How to turn a child’s artwork into a real-life toy

Last fall, a colleague commissioned me to turn her son’s drawing into a stuffed animal. I typically do not take on commissioned work (because I barely have time to finish my own selfish sewing projects), but this one sounded too fun to pass up (and I absolutely adore her son)!

Her son had made this robot-looking character out of construction paper. He named him Fuzzy Johnsman and carried him everywhere (he even slept with him!). As you can imagine, the construction paper was becoming worn and Fuzzy was in danger of extinction.

Mama bear snuck Fuzzy into work one day so I could see what I’d be working to replicate.

The original Fuzzy. You can see dried glue where some of his embellishments had already worn off (and a leg had gone missing).

I fell in love with Fuzzy. His creation screamed imagination – he is so unique!

Preparation

To begin, I took Fuzzy outside so I could capture a photo with good lighting to accurately convey the colors used. I referenced these pictures often – from picking materials to construction.

Pattern

After ensuring I had pictures that captured Fuzzy’s true colors, we made copies. Because the original Fuzzy was flat, we were able to put him in the copying machine to create a black and white replica. This was a handy alternative to tracing him – I was able to use the copies as a pattern template.

I used multiple copies of Fuzzy – some I traced (to use as pattern templates for the larger pieces) and some I cut pieces out of (to mark placement of the smaller pieces on top of the larger pieces).

Because Fuzzy had several layers, having at least one copy per layer came in handy. For the larger pieces, I cut the pieces directly and used them as a pattern template on the felt. For the smallest pieces (the embellishments – sequins, googly eyes, the little squares), I cut them out carefully so that they formed a hole in the paper. I used these pieces (the paper with holes in it where the embellishments were) to lay over the largest pieces (the “body” piece) to mark the placement of the embellishments so I would know where they should be attached.

Me and one of the copies of Fuzzy. This was hung beside my sewing machine for reference as I worked.

Material

After seeing Fuzzy in real life and taking note of all of his pieces and colors, I decided to use felt. I don’t use felt often – to be honest, it is not a favorite material. However, it lent itself perfectly to this project. Felt does not fray so it would be easy to work with – particularly with attaching multiple small pieces. It would also give me the freedom to layer the pieces without working through the logistics of containing the raw edges. 

I considered using buttons as the eyes, but ultimately decided to make Fuzzy entirely out of felt.

I used some blue ombre cotton thread someone gave me because I thought it would add fun detail to the project.

Cutting

I used my templates to cut out all of the pieces and tried to keep them organized with little pieces of scrap paper to label what they were.

Because fuzzy was going to be 3-dimensional with a front and a back, most pieces (along the exterior) needed duplicate pieces. For these, I just folded the felt so I could save time by cutting the two [mirrored] pieces at once. Then I used my wonder clips to hold the pieces and their paper label together until I was ready for them.

Top right – an example of how I cut apart pieces of the pattern to trace placement. Also, as you can see – wonder clips came in very handy!

Special embellishments

Because my colleague’s son had given his buddy such a unique name, I decided to incorporate that into the design. I used my machine to embroider the name on scrap pieces of white felt and attached them to his back.

Stitching

Once I had all of the pieces cut in the appropriate color, I went layer-by-layer. I used a washable glue stick to temporarily attach the layered pieces (the circles for the eyes & antenna as well as the square embellishments on the body). Then I hand-stitched the layers together starting with the smallest/top layer and working my way down until the piece was ready to be attached to the body.

I used a blanket stitch on my machine to attach the head to the body (front and back) as well as to attach the feet to the legs. Because most of the pieces were small and had curved edges (and felt is a very easy fabric to puncture), I opted for hand-sewing most of the pieces to maintain control and accuracy of placement.

Sewing clockwise, I started with the right antenna and worked my way all the way around to the left antenna. When I reached the area where an arm, leg, or antenna connected to the body, I stitched backwards and forwards to double the stitching (since these would undoubtedly be pressure points when carrying Fuzzy) and to maintain direction (continuing clockwise around the body). I left the top of the head open for stuffing.

While hand-stitching does give you a lot more control, it is also much less organized. If you look closely to compare the stitches on the curve at the bottom of Fuzzy’s head to any of the outside stitches you can see the difference. I really love the way hand-stitches have an imperfect, wonky vibe, but if that’s not your thing, take that into consideration when choosing your stitching method 😉

Stuffing

For the arms, legs, and antenna, I cut slightly smaller pieces of the scrap felt and used it as “stuffing” rather than fiberfill because it would be easier and provided the desired structure. (If you look at the top right antenna with the blue top in the picture above, you can see the layers I am referencing.)

I used fiberfill to stuff the body and head – the biggest part of Fuzzy.

Conclusion

This project was great fun! I really like hand-sewing – especially with felt (the needle slips through like butter!). Overall, this project was certainly a labor of love, but actually quite easy. I think it would be appropriate for a beginner. Working through projects like this where you have a lot of creative flexibility (no pattern to follow, no worry of whether it will fit/be wearable, and it’s a gift for a child so you can almost guarantee it will be received with much joy) are some of my very favorites!

Fuzzy was gifted to his owner on his 5th birthday in October. Since then I have heard about him often – he still seems to be a big hit! He was even taken to school on a day when students were told to bring a bear to class (because Fuzzy can be whatever he wants to be!).

If you are setting out to bring a child’s artwork to life in this way, I’d love to see what you make! Feel free to reach out any time with questions or to share your creations – you can comment on this post, find me on Instagram, or any method on my contact page!

Happy making!
 – Jordan

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