Raggedy Reverse Christmas Pillows

I realize it’s been a while, a long while, since I last posted here. Life the last few months has been busy with crafting and performing and, well, living. During the hiatus, I handled Christmas rush with my business, which was as crazy as ever; I performed in two musicals with local professional theatre companies, one on stage and one in the pit; and I’m currently in rehearsals for a performance as “Frasquita” in Bizet’s Carmen this weekend. In the midst of all that, my husband and I started a joint blog together to follow our adoption journey. Yes, we are adopting, and we couldn’t be happier about it! 🙂 Follow our progress here: www.fromhouse2home.us). To say the least, I’ve had little room in my schedule for crafty blogging.

I think the time away from this blog was actually helpful, as it allowed me to re-examine why I was blogging and to re-evaluate my vision for this little corner of the internet. Never you fear, I’m back! My posts may be a bit less frequent than they were before — one or two posts a week instead of 5 — but this blog space is officially up-and-running again.

To start off my renewed commitment to crafty blogging at JennJill Designs, I’m actually going to repost an old guest post from Christmas of 2011. Yes, that was well over a year ago, but the blog on which I was guest blogger has removed their archives, meaning the patterns and instructions are no longer available on their site. I’ve been getting comments and emails asking for links to those old patterns. So, if you were trying to figure out where to find instructions to make the pillows shown here, wait no more. Here is the full text of that guest post, now available on my blog, complete with patterns and photos. Enjoy!


Hello DIY Kinda Girl readers! I’m Jennifer Araya of JennJill Designs, and I’m super excited to share with you a fun Christmas project: raggedy reverse appliqué pillows.

I’ve loved crafting and creating for as long as I can remember. Sewing was my first crafty love. My first sewing project was a tiny patchwork pillow, and I’ve loved making pillows ever since. Today, I’m a full-time artisan, and while most of my work is with polymer clay, I still make time to quilt and work with fabric. On my blog, I share my crafty projects, my thoughts about life and family, my triumphs and tribulations running a creative small business, and my adventures with my wonderful hubby. I hope you’ll take a moment to stop by and say hello!

Now that you know a bit about me and my craft endeavors, let’s start creating!

Our project is a Christmas tree pillow:

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Three contrasting fabrics and a tiny scrap of a 4th fabric (Fat quarters are plenty big enough) – Since the design is that of a Christmas tree, I chose red, green, and white fabrics, with a small scrap of yellow – nice, standard Christmas colors. But there’s nothing to say you can’t have a blue and purple Christmas tree or a pink and yellow one. 🙂 Don’t be afraid to raid your fabric stash for unconventional color combinations.
  • A pillow form – I used a standard 14 inch pillow form that I picked up from JoAnn (using a coupon, of course!). If you use a smaller or larger pillow, be sure to adjust the pattern templates and fabric measurements accordingly.
  • A good pair of fabric scissors, preferably spring loaded ones. You will be doing a LOT of cutting!
  • A sewing machine
  • Thread to match your fabric
  • A washer and dryer
  • A pattern template, printed or traced onto thin paper – You can either use one of my patterns (four of my holiday-themed pillow patterns are available for free at the end of this blog post!), or you can create a pattern of your own. For the paper, cheap copy paper works just fine, although tracing paper is ideal.

My Christmas Tree Pillow was created using the “raggedy reverse” method of appliqué. I was first introduced to this process by Kim Deneault’s book Raggedy Reverse Appliqué, and if you like making this pillow, you should definitely pick up a copy. Deneault goes into great detail about working with the raggedy reverse technique, and her book is one of my most-used craft manuals.

Begin by cutting a square block from each of your three chosen fabrics. For 3/8 inch seam allowances and a 14 inch pillow form, each piece should be a 14 3/4” square. (If you’re not using a 14 inch pillow, adjust the size as needed.)

Next, layer the three squares, carefully lining up the corners and with all the right sides facing up. The piece on top will be the uppermost fabric of your pillow and will be on top of all of the applique seams. For my Christmas tree design, I wanted to outline the tree in red, so the red is on top. The tree itself is green, the middle piece of fabric, and the bottom piece of fabric, the white, acts as a background.

Center your pattern on the fabric pieces (a seam ruler comes in handy here),

and pin down the pattern in several places. You don’t want it to move while you’re sewing!

Take the fabric and pattern to your sewing machine and, using small stitches and a thread color that blends with your top fabric, sew along the lines of the pattern. Be sure to keep your needle down in the corners of the design so that you can raise the presser foot and turn the fabric while keeping your place. Also, always remember to backstitch a few stitches at the beginning and end of each line to secure the stitches in place.

