Saturday, June 14, 2008

Introducing Mittens, plus a quasi-tutorial

Meet Mittens, the newest member of Liv's stuffed cat family.

She was borne out of a conversation between Liv and I, where Liv suggested that I make her a stuffed animal. Oh honey, I tell her, stuffed animals are really complicated and mama doesn't know how to make them. Then a pause while I remember reading about Elegant Bloggery's collaborative art with her daughter, and I think to myself how special it would be for Liv to have a stuffed animal that she designed herself. You know what, hon, I think we can do it after all. But we'll have to wait until Friday...

So Friday came along yesterday. My friend Jennifer (and her beautiful baby girl) came over and finished making ANOTHER fabric basket a la Pink Penguin. In between purse assistance and baby snuggles, I worked with Liv on her stuffed animal. It turned out to be a longer process than I anticipated; I didn't finish it until dinnertime the following day.

I took loads of pictures along the way, thinking that it might make a fun tutorial. Keep in mind that doing ANYTHING with a 4-year-old involves a certain amount of improvisation, so this is really more a fluid process than a step-by-step set of instructions.

Materials (very vague list)

Fabric scraps
Polyfil stuffing
Cute little child designer
Tons of patience

1. Start with a concept. For this, I gave my daughter a piece of paper and told her to draw the the stuffed animal she wanted to make. My idea was to use her drawing as a pattern, but her drawing was far too small for that. So I tried another tack, saying to draw the shape and size of the suffed animal to make. Lesson learned: Make your directions as specific as possible.

This is the final set of drawings we ended up with. She wanted to make a stuffed kitty (big surprise there). The top piece is the kitty's head, and the bottom is the body. Note the 7 pairs of legs on this cat.

2. Help your child pick out the fabric for the piece. I pretty much gave Liv free reign in my fabric stash cause I wanted to see what her little brain would choose. She chose very bright, very busy fabrics. If you want to ensure a more visually cohesive end result, you'll probably want to limit the choices some.

3. Cut out the basic shape of the stuffed animal from the child's drawing, and pin it to your fabric. In this case, she wanted different fabrics for the head and the body. The legs she drew were just sticks, so I just used the basic body shape and cut my own legs later.

4. Cut around the shapes you've pinned, allowing room for seam allowance. I added a half-inch all the way around for my seam allowance. I also cut out about a jillion strips of hot pink fabric (chosen by my designer) to use for the legs and the ears.

5. Here, I've stitched the kitty body to the kitty head with right sides together. The shapes did not match up exactly so I just kind of picked a middle point and stitched a straight line.

It was at this point that I noticed that the basic shape was a bit, well.... penile. I crossed my fingers that adding the ears and face and legs/arms would change that.

I also stitched together the many legs and the two ears. Right sides together, stitched on three sides, then turned. The first picture shows the shapes I cut, and the second shows them stitched and turned.

6. After you've got the basic body shape and the arms/legs, it's time for the face. I asked Liv to help me with the face. I drew the little nose shape, but I let her draw the shape of the white circles for the eyes. I also cut out a little pink heart, thinking that it might make a fun nose instead of the triangle. Instead, Liv decided on the triangle for the nose shape and the heart as a tattoo between the eyes. For the whiskers, we decided on white ric-rac.

I tacked all of the pieces down to the face with a bit of tacky glue. The glue makes it a bit more difficult to stitch through, so use as little glue as possible. Just enough to keep the piece of the fabric till you can stitch it down.

Notice that we've moved from 7 pairs of legs in the original drawing to just the standard 2 arms, 2 legs. That emerged when I handed her the arms/legs to place where she thought they needed to be. I think the transition from two dimensions to three brought that change about.

7. While I handstitched all the pieces down to the face, I gave Liv the legs and arms and ears to stuff. We used the eraser end of a pencil to get all the stuffing packed down in the long tubes.

Here she's examining the stuffing.

And here are the finished pieces.

This is the finished face, all pieces stitched down. This took longer than I had anticipated. I'd recommend watching some really bad TV while doing this step.

