Sunday, 12 November 2017

Charity cards

Hello my lovely loves!

Today's post is to let you know I'm raising money for the homeless charity, Crisis, by selling some Christmas cards!
The rest of the year I try and give money to ME charities, as obviously that's a cause very close to my heart, but at Christmas I think it's only right to give money to those who struggle most throughout the winter months.
I think it probably harks back to my Mum telling me harrowing stories as a child like the little match girl, and one of her own invention where a young child didn't have any shoes. Guess those traumas turned me into a decent person though, so go Mum. Mad parenting skills.

There are two designs available this year, and you can buy packs either of one design or both.

The designs are called Christmas Hugs, and Christmas Survival kit. I basically tried to cater to these two groups with my designs...

Packs come in singles, 6s and 10s. Singles are £3, packs of six are £6 and packs of ten are £9.

You can also add a glitter add-on and have a number of your cards sprayed with a beautiful iridescent glitter.
10% of the card and glitter profits will go to Crisis. I've broken even now so basically 10% of whatever you spend.
If you'd just like to donate there's a listing in my Etsy shop for that - obviously the whole amount of any donations will go to Crisis.

I'm currently shipping to the UK, ROI, Canada, the US, Australia and France, but if you live somewhere else and would like some cards, contact me directly and I'll work out costings for your country.

To buy some cards, head to my Etsy shop.

Keep your eyes peeled on social media as well, as I'll probably be doing a giveaway soon. Anyone who buys cards will get extra entries!


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

New to ME: What to know and what to do

Hello my lovely loves,

Today’s post is going up on the fifth year anniversary off when I first became ill, or, as I like to call it, Sickmas.

I’ve been kind of nervous about it, because I was worried that it would make me feel really sad, but then I got an email from a frightened Mum, who explained to me about her sick daughter, and that they had no idea what to do. 
It made me want to talk to all those people who have either just been diagnosed, or think they have ME and don’t know what to do about it. I want to tell you what I wish someone had told me when I first got sick. 

To be brutally honest, I don’t know whether I would’ve listened, because a. I was so sick to begin with I wasn’t really capable of processing information fully, and b. I did not want to be sick. I didn’t believe I was seriously ill, both because I had no concept of what that really meant, and because I didn’t want to believe it.

If you’re reading this, I know it’s hard. I know you’re tired and the last thing you want to do is crawl through yet another article trying to work out what’s wrong with you, and what the hell you can do to make things better. Everyone promises so much, and delivers so little.
But please, read this, and, no matter how hard parts of it may be to take in, and no matter how much you might hate me for saying what I have to say, know that I’m doing this because I want you to get better. And I want you to never get as low as I did.
Our path is not an easy one, but it’s definitely not impossible to find your way.

Don’t panic

It’s very scary when you suddenly find you’re not capable of things you used to be because of an illness. 
It’s true that ME doesn’t currently have a cure, but it is manageable, and possible to improve over time. 

Four of my relatives (by marriage, for those of your wondering about a genetic link) have ME, and they were all housebound at one time or another, and they all live pretty much normal lives now. They have to be careful not to overdo it, but they were all at a family wedding recently and were up and dancing with the best of them. 

Think like Douglas Adams, and don't panic.


This is serious

ME/CFS is a serious condition. What’s more it’s a condition that not much is known about, which means it’s not always taken as seriously as it should be by medical professionals. (Fortunately things are improving slowly on that score.) It does mean, however, that you might have to take it a little more seriously than they do to compensate.

I’m not saying this to scare you, but because when I first got sick I treated it like any other illness. I made light of it, carried on as normal and expected it to go away on it’s own. It did not do those things for me and, as much as I wish otherwise, chances are it won’t for you either.
I genuinely believe it’s possible to manage ME, but not if you continue to act like you don’t have ME.
Not everything is doom and gloom - quite the contrary, a positive outlook can be really useful - but you need to take it seriously as early as possible to help minimise it’s impact.

Rest (properly)

Hands down, the best and most important thing that you can do is get proper rest. By proper rest I mean lying down, in a quiet room, with your eyes shut, and either concentrating on your breathing or listening to a meditation track. (You can also meditate on your own if you prefer.) 
I use a "resting ratio" to determine how much rest I should have. At my worst, when I was nearly constantly bedbound, I would rest twice the amount I would do anything. So if I did something for 20 minutes, I’d rest for 40. I’ve been slowly reducing that over the last two and half years, and it’s really, really helped me.
The minimum my NHS ME specialist nurse suggested to me was resting 10 minutes out of every hour. It sucks, but you may need more. 
When I first heard this I cried because it felt like so much had already been taken away from me, but it was worth it. Think long term improvements, not short term goals.

