Part 1: The Basics
Ah, Halloween. ‘Tis the season to be spooky! Whether you’re decorating your home or making a costume, Halloween is a great time to get crafty. In this series of tutorials, I’ll be showing you how to make cute plush brooches of the spooky variety (although you could totally use these techniques for non-spooky brooches, I just have Halloween on the brain). To start out with, I’ll be showing you how to design and sew some basic brooches. In the next tutorials, I’ll talk about ribbon embroidery and embroidering more complex designs, but this part will cover the basic important stuff.
Materials You’ll Need
- Scrap fabric (something light and tightly woven will work)
- All-purpose sewing thread
- Upholstery thread
- Embroidery floss
- ¾ inch pin backing
- Plain paper or sketchbook
- Graph paper (optional)
- Drawing compass (optional)
- Freezer paper
Tools You’ll Be Using
- Scissors (I use three pairs of scissors: one general purpose pair, one dedicated to general fabric cutting, and one with short blades for snipping threads and cutting small details)
- Pinking shears (optional)
- Sewing needles, various sizes
- Pins (I use 1-inch pins with round heads)
- Sewing machine (optional)
- Sewing gauge
- Washable fabric marker
Starting With a Design and Making Your Pattern
I start out with some sketches of what I want my brooches to look like. I do a whole bunch of them, playing around with various shapes and forms to see what works. It helps to have some photo references of what you’re designing. For example, when I started doodling my cat brooch designs, I wasn’t exactly sure what shapes I wanted to use. It was when I did a sketch based off a real cat that I saw what shapes made the brooch look distinctly cat-like. Photo references are your friend!
Once you know what you want your brooch to look like, you can start drawing a template for your pattern. What I like to do is to draw it on graph paper, because those lines are pretty handy for measuring stuff out and ensuring things are symmetrical. If you don’t have graph paper or don’t want to use it, that’s fine. All my designs use circles as bases, so I used a drawing compass.
Something else to consider is the grain of the fabric you’ll be using (unless you’re making these brooches out of felt, then you don’t have to worry about this). Woven fabrics have a lengthwise grain which is parallel to the selvage and not stretchy and a crosswise grain that runs perpendicular to the selvage and has some stretch. If your fabric doesn’t have a selvage, just pull on the fabric a little bit to see which way it stretches. This will affect the shape of the brooch slightly. If the lengthwise grain runs horizontally, the brooch might look a little taller, and if it runs vertically, the brooch will be a smidge wider. If you don’t align the brooch to the grain, it might stretch in a weird direction and look a bit awkward. Pattern makers typically draw an arrow on their patterns to show how to align the pattern to the grain… which I forgot to actually draw on my patterns… oops!
With the templates drawn, you can start tracing the patterns to freezer paper. Freezer paper is really great for small patterns because you can temporally adhere it to the fabric with an iron, which is quicker and more accurate than pinning. Make sure to trace the pattern to the matte side.
Choosing Your Fabric
These brooches are small, so you won’t need oodles of fabric to make them. So if you have some leftover scraps around, these brooches are a great way to use them! The patterns I came up with didn’t need any piece of fabric longer than four inches, but you may have made your sizes different. Light, tightly woven fabrics works best for these brooches. I made my brooches using quilting cotton fabric.
I use either solids or small-scaled prints because of the small size of the brooches. I’ve noticed that lighter fabrics tend to be slightly transparent, which results in the seams showing through. You can test this by putting the fabric on a surface and folding part of it under to see if the bottom layer shows through. Cutting some extra pieces to line the inside prevents this, and if you want to, you can chose different colors to create some subtle undertones.
I’m going to demonstrate using light-colored fabrics by making a light-colored skull brooch.
Cutting the Fabric
With your pattern pieces drawn and your fabric you chose, you can begin cutting out your pieces. Start by using your iron to smooth out any creases in your fabric if you need to. Fold your fabric over itself so there is enough space to fit the pattern piece on top and leave a half-inch of space all around it.
If you’re using a print fabric, make sure to fold it so the pattern is on the inside. Also, be sure you have aligned the piece to the grain correctly.
Once you’ve done that, set the iron to the temperature setting for wool and iron over the pattern. The pattern will adhere to the fabric.
Cut the part of the fabric with the pattern away so that there are four sides that are half an inch away from the edge of the pattern.
Trace around the pattern with a washable fabric marker, and then measure dots half an inch away from the pattern all around. This is going to mark the seam allowance. I think the usual seam allowance for softies is a quarter of an inch, but I get paranoid about the corners of some fabrics getting caught in the feed dogs of the sewing machine. If you want to sew these by hand, you can go ahead and use a quarter-inch seam allowance. It won’t take you long to sew these itsy bitsy little brooches either way.
Now you have your fabric pieces ready to sew, but unless you’re using solid colored fabric you should double-check to see if the right sides of your fabric are on the inside. If you’re adding an extra inside layer, repeat the above steps for cutting fabric, and then sandwich the pieces you want on the outside between the pieces that will line the inside. This is super important! You’ll be turning this inside out after you sew it, so everything inside will be outside. Speaking of turning things inside out, you’ll want to mark where you’ll leave an opening to turn the brooch. It’s usually best to mark this opening on a mostly straight line.
With everything marked and layered, you can now pin the fabric pieces together to hold everything in place. Now you’re ready to sew!
