The Absolutely Last Minute Christmas Tree Ornament: tutorial+free pattern

I wish you the very best of holidays! I hope you are enjoying time with loved ones and some well-deserved fun and relaxation – and good food – during these last few days of 2014.


As a thank you, I have this tiny little (albeit picture-heavy!) tutorial for you, if you have a free minute and want to make a last-minute ornament for a Christmas tree.

The design for the embroidery is similar to the designs in the Floral Geometry pattern set, which are often made up of clean, straight geometric lines, a kind of simple pattern play. What I also love about these designs is that they can be stitched in a way that’s really, really easy and fast (although you can also use more complicated stitching, like I did for my samples). The scale of the individual lines in the motifs lends itself really well to simple outlining: one stitch per line. Fast.

Supplies you’ll need:


  • Two 6 cm by 6 cm  (2 3/8 by 2/38 inch) squares of felt
  • Embroidery thread (I used #5 perle cotton – FAST!)
  • #22 Chenille needle
  • cotton balls (I needed five of these in the end)
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • ruler (optional)
  • the patterns (download here)
Transferring & embroidering the designs:


With a sharp pencil, poke holes at the points of the snowflake designs, wiggling the pencil slightly if needed. Check to make sure your marks are visible.


Once you’ve marked marked all the points in the design, we’ll have to play a bit of connect-the-dots to mark the lines of embroidery. You can freehand this:



Or use the ruler:


Refer to the pattern design to figure out which dots to connect, oh! and take care not to smudge the pencil lines too hard, that could get pretty messy (ask me how I know! I forgot to take a picture of the piece of felt I smudged up before one of my daughters ran off with it but believe me, it’s very messy).


Now to embroider. Each line up to the points can be stitched with one stitch:


Really, these snowflakes work up in no time, and #5 perle cotton is thick enough that it will mostly cover the lines you marked on the felt. Added bonus: since the back of the embroidery won’t be visible, you can just leave it messy – use knots to start and tie off threads. (You won’t need that much thread anyway!) Here are the finished snowflakes:


Aren’t they pretty?

Assembling the ornament

Since the designs are so geometric, I’m using a bit of geometric play to assemble the ornaments. Take the two embroidered felt squares and, with wrong sides together, turn them so that the corners of each square line up with the center of the edges of the other square:



Using a blanket stitch, begin sewing the squares together, attaching a corner of one square to the center of an edge of the other square, like this:


The corner of the back square will end up at the center of the edge of the front square:



Here it is from behind:



Keep going around like this until you only have one half-edge left open.



Now it’s time to stuff the ornament with cotton balls. I needed five. Now we’ll also need a ribbon for hanging the ornament.




To prepare the ribbon, fold it in half and tie a knot at the ends. Then, stuff the ribbon into very edge of the open bit of the ornament:


Then continue with your blanket stitching, letting one stitch go through the ribbon to secure it.


(At this point I BARELY had enough thread left to finish. But it turned out to be enough!) Stitch up the rest of the opening and voilá! You have a lovely new ornament.



Happy Holidays and I will see you in the new year!


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Embroidery on clothes

A couple of links I came across this week with embroidery used in fun and interesting  ways on garments. As you probably know by now: I love hand-embroidery on clothing for two reasons. First, it’s a reminder that a living person’s real hands made the garment. And second, when I pick up something I’d embroidered, I remember where I was, and what was going on around me during the time I stitched it. Like a few summers ago, when I made this blouse:


The girls and I were staying at our summer house near Lake Balaton, and I remember the sunlight through the trees in the late afternoons when I sat down to stitch for a while. The girls and their cousins ran around in the garden, snacking on fruits we’d set out. Every time I look at this blouse I also think of a dear friend who stayed with us a lot that summer.

Anyway, on to the links!

Have you seen the first issue of Seamwork magazine, freshly launched by Colette Patterns? What an exciting new venture! The first issue comes with a lovely free snowflakes embroidery pattern (entirely appropriate for the chilly damp weather we’re having around these parts), along with a tutorial to embroider the snowflakes along the hemline of a skirt or a dress like the Dahlia:


The patterns can be executed with very easy stitches like chain back stitch, stem stitch, or chain stitch. A great way to dip your toes into embroidery, without needing a lot of know-how to do it. Looks like the patterns would stitch up pretty fast too. It lends a festive seasonal touch to a simple LBD, and does so with elegance and a touch of folksy style.

Speaking of folksy, what about this fascinating dress from the 1920s:


I found it at the Dreamstress, who called it “peasant chic” (I must steal that moniker).

Today no one would consider the sleeves or waistline flattering, or for that matter practical in everyday life. But I love the color, the fabric, the pleating of the skirt, the neckline, the waist treatment, and (of course!) the embroidery.

One more thing: notice how both dresses use only white thread for the embroidery? This works particularly well on clothing, turning a folkwear-inspired piece into something more versatile that you can pair more easily with other garments in your wardrobe.

Using one color of thread on an entire design is also a good way to make embroidering a bit easier: you don’t have to worry about choosing colors, or switching between threads quite so often.

What do you think? Do you prefer colorful or monochrome embroidery?




