A New Version of the Noisy Farm Quilt!

Noisy Farm Quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately asking for suggestions for the background colors of the Noisy Farm quilt pattern.

The cover sample you see above is from before I had fabric bundles in my shop, and most of the fabrics I used are no longer available.

One of the things I love about the way I do fabric bundles now is that you can use any bundle for any quilt. Here’s an example of three quilts that all use the Warm Neutrals fat quarter bundle for the animals – but different bundles for the background colors.

Here are the Playful Puppies made with Solid Rainbow for the background blocks.

And here are the Cuddly Cats with the slightly-more-grownup-but-still-colorful Box of Crayons for the background blocks.

And here is the Bunches of Bears pattern made with the Rainbow Sherbet bundle for the background blocks.

See what a difference?

Changing just the background colors really changes the whole feel of the quilt – and I love them all!

So when people ask for suggestions for background colors for the Noisy Farm pattern – I want to tell them they can use anything! Go totally bright with the Solid Rainbow! Go a little more subdued with Box of Crayons! Go baby sweet with Rainbow Sherbet! Go natural with Green Batiks! Want even more suggestions? Take a look at the Shiny Happy People group! We’ve shared a bunch of Show & Tell versions of the Noisy Farm quilt lately – all with different color schemes and ALL FABULOUS!

For my new version of the Noisy Farm quilt I’m using Rainbow Sherbet for the background blocks. And I’m going totally wild with the animals and using the Gingham Play fat quarter bundle. Gingham always says “farm” to me and I can’t wait to make the animals in fantasy colors.

One more change – I’m making this one a silent farm. 🙂 I’m leaving off the half-blocks with animal sounds and adding sashing. I get a lot of requests about adding sashing, so I’ll be writing up a tutorial showing how you can reset (almost) any of my quilt patterns with added sashing. I’ll do the math for you for all the sizes. 🙂

If you’ve made any of my quilt patterns using a different color scheme – please share! Seeing all the different versions of my patterns makes me Muppet-arms-flailing happy – and it’s a great resource for your fellow makers out there to see different options. 🙂

Happy stitching!

Best,
Wendi

Play

Play - thinky thoughts from Shiny Happy World

Last week’s words were hard for me.

Why?

Because they involved drawing.

I didn’t have a lot of time so I was working with what I had – which was a tablet and a bunch of patterns I’ve already designed.

But I had to draw those letters and – you guys – that is SO HARD for me.

Even though drawing is part of my job (I draw all the designs for my patterns) I still panic every time I sit down with a pencil and a blank piece of paper.

I literally have to force myself to do it.

I tried to talk myself down last week. I knew I wanted playful, loose letters. They didn’t need to be perfect, or perfectly lined up, or perfectly centered. They just needed to look like letters. And letters are way easier than faces!

I agonized over those letters.

I couldn’t agonize for too long, because I really didn’t have a lot of time – but I started and erased so many times!

Sometimes I’m up for facing challenges head-on, and sometimes I’m all about finding an easier way around them.

This week was all about finding the easier way. 🙂

I wanted to play. 🙂

OK – I told myself. I like this project of making words. But I freak out every time I pick up a pencil.

Can I do this without a pencil?

I’ve been reading a lot about improv quilts and I’m planning to play with that as soon as I get my design wall up – but that’s piecing.

Can I do these words with improv applique?

I did something like that with paper for a bunch of cards I made for my daughter. Let me try it with words!

So I did.

And I LOVED IT!

It was SO MUCH FUN!

Sure – I messed up. I cut the first letter looking at the back (fusible adhesive) side of the fabric and only realized after I had cut out a perfect P that I had cut it out backwards.

Trash can.

(Why does throwing a scrap of fabric in the trash not feel like I’m an abject failure, but erasing a line does?)

I got a new plan.

I cut a set a four rectangles of fusible adhesive from my massive bag of scraps. I fused them to the back of some fabric scraps and then cut them out so that the entire fabric piece was fused. That way I could cut from the fabric side and know the whole thing was backed with adhesive. (That also gave me a rough guide for the size of the letter.)

