Thursday, 5 April 2012

Can't Get Enough of That Funky Stuffing

Ahh, the great British weather it is at it again.  One day it is Summer in Spring, the next it is back to Winter again.  I can't complain too much though,  as we haven't actually had any snow here unlike half of the country, but it has been pretty cold here.

In my last post I mentioned about cushions and stuffing.  So I thought I would post today on the subject as promised.  This has made me think back to when I was a wee nipper in the early 70's (gosh yes, i'm really THAT old!).  Anyway, when I was young, we were encouraged to make things and crafting was a natural pastime.  My favourite TV programmes regularly showed 'how to make' your own things.  'Blue Peter' had a regular spot on the show featuring how to make and design things.  Later, a rival show called Magpie came along, which often featured making things.  There was a programme called 'How' which was quite scientific and especially good for boys as this showed things like how to make your own circuit boards.  And then, my favourite art programme 'Vision on' and the story telling programme called Jackanory.  Now I know that there have been art programmes in recent years, my own children loved Art Attack for example, but they just don't seem to be like our old programmes.  Art Attack usually involved me having to go out to a shop somewhere to find the right PVA glue, paint, felt pens and whatever else was needed for the major project.  In the early 70's, you had to make the glue as well (good old flour and water).

Now if this all seems a little archaic for the younger generations out there, I will back this up further by my primary education or Junior School as it was known then.   We had a Potter's Wheel in our school, the kind that you 'threw' the clay onto and pressed the pedal up and down with your feet.  We made animals and bowls etc.  We had a making class every week   in lesson time where we made stuffed animals, a slipper bag, a draught excluder and all kinds of other things.  It was during these lessons that I learned to use a sewing machine for the very first time!  This was in addition to our art lessons.  I can hear many teachers saying to themselves 'they were the good old days when teaching was fun'  and just imagine, we still learned to read and write, how did that happen?  And a teacher's day was not filled with worrying about statistics, performance and reaching targets .  Then once a week after school you could join a club where we learned to make soap, candles and some of the more sophisticated and time consuming items.  On top of all this, we were encouraged to use and reuse things.  We were encouraged to do patchwork from reused fabric.  The clothes for rag dolls were from recycled sources.  I assume this was to keep the costs down at the time, but what we learned from this was that you can often make things from what is at hand.  Therefore, I was always making things at home, especially clothes for my dolls.  I think that all these things helped to foster a creative spark in me, which is still with me today.  I am happy therefore, to see that many people are recycling and reusing today and not just sending things to the landfill site before they are worn out.

One of the things we did at school was to make our own stuffing.  We would get as many pairs of old tights that we could get our hands on (washed first, of course!) and we would snip them up into 1" pieces with some scissors.  Then we would use these pieces to stuff whatever it was that we were making, eg animal, rag doll etc.  It probably helped that most mums at that time wore 'American Tan' tights.  This was the colour that mums wore before fake tan caught on!  As the name implies, it was a fairly neutral colour and a great concealor.  Now i'm not suggesting for one minute that you could start a business, chopping up tights and stuffing them into things to sell on the internet, as I am sure that there would be a few health and safety issues to do with flammability and whether they had been laundered sufficiently or not.  But if it was something for your own personal use, or for somebody near and dear, why not indeed!  It may be necessary to find some grandmas who still wear American Tan tights though, but even black tights would do (as long as you couldn't see through the outer fabric of the thing you were stuffing.

Anyway, back to cushions.  I mentioned these in my last blog because sometimes I find that I cannot get the right size cushion inner and they are often quite expensive to buy.  If you find that this is the case, the simple answer could be to make your own.  Many craft shops these days are selling stuffing suitable for craft projects.  Before you splash out on calico and stuffing though, it is a good idea to price up the cushion pads (if you can get them) Vs making your own.  Now I have heard of somebody buying a cushion pad which didn't fit or was the wrong shape for the project in question, and taking out the stuffing and reusing it in a homemade cushion pad.  This is a good idea if it is cost effective.  I have found that you can buy some good stuffing on the internet, but you usually have to buy so many bags of it and the postage is quite expensive.  So shop around before you make a decision.  Making your own cushion pads or inners is a really good idea when you want to make a different shape eg a heart shaped cushion, a rectangle or even a bolster.  Sometimes it is even hard to track down circular cushion pads.  So here is what I would do to make my own.

