Last night at 9:25 PM, Stars took his last breathe. For 14 years, he has been by my side with his beautiful sunny smile. I had been spending a great deal of time these last few months taking care of him, making us constant companions. It feels very empty and quiet right now. I know he’s in Heaven, free of pain, safe and happy, but I sure do feel like he took a part of my heart with him.
I really like using vintage patterns, but sometimes they can be a bit hard to track down. There was a booklet of animal toys titled Easy to Sew Toys, that I’ve tried to get an original copy of for years, but never succeeded. Then one day, there in my inbox was a blog article about this booklet—and the author, Abby Glassenberg, had very kindly put a pdf copy of it online (don’t worry, its copyright is expired). So, of course I was thrilled, and downloaded immediately. So what did I think of it once I’d finally gotten a copy into my hot little hands?
The patterns are all the old style type toy with button attached limbs. While the photos are all black and white and the fabrics used are obviously from an earlier time period, you can easily imagine substituting in some fun, modern prints so that you have that touch of vintage from the style, but an updated look with the prints. Images and pattern pieces are not always with the written instruction pages, so just flip through to find what you’re looking for. Its not that big of a booklet, so that’s really not a hassle, just a minor inconvenience.
I decided to try my hand at making the penguin (which I wanted to create for part of my sister’s Christmas present this last year). I stuck with the traditional black and white concept, but went with prints instead of the solids shown. (While I’d love to claim the origins of this idea, not only was there a photo of one similar in the blog article, which I had seen floating around Pinterest, but I’ve seen other penguin softies done this way. I have no idea who the first person ever was, but it’s too cool not to try–go for it!)
I also used regular quilting cotton with a bit of batting and canvas inside for the feet instead of felt and cardboard (I knew my sister would put him in her bathroom which is decorated with penguins. Cardboard didn’t seem like such a great filling what with all the water possibilities.) as suggested by the pattern instructions. I like the scrappy look with the button eyes. Mine didn’t want to stay standing on its own, so next time I’ll try something stiffer for the feet, but I’m pretty sure it is due to the weight of the body. Maybe something heavy to weight the bottom?
It is a little tricky sewing the curves and trying to get the wings on was a trial in patience, but just take your time. You could just sew the wings directly on, skipping the whole button thing, but then the wings won’t have that little bit of movement. The end result is so adorable, its totally worth the effort!
Yes, yes, its waaay after Christmas, but it took me forever to get down to my sister’s apartment and snag some photos of what I made her for presents this last year. So without further adieu, here it is:
The denim rectangle blocks are from those boxes out of my Grandmother’s estate. (Same boxes as the ones I used for my other sister’s quilt the Christmas before, and the same that I’ll use for my brother’s quilt this coming Christmas.) I originally debated on all the fabric squares and rectangles from my Grandma as to whether to recut everything to be the same or just let it be. I decided that the real charm of all of these is that they ARE from my Grandma. There won’t be anything more made by her—just what I finish up (which, granted, is quite a few), so if I recut everything it feels like I would be taking away the part that she had done. So, I’ve only done a bit of trimming to make the rows even for easier sewing and then for squaring up the entire quilt, the wonky widths and such were left to be themselves. I made sure to have all the pockets going with the openings towards the top, so my sister can put things in them like hankies and cough drops for at night! It’s kind of fun, making a quilt with my Grandma, even if its not with her by my side.
I used multi-colored thread with a bit of sheen to it. Kind of nice contrast to the matte blues of the denims, don’t you think?
To get the lines, I literally taped across the entire quilt with wide masking tape. Then, I stitched along each side of the tape, lifting it out of the way when necessary to keep from sewing through it.
The backing/batting is polar fleece (like what I did on the other one). The denim was so heavy already, but I wanted warm and cuddly, which denim is not, so the polar fleece gave the soft and warm along with a bit of loft that batting would have provided. I think it will wear well with the denim. This one, like the last, is a very generous twin—because in this house we like quilts to tuck all around us when we roll!
Every year I make Stars a new blanket or quilt for Christmas. Yep, that’s right, I make my border collie quilts. Everyone deserves some quilty love, two-legged and four! Sometimes the rest of the family complains that he has more than anyone else.
Of course, we all know he’s my favorite, but it also is simply the fact that his quilts don’t need to be as large. This years was the largest at around 55 inches….so much easier to manipulate that bugger around under the machine when quilting than say a queen size. I also tend to keep his quilts simple in design (but lots of color).
