Flashback: Hand-Sewn Free-Range Monsters


For the month of May, our theme on CRAFT is Sewing and I’m reminded of one of my favorite sewing-related sentences from the pages of CRAFT magazine. In CRAFT Volume 06, the endlessly talented Moxie offered us a how-to for “Hand-Sewn Free-Range Monsters” and the entire intent of the project is creative play. When it comes to sewing up your monster, Moxie writes, “You can use any stitch that feels good to you, or make up a new one and name it after yourself.” Sheer awesome. This is also a perfect project for after you’ve done your spring cleaning, since you can pretty much use any scraps you have laying around. Check out the full project reproduced for you right here. And remember, over in the Maker Shed, you can pick up a back issue of CRAFT Volume 06 (which has Moxie’s monsters gracing the cover), a Mini Monster Kit, and even a Creepy CRAFT Bundle (which included the back issue, the kit, plus a Maker’s Notebook to boot)! Happy playing!
Let your creative juices go wild with these unique mix-and-match monster plushes.
By Moxie

My anthropomorphic creations always look like post-apocalyptic amigurumi. It’s probably because I like to work freeform and I’m a little goofy on the inside.
While playing with commercial felt one day, I managed to create a hand-sewn “special friend” named Johnson. He had a comb-over and a total of six fingers, and he was glorious. In the five years since then, I’ve made dozens more and never the same one twice. With the nifty mix-and-match templates provided here and a deliberate rejection of precision, you can create an endless variety of special friends for you to love.


8″x11″ cardstock
Colored marker
Fabric, towel, or felt enough for two 9″x7″monster sides
Needle and thread
to match your monster skin or a machine that sews, if you want to do it that way
White and black felt
small piece of each
Fabri-Tac or hot glue gun
Fuzzy yarn and thread to match
or other stuffing like the new Nature-fil, made of bamboo fiber and organic cotton
Destroyable sock


Time: 2-3 Hours Complexity: Easy
Step 1: Create a free-range monster template.

