Monday, May 30, 2011

Successful stuffing– a tutorial for the novice!

I decided to make a doll this weekend, and as I was in the process of creation I remembered that quite a few of my friends had asked me how I stuff my dolls so firmly and without unsightly ‘bumps’. So – I thought I would share my tips with you.

Of course, there is no right or wrong way to stuff a doll or a soft toy… but this process is the one that works best for me.

This is a fairly intensive post primarily aimed at beginner doll makers – so if you want to read on – you might want to get a nice cuppa and make yourself comfortable for a while!

Back to basics

Fabric choice

First of all let’s think about fabric choice. To choose the most appropriate fabric depends on the style of doll (or softie) you are making. Most country-style dolls are designed with flat faces (two pieces of fabric sewn together and turned right sides out) and are created with tightly-woven 100 per cent cotton fabric. The doll I am working on at the moment is a good example of this:

Stuffing project in progress

The pattern is called Faerie Noelle and has been designed by Annie Smith of Country Keepsakes.

A tightly-woven fabric is defined by its thread count – the higher the number, the thinner each individual thread is and more importantly, the more tightly it is woven. Which means it is less likely to fray – and exactly what we need for a successfully-stuffed doll! The seams are less likely to split or gape. Here’s an example of various fabrics where you can visibly see a difference in how tightly-woven they are:

Stuffing fabrics

From left to right: loosely-woven Hessian, then Calico, Homespun, cotton, and finally, tightly-woven quilting cotton fabric.

Pimatex cotton is widely used by doll-makers due to its high thread count and good quality, it comes in various plain hues, can be overdyed or indeed, purchased in various patterns. For country-style dolls, muslin or seeded calico is a popular fabric choice. I am using the latter for the Faerie Noelle doll.

If you have been making cloth dolls for a while and want to challenge yourself with needle-sculpted dolls (dolls with 3D facial features)… you will need a bit more ‘give’ or a one-way stretch in the fabric. For example, I used a Craft Velour to make this Pixie doll.

Pixie close up picnik

Craft Velour is a polyester fabric, but still tightly woven. It has enough stretch that it can be manipulated, which is essential for needle-sculpting as the face will need to take on characteristics created by 3D effects. Where, and how densely you stuff a face within this fabric can determine the final ‘look’ of the doll – thus is the wonder of ‘stuffing’!! I won’t talk any more about advanced doll-making at this stage, but just wanted to let you know that there are other products out there in the market if you want to take the doll-making experience one step further. For some fantastic inspiration on a wide variety of dolls, check out

A note on stitch length

Okay, so you’ve selected your pattern and your fabrics and it’s now time to sew the basic shapes from the pattern. A lot of designers will state in their patterns that a smaller stitch length is advisable for areas of the doll that will take a lot of strain – such as the neck, for example. If the doll is intended for child’s play, it’s essential that the seams are strong.

I stuff my dolls firmly and therefore, to reduce strain on the seams, I use a smaller stitch length for ALL parts that will be stuffed. I learned by trial and error! I’ve made toys in the past, such as this dragon, that have had the seams burst due to my poor choice in fabric and from using a standard stitch length:

Stuffing tute dragon back seams

Stuffing tute dragon neck

Hmmm… another thing which didn’t help to disguise the bulging seams was the use of a contrasting thread!! It’s a good idea to use matching thread in your sewing machine, as you are my witness!!

(The dragon on the right was made a few years later and I chose a good quality quilting fabric for his body and a stretch jersey for his snout,wings, horns and tummy, as they required a bit of sculpting.)

The standard stitch length on sewing machines differ marginally. My Brother machine has a standard stitch length of 2.5 and I adjust it to 1.6 for ALL of the sewing I do when constructing body parts, or indeed any parts of a pattern that require stuffing. (If I am making individual fingers for a hand on a more advanced doll, I go down to a stitch length of 1.4)

Here is what the stitch length adjustment looks like on my machine. If you are unsure how to change yours – just refer to the manual or go online and search Google!

Stuffing stitch length normal

Stuffing stitch length small

What stuffing do I use?

Most craft stores sell polyester stuffing – the type that is used in the manufacturing of pillows and cushions. This is the most common option as it’s reasonably-priced and widely available (if you live by a craft store, of course!!). The polyester stuffing has a high loft, which means that it is very springy and full of air.

Tip: If you don’t live close to a craft store and are desperate to get hold of some stuffing, you could wash an old polyester pillow or cushion and once dry, use the stuffing from within.

