DIY: : a simple softie pattern

Most softie patterns for sale over the internet specify “For personal use only, not for commercial resale“, and I am happy to comply because 1) I always think about how I would feel if someone took a pattern I’d designed and made dolls from it, and then put the items up for sale as her own creations, and 2) I like the challenge of coming up with something, myself…after all, if others can do it, so can I. It’s not about being born with amazing skills…skills are learned. Using a spoon, tying shoe laces, driving a car, making a softie pattern… 😉

My homemade softies are not as extraordinary as something created by a fabulous Mr. Finch, though I am sure that with practice and lots of time spent making, making, making, even I could get my softie-making skills up to that professional level. There is nothing stopping me from learning what I want to learn (and there’s nothing stopping you from mastering anything you want to learn, either!) It all depends on whether we want to invest a few months/years in becoming an expert—and, right now, I don’t fancy making stuffed dolls my life. Not really. I just want a school of handmade stuffed Flying Banana Fish to hang in a small gallery corridor for one night at the end of this week.

I looked at photographs of flying fish, and then drew the softie I envisaged, at the actual size.

making banana fish

I shaped a lump of plasticine clay into the body of the fish, comparing it to my drawing to get the scale right.

making banana fish

I cut an old T-shirt into a continuous strip (round and round the body, starting form the bottom edge of the shirt) and put it in a yoghurt tub with some PVA glue, and squished the glue into the fabric until it was all worked in. Then I wrapped the strip around my simple fish shape, using dressmaking pins to hold the ends in place. I let it dry.

making banana fish

With a fresh, sharp scalpel blade, I sliced the shape open along the lines where I thought the seams should go on a fish. These are easy to figure out: a fish is basically two fish shapes joined along the edges…

making banana fish

The fabric peels away from the oily plasticine easily…

making banana fish

I pinned the shape down to some board, and traced around it.

making banana fish

I smoothed the crooked lines out using a Flexicurve flexible ruler, though you can use a french curve, or just freehand the lines, too. I added the seam allowance all around.

making banana fish

To help with positioning my pattern piece on the marbled fabric (so the print resembles scales) I cut the body shape out of the pattern, leaving the seam allowance as a border. You can skip this part if you don’t need to know exactly where the fabric designs will be on the finished softie.

making banana fish

Here’s the finished pattern piece, and I have found a great area of marbled fish scales through the window to cut the fabric from…

making banana fish

Crude but serviceable.


I used the wrapped plasticine method to make my Nutmeg the Wren pattern, too. It took a few prototypes in fabric to get it, as there were more seam lines and I wanted the bird’s head to cock to one side, but it’s basically the same thing. You can’t beat patience—spending time making, adjusting, re-making—for getting a pattern that is just right. Seems like a lot of work, I know, but once you have it, the pattern is original, re-usable, and it’s all yours.

Go make something unique!


Bear with me…

Apple 85W MagSafe Power Adapter for 15- and 17...
Apple 85W MagSafe Power Adapter for 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Minor home tragedy has occurred…my Macbook’s charger got its positive and negative pins crossed, yesterday (ahem, while I won’t mention any names, I’d like to point out that it was the Mr. Handy Man of the house who re-wired the plug…because he said I’d gotten them mixed up and had wired it wrong. Hah!), made an awful sizzling noise, and gave off the acrid fumes of deep fried circuit boards…all in the one second before I could run to unplug the thing.

So. No charger until I order a new one. Mine was modified to plug into a automobile’s cigarette lighter socket and charge straight from a 12-volt DC battery—without using an energy inefficient inverter—by the effing geniuses at MCT, Inc.seriously, I owe these guys, big time, for the technology I enjoy whilst living on a boat out in the harbor…these are my real heroes, not the pikers at Apple)

That’s nearly 200 smackeroos…thank you very much, Apple, for being such a bunch of snobs and designing the oh-so-exclusive, nobody-else-is-allowed-to-manufacture, fits-with-nothing-else-on-the-planet Magsafe Adapter.

In the meantime, the Macbook battery that they said lasted 8 hours, lasts 4, if you’re lucky. If I wanted to blog or check e-mail and RSS posts, I’d have to row ashore everyday, cycle into town, and plug my laptop into the power grid at the library or something. Weh. I’d much rather stay home and go into seriously intense creative mode. Things are going to be a bit quiet around here until my new charger arrives from the U.S. Sorry ’bout that.

In the meantime, go and check out Catherine Frere-Smith’s little embroidered bird softies, which have me in a paroxysm of love and envy at the moment. She was going to be my next über embroiderer, but it can’t wait till my power struggles are resolved…you really should go and have a look at this fresh blog post now.

The finished wren softie

nutmeg done2
Put the wings on this morning. Nutmeg is done.

