“That’s so clever!”
If you hear this remark when you show someone what you’ve made you know you’ve done it right. We are drawn to things that are designed with an element of surprise. Think about some of the evergreen toy designs, like the jack-in-the-box. No matter how old you are, you’re going to smile when you’ve turned the crank just far enough and the jack pops up. Surprise!
Soft toys that are clever are what Laura Wilson’s new book, Flip Dolls and Other Toys That Zip, Stack, Hide, Grab and Go is all about.
She’s designed over two dozen projects for this book, and each one is interactive in some way. There’s a crab with claws that really grab (thanks to clips sewn inside), a horse with wings that button on and off, a Cheshire cat with interchangeable expressions, and a crocodile with a smile that unzips, among many others. Devising this many projects along the theme of cleverness or surprise is truly admirable and I think Flip Dolls and Other Toys is an amazing idea for a book.
Laura and I share the same editor at Lark, Thom O’Hearn, and he is an expert when it comes to book design. Like everything Thom touches, this book is beautifully done. It’s got crystal clear and beautifully styled photos, the layout and fonts and graphic design are a perfect match to the content – fun, lighthearted, with a super hero-themed graphics. Laura’s original illustrations enhance that vibe. For me, owning a beautifully designed book will beat downloading a digital one every time.
I’ve designed several inside out toys and was drawn to Laura’s method. Much like Susan B. Anderson’s knitted flip toys, these are all based on the same basic template, with the colors and details changing for each pairing. Laura’s book gives you several to try, including a bat/vampire, superhero/regular guy, owl/pussycat, knight/dragon, two-headed lady/bearded lady, and caterpillar/butterfly. There’s a nice paragraph in the Getting Started section in which she explains how to create your own variations based on her flip doll templates.
I got in touch with Laura to ask her how she developed this method of designing flip dolls. Here's what she told me:
I've always been intrigued by topsy turvy dolls, but I thought the skirts were limiting. For instance, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears doll will have a cute Goldilocks, but the bears are usually super-imposed over a skirt, rather than having their own body. That was always disappointing to me. So, I played around with different ways to make bodies that flipped back and forth. Initially, I developed a really cumbersome pattern Bunny and Fox pattern that used elastic to make the bodies fit snugly around each other. People seemed to like it, but I hated sewing it! So I wanted to develop a pattern that would allow different body shapes, but also be simple and enjoyable to sew.
Toys from Laura Wilson's book, Flip Dolls & Other Toys
The final version of the pattern turns inside out instead of flipping back and forth, which is much simpler to sew and allows even more flexibility in the actual shape of the body. Basically each of the flip doll bodies have the same frame. As long as the points match at the top of the head, the bottom, and somewhere on the sides, they can vary at all of the other points. After I've chosen my characters, I start with the basic human shape and mark my anchor points, but then I sketch in whatever ears or curves or wings will bring the characters to life. I try to make the two characters shaped very differently, and then use textured fabrics and add appliques and other trims to give each character more depth. Once you get the basic framework, the possibilities for variations are endless.
Over the years, people have sent me lots of suggestions for flip dolls characters, including traditional characters like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Beauty and the Beast to custom dolls of family members or comic characters. But I just didn't have the time to make everything! I'm excited now that people will be able to modify the pattern themselves and start making some of these great ideas!
I made the bat/vampire flip doll to get a feel for how it all works. This was a lot of fun! Laura shows us how to stitch the tops of the heads together before turning the doll right side out and this was a revelation to me!
I also made Gulp the whale. This toy features an open mouth with a deep pocket for holding treasures. My Shark pattern has a pocket mouth, but Laura has us sew this one in a different way and I had to try it. The technique here is really straightforward and definitely inspires me to incorporate pocketed openings in my own softies.
The templates in the book need to be enlarged 200%. I find this unacceptable (as you may remember). It's not fair to expect people to be able to achieve this easily on a home printer. I ended up making my toys at 140% and still had to do so much taping and assembling. Laura and I discussed this issue, she got in touch with Thom, and the good news is that full-sized templates are now up on Lark's website! Hooray for that!
I admire Laura’s creativity with this book, and her sense of playfulness. The instructions are a little rough around the edges (the templates would benefit from having more markings, the instructions sometimes say “sew” when they mean “baste,” there could be more guidance around fabric choices) as are some of the samples shown, but the core idea here is creating toys that children can transform. A turtle that comes out of its shell, a plush lie detector and a plush watch with moving hands, a frog with an elastic tongue that can hold things – these are toys that grab our attention. They’re neat to play with and even neater to make. As a toy maker, I found myself saying, “Oh, that’s clever!” with every project. And I like things that are clever.
Laura Wilson’s book Flip Dolls & Other Toys That Zip, Stack, Hide, Grab & Go will be available August 6, but can be pre-ordered on Amazon now. Follow Laura’s blog where she’s got a free printable up right now of sewing skills merit badges.
Disclaimer: Lark Crafts sent me a free copy of this book to review, but I know you already know that all of the ideas expressed here on my blog are my own. Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.