These were such satisfying gifts to imagine and stitch, a very last-minute inspiration that started with Sofia’s house. She’s a baby who lives in my neighborhood. Many months ago I told her parents that I was going to knit her some socks, but I had some trouble with them and eventually decided I didn’t like the yarn I was using anymore so I scrapped them. Then I found a booty pattern that seemed like it would work well with some cotton yarn I already had. I knit a small stack of those booties (trial and error-related) before I realized that the cotton yarn didn’t have the right body for a booty. Nobody wants a limp booty, right? There was some work on a knit ball in there somewhere too that I have yet to finish. The thing is, I was trying, but not getting anywhere near a proper gift for baby Sofia after I’d promised hand knit socks. As months passed, I said nothing more about a coming gift when I happened to see her parents.
It must have been while I was walking Stella by Sofia’s house that the idea came to me to make her a first Christmas ornament of her very own house in felt, as interpreted by me. The house isn’t truly green (though I think it might want to be) and I had to cut a portion of it off to make the ornament balanced, but other than that? Spot on right down to the lights on the post. The only problem with the initial idea was where to get the felt? It was too late to order any. Then I remembered a felt ornament kit I ordered from Alicia Paulson ten or so years ago that I never made up, but still held onto … and sure enough the colors of felt in her wonderful kit were p.e.r.f.e.c.t. And, it came with embroidery floss, beads, sequins, instructions!
Not long before this, my favorite local business owner gave me a gift of coffee beans that he’d roasted. I was so touched. He and his wife have built the most wonderful place from the ground up. I had to think, what could I make for these two artists to not just reciprocate for the beans, but serve as a small token of my appreciation for what they’ve created and all the effort they put into it? (Not to mention how they have to keep changing things up due to Covid.) Once I hit upon my solution to the baby Sofia gift the answer was obvious – another felt building ornament of course!
So what if you don’t have a pattern and you want to try creating your own? It helps to have a photo, a sketch, something to refer to. What shapes, architectural pieces, plantings, street features stand out? Keep it simple and remember to focus on shapes as opposed to details. Feel free to change things if need be. I viewed mine as representations, not replicas. Once I determined the general layout for each ornament, I created a 4″ square on a fresh piece of paper and continuing with pencil, sketched the layout again to make it fit within my square. Then I placed a piece of tracing paper over that and went over the lines showing through my tracing paper with a green pen. With a drawing such as this as your guide, you can use additional tracing paper to draw your individual shapes that can then be cut into pattern pieces for your felt. But before you cut them out, determine what pieces will overlap each other, so you can add a small seam allowance (mine were probably a scant 1/4″) to the piece edges that will be placed under an overlap. For example, on both ornaments the white piece of felt on the bottom overlaps the green layer of planting on top of it. So when I traced my pattern piece for those layers of green felt I added that small bit of seam allowance to extend under the white felt. You don’t have to pin the pieces all together as shown in the photo above, I just couldn’t wait to see how it would come together!
Paulson uses glue to tack her ornament seams together before stitching, one connecting piece at a time. I glued all my pieces together with Aleene’s Tacky Glue before I stitched anything and that seemed to work fine. Best to use a light hand with the glue; no need to cover the entire back of pieces that sit entirely on top of others like the ivory windows in the image above. It will be more difficult to stitch through felt that’s been hardened with too much glue for one thing. Beyond that I pretty much worked from the center of each piece out with two strands of embroidery floss in blanket stitch around each interior raw edge. The exterior edges are stitched later as you join them to a solid piece of felt backing. I used a little more glue to fix ribbon to the inside of the backing piece to act as a hanger. I can’t bear to throw away a pretty piece of ribbon; you never know when it might come in handy.
Embellishment with embroidery and beading, however, comes before joining front and back ornament pieces. For the writing, I used the lightest weight tissue paper I could find to trace the letters from my drawing. Then I placed the tissue on my ornament top where I wanted the letters to appear and backstitched right through the paper as shown in the image above. Once the stitching was complete I carefully tore away the tissue. With a little more backstitching on the windows, some French knots for a wreath, and a few beads and sequins here and there, the ornament front was ready to be stitched to the backing. I started on the bottom (where I wanted to leave an opening for my stuffing), blanket stitching as before, but this time around both raw edges of top and bottom. Changing floss colors with each felt color change makes for a much neater edge, on the front anyway. After lightly stuffing with wool batting and closing with blanket stitch, the ornaments were ready for boxing and delivery.
I packaged the second ornament right on top of its master drawing cut to fit the gift box bottom. It’s funny, but after spending so much time with these photos just now, I’m wondering if a building ornament should be stuffed when they look so good flat. I suppose another option for finishing these would be to cut some kind of thin acid-free board smaller than the ornament so you have room to blanket stitch around it and use that for stiffening inside instead of batting. Or just use a very, very minimal amount of batting? Regardless, I think the recipients were pretty surprised to receive something so personalized. Delighted too. I love surprise when it’s mixed with delight, don’t you?
I’m so happy I was able to repurpose Paulson’s material selection from her beautiful kit after all these years. Her blog, Posie Gets Cozy, was one of the first blogs I loved looking at back in the aughts. She still makes beautiful things, takes beautiful pictures and continues to sell kits for various kinds of needle arts. The kit I’d purchased years ago is currently available as a pattern only, but you can find the wool and wool-blend Paulson uses here, at Commonwealth Felt.
One of the things Paulson says in the description for one of her ornament kits is how popular felt ornaments were back in the seventies. Indeed, the skiing polar bear shown above was given to me by my mother in either the late seventies or early eighties. She would have bought this, not stitched it, and I can imagine her delight when she found it. I always miss her most around the holidays because she made them so special. This bear is one of my very favorite ornaments and it makes me so happy each year when I bring it out of storage, see it again and hang it on my tree. There is something about a felt ornament, isn’t there? To be continued … next season ♥