Miss Gioia

Monday, January 14, 2008

Patchwork Cube Updates

Lately, I have been getting such lovely emails with pictures of patchwork cubes made from my tutorial. The picture above was sent by 54mama. I have been meaning to set up a flickr group for all of these creations, and today I finally managed to get it together. If you make a cube, feel free to post a picture here for all to admire.

More importantly, Anabeth sent me an email with the information that this cube is representative of a Menger Sponge. How wonderfully geeky! Here is Anabeth's cube.

Thanks for sharing everyone. You make my inbox so happy. Just like the frogs in Karri's cube.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Hair and Faces

Elisa is working on a baby from my rag doll tutorial. (How fun is that!?) She reminded me that I was going to post later about hair, but never did. Elisa also asked a great question about embroidering faces. So, while this post will not be a true hair and face tutorial, perhaps it will be enough to help Elisa finish her baby.

Making the Face

Question: Why isn't the face embroidered first, before the doll is sewn and stuffed?

Well, you can do it that way too, if you like. But the advantage of adding the face after the stuffing is that you can tailor the face to the 3D shape of the stuffed doll. A flat face is different from a round/oval/curved face. What looks good in 2D may look weird in 3D.

You have many options in finishing your face. The easiest method is to add buttons for eyes, as my husband did with Tiddley above. Of course this is not a good idea for a doll destined for a child under three. You can also use felt shapes to make eyes, cheeks and other features. Mimi does felt faces exceptionally well. She sometimes uses scrapbooking tools to cut out the perfect shapes - like circles cut in half for eyes - and then appliques them to the face with a blanket/buttonhole stitch or something similar.

You can paint the face. You can embroider it. Or you can be minimalistic and leave the face blank, like I did here. This part really is all up to your imagination.

To embroider the face, you will first make a knot in the embroidery thread and then insert the needle from the back of the head, through the stuffing and out to the front. Embroider the eyes using your choice of stitches - satin, outline, anything. When you are finished, put the needle back through the head and create an ending knot on the other side. For Waldorf doll heads, you will need a 5" or longer doll needle for this step, because the head is really thick. But for the rag doll, you can use a regular needle because the head can be squished enough to send the needle through and out the other side without losing it inside the doll.

Making the Hair

Now, the reason that you can embroider the face from the back of the head is that the knots will be covered up by the hair. Hair can be made of many things, actually, like yarn, cloth strips and felt. Many people attach hair by hand sewing each piece to the head, while some people glue it down. I really like using yarn for hair, and I prefer to sew the pieces down. But that is just me.

Each hairstyle is different and requires special methods. For Miss Tiddley's hair, Chris threaded an upholstery needle (with a big eye) with the actual yarn used for the hair. He sewed the strands directly into the head along the crown, and then tied it back into a ponytail. This was quite quick and easy. Here is a link to a tutorial for a similar hair attachment method.

One of my recent hair favorites (one with no picture - alas!) was a Raggedy Ann-esque style with pieces that stuck out crazily all over the head. This method was really labor intensive, as each strand had to be hand tacked down with sewing thread. With one long piece of yarn, I created row after row of long loops. Each loop was sewn to the head twice: once with the thread looping around the yarn and into the head, and once with the thread through the yarn and then into the head for security. Then I snipped all of the loops open to create a wild, loose style.

This little doll's hair was sewn down at the crown (piece by piece) and then looped back to the ponytail area where it was gathered into a bunch.

One of the best resources I have found for doll hairstyles is "Making Waldorf Dolls" by Maricristin Sealey. Pricey book, but maybe you can find it at your local library for free.

Elisa, I look forward to seeing your finished baby. Good luck!

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Rag Doll Tutorial


Body fabric* - 0.5 yard
Embroidery floss for face – black and red
Needle and thread
Yarn for hair

* For the example doll shown here, I used plain muslin which was dyed overnight in coffee.


1) Cut out all doll pattern pieces from body fabric.

2) Sew two arms and two legs together with right sides facing using 0.25 inch seam allowances.

Clip curves, trim, turn and press.

Stuff arms and legs lightly

and place aside.

3) Sew doll torso piece to head two times, right sides together. Press seam down toward torso.

4) Baste arms and legs to the right side of one of the new body pieces. These pieces should be sewn facing inward. When the doll is turned and stuffed, the arms and legs will stick out from the body.

5) Once the arms and legs are basted into position, place the second body piece on the first, right sides facing. The arms will be enclosed within the two body pieces, but the legs should hang out of the bottom. Sew around the body from the lower left corner (next to the left leg) to the lower right corner (next to the right leg).

6) Clip curves, trim and turn. Stuff body.

7) Sew doll bottom closed either by hand or by machine.

8) Use embroidery thread to make eyes and mouth.

9) Add yarn for hair.

Remember, rag dolls are not supposed to be perfect. They are better if they are a little wonky. Made with love.

That's all for this tutorial. I think I'll do a separate post on hair one of these days.

If you make a baby, please show me! I would be so excited to see her or him.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Doll Dress Tutorial

Let's start with a little tutorial for the dress that is included in the Rag Doll Pattern.


