Hand-Sewn Cards: Two Ways

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Who says utilitarian crafts can't be pretty? Greetings cards are possibly one of the most useful things you can keep a stash of in your desk drawer. Just think about what they can do: they show friends who live miles away that you're thinking about them, let someone in need know that they're not alone, make people laugh, let people know how much you appreciate them. The list goes on! Cards say things that, often, we're not brave enough to say to people's faces. Moreover, they set a real challenge... How many cards have you kept out of all of those you've received? If you're anything like me, the answer is probably very few! As well as the difference cards make to their recipients, I find that making cards poses a new challenge each time. How can I make something meaningful enough that it doesn't end up in the recycling-- or worse-- landfill!

At Science Oxford, we run Maker Clubs for children aged 12-17. In these clubs, young people can choose from a range of activities and are encouraged to lead their own projects. They have opportunities to use specialist equipment such as 3D printers, Cricut and laser cutters, and enjoy lower-tech crafts such as needle felting and papercrafts. We're keen to show kids that there is a value in learning new skills and using them to create something meaningful. As the leader of the club, I'm wary of putting too much of an emphasis on specialist equipment. Sometimes, using old fashioned methods of creating can be just as rewarding, both in terms of the enjoyment of the crafter and the result of the project. If we don't communicate this, we're at risk of raising a generation of kids who can do everything digital but have no clue how to sew on a button!

In this Instructable, I will share two examples of handmade cards, each of which uses sewing in some way. The skills involved in each card are a combination of good old fashioned crafting skills, and the use of more specialist equipment. Wherever possible, I will provide alternatives for those of you who don't have the equipment I have. The first card (steps 1-4) makes use of a special cutting die and die cut machine to create your base for sewing. The second (steps 5-12) is designed digitally using Cricut Design Space and cut using a Cricut. For both projects, it is the sewing which makes them special. Practical and adorable!

Supplies:

To make each card using my methods, you will need the following:

Die-cut Card

Watercolour cardstock

Paper trimmer

Cross Stitch Cutting Die (I used this one. It is made by a US brand but I purchased it from a UK retailer. US shoppers can buy the same die from here.)

Die cut machine

Optional but helpful: Metal shim plate for your die cut machine

Selection of embroidery threads. I like to use threads by Anchor or DMC

Embroidery needle

Scissors

Cardstock/ card blank

Craft foam

Double sided tape

Embellishments (stamps, dies, other embellishments of your choice)

Cricut Card

Cricut machine with fine point blade (Explore or Maker- either would work just fine)

Cricut Access (optional for this particular design)

Laptop/ Tablet/ Computer with internet access

Standard grip cutting mat

Paper trimmer

Scissors

Cardstock

Glue pen

Double sided tape

Embroidery thread

Embroidery needle

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Step 1: Die Cut Card- Preparing Your Materials

The first thing you need to do when making a hand-stitched die cut card is to prepare your materials. To do this, take some watercolour cardstock (I chose this because it is generally a good weight. You want a card that is strong enough to hold your stitching but not so thick that it is hard to die cut) and run it through your die cut machine with your cross stitch die.

If you have never used a die cut machine before, it is very straight forward. Think of your dies as being like cookie cutters. They cut into paper (or card, felt or craft foam) to cut out precise shapes. This happens as the machine applies pressure, pushing the die into your material. You sandwich your card and die between two plastic plates. These are all put through the machine together. My die cut machine is manual, meaning it is turned by hand. With a die as big as this, it can require a little bit of muscle, but you should never force it as this is how accidents happen! I find it helpful with intricate dies like this one to use a metal shim plate underneath your cardstock. This helps the die cut with more precision. I found that when using the shim plate, I had fewer holes that needed to be poked out by hand as the die was able to give a cleaner cut.

If you're using your die cut machine for the first time, you will notice that once you have run your die through you're left with horrible indents on your cutting plates! This is perfectly normal and won't affect how your plates work in the future. You will find that with continued use (like mine) that your plates scratch and warp and look, ultimately, hideous. They will eventually snap but they do have a very good life beforehand!

Sometimes, keeping your die exactly where you want it can be tricky. I have found two solutions to this problem:

1. You can use a tiny piece of washi tape to hold your die in place on your cardstock. I have tried this with Sellotape and masking tape but have found both tend to rip the cardstock. Washi tape is normally much more gentle but you can, occasionally, be left with an indent of the tape on your cardstock once it has been removed. Often, you can find a way to disguise this when you make your card!

