Stuffing is a really important step in softie making. When it is done well, the finished toy is firm and smooth and completely filled out, from its tiniest extremity to its widest part. When it is done poorly, the finished toy is lumpy in some parts and deflated in others and it may not stand properly. It is easy to ruin a beautifully design soft toy with a poor stuffing job.
To me the most important thing to remember about stuffing a softie is that it is a slow process. It can take as long, or longer, to stuff properly than it can to cut and sew the body together. If you get swept away in the excitement of seeing the finished product you run the risk of messing it up entirely. My best advice is, if at all possible, cut and sew in one work session and turn and stuff in another.
As far as I can tell the two most popular stuffing options are polyester fiberfil and wool. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and it might be a good idea to have both on hand if you make softies fairly often.
Polyester fiberfill is readily available at fabric and craft shops. It is not too expensive (roughly $4-$5 per pound) and it is machine washable. When I make toys for babies and children I go with the polyester.
Within the category of polyester fiberfil there are two subcategories. Have you ever noticed that some fiberfill is "squishy" and slick while others are "crunchy"? Yep! That's why all those bags of polyfill at the fabric store have little finger-sized holes poked through them. Us discerning shoppers are trying to determine if they are squishy or crunchy. I like the crunchy kind better because I like to stuff my toys super firmly (more on that later). Others prefer the soft, malleable nature of the squishy kind. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Wool stuffing is not readily available at fabric and craft stores as far as I can tell. I buy wool stuffing from West Earl Woolen Mill in Pennsylvania. They do not have a website, but you can call them 717-859-2241. When you call tell them you'd like to buy wool stuffing for making dolls. They will know what you are talking about. Their wool runs $1-$2 more per pound than fiberfill. I prefer wool for many reason: I love the feel of a natural material warming in my hands, I love the smell, I like how it packs firmly and I think wool has a certain cache over polyester and therefore is nicer to use in something one-of-a-kind that is made by hand.
When I have selected my stuffing material and am ready to begin, I pull off a small piece of stuffing with the end of my hemostats and push it up into the farthest extremity of the sewn form. If it is a very tiny area, I use the smaller pair of hemostats and a very tiny bit of stuffing. I continue to push small pieces of stuffing into the extremities until they are all full.
I recently purchased a stuffing fork at the recommendation of one of the readers of this series. It is a rod with two small tines on the end. By swirling the tines around a small piece of stuffing in the palm of your hand, you can create a stuffing Q-tip.
Insert this Q-tip into the tiniest areas, like a bird's beaks, hold it there and then pull the tool away. I really like this tool. It costs about $13, but maybe there is a way to fashion something similar yourself.
By starting with the extremities, like legs, arms, and muzzles, you can be sure they are firmly stuffed and don't end up empty or hollow. If you skip them, it is hard to fill them in later.
I like my toys stuffed extremely firmly. When I am finished stuffing a toy, the body is almost rock hard. For this reason I choose to sew soft toys from fabrics that don't stretch. I like to sew with wool felt, linen and cotton fabrics that I can stuff very firmly. This is especially important when I'm making an animal that needs to be able to stand on its own, or that has a wire armature. The stuffing will inevitably shift and condense over time so I really pack it in there to make those legs stiff or hold that wire in place.
If you sew a softie from fleece, felted sweaters or other knit fabrics, there will be stretch in the final piece. Although you can still stuff firmly, you may not be able to make it rock hard because the fabric will stretch and the toy will just get larger the more you stuff it.
As you stuff, pause and roll the toy around a bit in your hands, shaping and smoothing it to avoid lumps or hollow areas. Stuff the body cavity and be sure to add enough stuffing near the opening to prevent sagging in that area once it is sewn shut.
What else can we add? Do you have some tips and tricks that work for you when it comes to stuffing a softie? A different stuffing material and a source where we can get it? Another tool that works great for you? Please add your two cents in the comments. Thanks, as always!
lucykate crafts... says
i like mine to have a fair bit of weight to them so usually add a pebble inside, wrapped in some of the stuffing to hide any sharp edges. i tried making little fabric bags of things like dried rice, but preferred the solidity of a pebble. it makes the piece feel more sculptural instead of toy like.
will be investigating the stuffing fork. i’ve got a wooden stuffing stick but it’s not got prongs at the end.
Terry Grant says
When I stuff with polyfil I have found that it has a tendency to spring out of the little tiny places, like bird beaks, so I have started stuffing the tiny places tightly with cotton (cosmetic cotton ball bits) which stays put, then fill the rest of the body with polyfil.
Do you have any experience with bamboo stuffing? I found a bag of it at JoAnn’s and used some in a softie that I made for a vegan friend of mine, and I think it might need re-doing. It seems to act a lot like wool, but maybe a little more compactable.