I started freehand cutting from the fabric side and everything was cake after that.

I wanted to preserve the elephant in the middle of the A so I cut kind of a weird-shaped A and really like it.

I like that the L is way taller than the other letters.

I want to play with this some more!

Cutting out the holes in the A and the P were less fun. Maybe I can play with the print of the fabric to create fake “holes?” Like – could I have made the elephant be the hole in the A? Could I have used a floral print for the P and positioned the cut so that there’s a round flower where the hole should be?

Some fun ideas for my next playtime. 🙂

Happy stitching!

Best,
Wendi

Stretching My Way into 2016

Stretch - some goals for 2016

As I think about my goals for 2016, the word Stretch keeps coming to mind. I want to stretch my skills and try some new things this year – and I’ve already started.

I’ve been playing with some improvisational stitching. I’m not done with this piece yet (I started it on New Year’s Day) but it’s been a lot of fun so far. I cut the letters out of felt freehand, stuck them down with a swipe of fabric glue, then whipstitched them down around the edges. I stitched some fancification on the letters and then started the spokes radiating out from the word. I still want to add more spokes, but I like how it’s looking so far.

If you want to try some improvisational stitching, I have this post about stitching a freehand mandala. It’s lots of fun!

I’ve also been working on my drawing. Drawing scares me – every single time I sit down to a blank piece of paper. Over the vacation I watched this class from Lisa Congdon and absolutely loved it. So much that I’m taking her Daily Drawing Challenge all January.

On the first day we drew trees, which I loved.

Stretch - some goals for 2016

Why can’t I draw letters with a pen as well as I can cut them out of felt? What is up with that?

I’ve been posting my daily drawings to Instagram – you can find me here.

I don’t know what’s going to become of this work – quite possibly nothing but fun and some better skills. I’m actually trying not to think of them as work/patterns/tutorials – just an opportunity to play a little and have fun. 🙂

Are any of you doing any challenges or Thing a Day/Week/Month that you’re excited about? I’d love to hear!

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

 

Color Theory: Neutrals + Pop of Color!

You know that I love color.

In fact, one of my most popular blog posts is this one where I talk about putting colors together.

But maybe you’re not into wearing lots of different colors. I have another great color combo for you: a neutral + a pop of color!

How to do it

My philosophy for mixing neutrals and color is to mix warmth, but keep the darkness the same. For example, I mix a warm color with a cool neutral… but keep them about the same lightness.

Here’s a little chart showing some ideas:
mixing neutrals and color from freshstitches

See it in action!

I just finished knitting Dromos (well… actually, I finished knitting it a long time ago, but I just finished weaving in the ends!), and I just love it. It combines a medium brown with a soft blue.

Dromos knit by Freshstitches

Here’s a close up:
close up

Yummy, right? It’s a warm brown mixed with a cool blue, and they’re both similar darkness and a similar muted tone.

And do you remember Phi?

Phi Shawl

A cool grey plus a warm orange… both fairly dark. Delicious!

Dark grey and lime green? Oh, yeah.
Derecho
Bonus: whenever you use different colors in a project, it’s an opportunity to stash-bust and use up some odd skeins you might have on hand! Stripes are a stash-busters best friend!

Have you done this before? What’s your favorite color combination?

Cars Quilt – A Peek at My Process

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

I’m doing something today that I hardly ever do. I’m sharing images from my sketchbook!

I’m telling you right now – this makes me very, very nervous.

I didn’t go to art school and have no real art training. I don’t think I draw very well, and I can’t believe that I have a career in which I spend entire days drawing! Every time I sit down to draw for a new project, I think, “There’s no way I can do this. This is going to be terrible.” And the first things I draw usually are terrible. I just have to push past those initial drawings, draw a LOT, and then choose the ones that actually work. 🙂 If I share my initial drawings I’m pretty sure everyone will know I’m a fraud, and that’s not a very happy feeling.

