Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
One of the fussiest parts of the softie making process, and the part that can lead to the most frustration, is turning the sewn pieces right side out. This is especially true when the pieces are very tiny, like little limbs and bird's beaks.
There have been countless times over the years that I've carefully cut and sewn a tiny little arm or tail, being extra sure to do everything right, only to end up throwing it away because I was not able to successfully turn it right side out. I might have been able to turn it halfway, only to have it get stuck or have my turning tool tear a hole in it. Urgh…
Successful turning actually begins with one of the very first design choices you make – your choice of fabric. If you choose a fabric that is thick but without stretch, such as a heavy corduroy, and you use it for a pattern that includes small parts that must be turned, you are bound to have trouble. For a project like this, choose a lighter weight fabric.
But keep in mind that although lighter weight fabrics are better for turning small parts, not all light-weight fabrics are suitable. Because softies are stuffed, the fabric and the seams are stressed in ways that they may not be in other sewing projects. Some fabrics are too thin and will tear easily when stressed. Some are woven too loosely and will fray at the seams.
My personal favorite fabrics for soft toy making are high-quality quilting cottons, such as Kona cotton, and wool felt, but many fabrics are suitable including faux fur and fleece. If you're not sure about a fabric, test it out by sewing up a little oval, turning it and stuffing it and see how it holds up.
Once you've chosen an appropriate fabric, remember to set your machine to a very short stitch length. If you'd like more information about stitch length, I discuss it more fully in this post. Even if you are using suitable fabic, if your stitch length is too long there is a good chance you will poke a hole in a seam during turning or burst a seam while stuffing.
Okay, so you have a softie sewn up in the appropriate fabric and with a short stitch length. The next step for successful turning is trimming the seam allowance. If your seam allowance is larger than 1/8", trim it down to reduce the bulk. And be sure to clip the curves and reinforce any weak seams (we will go over both of these topics in detail in future posts).
It is time now to turn the piece right side out. Having the right tool for the job really counts! There are many tools people use for turning inlcuding include knitting needles, chopsticks, long-handled tweezers, and the eraser end of pencils. Although I've used all of these at some point, the absolute best, most effective tool for this job by far is a hemostat.
Also known as surgical forceps, hemostats are a scissor-like tool with dull blades and blunt ends that can clamp closed. They come in various lengths and some are curved or ridged. My favorite pair are medium in length, curved and ridged (the one on top), but I also use a long, straight ridged pair (at the bottom).
Why is this tool so useful? Think of hemostats like an extension of your thumb and forefinger, only longer and thinner. They can reach into tiny extremities and once inside, they can open, grasp the fabric and clamp closed.
Where can you get hemostats? At the hospital! Hemostats come in suture kits and are often never used and are discarded. I was sent my first pair by a blog reader whose husband is an eye surgeon. Since then a friend of mine who is a physician has sent me several more pairs. So if you know a doctor, ask him or her to save you a pair. But if you don't, you can buy hemostats on doll and teddy bear making supply websites.
Okay, here I go. I've got my hemostats and I am going to turn this bunny right side out. The bunny's body is sewn from wool felt using a stitch length of "2" on my machine. I have trimmed the seam allowance to 1/8" and clipped the curves.
Pulling the extremities into the body first is crucial. Do not save this step until the end. Do it first!
Once all the extremities are pulled inward, begin by pulling the largest one out through the opening. In this case, the largest extremity is the head, with ears attached.
If you tug too hard with the hemostats there is a good chance you will tear a hole in the fabric, so be gentle and go slowly. Once the head is out a little bit, I put my hemostats down and used my fingers to pull it out all the way.
***P.S. The pattern for this bunny will appear in the March issue of the new CraftSanity magazine, just in time for springtime sewing. I hope you'll check it out!***
Hemostats are also really useful for stuffing, but we will go in depth into stuffing techniques in a different post. I also have a good technique for turning very long, thin body parts, such as long limbs and tails, that I promise to share in a later post, too.
Okay, what can we add here? Do you have any good tips for turning? Maybe you use a great tool or a different method? Or you have a burning question about this topic? Please add your input in the comments so that we can learn from you! Thanks, everyone.