How to Stuff a Softie Art Doll

30 Nov 2012

Thanksgiving may be over this year, but we can still talk about stuffing birds, can't we? I'm talking about softies (aka stuffies or art dolls).

quail softie by abby glassenberg
Quail softie by Abby Glassenberg.
There are lots of ways to stuff softies, and many different kinds of softies to stuff. But since birds are such a popular shape in the world of doll making, I thought today I'd share some tips from a stuffie tutorial by Abigail Patner Glassenberg, from her book The Artful Bird: Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.

Abigail's softie patterns are designed so that you create the basic bird body (and sometimes the head), adding in wire legs and "feathering" the body and adding the beak later. Your bird or other stuffie pattern may be different, but Abigail's techniques should generally apply.

1. Take your time. "Stuffing is one of the most important steps in the creation of a bird. Stuffing properly takes time," says Abigail. She recommends taking a break after the cutting, sewing, and turning so you can come back fresh and devote all your attention to stuffing slowly and carefully.

2. Use forceps (hemostats). Surgical forceps have handles and blades like scissors, but the points are dull and are designed for grasping small objects. You can find them online or in suture kits (ask a doctor). When you are making art dolls of most any kind, forceps will help you move the stuffing into all the nooks and crannies.

3. Don't get greedy. It's tempting to want to stuff a lot of stuffing into your softie at once, but Abigail recommends stuffing in small bites. That way, you will end up with a firmer shape. So, take tiny bits of stuffing with the tips of your forceps and insert the tip of the forceps into the body, going all the way to the extremity. Pack the stuffing in as tightly as possible, but be gentle-you don't want to push the forceps through the fabric or stitching.

how to stuff a stuffie
Abby uses forceps to stuff her avian art doll.
4. Be the tortoise, not the hare. Slow and steady works best when it comes to stuffing, reminds Abigail. So continue grabbing small bits of stuffing and packing it tightly until the head is firmly stuffed, then work your way down. If your stuffie is in a different shape and has, for example, arms and legs, stuff all the extremities from top to bottom, filling the body as you work your way down.

The stuffed bird (or other art doll shape), should feel very firm and hard and should not be squishy at all, says Abigail. It takes time, but if you've stuffed slowly and carefully, you should have a smooth, firmly stuffed body.

Speaking from personal experience, I know a softie always takes more stuffing than you think, so patience and persistence are required. If you've stitched your seams properly and stuff firmly but gently into the shape, you will be rewarded.

Abigail's birds are meticulously created, and she lays out her process clearly, with many images and options for every part of the bird from beaks to feathers to feet. If you love birds, you will love creating softie sculptures from Abigail's instructions in The Artful Bird.

P.S. Do you make art dolls? Tell me about them in the comments section below.

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HandsHeal2 wrote
on 30 Nov 2012 10:11 AM

forceps can also be purchased at most medical supply stores.

KassB wrote
on 30 Nov 2012 10:11 AM

An easy place to find forceps is the fishing section of any store with a sporting good section.

ctutt wrote
on 30 Nov 2012 12:39 PM

Additional handy tools are smooth-sanded chopsticks. I have also used fondue forks, with a bit of masking tape covering the sharp points.

BrendaW@33 wrote
on 1 Dec 2012 7:17 AM

when you stitch the pieces right sides together, place a strip of batting ( about 1/2" wide) on the top piece and stitch, your seams will already be stuffed.

bathsom wrote
on 6 Dec 2012 2:11 AM

I love making art dolls and birds, I sometimes handpaint calico and from there just use a simple basic pattern I have that I make them from.  Depending on the colours I mix they become either nature or fanciful ones.  As I do the faces they come to life and a name usually comes to me.

LynneR@9 wrote
on 19 Jan 2014 3:07 AM

Did I miss the part where she says what she uses for stuffing??