Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Like any medium, fabric and stuffing present certain design challenges. Fabric can tear during stuffing, shapes can get distorted when they go from two-dimensions to three, balance can become an issue if a toy is top heavy or stands on very small feet, and so on. One design challenge, though, can be overcome relatively easily and therefore should not pose a limitation to you when you set out to design a new pattern and that is turning an especially long, skinny piece right side out.
Don't be afraid to draw a pattern for a crab with thin legs, a giraffe with a stretched neck, a long snake or a cat with a long tail because you think they will just be too hard to turn and stuff properly. There is a solution! And once you see it, I hope you'll dive right in to these projects without fear.
I'm going to stitch up a long, skinny crab leg. Hey, I'm from Maryland! I love crabs. Here is my crab leg pattern drawn on freezer paper. Sure is long and skinny!
I cut out two fabric rectangles a bit bigger than the pattern piece and place them right sides together. Then I iron the freezer paper on top of the sandwich.
And here is the trick: leave two openings! Yep, it's that simple. I am going to leave an opening where it seems rather obvious – across the top – and I'm going to leave a second opening on the side.
I stitch around the pattern piece and pull it off. See the two openings?
Now insert the hemostats (I'm using the smaller, curved pair with the ridges) into the opening on the side, grasp the tip of the crab leg, and pull inside the leg. Remember, always pull the farthest extremity in first.
And now insert the hemostats into the top opening, grasp the tip of the leg again, and gently pull until…
The side opening is also useful for stuffing because now you can reach all the way to the tip of the crab leg with ease.
Because you have two openings, be sure to close them both with a neat ladder stitch so that they will not be visible once the toy is finished.
Have you tackled a softie project with long, skinny pieces? Do you use this method or do you have another way? Tell us about it in the comments, please, so that we can learn together. You guys are the best. Thank you!
Yes! This technique will come in handy when I turn the thinner legs on some of my animals. I have always struggled to turn these parts without tearing through the fabric. But this is good – leave a small opening along the leg. I love closing up little openings with ladder-stitch anyway!
Wow, that is genius! I am this very minute doing geese with very long, thin necks but nothing like this. They are a bit fiddly but I can do it in one go – this is a top tip which I will store for further use, thank you!
As a cloth doll-maker who has taught turning tiny, tiny fingers and extremely small cloth dolls, I want to mention “turning tubes.” I use them in all sizes.
They are available on-line at cloth doll maker supply sites. They are used to start the turn at the end so once can reach in with hemostats and easily pull it through without ripping the seam.
When using hemostats, after one has grasped the seam to turn it, a slight gentle twist will often cause the seam to turn effortlessly as you gently pull it out.
Have never used a seam on the side of anything to stuff it. If your use what it known as a “stuffing fork” you can easily stuff anything–even 1/4 inch wide. They are sold on line and my favorite is by Barbara Willis. They have a little fork on the end to hold the stuffing.
These are not my own discoveries, BTW–most cloth doll makers use these tools.
I happen to make 4 inch dolls and tiny animals, turned, stuffed and dressed so turning skinny legs/hands/fingers is the “usual” for me.
Your book has arrived today and that’s why I came to you blog. I pre-ordered it in May so I am excited! It is BEAUTIFUL and exceeds my expectations. What a great book! Everything about it is FANTASTIC!
Helen – Thank you for such an informative comment. I will try giving the hemostats a gentle twist when pulling the tip of a piece. What a great idea!
It sounds like some of the tools that doll makers use would be really helpful to soft toy designers. I am going to get some turning tubes and a stuffing fork and do some experimenting.
And thank you so much for the sweet words about my book! I hope you enjoy bird making as much as I do!
Wendi Gratz says
I think what I use must be the turning tubes mentioned above. They’re terrific. I have an assortment of plastic tubes and sticks of various sizes. To turn a long shape, slide in the tube until it reaches the end. Then, from the wrong side, use a rounded stick to push the end of the shape down into the tube and out the other end. It’s magic.
You are my softie guardian angel! Thank you so much for offering all of this useful information. Your detailed explanations are wonderful and such a valuable resource for me. I now stitch up my softies with “ladder stitch” and now I can sew skinny limbs without fear. This is a very generous thing for you to do and I just want to let you know I appreciate it very much!
Lynn in Tucson says
Genius! I’ve never heard of this before.
I am new to your blog and I love this series! So helpful and inspiring. I don’t know if you mentioned this yet, but I would love to know the details of what kind of materials you use and where you get them (particularly the wool felt). Thanks so much for doing this!
A great source of wool felt is http://www.woolfeltcentral.com. Their wool-blend felt is great for softies and is not too expensive. They have lots of colors to choose from and super fast shipping.
I second the idea to use turning tubes for very thin pieces. There is a bit of a trick to using them as you need to slide the fabric up the top tube instead of down the one over the fabric. I have a picture of this on my blog tutorial about turning fingers. http://thefairiesnest.blogspot.com/2010/10/turning-tricks.html
Another wonderful post!
I am enjoying this series so very much, your posts are so inspiring and instructive! Also it’s great to read all the comments and finding lots of new interesting makers.
While reading the comment about stuffing forks above I thought I’d share my own modest tip for stuffing. For lack of a better tool I use a pencil with a broken tip. The jagged edges of the tip holds the wool fleece I use perfectly in place until it is transported to the right spot. This obviously only works for sturdy materials that won’t tear easily (I make my animals from felted wool sweaters). It’s a bit haphazard but it works for me!
I’m new to your blog and I’m in awe of your crafting ability. I’ve made a few animals myself and I just wanted to know what you use to stuff the stuffed animals? I’ve used bunched up bits of fabric from old projects but I don’t think I should be using that.
I recommend either polyester fiberfill, available at craft and fabric shops, or wool stuffing. I order wool from an Amish farm in PA. I will do a stuffing post soon!
My daughter is named Roxanne!
This is a great alternative! Especially for crafters who are just beginning to make softies, or who only make them occasionally, and do not want to purchase specialized tools. Sometimes the things we have right in front of us work just as well!
I sometimes handstitch (mostly using a blanket stitch) the outside of small parts so that I avoid the problem of turning. This only suits certain material though.
laura lee says
Thank you. I want to make a giraffe with long legs and a long neck. My guess is getting the right balance may be the difficult part. Even stuffed firmly, I think I’ll need a wire armiture inside legs and neck.
Kiaya Plews says
I’ve been trying to make stuffed animals with button joints (cheap and adorable), but I can’t seem to do the neck joint right… the arms and legs are almost good enough, but the head is just too wobbly. Any suggestions as to what I might be doing wrong and how to fix it? Thank you.