Cut out some strong neutral coloured fabric in the shape and size of your intended cushion pad, remembering to add 1cm-1.5cm all round for seam allowances.  Calico is a good option for the fabric as it is strong and fairly economical to buy.  You need to choose something that won't let the stuffing out and that won't be seen through your outer cushion fabric.

Sew around your cushion pad shape but leave an opening in one side large enough to turn the fabric and to get your hand into for stuffing.

After you have sewn around the seams, trim them back - but not too close to the stitching as you don't want to cut the stitches or for it to fray.  Also, notice how I cut a triangle across the corners, again not too close to the stitches.  This makes it easier to turn the corners and should give a nice point.

Now use your stuffing to fill your cushion.  If you intend to sell your cushion it is a good idea to use a filling that has a BS safety number on it for cleanliness, washability and most importantly for fire safety.

Now put the stuffing into your cushion pad and fill it to make a nice firm cushion, but not too full or it may burst the stitching and will make it difficult to sew up the final gap.

Now take a needle and thread and sew the final opening with a nice strong backstitch.

Voila!  This is how I made the cushion inner for my last project.  Just remember that your outer fabric (cushion cover fabric) needs to have an extra seam allowance of 1cm-1.5cm all around, so that it will fit over the cushion pad.

Have a very Happy Easter.


  1. Hi Daisy. This takes me back! I remember using American Tan to stuff a felt elephant many years ago. Cannot say my mother was too impressed when she found her tight drawer empty! I would like to make little quilts for my daughters using their old baby blankets. But I do not know how to chop them first into bits without unravelling everything. Any ideas?

    1. Oops yes, I can remember doing things like that. Also, the amount of times mum used to find holes cut out of dresses, blouses, tablecloths, sheets etc. when we thought she no longer needed them. Perhaps it is a good idea to ask the permission of the original owner first!

      With regards to your baby blanket question, i'm not quite sure if you are talking about actual blankets that have been knitted or baby quilts? If it is a baby blanket that has been machine knitted, they usually have quite an open weave and you are right, they will probably unravel, but not in a useful way. I would be tempted to wrap them up and keep them for future generations of family, or to give them to charity. If the blanket has a close weave, eg waffle, these could probably be cut into squares and sewn together without much ravelling. Only thing to remember here is that the squares need to have a similar thickness to make your quilt/blanket even. Also, they need to have the same laundry requirements, so that you can wash them on a consistent wash cycle/temperature.

      If you are talking about a baby quilt and it is the top and back fabric that you wish to use, i'm afraid the only way forward for this project is to undo all the top stitching. Do take heart though, i'm guessing that the quilting stitch on a baby quilt would not be too difficult to undo and the fabric could be recycled quite successfully. You would have to buy some new batting(filling) though as I think it would be difficult to reuse this successfully in your project. You can get batting from a craft shop or quilting shop.

      Hope you find this helpful.

      Have fun Shirleygirl!

  2. I remember those lessons! It occurs to me that my 14 year old is producing the same work in TK that we did at primary school. Enough said. Are you planning to give any advice on wall hangings? I've been itching to start one for years, a sort of smorgasbord of family life.

    1. Yes this may be something that I will blog about in the future, but if you need some information on applique techniques now, then maybe check out youtube. It may be helpful to search 'applique with bondaweb'.

      Felt is a wonderful material to work with as it does not fray, it is easy to sew by hand and it comes in some fabulous colours. You can pin this to your background and then stitch around your shape - no need for bondaweb or anything like that. If you do not like sewing, you could even use a fabric glue and use no stitches at all. For me though, the stitching part is the fun bit as you can use embroidery floss and all kinds of stitches. Have a look on the internet for shops that will sell felt by the meter, you could use that for your background. Felt can also be purchased in squares and usually a little goes a long way.

      Have fun Mainey! x