Hi! If you’re here from the Spoonflower competition, watch this space for the final instructions - my own version of the fabric hasn’t shown up yet.
In the meantime, you can enjoy the original 2006 version of the Sun Conure pattern, designed for felt. This version has an open bill, a jointed neck, and compromise wings; the fat quarter version simplifies some of this and has full open (but much more accurately colored!) wings. As soon as mine arrives, I’ll sew it up and take step-by-step pictures.
Here’s a semi-preview: a test print of the jointed/open bill version in Spoonflower’s Celosia Velvet, cut and ready for sewing. The gray parts of the inner wings came out much darker than I’d expected; that’s fixed in the fat quarter version.
And here are some of the instruction pages, showing the general assembly.
I’ll add more instruction pages as I finish them, as well as the all-important picture of the finished bird!
This version is designed to be made from felt; it has an open bill, a jointed neck, and compromise wings. The cut-and-sew quarter version simplifies some of this and has full open (but much more accurately colored!) wings.
These patterns are 75dpi, for an 8x10 image size.
If you’re sewing felt, cut your pieces without a seam allowance; otherwise, add one appropriate to the fabric you’ve chosen (including between color changes). Some pattern pieces are shown with folds - double the pattern (or flip it after tracing one side instead of folding the felt.
The wings and tail will require stiffening. Either use a pre-stiffened felt such as Eazy-Felt, or make your own by saturating felt with thinned white glue.
Cut two of each of the bill pieces from black or charcoal. Cut one inner bill (the diamond shape), and one cere from off-white. Cut two eye patches from white - they will be appliqued onto the head side. Cut two head sides from orange and dark yellow, and piece the colors together. Cut one head gusset from dark yellow. Cut two neck circles from dark yellow.
If the open bill is too daunting, combine the patterns (the point of the lower bill will overlap the upper) and cut each side as one piece.
Sew the bill pieces together along the outside seams (just the simple curve). Insert the inner bill, beginning at the fold line and working to the tip of the bill each time.
Sew the head sides and gusset together, then insert the beak and sew it in place. If you’re using safety eyes, insert them now (remember, the eye patches will be added later). Stuff the bill and upper head carefully, making sure the beak is evenly stuffed and that the “forehead” is properly shaped.
Punch a hole in the circles for the joint hardware. Sew one circle onto the base of the head, halfway around and insert the upper half of a 1 1/2” doll or bear joint, then put the second circle on, followed by the other half of the joint, making sure the lower circle moves easily but not too loosely. Finish stuffing the head and make any final adjustments, and sew the rest of the upper circle on (adding stuffing as you go to keep the joint area well-shaped).
If I have my bird anatomy correct, the pattern pieces are marginal coverts (yellow), greater coverts (green), secondaries (green), primaries (blue), and more coverts (yellow) for the underside. Colors vary, and this is somewhat of a simplification - in particular, the primaries should be green on the underside, but it’s the terminology I’ll use.
Cut the primaries nearly to the top, then overlap them and stitch in place. Sew the yellow coverts together along the outside line. Insert a plastic doll joint through the underside piece, and finish sewing around the edge of the upper yellow coverts, through the green coverts and secondaries. This will leave part of the lower covert unsewn - position the blue primaries, and sew the lower covert, green secondaries, and blue primaries together along the outer edge, then sew the rest of the lower covert to the blue primaries (only).
Cut one underbody and two inner legs from light yellow, and piece two body sides from dark and light yellow.
Sew the legs to the underbody, then sew the two body sides together along the back line. Sew the underbody to the body top, leaving the ends of the legs open, the tail area open, and the neck open. Stuff the body loosely so the neck opening is opened up into a circle, and attach the head assembly by sewing the lower circle carefully into the neck opening. You may want to turn the head occasionally to make sure you haven’t caught it in your stitching.
Attach the wings to the body. When parallel, the wings should be about a quarter of an inch apart, and the wrist should come up past the neck joint.
