DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

feltie feature

I’m not sure what happened the other week.

Maybe it was seeing doll-artist Mimi Kirchner’s doll-making tutorial on Purl Soho, and then being completely blown away by the dolls on her instagram feed. They are incredible.

Maybe it’s the long-going, all-garter-stitch project that I’ve been working on — like cloud-gazing, working its rows tends to lull me into daydreams about things to make.

Or, maybe it’s simply the slow seasonal shift out of winter (fingers crossed?) that’s bringing in a new light and, with it, some unexpected creative whims. Whatever the case and cause, I felt the strong desire to make a felt doll last last Saturday – it was an insistent and oddly specific feeling that a little felt creature of some kind had to happen, and for no discernible reason. I am not known to say no to a surprise visitation from the feltie fairy; I canceled my weekend movie-night plans, brewed a big pot of tea, and took to the drawing board. Here’s the DIY story, in 4 parts.

(Note: I have minimal hand-sewing experience and near-zero needlepoint skills, so the following project is easy enough for absolute feltie beginners!).

1. Designing a Pattern 

I started with a simple sketch – a brainstorm of how I wanted a potential doll to look. I was inspired by one of my favourite childhood drawings: a picture of a somewhat forlorn hippie-bear with vacant pools for eyes. My current doll-prototype has yet to approximate the truth and goodness of this bear; it’s one of my favourite things.

I translated the sketch into a slightly modified paper cut-out that would serve as the doll pattern. Having no experience with designing doll-arms and doll-legs that move, I decided to make a static figure. Very Gumby-like. I held off on the rabbit-ears (but this idea has been very much shelved for later).

 

2. Stuffing & Sewing Up

Two identical pieces of felt were cut from this template (one for the doll-front, the other for the back). That is about as easy as it gets. Pinning the two pieces together kept the edges aligned while hand-sewing. They were seamed using a visible whip stitch and stuffed using some poly-fill that we conveniently happened to have on hand from felties past. One trick that I found useful (though likely unconventional) was to fill each small section as it was sewn (a leg, an arm, etc.). Skinny limbs can be hard to stuff — the flat end of a pencil can help move the fill to where it needs to go.

feltie 2.jpg

I spent Saturday sewing and stuffing my way through the project, and by Sunday morning, the paper template had a marshmallowy, 3-D version of itself (with a tummy patch!).

feltie 3.jpg

Another lesson learned, here: once stuffed, the resulting doll will be a little thinner than its paper counterpart — something to keep in mind when designing a stuffable template of this kind!

3. Adding Features

Using Mimi Kirchener’s excellent Purl Soho tutorial as a guide, I gave the doll some hair: a simple cut-out from one of her “wigs” that adorably represents a neat little parted up-do. The hair was sewn on, again, with a visible whip-stitch.

feltie hair.jpg

I returned to my creature last Tuesday to embroider some features. This step made me pause: I have almost no thread/floss-needlepoint skills, and the closest I come was a failed 5th-grade cross-stitch project that never saw the light of day (coincidentally, this project was also of a bear, seated, holding a heart which ended up looking more like a deflated beach ball). In other words, not a good track-record to bring to a project that I thought was going well, and didn’t want to ruin in one fell needle-swoop!

Luckily, Nathalie Mornu’s Embroider Your Life: Simple Techniques & 150 Stylish Motifs to Embellish Your World was an indispensable embroidery guide — it’s very beginner- and user-friendly (not scary!) and provides easy-to-read primers on how to do basic stitches and shapes with needle and thread. The ethos of the book is that embroidery and needlepoint can go anywhere.

book and feltie.jpg

Using a water-soluble ink pen to pre-mark where the eyes would go, I used satin-stitch to fill in the eyes, to make a nose on a ‘snout’ (using a contrast colour of felt), as well as for her tiny heart tattoo (because she wears her heart on her sleeve). Back stitch was used for the brows and mouth.

I’m learning that there’s good reason to wait until the doll is stuffed to add its features – it’s simply much easier to see how and where everything will actually be positioned on an already-fully-stuffed head.

4. Last step: some new threads!

This was the part I anticipated the most when I started the project — my imagination was set free by dreams of tiny sweaters galore. I decided, in the end, to start with a basic poncho in the round: after a basic neckline, I worked a few rows of raglan-style increases and kept on knitting rather than separating the stitches off for sleeves (worked on size 4 DPNs and some scrap DK weight from another project, more on that soon).

As in large-scale knitting, top-down construction lends itself nicely to work-in-progress fittings:

feltie 5.jpg

And voilà.

feltie 6.jpg
A feltie and her (fore)bear.

The mini-poncho’s colour work pattern comes from Andrea Rangel’s quite awesome AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. It’s a great resource for fun colour work charts (you’ll find everything in this book from zombies and squirrels to bicycles and scarab beetles). So much colour work goodness here!


And that’s a wrap! I hope to do more of these. Felties are fun to experiment with, and are great for small-scale garment-making. Following the process from sketch to sewing up can, as you can see, lead to some quite unexpected results (which, I think, is where the joy in design and making lies).

