Stocking fillers for sewists 2016

With loads of help from my sewing friends over on Facebook (encouraged by a small reward), I have compiled a lovely BIG LIST of stocking fillers for sewists.

Stocking fillers header1

Super-useful sewing tools

Thimbles make great stocking fillers,  but people tend to be super choosy about which kind they like to use so it would pay to do some detective work before you buy. Finger protectors that you probably can’t go wrong with are stick-on thimble pads or thimble dots like Bohin Poke A Dots.

Let machine quilting gloves take the strain when you are quilting – Machingers are a good brand, but make sure you get the right hand size.

Create perfect cushion corners and sharp points on shirt collars every time with a bamboo point turner.

Bias binding makers are really useful tools, allowing you to make yards of binding without singeing your fingers.  I like the Clover 18mm version – which creates binding with a completed width of 9mm – great for quilters. Dressmakers might prefer a smaller size.

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With their bright colours and myriad uses, Clover Wonder clips would be a welcome addition to any sewists stocking.  – these come in different sizes, and very desirable in different colours. The ‘in my dreams’ option is this 50 pack, but there are smaller packs for smaller budgets too.

Conditioning your sewing thread with beeswax will avoid tangles when hand sewing and make it easier to thread needles. A little block of beeswax makes a great gift – Merchant and Mills is a desirable brand.

No sewist has enough bobbins, and a pack of empty bobbins is always welcome. When you are buying, check that you are getting the right bobbins for the right brand of machine.

Sewing tools of note Sewline glue pen

Glue pens should be part of any self-respecting stitcher’s kit. My recommendation is the awesome Sewline glue pen (maybe with a pack of refills if you are feeling generous).

Sewers never have enough fabric markers. Popular brands are Frixion erasable pens (these are the ones you want), Bohin Chalk Pencils, Clover water erasable marker pens and Clover Chaco pens.

Fabric, trims and other pretties

Clip purses are such fun to make – why not inspire your sewing friend with a sew-in or glue-in purse frameBag Clasps have a great selection. 

Some of my contributors were very excited by the idea of pre-made Liberty bias binding the wonderful Clothkits has a great selection.

It’s tricky to get much fabric into a stocking (unless you are going for a Santa Sack version). There are some options for determined people though: Moda’s mini charm squares packs, Moda Scrap PacksOakshott’s Colourshott sample packs, M is for Make’s Fat Quarter scrap rolls, Tweed fabric bundles from Beyond Measure and Celtic Fusion Fabrics fabric smallies, a wool felt scrap pack, or pre-cut Liberty hexies are all good choices.

Kam snap kits are a really fun gift for people who make lots of purses, bags, home accessories and kids clothes, and would appreciate these really fun and simple to apply snap fasteners. Ebay is a great place to buy them. And whilst we are on the subject of snap fasteners – Vario Poppa Pliers are also a possibility for dressmakers, home accessory stitchers and bag makers.

Ribbon selection pack - ivory
Buttons, trims, ribbons and lace are always appreciated, although I think you have to be clear you know your recipient’s taste, of course. Great places to look for these are My Fabric House (especially if cute/kawaii is what you are after), Cloud Craft (a really well chosen range which isn’t overwhelming), Ray Stitch have a great range of buttons and gorgeous trims and Bedecked and V V Rouleaux are also full of treasures.

 


If you have a super-wide stocking, what about stuffing in some sewing patternsDragonfly Fabrics have one of the best selections around – this Grainline Portside Travel Set pattern would be welcomed by most stitchers I am sure.

Measuring

This one is definitely at the ‘in my dreams’ end of the wish list.. but how wonderful is this leather wrist ruler available at Beyond Measure?

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Quilting rulers are always much appreciated, why not improve your favourite stitcher’s tool kit with a metric version? They are super useful for patterns written in cm… and double up as useful DIY tools!

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Tape measures are hugely popular on our wish lists – a lot of people seem to lose them when they become cat toys! – especially cute ones, like these adorable versions from Black Sheep Wools, but cheap ones are good too!

 

Pins and needles

Machine needles are always gratefully received (we use SO many!). A mixed set of sizes, especially Schmetz Microtex or in Organ titanium would suit everyone. 

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Needle minder with art by Jo Grundy, available at Geckorouge

Magnetic needle minders make practical and pretty gifts. There are lots of sellers on Etsy who have handmade versions available, and I love this amazing selection at Geckorouge.

Hand sewing needles are also right up there on our wishlists – especially the highly desirable special needles that make our sewing lives so much easier. I have written before about my fondess for Foxglove Cottage needles, but other popular, trendy brands include Hiroshima (here’s a fab assorted set), John James in their sweet pebble storage cases, Black Gold needles and Bohin needles also have a great repuation. And for the hard-of-seeing (like me!) how about an automatic needle threader?