Cut two each of the front and back upper feet, and two feet bottoms, from light pink, gray, or cream felt.
Bend a piece of wire to make the feet, with the segment in between long enough to pass through the middle of the bird’s body stuffing and the toes close to the tips of the felt pattern (shorter toes on the inside), and insert it into the body (you’ll have to fold the toes together to slip them through the leg openings). Ideally, use galvanized or aluminum wire so it won’t rust through the felt, and make sure it’s stiff enough to hold the bird up. Don’t twist the wire together - you want support, not a spring! Wrap the wire with yarn and secure the ends with a bit of glue.
Sew the front and back upper feet together around the leg wire, just to the points on either side. Open the feet out flat, matching the toes to the wires, and sew the feet bottoms on.
Alternately, instead of sewing felt over the leg wires, wrap them a little more heavily with yarn, then sew the leg bottoms into the yarn at the foot tops.
Liberties have been taken, since most of the color changes are within single feathers. Cut two long central feathers from blue, layer four feathers in green, and two top feathers in olive green.
Finish stuffing the body, making sure the inter-leg wire is well supported, and sew the tail area closed, catching the tail feathers in the opening and making sure the long feathers stay properly aligned.
Applique the cere to the top of the bill.
Sew on two round beads for eyes (if you haven’t used safety eyes). Cut an opening in the white eye patch smaller than the eye bead (start smaller than you think you’ll need, as the felt will stretch and you can always trim it later). Applique it over the eye, then sew the eyelids - a piece of white embroidery floss (all six strands) or Perle cotton in through the head (anywhere), out one corner of the eye, in through the other corner and back out through the head. Use white thread and a couching stitch to sew the floss down to the lower edge of the white eyepatch. Gently pull the ends of the floss and trim so the tails disappear into the head, then repeat for the upper eyelid. Repeat for the other eye, being sure the eyes are symmetrical.
In a perfect world (where I had blog entries queued up in case of schedule disruptions) I’d have another pattern here - probably the sun conure. But I don’t and my Spoonflower order arrived today so I’ll just Part-II Monday’s review by saying: the fleece makes me much happier than the minky.
The yard of Halloween owls arrived and it is very nice. The colors are intense and while the print isn’t quite as sharp as the Celosia velvet it’s very sharp for fleece. The black is very black though the fabric has a significant sheen that somewhat counteracts it.
As I mentioned, Spoonflower makes it clear that it’s a “thin fleece.” It is, but it’s not a cheap fleece. I’d call it “low-loft” rather than “thin” but maybe that’s not the correct terminology in the fleece business. Pulling a quarter-inch strip makes a nice curl - this is a neat trick to do for fringe in fleece. Cheap fleece will come apart if you pull too hard and this fleece doesn’t. Cheap fleece will also stretch out of shape easily and this fleece doesn’t. It also feels nice to the touch - not exactly plush but still soft.
I already spent part of this afternoon taking pictures of a soft-sculpture dragon in my backyard so I decided not to wrap myself in a yard of cut-and-sew and go out there to see how well the fleece stands up to wind. It seems about as warm as I expected when I did it inside which is to say: not very warm but still pretty good considering its thickness. I’d expect it to fluff up a little more on washing, and the unprinted side is already little fuzzier than the printed side, so if the color doesn’t fade it would be a nice fleece to work with for clothing. I might use a thicker conventional fleece as a lining if I wanted a fleece coat but it is pretty much perfect for sleep pants and such.
It’s also pretty nice for plushies, if you don’t mind the complete lack of any significant pile. Fleece is super-easy to machine- or hand-sew, especially compared to slippery, stretchy minky. It’s not as good for more structured things like most of my patterns which are more soft sculpture than plushie, but for fun squishy critters I think I like it better than the minky.
