Thursday, October 21, 2021


Okay, you know the Other Secret Sister Animal I was telling you about in the last post - the one which didn't fit the stereotypical chunky Menagerie shape? This isn't it. I've changed my mind - we'll get to meet that elusive critter in the next post. In today's, however, you get to see what I call a Last-Minute Menagerie Animal instead, which is what happens when I have a creature in my head that I can't shake off even after trying for weeks and eventually give in but I have only a couple of hours to design and sew it and common sense should tell me to let it go already but it doesn't and I can't and, well.

Embarrassing, yes, this lack of self-control. But as long as we're being transparent, let's just hear the whole sordid tale, shall we? 

Remember the quokka? In her Secret Sister Get To Know Me form, Jenna's friend actually named two favorite animals: the quokka and the dolphin. When I first saw her response in the form, I wanted to make the dolphin. Two reasons: one, the dolphin was shark-esque and I'd made a shark before. A dolphin felt like a simple tweak on that design. And two, what in tarnation even was a quokka?

But since this was not my gift, I let Jenna weigh in. She picked quokka (of course she would - the thing is cuter than a zillion baby kittens, even I could admit that).

So quokka it was. And I sewed it. End of story.

Except I still wanted to make the dolphin.

"It's not about you, O foolish woman with hopeless tunnel vision," I said. "Let it go."
And it worked for a while, this brilliant self-counsel.

Until it didn't, because the more I tried to convince myself that the world didn't need a Menagerie dolphin, the more I became obsessed with making one. 

Finally, on the day the girls were supposed to present their gifts to their Secret Sisters, I caved. It'd been a long fight and I knew from past experience with obsessions (cardboard, nutella, ikat, round things, etc.) that I was going to lose anyway. Still, I had just about two hours to do it - surely that was deterrent enough? Might my common sense put up one last defence and somehow emerge victorious? 

Apparently not. 

Because - I'm somewhat ashamed to say - I made the dolphin.

Let it be said here that this is not how I typically make a Menagerie animal. On the occasions when I'm not mentally unsound, I take my time to visualize the various appendages and carefully measure and consider proportions and ratios and do muslins and all those other delayed-gratification things that responsible Soft Toy Makers include in their Formal Design Process. So that by the time a Menagerie animal is photographed for the blog, it's usually gone through a couple of iterations at least, to iron out any weird bulgy or otherwise comically misshapen bits. 

This one I made by the seat of my pants, as it were. Literally eyeballed lengths and widths - the fluke, the dorsal fin, the pectoral fins, 

even the snout. Which really should have been skinnier, but whatever.

I did, however, slow down long enough to think about that smile. Because, if you remember, I failed spectacularly with the quokka's. And while I might be able to get away with an unsmiling marsupial that's relatively unheard of in this part of the world, everyone knows what a dolphin is, and everyone who's ever seen a dolphin will tell you that there is no such thing as a grim-looking one.

So, this mouth seam - it's wavy. It curves one way in one section and the other way in the next, and the curve in the grey piece of fabric is matched to the opposite-direction curve in the corresponding location in the white. It isn't hard to sew, but one has to be intentional about those curves, clipping seam allowances and easing them together so they line up without stretching themselves straight and taut. That smile is the one thing about this dolphin that made me feel like I was being purposeful in a process that seemed to otherwise border on cavalier. 

If this were a normal design experience, this dolphin would be a prototype and I'd look at it and make notes on what I'd do differently in Version 2.0. Like taper the back end much more toward the tail/fluke so it isn't nearly as chunky as the head. And streamline the snout, as mentioned. Plus maybe experiment a little with the arch of the belly. But because my dolphin-making obsession has abruptly and miraculously evaporated, this is likely also my final version. It's funny how obsessions are that way.

And yes, Jenna did give this to her friend along with the quokka! 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Happy October, everyone!

I was very excited to read what everyone guessed might be the identity of this creature - thank you for giving it a shot! It is indeed a quokka, a marsupial native to Australia. Although the real animal is quite a bit less hairy and very much more smiley. I can, however, absolutely see how people might have thought it was a rodent! I also had to google "nutria" when some of you suggested it, as I'd never heard of that, either, and yes, it bears an uncanny resemblance to that animal, too. I love learning about new animals!

