Thursday, 9 October 2014

Make Your Own Monster in a Box

Hello! I’m Courtney La Forest, and I’m an illustrator who lives in the Boston area and loves sewing stuffed friends! Animals are my passion, and I love using a unique medium like textiles to bring them to life.
In addition to having a major love for all things handmade, I especially have a passion for being resourceful. Although I love walking through the aisles of local craft and fabric stores, it’s important to always try and reduce, reuse, recycle. All of my handmade dolls are made with up-cycled fabric found in local thrift shops or donated from friends and family. These are a few other up-cycled friends I've made!

Today I’m going to show you how to make your very own Monster in a Box!
To begin making your very own handmade doll, you’ll need a few supplies:
·         printed template
·         recycled fabric
·         fabric scissors
·         embroidery floss
·         embroidery hoop
·         black/white sewing thread
·         embroidery needles
·         sewing pins
·         sewing machine*
·         sewing machine thread/needles*
·         polyester fiberfill
·         any other odds and ends, such as buttons, beads and charms are welcome and make for fun additions!
* If you do not own a sewing machine, or don’t know how to use one, fret not! This doll tutorial can be followed with 100% hand sewing if need be—it might just take you a little longer!

Recycled Fabric Tips & Tricks
All of my handmade dolls are created with up-cycled fabrics taken from various clothing and bedding items I find at local thrift stores. It not only saves a lot of money, but also is less harmful to the environment and makes each and every doll even more unique and special.
Some tips for thrifting for the most ideal fabric:

1)     Go for the largest sizes you can find! Especially if you’re planning to make a particularly large doll, you’ll want to be sure to have plenty of the exact color/texture of fabric to complete your entire doll.

2)     The ideal kind of fabric for the amount of embroidery I like to do on my dolls is plain cotton, or soft jersey fabric. You do not want anything too stretchy, or too fine like chiffon, or too stiff like some blouse material, or too thick like denim. I find that men’s/women’s simple sweaters and t-shirts/long sleeve shirts work best.

3)     Try to avoid anything with graphics, text, big logos, etc. You’re looking to utilize as much of this garment as possible for your project, so try sticking to simple colored/patterned garments. You can, of course, also dig through your family’s closets and recycle unwanted items from there, too—just be sure to ask first before you cut up your brother’s favorite t-shirt!

Whether from the thrift store, your home, or wherever you find your fabric, be sure to wash the clothing before starting this project so it’s nice and clean and ready to be transformed!
To prep your fabric, first turn the garment inside out (if applicable) and using fabric scissors, carefully cut along all of the seams so that you’re left with the panels of fabric. At this point, you may want to iron the fabric so that embroidery and shape cutting are made easier.
Find the perfect comfy sweater! Cut away all of the hemlines… keep going…don’t forget the sleeves! Voila! New sewing material! I usually like to iron everything out before I get going so that I don’t have to fuss over wrinkles and extra lines on the fabric later on

Now print out the template, collect the rest of the listed supplies, and you’re ready to get started! You can get the FREE Pattern here!

1)     First, cut out your heads, torsos, and bottoms. There should be two of each, a front and a back. For my monster in this tutorial, I decided to make his skin orange, and give him a green sweater and red pants to wear. Feel free to change up the color scheme however you like!
2)     Next, we’re going to pin the pieces together and then sew them together. When sewing dolls, it’s important to be aware of which sides of pieces of fabric are facing each other. For sewing our monster’s body together, be sure to sew the sides of the fabric that will be facing the outside facing each other. This will seem silly and backwards while doing it, but by doing it this way, we won’t have any weird seam lines showing. Look to the photo for reference. Do this for both the front and backsides.

It doesn’t look like much now, but our little monster has a body now!

3)     Next we’re going to embroider and stitch details on his face. Cut out his nose shape and find a thread that matches in colour. So that the thread doesn’t become a thick texture around his nose, we’re going to split the colored embroidery thread in half (3 strands) and then after putting one end through the eye of our embroidery needle, we’ll tie a small knot at the end. Find a good place for his nose on his face, pin the shape in place, and do a simple stitch all the way around, tying a knot at the end.

