Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bag for a Bunny

Hello friends!

I hope everyone is well and warm or - if you're in the Southern Hemisphere - comfortably cool this Advent season. We've been busy (ha! When are we ever not?) but not all because of Christmas. This weekend, for instance, we're hosting Jenna's birthday party with a few neighbors and school friends. As a result of so much partying and Bunnymaking, I'm a bit behind on Christmas prep. Happily, this week I get to clean up my sewing room and think about gifts, cookies, baking in general and all the things I love about preparing for Christmas.

I feel like in the rush of  . . . well, everything, I've missed simply being present here with you guys, so let's do a quick random update, shall we? This has been a good year. Although also in many ways a very weird year, because we remodeled the house and the first half of the year was a bit nuts and then I was playing mega catch up after the summer. Workwise, it felt like I was madly scrabbling some days and other days in complete stasis. It'll be fun to do a roundup at the end of December (assuming I get my act together) and see how much I actually got done - or not - in those 6 months!

We're settling into a new church and I get to coordinate crafting activities with kids from preschool up through elementary school in various programs, which has been wonderful and has made me feel productive in many different ways than before. I used to be maniacal about running but that has recently stabilized to something more normal - I've made myself be okay with sometimes jogging on the treadmill instead of pining to be outside on even the hellishly humid days, or pollen-nightmare days or those frigid days that scream Hypothermia. I'm also reacquainting myself with the piano. I took lessons till I was 12 and while I've played chords and stuff since, I'm shockingly rusty and it still takes me forever to read a proper score because while my hands work decently separately, they are a bit of a disaster together. It's been fun rediscovering that somewhere alongside rock ballads and hiphop and the other, noisier genres I naturally gravitate toward, there is a secret part of my soul that craves Bach and (current obsession) Purcell. 

The girls are growing older and taller faster than I'd like! They love school and are enjoying flute and piano and trombone and ukelele and recorder and swimming and Minecraft and reading and baking and writing. In the summer, they dabbled in the commercial aspect of crafting and sold some items in my Etsy store, in the process learning about marketing and the value of handmade. It's been interesting to watch them set their own goals, work hard and prioritize how to use their profits: Christmas gifts? New musical instrument? Art markers? So many choices, and so gratifying to know it's the result of the work of their own hands.

Now that they're older and more independent, motherhood looks different, too. The kids are doing laundry, baking treats with me completely hands-off, packing their own lunches, planning their own Christmas gifts, organizing their own social activities, initiating their own creative pursuits. We're trying to do some experiential things for birthdays instead of physical gifts, like concerts-with-mom instead of books they may not want to read or craft supplies they already have too much of. They're challenging themselves in school and after-school activities: auditioning, volunteering, trying very hard to work with a tough sports schedule before deciding to let go. Different things are important to them now. Friendships, for instance, are no longer about getting together for playdates with favorite classmates - they're more about connection and accountability and being sensitive to feelings (which now have more nuanced names than Bad, Mad, Sad and Glad). I like that. 

I think that have more time for myself and my work. Some days it feels like because the kids are occupied in school I should be chillaxing on the couch with a fun novel, but I'm finding myself instead because, as the kids get more discerning in their tastes, I want to prepare more interesting meals. My day looks different, too: I'm trying to get more structure in it - often the challenge when one is self-employed and works at home - and being more organized so I'm not running ad-hoc mini-errands 7 days a week. Creatively, I feel like I'm in an introverted phase. When they were little, I'd watch my girls play and respond in extraverted ways: table tents and toy sets and wooden dolls and felt food and crazy dress-up clothes. Explosive, dynamic, blow-your-mind fun, yes, but the inspiration was all-consuming, often leaving no mental room for other kinds of artistic stimuli. Now I'm more about process - the how much more than the what. Still creating, still designing, and (if I'm honest) still a little bit bonkers but I'm no longer breathless. And out of that new creative space have come a solidification of those hows - tutorials and deconstructions of method and foundational principles - as well as other kinds of whats: music and fiction - and food! It's a good place to be.

Enough of me! Let's move on to the point of this post - a bag for a bunny! 

