April 25, 2013

Mr Ramen

So my brother sent me a video called Ramen Party. There is an Indiegogo for using these characters to teach children about different types of food and cultures. It is pretty darn cute. After watching it and working on the Putti Cat for so long, I wanted to make something fun and less of a challenge.

Ramen Party!
Mr. Ramen is just the kind of strange and cute thing that should be made into a plushy. So I started thinking about how I would go about making one. First thing I needed would be a good yarn. I thought about using a solid yellow, however I thought he might look like a certain other yellow square character. So I found a Lily Sugar n' Cream yarn in a color called Daisy Ombre. The yellow fading to white color combo was perfect.

Next I needed to find a good stitch to use. Since he is a rectangle shape, I would not be using amigurumi for this one. I wanted something textured and that would replicate the woven up and down sort of pattern on his ramen noodle body. My first thought was a wavy crochet stitch, but that came out flat, and since the color is all the same white and yellow, it was hard to see the wavy lines.
I also tried a crunch stitch, thinking the random look might get me what I was looking for. I didn't really like that either, and it had a lot more holes than the image showed.

Looking through my mother in laws books I found what was called a Rocky Road stitch. It had the random look I wanted, but I wasn't sure it was the one. Glad I tested a swatch because it ended up being what I went with.

The Rocky Road Stitch
Chain a multiple of 4 plus 3 (for turning). I chose 24 chain, plus 3 for turning (27).
--> That legnth was about how wide I wanted the body to be. And that gave me 6 sort of wavy humps per row.

Foundation Row: 1 sc in second chain from hook, *[1 sc, ch 2, 2 dc] in next chain, skip next 2 chain, sc in next chain, repeat from * across within  last chain 1 sc.
--> This puts 2 sc on the end of every row. Be sure to chain 1 for turning.

Row 1: Chain 1 (for turning), 1 sc in first sc, *[1 sc, ch 2, 2 dc] in next sc. Skip the 2 dc and chain 2 from last row and do one sc into the sc that starts that cluster. Repeat from * across the row.
--> This was confusing to me at the beginning. I watched this video which helped. Basically your cluster is going behind or in front of the cluster hump shape of the previous row. This gives it a kind of layered point look. The wavy up and down look was perfect for me, plus the variegated yarn kind of came out random looking which was important to me, since the other stitch swatches I had made had the white of the yarn line up into rows.

To I ended up doing about 18 rows of this. To end, I just bound off at the end of the last row. I did not try to make it be a straight bottom since I liked the pointy wavy look and I thought it was more true to the character. I made two square pieces like this. Be sure to realize that there is a front and a back to this stitch, meaning it is not reversible. When working the rows I was sure to keep the points all on the same side which would be the outside of Mr. Ramen. (Kind of like if you were doing a popcorn stitch.)

Next I had to figure out how to make his body edges. Since the animation is flat, but we know what ramen looks like, I figured I wanted an inch or so thickness. For the edges then I would make one long piece that I would use to attach the front and back of the body to.

Body Sides
Chain 4 plus 1 to turn.
Rows 1-3 : 1sc in second chain from hook, 1 sc in each across, turn. (4 sc)
*Row 4: 1 sc in each of the 4 stitches in the BACK LOOPS ONLY.
Rows 5-6: 1 sc in each of the 4 stitches, chain 1 turn. *
* Repeat until you have 6 V shapes to go along the bottom. (about 36 rows)
Once you do, you can ignore the back loop only instruction for the le
--> Doing the third row of stitches in the back loops makes what would other wide a long flat rectangle into a long wavy rectangle. These back loop rows make V's that should be about the same size as the V's made from the last row of the Rocky Road body stitch. That means that sewing the bottom of the body up should be easier to do. Since the left, right and top sides of the body are straight the wavyness isn't needed. Hence why after the 36 rows or so for the bottom of the body you can stop the back loop variation, for the sides and top.
What a cutie.
Face Embellishments
Once you have the three pieces done for the body, front square, back square and long side piece, you can take the time to create. Mr. Ramens chibi features. Pick one of the squares to be front. Be sure you know the front from the back and put the features on the right side! I used 15mm black safety eyes. I folded the square to make sure they were about the same apart and at the same height. Just go with what looks right to you. Once the eyes were in place I used black yarn to embroider some simple eyebrows. The mouth goes between and below. I also took two 4 inch strands of yarn and folded them in half. These were threaded horizontally through at stitch below the top edge and pulled through a loop like a tassle to secure them. I then took the yarn that stuck out and untwisted them all and then twisted it back together as one piece. I curled it a little with my fingers to give him his little but of hair. I used a dry paintbrush and a little bit of light pink fabric paint to give him the little cheek blushes. At this point he should be smiling up at you.
Face done :)
For the noodly sort of arms he has, I used a weird idea to get those done quick. Make 2.
Since the body came out larger than I had realized it would I made these arms and legs using a kind of hybrid amigurumi. I worked in a circle, but also branched out for the arm and fingers. Use a place marker at the beginning of your rounds. To get a left and a right one, just make sure you turn them the right way when you sew them on.