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Giving Thanks, and a Thanksgiving sale

Dear sewing and stitching friends, it is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and so – thank you. Thank you for all your kindness, and for being my partners in this game of sewing that we play! I am infinitely grateful for all the beautiful blouses, dresses, embroidery you created using all these pattern, large and small, that I so love to make.

You will notice a few small changes in the menu at the top of the page, among them that the links to buy patterns now lead to a new Bigcartel shop. There are more changes coming in the next few months as I am getting ready for a complete overhaul of this web site, including an integrated shop with streamlined ordering for both retail and wholesale customers.




In the meantime though, here is a tiny token of my gratitude to you, dear reader: a pattern sale! All patterns are 20% off now through midnight on Monday December 1st. Use coupon code GIVINGTHANKS to get the discount! And get yourself a couple of embroidery patterns to work on while all that turkey works itself through your system ;).

All sewing patterns are available as tissue paper with booklet and pretty vellum envelope as well as PDF instant download, and you can purchase all embroidery patterns as printed hot-iron transfer sheets (with detailed instruction sheet – and vellum envelope, of course! – or PDF instant downloads. I even have some sweet PDF multipacks and paper pattern gift sets for you – go on, take a look! (Discount code will also work in my Etsy store.)

Thank you all again, and I hope you enjoy the holiday!

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Comings & goings, along with some Zsálya blouses

As is its wont, life marches on through loss and laughter.

Have you seen some of the Zsálya tops popping up for Perfect Pattern Parcel #6? They are gorgeous:



Top row – one | two

Middle row – one | two | three

Bottom row – one | two

I absolutely adore the way people have made the Zsálya their own! Please click over to see more photos from each of these bloggers, I promise it’ll be worth it. Thank you all for making them!

October is also filled with costumes and preparations for Halloween. Last weekend we visited friends in the Catskills and went to a costume ball with the girls. I love costumes: you can get out of your own skin for a while and pretend to have someone else’s life. Andy and I were both pirates – I was Anne Bonny – and the girls were (of course) Elsa & Anna:


(Photo by our friend Dan.)


May your Halloween be spooky and wild, friends!

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In Memory of Lados Sarolta

I had a completely different post planned but life intervened.

My grandmother, Sárika died yesterday.

She was an amazing person, the reason I sew but that is the tiniest part of it. Here she is with my grandfather and three children:




She loved her family beyond anything. My mother is the little girl in the middle. The photo is from 1951. The height of Stalinism in Hungary.

My mother recalls to this day how much she hated those big bows my grandma always made her wear in her hair. My mother is, incidentally, a mathematician, one of the least girly things you could possibly be.

When people die, there is, first, shock. And silence. Days when everything around you has to get through a thick blanket of fog to reach your consciousness. Then tears. And regrets over the mean things one said at 15 years old, all the lost opportunities to spend time together. Except it wasn’t the whole story, more of it is the meals shared, the things learned together, the things we made. I remember how my grandma made bread: the way she slapped it, laughing, and made my sister and I slap the dough just as hard. There wasn’t always yeast, or time for the starter to grow. Sometimes the bread was decidedly flat. We were maybe three or four years old, and she spent so much time teaching us things. I miss that. But life does not stop and eventually loved ones pass into the realm where one remembers loving moments, kind touches, shared laughs, turns of phrase, things that made one proud, the songs they used to sing.

Songs. The song about ‘my dearest Zsuzsi’, a show-tune from her youth she often sang to my daughter Zsuzsi.

There was the way she played the piano for my sister and me when we were small, so we could dance around the living room. (She taught herself to play the piano, she never had lessons herself – her family was too poor to pay for school – but she made sure her children did. That piano is at my sister’s house now.)

There was the way she let all her grandchildren, boys and girls, pull out her scarves and play fashion-show, putting on finishing touches with her best lipsticks. She always cheered us on, never minding that her lipsticks ran out. There was her big mirror with the shoes underneath, and the box of her few pieces of costume jewellery nearby.

I’ll always remember the outfits she made for us, and the way people stopped us in the street and asked her where we got them. She reused everything: she unwound worn-out sweaters for the yarn, and made quilts (well – winter blankets) out of the US Army sleeping bags from the refugee camp she and her family were in after World War Two. My grandmother’s older sister went to tailoring school and was tasked with teaching everything she learned to her siblings. It saved money. My grandma became a formidable seamstress, knitter, designer. She could re-cut almost anything into a new garment, and she was always learning, and learning to make things, and reusing rather than discarding, throughout her life.

I know this is within the natural order of things, unlike my nephew’s illness. And I hope to be as lucky as my grandmother: to live to 90 and see my family thrive, after being through so much – poverty, war, hunger, fear. But I will miss her for the rest of my life.

So – to honor her memory, let’s make something new! Whether you recycle an old dress into a blouse, or make a new one out of your grandmother’s long-treasured, unused Pendleton wool, or sew a fanciful jewel-toned dress to feel 1970s-glamourous in, just make something. For Frocktober, out of the Perfect Pattern Parcel, anything else. Please, will you? In memory of my grandmother, Lados Sarolta.

Thank you.


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