Any tips or experience to share would be most welcome.
Kitty Vane says
I like to stuff my soft toys fairly firmly too. I aim for a firm feel that’s still huggable. I like the heft it gives my toys and how they feel… well, more substantial.
I use rags (mostly old bedclothes torn into strips) and the squishy kind of polyfill. I don’t stuff my softies rock hard, so I want my stuffing to have a nice loft to it.
If I want a harder feel I use cotton batting (mine is from NearSea Naturals: http://www.nearseanaturals.com/), it packs in really tight and gives a super firm feel.
I love wool for stuffing, it has just the right amount of loft and it packs in just right too. Unfortunately it’s a bit difficult to find over here. Or rather, it’s difficult to find affordable wool batting here.
Lemon Tree Tami says
I used to use Fairfield’s polyfil stuffing. I like my dolls to be stuffed rock-hard so that necks don’t collapse, etc. Unfortunately I kept having problems with my wrists hurting since this stuffing was so soft it took a lot of it and a lot of stuffing at it to get to the rock-hard state.
Judy Skeel, a doll designer, told me about her favorite stuffing – Airtex. I ordered a box of it and have been using it ever since. It’s not as soft and seems to be much easier on my hands and wrists to get to the level of stuffing that I prefer in my dolls. Of course I’m a firm believer that stuffing is all a matter of personal preference.
Some online doll-makers also swear by Buffalo Snow which is a type of stuffing that’s only sold at Christmas time. It’s intended to be used as fake snow on trees but a lot of people use it for stuffing. One of my friends just got a bag of it and has been trying it out. So there’s always something else out there to try out if you don’t like something at first.
One of these days I’d like to try out wool stuffing to see how that holds up. Oh, have you ever tried sewing a strong cotton muslin behind a fabric with stretch so that you can stuff it harder? I’ve used that technique for when the top fabric doesn’t have enough thread count to hold up to hard stuffing. I wonder how it’d do for a stretch?
Nancy Nelson says
I like the idea of backing a stretch fabric with a cotton to hold it’s shape. I am going to try that.
It does work and is a great idea. I also back fabrics that are fairly thin or see-through.
Rita Williams says
I use iron on fleece for backing thin or stretch fabric’s. It givnice sommoth look and makes it much easier to stuff.
jenny b harris says
I just posted a pattern for a fleece bunny on my blog Allsorts, and revealed my secret source for stuffing. Don’t laugh, but I buy it from Ikea. The Gosa Vadd pillow is only $6.99 and yields an enormous amount of fluffy white “fiber ball” stuffing. I’m not sure if it would work very well for firm stuffing, but I like how springy and squishy it is inside fleece softies. Like you pointed out, fleece can be stretchy and not suited for firm stuffing. If you’re using super-soft fleece, using squishy stuffing results in an especially huggable softie.
Love this idea and will definitely be picking a cheap pillow up for my next sock monkey. Might experiment with mixing it with a harder polyfill in parts too.
yvette reynolds says
Wow. This a good tip .thank you
mimi k says
How to make a stuffing fork- Find and buy a large needle, often described as doll needles or upholstery needles. The needle should be about 6″ long with a biggish eye. Stick the sharp end of the needle into a piece of dowel or a cork or just wrap it in a lot of tape. Cut off about half the eye end of the needle with a pair of wire cutters. (it can take some muscle!) You end up with the little fork. Does this make sense? I can send you a photo of mine if you need a photo reference.
Wow! What a treasure trove of information.
Mimi- that is an awesome way to make a much less expensive stuffing fork.
Jenny- Who knew? I never thought of using the stuffing from inside a pillow form. It sounds like you like to make squishy huggable softies and this is a great resource for stuffing them.
Kitty Vane – Thank you for the link to a source for cotton stuffing. I think because it is organic, it is more expensive than wool stuffing. I have not tried it, but from the description it sounds like it packs really hard.
Abby – I have never used bamboo stuffing. If I find some, I’ll give it a try and see what I think. It does sound like a good option for toys for a vegan lifestyle.
Terry – Cotton balls are a creative solution for hard packing stuffing into small places if you are using polyfil for the rest of the toy. I think if the toy was washed, the two types of stuffing might react differently. Have you ever washed a toy stuffed this way?
LucyKate – I use smooth stones for weight from time to time, too, especially for my birds that do not stand on legs like the swan and the quail.
Tami- I have never tried Airtex, but Mimi and I went in on a wholesale order of Buffalo Batt Super Fluff a few years ago and I loved it. I have never sewn a muslin behind stretchy or thin fabric, but I have read about it. I will try it sometime and see what I think.