It's tiny: just 3" wide and 2.5" tall and about an inch deep.

It's a really simple design so you can jazz it up with fun fabrics, funky trim straps, saddle-stitching, embroidery, buttons . . . go crazy!

You're snickering in disbelief, but I promise: some curved seams aside, this is a really simple bag to make! You can download the templates below - click on the link below the picture and print out to 100% - that 1" calibration square will help you.

NOTE: There are no seam allowances, so you'll need to add your own. I recommend 1/4" SA around all sides.

Regarding yardage: it's hard to estimate because it's so little fabric. I'd say 1/8 yard, maybe? You'll need one fabric for the outer layer and a second one for the inner/lining layer. Good options include flannel, quilting cotton, wool, babywale or medium-wale corduroy, really thin leather, etc. I wouldn't use fleece, felt, twill, duck cloth or anything heavy-weight or bulky. I also didn't bother with interfacing - it's such a tiny bag that it holds its shape even without.

Here's the pictorial cutting plan (key below photo):

  1. STRAP - I used a 3/8" to 1/2" wide trim, 12" long (including 1/4" end allowances for sewing). This length is perfect for wearing cross-body without the bunny coat. With the extra bulk of the coat, you might want a longer strap - try 14" including end allowances. If you want to make your own strap, try this tutorial for an open-ended strap.

Plus a button, magnetic snap, hook-and-loop tape or whatever fastener you want. Or omit a fastener altogether - the flap naturally keeps the bag opening shut.

I'm using the same method that I used in this earlier messenger bag/satchel tutorial, so if the following pictures are hard to follow because the bag is so tiny, you can go back to that older post to see the same process in a bigger bag.

Stage 1: Prepare the outer gusset

Mark the midpoints B and D on the outer gusset.

From one corner of the gusset, measure and make two marks mark 1.5" and 3.5" along the long side. Between those marks, snip partway through the SA (those tiny light blue lines).

Repeat from the other three corners. 

Stage 2: Attach the outer gusset to the outer back+flap piece

We will be matching up the midpoints of the outer gusset with the corresponding midpoints of the outer back+flap and outer front pieces.

First work with the outer gusset and the outer back+flap piece. With RS together, match up the midpoints B of both pieces. Also match up the end points A (not the corner/short edge of the fabric) of the gusset with points A of the back piece. Pin in place, curving the gusset around the back piece as shown.

Sew from the edge of the fabric at one point A around the gusset to the other point A to attach the gusset to the back piece. The little snips you made in the SA of the gusset will allow it to fan out around the curved corners of the back piece.

Stage 3: Attach the outer front piece to the gusset

Bring the outer front piece and gusset together, so that
  • their RS are together
  • the midpoint D of the gusset matches up with the midpoint D of the front piece
  • the end points C of the gusset match up with points C of the front piece.

Clip or pin in place and sew around the gusset from one point C to the other point C to attach the gusset to the front piece. It is easiest to work with the front piece underneath and the gusset (and now-attached back+flap piece) on top.

Here is the finished outer bag layer at this point. Press open all seams.

Stage 4: Make the lining bag

Repeat Stages 1 - 3 to make the bag lining layer.

Stage 5: Attach the strap

With the outer bag turned RS out, sew one end of the strap to the SA of one short side of the gusset. 

Wrap the strap around the bottom of the bag as shown and sew the other end of the strap to the SA of the other short side of the gusset.

Stage 6: Sew the layers together

With the outer bag RS out, insert it into the lining layer so that
  • their RS are together
  • the strap is sandwiched between them, still wrapped around the bottom of the outer bag
  • all sides are aligned, including the edges of the flaps, the short ends of the gusset and the straight edges of the front pieces.

If you are using magnetic snaps or hook-and-loop tape that should be installed while the layers are separate, install them now before sewing the layers together. Otherwise, sew around the remaining open edges of the bag to join the two layers together. Leave an opening of about 1" to 1.5" anywhere along this seam (I suggest the straight edge of the front piece) for turning out the bag later. 

