Ears and Whiskers Oh My!

Contemplative

As any longtime reader knows, I’ve made many a fanciful, comfortable, and sturdy garment, mostly for child-aged humans. I keep coming back to animals and creatures (real or imaginary). In no small part this is due to the influence of my own children, who retain an interest in biology, zoology, cryptozoology and anything else involving creatures that flap, crawl, squirm, prowl, and/or fly.

This particular hat is a faux fur wolf-inspired self-drafted piece, lined in 100% wool for warmth and comfort. Since Halloween approaches – and I do run a side-sewing blog, here – I wanted to share a bit about how to make effective ears and easy-enough whiskers from inexpensive and rugged materials.

Now a few words about what is entailed in good ears. It might not be obvious to the initiate, but it isn’t enough to have wire or pipe cleaners, or whatever, stiffening the ear. The ears will be rigid, but they will not stand up from the head if this is all you do. The tail ends of the wire stiffening the ear will need to be anchored to a rigid form, which is in turn inserted into the hat body in a way secure and comfortable to wear. This means the rigid form has to mimic the shape of the pattern pieces of the hat itself. Get it?

So let’s get started. Materials needed (not shown, glue gun):

Supplies

Left-to-right: cardboard (buckram or light plastic, like a thoroughly-cleaned bleach or carpet-cleaner bottle, will also work), wire for ears, needle and waxed thread for handsewing, cable ties (and assembled “whiskers” on anchor tie, self-explanatory), pattern template, and both fabric AND paper scissors (ask any stitcher how much he/she likes having sewing scissors abused by paper!).

Different hat or hood shapes will have different templates – this hat was made by an earwarmer-style band and a four-gore crown. The traced piece you see here is one of the four gores. It is NOT an ear! I am assuming you have a rudimentary knowledge of sewing, or can follow a pattern, and already have your ear finished and waiting – with the bottom raw edge open (you’ll see below when I show you my finished ear).

I chose cardboard for my form, because I plan to simply spot-clean this hat, not immerse it in water. Dry-cleaning would probably even be an option but I don’t think we’ll be needing that. Using buckram or thin plastic might make the hat more washable – but you certainly want to wash a structural item like this with care, not throw it in the washing machine or anything.

So! Trace your cardboard (or whatever) form from your pattern piece(s):

Trace Pattern Piece To Form Material

If you’re thinking about ear placements/markings at this stage, don’t. There is no need to worry about ear placement yet as you will be able to use the lining to determine where to fix the ears.

Now it’s time to cut the cardboard (or whatever) form:

Cut Out Cardboard Form / Trim Seam Allowance

Make sure to trim off the seam allowances. This is because tape will serve as our “stitching” together the form pieces (if we do have more than one, as I do). If you didn’t cut off the seam allowances, the form would be too large. Go ahead and be confused, that’s okay. You’ll see what’s up when you stick the taped-together form in the lining and it doesn’t work – if that’s the case, you can go ahead and tear it apart and re-tape, or re-trace and re-cut.

Tape The Form, & Then...

The red piece on the left is the hat lining, an indespensible item for making sure things will fit nicely. At right we have the form, taped together. Next I need to slide the form into the lining to make sure it fits perfectly and does not extend awkwardly or look bulky. The goal is the intended recipient will not even feel the form. So let’s see how we did, eh? The cardboard form is inserted between the child (Hi, Phoenix!) and the lining:

... Double-Check The Form Fits Nicely

Everything looks good – that cardboard form is inside the hat and against the child, layered just beneath those two front gore pieces you see here. A few notes: the hat is a little large for my child, so would fit an adult with a smaller head. Secondly, that raw edge is going to be turned under and stitched, so the hat lining appears a little larger than the finished piece will be.

Slip the form out, and it’s a good idea at this stage to punch a few holes in the form. Even if you plan to use a glue gun exclusively, may find you are glad for a few holes to use in reinforcing by stitching:

That's Awl She Wrote!