The Christmas tree is adorned by randomly sewn “Christmas balls,” which are created by sewing forward and back over a single stitch several times. Be careful to position all of the balls at least half an inch from the tree outline.

Once your tree is outlined with stitches and all the “balls” are sewn into place, tear away your pattern paper. If your stitches were nice and small, you’ve now perforated the paper, and it should easily rip away.

Now we need to add the star to the top of the tree. Take your little scrap of fabric and position it at the top of the tree, along with the star pattern. Be sure to leave at least half an inch between the seam at the top of the tree and the bottom lines of the star pattern. I used a small scrap of yellow fabric for my Christmas star.

Stitch over the star template the same way you did the tree outline, and rip away the paper when you’re done.

When you’ve finished stitching your tree, the balls, and the star, the outline should look something like this:

Note: Since my red thread blends in with my red fabric, this photo is taken from the back and is looking at the wrong side of the fabric.

Now comes the fun part. Using your pattern as a guide, cut away each segment of fabric to reveal the appropriate color, leaving between 1/4-3/8 of an inch between the seam and your cut edge.

For the Christmas tree pattern, white is the background color, so I cut the red and the green layers of fabric along the Christmas tree outline and around the star at the top to reveal the white background. For the tree itself, the green layer should show, so I only cut the red fabric – the top layer of fabric – inside the tree, leaving the green fabric on top. Around each “ball” stitch, cut a circle with a diameter of at least half an inch.

Once your fabrics is appropriately cut away from your design, it’s time to fringe the edges, which will allow the fabric to fray in the wash. Snip the fabric with small parallel cuts that run perpendicular to your seam. Be very careful not to cut the seam itself!

This is where spring loaded scissors will definitely come in handy. The raggedy reverse process is quite simple, but snipping the fabric so it will fray can take a while. This is a perfect activity for watching TV or for keeping your hands busy on long car rides.

Now that your pillow is sewn and cut, it’s time to put a back on it. I usually use two pieces of overlapping fabric to create a flap in the back, where the pillow can easily be inserted or removed. To create a pillow flap back for a 14 inch pillow form, cut 2 pieces of fabric to 14 ¾ x 9 inches. Hem one of the 14 ¾ inch seams on either piece.

(Tip: to eliminate one of the hems, cut one of the pieces with a 14 ¾ inch edge along the fabric selvage. The selvage won’t fray, and it will be hidden inside the other, nicely hemmed pillow back piece once the pillow is complete.)

With right sides together, layer the pillow front and pillow backs, and stitch around the edge with a 3/8 inch seam allowance.

Cut away the excess fabric in the corners, and turn your pillow right-side out, using a handy-dandy corner tool to get nice square corners (or the tip of a pencil, if you don’t have a corner tool).

Now comes the magic of raggedy reverse. Pin the back of the pillow closed with a safety pin so that the pillow won’t accidentally flip wrong-side-out in the wash, and put your new pillow in a cold rinse cycle with some towels in your washing machine. (Don’t use your nicest towels, or you’ll have to spend hours picking frayed fabric threads from them. Believe me. I know.) Then, toss the pillow and the accompanying towels in the dryer on a normal cycle.

Voilà! The washer and dryer will fray the raw edges of the fabric that you spent hours cutting, and the fabric seams will pop up in a touchable, fun, soft outline. Insert a pillow form, and your raggedy reverse Christmas pillow is ready for use.

Tip: If needed, you can run a lint roller over your pillow to remove all those pesky little threads.

A quick note on fabric choice: I usually use cotton quilting fabric for my raggedy reverse projects. Different types of fabric fray in very different ways, and I personally like cotton fray best. If you’re interested in learning about how the different fabrics work with raggedy reverse, you can either test them yourself or refer to Deneault’s book, where she has photos of the fray from many types of fabric.

Holiday Pillow Patterns:

Click the pattern links below to download a free PDF pattern.

Please note: These patterns are for personal use only and may not be sold or used to make any item for sale or profit.

If you use one of my patterns to make a raggedy reverse pillow, please let me know! (jennifer at jennjilldesigns.com) I’d love to see your masterpiece. 🙂

Thanks for joining me for some sewing fun, and thank you, Heather, for letting me share! Happy Friday, all!

