Do you have a passion for eco-friendly toys? Want to tell a story through your sewing? Make yourself laugh hard? Invent a few softies that show off your personality and you'll reap plenty of smiles. I'm doing it and so can you!
Below is my ten step process for making soft toys. Feel free to skip steps if you want to because there are no rules when you are inventing!
Step 1: Generate ideas by doodling in a sketchbook. Make a quick list of some favorite themes to get yourself warmed up such as: plaid, cowboys, princess, vampire, vintage, golfer, 1970’s, Florida, bunnies, monsters. Combine ideas on your list to make your toy truly unique. How about a golfing bunny, plaid vampire or a cowboy princess? Doodle your ideas in your sketchbook.
Step 2. Sketch a larger version of your favorite doodle to use as a pattern on a piece of craft paper or tracing paper. Draw it at the size of the toy you want to create. You can make your toy as simple as a rectangle with legs and ears or something more complex. Cut this drawing into parts: head, body, ears, etc.
Trace your cut out parts onto a new piece of paper, adding approximately a 1/4” (.6 cm) around edges for the seam allowance. Alternately your seam could be located 1/4" (.6 cm) inside the cut pieces, making your toy slightly smaller than the pattern size.
Label each pattern piece with the project name, what it is (i.e. head), how many pieces you need (i.e. cut 2) and the date, so you can reuse them later. The date helps in case you decide to reshape a section - the latest date is the latest version.
Step 3. Go to the fabric store or thrift store. Before you go, download coupons from their website, if available. Look for fabrics that sparkle in your heart. For your first project, choose easy to work with fabrics, like quilting cotton. Muslin is inexpensive and makes wonderful “skin” for arms, legs and faces. Look in the store's remnant section - its a good place to find small fabric pieces at 50% off. You won't need much fabric for small toys so you might want to start with a couple of fat quarters.
Buy stuffing material –polyester fiberfill is hypoallergenic and easy to find. Buy thread that blends with your fabric if you don’t already have it. You may also need embroidery thread and an embroidery needle if you plan to embroider the face. Embroidery hoops are often available at thrift stores if you want one for your project.
At the thrift store don’t limit yourself to just fabric. Try sheets, tablecloths, curtains, and clothing to deconstruct (men and women's extra large shirts offer a lot of useable fabric). You can always donate back excess fabric you don’t need. I love buying leftover quilting scraps at the thrift store for my toy projects - they offer colors and patterns I wouldn't ordinarily find on my own.
Useful extras: A chopstick and a pencil with an eraser for turning thin parts right side out and stuffing. Tweezers for extra help turning small bits. Chocolate to aid thinking.
Artie has a new girlfriend - Babs made her debut this week. Artie and Babs like to hang out together on the sofa, sharing chit chat and flirty looks. Artie used to sell luxury cars and Babs is a former flight attendant. They both enjoy dancing, movies and martinis served with three olives.
Just look at those sideburns!
Babs likes to show off her legs.
It all starts with the right mix of fabrics. Artie and Babs' groovy threads are a mix of new and thrift store goods.
There may be more characters hiding in this pile - do you want to meet Artie and Babs friends?
One of my favorite ways to break through creative blocks is to take a walk. Spring is showing up here in the red knobs of unopened blossoms and the faint green haze of leaves unfurling. Grasses glow with color: chartreuse, lime, and golden red flames.
As I wander the creek path I contemplate colors, additions and subtractions, my project objectives and the challenges of toy making. These are the familiar problems of any art project. To keep moving forward we have to love our idea so strongly that even the risk of failure does not stop us.
I have been thinking about creative obsessions lately, brought on by recent reading (see this post) and my desire to invent cute toys. A productive creative obsession is one that fuels our passion to bring something new into being, be it a painting, a business or better adherence to a personal belief through our actions. A deep interest in our subject will drive us past setbacks and excite us enough to keep trying even when we’re tired, cranky or bored.
In The How Of Happiness, author Sonja Lyubomirsky explores happiness as specific elements that we can combine to amp up our personal happiness. All of them involve action with intention, doing instead of just thinking about it.
In her research Sonja found that “the best happiness inducing goals were those where a person takes up a new activity vs. doing something to better your circumstances.” Pursuing activity goals (i.e. a creative project, joining a wilderness club, volunteering for a cause they believe in) allows a person continually to experience new challenges, take on new opportunities, and meet a variety of experiences. “Sustained pursuit of activities you value is … happiness-inducing, with its ability to deliver a stream of positive events and regular boosts in happy mood.” (The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Penguin Books, 2007).
What this means to me is that happiness comes from overcoming challenges within our personal obsessions. The more we invest in pursing an idea we find deeply interesting, even if its hard work, the more satisfaction and happiness we generate for ourselves.
There are so many ways to develop creative obsessions. Choosing to lose yourself in geocaching or crafting doll house furniture, digging for dinosaur bones, researching ancestry, collecting vintage clothing to wear, learning to dance or building motorized airplanes (to name a few) might just be your ticket to joy.
What’s your creative obsession (or what would you like it to be)? Do you make time for it daily, weekly, monthly? What holds you back from working on it? What propels you forward again? Share your answers in the comments – I’d love hear how you keep your projects moving forward despite fears and setbacks.