Dress fabric* - 0.25 yard
Needle and thread
Snaps or buttons

*Note that quilting cottons, linen or other light fabrics will be easiest. Heavier fabrics, like denim or corduroy will likely be difficult (or impossible) to turn at the shoulders.


1) Cut out bodice pattern pieces from dress fabric.

2) Cut out an additional piece of fabric measuring 8 by 30 inches.

3) Sew bodice front to back at shoulders.

Press seams flat. You will have two bodice pieces. One piece will be the outer top and the other will be the lining.

4) Placing right sides of the two bodice pieces together, sew around neckline and down the two bodice back edges. I am using a contrasting color thread for illustration.

5) Sew left and right armholes.

6) Clip curves and corners, turn and press. When you turn, you are primarily pulling the bodice structure inside out, which involves pulling a lot of fabric through the narrow shoulder opening. You may want to use some tweezers to gently nudge it through. Again, using a lighter, thinner fabric helps this process.

7) Sew sides together. This is the last step to complete the bodice top. If you have never done this before, then take a moment to look at the remaining edges before you start sewing. You will basically start with the two ends of an armhole (sewn in step
5). Open up both sides, with the seam in the middle, and then bring them together - right sides facing - and sew straight across. Turn and press.

8) Prepare skirt. Fold and press 0.5 inches on one long side of the rectangular piece of fabric. Fold and press the same amount again. Topstitch over fold.

9) Sew the two short sides of the rectangle together, right sides facing, from the hemmed edge (step 8) to approximately 2.5 inches from the top edge (the un-hemmed long side). Press seam open and continue pressing up through the 2.5 inches of the unsewn area. If you like, you can cut a bias strip and sew it to the skirt opening. If you have never done this before or are feeling lazy, you can instead top stitch down over both sides of the skirt opening folds.

10) Run long gathering stitches along the unfinished (top) side of the rectangle. Typically, two gathering lines are run in case the first one breaks while adjusting. Run one 0.5 inches from the side and the second 1 inch from the side. If you have lots of experience, you can get away with one line. Pull gathering threads.

11) Align the bottom of the outer bodice to the gathered skirt, right sides facing. Pin, baste and then sew. This pattern is drafted with a large allowance on the bodice for attaching the skirt. Your final seam should be stitched 1.5 inches from the edge. If you prefer a narrower edge, just trim 1 inch from the bottom of the bodice and the top of the skirt and then use a 0.5 inch seam allowance. Once your skirt is attached, go back and trim the excess fabric.

12) Attach lining to skirt seam by hand. Topstitch if desired.

13) Finish the back of the dress with buttons, snaps or Velcro.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Rag Doll Pattern

This spring, I taught a doll making workshop here in Beijing. At the time, I couldn't find a free pattern to use that was really built for beginners. So, I developed my own. If you are looking for a basic rag doll pattern, feel free to download and use mine. Over the next week, I will put up two tutorials based on this pattern: one for the doll body and one for the dress. All of the instructions are in the pattern, though, so get started right away if you like.

This is Tiddlywinks. My husband made her in the workshop from the pattern. I think she is fabulous, especially with her luscious green hair.

The basic rag doll pattern also comes with a drop-waisted sundress pattern, as modeled by Miss Tiddly below.

When she is not modeling, however, Miss Tiddly likes to change into her overalls and relax.

Sometimes I wonder about Miss Tiddly, though. She keeps trying to snuggle up to my husband. Not sure if I trust her completely.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Patchwork Cube Tutorial

I was wandering in a shop in XinTianDi one day and saw the cutest stuffed patchwork cube. Wow, I thought, what an ingenious idea. I thought Wow! again when I looked at the RMB400 price tag (about US$50). For some perspective, our ayi in Shanghai made RMB1,000 a month, so there was no way I was going to buy this little cube for such an outrageous sum. I traipsed off home to recreate the design, and it actually worked.

Here is a tutorial for the patchwork cube, in case any of you guys would like to try one as well. This project gets a little tricky at the end, but it will come together with a little faith and patience. Basic sewing skills are a must. If you are struggling with the sewing machine in general, then this project may be frustrating. Have heart, though!

Materials needed
Sewing machine
A little less than 1/4 yard each of three types of fabrics (hereafter referred to as fabric A,B,C) NOTE: This yardage estimate is for three inch squares.
Coordinating thread
Hand sewing needle
Iron and ironing board
Sharp scissors
Stuffing (e.g., washable poly-fill)

Step 1: Preparation

Begin by cutting out 24 squares each of fabric A,B and C for a total of 72 squares. You can make your squares any size you like; the bigger the squares, the larger the cube. I used three inch squares and a 1/4 inch seam allowance for the cube displayed above. You can go smaller, but keep in mind you will be doing a lot of turning and seaming from within at the end, so really small squares may be hard. Start big and move to smaller squares as you get comfortable with the technique.

