Spoonflower is pretty neat. It's a custom fabric designing web site I've been using to dabble in surface design. I've used it to design and print custom Otomi fabric for my dining chairs, to make a tea towel calendar that'll do double duty in the holiday gift season, and now... to make freakin' adorable kitty girl dolls!
I've always loved plush dolls, but am too impatient to take the time to sew all the little bits together, especially with a 9-5 (Or 7... or 10..... guh!). I also wanted a way to get my illustration style into a plush toy. So I turned to Spoonflower for a doll-making experiment.
Meet Olivia! She's a hand-painted doll, scanned into Photoshop and printed on Spoonflower's custom fabric. She turned out super cute, so I'll document the process of creating her. This post is more about how she was designed than the actual process of sewing-- one because she's incredibly easy to sew, and two because my sewing skills are atrocious and probably shouldn't be closely followed ;) She can be sewn with a sewing machine or by hand, and would be a great beginner's project!
If you're interested in sewing Olivia yourself, you can purchase her template here. You'll only need a fat quarter, and the Kona cotton is perfect for quality and durability.
Designing the template
The first step to designing a doll is working out the shape. I wanted my doll to be sewable all in one piece so I had to be careful about the scale of her different appendages. If her neck or body were too tiny, her pieces wouldn't fit when turning her rightside-out. Likewise, if her arms or legs were too skinny, they'd be impossible to turn. Spoonflower has a lot of dolls on their site. After researching what widths and lengths of limbs worked well in the finished product, I made my own shape for Olivia. Take a look at all the dolls they have to offer here.
I drew half her shape in Illustrator, then flipped and combined the halves to make a symmetrical body template. For scale, the whole thing-- along with a mini cat and hang tag-- needed to fit on a fat quarter of fabric (18"x21"), with a 1/4' seam guide for easy trimming.
Making a test doll
My favorite part of the creation process is triumphantly holding the finished product, so the idea of making a junky-looking test doll was not exciting. Still, designing for a 3D shape definitely requires testing, or else you'll most likely end up with a misshapen blob... at least if you're me.
After printing out my template on a couple pieces of paper, I taped it together then traced the shape onto some scrap fabric. Then I sewed the whole thing together, leaving a hole for turning and stuffing. My test fabric was a little thicker than basic cotton, so it was a little tricky to turn out her legs and arms. A pair of kelly forceps and a chopstick work great!
Then she got stuffed with polyfil.
Tada! She came out surprisingly well the first pass. Her ears looked a little like horns, so I tweaked them for the final template.
Painting the character
Instead of guessing where her features should be based on the flat template, I drew directly on the test doll to get an idea of how she should look, before unstuffing and scanning my drawing. Then I painted the different elements and placed them right over my scanned guide in Photoshop, making sure to flip it for the back.
No need to worry much about exact colors when painting-- It's much easier to use adjustment layers in the digital file. You can always digitally experiment with colors and looks.
I cleaned up the file, gave it some basic instructions, and ordered a fat quarter on Spoonflower to test the final doll.
The final doll
The watercolors printed on the Kona cotton beautifully! Crisp designs on Spoonflower tend to bleed the tiniest bit with the digital printing process, but I think this actually works well for watercolor-based designs. The template looked great, and it was very easy to cut and pin the pieces together.
Again, my sewing skills are extremely basic, so this won't be a guide on how to sew. But I promise it's easy! Just sew all around her with a 1/4" seam, leaving an opening on her side. Same with her cat friend and tag. The only tricky part (and that's a very loose definition of the word tricky) is the optional step of sewing her ears flat before stuffing her head, and optionally sewing her legs at the skirt to let them bend. Seriously, it's simple stuff. Here are a few pictures during the process:
Well, that's that! I loooove how she turned out! I tied her hair with ribbons, and gave her friend (We'll call him Catbutt) a bowtie. I would not do this if the doll were for a small child, however. Choking hazard and stuff. Making my own doll on Spoonflower turned out to be a lot of fun, and I'm already brainstorming the next creation. ;) Enjoy!