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Experimental Sewing

So I don’t actually know how to sew.

I have never learned to use a machine, and all these stuffed animals are basically made with one stitch, by hand, and the lumps are hidden under faux fur. I design the bodies by cutting out a shape on paper that looks sort of like it should work. Pludwump was basically a football with a head, Rough Seams involved some real sewing atrocities on the inside of the body, and I had to do Quippet twice over. (That I have succeeded at all never fails to amaze me—fabric is clearly forgiving stuff!)

And now I want to try making a thing with a soft head instead of resin parts—I have this grandiose vision of a faux mink stole with the head attached, only the head is a stuffed animal, possibly with tongue hanging out, and I don’t think resin would be very comfortable–but since I have no pattern and the head is not faux fur, I have to actually make a pattern.

I have a couple of books on sewing stuffed animals. I basically took a head pattern that looked sort of right and freehanded it to more-or-less the right size. (Probably less…) and now I get to go mutilate some innocent fleece to try to make it look sort of like the thing in my head. And sketchbook.

Either it’ll work or it won’t, and if it doesn’t, I may try a very flattened sculpted head because I am totally in love with the idea, but I want to at least try it this way first.

Is there a trick to making patterns that I am just missing that makes this all super easy, or is it all “try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?”


Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

I sort of think it is the second one. I haven't made toys (I had a need for calico dinosaurs) in a long time, but that is the method I used. XD

It might help to buy a lot of cheap scrap test fabric to try stuff out on. That way you can find out what works, what doesn't, and not mess up the fabric you actually do like.

I think the trick just comes with practice and experience with how different fabrics work.

I've been told that old bed sheets from the thrift store are an excellent source for test fabric. I haven't had to bother, since a while back I snagged an entire bolt of broadcloth on clearance.

Um, so, theoretically, how do you feel about fanart?

Err...I'm fine with it, within reason?

For 3D objects I prototype with paper and tape, or paper towels if I need more flexibility. All my books on sewing are garment focused, not dolls/toys, so I basically drape things that are vaguely the right shape and pinch and fold to get the first draft. Knowing what shape of dart or seam results in what shape largely comes with practice.

Edited at 2013-03-13 11:15 pm (UTC)

Seam allowance, darts for curvy places.

try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?”

That's Engineering, that is.

I make all my patterns by hand, and it's been a lot of guesswork, trial-and-error, and hunting for examples of what other people have done. The fabrics you're using are definitely more forgiving than what I usually use, though. You might want to buy some cheap $1.50/yard muslin and make patterns with that first, then sew them together to see if they're coming out even close to right. Then you can take those pieces apart again, adjust them, and come up with something close before cutting into your final fabric.

It's kind of an amazing idea, and you could totally sell them, if you work out how to make them quick enough for it to be worthwhile.

Allow extra seam allowance, and mock up in muslin (aka cheap fabric of your choice.) I've also had good luck when mocking up patterns by sewing the seams on the outside, to take in or let out seams easily. Don't cut the fleece until the test shape works for you. Once you have a mock-up you like, clean up the seams (standardize the width) mark anything that you need to remember (darts, where to stop stitching, things like that) on the fabric, take it apart, and press it flat. Voila, pattern!

FWIW, fleece and furry fabrics are considered challenging by many sewists (sewers, seamstresses, whatever). So you're starting at the hard end, as it were. Also don't knock yourself for hand sewing; a lot of high end sewing is done by hand even today because it's sometimes the simplest way to do complicated things.

See, I think fleece and fur are considered challenging only because they're so different from things like cotton and so on. But I learned to sew on faux fur, and I find sewing on "normal" fabrics incredibly difficult and challenging. So I think it's just what one gets used to.

There is no trick - the process you describe is exactly correct. I usually add a touch of frustrated temper tantrum to the mix if no one's around to see me lose it.

You wait until nobody's around? Wow. I have no idea anymore how many people have seen me swearing and throwing my sewing at walls.

Extra seam allowance has made a huge difference in my life. I add it to ready made patterns just in case something needs to be a little looser or shifted. Multicoloured pencils/markers are also good, especially for making 2nd/3rd/4th drafts on the same pattern. I use either Sharpies or felt tips since I have the motor skills of a howler monkey with dressmaker's pencils. Two other useful things are a french rule and a seam allowance metal measurey thing. Not vital, but very, very helpful.

Hand sewing is definitely a lost art and requires a lot more effort than people give it credit for. I look at things my grandmother made and the teeny, even stitches blow my mind. It's a labour of love.

Actually, even hand stitching is muscle memory - and not that difficult, really. Hand sewing IS the way to go on complex shapes though.

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You might try making a lovely papermache-tape-what-ever-there-is-laying-about model of the shape you want to pattern, then go from that. The easiest way I've found to make clothing patterns is to make a duct-tape wrap of my torso and draw lines and cut it apart. Ta-da pattern.

“try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?”

This is how I (and many others of my aquaintance) approach pattern-making and adjustment, yes.
Also, are you trimming the pile of the fluff in your seam allowances? I understand that that makes sewing faux-fur (and real fur for that matter) a whole lot easier/neater.

my pattern-making technique is largely trial-and-error, but it helps to be pretty good at spatial orientation.

Get a pad of graph paper, and some tape. Look at the shape of a professionally-made stuffed animal to get some idea of where the seams go, and the shape of the pieces. Or look up some free stuffed animal patterns, and compare the shape of the flat pieces to the final stuffed piece.

sketch out the pieces that you think might work on the paper pretty big (graph paper makes it easier to do symmetry), cut them out, and stick them together with a few pieces of tape. If you don't like how the shape turns out, trim the edges and retape until you do.

Or you can print out a free pattern that's sort of similar to what you're looking for, and modify it: for a mink I'd think of starting with a bear pattern, and lengthening and rounding the nose area, and maybe making the forehead piece wider, and the sides of the head shorter. then cut it out and tape together to check the 3D shape. Darts are good to round out a shape: cut a slit in the paper and wrap the sides over each other and tape when you like the shape.

Once you have a paper shape that you like, mark fur direction (if you think you'd like to use fur for it at some point- usually away from the nose), and write the name of the piece on it. Then cut the tape to separate the pieces. (if you have darts like I described above, cut down the center of the overlapped area to the tip) Trace the paper pieces onto a new piece of paper leaving a decent bit of space between them (something heavier like bristol is nice if you plan to reuse it) and draw your seam allowance of choice around the pieces. use at least a 1/4 inch seam allowance, wider if you want (usually 5/8 is the widest). If you're using a sewing machine, it should have marks on the throat plate showing different seam allowances, or you can measure and put some tape on the neck to make sure you keep a consistent distance when sewing.

and always do a mockup first. you can use muslin, or any fabric that behaves roughly the same as your final fabric in things like stretch and thickness. For polarfleece, you could use one of those cheap thin fleece blankets to get a really good mockup

I've had some luck with copying existing plush toys (this only works if you have one that's similar to what you want, of course) - find the seams, use a tape measure to measure the length of each seam, guesstimate (or measure) the angles and curves, lay out on graph paper, wrap your graph paper patterns around the original to see if you're close, add seam allowance when you cut from fabric. But that's probably at least as likely to fail horribly as the "mutilate a pattern from a book" method.

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Having Googled mink stole, some of them look pretty frightful when they keep the head, they add a whole new meaning to "glassy eyed stare"

When designing heads the trick is in the top gusset, this defines the shape of the head.