Now for wiring the ear. Simple at first – just get a flexible but rigid bit of wire (23 cents a foot at the hardware store), bend it, and slide it into the ear with at least an inch and a half margin poking out the bottom from the open end of the ear. Wrap the wire-ends with tape so no one gets poked. Handstitch the raw edge of the ear together with a simple baste, and lash the wires to the ears. This is to preserve the general ear shape and make sure the ear form is closed, before proceeding.

Lashing Wires Into Ears

The wire may want to creep down a bit. That’s okay for now. When you’re finished you should have something like this:

Finished Ear; Wire Inserted

Pretty-cool ear, eh? I thought so.

Now sew the ears, again by hand, to the position on the shell hat pieces. You can use that lining (and hopefully a live model) to determine ear position.

Hand-Sew Ears First...

Basting or tacking the ears in place by hand will make sure they are symmetrical when sewn into the hat. I highly recommend this over pinning. Simply take firm stitches about 1/8″ shy of the seam lines.

Don’t worry about the wires much at this stage. They may be trying to slip around a bit. All you are doing is anchoring the fabric ear piece in position along the seam of the as-yet not-assembled hat.

Now, machine-sew the hat seams, which will anchor the ears firmly. Assembly will depend on the hat or hood pattern you use. Just don’t try to sew right over that wire, or you will bust your needle and scare the heck out of yourself, especially if you’re amped up on coffee (ask me how I know this!). When you get close to the wire, take your foot off the pedal and use the handcrank, guiding the seam along with your other hand.

... Then Machine-Sew The Ears - Carefully!

Your ears are almost finished! Now, insert the finished form into the finished hat/hood/crown, and glue or stitch first the form itself to the inside of the hat using the seam allowances, and then the wire “legs” of the ears to the form, to secure. As if that faux-fur wasn’t messy enough, we are adding a GLUE GUN!

Bending the wire “legs” of the ear and affixing them to the form may or may not be tricky, depending on your hat/hood style. Be patient, use more glue – the whole thing will be lined anyway. Press the wire into the hot glue using a spoon. Not your fingers. (Ask me how I know this!) Be cautious with the hot glue if you’re using it – don’t let it mar your fabric or your body.

Glue/Sew Template

Ears all done!

Finished Ears

Finally: when the glue is entirely cool, slip the lining into the hat and feel to make sure the hat will be comfortable to wear. No jabbing wires or glue bumps. You can add batting or a layer of fleece if you need to, but if you’ve cut your form templates properly and wrapped your wire, you shouldn’t need this layer. My daughter said she couldn’t feel the cardboard at all.

And now – this is easier, promise! – the whiskers.

The assembly for the whiskers and anchor cable ties is self-explanatory, and shown in my Materials photo up above. Now we only need push the whiskers through the shell material. If you are sewing a hat with a woven that has a loose weave (not likely, for a hat project, but still), you may want to interface or interface and make eyelets (by hand or machine), to make sure you don’t get a ravelling effect. However, these directions assume a knit or fleece, etc., easy, sturdy, and typical fabrics we work with.

So first, poke holes in the earflap to slide the “whisker” cable ties through (here you are looking at the wrong side of the shell fabric)…

Seam-Ripper To The Rescue

Then slip in the whisker assembly:

Inserting Whiskers

Now we need to lash the whisker anchor cable tie in for security. Due to the nature of cable ties, the “whisker” ties can only slide one direction along the anchor tie. So lash accordingly:

Lashing Whiskers In Place

If you’ve cut your hat out properly on the grain, the grain will assist you in making sure your whisker alignment is proper. You can see the knit grain here on the wrong side of the shell. Alternatively, just make sure you carefully mark your whisker-placement lines after cutting out the hat pieces.

One more note about lashing the whiskers in place: if you were to be creating a hat where you didn’t want stitches to show on the shell side (as you see, my choice of faux fir hides anything like that), you could carefully apply the anchorpiece to the lining and take orderly stitches from the anchor tie to the lining, then poke the “whisker” cables through the shell, when the lining and shell were joined.

Double-check the whiskers are symmetrical:

Whiskers, Right-Side

And kink them up, if you like it kinky. Heh.

Bent Or Straight?

If you went mad with power earlier with that glue gun, you could apply a bit of glue on the anchor points of the whiskers, although it’s not needed.