You’ve basically got to channel your inner Victorian Lady and convalesce. Practice your swoon for maximum historical accuracy.

I’ve written a series of posts on getting proper rest. The first (of four) posts is about how the tiredness of ME feels, which you may find useful, or distressing, so I’ll link to the second where I start giving tips. If you want to read the first part it’s easy to find from that post.
The resting ratio itself is in part three, but I'd start from part two to get a better idea of what works.

Remember, doing this from early on may help minimise the illnesses effects in the long run. Resting is basically your medicine.
Which means...

You’re going to have to change

You might hate me for saying this, but the main (and probably most difficult) thing to accept is that if you want the situation to change, then you’re going to have to be willing to change how you currently live your life. 
It may even need to be a permanent change to control the condition.
Some changes may be relatively minor, and some, like the resting ratio above, may be larger, but they will need to happen at some point.
I think on some level it’s difficult to believe that all these things apply to you, and you suddenly have to take all these things into account when you never did before. 
It'll take time for you to accept this, and find what needs altering. That’s fine.
It took me two years of pushing myself too hard in order to realise I had to change my outlook. 

I will say, however, that I carried on believing I could act the same as I had, but just nap occasionally, and... eventually it made me so ill I became housebound.
Again, I’m not trying to scare you, I’ve definitely improved since then, and although I’m still housebound, I’ve got high hopes for the future... but I spent two years making mistakes. Please learn from mine so you don’t have to make so many of your own.

Get a diagnosis

Once you’re sure you have ME, aim to be officially diagnosed. That is the first step you’ll need to take to get further support and potential financial help. It can take time, but it’ll make getting help a lot easier if you have an official diagnosis.
A diagnosis for ME/CFS is made by ruling out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. It’s lengthy and frustrating, but on the plus side it means you make sure it’s not anything else.

If you're worried about finance and benefits, I've written a blog post in several parts on my top tips for benefits applicants here.

What the NHS offers

NHS care and response differs from region to region, from surgery to surgery, and even doctor to doctor.
Although the NHS officially recommends CBT for ME, it’s not actually particularly useful in terms of improving energy levels.
There is some contention between different scientists over whether ME is physical or psychological. Unfortunately, the official NHS guidelines currently lean towards the psychological (although we’re trying to get that changed). The newest studies from around the world show that ME is a biological problem.

Find a GP who is aware that ME is a physical illness, and is willing to treat you as such. It’s really, really important for you to feel like you’re fully believed when you explain how you feel. Stick to your guns on this one, because it’ll make a massive difference to your experience with this illness.

Psychological tools can be very helpful in helping a sufferer deal with being ill though, so, as long as a counsellor doesn’t expect counselling to make your illness go away, they can be very useful. As I’m sure you’re aware, being ill is hard.
If your loved ones or carers are finding it difficult, then suggest they get support too. It’ll help them, and you’ll feel better, knowing they’re being looked after.

If the doctor or anyone else offers you something called Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) I would be extremely wary.
GET is basically designed to build up muscle strength after a period of inactivity. It’s based on the idea that ME is psychological and that the reason the patient can’t do things anymore is because they’ve stopped trying due to “unhelpful illness beliefs”. (Let’s see them try that line with any other illness.)

It advises you to ignore any Post-Exertional Malaise (a key symptom of ME, meaning you feel terrible after doing something), and keep pushing through to stick to the routine they lay out, regardless of how you feel. 
For that reason, GET can be very dangerous for someone with ME. 

There have been some who it’s worked for, but the vast majority either find it either does nothing or, more commonly, makes them significantly worse.
As someone who pushed herself to the point she became housebound, I really, really wouldn’t do it. 
(It’s also worth noting that as ME/CFS doesn’t have a clinical test yet, it’s possible that the people who benefited from GET had a different type of illness with similar characteristics.)

Similarly the Lightning Process is another psychological tool, called neurolinguistic reprogramming, where the patient tries to persuade their brain into fixing their body. There are examples of it working for some, but again, it’s not something I’d recommend. Generally speaking, anything that seems simple or too good to be true likely is.

What might be more helpful is if your NHS link has any information on Pacing - a method of restraining activity so you don’t go outside your limits. 
What may be happening now is that you do something and then have an energy crash afterwards. That’s called peaking and troughing, and you want to avoid it if at all possible. If you learn to pace yourself, you can prevent big crashes. This allows you to let your body gain energy slowly and more stably, and then increase your activity over time to take your symptoms into account. 
Doing this allows you to slowly regain your life without shocking your body. The baby steps really are baby, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Not everyone will understand 

Because ME/CFS is so controversial, and gets such spotty media coverage, there are a lot of people who may not understand your illness.
There are several ways you can tackle this:

1. Don’t call it ME straight away.
Unfortunately ME has a bit of a stigma attached to it still, so for short meetings, like answering the door to the postman or the checkout lady, just say that you’re ill and your body can’t produce energy the way it should. It’s a short, succinct way of explaining the situation without having to go into a big, long spiel. (Thanks to Anna from ME, Myself and I for that tip!)

