Tips and Tools for Making My Heirloom Ornaments

I love to design heirloom wool felt Christmas ornaments. Here’s an overview of the tools I use to make crafting my hand-sewn ornaments easier and quicker! (Are you an embroidery newbie? Here’s another post about stripping embroidery threads. Is precision cutting a challenge for you? Check these two posts.)

Can’t say enough about this magical felt craft and embroidery helper.

This adhesive stabilizer is the key to making my heirloom ornaments and Christmas decor. I live in terror of it being discontinued. I miiiiight be hoarding it.

As shown above with my Partridge & Pear pattern, you simply print (or copy) the pattern to the Sulky stabilizer, peel off the backing, apply it to the pre-shrunk* wool felt and stitch right on the lines. It’s FANTASTIC. No pattern tracing or transferring embroidery designs. (Note: if possible, use a printer with toner as opposed to ink – some inkjet inks are water soluble and may stain your floss.)

When you are finished, simply cut out the piece around the outline and soak it in cold water** for 15-20 minutes. The stabilizer dissolves away! After the felt piece has air dried, you have a perfectly executed embroidery design. So good.

You may notice the felt and stitching feels a little stiffer after it’s dry, like it’s been lightly starched. That’s perfectly normal. I actually prefer it because it helps secure your stitching and adds body and durability to the ornament.

And of course, Sulky Stick ‘n Stitch also works great for your regular fabric hoop embroidery projects. You can usually get it online at,,, or Shiny Happy World. And of course, try your local fabric or quilting store.

*You should allow a day to pre-shrink your wool or wool-blend felt sheets before you make the project by simply soaking them with cold water, blotting them on a towel, and letting them air dry.

** The package instructions say warm water for a smaller amount of time, but I prefer to use cool water for a slightly longer time to discourage shrinkage. If you have hard water you may want to use bottled or distilled water to both pre-soak and soak away the stabilizer. According to some users, hard water seems to make rinsing the stabilizer away more difficult.

NOTE: If you have issues with the Sulky refusing to budge even though you are following the instructions, please read this.

2) THREAD MAGIC (formerly known as Thread Heaven)

Do you guys know about Thread Heaven? (Late note: it appears to have been rebranded and repackaged as Thread Magic.) I love this stuff. If you do a lot of embroidery or hand sewing you need to have this right next to you.

It adds a siliconey (technical term) coating to your needle and thread, which keeps knotting and snarling at bay as you sew. It makes the whole process of sewing French knots way less frustrating. If you coat your needle along with the thread it makes poking through the stabilizer as smooth as butter. Mm. Butter. But anyway, I love it and you can get it wherever sewing supplied are sold, but I bought mine here. It seems to last forever because I can’t remember when I bought this one and I still have plenty. I might buy the rebranded stuff just to get the nice new packaging.


Do you guys have a stuffing fork? You might need one. So much better than a dowel, crochet hook or that leadless pencil you’ve been using. It can’t be matched at stuffing tiny, hard to reach areas. Here’s a closeup of the business end:

You are perhaps saying, “So it has a tiny fork at the end, big whoop”. That’s because you don’t realize the fork is GENIUS. You take a loose pinch of stuffing, press it against the smoothly rounded fork and spin the fork like you are eating spaghetti. It makes a compact ball of stuffing that you slide into place in the tiny spot you are trying to stuff. The fork also makes positioning stuffing inside an ornament a cinch. It grabs and repositions the stuffing, whereas a dowel just pokes through it. I use my stuffing fork all the time with my ornament series. I also just bought the mini size for skinny legs.

This is the website listed on the handle for mine: Barbara Willis Designs. You can also search and find them listed on in dollmaking shops. And this just in, Benzie Design has produced their own in-house stuffing tool!


Dritz® Fray Check is listed as optional on my pattern supplies, but it’s really nice to have. It’s a clear, quick drying liquid that keeps things from raveling. Think of it like the hand sewing version of nail polish on your pantyhose.

Metallic embroidery threads tend to ravel and come untied, so just adding a dot of it to your hanging loop attachments and hanging loop knots ensures they won’t ravel with use. I love it for sealing the ends of cut ribbon also. You can see by the (somewhat alarming) label that it’s flammable when wet and you shouldn’t expose it to heat, so keep it away from your iron. It’s available at all your local sewing and crafting stores.


Whoever Aleene is, I’d like to hug her. I love this glue. It’s widely available in the US at any self-respecting local craft store or Wal-mart or I use it on most of my ornaments where glue is needed and also to baste tiny pieces in place (which is more accurate than pinning). (I also spec another glue, Fabri-Tac, for some projects. It is faster drying and kind of like hot glue without the burns. It’s also awesome.)

Tacky Glue is nicely thick and dries to a clear finish pretty fast, but not so fast that you can’t reposition if needed. If used sparingly, I never have trouble sewing through it. If I get a smear of it on something, I can easily wipe it away with a damp cloth. I keep mine stored upside down in a cup at all times so that it stays ready to dot on when I need it. I also cut the hole in the nozzle as small as possible to control the flow of the glue. (Update: I just saw a newly packaged bottle that is designed to sit upside down on its own – thanks, Aleene!)