Now all that remains is inserting the lining into the shell. Normally I do this in such a way that only involves a teeny bit of handstitching, but in this case I turn under the entire lower edge of both the shell, and the lining, and securely whip-stitch all along this edge.

Voila! You now have a pretty ferocious little hat.

On The Prowl

Cutaway

cuddle goblin

Today I delivered this little scrappage and my own sweet ass to a Mother’s Blessing for friend and reader Kat:

Head-On

(And yes; Ralph and Phoenix named the bunting “Cuddle Goblin”, because all my one-of-a-kind baby things need names.)

Goblin

The bunting was made from a lot of scraps – cotton canvas, silk, and linen – and the shell was made by Essex linen/cotton, a fabric sent by Karen as a Thank You for pattern testing. It was lined in a soft off-white fleece. Given the math, I figure it would be fitting the baby in late late spring so I did not underline for additional warmth.

I am beginning to really like the Essex linen/cotton and may buy some (since I’m all out, finally). It is lovely to work with, although I am still getting used to the fact it shrinks and shrinks and shrinks upon washing. It seems very rugged and stain resistant (I’ve made my son pants from it and they still look fabulous after much rotation). A bolt from Dharma would be divine; I could dye it in batches – I love dyeing fabric – any color I want! (Yeah, yeah, get in line with all the other supplies I need; my WIZARD sewing machine is still in the shop as I don’t have the funds to bail it out.)

I’m still experimenting with applique…

EXTREME CLOSEUP

And employing both my stellar machine- and hand-sewing skillz (a bit of color on a hidden snap, plus PRICK STITCH and, for the lining, slip stitch):

Hand-sewn Snap

Zipper

(You can see more detail shots and read about how I made this in the Flickr tagset.)

The Mother’s Blessing was a very lovely experience; I’ve been to a handful of them (though not for a couple years) and they suit me more than the typical baby shower content and substance. I brought a date, my friend Jasmine. It was a super lady-positive evening. Here we are all tied together, just before snipping ourselves apart.

Mother's Blessing

I’ve a length of cotton string around my right wrist and over the next few days will be holding Kat and her family adventure in my mind and heart.

starchildebunny

WELL there really are no words. I’m pretty proud of this. Not only did I design it (yes, I really did), I conquered a few treacherous challenges, including appliqueing a couple dozen flannel stars on a very stretchy pseudo-cord and negotiating a generous offset placket.

From The Front!

The bunting was a lot of work but it was all for SCIENCE and space exploration. Obviously.

From The Back!
Front Placket

(Listing at Homesewn, Flickr tagset (the latter has some construction talk and more detail shots).

springtime! early! damn your eyes!

I finished a little dress for Phoenix today; I worried she wouldn’t enjoy it because she’s been quite distasteful of anything “girlie” lately.

But, I was silly to worry. She said the dress is Beautiful! then: Cool! (both just like her). Verily I present thee SKELE-PHONE DRESS, made from a Norman Rockwell licensed phone print, and an Alexander Henry “Born to Ride” motif featuring skeletons and roses. The entire dress is lined in a black quilting muslin, making for a wonderful weight.

Happy

The pattern is a vintage Simplicity 4924 – way, way out of print (the original pattern cost was 60 cents) that I purchased from kalliedesigns on Etsy. Older patterns usually have only one size in the envelope which makes for a much more fun experience sewing (for me, anyway); I made her a size 10 and added a bit of length, for the perfect amount of growing room.

Ralph took our daughter out this morning and later told me with all the drabness seeing her in her bright dress was like a “beacon of hope”. She was instantly complimented when they hit the grocery store.

Ready For Action

Pockets

Thrifted buttons, of course:

Vintage Buttons

In other news of sewing-awesomeness, I finished a lovely but strange item – the Miniature Giant Japanese Baby Bunting:

Soft, Soft, Sturdy

It’s made from a Japanese import fabric (cotton canvas) including motifs of – wait for it – skulls, the American flag, shamrocks, strawberries and flowers. OF COURSE.

The bunting is lined and underlined in fleece, making for a very sturdy piece. I experimented with some quilting too!