So why am I doing it?

It’s because of a comment on Facebook.

I posted this image of a finished car, one of the initial patterns for the quilt.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

I usually don’t show any drawings at all because I think my drawings look WAY BETTER in fabric – so usually that’s all you see. But I liked this car, so I shared it. Here’s the first comment I got. . .

You make it look so easy! I look at that and I think, “well, I could have done that!.” I sit down and nothing comes out of my pencil!

I replied that it really wasn’t cool of me to just spring an almost-finished design out there like I just dashed it off, and I promised to share a bit of what led up to it.

So here goes.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

I start with some really rough little doodles. Earlier I said that every time I start drawing for a new project, the voice in my head says, “This is going to be terrible.” Of course, the voice means, “This is going to be terrible. You’re a fraud. I can’t believe you think people will buy something that you drew.” But I do my best to turn that around to say, “This is going to be terrible. You know it’s always like that at the beginning. Just take a deep breath, draw some terrible stuff, and get past it. It’ll get better.”

Sometimes it takes a few days to get better, but it usually does. 🙂

So I start with some terrible doodles, and I’m asking my self a lot of questions.

Do I want to show someone driving the car? No – that will be some crazy fussy piecing. No fun to make.

How about just the steering wheel? They can embroider it. No – it doesn’t add to the cute.

Do I want to show cut out wheel wells? Or just lay the tires over the body of the car? I’m not sure – I’ll try it both ways for a while.

How curvy/blocky do I want these? I need to try a bunch a shapes.

Do I want to show puffs of exhaust? It’s cute, but the blocks will need to be rectangles and I want squares.

It goes on like that for a while.

But then I see something I like – the tiny tall car right in the middle of the top of this image. I like the way the window is framed inside the top of the car. I like the way the bottom edge of the window is lined up with the top edge of the front and back of the car. It looks neat. And it will be simple to piece.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

So I play around a little bit more with that idea and I try it with some other shapes. I try just one window and front and back windows.

I’m liking it! But they’re looking a little uniform. I try some weirder, less realistic shapes.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

Ooh! I really like a couple of these! Oh – but it’s all cars. I need some trucks too.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

Then I had to use Google Images to look up big rigs and dump trucks because I don’t really know what they look like. I used my Ed Emberley skills to simplify them down to some really basic shapes, and before I know it I have pages and pages of little cars and trucks.

At that point I draw nicer versions of the ones I like best. I make sure that they look like a unified group. If you look, you’ll notice that all the cars have small grey hubcaps on black wheels, the bottoms of all the windows line up with the tops of all the car bodies, and they all use the same color fabric for the windows. These “rules” help those individual blocks look like they belong to a cohesive group.

These sketches are where I was when I posted that image on Facebook. My finished quilts all have twelve patterns, so I try and do nice sketches of at least 15. Then I lay those out and see what works. For this quilt I wanted a balance between boxy cars, rounded cars, long cars, and trucks. I also needed a balance of cars facing left and cars facing right. 🙂

I ended up not using the one I posted on Facebook because I had a couple of other round-top cars I liked better, like this one.

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

After I finally narrow things down to my favorite dozen, I finally get to make them in fabric. I see them in fabric the whole time I’m working on them, but it’s still really fun to choose the colors and prints and see that it really works. 🙂

Cars Quilt - a Peek at My Process

After all of that, I finally get here. A finished pattern!

Beep! Beep! Cars quilt pattern

When I see them all in fabric – with the bright colors and prints – I love them and I forget how terrible those initial sketches looked.

And then it all starts over again with the next project. 🙂

Happy sewing!

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

The Evolution of a Sleeping Bag

Evolution of a Sleeping Bag - a process post

The sleeping bag I designed for the Dress Up Bunch dolls involved a bit of engineering, so I thought I’d share something about my process here.