2. Use a bigger piece of card than you need and then use your paper trimmer to cut it down once it has been die cut. You may end up wasting a bit more card this way, but it can lead to a neater result. If your die cuts on the wonk it doesn't matter too much at all!

Now you have prepared your base, you're ready to start stitching!

Step 2: Die Cut Card- Sewing and Embellishing

Sewing onto card has become one of my favourite things to do for many reasons. First of all, you have so many possibilities. You aren't sewing to a specific pattern so have the freedom to be as creative as you like. Secondly, it is relaxing, and can be done on the sofa, on the go, anywhere really! Finally, it can take as little or as long as you want. Once you get into the habit, sewing your cards can be fairly quick, but some designs are naturally quicker than others. Designs like the purple card above take much longer as the whole card consists of individual cross stitches (so every hole is used four times). The others were quicker as there are fewer stitches. Feel free to use my images for suggestions to get you started. I'm sure that once you start stitching your creative juices will start to flow and you'll create some wonderfully unique designs.

Because your sewing will be mounted onto a card blank, you ideally want your stitches to be as neat as possible on the back. I found that using a small amount of tape to adhere the ends of my thread to the back of my card was the easiest way of making this happen. Using this method means you avoid tying big knots on the back of your card which can look lumpy on the finished project.

Another thing I love about these cards is that the stitching creates a perfect base for a card for any occasion. I've made get well soon cards, birthday card, thank you cards using stitching. The cards above are all Christmas cards. I decided that I wanted my Christmas cards for 2018 to all be coordinating so I used stamps and dies from the same set on each of the cards. I love the warmth that sewing brings to Christmas cards, even if I did start making them in July! The ones I used are here: dies and stamps. Again, they are made by a US brand, but I bought them through a UK retailer. To make the mitten embellishments, I first mounted my stamp to an acrylic block. Then, I applied ink to the stamp, and pressed it firmly onto a smooth cardstock (you get a much crisper image using smooth cardstock). Once the ink was dry, I used my dies (secured with a tiny piece of washi tape) to cut the stamped images. I then attached a piece of metallic thread between the mittens, secured with small pieces of tape on the back. I then stuck the mittens to the card using foam adhesive.

Adaptations:

You don't need to use stamps and dies to make beautiful embellishments for your cards. For those of you with patience, fussy-cutting images can be very relaxing and produce lovely results! You can also buy a huge range of pre-made embellishments from craft stores. This might be a good place to look for inspiration. You'll notice that on one of my cards I used plasters and googly eyes. Look around your home for items that could make a quirky addition to your card!

Step 3: Die Cut Card- the Finishing Touches

Once your sewing and embellishing is complete, you will need to finish off your card by mounting it onto a card blank or a folded piece of cardstock.

I like to cut my card blank to be slightly larger than my stitched piece so that a small border is visible around the outside. This is optional.

I have found that the best way to mount your sewing onto your card is to use either craft foam or foam tape. This helps to give a bit of dimension and keeps your sewing looking smooth. Using craft foam slightly smaller than your sewn piece, and adhering it between your stitching and card blank with double sided tape usually works well.

Top Tip: These cards can, because of all the thread they use, become quite thick and heavy. Make sure you factor this in when posting your cards, as you want to make sure your postage is sufficient for it to reach your recipient! Also, if using delicate embellishments, it is a good idea to place an extra piece of card in your envelope to protect your card in the mail. Some countries' mail systems can be quite aggressive with cards!

Step 4: Die Cut Card- an Alternative Method

Want to have a go at a hand-sewn card but don't have the right die or a die cut machine? Never fear! I have an alternative.

Attached you will find a template which you can print out and use to create your own stitch-able card base. Simply use small pieces of washi tape to hold your template in place over your watercolour paper. Then, using a needle or an awl, poke holes where the lines intersect. Using this template will ensure your holes are evenly spaced and your watercolour paper stays clean of any pencil marks. It is quite a labour of love-- it will take a while, but get a good podcast on and poke away. The results are totally worth it.

Step 5: Cricut Card- Set Up Your Canvas in Cricut Design Space

To begin, draw a square on your canvas. You can select a square under ‘shapes’ on the left-hand panel. Using the panel across the top, change the size of your square. I made mine 5 ½ inches, but you can change this measurement depending on what size you’d like your card to be. The square automatically is set to the ‘cut’ function, which is the correct setting as this will be the front of our card. I changed the colour of my square to white using the top panel because a) I plan to cut it on white card and b) when I design on top of the square, it makes my work easier to see.

