Make your own (kitty) doll with Spoonflower's custom fabric!

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. 

spoonflower-doll-1

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

 Initial rough mockup

Initial rough mockup

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.

 Adobe lllustrator template with adorable cat doodle.

Adobe lllustrator template with adorable cat doodle.

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!

 

 Turn the skin of your plush with the kelly forceps-- Silence of the Lambs style ;)

Turn the skin of your plush with the kelly forceps-- Silence of the Lambs style ;)

Then she got stuffed with polyfil.

 Olivia-clone hanging out with I've-seen-some-bad-things tiger. ...Yeah, this was the only picture I got of the test doll. Sorry! 

Olivia-clone hanging out with I've-seen-some-bad-things tiger. ...Yeah, this was the only picture I got of the test doll. Sorry! 

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. 

 When I paint for digital use, I often work in pieces. It doesn't make a very pretty original to keep, but it's so much easier to tweak in Photoshop.

When I paint for digital use, I often work in pieces. It doesn't make a very pretty original to keep, but it's so much easier to tweak in Photoshop.

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. 

 The final template!

The final template!

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

IMG_0905.JPG

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:

spoonflower-doll-8
spoonflower-doll-10
spoonflower-doll-9
 Catbutt.

Catbutt.

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! 

 

 

 

Give your chairs a makeover with custom Zazzle fabric!

Upholster a chair (or anything) with Zazzle custom fabric!

I'm obsessed with Mexican Otomi prints. Traditional Otomi patterns are intricate embroideries featuring super colorful animals and flowers. I've been looking to incorporate one into my decor for a while now, but at upwards of $300 for a good size piece the prospects weren't looking good.

 Otomi fabric is completely hand embroidered.  So. Beautiful.

Otomi fabric is completely hand embroidered. So. Beautiful.

 Fruit bats. HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE THIS FACE?

Fruit bats. HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE THIS FACE?

After coming up empty in a search for affordable cotton-printed alternatives, I decided to make use of my artsy skills and Zazzle's custom fabric printing to whip up my own Otomi pattern. This way, I could include my favorite animals (think fruit bats, sphinxes, and cats!) and make it completely one-of-a-kind.

We just got our first grown-up dining table, and fabric would be the perfect way to update the bleh dining chairs that came with our old Goodwill table. So with a plan and a project in mind, I got started.

 This is our old pressed wood dining table. Sad.

This is our old pressed wood dining table. Sad.

Referencing a bunch of animals in the Otomi style, I drew versions of my favorite characters and organized them into a repeat in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

otomi-fruit-bat
 The finished repeat.

The finished repeat.

Check out Julia Rothman's guide on how to make a complex repeat here! Or, if making art isn't your thing, you can purchase my Otomi fabric or any other Zazzle fabric on the site.

After bringing the pattern into Zazzle's custom fabric creator, I got stuck on picking a repeat size.... it was way too small at one size, but seemed huge the next size up. Going for bold over tiny, I picked the bigger repeat. Other than that quirk, uploading the pattern on Zazzle was super easy.

Zazzle's "Cotton Twill" weight of fabric was perfect, since I'd be using it to upholster seating and wanted it to hold up to all the butts sitting on it. For four chairs, I placed an order for 2 yards and hoped for the best.

The fabric arrived in about a week and looked great!

zazzle-fabric-review

It was a nice weight for seating, and had a quality print and hand. My one wish is that the colors had come out a bit brighter in person. The pinks skewed a little red and the darkest blues and purples looked similar to each other. Dark printing vs. screen is pretty normal, and I don't think anyone would notice without seeing my original art, so I was OK with it.

With fabric in hand, it was time to get started on the chairs!

 The chair before spray painting. I forgot to take a shot directly after painting-- oops!

The chair before spray painting. I forgot to take a shot directly after painting-- oops!

To sit with the new table, I wanted a darker, less red finish. After unscrewing the seats (make sure you remember which chair goes with which seat) and priming with a thin coat of spray primer, I used some Krylon Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint I had on hand to spray over the old, gross finish. In a couple coats, the chairs looked brand new!

To reupholster the seats, I laid them on the fabric and cut about 3 inches around, to allow enough fabric to fold over and staple. I was careful to have the fabric pattern face the same direction for all chairs, and to pick parts of the pattern that would feature all my creatures.

 I cut ~3 inches around the chair. (I removed the chevron fabric on the first chair, but got lazy and left in on for the rest. It didn't seem to make much difference, but if my fabric were more sheer I would have lined it with a white fabric first)

I cut ~3 inches around the chair. (I removed the chevron fabric on the first chair, but got lazy and left in on for the rest. It didn't seem to make much difference, but if my fabric were more sheer I would have lined it with a white fabric first)

Upholstering is really easy. To start, pull the fabric taut and staple once in the center of each side. Pull in the corners and staple each corner once. 

Then, just work your way from the middle and staple like crazy, being sure the fabric is taut and straight as you go.

The corners are just slightly trickier. Fold each side in a way that minimizes visible lumps from the front. When it looks good, staple away, and trim any excess.

After upholstering the seats, I just screwed them back on to the chairs. Make sure to match the right seat with the right chair, in case the screw holes don't quite match up. (I learned that the hard way...)

Tada!

 Made-over chairs with our new dining table! 

Made-over chairs with our new dining table! 

I am so happy with my dining chairs. They fit in wonderfully with our new table without being super matchy, and it's fun knowing that the fabric is personal to me rather than being mass-produced. Even if you don't want to make your own fabric, painting and upholstering chairs is a really easy project, and browsing designs on Zazzle or Spoonflower can score you some super unique fabric of your own.

Good luck! :)

Products featured in this post:
(Referral purchases go toward art supplies and cat food!)

  1. Otomi Large-Scale Fabric - Zazzle (also available on Spoonflower)
  2. Krylon Oil-Rubbed Bronze spray paint - Amazon