Experimental Sewing

So I don’t actually know how to sew.

I have never learned to use a machine, and all these stuffed animals are basically made with one stitch, by hand, and the lumps are hidden under faux fur. I design the bodies by cutting out a shape on paper that looks sort of like it should work. Pludwump was basically a football with a head, Rough Seams involved some real sewing atrocities on the inside of the body, and I had to do Quippet twice over. (That I have succeeded at all never fails to amaze me—fabric is clearly forgiving stuff!)

And now I want to try making a thing with a soft head instead of resin parts—I have this grandiose vision of a faux mink stole with the head attached, only the head is a stuffed animal, possibly with tongue hanging out, and I don’t think resin would be very comfortable–but since I have no pattern and the head is not faux fur, I have to actually make a pattern.

I have a couple of books on sewing stuffed animals. I basically took a head pattern that looked sort of right and freehanded it to more-or-less the right size. (Probably less…) and now I get to go mutilate some innocent fleece to try to make it look sort of like the thing in my head. And sketchbook.

Either it’ll work or it won’t, and if it doesn’t, I may try a very flattened sculpted head because I am totally in love with the idea, but I want to at least try it this way first.

Is there a trick to making patterns that I am just missing that makes this all super easy, or is it all “try, try, cry a lot, try again, get it sort of right, yell “CLOSE ENOUGH!” and start sewing?”


15 thoughts on “Experimental Sewing

  1. girdtmom says:

    Making a 2D pattern for a 3D object IS tricky stuff. Well, it certainly is for me at least. And I have been using sewing machines for quite a long time now. Finding a pattern that is for roughly the shape you are aiming for, trying it out to get a feel for the topology and experimenting with variations thereof is a good way to go. And, yes, fleece is wonderfully forgiving stuff (but also very stretchy, so it is easy to get something bigger than you have in mind if you stuff it firmly). If you are aiming for a fairly flattened head shape then you might be able to go with roughly the outline you want, without even adding darts for shaping. I did a chibi night fury for my offspring that got all of the head depth shaping from the stretch of the fleece (i.e. two identically cut pieces of fleece, drawn slightly larger than the head size I wanted, sewn together and lightly stuffed).

  2. girdtmom says:

    Whoops, just noticed that you were talking about faux fur, not fleece. I was projecting there. The faux fur isn’t showing seam imperfections because the fabric is too stiff to conform to every little wobble in the seamline (plus the fur hides stuff, of course). Trimming the fur out of the seam allowances will make it easier to turn a smaller part (like a head as opposed to a body) right side out after you sew it. And you are discovering the joys of breathing in endless fake fur clippings, I am sure. :)

  3. tanita says:

    Gosh, I am waiting with baited breath for the continued responses to these questions… it is one of those “I suck at machines, o, the shame” things that leaves me only hand sewing, too.

    A friend of mine recently told me that she’s afraid of glue guns. She, who makes all of these embroidered little felt dollies… I feel a little gratified that you are of the school of the Try, try, cry, and Close Enough creators, too.

  4. Tom West says:

    As a mathematician, I can tell you making most curved 3D shapes out of a flat piece of fabric without some distortion is impossible. Therefore, there is no perfection – only what you are happy with :-)

  5. Lon says:

    I’d add a couple more optional steps: “look at vaguely-similar patterns” and “cut out of cheap/scrap fabric and baste together to see how it looks”‘ but otherwise, yeah, it’s a learning by doing thing.

    (Basting is quick and dirty stitching that’s easy to take out and mostly holds a thing together for fitting, evaluating, or so you don’t have fourty-zillion pins waiting to stab you).

    Nothing wrong with hand-sewing, it is easier/better than a machine for some things, and I say that as someone who owns four of them.

  6. RhianimatorLGP says:

    There’s also the experimenting with paper and a stapler. Those tyvek envelopes people ship stuff in work great for that as you can actually turn the piece since that stuff is nigh invulnerable.