"I haven't failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison
This is my 2014 Easter basket: bunnies on an island holiday :) I filled a casserole dish with an orchid plant, blue stones, dried moss and two gold bunnies. The bunnies were white porcelain knicknacks from the thrift store that I spray painted gold. After adding a Japanese bowl filled with chocolate eggs, its celebration time!
Happy Easter to those of you who are celebrating and happy spring to everyone else!
Chia seeds are the latest trend in healthy eating. These tiny seeds are packed with fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium and anti-oxidants. When I saw them at my local market I had to try this chia seed pudding recipe from Giada de Laurentiis (Feel Good Food cookbook). The no-cook, maple-laced creamy pudding makes a yummy breakfast or dessert. Make it the night before and serve topped with sliced strawberries and slivered almonds.
1 cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk
1 cup plain low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup, plus 4 tsp for serving
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 pint strawberries, hulled and diced
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
In a medium bowl, gently whisk the almond milk, yogurt, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, vanilla, and salt until just blended. Whisk in the chia seeds. Let stand for 30 minutes. Stir to distribute the seeds if they have settled. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, in a medium bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 4 teaspoons of maple syrup. Mix in the almonds.
Spoon the pudding into 4 bowls or stemmed pudding glasses, mound the berry mixture on top, and serve.
The world around me is visibly growing, blooming and expanding as the earth shakes off its winter coat. Each day new flowers appear and there is finally a hint of green on the hills and trees of Boulder. Inspired by spring, I invested in my own artistic growth by buying new craft books. Here's what's currently on my bookshelf:
Creative Block by Danielle Krysa, of The Jealous Curator blog, is chock full of interviews and inspiring images by 50 successful contemporary artists. Danielle interviews each one on their creative process, asking questions such as "Where do you find inspiration?", "Are creative blocks ever a problem for you? How do you work past them?" and "Do you have any little tricks you dig out if you're having trouble with a specific drawing?" Their answers are thought provoking and give us new hooks for snagging our own ideas from thin air.
In addition to answering Danielle's questions each artist offers an "unblocking" project idea. These gems are worth the price of the book by themselves. Ideas such as reproducing a favorite form in different ways for 30 days (Lisa Congdon), stacking random objects several different ways and photographing them to develop your eye for composition (Jesse Draxler), or cutting something in half and connecting it to something else to form a new whole (Wayne White) make creating fun.
Like the sketching prompt book Freehand, Creative Block offers inspiring art and insight into many contemporary working artist's minds. By reading how these artists tackle artistic issues I am inspired to try new directions in my own art.
A Passion for Quilting by Nicki Trench caught my eye at my local Hobby Lobby store because of the bright jumble of colors and patterns inside. Nicki is an author and leading figure in the revival and promotion of home crafts. She's also the founder of Laughing Hens, an online yarn store in the UK.
I was captivated by her introductory page where she says "Quilts were never supposed to be perfect and they really don't have to be difficult: they are works of art and who cares if there is an irregularity or two - its all part of the charm."
Quilting in any form always seemed so exacting to me. I would think "I have trouble sewing a straight line so that's not for me". Nicki's words and projects make the idea of learning this skill much less intimidating.
The book's colorful project photos and gorgeous illustrations make me want to dive right in to my fabric pile and whip something together. Projects ranging from small bags, pillows, baby blankets, tablecloths and quilts mean I can start small and work my way up to projects requiring more dedication.
I'm looking forward to creating pretty accents for my home from the projects in Nicki's book.
The latest book in my stack is Abigail Glassenberg's definitive book Stuffed Animals, a book that explores every aspect of stuffed toy making. From drawing a pattern, choosing materials, building articulated toys and understanding how to craft gussets and snouts, Abby's book streamlines the process and give the reader tools to understanding the how and why. The toys in this tome are adorable and look like heirlooms any child would love. I know my softie making skills will grow exponentially as I explore the lessons in her book.
Abby is a powerhouse: a mother to three little girls and the creator of the successful blog, website and Etsy shop called While She Naps. Her blog is full of useful business and blogging tips for creative sewers, a must read for me!
Now that I'm done with bunny projects for a while, I am dipping into these books to get inspired for my next project. I hope you found something intriguing on my virtual bookshelf that inspires you too!
Spring here means bunnies appearing under neighborhood shrubs and I think they are so cute! Today I'm sharing my pattern for bunny pocket place cards with you. These softies are 7.5 inches high from ear tip to base. They have a pocket in front for nametags or candy and a pompom tail behind that helps them stand upright.
You can quickly sew up a whole batch of bunnies because there are only three parts to construct: the ears, the body and the pocket. They look adorable on the brunch table or tuck them into Easter baskets for a fun surprise. Either way they're sure to add giggles to your holiday.
Download the pattern here: BunnyPocketPlaceCard
Download the instructions (without photos) here: BunnyPlacecardInstructions or follow the step-by-step tutorial below.
On the Teacup Incident this Friday: a free PDF pattern and tutorial for sewing these adorable bunny place card holders. Tuck a name tag into each bunny's pocket to simplify seating or add them to Easter baskets. These are quick to sew and would make sweet adornments for the children's table or for anyone who's young at heart!