There’s so many to choose from that I am not going to link to these – but lots of my sewing friends suggested simple magnetic pin cushions and wrist pin cushions as much wanted stocking fillers. You will find some beautiful handmade versions on Folksy and on Etsy.

Silk pins 2

A card or tin of pins is also always appreciated, but please stick with the most expensive you can find – stitchers are definitely pin snobs! Clover flower head pins, Clover silk pins, IBC silk pins, appliqué pins and Karen Kay Buckley Perfect Pins are all highly recommended.

Fabric and thread cutting

Threads snips are just fabulous – great for just trimming the ends of excess threads, and using them for this task means that your precious scissors get less wear.

Rotary cutter blades are a great choice for quilters because it’s yet one more thing that we use LOADS of. I would guess that the most used size would be the 45mm version, and they are mostly interchangeable between brands (but if in doubt, do check to see what brand of rotary cutter your favourite quilter has) and if you can afford a ten pack, then please, go for it!

Scissors featured really heavily on everyone’s wishlist. There was a huge enthusiasm for a pair of fabric scissors which emit an alarm sound if anyone attempts to use them on anything other than fabric… But as these haven’t been invented yet, we’ll have to go with the more realistic options. Embroidery scissors where a popular choice, and who wouldn’t want an awesome pair of these Unicorn scissors?

Unicorn Embroidery Scissors

There was also enthusiasm for scallop edge scissors, duckbill scissors for appliqué and pinking shears – but these are more specialist, so it might be wise to check that this is the sort of thing that would appeal.

 

Threads

Happy is the stitcher who receives Aurifil threads in their Christmas stocking… If you are not sure about colours (although you couldn’t go wrong with an ‘in my dreams’ gift set), then the best way to go is to buy neutrals – Duck Egg Threads have a great selection, if you don’t want to feel too overwhelmed by the options. For something a bit different, how about some shiny Aurifil Brillo, or if your stitching friend enjoys hand quilting or hand stitching, then Aurifil 12wt is a great gift, and for English Paper Piecing enthusiasts, some super fine Aurifil 80wt cotton would be a wonderful choice. 

Embroidery threads make a cheap and lovely stocking filler. Anchor stranded cotton and DMC stranded cotton are great options (all the colours are beautiful, but Cloud Craft have some beautifully curated sets), Sublime Stitching threads are also great for people who love hand embroidery. For Perlé threads, Presencia is a coveted brand – again neutral shades are great for quilters, and hand stitchers I am sure would like a rainbow of colours!

More ‘in my dreams’ options

And if you are feeling generous – how about a gift voucher for your favourite stitcher’s favourite online fabric shop or a voucher for a sewing class (check for locally available classes)? Or a fabric subcription box? Or a fabric stash monthly club?

 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are to my sponsors (see list in sidebar for information) – their support for me helps to pay me to write my blog – please think of supporting me by visiting them! Most of the other links are to shops I use regularly and can recommend. 

Recipe: Speculaas – Dutch spiced cookies

Speculaas recipe.jpg

Speculaas biscuits – delicious spiced cookies from The Netherlands – are a Christmas standard in my house. They have the spicy and aroma that just shouts warm, cosy, Christmas, and they fill the house with most gorgeous fragrance as they are baking. They are crunchy (and stay crunchy if stored in an air-tight box), very melt-in-the-mouth, and, as my kids will confirm, very moreish.

Best of all, they are so easy to make – really almost impossible to get wrong. The dough is super-forgiving too – you can make double the quantity listed here, and make lots more biscuits, or refrigerate or freeze the dough (after stage 3 of the recipe – rolled into a thick disc and wrapped in greaseproof paper and a freezer bag) for biscuit emergencies. They are very sturdy biscuits too – traditionally the dough is used to fill moulds like these, and make amazingly decorative cookies, so if you are searching for a cookie recipe to make cut-out cookies for gifts or for your Christmas tree, this one is ideal.

First up you will need to make the spice mix. This is my preferred mix – but if you search you will find loads of variations, or you can buy premixed Speculaas spices (which might be cheaper if you are not the kind of person who has all these spices already on their shelves).

Speculaas Spice Mix

  • Servings: makes 7 teaspoonfuls
  • Print

  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (if you are grating whole nutmeg, then that’s about 1/3 nutmeg)
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground fennel
  • 1/2 tsp ground mace

This will make loads more than you need for one batch of cookies – but it will keep well for a couple of months in a screw top jar. You can use it to make more cookies, or to spice up apple pies (delicious!), baked apples, granola, muffins (I have a recipe for Speculaas-spiced muffins which I will be sharing soon) fruit cakes and chocolate cakes…

speculaas-recipe-close-up

Here’s how you make the biscuits – I get about 12 cookies using this quantity of dough and a 2.5 inch (that’s about 6cm) round cutter.

