Stuffed Animals Book Review

Almost 10 years ago, as I started to experiment with sewing dolls and stuffed toys, I often wondered -  how do people learn how to do this?  I mean, you can go to school to learn how to design clothes or simply take a class or two at a local fabric shop to get a grasp on the basics.  There are also plenty of books, blogs, online courses and tutorials on designing and sewing garments and quilts.  And sure, there are books and patterns for sewing dolls and toys - but my question was how do people learn to design stuffed toys?  Where is there a book or a course for that?

So I learned the way so many others have learned - by doing (and lots of trial and error).  I sewed lots of doll and toy patterns and collected and reviewed several vintage soft toy sewing books.  I examined mass-produced stuffed animals at toy stores, or wherever I happened to come across them - noting the seams and darts, etc. trying to figure out how that specific toy was put together.  In fact, I still do this...

In early 2010, midway through the process of designing patterns for the projects in my book, Abby Glassenberg started a series on her blog While She Naps called Elements of Soft Toy Design.  I'd been a long-time admirer and follower of Abby's blog and I remember thinking, Really?!?!  I needed this series 6 months ago!!!  Shortly thereafter, Abby halted her series and announced that it would become a book.  I would have to wait...

And it was well-worth the wait.

Stuffed Animals:  From Concept to Construction was released a few months ago to well-deserved acclaim.  This book is full of 16 adorable projects that demonstrate 52 lessons (52!!!) - lessons that are particularly helpful for anyone out there aspiring to create or enhance their own stuffed toy designs.

Each of the projects helps demonstrate up to 4 or so lessons.  For instance, this Elephant project below covers such techniques as underbody gussets (Lesson 8), leg darts (Lesson 9), cutting slits to insert details (Lesson 10), and eyelids (Lesson 11).

And this ridiculously cute dinosaur covers how to create a zipper mouth (Lesson 51) and how to compensate for a top-heavy design (Lesson 52) .

Believe me, this book covers just about everything!

So not only is this book full of incredibly helpful lessons, but the projects help show in practice how each of the lessons/techniques are actually used, resulting in a finished toy.  How awesome is that?

My girls wanted me to make the puppy first (that's a no-brainer if you took a look around our house these days).

But I went with the Kangaroo because I wanted to test a technique that was new to me (Lesson 44: Cutting a Hole to Attach Limbs).

I remember Abby briefly covering this technique back in 2010, and it was a technique I hadn't tried before.

So, I went ahead and traced the pattern pieces onto freezer paper (all are full-size, except for the dinosaur) and then cut all the pieces out of super soft, furry knit minky fabric.  And then I prepared to start sewing.

I started with the finger puppet and noted that the pieces were very small - the arms and ears even appeared too small for me to sew on the machine.

And then I read the instructions. D'oh!

Yes, I read the project instructions after cutting out my pattern pieces.

My mistake.

Oops.  I realized only after reading the instructions that the seam allowances were not included as part of the pattern templates in the back of the book.  While I personally prefer that patterns include seam allowances, this is just my preference and not at all the fault of the book.  It was my fault for not reading the instructions!

All of this happened at the end of Spring/start of Summer.  And I contemplated whether to scrap the pattern pieces and start over again or just try and sew the Kangaroo using the smaller pieces I had already prepared.

And then I decided to completely rearrange The Pink Room and the Kangaroo pieces sat untouched for longer than I intended.  Once my sewing space was ready to use again, I decided to just sew the Kangaroo as is, which meant having to hand-sew the finger puppet, but that was it.  Everything else I was able to do on the machine.

Here is my finished Kangaroo.  I don't know how much smaller it is than it should have been, but it turned out just as cute!

The legs are super sturdy.  I loved trying this new-to-me technique.

Look at this fuzzy big foot!

And the little (hand-sewn) Joey finger puppet.

Unless you're a family member, I imagine that any follower of this blog also follows Abby's blog.  But if you don't, you should!  And if you don't already own this book, you must!