2. Find a metaphor that works for you. 
There are loads of ways to explain ME - you can say you’re like a phone with a broken battery, a bike stuck in the wrong gear, that your body is stuck in hibernation mode - find a metaphor that you feel comfortable with to explain in a bit more detail what happens to those a bit closer to you. This also works for other symptoms of ME.

3. The Spoon Theory. 
For those moments when you need to get into even greater detail and explain Pacing, use the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. 
It’s a really great way to ease people into the idea of energy management, and why it’s important that you do the energy saving things you do.
This theory is why you’ll often see the chronically ill refer to themselves as “Spoonies”.

4. Give people links.
Send your loved ones articles, websites or blogs that you feel best describe your condition. It’s possible that they’re doing their own research, which is great, but if something really strikes a chord with you, share it. It’s the best way to tell your friends and family how you feel without having to spend energy explaining.
Bonus points if they contain relevant memes.

5. Protect yo'self. 
If someone is being hurtful or seems determined not to understand what you’re going through, then you have two options. 

A. If you feel able, you can talk to them, and explain that you’re upset because people don’t seem to understand your illness. Ask them if there’s anything they need clarifying. 
Some people tend to get twitchy and don’t know what to do around sick people, often because they don’t want to accept that something bad has happened to someone they love. I’ve got a couple of posts they might find helpful on "What not to say to Sick people", and "Visiting your sick person."

B. If that’s too tiring or stressful for you, or it’s not changed anything, then attempt to quietly remove yourself from that person’s sphere wherever possible.
I appreciate this is difficult, painful and not always possible, but if they can’t support you when you’re ill, then they’re not worth the heartache. You’re already dealing with a lot. 
Either they’ll sort themselves out and realise their behaviour is unacceptable, or they’ll leave you alone and stop stressing you out so much. You’ll feel all the better for it. Self-preservation is not selfishness. You are sick, you have to put your health first.

Never feel ashamed of being ill

The above tips are designed to protect you and make your life easier, and less tiring. They are not because there is anything wrong with being chronically ill. You have nothing to be ashamed of. 

If you have enough energy to spend time explaining to people what’s wrong, and you feel comfortable doing so, then that is absolutely fine and you should do so.

It's not your fault

Your illness is not your fault. We don’t know what causes ME/CFS, but a lot of people blame themselves for doing too much and “making themselves” ill or wondering what they could’ve done differently. That’s what I did for a very long time. It is also a load of absolute bollocks.

No one lives their life expecting to become ill or disabled. It is perfectly natural to live your life without a thought of potential serious illness looming over you. Frankly, living your life like that sounds really unhealthy.
There are plenty of people who lead extremely busy, chaotic lives, get a virus, and then are perfectly fine. No one bats an eyelid at them. We just won the sickness jackpot. Yay us.

Also, no one ever wants to become seriously ill or disabled. Because that would be stupid. You didn’t somehow wish this on yourself, even if you made a joke about it in the past or wished you weren’t so busy.

So I will say it again, and keep saying it, it is not your fault that you are ill.

(If anyone suggests otherwise, then they are a cretin of the highest order who should not be allowed near complicated machinery.)

Grieving is important

It is not fair that you’re ill. It’s not fair that other people are fine when you’re not and get to do things you can’t. And it is perfectly natural for you to be angry and upset about that.

Grieving is a natural part of any long-term condition, and no matter how long your illness lasts, it still sucks, and you’re still allowed to be sad about it sometimes.

Lots of people will tell you to be positive, and they’re not wrong per se, but there has to be a balance. Trying to be happy all the time when you’re not, especially to make other people happy, is not healthy, and requires far more energy than you likely have access to.

If you want to feel sad on your own, or with a select group of people, that’s fine, but don’t hold it in.
Similarly, if you feel sad constantly, or oddly numb, then contact your GP about talking to someone. 
This is where a mental health professional comes in really handy, because you get to vent at someone without worrying about how it’ll make them feel. I highly recommend it.

There is also nothing wrong with taking antidepressants if you feel you need them. I take them and lots of other Spoonies of all varieties do too.

You will get it wrong

The most helpful thing my ME specialist nurse EVER said to me was this:
"You will get it wrong."
It might not sound the most reassuring thing, but learning to live with this illness in general, and pacing specifically, is a massive learning curve. 

It's kind of terrifying to be constantly juggling everything trying to keep your health in check. Knowing that everyone gets it wrong, and that that getting it wrong is perfectly acceptable and normal is incredibly freeing, especially if you’re naturally a perfectionist.

