We are delighted to bring you the latest in our Benzie Basics series, a tutorial on stuffing tools and techniques from expert Hillary of @wee_wonderfuls! Not only is Hillary a Maker Team member, she is an accomplished doll and toy maker and she's sharing all of her tips and tricks for a perfectly stuffed project! Make sure to follow her takeover of Benzie's Instagram the week of March 1 for even more good "stuff."
Stuffed animals and dolls are super fun to make! What’s not to love about sewing yourself a new little friend? An important part of making a stuffed object that can’t be rushed through is the actual act of stuffing. Proper stuffing will make or break a project and, after all that hard work, you really want the best outcome!
Skill Level: Intermediate
Density - You need to decide how stuffed (firm) you want the object. There is a type of floppy doll that is loosely stuffed, but I rarely go that route. All of my dolls and animals are very firmly stuffed. I like to describe it as soft sculpture to help people understand the final density.
Fabric - You do not want to use a fabric that has much stretch, such as jersey or fleece. These types of fabric will never hold a shape. Pure wool and wool blend felts are just wonderful for this type of stuffing! Felt has very little stretch so you can really stuff the pieces for a great firm feel. It also molds itself to the stuffed shape.
Sewing Prep - While the felt can take a lot of pressure, you need to be sure your seams can too. If you are hand sewing the felt together, be sure to use small, closely spaced stitches pulled taut. Stitches that are consistent in size, distance and tension will yield the best results.
Types of Stuffing - There are many different types of stuffing you can use and they fall into two categories: acrylic and natural fibers.
Acrylic - Polyfil is the most common acrylic stuffing. The type of acrylic stuffing I use most is Cluster Fiber Fill. Cluster filling is pulled into tiny cloudlike puffs. I discovered it years ago and always search for it specifically because I like it best. Cluster filling puffs out and fills my pieces very evenly. When I use Polyfil, I pull it apart into very small pieces before stuffing.
Natural Fibers - Natural fibers used for stuffing include cotton, bamboo and, the most common, wool. Wool stuffing is lovely to work with and is my second choice. Wool has a great weight to it and really gives a solid heft that is reminiscent of old world toys. Over time, however, wool stuffing can sometimes clump a bit.
Tools - For long, skinny pieces you’ll want to use forceps or a stuffing fork, if you have them. If you don’t have specific stuffing tools, you can use the eraser end of a pencil. Take a small bit of stuffing and shove it down into the furthest corner. Take care with this first piece! If there is still a gap at the end, pull the stuffing out and use a smaller clump of stuffing and try again. Once the ends are stuffed well, the rest of the piece is easy! Keep adding small clumps to build up to the opening. Be careful to keep the firmness consistent throughout the whole piece.
If you have a very tiny piece I really like the eraser as a tool. The eraser has some grip to it that gets the job done easily!
For larger pieces (bodies or heads), you can easily use your fingers for stuffing. Press open your seams with your fingers as you begin.
Technique - Stuff from the outer edges inward. For example, for a head, stuff it loosely and evenly and then dig out an opening in the center. This is where you will continue to add new stuffing until you get to the desired firmness. The trick is to just keep going - most likely past the point you think you’re done. I stuffed the 4” head in the pictures below and then unstuffed it for reference.
I used cluster filling on the left and Polyfil on the right.
Here is the head stuffed back up.
If you want a high quality end result, don’t rush through the stuffing! Have fun and take your time. Stuffing is the sculpting part of the process that brings a toy or doll to life!