My initial thought was to make a sleeping bag almost exactly like a “real” one. The zipper was going to go down the side and across the bottom, so that you could open up the sleeping bag entirely. Here’s my first prototype. . .

Evolution of a Sleeping Bag - a process post

And here it is zipped up. . .

Evolution of a Sleeping Bag - a process post

Looks pretty good, right?

I loved the look of it – but sewing the zipper around the corner was not fun. Like – really, really unfun.

I try to make my patterns as easy and fun as possible – so I wanted to fix that.

I tried rounding the corner more and more, through a few different tries, but it was still pretty dang hard to wrangle. And it was starting to look ugly and not as sleeping-bag-ish.

Back to the drawing board.

Sewing a zipper around a corner was out, so I tried just a zipper going down the side.

My first attempt was sewing it inside out was kind of a mess because I didn’t use a separating zipper and I needed to sew it in a tube and it was hard to sew from top to bottom that way.

Next I tried a separating zipper so I could sew the two sides separately.

Much, MUCH easier!

I sewed it flat and sewed all the way around (leaving a little opening for turning) and it looked awesome. And then I zipped it up and realized I had made a nicely finished tube. 🙂 The bottom wasn’t closed!

Forehead smack.

I picked the bottom open and realized now I could sew the top and sides without needing any hand-sewing. The whole bottom became the turning opening.

Score!

I folded the sleeping bag closed and sewed up the bottom.

Terrific!

But then I realized it was impossible to zip it up. With the sleeping bag sewn up it was pretty much impossible to start the separating zipper. Just about impossible for me – definitely impossible for any kids trying to work it.

Aaargh.

Oooh – but then I realized that I could zip it closed first and then sew up the bottom. Now the zipper is together and it can’t come apart – a terrific bonus because separating zippers can be tricky for some little kids. I had planned to hand stitch the zipper permanently together as the final construction step, but now that wasn’t necessary!

Done! (Almost.)

Dress Up Bunch Camping Set

I added a couple of elastic loops so it could be rolled up and secured without having to tie anything, and the design is finished!

Sometimes I get a design right on the first prototype, but usually it works like this – a series of attempts and revisions that get closer and closer to the final design – one that looks good AND is easy to make. 🙂

Get the pattern here.

Happy sewing!

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

 

Evolution of a Mouse – a Peek at the Design Process

I designed a cute little mouse pattern, and I thought I’d share a bit of the design process with you.

The Head

I knew that I wanted to have his head be part of the body structure, just folded over. The original inspiration was this owl.

Orville the Owl softie pattern from Shiny Happy World

I designed it especially for quick and easy sewing (I need to make them with twenty kids at a Harry Potter Camp I was teaching – you can see all the details here).

When I was playing with that design I noticed that sometimes the bit folded over for the top of his head looked kind of mouse-like. If I stuffed it before folding it over it just might work – and I filed that thought away for later.

Well – now was later!

The Bottom

I also knew I wanted his body to be fat – so that his feet would disappear when he sat up on his back legs. (He actually has no feet – but the shape of his body makes them look like they’re just hidden.)

Usually if I want a fat bottom I design a flat pattern piece for the base and set it in, but that can be fussy sewing on a softie this small – and I avoid fussy sewing whenever possible. 🙂

I decided to use a technique that I use on all my tote bags. You’ll see it too in pillow corners – to give the pillow more fatness. It’s a way of boxing in the corners to add depth. I’ve used it before on these monsters and it was really easy to sew, so I decided to try it here. The final result looks like this.

Mischief of Mice - softie sewing pattern from Shiny Happy World

He’s not dead – he’s just lying on his back so we can see his bottom. 🙂

See how the “corners” of the body are boxed in? This is very easy to sew.

The Ugly Part of the Design Process

So – that was two design decisions made. Time to start some prototypes.

I sew these out of a yucky white sheet with whatever thread I happen to have in my sewing machine. They’re not pretty, but they let me work out the details of the pattern pieces.