Abby, we have a realtively new company in Australia called Innergreen that sells stuffingmade from corn. No idea how, it looks like regular hobby fill. So far it seems to perform the same way as well.
Can I just tell you again how much I am loving this series.
Thanks Jodie for the tip. I have emailed the company to see if they have a stockist in WA, hopefully I can get some to try it out.
Thanks for your series Abby – I too am loving it.
As you said, Abby Jane, “Wow! What a treasure trove of information,” from the post to the comments! I get wool stuffing at the Waldorf School shop in Lexington/Arlington area and JoAnne’s has the bamboo.
Claire - Matching Pegs says
Cheap artist’s paintbrushes, with short, stiff brush ends can be used as a ‘stuffing fork’.
The brush grabs the fibres. You can cut the brush part quite short or use an old paintbrush.
I use the non-brush end (which is usually softly pointed) to push out points, so I find paintbrushes an all-round go-to tool.
Abby, I think that your next book should be all of these posts bound together. This is a really valuable resource that would be nice to have in book form in the sewing room as toys are being made.
Another good DIY stuffing fork! Thank you, Claire.
Thank you, Audra. That sure would be awesome.
Abby Jane, I totally agree with Audra. I’ve been LOVING this series and think it should definitely be a book. I have used bamboo fill for some children’s toys I’ve made, mostly knitted but some sewn. It is probably softer than the wool or poly but I’ve been happy with it. My daughter has played a bit with the toys and it has held up well so far. I’ve also washed it in the washing machine. It does bunch a bit but seems to smooth out after being played with for awhile.
I used bamboo stuffing on a pincushion once and I found that the stuffing started to come out the tiny holes where I removed pins. It seems to have a very fine texture. I also think it is more “slippery” (if that makes any sense). It is harder to incorporate new bunches of stuffing to what you have already got in the piece. Fiberfil seems to incorporate much more evenly.
WOW… I stumbled upon your blog via One pretty thing, and I have read it ALL THE WAY to your first post!! You are one talented lady, and I can only hope my stitch journey will be as amazing :-D. Love love loving this series; I have been fantasizing about making softies… You made the possibility tantalizingly reachable!! Thank you 🙂
Wow, Pat, that is truly impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever read back to my first post! I hope you’ll draft a pattern and sew up a softie soon!
My favorite stuffing tool is a pair of hemostats. Some people use the larger ones but I like the very small ones – I make folk art dolls and sometimes very tiny fingers. I use them to turn fingers, arms, legs, etc. too. I agree with you on the wool – love to use it for stuffing.
I just found you on OPT, too, and as soon as I say thank you for this wonderful info, I plan to start reading the whole blog too! I’ve been using felted sweaters, and some of them felt up tightly enough to be stuffed quite firmly, which I like for the 3-D animals. However, I’m currently making some small, 2-D animals from much softer cashmere sweaters, and I’m stuffing them lightly with the wool stuffing (which I love for all the reasons mentioned). I haven’t washed any yet, but the wool seems quite resilient, and I think will hold up well with careful washing. I’ll be back…must start reading the archives! Kate in Oregon
Diane Roeder says
I’m enjoying your tutorials; hope to someday make some critters with my felt. Just wanted to let you know that I have some non-felting wool good for stuffing up in my online shop:
Hope you don’t mind my posting this info; if you do, please pull the comment.
Kitty Vane says
I’ve used interfacing (the kind you iron on) for preventing stretchy fabrics from stretching when stuffing them hard. It’s also great for giving easily fraying/low thread count fabrics a bit more support.
The best thing about using fusible interfacing is that you don’t need to add it to seam allowances, so there’s no added bulk to your seams if you’re making a smaller piece.
this series is so great… both the blog post and all the comments!
i’m looking for advice on stuffing the shoulders of a standing four-legged animal. no matter what type of stuffing i try, it seems that the stuffing wants to “pop out” of the area where the leg meets the body and leaves a little hollow/empty area. anyone have advice for this particular problem? thanks so much!
Regina- I’m not completely sure, but to me it sounds like you may be using stuffing that has too much spring or bounce to it. If you stuffing is more of the “crunchy” stiff variety, it is less likely to pop out of those spots.
this is gold! thanks Abby! i use a broken off chopstick that grabs the polyfil quite nicely when you are rolling it to create the “q-tip” method
I prefer wool to poly-fil for firmness, too – but I’m interested in finding a vegan option.
I haven’t tried bamboo, but I love using cotton in quilting and other flat projects (like my turtle shell). I’ve ordered some cotton stuffing, and it’s taking forever to arrive. I’m hoping it will be firm like the wool.
has anyone used cotton?
I haven’t used cotton myself, but I have heard that it can clump a bit inside the animal and then be hard to unclump without opening the seams and doing it by hand. Let us know how you find it to be!
