Editor's Note: This series of posts became a book!
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction was published by Lark Crafts in 2013.
Today let's focus on openings. Most soft toys are sewn right sides together and are then turned right side out before being stuffed. In order to turn a softie, you need to leave an opening so that you can pull the fabric through when turning it right side out and then push the fiberfill or wool stuffing in.
The tricky thing about these openings is that you don't want them to show once the toy is finished. The opening needs to somehow become invisible. But if the toy is machine sewn, and the opening is closed by hand, the seam is bound to stand out some.
The question is, how can we create an opening and close it up in the least noticable way? The way I see it, there are a few important factors to consider.
When designing pattern pieces think carefully before choosing where the opening should be. Usually an opening is located along a seam. If this is the case, choose a spot along the seam where the the opening will be the least noticable.
For example, in a fully gusseted four-legged animal I often leave the opening between the two undergussets. Once the animal is put together the opening is on the underside of the toy, a part that is not immediately noticable. Between the undergussets is also a great spot because it is centrally located so I can pull the legs and head into the body with relative ease when I'm turning the body right side out.
Here is a dog I made recently. I desinged this pattern so that the opening is between the undergussets:
I drew this elephant so that the opening is located where the tail will be:
The opening in this patchwork horse is under the tail:
This felt horse horse has a single undergusset with separate legs attached. I cut a slit in the undergusset and used that as the opening:
Once you've sewn up the toy, it is time to use the opening for turning and stuffing. Be sure that you take a few backstitches on either side of the opening so that it does not tear when it becomes stressed during turning and stuffing. And be gentle! The opening can become stretched, even if you are using quilting cotton, felt or another fabric that has little to no stretch to it. The fibers in the fabric can pull apart during turning and stuffing making it harder to close the opening neatly later. So go slowly and take your time.
I like to put the toy down after sewing it and come back later for turning and stuffing so that I'm not impatient and in a hurry. Stuffing a toy is often the most time consuming part of the whole process.
Now that you've chosen a good spot for the opening, it is time to think about how to close it up once the the toy is turned and stuffed. Again, we are aiming for invisibility here. Obviously, choose a thread color that matches the fabric. Remember when choosing thread colors to err on the side of a thread that is a shade lighter than the fabric, versus one that is a shade darker. The lighter thread is less likely to show.
And while we are on the topic of thread, there is nothing worse than carefully and neatly sewing an opening closed only to have the thread break on the last stitch! To solve this problem, I sew openings closed with extra-strong thread. It is a worthy investment to buy extra-strong thread in a variety of colors so that you'll have some on hand in a color that works for your softie.
I often see beautifully constructed softies that have been closed with an overhand stitch which to me looks sloppy.
Here are two sofites, a pig and a fish, that I have closed with ladder stitch:
Okay, what other information can we add? I welcome your thoughts. Do you have any special tips or techniques for the best way to handle openings? Please chime in!