You will mess up. And that’s ok.

You are not alone

It can feel like you’re alone with this disease, but you’re not. If you go on twitter, instagram, or facebook there’s a massive community of people who are in the same boat.
We’re all rooting for you.

It might be useful to see if there’s an ME support group in your area. It’s really helpful to know other people who can give advice and are going through the same thing.
I found one online in my local area. Even though I’m not able to attend the meetings yet I stay in contact on Facebook, and it’s lovely knowing I have people who are close by that are just like me.

You can do this

This illness is daunting, and it’s going to feel like you have to be your own doctor most of the time. You can do it. People are so resilient, and you’re capable of far more than you know. 
Trust me, you’re much, much stronger than you think. 


Finally, I’ll give you some links to some ME charities, and the private clinic I’m with, The Optimum Health Clinic.
The ME association have loads of information on their website about ME, and downloadable booklets on pretty much every aspect of the illness, and how that effects day to day life.
You can also ask specific questions through their facebook page (either as yourself or anonymously) and they’ll open the question out to the group. That can be really helpful, and their medical advisor, Dr Charles Shepherd, is awesome and also has ME, so he’s super knowledgable.

Other ME charities include:

The Optimum Health Clinic is also technically a charity, but runs a private clinic specialising in ME, FIbromyalgia and MS. It’s not cheap, but they are very supportive, and I’ve found them very helpful. The psychologists have all had ME, so they know what it’s like, and the nutritional side can really help support the immune system.


I really hope you find this helpful, and that it gives some idea of where to start.
I’m slowly compiling a list of tips and tricks I use to deal with my ME, so hopefully those will be of some help too.

Current ones I haven't mentioned so far that you may find useful are:

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Making a Tiny You: Part 3


Hello my lovely loves!

We’re back making our Tiny Human dolls a little bit early this week! I've got a medical appointment tomorrow which will likely leave me wiped for a bit, so I thought it better to post this sooner rather than later!
Let’s get cracking. We’ve done the limbs, so it’s time to work on the torso.

27. Pin the front of your doll to the back. Hold the arms against the body of the doll and mark where the posts of the joints will enter the torso. 

I like that as these pictures progress, they slowly get less terrifying.

28. Using blanket stitch, sew around the edge of your doll, from one arm mark, along the sides, across where the legs meet the body and up the other side to the other arm mark. There's another handy video tutorial here on how to blanket stitch around awkward objects.
Stuff the bottom portion of your doll’s torso.

If you’ve created flat sole-based feet and given the legs wires, your doll will most likely be able to stand up and stare at you creepily. Aren’t you glad you started this project?

I spoke to soon on the whole "less terrifying" thing.

29. Insert the arm joint into the body to measure the width of the gap necessary. Mark this with pins.

Red: width of gap needed for arm joint post.
White: Pin placement.

30. Sew from neck to ear on each side of your doll, using blanket stitch.

31. Attach the arms to the body, by pushing the arm joint post through the gap you have left on each side. Add the washer and the clip provided on the inside of the torso and push down until you hear several clicks.
This helpful video shows you how to do it. 

(32. If you want magnets in your dolls temples and haven’t already sewn them in, do so now.)

33. Using blanket stitch, sew from ear to ear, around the rest of the doll’s head, and stuff as you go.

(BTW Mum's hand is in a bag in the background because she'd burned it quite badly. 
It's fine now, but ice was needed.)



Adding Hair

34. Take the felt you’ve bought to use for your hair. Using the original pattern as a guide, cut out two head shapes from the hair felt. Don’t forget to add the seam allowance.

35. Take one of these shapes and pin it to the back of your dolls head. This will create the basis for your hair and give you a hairline.
If you know a way to draw a naked doll, face down, 
having something sewn to the back of it's head 
without making it horrifying, please let me know.
I really wish I'd photographed this stage.

36. Take the second hair piece and cut it into a hairline for the front of your doll. This can be a simple crescent shape, or you can get creative and add a widow’s peak, or side burns. If you have a beard you can use this method to create some facial hair.
Here’s my hairline.

I added some wiggles at the sides where I have little curl frizzies.

37. Sew along the edge of the hairline to attach it to the doll. Sew along the top of the head to join the two hair pieces. You now have a basis from which to create your hair. If you have a shaved head, or very, very short hair, you don’t need to do anymore.

Blanket stitch is my favourite of all the stitches.

38. Take the remaining hair felt and decide how you want your hair to look. If you want separate strands of hair, or a more sculpted look. Have a look at felt dolls online for inspiration.

Here are some options I tried out on TH...

Somehow simultaneously flat, and too "thank you for the country music award". Rejected.

Better, but still flat. I need VOLUME, DAMMIT!

