11 September 2007

oh, stuff and this 'n' that

The other day, I asked you, dear readers, to guess which penguin was stuffed with wool and which was stuffed with polyfill. One of you got it right - it was the penguin on the right that was stuffed using wool, the one with the orange feet. The one on the left, with the black feet, was stuffed with polyfill. Visibly, I don't think there is too much difference between the two. Even when you hold them, they feel about the same weight and density. But in the long-term, there will be a difference. They will wear in different ways. There is also the more immediately tangible difference that one responds to your touch in a direct fashion and retains your warmth.

As inconsequential as it may seem, stuffing is clearly an important component of softie-construction. Afterwall, what are softies without stuffing? They would be nothing but hollow shells of fabric. *insert dramatic faux-swoon*

When I first started making softies, I wondered about what other people used to stuff their softies. I mean, I knew about polyfill stuffing, which is what I use to stuff my softies (is there really any way to make that last phrase sound nice?). However, the stuff I started out using was some super-cheapo polyfill that I got at Micheal's; it was very fibrous and super-filament-y and made me sneeze up a storm as tiny bits of it floated everywhere around me, finally clinging to my clothes, skin, hair, everything in a rather uncomfortable fashion. I eventually found a better brand that was not quite so filament-y. (It's Poly-fil, and I get it in the 10 lb. box.) That's what I've been using, but I still like to try new forms of stuffing every now and then.

So what are our options?

Polyfill - Tried and true, I would say that this seems to be the generally preferred stuffing. It has great sproing and retains its shape well after washing. If you pack it carefully, it doesn't clump and give you strange shapes. You can pack it densely for a firm shape or lightly for softer, more malleable shape. And it's cheap and easy to find. You can pick it up at your local A.C. Moore.

Poly-Pellets - The say these are great for weight, but to be honest, I have never really been able to achieve much weight (for balance) with these. They are great for filler and work well for squishy items that need a little bit of something to give more substance to polyfill or wool stuffing. I don't think I would ever use these alone.

Cotton - I like the way cotton feels, love the way it breaks apart, and you can stuff something quite nicely with it, like this squirrel:

The drawbacks of using cotton, however, are that it is not as resilient as polyfill, so your end result isn't as dense. It takes a lot of cotton to stuff something into a firm shape, which ends up being hard on your elbows. Plus, it's a little linty. I am not sure about how it washes, as I have never washed anything that I have stuffed with cotton. Any notes or advice from anyone out there who has? How does cotton stuffing hold up after a wash? You can find cotton stuffing here. (They also have an eco-friendly stuffing there which I have not tried.)

Wool - I was loathe to try wool for a while, mainly because the price tag on it has scared me away. I finally tried it, and I have to say, I love the way it feels. It packs firmly, and it is just as dense as the polyfill. I'm not sure if I can say it has the same "sproing," but it does fill out softie-parts beautifully. It works fabulously for softies that need to be stuffed rigid for structure and for softies that are floppy and squishy. It also wonderfully retains the warmth of your touch. The only drawback I can see in using wool is that you can't really wash the stuffed item. Have any of you used wool? What would you say about it? What about washing it? You can find wool stuffing here.

Kapok - Never tried it, but I dream of doing so. Also on the pricey side of the scale, but probably worth it. I can't imagine using it for anything but soft, squishy toys. I am pretty sure I would not want to use it for anything that needs to be packed firmly for structure (like say, the legs on one of my mantis softies).

The trick to getting a nice even density with any stuffing is to stuff a little bit at a time and make sure it goes just where you want it to using an object like the blunt end of a pencil, or in some hard-to-reach cases, the end of a paintbrush. Apparently, Clover has some nifty-looking instrument that you can use, which you can also find here. Some people use knitting needles, but I've ripped holes through fabric using knitting needles. I use this ├╝ber-sleek and modern little piece of equipment:

Aided by this piece of high-tech gadgetry when some stuffing needs to be pulled out or better situated:

Yep, a blunt pencil and a crochet needle. Works for me!