4)     Cut out his outer and inner eyes shapes. Using a black thread, we’re going to first sew his pupils to his eyes, then use a white thread to sew his eyes to his face. I’m using a very thin black sewing thread, so I’m going to put the thread through the needle eye and then tie the two thread ends together so that the thread is a little bit thicker and keeps his pupil in place a little more. I like to put both eyes on the doll’s face before I continue just to be sure I like where they both are on the face and then same as with the nose shape, just a simple stitch all of the way around.

5)     Using my black thread again, we’re going to sew his mouth on. Start at a spot where you’d like one corner of his mouth to be and make a simple stitch. When making curved lines like this monster’s mouth, you’ll want to make shorter, tighter stitches to ensure that it doesn’t look too jagged in the end. To make a continuous line, when you go to start your next stitch, start at the end of where you’d want that next stitch to be (as seen in the photos). For the cheeks, just like with the nose, cut out the shapes, position them, and sew them on.

6)     I decided I wanted to have a little bit of embroidery detailing on his head, so I found a yellow-orange embroidery floss, put the fabric for his face into my mini embroidery hoop, and got stitching. I chose to do the back of his head as well.

7)     Next, I chose some assorted colored embroidery floss for his sweater and started doing some various stitches, being sure to line up the pattern on the front and back sides. I did an ‘x’ pattern with the yellow thread by first making a dashed stitch, then coming up from diagonally below and making a dash going the opposite diagonal direction. I made a striped line with the magenta floss, and vertical lines in between the ‘x’s with light pink floss, and little purl dots with the lime green. To make a purl/”French knot”, first come up in the spot where you’d like your raised dot then wrap the thread around the needle tip two times then, while still holding the tail of the needle tight, push the needle back through the same spot it came up through the fabric, pulling the extra floss all of the way through! - Ta-Da!

8)     Now onto his limbs! Cut out the fabric shapes and sew the hands/arms and feet/legs together just like you did with the heads/torsos/bottoms. Take his feet/legs and loosely fold the fabric in half like so. Sew a curved foot shape and cut the excess fabric from the seam. Gently turn the fabric right side out—I find using the eraser end of a pencil works well for this task. The limbs can be slow and tedious to turn out the right way because the width of his legs/arms is small, but just continue to slowly and gently push the fabric out the right way. If you go to fast, you risk accidentally ripping the fabric and having to start his limb all over again! For his arms, I continued the patterns from his sweater onto the sleeves. Just like his legs/feet, loosely fold the fabric in half, being sure the side your want facing outside is on the inside. Sew, cut, and turn outside right like the legs. Next we’re going to stuff the limbs. Take a small piece of polyester fiberfill and gently roll it into a tight ball like and place it inside one of his limbs, gently push the stuffing down into his hands/feet using the eraser end of a pencil. Continue until you’ve filled all of his limbs.

 9)    To attach his arm, lay the arm flat over his torso and pin together the edge of his torso with the edge of his arm, like in the picture. Same as with other steps, we are sewing the outside facing pieces of fabric together, so that the seam is not visible on the outside. Sew the side of the arm to the side of his torso, sandwich the arm between the front and back torso (with the embroidery you want facing on the outside sandwiched on the inside, and sew together. Before moving onto his other limbs, we’re going to sew his head together. Starting from the top of the arm you just sewed on, sew up and around his head. I chose to give my monster some frilly “hair”. To do this, simply sew down and up once you get to the top of his head. Once I got back down to the other side of his head, I went back and cut the extra fabric from around the seams carefully. While still on the sewing machine, take his second arm and sew the side to the side of the torso, just like the first one. Sandwich and stitch like before, and you should now have a two-limbed monster friend! Next we’re going to sew down his torso from the second arm we just stitched on until we get to a place on his bottom where we’d like one of his legs to start. Line up the leg, having the front of the foot facing the monster body side that has the face on it so that his feet are front facing. Then sew, sandwich, and sew again. Repeat with the second leg and then very gently, turn your monster right side out from the side of the torso that we’ve left unsewn.

