Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
First, what is a gusset and what does it do? A gusset is a piece of fabric that is inserted into a seam to add breadth. It takes a form from two-dimensions (simply a front and a back like the outline toy in the previous post) to three-dimensions.
In soft toy design, gussets are most commonly added at the head and on the underside of the animal. The head gusset gives the animal's head a rounded, more life-like shape. We will look at head gussets in a coming post. The underbody gusset allows the animal to stand on four legs. Today we will focus on underbody gussets.
Drawing an underbody is one of those parts of sewing construction that can be hard to wrap your head around. You might find yourself saying, "How is this possibly going to come together? I just can't envision it." If you have never drawn an original pattern with an underbody, try this method once on blind faith that it just might work. Then, take a look at your finished toy and see what happened. You can always go back and edit your underbody pattern pieces if you need to. Almost every pattern needs to be edited in some way before it is satisfactory. As with anything, the more you practice the more intuitive the design process becomes.
Okay, here I go. I'm going to turn the elephant outline toy I made in the previous post into a three-dimensional toy by adding an underbody to it.
I begin with the body pattern piece. About 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the belly I'm going to draw a curved horizontal line. The line is higher on each side and dips down a bit in the middle. Everything below this line will be my underbody.
Mark an opening in the middle of the underbody for turning and stuffing later. And mark that you will need to cut 2 of this piece from your chosen fabric.
Okay, this next step is perhaps the most important aspect of underbody design. Don't skip it! You need to add darts. Darts are really crucial! They are the difference between a four-legged animal that stands up and a four-legged animal that nearly rests on its belly with all four legs splayed out. If you want to design an animal that will stand on its legs, you want to add darts.
At the top of each leg, where the leg meets the belly, draw a dotted horizontal line. This is the fold line. Now draw an oval around this line. The oval is the dart. It seems counterintuitive to sew an oval right there, I know, but stay with me.
And another view of the same thing, just splayed out.
Pin one underbody to one side body, right sides together, and stitch around the underbody. Repeat with the other underbody and the other side body.
Continue stitching around the side bodies.
Use the opening between the underbodies to turn the body right side out and stuff firmly. Glue or stitch the eyes and mouth into place.
Let's see what two elephants look like side by side – one with darts in the underbody and one without. Can you see the difference? Look at the legs on the elephant on the right. He looks like he's been squashed, huh?
Here is a shot of their underbodies. The darts appear as seams at the top inside of each leg.
The difference between the two is especially obvious from the back. The darts are pulling the inner part of each leg inward so that the elephant can stand up straight.
And if you have a good tip to share, or a different way of designing an underbody, I hope you will add your method to the comments on this post. The best way for all of us to improve our skills is to learn from eachother. Thank you!