Guest blog | Book: Sewn toy tales

by contributor on March 19, 2012

in Books, Guest Blogger

Co-authors Melanie Dekker and Rosalie Quinlan are Australian designers creating fun and playful patterns, books and fabrics. You can visit their websites at Melly and me and Rosalie Quinlan designs. Mel is guest posting today telling us a little more about their book Sewn Toy Tales (published by  David & Charles 2011) and giving us some tips for softie making.

About the book Sewn Toy Tales

When we were asked to put together a book for David and Charles we were completely star struck. We knew that D&C were the publishers of some of our heroes such as Tilda as well as stars such as Martha Stewart, so how could we possibly ever say no to such an honour?!

It was a big undertaking, but one that we both took on with such excitement, as it was an opportunity to team up together and work as sisters again on a book full of creatures that make us happy. There is almost no other way to explain it as the whole process was just such a joy. Our excitement grew as the collection of softies did and seeing the whole 12 together when we were done designing was just the greatest satisfaction.

Our goal was to create a book of fun with plenty of colour, life and whimsy with projects that are perfect for any skill level. The toys included in Sewn Toy Tales are a great mixture of real and imaginary creatures that would suit boys and girls, young and old. We were oh so very passionate about ensuring that this book was packed with helpful tips and tricks for softie making. Over the years we have been asked plenty of questions and have had continual request for pointers on how to get that neat finish. We truly hope that anyone who picks up Sewn Toy Tales will have opportunity to learn something new and improve their softie making skills.

Top tips for softie making

  1. The first rule of a strong and firm softie is to always use good quality polyester thread.  It is really important that you throw out the “patchwork” rules and take that cotton out of your machine whenever you start a softie.  Polyester thread is much stronger than cotton and will make your seams able to handle the strain of heavy stuffing. And make sure to always set your machine to a small stitch of approx. 1 – 1.5. This again creates a stronger seam, makes the stitches less visible and creates a better end result.
  2. Another piece of equipment that is very important is your actual stuffing.  There is a big variance in the quality of polyester stuffings that are available.  If you are using a low quality stuffing then you are probably getting lumps in your softies and getting a result that you are not happy with.  We buy our stuffing from a pillow factory as the quality is far superior and we need to buy in bulk but I have heard on the grape vine that Birch makes a good stuffing.  To help you in your search for the perfect stuffing, here is a little trick.  Grab a wad of the stuffing and roll it together into a ball in your hands.  If the stuffing remains in the ball you have made, with no spring back, then it is a poor stuffing and will create lumps in your work.  If the stuffing ball springs back then you know this is a great stuffing that will fill the space effectively without lumps.
  3. You’ll also need a home made all purpose super stuffing tool! Go to your local craft store and buy a cheap round wooden paint brush. They cost under $2 so they certainly won’t break the bank. This becomes a great double sided stuffing tool.  The smooth round end of the wooden handle is perfect for turning your softie pieces and pushing all of the seams out smoothly. The bristle end then becomes the perfect stuffing tool with a little modification. Grab some scissors (of course, don’t be like me and use your sewing scissors so you have to by a new pair!) and trim the paintbrush bristles to between a quarter and half inch. No need to be neat. Play with the remaining bristles for a while by rubbing them against a hard surface until you have messed them up really well. It should now look nice and shaggy, the bristles will grip on to your stuffing which allows you to easily manoeuvre the stuffing into your toy and to keep shoving it in right to the corners and hard to reach parts until it is super firm.
  4. The last tip is to just keep on stuffing!  A lot of people are scared of stuffing too much and of breaking the seams, but if you have followed all of the tips above and your machine tension is correct then there should be little fear of breakage. Make sure that you support the area you are stuffing with one hand, while stuffing with the other and then keep shoving it in for as long as it will fit.  If you have stuffed some sections less that others, you should still be able to manoeuvre stuffing to those places with your trusty tool.

Mels design process of making a softie

  • I think that the design process can be quite different for both of us and can also vary from occasion to occasion.
  • I find that my design process always begins with a mental picture of the new toy. Once I have a clear mental picture I know that I need to get sketching immediately.
  • The next step is to sketch out the design and note any specific design elements to make sure I cannot forget my inspiration.
  • I will then start drafting templates, tweaking as I go until I believe I have a satisfactory set of templates to create my first draft.
  • I will then make my first draft with the idea that this is only a draft and will need reworking to smooth out any rough edges or to just simply come up with better ideas to make the toy have greater personality.
  • After the first draft is complete, I will adjust my templates as needed and then work on my final product.
  •  The final touches of a toy such as facial features, accessories etc usually only come to mind clearly once I have the complete toy in front of me, this is the part I love dearly as the creature takes on its character and in a sense “comes to life!”

One of the most exciting parts of the process of making this book was when we were sent the result of the photo shoot for the book… Oh my goodness, did we oooh and aaah over all the wonderful pictures that just helped bring our characters to life and accentuate their wonderful personalities. It may sound a little crazy, but when we make our toys they do seem to take on personalities and they all feel very dear to us. Working with D&C and seeing how they captured our style and vision was just fantastic. By the end of the journey we brought plenty of smiles to each other, our families and ourselves. We hope that the book has and will continue to bring smiles to many others, whether it be in the making, the giving or the receiving of a precious toy!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liz L March 22, 2012 at 6:12 am

Congratulations on the book! I bought the pattern for your library book bag and have made two so far. It’s such a beautiful, sweet item and I know my daughter will treasure it for life.

2 Chelle Y March 22, 2012 at 9:30 am

This is so funny, I have just taken a break from making Mr Magoo the monkey for my daughter… and I see you have a book out! Awesome. Love your work!

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