Did I say something about the wings being “the easy part”? Hah. I was cursing and swearing, and nearly ruined the embroidered wings when I tried to turn them right-side-out. You can see the rough patches on the front of wings, where the machine stitching came undone (all that pushing and stretching opened it up) and there were no seam allowances left to stitch back up after I’d gone and clipped them with pinking shears (Doh!)

For a while there I really thought I would have to embroider the wings all over again. But I managed to whip-stitch the openings, and he looks a bit ruffled, but still cheeky.

And this is just the prototype! Now I have to go back to the start and make up the real one. *sigh*…when the only thing I’d truly like to make at this moment is a martini…)

nutmeg done3

nutmeg done1

High and dry

giant moth rises over Tipperary Waters

Started the morning with this Radiohead song, apt for the weather we’ve been getting lately. 20°C in Darwin this morning…although on the water it is probably a couple of degrees lower, in this gusting south-easterly wind. It’s not painfully cold or anything, but it certainly is a chilly morning—my fingers couldn’t properly feel the needle I was stitching with—and the May we’ve just had has been the coldest on record since 1960.

I found this furry little wedge of gold pressed to the outside of our window, peering in with those beady eyes as though wanting to come in and get warm. It’s the same color as my marigolds, and I wonder whether this is the culprit who seeded my plants with voracious caterpillars, two weeks ago. My poor marigolds had gone from being lush and green, to looking like naked umbrella skeletons, in a matter of days. I had to inspect them with a torch every night for nearly a week, and pull the tenacious little buggers off the leaves…

wing for a wren

I started stitching the wings for Nutmeg The Wren after breakfast, and finished one by noon. *sigh* It seems to go so slowly, sometimes, all this hand-embroidery…sometimes I just want it to be over and done, so that I can move on to another thing on my To Do list, which is growing exponentially every week. The To Do list gets me every time: I am chronically worried that people, or the situation, will give up on me or pass me by before I can do all the things I am supposed to do. How do you speed up something like an embroidered bird’s wing, without abandoning the idea to embroider it at all? Craft is such a slow process: building the design up with lines of thread…a stab down, a stab up…the minutes and hours vanishing at an alarming rate. Even stitching two-handed, it took me half a day…and for what? One little golden brown wing.

It’s pretty...

At least it’s pretty. 🙂 “Rearranging the deck chairs aboard the Titanic,” Kris would call this. There are major deadlines and big scary projects bellowing like the monsters in Tartarus for my attention, and I chose to finish a little bird’s wing, instead. Avoidance tactics, of course. I employ them brilliantly.
wing for a wren


Scribbled a short letter to a friend last night,  and when I went to dig up her postal address I found the little packet of googly eyes that I bought a week ago at the dollar shop…my first-ever googly eyes! Can you believe that I’ve never played with these things before? I stuck some on the envelope, and it magically turned into Mr. Letter. I just love his expectant, guileless expression. It’s so true, everything looks better with googly eyes stuck on.

Mr. Letter

The juggling act

a stack of rainbow felt from Bumble Bee Crafts

I think I might have piled too many projects onto my plate, these days…which is why I haven’t been posting regularly, or keeping in touch with friends, family, and people whom I owe things to. Most are small projects (imagine the sort of person who tries to make a meal out of the hors d’oeuvres at the opening ceremonies of a new wing for the local hospital) but even the little things require time, energy, and a disciplined method for bringing several things to fruition at roughly the same rate…three resources I don’t have an abundance of.

WIP strawberries and kiwis

There are 8 project models to be finished for my new class at the CSC Adult Night Classes, which I have named—for better or for worse—“Felt Sew Funny(*groannn* Hey, I know, okay? But it’s more vivid than the very dry “Felt Sewing Projects”.)

We’ll be making 8 small, cute, quirky projects—

  • a pair of baby shoes,
  • a zippered pouch,
  • a bird softie
  • a triangle clutch (so sue me if it’s a touch hipster, yeah?)
  • a wee mouse softie,
  • an ice-cream sandwich (that is also a little trinket box)
  • a biscornu pincushion,
  • and a mustachio necklace (for those times when you need to sport a mustachio right away!)

—using felt, a bit of embroidery, and hand-stitching. The idea is to be able to work on these items easily: in your lap, at home, in front of the television, during your commute, among friends or while waiting in the doctor’s reception—no need for special sewing skills, nor sewing machine, nor a special room or block of time devoted to sewing.

Term 3 at CSC’s Adult Night Classes begin August 8th.

For some reason (well, okay, for the money) I have accepted a job sewing curtains for a friend’s big motor vessel, The Shiralee. Because the fabric is pre-lined, and posh friend Salty 🙂 wants both sides of each curtain to look good, I am doubling up and working with 4-metre lengths, 1.5 metres wide. The largest of the curtains weighs 4 kilos (8.8 lbs.) And here’s me, with my little avocado green vintage Singer sewing machine, and a cheap plastic-bodied overlocker that rattles when you use it. On a boat with a small room and one writing desk for a sewing table. It could be “character building”. We shall see.

