Prototyping in the hoop

Three pugs, a fox head, a frenchie head, and a piece of fabric with some embroidered spots.
The body parts are piling up around here

Using the embroidery machine to sew plushies has had an unexpected side effect. My pattern drafting has always tended to be very geometric and mathematical, but the ease with which I can go “eh, let’s see what happens” and float some squares of fabric in a hoop means I don’t spend as much time carefully plotting out how each piece is going to go and pre-planning each dimension of the thing.

A blank green not-a-raccoon head next to a more finished fox head.

Instead, I sorta freeform in it Inkscape. Result? Oh, I didn’t think about how long the schnoz was going to be on that raccoon. In fact, if I change the ears up, it’s more like a fox. I mean, some of it is because I’m making less realistic critters, which is also fairly new to me. Normally if I was drafting a raccoon pattern I would have reference pics of raccoons, raccoon skulls, and so forth, and I would already know just how long that schnoz was going to *need* to be.

A different angle on the fox head.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a different thing, for me.

Doing things you shouldn’t do on an embroidery machine

I’ve been doing those things again.

Not things that might break the machine (probably!) but rather, “things that might be easier to do on a conventional machine,” or “things the manufacturer really didn’t consider you doing and so the user interface kind of works against you.” Those kinds of things.

An eyeless plush seal with a too-long neck.

Okay, some of them are things that just shouldn’t have been done, period. That seal pattern… whoof. The first draft is rough.

Continue reading

Pachyderms!

The next in the collection of plushie patterns is a “flopsie” elephant — or in this incarnation, a mastodon. The embroidered face on this one comes from the cartoon mascot for the Mastodon social-network software, and its ears are smaller than the elephant version. At least, one ear is smaller… somehow the one on the other side is the large one.

The mastodon was supposed to have a yarn topknot that matched its braided tail, but I forgot to sew it into the seam. If and when I fix the oversized ear I’ll sew it on top.

I’ve also been experimenting with “puffy” embroidery. I don’t think the tusk is big enough to justify it, and the height of it gets lost in the minky pile. I’ll probably run another version with the black satin outline just to see how it looks.

It also makes alignment more difficult (I goofed this one up, which is why I didn’t finish it) so it’s time to work on a more foolproof system to line things up.

Orcas!

I’ve been learning my way around Etsy, and have made a couple of sales (two plush dragons). I still think my future there is mostly in pattern downloads.

This one was another spur-of-the-moment: I made a black and white dragon (er, one of each), put a piece of black minky down on top of a piece of white minky, and for some reason it said “killer whale” to me.

As with the jumping spider, I had to do one in non-black to take instructional photographs.

Naturally, I made changes to the pattern while making the larger one, so I don’t actually have any useful instructional pictures yet. So it goes.

Embroidered Jayhawk face freebie

Embroidered Kansas Jayhawk mascot logo

My sister’s husband and in-laws are bigtime University of Kansas fans, so when I needed a little something for my brother-in-law’s Easter basket it was a good excuse to digitize a Jayhawk. The more usual full-body side-view ‘Hawk is a bit complicated for a quick design, but the minimalistic face view fit the, uh, bill.

The nickname for a Kansan is a “Jayhawker,” for not-entirely-clear reasons, and so the mascot for the university is the imaginary “jayhawk” bird.

It’s a pretty simple stitchout.

Continue reading

Antique sewing bits – awls and tomatoes

A canning jar containing tomato-shaped pincushions, and an antique tailor's awl.

As you can perhaps tell by the last entry, I’ve been spending some times buried in notions and things. I’ve been going through some of my late mother’s sewing supplies, adding them to mine where I can. Sometimes I can tell this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

The awl is probably a grandmother’s, but I don’t know from which side of the family. The handle is natural — bone, or perhaps ivory, and the spike has a good patina. I don’t know how long it’s been since it was used; I don’t remember ever seeing it when I sewed with my mother. I bought one of its descendants many years ago, plated metal with a plastic handle. Clover still makes those, but the current generation📦 is slightly different, with a fancy grippy bit on the round-again handle.

An antique tailor's awl compared to a new one.

It’s a tapered tailor’s awl, which Clover says is “Designed for pulling out corners.” Certainly people use it as that, and as a sixth finger when sewing, but a straight awl will do the same. A tapered awl has two specific purposes I’m aware of: punching holes in leather, and making holes in fabric without cutting threads. I got mine to do the latter: installing teddy bear eyes and joints. Safety eyes and joints have large plastic shanks, and if you cut a hole the joint can eventually tear out. This can even be the case with traditional wire-loop eyes and cotter-pin joints, if the fabric is close enough of a weave/knit.

I don’t know if my inherited one was originally ball-point or if it’s just worn down that much, but it’s not sharp at all now. The modern one is “just sharp enough to be sharp.” It’s meant to part the fibers when it can, but to go through if it has to. Don’t use it to push out corners, though — it is meant to make holes and it will do so. (Ask me how I know…)

Three tomato-shaped pincushions, one with an attached "strawberry."

The tomato pincushions are a very universal thing. When I posted pictures of the first three on Mastodon and Instagram, a lot of the responses I got were along the lines of “My mother had one!” Those three were, if I remember correctly, my mother’s (perhaps hers before her), my paternal grandmother’s, and one from the drawers of my estate-sale treadle Singer. I sent the picture to my sister to ask when it rose to the level of a collection and she said “three,” and then later that day another box of Mom’s sewing stuff arrived from her, coincidentally containing number four (the difficult-to-see smaller one in the top of the jar). I’m pretty sure there is at least one more in the earlier boxes that I haven’t fully sorted yet.

A lot of people asked about the “strawberry” attached to the apparently-oldest one: it’s full of emery sand, used to sharpen and de-rust pins and needles in the days before rust-resistant plating. It’ll (eventually) strip the plating off, so if you have one you probably don’t need or want to use it. I still use the tomatoes themselves once in awhile, though my “canned” surplus now lives in one of the glass-fronted kitchen cabinets because that amuses me.

I do my best to use (and use up) the sewing tools and notions I’ve inherited. I’m not sure what my grandmothers would think of what sewing has become through the generations, but I like to think they’d at least approve of their things still finding uses.

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!

Dragon drop

The dragons have dropped, and the larger queen immediately sold. Okay, it was a Mastodonian and I kinda expected it, but it was still kinda exciting

I still have a few more critters to list, but the dragons were the most complicated listing. Today was a little busier than I expected with non-Seams stuff, but I got the pictures taken and will work up the listings shortly.

… and sew more dragons.

Monday shop drop?

Queen of Unfinished Projects embroidery design

Okay, I have a nearly-finished batch of tiny plush dragons (if I can just stop tweaking the pattern), the nearly-finished owlbear dice bags, a couple of embroidery patterns (look at those cleaned-up jump stitches — yes, I’m turning it into a whole alphabet), and quite a few samples (stash panda, jumping spiders) that, if the sunshine holds, I will take nice pictures of and get into the shop for a Monday morning drop. I’m shooting for 10am EST, wish me luck. Update: Make that 2pm, I forgot I won’t be home at 10 and Etsy doesn’t allow scheduling items as far as I know.

Once I get some of those smaller unfinished projects out of my queendom, I’m going to wrap up that crazy Mew project and put it in the shop, and then get back down to the more sculptural dragons. For real.