Can any crafters help me with my felt beasties?
November 14, 2015 2:22 AM   Subscribe

I was wondering if any Metafilter crafters could help my wife out with a sewing problem she's having? Here's her question: "I make felt animals, usually of the jointed variety. I draw my own patterns and sew by hand, and it's been going fine up till now, but the last two creatures I made have both had a weird bunching at the neck. I've tried altering the width of the necks, the gussets, basting in advance, what-all, but I can't figure out what the problem is...

There's pictures at this link:

As you can see, the rabbit (at the bottom) doesn't have any bunching, but the cat and the fox (at the top) have bunching/wrinkles around their necks.

Does anyone know what's causing this? Or can anyone recommend a good crafting site to go ask advice? It's driving me nuts."

[My wife has an account on Metafilter herself, but is having technical problems logging in, so she asked me to post for her - I hope that's okay]
posted by lucien_reeve to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are all of the materials used from the same lots? That is, have any physical variables changed?
posted by SMPA at 2:32 AM on November 14, 2015

Wife Who Still Can't Log In says:

No, they come from different lots. The old ones come from Hobbycraft, the new ones from various places. I don't want to shop at Hobbycraft any more, though, because they've got a horrible record of how they treat their employees, so I'd like to be able to carry on with felt from local sellers...
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:15 AM on November 14, 2015

Oh, and I've had slight wrinkling issues with some of my old Hobbycraft stuff as well, so I don't think that's the whole problem.
posted by lucien_reeve at 4:06 AM on November 14, 2015

I don't have huge amounts of experience with this or anything, as I am a crochet/embroidery/drawing/installation art person, but some thoughts on things you haven't mentioned trying yet:

What are you using for the stuffing? The way you are distributing your stuffing might be causing weight to bend things you don't want bent, and you might be able to use firmer stuffing or something semi-rigid for neck support, wrapped with thin batting to preserve the squish.

Felt, at least the machine made sheets, usually has a grain of sorts, I'm sure you have noticed, where it will more easily be stretched in one way or take 3D curves better at one angle on the piece and not another. So maybe part of the issue is the orientation of your felt pieces as you cut them out. Maybe the difference between the animals with the neck problems and without is the way their particular felt pieces have tension aligned correctly or not with its grain and the construction of its shape. Maybe also in the process of stuffing and sewing you are manipulating the neck felt and accidentally stretching it out, not enough to notice at the time but it would add up pretty fast, and be easier not to do if the grain of the felt worked against your tugging.
posted by Mizu at 5:06 AM on November 14, 2015

One thing I notice is that the rabbit's neck is longer than the dinosaur necks. I have no idea if that could cause this, but maybe look and see if the wrinkled necks are in general shorter than the non-wrinkled necks?

Also, it looks like the rabbit neck might have more seams than the dino necks. It's hard to tell. Seams add structure and support to a sewn object, so I wonder if that is also contributing?

Very cute animals, and very nicely sewn.
posted by OrangeDisk at 5:07 AM on November 14, 2015

In fact, now that I've looked at the pics a bit more, I think it really is the placement of the seams. The dinos have short necks, right under their big heads, with only one seam to hold them up. I'm imaging that if those big heads had two seams on the sides to hold them up, like the rabbit, they would stay up better. Especially if their necks were also a teeny bit longer.
posted by OrangeDisk at 5:13 AM on November 14, 2015

Thanks for the compliments. :-) (Technically the two wrinkly ones aren't dinosaurs, they're a fox and a cat, but without the ears I can't blame you for seeing 'dino'!)

They have several seams. The cat body has two side-pieces and one head-and-back gusset; the fox body has two side-pieces, a head-and-back gusset and a chin-and-belly gusset. The latter is the same as the rabbit, so I don't think it's the seams.

Could be the neck length. I'll try redrawing the bodies and see if that helps; I like the aesthetic of longer necks, so that might look nice anyway.

Oh, and I'm using yer basic fiberfill stuffing, so nothing very tough. But it's the same stuffing I used on the non-wrinkled ones, so the mystery remains!