10)    Check that all of the seams next to his limbs are in tact—even I have to occasionally go back and re-stitch around the side of an arm to make sure everything is in tact. Now the most fun part of the process begins! Stuffing!! Push stuffing in through the hole left open on the side, using smaller tightly wound pieces for spaces like his “hair” and bigger looser pieces for his wider areas of filling, like his head and bottom. Gently squeeze the stuffing throughout so that the filling is uniform and feels packed tightly enough. I tend to like my dolls more squishy and soft, but pack it as tightly as you’d like and constantly test to see if it feels right to you. Next we’re going to use the white thread from way back when we sewed his eyes on to seal him up with what’s called a Saddle Stitch. The diagram below explains it very well visually, but the general idea is that you want to pull the thread out from inside the hole, go across the hole and back into the fabric, come back out of the fabric on the same side, and repeat. After this step, knot and cut your thread and congrats!! You just finished your very own handmade monster doll!!

Making Your Mini Monster A Mini Monster Home
Now that you have a new plush friend, let’s make him/her a little home to live in when you’re not playing together.

For your mini monster home you will need:
·         empty cardboard pasta box big enough to fit your doll
·         box cutters/xacto knife*
·         cutting mat
·         pencil
·         hot glue gun & glue sticks*
·         gesso or white acrylic paint
·         assorted colored paints
·         assorted size brushes
·         magazines, feathers, buttons, stickers, glitter, fabric scraps, anything you’d like to decorate with!
*Ask a responsible adult for help with these tools!

First thing’s first, let’s get this box cut to an appropriate monster-housing shape! Take your box, cutting mat, and box cutters. Using a pencil, lightly trace a line just slightly less than halfway through the box’s width—the bigger side will be where our monster lies. Draw it on both shorter ends and one of the long sides. (One long side will remain uncut throughout this process) Using your box cutter/xacto knife, carefully cut along your lines on all three sides. It’s okay if the box starts to come apart—just be sure to cut the line through all of the layers of each side.

You box should look like the photo by this point.

Next we’re going to make a fold along the uncut side to give our monster house a “door”. Lightly trace a line on the un cut side from the two cut points at each of the shorter sides flaps. Lightly run your box cutter/xacto blade down the line to lightly “score” the cardboard. Don’t cut all of the way through, though! Fold your scored line like so, and your box will now be able to open from the side like a door! Now hot glue the cut flap pieces to the bigger flaps so that the sides all stand up together. This will also help your box be sturdier later on. Hold the flaps together while the glue dries. Continue all of the way around. Before finishing the “door” side of the box, we’re going to carve out a little window for our doll to peak out of later. My box had a little plastic sleeve glued on the inside, so I peeled that off.Add caption

Draw your window design in with a pencil, then cut it out with your cutting blade. Hurrah, the box itself is assembled! Now we move on to prepping the box for decorating. In order to decorate the box better, we’re going to prime the box for paint. Lay down some newspaper to protect your work surface, and using a wide brush and either gesso or white acrylic paint, begin painting in thin layers to cover up the printing on the original box.  Once you’re done painting the box white, you’re ready to go crazy decorating! I chose to paint the outside of my box a neon yellow and the inside a cool blue. I decided I wanted to add some fun collaged bits to the inside of my monster’s home, so using cut up magazine pages, a smaller brush, and some mod podge, I applied some “bricks” and “wood paneling” to my monster’s home d├ęcor. I had some sparkly red cardstock and lilac fabric scraps lying around, so using my hot glue gun, I cut a little flower box out of the cardstock and rolled up the fabric into little flowers.


Voila!! Your monster now has a special little home of his own to play in!
 I hope you enjoyed my tutorial and have fun stitching together your own monster friend!

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