Monday, April 7, 2014

Making a Stuffed Squeaker Toy

  This morning, after Cinder got up from playing with her favorite alligator stuffed squeaker toy, Gilley absconded with it.  In less than 30 seconds, it was shredded with a hole in one of the two squeakers in it. Cinder was completely upset I wouldn’t let her have the gator pieces back. He was her favorite toy.  I couldn’t stand her pouting – it was worse than a little kid!  I had Brian puppy-sit while I went to the sewing room and rummaged through my scraps to find something with which to make Cinder a new, “improved” gator.  A while later, I returned to the living room bearing a new stuffed alligator squeaker toy for Cinder, fully aware Gilley WILL get his teeth on it. This gator will hold up longer than the last one because I made it MY way.  I did this more than a few times for my last puppy – Gilley the stuffed toy destroyer! I was hopeful Gilley was past that and that MAYBE Cinder wouldn’t be a toy destroyer.  What was I thinking?  End result is I made a new gator toy with more squeakers and Cinder is happy again.

A friend asked for a “tutorial” for making the stuffed squeaker toy so here it is, to the best of my ability to explain it:

Things Needed:
  • ·        Basic sewing machine
  • ·        Tissue paper or plain (non-fusible) interfacing to create your pattern
  • ·        Scissors
  • ·        Pins
  • ·        tailor’s marking chalk (optional)
  • ·        Heavy denim, canvas, or duck cloth.  I also like to recycle old jeans.
  • ·        Optional heavy polar fleece
  • ·        Sewing thread
  • ·     Hand sewing needles and either upholstery or jeans thread for stitching the toy closed  after stuffing.
  • ·    A small bag of polyester fiberfill stuffing for toys.  Do NOT use foam, foam shreds, or thread/string shreds because if a dog eats them they can be devastating!!!
  •       At least one or more round plastic toy squeakers

     Dog toys don’t need to be difficult. I like to keep things fast and simple so I make my dog toys in TWO (2) pieces – a top and bottom.  The more separate parts you have, the more work to make it; and the faster it comes apart.  *If you’re a beginning or basic sewer, this is easy!  If you mess it up, you’re the only one who will know!!! The dog will still play with your toy no matter how nice or nasty it looks!
     Draw a basic “concept” design of the toy shape you want.  I suggest something easy like a “gingerbread man” for your first one. 

     Proportions are up to you however, you need to make everything big enough to easily turn your sewn toy inside out; stuff it easily; and fit your squeaker(s) in the area(s) you want it/them.  Be sure to include at least a quarter (1/4) – half (1/2) inch seam all around it.  It will seem huge when you cut it out, but it will be smaller than you think when you’re finished.
     Don’t forget to mark a place to leave unstitched for turning and stuffing your toy!  Typically, I like to leave a space that is wide enough for at least three of my fingers.  A good opening should be at least three to five inches wide, but I have large hands.  On the gingerbread figure, I place it on the inside of a leg. Place openings in straight areas of your seam lines, but not near a corners, tight curves, or points.  
     While you are designing, keep in mind that the smaller you make it, the harder it will be to turn inside out and stuff it. The size of your dog/puppy relative to the toy is also important. After all, if the dog can’t carry the toy, he’s not likely to play with it much.  Likewise, if the toy is too small, a big dog may eat the toy instead of playing with it!  Size really does matter in this endeavor.

    Once you’re happy with your “mock-up” pattern, create the real pattern on your tissue paper or interfacing.  Remember to mark your opening and include enough size for your seams. 
     When you have a final pattern, then you’ll be able to tell how much fabric you’ll need to make it.  I don’t worry about which way the grain of fabric is on dog toys because I usually use scraps.  The dogs will never know or care either!  I just find scraps big enough for my pattern to fit any way I can. If you have to buy fabric, you’ll want to measure your pattern or even take it with you to the fabric store.
     I ALWAYS use at least two layers of heavy denim, canvas, or duck cloth for each piece of the toy top and bottom.  The alligator I made Cinder is three layers of denim on the bottom; and one layer of denim with two layers of heavy polar fleece on the top. 
Top layer sewn around the edge to my denim layer. 
*I don’t bother with pinning & cutting the fabric around the pattern. Instead, I lay my pattern on the fabric; and use chalk to draw the outline around the pattern on the top layer of fabric.  I take that layer with the chalk outline (face up) and place it on the second layer of fabric; smooth the layers out and pin them together in key places.  I then take the sandwiched layers to the sewing machine and sew them together by sewing all the way around on the chalk outline.  Then I trim away the excess fabric.  I do that for both the top and bottom pattern pieces.  

