Monday 27 April 2015

Taggy Turtle Tutorial

I love making my Taggy owls but I felt I should branch out into different "taggy toys". I needed a toy to go with the big brother backpack for my friend's boys. I found this lovely example of a taggy turtle on Pinterest and it soon became my most re-pinned pin when I added it to the "My dream list of things to make" board. The blog did not provide a pattern or a tutorial so I made something similar. It took some head scratching to decide which way I was going to put it all together, I am not saying that I am right but it was the method that I was most comfortable with. As I started to write this blog I realised what I needed was to write a small tutorial of how I made it, that way I can explain my decisions. I was planning to make one as a gift and some for the craft fair so this is just the motivation I need. This is my first tutorial so any feedback is welcome.

My First Taggy Turtle.

The first step is to draw a template or, if like me you cannot draw them, download the free template from here. It is important to think about the size as you do not want it big enough for the baby to use as a blanket, however a bigger design will be less "fiddly" and generally easier for you to sew. Cut out your template, trace the shell and cut this out as well.

Templates ready

Next select your fabric.

On the "one I made earlier" I used blue and green spotty fabric as I thought it was fun. The shells on the ones I am planning will all be 'sea' themed.  My gift turtle is for a little girl so I am using beautiful turquoise fabric with pink and purple seahorses. I adore the fabric as although "girly" it is very different. If anybody is wondering why I choose to make girly toys instead of just unisex toys I explain it here.  You need a top shell fabric and a bottom shell fabric. The bottom shell fabric can be plain. I choose to match one colour just because a thin strip of the colour may be visible.

Fabric for my shell

The top body fabric is a soft fleece and the underside is green with spots. Young babies love contrast when it comes to colour so the white spots are perfect.

Turtle body fabric

Now it is the fun bit - choose your ribbon. I opt for slightly wider ribbon so it can't get wrapped tightly around little fingers. I like to use different textures and ribbons with bumpy patterns as I think this lifts it to being a good sensory toy. I try and mix up the colours as well. I decided on 8 pieces although you could easily add more or less.

Ribbon selection

The next step is where I did quite a lot of head scratching and had multiple options in front of me. I have written here how I decided to do it and given the other options at the bottom. I chose to make the shell out of two pieces of fabric. I pinned on the ribbons where I wanted them on the right side of the top fabric. It helps at this point to place it on the body of the turtle so you don't have them going over the head or anything. This is also where you choose the ribbon length. Remember you are going to add a seam in which will make the ribbon slightly shorter. You can cut the ribbon, but you would need to seal the end to stop it from fraying. I find this can make the end a little hard or rough so I fold my ribbon instead. As a child I loved to rub two bits of fabric together so folded ribbon is perfect for this.

Pinned ribbons

Having placed my ribbon  I then pinned the bottom shell fabric right sides together on top. This traps the ribbon in between. I used different pins to make this clear.

Pinned and ready to go.

With everything pinned in place I then sewed a seam all the way around.  This was intentional as I made a conscious decision not to leave a turning gap in the seam. The main thing at this point is to move slowly around the curves. I find if the turn is too tight I leave the needle down, lift the foot and turn the fabric. I added a zigzag stitch around the shell to improve the strength and make sure all the ribbons were secure.

Seams sewn all the way around

The next step is to trim the thread and excess ribbon and cut notches around the edge, taking care not to cut the stitches. This seems like an extra step but is really important when it comes to turning it the right way round and gives a much smoother finish. Then make a small cut in the middle of the bottom of the shell and in the middle of the top of the turtle.

Center slit put in and edges notched

Turn them both the right way out and close the turning gap using a ladder stitch. This is a method I came across using the Tilda pattern for my puffins and oystercatchers.

Center turning gap closed

Sew the shell onto the top of the turtle, this will conceal both of the closed up turning gaps. I am not a big fan of top stitch so this method suits me. I am very happy with my ladder stitch and I took it around twice in small tight stitches. There is a great guide to ladder stitch here. I have used it a few times to attach parts to soft toys and always found it to be strong.  I always give baby and children's toys a good tug and shake and stretch to see if they can handle wear and tear and I feel it is an important test; I made my daughter a caterpillar for her first birthday and the main thing I remember of the process was swinging it around by it's antenna - she has always been very gentle with it...

My ladder stitching

The final step is to add on eyes, I used small pieces of felt blanket stitched on. I purposefully do this at the end as I feel it enables you to position them better as with the panda puppet. The position of the pupil brings a surprising amount of expression. Eyes are a great chance to have a play with something like this. You could easily add eyelashes or back stitched eyebrows if you wanted.

