I’ve been experimenting with various mask sewing patterns since April. With the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 imminent as schools start up again, I decided to spend part of my Labour Day long weekend making a batch of masks I’ll really enjoy wearing, now I’ve settled on my favourite design.
This is the Contoured 3D Face Mask pattern from the Japanese Sewing Books blog and I love it because the structured shape keeps it away from your nose and mouth (so I find it much easier to breathe), while also fitting closely all around the edges (so it’s more effective) and going right up to my eyes (so it doesn’t steam up my glasses).
I also love it because of the clever design – it’s like fabric origami! There’s only one piece of each fabric (outer and lining), and the shape and structure is all formed from folding and seaming.
image courtesy of Japanese Sewing Books blog
The video instructions are incredibly clear and I’d encourage you to watch it even if you don’t plan to make one of these masks – it’s so satisfying watching it come together! I do wish there were also text instructions with diagrams, but once you’ve made a couple of masks you won’t need the instructions anyway; just the printable template.
Tip: This pattern comes in 6 sizes to cover all head sizes from children to men, which is great, but I think the sizes run a little small. I used the ‘ladies’ size (L), but I’m quite petite and this size is only just large enough for me, so you may well need to size up.
I’ve only made one change to the mask design, and it doesn’t change the sewing instructions at all: I like to use one long tie instead of elastic. I thread a 48″ length of cotton tape onto a yarn needle and pass it down through one side casing and then up through the other. The loop goes around your neck, then you pass the ends above your ears and tie them together at the back of your head to get a secure fit without the discomfort of elastic behind the ears.
My other innovation is in folding the mask so I can keep one in my bag or pocket. Instead of just folding it in half, I tuck the lower third up under the upper third and fold in the sides so it lies flat. Then I fold the resulting rectangle in half and wrap the ties around it to secure it in a compact square shape – it’s so small and convenient!
Until I find something like the gorgeous Japanese Hello Kitty fabric used in the tutorial video, I’m using my favourite sakura fabric to make all my masks. I bought it as a remnant many years ago and the need to make masks has finally given me a reason good enough to use it – and a way to make wearing masks at least somewhat enjoyable.
Isn’t this a great mask design? I highly recommend it. I hope you’ll try making one, or at least enjoy watching the video to see how it works!
Do you have a favourite mask pattern? Please share a link and why you like it in the comments – I’d love to see your recommendations too.
I’m visiting my parents in the UK this week, and I decided to make a quick travel pillow for the flights. I’d looked into buying a travel pillow, but they all seemed far too bulky. All I want is something to support my head as I attempt to sleep on the plane. Here’s what I came up with:
It’s not just cute (hello, kitty!) but it also has a special feature that I came up with myself. Although I may not be the only person to think of this idea, I haven’t seen a pillow like it before, so I should explain how it works.
When you rest your head on it, the pillow creases in the middle to cup your head gently:
And you can also fold it in half to make a wedge shape. Rest the fold on your shoulder against your neck, and you can sleep with your head resting on your shoulder while your neck remains at a fairly comfortable angle:
Here’s how the magic works: the pillow has two compartments, separated by a simple seam down the middle:
(I stitched the central seam first, then stuffed each compartment separately.)
The seam forms a natural fold line in the pillow, without compressing the stuffing when you fold it:
It’s very compact, which makes it easy to pack. Flat, it measures 9 x 6.5″ (23 x 16cm):
And folded in half, it’s only 6.5 x 4.5″ (16 x 11cm):
This pillow is 100% recycled: the washable, removable cover fabric comes from a pair of Hello Kitty lounge pants that developed a hole, the pillow inner is fabric from an old cushion, and the stuffing is leftover from another pillow that was too thick for me, so I removed some of the stuffing. Total cost: $0 (the best price…)
In practice, the incredibly uncomfortable seat on my plane meant I had to use it, flat, as lumbar support behind my back for the majority of the flight – I should have made two of them! But now I know it works as a behind-head pillow, a neck support pillow and a lumbar support pillow, so it’s even more useful. 🙂
When I was writing my new book, I had a lot of project samples to crochet in a short period of time, and that’s pretty hard on the hands.
This is how I crochet (and this is my meerkat amigurumi, not a book project!)
When I’ve been crocheting for a while, the yarn starts to wear a groove in my forefinger as it rubs over it, and, if I keep going, my finger gets red and sore, and my skin condition gets aggravated. A chafed finger really isn’t something you want to see in close-up book tutorial photos, so I needed a solution to protect my finger.