I looked online at the dolls made by Miss Coffee (who I bought the doll pattern I altered from, and who, unfortunately, doesn't appear to sell patterns anymore), and decided to base TH's hair on the doll she made of Poison Ivy. Search "Miss coffee felt doll" on goggle images for other inspiration. 

All credit to Miss Coffee. Please start selling doll patterns again.

Since I decided I wanted individual strands of waves, but had no instructions, I created layers of waves, and built them up, a bit like a long set of hair extensions.
I don’t have photos for this step so here’s a sketch of the layers and how they were built up.

I hope these weird brown tentacles make sense to you.

Once the main part of the hair was created I then cut out individual waves pieces. I used these to create my fringe.
To create a swoop of hair I stitched the fringe pieces on so they were pointed up like this…

The classic "got-too-friendly-with-a-plug-socket" look.
Also how I look every morning.

and then folded them back over and secured the fringe with a couple of small hidden stitches.
Hairdressers will recognise this as something you do to real hair to give it volume. You blow dry it the opposite way to your intended direction, and then flip it.

Because you're worth it, my tiny doppelgänger.

I then did the same on the other side.

At this point I started to get irritated that TH has better hair than me.

Finally I added some extra individual wave pieces to give the front part of the head it’s own hair strands, and to hide the stitching at the top of the head. 
I used a little fabric glue to secure an remaining strands in the right place that couldn’t be stitched easily. 

Dem tresses.

When using fabric glue, dab on with a brush or a cocktail stick to make sure you don’t soak the felt. Too much glue can leave the felt stiff and stained.

Your doll is now almost ready. Next time we’ll see how to start making clothes.


Monday, 25 September 2017

Making a Tiny You: Part 2


Hello again! And welcome to part two of making your own Tiny You. Today we'll be making your doll's arms and legs.

Hopefully by now you’ll have go the hang of the blanket stitch, but this is where we start sewing…

11. Adding Magnets - as I’ve said on the previous post, having magnets in your doll is optional, so just skip this bit if you’re not going to be doing that. It can be tricky, especially because needles are usually magnetic and will get stuck to what you’re trying to sew, but the results are fun. It’s up to you.

To add magnets to your doll, you first need to make little pouches for them to be held in. This will make it easier for you to attach the magnets to the doll.

Cut two small felt circles, slightly larger than your magnets. (You basically have to leave a seam allowance like you did with the pattern pieces.)
Hold the two circles together and start to blanket stitch around the edge to attach them. When you have stitched about halfway, slide the magnet in the pouch you have created and continue stitching until you complete the circle and the magnet is completely enclosed. Repeat for all the magnets you’ll be using inside the doll.
That feeling when you create a non-terrifying diagram.

Tiny Hannah has one magnet in each hand and one in each temple.

Once you have your magnet pouches, sew them in place on the inside of your arm pattern pieces where the palm would be. Felt is great because, due to it’s texture and thickness, if you’re careful you can sew them in place without it showing on the outside.

Palm magnets completed.

Note: if you want to make it so the hands of your doll easily touch, make sure you take the poles of the magnets into account when sewing them into place.
You can do the temple ones at this point if you like, but I waited till I was working on that area.

12. Using your bradle or sharp pencil, make holes in the top of your arm pieces, ready for the teddy bear joints. You may need to widen the hole in the same way you did for the safety eyes in step 6. I doubt you've forgotten the horrifying diagram I made for that step, so I won't bother reusing it here.

I'm so glad I bought a bradle. It makes this so much easier.

13. Push the pegs of the teddy bear joints through the hole of each arm. DO NOT ATTACH THE REST OF THE JOINT YET. Once teddybear joints are snapped shut they don’t reopen, so you need to wait until most of the rest of the doll is done.
On a roll with these non-frightening diagrams

14. Adding wire to arms - skip steps 14-16 if you’re not adding wire.
Assemble your wire, cutters, pliers, and arm and/or leg pieces.

The tools of the tiny trade.

Measuring against your arm pieces, cut a piece of wire and curl each end inwards to create a loop; a larger one at the bottom (the”hand”) and a smaller on at the top (the “shoulder”). Repeat step. These will be your arm “bones”.

Wire arm bones

15. Using your sugru or similar, stick the smaller shoulder loop onto the top of the teddy bear joint peg. This will stop the bone sliding around inside the arm and potentially damaging the felt.

Sugru not shown. Obviously.

16. Carefully sew the hand loop in place to stop it shifting. A blanket stitch could work here, but as long as the hand won’t move about it doesn’t matter too much.

Use a flesh coloured thread if possible. 
I just used black on her to make it more visible.

