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Catnip toy tutorial for catnip squares, cigars, and kickers with free patterns

Tabby-and-white cat playing with catnip squares and kickers
I made up free catnip toy patterns for catnip toy squares, cigars, and kickers, and a catnip toy tutorial to show how to make them.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat resting his chin on a catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingThese catnip squares, cigars, and kickers are being enjoyed by all the kitties.

As I mentioned in my last post, we have additional kitties in the house. I decided I would make some catnip toys to smooth the jealous feelings and cheer everyone up. This is a tutorial showing how I made them.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat sitting on a pile of catnip toys, by Elizabeth RuffingI based the approximate sizes and shapes on catnip toys I got from Alley Cats and Angels, a local cat rescue here in North Carolina. They have a variety of catnip toys you can order by mail, and all the proceeds go to help their rescue cats. Their catnip squares, cigars, and kickers are all made by volunteers. They have additional catnip toy designs as well. They use potent organic catnip to fill their catnip toys. Our cats love them.

I made mine a little differently, with just catnip inside, instead of stuffing as well. The cats enjoy them either way.

Tabby-and-white kitty cat playing with a catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingI used Frontier Catnip Leaf and Flower Certified Organic Catnip for mine. I found it online on amazon.com. It comes in a great big 1lb bag, shown below. You can also find organic catnip at Target, Walmart, PetSmart.

1lb bag of Frontier Catnip Leaf and Flower Certified Organic Catnip, by Elizabeth RuffingI made up template patterns for catnip squares, cigars, and kickers with a choice of cropped corners or squared corners. I made mine with the cropped corners, and my directions are for the toys with the cropped corners. Pictured below are the cigars and 4 1/2 inch squares.

Catnip squares and cigars, free catnip toy pattern by Elizabeth RuffingYou can also draw the shapes with the following measurements on card stock, and cut them out to use instead, if you don’t have a printer. If you want cropped corners like I have, mark a dot 1/2 inch down from each corner edge, draw lines across the corners, and clip the tips of the corners off your templates. These are the PDF’s of my catnip toy patterns. The sizes shown are the approximate sizes once sewn, before stuffing.

My pattern for a 4″ x 4″ catnip square

My pattern for a 4  1/2 ” x 4  1/2″ catnip square

My pattern for a 2  1/4″ x 10  1/2″ catnip cigar

My pattern for a 3 1/4″ x 10  1/2″ catnip kicker

Save them to your computer and print them on 8 1/2″ x 11″ card stock. I had a little trouble printing them, and so be sure to check that you want to print them at “actual size” in the options that appear when you print. On my computer, the only link to print them that worked was the picture link of the little printer at the bottom of the PDF page which shows up when you hover your mouse over the bottom of the PDF page.

Catnip toy templates laid out on fabric, free catnip toy pattern by Elizabeth RuffingTo start, cut your paper templates out of your printouts along the outer edges of the solid black lines. Clip off the corners of the paper templates to make the toys with cropped corners, as I did.

I pre-washed an assortment of cotton quilting fabrics to use to make my catnip toys. I followed the manufacturers’ instructions, washing the fabric on warm, after finishing the raw edges of each fabric with a zig zag stitch, on my sewing machine, so they wouldn’t fray in the washing machine.

I put the cotton quilting fabrics in the dryer for a few minutes, and pulled them out before they were totally dry. I ironed them so they would be nice and flat. I pre-wash all of my fabrics, to get rid of the chemical smell, and to shrink them, in case I want to wash them later.

Fold your fabric in half, selvage edge to selvage edge, right sides together. If you are using scraps, arrange them so the lengthwise grain is lined up and going in the same direction on each piece. The lengthwise grain line runs parallel to the finished selvage edge of your fabric.

The lengthwise grain is the grain line that stretches the least when you pull it. Give your fabric a small stretch to check, if there is no selvage edge left on your scraps.

The grain of the fabric is usually visible on quilting cottons. If you look closely, you will see threads run in two directions, at right angles to each other. The lengthwise grain goes the length of the fabric, as it comes off the bolt, and the crosswise grain runs along the width of the fabric, perpendicular to the selvage edge.

Lay the paper templates on the fabric with the arrows parallel to the lengthwise grain of the fabric. The long edge of the cigar and the kicker will be parallel to the selvage edge. The markings for the 2 inch openings will also be parallel to the selvage edge, as shown above.

Free Catnip toy patterns drawn on fabric and pinned, showing sewing lines, by Elizabeth RuffingBe sure to leave at least 1/4″ around each shape (that’s at least 1/2″ between two shapes that are next to each other) for the seam allowances.

You will be sewing right on the lines you will be drawing around the templates, and you will need to leave that space around the shapes when you cut them out.