A while back, I ordered some Sew Desu New cut-and-sew designs to sew up for my nieces; if you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen that I’ve sewn non-printed versions of some of her designs, from both her free and pay-for patterns. I don’t have an embroidery machine, though, and doing applique eyes and markings on slippery, stretchy minky is tedious. The pre-printed faces make sewing the designs much faster, and I highly recommend it.
I was very impressed by Spoonflower’s upholstery velvet, as I have mentioned before - they included a swatch in the order with this minky, and it was a black-background pattern. Very sharp, yet the color is very deep in the very dense pile. The minky… not so much. It’s a thin pile, not even as dense as the JoAnn basic minky much less the Shannon Minky I’ve gotten from fabrics.com. The printing is sharp, but not deep - you don’t have to look too closely at that picture to see the white base fabric showing through at the black cat’s chin seam, or both cats’ tail fin edge.
Granted, the use case for minky is more often blankets, in which situation the main printed part is going to be lying flat and not showing the unprinted “underfur.” But it’s still kind of a mediocre minky. I’d definitely only use it for cases where the printing really adds something. Which I’ll admit: the multicolored mermaid kitty tails definitely do.
Choly also recommends fleece as an alternative, so I have to admit I bought a yard of her Halloween owls to see how that works. (Sure, I could have just ordered a fleece swatch, but where’s the fun in that?) Spoonflower is very up-front that it’s a “thin fleece,” but we’ll see what the hand is like. I don’t have high expectations, but it was still worth it for the cute pattern.
I had a plan to post the Flower Bear winner on this past Monday, but life (and almost death) intervened. I had to race back to Wichita for a family emergency, and while I had my portable computer with me I was relying on my phone most of the time. So I preserved the mailing-list records and left it be until I got back, and now I’ve done the drawing and notified the winner. I haven’t heard back (check your spam folder, GMail users) to see exactly how they want to be credited, but when I do I’ll post the official win announcement.
I’m still getting organized post-trip, but my Spoonflower order arrived while I was gone (the day I left, in fact) and I’m excited about what’s going on there.
Flower Bear is pretty easy to make with off-the-shelf solid-color upholstery velvet, but I’ve been experimenting with cut-and-sew versions. I’m open to suggestions for themed bears!
I’m really pleased with the sun conure cut-and-sew, at least for a first draft without a color swatch chart. The grays in the underside of the wing came out darker than my screen and the feather markings are a little too subtle, but it should only take one more round to fix it. I’m going to sew this one up and make sure I haven’t forgotten any pattern pieces or anything - it’s been over a decade since I created this pattern.
I also finally have a nearly-finished dragon, but before I wrap that up I’ve got some cut-and-sew merkitties (not my design) to finish and mail out for my nieces’ birthday first. (Yes, if I’d been ahead on my sewing schedule I could have just tossed them in my suitcase. But this certainly wasn’t a planned trip.)
Stitched Safari is an English translation of a Japanese book. The translation is fairly good; there are a few places where the instructions are glossed a little and I don’t know if that was the original or the translation, but at any rate if you have the book I reviewed last week there shouldn’t be any problem interpreting this one.
Despite the number in the title, this book has more than eighteen patterns - there are adult and baby versions of several. There are two cats are in very different poses, and two different dog breeds (pug and Shiba). The full pattern list:
None of these are jointed, though some have wired limbs so some limited posing can be done.
I’m of mixed feelings about the patterns. The ones that are good are very, very good, and that’s most of them. The rhino is by far my favorite; the patchwork coloration puts it over the top. In other cases, the animals are not quite right, for instance the giraffe whose stance is wider than it is long. The impression I have is that the author is very good at drafting accurate patterns, but who hasn’t quite done all the research. (I will admit that it’s much harder to find reference pictures for giraffes that are something other than a side view.)
I don’t know what is even going on with the cat, though. It’s not just the bug eyes, either (all of the eyes are a bead on a circle of felt). I just sewed up a test head from the pattern, and it is a very carefully done baseball-with-a-point.
