One of the most delightful craft projects is that of making a stuffed animal. This project gives you the opportunity to use your imagination and creativity to create a personalized stuffed toy that will suit the taste and personality of the recipient, who may be yourself, if you so desire. The first stage of the project is dreaming up the most amusing and entertaining animal you can imagine. What kind of animal will it be? What color and kind of fabric would you like to use? How will you make it? Will you sew it together out of cloth or fake fur, or will you knit or crochet it? How will you decorate it? Once it’s made, would you like to dress it in a costume or ornament it in some special way?
All these questions will determine your choice of pattern for the project. Indeed, looking at the many patterns available for all kinds of animals made with a variety of techniques will help you decide what you really want to do. Fabric and craft and knitting stores offer a wealth of patterns and materials, and there are also many patterns available on the Internet, both free and for sale. There are historic patterns for classic bears and other old favorites such as the sock monkey and more modern patterns for everything from cuddly bunnies to dinosaurs and insects. Some are knitted and crocheted, and others are made of fabric.
Once you’ve selected the pattern you like, the next stage is to choose the fabric you will use. If you are knitting or crocheting, the pattern will make suggestions about the type of yarn and needles or hook you will need to complete the pattern. It is important to follow these suggestions in order to produce an animal that matches the description of the pattern. If you are sewing your animal, fabric choice is also important.
Once again the pattern will make some suggestions, but you have a wider choice. Stuffed animals can be made from felt, fake fur, plush, velveteen, or materials such as corduroy, calico, or lightweight denim. Use a fabric that is strong, tightly woven, and not too stretchy, so the animal’s form is not distorted by the stuffing. You will also want to choose a material that will adapt well to the pattern. For example, a pattern with many small delicate parts will be difficult to make with fake fur.
If you are making the animal for a small child, consider safety issues as well. Fabric and paint or decorative material should be nontoxic. Sewed or glued on eyes or other add-ons may look cute, but the child could bite them off and swallow and choke on them. Make sure ears, horns, and other small parts are firmly attached as well. Stuffing materials like plastic pellets, Styrofoam, sawdust, or buckwheat hulls are not appropriate for small children. Fiberfill is a safer choice. Don’t use wires in the animal’s body, as they could work their way out and scratch or poke the child.
Once you’ve chosen your pattern and the material of which you’re going to make it, you’ll need to assemble the tools and supplies to make your toy.
You will need:
Now you are ready to go to work. The remainder of the instructions will be for sewn stuffed animals. Study your pattern pieces and read the instructions well before you begin. It’s easier if you understand how you are going to do each step of the way before you start. Lay the pattern pieces on the fabric and cut them out, leaving the pattern paper pinned to the pieces until you are ready to use them. This will make it easier to be sure you are using the correct piece. Follow the instructions carefully, and take your time.
If you have never done any hand basting or sewing, now is a good time to start. A typical stuffed animal has small curved pieces that can be difficult to sew on a sewing machine. Keep your needle threaded and handy, preferably in a pincushion so you don’t accidentally poke yourself or lose it. Use a small, regular stitch, and backstitch or reinforce corners to strengthen them. Even when seams are easy to sew, preliminary basting with a long, loose stitch which can be easily removed later will make sure that the pieces fit together as intended.
Again, make sure you understand the directions for assembly. Some patterns are sewn as one piece, and others have individual sections that are stuffed separately and attached to the main section of the body. Different patterns require different assembly and stuffing techniques so study your instructions carefully before you begin to put the animal together. Practice sewing on scraps of your fabric so that you’re sure you are using the right stitch length and tension. Your stitch length should be short and your tension even. Change your sewing machine needle frequently for the best results.
Another critical finishing technique is learning how to grade and clip curves and corners. This has nothing to do with the bell curve in high school. When the sewn pieces are turned right side out, the extra margin of fabric in the seam allowance can cause the seams to bind or wrinkle so that they do not lie properly. Curves and tight corners are particularly prone to such problems. Grading refers to trimming the extra margin of the seam on one side so there is less bulk in the seam. Clipping is cutting small slashes or v-shaped cuts into the seam allowance to reduce bulk. It is important to cut close to the seam, but not so close that the seam or fabric unravels.
Your pattern may explain how to do this. If it does not, do a little research on grading and clipping of seam allowances on curves and in tight corners so that you understand the principles at work here. You can also ask an experienced sewer to explain these principles to you. Your threaded hand-sewing needle will again come in handy here for reinforcing clipped seams and corners. Attention to these little details of construction will ensure that your finished animal looks the way you want it to.
Pay special attention to the seam opening where you are going to insert the stuffing, and make sure it is large enough that you can fit your hand in through it. Once your animal is sewn together and turned right side out stuff it with the fiberfill. Use the best quality fiberfill you can find and work with small amounts at first. Work little puffs of stuffing into the corners of the animal’s body such as ears, paws or tail until they are stuffed full and firm. Once you’ve filled the body you’ll never be able to reach these smaller features again, so take your time and get them right.
A chopstick or other small stick may come in handy for this. Once these small parts are fully stuffed, you can begin to fill in the body of the animal. Stuff it as full as you can, continuing to work the stuffing into the cavities and corners of the body. Even if you want the animal to be fairly soft, stuff it well enough that it won’t go limp. Once you’ve finally got enough stuffing in it, sew the opening closed, and your animal is complete.
Now is the time to add decorative items such as painted, embroidered or button eyes, a nose and mouth, a yarn tail or mane, ears or horns, and other ornamental touches. If you’re a committed sewer, you may even enjoy making a little outfit for the animal. Some patterns come with clothing sized to fit the animal. This is another point where your imagination comes in. Any finishing touches you can dream up just add to the fun and the sense of accomplishment. If you find you don’t want to quit, why not make another stuffed animal?Now is the time