Divide your squares into two groups: one group with 16 squares of A,B,C (total of 48 squares) and a second group with 8 squares of A,B,C (total 24 of squares). Set the second group aside. Further subdivide the first group into six sets of eight squares, with two types of fabric in each set. You will use these blocks to create the foundation blocks, the six outer sides of the cube, so fabric layout becomes important. Here is a sample guide, which I used for my cube. This picture assumes you will make two of each type block for a total of six blocks.

Of course, you can do whatever you like. I did not want any two squares of the same fabric touching on the outside of the cube, and this is the simplest layout that will achieve that goal.

Step 2: Foundation Blocks

Start piecing each of the sets (six of them) together. These are your foundation blocks. Foundation blocks have an empty center and three blocks on each side.

Sew your squares together into foundation blocks, right sides facing. I used 1/4 inch seam allowances, but do whatever makes you comfortable. All things equal, the larger the seam allowance, the smaller the end square.

TIP: Backtack at the beginning and end of each seam segment. This will become crucial as your seams begin to interlock. I also find it helpful to cut of the hanging threads as I go, else they get in the way really fast.

Here is a picture of the underside of a finished foundation block. Seams are pressed open (or to one side as you prefer).

Here are all six finished blocks. In this picture, the blocks are arranged in their finished cube order.

Step 3: Inner Boxes

Now turn to your second group of squares, the 24 that were reserved at the end of Step 1. Further subdivide them into six sets of four, with two types of fabric in each set (e.g., two each of A,B,A,B and B,C,B,C and C,A,C,A). Sew each set of four squares into a box, open on the top and bottom, like this.

These are your inner boxes, which you will next attach one to each of the foundation blocks created in Step 2 above.

Step 4: Attaching the Inner Boxes

The goal of this step is to get all six of the inner boxes attached to the inside area of the foundation blocks. You will wind up with the inner box sticking up out of the center of the foundation block, creating a perpendicular structure.

Start by placing one right side of an inner block to the inside of one inner part of a foundation block. Sew that seam, backtacking at both ends. Turn the work and reposition the adjacent box edge to the next inner foundation block edge. At this stage it becomes important to be aware of your seam allowances as you begin and end each of the inner seams. Leave some space at the start and finish approximately equal to your seam allowance. This will become more intuitive as you start working on it, though.

Here is a shot of the underside of the finished perpendicular structure.

And here are all six blocks, ready for Step 5.

Step 5: Assembling the Sides

Now for the fun part - assembling the cube. Lay out your six blocks in the correct order. Then take the top and bottom pieces and put them aside.

Assemble the four middle pieces into a box by seaming four long lines, one on each edge, right sides facing. After this step, the box looks like this.

Now retrieve the top and bottom pieces and sew them onto the two open ends of the cube. Leave a wide opening on one side of either the top or bottom (which is which anyway?) so that you can turn the cube inside out, finish the inside seaming and then stuff.

This opening should be pretty wide because you will be pulling fabric through to seam it in Step 6 below. I like to leave most of one whole side open for this purpose, sewing only around the corners and a little way in on each side for neatness. Here is what your cube looks like once the top and bottom have been added (still inside out).

Turn your cube right side out. Each side will have the inner box sticking straight out. It looks like this.

Now push each of the six inner boxes inside the cube. Like this.

At this stage, it would be really helpful for you to pick up the structure and feel around inside to get a sense for how the remaining seams need to come together to make the cube. Got the picture in your head? Alright, now let's proceed to Step 6.

Step 6: Inside Seaming

First, put your work down and go pour yourself a glass of wine. It works for me anyway.

Relax and have faith that this step is easier than it appears at first glance. Reach inside the cube and grasp two squares that should be seamed together. How do you know if the squares should be seamed together? Well, this is where having a good visual image of the finished structure is really helpful. If you reach in from the top and from the left, for example, the top square of the inner box on the left (which faces into the cube from the left) will join with the left square of the top box (which faces down into the cube). Put your hands into the cube and you will see that these two squares line up naturally.

Take a look at the fabric patterns of the two squares in your hand to make sure you end up seaming the correct two squares. Grab onto the two squares tightly and pull them out though the turning opening. You may have to drag them through some tunnels of fabric to get them into the open for sewing. The cube will be half inside out, half right side out. Then sew the squares together, right sides facing and backtacking at both ends.

Restore the newly seamed squares back to their rightful place inside the cube and check to make sure you did it correctly. If all is well, then proceed to the next two squares. If you somehow seamed the wrong two squares together and the structure is now all wonky - no worries! Just get out your seam ripper and start again.

Seam all inner squares in this way until the cube is whole with no inside gaps. You are now ready to stuff!

Step 7: Stuffing

For most of my dolls, I prefer using wool stuffing because it adds a really nice weight and feel. However, the cube is probably going to be used most by someone who drools a lot, so it is probably better off full of machine washable polyfill.

I like to stuff my cubes firmly as it gives a nice sturdiness and definition to the structure. Once the object is stuffed, use a whipstitch or similar stitch to close the turning opening.

That's all there is to it. Please be sure to let me know if you make a cube using this tutorial. I would be tickled to see it. Also give me a shout if you run into problems, and I'll try to troubleshoot. Have fun!

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