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… šŸ˜‰

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 expertā€”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 patienceā€”spending time making, adjusting, re-makingā€”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!


MeiJo’s JOY: Cactus Pincushion – tutorial

cactus pincushion by PC Lim

cactus pincushion by PC Lim

This little cactus pincushion was a handmade present from PC of MeiJo’s Joy, when she and I met up in Penang a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t just being nice when I squealed and gushed over this tiny potted cactus…it really took hold of my tender ‘cuteness’ gland and gave it a hard squeeze.

Ms. Lim at Air Hitam Saturday markets

If PC wasn’t my sister-in-mischief, I would be tempted to do a tutorial for these cacti, myself!

Luckily, PC has put together her own tutorial (see the link, below) for making this (and a whole family of others, different shapes and everything!) that couldn’t be simpler to understand.

I love that she has used recycled materials instead of new store-bought stuff: a streaky green T-shirt has been the perfect fabric for all the cacti, and tiny plastic disposable pudding cups were used for the pots. Don’t forget to check out her additional tutorials, to make the puffy flowers that she uses to make both the bright pink flowers and the bases for some of the cacti plants.

This photo of the whole family together really fires my imagination…I’m starting to see all sorts of variations on this theme…a perfect little project for a rainy afternoon, as they are really simple to make.

MeiJo’s JOY: Cactus Pincushion – tutorial.

a whole family of potted cacti

a matching Lotti ā¤ pendant

matching Lotti pendant

Couldn’t help myself…I had to make a matching little felt pendant to go with the doll. For Lotti to wear or hang from her little handbag (has Lotti got a little handbag? Maybe I should be making that next?)

“And WHERE is your Cretan stitch sampler for TAST, Miss?”

“Uh…oh, he he, it’s right here, be done soon, I promise! Maybe even in time before Sharon B. announces the next stitch friggin’ tomorrow?!?”

Short and sweet, I got to get back to my embroidery hoop. *sigh*
Lotti pendant (back)

Lotti ā¤

Lotti, ready for bed...

Eeep! Running late with my Cretan stitch sample for TAST. Ye Gods, how boring it is! Especially as it’s nearly identical to last week’s feather stitch, and I’ve really had enough of this family of stitches, lately. But I’ve pencilled in a nearly solid design, so there’s nothing for it but to plod along, laying rows and rows of Cretan stitch beside each other. *sigh-argh*

The other reason I’m late is I was suddenly overcome with a desire to make this little poppet…this is Lotti, getting ready for bed.

I’m sending it to its namesake, the real Lotti, who is two-and-a-half already.

Lotti recently drew a lovely pink scribble in a Christmas card for me, and looking at it yesterday I decided to put everything else on hold until I’d made something to send back to her.

A few years more and I will have missed my chance to eat all her toes…

eating Charlotte's toes...

Hard to believe she went from this

to this…
ye Gods, two-and-a-half already...

Just. Like. {snap}.

Lap it up, as this is about as close to my recessive, atavistic mothering instinct as you’ll ever see…the irresistible compulsion to stitch cute little felt figures for my goddaughters…

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

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 namedā€”for better or for worseā€”“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 projectsā€”

  • 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!)

ā€”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 receptionā€”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 šŸ™‚ 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 cuttingā€”great rippling lengths of coarse yellow-grey hessian-ey weave stretching out like the wheat fields of Nebraskaā€”my spirit balked and I had a little panic attack. I’mĀ  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…