Three Mice - prototypes of the Mischief of Mice softie pattern by Shiny Happy World

Sometimes the very first prototype is just right, but usually I have to try at least a few variations before things get good. I lost track of the number of prototypes I tried for this “simple” mouse – but these were the three still sitting on my table when I was done. Sometimes I take out the stuffing and resew a couple of seams – like to take in the sides a bit – instead of starting a whole new prototype.

The proportions on the first one were pretty good. I would have done a second round to make his body a little wider – but overall he was just too big.

The second one was better size-wise. But when I stuffed him properly he was just too tall, and when I took out some of the stuffing to make him shorter, he just looked hunchbacked.

The third one was just about right.

Time to add some details – ears, paws and a tail. I usually leave them off in the first round so I can just focus on the basic body shape.

The Details

When I start to add all the other bits and pieces, I usually cut them out of paper first and pin them to the softie. That’s a quick and easy way to check proportion and placement. Then I use those as pattern pieces and make up another prototype all from fabric.

It usually takes a bit of tweaking to get things just right – the size of the ears, the length of the paws, the thickness of the tail. In this case my original tail was too skinny to turn right side out. I had to redesign it so these turning tubes would fit inside. 🙂

Mouse prototype - one step in the design process at Shiny Happy WorldI’m picky about eyes – I’ve written about my obsession with eye placement here and here. The main thing to remember is that the shape of the face can change a lot after stuffing – so I always just draw the eyes on a stuffed prototype. Usually I’ll also poke holes and try out a few different eye sizes. I pick the final prototype apart and trace that eye placement onto the final pattern pieces.

Cuteness!

The final step, of course, is to make him out of cute fabric. 🙂

I knew that I wanted him to be made of quilting cotton, because I wanted to use colorful, patterned fabric.

I couldn’t choose a color, and I couldn’t stop at one. I made a whole mischief of mice in a rainbow of colors – and I love them!

Mischief of Mice - an easy sewing pattern from Shiny Happy World

Finished!

So now you’ve seen the ugliness behind the scenes in the design process. 🙂

You can get the finished pattern here.

Happy sewing!

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

Made with Love? Or Made with Stress, Swearing and Sweat?

I make quilts for the people I love.The next time you’re making something – a quilt, a stuffed animal, a dress – and you’re stressing out about a place where your seams don’t line up, or a little pucker in the sewing, or eyes that aren’t exactly level, stop.

Stop and take a deep breath.

Remember why you’re making what you’re making.

If it’s for a show and you really, really, really want to win a ribbon – well, you really do need to stress about those tiny details. Sorry. (I don’t do that any more and that decision makes me happy every day.)

If it’s for any other reason – relax.

No one else will ever look at your work as critically as you do.

Not only will your best friend not care that that seam intersection is off by 1/8″ – she won’t even notice. She’ll be touched that you put so much time and love into something made especially for her. Look! You used all of her favorite colors! Even orange, and she knows you hate orange.

Your granddaughter will not notice that there’s a little pucker where you attached the sleeve to the dress for her doll. It’s under the doll’s arm, for Pete’s sake! And she’s too busy putting the dress on and taking it off for the hundredth time.

Your son will not notice that the eyes on his new teddy bear are a little crooked. He’ll be too busy hugging it close.

So really think about all the “mistakes” you see.

Will it interfere with all the love the recipient wants to give it?

If you wobbled and have a spot where there’s practically no seam allowance on your quilt and you’re worried the seam will pop the first time it’s washed – fix it. If you used the wrong seam allowance sewing the doll dress and now the sleeves won’t fit over the hands – fix it. If an eyeball is loose on the teddy bear and in danger of popping off and inspiring nightmares – fix it.

If it’s anything else – all those little things only you will notice – then let it go.

Which would you rather receive? A gift made with love? Or a gift made with stress, swearing and sweat?

I thought so. 🙂

Happy Wednesday!