Groovy (and not in a good way) – this is after just a few minutes of fast amigurumi crocheting
First I tried crocheting a finger sleeve, which worked really well for comfort and maintaining tension, but it looked clunky, and after a few minutes of use it began to spin around on my finger and wouldn’t hold in place. I also tried using plastic and metal yarn guides (meant for stranding multiple colours of yarn) which stopped the rubbing, but I found they messed with my tension.
Other suggestions from my ever-helpful Ravelry group members included finger cots, taping the finger, or wrapping paper towel around the finger and then taping over that.
In the end I found a very simple solution that works for me: I sewed a very basic finger sleeve from a smooth, stretchy, spandex-blend fabric. This fabric doesn’t fray, so all I needed was one row of stitching to turn a small rectangle of fabric into a tube that fits tightly over my finger.
It’s not pretty, but it works
When I wear it, my yarn runs smoothly over the fabric and it doesn’t affect my crocheting tension. The tube did stretch a bit after a few days of hard use and became too loose to be effective, but I just stitched another seam slightly further in (thanks to Kris for that suggestion) and it hasn’t stretched further since. The best part is it only takes a tiny scrap of a smooth stretch fabric, and you can customise it to exactly fit whichever part of your finger gets rubbed or irritated by your yarn.
I keep the seam on the outside so it doesn’t dig into my finger, but rotate the sleeve on my finger so the seam doesn’t touch the yarn. Sometimes a simple solution is best: this little tube took mere minutes to make but has already saved me a lot of discomfort as I worked on all my book projects.
I still use my finger sleeve when I have a heavy crocheting session or use yarn that chafes, and I think I’ll whip up another half dozen or so – the biggest problem with finger sleeves is that they seem as prone as yarn needles to being mislaid! If I have a few handy, I’ll be able to keep one in every project bag.
If you’d like to try making a finger sleeve, look for a smooth fabric with spandex/lycra so it’s nice and stretchy. Or, if you don’t want to spend money when you only need a tiny scrap of fabric, I bet a piece snipped from an old swimsuit would work perfectly…
My starting fabric rectangle was 4cm long by 6cm around (about 1½ by 2⅜”) but I have small fingers, so you may want a longer and/or wider tube. Just measure your finger and remember to add a little extra width for the seam allowance (but not too much, as you need a tight fit so it won’t slip). If it’s too loose, just sew another seam to make the tube slightly narrower, as I did.
Do you have problems with yarn chafing your finger when you crochet or knit? Please share what works for you in the comments!
As always, I was not compensated for this review, and the following is based on my honest opinions!
I’ve known Abby through craft blogging circles for years – you may also know her from her blog, While She Naps – and I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book since the day she first announced she’d be writing it! Abby and I are kindred spirits in the sense that we’re both passionate about the techniques used to create our stuffed animal designs – in my case amigurumi, and in hers sewn toys.
You’ve probably already heard good things about this book (with everything going on here, it’s taken me far longer than I’d anticipated to prepare this review) but I don’t think you could test a book much more thoroughly than I have! And (spoiler alert) I’m so excited to show you the results of my testing process! Read on to see what I’ve been able to make, thanks to Stuffed Animals…
Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction by Abigail Patner Glassenberg is “a comprehensive reference that teaches you how to sew heirloom-quality stuffed animals, from four-legged friends that actually stand to a classic, poseable Teddy bear.”
Stuffed Animals begins with a very useful introductory section, covering tools and materials, design considerations (research, pattern drafting, fabric selection, etc), and how to actually make soft toys (sewing, turning, stuffing, etc). This is a really solid basic instructional section, and, if you’re new to toymaking, I’d recommend that you read these chapters thoroughly before you do anything else.
The remainder of the book takes the form of a pattern followed by 3-4 lessons on techniques that were used/demonstrated in the pattern. The patterns are child-friendly and designed to make toys that will be played with and treasured. My favourites are the cute puppy, the hilarious zipper-mouthed dinosaur, and the classic teddy bear (just to satisfy my curiosity on how these are made).
All the pattern pieces are printed at full-size (except the dinosaur, which is just too big) so you can copy them directly without resizing. But, even better than that, all the pattern pieces are also available to download from Lark Crafts. This is an excellent bonus feature – it’s so much easier to print the relevant pages directly than to try to hold the book open to scan/copy the pattern pages, and, in the PDF version, the pattern pieces aren’t overlapped (they have to be in the book, to save space), so it’s much easier to see what’s going on. Thumbs up to Lark for offering this.
The pattern instructions are detailed, and numbered points guide you through each stage of the toy assembly, together with in-progress photos of all the interim stages. (Although I didn’t try making one of the included patterns, I read through several from start to finish in preparation for my own design, and I used the step-by-step instructions to help me figure out my toy assembly – I just used my own pattern pieces instead of Abby’s – so I can verify that the instructions are clear and easy to follow.)