When I had unrolled the full 13 metres of upholstery-weight fabric out on deck for cutting—great rippling lengths of coarse yellow-grey hessian-ey weave stretching out like the wheat fields of Nebraska—my spirit balked and I had a little panic attack. I’m  recovered now, thanks in part to my godmother’s dog-eared copy of Reader’s Digest’s Complete Guide To Sewing, and to having picked the brilliant mind of a really lovely elderly German lady, who runs the most successful curtain and drape-makers shop in Darwin: Thode Interiors. Salty and I bought the necessary hanging bits at Thode yesterday, and now that I know what I have to do, I just have to find the time and make room on deck to do the from The Reader's Digest

I’ve never actually done curtains before, though I’ve mucked around with the rudiments of general home and garment sewing…and one kind of sewing’s not so different from the next, I figure. It’s one helluva way to learn…say “Sure I can do it,” and then scramble about trying to figure out how.

WIP allium on coarse linen

I‘ve also applied to join about a dozen local craft fairs, from now till Christmas, and so I’m trying to put together a big bunch of journals, as well…some painted, some embroidered, some leather ones. Here I’m embroidering yet more allium journal covers, in perle cotton on circles of dyed crepe. The ground fabric is an off-cut from the curtains I mentioned above…it has a nice coarse-weave look to it, and the colors have sort of grown on me…I’m starting to love this grey and flaxen straw combination.

Nutmeg. Wings coming soon.

Nutmeg, my homegrown wren softie, is yet to be finished. I’m working with version 1.3 at this point, having taken the first two apart, and dismissed 1.4 as a dead-end. Nutmeg 1.3 is far from perfect: I messed up on his legs and feet (he doesn’t balance), I’m not happy with his furry beak, and I have yet to make his wings (but that part’s easy)…but the act of putting him together yesterday was all the ‘research’ I needed to iron out these problems. So now I am excited to be done with v.1.3, and start on the final version of my little wren, because I know how I’m going to do it, and I can see the finished wren in my mind, already.

Nutmeg. Wings coming soon.But the wren softie is only half of this project…I also have to draw up the list of materials, re-draw the pattern pieces, write up instructions, photograph the steps, move everything to digital format…then submit the whole package to the publisher that asked me to develop this project for their magazine. And then cross my fingers…

so far...
lowSly getting my ass into gear for an exhibit at the DVAA in November, too. Working title is Random Acts of Crewlty (& Bondage), and it will feature crewel embroidery and bookbinding, will explore loneliness, possibly human suffering, maybe even cruelty, though at this point I don’t know any more about the exhibition than you do. It may even include the above embroidery, which I have been telling everyone was to go into the show. Now I’m not so sure it fits, or that I want to even finish it.

When I do the work, and only then, do I get what the piece…and the entire show…is about. Until then, it’s all just vague ideas, false starts, wild goose chases, mysterious images, and compelling urges…

sewing : : The Mother of Action

Sometimes, Aggravation can be the mother of Action…though usually it’s just the Grandmother of Binge Eating (Note: Why, yes, I have appropriated Terry Pratchett‘s marvelous one-liner to suit my needs.)

tangled mess of embroidery threadsI was so frustrated last night, trying to work on an embroidery; the solar-powered lamp, the nasty weather, rough seas and heaving boat…crafting conditions that would have given more orthodox embroiderers a nose bleed…and I could not find any of the needles I wanted to use, because all my needles (as well as a spilled box of dressmaker’s pins) were lying loose at the bottom of my sewing basket, under great handfuls of snarled, tangled embroidery thread.

WHY? Because I’m a disorganized nincompoop, that’s why!


A pincushion (sewing), with pins. The small
Image via Wikipedia

I was so angry at myself for not having some sort of system…nothing anal retentive, just a little bit of method to the madness?

I’ve been embroidering since I was a seven-year-old in pigtails; can you believe I have never owned a single blesséd pincushion? Or a decent thimble, for that matter?

It seems rather sacrilegious, or disgraceful, at any rate.

Quilted and embroidered cover

I actually started work on a needle book last year…I had already embroidered and quilted the cover, and had only to sew the felt pages into the book, when a good friend in need of a journal came along, and I was moved to bind the aforementioned quilted covers into a lovely writing journal, instead. I didn’t mind, but then I just forgot all plans of organising my needles….until last night, that is, when I spat the dummy for good.

This morning I got up with pincushions on the brain. Nothing embroidered or fancy-shmancy…in a fierce mood, I grabbed two pieces of felt, cut the pattern pieces out, and I made a Spool Bird pincushion. The spool bird pattern is here.

Time it took to hand sew (using backstitch) and stuff my new pincushion? An hour flat.

The satisfaction of having all my needles stuck into one pincushion, where I can keep an eye on the little buggers? Timeless.

“Oh, craft, where is thy sting?” Bring it on, says my pincushion. *insert roar here*

The new pincushion, Panthera avis, rocking his roost.