8. After all the pieces were stuffed, I added some stitching to give the arms and legs some little paw hands.

First, a horizontal stitch across -most- of the piece. (I left about 1/4 inch on either side of the stitch.) Make the stitch across the front and then the back using the same holes, then cinch tight. Repeat the stitch one more time for extra strength.

Then, start making stitches over the end of the arm/leg to make the little fingers/toes. Cinch 'em tight and repeat each complete stitch one time for extra strength. I made three stitches like this to give the kitty four fingers/toes on each paw.

Tie it off and take a ginormous stitch into the stuffy part of the arm/leg piece (as big as your needle will allow) and then trim the thread right at the fabric. This will embed the end of your thread into the stuffing. How cool is that?

9. Hey, who exploded the kitty???

Sorry, couldn't resist. Hang in there, we're almost done.

10. After you finish all the parts & pieces, stitch them down to the body. Here, I've stitched the tail down to the back of the kitty.

For the arms & legs, it's a bit more complicated. You have to stitch the pieces so they're all facing inward in the opposite direction of where you want them to be.

I know, it's counterintuitive, but it will all make sense at the end. You'll be stitching around the outside of this thing and then turning it out like a pillow. You want to stitch the various appendages so they'll get caught in the seam line and then be facing the right direction when it gets turned inside out.

Clear as mud? For example, I want the ears to point upward from the top of the head, so I've stitched them so the bottoms of the ears are flush with the edge of the head, but the ends of the ears point inward to the kitty face.

Here's how my little guy looked with all his pieces pinned on. (I stitched them down right after taking this photo.)

Oh, and when you stitch the pieces down, stay fairly close to the edge. I had planned on using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, but with all the lumpiness and stuffiness it turned out to be 1/4 inch seam allowance.

11. Pin the front and back pieces of the body together, with all the stuffed appendages on the inside. This is easier said than done.

12. Stitch around the edge, leaving a hole open to turn. Don't do what I did - I left the hole at the bottom where the legs were sewn. This caused a bit of a difficulty at the end when I had to close this hole up. If at all possible, keep your hole in a place where there are no appendages.

13. Oh my, did I really just write that last sentence???? I would rewrite it, but I can't come up with any other wording that doesn't sound equally as dirty - or worse. And besides, there's a certain wisdom to those words.

14. Turn the stuffed animal inside out and -voila!

15. The last thing you need to do is stuff the body and close the hole with a whipstitch.

I let my daughter do the stuffing while watching TV. Hey, if I can embroider while watching American Justice, she can stuff while watching Jakers.

And here's the final product!

This process has totally turned me on to the innate design sense that our youngsters possess. If you've stuck with me through this whole tutorial and make a stuffed animal designed by your own kidlet, I'd love to see it!!


Janna said...

What a cool stuffed kitty! Liv is a great designer! You and she should collaborate more and sell them on etsy...better yet, get Liv her own etsy storefront.

I love the end product and the whole tutorial! Maybe I'll consider doing something like that. Maybe. Of course, Zach would probably want me to help him make a spider or a snake.

Denise Felton said...

This project is FABULOUS! Yea, Livvie! And yea, Mommy! The kitty is completely priceless. And despite your misgivings about the fabric combinations, they came together wonderfully. I think you should follow ES's example and open an Etsy shop for Livvie-and-Mommy-designed softies!!! (College fund.)

ThisOldHenHouse said...

Eeep! What a cute kitty! I cant sew worth a darn - my sewing machine seriously hasnt seen the light of day since my mother in law gave it to me 3 years ago. I wonder if Brayden and I could do a project like that - only with that new sew glue, yup thats right, Momma is gonna crap out and glue a plushie together!

quitecontrary1977 said...

mittens turned out awesome.. great fabric choices, too!

dogwood said...

So stinkin cute! You guys did an awesome job all around! How fun!

idyll hands said...

Cute cute cute cute! You did an excellent job putting together Liv's creation. I really do love it.

ElegantSnobbery said...

Oh my goodness, if only you can see how HUGE my smile is right now!!! You are AWESOME!!! And what a lucky little girl you've got! That cat is adorable and she did such an awesome job as designer (and your right hand gal). I'm loving this!!! And Denise said it... you should totally collaborate on a shop together!!