After you’ve made each pattern, Abby follows with some theory on the techniques used in the pattern that you can use when designing your own toys, and additional related tips. For example, the Elephant pattern also serves as a demonstration of very useful design features: an underbody gusset, setting legs on darts, cutting a slit to insert a detail (ears, in this case), and making eyelids. (I ended up using 3 of these techniques in my design!)
It’s a big book, both in size and number of pages, with lots of content covered (16 patterns and 52 lessons), so there’s plenty of value for money here.
I decided to try creating a sewn version of one of my amigurumi designs, and I thought my aardvark would be a good example, with only one colour and a very distinctive shape to replicate. Plus, who’s ever seen a soft toy aardvark?! Mine could be the first ever created!
I have happy memories of sitting on my bed as a teenager, listening to the Friday Rock Show on the radio, and hand-sewing toys from kits. So I’m no newcomer to sewing toys, but how the strangely-shaped pattern pieces combine into a perfect animal shape always remained a magical mystery to me.
Toys I sewed from kits, over 20 years ago(!)
Designing for crochet (where you create the shape in 3D as you go) is nothing like designing for sewing (where you create the shape from multiple 2D fabric pieces) so I knew going in that this would be a huge challenge for me, and an excellent test of Abby’s teaching. You may have noticed that I like to jump in at the deep end in my crafting adventures, and this is no exception…
I read through all the lessons and skimmed all the project instructions to see each technique in action before deciding which would make good starting points for the design I wanted to create. I wrote myself a list so I could refer back to these lessons when I needed them (lessons 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 29, 39 and 50 and the elephant, dinosaur, kangaroo and hippo patterns) and then I was ready to start!
I took some measurements from my crocheted aardvark, and drafted my first pattern, building in all Abby’s advice about underbody gussets and darts so the legs wouldn’t splay. I got some scrap fabric and whipped up my first prototype on the sewing machine:
Hahaha! Oh dear – I’m embarrassed to even show you this. I didn’t have a real grasp of the way to create a fully rounded shape, so my poor aardvark v1 was skinny with a giant humpback. Note, though, that the legs are nice and straight! I went back to the drawing board (and the book) and used the information on sewing a ball to refine my design with an additional top gusset piece, to create my second pattern and prototype:
Definitely better, but still not right. I didn’t bother sewing on the footpads or snout or figuring out the ears at this stage – no point working on details if the main body still looks awful. So I went back for another round of prototyping:
It was starting to look like an aardvark by this stage, although I have no idea what was going on in the chin area! I marked the eye position, and, using Abby’s elephant design for instruction on how to insert the ears, I also used this prototype to test 2 different ear positions, so I could get an idea of the best way to do it. (Don’t look at the legs too closely – I got a little scissor-happy when trimming these seams, so some of them came undone when I turned it! All good learning experiences…)
I could have made another prototype, but by this stage I was running out of time (I have my own book to write, you know!) and had no more scrap fabric, so I decided to be bold and make the next version, with a few final tweaks, in my real fabric, and keep my fingers crossed I’d got it right this time…
I’m what I’d call a straight-line sewist: I can whip up a basic skirt or bag on my sewing machine, but these small pieces, exact lines and tight curves are a little beyond my skill level – just the thought of stitching the tiny circles for the feet and the snout with my machine makes me shiver. To give me the best chance of success, I decided to go back to what I know, and hand-sew the final aardvark. Much, much slower, but very relaxing, and it’s much easier for me to get a smooth finish when I place each stitch individually!
When it came to inserting the safety eyes, I had a big surprise – I thought there was no way my awl (bought on Abby’s recommendation) would create a hole large enough for the shaft of the eye to slip through, but it did! Not snipping the fabric for the eyes was a revelation. This is the kind of expert tip that makes Stuffed Animals such a treasure.
Finally, finally, it was time to turn and stuff my aardvark, and see what I’d created… In my quest for the perfect aardvark, after turning and stuffing, I unstuffed and unturned and tweaked a couple of my seams by less than 1mm to subtly alter a curve here and there – it made a big difference. Then all I had to do was re-turn, re-stuff, and sew up the final seam (I came up with a little tip of my own at this stage to make my ladder stitches perfect – I’ll mention it here, in case it helps anyone else: as my fabric is stretchy, I couldn’t press a seam line as shown in Abby’s examples, so I basted a row of running stitches along each edge as a guide for my ladder stitches.)
