For our sitting room makeover, I want to create a cosy, rustic-style room that celebrates the wonderful wildlife that visit our garden. I already found a beautiful pheasant-print fabric that not only complements this idea, but that also goes with my colour scheme of blue with rust & ochre accents. I love birds, and can't help including them in every room! But for the sitting room, I also had to include a fox. Although fox hunting and deforestation have sadly reduced their numbers since we first moved in, the local foxes are a constant feature of our landscape - much to the frustration of our dog, who tries in vain to defend his territory against their continuous "trespassing"!
If my internet searches are anything to go by, it seems that foxy cushions are very in-vogue right now. But most of the ones I saw had a sort of hipster vibe to them, whereas I was looking for something much more traditional; something almost cliché, in fact. With all of the modern elements in the room, I need something to pull it more towards that down-to-earth, rural ambiance I am aiming for. Since I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for in ready-made form, I decided to make my own. Besides (as I may have mentioned just a couple of times before) I do enjoy making cushion covers!
This one is different to the other cushions I've posted about because it involves appliquéing the motif onto the cushion front.
- Fabric to use as a motif: this can be a commercially-produced motif, a piece you cut from a patterned/printed fabric (that is what I used for this project), or any shape you cut from a piece of contrasting fabric
- Background fabric of your choice
- Long needle
- Thread to match your motif and also contrasting thread for basting
- Steam iron (and press cloth)
- Fray Block (optional)
Ironically, I did start out with a ready-made cushion cover, but the only thing I liked about it was the fox itself. So the first thing I did was to cut it out.
Then I trimmed it down to within about 4mm (⅛") of the outline of the fox.
If you don't have a readymade motif, you can use a paper template to trace any shape onto fabric. Then cut around the shape, remembering to allow some extra fabric around the outline that can be tucked underneath to hide the raw edge. Something lightweight like quilting fabric is ideal - unlike my fox, which is a tapestry and very difficult to work with. But just look at that face! How could I not?!
The next step is optional: to make handling the fabric less problematic, I treated the raw edges with Fray Block. (I picked it up during a recent visit to the United States, but you can also buy it online.) It's a liquid solution that dries absolutely clear and which prevents loose threads from fraying along the cut edge of the fabric.
Next I pinned the fox onto a beautiful wool tweed that I had chosen as the main fabric for the cushion cover.
Doing appliqué requires that the material be handled a lot, and straight pins are not particularly kind to fingertips! So next I basted (or tacked) the motif into position. Basting involves using large, temporary stitches used to hold something in place until it can be permanently sewn. It is best to use a contrasting colour for this so that it's easier to see the stitches when you go to rip them out later on. So for this project, I used a mint-green coloured thread against the orange of the fox.
For the appliqué itself, choose a thread colour that is as close as possible in colour to the motif - not the background fabric - so that the stitching is hidden. As parts of the fox's outline were orange, and others more a muted yellow colour, I changed threads as I went along in order to keep the stitches hidden. You can see this more clearly from the reverse side, where I joined the threads with a knot at the back.
When sewing by hand, it is recommended to keep the length of thread about the same as the distance from your fingertips to your elbow. Any longer than that, and the thread tends to get tangled. When you run out of thread, pull it through to the back and tie a knot in it close to the surface of the fabric.
You can buy silk thread specifically for appliqué, which is very fine and easier to hide, but my fabric was more heavyweight than the fabrics one would usually choose for appliqué and so I just used regular cotton thread.
Beginning the Appliqué
For this appliqué, I used what is often referred to as "needle-turn" technique; so-called for the fact that you use the side of the needle to turn the raw edge of the fabric underneath as you go. For this reason, a long needle is preferred.
Start by folding the excess fabric underneath. Tie a knot in the sewing thread and pull the needle through from the back, stitching through both fabrics close to the edge of the fold.
Then push the needle down into the backing fabric only - staying as close as possible to where you just pulled it through - and bring it back up through both fabrics from behind - again keeping as close to the edge of the fold as you can.
Continue working in this manner, folding the excess fabric underneath ahead of you as you stitch.
When you come close to an inward curve or corner, you will reach a point where the excess fabric will no longer fold easily underneath. At this point, carefully snip the excess fabric across the shortest point into the deepest part of the curve or corner. (You can buy scissors specifically designed for different purposes, including appliqué, but I just used my embroidery scissors. I don't usually use it for cutting fabric, but I made an exception in this case because it is the best scissors I have that is suitable for making a tiny cut.)
Be careful not to handle the fabric too much after snipping it, as doing so will increase the risk of fraying. Ideally, you just snip and then touch it only once with the needle to tuck it underneath.
Fold the first part of the fabric underneath and stitch until you reach the corner. You may need to make smaller stitches in these areas to hold the fabric in place.
Then tuck the next part of the fabric underneath and continue stitching away from the corner.
As you stitch around the outside of a curve, gradually tuck the fabric underneath while easing it around the bend. If it is a sharp corner, first tuck in one side, and then fold the other side in - it's a bit like doing hospital corners when making your bed.
The observant among you may notice that some navy velvet has appeared under this part of the appliqué where it had previously been all tweed in the background. This is because I decided after I started the project that just having the tweed behind the motif made the fox look just "stuck onto" the surface of the fabric. Adding the velvet gives the background more dimension and creates a better overall effect, I think.
The goal is to reduce the bulk as much as possible, so if the corner is quite pointed, you may need to snip the excess fabric before you fold it underneath. Here, I chose to snip the fabric twice at the tip of the ear, making three separate sections to fold underneath (one along each side of the ear and one at the top). Then I cut the excess fabric off the ends of each piece - where you can see the two scalloped cutouts at the tip of the ear here:
This helps to prevent lumpiness underneath the fabric.
When I finished stitching the entire appliqué, I removed the basting stitches and carefully pressed it with a steam iron using a press cloth to protect the delicate fabrics.
I then went on to make the cushion using the method posted in Cushion Cover: Hidden Zipper.
And there you have it - one foxy tweed and velvet cushion for our new sofa that perfectly evokes a relaxed rustic style.
To make a cushion cover with piping, see here: Cushion Cover with Piping