Here is another view of the seam: it goes all around the flap, turns the corner at A, continues through C around the front piece to the other point C, turns the corner again at the other A and completes the loop.

Stage 7: Turn the bag RS out

Carefully make a diagonal snip almost through the SA at each corner point A. This will allow the corners to lie flat when the bag is turned RS out. Press all seams.

Turn the bag RS out through the opening you left in the seam in Stage 6. Here is that corner lying flat.

Stage 8: Finishing Touches

Embellish, add fasteners (buttons, buttonholes, press-studs/snaps, etc.)


Here are some shots of different details: hand-sewn green saddle-stitching and coordinating button on cobalt wool, with a green grosgrain ribbon strap

lined with cotton:

Camel corduroy, with a hand-sewn strap in chocolate babywale:

and lined with cotton, with a magnetic snap.

What about those carrots?

Here is the tutorial and template for the mini carrots. 

Make a bunch to fill your bag!

Check back soon for the coat tutorial!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Expanding Bunnydom: tutorials in the works!

Thank you for buying my Bunny & Carrot pattern! Your support has been awesome and Kate and I are so excited to think of all the new Bunnies that are being made all over the world. Eeee!

Because we love and appreciate you guys, look at what we've added to the wonderful world of Bunnydom - a hooded pea coat and a bag of carrots!

This will be a free tutorial . . . well, TWO free tutorials - one for the bag and the other for the coat. The photos are all taken, and the samples all completed, so the plan is to get the tutorial out here on the blog in the coming week so you'll have plenty of time to make coats for any Christmas Bunnies who are going under the Christmas Tree.

Also check out my etsy store - I've stocked it with limited quantities of Bunnies-&-Carrots, a couple of the little bags and some coats. They're all a little different, so please read the descriptions carefully (the photos will help). For instance, two of the coats have ear openings for the Bunny's ears to poke through, and two do not. Some of the Carrot playsuits are entirely fleece, and some are a combination of fleece and felt (look at the materials tags if the fabric is important to you). 

I'm typically very prompt in shipping (I pack and ship the same day I receive your payment) but I'm mindful of the holiday shipping rush and want to avoid any delays in getting your items to you. If possible, please use paypal because your payment clears instantly - with credit card/Etsy direct payment, it takes at least an additional day or two for the payment to clear and for Etsy to notify me that it's okay to ship. 

Finally, a reminder for those of you who have the 50% off discount code for the Bunny pattern - it expires on Jan 1st i.e. the last day to use it is Dec 31 2017. 

Happy sewing and shopping!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Evolution of a Stuffed Toy Part 2: Tweaking the Design

Welcome back to the stuffed toy design process! Read Part 1 here, in which we began with a conceptual picture in our head and introduced foundational shapes upon which to build a basic softie design. In Part 2 today we'll be fine-tuning that design to look increasingly like the original mental image we started with. There are so many angles from which to approach this, and very little linearity to the process, so forgive me if this post feels a little all-over-the-place, okay?  On that note, let's begin with something concrete:

1 Body Parts
(Sounds awful, I know.) 
Anyone who's designed a stuffed toy will tell you that some body parts are more challenging than others to "get right". For instance, arms - since they don't  generally vary greatly from toy to toy - are usually easy. Feet, not so much. And heads are - at least for me - arguably the hardest. 

See, the actual face aside, there's the head's shape. I like round heads, the rounder the better. It is in fact my personal belief that roundheaded toys are instantly superior to those with other-shaped noggins. Sadly, not all animals  in nature actually have spherical heads. And while we as designers and seamstresses have the artistic license to interpret animals as we wish in our projects, we want to preserve at least a modicum of realism, don't we? I know I do. Sometimes when I've made a stuffed toy, I have my kids tell me, without any hints or clues, what animal it is. If they can't, or if they think it's a cat when it's actually a pig, I feel like it's a flop, even if it's the cutest thing ever.

So: shape. Now, while there are typical 3D construction models for various body parts, there are really no shortcuts to drafting them to look the way you want, in the proportion you need them to be in relation to other body parts. When you design a stuffed animal, you're essentially committing to quite a few iterations of three-dimensional shapes, tweaking them in ways that are sometimes systematic and sometimes completely random.  As an example, I'm going to walk you through my thought process as I was creating the bunny of the Bunny & Carrot pattern.