Speculaas biscuits / cookies

Ingredients

  • 100g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp speculaas pice mix
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g light muscovado sugar (or dark if you prefer a darker coloured biscuit)
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • 75g softened butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C, Gas 4, or 350F. Line a flat baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl – I fit it is easiest to do this with my hands, but you can use a mixer/food processor if you like, just take care not to overwork the dough.
  3. Bring the mixture together with your hands until you have a smooth dough. Flatten to a disc about the 6 inches (15cm) across, and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough to about 1/4in (6mm) thickness.
  5. Cut biscuits with cookie cutters and transfer to the baking tray.
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes until they are gently golden-brown. It’s always a good idea to check the biscuits after about 10 minutes, if your oven is anything like mine, there will be some uneveness in baking and you can turn the tray round to get a more even bake.
  7. After you have taken them out of the oven, leave to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire wrack to finish cooling.

A quick and lovely way to decorate the cookies is to sprinkle them with flaked almonds before baking. But they are also great for decorative icing if you have talent in that direction, because the biscuits bake really flat. I am useless with the piping bag, so inspired by something I saw over at Martha Stewart, I decided to stencil mine with icing sugar. It was a bit fiddly, but much easier (for me) than proper icing.

My technique was to paint each cooled cookie with a very thin icing mix (I mixed 3 tablespoons of icing sugar with one tablespoon of water – it was plenty for 12 cookies), and then to use a snowflake stencil (I used a 2 inch craft punch to cut the stencil out of card) and a very fine sieve to sprinkle icing sugar over the stencil. It’s important to do one cookie at a time because otherwise the icing starts to dry and the icing sugar doesn’t stick so well. I added a little extra sprinkle once I was finished with the stencil (partly to cover up my smudges!). Definitely a fun thing to do with your kids if you don’t mind a floor full of icing sugar…

More Christmas recipes are imminent… I have been without a cooker for over a week now (difficult times in the Very Berry household with malfunctioning ovens and dodgy electrics), so am super-excited to be baking again.🙂

Sewing Tools of Note (13): A rotary cutter with an angle

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After I published my last ‘Sewing Tools of Note’ about tiny needles, Kerry (my blog namesake, who is definitely one of my mentors, she crops up so much in these posts!) left a comment mentioning how important it is to use the right needle when hand sewing because it helps to avoid hand and wrist strain. Such an important point, and very significant to anyone who struggles with joint and muscular pain, whatever the cause. It got my thinking about the changes I have had to make recently to protect my wrist.

Earlier this year I had an encounter with a pub door (I promise you I had only had half a pint of beer) and managed go through the door, whilst leaving my thumb caught in the handle on the other side… The result of this ‘amusing’ (or so my friends thought…) incident was a trip to A&E, a wrist sprain and quite a lot of ongoing soreness. After this little incident, I really struggled with using a rotary cutter to cut my fabric, so I thought I would investigate alternatives to the standard Olfa rotary cutter that I’ve been using. I was recommended to try the TrueCut Rotary cutter – which has an angled handle design that aligns the wrist more naturally, placing your weight over the blade and eliminating stress in the wrist and arm.

truecut-rotary-cutter-and-threads

You can buy the cutter with special fancy rulers, but I just bought the cutter and use it with my standard quilting rulers.  It was odd at first, because the blade is in a slightly different position to standard cutters, and it took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that you have to use the cutter in  a certain way. But I soon got used to it, and have found that it makes a huge difference, because I don’t have to press so hard to cut the fabric, and because of the way my hand is positioned, it takes the pressure of my wrist. I love it, and wouldn’t go back to the other kind now.

I even fell for the little marketing point – you can personalize the handle with pictures, fabric or photos – I found this bit of selvedge that seemed to fit the bill!

true-cut-rotary-cutter-with-pencil-cate

So using a rotary cutter hurts, perhaps it’s time to make a change. I’d be really interested to read about other ways that people have found to protect hands, wrists, shoulders, arms, and backs whilst sewing and crafting in general. It’s something I struggle with on and off, and I am sure other readers do too, so please share your ideas so I can do a bit of investigating and reporting back.

This post is another in my ongoing bloggy series on my favourite sewing tools – you can find more articles here on the main Sewing Tools of Note listings

A day in my working life…

Last week I joined in with the Stoke-on-Trent City Wide Artist Census Day organised by the artist in residence here at Acava Studios: Spode Works, Nicola Winstanley.

Stoke-on-Trent Artists Census

It was an exciting day, clicking on the hashtags on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and seeing all the other creative activity going on in the city, especially as we all get together to support Stoke’s bid to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. It was really exciting to hear that, according to Trendinalia UK, #stokeartistatwork and #sotaaw were 6th in the top 20 trending topics in the UK for a while…

I posted hourly (ish) updates of my work, during the times when I was working, and it was quite an eye opener, really, into the amount of stuff I get up to on what was a fairly average day..!

