The Rhodes to a Cosy Home: Textile homeware by Helen Rhodes of HWR Designs

Textile homeware such as doorstops, cushions and fabric wreaths are an easy and attractive way to brighten up any home. Textile designer and artist Helen Rhodes talks to Sara Walker about her work.

Helen’s from South Derbyshire, and has experimented with most forms of craft, but always returned to her first love, textiles. She set up her company, HWR Designs, in 2009 after completing her Foundation degree in Creative Arts for Employment. She now specialises in beautiful, handmade homeware such as aprons, ornaments, cushions and even bags and satchels.

“My inspiration comes from nature and the outdoors, and I make a lot of floral and animal designs, which are really popular,” explains Helen, who works with a huge range of fabrics in different patterns and weights, to give her designs texture and sensory appeal, and also exhibits mixed media textile art throughout the year at local galleries.

“I also love attending craft fairs, it’s good to talk to your customers and build up a relationship. Although I sell online, people like to see and handle the products,” she says.

Helen’s passionate about sourcing re-cycled and vintage fabrics for her projects, and often searches out roll-ends and offcuts to make her work really individual.

Here, she talks us through one of her signature designs, a cute little owl that can be used as a pomander, ornament or even a paperweight.

How to make a fabric owl

Step 1

I start off by choosing the fabric for the body of my owl – I like to use very textured fabric for the body, but avoid anything too thick, stretchy or thin. I then choose a contrasting fabric for the chest and base – tweed or similar works well. If I want to use the owl as a pomander, I’ll include lavender in the filling; if it’s to be a paperweight I’ll include some lead shot or rice to add some substance.

Steps 1 and 2 – choosing fabric and cutting out the pattern

Step 2

Once I’ve chosen the fabrics, I cut out the pattern, making sure that I’m cutting with the grain of the fabric and not across the diagonal, as this could make the pieces stretchy and difficult to use. Then I sew the pieces of the chest and body together, using machine stitching, although using hand stitching would be fine.

Step 2 – sewing the seams

Step 3

Once the body is sewn together, I use dental floss to gather the base edge of the fabric ready for stuffing the shape. Dental floss is preferable for this, as it’s incredibly strong and will hold a knot without locking off completely, so that you can adjust the gather as you go along. I also put the safety eyes in at this stage, if I’m using them.

Step 3 – adding the eyes and gathering the base

Step 4

Now I’m ready to add the toy stuffing, using small amounts and pushing it firmly into the ‘ears’, squeezing and rolling to keep the finished shape as smooth and rounded as possible. If I’m using lavender or weighting, I add this in the middle so that it’s surrounded by soft stuffing, and won’t distort the outer shape. Personally, I find it easiest to stand the owl head first in a ramekin dish to keep it upright whilst adding fillings.

Step 4 – adding the stuffing, including some lavender seeds

Step 5

Once I’m happy with the shape and amount of stuffing, I finish off the base by covering it with a cardboard disc covered in the contrast fabric. Once the body is slip-stitched to the base, the owl should be stable and sit firmly on the disc.

Step 5 – covering the base with fabric

Step 5 cont. – stitching the base to the body

 Step 6

Next, I complete the owl’s face by using circles of felt for eye patches, adding the glass boot button eyes or buttons for the eyes if I haven’t already used safety eyes, and making sure he doesn’t end up with a squint! I make the beak by French knotting, using embroidery silk in my chosen shade.

Step 6 – adding the eye patches

Step 6 cont. – making the beak

Step 7

The finished owl.

Step 7

For more information about Helen and her designs, please visit Prices for Helen’s work start at £3.50, and her owl pattern and full instructions for the project are available to buy on her website. Details of Helen’s events and craft fairs diary for 2013 can be found at her events diary.

By Sara Walker

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