The eyes work well on the pug, though.
The photographs are very well done, so if you get a chance to flip through the book you’ll be able to tell whether a particular pattern you’re interested in is one of the good or bad ones.
The patterns are all in a large tear-out sheet in the back, which I’m never a fan of for things that have far-smaller-than-a-page pieces. It’s possible to carefully tear the sheet to leave one fold attached to the spine, which I did. If you tear it entirely out, use archival tape or glue to attach an envelope to the inside cover so the pattern doesn’t go missing.
The Little Big Cats are “teddy bear friends,” which is the clunky term for any jointed animal doll that isn’t a literal bear. The techniques for making the Black Panther are very similar to those of Flower Bear. The exceptions are the tail, the neck joint, and the front paw pads.
It’s tough to use conventional stuffing in a long, skinny tail without it coming out lumpy. There’s a neat product over in the home-dec section of a fabric store, which is long ropes of cotton batting enclosed in webbing. It’s used for things like piping on furniture and pillows, and it comes in a wide variety of sizes. You can find it by the yard or in pre-packaged lengths; if the former, take a lesson from what the clerk does when cutting it. They’ll measure out your length, wrap some tape around it at that point, and cut in the middle of the tape. If you don’t tape it, or tie it off, it’ll fray into nothing. For the end that goes into the tail tip, tie it with thread and cut it off above that.
There are other options - roll up a narrow rectangle of fleece or felt, or use thick yarn.
Big cats have muscular necks, so instead of a gathered head base and a round top seam, the Little Big Cats have an inset fabric disk at the joint. It’s just a little larger than the joint disk size, so when the joint is assembled the body and head contours are continuous.
Both the front and back paws have inset paw pads. The shape is a little unconventional, but they work just like regular teddy bear feet. When the main arm/leg pieces are sewn together, if the top seam is opened out flat you’ll be able to see how the paw pad fits in. (Next time I make an LBC, I’ll take a picture of the paw wrong-side-out to help with this.)
As with Flower Bear, the instructions are a work in progress and assume you’re using a more complete bear-making reference as well. I also am fighting some technical hiccups - some of the step-by-step diagrams aren’t being exported into the PDF. Nothing vital is missing, but I’ll upload a fixed version when I can.
Reminder: the Flower Bear drawing is October 1, 2018, so if you don’t want to make your own, sign up!
If you’re new to plushie-making, one of the best introductions is Carolyn Vosburg Hall. She starts with felt toys, small enough to easily hand-sew, and moves up into Beanie Baby size—even if you use good-quality wool felt, the quantities are small enough that it’s very inexpensive to practice with.
There are fifty-two(!) different animals in the book, organized by the concepts they introduce. She covers basic construction, simple thread and button joints, color changes, surface decoration, stuffings, armatures, and finally a variety of fabrics including simple faux-fur bean-bag animals.
Along the way, there are so many different shapes of animals that it’s an accidental lesson in pattern drafting. It had a significant influence on my early experimentation, and also resulted in one of my first Open Source Sewing patterns: a felt ferret.
As a bonus, here’s the pattern; track down a copy of Sewing Tiny Toys in your library or on Amazon (affiliate link) for full instructions.
Getting your pattern from a book or website into a stack of cut fabric pieces isn’t difficult, but there are a lot of little tips that can make it easier.
You’ll see two lines on my patterns, like Flower Bear. The outer one is the cutting line, and the inner one is the sewing line - the seam. Some patterns only give you one line, and that can be dangerous.
If the instructions aren’t clear, sometimes you can’t readily tell if a seam allowance is included (common in commercial garment patterns) or not (common in Japanese patterns). Walk two dissimilar seams - say, a head gusset and head side - and see if they match up better on the given line versus on an imaginary line 1/4” (or 5mm) in from the edge. Of course, sometimes you will be expected to ease a seam, so it’s not a sure-fire way to tell.
