Worried about Christmas presents? Loosen up. No, better idea -- stiffen up.
If your regular stomping grounds include such places as designer show houses, craft shops, and design boutiques, you are probably familiar with bowed baskets. The wicker baskets come in all sorts of shapes, from sturdy picnic hampers to romantic, shallow-sided flower baskets, but they share one thing in common: they are all adorned with extravagant chintz bows, whose puffy loops and rippling ribbons have been
transmuted from soft fabric into something hard and glossy.
Designers and crafters call them Stiffy bows, after Stiffy, a fabric stiffener used in their creation. But Plaid Enterprises, the manufacturers of Stiffy, have coined the more fanciful name "Bow Dazzlers."
According to Louise Tucker, Plaid's special programs administrator, the craft was invented by Avis Everett, an Atlanta-area decorator who was casting about for new ideas for her own home.
"It all started in my garage, literally," says Ms. Everett with a laugh. A friend had encouraged her to learn to stencil; she took a class, loved it, and began to stencil designs on baskets. She soon developed other creative methods for decorating baskets, including wallpaper trimmings and fabric cutouts, and wrote two how-to basket-trimming books for Plaid.
At about the same time, she took another craft class, to learn how to make decorative objects from stiffened muslin. The creations were finished with free-hand painted designs, and Ms. Everett, who claims to be no artist, was disappointed with the results. But the project got her thinking: why not make bows with the most gloriously colorful printed chintzes she could find, and use them to decorate her beloved baskets? So she went into her garage workshop, and perfected the process.
"She brought them to us, and it's become a humongous program for us," Ms. Tucker says. "It's been hot for a couple of years now, and it's still going strong. It's so simple to do. I marvel that somebody hadn't thought of it before."
Together, Ms. Everett and Plaid Enterprises have produced four Bow Dazzler books, each including dozens of fabric projects using Stiffy and other Plaid craft products, including paints and gloss finishes. The paperback books, sold in craft stores, cover basic bow projects, the country look, home-decorating ideas, and Victorian-inspired designs.
One of the books' early and enthusiastic advocates was Betty Ann Furlong, assistant manager of the Ben Franklin craft shop in Parkville. The shop offers free Tuesday and Thursday crafts classes, and the bows, which are easy but versatile and classy, seemed like just the kind of thing that Ms. Furlong's "craft ladies" would be interested in. She taught herself using the books, and began to give classes in bow craft. These proved so popular that they are repeated every two months or so.
Bow craft is especially appropriate to the holiday season, as it can be used to create both properly festive decorative pieces and inventive (but inexpensive) gifts.
The former category might include bowed baskets in a variety of sizes, for displaying Christmas cards, poinsettias and other holiday greenery, miniature Christmas balls, pine cones, or spicy seasonal potpourri; bow-trimmed wreaths, or swags trimmed with dried or artificial flowers and fruits, holly, bells and ornaments. A vertical swag is an elegant adornment for a door, and the horizontal version, with streamers flowing out to the side, can top a doorway, frame an arch, or attract all eyes to a mantelpiece.
A bowed basket is a fine present, too, whether it holds something special or is presented all by itself. Last year, Ms. Furlong made Christmas baskets using holiday-hued plaid fabric, decorated with holly-shaped fabric cutouts and glued-on artificial holly berries.
"It's hard to find things for men, so you can just do a big basket in a plaid that looks nice and masculine, and fill it with towels, or food, or any of their favorite things," she suggests.
A bow project can usually be completed in a couple of hours, much of which is drying time. And little fabric is needed, making it economical.
"If you are doing the big baskets, you will need a 54-inch piece for the real long, wavy streamers, because it's kind of bulky to piece it in the middle," Ms. Furlong says. "That's a yard and a half. If you are cutting it long-ways, you could divide that into thirds and do three sets of bows, or you can do two wide bows, and use that leftover piece for your cutouts on the side of the basket."
(If the fabric is 54 inches wide, or if you want shorter streamers for a smaller basket, you can buy much less fabric.)
Tightly woven glazed cotton fabrics with crisp, shiny surfaces are best for bow projects, and the large floral or bird motifs on some chintzes make beautiful cutouts.
A clean work space is needed, but a special table is not necessary; to make a no-clean work surface that