  7. Victoria says:

    No, it’s all “Try, try, cry, try, SWEAR, undo, redo, futz, fudge and tweak” also known as “The TLAR Design Method” (TLAR = That Looks About Right)

    To save on some of the trying and crying, use cheap muslin ($1.50 a yard give or take) to mockup your first head and follow the advice listed above. Baste (by hand) the pieces together, turn the head right side out, loosely stuff, and evaluate the results. Swear. Tweak. Redo as necessary until you’re happy. At the scale you’re working on, you can get a lot of head mockups out of a single yard of muslin. Once you get a shape you like, pull out the basting stitches and use the muslin pieces as the pattern to cut out the fake fur fabric. It’s like casting, really. Muslin pattern pieces are more durable than paper.

    Just remember, with TLAR, “It’s not a mistake, it’s a design element.” Or, to borrow from Trek, “To boldly sew where no pattern has gone before.”

    I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

    Have you looked at hand puppet patterns? Hand puppets also lay pretty flat until you get the hand inside them. It makes for a really good “road kill” look.

  8. Hawk says:

    Yes, very much with the “use cheap fabric to experiment” comments: it will save you a lot of headaches not only from expense but it’s actually easier to see what you did (right OR wrong) with muslin.

    I don’t do stuffed animals (I’ve tried once or twice, with pattern and without, and it was just…bad.) – I make costumes fairly well, but making a critter is just something else :)

    I wonder if it would at all help to make a kind of “armature” for the stuffed critter? I mean, as if you were going to sculpt it, but then use that framework to plot out how fabric might cover it – almost as if you were upholstering it? I don’t know how helpful that would even be. Did I mention I failed the art class for sculpture?

    *goes back to adding embellishment to a tunic*

    Oh! And sewing machines are really cool, but hand sewing is so much more organic…which seems to fit for the critter making.

  9. Jess says:

    I sew a lot, both critters and costumes. Pattern making/altering is guesswork, although it does get easier with time (mostly because I can look back at all the things that didn’t work!). It helps to start with a pattern that you can change, but even then there are no guarantees. Also, cheap fabric for experimenting is a godsend. I’ve also been known to use old sheets that I was going to throw away as trial fabric.

  10. siadea says:

    Yeah, that sounds about right. “I can… put a border on this to make it look even, yeah? Yeah, sure. People will probably maybe think I meant it to look like this.”

    Try and pull the fur out from under your stitches; it’ll make it look nicer and, conveniently, hide some of the seams…

    I would like to say, ‘Start by sewing hella carelessly and then reinforce anything that looks like it needs reinforcing,” but I hate re-sewing over stuff, so I won’t. If you’re not sure about something, leave it unstitched for now and come back later. (That worked wonders for my quilt square corners.)

  11. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I have the sewing skills of a paraplegic rhinoceros, though my Lady does all kinds of fabric art. I can however, make a suggestion based on my long term experience watching her, and also drawing on my background in cooking.

    When learning to cook, or do anything else crafty, I’ve noticed that it is important to have a basic instruction book that doesn’t assume you know ANYTHING. With cooking, this takes the form of a cookbook that doesn’t even assume you know hoe to cook scrabbled eggs, and I’ve seen enough crafts work to think this translates across crafts. My Lady has done costuming, quilting, weaving, various kinds of needlework, silversmithing, lock-waz casting, gem setting, weaving, and dyeing. In each case if she found a good book that covered very basic skills it helped materially. I don’t know what the book of this type for sewing fabric people might be, but I’ll bet somebody on the internet does.

    Maybe a good test would be if a book on sewing did or did not assume you know how to thread a sewing machine?

  12. dreamforest says:

    Most of it falls into the “I am not about to rip it out and do it again” category.

    One piece of advice is find someone who hoarded old thread spools, possibly even styrofoam ones. That thread tends to be very weak, so it makes ripping it out again a lot easier. Basically give it a good tug and see if it is weak enough to rip. Then go back over with a sturdier thread once you got it to where you can live with it.

  13. myowntree says:

    My friend, who is much better with the three-dimensional crafting than I am, told me about making a stuffed animal pattern by making the form out of crumpled-up newspaper, and then covering it in layers of masking tape, which you then mark and cut apart and add edges to for your seams. I’m in the process of looking for an actual tutorial on it, but she was in the middle of making a relatively successful simple teddy bear last I saw of it…

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