I don't spend nearly as much time as I used to online, looking at blogs, etc.  But when I get a chance, I always check Abby's blog.  Abby's posts are so helpful and thought-provoking - it's a must-read for any crafter.  

And Abby herself is intelligent, nice, responsive, approachable, honest, and so passionate about the craft and business of sewing and designing toys.  She is one of the biggest resources out there when it comes to these topics.

Check out all the wonderful reviews on Amazon for more information about her book and this book trailer.

Stuffed Animals:  From Concept to Construction fills a void that existed until now.  It's a must-have book for anyone interested in sewing stuffed toys.  Wonderful job, Abby!  And most of all, thank you! 


Around here...

Hello there!

Pig Pillow (variation on Kitten Pillow from my book).

We've had a busy Summer, full of lots of sports camps and travel.  These girls are keeping us active!

I'll let some pictures do the writing...

Soccer tournament in Pacifica, CA.

Bar Harbor, ME.  Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park.

With cousins in Cape Cod.

With cousins in Summerland, CA.

Lake Tahoe, CA.

On the creative front, I started off the summer with a HUGE project - reorganizing The Pink Room.  I'm talking about a complete overhaul of all my sewing/crafting supplies.  Everything.  I've been wanting to give my youngest a bit more space and make the room more of a bedroom and less of a sewing room.

So I dumped out every fabric bin/yarn basket/sewing drawer.  Everything.  I completely emptied the closet and worked so hard at sorting, folding, more sorting, and more folding.

I spent the better part of a week in June on this project...and about 3/4 of the way through it...I got stalled.

And all my stuff just sat.

And sat.

And sat.

Summer happened.  Vacations were taken.  I even vowed to not work on any sewing projects until I finished, hoping it would reinvigorate my clean-up efforts.  Nope.  It still sat.

And we had fun.

Then these turkeys returned to school.

First Day of School, 2013.

Even the little one.  She started Kindergarten.  (She had just turned 2 when I started this blog!).  She wore the same Oliver & S Teaparty Dress that I sewed for my oldest daughter's first day of Kindergarten five years ago.

Oldest on First Day of Kindergarten, 2008.

Then my middle daughter wore it.

Middle on First Day of Kindergarten, 2010.

And, finally, it was her turn.

Youngest on First Day of Kindergarten, 2013.

I got around to finishing up my reorganization project last week and I spent much of the past weekend sewing (I'll show you what I made in the next post).  So happy to be back in there with everything organized and stored away properly. 

The timing is perfect. With all the busyness that Fall brings - homework, Fall soccer, afterschool activities, etc. - it also means the start of holiday crafting.  

My middle daughter is ahead of us all, around here.  She learned to knit earlier this year from my mother.

Middle's first scarf, early 2013.

And she has already finished off knitting this vibrant scarf below for her favorite (almost) 8-year old cousin ;-).

First Christmas present done!

Me, I'm starting on my holiday crafting, too.  All three girls want dolls (even my 10-year old...she asked for a marionette-sized doll).  I have lots of pajamas to make.  Not just holiday matching PJs either.  In all that clean-up I did, I discovered lots of fabric that I need to use soon, before my kids get much older. :(  

I also have a few really cute toy patterns to finish up.  I mentioned those earlier this year.  I hope to have them available this Fall, at least in time for the holidays.

That's it for now!  Look for photos of a toy I made from this book below...  I'll review the book, too.  Both are awesome (the project and the book).  More details and photos soon.


4th Grade Hand-Sewn California Mission Project

If you grew up in California, or you've raised a 4th grader in this state, you're likely all too familiar with the California 4th Grade Mission Project.  I remember making my own (a few decades ago) and it's been fun these last few weeks to watch my oldest work tirelessly on hers.

My daughter chose Mission San Francisco de Asis, commonly referred to as Mission Dolores.

She initially started her project using a cardboard box and had it cut to size, but decided shortly after to sew her mission using felt and plastic canvas instead (the plastic canvas is used to reinforce the walls/bottom/roof).  The idea came from the fabric beach cottage we made years ago (photos are early on in my flickr stream).

