For the pattern I stitched him up in yellow, because lighter (and solid) colors make it easier to see the individual stitches. But I also wanted to make him in this tweedy dark brown for more of a tortoiseshell cat look – just for fun.
The tricky part of using dark yarn – or dark fabric for a sewn softie – is getting the eyes to show up well. The eyes are the most important part of the face!
I’ve got two solutions for you today.
If you want to use a solid black craft eye (which is what I use for most of my softies) then it’s a big help to back those eyes with a circle of a lighter colored felt just a smidge bigger than the eye. That’s what I did with Milton Monkey. . .
And that’s what I did with Felix. Here you can see those eyes a little closer.
I used a 1/2″ circle of sandstone felt with 9 mm eyes.
I use this tool to trace nice neat circles in lots of sizes.
I don’t remember where I got this exact template, but I’ve seen similar items at Office Max and Staples.
If you make a lot of softies and tend to use the same size eyes, you can also buy die-cut eyes which are perfectly perfect circles. When I make kits I buy felt circles at Woolhearts on Etsy. These are the circles I buy – you can choose the size and an assortment of up to six colors. It’s handy to keep a little stash of favorite colors.
Once you have the circles cut, there’s one more step. You need to punch a hole in the middle for the shank of the eye to go through! You can use an awl like this one, or you can use a 1/8 inch hole punch for extra neat holes.
Perfect little backs to set off your eyes! I usually stick to a color that’s a lighter shade than the main color – but not too light! White in particular can make your softie look scared.
Another option is to use an eye with color already in it.
(When I do that I usually use a slightly larger eye than what the pattern calls for – like jumping from a 9 mm to a 12 mm eye.)
Look at Sharon’s cat (named Arnold). She also made a dark brown kitty, but she used awesome cat eyes for hers!
With those big eyes and no mouth he immediately reminded me of the cat from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
And now I need to make a black cat. 🙂
Try one of our fun crochet patterns! Get the Merrick Monster pattern here.
I don’t like the envelope backs. They’re easy to sew, but they don’t cover the pillow as snugly as I like.
I like zippered covers, so they cover tightly and can be removed for washing – but I don’t like when the zipper is in one of the side seams. They never “sit” the same way as the other seams, so the finished pillow shape is always a little distorted.
I like the zipper to be somewhere in the pillow back (it doesn’t have to be the exact center) but I don’t like it to extend all the way to the edges, because the stiffness of the zipper again can distort the overall look of the pillow.
So here’s how I sew a pillow with a zipper in the back.
I make the cover a little small. If the pillow is 18 inches square, I cut my fabric 18 inches square. When I sew the front to the back using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, the pillow cover ends up 17 inches square – perfect for the nice snug fit I like.
I make the zipper a little short. Specifically – two inches shorter than the cut fabric. So for an 18 inch pillow, I buy a 16 inch zipper.
My daughter doesn’t like using regular rectangular bed pillows. Instead she has an enormous pile of square pillows – mostly with quilted and applique designs on them. 🙂 She doesn’t like the inexpensive “hard” pillow forms. She likes these Fairfield brand Home Elegance pillows. They feel like down pillows, but they’re a LOT less expensive and they’re machine washable. Win!
You can use any quilt block pattern to make a pillow cover.
Craft eyes. Plastic eyes. Safety eyes. Animal eyes. They’re called lots of different things!
You can use them for both sewn and crocheted softies. I’ve even used them in applique wall hangings. I just use a pair of wire cutters to snip off the post that sticks out after you attach the washers.
I’ve made a video (below) that shows you how to install them. In the video I’m demonstrating on a crocheted stuffed animal, but you can use these eyes in sewn softies as well. You just need to poke a hole! I like to use this ball point awl. It creates a hole by stretching the fibers around the opening instead of by cutting any of the threads. If you cut a hole in stretchy knit fabric, that hole can run over time, just like a ladder in your stockings.
