A Minor Obsession with Subversive Cross Stitch

A Minor Obsession with Subversive Cross Stitch

WARNING: language — but you probably knew that already, you smart cookie.

Last year I found myself pinning cross stitch and embroidery images.  Wildflowers and birds are a favorite, but it didn’t take long for me to discover subversive cross stitch.  I love them.  Their snark speaks to me!  But I’m not really a cross stitcher so I pinned without a plan (as if that’s something strange to do, hah!).

Then it was summer, my husband was gone on a business trip, and I had an impulse to just do it.  I had floss.  I had Aida.  I had needles.  (This is what happens when fiber arts are your jam!)  I printed out a free pattern and was off to the races.

Domestic Cross Stitch in progress

The beauty of it was hearing friends and family reminisce about stitching they’d done and how they’d like to do it again.  And cheers from my cross stitchers.

I Put the Mess in Domestic Cross Stitch

My tasteful, funny declaration worked out just fine!  Cross stitching went faster than I expected — and I anticipate that one could go even faster with experience.

Behold! The Cross Stitch Pattern to Rule Them All!

But this wasn’t really what I wanted to make.  I wanted to justify buying a pattern that I had been eyeing for months.  It wasn’t expensive, but as a knitter I know how slippery the pattern buying slope is and I wanted to make sure cross stitching wasn’t a hateful way to spend my craft time before I committed cash to a project.

Behold the Field cross stitch detail

This one took longer.  I made more mistakes.  But I stuck with it and eventually finished.

Behold the Field cross stitch

This piece speaks the secrets of my soul.  Now you know.

“Where Are You Going to Hang It?”

Many people who saw me working on it thought it was funny.  Several silently nodded and moved on.  People were really curious about what I was planning to do with it.  Were they worried I would give it to them?  Kudos to my sister-in-law Abby, who offered to own it if I didn’t want to keep it.  But no, this beauty is all for me!

Things I Learned Whilst Subversively Stitching

I learned that I don’t want to do larger pieces.

I learned that I love doing letters!

I learned that filling in shapes was boring.

I learned that I am not going to wake up one day and exchange all my yarn for floss.  But I might indulge in a little X-X once or twice a year.

Have you done any subversive stitching?  Got your eye on any patterns?

A Minor Obsession with Subversive Cross Stitch

Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Holiday Cloth Gift Bags

We switched over to cloth gift bags several years ago.  I was inspired by my friend Katy, who grew up with cloth gift bags thanks to her crafty mom.

We mostly use our bags within our household so that we can keep reusing them.  I do give some gifts away in cloth bags and I hope those bags continue to be reused.  Many of my friends sew; I really hope this catches on!

How to Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Materials for Making Cloth Gift Bags

Materials for making a cloth gift bag

Woven cotton is the best because it is abundant, inexpensive, and durable.  You probably have some in your stash.  You could also repurpose old button down shirts with a stain or a tear.  Of course, you could contribute to the economy and buy some fabric.  AVOID knit fabrics!  They’re stretchy and will sag once you put something inside the bag.  No one wants saggy bags, my friends!

Thread of any color you like.  You can go neutral with black and white, or go wild with all those spools of bright red or purple that got used once for a project, then tossed into the stash for a nebulous future.  AVOID anything that isn’t mercerized cotton or polyester thread unless you are experienced with them.  You can thank me later.

Ribbon.  I like grosgrain ribbon best for cloth gift bags.  It’s very sturdy and comes in a lot of colors and patterns.  I also use the inexpensive satin ribbon that comes in a lot of colors.  It frays more quickly at the end, but cutting the tips at an angle seems to help slow down that process.  AVOID paper ribbon (aka curling ribbon) or wired ribbon.  They just don’t last!

Tools for Making Cloth Gift Bags

Tools for making a cloth gift bag

  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors. If you don’t have a pair for fabric use only, now’s the time to start.  Seriously.  Paper makes scissors dull very quickly.  You can mark the handle with a handy reminder, like “Fabric Only” or “Don’t Even Think of It!”
  • Flexible measuring tape
  • Seam ripper. Just in case!

How to Sew Simple Cloth Gift Bags

Measure and cut two squares of fabric that are the same size.  I like my bags a little longer than they are wide because they need some room to gather at the top.  I think 12” x 18” is a good starting place, but you can make whatever size you need or have fabric for.

