Unconventional Tools for Fabric Art Toys

Mimi Kirchner is a widely popular Boston-based artist who makes fabric art toys for grown-ups. Her original, one-of-a-kind artwork is a mix of reclaimed, new, vintage and over-dyed fabrics and trims. All of Mimi’s pieces are meticulously crafted with hand-embroidery and applique details. You can find Mimi’s finished fabric art toys and sewing patterns on Etsy.

Which tools are essential for fabric art toy and softie making? We’re honored to have Mimi’s insight into some of the best tools for the job. These ideas go beyond a standard list into some imaginative, innovative uses for common products.

I work in a studio/workroom/taken-over-bedroom-when-my-kids-grew-up that is chock full of all the goodies associated with a life in art and fabric.

I also have some favorite tools and supplies that you might not imagine would be of use in softie making.

1. Flat File: My most favorite piece of equipment in my studio is a 10 drawer flat file that I was lucky enough to find at our local Boston area Creative ReUse recycling center. I store threads so I can see all the colors, felt sheets so they don’t get creased and buttons spread out so I can see what I’ve got, in flat drawers that were designed to store paper. Every time I open a drawer and see all the colors, I get a hit of joy!

2. Hemostats, Clamps + Clips: I suspect that if you have done much softie making at all, you have heard about using hemostats for turning and stuffing. I love my hemostats. I have quite a variety of sizes and shapes but mostly I use my small (6″), medium (8″) and large (12″). Yes, I use them for turning and stuffing but also for reaching objects on high shelves, holding books open, picking up items that have fallen behind my table, clamping and so much more. When I need a new hemostat, I buy it on eBay.

I also have a collection of clamps and clips from the electronics, stationary and hardware stores. I use them when I am gluing and any time things need to stay put but I can’t use pins. And hemostats aren’t the only medical-type tools I use. My Dad was a surgeon and besides the hemostats, he gave me some nice scalpels with replaceable blades that I use instead of the traditional craft knives. Also, an old x-ray viewing light box; it’s so useful for tracing patterns!

Let’s move out of the operating room to the kitchen…

3. Freezer Paper: Freezer paper is not only excellent for pattern pieces. I always use it as a stabilizer when I am sewing very small pieces of felt like on school bags for my foxes.

4. Resealable Storage Bags: Resealable storage bags are how I organize all of my in-progress projects. I cut out many dolls from the same pattern (20-30) once I have the pattern pieces and the fabrics out and organized. The pieces for each doll go into its own bag through the next steps until it no longer fits in the bag!

5. Cork Placemat: I have a cork placemat under my sewing machine. It is so useful to stick my pins into it as I am sewing along or to store the sewing machine needles when I have to change to a specialized needle. Most of my pins would be on the floor without this handy friend.

6. Other Stationary Necessities: Rubber bands are useful for holding things in place while gluing or hand-sewing. And Post-It notes are handy because everyone needs them, right? Besides the obvious (so many reminders to myself), I use them to note areas of concern on my reclaimed fabrics and for temporary stitch guides on my sewing machine. You can use a rubber band as a stitch guide too.

From the Art/Craft Store…

7. Scrapbooking Supplies: I have discovered so many of the tools and supplies designed for scrapbooking are perfect for dolls and softies. I use an assortment of die cutters and punches all sold for scrapbookers. They work beautifully with wool felt. There are also tiny buttons, eyelets and studs, fun ribbons and trims.

8. Foam Core Board: I have lots of little pieces on my desk. I use foam core board to store my in-use needles. When I am sewing up little parts, like eyes or decorative flowers, I pin the individual pieces into the foam core. If I move over to another work area, I can carry them along. When the foam core has too many holes it goes into the trash!

9. Magnifier: My eyes are getting old along with the rest of me and I need to use a magnifying head set when I work. I’ve bought several on eBay for about $10. Search for “magnifier visor.”

10. From the Recycling Bin: I have a stack of old file folders that I cut up for pattern templates. They are thin enough to cut with scissors and firm enough to trace around.

11. Flashlight: I need this more than you’d think. There is a black hole under my desk where all my dropped needles, pins, buttons and one side of a snap go. Mostly, with the use of a good flashlight, I can retrieve them.

12. Trash Can: And lastly, the one very important tool that I do not use enough: my trash can! I have a terrible time throwing all the little bits and scraps away. Everything looks so useful for something. These days I am trying to exercise my throwing away skills.

Do you have some unconventional tools that are perfect for toy making? I would love to hear about them!

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