I prefer eyes with ridged shanks and plastic washers. I feel like they hold the best BUT they’re harder to use with smaller size eyes. It’s just really hard to hold such tiny pieces straight while you push the very tight washer on! So for the smallest eyes (4.5 mm) you’ll get smooth shanks and metal washers instead. They’re still small, fussy pieces, but they’re not nearly as hard to work with. Also – 4.5 mm eyes are so small that I really only use them for small felt softies – the kind of softies that stand on a shelf instead of being played with a lot.
Speaking of safety – just because they’re called “safety eyes” doesn’t make them safe for babies. The eyes themselves will never come apart (here’s a video showing how to remove safety eyes – you’ll see how hard it is to do). But babies can chew through the fabric around the eye, which then frees the eye (along with the still-attached washer) which is a choking hazard. So only use these on toys for kids over three, or toys that will be played with under supervision.
Below the video I’ve also included a quickie photo tutorial for those of you who want to get ‘straight to the point’ as well as some other links you might like!
Ready to get some eyes for your creations? Visit my craft eyes (and noses) shop for the best selection of black, clear and colored animal eyes, comic eyes and craft noses.
Video Tutorial for Craft Eyes
This is a little 5 minute video. Enjoy!
How to install craft eyes
Do you see those little points?
Those little ‘barbs’ dig into the fabric and keep the eye from rotating. Which isn’t a big deal if you’re just using a black craft eye, but is crucial if you’re using a comic eye. You don’t want them twisting and giving you googly eyes!
The ridges on the posts of craft eyes help the washer click on (and stay on!) securely. I love hearing the ‘click’ as I press the washer on! The ridges also help to make sure the washer presses on evenly.
So, let me show you how to install a craft eye with a plastic washer.
First, insert the post of the craft eye between the stitches on your piece where you want it to go. For sewn softies, use this ball-point awl or a small knitting needle to poke a hole. I recommend that you place the eyes first, before pressing on the washers, just to see if you like the look.
Once your eyes are positioned how you’d like, press the flat side of the washer (that’s the one with the tiny barbs!) onto the post.
Here’s a photo of how it will look (but without the fabric getting in the way… obviously, your piece doesn’t really look like this!):
I don’t want you to stress too much about this, because if you try to put the washer on backwards, it just won’t go.
Now, push! You’ll hear that click, and it’s on!
A note about 6 mm craft eyes
The 6 mm craft eyes, because they are SO tiny, have smaller plastic washers without the ‘barbs’. And the 4.5 mm eyes (as mentioned above) have metal washers. But don’t worry, the same rule applies: flat side towards the fabric.
Other links you’ll enjoy
Here are some other craft-eye-related links you’ll like!
I usually use wool blend felt for the hair on my Dress Up Bunch dolls. It’s durable, easy to work with, and relatively inexpensive and it has a nice, classic look – even when I use non-traditional hair colors.
But you don’t have to use felt.
If you scroll through some of the photos in the Shiny Happy People group on Facebook you’ll find adorable dolls made with printed cotton fabric hair and cuddly fleece hair – but you can also use fun faux fur!
If you use a regular “hair-colored” fur you can make a doll with pretty realistic hair. If you use a more wild and funky fur (like the one I used) you can make a fun pixie. 🙂
Here are some tips to help you out. . .
Cut out the fur just like you would cut out the felt. Make sure the nap of the fur is running in the correct direction. To minimize flying fur bits, cut just through the fabric backing, as shown in this video – Intraux to Working with Faux Fur.
I stuck the fur piece for the bangs down to the top of the head using a glue stick, then appliqued the bangs edge with a wide and fairly open zigzag stitch.
After you get the bangs sewn in place, sew up the doll just like normal. You just need to make sure to smooth the fur into the seams. Here’s what the back of the head looks like – the fur is smoothed down between the back of the head piece and the back of the body piece.
It’s very easy to use – you just iron it on. The package has very clear instructions.
After that you treat it almost like any cotton fabric – with a few key changes.
