The beginning – Sewing toys

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Where it all began…

When I got my new sewing machine I knew that I wanted to try to make some cuddly toys, partly through nostalgia and partly because my crazy nieces would like them. I first started sewing cuddly toys by hand as a kid, probably at about 6 or 7. My parents were very generous and patient and helped me with all the things I needed to make the toys and then my mum machine stitched over my hand stitching (something I now realise is a real skill – thank you mum). I still have my first fur fabric toy, a jaguar (not a leopard apparently) with wonky eyes that I spent many hours sewing with my mum in the garden.

Working with fur

One thing to mention is that fur fabric creates a lot of fluff. You will spend a lot of time hoovering. When you cut it try to just cut the backing and not cut through the pile of the fur. I keep a clothes brush on hand to deal with stray fur and brush all the pieces after cutting, sometimes I even shake the pieces outside to remove the fluff (suddenly realising why I made toys outside with my mother so much). I also have a comb for my fur to comb the pile away from the seams before stitching, this prevents the fur getting caught in the seams  – that way your toys are super fluffy and your seams look neater.

Cheeky Squeeky Purple Mice

I thought I’d make a teddy for my niece’s birthday but this seemed like a pretty big first sewing machine project. I had used an ancient sewing machine a couple of times at school – it was hideous with seemingly no pedal speed control and it put me off for years! So I started with a mouse pattern from my original ancient (1987) teddy making book – The Creative Book of Soft Toys by Sue Quinn.

The Creative Book of Soft Toys - Sue Quinn

This is a really simple pattern with 2 side body pieces in fur, a base/gusset in cotton, a tail (which I made from cotton fabric rather than cord as the pattern suggested) and 2 felt ears). I combed the fur away from seams and basted all the pieces before sewing, as fur is prone to moving when you sew it. The tail was pinned facing inwards inside the back seam and side pieces were joined along the top seam, then the sides were joined to the base leaving a gap to turn to the right side (learning points – pin the tail to the top of the mouse so you don’t catch the end of it in the side seams). I turned and stuffed the mice, and ladder stitched the gap closed. Then I stitched the ears strongly to the head and embroidered eyes (one of these was for my baby niece so I didn’t want to use safety eyes).

I think they came out pretty well. I must remember to take good pictures (and tidy the background) before I give things away as presents, for an amateur photographer I’m terrible at remembering to get my camera out.

 The Bear with the Bowtie

After the success of the mice I jumped straight into making the teddy bear – Edward Bear, again from The Creative Book of Soft Toys. I looked around for some fur fabric which wasn’t hideous cheap matted stuff (I don’t like cheap “fun fur” if I have a choice). Eventually I found some lovely red rosette swirl minky fur fabric that is super soft and had a knitted back, which means it is a bit more forgiving than woven back fur. I really like this fabric but the backing is fairly thin so it does curl to the wrong side sometimes. For the ears and paw pads I used some fairly heavy printed cotton fabric that I had in my stash. Not sure where it came from, possibly from my gran about 20 years ago.

Sewing tiny toy parts is a learning experience for a novice machine sewer

Given my iffy sewing machine control, the bear stitched up pretty well. Maybe I should have started with something simple like a straight bag rather than toys but running before I can walk is my specialty. I added some of the cotton contrast fabric to the ears as well as the feet and also used it to create a bow-tie as my husband loves bow-ties and it didn’t look right as a head bow. The one tactical error I made was that the pattern calls for you to stitch all the way around the arm pieces and then cut a small slit to turn and stuff the arm (why?), the slit is ladder stitched shut and this stitching is hidden when the arm is attached to the body. However, I cut into the right side of both arms so one slit was on the outside. Luckily once I had done the ladder stitching it wasn’t too obvious and I covered up the stitching with a patch in the contrast fabric and added some embroidered “stitches” round the edge of the patch.

The finished bear

I think he’s pretty adorable. I still have enough fabric left to make one for myself so that is on my project list.

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