The first body part I drafted was the head. 

These are the templates of the first draft of the bunny's head.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually didn't want a spherical head for this bunny. Kate's original Bunny had a spherical head and she asked me to "please not make this new bunny look the same". So I turned to biology - when I was in high school, we dissected rabbits, and I still have vivid memories of the shape of the skull, which conveniently inspired this version. Whoda thought that stuff you learn in school sometimes is useful after all?

So Real Life Rabbit Head Shape it was, then. See that piece with the wavy sides? Those were seam contours to vary the widths at different points of what was essentially a head gusset to give not just the head its particular 3D shape, but its neck as well. 

Now, there is no way to tell how close the first templates are to the form or size you want just by drawing amazing-looking 2D shapes on paper. The first muslin is when the action really begins. Even if you suspect it's totally off, go ahead and still make that first muslin because right away, you'll be able to see, in full 3D glory, what works and what doesn't.

Unsurprisingly, this first muslin didn't work (and I didn't even save it for photos). It turned out too fussy to have shaped the head and neck with the same gusset piece. So out went that top-of-the-head template for a second draft, and that became the muslin in the picture below. I included ears purely for positioning purposes (i.e. too far back? too far forward? angled correctly?), but because the focus was on refining the head shape, I didn't bother with the precise size of the ears.



a bit more dog than rabbit, I felt, which a more defined neck might fix, so I drafted new templates for both the side and top of the head and this was the next muslin below. 

Notice that the ears are still short, but they're double-layered now, and look more like the actual ears might be. Often we can make several muslins just to fine-tune one aspect of a stuffed animal, which of course is horribly time-consuming. To increase the efficiency of process, I like to combine several features into a single muslin if possible. For instance, this muslin above does four things:
  1. models the newest head templates in their finished form (main reason)
  2. tests the insertion of two layers of fleece into a seam (ears - angle, lift, fabric bulk)
  3. tests the angle of the head in relation to the body (neck)
  4. tests the size of the head in relation to the body (proportion)

Next is a full shot of that same muslin. In addition to the head, there are also many other aspects of the body that can be assessed :
  • size and shape of torso
  • length and thickness of arms
  • shape of arms
  • angle of arms
  • length of legs
  • shape and size of foot

and so on.

Right away it's evident that the head is too small for this body, the muzzle needs to stick out farther, the neck is too big for the head, the torso is too long, as are the arms, which need to be inserted closer to the neck, etc. 

Not being critical just to be hard on myself, people; this is the process of refining a design: I have a particular image in my head of what I want this rabbit to look like, and here are all the ways in which it does not. More importantly, by studying this muslin, I can formulate a list of changes to the next draft so that it does look more like that picture in my head.

Back to the drawing board, then. 

Here is a later muslin - the head is now closer to what I want. The ears have gone back to being one-ply because I'm focusing on reshaping the head.

Actual shape aside, there is also the issue of proportion. The head in the full-body muslin above was too small for the torso. So I enlarged the head by 10%, 15%, 20%, testing each new size with the same torso until I found a proportion I liked. Each head enlargement required scaling down its neck so that it still matched the same torso's upper opening. Here is a much later muslin of the new head-torso ratio - you can see how the neck is proportionally much smaller than the head. There are also no ears - not only was I satisfied with the ear shape at this point, the focus of this particular muslin was simply on the neck alignment between head and torso.

Let's skip over the numerous iterations that followed, in which I further tweaked the shapes of both the head and torso ad nauseam. Here are two photos showing that early muslin and the final Bunny. So many changes!

