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Fall Comes Alive: A Softie Leaf Tutorial

by Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood

When I asked my 5-year-old daughter Abby if she wanted to team up with me on a softie tutorial using fall colors, I was thinking we would do our usual routine. She would draw a funny monster and I would turn it into a stuffed creature.
But Abby had other plans.
“Why don’t we draw leaves with faces!” she said.
Ah, yes, personified leaves. I love fall color and the fleeting beauty of colorful leaves before they’re carried off in the breeze, so this idea was an easy sell for Abby. I was all over it.

Twin Boys in Knits
So Abby and her 3-year-old sister, Amelia, got to work drawing leaves with faces. We even recruited their 4-year-old cousin, Sophia, to draw a couple leaf designs, too.
The results were extremely fun to embroider, stuff and give little yarn arms and legs. Welcome to the wonderful world of softie-making -- a whimsical pleasure that is not just for kids.

Here’s what you need to do make your own fall-inspired softie scene.


Materials

* A variety of leaf drawings in crayon or marker by kids you know. (This would make for a great class project to decorate the classroom with student art.)
* About 12 rectangles of craft felt in assorted fall colors. (Depending how big you make your leaves, you can usually make two stuffed leaves out of each piece. And keep in mind that lighter colors are easier to work with when tracing kid designs.)
* Embroidery needle
* Embroidery thread in an assortment of fall colors to stitch faces on the leaves
* Scissors
* Water soluble fabric pen
* Black Sharpie marker
* Poly-fil stuffing
* Small ball of black yarn
* Standard plain white printer paper
* Sewing machine
* Pins

Step 1: I always like to keep the original kid drawing, so I take steps to make a pattern without destroying the original crayon design. To do this, photocopy the drawing or trace it onto another piece of paper by taping it up to a sunny window with a blank piece of paper on top. (You may want to invest in an inexpensive light box sold at craft and art supply stores if you tend to work at night.) Once you have a copy to use as your pattern, trace over the design with a black Sharpie marker.

Twin Boys in Knits

Twin Boys in Knits

Step 2: Now you’re ready to trace the design onto felt with a water soluble fabric pen. Put your pattern down on a light box or tape it up in a bright window. Place the felt over the design and trace away.

Step 3: Fold the felt in half and pin. Cut out two leaf shapes at once to make the front and back of the leaf.

Step 4: Embroider the face on the front of the leaf following the traced design. After you’re done stitching, wet the piece to remove the fabric pen marks and set aside to air dry.

Twin Boys in Knits

Twin Boys in Knits

Step 5: To make arms and legs for your softie leaf, cut two pieces of yarn and place between the front and back pieces of fabric. The arm piece goes straight across the middle of the leaf, and the leg piece looks like an up-side-down “U” shape at the bottom of the leaf. Pin the body pieces together with right sides facing out and sew around the edge of the design leaving a 1.5-inch opening for stuffing. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, no worries. These can be sewn by hand, by whip stitching around the edge. This method takes longer, but the result is very sweet.)

Twin Boys in Knits

Twin Boys in Knits

Step 6: Stuff the leaf sparingly with Poly-fil. (You want to be able to topstitch a leaf vein after it’s stuffed, so don’t get carried away with the Poly-fil.) After stuffing, stitch up the opening. Then stitch a vein across the leaf. Repeat this process to make five or six more leaves and tie their arms together to make a leaf banner, or make two dozen more to deck out a whole tree. (If this second option seems daunting, invite a friend over to help you stitch.

Twin Boys in Knits


60-inch Softie Tree Instructions

Materials

* Craft Paper
* Scissors
* Poly-fil stuffing
* 4 yards of brown craft felt, 1 rectangle of beige craft felt
* Sewing machine
* Sewing needle and brown thread

Step 1: To make the tree, tape a couple pieces of craft paper (sold on rolls at art supply stores) and draw a fall tree pattern freehand. Or better yet, if your child is old enough, have him or her draw a giant tree with no leaves. (The tree in the photograph is about 60 inches tall, but you can make yours smaller. Just keep in mind that narrow branches are tricky to stuff, so fat branches are the way to go.)

Step 2: Cut out your paper tree design and pin it to a folded piece of felt so it is possible to cut the front and back at the same time. Cut out the tree.

Step 3: Sew the front and back tree pieces together leaving 4-inch openings in each branch and a couple more on the lower part of trunk to allow for stuffing. After stuffing, stitch the openings closed by hand if there is too much bulk to sew them closed by machine.

Twin Boys in Knits


Creating a Fall Scene

Now for the fun part. Use safety pins to attach the embroidered leaves to the tree. (Velcro is another option, but it requires that you commit to leaf positions on the tree. You can easily remove pins without a trace.) Use fishing line to connect a leaf or two to the lowest branches to create the illusion of falling leaves. Prop the tree up in the corner of the family room for fun and seasonal display.


Jennifer

Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood is the producer of the CraftSanity podcast. She is a freelance writer and does weekly craft TV segments on a local morning show in Grand Rapids, Mich. She loves kayaking with her husband, crafting with her two daughters, running, wearing aprons in public, fiber art and all things handmade. Check out her blog about art and craft.