If you’re enlarging or reducing a pattern, remember that the seam allowance will grow or shrink too.
My preferred method is to cut off the seam allowances on my patterns and just mark the seam line. Just don’t forget you’ve done that and cut to the marked line, or trace all your patterns and then realize you didn’t trace them far enough apart. Write “add seam allowance” on your pattern pieces if you plan to re-use them.
Make sure your printer is set to 100% (or at least a consistent percent) if you’re printing downloaded patterns. This can result in some cut-off edges if you’re printing an A4 pattern to US Letter paper or vice versa, so you may have to monkey with the printer settings to get things to work. Printing A4 to US Legal will work without cutting anything off.
If you’re printing from GIF or similar files, printing at 100% may pose problems if the creator wasn’t consistent about the DPI when saving the files, so be sure to check the previews.
If a pattern has chunky lines, try to be consistent about cutting down the middle of the line - although I’ve seen at least one pattern designer say that their pattern was designed to have the lines cut off, so read any pattern notes.
If it’s a pattern you’re going to use regularly, transferring it to cardboard or stencil plastic is a good idea. If you’re tracing around a paper copy to transfer the pattern to the heavier stock, make sure you cut off all of the traced line, or your pattern pieces will grow.
Most of the types of fabric I use let me trace around a pattern with a fine-point permanent marker, so I just draw the seam lines right on. Test your fabric - if a marker will show, use a chalk pencil or disappearing pen (fabric stores sell these).
Sometimes you don’t have to transfer the pattern at all. If you trace the pattern onto plastic-backed freezer paper, you can iron the paper onto felt or many other fabrics and it will stick. Cut the paper and the felt at the same time, then just peel the paper off. (Obviously this doesn’t work for transferring seam lines, but felt is often sewn with no seam allowance.)
If you don’t have freezer paper, you can get a similar effect by punching holes in the interior of the pattern, then putting tape over the holes to stick it to the fabric.
Pinning a pattern to fabric is a last resort; it puts a “wave” in both fabric and pattern, and if the wave doesn’t match you end up distorting the shape.
Take a permanent marker and write “FABRIC ONLY” on your fabric scissors and enforce that rule. Paper dulls scissors, and sharp scissors are the most important thing for cutting fabric.
If you’re cutting a pile fabric—a faux fur or mohair—cut only the backing, not the pile. Slip the point of the scissors blade along the backing to lift the pile out of the way as you cut. If it’s a dense fur, you’ll probably want to come back and trim the pile in the seam allowance—an offset embroider scissor or an electric hair trimmer are great for this. Don’t go over the seam line or your project will have bald patches.
If you’ve traced the cutting line rather than the seam line, make sure you cut off all of the traced line, or your pattern pieces will grow. (Again.)
Don’t clip curves or points yet, even if they’re marked on the pattern.
Don’t lose track of which side is the right and wrong side. This is obvious with pile fabrics, and probably doesn’t make a difference with most felts, but it’s still a good habit to be consistent.
My bear- and plushie-making library is a scattershot one; with few exceptions every book in it still has the price tag from a used bookstore. I’m going to run down a quick review of them less to give you an impression of any specific book, and more to give you an idea of what kinds of things books cover, so when you are in a book store or library with a book in your hands, you can decide if it’s what you’re looking for.
I have a lot, and have checked out probably every book in the library on the subject, so it’ll take awhile to get through them all. I’ll try to skip around from bear-making to plushie-making to some doll-making.
I’m going to include Amazon links with my referral code, but always check your library first, or for the older ones, a local used book store.
Jodie Davis has a whole series of “Easy-To-Make” books, which tend to be very easy to find in used bookstores. They’re easy to overlook, because they were published in the late 80’s with low-quality binding and paper, and the covers have a very dated “country decor” look. Don’t be deceived: they’re still some of the best beginner books out there.
