A Large Ungrowly Tiger

So, the last quarter of the year is quite busy in terms of birthdays, with Mom, the nephew and my niece all having birthdays about a month apart.  Intensive creating is required.

The nephew has a thing for tigers (or cats in general, I am beginning to believe), except when he has a thing for dinosaurs… he also loves to sit on the niece’s beanbag and read, which the niece is unimpressed about. so something had to be done…

I had been thinking about the design of this beanbag for a while, and putting off building it for nearly as long, as I really didn’t know how to start – I had images of Hobbes in my head, but not much of an idea of how to start building it.

I was lurking in the toy pile trying to find some inspiration, when I spotted the hippo that I’d bought as a present for TeddyBear a few weeks ago.  I experimented with sitting on it and realised that its body shape was going to be pretty close to what I needed for the body.  I just had to make a pattern from it.

This was trickier than expected, and involved laying paper over the hippo, identifying key locations using pins, taking the paper off and trying to draw the shape, followed by pinning it back onto the hippo and changing the bits that were wrong.  I finally got a structure for the body (which turned out to be a bit less like Hobbes than I was hoping, but was still acceptable.

I used the pattern that I had created, sans legs to create a bag for the beans – my niece and nephew are extremely energetic and very curious beasties, and a beanless bean bag, while probably creating a better shape, is a recipe for disaster.  (For some reason, I don’t have a photograph of the completed bag, but it was relatively baglike in structure, albeit somewhat longer and thinner than a regular beanbag).  I followed the instructions on the bag of beans this time, snipping off a bottom corner of the bag, rather than opening the top, and found the filling process considerably easier than last time.  I still managed to fill it too much, but fingers crossed, the beans will compress relatively quickly and it will be a little less solid!

Once the bag was built and filled, it became slightly easier to visualise the construction of the outside.

I started by cutting out the back pattern with orange fur (I ended up having to use orange camouflage polarfleece, because I couldn’t find any orange or tiger striped fur).  I wanted to cut the back piece on the fold, but it was too big for the fabric, so required two pieces with a seam down the back.  The legs were also orange, and the stomach and paw pads were cut from a wooly knit fabric, which incidentally, was the same fabric as my very first onesie, so that was kind of nostalgic.

I sewed the inner leg pieces onto the belly piece and then sewed the sides of the belly piece onto the back. I then made the tail.  This basically constituted a metre long, 15cm wide, strip of orange, and a 15x15cm strip of white, sewed together, then sewed into a long tube with a curved end in the white section.  This was turned right-side out, and lightly stuffed with Spotlight toy stuffing (I used over 1kg of this altogether for the whole beanbag and now owe TeddyBear a bagful), before being attached to the bottom of the back piece at the centre back seam.  I sewed each seam twice for strength, as I do not have double needle capability on my wee Elna.

I then attached a zip that ran most of the width of the bottom seam.  This was to create a means for removing the bag if it needed filling or the body needed washing (although given the complexity and bulk of the rest of the tiger, spot cleaning will probably end up being the preferred option!).  I couldn’t find a bulky enough zip with closed ends, so used a jacket zip and just tacked the ends together and made sure that the top-stitching also brought the edges of the seam across the end of the zip to discourage any tugging that might make the zip parts separate.  I actually found that I quite liked working with an open ended zip, as it gave me a little more room to manoeuvre, despite the final bits of messing around that were needed to neaten the ends.

I then sewed the foot pad onto the body and stuffed the legs.  I decided to sew the legs closed once stuffed, to prevent the stuffing migrating back out into the body during play.  In hindsight, I wish that I had actually sewn the detail of the toes before closing the legs off, as some of the legs could have done with a little more stuffing to shape the feet.

I then put the bag of beans into the body case and experimented with closures.  I eventually decided to gather the neck, using a double thickness of nylon wool.  This created a tight bundle that could be put inside the head.

The head was a different story though… a story of frustration and outsourcing.  I tried a couple of ideas based on the standard teddy bear head pattern that I have used many times over the course of my creative endeavours, but couldn’t quite work out how to create the shapes and textures that I wanted.  So I called my friend Doctor Google, and found this perfect pattern… unfortunately, it was entirely in Russian, with no instructions for how the pieces were meant to fit together.  I hunted around online to try and find the original pattern creator and found another website which indicated that the Pretty Toys patterns may well be pirated (the prettytoys.ru website doesn’t work), so I cannot be sure that I am crediting this pattern appropriately – however, if anyone does know who to credit it to, I am happy to pay for the pattern and credit the original designer.