17. Your arm is now ready for sewing and stuffing. Fold the edges of your felt together so the bone, joint and magnet is hidden. Start your blanket stitch, and, as you sew, add stuffing bit by bit. It’s easier to stuff as you sew than to try and push stuffing into the toy later. You can use your pencil or cradle to help you stuff the toy.

Frustratingly I don’t have any photos of this stage, probably because I’d never done it before and I was concentrating too hard, and it's not really something I can easily draw, but here is a video where this stage is shown. The right part is at 0:49. 
The limb should feel relatively solid when you've finished. The more to push it with a pencil or bradle the more it'll compress.

18. Adding wire to legs - optional steps 18-19.
This step is tricky and I wouldn’t blame you if you gave it a miss. I decided that I wanted my doll to have proper soles so she could wear proper shoes, which made this a lot more difficult, because the wire had to be shaped like a leg, ankle and foot. 
If your pattern doesn’t have foot soles, you can just use a loop technique like I did on TH’s arm wires.
This is the shape I came up with.

Yes. I did do a version of the Charlie Chaplin fork dance

I looped the end into an elongated oval, that was slightly smaller than the sole piece. The loop was twisted closed where the heel would be and then bent forward slight to give a more definite heel. This also allowed the ankle to be slightly further forward. 
The leg then extended up, and was bent at the hip towards the other leg. All of this was just measured against the felt pieces as I went.
Ideally I would want both legs to be made of one piece of wire, but I felt the chances of me getting that right on the first try were too slim, so I made them separately. 

19. If you decide to go with this shape, then, once you have the basic leg wire shape, sew the foot wire to the sole piece to stop it moving about and provide a more solid foot. 
(At this stage the images of the wire inserts will be white. I covered them in tape thinking they might be visible through the felt if I left them metallic. This step is unnecessary. I’m so glad I spent a good hour doing it for Tiny Hannah...)

The cunning reuse of the same diagram. No one will know.

20. Using blanket stitch, sew the sole of the foot to the leg piece. I found it easiest to fold the leg piece in half to find the centre, and place it on the heel of the sole. Then stitch from the heel round to the front. Repeat on the other side until the entire sole is stitch to the leg. Repeat on the other leg.

This is probably the point where you'll realise making tiny 
accurate feet was rather ambitious. It's certainly when I did.

There may be a little fabric left over from the leg piece at the toe. That's fine, you can trim it off. 
If there's not enough fabric you can either cut out leg pieces with longer toe sections, or make a little triangle (like a thin slice of cake) and add it into the gap.

21. Ready your stuffing. Start stitching from the toe to the top of the leg, and stuff as you go. Remember to stuff all the way round the ankle and leg wire to try and keep the “bone” in the middle of the leg; it’ll help to keep the wire from shifting too much or rubbing against the felt. When you reached the top of the leg, leave the very top with only a small amount of stuffing.

Take your time and go little by little, especially around the fiddly toe piece. This is pretty much the last difficult bit. It'll get easier from here on out.

22. Your leg should look like this.

Leg, with trimmings from the toe.

Pinch the the top of the leg so it lies flat, with the leg seam in the middle. The wire should also be roughly in the middle.

23. Trim any jagged edge of the felt, and sew the leg shut. Repeat on the other leg.

24. Lay the legs against the back piece of the doll, so the edges of the leg lines up with the edge of the hip. If you have wire inserts, bend the wires up where it meets the edge of the doll.

25. Trim the wire and bend it back in on itself until it forms a loop.

26. Stitch the legs into place on the back. You can use a blanket stitch, backstitch, or any secret stitch you fell comfortable with. 
If you have wire inserts, sew them together in the middle by looping round them and then sewing into the felt until it feels fairly secure.

That feeling when the tricky part is done!

Your doll’s limbs are now complete! Next time: completing your doll’s torso.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Making a Tiny You: Part 1


Hello my lovely loves!

Regular followers of my blog doubtless know about Tiny Hannah and her adventures, but, for those that don’t, Tiny Hannah is a small felt version of myself that I sent in my stead to visit friends and family.

It was really getting me down that there were so many important events in my friends lives that I couldn’t be a part of, so I made her to go in my place. It really takes the pressure off knowing there’s a representation of you acting as a placeholder while you’re not well.
Here are some of her adventures.

TH is currently in America, and there’s plans to send her on to friends in Canada after she’s visited all my American friends. 

I’ve found having TH to send to friends really comforting, and my friends have been amazing about her, so I thought that other Spoonies might like to make their own version of themselves to send to places when they’re not able to go.

You will need:

A Pattern: I created a hybrid pattern for Tiny Hannah using one that I found on the internet, and one that I purchased on Etsy. The first had moveable limbs, and the second had a less childlike body shape and a facial aesthetic that I preferred. 
Here is the pattern I used, which you can print for yourself. There are two different leg/foot sizes, and different body shapes included.

