Sunday, March 13, 2016

Easter Egg Sheep Tutorial

I've been working on Easter toys. I came across this idea for sheep by Wendy Phillips. You can dress them up. I made one according to her pattern. I used sequins for eyes. I gave a knitting lesson last week and my client bought this sheep for her granddaughter. She requested an extra pink and purple coat for it that I whipped up on the spot and didn't get a photo.

All-knit sheep with removable coat
Selling my first prototype encouraged me to make some more sheep, but the more I made the less I liked the design. It was hard to get it consistent. The legs kept coming out uneven and they weren't very sturdy. It was really hard to get the eyes to show up and look friendly. Nobody wants a menacing sheep with beady eyes.

I decided to sew the body out of some black polyester fleece to solve the first problem. If it was made of fleece I could put a wire in the legs to make it stand up better. I did a few that still had the knit heads. If you like that kind use Wendy Phillips' instructions in the link above.

Fleece body, knit head with bead eyes.
Those are cute, but the eyes were bothering me. I used black beads and white thread. It was hard to get them to not just disappear into the black yarn. I also had an idea I would like to have a container for the toys, a little kit with all their accessories. I headed to the craft store. I picked up some white fleece, more white yarn, and some 3"x2" plastic easter eggs. (BTW, why do these smell so horrible?! I had to open them up and put them outside in the sun for a day to outgas before I could have them in the lab with me.)

I looked at all the stuff in the craft store for something I could use to copy the eyes of Shaun the Sheep, a character all over my Google image searches for sheep to use as references. Prey animals like sheep typically have eyes on the sides of their head. But Aardman Animation throws this convention to the wind with almost all characters in Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, etc have characters with highly improbable eyeballs that actually touch each other on the front of their face. I thought I should give up copying real sheep and go for that derpy look. While I was looking at beads and tiny pom poms at the craft store I realized I already had what I needed to make them, scraps of white craft foam leftover from hat brims and a hole punch.

Hole punched Aardman Eyes
Tips for making Aardman Eyes with craft foam and a hole punch: Punch halfway then rotate the foam and line up the punch with the marks and punch some more. Flip over the foam and line up that mark with the punch and finally punch all the way through.

I colored the black part of the eye with the only black pen on my desk. Sharpie might be better if you've got one.

The size of the eyes made by my hole punch determined the scale of the head and body.

The sheep I'd already made fit inside the eggs pretty good. I made some sheep in white fleece, refining the pattern a bit more. Here's the pattern I finally came up with for a sheep that fits in a 2"x3" egg. I did them on graph paper so after I made one I could easily modify the next one by one or two grid squares until I got all the proportions right. Also you can do similar changes to make sibling sheep that are all a little different. This is standard engineering paper with 1" squares divided into 10ths. (You may be surprised that I didn't do this drafting with Sketch-up or something based on my last essay claiming I think in computer. If I only need a single copy of something it's not worth dealing the printer.)

Egg Size body, top.

Egg Size body, bottom

Head, top. Cut slits for the ears on the lines.
The bottom part sews into the opening underneath
so the ears poke out higher on the head
than the seam line.
Head, bottom

It takes less than an 8" square of fleece to make this. A piece of wool felt they sell by the sheet would probably work too. You could even stuff it with wool roving for a sheep made out of sheep.

I cut out the paper pattern with paper scissors then cut out the pieces in polyester fleece with cloth scissors. You need sharp scissors to get the corners to cut accurately. I used a sharpening steel on my scissors, sort of cutting in reverse, pushing the scissors open with the steel with light pressure. Then I closed the scissors fast to remove the burr I just made. They worked better. It's a quick fix.

Polyester fleece has a thick enough cross section I butt the edges up and whip stitched it. I used mattress stitch on the legs.