Tips for Working with Laminated Fabric
Do not iron it from the vinyl side of the fabric! Save the backing paper you peeled off when you applied the vinyl and use that as a press cloth if you absolutely must iron from the front. I found the stiffness of the fabric meant all I ever needed to do was a quick finger press – no iron needed.
The resulting fabric is stiffer, with less drape than a true laminated fabric. Choose a simple pattern without pleats of gathers.
Some people recommend sewing over a piece of tissue if you need to sew with the vinyl side down – for fear of the feed dogs scratching the vinyl. I sewed with the vinyl side up and down – with no tissue – and had no scratching or grabbing problems.
If the laminated fabric crinkles a lot when you turn it right side out, you can hit it with a hot hair dryer and smooth things out really easily.
Use clips instead of pins to hold the pieces together. Pins will leave permanent holes in laminated fabric.
Everything in the post about stuffed animals applies to rag dolls.
Test your fabric with a universal needle and prepare to switch to a stretch or ballpoint needle if needed.
Do not overstuff.
The Do Not Overstuff rule is especially important for rag dolls. If you stuff them too fat, they won’t be able to fit into the regular Dress Up Bunch clothing patterns!
The knit fabric will change the proportions of your doll a bit – she’ll be a little wider. You can see the difference here between the knit Poppy (purple hair) and the woven Poppy (copper hair).
I was super careful not to overstuff, but you can see that the knit Poppy still has a slightly wider head.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you’ll also want to use a knit fabric for the hair. If you use felt hair with the knit skin, the hair will not stretch but the face will and it will look like her face is bulging out from under her hair. Not cute. 🙁
Most of the Dress Up Bunch dolls are human, but a few of them are critters with tails. And those tails need wagging room! Here’s how to add an opening to any pants or skirt pattern for the Dress Up Bunch dolls.
Cut out all the pieces as normal.
When you come to the part of the pattern where you sew the center back seam, jump in with these steps. . .
Measure down the center back seam 2 inches and mark with a pin.
Measure down 1 3/4 inches from that pin and mark with another pin.
Sew from the top to the first pin with a normal stitch length. Sew the space between the pins with a longer stitch length – the longest you can set on your machine. Switch back to the regular stitch length and sew the rest of the seam.
Make sure you backstitch (with the normal stitch length) a bit at the top and bottom of the section of long stitches. You’re going to cut those big stitches and this will keep the rest of the regular stitches from unraveling.
Press the seam allowance open.
Sew a tiny little rectangle around the section of long stitches to reinforce that opening.
(You’ll want to use matching thread, of course.)
Use a seam ripper to cut the large stitches inside that reinforced rectangle.
And voila! You have an opening for the tail! Continue with the rest of the pattern instructions.
This works for pants and shorts (as shown above) or with a skirt.
I’m completely obsessed with painting my own craft eyes!
Today I’m going to show you an awesome technique: how to paint ombre glitter eyes!
Aren’t these amazing?
This ombre effect is super-easy to achieve with glitter paint because the paint is actually clear with specks of glitter. That means that one coat leaves little gaps for another color to shine through!
Here’s how to do it in three easy steps!
I’m so excited about the possibilities… I’m thinking my next ones will be white and pink ombre. What do you think?
What color combinations do you think would be amazing?
You’ve probably read the disclaimer: craft eyes are not recommended for use in toys for children under the age of three.
I’m often asked, “can I use buttons instead”?
In short, the answer is no.
To explain why, let’s talk about why craft eyes aren’t baby safe. It’s incredibly unlikely that the washer will accidentally come off of the back of the eye. (in fact, it’s pretty difficult to remove the washer from an eye with plastic ridges, as I showed in this blog post on how to remove craft eyes.)
The danger with craft eyes is that a baby (or dog) could chew through the fabric that the eye is attached to, dislodging the eye.
Now what about buttons? Many people assume that since they’re sewn on, they’re more secure. But it’s not true. A baby can use their set of chompers to chew through the thread attaching it to the piece.