22 December 2014

Finishing a Flat Ornament

Do the interwebs really need another finishing tutorial? Probably not. But I'm going to post one anyway. There are tons of finishing tutorials out there and most of them will probably be better than this one... more detailed, better photographs, prettier results. So why am I posting another one? Well, two reasons. 1) A lot of stitchers seem to be "intimidated" (their word) by finishing their work, which bugs me. All finishing involves is the stuff we used to play with when we were little: paper, glue, scissors, sparkly stuff. If you can stitch, you can finish. If it doesn't have teeth and claws, let's not be "intimidated" by it. Let's just get out all our supplies and make a mess and finish stuff. 2) Given that so many stitchers are hesitant to finish their own work, I wonder if part of that has to do with the tutorials themselves. Could it be that stitchers think that if they don't have a lot of expensive tools and/or can't produce heirloom-quality results, they can't finish? I don't know. Here's what I do know: this tutorial will not be beautifully photographed, won't require special tools, and isn't aiming at a gorgeously crafted heirloom that will be lovingly passed down from generation to generation for 200 years. This tutorial's goal is: let's get this finished so we can enjoy it. That's it. If you visited my Christmas Open House, you know about our ornament tradition and how special it is to us. The ornaments I finish are priceless to us, but really, the point is to get them finished so they can hang on the tree and be enjoyed. Why take the time to stitch something and then let it live in a drawer because we doubt our finishing skills? Or because we can't afford to have it professionally finished? Besides, Christmas trees are magic and anything you hang on them becomes beautiful. So there.

You probably noticed that I finish everything as a flat ornament. I think those fat little pillow ornaments are so cute, but the reason I finish everything flat is simple: space. All of those ornaments you saw fit into a 12" x 7" x 7" plastic storage box lined with acid-free tissue paper. If you have limited space, flat ornaments are the way to go. You can store oodles of them in a large shoebox. And it makes tree decorating a breeze. Pop up the pre-lit tree. Pull out your shoebox (store the hooks in the box!). Hang your ornaments. Your tree is done in 20 minutes and looks fabulous. Okay, ready to make a mess? Let's get started.

My very first TIP for you: If you don't want to practice your finishing skills on an ornament you love, either use an old one you don't mind experimenting on, or stitch up a quick little freebie to use. You'll figure stuff out as you're doing it, and I'll bet that it will only take one or two practice ornaments before you feel comfortable working on a "real" one. 

Stuff you need:

*mat board and foam core (you can get these in large sheets at any craft store that has a framing department)
*ruler (a clear one works well)
*fabric scissors
*kitchen shears or other heavy scissors
*fabric for the back
*X-acto knife (craft knife... mat knife... whatever. Something super sharp to cut the foam core)
*double-sided tape
*glue (I use Aleene's Fast Grab Tacky Glue... super sticky and bonds quickly)
*pins... lots and lots of pins
*ribbon and trim
*Fray Check

Here we go! Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!

STEP 1: Measure to determine how big you want your ornament. I like to leave a very small margin, just 1/4" all the way around the stitching, but it's your choice. Write down the measurements so you don't forget, like me. Trim the excess fabric--if necessary--to make it easier to work with, but be careful not to trim too much. Leaving a little more than you need is better than trimming too closely.

STEP 2: Use your measurements to cut your mat board (I use kitchen shears for this) in the size and shape you need. This will be the back of the ornament. Then use your mat board piece as a template to cut your batting, your backing fabric (leave a 1/2" border around it!), and your foam core. TIP for cutting foam core: Your foam core will probably be 1/4" thick and trying to cut it in one go can be difficult and possibly hazardous! Make two cuts. On your first cut, just go around your pencil line with your knife using only enough pressure to cut about halfway through the foam core. Applying less pressure makes it easier to control the knife (and safer!) and get a more accurate cut. On your second cut, cut the rest of the way through the foam core. Use an old magazine or catalog underneath to protect your surface. When you're done with this step, you'll have your mat board, batting, fabric, and foam core ready to go.

STEP 3: Use a little piece of double-sided tape to stick the batting to the foam core. Position the mat board on the backing fabric, and clip the corners as shown below (not too close to the mat board!). It will give you nicer corners. Glue the little corner tabs in first, then glue the side pieces of fabric to the mat board, fiddling with it to make the corners nice and sharp. TIP: Your best tools are your fingers. I use my fingers and thumbs to smooth the fabric into place over the glue. Of course, I get glue all over myself, but it easily rubs off. 

STEP 4: Position and pin the design to the side of the foam core with the batting. Take the pins out and re-position and re-pin. Repeat. Okay, I just decided to go ahead and write that out because it's probably what you'll be doing. It's what I do. If there's a step that's even moderately difficult, this would be it. It's not really difficult, it just takes some fiddling to get the design pinned on straight, even, etc. Mostly I just eyeball it, but occasionally I do check it with the ruler. TIP: As you're pinning/positioning, leave the pins sticking out. It will make it much easier to take them out and re-pin. When you're happy with the position, push the pins in. Glue the excess fabric to the back of the foam core, using the technique used to clip and glue the backing fabric to the mat board. You may need a couple of extra pins in the corners to make them nice and sharp.

STEP 5: Measure and mark the center of the mat board, and attach the ribbon for the hanger to the center, so the ornament will hang level.

STEP 6: Glue the mat board back to the foam core front.

STEP 7: Put your ornament under a heavy book and weight it down with a concrete pig named Petunia. Allow it to sit for about an hour or so. If you're worried about glue squishing out, place the ornament between layers of wax paper before mashing it.

STEP 8: Attach whatever trim you're using. You'll notice that some trims, especially the woven ones, will unravel dreadfully when they're cut. Just dab a little Fray Check on the ends and allow it to dry. If you don't have any, craft glue will work as it should dry clear, if a little dark. From what I've observed, most people use twisted cording, but I prefer the variety of purchased trim. TIP: When hunting for trim, besides the fabric department, don't forget to check the home decorating/upholstery department. They usually stock all kinds of interesting trim and matching tassels. Depending on the trim, sometimes I glue it on, sometimes I pin it. When I pin it, sometimes I use dressmakers pins that I can hide in the trim, and sometimes I use pearl head pins because I want them to show. It all depends on the look you're going for. TIP: If you like the look (and ease!) of trim pinned on with pearl head pins, keep an eye out for them at different craft stores. They come in a wide array of colors, and different craft stores stock different brands with slightly different colors. It's possible to assemble a collection of pins that fits any color need, like this. Here's the finished ornament:

Made perfect by the magic of the Christmas tree:

Just a couple of other things. Once you get the hang of finishing, you'll want to branch out to shaped ornaments... circles, ovals, hearts, triangles, etc. Plastic templates used for scrapbooking are perfect for ornament templates, as are cookie cutters. Keep your eyes open for interesting trims, colored pins, beads, charms, ribbon... anything that can be used to embellish your ornaments. You can almost always find this stuff on sale, or use a coupon. Check the remnant bins for backing fabric, or buy fat quarters used for quilting when they're on sale. There's really no limit to what you can do with your finishing. You can make your ornaments as plain or as fancy as you like (I resist the urge to put bows on Mr.Wonderful's ornaments). It doesn't have to be expensive, and as I hope I've just demonstrated, it doesn't have to be difficult. 

Happy finishing!


  1. What a very thorough job you have done here. Thank you!

  2. Brilliant post! I've printed it to pdf so I can keep it forever. The only thing I question is how did you accomplish this without feline assistance? :)

    1. Oh, there's a post about that coming soon! You're a kitty mom... you know! :O)