Cut out fabric for cloth gift bag

Put right sides together so your proto-bag is inside out.

Decide which end will be the opening — don’t sew that side!  Sew down one long side, across the bottom, and up the other long side.  Seam allowance doesn’t matter.

Sew up your cloth gift bag

Trim the corners.

Trim corners from inside of cloth gift bag

Fold the opening down about three-quarters of an inch.  Or whatever works for you.  If you’re a little fussy, you can pink the edges.  If you’re insufferable, you can do a fold over hem.  You can always iron down the hem (or pin it) if that makes it easier for you.

Sew the hem down with whatever stitch and thread color makes your day. This is your chance to play with those decorative stitches on our sewing machine!  Whee!

Hem your cloth gift bag

Turn bag right side out.

Cut a piece of coordinating ribbon that’s about 30” long.  Cut the ends at an angle, which looks tidy and prevents fraying.

Cut ribbon for gift bag

Find the halfway point in your ribbon length.   About two inches from the top of the bag, attach the middle of the ribbon to the bag at one of the side seams.  I sew over that spot with three or four passes since it gets tugged on a lot.

Attach ribbon to gift bag

Fill that bag with a lovely gift and tie it shut.  A nice piece of card stock  punched with a hold puncher makes a simple and lovely gift tag.  I thread it onto the ribbon while I’m tying the bag shut.

Make your own gift tags

For our gift tags, we’ve been gluing together old business cards, which are then really thick and weighty tags.  We’ve also artistically cut up old greeting cards to make tags.  Tags can be reused, depending on what you write on them.

Homemade cloth gift bag

Benefits of Cloth Gift Bags

  • They are so attractive and luxurious!
  • Cloth bags save money. After a one-time investment of effort and a little money, you will have all the gift bags you ever need for your household.
  • Cloth bags save time. It’s a lot faster to plop a gift into a bag and tie it shut!
  • Cloth bags reduce your carbon footprint.  Using less paper is better for the environment and produces less waste for your municipality to handle.  Could it reduce your taxes?  I don’t know, but maybe.
  • Cloth bags are quieter.  This one came as a surprise, but the first year we did cloth for Christmas was so peaceful and relaxing for me.  Loud noises overwhelm me — little did I realize how much I disliked all the ripping paper until it was gone, gone, gone.  For the record, our kids have yet to show any sign of mental anguish because they don’t get to rip everything open.  I think the moral superiority of cloth bags spared us that defect.

Who’s in?!

Do you use cloth gift bags already?  What do you like best about them?

Magic Blankets

Photo detail of machine quilting

Around here, magic blankets are not something you can buy in a store.  You’ve got to know the right people.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Back when our first baby was born, we took swaddling seriously (shout out to Harvey Karp, he’s spot on), but the things sold in stores as receiving blankets at that time were little better than oversized burp rags.  No exaggeration!  So off I went to the local big box craft store and bought 5 one-yard lengths of flannel in fun prints.  A couple straight hems and BAM, we had a pile of swaddling blankets.

Our first child loved swaddling and we got a lot of use out of the big blankets.  When he got to be about 2 years old, I sewed two blankets end to end, then another two end to end, then quilted those together with a made-up meandering stitch.  Without a walking foot.  That’s what we call a labor of love, friends.  I sewed the fifth blanket into a pillowcase that is still in use today (on the pillow that is propping me up while I write this, in fact!).

Photo of the pillowcase made from a flannel baby blanket

My son loved this blanket as only a child can unconditionally love the wonky things we make for them.  He declared it the magic blanket and, eight years later, it is still a cherished possession.  So much so that my younger child was eventually jealous.  I needed to make her magic blanket, and soon, lest she stage a Leverage-style attack to take permanent possession of her brother’s blankie.

Photo detail of machine quilting

Of course she also had 5 (no, 6!) one-yard lengths of flannel that she used as a baby — although she was not one who liked to be swaddled.  No, instead she wanted to be held constantly.  For three months.  Not that I am scarred or anything.


Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

For her blanket I got fancy.  I did a bunch of math (cooped up much?) and decided that 9″ squares would make the most efficient use of my fabric.  I cut the blankets up and sewed them back together in an eye-blistering pattern of colorful delight that is different on each side.  I ran out of patience at this time and quilted the whole thing together with straight lines, and machine bound it with commercial bias tape.

Thus was balance restored to our universe.

Photo of quilts from flannel baby blankets

I take deep satisfaction in upcycling, but this project took it to the next level because of how much my kids love having something I made just for them and having something that is a direct connection to their early years.

I toyed with the idea of writing this up as a sort of tutorial, but the real message is: just sew that shit together!  Your kids will love it, you will learn some things, and whatever you make will be NEW and get used, rather than gather dust in the basement or sadly slip away to a marginal existence in a thrift store.

My Inner Child Wants Everything to Be Rainbow-Colored: Afghan Edition

Photo of a crocheted afghan in rainbow stripes

Raise your hand if you remember me starting a scrap project to use up the yarn left over from the scrap blanket I made for my daughter when she was born.

Yes, I am a serial scrap blanket maker.  I pull out a pile of yarn (or fabric or cut up t-shirts… my desires to both thrift and make things feed each other), decide I am going to use it all up on a scrap project, choose a project, start said project, run out of something and go buy more materials, finish said project, and then — and only then — realize that I have more materials left than when I started.  Doh!

First there was Squeaky, the quilterly knitted blanket I made for my daughter (ostensibly to use up random balls of Wool-Ease) while I waited for her to spring, fully formed, from my womb.  Which, she pretty much did if you’ve ever heard THAT story.  Oh and I ended up buying a lot of yarn to make the colors in the blanket work.  Wool-Ease has a weird palette.

About six exhausting months later, I lit upon the idea to crochet an afghan to use up Squeaky’s leftovers.  I had spied a pattern that was basically a giant granny square, but looked like an Around the World quilt.  I’m not much of a hooker, but I can handle a granny square.  So I lined up my leftover Wool-Ease and soon realized I had a rainbow palette.  Well, almost.  I just had to buy a bit more yarn.  [Cue scary music.]

Four and a half years later, the rainbow afghan of my dreams and nightmares is finished.

Photo of a crocheted afghan in rainbow stripes


What else do I have to say about this project?  I didn’t work on it constantly.  In fact, years passed sometimes between putting hook to wool.  It was really fun at first because crochet is FAST.

Also, I am never actually sad to buy more yarn, which this project amusingly and repeatedly required to be completed to my spec of 4 repeats.  It has 13 different colors, 12 Wool-Ease, 1 Plymouth Encore (light blue) because Lion discontinued the delft colorway.  (Why do companies get rid of good, basic, timeless colors like baby blue?  It’s Lion’s loss ultimately because now I have seen the Plymouth Yarns website and know what an amazing palette their wool-acrylic blend Encore has.)

About 2/3 of the way through this project, the rows became very long, hours to finish just one, and it was a slog.  I just wanted to be done.  I could have stopped at any time, but stubborn ol’ me wanted to stick to The Plan.

So I did.  And now the rainbow afghan lives on my couch and gets fought over — when we’re not all four crammed together with it draped over us.

And then there were two

project bags

There is some kind of Murphy’s Law at play here.

After years of window shopping and sighing over rigid heddle looms of any size — anything bigger than an inkle loom — a week after I learn how to string my new TIA, my mom (whom I speak to by phone every day and is intimately acquainted with my every craft, triumph, and travail) says, “Oh, would you be interested in another loom?  I’ve had this one at my house for a few years.  I didn’t know you’d be interested in it or I would have told you about it sooner.”

Um, YES!  But why didn’t we make this connection before?!

Meet loom #2, a 20″ Beca, solid cherry, made probably in the late 1970s:

Beka rigid heddle loom
Beka has a nasty old warp on her.

So in the space of three weeks, I have two modest-sized rigid heddle looms and plans to warp one of these ladies for some houndstooth.

I’ve also been sewing:

lined project bags
Abstract fabric art

The sewing has been a compulsion that I cannot explain.  Costumes, drawstring project bags, fabric dolls, doll clothes.  I think it is my internal frustrated quilter crying out for time and space to work.

lined project bags
A few of my pretty bags

Or maybe I just like to sew now.  (I can hear some of my friends gasping with surprise.)