Notes on hand sewing: My black thread was Coats & Clark's Mercerized Cotton size 50. It was the best. The 100% polyester Dual Duty All Purpose white thread I used tangled like crazy. I found I had to cut lengths under 20", not enough to finish one side of the sheep. But it was better to start a new thread 3/4 along rather than deal with the knots.

When both sides of the sheep are sewn into a sort of cylinder, reinforc the legs. I have some aluminum armature wire that's about 3mm in diameter. I used that. They sell 12 gauge aluminum wire in the craft store in the floral section. That's finer than my wire but I think it would be better. You could make the legs one grid square thinner and have more sheeplike legs. I wouldn't use wire much finer than that though or it could poke through and be dangerous.

Cut the wire 2 1/2" long for a sheep to fit in 2"x3" egg. If it's a little longer, that's fine, the bent part can fall anywhere inside the cylinder. 2 1/2" falls pretty close to the bottom of a sheep with legs 9 grid squares long. I sanded the ends of my wire with an 80 grit nail file. I did this over the wastepaper basket then washed the wire and my hands.

Bend the legs into U shapes and insert them into the leg openings.

Now fill the body cavity. I used polyester fiberfill because I had some. But there's no reason to buy it special. I tested one sheep with cut up bits of scrap fleece. Works great. I used black fleece scraps to fill the black knitted heads on purpose because white fiberfill would show through the knit stitches and look gross. For fleece this is not an issue.

Sew the ends of the body by stitching across the diameter of the opening like cutting a pizza. It should be pretty easy to get it all pulled into a nice round shape.

Now make the head. Sew the top and bottom halves with the sides butted together. I did the eyes after I'd done one side so the thread was already there ready to go. For white sheep I brought the thread up through the white of the eye and then over the edge back into the fleece. I did two stitches each in the middle to secure the eyes together then did another 4 or so stitches evenly around the eye. For black sheep with black thread I sewed an x in the black part of the eye.

Sew up the other side after the eyes are done. My sheep's eyes almost never came out straight but I found it just makes the sheep look quizzical. Don't sweat it. Stuff the head and then close the ends. The nose end I sewed the middle together first. Then I poked the corners in with a knitting needle to make nostrils. I ran the needle and thread back and forth to secure them. Sew the back of the head closed in a circle and attach to the body. The bottom is one grid square shorter than the top on purpose to roll the nose over a bit.

I made a sort of neck on one sheep by pinching up part of the body and sewing through it in a bunch of places until it stayed poking up. Then I sewed on the head. You can't really tell I went to the trouble once the sheep is wearing clothes.

Now you've made a sheep you get to make it some outfits! I did seed stitch coats in white acrylic baby yarn. 15 stitches on 5 needles is a good starting place. I made them long enough to drape over the sheep like a saddle blanket and cast off. I sewed up the cast off edge with the tail and then sewed the other edge together with the cast on tail just a few stitches so it will go over the sheep's head. Turn it inside out and put it on your sheep.

I've also done them with about the same number of stitches in stocking stitch and then instead of casting off I threaded the working yarn on a needle and pulled it through the live stitches to make the back end. Then I sewed the head opening with the cast on tail. Both methods work fine. You can make horizontal or vertical stripes depending on your method. The link at the top to all-knit sheep has some ideas.

I made scarves for my sheep to match the Easter eggs. In DK yarn with size 2 needles you can do a 5 stitch icord scarf. If you want a striped one hold the other color yarn behind the working yarn as you start a new row to keep it running up the inside of the cord. No reason to cut the yarn between stripes.

For worsted weight yarn I made a crochet chain with knots at the end and a tassle of the unraveled yarn.

I did make a realistic Shaun looking sheep, the black one in the in-progess photos above. He doesn't fit in an egg. His coat is cream colored yarn and it's got a tail, a topknot, and it's sewn all the way on. I'll do another blog entry for how to make Shaun. I'm going to try making another one with feet instead of just stumpy legs.

P.S. I thought of lots of sheep puns to use in this post, but I decided it was baaaaneath me.