Knitted Toys: Construction and Safety
If you’ve never knitted toys before, you’re in for a real treat: they can often be made up very quickly using small amounts of yarn, they’re colorful, and they’re always full of character. In short, they’re a great way to play with yarn and embrace the cute side. Plus, kids love them. Toys aren’t all that different from other knitting projects, except in the density of the fabric and the scale of the project (they’re generally much smaller than garments). Think of them as sweaters with all the openings sewn up.
Toys can be worked flat or in the round, depending on the design and the designer’s preference. Then they’re assembled rather like a garment, too, except that instead of working a front, a back, and sleeves, you’re creating components such as head, body, arms, legs, and tail. Once you attach all the components to each other, you can construct clothing or other accessories for the toy. All the toys featured here can be found in Interweave Knits, Holiday 2017.
If the toy will be stuffed, the knitted fabric has to be dense enough to keep the stuffing from coming out of the toy. This means you’ll be working at a tighter gauge. Knitters making small toys in the round may want to acquire a set of short double-pointed needles or very long circulars for Magic Loop knitting.
Don’t choose yarns that have beads or sequins attached or yarns that will shed excessively; these yarns may present choking hazards to children under 3 years old (see the Safety First graphic below).
We recommend yarn for each project in this issue, but you may want or need to substitute. If so, consider three practical questions:
1. Does the toy need to be washable? If children will handle the toy frequently, adults will appreciate the convenience of washable yarns. Superwash wools, many cottons, and virtually all acrylics and synthetic blends can go into the washing machine. Some cottons and acrylics can even be machine-dried. Check the yarn label for care instructions.
2. Does the toy need to be hypoallergenic? Synthetic and plant-fiber yarns may be the safest choices for children with allergies. You may want to wash yarn that has been in your stash for a while, in case it has collected dust, pet hair, or other possible allergy triggers.
3. How much do you want to spend on materials? Are you making an heirloom or a plaything? What yarns will feel best on your hands and on the recipient’s hands? Parents might treasure certain toys as much or more than the kid will—say, a handmade mobile or an elaborate doll displayed on a shelf. If parents want to preserve the toy for posterity, quality materials may be worth the higher price. In general, natural yarns will cost more than synthetics, but natural fibers may deteriorate faster from sunlight, washing, and handling. Online reviews of yarns can help you find good substitutes if you choose not to use our recommended ones.
Stuff toys with hypoallergenic and washable fiberfill, which comes under several brand names. It’s inexpensive and easy to find in polyester. There are also companies that make fiberfill from cotton, bamboo, and soy; some even use organically produced plant fibers. But read labels carefully if you want the toy to be washable—not all manufacturers recommend washing natural fiberfill.
If the toy needs to be weighted for some reason, polypropylene stuffing beads can help it sit upright. Note that these beads present a choking hazard to children under 5 years old, and some brands can’t be washed. Again, read labels carefully for manufacturers’ guidelines.
On toys for children under 3, use safety eyes and noses rather than beads or buttons. Eyes come in every color you can imagine. Noses come in many shapes, including pointed cat styles; rounded nostrils for bears or dogs; and generic circles, hemispheres, and spheres that could also serve as eyes, buttons on a snowman, or rivets on a robot.
Any other embellishments should be chosen for washability (if you’re making a washable toy) and need to be sewn on securely.
Plan to leave extra yarn for sewing when you cast on, bind off, change colors, or work I-cord or crochet chains—always leave a long tail just in case you need it. Even components made in the round will require some sewing, either to close up an opening after stuffing or to attach components to each other. Pieces made flat need to be seamed before and after stuffing; they may be sewn to other components, too. Whenever possible, use the same color for sewing and seaming. You can sew pieces using any suitable method. When you can, use a tail for any kind of sewing; thread it through a tapestry needle, stitch as needed, then weave in the remaining end. If there isn’t a convenient yarn tail nearby, cut a length of yarn, thread it through the tapestry needle, and leave a few inches of tail at the beginning of the seam to weave in this end securely.
Attaching Safe Eyes and Noses
You’ll need access to both sides of the knitted fabric to attach safety eyes and noses, so these embellishments are added before stuffing. Once they’re locked in place, they can’t be moved. A water-soluble fabric marker will help you line up eyes and other features; if you change your mind about the placement, lightly moisten the old marks and then draw new ones. Poke the eye or nose shaft through the fabric from the right side, then add the locking ring on the wrong side of the fabric. You can position all the features and check their placement, then lock the rings on after you’re satisfied with the results.
Stuffing can have a huge impact on your toy’s character. If you want something chewable or floppy for an infant, use less stuffing. A more firmly stuffed toy can be just as huggable and is more likely to sit up on its own. Some toys will have firm and floppy bits to give different effects. It’s important not to overstuff, however; knitted fabric will stretch, so if you pack in too much stuffing you’ll create a toy with the huggability of a soccer ball.
Instead, stuff strategically. For large toys or components, this involves lumps of stuffing the size of golf balls. Start stuffing at the farthest point from the opening and work your way up to the opening. Mash each new golf ball of stuffing into the old ones, or fill in bare patches with smaller-sized lumps so that the toy doesn’t look like a bunch of balls inside a sock. When you’ve achieved the density you want for that part of the toy, move on to the next.
With smaller toys or toy pieces, you’ll work with little lumps of stuffing—maybe the size of a bean or a pea. Often the tiniest extremities, such as a bird’s beak or a dog’s nose, need to be stuffed very firmly. In those cases, use a chopstick, the blunt end of a knitting needle or crochet hook, or the eraser end of a pencil to pack in or adjust the stuffing.
No matter what size toy you’re stuffing, you can manipulate the filling to shape the object. It’s like sculpting with clay: rounded bottoms, chubby cheeks, or a long floppy tail can add lots of personality to a handmade gift. Just resist the urge to overstuff. If you can easily see the stuffing between stitches, or if you’ve distorted the shape, remove some fiberfill before sewing the opening closed.
Sewing Openings and Attaching Components
After stuffing, close the opening with mattress stitching. Weaving in ends on a stuffed item where you can’t access the wrong side of the fabric is also known as burying ends: on the fabric’s right side, tie an overhand knot close to the surface, thread the end through the tapestry needle, bury the knot under the fabric, and poke the needle out the other side of the piece. Pull the yarn taut and cut. When the piece springs back into shape, the cut end will be buried inside the stuffing. For large components where a tapestry needle isn’t long enough, use an upholstery needle with an eye large enough for the yarn.
You should also bury ends when attaching component pieces to each other (for instance, sewing a head onto a body). Again, an upholstery needle can be useful, especially if the components are large or you’re sewing several pieces together at once. For instance, a pattern might say to attach both arms at once. Here, you’d start by sewing on one arm, running the needle all the way through the body to the other shoulder joint, then sewing the second arm—it’s much easier to join all these components with a long needle.
Add any embroidery details or other embellishments last. It’s easier to draw features on a stuffed item, and embroidery can help shape muzzles, paws, and so on. Use water-soluble fabric markers to mark placement, draw motifs, or otherwise try out ideas. Fasten all stitches or stitched-on items as securely as possible if the toy will get a lot of handling.
Now that you’ve got all of the info you need to make and give some fabulous toys – you better get to knittin’!
Make it a Knitted Toys Kind of Holiday!