But let me first tell you a little of the backstory to this quokka-making venture. My two older girls are in their high school's swim and dive team (one swims, the other dives) and at the start of every season, the team captains organize a Secret Sister game to facilitate team bonding, sort of like a Secret Santa thing that continues through the entire season. Each girl is assigned a benefactor and beneficiary and at each home meet, they give gifts to their beneficiary and receive small gifts from their benefactor, all without divulging anyone's identity. To help the girls buy meaningful gifts, everyone fills out Get To Know Me forms at the start of the game, providing info like favorite color, animal, candy, snack, allergies, and so on. At the last home meet of the season, the girls splurge on a larger gift and everyone reveals their identitties. Emily participated in this in her first year in the team, and I made her beneficiary a deer and fawn Menagerie pair, her then-Secret Sister's favorite animal. 

This year, we pored over the Get To Know Me forms and behold - Jenna's Secret Sister's favorite animal was a quokka. I'd never heard of it (and I certainly couldn't pronounce it). But boy, was it a cutie - when we'd googled and found photos of it, we fell in love with it immediately. And Menagerie-potential-wise, it was the perfect shape: stout, compact, smallish head, overall fattish and cuddly. 

However, there weren't many distinguishing features: a quokka is furry (but its fur s a generic brownish-grey), it has a large black nose (but so do koalas, wombats and dogs), and an-almost-furless tail (but so do a zillion other animals). How, then, might I make something identifiable which was simultaneously beaverish, teddybearish, rodentish, and with a certain capybara-ishness thrown in?

Fortunately, what did set it apart from the other animals in the above imposter list was that it was a hopping marsupial with powerful hind legs and a pouch for young. And there was the fur, of course - unlike most of the Menagerie critters I've made, this one couldn't be rendered in bald fleece; its furiness was part of the deal. So I dug into my faux fur stash, and, having never met a quokka in person myself, picked the fabric that was closest to the "greyish-brown" in the internet descriptions.

So: Quokka. Let's deconstruct.

Its design is a little different than the typical Menagerie animal in that the leg is integrated into the body piece, so there isn't a seam where the leg might normally be attached to the main chunk of the body.

The leg ends in a funny little four-toed foot. The arms, incidentally, end in little black fingers, but these are hidden deep in the fur, unfortunately.

The tail is "largely hairless", according to one internet article, which made me think of rat tails, which seemed a bit stark for an otherwise overfurry animal. So I used another faux fur fabric with very flat-lying fibers - the tail looks hairless, but actually has a pretty decent pile. And for those of you who guessed that this might have been a mole, this tail fabric is exactly what I'd use if I ever made one!

Finally, the face. Here is where I fell quite short, sadly. 

The real life quokka's face is smiley and just plain adorable. However, much of that was lost in this thick fur. No smile, for one, short of stitching one on in neon pink chunky yarn, I mean.

Also, one of its eyes was especially deep-set so I had to trim the fur around it just so it would be visible.

And in case you were wondering, I didn't make the pouch - or the joey. It was challenging enough to work with the thick fur for an animal this size - the smaller joey pieces would make me lose my mind, I think.

Otherwise, I think it turned out the way I imagined it in my head, plus so many of you guys were able to tell what it was, which was hugely encouraging. So I'm going to let go of the bits which were disappointing.

(By the way, Jenna said it looked like a teddy bear. I know what she'd meant: there was definitely something ewok-y about its face. And ewoks are cute. I'll take it.)

I only hope her Secret Sister recognizes it for what it is!

Next up is the animal I made for Emily's Secret Sister. It's hilarious, because it totally doesn't fit the Menagerie stereotype, but we somehow made it work!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Name The Critter

Hello, all!

So, last week I made this creature.  

Before I was asked to make this (it's a gift for the friend of one of my kids), I had never heard of it. And when I'd finished it, I wondered if the recipient would even be able to identify it. So thought I'd ask you guys if you could tell what it was. Anyone want to take a shot? I'll reveal the answer before the end of the week. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

New Era

Once upon a decade, I sewed a bunch of Halloween costumes for my kids. 

"Practice for prom and wedding gowns," was how I looked at it. "However far in the future that may be."

