigger plastic circles so they won’t warp and buckle under the heat of the iron when I use them at the ironing board–the heat and steam can escape through the holes. I sometimes also mark the center, which is what you see here.)
I can use the inside of a Perfect Circle to trace those teeny circles in the middle (inside the green square in the first photo), or a spool of thread, if there isn’t a Perfect Circle to match up with what you are doing. I labeled each circle on my pattern with a master number and an inner number, as in 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4 so when I cut them apart I know which goes where. I placed them all in plastic bags.
For the birds, I labeled them, drawing a dashed line where it crosses the main pattern piece (or is tucked under), added another piece of freezer paper to it with glossy sides together, and stapled them once in each major piece. I’m not ready to cut them apart yet, as I’ll do that in April, when we do birds. Pay attention to where she says to reverse the bird patterns. If you want to, you can also start cutting your circles out of your wools and felts and fabrics (if you are using fabrics). I realize that things often change as we start stitching the flowers and birds (the under-tree scene will come later), but it’s helpful to get going on this step.
It’s all tucked away, waiting for next month’s step. Here are the steps again:
January, Step “prepare”: buy the magazine, gather your fabrics, buy the felt/wool, buy/find the pearl cotton. More about that in a minute. February, Step 1: Make the tree on the background and stitch it down. If you use wool felt, she has an easy appliqué method. Prep up the circles by tracing them and organizing them together.
March, Step 2: Make 21 flowers.
April, Step 3: Make 10 birds.
May, Step 4: Make the scene at the bottom. Wendy’s pattern (IG: flyingfishkits) has two cavorting reindeer. I plan to switch mine out to a simple nativity. Your choice. (If I were you, I’d also start haunting her IG site as she has lots of great embroidery ideas for the flowers. I’d also consider buying her book, Wild Blooms and Colorful Creatures, for more tips and helps.)
June, Step 5: Appliqué down the flowers.
July, Step 6: Appliqué down the birds and the scene.
August, Step 7: Sawtooth border (reds).
September, Step 8 (finish up Quilt-A-Long): Make wonky star blocks, sew them together and attach border #2. Ta-Done! I just have to deliver you here. You are on your own for getting it quilted and bound.
I’ll post Step Two on March 2nd. The second day of the month will be our regular posting day from now until we finish, and I’ll also put a reminder up on Instagram.
Some blogposts that have tips for working with wool:
To enter the giveaway for TWO perle cotton bubbles, leave a comment below. I’ll choose someone by Friday and get them sent out to you by next Monday, just as you are ready to start sewing your trees!