She traced the box's sides onto freezer paper and cut out the freezer paper templates, which I then ironed onto felt.  She would then cut the felt and plastic canvas pieces accordingly.  She did all the sewing herself.   I helped with threading needles, tying or untangling knots, ironing templates, pinning where necessary (to make sewing easier), and giving a bit of advice when asked (what stitches to use where - blanket/running/whipstitch, etc.). 

I advised her to make all her smaller templates for windows, doors, altars, etc., out of freezer paper first - just to test the size and placement ahead of time.  This helped her plan the layout of each section.  When satisfied, she would hand the freezer paper templates to me, I'd iron them onto felt, and she'd cut them out and start sewing.  It worked out really well.

She whipstitched felt around various sized crayons to create the columns on the front of the Mission.  Crayons were especially easy to cut to size!  The rest of the front (steps, etc.) are blocks of styrofoam covered with felt.

That is the cemetery to the side.  Those are the names of some people actually buried there.

The left wall drops down and also shows a cemetery scene, shown above.  It looks especially gloomy with some dark clouds overhead :-).

The roof flips open and actually comes off completely to reveal the inside of the Mission.

The roof of Mission Dolores depicts original Ohlone Indian designs - which she chose to represent using this Halloween chevron fabric. (Link here shows a great photo of the actual ceiling).

She chose to show two of the altars - the front and right side.

And that right there is the grave of (one of) my 6th and her 7th Great Grandfather.  His is one of four tombs buried inside the Mission itself.  

This past Friday, we had a walk-through of all the 4th grade mission projects at her school (8 classrooms full of projects!).  I was amazed and inspired by all of the creativity.  Some of my favorite projects were actually the mosaics - I loved each and every one!  There was one mosaic made of jelly belly's and it looked like a true masterpiece.  The sky was a mix of blues and purples, the Mission was creams, light yellows, etc.  It was so beautiful.  The kids all worked so hard and were so proud of their projects.  Rightfully so.

One down...two more to go ;-).


A Mohair Miss Maggie Rabbit

Early last month, when Alicia Paulson made available her Miss Maggie Rabbit kits, I purchased one without hesitation.  In fact, I was stalking her site that day until they appeared :).   I'm glad I did because they sold out quickly.  I think they sold out that very day!

Here is a photo of the original by Alicia.  Sweet.

Source:  Posie Gets Cozy Miss Maggie Rabbit

Her pattern is adorable and the fabric and yarn choices were all so beautiful.  My kit is the one below.

Source:  Posie Gets Cozy

See below?  It's all cut out and ready to sew.  I also have two more felt rabbits cut and ready to sew from this pattern - although, my oldest daughter plans to sew one herself.  They are that cute.

But around the time that I was tracing and cutting this pattern, I got a bit distracted by Jennifer Murphy's newest venture (sounds awesome!), and started wondering what a Miss Maggie Rabbit would look like sewn up in mohair.  It seemed like a good simple rabbit doll pattern - and with the limbs sewn on (sans button-joints), and the head and body as one piece - easy and child friendly, too!

I used a small piece of mohair and was (barely) able to eek out the necessary pieces.  Barely.

I used Lecien fabric for the inside ears and dress (my girls think it's a nightgown).  

The glass eyes are securely sewn on.  I also weighted the bottom of the torso with a bag of sand.  This helps the rabbit sit better, I think.

And, of course, it's stuffed firmly with wool.  Using wool and a good stuffing tool helped give a slightly different shape to the head, too.

I think the end result is pretty cute - thanks to a wonderful pattern by Alicia!

I did make a pair of undershorts, and I almost added a tail (I sewed one up), but decided not to sew it on because the rabbit lays down more nicely in a bed without it.

The boots are in process.  They are adorable.  But I'm kind of eager to make up the rabbit from the kit first.  Hopefully, I'll get to it soon.

Oh, and I think there might be new kits available soon.  But until then, I believe she has the pattern available for purchase as a download.  Go take a look!


Meet Otto

Oh, Grandma, what big ears you have!

All the better to hear you with, my dear...