Final head

2  Grain and Stretch
The fabric plays a huge part in the final shape of the stuffed animal. Some fabric, like quilting cotton, canvas and vinyl, have no stretch and when used in stuffed animals, produce angular shapes and pronounced seams. I usually avoid such fabrics, but when I do work with them, I will draft more contoured seams and include darts to create softer and rounder final shapes.
in quilting cotton

Some fabrics have stretch in them, like fleece and knits. This stretch naturally produces rounder shapes with softer seams. I will almost always choose these fabrics when making stuffed animals - not only are they forgiving, but children love animals made with them because they are soft and cuddly.
in plush knit
L: in faux fur                                  R: in plush knit


Stretch can make the fabric behave inconsistently - it might stretch too much in one direction and not enough in another, and change the final shape of a head or a leg in ways you don't care for. Therefore, when you're drafting templates, grain alignment is also a Big Deal. Here are two photos of the same leg - the left was laid out with the greatest stretch in the vertical direction (i.e. parallel to the leg) and the right was laid out with the greatest stretch in the horizontal direction (i.e. parallel to the sole).

When drafting, therefore, we need to consider this stretch direction: in which orientation should the templates be laid out - along the grain, perpendicular to the grain or along the bias? And once we've decided on the direction, will the inherent stretch of the fabric produce a final shape that's different than what we want? If so, we will need to compensate for that by narrowing a template where the fabric will make that shape bulge, and so on.

3  Templates
All my working templates have no seam allowance. This makes it easy to trace around them to create duplicates and (where needed) in multiple sizes on which to introduce the modifications needed for each subsequent version. My working templates are also often on random paper lying around the house - magazine pages, scratch paper, advertisement flyers, etc  - whatever's handy and robust enough to stand up under scribbling, folding, multiple pin holes, taping, re-taping and anything else that falls under the category of "manipulation". 

At some point, they'll have been fine-tuned enough to trace or plot onto printer paper with seam allowances in preparation for publication. They'll still be a few iterations shy of Final, but any modifications from this stage on are minor and motivated by preference rather than function or fit. Tracing them on printer paper has an important advantage: I can scan them and print out as many copies as I need to tweak into new versions; I no longer have to manually trace them out. However, it takes time to plot and annotate templates for printing, which is why I do this only for the final stages of the draft, when I expect only minimal amendments.

Here is a shot of two sets of templates for the Carrot pattern - on the left is a version of my working templates without SA, and on the right is the first pattern-ready version with SA and annotations. 

Often, to save time, I won't create a full set of templates for each version; sometimes I've only changed the ears, or the leg, but not the torso or tail or head and it makes little sense to redraw those as well. With all the different iterations, it can be hard to keep track of which particular templates I've tweaked and which I've left as is because they were already perfect. To organize my sets of templates, I write numbers on them. All first-version templates are labeled "1". All templates I use in the second version, whether or not I've made any changes, are labeled "2", and so on. So whenever I need the most recent set of templates, I look for the pieces with the biggest number on them. 

Here's an example:

There are two belly templates in the photo above. The one on the left was used in versions 1 and 2 and then I made a change and it was no longer usable from then on. The belly template on its right is the most current version "3". The same foot template was used in versions 2 and 3. The ear template needed no change and could then be used through all three versions. If I wanted to make a sample Bunny with the most current templates (version 3), I'd pick the ones that have the largest number 3 i.e. the three templates on the right. Of these three, only one (the belly) is a truly "new" template - the other two are old(er)-version templates but still work in the newest version. 

This numbering system also helps me keep track of the changes even while preferring the latest version. There are times when I've reverted to an earlier version of a template because it actually worked better than a later one that had gone through too many changes to be relevant. I was glad to have saved them!

4 Faces

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that the face of a stuffed animal is its entire personality. I've had the experience of standing in a store with a kid trying to pick a stuffed animal, and we'd be sifting through 1 million $12.95 pink rabbits to find "the one with the best face". In all other respects, those 1 million rabbits were identical - identical fur, identical color, identical shape, identical everything - except for their faces. I concluded that because faces give stuffed animals their souls, they are therefore also a Big Deal.

What is a good face then?