Ideas for a Handmade Christmas

It may not yet be Halloween, but in the life of a handmade retailer, it’s never too early to start thinking about how to complete the Christmas gift list. My Christmas season is always crazy. This is a good thing, for the flood of Christmas orders I receive each year means my business is growing and thriving. However, this flood of seasonal orders also means that I have precious little time for personal crafting projects … like handmade Christmas gifts. I’ve given handmade gifts to my family and friends for years, and I don’t want the seasonal nature of my work to interfere with this tradition. This year, I’m determined not to be caught flatfooted when it comes to my Christmas gifting. I’m already hard at work on my handmade gifts for the coming Christmas season.

If you’re like me and want to get an early start on your handcrafted Christmas gifts, here are a few suggestions:

Note: With the exception of the knitted owl that I’m going to make for my nieces and nephew, I’m not giving any of these items as gifts this year. So, those of you with whom I exchange gifts have no reason to snoop through this list looking for the items you think you’ll receive! 🙂

Loom Knitted Gift Ideas:

  • Dainty Slippers from Gettin’ It Pegged – I adore these slippers and while I won’t be giving any away this Christmas, I will be making a pair for myself
  • Loom Knit Owl from Loom Lore – This little guy is too cute! Several such owls will be waiting under the tree this year for the little ones in my family.
  • Watermelon Coasters from Loom Lore
  • Kissie Fishing Game from Gettin’ It Pegged – ideal for the children in your life

Dainty Slippers from Gettin' It Pegged

Fabric Gift Ideas:

Tea Time Mug Rug from Wild Olive

Miscellaneous Gift Ideas:

Chalkboard Necklace from Henry Happened

Happy crafting, friends!

Cross & Stone Necklace Set

All my discussion of custom jewelry recently (see here and here) made me think back about other custom sets I’ve done, and I realized that I had never blogged about several beautiful necklace sets I made months ago. One such set is this blue and beige cross necklace set. A member of my church requested that I design a cross necklace set for his wife for their 40th wedding anniversary, and this necklace and earring set was the result.

Her favorite color is blue, and she also loves wearing skin-toned jewelry, so I combined those two color preferences in the necklace design. I made the focal pendant from clay to match the exact hues of the stone and glass beads already in my stash.

I’m honored that something I made was part of this couple’s anniversary celebration, and I hope that the wife will wear the set through many more years of loving marriage.

P.S. I didn’t want to let today’s post slip by without mentioning that today is my mother-in-law’s birthday. Happy birthday, Monica!

Custom Necklace Set #2

Last month, I blogged about a custom necklace and earring set I made for one of my friends to wear to a family wedding. The wedding wasn’t for several weeks after I delivered the custom set, but my friend couldn’t wait to for the wedding to wear it. She wore the necklace and earrings to work and for other activities immediately after I delivered them to her. She found that she loved the set so much that she wanted me to make her a second necklace set in the same design, this time in pastel pink and black.

My friend’s request for a second braided necklace set made me smile. I’m also guilty of buying clothes and jewelry I like in every color available. I have several sweaters in exactly the same cut, just in different colors, and my knitted necklaces are another perfect example. I enjoy wearing the knitted necklaces so much that I’ve made them for myself in every color of the rainbow. I now have enough knitted necklaces that I can match one to almost every outfit I wear. I guess when you find a style that works for you, it’s worth it to get that style in multiple colors and designs.

Have you ever bought the same style of clothing or jewelry in multiple colors? Or do you prefer that every item in your wardrobe be completely unique?

Going Home

This past weekend, Arturo and I drove across the hills for a quick visit to my hometown in West Virginia. Arturo had never seen the full glory of autumn in the West Virginian mountains, and this year we decided it was past time for him to experience the incredible colors that have long made fall my favorite season.

We awoke Saturday morning to a grey, dreary day. However, the forecast was for a clear afternoon, so we weren’t deterred from our sightseeing plans. The hawks near my parents’ house were likewise not concerned by the cloudy morning.

As it happened, my aunt and uncle from DC were also in town for the weekend to visit my grandmother, so we were able to see them as well.

As the morning fog and clouds began to clear away, my parents ventured north with Arturo and I to explore Coopers Rock State Forest. The color in the hills wasn’t yet at peak glory, but the trees were plenty colorful enough for a delightful fall experience.

We had a wonderful time wandering the trails, examining the rocks, moss, and lichen, and snapping photo after photo of the brilliant glory of God’s green earth.

What is your favorite season? Are you planning to venture to a local park or forest to observe this year’s fall colors?

