Advent Trees: using decorative stitches

Get to grips with the fancy decorative stitches on your sewing machine that you never use, and make this tree.
I bet you have a whole load of fancy stitches on your sewing machine that you’ve never used. My machine has over 150 stitches – and I’ve probably used fewer than ten of them.

But not anymore!

This is the first variation in the advent tree series. We’re starting simple, with a look at decorative stitching – a chance to play around with some of those lovely stitches you’ve never found a purpose for.

I’ve gone for the simplest option here – a selection of different stitches in two contrasting colours sewn in straight lines.

Choosing your stitches

This is the fun bit – choosing which stitches to use!

Take a good look at all the stitches you have available – this will depend on your sewing machine. You can see that on my machine I have some useful sewing stitches like buttonholes at the top, a row of quilting stitches, and then two rows of decorative and fancy stitches.

Just some of the many decorative stitches my machine has - and which I've never used...

Here are some things to take into account when choosing your stitches:

  • Choose a selection of open and dense closed stitches for contrast.
  • Don’t be afraid to use utility stitches if you want to – I’ve used stitches from all four rows.
  • Most stitches have different lengths, so it’s extremely tricky to get patterns to line up vertically between different stitches – avoid this and contrast short stitches with longer ones.
  • To avoid a cluttered haphazard look, try placing plainer stitches around the most decorative ones.

Test the stitches

Once you’ve chosen a few stitches, try them out on a test piece of fabric. It’s best to test using exactly the same materials as the real thing, so use scraps of felt, your main fabric and the same threads you’ll be using – this is all particularly important if you’re using fancy thread, or difficult fabric.

Check the tension, and try playing around with the stitch length and width to get different effects. It’s also worth measuring the width of the stitch so you don’t end up overlapping lines.

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  • Most fancy stitches need to be stabilised. You can use stabiliser if you have it, or combine several layers of fabric – in the advent trees, the felt acts as a stabiliser.
  • To ensure the bobbin thread doesn’t show, you may need to reduce the top tension a little, so the top thread pulls to the bottom. Adjust the top tension not the bottom.
  • When sewing decorative stitches, the needle tends to jump around a lot more than you might be used to, and the fabric can move forwards and backwards. Keep the speed steady, not too fast, and don’t pull on the fabric – just gently tweak it so it stays in a straight line.


Making an advent tree with decorative stitches

  1. Check the previous post for instructions on how to make the basic tree, and to get the template.Cut your top piece of felt and fabric a bit bigger than the template – we’ll sew over the whole and then cut back to the template at the end.
  2. Mark the stitching lines with a water soluble ink pen, or some other temporary marker. I started with a line to mark the bottom of the tree when I cut it out, and then drew all my lines parallel to this. I chose to space mine at varying intervals; make sure you leave enough room between the lines!Marking parallel lines to help sew the decorative sittches
  3. Layer the fabric on top of the felt. You’ll sew through both layers – this means you don’t need to worry about using stabiliser.
  4. Sew along the lines using different stitches. I started with the middle line, and then worked outward towards the edges to minimise any shifting in the layers. Don’t go to fast, and try to keep the centre of the presser foot lined up with your marked line. 
    Start at the centre and work outwards, to minimise shifting of the layersKeep the placement line lined up with the centre of your presser foot
  5. Cut the triangle template from the fabric. Make sure the bottom edge of the template is parallel to your stitched lines (if you marked the bottom edge as I did, check that it’s still parallel!).

    If some of your lines are slightly off-parallel, try:

    • making the bottom edge parallel to the the majority of stitches
    • making it parallel to the lowest line of stitches
    • making it parallel to the centre line of stitches

    If things have gone very wonky, then forget about parallel – place the template at an angle for a completely different effect.
    Seal the edges with Fray Check, making sure you put fray check on the thread.
    Cut to the template, and seal the edges with Fray Check

  6. Complete the tree following the instructions on how to make the basic tree. I sewed a straight stitch in a neutral colour round the edge first and then the blanket stitch on top, for added security.The finished advent tree, with rows of decorative stitching in two contrast colours

As always, you don’t have to do it like I did. Here are some suggestions:

  • Sew lines that cross, or at angles to each other.
  • Sew one stitch on top of another for a different effect (avoid very dense stitches as your needle can snag and get caught up underneath).
  • Use decorative threads, for example embroidery thread for a subtle sheen or metallic for all-out bling (make sure you use machine thread rather than hand-sewing thread).
  • Try two threads of different colours threaded through the same needle.

What if you don’t have any fancy stitches? If you’ve got an older machine you can still produce decorative stitches. In the next post I’ll show you how to create some really cool effects using just straight and zigzag stitches!

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