I never said it was a pretty cup.

LESS IS MORE. Just as important as having the right glue is knowing to use as little as possible to get the job done. In most cases when my patterns call for glue it’s just to tack something in place long enough for you to sew it down without using pins. For basting, just a hint of glue is usually sufficient, just tiny dots or smears.

In some instances, glue is used to hold something permanently in place, like wings. In those cases, you’ll want to use a little more glue, but it still doesn’t take a lot. You’ll know this if you ever accidentally glue two felt pieces together and then try to get them apart.

So do you find that you are glob challenged? Do you have problems with accidentally adding too much? Easy solution: squeeze a large glob of glue on a scrap piece of stabilizer backing. Then use a toothpick to apply the glue to the felt. Voila!


My patterns use a lot of cotton pipe cleaners and also their cheaper, flimsier cousins, chenille stems.

Here’s a side by side comparison of the two. The creamy white one is a BJ Long’s cotton pipe cleaner and the gray one is a craft chenille stem from Joann.

COTTON PIPE CLEANERS: The cotton BJ Long on the left has soft, dense cotton fuzz that is about 3 mm wide. The wire is nicely hidden and the short fuzz makes it more slender. I use them for the interiors of my ornaments because they have a stronger wire and enable you to reposition/bend the arms and legs so the ornaments look more engaging and lifelike.

I also use them on the outside of the ornaments when the thinner look is needed, like for the French Hen’s feet and Maid’s pail handles. If you want a different color than off-white I have seen and purchased packs of colored cotton pipe cleaners, but you can also just dye the cotton pipe cleaner with a few strokes of a permanent fabric marker and let it dry. Another nice advantage of the cotton.

I buy my cotton pipe cleaners here, but you can find smaller packs in local cigar/vape/pipe shops and hardware stores too.

CHENILLE STEMS: Craft store chenille stems have polyester fuzz that is about 6 mm wide, and you can more easily see the wire in the middle. I specify chenille stems for the hair and some accessories on some of my ornaments. The wire inside the chenille stem is more flimsy compared to the cotton pipe cleaners. If you have a tough time finding the cotton pipe cleaners, you can try twisting together two chenille stems to substitute for interior bones. You may have to trim the fuzz to make it work in some places.

I buy my chenille stems anywhere there are craft supplies – they are not hard to find. Check the kid’s craft aisle. On some of my patterns I specify ‘mini’ chenille stems. They can be harder to find, especially since the pandemic. The width is 3 mm as opposed to 6 mm. Benzie Design stocks some if you can’t buy them locally, or you can just give a 6 mm chenille stem a nice haircut with a rotary cutter.


Several of my ornaments use 8 mm (5/16 inch) wood beads and 20 mm (3/4 inch) wood beads. If your craft store is a nice big one they might have those available right on the aisle. In my town these sizes are not usually available, so I ordered them from Etsy. There are several shops that carry them, and you can find them by doing a quick search for the size you need. The ones shown above came from here and here and they were great quality beads.

I like using hardwood beads that have a nice medium color, which is a good contrast if your ornament will have white hair. I find that light colored beads with no visible woodgrain can sometimes be too soft and more prone to bleeding when using gel or fabric pens.

It’s really important to get the right kind of felt for these ornaments. Both 100% wool felts and wool-blend felts work great. Wool-blend felts are a mixture of rayon and wool fibers and are less expensive than 100% wool felts. Most of my samples are made using wool-blend felts. Both kinds work wonderfully well!

I buy my felt online because my local craft store doesn’t carry it. I have a few vendors I like listed in my FAQ if you scroll down to the question about wool felt. I include links to vendors in the back of my patterns in the Resources section. Are you outside of the US? I have a list of international sources also.

COLOR GUIDES AND KITS: I have worked closely with two wonderful US felt vendors to provide samples and color guides to go along with the kits that they sell. You can see more about that here!

Photo courtesy of Benzie Design

For my heirloom projects just say no to synthetic/poly craft felts (except for where I specify poly or stiffened felts in some patterns)! They are plentiful and cheap, but they won’t work for these ornaments. Besides having a limited color range and not being very durable or dense, there are other fatal drawbacks:

1) They don’t adhere well to the Sulky stabilizer or the Tacky Glue.

Small pieces fray and fall apart.

They are not dense enough to hold as small a seam allowance as is called for.

They melt if you iron them.

They appear a bit shiny and can have an almost greasy feel (they are a petroleum product made of acrylic and polyester, I believe).

They develop an unattractive halo of fuzz and pills after being handled for a time.
So. Please use wool or wool-blend felts only.

So that’s it for the tools and tips. I hope this post has been helpful! The heirloom nature of these ornaments and the time it takes to sew them make it worth getting the right tools and supplies. You’ll thank yourself!

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