Jean Greenhowe Designs

About Jean's Designs - Notes, Tips & History



Although I give a lot of information on the ‘Notes’ pages in our booklets, it isn’t possible to go into every little detail or there wouldn’t be much room for the patterns.  But thanks to our website, I can now include helpful hints in these pages.  I imagine that many knitters may have discovered some of these sewing tips for themselves but here they are for those of you who may be new to knitted dolls and toys.

Joining on yarns
This newsletter is already on our website.  Click on Joining on Yarns, if you haven’t already looked at this unique method.

Sewing needles
A darning needle with a large eye is useful for embroidering stitches, such as facial features and for sewing additional items in place. A round-pointed needle [tapestry needle] should be used for sewing back-stitch or oversewn seams.

Sewing with knitting yarns
You may have noticed that knitting yarn begins to untwist itself when used for sewing. It does exactly the same thing when casting on by the thumb method. To remedy this problem, simply drop the sewing needle from time to time, which allows the yarn to twist back on itself. Use the same method when casting on by dropping the thumb length of yarn every few stitches.

Leaving long tail-ends of yarn
I often see knitting blogs where people complain about having to weave in tail-ends of yarn when making up garments. With dolls and toys the tail-ends don’t need to be woven in, they can be used for sewing the seams. Simply leave tail-ends about 30cm [12in] in length for small items, longer ends for larger items. After sewing the seams, work a couple of oversewing stitches and snip off the yarn leaving a short tail-end.  Unlike knitted garments, no-one will ever see the inside of the knitted pieces in a doll or toy!

Sewing back-stitch seams
Just relying upon pins to hold the row ends of knitted pieces together when sewing, can end up with one set of row ends longer than the other.  This is how I sew seams. I will describe back-stitching the row ends of a square of knitting in one colour as an example.

First use pins as usual to hold the row ends together.  Begin at the cast on or cast off edge and join the seam about half way along the row ends.  Now begin at the other end and work in the opposite direction to complete the seam.

This method is particularly useful when there are different colour sequences in one knitted piece, say two colours – blue and white.  First complete the blue portion of the seam half and half, as described above, then sew the white portion in the same way.

Oversewn seams
Oversewn row ends seams aren’t as unobtrusive as back-stitch seams, but they eliminate the bulkiness of back-stitch and work well for small bits of knitting.  The neatest method is to use a blunt-ended needle such as a tapestry needle, then oversew around half a stitch across each set of row ends.  The tapestry needle slides through the stitches and doesn’t split the yarn loops, which is what happens with a sharp-pointed needle and so the end-result is much neater. The method for sewing different coloured sections of back-stitch seams works just as well on oversewn seams.

Sewing on additional pieces
This tip is useful for sewing on any extra small items neatly, such as arms. First cut a suitable length of yarn, then untwist one end and pull out one of the strands. Use the remaining strands for the sewing. The same split yarn method can also be used for sewing seams on small pieces to eliminate bulk.

Sewing on pieces using sewing thread
For an even neater finish than split yarn, matching sewing thread can be used to attach very small knitted pieces, such as bows, sleeve cuffs, buckles etc. Nowadays it is possible to buy sewing thread packs in assorted colours. Each tiny bobbin holds about 10 metres [33 feet] – not suitable for machine stitching, but excellent for hand-sewing.

To work embroidered stitches
There is a full description in most of our booklets for starting and fastening off yarn ends invisibly, when embroidered stitches are required.  Basically, the yarn ends are hidden in the stuffing.  The needle and yarn are brought out at the position of the embroidered stitches. Then the yarn is fastened off by sewing it into the stuffing.

I have seen some beautifully made dolls and toys, where the embroidery yarn is quite visible beneath the knitted stitches, right next to the embroidered item. This spoils the appearance of an otherwise perfect reproduction. The solution is to make sure that the embroidery yarn is always hidden inside the stuffing until the sewing needle emerges at the required position.

For example, after working one eye on a doll it is easy to pass the needle across to work the second eye. However, this is the point at which it is necessary to dig the needle deep into the stuffing before bringing it out at the second eye position.

Finishing off after sewing
Let’s say you have just finished sewing on a doll’s hair piece and fastened off the yarn by working a couple of oversewing stitches. Instead of simply cutting the yarn and risking the sewing unravelling, pass the needle through the final stitch and bring the yarn out at a completely different position – for example the base of the doll’s head. Pull the yarn tightly and snip it off close to the head. The cut end will disappear back into the stuffing.

Mirror images

This is something which I have found extremely useful throughout my design career.  When I was producing patterns for rag dolls and soft toys, in order to get the felt eyes level I pinned them in place and then looked at the doll in a mirror.  The mirror would immediately show if one eye was higher than the other.

Although the majority of my knitting patterns give stitch and row counts for facial stitches, this mirror check is still very useful for other details, such as caps, hats, hair pieces and ears.  For example, if a hat has to be level on the head, pin it in place, check in a mirror and it immediately becomes apparent if the hat is tilted.

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© Copyright Jean Greenhowe Designs 2006