Who’s a pretty bird?
Fun with custom-printed upholstery velvet!
Making Adorable Button-Jointed Stuffed Animals by Rebecca Ruth Anderson sums itself up on the cover as “20 Step-by-Step Patterns to Create Posable Arms and Legs on Toys Made with Recycled Wool” and, well, that mostly covers it.
I first spotted this in a JoAnn book rack, leafed through it and was impressed by the cuteness of the patterns. I decided I had enough projects at the moment, and put it back but later they had a 30%-off sale on books and my resolve faltered.
The critters are made from felted wool sweaters rather than conventional felt (though the latter works too), sewn with seam allowances and not turned. The button joints (which despite the cover blurb sometimes also include necks and tails) make assembly easy while the quality of the patterns means the finished products don’t scream “over-simplified beginner pattern.” The horse, for instance, has a well-shaped muzzle even though it’s two-dimensional.
The patterns are reminiscent of Sewing Tiny Toys but are much larger - I was surprised when I opened the book and saw the size of the patterns.
The book includes generous instructions. It spends many photographs covering types of felt and felted material, what to look for in thrifted sweaters for felting, and so forth. It’s a very photo-heavy book in the construction steps as well.
My only gripe is a big one, and it’s this:
The patterns are a mix of print-at-100% and print-at-110%. Why? My first thought was that extra 10% won’t matter, I’ll just trace the pattern onto freezer paper and make a slightly smaller animal. Nope! Most of the two-page patterns have half of the pattern at full size, half of it print-at-110%. I understand the limitations of fitting patterns inside a standard book size but if you have to reduce one page of the pattern, print them both at that scale so if your customer goofs up at least the pieces are consistent with each other. And print the scale message in bright red or something when it isn’t 100%
Overall, the book is a definite keeper, especially after I scan and print every “110%” page at proper scale and insert it into my copy with library tape.
By now I’d hoped to have had a finished sun conure to show off, but as you might have guessed by the condition of its instructions, that hasn’t happened. My mother passed away a little over a week ago, which threw things into disarray. Let me wrap up some loose ends:
The winner of Sunflower Bear contacted me, and I (eventually) got the bear shipped up the Jersey Turnpike to Samantha. Congratulations!
I entered the sun conure in Spoonflower’s cut-and-sew competition, and ordered the revised one on a fat quarter of basic quilting cotton. It didn’t win anything, in part because I didn’t get the FQ in time to sew one and put the picture onto the actual pattern. It was still kinda fun to see the “likes” come in though.
Hopefully things will calm down a little (although holiday sewing will start up soon) and I can get a couple of patterns out this month. The elephant for sure, and maybe a sweater dragon. (No, that was not a typo.)
In the meantime, I have a nifty book review - a modern one, this time! - coming on Monday, so stay tuned.
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.