Sunday, December 11, 2016

Quirky Upcycled Holiday Pincushion Decor

Below are two easy, environmentally-correct tablescape/home decor ideas for Chanukah and for Christmas that you can make really fast (except the second one). A craft magazine turned down both of these rabid brainstorms, and you are about to see why.

For Chanukah:

For Christmas and many other holidays or no occasion at all:

Yes, they are festive pincushion constructions! Both require sewing leftovers, including empty spools, bits of embroidery floss, and fabric scraps. Plus plastic lids, ranging from 1" wide to 6" or more.

First, for Chanukah:

Menorah Pincushion

Each pin serves as a candle.  Too cute, right? You will need:
  • 10 empty thread spools - they don't have to be exactly alike - mixing adds charm
  • 9  1" diameter caps from bottles, milk, juice cartons, etc., in blue and white
  • A couple of yards of embroidery thread in blues and white
  • Small amounts of polka-dot fabric - about  4" square per pincushion 
  • Small amounts of silver lamé - also about 4" square per pincushion
  • A yellow measuring tape (or any color you like, but yellow does look great against blue). Use a piece, or the whole tape (depending on the length of your table) 
  • 9 yellow flower-headed pins
  • Glue that works on plastic. I used Liquid Fusion. Ultra-strong double-sided tape works, and I suspect a glue gun would work, too. 
First, wrap the 9 spools with embroidery thread (or yarn). Layer different shades. Be whimsical! Be messy, it adds character! Use a drop of glue at the beginning and end to make it stick. You can also leave some spools bare.
The rainbow spool on the far right will be saved for our Christmas tower, but of course you can use it in your menorah if you want a rainbow theme! Consider sparkly metallic threads, too!

Make a test arrangement of your spools. Stack two  or more spools to be the "shammes," the head candle. Glue them together.

To make the pincushions: Cut the polka dot and silver fabrics into nine 3 1/2" circles (for 1" caps). (Start with a 3 1/2" square, then round it off to make a circle. The circles don't have to be perfect. Use a larger circle for a larger cap, of course.)

Using strong thread, do a running stitch around the circumference of the circle, about a quarter of an inch in. No need to fold raw edges in. Here's the wrong side. End with the two thread ends on the RIGHT side of the fabric (unlike this picture).

Pull the threads from the outside until your circle is half closed.

Mash a wad of polyester stuffing inside:

Pull tight to make sure you have the right amount of stuffing. Trial and error will show you much you need. Once it's good, pull the threads tight for the last time, tie off, and clip threads.

Put some glue inside a 1" cap, and stuff the cushion down into it.
 Glue each lid on top of each spool. Finally, insert pins to represent candles. Arrange everything thusly: 

 Glue the lids to the top of the spools.

When Chanukah comes, light and unlight the candles by removing and replacing pins.

I think you could really go to town with this idea if you stacked each candle holder even higher. For added stability, you may want to permanently glue the spools onto the measuring tape - or not! I didn't, I stored the pieces in a plastic bag, and the measuring tape returns to my sewing table when the holiday's over.

Christmas/All Occasion Spool Tree/Thimble Display Tower 
For the past year, this has served as decor and thimble storage in my studio. You can make it Christmassy with color choice and accessories.


(What are those little dolls with pins sticking out of their heads above you may be asking? They were flea market finds gifted to me by my friend Noelle - they're tiny vintage pinholders! I tried googling this - where they came from, possible age - but I couldn't find a thing. Can someone help me out?)

Like the menorah project above, you need a strong glue that holds plastic. I use Liquid Fusion, and it held up well for about a year before the glue started breaking off. Strong glue dots, or a  glue gun, would probably work, too.

The basic principal of this project is to use large jar lids - 4" - 6" - to hold smaller 1" caps in position. Some of the small caps will become pincushions, and some will hold thimbles (or other tiny stuff).

Decide how many levels you want. Warning: The higher it goes, the less stable it is. I wouldn't go any higher than 5 levels, and shorter is better.

Wrap colorful embroidery thread around the number of spools you need. Important: For the base, use at least three same-height spools. The picture below makes it look like two are under the base, but there's a third one hiding down there. Four is even better.

Choose large lids. as many as you need. The large red lid below came from an organic raisin box. Flip a large lid wrong side up. Arrange and glue small 1" caps in any formation you like. The photo shows 7, but you can use fewer. Balance the weight, and leave room in the middle for the spool. Not every large lid needs small caps.
In the photo below, the blue ridged lid, from a peanut butter jar, is only about 3" across. So it didn't have room to hold any smaller lids. The blue lid is also useful because it has a high rim. That gives extra room to glue smaller lids (the orange and green ones) to its exterior. 