My first pic for the census was posted at around 8.30 a.m. on Instagram – a blog reader had asked a question about one of my tutorials, and I was trying to answer, whilst remembering back to how the tutorial works, whilst drinking my one cup of coffee for the day..!

answering-a-blog-question
Trying to formulate a helpful answer for a blog reader.

At 9.30ish, I was still at home (having planned to get to the studio for about 9 – Sandy will tell you that this is a very common feature of working life, there’s always one last thing to do at home before I head out to Spode). Last Tuesday I was still trying to decide which fabrics to take down to the studio for a project I was starting. I don’t have enough room there to store all my fabric stash (haha, is there enough room anywhere?), so have to make sure I get organised in advance.

doing-a-fabric-pull
Final fabric pull for a kitchen-themed project for a magazine commission.

These fabrics are for a practice piece for a project for a craft/sewing magazine piece that I have to write for December 2nd. This is my usual way of working when it’s a small project – I make one or two prototypes to get the pattern clear in my head, then I write the step by step instructions, photograph and make the final piece(s) that will be sent to the magazine. If it’s a big project, like a quilt, I can’t have a first go (not enough time, not enough fabric!), so that’s always far more nerve-wracking, especially as once you get to a certain point, there’s no turning back!

By 10.30, I have finally arrived down at Spode, and I am delighted to see that the banner is up for our Makers’ Market. Hurrah! It has been a lot of hard work getting the Market going – it is our first selling event at the Studios, so we have learned an awful lot as we have gone along! I am so glad that, with massive assistance from our friends at Design by Weather (also based at Spode), we went with this fabulous red and white scheme.

market-banner

At the studios, my first job is to quickly finish and then photograph two mini Christmas stockings I have made for a free tutorial for my blog. I need to do this first because the light is so poor today, and I need to take photos before it starts to get even worse after lunch. That’s one of the big difficulties of pattern writing at this time of year in England!

I really enjoy writing tutorials for my blog, it’s such a pleasant contrast to writing for magazines, because I am not limited to length or number of pictures, and, of course, I have more say in the choice of project and fabrics! In my blog tutorials I can focus on writing for people who might not have been sewing for very long, and include loads of extra info and explanation that just isn’t possible in a magazine pieces. The other reason for writing free tutorials is to bring people to my blog, who will then perhaps, click through and go and visit my lovely sponsors, who I have a strong sense of responsibility towards.. first because they are great businesses, and second because they are one of my main sources of income.

liberty-patchwork-mini-stockings-another-shot
The finished stockings – Liberty lawn patchwork and linen always look so fabulous together. You can find the tutorial just here

making-a-template

Then I get on with trying to draw a template for the magazine project – showing how terrible I am at drawing!

After lunch and a dog walk, I finish off a little cactus garden I am making, inspired by a book I am reviewing for the blog. Again, writing about topics like this is partly about bringing traffic to the blog – but, as I love gardening books, and cacti and succulents are a real craze for me at the moment, this is a lovely way to do it! I get requests to review lots of books and products, and am very choosy about it – I never blog about anything that doesn’t interest me, or that I can’t be enthusiastic about, because although I want people to come and read, and click on links, I still want to be as true as I can be to myself and my interests. It’s a fine balance to get this right, and I’m not sure I always do.

making-a-cactus-garden
Not a great photo because the light really is scarce by this stage!

When I am at home and have time to work, I try to catch up on admin and social media stuff – so my next photo shows that side of my work. We have a little bit of money left in the advertising budget for our Makers’ Market at Spode, so I volunteer to make a Facebook ad to boost the event listing in the final few days before the big event:

doing-a-fb-ad
You’ll be glad to know, the Market was a big success!

Now it’s time to watch a Laurel and Hardy film with one of my boys, so no more work for me until after dinner.

Once we’ve all eaten and the boys are chilling out before getting ready for bed, I get back to my computer for the final slog of the day – editing pictures for my blog tutorial. I am pleased with how well they have come out, but there is 26 photos in all, and it takes a long time to go through them all, doing a bit of editing to make sure that they look their absolute best.

working-on-my-tutorial

Thankfully I have a cup of chai or two, to seem me through until bed time…

So that was one day of my working life… it’s not always quite this busy, but the mix of lots of different things going on is certainly a real indication of how much planning and flexibility is necessary to keep on top of things. Looking back now, one thing that strikes me is that I was very stressed that day, and yet now, looking back, the blog posts are published, and the Market has happened, and good times were had – so maybe all that anxiety wasn’t really required. I’m sure that Nicola had entirely different aims for her Census project, but having that insight is a real help for me.