Have a DIY feltie design query? Or any doll-making tips to pass on? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Wishing you many moments of creative happiness this week!

22 thoughts on “DIY story: A feltie in 4 steps

  1. Ohhhh, Shirley!! I read one of your posts and think they can’t get any better, and then there you go again absolutely making my day with your beautiful work and creativity. There is something so very sweet about your little bear. Thank goodness she came into the world in such a lovely spot and with someone like you to look after her. ❤️

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    1. Oh, thank you, Melinda, for making my day with your kind words! I’m quite happy she came into the world, too (hopefully, as a good felt-bear steward, I can give her some company in the coming time). 🙂 Wishing you lots more log cabin-ing delight!! ❤

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  2. This is just totally cute!!!!! I want to make these and also knit or crochet clothes for them! I think this would be a great way to make homemade toys for children. Just imagine giving a child a little cute animal family with a little cute wardrobe to dress them up in! Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea.

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    1. Thank you – I’m glad you like the idea, Tony! Go for it! I love the thought, too, of making a handmade family of toys for kids. That is such a good idea (and I reckon that your knit & crochet tiny clothes would be amazing!). All best with your WIPs this week! 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Tierney! Ooh, I really liked her Mer-men, too! I also enjoyed her little fox people. They are such delightful and quirky and unique dolls. Lots of them use re-claimed fabric as well. Wishing you and TTQH lots of quilting fun with the homespuns this week! 😀

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  3. I love this so much. My favourite thing about your original drawing–that I think you did manage to recapture so well in the new doll–is the expression in the ‘vacant pool’ eyes. Her precious face makes my heart hurt a little bit in a very bittersweet sort of a way. Then the adorable details of the tummy patch and lil tattoo – I can’t! Add the whimsical poncho and hair and… she’s truly a magical little creature. Well done on such emotive crafting ❤

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    1. Thanks for your kind feedback, Weekes – it makes my day to hear that she struck a chord! (I hope the heart-hurt is short-lived!) 🙂 And I’m glad you liked the vacant pool eyes, lol – I’m not sure what I was thinking, at 6, when that drawing happened, and why the bear had to be a hippie (now, I assume that he grew disillusioned with his counter-cultural lifestyle, or some such thing? Not sure). Thank you for reading! ❤

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      1. Haha that’s what is so interesting about former art projects–I’m always wondering, ‘What was I thinking?? What made me do that??’ and trying to remember actually creating the thing. At any rate, it’s pretty special to have a lost figment of your imagination forever suspended (and, in your case, revived) in time 🙂

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      2. Yes- absolutely. It’s fun to swim around and see if one can get to the bottom of an old idea! You describe it beautifully, Weekes, as a ‘lost figment forever suspended’ (wow, I love that!). And speaking of beautiful wordz, looking forward to the next Weekes installment. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Melissa! And yes, those are indeed felt balls – an experiment with hand-felting bits of scrap yarn (to varied effect). That is a great idea to work them into feltie-jewelry; I will have to try that! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  4. Oh woweeeeeeee, I love this little sweetie! Although I’m having a hard time believing that your sewing skills are in any way lacking – she looks great! I’ve picked up some new skills from this walkthrough too… What a super, simple way to do hair! I also adore her stylish poncho and heart tattoo. Oh, and my top tip for stuffing tricky bits is to use a chopstick – that way you have the choice of a pointy end (which won’t write on the light-coloured bits of your project by accident) and a flat end. For really teeny parts, I’ve been known to use the toothpick attachment on my crafting Swiss Army knife, too! I hope the feltie fairy visits again soon 😀

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    1. Thank you, Helen! ❤ And that's a great stuffing tip for the tricky bits (no mark ups!). I will definitely try that next time (and put our drawer-compartment full of long-ignored chopsticks to good use, finally!). Aha, I'm familiar with this Swiss Army toothpick, but have yet to use it for anything at all – I'll have to try that, too. And yes, Mimi Kirchner's 'wigs' are wonderful. "Hair" is an entirely new craft province to me, so I liked the simplicity of a 'hair shape' lol – I'm all the more impressed, btw, with the beautiful manes you've given several of your Beasties! They are all so superbly coiffed!

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      1. Oh yeah, you’ll be glad of that drawer full of chopsticks… They’re one of the most versatile craft tools/materials out there! I even used to know a knitter who would take a couple of extra sets from restaurants in airports so she could knit hats on the plane without risking having her needles confiscated!
        And as for those hairdos… I’m sure it won’t be long before your felties have long, luxuriant locks too, y’know! 😀

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  5. Oh my, what a lovely toy, so well done too! I just love the pastel poncho, so cute. You are really gifted.
    I’m also using the small chopstick like baton that was provided in my polyfill bag when I bought it, really helpful for smaller limbs.

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    1. Thank you, Agnès. 🙂 I was very taken by the pastels on this one – hopefully a sign that Spring is on its way? I’ll keep this chopstick idea in mind on my next one. Thank you for the handy tip. Wishing you lots of fun with your Log Cabin project!

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