skull pillow & tuatara

I would be seeing my bioanthropology friend from New Zealand at a conference so I wanted to make her something – of course I chose a skull pillow!

She also brought me a gift; a tuatara – a native reptile of New Zealand. It is from a company called dodoland and there are many cool options. Super easy to put together so even small children could do it (with adult supervision). I love it!

Skull pillow

I am back from Mexico and will post about that trip some day, but first I wanted to share with you something I whipped up yesterday. I’ve been invited to go analyze some skeletons discovered by a road construction project and it reminded me that I wanted to make some skull pillows. These are useful for nestling a human skull so that it can be analyzed – while you may not understand the importance of doing such a thing, the remains have already been disturbed by modern construction, and it is crucially important to certain groups (such as many Native American populations) to know whether or not the individuals are their ancestors. If so, they will be repatriated to the appropriate tribe for the proper ceremonies to take place; if not, they will be reinterred elsewhere in a place hopefully to not be disturbed again. This is why I do skeletal analysis.

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The first order of business is to cut out some circles. I use a stack of pre-cut white circles that my gramma bought and gifted me, and a tupperware container as a guide for the larger circles. This pattern went through a couple of prototypes about a year ago, but I seem to have not taken any photos of that mess. This process seems to work ok though, for those of you who may do bioarchaeology or know someone who handles human skulls… Let’s be real: probably no one who reads this post will find it useful, but at least I have a record here for the next time I might need to make one.

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Next, I fold one of the large circles into a quarter and use a glass to trace around. The glass happens to fit over the white circles with a quarter-inch allowance, so it is the perfect tool for this step. I just line of the center of the glass to the corner of the folded fabric and give it a whirl with my marking pencil.

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Unfold, line up the glass to the line, and complete the circle. I did this on both sides of the same fabric, which will come in handy later.

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Then, place the two large circles right-sides together. Sew around, leaving a fairly wide opening so that you can complete the stuffing later. To sew a fairly perfect circle, I held a pin poked into the center of the circle to hold the fabric as the machine sewed (at the white dot in the image below the next). Clip the allowance, being careful to not clip through the seam.

Before turning out, align the two inner circles and pin them to the center of one side of the fabric. A single pin is better than the photo below (taken before I realized this) because you need to be mindful of how the pin is facing in order to remove it once you turn everything out – place the head of the pin pointing at the seam opening of the big circles. Make sense? Don’t do what I did here! (Marking the inner circles is also unnecessary.)

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This is where that marked line on both sides of the fabric comes in handy. First – re-pin the inner circle from the outside (now right-side). Using the same trick mentioned above, with a pin holding the fabric in place against the machine (just hold it with your fingers vertically), sew a circle in the center of the big circles, but leave a small opening in the same direction as the big opening in the big circles.

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Now, it gets a little tricky but not difficult. Using a tiny funnel, fill the inner circle with weighted fill – I use spoonfuls of rice but I heard this might not be the best choice if you are worried about vermin of any kind. This part probably doesn’t even need to be weighted, but it gives a bit of a heft to the pillow, which makes it feel like it will protect the skull more. Emotions trump knowledge, right? Otherwise, you could fill it with stuffing – the important part is that you want the center of the pillow to be sunken so that a skull doesn’t roll off it. Kapish?

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Only fill the rice bag about ⅔-¾ full, and pin all the rice to one side. Stick it back under the machine and complete the inner circle stitch. Using small wads of stuffing, stuff the donut-part of the pillow somewhere between medium and fully stuffed. Hand stitch the closure and voila!

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I just used some left-over fabric laying around that kind of sort of went together. You can have fun with the fabric choices, but it should be a fabric that is not too rough (some bone is quite delicate) and not too weak (which will become yucky with bone bits and frays).

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And obviously, my circle-stuffing skills could use a little work!

quilted pillow

I whipped up a pillow today for my mother-in-law. When she moved to Indy, she gave me a lot of her sewing room items, which included things her mother had worked on. Now that Gayle is moving into her own place back here to be around all us kids, I thought it would be nice to gift one of them back to her.

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I am not sure what Delores had originally intended with it, but I made it a pillow cover (I used the envelope-style pillow tutorial at The Happy Housie).

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Boy picked out the back fabric – he said it must have birds! I did mess up there – I wanted the opening in the back to be the other way, but at least I got the birds orientated correctly!

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It was a little tricky – the quilted top measured 21″ but I could only find pillow forms in either 18″ or 24″. I went with the larger version, with Boy’s suggestion in mind: if it was too big, I could take some stuffing out. It is a tight fit, but it seems to have managed ok!