Best,
Wendi
Wendi_Gratz_Shiny_Happy_World

Tackling the Big Project

Tackling_the_Big_Project_blog_hopI’m so pleased to be participating in this blog hop organized by Diane Gilleland and Lisa Clarke! It’s all about organizing and planning big creative projects.

It’s so easy to focus on short-term deadlines. It seems so logical to focus your work on whatever is due next, right?

For me that’s a big WRONG.

Focusing on the short term deadlines means that those big projects that I’m really excited about get pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back. Or – even worse – they get done in a rush.

I do not do good work when I’m in a rush.

I’ve learned that I work best when I do a little work, then sit back and let it rest a bit, then look at it with fresh eyes. In order to do that I need to plan for that time.

Really, really plan for it.

With a calendar.

October_Shiny_Happy_World

A plan for a Shiny Happy October.

I don’t use anything fancy. I print out a month per page and then I do all my planning with a good, old-fashioned pencil. Everything is subject to change and it’s easy for me to erase and rewrite. I plan 3-6 months in advance and keep them all on a clipboard that I drag around with me wherever I’m working.

You can click on the image to make it bigger if you actually want to see what’s coming up next month. 🙂 I have almost all my blog posts for the month planned – just a few days open for whatever comes up. For the purposes of this post, the Sunday blocks are where the action’s really at. That’s where I plan my favorite part of my job – my sewing.

Every one of my projects goes through four basic stages. I plan for three of them.

Dreaming

Penelope_Cannot_Contain_Herself_embroidery_pattern_for_Shiny_Happy_World

How I feel during the dreaming phase.

That happens at any time. It’s coming up with the idea and jotting it down in my sketchbook.

Sometimes there’s research involved (just how big are a mouse’s ears in relation to its head?) and sometimes an idea comes fully formed.

I don’t usually plan for this – but I document my ideas as best I can so they’re waiting for me when I’m ready to make them real.

Design/Drafting/Troubleshooting

Boy_doll_prototype_at_Shiny_Happy_World

This is when I make all my prototypes. I set aside a week for this phase of any project and that usually works just fine. Some projects come together on the very first try. Some of them go through a lot of iterations before I’m happy with them. (You can read more about my process here.)

I like to make a prototype and then let it sit a bit before I critique it – at least overnight – so I can look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. Sometimes those fresh eyes tell me that what I thought was a mistake is actually kind of charming – I just need to tweak it a bit. Sometimes they tell me that something I thought was charming is actually pretty ugly. 🙂 But I find that budgeting in the time to let it rest and come back to it is critical.

Making the Finished Item

Caterpillar Phil from Shiny Happy WorldBy this time I’ve worked out all the kinks and it’s just making the item up one more time in pretty fabric that will photograph well.

This is when I do the step-by-step photography for the pattern.

For most projects I set aside a full week for this too – that gives me a cushion in case my prototyping runs over. 🙂

Presentation

This encompasses so much! It’s editing the photos, writing the pattern, proofreading the pattern (several times), writing the shop listing and blog post, etc. I set aside a whole week for this too.

Mapping It Out

 

So – let’s go back to that calendar. In any given week I’m working on prototyping one project, making the final version and photographing the step-by-steps for a different project, and writing the pattern for a third project.

The dreaming happens all the time. 🙂

I don’t blog on the weekends, so I use the Sunday blocks on the calendar to remind me of the big picture – what I’m supposed to be working on that week. That way I don’t get into the trap of working blog post to blog post.

Next week I’m prototyping a monster doll for The Dress Up Bunch, making a final version of the Gulp monster and writing the pattern for the Puppy Quilt.

What About a REALLY Big Project?

Like writing a book? Well, that’s really just a bunch of smaller projects! I might break it down a chapter at a time, or a project at a time, but at its heart it’s just a bunch of smaller projects that I plan for and fit into my calendar in just the same way.

Happy sewing!

