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Making stuffed animals with repurposed materials  RSS feed

 
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I had a funny moment today - I'm in all of these mommy co ops, where we do group buys on bulk and wholesale items to save money, and they were about to do a buy on these adorable squishy giant stuffed elephants. I thought they would be great gifts for our son and his little friends this Christmas, but then I got to thinking - these things were probably coming from China, made of all kinds of crazy materials. There was a reason they were so cheap, even if for wholesale.

It was bumming me out - here I was thinking I would show them this beautiful animal that lives out there in this big beautiful world, but in all reality, the process of manufacturing these gifts was probably going to leave a mark on the big beautiful world I was trying to give them a glimpse of. Blegh. I didn't like it.

So on that note, this novice sewer that can never seem to keep a sewing machine in working order wants to know, what would it take to create a beautiful, giant squishy soft stuffed elephant/bison/whatever out of upcycled materials, and what would you fill it with?

I'm betting I can find some cozy flannel or minky fleece blankets at a thrift store to use for fabric, but I'd need a lot of it, so it'd have to be a pretty big blanket/sheet's worth. I have a couple of old couch cushions in my sewing room, and a massive amount of poly fill from those, so I'm betting I could do something with that too.

\But if you were to use a natural material for something like this, I know a lot of times they use little poly beads for the filling, or styrofoam or something. What would you use as a natural alternative to that? Bearing in mind that it will be sharing a lot of cooties with a toddler, and could need to be washed at some point.

But then man, I wouldn't even know where to start with the pattern - definitely my biggest hurdle in this idea train of mine.

How does one even go about making a pattern for something like this?
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How large does it need to be?  Some people stuff plushies with bits of fabric, but this will tend to be rather dense and heavy compared to polyfil.  Bits of fleece fabric would be a little fluffier than say, old t-shirts.  Reusing polyfil from pillows would be ideal.

There are many free patterns on the internet, unfortunately many are not in English so you'll need to cut a version from waste material (old sheets for instance) and stitch it to make sure you understand how it goes together before cutting your "real" fabric.  This is a good idea for any pattern.  Here's an elephant:  http://prettytoys.ru/workroom/vykroyki/slon-simone/?sphrase_id=27297

I find it easier to sew fleece by hand rather than machine, but some people prefer machine.

I'm happy to provide any other help and advice I can.  This topic speaks to me as I make fake animals for a living, a terrible wasteful process which generates horrific amounts of trash.  My work in this has been diminishing over the years and I eventually hope to phase it out.  
 
Destiny Hagest
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Tyler Ludens wrote:How large does it need to be?  Some people stuff plushies with bits of fabric, but this will tend to be rather dense and heavy compared to polyfil.  Bits of fleece fabric would be a little fluffier than say, old t-shirts.  Reusing polyfil from pillows would be ideal.



I'd like these to be roughly toddler sized, maybe around 30" tall, so pretty huge. I'd love to use bits of old fabric, but I suppose I've got way more poly fill at my disposal, lucky me I'm wondering if there's an easily washable material similar to buckwheat hulls that would function as sort of a bean baggy filler, for those types of projects? I can't really think of anything though. I'm sure these elephants will inevitably get food/drool/pee on them at some point, so at the very least being able to spot clean them is a must.

Tyler Ludens wrote:Here's an elephant:  http://prettytoys.ru/workroom/vykroyki/slon-simone/?sphrase_id=27297



That is hugely helpful! My browser is showing that it's in Russian, I think with a little tinkering I can translate what's on those pieces and try to scale it up on my own. It's the shaping of those parts that really befuddles me, so that is a really big help in and of itself.

Tyler Ludens wrote:I'm happy to provide any other help and advice I can.  This topic speaks to me as I make fake animals for a living, a terrible wasteful process which generates horrific amounts of trash.  My work in this has been diminishing over the years and I eventually hope to phase it out.  



I had no idea you did this kind of work, I really appreciate your insight. As a parent, I get sucked into the commercialism so easily - "you have to have xyz to have happy children". I want my son to have a full life, but not at the expense of the world he's going to grow up in. Then of course, there's the challenge of having so little time at your disposal to do these kinds of things - I've been working on his Halloween costume for 2 weeks, and have so far only cut out the fabric, yeesh!

Thank you again for your input, I feel like now I at least have a starting point - now to start hunting for fabric at thrift stores!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Happy to help!  Unfortunately, there's almost certainly no natural beanbag stuffing product which is washable - they will all want to either sprout or mold.  Small toys can be filled with ground walnut shells but larger toys will probably be too heavy with that filler.  One idea might be to make a removable slip cover of the outer fabric which can be washed.  
 
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An alternative to polyfill could be washed and carded wool.  It's naturally flame retardant (so no need for extra chemicals), squishy, packs in wonderfully well.  It's also natural and can be had for free in most parts of the world if you're willing to put a little bit of effort into washing and carding it.  

I'm excited about this thread.  What a great upcycling idea.
 
Destiny Hagest
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R Ranson wrote: It's also natural and can be had for free in most parts of the world if you're willing to put a little bit of effort into washing and carding it.



I'm a wool loving fool, and there are actually quite a few local suppliers here in Montana, so it's abundant enough. It is however, extremely pricey. I've looked into buying it in bulk for a sort of Japanese futon mattress idea I've been cooking up, but it's generally not the most economical material to buy.

How would you go about getting it for free?
 
Tyler Ludens
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If you can find a shepherd who has raw unwashed wool you might be able to get it as cheap as free.  Washing it is a pain in the butt.  
 
Destiny Hagest
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No kidding...definitely worth a try! I just never imagined anyone would just give it away, but I know there are some sheep up the road, and actually, there are a few yaks too. Maybe it's time to go knock on a few doors
 
r ranson
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Most sheep (unless you're in New Zealand - their sheep are special and I'm told it is very difficult to get free wool there) are raised primarily for meat.  However (unless they are hair sheep), most sheep need to be shorn every year or they will suffer and are more likely to become ill.

Shepherds usually pay to have the sheep shorn and because they are meat sheep, these people don't imagine their wool could be of any use. They will usually compost it or burn it.   Sometimes, it's great for handspinning or felting, but not good enough for the big industrial machines.  Most of the time it's okay wool that we can make due with.  It's almost always good for stuffing.  

I'm completely overwhelmed with stuff till Monday.  If I haven't posted a tutorial on how to wash wool by then, remind me.  There are thousands of different ways to wash wool depending on your resources, the wool, and what you want to do with it.  Some ways are MUCH easier than others.  Some ways have more desirable results than others.  Some ways are easy and have desirable results.
 
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Has anyone tried cutting up old worn out wool sweaters for stuffing?  I am sure you could find some at yard sales or thrift stores.

 
Kate Muller
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If you are anywhere near a Joann Fabric they are having a sale on sewing patterns this weekend.  They run sales on patterns every couple of months and are a great deal if you do a lot of sewing.

http://joann.shoplocal.com/Joann/BrowseByPage/Index/?StoreID=2412281&PromotionCode=JoAnnStores-161006PD&PromotionViewMode=2

Simplicity patterns will be .99 cent each and McCall patterns will be $1.99 each.
http://www.simplicity.com/patterns/crafts/?prefn1=brand&sz=30&start=150&prefv1=Simplicity
https://mccallpattern.mccall.com/patterns/crafts/dolls-toys?page=all

Neither company has a large elephant but they do have some really cute animals and the patterns are pretty easy to follow.  

 
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