I don't think it can be the sewing of the neck - or at least, I'd be surprised. I did the cat (which had the worst wrinkles) over and over, sewing freehand, basting into position, trying this and that, and it didn't make any difference. Drove me batty!
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:18 AM on November 14, 2015

I haven't made stuff animals, only knitted ones, but how you stuff things can make a big difference in how stable they are. Are you using puffy polyfill or something else? Did you stuff the heads kinda full, and stuff the necks more loosely?
posted by jacquilynne at 6:28 AM on November 14, 2015

Ordinary puffy fiberfill - but it's the same for every animal, and only some of them wrinkle. Actually the wrinkles got more pronounced the tighter I stuffed them. (I knit too; felt is less stretchy.)
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:40 AM on November 14, 2015

There is not much grain to felt but perhaps trying to cut the fabric at different directions/rotations of the original fabric? Also checking the tension of the thread, not sure how to do that accurately but a slight grabbing could make a difference.
posted by sammyo at 6:46 AM on November 14, 2015

Felt can be inconsistent in quality. You do lovely work. You may want to move on to a more consistent fabric. If not, try making the neck holes wider and shorter. If it isn't the felt, the pucker could be something as simple as one stitch being a little tighter than the others. I recommend a half a glass of wine before beginning the necks, as tension in our hands can turn into tension in our stitches.
posted by myselfasme at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I know very little about felt sewing but I read a blogger who does a lot with it. maybe you could find some help there?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:12 AM on November 14, 2015

Thanks everyone, I do appreciate all the advice. Myselfasme - do you have any suggestions for new fabrics? I'd love to work with calico and the like, but I've always used felt because it lends itself to hand sewing and that's what I like. But any tips welcome!
posted by lucien_reeve at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2015

I don't do any sewing like this, but it looks to me like the difference in the widths of the rabbit's head and neck is much smaller than the differences in the other two animals' heads and necks. I think you're asking the fabric to make a significant compound curve, which would require a degree of stretchieness (sp?) that felt doesn't have.
posted by jon1270 at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

That's very interesting. Do you think you could explain in a bit more detail? Mathematics was never my strong point and 'compound curve' is a new one on me. Would the solution be a longer/narrower neck?
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:08 AM on November 14, 2015

I do sew and knit and I think jon1270 has it. What's happening is a bit like when those horizontal "whisker" wrinkles form across the crotch of your pants because the width of your hips is pulling the fabric outward horizontally, so it bunches up along the vertical axis.
posted by clavicle at 11:11 AM on November 14, 2015

That sounds right; it probably doesn't show brilliantly in the photos, but it does have that kind of look. So what do I need to change to reduce the pull? (My crafting skill, such as it is, is pretty much all in my eyes and hands rather than my head; working things out from first principles, I'm not so good at.)
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:15 AM on November 14, 2015

By "compound curve" I mean you're trying to make the same area of the fabric curve in two directions at once, which doesn't work with non-stretchy, non-compressible materials. It's as if you were to cut an empty paper towel tube in half lengthwise and then try to bend the halves into graceful curves along their lengths; it can't curve in the second direction without wrinkling or tearing until the original curve flattens out.

I think you need some way to vertically lengthen the edges of the fabric near the seams (e.g. stretching or molding of some kind), or shorten the centerline length of the fabric towards the middle. Felt's probably too thick for a dart, and anyhow a horizontal seam there doesn't seem like a great idea aesthetically. Maybe some felt hat-shaping techniques could help?
posted by jon1270 at 12:09 PM on November 14, 2015

The trouble is, I'm setting up an etsy store to sell the patterns (most of which do work fine), so I'd like them to work just by sewing.

Looking at the models that do work, it seems to me that what they might have in common is that the neck is roughly the same width on all its pieces, front, back, and sides, so that in cross-section it's more or less a square. On the fox and the cat, though, the neck is wider on the side pieces than on the gussets. Would making them all roughly the same width be a way to reduce the strain?

Thank you for letting me pick your brains!
posted by lucien_reeve at 12:35 PM on November 14, 2015

the stuffing is amorphous-- it will change shape in response to pressure.

A long thin shape could change shape in two ways: it gets floppy (a thin spot allows the head to wobble back and forth); or it gets compressed ( the stuffing can't keep the neck stretched to its full extension and it collapses onto the chest forming accordion waves.

I have a couple of recommendations. 1) pound the stuffing into the animal so that it will not change shape in response to pressure. until the animal is practically bursting at the seams

2) create internal armature that keeps the neck at full extension. a cylinder of closed-cell foam could act as a "spine"
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:46 PM on November 16, 2015

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