Best,
Wendi
Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)

Designing a Rag Doll – a Peek at the Design Process

Designing a Rag Doll - a Peek at My ProcessToday’s post is part of the Let’s Talk Process Blog Hop! Eight different designers are each choosing a recent project and talking about the process of designing that project. Our approaches are all likely to be really different – and all inspiring! I love peeking behind the scenes at the process that goes into a finished design – and I always come away with some ideas I apply to my own work.

I’ll be writing about the new Dress Up Bunch rag dolls. Years ago – back when Shiny Happy World was about selling finished dolls and softies instead of patterns – I had the idea to design a dressable rag doll. I already had a rag doll that sold well, but I wanted one that was designed to be easier to dress, with a large wardrobe of possible clothing patterns. It wouldn’t hurt if she was easier (and faster) to make, too. 🙂

That idea sat on the back burner for a long time while I transitioned to selling patterns and  teaching, but a few months ago I finally got serious and designed what would become The Dress Up Bunch.

dress up bunch collage

The Dress Up Bunch – so far

I had a LOT of time to think about what I wanted from this pattern collection.

  1. Very easy to make.
  2. Arms and legs that would go in any direction for easy dressing.
  3. Cute, playable and fun.

Any time you design something, even something simple (especially something simple) there are countless small decisions to make along the way.

In many cases there are several good options – but one is the best choice for that particular project. I like to start with a list like this that I can use as a reminder to keep myself on track.

The Old Rag Doll Pattern

Abigail Darcy full

Usually I start with a blank page – but this time I had a successful rag doll pattern that I could use as a jumping off point.

This is Abigail Darcy. I think she’s adorable and the pattern had been a strong seller for me. I love her gangly coltishness, her subtle asymmetry, her cartoony face, her striped tights, her changeable skirt.

But she’s not Very Easy to Make.

She’s more of an advanced beginner pattern and I wanted something that would also work for people who are still getting acquainted with their sewing machines.

The way her arms are attached also greatly limits their movement – making her harder to dress and play with.

Very Easy to Make

The number one problem I see with handmade softies is that people don’t put enough stuffing in them. On some designs it doesn’t really matter, but with dolls it can matter quite a lot because less stuffing makes the necks go floppy very quickly. I gave the Dress Up Bunch dolls wider heads, wider bodies – and especially wider necks – so they would be forgiving of being too lightly stuffed.

If you don’t add enough stuffing, this doll still looks good and functions well.

The wider body also solved another problem.

There is a point in the original rag doll pattern where she looks like this.

17 an unholy mess

Her body is so skinny that it won’t hold all the arms and legs and they have to hang out the stuffing hole while sewing up the outside.

It looks worse than it is, but it’s definitely not fun and I want every step of my new pattern to be easy and fun.

The same stage in the Dress Up Bunch rag doll pattern looks like this.

16 pin back

See how neatly (and easily) all the parts fit inside the body?

In addition to making the head, neck and body wider, I also made the arms and legs shorter so they’d fit more easily inside the doll. The arms, in particular, are quite short. In real life a human’s head is much narrower than the shoulders, the neck is much narrower than the head, and hands hang down past the hips.

I decided against anatomical accuracy in favor of a body type that was easier to make.

One more detail you can see in this photo is the center back seam. Most rag doll patterns don’t have that, but I added it for two reasons. One – a stuffing opening in a nice straight seam like this makes the final handsewing a snap. I find it significantly easier than sewing up a seam in the side of the body – especially if that body is well-stuffed. Two – it provides a great seam where makers can easily and securely attach a waggy tail to the animal bodies.

Usually more seams means more complicated, but this is a case where adding a seam actually made the construction easier – in two ways!

Finally – I made the Dress Up Bunch doll pattern symmetrical. I love the casual charm of a little bit of asymmetry, but skin colored fabrics and felt have no easily identifiable front or back. It was very easy for pattern pieces to get flipped over during construction so they didn’t all match up at the end.

For this pattern – where Very Easy to Make was my #1 guideline – I was happy to sacrifice quirky asymmetry for ease of construction.

