I collect vintage soft toy books. I have about two dozen titles and I acquire new ones when I find them. A new-to-me softie book is like a new-to-me sewing blog. First I spend some time doing background research. Who is this author and how did she get into designing toys? Then I read the acknowledgments and the introduction (like the "about" page on a blog). Reading technical instructions is relaxing to me so I usually read the patterns in bed just before falling asleep, and then sew one or two in the weeks that follow.
I kind of love the peek into a softie-maker's life that a book allows. Here is what this woman made, the materials she used, the type of tips and suggestions she had for us readers. All of this took place in the days before the internet, when we weren't easily connected to one another worldwide via our hobbies and obsessions.
Today I want to show you three soft toy books I've been exploring recently.
1. Making Soft Toys for Children by Pamela Peake
This is a British book originally published in 1988. Pamela Peake has published many excellent soft toy books and she is truly a skillful designer. Her patterns are sophisticated and clever. If you'd like to stretch your skills while sewing professional and lovable softies, her books are terrific.
(By the way, wouldn't it be amazing if I could interview Pamela Peake? Anyone know her?)
This book includes 40 (!) patterns with helpful colored pencil illustrations of the tricky steps. You have to enlarge the templates, but fortunately we have copy machines and don't have to use the graph paper grid!
My favorite patterns from this book include a wonderful giant panda, a owlet, and this sweet penguin. All are clever and cute. You can find Pamela's books for a dollar or two on Alibris, although I don't see this particular title there. Copies come up on eBay and Amazon fairly often. I'd like to get Making Your Own Toys next. Looks neat!
These old softie books really pack a punch. 101 patterns! This book dates from 1984 and was published in the U.S. by Arco. There's no author(s) listed so it's impossible to know who designed these which is truly too bad because there are some gems in here (along with some ridiculousness). Although sewn softies make up the majority of the book, there are a few knitted, crocheted, rug hook, and needlepoint toys and a few of the patterns are for costumes.
Among the gems here is a great basic hippo pattern, a family of ducks that were the inspiration my Lily and Luke Duck pattern, and another great panda. Among this ridiculousness is this giant spider. You can find this book on Amazon and Alibris for .25-$1.
Originally published in 1983 this book is part of the Farm Journal Craft Book series of which I also have Scrap Saver's Stitchery and More Scrap Saver's Stitchery (those two are by Sandra Lounsbury Foose, another terrific designer of this era that I'd love to talk with. Anyone know Sandra?).
As far as I can tell, this is the only book Jean Mandrell Benson wrote and while I still find it interesting, it's not as strong as it could be. There are no underbody darts so we end up with lots of animals with splayed legs that need hand tacking after stuffing. There's a rather hunched over squirrel, an oddly porportioned mouse, and some sorta awkward bears. That being said, Ms. Benson is very enthusiastic and her toys are still quite charming.
My favorites include the wonderful fox puppet you see on the cover, a swimming mallard, and a very charming lamb.
For me these books are evidence of the creative careers of women who shared my enthusiasm for designing stuffed animals. Every time I find an old soft toy book my excitement for designing and sewing softies grows stronger. I learned to sew from books like these and continue to feel that these authors are my teachers. I cherish my book collection.
Do you own any of these three books? Any favorite vintage soft toy books to recommend?