For the most part, I am an impatient, immediate-gratification crafter. I don’t want to tape things beforeI paint them. I don’t want to read the manual before I make icy beverages in the new blender, and I have no desire to measure or pin or think about anything before I sew. All the best adventures happen when you don’t know where you’re going. Join me, won’t you?
1a. On a piece of cardstock, draw yourself a strange, roundish shape, maybe with some nubby legs and feet. Scribble away if that’d be fun, or try to draw an amoeba with your eyes closed. Add some arms that would be completely in the wrong place were this creature a real person.
1b. Loosely trace around your drawing a lot, creating tons of lines and possible shapes. Pick your favorite lines and use a marker to make one clear outline of your monster.
TIP: Keep body parts nice and fat. Any shape that’s too skinny will be harder to work with later.
1c. Cut out your design, following right outside your marker line. If you have the urge to make your paper template dance around on the table, you are absolutely on the right track.
Step 2: Lay out and cut the monster skin.
2a. Put your monster skin on a flat surface, wrong side up.
2b. Place the template onto the fabric and trace it as accurately as you can. Use a marker or pencil that’s easy to see when you cut it out, but won’t bleed through to the other side. Repeat the process so you have 2 completed outlines on your fabric. If you’re using patterned fabric, flip your template over before you trace it the second time. Cut out both pieces, following the outside of your lines.
Step 3: Prep and sew a monster carcass.
3a. Line up the fabric pieces so you can see your drawn outlines. With the fancy monster skin, this would be called wrong side out.
3b. Optional: While I don’t believe in pinning, I do like to make things easy. Using binder clips in key spots makes it easer to keep the pieces in place as you sew them together.
NOTE: Every monster needs a spot left open for turning and stuffing. Since this monster will be growing some fuzzy hair later on, we’re going to leave the hole at the top of his head. That way, we can hide the seam under his delicious locks.
3c. You can use any stitch that feels good to you, or make up a new one and name it after yourself. Here’s how to do a backstitch. It’s easy and will make your monster seams strong and safe. Starting to the left of the designated stuffing hole, bring your needle up from the back of the carcass. Make a stitch about ” to the right. Bring the needle up from the back, this time about ” to the left of your starting place. Again, take a stitch backward. You should have 2 visible stitches right up against each other. You’re backstitchin’, babycakes!
Keep going, sewing all the way around the edge of the carcass, removing the clips as you go. Stop when you’re about 1″ from your starting place, tie a knot, and snip off the excess thread.
3d. Trim any excess fabric from the edges of the carcass with scissors. Be careful of your stitches … you worked hard on them.
Step 4: Turn, stuff, and seal.
4a. Put your thumbs inside the stuffing hole, and gently push the carcass sides up through the hole with your fingers. Get the bulk of the body turned before you do the limbs. Use a chopstick if you get stuck, being careful not to push through your backstitches.
4b. Fill the monster carcass with stuffing, a little at a time, startingwith the limbs. Use half a handful of stuffing at a time, and use a chopstick to gently push the stuffing into place. Stop stuffing when it reaches the top of the hole.
4c. Get that threaded needle from before, throw a knot on there, and keep it close by. Fold the flaps of monster skin toward the inside of the hole. Pinch these new edges together with one hand. Grab up the needle in the other hand and sew the 2 sides together, keeping the needle on the inside flaps if you can.
4d. When the hole is almost closed, add some stuffing if youthink it’s needed. Push the stuffing into place, finish the seam,tie a knot, and snip! Hug your monster to celebrate.
Step 5: Add eyes and a grin.
5a. Cut a small rectangle of white felt, about 1″x2″, then cut it in half. Start at a corner of one of the squares and cut out an imperfect circle. Repeat this on the other square, and stop ’cause you see the whites of his eyes! Also from the white felt, cut out 2 teeny, tiny, roundish pieces. These will be the sparkle that will bring the monster to life. Finally, using black felt cut out 2 smaller circles for the pupils.
5b. For the zig-zaggy teeth, start with another rectangle about 1″x2″, cut out of green felt. Make diagonal snips along the bottom edge, creating a pleasantly uneven row of sawtooth-patterned teeth.
5c. Assemble the eyes with some Fabri-Tac between each layer, then glue them onto the monster’s face. Apply glue to the back of the teeth (toothpick recommended!) and glue them down. Gently press your hand over the glued pieces to make sure they adhere.
TIP: If extra glue gets anywhere you don’t want it to be, a bit of nail polish remover on a Q-tip will clean it up pretty well. Another solution is to decide not to care.
Step 6: Cover the nekkidness.
Depending on the size and length of your monster, you might want to give him some fancy duds. Socks are an excellent source of easy, no-sew fashion.
6a. Lay the sock down on top of the monster to make the appropriate design decisions. Cut off the extra fabric at the bottom. Cut it short for a belly shirt, or leave it long for a dress.
6b. Decide where the neckline will be and snip off the top of the sock. Cut half-circles for armholes.
TIP: The sock will stretch and change a bit once the monster is wearing it. Err on the side of too much sock, so that you have more cutting options once the sock is being worn.
6c. No matter what the monster says, he is simply not capable of putting his new shirt on himself. Not unlike a small child, struggle to put his outfit on him before he runs out of the house to play. Pull the shirt on over his head, and stick his arms through the holes you made. Pull down the bottom of the shirt and shift it around until you like the way it sits. Make alterations as needed. Don’t worry about fraying edges — monsters like it that way.
Step 7: Add some hair.
Take a step back and look at your little friend. If you’re chuckling to yourself and mocking him, you’ve got yourself a great monster. Now you can add some hair to complete his look.
7a. Using a color similar to your fuzzy yarn, thread the needle and knot the ends, same as before. Push the needle through the surface of the back of the monster’s head and come back out, as if you are making a very short stitch on the underside of his scalp. Pull the thread through, but not too hard, or the scalp will pucker.
7b. Run the needle through the end of the yarn, but don’t pull the thread through. About 1″ down, push the needle through the yarn again, creating a loop sitting on the needle. Repeat this loop process 6 or 7 times to create a little bundle of yarn loops, all of them still hanging on the needle.
7c. Make another small behind-the-scalp stitch near your first one, holding the yarn loops against the scalp with your other hand. Pull the thread through carefully to avoid knots. Pull the thread tight enough that the yarn bundles securely against the scalp, but not so tight that the back of the monster head puckers. Continue looping the yarn and stitching the scalp. Fill in the scalp, forehead, and sideburns with hair bundles as you see fit, and watch as you create a big fuzzy head of monster hair.
7d. When you’ve covered his noggin in hair, tie a knot against the scalp under a patch of hair so it can’t be seen, and snip the thread and yarn. Hold the monster in one hand and make him bob his head up and down really fast, like a headbanger. Watch his beautiful hair wiggle and fly in the breeze. This is a good time to make beatbox noises and make your monster dance to your rhythm.
Caring for Your New Monster Pal
If you don’t give your monster a name, he will not beable to make reservations at his favorite restaurant. Good names are often ones you’d never be able toname a child. Examples: Chauncey, Smudge, Burrito.
Personality Traits
Assigning your monster a few odd quirks can paint a clear picture of who he is on the inside. Examples: Suspicious of flan. Makes audible tsk-tsks, but will not mind if you use the last of the toothpaste. Solely dedicated to the “forgotten art” of cornhusking.
A bored monster will be more likely to developnight terrors and bad skin. Be sure to providea lot of open-ended and creative activities for you and monster to do together. Examples: Take your monster bowling; rent him shoes and buy him a beer. Pretend to have loud arguments with your monster while riding on the bus. Make your monstera MySpace page. Hold a highly publicized staring contest with the odds in Vegas coming in at 40:1 in favor of the monster.
Variations on a Monster
Monster Skin
You’ve got felt, towels you swiped from a motel, or sheets you don’t sleep on anymore. I find the best and cheapest place for crazy monster skin to be the children’s clothing section of my local thrift store. For a couple of bucks, you can take home a bright pink fun-fur jacket or a pair of bright blue corduroy pants. Cut the clothes up, making sure to maximize the usable flat parts of the fabric.
WARNING: While children’s clothing at the thrift store comes in an unlimited number of colors and textures, it too often comes fully equipped with the undesirable smells of sour milk and feet. Wash your monster skin treasures first, so your monster starts life fresh and clean.
Body Image
Get started with our simple designs for body shapes, limbs, and eyes and teeth, all downloadable as PDFs from craftzine.com/06/monsters. Then mix and match, cut and paste, and generally throw together the different pieces to create an endless variety of monsters.
TIP: Bodies, eyes, and teeth can be used at any angle. Try making a long, horizontal monster,or a monster with a tiny head and huge bottom.
Using your yarn of choice, vary the length of the loops to create different hairdos. Examples: Short loops in the front with longer loops in the back gets you a monster mullet. Short loops in a row around the back from temple to temple will make a semi- bald monster — add a bit of velcro and faux fur and you’ve got a monster toupée. How about yarn bundles under each arm for some armpit fluff?
About the Author:
Moxie would say “yes, please” if offered a second slice of pie. She lives with the love of her life in Seattle, and can often be found investigating spit bugs on the internet. madebymoxie.com

2 thoughts on “Flashback: Hand-Sewn Free-Range Monsters

  1. Sewing and Soldering | Making Studio says:

    […] Free Range Monsters […]

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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