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(Cat for size.)

weighted pincushion organizer

Sew Mama Sew posted about Elizabeth’s Fabric Focus with a free PDF pattern of a weighted pincushion organizer. Now that I am sewing a little more regularly (being mostly jobless this semester, and all), I am constantly frustrated with all the extra threads and fabric snips that seem to go all over the place. So, when I saw this, I just had to try it! One of the toughest parts for me was finding coordinating fabric in my stash since I am trying to stay frugal.

I had a lot of fun learning how to make this. It was my first time using rice for weight, and I have many more ideas for that!

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The pattern did not call for embellishments, but I just had to give it a try. My scallops are a little wonky, but it was only the second time I had tried fancy stitches so give me some credit! (Side note: my machine broke mid-project and Boy and I took it all apart and found the cause, oiled her well, and cleaned her up like new – a screw had loosened over time, allowing a spring to slip, which caused the feeder dog to fail. Thank goodness for Bernina’s build quality – she is going on 30 years old!!)

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I also added some old lacey stuff I had laying around to bring out the pockets a little more, with teeny buttons.

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A cool feature of this project is that the scrap bin detaches so I can put it wherever it is needed. I really fell in love with this pattern, and I am ever grateful for the people at SMS and people like Elizabeth to offer free tutorials. Thanks so much!

Hexagon pillow case

Today, I finally finished the paper-pieced hexagon pillow case I had been working on. You can read a little bit more about it here. A quick recap is that the flowered piece was sewn by Boy’s grandmother who has since passed away.

hexagon_pillow_case_1Boy picked out the fabric for the back. he said “you gotta go with green, no one ever chooses green!” I love it when he participates.

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It works perfectly on my little couch for a little lumbar support!

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I used a 16×16 pillow form and shoved some batting in the corners to fill them out. Oh, and I used a sheet of stabilizer too, just to make sure all my hexie work didn’t come undone under pressure. Originally, I had intended on doing an envelope case, but then just decided to sew the pillow in. My hidden stitch worked for a change!

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Taking photos in the winter lighting conditions (or ever, if I am being honest) isn’t my forté so please excuse that.

Paper-piecing pillow – WIP

I am at them again, these addicting hexagons! I can only do a little at a time, but this project is coming along. I am using a flower Boy’s grandmother had sewn, and decided to make it a pillow for my craft room. I think… I mean, I haven’t bought a pillow form just yet but my little couch needs something cheery.

First, I am using this handy template again. I love it because you can make your own custom size, which was important since I am matching a piece already sewn.  Her methods were not as precise as mine, so the edge sizes varied from ¾ of an inch to just over 1 inch. I split the difference and made my hexies ⅞. You’ll see in a photo below that there is slight puckering, but I have a plan!

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I know, that looks really tedious. I suppose it is, but it is super relaxing for me, and I have been rewatching Star Trek : The Next Generation through Netflix. It is a wonderful way to sew away the stress. (How does one still experience so much of that when one is currently unemployed? I do wonder about the choices I continue to make in my life, ha! (It’s all good.))

This is how far I am currently. I have not taken the basting stitches and paper out just yet. I think I will try to keep the flower in the corner a little, rather than center it. And I have found that sewing two hexies together gives me just the right amount of perimeter to sew with one go of a threaded needle. (That probably doesn’t make any sense, but what I mean is I sew two hexies together, knot it, and cut the thread. Then I start at one edge of the hexies to attach them to more hexies, and my threaded needle can usually easily get me to attach the next pair of hexies – I make the thread about as long as my arm.)

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Here you can see that Grandmother’s technique is quite different than my own. I have explained this process to several people and this is a great piece to illustrate the variances. She didn’t use paper, nor did she make baste stitches. I want more practice before I dive in with freehand like that (and the paper comes right out, once you cut out the baste stitch – which is just one snip with the scissors for each hexie – if you look long enough, you can see where I did this for one hexie to demonstrate to a friend).  She cut the fabric into perfect hexagons; I’d rather rely on a paper template. She used a running stitch; I am using a whip stitch. No matter your choice, these suckers are great for packing along wherever you go for whenever the time comes to craft a little. It is a *great* travel project.

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In the closeup below, you can see that the original fabric is a little puckered here and there. My plan is that I will also quilt this piece on to some batting, see if I can get the flower to puff up some. That should help remove the puckered look, and make a really neat detail.

Remember, the plain fabric currently sports basting stitches, but these will be removed (as will the paper). And it will get a nice visit from the iron too.

You can also see here how I store the thread between sessions. I read somewhere once about how to keep headphones from getting tangled in your bag – it’s the same process. Just make a figure 8 (over your index finger and thumb) and secure your needle over the center! Works like a charm, I tell you what. No knots!

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I have a plan for the back of this pillow too (if, indeed, it becomes one). The hexies will be bigger (to save time!) and I want to quilt them also, although I am going to pick just a few here and there and use the colors from the floral fabric to make the seams pop. That will add a bit of a modern touch to it, I think. You know, jazz it up a little.