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Strange Aminal

I "fake-swapped" (i.e., worked on a themed project without actually exchanging it with anyone) this figure for Craftster's Junker Jane-style Dolls 3 swap. Junker Jane (Catherine Zacchino) is an Oregon artist that creates atypical plush figures out of mismatched pieces of recycled fabric. Her works tend to be equal parts whimsical and dark (and she also does paintings/prints in addition to fabric art).

As for the title I gave this piece, when my eldest niece was a little girl she had trouble pronouncing "animal", and it came out "aminal" instead, which I found to be both hilarious and adorable. Thus, aminal has become a part of my vocabulary ever since and that misspelled word also struck me as a good moniker for an unusual-looking creature like this one.

Initially, I intended to make a humanoid doll figure. This was my first attempt (just the head). I only did a single running stitch around the perimeter, so, of course, the pointy melon started to unravel on me when I inverted it. That ticked me off and I discarded it.

I immediately made another attempt. This time I reasoned I'd do the entire body at once, rather than trying to construct the figure piece-by-piece, and simply stitch different colored/patterned fabrics on top of that afterwards to achieve the appropriate Junker Jane look. You can't see it in the photo below, but the reverse side of the figure is a completely different material (the mottled dark stuff seen in the previous example in fact) than the front--I was planning on making each side of this doll a unique "person". I also double-stitched this one, and that made a big difference. The figure was a HUGE pain to invert (the neck dimensions are way too narrow, as I had to fit the entire body through it, which, let me tell you, was no small feat) but I didn't rip any seams in the process, unlike the Goldfish Swordtail I made last time. That was doubtlessly a result of the double stitching, so, I was pretty pleased about that at least (once in a great while, a little bit of wisdom penetrates through my thick skull and I actually learn from my mistakes). However, after ruminating over the resulting figure, it struck me as being too skinny/simplistic and it didn't match the shape of my pattern very well either. That's one of my biggest frustrations with sewing: what I stitch together never looks like it should to me. I realize that's a direct result of my lack of skill/knowledge and questionable techniques, but, as someone who's comfortable modeling things in three dimensions in other media, getting poor results with fabric irritates me. I want what I sew to look exactly like my pattern when I'm done, and that just doesn't ever happen.

After contemplating the mysteries of the universe for a bit, an idea occurred to me: if form is the problem, then why not create the shape I want first, and then apply the fabric directly on top of that? I've never done any taxidermy myself, nor do I ever want to (I don't like to kill anything, not even insects), but its practitioners make mounted heads and full figures in a similar manner, placing the animal's fur/skin over a pre-shaped form. Essentially, I envisioned doing a plush figure in reverse, making the "stuffing" as a solid object first, and then sewing the scraps of material around that. I whipped up the papier-mâché form in one evening, using nothing but newsprint and white glue (believe it or not, there's no armature of any kind inside of it, wire or otherwise). The surface is a bit rougher than what I'd normally do, but, as I was just going to apply fabric over it anyway, I didn't see much point in smoothing it out. Anatomically, I see it as mostly horse, but there are some bits of other animals mixed in there too.

Next, over a two-day period, I tacked my carefully-fitted material scraps (mostly pieces from old T-shirts and pillow cases) into place with white glue, creating a cohesive "skin". Here's the animal form midway through the process of attaching said fabric bits into place on its surface:

Sewing all of those scraps (twenty-five by my count) together turned out to be much more difficult, and time-consuming, than I had imagined--said process took about eleven hours, over a period of four days, to accomplish. Because of the curvature of the body, many areas were challenging to get a needle in-and-out of, and, in some instances, I even had to use a pair of tweezers to manipulate the implement, as my fingers simply couldn't get into the spaces to pull/push it through the fabric. Other difficulties included inadvertently piercing (and getting stuck in) the underlying papier-mâché body and accidentally looping the trailing thread around the limbs, tail, snout, and ears. I'd speculate that the ideal thing to use for this type of project would be one of those curved needles (which is what I believe taxidermists employ), but, while I thought we had several of them, I could only find one of those in the house, and, unfortunately, its' diameter was too thick for a figure of this size (said tool was probably made for working leather, or similarly thick materials, as it just tore large holes in my fabric). Earlier, during the modeling process, I contemplated giving this creature wings too, but I'm sure glad that I didn't, because if I had, I'd probably still be sewing!

I also considered removing the papier-mâché, which I would have accomplished by soaking the finished figure in water for several hours, to get the paper/glue inside to turn to mush, which I could have then easily(?) scooped/squeezed out of the fabric skin, through an opened seam, and filled it back up again with more traditional stuffing, but then I would have had to run wire through the body too, to ensure it retained its shape, especially the tail and legs, so, I figured, why go through all of that trouble when it's already fine as-is?

All-in-all, while far different from what I had originally envisioned, I feel that this project turned out okay. I don't think I'd ever want to sew something like this again, simply because of the amount of time required and how tricky it is to maneuver needle-and-thread around the surface of a 3-dimensional object, however, I do like the resulting mismatched, patchwork look, which is something I might explore further some other time, but probably only through adhesives alone (i.e., découpage) not sewing.

Fabric scraps (from T-shirts, pillows cases, and long underwear), sewing thread, half of a metal snap (an eye), a plastic button (the other eye), a plastic vacuum-metallized heart charm (tail tip decoration), a fuzzy synthetic feather duster decoration from the end of a novelty pen (mane), newsprint, and white glue.

4.7 cm (1.9") wide x 18.3 cm (7.2") long x 25.7 cm (10.1") high.
Excluding the tail and mane, the figure is 18.2 cm (7.2") tall.

Six days; January 26th through the 31st (2016).

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