Steel wool is one of those items I buy in bulk, use one for a project, and then have to find space to store the rest. I only use steel wool once or twice a year, but I hate to just throw it out—so I’ve been trying to brainstorm unconventional ways to use up the steel wool in my shop. Steel wool is unique because it’s a strong substance shaved down into a malleable material. It’s this paradox that makes steel wool so good for things like cleaning and polishing. It’s also great for sharpening, which is why I came up with the idea of making a pincushion out of steel wool.
You may remember the pincushion I’m currently using—the elephant—from past sewing DIYs. I love how adorable it is. Unfortunately, something about the material or the construction seems to be dulling my pins. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when I’m working with delicate fabrics. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by using up some of the steel wool from my stash and creating a pincushion that keeps my pins sharp.
And what would the point of creating a pincushion be if it wasn’t also adorable? Or, at least, that’s my general approach. So here’s a cute cactus pincushion! The first design (the light green one) came out of my head and is a shorter, rounder cactus. This style works well with the steel wool stuffing since steel wool needs a little more wiggle room than poly-fil to look good. The second design (the dark green one) was inspired by the lifestyle blog, “A Beautiful Mess." Sewing the pieces together to create different channels is genius—but I wanted a less angular design, so that’s what I’ve provided for you. Because of the small compartments for stuffing, I don’t recommend using steel wool to stuff this design. It’s just not worth the effort, and there isn’t room to move the steel wool around to make it look its best (not lumpy). So if you’re using steel wool, I’d go for the first design.
Either way, you’ll end up with a cute place to store your pins. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Print and cut out template
Print the template for the cactus style you’ll be making, then cut it out. You can download the templates for both patterns here, or feel free to take inspiration from what we’ve created and make it your own by designing your own pattern.
Step 2: Cut felt
Pin your pattern onto your felt, and cut around it with a pair of scissors. Cut six of each pattern.
There are two types of felt. Acrylic felt comes in very bright, primary colors in letter-sized sheets at any craft store. Wool felt comes in a wider range of more muted colors in slightly larger sheets. I love the shades of green I purchased for this project from Pacific Fabrics. I also used this same kind of felt for the DIY computer case I made in September of 2018.
Step 3: Sew first design
For the light green cactus design, sew two pieces of felt together down one long side from the point to the base with a 1/8” seam. Pin another piece to the second piece and sew together in the same manner. Repeat until all six pieces are lined up in a row. Then, line up the two outside edges and sew them together (also with a 1/8” seam). Tie all of the threads at the top into a knot and trim the excess.
The thread on this cactus will be visible in the finished product, so pick your thread color accordingly.
Step 4: Sew second design
For the darker green cactus design, line up the pattern pieces in pairs and sew around the edges with a 1/8” seam. Make sure to leave the bottom open so you can fill the pincushion. You’ll end up with three pairs. Line the pairs up together and draw a line down the middle, using the paper pattern folded in half as a guide. Pin the pairs together and sew down this middle line. Feel free to hand sew this part if this is too much material for your sewing machine to get through.
Step 5: Stuff pincushions
Stuff the dark green cactus with poly-fil or a stuffing of your choice.
For the light green cactus, unfold the steel wool into a long strip and cut the strip into squares. Fold the corners of a square into the center, like you’re making a cootie catcher. Then, fold the corners in again and hold in place. Fit the folded piece of steel wool into the cactus, then carefully unfold the corners. This was the best way I found to stuff the pincushion without the steel wool getting lumpy and making the cactus look sickly. I tested varying textures of steel wool and found the finer the better. The pins had a hard time inserting smoothly into medium coarse steel wool.
The key to stuffing is to use a lot of it—and this goes for steel wool, too. You’ll never be able to get rid of lumps if you don’t have enough stuffing to fill your cactus.
Step 6: Add cactus flowers
For a finishing touch, I added a trio of pom-poms at the top of each cactus with hot glue. This really makes the cacti eye-catching, and it covers up that knot of threads at the top of the light green cactus.
Step 7: Pot your cactus
“Pot” your cactus by applying hot glue to the inside of a terra-cotta pot and inserting the cactus. This could also be done with a multi-purpose glue—just make sure it’s a glue that works on both terra-cotta and felt.