I had nice bright fabric squares (I think I found them at the local Goodwill, but it was quite awhile ago, so who knows) that just needed to be in a quilt. My original plan was to cut them up and use white for sashing, but I never got to it and so decided they would be better used in the next quilt for Stars. The fabric had a kind of finish on it that reminds me of the old polished broadcloth. Stars really likes it and rubs his nose on it. Some say “lily” on them, maybe its Lily Pulitzer fabric? A girl can dream anyway. Most were the same size, but a few didn’t quite match. Facing a Christmas time crunch, I had to decide if I wanted to trim down every block, leave them be or what. I decided to make them the same height but leave the width however it was, (so not every corner matches up) to give it a more random look. I can live with it. So I sewed my rows and then trimmed the rows. With all the colors and the quilting, you almost don’t notice it…maybe I should have made it more even more obvious. So much for random.
After seeing that the Dream Poly Deluxe batting used in his outdoors quilt held up so well (its been washed at least once a week since and still fabulous), I decided to try one of their other batting types—the Dream Puff. Supposedly, it is 1.5 times warmer than down. While I can’t confirm this officially, he does stay cozy and comfortable in it even on our cold nights (and my room gets quite cold) and it is very light weight. I joke that I made him a quilt from flower petals, it really is that light. I quilted it up using some Sulky rayon thread and a topstitching needle and everything turned out lovely. I used a chevron pattern with a reverse chevron asymmetrically centered. There’s enough loft to give that little puffiness to the quilt, but not so much that it is at all a problem under the sewing machine foot. I think it would probably hand quilt well. Any hand quilters tried it yet? Hopefully, it’ll have the staying power of the Poly Deluxe, because I’d really like to keep using it for other quilts (especially since I bought the super queen size to get enough for another quilt that’s ready to be quilted). I like the idea of warmth without being weighed down…and machine washable is a definite bonus! Anyone else tried any of the Dream battings? What results did you get?
I ended up using the same fabric for the binding as for the backing. And, in case you’re wondering at the colors in these photos, yes, the fabrics are really that bright and vibrant—this is one crazy colorful quilt!
I had originally thought of using a neutral like gray, but this just looked better so I went with it. Never be afraid to ditch your idea for a better one.
Does he like it? Well, judging by the concerned, somewhat menacing, look he gave me when he thought I was taking it away, I’d say “yes”. Stars will lay snuggled in that quilt for hours (yeah, the guys taking full advantage of his retirement years) and always wants me to go get it for wherever he’s currently resting. I think I may have to sneak it into the washing machine when he’s sleeping.
This last winter I was asked by my sister’s co-worker to make a new version of a vintage toy. The toy was one she had given her daughter when she was around 2 and it became the little one’s lovey. Now that she has a little grandson, she wanted a boy version for him to love. She brought me the original—man, was that poor toy loved! Missing ears (dog chewed them off), some repairs, years of
grime love, stains and lumpy stuffing made for…well, you can see the sad state of a much loved toy.
I admit, when I saw that toy, I might have swallowed hard at the thought of trying to reproduce it. The tortured state of the critter wasn’t really the part that had me nervous, I can make up an ear, but rather it was the three dimensional aspect, which can be hard to get exact, and even more so, the absolute faith that this woman had in me, her co-worker’s sister, to make a reasonable copy of “Boo Kitty”, a toy that held a great deal of loving memories for her and her daughter.
After spending a few hours searching for a similar pattern with no luck, I knew I would have to create my own. So, I thought you might enjoy learning the steps I went through—then maybe you can recreate an old toy yourself!
The first step was to document the original (so I could return it before the daughter noticed it missing as this was to be a surprise from the grandma) with lots of photos at all angles. I also scanned the face because I knew that no matter what the body looked like, as long as the face were right I’d be halfway there. If it wasn’t right, the project would fall flat no matter how well made.
From just the two shown photos (I won’t bore you with the dozen I actually took for documenting) you can see how the head has a one piece front and a two piece back, with a slight curve to the back of the head while the front is flat. Also the body is similar, but with the added bottom piece. The separate arms had little gathered ruffles with attached hands. The legs have hinged knees and the toes point up. Boo Kitty was obviously missing her ears and some filling and what was there was compressed and somewhat bumpy due to years of lovin’.
