I share a love of craft with several of my friends and one of them recently gave birth. Some weeks before the happy event, I discovered that she was going to make decorations for her birth room. I asked what she was planning, thinking that I’d like to make and send her something. She told me she was going to make a garland, perhaps including hearts for the hormone of love, but that anything made with joyful natural birth wishes embedded into it would be lovely.
I sent a parcel of birth hearts and happy birth wishes and, just before I mailed it, another crafty friend spotted them and asked if I would share details of how I made them. She had heard me speak about the relationship between craft and birth and thought she might use this as an activity to encourage relaxation and stimulate discussion around – and maybe even the release of! – oxytocin in her pregnancy groups.
A few years ago, I made a load of these to exchange for crowdfunding when we launched the Birth Information Project. That is supported in other ways now, but I still have a soft spot for our hearts, and we often scatter a few on the table when we take our books and craft items to workshops and conferences.
How to make birth hearts…
They are really easy (and inexpensive) to make. There’s no need to worry about hems, and here’s the lowdown for anyone else who might be interested…
1. Cut two heart shapes out of a piece of cotton fabric … the ones in the pictures are a variety of sizes, with the larger ones being about the size of the palm of my hand. You might want to prepare a heart-shaped template and draw round this on the back of the fabric before cutting out, or you can cut freehand if you’re more confident, perhaps folding the fabric in half first if you want to make the final shape symmetrical.
2. Put the pieces of fabric together, right sides facing outwards, and pin the fabric together to keep them from slipping apart while you sew.
3. Thread a needle with 2-3 strands of embroidery thread in a contrasting colour and sew a running stitch around the heart, keeping your stitches about a centimetre from the edge. Stop when you get to about 5-6cm before the point where you started so you have a hole through which to stuff.
4. Remove the pins and stuff your heart with craft filling. Optionally you can pop a few dried lavender flowers or similar in there as well (though mind the gaps if your stitches are big!)
5. Finish sewing round the heart and fasten off the thread by sewing over the last stitch two or three times. Cut the thread.
6. If you like, you can use a small sharp pair of scissors (nail scissors are great for this) to put a few ‘snips’ around the edge, roughly a centimeter apart from each other. Don’t snip in as far as the stitches, though! This will allow the edge to ‘relax’ a bit and gives a nice effect.
7. Sew a button onto the middle of the heart, making sure that you sew firm stitches which go all the way through to the back of the heart if you want to get the ‘dimpled’ effect.
8. Optionally, sew a piece of ribbon (or a loop of embroidery thread) onto the back if you want to be able to hang the heart up. It’s worth testing the location to see if the heart will hang nicely by pinning the ribbon or thread on before you sew it, though … if it’s too low, you might find that the heart tips forward when you try to hang it up.
What you might need if you want to try this:
- A selection of pieces of fabric. I allow around 10cm x 20cm of fabric for each heart. Bear in mind that some people will finish one quickly and may like to make another.
- Heart-shaped templates (make from cereal boxes or similar).
- Pens (to draw the shape onto the back of the fabric).
- Scissors (3-4 people can share a pair if necessary).
- Embroidery thread.
- Pins (optional, and experienced sewers may not need them, but some people will find them helpful).
- Sewing needles (large eyes are great for non-sewers, but make sure they will go through the holes in the buttons!)
- Stuffing (can be toy stuffing, recycled fabric scraps or dried herbs, such as lavender).
- An assortment of buttons.
- Ribbon (or more embroidery thread) for hanging.
A few tips…
- When I use this in a group, I allow up to an hour for the activity, although experienced crafters will be able whip one of these up more quickly than that.
- As an activity, this works on multiple levels, and it’s completely up to you whether you engage in/present it as a hand-centred task to help reduce stress, as a way of getting used to the idea of the arrival of the baby, as a focus to discuss oxytocin as the ‘hormone of love’ (and even as a possible means of stimulating oxytocin), as a shared activity to encourage group bonding and/or as a way of embedding hopes and wishes into a physical decoration for the birth room. Or offer all of the above ideas and leave it open for participants to choose which of those they can best relate to.
- Offer a selection of fabrics, and/or invite participants to bring their own fabric. Perhaps something that has meaning for them. Always bring some, though, as somebody will always forget, not know what to get, or leave their fabric at home by mistake.
- You don’t have to use cotton. Felt or similar fabrics can also work really well. I would personally avoid fabrics like velvet that will ‘shed’ if their edges aren’t hemmed, or anything like silk that is slippy and hard to sew.
- It is absolutely normal to wonder if people will think you’re mad! Like with any activity, feel the fear and try it anyway, accepting that not everyone will necessarily get it.
If you try this, please share photos! You can tag me on Instagram…