AeSoon of Gal-Pals designs and creates handcrafted softies. She has learned many tips along the way to simplify the process, and shares them here so you can enjoy your next experience making plush toys! AeSoon also has lots of advice about tools. Stop by to see all of the dolls and toys in the Gal-Pals shop, and visit AeSoon on Instagram for the latest designs.
AeSoon has a giveaway for you to enter too. Visit the Gal-Pals blog and enter to win this sweet girl with pigtails!
Plush toys have long been cherished symbols of childhood and serve not only as play pals for children but also as close confidantes. They were traditionally handmade by mothers and grandmothers using small scraps of fabric and loose materials lying around for stuffing. I love the sentimental value in handmade items, and making plush toys to spark the imagination in children is fun and rewarding.
Children’s toys, particularly dolls, are rich in history dating back to prehistoric times where they were first made from fur, wood or bone. There have been many techniques developed over time in making plush dolls and toys, and I’d like to share the tools that I use to simplify my toy making process.
1. A Turning Tool looks like a thick straw, paired with a chopstick. Mine came in a pack of three with different diameters; I purchased it inexpensively at the local fabric store and is also sold on Amazon (mine is by Dritz). This is a super handy tool that quickly turns small corners and any kind of long, skinny tube right side out. I use it to turn arms, legs, ears, tails and other pointy extremities that can be difficult to turn. To use this tool, first insert the “straw” into the fabric tube (in this case, a doll leg).
Push the chopstick into the bottom of the doll leg and gently push the fabric into the straw.
Continue to use the chopstick to push the fabric through until you see the feet coming out at the other end of the straw. Push the remaining fabric all the way out, and then use the chopstick to poke out the seams to smooth out the curved feet.
The turning tool is also useful during stuffing. Often times there’s some wiggling involved in trying to get a larger tuft of fiberfill into a smaller opening such as arms and legs. This tool provides a sturdy opening that allows polyfill to easily pass into the small parts of plush toys, and the chopstick is handy to pack in the fiberfill.
2. Hemostats are scissor-like surgical tools that have a blunt end and a locking mechanism near the handle that allows you to tightly grip onto material without slipping. Hemostats have many different functions in plush toy making. They are useful in turning small points like ears and tails by clamping onto the outer fabric and pulling the fabric right side out. I also use a hemostat to poke out stitches at corners and curves to produce smooth edges. This can also be done with a chopstick.
My favorite use for a hemostat is for stuffing because it allows you to conveniently grab small tufts of fiberfill to push inside the plush toy.
3. Pinking Shears are scissors with serrated blades that make triangular cuts into fabric. It is very important to notch curves to allow the fabric to stretch around bends, which in turn produces nice finished curves that lay flat without wrinkles. The traditional notching method requires some time to cut every triangle into the seam allowance. I use pinking shears to quickly notch curved edges such as ends of hands, feet, animal ears, tails and parts of doll garments.
4. Basting Glue is a non-toxic, fast drying glue stick with a waxy consistency. It lightly bastes materials together without permanently adhering to the fabric. All my appliqués and trims are small pieces, so I use this to not only glue my appliqués, but also labels, lace and ribbons onto base fabrics. This glue doesn’t take long to dry (approximately five minutes), and it is much easier than the traditional appliqué iron-on adhesives. I also like that if I don’t like the original position of the appliqué, I can just peel off and re-position with very little residual glue left behind and no damage done to the fabric. The following image includes some examples of how I use the basting glue.
5. A Clear Sewing Foot is made of clear plastic rather than the conventional metal. Plush toys often have little bodies and require small pieces of fabric, so to see the edge of the fabric at all times is really handy. My sewing quality instantly improved when I got this sewing foot. My stitches became more precise and even, especially with topstitching, appliqués and hemlines. I love this clear foot, and it is the workhorse in all my projects.
Tips For Making Plush Toys:
- Use a short stitch length (I use 1.5). Small stitches not only strengthen the toys because there are more stitches holding the fabric together, but it also reduces bulging stitches that become visible after stuffing.
- Invest in strong, quality thread to withstand tugging play of small hands.
- Use ¼ “ seam allowances to reduce bulky seams.
- Clip into every sharp corner like under arms and necks, notch curves such as ends of hands and feet, and cut ends of pointed tips like ears and tails. This is an important step to ensure smooth finished edges that gives plush toys and dolls their definitive shape.
- Turn limbs and extremities right side out before turning the main body. It is trickier to turn small arms or animal ears if the main body is turned out first.
- Use small tufts of fiberfill to ensure that the toy is stuffed firmly and uniformly without irregular lumps and gaps. Stuff all the extremities and limbs first, then the main body from top to bottom.
For more tips and tricks– plus the giveaway– visit the Gal-Pals blog!