I actually prefer to use wool stuffing. It has a lower loft, which means that when you stuff with it, it doesn’t bounce back up again… it packs in to the space more densely, and I have found it much easier to work with.

Stuffing stuffing

Wool stuffing is most commonly used for bear making (as I understand it), and can be purchased at bear-making supply stores. It is however ,more expensive than it’s polyester neighbour. I just love the feel of the stuff! Therefore, I use it in projects that I’ve put a lot of work or money in to.

Stuffing tools

Chop sticks are most commonly used to insert stuffing. I have a specially-designed ‘stuffing fork’ manufactured by American doll artist, Barbara Willis (purchased from here). It’s pictured below and has a blue and white pattern on its handle. Also pictured is a chopstick, a small wooden stuffing stick, and some doll-turning tubes.

Stuffing tools

The little wooden tool was much cheaper and purchased from a bear-making supply store. The one thing that the ‘stuffing fork’ and wooden tool have in common – is that their ends are notched – enabling them to get a good grip on the stuffing when you are pushing it in to position.

Stuffing tools close up

If you would like to make your own tool - you could carefully cut a notch in the end of a chop stick to create the same effect – just make sure you keep your hands and fingers safe!!

The technique

I discovered that the key to my success was to use very small amounts of stuffing… here is an example of how much I use to insert in to a shape each time I stuff. I’ve placed a 10c coin, a 20pence piece and one Euro in the photo to aid you in visualising the exact amount of polyester stuffing I use.

Stuffing polyester

And the wool-stuffing:

Stuffing wool

Notice I use less wool stuffing? That’s because it’s more dense. There is probably the same amount of stuffing in each photo, but you can see the difference in the ‘loft’.

In this next photo, I have inserted one of the turning tubes in to the leg piece to be stuffed. This aids in allowing the stuffing to slip down an elongated shape (such as a long leg or arm) easily, and it also prevents the raw edge of the opening from fraying.

Stuffing tool in use

Using a tube is personal preference and isn’t usually necessary when stuffing with a stuffing fork or other ‘notched’ tool. However, I find it useful.

Here is the ‘stuffing’ part:

Stuffing in progress

When I first begin stuffing – let’s use a leg and foot for example – I pack it into the furthermost and smallest area – in this case, the toe area. Any “little” areas should be filled first.

Once the stuffing is in position, I squash it down with the stuffing fork by jabbing at it four or five times. Then repeat again with another small amount of stuffing. As far as ‘jabbing’ at the stuffing is concerned – I really go for it! I’m quite aggressive with prodding it and packing it down, and I do so EVERY time I insert more stuffing. You want to get the stuffing as tight as you can so that it doesn’t spring back up.

To give you an idea of how long it takes me to stuff a doll - It took about 40 minutes for me to stuff this leg (7 inches). I know it’s a long time for a little item – but if you don’t want any lumps and bumps, patience is the way to go. You can achieve a densely-packed, solid-feeling leg by using this technique.

Stuffing the completed leg

There you have it – one completed leg, stuffed to the line as shown on the pattern piece. If you do happen to have a few lumps, try rolling the leg in between your hands as if you are making a sausage shape out of Play doe.

But all being well you shouldn’t have to do this - the key is to use small amounts of stuffing, pack it down firmly, and be patient. But most of all – enjoy the process!!


I hope you found this tutorial useful.

Well… I’m stuffed! I don’t know about you… but I’m off to make another cuppa!!

Till next time – hugs! Vikki xx Smile

Friday, May 27, 2011

A bootiful giveaway!

There are always so many wonderful giveaways going around in blogland, and I just had to share this one with you!

Shabby giveaway

My gorgeous friend, Kerryanne, over at Shabby Art Boutique is celebrating her 300th post and has made two of the cutest dolls to commemorate the occasion. She is giving away one of these dolls, and all you need to do is hop on over to this post, and enter! You can gain more entries for blogging about it… which was of course is my other incentive for sharing with you! Smile Ha ha…

The giveaway is open until Sunday 29th May – so be quick! And GOOD LUCK!!

Vikki xx

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thank you & surprise revealed!

A big thank you to everyone who ‘flew by’ yesterday to wish me a Happy Birthday! That was a lovely surprise, and my little robin friend was so sweet to send you over! I’m sorry I wasn’t expecting you… I would have had treats on the table and coffee brewing in the pot… but such is the way of lovely surprises!!