Another step I took is one similar to that used to copy garments that are already made—only because this was a dimensional object, I put the pattern paper on top of each section to carefully pin and trace the pieces. While this didn’t give me an exact replica, partly due to the condition of the toy, it did give me a place to start with pattern pieces and allowed me to really look at how this softie had been designed. I decided to lose the ruffled sleeves as this was to be a boy’s version, so that simplified the arm construction just a smidgen. For the missing ears, I measured what was there and then drew up a basic cat ear in keeping with the scale of the whole softie. As a toymaker, I did use a bit of my imagination to decide how this kitty must have looked new. In my head, I tried to rewind time and remove the years of being slept on, thrown in the washing machine, attacked by canines, spilled on, dragged everywhere, danced with and squeezed tight. Among other things, I figured that the head wasn’t quite as flat and sat up straight, the feet were better shaped, and the arms probably didn’t hang down quite so much before the shoulders lost their stuffing and repairs were made.
Once I had the basic parts traced and created, as in the case of the ears, I smoothed out the lines and made up a test dummy. I made notes directly on the muslin so that when I came back to it on a different day, I’d remember exactly what I was thinking.
Then I reworked the pattern pieces and tried another mock-up of the toy. The first round of changes made some things much better, but also caused that some other changes became necessary. An example is the neck shoulder area. You can see how adjusting one part’s shape caused it to look very different.
I didn’t like how the head was looking and the arms/hands needed some adjustment. So, more tweaking to the pattern pieces and a test of just the parts that needed a redo. No point in wasting material, stuffing and time on remaking what is already fine!
Then, one more go at the head to get the shape just right. The idea isn’t necessarily to have an exact duplicate, which would be very difficult to create with fabric pieces that have been stretched, washed, and loved for years and getting a pattern from something you aren’t cutting apart. What you want is something that is close enough that when someone looks at it, they clearly see a similarity, but that also has your own touch added to create a unique version.
When I felt I had it close to perfect, I drew out the pattern pieces for a fresh start. I decided that for a boy version, I would add a little bow tie. I opted for applique to avoid any choking hazard or loss of parts (and grandma approved). I pulled a lot of different fabrics from my stash until I came upon a beautiful red, white and blue plaid to use for the main body. Then I found this red micro polka dot fabric for the tie. Plaids and polka dots are such classic prints, kind of fitting for a reproduction of a vintage toy. I also had previously matched the skin tone fabric of the original so that I knew I had almost an exact match. I also used some shiny embroidery floss to hand stitch the face to replicate the original.
I like to stuff toys firmly so that they can stand up to years of hugging, snuggling, and being dragged around and washed. Knowing that this toy would probably need washing at some point in the future, I used polyfil for stuffing. Polyfil seems to hold up pretty well over the years. This Boo Kitty is stylin’ a bow tie that has been fused down and then handstitched with a blanket stitch. His face is hand embroidered—why yes, that is some mighty fine satin stitching, thanks for noticing—and he sits up by himself.
Each plaid piece was carefully cut to keep the plaid straight and matched up properly as much as possible on a three-dimensional toy.
The new Boo Kitty turned out close enough to the original, that when the grandmother saw it, she gasped and cried, “Boo Kitty!” Then she got all teary eyed and hugged me—that says it all!
You know I can’t pass up adding another class to my library—you should treat yourself too! I wait for this sale every year (yeah, I’m really not into Walmart’s big tvs.) I believe in expanding one’s self and furthering one’s education, and Craftsy really makes that possible for me. I can follow the lessons on my terms (which is generally in pjs at midnight when its finally quiet) and learn a variety of subjects. Did you know they’ve been adding drawing and painting classes? There’s also some woodworking ones that look lovely, although I don’t have the tools for them, and those new food classes make me hungry just looking at the pictures. So take some time and go browse Craftsy’s classes, you might just find the perfect class (and at these prices, you might find several).
Great news!! Craftsy has decided to extend their Black Friday Sale until December 1st at 11:59 MT this year. That’s a good thing because if you’re like me (who currently has around 28 sitting in her cart to choose from) you might need a wee bit more time to pick your favorite! Have fun—and I’d love to hear about which ones you choose!
The above banner is an affiliate link (which helps pay for this website), but I’d recommend a Craftsy class even if it wasn’t because they are terrific.
My sister gave me a pile of sweaters and clothes for potential upcycling (or at least that’s what I saw when she handed them over, she may have intended actual use as clothing, I didn’t ask) awhile back. The stack included a lovely baby blue sweater that was oh-so-soft and just screaming to be made into a cuddly softie. So what could I do, but obey the call of the sweater and make a toy. I decided it needed to be a bunny. Well, sitting on my shelf was the book Storybook Toys: Sew 16 projects from Once Upon a Time Dolls, Puppets, Softies and More by Jill Hamor, which despite its rather lengthy title, has absolutely adorable patterns in it and had been sitting there waiting for me to break it open for months. If you’ve never seen Jill’s work, you should take a moment and check it out–although not right this minute, finish looking at my bunnies first. And while I’ll give a more in-depth review after I’ve tried some more of the patterns, I just had to show off the bunnies. (But I’ll just tell you now, you’re going to want your own copy. Either go to Amazon or follow this affiliate link to get Storybook Toys at Amazon!)
