Folk Art Contemporary Felt Christmas Trees
By Kate Macaulay
Felt is a great fabric to work with embroidery stitches. With very little knowledge of stitches and a few squaresof felt, you can create this little trio of folk inspired mini Christmas trees. The original inspiration came from seeing felt embellished by different coloured threads in Modern Folk Embroidery by Nancy Nicholson and in particular a Scandinavian inspired table runner using a stitch similar to the feather stitch I’ve used in this project. Nancy’s book is a wonderful introduction to using stitch and felt to create some really eye catching designs, great to give as home made gifts. The trees could even double up, after Christmas, as cute pin cushions.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- Felt - the amount of felt you need depends on what size tree you are planning to make, a 30cm x 30cm piece of felt would make one of these little trees.
- Embroidery Thread in green and white and a colour matching your felt.
- Polyester Filling
I got the idea for the shape of the tree from using a bunting die, like this one www.sizzix.co.uk/660837/sizzix-framelits-plus-die-set-10pk-bunting. If you can imagine it, a bunting die is the shape of a segment from an octahedron. Dies give you a lovely crisp shape that seam matches perfectly - very satisfying but if you don’t have a die cutter or a bunting die, good old fashioned paper and pencil works just fine. You will need a ruler though.
Draw a line of 10.6cm (each end of the line being the corner of your tall triangle) and then centrally (5.3cm from one end), draw a vertical line and mark it at the 14cm mark, that being the third corner. Once you’ve got your shape, cut three of these from the felt.
The base is an equilateral triangle with sides of 10.6cm. If you want to be really precise, use a protractor to get an angle of 60 degrees but the method described above works well enough. Draw a base line 10.6cm long and a vertical line (don’t worry about measuring that line) up from the centre of the base. Place your ruler on the end of your 10.6cm baseline and slant it to meet the midline, making sure this slanted line is also 10.6cm. Finish off by completing the triangle.
A WORD ABOUT FELT
You can make these trees using just about any felt although some will work better than others …. 100% wool felt is lovely, really lovely and embroidery on it looks fabulous but it is a little too thick to use here, especially if you decide on a smaller tree. Soft washable craft felt works just fine and takes an embroidery stitch - definitely an option. It would also have the advantage of being fully washable, depending on what type of thread and filling you use of course.
In my opinioin, the best all round option is to use a wool rich craft felt a blend of 30% wool and 70% viscose. The felt is soft and tactile but the viscose also means is shapes beautifully, easing around curves and corners. It is the perfect compromise between thickness, softness and ease of handling. You can chose from several different colours of green.
- First assemble all your pieces
- Taking one of the tall triangles, mark (using an air erasable marker if you have one, using a very small pen dot if not) a point about 3cm up from the base in one with the tip of the triangle (the top of the tree). Using a suitable round object - I used a die but use whatever you have to hand, lightly draw around a circle shape about 4cm, and the dot as the guide. This is the outline for your mistletoe wreath.
FEATHER STITCH and FRENCH KNOTS
- Thread your needle with green embroidery thread - I use Wonderfil’s Eleganza but DMC or Anchor threads are available widely and are perfect for this job. Both have a fantastic range of colours which means you can get the exact shade you’re looking for. The other good news is that a skein of thread retails at around £1 - £2. There are less expensive threads out there but I find that with DMC and Anchor threads, I can be sure that separating out the two strands you require is easy work. Eleganza has the advantage of being ready to use, no separation required. I’ve also worked with Aurafil lana threads ( and love the slightly wooly look to them which works so well with a wool rich felt.
- Starting at the top of the circle, just slightly off set (because you want to leave a gap where the wreath doesn’t quite meet) start feather stitch . Stitch around the circle until you reach a point not quite at the centre point. The idea is that you are leaving a gap at the base of the circle (see finished tree). Take your needle through to the back of the felt and then kind of weave your way up the back of the stitches, back up to the top. Bring the needle back up through the fabric at the point where you want to start your feather stitch on the other side of the circle.
- The mistletoe berries are sewn in white embroidery thread using the french knot stitch. I use a milliner’s needle for this just because the narrow eye of the needle makes it much easier to pull it through the knot and create a lovely neat french knot. For years I struggled with baggy french knots - this was in the days before You Tube before discovering that the secret to the french knot is to hold on to the working thread, supplying a bit of tension, otherwise as you’re pulling the thread through, the knot starts to unravel! - Once you’ve got the technique mastered (have a go on a felt off cut if you have never stitched a french knot before), stitch a white french knot at the end of the feather stitch branches.
- Once you’ve done all three, match up to sides of your panels with the right side inside for now and using a backstitch join up the seams to create your tree. It is important here to place right sides together, you’re going to turn it right side later but you want those seams to be on the inside. - I’ve tried using several stitches here - simple running stitch is Okay but can be a little gappy, leading to unsightly filling leakage! Blanket stitch does not work well as it is difficult to get a really uniform edge and can look quite lumpy. Some people recommend whipstitch but I struggled to make it look neat and tidy although it is secure. My personal favourite is to use a backstitch on the inside seams and then turn the felt to the right side. Backstitch works like a sewing machine stitch, providing a secure straight and neatly hidden seam to the trees.
- Taking your base triangle and using the back stitch, sew along two side of the base before turning the tree to the right side.
- Fill with polyester stuffing and secure the third side of the base using a whip stitch.
Your tree is now complete!
Don’t feel limited by this design, you can experiment with the basic tree pattern. I’ve adapted the wreath on the lime green tree to include leaves and red berries on a brown branch. The leaves are made using a simple chain stitch and then filling it with one of two additional simple stitches.
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