Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Drafting an original softie pattern is a huge topic and we will break it down into many subtopics over the coming weeks. To get started, let's talk about the materials we use to draw and cut out the actual pattern pieces.
Patterns can be drawn on many kinds of surfaces. Commercial patterns are printed on tissue paper, but to me that is not the most practical surface for a pattern. It tends to tear and get all crumpled.
For many years I drew my patterns on either newsprint or tracing paper. I have also drawn patterns on cardstock, cardboard and plastic. Although all of these surfaces work fairly well for softie patterns, nothing works better than freezer paper.
Once I discovered freezer paper and began to see its benefits, I never looked back (thank you to my good friend, Mimi, for introducing me to freezer paper, among many other awesome things, over the years!) . If you are not using it now, I highly recommend getting a roll and giving it a try.
If you are unfamiliar with freezer paper here is how it works. One side of the paper has a matte finish similar to regular white printer paper. This is the side you draw on. The other side is glossy. A warm iron will temporarily adhere this side of the freezer paper to fabric. You can then either cut around a pattern piece, or sew around it, before pulling the paper off the fabric. Freezer paper does not leave any residue or harm the fabric in any way. And it can be reused about a dozen times before it looses its stick. Once it does, simply redraw that pattern piece on fresh freezer paper.
The fact that the paper temporarily adheres to the fabric is the magic here. If you draw a pattern on tracing paper and use pins to hold it in place, the paper tends to shift around while you are cutting and sewing, and the pins get in your way.
Freezer paper eliminates the need to draw around a pattern piece with a marker which can be fussy to do, leaves marks on the fabric that you either have to cut away or erase, and takes up time.
Freezer paper eliminates both of these problems, thereby increasing your accuracy in cutting and sewing and decreasing your frustration. Hooray!
Freezer paper is fairly cheap and easy to find. I buy Reynold's freezer paper at the grocery store. It costs about $4 for a 75 square foot roll which lasts me several months. Becasue it is not expensive, I don't feel too bad if I end up drafting a pattern on a sheet of freezer paper only to figure out later that the pattern has major flaws and needs to be redrawn.
And, if you cut a sheet of freezer paper down to the 8 1/2" x 11", you can run it through your printer. This is great for patterns that you download from the web or copy from a book.
Since we are focusing here on drafting original sofite patterns, let's go through the process.
Here is what I write on each piece: the name of the animal, the name of the pattern piece, how many to cut out and if any pieces need to be reversed, any information about what kind of fabric I should use, and any markings like darts, openings or slits that I may need.
As you can see, I cut the fabric a bit larger than the pattern piece. I don't mind the waste because generally the pattern pieces are so small that the amount of fabric I'm using is really only a scrap.
The two great uses of freezer paper now come into play. First, you can sew directly around it. This is great if you are sewing a very detailed shape that needs to be outlined exactly as is the case here with the starfish. Softies are generally made up of many small pieces and when you are sewing this small, every little curve counts. Freezer paper will really help to improve your accuracy when sewing detailed shapes.
Here is how it looks when you are sewing with the paper still adhered:
After you have sewn around the pattern piece, pull it off, cut it out an 1/8" or so outside the stitching and you are on your way! (Although patterns for garments generally have a 1/2" or 1/4" seam allowance, softies usually have the narrowest seam allowance possible because the extra fabric is too bulky for such small projects. I prefer an 1/8").
Here is how it looks after I've pulled off the freezer paper, but before I've trimmed the seam allowance. See how exact the outline is?
The second way I use freezer paper is for accurate cutting. There are parts of every pattern that would be really awkward to sew with the freezer paper still attached. For these parts I still iron the freezer paper to the fabric, but then I cut around it. I don't tend to include a seam allowance on my patterns. I just cut 1/8" from the edges of the freezer paper all the way around. Then I pull off the freezer paper, pin the pattern pieces and sew, sew, sew!
When I am finished with a particular pattern I save it in a labeled envelope. One of my goals for this year is to develop a better filing system for all my patterns. I'm getting the feeling that shoving a few dozen pattern envelopes into a two magazine files is probably not the most effective organizational system!
And, of course, if you use freezer paper for pattern drafting, or another sort of paper, and have information to add, we want to hear from you! Please leave a comment so that we can continue the discussion. I've learned so much already from all of your awesome comments!