Inca Hearts


  • Scraps of fabrics in your chosen colour scheme
  • Cotton or sheer foundation fabric big enough to fit a 20cm tambour frame (embroidery hoop), in a colour that will tone with the appliqué
  • Machine embroidery threads. Contrasting colours or use a variegated metallic machine thread.
  • Hand embroidery thread such as coton à broder or gold fingering for tassels
  • 16 - 20cm of narrow ribbon to hang each heart
  • Stiff iron on interfacing 12x10cm square for a large heart, 6x5cm for a small heart
  • Thin card for templates
  • Tambour frame 20cm (embroidery hoop that will fit under your machine foot)

Finished Size

Large heart: 10.5 x 9cm (4 x 31/2in) plus tassel 8cm (3in)

Small heart: 4.5 x 4cm (13/4 x 11/2 in) plus tassel 3cm (1in)

Skill Level


Here is a quick project that will make an unusual decoration for the Christmas tree. This technique is excellent for using up scraps of fabric. When selecting your fabrics, choose either one colour, or go for a metallic finish, such as gold or silver. To finish, the Inca Heart has a tassel or embellishment sewn to the point and a length of ribbon attached to hang it from the tree.


  1. Make a template from card using the shapes provided. There are two sizes of heart shown.
  2. Draw the shape of the heart on the foundation fabric but do not cut out.
  3. Cut up top fabrics into tiny pieces about 1 to 2cm (1/2-3/4in). Do not use sheers or net at this stage. Pin the scraps to the ground fabric, using the marked shape as a guide. Overlap the drawn shape slightly.
  4. Stitch the scraps down with straight stitch on the sewing machine, removing the pins as you go. Work from side to side in a fairly random way, and use a toning thread. Figure 1.
Figure 1: Attaching the fabric.
Figure 1: Attaching the fabric.

TIP! Put some fabric in the frame and pull the fabric taut. Practise, until you are happy with the stitch. If necessary adjust the top tension.

Figure 2: Zig-zag round the edge.
Figure 2: Zig-zag round the edge.

The embroidery

  1. Mount the fabric in the hoop. Place in the machine so that the fabric is flat (the inside of the hoop is showing).
  2. Replace the usual foot with an embroidery or darning foot, drop or cover the feed dog and loosen the top tension.
  3. Stitch over the scraps of fabric. Make sure the raw edges are stitched down. As you work, change the colour of the top thread so that you stitch with a variety of colours. There is no need to change the thread on the bobbin.
  4. After stitching with several different colours, add small pieces of sheer fabric or net. These will help to blend the applied fabrics. Add some more machine embroidery.

TIP! If you have worked with coloured thread use a metallic for your last stitching to add a bit of sparkle.

Make up the heart

  1. Remove the embroidery from the frame.
  2. Draw the heart shape on the back of the stiff ironon interfacing.
  3. Place the interfacing centrally over the back of the embroidery, and iron into place. Do not do this if you have used a sheer foundation and want a transparent look.
  4. Cut out the heart.
  5. Set the machine to zigzag and select a short stitch length. Test the stitch on a scrap of fabric and adjust until you have the stitch you want. A close zigzag is better than a solid satin stitch.
  6. Stitch around the Inca Heart and also round the hole. Go round the heart at least three times allowing the stitches to build up until a solid edge is achieved (see Figure 2).

TIP! If you want to make several hearts in the same colour scheme, it will be more efficient to make up a larger piece of fabric and then cut several hearts from it.

Figure 3: The finished decoration
Figure 3: The finished decoration

Transparent Hearts

Before removing from the hoop, stitch around the heart following the marked line. Cut out carefully, just outside this line, as it will be very fragile. Layer a few extra pieces of fabric over the edge to make a softer edge and stitch in place with a small zigzag going round a few times as before.

Finishing the heart

  1. Make a tassle with coton à broder or gold fingering.
  2. Insert a loop at the top, and attach this to the point of the heart. A bead can be placed between the heart and the tassel.
  3. Add a ribbon to the top to hang it by.
Finished Inca Hearts.

Alternative finish

A string of faceted beads add sparkle. Or for the blue transparent heart Greta has joined a row of 2cm (3/4in) squares on the diagonal to make a string like a kites tail.

Why not make as gift labels or Christmas cards that will be treasured and hung on the tree for years to come?

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 9 Number 6 - December 2001