I gently washed the sweater. Sometimes I go for a felted sweater, but this time I still wanted to retain some of that knit texture. I had some pink satin ribbon for a bow and used black felt for the eyes which I hand stitched on. I used some scraps of pink minky fabric for the inside ears and the under tail for extra softness as all bunny ears and tails should have. I used regular DMC embroidery floss for the nose, white dot in the eye and to stitch down the black eye. I used some Fairfield Poly-fill for stuffing. I really like how the ears are floppy. This bunny has that kind of Velveteen Rabbit look that is just such a classic toy look. If you look online, you’ll see some adorable versions made with chenille, corduroy, and some have a belly area with a contrasting fabric too. I love a pattern that looks just as adorable in multiple versions. The pattern went together perfectly and the instructions were great.
With some careful placement of pattern pieces, I managed to just eek out enough for two bunnies which ended up being a good thing as both sisters told me they wanted it when they saw me sewing. So each was claimed by a sister and no fights broke out—now to just make myself one! These were really quick to make up…definitely a pattern to keep in mind for quick gifts.
I’m thinking a white chenille one, maybe one with plaid and, of course, I just have to make a velveteen one!
Yes, I’m finally back. Do you ever have that moment when you’ve lost the password book that you so cleverly put all your passwords in for safe keeping and easy access? No, just me? Awkward…
Well, I’ve been wanting to share the results of this skirt for quite some time now. (Oh, and please disregard the lack luster photos from the 30 second photo shoot my “model” gave me—yeah, I’m talkin’ to you sis!) The pattern used was McCall’s 5631, it’s one of their “Crafty” line. We went with a one piece skirt body (rather than an attached band at the bottom, sorry can’t recall which version that is) and stitched the ribbon on top. The fabric used is a 100% cotton with a slightly off white background and a red toile-like floral pattern. The red is actually more of a slightly darker Christmas red rather than the tomato red that seems to be showing in the photos.
This skirt pattern has it all…literally. There’s a yoke with facing, side zipper, pleats, gathers, fullness and, for this version, ribbon trim. Whew! The only thing missing were pockets. If you want to test a lot of sewing techniques at once, choose this pattern. If you want to go insane on a “simple” skirt, choose this pattern. If you want to know one thing I will never sew again as long as I live, it’s this pattern!
Was it particularly difficult? Not really, I admit, and if you just take one step at a time, you’ll get there eventually. There are just a lot of steps. I also found that with such a full skirt, there was a lot of fabric to maneuver around. Which translated to a few sessions of picking out stitches where fabric had gotten caught in the stitching while trying to get the skirt body attached to the yoke. I also had to resize it three times as my sister, who was the recipient, lost some weight between the time I started and finished. (What can I say, I’m a really slow project finisher—I get distracted easily. Also, this started off as my sister’s chosen project for a first sewing project—yeah, I’m still bouncing back and forth between laughing hysterically and crying. The latter because I was the one who ended up having to finish it. But, I did get a Craftsy class out of the deal, so not so bad.)
First, the skirt body has pleats around the entire top. The instructions mention basting the pleats down, but my sister liked the look of another store-bought skirt that had the pleats permanently stitched down and seems the instructions never indicated whether to leave any stitching in, we went with permanent stitching part way down the pleats. I think it helped visually to contain some of the skirts fullness and helped it appear more grown-up. The satin ribbon was sewn onto the front and back separately, so it was a bit fussy to keep them lined up. To solve this, I basted just the ribbon area just a hair to the inside of the seam line and then checked for perfect alignment. Once I had that, then I stitched down the entire side seam—saves onerous picking jobs if you don’t have it perfect the first time. I also do this with striped bands of fabric and other sewing where a particular spot is important to line up.
The top of the skirt body was also gathered prior to attaching to the yoke. This is the part where you really need to watch how the fabric is laying. Between the folds of the pleating, the bunching of the gathers, and the volume of fabric, it very easily gets bits folded down or caught into the seam. Go slow and watch the fabric! I’m speaking from experience. . . unpleasant experience.