The Etsy shop doesn't appear to sell doll patterns anymore (which is a real shame, because they were awesome), but here is the blog post including the free pattern which I also used as inspiration. The video tutorial included in the post is a must watch too; it really gives you insight into the construction of dolls like this.

Felt - A skin tone, a hair tone, some different colours for clothes. 
(Wool felt is generally more durable, and comes in a wider variety of colours, but can also be more expensive. I use acrylic based felts, because I’m allergic to wool, and working with it for longer periods of time makes my hands raw.)

Embroidery thread - Regular thread is a bit thin and could probably tear felt relatively easily, so it’s best to use embroidery thread. 
If you buy your felt from a shop then usually the assistants can help you match the colours. I tried to buy mine online but it’s very hard to colour match over the internet; in the end Mum went in to our local craft shop and enlisted the help of the lady there.
Embroidery thread appears rope like, but in fact comes in six strands that you divide up to use two at a time.
If you do use normal dressmaking thread, double it over so you’re using two strands at once to lessen the chance of tearing.

A needle - It will need to have an eye large enough to thread two strands of embroidery thread through it. Embroidery needles are a thing, so look for those if you’re not sure what to go for. If you have the option of buying more than one, then do. You’ll lose the needle at least once during the process.
(When you do I recommend shining a light on the area you dropped it to make it easier to find. It’s not the kind of thing you want to stand or sit on later.)

Pins - In some cases it may be easier to hold what you’re sewing together, but for cutting out pattern pieces, and sewing tiny clothes, it’s best to have some pins on hand.

Scissors - Fabric scissors are best, but as long as they’re sharp, and have pointed ends, it’ll be fine.

Safety eyes - I used 15mm black eyes for Tiny Hannah.

A sharp pencil.

Plain paper sheets, roughly A4, for templates.

Paint for facial features - I used acrylic paint, but you can use a special fabric paint if you really want to.

Soft toy stuffing

Teddy bear joints (yes, that’s what they’re called) - this is if you want to be able to move your dolls limbs. They usually come in packs of five, but Tiny Hannah only has two; her arms use teddy bear joints but her legs are just wire. 
If you wanted to get fancy you could even make the head of your doll separately and attach it with a teddybear joint so the head turns. I was slightly worried mine would end up like something out of The Exorcist so I didn’t bother.

(You don’t have to do teddybear joints if you don’t want to - you could technically just make a front piece, and a back piece and then sew them together without any separate limb pieces at all - but for the sake of this tutorial I’ll talk as if you are making moveable arms.)

Optional: Fabric glue - can be useful if you’re less confident with stitching fiddly things, but not suitable for the main body of the doll. I used glue when putting the finishing touches on Tiny Hannah's hair.

Optional: Bradle - A stabbing tool useful for making eye holes, and showing toy stuffing who’s boss. You don’t have to have one though. A pencil works fine in a pinch.

Optional: Wire to make posable limbs - it took me ages to find the right strength and thickness, and this is the one I recommend. You could probably use pipe cleaners in a pinch.

Optional: Wire cutters - For the love of God, do not use scissors on wire. It will destroy them.

Optional: Round headed pliers - you can get away with regular pliers, or with tweezers, but the best option are still jewellery pliers. They won’t leave dents on the wire, and they’re easier control.

Optional: Sugru mouldable glue or similar - used for attaching wire to teddy joints. If you’re not adding wire, you won’t need this.

Optional: Magnets to make magnetised hands and accessories - These are the magnets I used. Again, it took me ages to find the right ones. If you’re using magnets, make sure to keep them out of the reach of pets or children, as they can do serious harm if swallowed.
I used 5mm x 0.5mm neodymium magnets. You can go larger or thicker for a better span or strength, but I wouldn't go smaller. They smaller the magnet, the more fiddly they are to use. 
If I didn't feel one magnet was sufficiently strong I just stuck two together.

Extras: Snap fasteners for Tiny Clothes, ribbons, buttons, beads, trimmings etc. For decoration and for keeping clothes on your doll.

Making Your Doll

Okay! You have everything you need. Now on to making. Necessary steps are in bold, optional extras are not.

1. First things first. Cut out your pattern. You’ll need two of each piece. I had originally decided to do the ears separately, but later I decided the head of my doll was too big. When I cut down the head I left extra bumps on for the ears.

Here we have my pattern pieces, clockwise from top left, the ear, the head/body, the leg, the sole of the foot, and the arm.

2. Lay your pattern on your felt. It’s easiest to fold your felt in half, and pin your pieces to it. Then, when you cut the pieces out, you’ll have cut two of everything. 

(Try to arrange your pieces so they take up the least amount of space you can reasonably manage. 
It’s not a massive deal, but if there’s more fabric left over you can cut out extra pieces if something goes wrong.)