Complete turtle

As I said before this is simply my way of putting it together and there are other options. You could make the shell the same way as I did but machine topstitch it straight on to the top of the turtle before sewing the top and the bottom of the turtle together. You would then have to pin the ribbons to the centre and remember to leave a turning gap in the turtle. I am happier doing ladder stitch than top stitching an oval and I also manage to get the stitching closer the edge of the shell this way. I also worry about pinning a ribbon too much as they can snag.

I was pleased with the result it worked really well and the ribbons had a lot of different textures and it was a lovely tactile toy.

If anybody is curious the toys head and children's drawing at the edge of the original picture is not artistic but simply the result of living with a 3 year old.

Monday 13 April 2015

Panda Puppet

Last year I started sewing with fleece, it is a fantastic and versatile fabric. I love how it doesn't fray, has a little bit of stretch to it and it is lovely and warm. I have blogs to share in the future about a hot water bottle cover and some cosy hats but today's post is about a puppet I made as a Christmas present. The gift was for one of the recipients of the taggy owl which shows just how much time flies!

I like puppets as they make fun gifts and my daughter always likes to receive them. She now uses them on her own hand and they are a great way for little ones to tell stories and use their imaginations. I like puppets with shaped heads, in the past I have made them with flat faces and they were not as effective, I found a fantastic pattern by Pauline McArthur in October's Australian Homespun magazine. I subscribed to Australian Homespun last year and found a lot of lovely projects and inspiration. I was unsure about it at first as it was an e-subscription through Zinio but I really enjoyed getting the e-mail every month. I also found that the patterns were easy to download when needed, and it means you only have to store the patterns you use. The October Issue was my favourite as it was the annual kids' special issue.

Panda Puppet - Pauline McArthur design from Australian Homespun.

The puppet design I used was for a family of puppets with their own accessories although I chose to just do one, The design is great, it is fully lined and has a padded head. It is easy to follow with loads of photographs and a really clear cutting layout. The pieces come together really well and it is easy to line up seams to give a better finish. It took me a little while to get my head around how to insert the lining and leave the gaps for fingers. The padded head works really well and helps give the face an expression. As with the puffins and oystercatchers adding the eyes after the head is padded gives a better position and finish. Having the blue eyes is a lovely feature and makes them look really friendly. I love the idea of accessorising the pandas but decided to give mine a bow tie instead of a tie or a bag. I am unsure about who liked it more, the little boy I sent it too or his parents who got to demonstrate.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Milkmaid Skirts and Pattern Matching!

For Christmas my middle niece requested a skirt - she sent me this photograph for inspiration (I am not sure where she found it). I set about searching for fabric but found this a really difficult task. There was quite a few tribal print designs in clothes shops but not a lot of fabric around. I consulted my oldest niece A LOT as to which fabric would be the best to get. After much searching and many conversations I was convinced that tribal/Aztec neon was the way forward and ordered some very bright jersey fabric. I felt the stretch would help it sit well. I was by no means a fan of the fabric but then I had to admit I am no longer a teenager!

One of the things that frustrates me when looking for shop bought skirts is that quite often the pattern on the fabric is not matched at the side seam. It is one of those things that as soon as you start to notice it then it is all you can see. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, I saw a beautifully matched Harris Tweed skirt last week that was a perfect example. I was determined to get a good pattern match at the side seam. I wanted to minimise the number of pattern pieces to make the matching more straightforward. I did a lot of reading about matching seams and the advice was to take your time and plan each piece. Making sure that each piece starts on the same row and lining up the pattern pieces is important, Thinking about where the centre of your skirt is and making sure that section of the pattern lines up is also crucial. I used greaseproof paper for the pattern so I could see through it to make sure that the fabric was straight and put the pins in the same sections of the fabric. I used a lot of pins while sewing the seams together and I made sure to pin through the same "line" of fabric pattern.

Milkmaid skirt - Design by Adrianna of Crafterhours

The pattern I used was for a "milkmaid skirt". There were a lot of features that I liked about the skirt, I liked the simplicity of having two main pieces, and I loved the pockets. The waistband is elasticated so it would not be "too fitted" to do without the recipient in front of me to fit it. I liked the attention to detail with the trimmed pockets and changing the fabric direction inside the pockets to give a contrast, The thing I liked even more than the design was the tutorial. It makes pattern drafting incredibly easy and straightforward to follow. You take your measurements and apply the formula. The measurements are then applied to colour coded diagrams. I love colour coding as I find it helps me get my head around how something goes together. I love all of the photos in the tutorial and the honesty with which she writes. I worry about waistbands on my fat too and it is nice to know I am not alone! I also love her advice on choosing fabric and leaving the cupcake fabrics for children.