I believe the instructions call for a regular zipper, but my sister had purchased an invisible zipper instead, so that is what we went with. I think for a side zipper, it looks much nicer and less obvious than a regular one. Invisible zippers are a bit more work than a regular zipper (although my mom, who prefers them, would disagree), but not really something to be scared of, so I’m not sure why so many people and patterns avoid them. If you haven’t tried one, do it—there are many times this type of zipper would be far prettier to use.
Once everything had been stitched together properly, I did end up taking something like 5 inches off the length as my sister found it was way too long for her taste (and that still left it below the knee). Originally, the longer length was what she had wanted but after trying it on and seeing the fullness, it was just too much.
I think my main dislike for this pattern comes from all the picking and refitting rather than the design itself. Also, I tend to think skirts shouldn’t take so much effort so when they do, it drives me bonkers. Not sure why that is really as I don’t mind spending a lot of effort on jackets, tops, pants, quilts, toys and such. Just skirts…oh, and t-shirts. However, don’t let that dissuade you from trying this one. It really is a well drafted pattern and I’d probably feel differently if I hadn’t had to refit and re-stitch quite so much. The end result was a lovely skirt with classic styling and a professional finished look, if I do say so myself. Most importantly, my sister loves it and it looks really great on her! We also now get a kick out of saying things like, “you know what this skirt needs is some pleats and gathers…” whenever we’re looking at apparel or patterns.
Company: DIY Fluffies
I found this little cutie pie on Etsy when searching for a potential baby toy for a friend’s shower. Their nursery theme was nautical with adorable little whales and sea creatures. This not only fit the theme, but looks an awful lot like the whale motifs seen on cute baby things these days. Perfect!
This softie can be made with polar fleece or a woven like quilting cotton, denim, etc. The eyes are felt, but you could certainly embroider some on or use plastic safety eyes. I blanket stitched my eyes in place before sewing the sides to the top. Finished, the whale is roughly 12 inches long.
I had found the perfect piece of blue baby wale corduroy, which I had planned to use on a whale toy at some point, at an estate sale. The piece was big enough that I cut out two whale bodies and might just weasel out a third from the leftovers later. It is so soft! I also had some minky like fabrics from my mojo dolls which I used for the bellies—I love the different textures of the fabrics for baby toys.
For the baby shower, I made one with a yellow belly to go with their blue and gold colors.
And for the other, I used a soft mint green belly. This one was immediately claimed by my younger sister (I know, right, how am I supposed to get stuff listed on Etsy if everyone locally keeps buying it all!? LOL!)
I like how the green fabric has ribbing lines kind of like what you see on real whales.
As far as the instructions for this pattern, there were places things could have been much clearer. For instance, when you are sewing the sides to the top piece, it doesn’t really give a specifics on where to stop at the tail. Also, sewing the shaping darts could have been better illustrated and explained. There are actually two patterns included, one with seam allowances and one without. I think someone brand new to sewing toys might struggle a bit due to lack of better specifics in both illustrations and instructions. While it is a simple toy, one page only is really not helpful for a beginner. I’ve sewn plenty of softies and dolls, and still had to stop and reread and fiddle with pinning to get what it was supposed to be, so take your time and don’t let yourself get frustrated. It does all fit together.
Sewing got a little tricky with the tail when sewing the belly piece on. The area where the top and two side pieces meet at the back isn’t well explained and I kind of had to guess on where to stop (maybe it would be more obvious to someone else). The tail curves upward when finished, so there is some “extra” fabric in the way when sewing this—just keep an eye on it so you don’t accidently stitch it in the seam. Also, the matching marks didn’t line up on mine very well, so what I did was pin the front, pin the tail and then adjust along the sides until the bottoms of the side pieces matched the belly piece. It does match up, its the marks that don’t necessarily always get there. I then trimmed my seams with my pinking shears which helped the curves turn smoothly.
Also, keep track of the fronts of the flippers, I got one in backwards on the green belly whale. (He’s all sewn up, so its too late now…and not super obvious except when looking straight at the bottom.) Incidentally, stiff fabrics like corduroy are not the easiest to turn so be prepared on those little flippers!
I think it took a bit more than half a bag of poly-fil stuffing. I like to pack it in there so the toy stays firm over time, and this one takes awhile to finish stuffing!
Even though I would put this one at an intermediate level due to the instructions, or lack thereof, I think if an advanced beginner took it slow they’d do just fine. If a child wanted to make this, I would definitely recommend some parental help with the tail piecing. After making two, I would still make this one again, and plan to—wouldn’t a plaid whale be so adorable? Maybe this time with big black safety eyes.