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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.

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?”

Perfection is only possible in mathematics, and even that has some issues. The entire experience of life is about getting close enough and just doing it.

One of my favorite books is Soft Sculpture by Caroline Vosburg Hall; it may be out of print, but I found it available on Amazon. It has some nice ways of thinking about making various animal shapes. She also wrote Sewing Tiny Toys, one of my all time favoritest books for making things with kids.

If you are working on variations of human shapes, my favorite resource is Anatomy of a Doll, by Susana Oroyan. Needle sculpting is a great way to get more detail in shaping things, but for the first couple tries everything looks dreadfully like a Cabbage Patch kid.

Basically, it is practice. Hand or machine sewing require practice. I did a lot of prototyping in fleece stitched by hand, but all my favorite dolls I made from quilting cottons and needle sculpted faces, hands and feet. You can see some of my older dolls on Flickr.

Obviously, once you've made one pattern you like, you can tweak it for the next project, until eventually you have an entire library of versions of patterns. I numbered mine using programming release conventions, and made final copies of all the pieces that went together, and labelled EVERYTHING because a month later it was impossible to remember what I'd meant by "two here, sqnt, then 3" and I needed to be able to decipher it to recreate a thing or make some new thing from it.

I make a lot of toys from scratch and what you describe is pretty much a good way to go. Two points of advice - for new patterns, duplicate it on heavy cardstock(with pencil, that way you can erase and reuse it if the thing goes tits) just in case it works, because redoing it from fabric or tracing paper if you want to make more Sucks Ass; and you can never ever go wrong with a sturdy blanket stitch.

Stretchy fabrics can also go right weird on the machine, so be careful if you're using those and not hand sewing. Have fun!

I fail at pattern making utterly, especially something as complicated as a head, but one alternative is to needle felt the head and then sew the body on. You can get a really detailed face out of needle felting that takes some serious skill to do with a pattern.