Friday, May 1, 2015

putting your rag doll/softie together: part 1 (head and body)

Once you have your pattern for you rag doll, it's time to get started in making your doll! If you want to know how to make your own pattern, see this earlier post. If you would like to use a simple rag doll pattern I created, you can download it here. Here is what the basic doll will look like from my pattern:

The pictures I will be showing in this post are mostly of my giraffe pattern (available here when my etsy shop is open). While your pattern might not be a giraffe, it will still go together in the same manner.

So first things first, print your pattern pieces if you are using a free pattern. I like to then cut out the pattern pieces and place them on cardstock/poster board/stiff paper so that I can trace directly on my fabric. Then take a look at the pattern pieces you have and gather your fabric. Medium-weight cotton fabric works well. For the giraffe and the basic doll pattern, you will cut out the head pieces, body pieces, and ear pieces (for giraffe). You will not cut out the arm, leg, or horn (giraffe) pieces yet as they will be sewn directly on folded fabric later.

Plan out how many different fabrics you will be using. Will the body and face fabric be the same, or different? What fabric will you be using for each piece?

When cutting the head pieces, I double up the fabric with the wrong sides together, trace my pattern on the fabric, pin the fabric, and cut through both layers of fabric on my traced lines. That will give me the front and back of the head.
head and body pieces for giraffe
For the body, I cut one piece using the body front pattern. Then for the back pieces of the body, I fold the fabric on itself, wrong sides together, trace the back pattern piece, pin the fabric together and cut the pieces out. This will give me two mirror image back pieces. For the basic doll pattern, you can use the same fabric for the body as you will be using for the head if you will be making clothes for the doll. But I find it easiest to find a cute fabric to cut the body out of; that way the clothing is already partly done on the doll, and all you will have to do later is add a skirt or pants.

Folded fabric, wrong sides together
If your pattern has ears (like the giraffe), cut those out of fabric as well. Here I have folded fabric on itself with wrong sides together again. I need 4 total fabric pieces cut out for the ears (2 pieces of body fabric, and two pieces of the head fabric since the inside of the ear is a different fabric than the outside). So I will fold the inside-ear fabric wrong sides together as well and pin and cut out.

Now that I have the head and body pieces (and ears) cut out, it's time to use the sewing machine. Pin and sew the 2 back body pieces together (right sides of fabric facing each other) with 1/4 seam allowance. However, leave about a 3-inch gap un-sewn (it is marked in the picture) so you can stuff the doll later.

Leave a 3-inch gap. Mark on the fabric if it helps you to see it. 
Make sure to backstitch when beginning and starting your sewing here. It is most important to backstitch when ending/beginning your stitching where the gap will be, as there will be some stress placed on the stitching there when you pull the toy right side out and then stuff through that gap.

Then press the seam open with your iron. You can see from the picture that there is a nice gap. And having that seam pressed will help when hand-sewing the back shut later.
see the gap?

With the back of the body sewn together, now pin and sew the head pieces and body pieces together (right sides of fabric together), using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. The basic doll pattern and the giraffe pattern both use 1/4 inch seam allowances unless I note otherwise. After it is sewn, press the seams down towards the body pieces (see pic below).

head and body pieces pinned right sides together

sewn together, with seam pressed facing the body piece

If you are making the basic doll, from here we will move on to embroidering the face. That will be included in the next post, so stay tuned!

For the giraffe pattern, let's sew some ears and the little horns. Pin the ear fabric pieces together (right sides together) with one inside ear piece, and one outside ear piece pinned together. Then sew along the outline with 1/8th inch (or less than 1/4 inch) seam allowance. I go really slow here and often pick up my presser foot with the needle down and adjust the fabric. Leave the base of the ear unsewn so that you can turn the ear right side out later.
Ears pinned right sides together

Sew 1/8 inch seam allowance, starting at the base of the ear. Leave base open (not stitched)

Now this next step is important before you turn the ear right-side-out! You need to clip the curves. What does that mean? Well, if you want your fabric to lay nice and smooth without puckering after it is turned right-side-out, you need to cut little notches out close to (but not through) your stitches on the curves. Often I use pinking shears for this, but you don't have to. You can use small, very sharp scissors and clip little notches out, focusing especially on the steeply curved edges, like the tips of the ears.

clip curves on ears using pinking shears 
After it is clipped/notched on the curves, go ahead and turn your ears right-side-out. I like the use a chopstick or pen (with the ink-ball pulled in) or dull pencil to run along the seam from the inside after it is turned. Then press the ears with the iron.
Ears right side out

Then with the inside fabric of the ear facing up, fold the two sides of the ears until they meet in the middle at the base of the ear. Press with the iron, and pin. Then sew along the base of the ear, using 1/8th to a 1/4 inch seam. This is to baste the ears in this folded position. Set the ears aside for now.
Ears folded, pressed, and pinned. Ready to be sewn

Lastly for today, I will show how I make the horns for the giraffe. I make these out of felt; I use two 3x3 inch pieces of felt, or you can use a 3x6 inch piece folded over on itself. Since it is felt, there isn't a wrong or a right side. However, if you want to make the horns out of cotton fabric, which would work just as well, you would have the pieces of fabric right-sides-together. Then trace the pattern (twice) directly on the felt, and pin the pieces of felt together. Rather than using a seam allowance, sew directly on the lines you traced, leaving the base of the horns unsewn so that you can turn and stuff. Before you sew, turn your stitch length down on your machine to 1.6 or 1.5 (whichever your machine will do). This is because the horns are going to be stuffed, and it will hold up better. This stitch length will be more important later when sewing up the toy as well. Ideally you would use a matching thread (blue here), but I used white in the picture to show the stitching.
pattern traced directly on the two pinned-together pieces of felt. 

sewn directly on the pattern lines

Now that the horns are sewn, cut them out carefully with pinking shears (like for the ears). Once again, if you don't have pinking shears, it is not a problem. Use small, sharp scissors to cut notches. In the picture shown below, I have clipped one ear with the pinking shears and one ear with small scissors.

Top horn is cut with pinking shears, bottom horn is notched with scissors on curve, and clipped (hard to see) down sides
Then turn the horns right-side-out. You can see that there is no discernible difference between the one clipped with pinking shears and the one clipped with scissors.
the one on left was cut with scissors, the one on the right with pinking shears
Now add some stuffing (poly-fil or the like) to the horns. Use very small tufts of stuffing, and pack it into the tip of the horn with the chopstick, dull pencil, or pen (not with the ink-ball out though). Leave about 1/2-3/4 inch unstuffed at the base. Leaving the base unstuffed will make it easier to sew to the doll later, so that there is not too much bulk under the presser foot. Then sew along the base (1/8th inch seam allowance) of the horns to keep the stuffing inside.

And you're halfway there to having your own handmade, cute toy!

Upcoming post: how to embroider the face and make/sew/stuff the limbs and put it all together. Yay!

See part 2 here:

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