Sewing Your Brooch
Sewing small curves on a sewing machine can be tricky, but it’s possible. Make sure your machine’s stitches are set to be very small. Mine is set to be 24 stitches per inch. Teensy stitches are ideal for anything that’s going to be stuffed later because they’ll prevent stuffing from poking out of the seams, and permit you to trim the seam allowance down without issues. Lower the presser foot onto the fabric where the needle will go down to one side of the opening you marked. Don’t sew too quickly; take it slow and easy. Make certain the line you drew is always showing through the small gap in the presser foot. Regularly lift the presser foot with the needle in the fabric to turn the fabric slightly to keep sewing on the line. Stop sewing once you’ve reached the other side of the opening.
Secure the ends of the thread by tying them.
Trimming Seam Allowances
Trim the seam allowance and clip triangles into any outward curves and notches into inward curves. You can use pinking shears to quickly clip triangles around curves, but be very careful not to cut into where you sewed. If you don’t have pinking shears, it’s best to use scissors that have short blades meant for fine details and snipping threads.
At this point you’ll want to wash off the lines you drew. I usually soak the fabric in water for a few minutes to dissolve the ink (the packaging for the markers I use said that the marks could be dabbed with a damp cloth to clean them, but I’ve found that doesn’t work). Check to make sure the marker has washed off completely when the fabric is dry.
Turning and Stuffing
To make turning easier, use a hemostat. They’re super handy for grabbing the inside, pulling it out, and smoothing out the edges. Poke and prod around inside it until the shape resembles the pattern you drew. You could also use a dowel rod or pencil to turn things too, but I find that hemostats are the best tool for the job.
Now you’re ready to stuff! So, how much stuffing do you need?
More than you’d think! Now, you probably want to know why you should cram all this stuffing into a little 1 ½ or 2 inch brooch. Well, if you’re going to embroider on the brooch, then you’ll want the surface to be stable. You’ll be attaching a pin backing, and you don’t want that to wiggle around when someone tries to put the brooch on something. Also, using a lot of stuffing helps the brooch keep its shape. So go nuts with the stuffing.
To stuff the brooch, separate the stuffing into little bits as you go. This helps to keep the brooch from looking lumpy. Also, with the hemostat you can insert stuffing into areas that need more stuffing so that the brooch’s shape turns out better. Pack the stuffing in tight, so the brooch feels fairly solid. For the skull, stuff the teeth region a little more loosely. There’s a special extra step that I’ll be going over a bit later for the skull.
You’ll need strong thread to close the opening, because you’ll be tugging and pulling at the thread a lot. Upholstery thread is great for this. I’d recommend cutting about 18 inches of thread. Instead of tying a regular overhand knot, I like to thread the needle by folding the thread in half and threading the two ends through the eye of the needle so when I pull the thread almost all the way through the fabric, there’s a loop. I thread the needle through the loop and tighten the knot. Doing this makes a knot that won’t be easily pulled through the fabric.
Now you can ladder stitch the opening to close it. Tie an overhand knot at the end, but place the needle in the loop and hold it against the brooch so that the knot is as close to the brooch as possible. Insert the needle as close to the knot as you can get it and pull it through the brooch so that the knot *pops* into the brooch. Snip the end of the thread that’s sticking out (and if there’s still a little bit of thread poking out, just squish the area around it until it slides into the brooch). This should result in a tidy closure with no visible knots.
Defining the Teeth (Special Step for the Skull)
If you aren’t making a skull right now, go ahead and skip this part. This step involves something that’s kind of like fabric sculpting. This is why I said to stuff the teeth of the skull less firmly.
Cut about 18 inches of upholstery thread. I used black thread to create a kind of cartoony look, but if you want something more subtle you can use lighter thread. Thread the needle like with the closing before. Measure out the spacing between the teeth and mark it with pins. Make sure the pins are lined up with each other. Pick up a few threads of the fabric with the needle, pull it most of the way through, and thread the needle through the loop. Use the pins to guide where you need to sew. Pull on the thread as you go to tighten it. When you’re done, tie the finishing knot like before, pull it into the fabric and trim the end that’s left.
With the main body of the brooch sewn, you can now embroider the features. There are several embroidery stitches I use for making faces: the backstitch, the satin stitch, and the surface satin stitch. I’ll be describing how I use these stitches, but if you’re new to embroidery you might want to practice on a scrap piece of cloth first.
Cut and thread some embroidery floss. Use pins to aid in the placement of the eyes. Knot the thread to the surface of the brooch like before and start backstitching in a circle around the pins. You can either use the regular satin stitch or the surface satin stitch to fill in the eye, using the circle you backstitched as a guide. However, if you do use the surface satin stitch, you have to remember to do a few regular satin stitches at the end, because surface satin stitches aren’t very strong and can actually be pulled through the fabric when you knot off the thread and pull it inside the brooch.
You can use these same stitches to make other kinds of faces too. You can vary the shape of the backstitches to make eyes with different expressions, or for making open mouths. For kitties, you can add a few dark satin stitches over the base eye to make pupils, and for their mouths I just backstitch a “w” shape.
Attaching the Pin Backing
There’s just one more step to go, and that’s attaching the pin backing.
Once again we’re using sturdy upholstery thread, and once again we’re using the same method of threading the needle and making a knot as before. Use a pin to hold the backing in place while you make the first stitches to attach it. After making several stitches to secure the pin backing to the brooch, satin stitch over it to make the attachment look neater. Tie the thread in an overhand knot and pop it inside the pin.
And there you have it! A cute little plush brooch, ready to stick to your shirt or bag or whatever you have that doesn’t mind having pins stuck on it.
Next time on O Deer: Ribbon Embroidered Roses to make your brooches even cuter! Everything’s Cuter with flowers. Everything.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to ask questions or comment. We love to hear from you…