*OPTIONAL:  I randomly “quilt” my two 
layered pieces together so they’ll act more like a single heavy fabric rather than two separate fabrics sewn together. It makes it harder for the dog to pierce and rip a layer if the layers are quilted together. Once I’ve done the “quilting” of the top and bottoms, I’m ready to sew the top and bottom together to form the toy.
     Put the top and bottom pieces together – inside out – to sew the toy’s seam.  Pin in position as needed.  Starting at one side of the space to be left open for turning/stuffing, backstitch a couple times to start, then sew all the way around the toy’s seam line to the opposite side of the opening space; and backstitch a couple times to end.  Sew around the seam a second time in a slightly smaller stitch to reinforce it.  Trim the seam allowance no closer than one quarter (1/4) inch from the stitching; clip curves and points.  Turn the completed toy body inside out so the right side is now on the outside. 
   Take your squeaker(s) and make little “pocket(s)” with a piece of hosiery, lightweight cloth or interfacing. This is to keep the fiberfill from plugging the opening of the squeaker(s) and preventing it from squeaking once you install it in the toy. 
    Stuff the extremities of your toy first.  Do not overstuff-you want it to have flexibility. If it’s not flexible enough, you’ve probably overstuffed. If it’s too flexible, it’ll be floppy. When inserting a squeaker, be sure to insert stuffing on all sides of the squeaker.  If desired, you can keep shifting of stuffing to a minimum by sewing a line across the extremities at places where a “joint” might be and another line of stitching at the joint of the extremity and the body.  Then fill the body cavity and insert squeakers as desired, with stuffing around all sides of the squeakers.  *If your toy has a head and/or tail, you should also stuff those areas before filling the body cavity.

  Once your toy is stuffed, check all the squeakers to be sure they still squeak and they are covered by stuffing but not so buried by it the do will not be able to find and squeak them.  If you’re happy with the way the squeakers work and the stuffing is finished, sew the toy opening closed with upholstery or jeans thread.  I use an invisible stitch because I don’t want the thread on the outside where the dog’s teeth may easily catch it.
     At this point, you should have a completed stuffed dog toy with at least one or more squeakers inside.  Check it once again to be sure you’ve clipped all your threads and be sure your seams are all closed.  Give it to your dog as soon as you’ve done your “quality control inspection.”
     Like all dog toys, especially stuffed ones, please always supervise your dog while playing with it!  They shouldn’t eat the fiberfill or plastic squeakers!  Once you see the toy has a hole, either patch it or take it away.  I like to patch them if I can – it adds character and longer life to the toy.  Once it’s beyond repairing, take it away from the dog and recycle as much of the stuffing and squeakers as possible for the next new toy!

     I’ve made a LOT of dog toys for a lot of dogs.  I almost always want to buy some because they’re often so cute, but by the time my dogs shred a few, I’m done buying and back to making them.  Mine last a LOT longer, endure rougher play – even being used as tug toys – and I can often recycle the stuffing and squeakers several times.  If you figure the “quality” stuffed toys are $7.00 - $50.00, I’m able to save a lot of money and spend only a little time to create my own stuffed toys.  The bonus is that I can create more than two toys for only $8.00 in fabric, $7.00 for a bag of squeakers, and $8.00 for a sizeable bag of fiberfill. It costs even less if I can use recycled jeans and the stuffing and squeakers from old toys!
      Truly, your dog is not going to care how cute or ugly the toy is so don't be afraid to try it and experiment with different ways to make your toys and different shapes. You may even get good enough that you could make some for local dog clubs, rescues, or humane societies for gifts, prizes and fundraisers!  

If you're thinking of trying it and have any questions or get stuck and need help, I'd be glad to help you.



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