Oh, Grandma, what big eyes you have!

All the better to see you with, my dear...

Blink, blink.

Oh, Grandma, what a big nose you have!

All the better to smell you with, my dear...

Oh, Grandma, what terrible big teeth you have!

All the better to eat you with!


Meet 3-month old Otto.  This furball joined our family a few weeks ago and has been keeping my days quite busy.  A good busy.  He is another rescue puppy, so we're not sure what he is - maybe Sheltie and Chihuahua?  Pomeranian and something else?  Any wild guesses?

We call him our baby wolf.  He is a total sweetheart.

He is super furry and full of energy and love.  Curious and playful.  And he loves to snuggle up on our laps or curl up next to Lily, our sweet black dog.

Lily and Otto play much of the day, chasing each other around the backyard, playing tug o' war with ropes and toys.  They are so compatible, which makes us all so happy.  We wanted to add one more dog to our family - for us, but also for Lily.  They are a good match.

And I'm back on puppy patrol!  Following Otto around the yard, making sure he isn't eating something harmful, getting into trouble, etc.

Puppyhood doesn't last for long.  Sometimes exhausting, but overall, it's fun.  Well, maybe not the housebreaking part.  The girls are all helping out when they can (when they're home from school and their various sports/lessons).  We have a busy family these days...

In the meantime, I'm finishing up a few dresses for my girls and plotting out a canvas dog tote similar to these adorable ones by Wagwear (pictured below) or these by Lands End.  I have the fabric washed and ready to be ironed today.  I like the idea of using darker fabrics (like the Wagwear tote) - so that's what I've picked out for mine (brown with blue straps).

Source:  Wagwear

Otto will likely be 10 - 15 pounds when full grown (he looks bigger because all his fluff, but is just 3+ pounds in the photos above).  I want an easy way to tote him around.

Having a smaller dog has opened up a whole new obsession, too.  I have some plans to make him some dog toys - already bought some spare squeker inserts (he can't destroy toys the same way Lily can).

And the clothes!  I have to make him a few hoodies, right?  I mean, he needs one.

Source:  etsy.com

I have a free hoodie pattern that I'll try out first, using a discarded t-shirt.  But if I like it, I'll try out one of the many Japanese dog books.  Maybe I'll make a trip to Kinokuniya in Saratoga to flip through some books in person.

Any recommendations on dog clothes patterns, send them my way!


Mollie Makes - My Elephant!

Have you seen the latest issue of Mollie Makes here in the US?  We picked up our copy the other day at Kepler's.  I've been patiently stalking watching magazine racks for the last few weeks.  I was so excited when I spotted this issue.  My favorite magazine...

...and look at that!  I am so thrilled to be included in this beautiful publication!  

And I'm so happy that my elephant sewing caddy project is featured.  This was a project I had in the back of my mind months before I started working on the book.

A bit of background on this project - a few years ago, I was browsing images of old toy patterns on this website (there was free access for a short time), and I came across an elephant sewing caddy.  It had a very different look to it (more "turn-of-the-century" with tassels and "Victorian" accents), but it served the same function.  I loved the idea. So I started sketching my own mid-century inspired version.  I wanted it to look playful, with a wide open mouth and big eyes.  And I wanted it to be button-jointed, so it could be posable.

Here is a photo of the actual sketch from my sketchbook.

This project is entirely hand-sewn and can be made in a few short hours.  Use a quality wool felt and stuff firmly!

I used a tomato pincushion - and snipped off the strawberry emery bag to attach to the end of the tail.  I enclosed the tomato, along with a bit of stuffing, inside the drum pincushion.

I actually have this elephant on my sewing table now (it was one of the last toys returned to me).  I use the pincushion quite a bit, and the elephant sits to the side holding my thimble when I need it. The blanket on its back holds spare scissors and needles.  

I think this project would make a particularly sweet gift for a child learning to sew.  My kids each want one of their own, because this one is *mine*.  I actually do want to make one in light aqua....and one in pale yellow might look cute...lilac might be nice...  Hmm.