Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Head gussets have got to be one of the biggest challenges in soft toy design.
You will remember from the post on underbody gussets that a gusset is a piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add breadth.
What make designing a head gusset so difficult? The head gusset is what makes the animal's head round and herein lies the challenge. In order to design a head gusset you have to be able to fully imagine the two-dimensional animal you have sketched on your paper in three-dimensions. Where will the head need to taper and where will it need to widen? And by how much?
Like anything, practice certainly helps when it comes to the more challenging parts of design work. The more patterns you design and edit and redesign the more you learn to envision how a head gusset should be shaped. But there are some good rules of thumb and some solid methods that will help along the way.
The very simplest of head gussets is a pointed oval shape. This head gusset will give you a rounded head without any contours. If you make it very wide, the head will be wider at the top than the bottom, giving the toy a cuddly, baby animal-like feel. If you make it very narrow the head will still be nearly two-dimensional. A happy medium in between will give you a nice, rounded head.
A more nuanced head gusset will give you an animal with a more contoured face and head. You can use the gusset to accentuate and shape a muzzle, for example. These are trickier to draw and I am still learning to draw them well. Come learn along with me! I am going to share with you the method that I am currently working with. I originally learned this method from Good Design in Soft Toys by Rudi de Sarigny, but I've adapted it over time so that it works better for me.
First I cut a strip of paper that will be the length and width of the finished gusset. Then, I will draw the gusset on this strip so that I can be sure that it will be the correct dimensions. Here is how I get the length and width of the strip.
Here comes the part I have to just imagine. If I think the head should taper a bit, I make that part of the gusset narrower. If I think it should widen, I make it wider. I keep tracing around the muzzle until I reach the end of the strip, being sure to use the whole length of the strip and tapering it down at the end.
Is it perfect? Maybe, but probably not. The first time you make a newly designed pattern you need to keep in mind that it will probably require some editing. Use some cheaper fabric, like muslin. But stuff it. You need to take the time to stuff your prototype in order to really see where the edits need to be. Once you see the bulges and the tapers, you can trim your gusset, or retrace and widen it, as needed. At this point I always need to remind myself that I have not just "wasted" a few hours making something that didn't work. In fact, this time investment was totally worth it because the newly edited pattern could very well be one that I make dozens of times and sell really successfully. It is worth it. Keep trying!
That is my method for drafting a head gusset. I want to know yours. Do you design toys with head gussets? How do you go about it? Please add your thoughts and idea in the comments. And if you haven't tried a pattern with a head gusset yet, jump in! Add a third-dimension to your softie. It will really make your ideas come to life.