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.
3D Pet Portraits of Long-Haired Pets by Sian Keegan availalbe in her Etsy shop
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):
Why does it do this? Because this is the underbody pattern piece:
And this problem is really straightforward to fix. Here's how.
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.
I got a review copy of this book as well and was wondering what you thought of it. While I haven’t had a chance to really go through it, I am surprised at the lack of leg gussets and the fact that her custom works stands so well. I’ll have to take a closer look!
great review! Thanks Abby! Your tutorials are great as usual.
thanks for your honest and educational critique on this book. I learned from your mini lesson. I can’t wait for your new book to come out! Sorry if you’ve already mentioned it, but what is it focusing on?
You're welcome, Amanda. My new book is about designing your own sewing patterns for Stuffed Animals. The tip above about adding darts to an underbody gusset is representative of the kinds of techniques you'll find in it.
Caren Adams says
I agree with your point on pattern template size – it took me a lot of screwing up at the copy place to get copies the right size and it was a very frustrating experience. Not that it is he fault of anyone in particular, but I really appreciate full-sized copies! I remember your post about the authors work, your right, it is amazing and quite unique. I am looking forward to your book, though – its been a long process! Can hardly wait ’til next Mothers Day (its already on my gift list!) 🙂
Thanks, Caren. I do wonder why there have been so few softie book released recently. Anyone have any thoughts on this?
Linda Hicks says
laura lee says
I love that you included the whys and wherefores of the curved underbelly line, leaving the opening under the dog and making darts to pull the legs in when you wrote your review. I noticed long ago that splayed legs was very common in soft toys and I don’t like the look. I thought that it was just so little kids could hold and hug their friends without having legs drill into their tummies. I thought they looked like roadkill. Now I realize that it could also be that other people need to add this technique to their repetoire. It’s always better to know all techniques so you can use the one best suited to your desired use of the product. Seeing the quality of two of Sian’s patterns, I know I’ll buy that book. I can’t wait to buy your new book. My sister insists that we will buy “The Artful Bird.”
Thoughts on the paucity of new soft toy and other craft books are many. Books cost tons to produce and people are not reading as much. Craft books historically have a small audience and are not good earners for publishers. Fewer people care enough to make time to sew. (Nobody reading this comment will be one of these people.) People selling patterns on ETSY have definitely filled the pattern niche well. The advantage is that you only have to buy the one pattern you can’t live without. If the pattern is well designed and turns out to have clear, complete instructions that lead to a satisfactory result, then you can buy others that you want and be relatively sure your money is being well spent. Videos on how to make a specific toy that includes the pattern for the animal and maybe a few more will give clear visual instruction, answering some questions people may have that isn’t covered by a photo. (About 90% of people are visual learners, but all people learn more easily when a presentation is both visual and aural.) It certainly worked well for quilting, polymer clay, paper arts and beading. My sister and I are living on disability and our rent is approximately the same as or more than our entire income. Many others are also hurting. We just aren’t in a position to spend money unproductively. Well, I tend to babble, but I had many ideas. Anything to add?
Wow, it’s great to see a frank review of a craft book. Thank you! I’m a huge admirer of yours and the way that you analyze your craft.
Do you think that the book has the handsewn stitches for the legs to give the body a more wrinkly, puglike feel? I notice that the book softie has a wrinkly underbody and yours is very smooth. Or is it the difference in fabric and has nothing to do with the stitches? Would there be a way to construct the underbody with your revisions and maintain some wrinkles?
Huh, Nicole, you raise a great point. I think some of the wonderfully pug-like wrinkles come from sewing a toy in cotton, some from the way the toy is stuffed, and, yes, some from hand tacking the legs. Whenever you work my hand you have more control. You could pinch the fabric or pull the stitches in such a way that you create wrinkles. A great point!
I’ve made a few animals from this book with good luck, but I put pipe cleaners inside the legs to make them a bit more moldable. Try it, you’ll like it. Overall, there are a lot of beautiful patterns here and I’m very happy with my copy.
I'm so glad!
I should say that I am also modifying the patterns to make them very small to use as Christmas ornaments. This involves altering the pattern to get rid of seam allowances. It may also result in greater control of legs and is the reason why a little pipe cleaner can just fit into the legs to stiffen them and make them moldable.
About the leg gussets, I find them really hard to sew into small toys (maybe just because I like to rush through things). Sometimes I prefer to leave them out, and then after sewing, sort of squish the leg and sew the curved gusset in last. It seems easier to me do it after stuffing – although, the stitches are probably less sturdy. I wonder if this is what she’s doing – because her finished toys don’t seem to have splayed legs. Is this a valid technique?
I think any technique that works for you (in that it achieves the look you are going for) is a valid technique, especially when it comes to softies. There are no hard and fast rules for sewing dolls and toys, which is something I love dearly about this area of sewing! I agree that darts are difficult to sew on small things, but I do think that machine sewn darts on the underbody make for a smoother, more professional, and sturdier finished toy.
I find the overlapping pattern pieces very hard to read – I think other people with dyslexia or vision processing disorders might, too. It just starts to look like a blur.
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