Super Flexible Arms and Legs

Pip - a kitty cat doll softie pattern for The Dress Up Bunch

On the old rag doll pattern you can see that her arms are attached at an angle. That’s pretty typical of rag dolls – but it definitely limits the flexibility of those arms. It’s hard to raise them over the doll’s head and the seams have a tendency to tear under the arms. It also makes them hard to dress.

Now look at Pip over there on the left. I left the tops of his arms completely unstuffed and attached them at a right angle to the side of the body. Bingo! Arms that can go in any direction – making for fun play and easy dressing. They don’t look as neat and tidy as the typical angled arm attachment of a rag doll, but they function much better.

Neat and tidy was not on my list. Easy dressing and playing was.

I originally tried sewing elbow and knee joints into the arms and legs (like on the legs of the old rag doll) but my daughter said they looked ugly – like sausages. I tried them unjointed, but very lightly stuffed and with some plastic pellets added to give them good flop. She pronounced that version “very huggable and soft, good for playing, and not ugly.” Success. 🙂

Playability

Spot in jammies back

This was a big one for me. I’ve watched kids play with my dolls for years and I’ve seen how they interact with them. They want to carry them around by the arm (another reason the arms need to be flexible). They want to cuddle them. They want to sit them up and have them stay sitting. They want their arms and legs to bend. And if they have tails – they want to wag them. 🙂

A lot of dressable animal dolls have no tails – or they have applique tails that are covered by the clothing. I wanted actual waggable tails.

It added an extra few steps to the construction of the critter dolls – and their pants – but it adds a ton to the playability. It’s always a balancing act.

In this case I was happy to add a tiny bit of difficulty to the construction in order to have a doll that would be a lot more fun to play with.

The Process is Never Done

Old Violet - a Dress Up Bunch doll from Shiny Happy World

The first human doll in The Dress Up Bunch was Violet. Here she is.

I love her purple curls, but when I got ready to make the second doll in the collection I realized that the face still needed some work.

The new, wider body shape was chunky and cute, but she still had the smaller/finer features of the original rag dolls. They didn’t go together.

I played around so much with the face for the second doll!

(I have a whole post here about how I test faces on my prototypes).

I drew and erased and drew and erased and drew and erased until the face was a yucky grey mess. Then I flipped it over and did the same thing with the back of the head.

Spot - Dress Up Bunch Dog Softie Pattern

I had a nose and mouth I liked – but the eyes were killing me. No matter what I did they were too small. I tried pinning on some felt eyes, but I wasn’t happy with any of them. I had used plastic safety eyes for Spot – and I loved them – but I had it stuck in my head that they would look bug-eyed and goofy on a human doll.

Finally – in desperation – I grabbed a seam ripper, poked a hole where the prototype’s eye should go, and stuck in a safety eye to test it out.

The whole face suddenly came to life.

Poppy face

It didn’t look bug-eyed or goofy! The larger size looked friendly and young. And the shiny half-domes had a sparkle to them that I hadn’t gotten with felt eyes. I loved them!

So this is the new face of The Dress Up Bunch.

Try everything – even things you’re pretty sure will fail.

I redesigned Violet so she would have the younger, cuter face that the newer dolls have.

New_Violet_Rag_Doll_Face

One More Bit of Advice

I do all my prototyping with white muslin.

  • It’s cheap and easy to find.
  • It’s the least forgiving fabric I could possibly sew with – pieces that could be stretched to fit with fleece will not match up with muslin. I’ll know there’s a problem that needs fixing.
  • You can draw and write on it – like I do when I’m designing faces.
  • Every mistake will show. My daughter might not have noticed sausage-looking arms on a patterned fabric, but she sure hated them on the white prototype.

If your project looks good in white muslin it will look good in any fabric. 🙂

Let's Talk Process blog hop
I hope you enjoyed this look at the design decisions that went into a single project. Ready to see the approaches of some other designers? Take a look at the other posts in today’s hop and gather up enough tips and inspiration to keep you designing for weeks.

Happy stitching!

Best,
Wendi
Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)