Build your tower, gluing each spool and each lid in place as you go, and balancing the weight. This is tricky, and kids will need help with it.

Make little pincushion puffs as described in the menorah directions above.  I didn't glue the thimbles in place, just rested them, so they can be swapped out.

Since finishing it, I've put a few more little things in it, including some jacks, a dollhouse miniature sewing machine, and this tiny fake Amy Vanderbilt book of etiquette.
I think it would look really awesome with tinsel artistically draped over it - or maybe wrapped around the spools. 

And if these ideas seem vaguely familiar, and you're a longtime reader of this blog, you might remember the grandmother of this idea, a tower-o-stuff that I entered into a two person craft challenge in 2013 and lost! (But I had a gas!)
 This wasn't for any particular holiday, just fun.

 (More about constructing this tower on my blog post here.)

Have fun with these ideas! Wishing everyone a happy, healthy winter holiday season!

Bonus Project

Yesterday afternoon my friend Linda unexpectedly came over with two half-finished dreidel bags, asking for help from my handy glue gun. These are not what you're thinking, small bags to hold dreidels and chocolate coins. Rather, they are large (about 18" high, 13" wide) felt bags that are the functional equivalent of Christmas stockings.

Linda explains that her aunt invented them, and Linda adapted the custom. She made them at the request of her college-age son, for him and his roomate. For the lining, she selected fabrics adjusted to their interests. Below, her son's bag has race cars and Jerusalem fabric inside:

And her son's roomate, who hails from Texas, got cows and tractors inside. Linda stuffed them with candy, Hot Wheels, and other treats.

What holiday decor have you created?


  1. The top of your "Tower of Stuff" would make a lovely "fascinator"! Fun article! Quirky and colourful!

    1. Thank you, HLI. I'd need to use some really serious glue for it to stay intact on heads! But I love the idea....maybe with some feathers and fringe....Thanks for the comment!

  2. So very cute and clever! I love them all. Think I have to start saving tops and empty spools. I have been (gasp!) throwing them away.

    1. Norma, let me know if you need some. I have plenty of extras. Seriously!

  3. CUTE! I applaud your creativity + + + perseverance. That looks very time consuming. It is definitely festive.
    I quit doing any holiday decorations except something on the door or a tiny tree in 2007 when I became disabled/physically challenged. At the moment, I'm trying not to move so that my broken ribs do not cause me any pain.
    Looking forward to the middle of January when I am suppose to be fully healed.

    1. Ann, thanks for your kind note, and I wish you a rapid recovery from your broken ribs so you can get back to your creative activities!

  4. Your festive spool tree reminds me a bit of the Hundertwasserturm at the Kuchlbauer Brewery here in Bavaria. The shapes, the colors, the bits sticking out of the sides...

    My impressions:

    Official information:

    1. OMG, Radish, you made my day! That beer tower does look like spools were part of the inspiration! And I am deeply thrilled to be compared with Hundertwasser in any way! He was far more assymetric than I dared to be! Thanks so much for this delightful insight!

  5. Cathy -- only you could save all the same crap that I do, but you found a use for it! I also made necklaces from the empty spools, for some reason they didn't sell too well at the quilt show. Now I know what to do with those useless old bobbins! Happy Hanukka!

    1. Marla, if I could further encourage your hoarding tendencies, as well as my own, my work here is done!As for old bobbins - I've turned those into necklaces and wired them to barettes. I need an intervention. Happy Hanukah to you and your family, too!

  6. After at least FIVE years in the design and making, I finished the stitching and my husband completed the grommets on our Christmas Tree Quilt.

  7. LynDee, thank you for sending me the photographs! What a wonderful project!

  8. Not Chanukah related, but Passover. We have 4 grandsons and the youngest did not like it when the older ones found the matzoh before him. We always gave them all money. Can't do one without the other!!! A few years ago, I decided to make little bags out of matzoh fabric and was going to put matzoh in each one of the four and hide those. Instead, we just put money in each one so they don't even get crumbs in them. Take care, Cathy

    1. That's brilliant, Roz. I made afikomen bags out of matzoh fabric. When the kids were little, we always hid enough bags to cover all the kids. The bags contained the crumbs...and sometimes the following year I'd find the year-old crumbs in the bags....
      Thanks for the comment, Roz!


Thank you for commenting!