Basting lines in burgundy so I could accurately place my ladder stitches
And the end result is:
Fatty Aardvark! I love him so much, and I can’t really explain why.. I don’t think his charm really comes across in the photo: he’s big and soft and unbelievably cuddly. I love how solid and fat he is, but he’s still recognisably a PlanetJune design. And he’s irresistably huggable!
He’s most definitely an aardvark, isn’t he? And look at those perfectly straight legs: not a hint of splay there. If I were going into the soft toy pattern design business (which I’m not – at least for the forseeable future!) I’d probably do one more iteration to tweak the angles on the neck and tail a teeny bit, but Fatty Aardvark is perfect just the way he is.
I’ve learnt so much from this project; I feel like Abby has given me the skills to design lots of animal toys (if only I had the time, and could master my sewing machine so I can actually sew samples on it instead of hand-sewing!)
Ami and Fatty Aardvarks
As shaping is so important to me in my designs, now I’ve seen how much difference 1mm in your sewing line makes to the shape of the finished toy, I think I’m more comfortable sticking with designing crochet patterns; they give you much more precise control over the shape you end up with. Follow my crochet pattern stitch by stitch and you will end up with the same shape as me, even if you’re a beginner. Cut and sew my sewing pattern template and you’d probably end up with a similar, but not identical, shape – by the time you’ve eyeballed a 1/4″ seam to add to the pattern piece and then eyeballed it away again to get back to the stitching lines, it’s highly unlikely you’ll end up with exactly the same shape, even if you’re a master of your sewing machine.
Aardvark evolution, or how I went from embarrassing ignoramus to plush designer in 4 stages – and all thanks to Stuffed Animals!
These are all small niggles that I’m including for the sake of completeness. As I’ve used this book as a technique reference, not as a project instructional book, some of my peeves relate to that: if I’d made Abby’s projects before attempting one of my own, I’d have a better grasp of which techniques are illustrated by which project.
A visual contents page of all the projects in the book would have been very useful; to decide which project would be the closest starting point for each element of my design (e.g. do the closest legs belong to the elephant, or the lion, or the dinosaur, or something else?) I found myself flicking through the book over and over, making lists of every technique I thought might be useful for my design.
The index is brief and alphabetized not by subject, but by lesson title. I’ll give you a couple of examples of why this is a problem: I wanted to look up Abby’s advice on stretchy fabrics, but Stretch isn’t in the index, and neither is Fabric! The fabric selection advice is actually listed under C in the index, for Choosing Fabric – would you have thought to look there? And then I tried looking up Joints (there are 5 jointing lessons that I can see, spread over 3 projects) but there’s no mention of any of these on the index page. I’d advise you ignore the index and skim through the contents instead – it’s just as easy to find information there, and it’s far more complete.
Abby is clearly 100% a sewing machine user – there is no mention anywhere of the fact it’s possible to sew toys completely by hand. There is a page on hand stitches, but it only shows how to make various stitches for closing and embellishing, with no mention of which stitch would be best to use for hand-sewing a toy. (I just made one up to sew my aardvark – a faster variant of backstitch – but it would be nice to have some expert advice on that topic.)
I did spot a couple of minor text errors in my flick-through; the hippo’s underbody pattern piece is labelled ‘upperbody’, the footpads say to cut 2, not 4, and there’s no mention of attaching the hippo’s footpads to the legs. I’ve notified Abby so these can be added to the book’s errata page – unfortunately, errors are a fact of life in printed books, so I always recommend you consult the errata if something confuses you in any craft book.
This is a one-of-a-kind book and I think it really fills a gap in the marketplace. I’ve decided that this is really three books in one, and different people will use it in very different ways:
It’s a soft toy pattern book: If you’re looking for a book of toy patterns, this is a varied collection of animal patterns to suit a range of skill levels. If you want to make a toy as a gift, you’ll probably find a design to suit every child. While there’s no difficulty level indicated on the patterns, the complexity increases throughout the book as new techniques are introduced.
It’s a course on soft toy technique and construction: Abby’s background as a teacher really shows through here; this book is structured as a step-by-step course, with each project as a demonstration piece for the lessons in that chapter. If you work through every project in the book, learning the lessons as you go, you’ll have a solid grasp of soft toy design techniques that you could bring to your future projects.
It’s a soft toy design reference book: And then there are people like me, who want the book solely as a reference book and will create our own designs. The included patterns are still useful as demonstrations of the lessons, which, for me, are the real gold. The lack of an alphabetised index is a real blow here – this is the only place where the book falls down for me. Everything I need to know is here, somewhere, but I found I had to flip through the book over and over again to hunt for the gems I needed. But it was always worth it – the content in Stuffed Animals is worth digging for, and my copy has definitely earned its place on my permanent reference shelf.