Annette from Oliver Rabbit designs soft sculpture/art toys and plush and sells Original Plush Toy PDF Sewing Patterns. We asked her to tell us a little about sewing softies and plus with pure wool to help kick off our 6 Weeks of LOVE for Softies. Annette covers everything from the advantages of using pure wool felt for making softies and plush, to tips for how to cut, stitch and clean the fabric.
Felt Plush Toys: A Love Affair with Pure Wool
Making fabric toys can be so much fun! Who doesn’t love a doll, a bunny or a fuschia monster?… Especially one that is hand-made and full of love and personality. Plush toys or softies, as we endearingly call them, come in all shapes and sizes and different degrees of squishiness. (Yes, that really is a word!) Patterns for every skill level are readily available thanks to our community of talented designers. The fabric choices are endless– colorful cotton prints, cuddly fleece, fuzzy faux fur and… (drum roll, please) super soft and yummy wool felt! I’m currently having a love affair with this textile, making lots of little plushies and soft sculpture animals in my studio. I’m very excited to be here in the 6 Weeks of LOVE for Softies series. So are my tiny pals.
Why Pure Wool Felt? Sew-Ability and a Wee Bit of Science, Just for Fun!
Search the internet for wool felt and you will find hundreds of websites citing its claim to fame, my own included. Pure wool felt is a natural, non-woven textile, renewable and eco-friendly. It is strong and durable, yet textured and soft. It is toxin free and inherently self-extinguishing, making it kid-friendly and baby-safe. Wool felt is available in a myriad of rich, vibrant colors that are lightfast and uniform throughout. The ease of sewing with it can only be described as “blissful.” It doesn’t fray or pill. There is no selvage or stretch. It’s reversible and forgiving with no right or wrong side and no direction. It hand-sews like butter and appliqués beautifully.
So how do all of these wonderful characteristics translate to great softie making?
Wool Felt Plush Toys are Truly Eco-Friendly
Wool felt is made from natural wool fibers harvested from sheep. These fibers are a renewable resource; they grow back! Wool felt is also 100% biodegradable. The fibers originate from living animals and when discarded, they are put to use by microorganisms and broken down biologically into natural raw materials. Wool products in the ground biodegrade within a year; synthetic fibers can take up to 40!
Wool Felt Plush Toys are Naturally Kid-Friendly
- The structure of wool fibers allows them to accept natural plant dyes easily; toxic chemicals are not needed. Natural dye penetrates the fiber core, bonding permanently, so colors are highly saturated and remain vivid. Yay! Colorful toys.
- Wool felt is inherently fire retardant; no harsh fireproofing chemicals are needed to meet baby-safe regulations.
- Wool fibers are coated with lanolin, or sheep oil. Some is removed in the felting process but enough remains to make wool felt naturally water and soil resistant. Yay! Clean toys.
- Wool felt is naturally hypoallergenic; it is made of the same proteins as your hair and fingernails.
- Wool felt has a wonderful balance of durability and resilience. The fibers are crimped, or wavy, enabling it to stretch and return. These springy fibers entangle with one another naturally so felting them produces fabrics that are nearly impossible to pull apart. This flexible strength allows wool felt toys to withstand hug after hug after hug.
Favorite Tips for Wool Felt Softies
And the sewing is easy! Here are a few of my favorite tips for creating adorable and unique softies with wool felt:
Use the Freezer Paper Method for Cutting
Smoothly cut edges and shapes that match up are key elements for success when making felt softies. You want smooth edges because they will be visible in the finished product; your seam allowance is not hidden inside the toy. It’s front and center for all to see! For pieces you are joining together, the more perfectly they match, the more even your stitches that join them will be. Although it has many wonderful properties, felt is a challenging textile to cut smooth, identical shapes from, particularly small ones. And because of its thickness, felt is best cut as a single layer. Fusing a freezer paper pattern template to the felt greatly improves the accuracy of your cutting.
Extra tip: After you have cut your pieces, BEFORE you remove the paper, line up those that will be sewn together and trim if necessary. It is much easier to trim felt with the freezer paper still on.
Plush Personality: Embroidery Embellishment
Handmade has a unique personality. Let yours shine through! You don’t have to be a stitch wizard to add a touch of whimsy to your toy. A basic straight stitch or simple French knot will do the trick. Wool felt embroiders beautifully. Give your softie some character.
- Vary your stitch length for appliquéd pieces, especially monster faces!
- Put a whimsical stitch here and there, as if it’s a pattern in the felt.
- Play with color. Create depth and highlights with contrasting colors or subtle beauty with tone on tone.
- Embroider facial features and animal tails so your softie remains baby-safe. (Be sure to embroider before joining pieces together so your back stitching and knots are hidden inside.)
Stitch Small for Stuffing
You’ve embroidered your softie’s face, tattooed the arms and now it’s time to sew it all together. When joining two pieces of felt that will have stuffing inside, a small uniform stitch along the edge is best. I recommend stitches about one-eighth inch from the edge and each other. You want to create a short, tight seam that does not curl inward and will withstand the pushing and poking of the stuffing process.
Uniform Edge Stitching
The blanket stitch, when used as an edging on a single piece of felt, or when sewing two pieces together, can be seen on both sides. Additionally, because a softie is 3-D, all of your stitching can be seen from a given angle. Here are two tricks for keeping your edge stitches uniform:
- Make sure your felt pieces are lined up evenly so one is sitting right on top of the other.
- Insert your needle STRAIGHT through (perpendicular to) both pieces of felt. Unlike appliqué or embroidery, where your needle position can slant through your felt, uniform edge stitching requires your needle to pierce the fabric the same distance from the edge of both pieces. If your edges are even and your needle is straight, it works!
Additionally, for whatever reason, I find it easier to maintain uniformity with smaller stitches.
Wool felt plush toys are not the super squishy floppy variety. Equally as lovable, mind you, they tend to be a bit structured in character. For this reason, I stuff mine firmly, especially the feet. If your feet have soles, keep the sole flat, not rounded with stuffing. Then your your plush will stand on its own! I use wool roving in batt form for stuffing but polyester fiberfill, bamboo and natural corn stuffing work, too.
How to Clean a Wool Felt Plush Toy
Wool felt, by nature, resists dirt and odor. Occasionally, though, a well-loved toy needs to be cleaned. Spot cleaning or hand washing is the best method for cleaning a wool felt softie.
- Dry + Spot Clean: Most dirt will sit on the surface of wool felt. Airborne dust and small particles can be removed from a dry toy with a lint brush or scotch tape. If you need to go a bit deeper, use a soft bristle tooth brush to loosen dirt. Avoid abrasive or harsh rubbing. After loosening and removing surface dirt, use a damp cloth to wet and soak the soiled area. Repeat the wet cloth application until the soil is gone. Air dry.
- Wet Soak + Squeeze: If spot cleaning doesn’t work, soak your toy in a cold water bath. Yes, even a stuffed toy can be fully submerged! Do not use soap as it can cause further felting. Gently squeeze your toy periodically while it soaks. Be gentle and don’t rub or twist it; wet felt is less durable than dry. If necessary, a touch of pure lemon juice can be added to the water to eliminate odor. After the final squeeze, lay your softie to air dry. It will be a bit stiff after cleaning but will become soft again with a little love.
Note: Do not wash your wool felt toy in the washing machine or put it in the dryer; it will shrink significantly!
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