Giving in to market pressure: Knitted Necklaces

It may have been since April that I last mentioned my knitting adventures on my blog, but never fear: my knitting has continued unabated. Much of my time has been spent working on this beauty (which, while the knitting is done, the blanket isn’t quite finished yet — please excuse the yarn ends not yet woven in):

Octagonal Throw Blanket, made using the “Garter Stitch Baby Blanket” pattern
in I Can’t Believe I’m Loom Knitting

When I started loom knitting last November, my goal was that knitting would be (and would stay) a hobby. The opening of JennJill Designs turned my two hobbies — sewing and claywork — into my job, and I found I missed the relaxing and pressure-less creative outlet that a crafty hobby provides. Loom knitting perfectly fills that void, and for the last year, I’ve been determined to keep loom knitting a hobby and a hobby alone, at all costs. When people have commented on knitted items I wear or that I have around our house, I’ve responded that, while I made those items, similar items are not for sale. Most such comments came for my knitted necklaces, narrow knitted strands made from specialty yarn that can be looped to make a finished necklace of just about any length:

However, after about the 1,000th comment regarding my knitted necklaces, which I received over Labor Day weekend, I finally reached the point that I am ready to give in to market pressure and begin offering that one knitted item as part of my online shop. Four different knitted necklaces are now available in my shop. I’ve already received and fulfilled my first custom knitted necklace order, and I have no doubt that more will follow. The specialty yarns I use for these necklaces are available in every color under the rainbow, so the color options are virtually endless.

While I had intended loom knitting to be only a hobby, as a business owner, I can’t ignore a new product that people want. The decision to begin selling knitted necklaces is hardly a major career decision or long-term business change, but it was nonetheless a decision that required a lot of persuasion on the part of my friends, since I was so determined to knit only as a hobby. Perhaps this would be a fitting place to say, “when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Have you ever found yourself making business or career decisions you didn’t expect? Did those decisions come after a bit of friendly peer pressure, like mine did?

September Foodie PenPal Reveal

It’s that time again: time for the September Foodie Penpal reveal! I sent a box of chocolate & peanut butter goodies to Tracy, over at One Step at a Time, and I got a wonderful package of deliciousness from Talia at Bite Size Wellness, which is a great health and fitness blog.

When I opened my Foodie PenPal package from Talia a few weeks ago, I found a sweet handwritten note, accompanied by a package of Japanese Udon noodles, a wonderful bag of granola (pretty much my favorite breakfast ever), and delicious pear preserves seasoned with honey and ginger. Yum! Arturo loves jam on his toast each morning, so the preserves are particularly appropriate for him. After uncovering my goodies, I promptly took this photo:

After taking that photo (and after munching on some of the granola), I was tearing down the box to recycle it and found a little bottle of deliciousness I’d overlooked at the bottom of the box: a small package of raw honey! This will be perfect for my many cups of tea over the coming cool fall days.

Since Talia knows I love eating local and organic food when possible (see my recent post about our CSA), she did her shopping at her local market … which just happens to be New York City’s famous Chelsea Market. Cincinnati may be a wonderful foodie city, but I must say NYC definitely has us beat in terms of gastronomical offerings. I’m so glad Talia took the time to visit Chelsea Market when putting together my FPP box. Thank you so much, Talia!

If you’d like more information about joining the Foodie PenPal program, visit The Lean Green Bean. You don’t have to be a blogger to participate; you just need to have a love for good food that you’re willing to share with your assigned penpals. I’ve had a great time participating in FPP, and I’ve eaten some amazing food!

Praying Mantis

On the way home from a square dance a few weeks ago, Arturo and I stopped for gas. And that’s when we noticed this little fellow on our windshield.

I only had my cell phone camera, so I didn’t get very many good photos (that’ll teach me to go out without my good camera …), but it was a fun experience nonetheless. He was on the outside of our windshield and seemed completely unconcerned about anything I did inside the car, so I was able to put my nose right up to his belly, close enough to see the little hairs on his legs, the bulging of his huge eyes, and quivering of his antennae. It took me getting out of the car and putting my cell phone camera in his face before he decided he’d had enough and flew away.

Along with the unexpected deer encounter in our urban neighborhood a few weeks ago, this little fellow reminded me that although I live in the middle of the city, I’m still surrounded by plenty of wildlife. This world is full of such interesting creatures!

What interesting animals have you encountered recently? If you live in an urban area, are you ever surprised by just how many animals live in the city alongside the humans?

Watercolor Doodles

My best friend, Suzanne, has recently fallen in love with watercolor, and over the past few weeks, she’s been wowing me with the beautiful designs and watercolor sketches she’s made. The last time I tried watercolor, I was probably about 5 and sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, so when Suzanne suggested we watercolor while the guys watched football last weekend, I jumped at the chance.

Suzanne’s goal for the evening was to create several quilting-themed designs that she can use as prizes for a quilting retreat she’s attending in a few weeks.

