Friday, July 30

Critter Softies

For the past week I've been working with a group of 10 kids aged 8-10 years old making "critter softies", aka stuffed animals of their own creation. We started off with handsewing simple 2 sided felt shapes. Above there's a gecko, a leopard, and 2 fish. Two more fish below. And here are a yellow hamster and 2 puppy dogs. We drew the animals first, then cut patterns out of the drawings. Some of the kids drew from imagination, others looked at an animal encyclopedia. We talked about finding the simple geometric shapes in the animal's picture, and drawing a bit "fatter" than usual so we could make them out of fabric.We progressed to larger 2-sided creatures, this time made out of white cotton duckcloth with fabric marker detail drawing to make them more colorful, patterned, and realistic, thinking about how the backs and fronts look different. When it came time to sew I had the students control the sewing machine pedal speed while I manipulated the curves with the needle. Above is a sidewinder snake with amazing abstract patterning. And below is the most elegant swan with felt feather details.
For the last 2 days we looked at how flat geometric shapes become 3-dimensional forms when seamed together, and explored cylinders, pyramids, spheres, and cubes for thinking about more complex sculptural forms. The last project requirement was to have movable limbs by sewing and stuffing the arms etc before assembling and stuffing the body.
Above is a tree kangaroo. It had a tail that curved up the back nearly as long as the body.Here we have a penguin from the 2nd front/back project, 2 felt-limbed monsters, and a giant shark with stuffed fins and felt flipper.
Here are one boy's creatures, at right his 2 sided snapping turtle and at left a prehistoric shark with stuffed felt tentacles, flat felt fins, and 3 piece body. This kid had amazing attention to detail- note the gills on the shark and the very carefully colored turtle shell.
Above is another version of the giant shark- 2 boys shared a pattern they had drawn together, but chose different fabrics.
Above is one girl's efforts: a 2 sided pigeon with pipe cleaner feet and red-bead eyes (check out the multi-colored stippling on the neck!!!!), and a very cushy "zebra" with bent-down neck as if grazing.And finally we have a very sweet leopard that looks more like a cat, but with a head-body connection I'm very pleased with. The body opening was gathered closed and then sewn to the back of the already-stuffed-and-closed head.
I'm really not sure how we got all of these finished in 5 days. About 30 stuffed animals were created this week, and there was a very free-style open studio feel to the classroom as the kids were independently working and solving problems and helping each other while I mostly sat at the sewing machine to zip seams up for them. It's really magical to see a child's drawing become 3-dimensional. I hope they enjoy playing with them, and they don't sit on a shelf like most sculpture projects.


  1. Wonderful! I'm hoping to teach children sewing
    (same age group) this fall and this is inspiring to see how they took off with your idea. Thank you for sharing! We need to nurture
    the next generation of sewers...

  2. It's a great age to get them started on sewing! Doing the stuffed animals got them really engaged. It is hard to do it with a large group, though! Hope you have a small number of students and/or some helpers!!
    Best of Luck

  3. I'm really impressed that you let them help with the sewing machine. The progression from felt to cotton 2 sided and then to go three D all in a few days was really a lot to accomplish is such a small amount of time. I'm proud of you!. MOM