Earlier this week I was talking about looking backward as a way to move forward. I seriously do this all the time and it works like a charm. At the heart of things, the initial spark of excitement about an idea is still there, even if I wasn't able to perfect the finished result when I first tried.
This week I revisited my turtle pattern and documented it's transformation from the old to the new. When I pulled the pattern envelope out of my huge stack of patterns it was for a turtle that looked like this one, originally made on November 19, 2006.
I was really proud of this pattern at the time that I made it. I sold several of these turtles at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's gift shop at Elm Bank in Natick, Massachusetts (They ended up closing the shop and stealing all the merchandise, but that's another story.)
I made this turtle many more times, with the most recent one in November of 2010, four years after I originally created it.
I had gotten really into sewing softies from wool felt and went to town on the shell.
But there were always things that bugged me about this turtle. First, his legs were so hard to sew because they had to be individually hand stitched in place. It's hard to get your fingers in there to do a neat job of it! Second, his head was coming out of his shell. I knew that was a bit weird, but I didn't know what to do about it. And finally, I wanted a ridge around the edges of his shell, like real turtles have, but I couldn't seem to easily achieve this either.
On Monday, nearly six years after designing this pattern, I pulled it out for another look and immediately I knew how to solve all of those problems. It's amazing what sewing softies every day for six years can do for you!
I liked the overall shape of the shell and the tail, but everything else needed to be changed dramatically. The new turtle would have a little body hidden underneath his shell. I started by making a prototype for the body.
I sew all my prototypes from old bed sheets. Then I write on them with a pencil. Head too stumpy and arms too pointy.
Next I sewed one with the shell, too.
So much better already! I know this awesome trick that allows you to easily machine sew the shell onto the body, something that totally boggled my mind six years ago. The shell seemed too tall here (Thank you to the 8-year-old for the too honest feedback. "That turtle is HORRIBLE. Why is his shell so TALL?".)
This launched me into several hours of trying to make a shell based on hexagons. Then octagons. Then I rememberd that I really can't do math. It was enough having to calculate the circumference of the shell, much less throwing in all these geometric shapes. Call me in six more years and mabye I'll be there.
I edited the shell down and busted out the green fleece to make what I hoped would be a final turtle. Alas, the shell is too small and the top-stitching too narrow. And I ran out of the dark green fleece for his body so I had to go to the fabric store for more fleece.
While I was there I couldn't resist some new pretty shell fabric, too. I sewed this guy up and was getting hopeful, but then realized that the shell was sort of buckling between wedges. The wedges were too wide. Time to redraw again.
And finally, a finished turtle I am happy with. This guy comes together in under an hour (he is made from four pattern pieces) with no hand sewing besides closing the stuffing opening.
I took him over to the pond today for a little photo shoot.
And now, six years after the original spark of an idea for a turtle softie occurred to me, Scooter the Turtle is a pattern in my shop. He was a long time in coming.
So cute! And I love your description of the process. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Yes yes yes yes..yes to revisiting and knowing things now that you didn’t know then, yes to the bedsheets and yes to that gorgeous turtle.
Beth/Tributary Handmade says
That’s a lovely turtle!
It’s funny that you’re talking about going back to old patterns – I just today revisited a pattern for a whale I did about 9 months ago! I was never completely pleased with the final design, but it just sat in my craft studio for all those months. Today I got out the pieces and instantly knew how to make it the way I wanted. I’m still sewing it up, but I’m so pleased with the results so far! I agree with you- it can be really helpful to go back to old pieces of work and remake them. I know personally, my 3 dimensional skills have improved so much from when I first started making soft toys.
Thanks for sharing your turtle process!
And I thought I was the only one with reject softie prototypes surrounding me…I seriously assumed other designers must get this stuff right away and I was just slow. (the pressure we put on ourselves…) Thanks so much for sharing your process! and LOVE the finished turtle! 🙂
I can't imagine there is anyone who makes an awesome stuffed animal pattern on the first try. Maybe it happens once, but certainly not every time. Prototypes are a big part of the process, however frustrating they may be at times!
Perhaps it is unique to softie making, but returning to old patterns and reworking them so often leads to gold!
i love this abby!
could you share this awesome trick that allows you to easily machine sew the shell onto the body?
If you could, that would be great!
Sure! I wrote about it in this post in my soft toy design series: http://whileshenaps.typepad.com/whileshenaps/2011/02/elements-of-soft-toy-design-13-attaching-a-part-by-cutting-a-hole.html