Suzanne's quilting-themed handiwork. It's easy to see from her completed designs how much more comfortable she is with watercolor than I am.

Suze hard at work on quilt design #2, based on a basic 4-square patchwork quilt

My goals were much more amorphous: play around and see what I could come up with. As I always do with crafty projects, I began by first sketching out a design. I chose a butterfly for the design and picked the closing phrase of Jeremiah 17:14 for a bit of text: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” I was rather pleased by how my first attempt turned out, especially considering I’d never really tried watercolor before.

Sketch and completed watercolor painting

My second little watercolor sketch was a bit more complex, involving multiple layers, but I think it also turned out pretty well. I started by painting a simple phrase – “Nothing happens unless first a dream” – over and over to fill the paper. Once the text had dried, I used a thin layer of rose paint to soften the edges and added Arturo’s and my anniversary date in large numbers on top.

While I can’t say that watercolor was love at first try, it certainly made for an enjoyable, crafty evening. Thanks for the idea, Suze!

Have you recently tried your hand at something completely new? Is there something you’ve never done but very much want to try?

Rosie’s Girls

This post is long overdue, since Rosie’s Girls, the summer girl’s camp where I taught art, ended well over a month ago. In my defense, however, I’ve had a lot on my plate since then, and it often felt like too much to ask of myself to find time to sort through the many, many photos I took at camp to find ones appropriate for my blog. As a disclaimer, to protect the privacy of the girls I taught, none of the photos in this post will include people. Most of these photos were taken on the final day of camp, when the parents and donors were able to tour the camp space. The classrooms were all set up for the visitors, which is why everything looks like it’s on display.

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to teach at Cincinnati’s Rosie’s Girls, sponsored by the Cincinnati YWCA. I briefly mentioned my preparation for the camp back in July. While I was already excited about the camp when I wrote that post, since camp hadn’t started yet, I had no idea how wonderful it would actually turn out to be.

Rosie’s Girls is a nationwide program that presents day camps for 11-13 year old girls and introduces them to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers that are traditionally male-dominated. At Cincinnati’s 3-week camp, our girls learned how to handle power tools, from miter and rotary saws to power drills and presses. They wired their own lamps, welded lawn art sculpture, learned the basics of plumbing, learned how to grout by making tile picture frames, and even made key chain fobs using computerized machining. The girls were daily pushed beyond their comfort zone and daily realized just how much they could do.

Tile picture frames were used to teach the girls how to grout.

A small display of the welding gear the girls used in welding class

This adirondack chair, made by the girls, was donated to a local women's shelter.

In addition to making and staining the lamp bases and paiting the lamp shades, the girls completely wired the lamps and the outlets and switches into which the lamps are plugged.

My role at the camp, as art instructor, was to help beautify the items they made in their other classes, tying together the disparate projects into a completed whole. For example, they made lamp bases in woodworking, painted the bases and the lampshades in art, and wired the lamps in electricity. They designed and made lawn art sculptures in welding and then decorated them in art. Toolboxes made in woodworking were then primed and painted in art class. We took the useful items they made and then turned them into items that were both useful and beautiful.

In addition to the cross-disciplinary projects, I also planned two art-only projects for the girls: French memo boards and fabric necklaces. We began by discussing texture painting techniques: ways of creating interesting and beautiful background designs. Using everything from saran wrap, markers, and bubble wrap to sponges, tape, and twine, we made background design samples so they could get a sense of what was possible. They then designed and painted fabric lampshades to match their lamp bases and designed the fabric for their necklaces and memo boards.

Those same texture techniques transferred to nearly every other project we made in art, including their toolboxes. I loved the way some of the girls combined different techniques to create totally unique designs. The girl whose toolbox is pictured below first taped off random squiggles on her toolbox and then painted a sponge overlay in green, teal, black, and purple. She finished it off with green circles made with the end of a toilet paper roll, before removing the tape to leave stark cream lines running through her design.

Tutorials for these techniques and for making a French memo board and a fabric necklace will be coming soon (although considering how long it took me just to write this post about the camp itself, it may be several more weeks before that happens).

While the art projects were fun, my favorite part of camp was actually watching the girls grow over the weeks. The hallways were covered in fun, inspirational quotes, and many of the girls seemed to really internalize the message by the time camp was over.

By time camp was over, the shy ones had become a bit more bold, and they all were less afraid to try something new. They really began to believe that they could do anything they put their mind to, and that’s a lesson that they’ll hopefully never forget.

What’s your favorite camp experience, and when did you first realize that, with enough determination and dedication, you could do anything you wanted to do?