Materials are expensive. Use them wisely.

3. You’ll need to see if your pattern has already included a seam allowance. From what I can gather most toy patterns don’t - the ones I used didn’t, and if you’ve using the same ones they won’t. That’s fine. When you cut out your felt pieces, leave a bit of extra fabric all around the paper as I have in the photo.
Keep the scraps for now.

Despite appearances, there are actually two of everything cut here.

(3.5. For Tiny Hannah I was worried that the acrylic felt I had bought was too thin, so I cut out another layer of felt and stuck it to the original using iron-on double-sided interfacing. This step is pretty unnecessary, and I wouldn’t bother next time, but I’ll show you what I did to avoid confusion on why my felt changes appearances at this point. 

I cut out more felt pieces (this time not leaving the extra for the seam allowance), and the same pieces in double-sided fusible interfacing. I ironed the interfacing onto the new pieces, peeled off the backing paper, and then ironed the pieces onto the original. Ta-da! Doubly thick felt pieces.)

Unnecessary felt pieces, slightly smaller and a different colour.

Unnecessary ironing of interfacing.

Unnecessary (but pleasing) waffle pattern left by the tea towel
I sacrificed to stop interfacing sticking to the iron.

4. Lay all your pattern pieces on a sheet of paper so it roughly resembles your doll. Make sure to fold the leg and arm pieces in half lengthways when you do this. 

Line the arms up with the shoulders at roughly a 45 degree angle, slightly overlapping the body piece, as shown. 

I am an illustrator. People actually pay me to draw things.

Line the legs up with the hips, slightly overlapping the body and leg pieces, as shown. There will likely be a gap left between the legs: that’s fine, it makes it easier to make clothes.

Draw around the shape you have created on the paper. This will make it much easier for you to make clothes for your doll later. DO NOT LOSE THIS PIECE OF PAPER. It’s technically possible to work out sizing for clothes later, but it’s really difficult.

5. Mark the eyes on one of the face pieces of your doll. You can do this by eye, or by laying your pattern piece on top and stabbing through the paper with a biro or pencil. 

6. I used a tool called a bradle to stab a hole in the felt ready for the safety eyes. 

Stabby, stabby!

If you don’t have a bradle, a sharp pencil could work, or you can CAREFULLY cut a little cross over the pen mark you made, using the point of your scissors.

This is the most horrifying thing I've ever created.

This step will probably be much easier without the double layer of felt, or if you’re using wool felt. Wool naturally stretches more, and the interfacing I used is basically a mesh of glue, which stopped the hole from stretching.
I ended up widening the hole I made using scissors, by snipping little cuts into the top, bottom, and sides of the hole made by the bradle (like a cross). If you use scissors, cut a tiny bit at a time. You can always go back a cut more, you can’t cut less.

7. Add the safety eyes. You do this by pushing the eye through the hole in the felt, and then fastening the plastic washer on the other side. Suddenly your felt will look much cuter.

Left without washer, right with washer.


8. Draw your facial features onto your doll with pencil. You could technically do this before the eyes are in, but I found it much easier to get an idea of what size everything should be once the eyes were in. You can also add things like tattoos at this stage.

It’s up to you what look you give your doll. I decided to keep my doll more cute looking and forgo a nose. *Suddenly realises that this is the look Voldemort was going for all along*

The resemblance is uncanny.

9. Paint your dolls face and other features like tattoos. I used acrylic paint, watered down about half and half. If the paint is too thick it gets caught on the loose fibres of the felt and sits on surface, and you won’t be able to get a clean line. If it’s thinner, it’ll be much cleaner, but also sink more into the fabric, and become much less likely to flake off.

You might find the fuzzy fibres get in the way, so take your scissors and, laying them flat across the surface, snip away the loose fibres from the surface of where you need to paint. 
If that sounds confusing, imagine you need to cut a hair from your leg. You wouldn’t stab in and snip and risk cutting skin, you'd lay the scissors flat and try to mimic a razor. You’re basically shaving your doll’s face.

Once you’ve painted the face on the un-sewn head piece, your doll will now resemble an adorable fat-monster from Doctor Who called an Adipose, if an Adipose had kidnapped Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist.
For this reason I have named my own little felt Adipose, “Kim Lardashian.”

Kim would be proud of those eyebrows.

10. This is the last step on this post, and so far we’ve managed to avoid sewing, but I’m afraid this is where that changes. 
The next thing you need to do is learn how to blanket stitch. It’s pretty much the only stitch I used for making tiny Hannah. Have a practise on a spare piece of fabric before you start stitch your doll.

Here is a helpful tutorial on how to blanket stitch. 

Next time... we'll be making your doll's limbs!