If you are reading this and wondering what on earth I’m talking about… the lovely Dawn sent out a birthday greeting to me on her blog yesterday. I know, I kept it quiet, I’m pretty shy about some things. People who first meet me find it hard to believe that I can be shy, because I will talk to anyone and everyone. But there you go – it must be the Gemini in me – I’m a contradiction in terms!!

Surprise revealed!

But I’m excited today too – because this day I get to reveal a surprise! Do you remember the giveaway I had on my blog a few weeks ago? Well, the ‘surprise parcel’ has now been received by the lovely Illene, so I can show you what it contained!

Le croissant brushed edge

A Pom Pom de Paris layer cake – as you guessed! But also – the “something to whet your appetite” (as was my clue) is this novelty croissant pincushion. It’s a new design of mine and will be accompanied by a needle-case and bag… what do you think?

And do you remember me telling you that I was waiting on receiving a package from France? Well… wait to you see these little belles!!

Le croissant 4 smudge edge

Le croissant 3

The cutest little pin toppers you are ever likely to see!

Pinkeepers 1 picnik

I purchased them online from Nathy Creations. The website is in French but it’s very easy to navigate. I used Google Translate to help me when I had problems understanding the language. Isn’t the internet wonderful? Nathy’s service is fantastic – the pin toppers arrived in my mailbox in less than a week! She also makes buttons too – and each creation is made from layering the modelling material – no paint involved. Clever eh?

Le croissant and coffee picnik

I had such fun with this giveaway – and delighted in making these croissants – and photographing them!

Ooh-la-la! Okay… back to the pattern-writing!!!

Have a great day!

Hugs! Vikki Smile

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are you in love with Aviary Too?!

This gorgeous bundle of textured goodness arrived at my doorstep this morning and I have been fondling it ever since!

Aviary 2 fabrics

It is of course Aviary 2 by Joel Dewberry, and is destined to become two handbags… one for a friend and one for moi! I just need to decide on a pattern, but will most likely go with the Swing Bag by Amy Butler – it’s such a great pattern for showcasing a feature fabric!

I am in the midst of writing patterns at the moment. Nothing to show for a while yet but lots going on behind the scenes! I’ve also been re-organising my sewing space and making my new desk look pretty. I’ll show your the before and after once I’ve completed the ‘after’… but in the meantime here is a little vignette…

Desk vignette 1

Until next time – I hope your days are filled with much happiness and stitching!

Hugs! Vikki xx Smile

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A parcel of happiness and quilting inspiration

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? I have been busy with family commitments these past couple of weeks but have still managed some time to get some sewing in… it’s like a little bakers shop at my desk! But more on that later!

I received a wonderful parcel last week from the gorgeous Cyndi over at Bluebird’s Wing! Have you visited Cyndi? She is such a lovely, lovely lady and full of inspiration – if you know her already I’m sure you would agree! She’s sweet and kind and makes the most amazing handbags that always have me drooling. Well, Cyndi also has some amazing giveaways on her blog and I was lucky enough to win one of them!

Look at these sweet little charm squares, I’ve never seen fabric packaged so cute!

Cyndi gifts 1

The line is called Buttercup by Joanna Figueroa, Fig Tree & Co for Moda. I wonder what I shall make with them? Any suggestions? I also love the card Cyndi gave me, illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Mary Engelbreit.

Cyndi gifts 2

Cyndi also included some sweet stationery and some chocolate – thank you SO much Cyndi!!! Smile

I am busting at the seams to make a handbag… I have a design in my head ready to be put on paper. I always do most of my designing in my head before the pencils come out, fine-tuning and nutting out the –how to’s! I guess that’s because most of my designs do not involve drawings as such – although stitchery is definitely an area I want to explore more of. Anyhow… I’ve been wanting to get into more traditional patchwork too, and spent some time on Mothers’ Day watching this dvd…

Lone Star quilt dvd

“Make a lone star quilt” with Michelle Marvig. The dvd came with this month’s issue of Australian Homespun magazine. It’s excellent! Michelle is so clear and easy to listen to, I’d imagine her classes would be lots of fun and you’d learn so much. If the dvd is anything to go by, she’s a great teacher. so this is another project added to my ever increasing to-do list! My friend, Vicki, made a lone star quilt and I was fortunate enough to see it in progress – I’ve been keen to make one ever since and now at last I feel more confident to give it a go… okay, ALMOST confident to give it a go!!

Okay – back to the baking! Ha ha! I’ll show you soon!

Hugs!! Vikki xx


Related Posts with Thumbnails