Important tools: the hemostat

I decided to spent the afternoon cleaning the workroom because my hemostat got buried on the work table and I couldn’t stuff the horse test without it.

(I should probably put an Amazon referral link or something here, but just do a web search, you can find them all over including at the same places that sell doll- and bear- and plushie-making supplies.)

The smaller hemostat is one that a friend gave us years and years ago. He was a nurse, and showed up at one of our game nights with a whole handful of them, that his hospital was just going to dispose of. The sterile packaging had been damaged, and it apparently wasn’t practical to put them in an autoclave or whatever. Eh, they might be handy, we all said, and took one.

It’s turned out to be one of my most useful tools for turning and stuffing small plushie and bear parts. Many people use smooth needle-nosed pliers to turn parts. The hemostat works the same way but will latch so you can let go of it to adjust other parts of the fabric before going back to pulling it through. It’s also more consistently narrow and is less likely to pinch other parts of the fabric into its hinge.

They’re great for stuffing, too. Traditional bears, for instance, are stuffed as close to rock-solid as you can get (related: at least 30% of our bear-making guild had wrist surgery, or was told to give up bear-making if they wanted to keep the use of their hands, etc.) Some people use a tool that is a modified screwdriver, with a notch in it to grip the stuffing to get it where you want it. I pinch a bit of fiberfill in the hemostat instead, and can put it exactly where I want it. The rounded nose means I can slide it along the fabric around the outside of the rest of the stuffing to hit a spot that was missing just a little extra fill.

And that was needed with the tiny horse, whose legs have a lot of little nooks and crannies, and which relies on careful stuffing to stand properly.

Admittedly, once I got back to stuffing it this evening, it didn’t seem really worth all the work… poor goofy little critter. Such is the nature of first drafts, though.

Non-lumpy plushie tails

I’m gonna let you in on a little trade secret. Fiberfill is bad for plushie tails. Both Mew and the black panther have long skinny tails (though I managed to photograph the panther WITHOUT ITS TAIL IN VIEW). If I stuffed that kind of tail with fiberfill, it would be a lumpy string-of-beads sort of tail.

That’s not the secret.

The secret is to use a product made for the purpose: filler cord. This comes in all sizes, in cotton or polyester, and is made for inserting in piping. I’m not really sure why there’s a large enough demand for 1″-and-larger piping that every fabric store seems to carry the cording, but I’m not going to complain.

Piping cord comes in all sizes, from much smaller than the kind I used in the panther (1/4″, I think) all the way up to larger than the kind it’s holding (1″) which I’ve used for cosplay tails and will use for the larger-than-life Mew. But if you can’t find the size you need, an alternative is thin quilt batting. Cut it to length and roll it up (or roll it around too-thin piping cord) until you get to the size you need.

Depending on how “grabby” the inside of your fabric is and how long the piece you’re stuffing is, you might need to sew a casing for the piping out of satin(y) lining fabric to help slide it in. That’s what I’ve done for the Mew tail, in the foreground there. It doesn’t need to be turned; the whole thing will slide right inside the actual faux-fur tail.

Mew’s tail is going to be about the right size for a cosplay belt-hanger tail and I’m a little sad I didn’t have enough fabric to make a second.

You may also notice that it looks like there are shoelace aglets on the ends of the piping cord – that’s plain ol’ cellophane tape. Wrap a piece around the cord where you’re going to cut it, then cut right through the middle of it. Don’t take the tape off until you’re ready to use the cording, or the end will shred. If I’m not enclosing the cording in satin, I will wrap the end in thread to keep it from shredding during final insertion.

Piping cord can, with a lot of (ab)use, bunch up some — it’s just loose cotton batting, after all. But it’s far, far better than fiberfill. Go forth, and make non-lumpy plushies!

Embroidering cards

My mother-in-law embroiders on paper to make greeting cards. She often gets asked if it’s done with a machine but no: she punches a needle through a pattern into a card, then hand-sews through it. Most of the patterns are string-art style, some involve beading, things like that.

But she does have an embroidery machine, so of course I had to wonder if the pattern-punching part could be automated. The answer so far is “maybe.”

I hit up Needle N Thread because I knew Mary had a link to some free card embroidery patterns, and from there picked a basic free pattern from Stitching Cards. It came in PDF so I just opened it in Inkscape, put the pattern page on a locked layer, and created a path letting the cursor snap to each dot in the path. Then I taped a random piece of scrapbooking cardstock onto some stabilizer, took the thread out of the machine, and let it run.

It was not perfect: it paused every dozen stitches or so because it noticed the thread was missing (BEEPBEEP) so I had to push OK (BEEP) and then the start button (BEEP). It also leaves a rather tall “wall” around the holes because it punches through so fast, but that also might be my paper choice.

Lastly, even though I told Inkstitch it was a manual path (so each node on the path was a stitch) it still helpfully provided the little anchoring stitches at the start and end of the path, so you can see some extraneous holes at the beginning and end of the top left leaf there. That’s fixable, though – either via a checkbox in Inkstitch I need to find, or a manual edit of the generated stitch pattern.

Many of the patterns she gets are just scans of hand-drawn dots, so not all her patterns would be as easy to convert as this one. It’s also probably not worth the work for patterns she only does once. But let’s face it: 80% of what I do with the machine is just to see if I can.

Uploading embroidery files over wifi with a Raspberry Pi

A Raspberry Pi Zero attached to a computerized embroidery machine.

Transferring embroidery files to the Brother requires writing them to a USB stick, carrying it over to the embroidery machine, and plugging it in. Doesn’t seem hard, right? Except there’s an annoying bug in my Linux desktop that means ejecting the USB drive sometimes disables the entire USB port. A normal person would just use the command line, but no, I have to make things complicated.

A Raspberry Pi Zero is a single-board computer. Add a case, a microSD card (its “hard drive”), and a USB cable or connector and it’s around $20-30. It has a mode called Mass Storage Gadget in which it pretends to be a USB stick to anything plugged into its USB port. It also has onboard wifi, meaning I can log into it from my desktop machine. Put those two together, and I can just transfer files to my embroidery machine via wifi.

Right now it’s still super-nerdy (it involves a lot of command-line, uh, commands) but when I put together a drag-and-drop interface for it I’ll post the how-to and a downloadable image.