Back Seam

Zippers, buttons and snaps were all bought from thrift stores – vintage, frugal, FTW!

Vintage Button

You can see more details of each item at my Flickr tagsets: dress, bunting

maker

I get asked often how long I’ve been sewing. The truth is I can’t remember a time I didn’t know how to sew. I think I’m only a modestly-skilled stitcher, really, considering I’ve been exposed my whole life. Some of my earliest memories of focussed work are of pinning cloth and sitting on the floor cutting with a pair of orange-handled Fiskers; of crinkled tissue cut down to size and marking notches by painfully cutting small triangles. In fact in learning something as a young child the methods my mother used were the ones I thought were The Only Way To Do It. As a grownup I’ve learned my own methods and taught my mother not a few. For instance in contrast I iron all my patterns (shout-out Amore!) and never ¡EVAR! cut them; I dispatch yardage from a table and with rapier-like acuity using a rotary wheel and mat, and I mark notches by a chalk line or tailor’s tacks.

Rollin' On My 201-2

My mom sewed a bit more as a young woman, before she had a family and career. She didn’t sew all that much while I was growing up but what is most important is – I remember she loved it. She seemed to enjoy the feeling of competence in her craft and she definitely enjoyed the design process (such as it is when you’re sewing out-of-envelope). I often think the familial example of someone who does Work and loves it is the most likely avenue for subsequent generations to take it up. This is why I’ve never much bothered to try to get my kids to sew. My guess is they will end up doing it because it’s in their blood. They know so much about it already, without even knowing they know! (They also think everyone knows how to make clothes… they don’t realize how rare this is.)

Three years ago my mother brought me my grandmother’s sewing machine – a Singer Centennial 15-91 made in 1950, both popular and utilitarian. The very machine was manufactured and shipped from the same location, only days apart, from the one a friend gave me about eight years ago when she moved from PT (mine is a Centennial 201-2, another great machine). As a Mother’s Day gift in 2009 I got grandma’s machine tuned up and re-gifted it to my mother – who hasn’t yet used it.

If I had the room I’d have kept it myself. I currently own two working sewing machines. I’d love more and to have them set up – it really is helpful, especially given how quickly I construct things – but I lack the space. I sometimes fervently wish for a room to spread out and outfit myself further with a set up serger and a cutting table and, jeebus, SHELVES would be nice! Realistically this won’t happen for some time; we aren’t likely to have a larger house anytime soon. My husband has offered to rent me a studio space in downtown Hoquiam because he is a Really Fucking Awesome Guy. But even the incredibly-cheap prices of downtown HQX aren’t in our spending plan; neither much are shelves or more accoutrement to fill such a space.

But if I could, I would snap up that opportunity toot sweet.

My clothes generally last so much longer than what people buy. My kids’ closet is bursting with garments I’ve sewn. When they grow out of the pieces (which is relatively quickly!) the clothes go off donated or gifted… I am rather shy about giving off my sewn clothes because I’m unsure of what people like and want (and I hate to mail stuff. A lot. So locals are easiest for me to gift to). A surprising number of garments end up going to the Salvation Army. Whatever their future destinations, I hope they are as well-worn and well-loved as they are when in my home.

Currently I’m only a few minutes away from finishing a couple wool coats, which I’ll post soon. Tonight I’m on another pair of Monster Booties, much requested by readers here and there. I have to put a pause on Yes to favors and outside-of-the-family work; Christmas approaches and one of my chief pleasures is sewing for those I love.

Wool Underlined With Cotton

Wool, wool, wonderful wool! How I wish I had yards and yards and yards…

French Seam

French seams on the inside of a coat – underlining exposed.

In other news, we have my mom’s (incredibly submissive, aged) terrier Tuck here for a few days while she cat- and house-sits in Portland. My mom brought this huge dog bed as well. Last night, his first night, Tuck curled up on the bed and a second later alpha-kitten Hamilton walked over and put her paw on his face. He immediately self-telescoped using his own butthole and slunk off; three of the cats took the bed in a neat feline coup. Ralph and I trained the cats off the bed (this was very easy and involved putting them outside in the snow every single time they so much as stuck a claw towards it) but I had to snap a picture for my mom.