Magic Circle 7 sc (one space for each finger, one for a space between thumb and fingers and one for the arm)
sc in first, chain 16, turn, sc 15 back, sl st in same first st (to make arm)
sc in next stitch, chain 3, turn, sl st in next two sts, sl st into next stitch (to make thumb)
in four remaining stitches, chain 4, turn and sl st in next 3 stitches, securing with sl st in next stitch
bind off. (to make 4 fingers)
To attach to body, I then needed to attach some more yarn to the end of the arm.
Completed hand and arm.
The legs are the same sort of noodly appendage, but much shorter. He also has white shoes. The shoes created a bit of a dilemma since I wanted to do the white and black, so these are in a more traditional amigurumi style of working in rounds.

Magic Circle 6 sc
2 sc in each, 12
2 rows of one sc in each, 12
Bind off.
Use tail from start or end to sew up 6 of the stitches to close most of the circle off at the top. Stuff with a little bit of polyfil. Then attach white to any of the 6 remaining open stitches and use those 6 as a new circle. Do 2 rows of 6 sc to get the shoe to come up to his "ankle".
Switch to black yarn, and attach.
One sc in each back loop only around. (makes the color change have a hard edge)
Do 12 more rows of black, one sc in each around.
Bind off and leave a tail for sewing to body.
Foot part on the left, Complete shoe on the right.
Now that the face is done and the arms and legs are ready to go you can put him together. I recommend using a single crochet to attache the face to the side of the body along the long edge first. Then attach the backside to the other long edge of the side piece. Be sure to stop before you come to the end so that you can stuff his body. Or use a small piece of craft foam if you really want him to stay rectangular, be sure if you do that, to add the foam once you have three sides done to make it easy on yourself. The arms and the legs should just get sewn on to the sides in their appropriate locations. Use the long tails, insert it into the body, pull it out again, thread it through the last stitch closest to the body on the appendage and tie it down. Hide the tail once it is secure inside the body.
Mr. Ramen!
Done! This little guy took me about 8 hours since I did a lot of trial an error stitch swatches. I also spent a lot of time making the face look right.

Just as an fyi: I always feel it is important to ask before you post, especially if what you are creating is inspired by something that someone else created. I did just that before this post went up and got a very positive response:
"WOW this is amazing!  For sure feel free to share it and thank you for letting us know in advance -- please please do post it on our FB page!  We are so honored that you've created a Mr. Ramen of your own :)"  - Lillian and the Ramen Party team

Personally I would have loved to have learned about the many different tasty dishes that come from other cultures. I am Italian and was raised on pasta, but I never had different kinds of noodles till I got to college! I would have loved to learn about foods like Ramen, Pho', Pad See Ew, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Bahn Mi before my 20s...

April 22, 2013

Putti Cat

The last month has been really busy between going on a school spring break ecology trip to Big Bend National Park, the Easter Break and prepping for the end of the school year, weddings to attend, prom to chaperone, etc...With events every few days, art takes a back seat.

A good friend of mine from college at UD, Carol, (who's blog is linked on my side bar) asked if I would try to make her cat, Putti, for her. Trying to match someone's beloved pet is daunting, since they know them like you never will, but I was willing to give it a go.
As you can see, Putti is a fluffy cat. This makes the medium of crochet a bit ill suited, as I feel needle felting might be more realistic, but as I can't needle felt and custom pet portraits are expensive, I tried to find a happy medium. Regular amigurumi uses worsted weight yarn, but to emulate the fuzzyness of Putti, I wanted to use a furry yarn to match. Anyone who crochets or knits knows that the yarn called "fun fur" is anything but fun or easy to work with. I also generally feel like it produces something that looks a mess rather than like it has fur.

Hunting through Etsy, I came across a pattern by a lady named Barbara for a Baby Kitten. It had the right amount of softness I felt, to get the soft fuzzy look without resorting to fun fur. Plus it was close in the placement of color to Putti herself.

