Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Happy 2011 everyone! I'm excited to sew and blog this year! I am starting a new type of post that I'm hoping to write about regularly. It will be about the elements of soft toy design. This is a topic that I think about a lot and I have a lot to say about it! Here is what has been going through my head…
Have you noticed that there are many softie books out there full of sewing patterns (my own included)? While I learn a lot from reading and sewing through the patterns in this kind of book, I have always thought it would be really helpful to have a reference library of soft toy sewing techniques.
I'm imagining a place that would archive all the different ways to, say, attach limbs to a toy, draw gussets to add a third dimension to a head, design darts that would create a curved body, etc. It would also cover how to select appropriate fabrics for a softie, techniques for turning tiny parts right side out, how to clip curves properly, ways to reinforce seams, how to make jointed toys, constructing a wire armature, stuffing options…You name it, I want to discuss it.
All of this information collected together would allow me (and you!) to pick and choose techniques when designing an original toy.
Does that seem helpful? I really hope so. I'm imagining something similar to Anatomy of a Doll by Susanna Oroyan, but in blog form. I love this book. I've read it dozens of times, along with Susanna Oroyan's other doll-making books. The reason I keep going back to it, and what I love most about it is there are no patterns in there, just lots and lots of techniques. Lots of options.
She shows you examples of dolls made in all sorts of ways and then explains how they are constructed. Then, when you go to design your own doll and you are stuck or need inspiration, you can open this book and look at her examples and play around a bit and there is a good chance something she shows you will work and you can incorporate it into your own personal techniques library. But your design is still your own in the end. It is still original to you.
There is no book like this for soft toy design, at least no current, relevant book. Trust me, I've searched. There is this book from 1969, and this one from 1982, and, of course, there is Rudi de Sarigny but again, we're talking 1971. (Did you know that Rudi was a woman? Yep, Rudi is short for Rudolpha. I was recently contacted by one of her descendents who corrected me. Sorry for referring to you has a "him" all these years, Rudi!).
I think it is about time for an updated collection of the elements of soft toy design, don't you? Some of the topics I have in mind will be really basic, and some more complex. I'd like to cover the whole gamut so that people can learn something new, no matter how experienced a sewer you might be.
Okay, so let's give it a go in 2011! Please add your own ideas to the discussion by leaving comments on these posts. I think we can all learn so much from one another and make better, cooler soft toys this year!
To get things started I thought I'd talk about stitch length. Stitch length is one of the most important factors in sewing a softie successfully. When I first began sewing toys five years ago I got really frustrated because I would carefully cut out pattern pieces, pin and sew them together, turn everything right side out and begin to stuff the toy only to find that the seams would burst. It took me a while to realize that this was happening because my stitch length was too long. I started playing with the dials on my machine and I fixed the problem.
Here is a toy part with a stitch length that is too long. Notice the burst seam:
Because soft toys are stuffed (and I like my toys stuffed really firmly), the seams become stressed. In order to avoid burst seams, and thus ruined toys, make your stitch length very short. On my machine (I have a Bernette 330 from 1988) this is a Number 2 on the stitch length dial. It is the equivalent of about 16 stitches to 1" (2.5 cm).
I find a short stitch length to be especially important when sewing toys with quilting cotton and linen,two fabrics I use quite a bit when sewing birds. I also use a short stitch length when I sew felt toys, but I'm not sure it is as important. I haven't done much sewing with sweater wool or other fabrics- if you have, perhaps you can tell us what stitch length you think is best for other types of fabric?
Using a tiny stitch length does have one major drawback. When you make a mistake, it is really time-consuming to unpick the seams. But generally the pattern pieces in soft toys are so small that I find it is often easier to just toss the mistake and cut a new peice. And it is worth it because once the pieces are correctly sewn together, they will be very strong and they will not burst when the toy is stuffed.
I would like to hear anything you might have to add, plus any topics relevant to soft toy design you'd like me to delve into. I have lots of ideas already, but I also want to be sure to discuss what you're interested in. Thank you!