Good: She covers every step of the process, though only crown joints and bolt-and-nut. She gives several sizes of bear, and a plethora (more than half the book) of clothing, accessories, bear-themed Christmas ornaments, etc.
Bad: The perfect binding really does not stand up to being flattened to trace patterns, so often-used library copies tend to shed pages. The larger patterns are broken into multiple parts, or printed with overlap, though this is done as clearly as possible.
One of the few modern books on sewing jointed animals, this one by Sue Quinn covers (obviously) felt specifically. Unlike some of the other felt books (which I’ll cover in future reviews), this one uses the same sew-and-turn techniques that are used on other bear fabrics. I suspect the patterns would work just as well in upholstery fabric; certainly all the techniques would (though I prefer backstitching when hand-sewing).
Good: The patterns are a cute assortment of animals, and they all come with clothing patterns. Sue manages to get an amazing amount of detail into clothes without making them a fiddly bunch of tiny pieces.
Bad: The patterns are all printed at 75% scale to fit in the book… except when they aren’t. The clothing patterns appear to actually be 100%, though I haven’t checked them all to see if that’s consistent. Sanity-check the patterns before you commit to fabric.
This Neysa Phillippi book is at the same time very traditional and very nontraditional. Traditional because she covers mohair, nose embroidery, and jointing. Nontraditional because her creations are very distinctive characters, and as far as I know she’s the only bearmaker with a distictive style who is also willing to share her patterns.
The good: Neysa includes a lot of different options for arms and legs, and the head shapes are anything but standard. Very good for learning about pattern drafting.
The bad: The general instructions don’t cover fabric selection at all, and as mentioned above the only deviation from traditional bearmaking is the inclusion of both safety and sew-in eyes.
Jennifer Laing’s book has a wide variety of non-bear “friends.” She has both a teddy-style and all-fours bear, plus some patterns that veer into doll territory (an elf, gnome, and golliwog).
The good: The variety of animal types gives a lot of room for seeing how things work - the elephant’s trunk, a wedge joint for “flexible” necks, etc. She also includes a lot of technique instructions for things like securing whiskers and hand-tufted mohair, making claws, and so on.
The bad: The technique instructions are included with the specific pattern they’re used on, so it’s not as useful for a reference book.
The worse: Even in the early 2000’s, golliwogs were controversial. I’m going to just say it: they’re racist. If you want to avoid them, her earlier book, The Art Of Making Teddy Bears, is bears-only. I can’t personally vouch for it, but I’ve heard good things about it, though it only has three patterns.
If you don’t spot any of these and you’re browsing in a library or bookstore, it’s hard to go wrong with almost any book if you’re looking for basic instructions. Find a book that appeals to you, that has clear illustration or photos, and that has a good index or at least table of contents. If you plan to work with a knit fabric like faux fur or minky, find a book that covers it rather than one that deals entirely in mohairs, at least if you plan to use the patterns in it. (I’ll be covering how to stabilize stretchy fabrics with an interlining, though.)
Where books go awry tends to be in the actual patterns themselves - not all bear makers are as nerdy as I am, so publishers are often working with quirky hand-drawn patterns. Sometimes things get enlarged or reduced along the way, which can introduce errors. The same is true of patterns downloaded from the internet. Mistakes are easier to correct but you might be the first person to try that pattern. Or you might misprint it; single-page patterns like Flower Bear are hard to goof up even if you accidentally print-to-fit. At worst, your entire Flower Bear is a little too big or too small, which is better than an oversized head or, worse, a head side printed at a different scale than its gusset. And sometimes the designer makes some simple but untested changes to a pattern, or forgets to include last-minute changes. I made Flower Bear from the pattern exactly as published, and I won’t publish the Little Big Cat pattern until I make the revisions, print a new pattern out of Inkscape, and sew a Big Cat I’m happy with. (Although if you want to be a pattern tester, I’ll share early-release versions.)
Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!