How to Make Stuffed Animals is one of the only new softie books on the market this season (perhaps the only sewing-based softie book?). It was written by Sian Keegan, who has made a name for herself creating plush pet portraits, and is published by Quarry.
I featured Sian a while ago in this post about softie makers who do custom work. The book is 128 pages and retails for $24.99.
Originally scheduled for a summer release, the book was delayed due to a shipping accident that caused all of the stock to be
destroyed en route to the warehouse. The book has subsequently been reprinted and is in stores and on Amazon now.
I've followed Sian's work for years, and I've always admired the unique method she's developed for sewing yarn onto fabric to create fur. I've never seen another softie maker approach creating fur this way and I'm very excited that she spells out her special technique in the book where it's used to create a wonderfully wooly sheep.
This book is beatufully illustrated. I'm not sure I've seen a softie book with such lovely hand-drawn illustrations.
Sian could easily start a successful second business collaborating with other makers, illustrating their patterns step-by-step and drawing their finished toys. Her illustrations are clear, sweet, and really add a lovely sensibility to this book.
The pattern templates at the back of the book have to be enlarged 200%. To me, this is an inexcusable choice on the part of Quarry. These toys are not large and the pattern pieces needed to make them are therefore fairly small, even at full-size. In this day and age of readily available direct-to-consumer downloadable PDF sewing patterns for softies that include full-sized templates, craft publishers that persist in shrinking pattern pieces to fit the page are going to put themselves out of business.
I'm not sure why American craft publishers shy away from stacking pattern templates like the Japanese publishers regularly do. Here is a sample template page from Stuffed Toys Easy to Make (ISBN 4-8347-1922-7), a Japanese craft book I like quite a bit:
Overlapping pattern pieces aren't difficult to read or use and are certainly SO MUCH EASIER than having to enlarge pattern templates on a copy machine. I don't blame Sian for this, but I will say that if you get a book deal with a major publisher you need to insist that the pattern templates be full size before you sign your contract. Don't let them tell you it can't be done. It can.
Last week I made the Pug from Sian's book. Here he is as pictured in the book:
and here's mine:
I sewed him from fleece, even though the recommended fabric is cotton, because I wanted him to be super soft and huggable. He's going to be a gift for the baby and I love fleece for softies. I love the little bandana. These little touches are sprinkled throughout the book and are very special.
This guy came together quickly and easily and he has a nice shape and personality.
There is no mention of grainline in this book and none of the patterns have arrows indicating grain direction. And there is also no information on how much fabric or fiberfill each pattern requires. For the Pug the materials listed are, "medium-weight cotton fabrics, medium-weight wool fabric, felt, thread, a pipecleaner, and fiberfill." I think it's easier to plan a project if you know how much material is needed and you'll create a smoother, nicer looking toy if you place the pattern pieces on grain.
In the front of the book it says, "Sometimes the legs will splay slightly from the body after the animal has been stuffed. This happens if the animal has not been densely stuffed or if you are working with lightweight fabric. To fix this, pin each leg perpendicular to the body, and make several stitches to takc the legs closer to the body."
I'm not buying this. Here is my Pug after stuffing. He's sewn in heavy-weight fabric (fleece) and stuffed firmly (I'm a firm stuffer):
1. Draw a swayed line down the middle of the Underbody; notice that the line curves downward at the center is is higher at each side. Cut the pattern apart on this line. This curve pulls the belly inward.
2. Draw an oval-shaped dart at the top of each leg where it meets the body. The solid line is a fold line and the dotted line is the stitching line. These darts pull each leg inward, preventing splaying. And you sew them by machine before the body is sewn together, saving you from having to hand tack each leg to the body later. Hand tacking is time-consuming and tricky on a small toy, and it's bound to look a bit messy and not be as strong as a machine sewn seam.
In this process you've cut the underbody in two. You stitch the two together across the top edge before attaching them to the side body. And that's terrific because you can leave an opening for turning and stuffing in that seam. The opening in a softie should be in an unobstrusive spot because no matter how good you may be at ladder stitching the opening closed, the closure seam will be noticable.
In the Pug pattern given in the book the opening is between the head gusset and the side body, one of the most visible parts of the toy. By cutting the underbody in half and leaving an opening between the halves you locate an opening in the least visible spot: on the underside of the belly. Much better.
Be this as it may, this book is very pretty and has a sparse, modern feel that I admire. I'm eager to try Sian's yarn fur technique and I'm really inspired by her illustration style.
Disclosure: Quarry sent me a review copy of this book and the Amazon link is an affiliate link. The views expressed are all my own.