Notes about the yarn:
To complete the pattern I bought one white and two black skeins of Joann Fabrics brand Sensations Beautiful yarn. The Sensations Beautiful yarn is really soft and fluffy which makes it almost impossible to see your stitches. The magic circle starting is impossible because of nearly instantaneous felting of the fur. I was going to give it up and go back to regular yarn, but I found a few tips to try. These tips allowed me to get more than several rounds done successfully. First, I used a chain start instead of the magic circle start. I also stitched a little looser than I normally would.
Yarn and thread.
Carrying the fluffy yarn and the thread allowed for a little bit of the stitch to be seen. (Near my thumb.)
What helped the most, was for me to use a second strand of white or black crochet thread and to carry it along with the fur. This made the stitches a lot more visible since the black and white thread was shiny and created a little more definition. I was also sure to also have a lamp over my work so I could really see what I was doing. I had to go slow, with no music or distractions, and counted out each round as I went. I also used the back loops only throughout the pattern so that I could actually get into a stitch and it also allowed me to get a read on how many rounds I had completed.

I also ordered a pair of 12mm gold cat safety eyes off of amazon since I could not find any in my local stores. Which once I got the head done, I felt were too small, and had to go find the 18mm ones I had from a project I never used them in.

Upon reading over the pattern I knew I would have to make some changes to get Putti as opposed to the kitten she made. My changes to the pattern are as follows: (Black and White, not cream and tan)
1. I made the head in all black, embroider a small patch of white on the inside of one cheek.
2. Don't worry about black outlines for nose or eyes.
3. Body color switching suggests decreasing amount of underbelly white, I didn't worry about that since Putti has a solid white underbelly.
4. Use black worsted yarn for nose, not brown. Same thing for the ears rather than pink, use black.
5. Whiskers in white thread, Add set of two whiskers over eyes.
6. For the tail, no switching colors.

Since I wanted the white chest to continue into the body I had to change a bit of the way that section was written: My Round 5 involved not attaching black like I said to.
Round 6 was now my last increase row, and was still in white yarn.
Rounds 7- 24, I starting doing the color switching Round 14, also ignoring the white decreasing.
I had to rewrite Round 14 to read as follows: Continue *in white for next 10 sc, switch to black yarn, continue sc in black for the rest of the row, 26.  when get back to the beginning of next row, pick up white and continue from beginning *

The switching between black and white made the inside a little strange to stuff since the threads went back and forth across the inside, I also had to be sure not to pull the excess inside too tight, so that it didn't make the finished body form look strange. I guess you could bind off and reattach every row, but that seemed more of a pain.
The inside of the body.
The pattern also called for making the feet and legs as separate pieces and then sewing them together when finished. This also seemed like a lot more work than was needed and I was hesitant to have to sew with this fluffy yarn. So I rewrote the leg patterns. I also made a separate pattern for the front and back legs since the coloring is different.

Body with white belly. Front and back feet complete.
Front feet: (Just toes white)
chain 2, 6 sc in first chain, in white
2 in each sc, (12)
2 in first, sc in next, repeat around, (18)
sc in one, popcorn stitch (4 sc in each stitch, pull together, chain 1) in next four stitches, sc around
attach black, sc2tog, sc in next, around, (12)
sc in each around for next 8 rows
leave long tail for sewing to body and bind off

Back feet: (most of leg and toes are white)
chain 2, 6 sc in first chain, in white
2 in each sc, 12
2 in first, sc in next, repeat around, 18
sc in one, popcorn stitch (4 sc in each stitch) in next four stitches, sc around
sc2tog, sc in next, around, 12
sc in each around for next 5 rows
attach black, sc around
sc around in next 3 rows
leave long tail for sewing to body and bind off

White belly with legs on. There are toes on those paws...
The head was the most difficult part, so I left it for last. This was good and bad. Good because I had time to get used to the yarn/thread combo. Bad because I was worried that I had made the body too long and that it would look out of proportion. Also, I am pretty sure that I did not create the nose ridge right. Which made the nose itself too low, and the mouth even lower. Also, I do not think I got enough definition between the fuzzy black for the body and the smooth black for the nose. Perhaps I should have used gray or something.

Overall the pattern took about 20 hours to make and assemble. Maybe with regular yarn for a smooth hair cat, the pattern might be easier. The one thing that bothered me most I think is the head to body join... There is not really a neck which I think adds to the strangeness of the finished piece.
Finished "cat".
I am not really happy with how this turned out, not sure it looks anything like Putti, let alone a real cat. I suppose, yes, there is something to be said for it being handmade. But when I feel like you could buy a better representation of an item, than I can make, well it leaves me with the feeling of why did I try. So maybe I will stick to cartoon-y looking stuff in the future rather than attempt realism.