Step 6: Cricut Card- Draw Your Molecule

Next, draw out your molecule using a series of lines. You can find the lines under ‘shapes’ on the left-hand panel. Under 'linetype' on the top panel, you want to set these lines as ‘draw’. Ultimately, this bit doesn’t matter as the lines are only a guide for the moment. They will help us with the next step without featuring on our finished project! Select all of your lines and attach them to your square using the button to the right of your screen (not pictured here). This tells your Cricut that these lines have to be drawn as they appear and cannot be moved. The Cricut naturally wants to be as economical as possible with space when making projects, so will rearrange them to fit in the smallest space possible. Attaching your lines tells the machine not to do this.

Step 7: Cricut Card- Add Cut Holes for Threading

Select circle from the ‘shapes’ tab and draw a tiny circle (less than 1/8 inch in diameter). The circle should be big enough to pass an embroidery needle through without having to pull on the paper. These holes need to be set to the ‘cut’ setting as they will be the holes through which you stitch the bonds of your molecules. I found it useful to copy and paste the same circle multiple times as this ensured they were all a uniform size. Position your circles at the intersections of your lines and, once again, ‘attach’ them so everything stays together.

Step 8: Cricut Card- Add Your Sentiment

Now add your sentiment and details to your molecule. I selected two different colours so that my machine understood that I wanted them cut from different colours of cardstock. The chemists among us will (hopefully) get a little chuckle out of the sentiment ‘Wishing you Happiness’. This card features a serotonin molecule- a neurotransmitter associated with happiness. Serotonin has the chemical formula C10H12N2O and is arranged like the molecule on the card.

When choosing your sentiment and other details, it is worth bearing in mind that your Cricut will cut them out. If they are too tiny, they can be incredibly fiddly to arrange neatly. A tip to help with arranging your wording is to keep the negative space that it cuts from. Position the negative space on your card and piece in the letters like a jigsaw puzzle. This helps to keep letters evenly spaced and in a straight line. I find that using a glue pen works better than traditional PVA glue or a glue stick. It is generally less sticky, requiring you to work quickly, but the results are often much neater when it comes to fiddly projects.

Step 9: Cricut Card- Hide Your Lines

Hide the lines you drew using the eye symbol on the right hand side of your canvas (not pictured). This doesn’t delete them, just tells your machine not to draw them when you make the project. This will allow for a much neater finished project as you will not be stitching on top of drawn lines, instead, your stitching creates the bonds in your molecule.

Step 10: Cricut Card- Make It!

When you hit ‘make it’, you will notice your project is on 3 different mats. The first mat is the piece you will stitch; it only has holes cut into it. The second and third each have parts of the sentiment which will cut from separate pieces of paper. Follow the instructions on your screen to make your project, cutting one mat at a time. If using a Cricut Explore, turn your dial to the ‘cardstock’ setting. If using a Cricut Maker, select ‘cardstock’ from the list of materials.

Once everything has been cut out, keep your pieces safe! Some of them will be tiny. Don’t throw away the negative space as this will help you to position your letters. Choose a piece of cardstock in a coordinating colour on which to mount your card later on. I have chosen a happy yellow.

With your tiny letters adhered to your card in the correct place, all that’s left to do is to stitch your molecule! I find that using a small piece of tape to stick the end of the embroidery thread to the back of your card does the trick and helps the front of the card stay flat. Once you have stitched your card, mount it onto a piece of your coordinating cardstock trimmed to 12x6 inches and scored in half to make a 6-inch square card.

Attached is a document detailing the steps needed to make this card in Cricut Design Space!

Step 11: Cricut Card- Another Idea

As well as a serotonin card, I made a card featuring an adrenaline molecule. Adrenaline is produced by the adrenal glands and you can feel its effects on your body when it kicks in. When you can feel your blood pumping, your heart rate rising and you go into fight or flight mode, you know adrenaline is making its voice heard. This card would be perfect for anyone who is feeling the nerves and needs a bit of good luck!

Along with this card, I included a brief description of what adrenaline is; the information is mounted on the back of the card.

Step 12: Cricut Card- How to Make It Without a Cricut

If you don't have a Cricut machine, these hand-sewn cards are still a breeze to make. Simply print the templates attached and use them as a guide to poke holes into your card, ready to be threaded with whichever embroidery thread you like! There are 8 templates for you to choose from!

Sentiments can easily be drawn on by hand, or you could use alphabet stamps if you have them.

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    4 Discussions

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    Alex in NZ

    7 weeks ago

    I love the molecule cards. You should post one for 1,3,7 trimethylxanthene (my favourite methylxanthine). Thank you for sharing your work: I love the details of the design process :-)

    1 reply