Throughout the making of the different toys, I have developed my own techniques for how to make the toys, which works in a rather flexible set of steps, as each is so different there is an adaptation in each one.
Step 1- The picture
The first step is to take a good picture of the image or use the one given if they have sent it via Facebook.
I then remove the background from this image on photoshop. I make sure to get every detail I can and just keep the main image. I originally thought that I only needed to do this for myself, as it greatly reduces the ink when printing, but have found it very useful as I use it for the print out in the window and on Facebook.
Once the background is removed, I resize the image. This is not necessarily to a set size, though the aim is roughly A4, the level of detail possible with crochet has to be taken into account.
For legs, the thinnest needs to be at least 5 stitches wide, or by the time the border is added, and it is all sewn up it is far too small. A millipede would have different considerations, however. I also look at ears and horns, as they need a base of at least 4 stitches, preferably 4, or they have the same issues like the legs, but also lose any points they might have.
Once happy with the size I print it off on A4 paper. I have it set up so that they are quick, low-quality prints as they are just for a guide whilst I work and tend to get crumpled and moved as I work.
Step 2- Where to begin
Where to begin the piece is surprisingly important and can make a huge difference.
Whether to work left to right, top to bottom or vice versa is not set in stone, but depends on the drawings, though I do tend to work from right to left.
The legs are generally the factor for whether working horizontally or vertically, as I find that with long legs making them horizontally is more effective, as the edges when turning with crochet are not particularly neat or nice, and so doing it this way you only get it at the very bottom, not every single row.
The direction of left to the right comes more from the direction of the head, as I tend to work from the tail to the head. If they have a long, thin tail that is not very connected it is better to be done first as the body can get in the way and be frustrating if doing at the end. If there is no tail, I still tend to go this way as the head is often the most detailed and interesting area and you get a better feel and connection for the creature by this point. Some of the creations have been done form the base up, or in a whole variety of directions, such as the fox. The general guide though is tail to head, with legs being horizontal.
Step 3- Hooks and Yarn
For most of the creations, I have used acrylic double knit, as it is the most popular type of yarn, and comes in a huge array of colours. I tend to be using a 3mm hook, which is the smallest size recommended for DK yarn. This makes it so that the stitches are small, to allow for detail and the gaps between the stitches are not large, so you cannot see the stuffing through them. The small hook size also comes from the fact that the yarn is quite cheap and stretchy, with the rabbit I used a microfibre yarn, and even though still double knit 3.5mm hook was best.
For which colour yarn to use I always check against the original image, as by the time photographed and printed, especially with very bright colours the shades look vastly different. I am limited in colour selection though and so often the colours are not exactly perfect, but as close as I can do.
Step 4- Make it
Having decided where to start and the colours I begin the crocheting. With most of the toys, I begin with the body first, and then work through the smaller parts. If I am nervous about my ability to create a particular shape or if the size will work, I begin with that, but If I have the size right this should not be an issue.
Whilst making the shape I frequently check back against the picture to make sure it matches well. If I am displeased with how it matches, I rip the piece back and do it again. This is a benefit of crocheting from knitting, ripping a few rows is not a pain and is amazingly simple.
I tend to oversize the toy slightly, giving it a slightly thick border, the whole way round as once sewn up it loses some width. This is especially important on the legs. I will also o sometimes with particularly thin legs make them a little thicker anyway so that they can be turned inside out.
Step 5- Details
The details are what really makes the drawings unique to the child and show their personality. I also find that the details matching make the toys look so much more like the drawings than just by the general shape.
This means I put an awful lot of effort in trying to recreate the details as closely as possible. I have found that crocheting as a separate piece is generally the best way for the little coloured bits of detail, it gives them much more definition and helps to make them pop, plus gives the toy a bit of depth. For lines I vary on whether to use a crochet chain around or to simply sew it on, this all depends on how detailed it is and the overall size. With the Pink unicorn it worked better being chained as it stood out more, whilst with the white unicorn bring backstitched worked best due to the detail. I add all the details before sewing up as then you do not have any backing or stuffing in the way.
Step 6- Sewing up
I pick the colour felt which best matches with the overall colour of the toy, and if the toy is larger than A4 I must use 2 sheets. For most colours I am okay, but I do not have any brown, so must pick between maroon or orange for the backing.
I then pin the crocheted piece upside down onto the felt and very roughly cut around, leaving around ½cm extra felt away from the crochet. I cut little slips at the turning points between legs and ears so that the felt does not stop it from turning out at the end.
I sew around the edges using a simple hemming stitch, going around most of the body, but leaving a small area to pull thorough. I pick where to sew up carefully, trying to pick an area where I will be able to reach all of the limbs and pieces from to pull through. I tend to strat at the back and then go around to the head before the legs. I also pull the smaller detailed areas in after they are sewed around as they can be very fiddly to do at the end.
Steps 7- Stuffing
The stuffing is the final step. I had been overstuffing the toys as it tends to deflate over time but this made the toys to hard, more like doorstoppers than toys. I do overstuff the legs and limbs so that they can stand and stay straight, the giraffe’s neck is very well stuffed.
Every little area needs to be stuffed, I start working from the extremities in, and make sure to fill all the details. In areas where there is some form of join, such as necks and between the body and the legs I make sure to add some extra stuffing. Once completely happy with the stuffing I do a final few stitches in the gap and fluff the toy a bit.
Step 8- Completion
I make sure to take good pictures of each toy after the sewing is complete. Once happy with them I prepare the drawing, along with the child’s name, age and what it is to go with the toy in the window. I add the writing rather than use the child’s own as it makes them all look more cohesive, as well as many of the children, do not include all the information or include too much. Plus the type is much easier to read. I print this off at the office where the rainbow is situated as it the printer there is higher quality than my own and it helps stop the possibility of any damage.
I take the toy down after having sent the drawing and place the toy in the window, trying to arrange the window in a pleasing way, and add in the new drawing. Once happy I photograph the whole window.
I regularly update the Facebook page with the new creations, showing the drawings, crocheted animals and the whole window.