Spot the seam - My first attempt at seam matching.
The cutting took a lot of time and trimming the pockets was fiddly but the rest came together really quickly. I used my double needle to hem the skirt and it gave a really good finish like the circle skirt. As bold as the neon fabric was my niece seemed pleased and it fitted well.

A few months after making it I came across a beautiful blue textured bobble fabric with an embroidered trim. I fell in love with it and was given some so I decided to make a milkmaid skirt out of it. It was a lot more subtle than the first one and slightly straighter on the hem due to the embroidery. I also had to line the skirt. It worked well and is very comfortable. I centred the embroidery on the front and back panel and matched the embroidery on the side seam. This was only possible with the horizontal pattern but kept it neat. It is a really comfortable skirt although I feel I should have pressed it more before taking photos.

 Milkmaid Skirt - Design by Adrianna of Crafterhours
The embroidery on my amazing fabric

Saturday 4 April 2015

Don't Shoot the Messenger bags...

I have two sisters, one older and one younger (and a brother, but he doesn't want any bags). We are all very different, we look different and have very different tastes and hobbies. When we were growing up it was not unusual to receive presents that were the same thing but in a different colour or pattern. This was not always appreciated but as we have become adults we have adopted this tradition. Every year we find things that are the "same but different" and send them as 'Sister presents'. This could be anything from socks to earrings, where the colour or the character fit with the personality of the sister.

Last summer I took my shiny new pattern book "Sew Cute to Carry by Melanie McNeice" (of Melly and Me fame) when I went to visit them. They both really liked the same bag and the thing was, so did I. This got me thinking that I could take the idea one step further and make a really big sister present. This also gave me an excellent excuse to make something for myself. I get told off a lot by a friend about how I make less for me than for anybody else. The bag in question is a messenger bag with a nice big flap in a feature fabric.

Sister Bags - Melly and Me Messenger bag design
As soon as I started to think it through I knew the fabric that I wanted to use. I had come across fantastic black and white TIDNY  fabric at IKEA. I have a history of stitching with IKEA fabric, My first ever bag was made out of blue and orange IKEA fabric and I love the fact that you cut your own fabric and weigh it. It is also thick, hard wearing and good quality. The TIDNY fabric looks like somebody got a big piece of fabric and had fun doodling on it. As soon as I saw it I wanted to colour parts of it in with embroidery. I decided that I wanted it to be classy as well as fun. This is not a common combination for me but that just made the challenge more fun.

Embroidered teapot of TIDNY fabric
The bag uses three fabrics, I knew I wanted the TIDNY as my flap fabric, I paired it with black to keep it simple and decided on a textured but plain coloured accent fabric for each bag. I chose a section of the TIDNY that reflected each of us and matched the colour to the design and the colours we like. For my little sister I chose a design with an owl holding an umbrella. I embroidered the umbrella using a simple satin stitch in purple and used a dark purple cord. For my big sister's wedding she had a tea party in the afternoon and everything was blue and white. I chose a section with tea pot and tea cup and stitched in blue and I used a blue cord fabric. For myself I used red textured fabric and embroidered a crab - because everybody knows crabs are cool. As well as embroidering the colours I added in the outline in black backstitch to make the animal or teapot stand out.

Embroidered crab on TIDNY fabric
The pattern itself was really interesting, I started sewing by making bags. It fascinates me how they can go together so many different ways. This design was not like Amy Butler or Kath Kidson. If you look at the design you assume that the pieces are attached to the sides of the contrast base. In reality the base is sewn over the top and tucked in with the sides. This makes it incredibly strong. The inside is well thought out with a lovely divider - I used the colour fabrics for this and a big pocket where I used more TIDNY. The pocket did not have additional embroidery but did have buildings on each one. The clasp caused me some issues as I struggled to get the cummerbund clasp in the UK. I decided to replace it with a lovely nurses belt clasp and I feel the replacement worked well.

Embroidered Umbrella on TIDNY fabric  
The book is beautifully laid out just like Sewn Toy Tales by Melly and Me, Each pattern has a difficulty rating, which is handy, and full size patterns which makes life a lot easier. The instructions are broken down into what you need, cutting, preparation and construction. This is a logical and easy layout to follow. There are loads of photos from different angles which I love as it helps me get my head around the construction. There are also a lot of helpful diagrams to keep you on track. I loved using this book and have plans for many more bags from it. My sisters seemed pleased too.