Back to the problem of the Russian pattern – it’s written in Cyrillic, and the pattern was an image, not a PDF or word doc, so the names of the pieces couldn’t be cut or pasted.  Luckily, I remembered that one of my work colleagues was Russian, and asked her if she could translate the words.  This, she very graciously did, which helped immensely – I now knew which pieces to cut out, in which colour, even if I didn’t know how they were meant to go together.  I then had to scale them all up by a factor of 4.4 (the difference between the curve of the back of the head piece, and the back of the head of the hippo). This may not have been quite correct, given that I thought that the most curved part of the back of the head was the centre back seam… but it is what it is…

I also discovered that I did not have fabric for creating the eyes, nose or mouth.  The mouth was relatively easily solved, once I found the tail of a unicorn onesie that I have – I don’t like the tail, so it had been relinquishing in my stash while I thought about creating an alternative tail made out of rainbow ribbons (which I still haven’t done).  I also found a scrap of black sweat-shirting leftover from the nephew’s last birthday present, which was ideal for the nose.  I found the perfect fabric for the eyes in the scrap bin at Teddybear’s house, I’m not sure where the black came from, but the white was a slightly shiny lining fabric leftover from his overalls.  Then it came time to cut it all out. Interesting puzzling ensued.

After rearranging pieces repeatedly, and generally feeling confused, I decided to bite the bullet and just sew.  The ears were relatively simple – functioning much as ears do in any plushie – orange side sewn to white side.  The nose, nose bridge and forehead were also relatively easy to work out, with the black piece sewn to the broader end of the nose bridge and the orange forehead sewn to the narrower part.  In hindsight, I would not have sewn the indicated darts in the forehead piece, as it created an odd shape and my lack of skill meant that it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been.  I thought that the back of the head was straightforward – and sewed the most curved sides together – this produced a very odd shape, which I considered altering with a second seam, before wondering whether sewing the less curved pieces together would produce the shape I was after… this was indeed the case!

The face pieces were more of a puzzle, which I solved through sewing darts, referring to the picture in the upper left hand side of the pattern, and translating and rotating pieces until they seemed to fit.  Overall, I was pretty happy with the outcome.

The eyes were created using the old favourite Ez-Steam II, first used here. They were cut out and pressed by hand (rather than ironed) onto the side face pieces.  The first layer was the white piece, pressed on, then satin stitched around the edge.  This was followed by the black piece, which was pressed on and also satin stitched around the edge.  The side face pieces were then sewn to the muzzle before the pieces of white fur were attached to the sides, creating a sort of mane between the front of the face and the back.

The head was then stuffed and the septum of the nose created.  For this, I used a quadruple thickness of some waxed cotton that I bought years ago for a bag project, and it worked well enough, but I am always surprised by how easily this breaks.  I’m not sure that I quite got the face shape right – I think I needed to add some extra structure, but I couldn’t quite work out how to do it.

Because the waxed thread kept breaking, I decided to try using nylon wool for the gathering around the neck and the remaining structuring of the feet and I think that this did work better.  I gathered the neck using a double thickness of wool to make the neck hole as small as possible, then played around with location.  I think that I probably made the front of the body too long, as the head sits a bit funny when the tiger is upright, but I found the best position that I could, and stitched the head to the body as firmly as I could, with two rows of stitching with a double thickness of wool.

To make the toes, I used a double thickness of black nylon wool, and sewed each pinch twice.  The basic process goes (pulling the wool fairly tight at each step as you are trying to create a strong pinching effect):

  1. In at about 1/2 the way down the foot pad, about 1/3 of the way in from the side.  Leave a loop of wool hanging out of the foot pad.
  2. Out at the ankle, slightly medial to the centre seam
  3. Back in at the point of first insertion, looping through the wool loop
  4. Out at the other side of the foot pad (about 1/3 of the way in from the OTHER side).
  5. Back in just next to this out point
  6. Out at the ankle, lateral to the centre seam
  7. In at point 5, out at point 6
  8. In at point 5, out at point 1
  9. In just next to point 1, out at point 2
  10. Loop under the wool and tie off firmly
  11. Push the needle into the foot at point 9 and pull it out anywhere really.  Cut close to the exit point and then let the fabric spring back, pulling the thread into the stuffing, leaving no loose ends.

You will need to rearrange the stuffing in the toes to make sure that they are well filled and look like toes, rather than weird mutant appendages – this is why it would have been a good idea to create the toes before sewing the legs closed – but by the time I realised this, it was much too late and I wouldn’t have been able to manipulate the tiger around my machine at all (too much stuffed bits and general bulk).

I was somewhat unhappy with the overall shape around the shoulders, but honestly, I don’t think the nephew noticed, once he was jumping on the tiger and cuddling it.

I guess I can consider it a success!

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