So naive.

Because  - quite suddenly - that day has come. Although not quite prom (yet); I'm working on a homecoming dress this week. Shorter, less formal, no sequins or crazy-expensive fabric. I've realized two things:


Two: But I would give almost anything to be making Halloween costumes again. 

After all, if time continues to behave in that dastardly manner it has, the wedding gowns will be right around the corner. And I am so not ready for that much change and progress.

But look - here's one thing that hasn't changed in all those left-behind years: I'm still procrastinating by blogging instead of sewing! 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Ollie the Quaker Parrot

This is Ollie.

Ollie (short for Oliver) is a Quaker Parrot, sometimes called a Monk Parakeet.

This is obviously made of fabric, but there is a real-life Ollie who inspired this version, and he lives with my cousin and his wife in Singapore.  

We got to meet Ollie when we last visited Singapore, right before the pandemic began. Ollie is absolutely charming - he's smart, sweet and extremely well-trained. 

Also, he talks and sings. Here's a video of Ollie singing Happy Birthday To You. Evelyn (my cousin's wife) recorded it and sent it to Emily on her birthday last year. 

We all love Ollie! Unfortunately, since he lives halfway around the world, we don't see him as often as we'd like. I thought I would render him in fabric, then mail it to Singapore so real Ollie could meet him.  

Here are more shots of the fabric version.

Shape-wise, this is very similar to the lorikeet, but much simpler in that there aren't as many add-on color patches. I did get to work with multiple shades of green, which was a lot of fun. 

Ollie's face is white, blending into green over his forehead and toward his neck - I couldn't make that happen in standard store-bought fleece, so a green crown overlay appliqued to his head was my best attempt to approximate the real thing.

His wings are solid-color double layers - chartreuse on the top,

and emerald green underneath,

with that underlayer peeking out, like Ollie's wing feathers do in real life.

I'd modeled this fabric version after a photograph we'd taken of Ollie early last year - in that photo, his tail feathers were of unequal length, so I made the fabric version the same way. 

My cousin later explained that parrots' tail feathers are the same length when fully grown after a molt - apparently, I'd caught Ollie while he was still growing his out! 

Here are some shots of Ollie with the Rainbow Lorikeet from the previous post.

Ollie is truly the last bird I've made (so far!) I'm doing some crochet this summer (more portable and relaxing than sewing) but I'm also working through a to-sew list of clothes the kids have requested - fitted tank tops, skirts and T-shirts and such. I've had to draft brand new slopers for everyone, which took a while since I'd let myself get rusty over the years and then procrastinated because I was loathe to put in the brainwork to get all caught up. But I did eventually, and it wasn't anywhere as tough as I'd thought. Silly me. I can't believe we're in August already - hope you guys have good things planned for the remaining weeks. Stay well!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


Here's another bird that reminds me of Singapore. 

This is a Rainbow Lorikeet, which is native to Australia but also lives in its  neighboring countries. In Singapore's Bird Park, there is a large enclosure in which you can interact with and feed lorikeets and lories (slightly larger, with shorter tails). The girls have done this a couple of times on our visits to Singapore.

Anyway, I was visiting on the phone with my brother in Australia some time ago and we got to the topic of native critters that run amok and sometimes are pests. We have raccoons and coyotes and squirrels, among other things, I told him. Where I live, we have lorikeets and ibises, he replied (the lorikeets, as I understand the situation, aren't anywhere as nasty as the ibises, plus they're gorgeous). While I didn't feel inspired to make an ibis, I did think it could be fun to  make a lorikeet - if nothing else, to see how many colors of fleece and felt I could combine in a single project.

And they are fantastically colorful! 

Now all flying birds are aerodynamic in their own way, but when I think of parakeets and lorikeets with their long tails, I visualize them as especially streamlined compared to the smaller, chunkier birds I see in my backyard, like finches and chickadees. To better represent the more streamlined profile of this lorikeet, I laid out and cut the fabric pieces with the stretch in the head-to-tail direction rather than wing-to-wing. I mentioned this orientation in this hummingbird post.

Getting all the colors together was simply a matter of layering one over another.

I counted 13 colors! I had a absolute blast sewing this.