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.

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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!

Flower Bear kits are coming!

Partially sewn teddy bear pieces, joint hardware, and glass eyes.

For those of you who don’t have embroidery machines, or just don’t want to hunt down things like glass eyes and disc joints, I’m putting together some Flower Bear kits for the shop.

Teddy bear with flower ruff in front of flower arrangement
Swatches of upholstery velvet.

I’ve got three of the different greens out of my upholstery velvet stash, plus the chocolate brown that’s always been perfect for a sunflower center. I’m going to need some daylight or a better lighting setup to take the listing pictures, though – that middle color is a grayish green, not just gray, and the one on the left is the same one that shows up much brighter in the finished bear. I’m also going to need to find the tiny washers that go with those cotter pins — I scavenged enough loose ones to make the giveaway bear but I think I might need to order more.

Shoebox labeled "Joints" containing doll/bear joints.

I’ve organized a lot of sewing/art/craft supplies since moving and yes, I really do have a shoebox labeled “Joints.”

Flower Bear In The Hoop (sort of)

As much fun as I’ve had doing (relatively) conventional things on the embroidery machine, my real intention has been to use it as a sort of CNC machine. One of the first tests I did of this capability was with a single-color version of the venerable Flower Bear pattern.

Teddy bear with flower ruff in front of flower arrangement

A large part of teddy bear/jointed plush sewing is simply putting two flat pieces together and sewing around them. That makes it ideally suited to in-the-hoop work. Of course, the rest of the sewing means matching some very different pieces together — foot pads, head gusset. This can be challenging on a sewing machine, virtually impossible on an embroidery machine (I’m still trying!), but pretty easy when hand-sewing. In the small scale of Flower Bear, it’s not too onerous.

Hoop up a piece of stabilizer, then put down two pieces of fabric right-sides-together on top. Although it’s hard to see here, I’m using an upholstery velvet — what you’re seeing is the coarse white woven backing.

A smarter person would have gotten a picture of the stitchout without all the clutter, but not me. Clockwise from the upper left is the body (with a turning opening), the ears, the arms, and the legs. In the middle there’s a little S-squiggle that is the chin seam. That’s the only part of the head that is sewn flat. You’ll need the pattern from the link above, because you’ll have to transfer some markings to the fabric. The arm and leg joint centers are pretty easy, but the head is a little more challenging.

There are two ways to transfer the head markings. Either way, you’ll want to match up the pattern to the chin seam, so I cut the seam allowance on the pattern away. If you want to transfer the cutting line, perhaps because you have a light-colored fabric, trace that like this.

I recommend transferring the stitching line, though, which means cutting on that line on your pattern and tracing around it. I use a Sharpie here which seems counter-intuitive but on this fabric it just rides on top of the backing fibers and doesn’t come through to the pile at all. Test your fabric first, though. Worst case, if you end up with Sharpie on a finished piece, guess what? “Permanent” markers aren’t all that permanent: rubbing alcohol will re-dissolve the ink. If you work quickly, before the alcohol evaporates, you can rinse the color out.

You’ll need to transfer the foot pads and gusset to another piece of fabric.

Now cut around everything. Don’t forget whether you’re cutting on the cutting line, or around the seam line. Starting at the bottom of the chin should help remind you.

Most of the rest of the instructions are in the link above. Exception: you may have noticed that the arms and legs have no turning opening. Cut a slit just big enough to get the joint disc through, then whipstitch the slit closed around the pin.

If you’re making a proper Flower Bear, or if you have a 4×4 machine, you’ll want to shuffle the pattern pieces around. The SVG is in the archive. If you have trouble using Inkstitch, let me know and I’ll generate a version with the changes you need.

Cheater Bear 5×7 Embroidery Files (ZIP archive)

Tub 17: Pink and black

Silver Seams has evolved over the years, and I still have a lot of fabric from older incarnations of the business – most of it bulky faux furs. I don’t want to clutter up my Etsy shop with it so as I go through the various storage tubs I will post about them with Paypal buttons. When I sell them (or use them) I’ll remove the buttons so if you are looking at this post a year from now and they’re still priced… well, I’m probably still stuck with the stuff.

The fact that the first tub of fabric I grabbed out of storage was #17 is depressing in part because it’s far from the highest-numbered tub I have. I got rid of a bunch of them during the move, but I still have more than seventeen. This one has a mix of mostly bear-making fur in it, though the pink would also work for cosplay/fursuiting.

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