There are rules of thumb, of course. Like eye spacing and eye size, or face-to-head size ratio. Symmetry generally produces beautiful faces (although this may or may not translate to actual cuteness). Space small eyes wide apart to achieve an innocent look. Happy mouths naturally endear stuffed animals to most children. Sad mouths produce forlorn expressions but this may not necessarily be a bad thing because if done right, The Forlorn Expression is a far more powerful evoker of nurturing feelings in children - and adults - than a bland happy face. Kate's original Bunny does not have a happy face - instead, she has the kind of face that, depending on her posture, can be anything from forlorn to sassy to plaintive to fake-innocent. 

I begin creating a stuffed animal's face early in the design process. As soon as I have a semi-functioning head shape, I add the face. Often it's just the eyes and nose. I use marker dots, then black ball-headed pins and felt circles in different sizes that match the safety eyes I will eventually install. 

Here's a lineup of some of the bunny samples. See if you can spot the earlier ones -they're the ones with experimental eye sizes and quite disparate expressions. As I fine-tuned the facial feature layout, the faces - while still unique - became more consistent.

Refining the Face
Left: early sample; Right: final sample

5 Turning a design into a tutorial or pattern 
If you're creating a stuffed animal for the sheer pleasure of designing and making, this is pretty much the end of the journey. You will now have a 3D stuffed animal that looks as close as possible to a mental image that was your inspiration - hurrah!

If, however, you also want to share the instructional process, a methodical documentation of the stages of construction and adjustment might be helpful.

Here is the very rough sequence I use when creating samples for a tutorial or pattern. 

Round 1: 
I make templates and just sew. I make samples, tweak the templates and make more samples. I try different fabrics, different grain orientations, different construction sequences. At this stage, my templates have no SA to facilitate changes to shape and size. I don't record any instructions or sequences. I don't take photos. My focus is on making the best version of the stuffed toy.

Round 2: 
Once I have a satisfactory Final Version of The Stuffed Toy, I begin to record my construction method. I did this previously in list-form on paper, but I found it too static, particularly when I needed to add a diagram or details after the fact, or change the sequence. 

Here's what I now use - post-it notes.

Each post-it note = one distinct step. 

Because I'm accustomed to writing tutorials and patterns, I often see construction sequences from that angle. In this instance: 

each post-it-note = one distinct step = one instructional photo in a tutorial/pattern.

Working on one sample from start to finish, I document each step, adding diagrams, details, measurements and tips, in point form rather than prose. I stick the post-it notes on my table/ my notebook in the sequence in which I fill them, which may or may not be the final sequence in the tutorial/pattern. When the sample is completed, I will have a series of post-it notes containing instructions to make it. 

Round 3: 
I photodocument the process. I'll have cut out another sample - this is the one who will star in my tutorial, so the fabrics have high contrast, the pieces have clean edges, etc. I sew this sample, taking photos at every step, using the post-it sequence as a guide. This is the most time-consuming part of the documentation - it often takes three to four times as long to make this sample than you guys will while following my (eventual) tutorial/pattern.

Round 4:
I sit at my computer and write the instructions. I don't worry about whether two edges are 1/4" off, or if the dimensions are correct or if the sequence is perfect. The point of this round is to write so that at the end of it, l'll have a draft to edit. Then I set it aside.

Round 5: I sew more samples, enough so I become aware of a preferred sequence. This sequence may not be the same as the one in Rounds 1 and 2 because now I am sewing for the purpose of feeling natural, and not for birthing a provisional method.

Round 6: Now I read my draft from Round 4. I rearrange the sequence if necessary and check measurements and templates to ensure that edges align and match. I trace out final templates with SA, scan them into a document and print them out as if I were an actual pattern user. I use them to make more samples, and to verify yardage. I edit and re-edit subsequent versions of the draft to reflect all the changes in this round.

Round 7: I make a final sample based on my own instructions from start to finish. This is when I often realize I need more photos, or that some photos in the draft were annotated wrongly or could've been more clearly explained. It's also when I finalize all the measurements and inadvertently discover that leg doesn't quite fit the foot as I'd thought, and I need to re-test and re-draw certain templates. 

And here we wrap up! I hope this has been an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes when I'm designing a stuffed toy. Looking forward, I am excited to share the next couple of posts with you because they are tutorials for accessories for the Bunny!  See you back here soon!