What about you? What stuffing/filling do you folks prefer? What works for you folks out there?


abbyjane said...

I've used surgical forceps for stuffing for about a year and I could never use anything else now. I have four pairs, several of which were sent to me for free from someone whose husband is an eye surgeon.

diana said...

Finally I get to see the sacred pencil! Nothing to add about the stuffing except that my aunt once made me a softie that she stuffed with old pantyhose. It weighed about 40 lbs.

Tami said...

I use hemostats and Barbara Willis' stuffing forks which are sold at places like joggles.com or any other doll making supply source. Between those two sets of tools I can stuff itsy bitty doll fingers to the much larger torsos and legs. What's great about the hemostats is that you can place stuffing in just the spot that you need to add more even after it's completely stuffed. I've never tried wool stuffing since I make mostly cloth dolls. (Sometimes the cheeks need a bit more stuffing to be apple like but you can't tell that until the head's all done.)

I like to use Fairfield's Soft Touch poly-fil Supreme because it packs best for little parts without getting clunky. But I've also had a teacher who swears by Airtex stuffing because it's similar to the hand of wool without the cost and being able to be washed. Joggles also sells it but I've never tried it myself. :-)

terry said...

I use mostly polyfil. I too use a crochet hook for stuffing and I also use an old chopstick, both ends of it. I have all those other fancy things, but I always end up reaching for the old standbys. I love your work, by the way.

maritza said...

You know, someone else (Sarah from Small Fox) mentioned hemostats recently. I think I need to try this because while the pencil works, it is really tough on my fingers.

Also, I love the Fairfield's Poly. The first Poly I ever tried almost turned me off to Poly altogether, but Fairfield's is nice.

maritza said...

Thanks Terry!

Sonya said...

I am a wool girl through and through, but as far as price point goes, you can try and find mill ends and there might be some lumpy bits or the color won't be as uniform, but it won't break the bank. Also, if you are insane (as I am) you can get an unwashed fleece and some carders. But time, alas, is also money.

Old School Acres said...

I use the same polyfil you do, but have been wanting to try wool. The main reason I haven't is that I'm afraid I will love it and will want to stuff everything with it.

I've been meaning to take some photos and do a post on my unconventional stuffing tools. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

sarah said...

I use my fingers, hemostats and the blunt end of my turner. As for stuffing, I really like a polyfil called Cluster Stuff. I get it at Walmart. Its really soft and squishy, but you can pack it in for density and it doesn't clump.

edward and lilly said...

I use polyfil and I've thought about trying other types of stuffing but now that I've read this I think I'll stick with polyfil so thanks for the insights. I find my little finger and a pencil work best.

Alex said...

I switched to cotton lately because I like it natural and, more important, love the firm result. I don't do many softies, just my owls, and they are not supposed to be washed, so I do not care too much how they hold up being laundered.
For stuffing I am using my hands and a chinese chop stick.
Thanks for sharing!

joybucket said...

I use polyfil but the higher end stuff that kind of feels slippery. I use a chopstick to push into hard to reach areas. If I want to add weight I use rice. I pour it in after the stuffy is stuffed.

IamSusie said...

I'd guess that another drawback about wool is that many people are allergic to it so they's be allergic to your stuffie..

Terrific blog post! Thanks for all the information!

shelley said...

I make waldorf style dolls and I use wool stuffing because it retains heat. wool can be pricey but I have started getting alpaca wool ( the 2nds and 3rds ) which I can usually get for free at shearing time. It takes a bit of carding but since alpaca doesn't have lanolin like sheep wool it doesn't have to be washed and also cuts down on the allergy problem.

Laura said...

You can wash wool and its very easy. The trick to wool is water temperature. No need to use loads of soap, a little will do. Don't agitate the item around, rather soak it. You can gently squeeze water out, just don't twist. Rinse a few times with same temp water(cool temp works best) and allow to dry out of direct sunlight.