Thursday, February 20, 2020

How I make dolls from custom printed fabric

I thought it might be helpful to make a post about how the majority of my dolls are made. Both for people who buy my dolls, and wonder about it what goes into it, and for people who are trying to make their own dolls.

I just took pictures as I was making a Batcat doll that I sell in my Etsy shop.

https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/574771618

This is my character, which I do a lot of different things with. This doll was designed in Adobe Draw, which I used on my iPad Pro. In reality, most of my dolls are being designed in Procreate on the iPad now. But the process is pretty similar.
Here is in the the app. Its a very simple design. I decided on the body shape and the arms and legs, tail and wings.

Its very easy to get clean black and white designs with this app. You can see I keep things on different layers so I can move them around.

Ok this isn't really a pattern design tutorial, so I am breezing past all the hardest and most important bits of doll making, which is designing the doll and getting everything worked out! I often make a pattern, have it printed, sew it,  then make corrections. Once in a while a doll comes out perfectly but, in my experience there are always some tweaks you want to make.
So obviously if you are going to me trying to MAKE your own doll, expect it to look wonky, too fat, too skinny or something the first time you make one. Its just how it goes.

Ok next step after you draw the doll parts. I upload the image I drew in Adobe Draw to Photoshop on my desktop computer.  I add a light outline and a bleed in the same doll colour around all the pieces. The "outline" isn't necessary if your doll is a more simple design, like straight legs or round head, but for designs that have detail, like those little bits on the side of the batcat's head, I find the outline helpful. I will show you why later on. 

 So once all the doll parts have their bleeds, its time to assemble them in a file to be printed. You can get fabric printed at Spoonflower, which has a lot of different options, so deciding what kind of fabric you would like FIRST before designing this layout is helpful, as they are different sizes. This layout below is for a Fat Quarter (1/4 yard) of Minky fabric.

 You can see there is a front and a back, and each arm and leg and the tail also has a front and back, which are mirror images of each other. The wings are the only part of the doll that one have one piece as I add faux leather as the back. Also a lil seal friend!

You can choose to have only this Fat Quarter printed or you can fill up a whole yard and you get more bang for your buck.

Ok our fabric has arrived! You can see I get it printed by the yard. I wash and dry the fabric as suggested by the manufacturer. Minky looks the exact same after washing. 

Next step I take is backing it with interfacing, which you can see on the roll at the top of the photo. Why do I use this? Minky feels really nice and soft and fuzzy, but its a PAIN to sew. It stretches and is super slippery. It also lets fibers from your stuffing poke through your doll, which when the doll is black looks SO BAD. This solves all these problems and is cheap and easy and will make your life better. You can use any interfacing really I use a sew in one, but I actually spray it with temporary quilt adhesive to make it stick while I am making the dolls. 

I then cut all the pattern pieces out quickly, I will cut some of them out more carefully later as I sew them.
I am going to sew and stuff all the arms, legs, tail and wings before I sew the body.

Here are two parts of an arm. If this was a simple doll with a round hand i would simply pin them together and sew around the edge. 

But this Batcat paw is a bit more complex, he has little fingers. How do I sew that? Well I use my little USB powered lightbox (or I used to pop it up against the window) to trace the outline that I had added in Photoshop to show me where to sew. Another way is to actually sew around the outline on just the top paw piece, which will transfer your line the bottom of the interfacing. 

 I have started using quilt clips to "pin" everything lately and its way better and way faster and just amazing?!? Minky is soooo slippery and these little clips hold on super tight. You can buy them for cheap online, my local Fabricland store has them for 5x the price I paid. 

So I match up the two paw pattern pieces by cutting out the one I traced the sewing line on, and matching it to its partner. I then clip it all and sew around it, leaving the end open for stuffing.

You then have to trim all around it and *carefully* snip into the fabric at every curve so when you turn it right-side out, the fabric can stretch and not bunch up. Just snip carefully in between those batcat toes. Leave about 1mm not snipped so you don't hit your sewing line.


 Here is one turned right-side out. You can see the tools I use for this. I have a Letraset rubbing tool that I have literally used on every doll I have ever made, I stole it from my dad when I was a teenager. Guess its *vintage* now. If you want something like this, there is a tool called "That Purple Thang" that is really similar. I also often use a little pair of pliers along with the Letraset tool. Minky really slides against itself well, so turning things right-side out is actually really easy.


I do the same process with the wings but use a piece of faux leather. This is really unforgiving and a total PAIN to turn right-side out. Do not recommend. Also cannot use pins at all with this fabric, as the pin holes will show. So right sides together, sew around the shape and leave a little place for turning right-side out.


 All the parts are sewn and stuffed (plus a bunch of random other Crow doll legs.) After they are stuffed I quickly sew the tops closed. No need to be careful or pretty about it as that part is hidden inside the doll.


Moving on to the body of the doll. I have started attaching the dolls wings and tail at this stage, but you can certainly do it after by hand sewing them on. I did that for most of my dolls for years.
You cans see that Minky fabric makes TONS of fuzzies. Your house and clothes will be a mess.


Ok If you haven't made a doll before, here is probably where you are like, what is happening?? 
I have matched up the front and back body of the doll and sewn around the perimeter BUT leaving arm and leg holes. PLUS I left one small opening (look where the tail is coming out of the side of the body) open for stuffing. Make sure if you attached things like the wings or tail already that they don't get caught up inside when you sew. 

This part can get tricky.  Since you are making this doll inside out, legs and arms can easily get sewn in backwards. Take a minute with each doll part you sew in and think about how it will be when it is turned the right way out. I honestly some times have to  think of my own body folded like this doll is. I have made hundreds of dolls by now and I can still make errors.

You can think of it like "the front of the legs should be touching the front of the body" while I am sewing it. Same for the arms. You will understand when you do it the wrong way round by accident!


Here is where I am going to add the leg. Imagine this same position, but the leg is stuffed inside the doll. I then sew across the line I have traced.


This is the point where you will become super annoyed. (And also start thinking, why did I decide to make a blog post about this mess??) Anyway, each arm and leg has been sewed in its proper place, and each one makes it more difficult as there is only so much room in an inside-out doll. But just sew one one at a time. You may need to have some arms and legs poking out of the stuffing hole while you sew. 
 THEN clip the curves like you did with the arms and legs, this is super important and the doll will not look nice unless you ease any curves. 

Then pull them all out through the hole while you hold your breath.....


PHEW! Everything is in the right place and it looks great! Its the evening now so the photo makes it look a bit scruffy, but you can brush him up a bit and it all gets nice and black again. Now just stuff through the stuffing hole you left, and do a nice and neat stitch by hand to seal up the hole. Minky is pretty forgiving in this way as well.


Here it is! 

Hope this helped you understand how my doll is made. I have made A LOT of them, but I use only a normal household sewing machine and you can get all these materials at your local fabric store. You could do the same sort of doll and give it a hand sewn or drawn face. If the "sewing the legs while inside out" part is super scary, just hand sew the legs on the outside. 

Just remember you can use the seam ripper if you do something wrong! I certainly do. 


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