by Trixi Symonds
I’ve been giving a lot of hand-sewing workshops in Sydney (where I live) and Melbourne (a 900 km hop south) for parents and kids, and I keep running up against people with a fear of sewing. Seems a lot of folks put sewing in the “too hard” basket. This started me thinking. I need a way to show people who can’t sew that they can, that sewing is a stress-free, actually very relaxing, fun, and creative activity. So I came up with Sew-a-Softie Day, to be celebrated globally, on which those who know how to sew can teach those who don’t.
Sew-a-Softie Day posed a design problem for me: how to design a softie that was really very simple to make, but also was full of creative possibilities. What I came up with was a Zenkidu. That’s what I called the first little fellow I made, and it’s become the name that I use for all softies of his kind.
The Zenki, (here in Australia names are always shortened), is a softie that involves only two pieces of felt, a face, sewing around a square, and a little bit of stuffing to make him soft. There’s lots of room to do what you want within this simple framework. You can make your Zenki as raggedy or neat as you wish, you can play with the contrasts of two different colours for his front and back, you can proportion his limbs to give a variety of looks, and you can make your Zenki from a diverse range of repurposed fabrics and materials. And, of course, once you know how to make a square Zenki, you can experiment with all sorts of alternative shapes.
This is how you make your square Zenki.
1. Cut 2 squares of colored felt. I use two 12″ squares because that’s a good size for kids in my workshops to handle. Make yours as big or as small as you like. I also like to use 2 different colors of felt or combine a patterned felt with a plain one.
2. Draw a square in the centre of your felt. This is going to be your sewing line. On my 12″ square I drew a 7″ square, which left me a wide margin of felt to use later to make Zenki’s arms, legs, and hair.
3. Design your Zenki’s face within the drawn square. Use whatever you have on hand to create the face. We think we know what a face looks like, or should look like, but our mental images of faces are usually made up of clichés: Eyes are more or less circular or oval, noses regular and symmetrical, and mouths are sort of like lines. Unfortunately, these clichés tend to get in the way of doing something fresh and creative. To get out of this bind, I make my Zenki’s faces from the off-cuts of coloured felt and fabrics left lying around my house, often piled up on the table I’m working on. In this treasure trove of oddly shaped discarded scraps I can discover new shapes for eyes, noses, and mouths that I never would have thought of using.
note: Look around for old textiles, off-cuts, buttons, knitted or crocheted shapes, ribbons, braids, any left-over bits and pieces. Play with them as possible facial features and make patterns that suggest a face, then change them around, letting your eye decide what looks good. Refuse to be led by what you’ve been told looks good. Let the peculiar combination of colours, textures, and odd-looking shapes inspire you.
4. Once you’ve decided on your Zenki’s personality, glue or sew the facial features into place. Take the felt square with the face and pin it to the remaining 12″ felt square. Sew around the drawn square, leaving a 3″ opening through which you can push some polyester fibrefill. When your Zenki has enough stuffing, sew the opening closed.
5. In the wide margin of felt left around the Zenki’s body/face, draw arms, legs, and whatever hairstyle you want your Zenki to have. My Zenkis have rectangular arms and legs with 2–3 simple triangles to suggest fingers and toes. These shapes are easy to cut and have a quirky geometric look that I like for Zenkis.
6. Finally, cut the unwanted margin of felt from around the arms and legs, and create the hair. The easiest way to make hair is to cut fringes in the margin at the places you want your Zenki to have hair.
note: You’ll find the arms, legs, and hair are made up of two layers of felt. I like to cut off the top layer from the arms or from both the arms and legs, and sometimes from the hair, in order to let the bottom, differently coloured layer of felt be seen. I like my Zenkis to have arms and legs that are a different colour than their bodies because the colour contrast gives a whole new and expressive dimension to play with.
I hope this shows you how simple sewing a softie can be. All you need is two bits of felt and a spare morning or afternoon in which to enjoy that wonderful feeling of the unravelling of your own creativity and playfulness.
If you’ve been inspired to sew a softie you can join in Sew-a-Softie Day by teaching a friend how to sew a simple softie. And if you’re not quite ready to teach, you can go to one of the softie tutorials that sewers around the world will be posting online from July 1–16, 2016. For info and to find out what’s happening, join the Sew-a-Softie day Facebook group.
Bio: Trixi Symonds is author of Sew Together Grow Together. She blogs craft and hand sewing projects at www.colouredbuttons.
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