Thank you so much for posting this incredible series on doll and softie making! So much condensed information in one spot – fantastic!
I have found a source for Wool stuffing over here at Natural Felt Company in Portland, Oregon. Their wool stuffing is reasonable in price and close to the cost of ordering from West Earl if you factor in the reduced shipping for West coast residents. I have a big box of it and it stuffs beautifully and has a soft feel.
Your Blog is wonderful and I am learning so much from this series, Can’t wait for the book!
I came across a vintage felt mascot recently and it seemed to be filled with shredded cork. Have you ever heard of this? Have any idea how one might do it at home?
Keep up the wonderful work, you are an inspiration!
I have not heard of shredded cork as a filling. Interesting! It is sustainable, and the toy would certainly float! Let us know if you find out anything more about this unique form of stuffing.
Mostly Flummoxed says
Just got your book as a gift for my birthday, I am sooo excited to try your bird designs! And thanks for the info on where you get your wool.
Happy bird making!!
This has been a wonderful article I came across while Googling various types of stuffing. When you say you have used the Buffalo Snow, do you mean the actual snowflakes or I see the company also sells regular poly stuffing, which are you referring to? Can you look at the link below and tell me which type you have used?
Just wanted to add- You can buy the Buffalo products directly from this site in bulk. Here is their site:
This same site carries just about every type of batting, including Air-Tex, and you can also purchase samples before committing to a bulk purchase.
Sacha Hall says
Just found your site through Wendy’s Frankenstein doll giveaway – though I wish I had found it a week ago while I was sewing my first fabric stuffie (after several years of crocheting them), You’ve answered several questions that I’ve had so clearly, I can not wait for your book to come out! I just finished my first one and I used Cuddle minky fabric, which has a slippy, loose weave on the back. My sister recommended what they do at the ballet for all their construction – line the back of all the pieces with muslin sewn on in the seam allowance. It made the pieces much easier to handle and I didn’t have any distortion problems when I stuffed him (though he was very simply shaped).
Awesome, Sacha! I think using a muslin lining is a great tip and I will be showing this in a section of my book! So glad you found this series useful!
Hello, I’m trying to make a giant stuffed drumstick for my girlfriend, well giant as in 2.5 feet long. Ive made a smaller prototype and I found that it bends (like a dying flower) when I hold it upright. Would more stuffing fix this problem? I want it to be upright but able to bend (when forced). Is there a way around this? Any suggestions? Thanks!
I think more stuffing would help for sure. You want to stuff it until it’s packed really firmly, almost hard. Also, I would try Soft and Stable. It’s an interfacing that will make the fabric firm so that it holds its shape.
Sarah Troxel says
Hi, I have a teddy bear from childhood and I recently had it repaired. Only now she is stuffed with what feels like polyester fiberfill whereas before the stuffing was a gray/blue color and much thicker, with a heavier weight to it. Almost like shredded felt maybe do you have any idea what this stuffing could have been? Or what would be a closer match available today? Thanks!
My guess is that it was kapok. Kapok is a natural fiber that was used to stuff most teddy bear and dolls before polyester fiberfil came onto the market. It is still available at specialty store online. You might buy a bag and try it!
Sarah Troxel says
Thank you so much! I will try this!
Janet Clampitt says
I have used kapok that I had from years ago and liked the firmness. What are it’s drawbacks? I like the eyes and noses that poke through the fabric and are held in place from inside for secure connection. But I’m afraid the metal plate inside could cut through the wimpy polyester fiberfil and outer fabric (I used a furry fleece lined with a layer of cotton quilting fabric). What do you suggest?
Kapok tends to clump.
You’re referring to safety eyes. I think overtime and a whole lot of wear the washer could poke through, but it would take a long time.
I came here because I ran out of poly-fil for my stuffed toys and I wanted to know if Buffalo Snow was a suitable replacement. It is.
Thank you everyone for all the comments!
The stuffing fork looks exactly like the fork that came as a set of 4 in the lindt choc fondue set. So maybe folk could save money by using a fondue fork.
Oh hey! That’s totally true!
I use a 3mm crochet hook for small and awkward areas, and a large knitting needle to pack big areas evenly
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Gracia Schlafly says
I just started using the super soft Pellon Perfect Loft for my monkey dolls. It works great, especially for very young children. However, what a mess to stuff with. It’s all over the place. One me, on the carpet, on the chairs.
I’m sorry, but I’ve never used it.
Charlene Petersen says
I would like to know what is a good stuffing to use for baby soft toys. The stuffing must be washable and not reduce the look or size of the toy over time?
I like polyester fiberfill stuffing. It’s machine washable and inexpensive and it stays fluffy.
Charlene Petersen says
Thanks for your reply