They STOLE It From Us, The Precious!

While I did this the fourth kitty Mable watched and decided if she wanted in on the Hot! Sleeping! Action!:
Watchinz

She voted “No”, on the account of she would have had to move her body, which resembles the form and function of a Guild Navigator, about eighteen inches. Much easier to stay on the goddamned chair.

oh the suspense!

My favorite Hitchcock film – so far, as I haven’t yet seem them all – is Dial M For Murder. The director was brilliant – and yes I realize he had about a hundred and one issues with women, and none of them bore very good results – but. Still.

North by Northwest is another I enjoyed –

And of course, Vertigo. On my first viewing my favorite part was the nightmare sequence (which is, it goes without saying, far better viewed within the context of the film):

So of course, I thought I would make a baby bunting thusly. Because it just makes sense.

Vertigo!

This was my first experience using Spoonflower’s printing service (you can view my brother’s uploaded designs at their site). I was very disappointed in the results of the twill, which faded quite a bit upon my initial wash (gentle, in cold water). However, I am not done with Spoonflower by any means. I’d like to continue to work with them (and if you, dear reader, know of another custom-printing house for small batches, let me know) although I feel some consternation I do so potentially at my own peril of lost-materials cost. An in-house screenprinting studio is hard to negotiate given we four live in a two-bedroom house… but my wheels are turning as I’d like to be able to do more with the fabrics I use.

Lined With Organic Cotton Softness

(Hee hee, lined in the iconic Vertigo poster art!)

You can read more about the construction and materials of this in the Flickr tagset. I put it up on my homesewn sub-site. And I’ve decided I need to make, oh… like a billion more sci-fi, classic, or B-movie-film-based clothing items.

ALSO: NEED ACTUAL BABY TO PUT IN THE BABY CLOTHES I MAKE

angel in blue

My daughter loves this ensemble but personally I think it’s a tiny bit too matchy-matchy. For my taste, anyway. One won’t deny the teal is a lovely color for this time of year.

Friendly

Funny: as soon as I finished it (handsewing at the soccer practice last night) I knew my daughter would love the dress but be less enamored of the pinafore: and I was right!

Hood

Both she and I love the hood more than anything (the pattern for both pieces is Olivia from Farbenmix).

Grimms' Fairy Tales

The dress is a 100% cotton Michael Miller; the pinafore is made from one of my favorite current fabrics to work with, a linen/rayon blend.

Skirt

The linen/rayon looks better and better with age, too.

“It’s the pleats.”

Button, Flowers

Handsewn flowers via a tutorial by my lady Karen.

Laugh

Phoenix laughs, watching her dad play hackysack.

I’m offering either/or/both pieces in my little shop; you can also view more detail photos in the Flickr tagset or read my pattern review.

what’s in your head, zombie

What’s that you say?

Bunting 002: All Hallows' Eve

“That is so fucking cute, Kelly-goddamned-Hogaboom!” Yeah. Well at least I think so. In fact the only thing I liked better that picturing this bunting from the very second I saw the fabric at Hart’s website was every detail of construction. Like underlining it with fusible wadding and appliqueing bright orange stars and then basting in the pumpkin-orange zipper and waxing thread to finish with handsewing while watching a soccer game:

On My Way

and of course the super-super soft and deep green fleece I lined the whole thing with.

So. Soft.

Oh right, forgot to mention – I thought I’d make another one, a bit less sweet and a bit more gruesome:

Bunting 001: Zombi (Looming)

My sewing room and I are like a couple honeymooners. I can’t wait to get back there and mess around. OK, ew. So what I really mean is, I’m having such a wonderful time making exactly what I want. And you know what I want? More babies, out and about, everywhere. These buntings are so warm they can be out all night trick or treating. Until they fall asleep while nursing in the sling.

I’ve put these abovepictured items up for sale: All Hallows’ Eve and Zombi in my wee little boutique. I’ve already got my next projects – seasonal for the approaching cold weather – out on the slab.

Deeply, truly good times.

Hat Et Al