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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.

Engineering triangles

From my experence, making 3D objects from sheets, triangles are your friend. The hard part is defining your 3D shape into a series of triangles. Once that very hard part is over, the triangles can be laid flat onto any substance from paper to faberic to stainless steel. triangles that share long straight edges, (and all other material properties) can be joined in the flat pattern, but may have to be bent somehow along the line. Add seam allowances, (often for welding or riveting in my case). Add location markings so pieces are joined together in the correct locations. If it's a one shot deal, I almost always make a test piece first from paper or cardboard, before cutting the final product.


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?”

Over the course of one three week period, I made thirty-five drafts of a garment I was constructing, during which time I basically holed up alone and spoke to no one, because I was not fit company.

May the force be with you.

One does NOT disparage the Pludwhump! He is SVELTE! SVELTE DAMN IT! :D

He is a slender and graceful football!

“try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?” is pretty much what I do, except instead of cry, I go mat farming in WoW or play Tomb Raider 2.
For larger patterns I also make a duct tape dummy out of crumpled news paper and tape. I don't bother with tiny details. I just get the basic shapes and pin cheap scrap fabric to them.

Some people take measurements and draft a pattern and then adjust it to make it work. You might be able to make an existing pattern work that way, but drafting doesn't seem like your style. For a completely new pattern, I strongly suspect trial-and-error or draping would come more easily to you than trying to draft something.

Trial-and-error you've detailed already, draping involves manipulating a flat sheet of material into a pattern. Some people use tape, some use paper, some thing sacrificial non-stretch fabric. You drape it over something that's roughly the right shape, like a plushie or statuette or something, pinching out or smooshing on the bits that are in the way of making it fit. It's a bit like trying to smoothly wrap an irregular-shaped present. Then you put in seam lines to join up all the pinched-out bits, cut along them and cut off big sticky-outy bits. Then add seam allowances and do a test run in sacrificial fabric (or your final fabric, if you feel like living dangerously).

I've been sewing for fifteen years and if there's an easier way than “try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?” I've never found it

And yes, fabric is REALLY FORGIVING! Well, fake fur anyway, if you feel like doing something in bias-cut satin, you might want to reconsider

Sewing wise, though, it's worth learning how to do the three basics - running stitch, back stitch and whip stitch - because it'll ultimately save you time and energy. Anything more complicated than those three is witchcraft

My sister sprays the crap out of flimsy, fussy fabrics with starch. Then the stuff has the texture of paper and is much easier to work with.

Others have given you way more advice than I could; I'm just here to put in a plea that when you make that stole, you make an operable puppet head on it.

It should be able to talk.

I have no useful advice, but I do find it peculiarly heartening to know that I'm not the only one who insists on making her own patterns and sewing things without having any real idea of what she's doing. :)

I should probably ask my mother for her advice about this - she's been a professional seamstress for over 40 years.

I have a fuzzy memory from my childhood (fuzzy due to distance, fading eyesight and the content, as you will see) of helping to stuff several hundred plush Heffalumps that my mother had made for an order. The two parts of this memory that stand out the most are that the trunks were a right &%&*% to do (they were curved) and the image of our living room completely filled with a pile of multicoloured, plush Heffalumps, each about standard teddy bear size.

I had an odd childhood, yes.

In my experience it's a lot easier to sew faux fur by hand than it is with a machine anyway. But yeah, you just keep trying until it works.

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?”

No, that's pretty much it. Sometimes with more profanity.

Millinery needles, curved mattress needles, and dolling needles--they are wonderful things when making 3-D shapes and when sewing with fake fur. Also, beeswax for the thread, it makes it less slippery and keeps it from tangling and knotting so much. Elmer's glue works wonderfully as a cheapie quickie fray-check. Hand-quilter's thread is nice and sturdy and heavy.

I can't add anything to the advice here, just an anecdote. The first (and to date, only) time I worked on a head pattern for a stuffed animal, I ran up a test version in some sturdy green twill I happened to have scraps of. When stuffed it didn't turn out as I wanted it, but on a whim I just stitched up the neck and tossed it to my cats. They went absolutely berserk with joy. To this day, they love the Awful Green Head, and when they rediscover it they have to whack it around for a while, even though they are getting rather staid in their later years.

What others above have said about making a 'skin' over a similar shape, then carefully cutting it apart until it's flat and then messing with that pattern is my best advice for doll making. It's how I've done the few I've made.

However, has anyone told you about needle sculpting yet? You take the basic stuffed shape which is more ball shaped (or whatever) than you want, use a long needle to poke through one side, pull through to the other side, and carefully stick it back through to the hidden other side to make 'dimples' in your doll's head. It seems to be used by the art doll community mainly to shape faces in all cloth dolls, but I used it to shape oxen heads and it worked great!

I'm pretty sure your spam filter would eat any link I gave you, but a quick search for "needle sculpting tutorial doll" brought up a few decent examples that would give you the idea, at least.

Ooh, I'll have to look that up...

Reading this post and the comments makes me realize how glad I am that I'm a quilter and not a seamstress or fabric sculptor.

Quilts don't have to fit anything (except the bed). They're supposed to lie flat!

Are you on Facebook also? There is a critter creators group I could add you to if you want.