It's a fact - kids love soft things.
In anticipation of a slew of elementary school Author Visits, I decided that Mo should accompany me to each school. Children form intimate attachments to characters in books, so bringing a physical Mo along could really emphasize that bond (and help to tell his story)!
The only challenge? There's no Big Mo Store, so I had to build him myself:
01 SKETCHES & TEMPLATES | This is how every project begins for me - with brainstorming and documentation of each component. In this case, Big Mo is technically a sculpture made of a limited material palette of felt, thread and FLUFF.
2D sketches are great for quickly understanding the scope of the project, but for me there is no substitution for 3D studies and models. I used a pad of newsprint sheets to test some of my theories on forming just the right shapes. When a stuffed animal is typically produced (in a large factory or otherwise), it is sewn from a set of templates, which are "road maps" for each piece. For dimensional shapes, the assembly of each piece of the puzzle can get complicated fast. Certainly time-consuming, this process gives new life to the old adage, "measure twice, cut once"!
02 HEAD | When illustrating Mo, I always draw his head first. It made sense to sequence the assembly head-first, as well. With the head completed, it allowed me to size the body proportionally and more importantly, it kept a set of watchful eyes on me over the weeks as I slowly completed the project...
Mo's snout began as a template (which accidentally met it's ill-fated end in a trashcan). The main portion of the head resulted from a series of refined templates, until I found a corresponding fit for the snout that was "juuuuust right". Remember that even though the head looks one way in 2D on paper, the final look stuffed with cotton fill is somewhat unpredictable.
The template was transferred to green felt, which I unearthed at the bottom of a fabric store remnant bin. Not quite the subdued green in the print version, but it'll do : )
I use round-head pins to attach components temporarily. Each piece is sewn from the inside, so that the messy thread knotting is not visible. I use a stitching style that my grandmother taught me, but am by NO MEANS a sewing expert! If Mo were turned inside-out, a complicated web of spaghetti would be revealed, and you would think that I did this wearing a blindfold.
Mo's eyes were embroidered on by adding layer upon layer of white, then black, thread, giving his dismembered face just the right amount of 'tude.
The head spikes were cut out of mint felt and sewn into the "skull cap". Then, a newsprint jaw template was taped to the head as a "mock-up" of the eventual fabric piece.
I definitely poked my fair share of fingertips sewing the jaw, tongue and cheek patches to the head assembly. At this stage, Mo could have diverged toward a career in the Puppet Theater, but I had other plans.
For major components like the head, body and tail, each assembly is sewn inside-out, and then flipped outward in one dramatic flourish!
03 BODY | Individual back spikes (9 total) were cut out. It was critical to find a fabric rigid enough to stand upright and maintain its shape. The green felt is soft and cuddly, while the accent mint felt has a slightly rougher, paper quality to it. I can't claim to be very educated in this realm, but I did luck out by finding the ideal felt for the job!
The football shape of the body is comprised of 5 patches, symmetrical about the spine. I began by connecting the Right Front, Right Rear, Left Front and Left Rear patches. Along Mo's spine, I inserted and secured each spike so that it could be flipped outward later.
04 LEGS | The legs are critical to the overall piece, because they help to physically balance the body as it sits on a table (or a shoulder!). The rear legs required a dimensionality that implies movement/crawling, while the front legs could be sewn flat to the body. At Mo's shoulder, the front legs are attached with a sturdy "X" that allows for a slight freedom of movement. I referenced my illustrations of Mo to ensure a proportion that seemed true.
Once the legs were secured, I unfolded Mo's "skin" to prepare for the final piece of the body.
Flipped inside-out once again, I carefully tucked 9 spikes and 4 legs into the body pouch, and secured the flat belly piece with pins. It reminded me of these: 80's Kid
Proper sequencing was a constant concern. If I sewed too far on any piece, I wouldn't be able to pull the insides back out again. Note: I learned this the hard way sewing the tail.
I left an opening at the "neck" to receive the head, and another at the rear to stuff with cotton fill. A touch of detail was added with black thread stripes at the belly bulge.
05 FLUFF | Mo took shape after a good stuffing with cotton fluff!
06 FEET | After filling the rear legs with fill (neither over nor under-stuffed), Mo's long feet were delicately sewn from the outside.
Something was still missing...
07 TAIL | Building the tail was innocent enough in the beginning. As an architect, I get some level of comfort from straight lines and measurements. I had a given circumference for the base of the tail (ahem...that gaping hole in Mo's rear end...), and a given overall length (basically, equal to the overall body+head length). The template was simple:
Each trapezoidal black piece was measured directly from the green "pennant" base, and sewn into its corresponding slot along the tail.
Thinking that I was being super-clever, I left an opening at the tip of the tail to make it easier to flip the piece inside-out. Unfortunately, the fabric was extremely thick at the black segments which were "doubled up", and the black tip just WOULD NOT pull through to the wider open end. It was stuck, much like: Oh, bother
It was at this point that I got really creative, scouring my home for long, skinny tools to dislodge the fabric which was now wedged deep inside the tail. After exhausting my repertoire of cooking utensils, I eventually had success with a threaded needle taped to the end of a wooden skewer which I used to thread the tip through.
Success! With the tail fully extended, I stuffed it with loose fill and pinned it to the body. This was by far the trickiest stitching of the piece, as I carefully threaded the perimeter of the cone to the opening of the body. While complicated, it was also the LAST STEP, and thus reason to celebrate!!