Trace around the paper templates with a pencil, drawing the lines on the fabric, marking the opening on each one for turning. I used a mechanical pencil to draw my lines. Putting a piece of fine sandpaper, with the grit facing upright, underneath my fabric, helps keep my fabric in place while I draw my lines.

My openings are 2″ long and centered on the long side of the cigar, and in the middle of the side of the square. It is easier to sew the toys closed if you mark the opening along the lengthwise grain, parallel to the selvage edge, as I have done above, because there will be less stretch. That will help you when you stuff the toys, and it will help you when you hand sew the openings closed. It is much easier to hand sew along lines that stay flat and smooth.

After you have drawn your lines onto your fabric, pin the fabric shapes together, and then roughly cut them apart, leaving at least 1/4 inch of fabric around each fabric shape for the seam allowances.

Sewn lines shown on a catnip square, by Elizabeth RuffingSew right on top of the lines you drew on the fabric, leaving the 2 inch openings free. I used a tiny 1.2 stitch length. Start sewing immediately past the opening, sew around the edge, and stop when you reach the second mark for where the opening begins.

I wanted to reinforce my seams by sewing them twice and I wanted to reinforce the corners where I clip them. So, this is what I did: I started sewing at one opening mark. I sewed right past my turn at the corner, lifted the needle and presser foot, pulled the fabric a little so I could pivot, and then I continued to sew the next side of the shape, ignoring the crop line. I did this at each corner all the way to the other opening mark. Then, I pivoted and sewed back in the other direction along my line.

On the second pass through, I sewed the cropped corner lines. When I was back at the first opening, I lifted the needle and presser foot again, pulled the fabric free a little, and sewed across each cropped corner again, edge to edge, to reinforce it. I left the fabric right in the machine, and only pulled it as free as I needed to to sew.

When I was done sewing, I just clipped the threads to free the edges from each other. It sounds a little complicated, but I found it easier to do. As long as you end up with your sewing on top of the lines you drew, the rest doesn’t have to be terribly neat.

Untrimmed corner of a catnip square, showing sewing lines, by Elizabeth RuffingThe picture above show what my corners looked like, once they were sewn, before any trimming.

Corner of a catnip square with tip of the corner cut off, by Elizabeth RuffingNow it is time to trim your seam allowances and clip your corners. You need at least 1/4 inch of fabric around the outside of your sewing lines. Your trimming doesn’t have to be very neat. Just make sure you have the extra fabric around the outside of your sewing lines. Treat the first corner clips the same way, leaving at least 1/4 inch of fabric outside the sewing line for your cropped corners, as shown in the picture above.

(If you made squared corners instead of cropped ones, you’ll have just this one clip, at a diagonal across the outside of the corner point. You will need to be careful not to clip too close to the sewing line at the corner point. Before clipping squared corners, I sew diagonally across my corners, to reinforce them, and then I trim next to the diagonal sewing line I just made, leaving about 1/32″ or about three thread widths of fabric outside the sewing line.)

Corner of a catnip square with the corners clipped, by Elizabeth RuffingNow for the corner clips. When clipping corners, the first snip you take is roughly parallel to the seam line you are facing with the scissors, and the second snip is parallel to the next seam line you are facing when you snip. The clip shape looks sort of like a mirror version of the seam lines. If you sewed yours the way I did mine, you will have the reinforced sewing lines to use as a guide, as shown above.

Clip close, but not right up to the stitching, leaving about 1/32″ or about three thread widths from the sewing line, on the outside edge, so you don’t poke a hole through when you turn and stuff your toys.

Pressing catnip toy squares and cigars while inside out, by Elizabeth RuffingPress the shapes with a steam iron, at the appropriate setting for your fabric. I used cotton fabric, and a cotton setting on the iron.

Pressing back 1/4 inch of opening on catnip toy cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingFold back one side of your opening, along the drawn line. Press just the opening back along the drawn line. Flip the shape over, and fold the other side of the opening to match. Press just the opening.

Sewn and pressed catnip square and cigar toys inside out, by Elizabeth RuffingThe cigar and the square will now look like this, above.

Sewing Basket 5 1/2 inch Needle Grabber Hemostats for turning fabric right side out, by Elizabeth RuffingI used hemostats to turn my shapes right side out. Tube turners will work well also. I got my hemostats at Hancock Fabrics, but you can find them on eBay too. Mine have the teeth, which helps grip the fabric. The one I have is called a “Sewing Basket 5 1/2″ Needle Grabber”.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingHold the edge of the shape furthest from the opening, or one of the two, in the case of the cigar. Stick your hemostats inside your opening, and grab the edge you are holding, from the inside.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingPull gently until that edge comes out your opening.

Pulling a catnip toy cigar right side out with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingCarefully pull it all the way through. For the cigar, do the same thing for the other half of your shape.

Pushing the corners of a catnip toy cigar to the right side with hemostats, by Elizabeth RuffingStick your hemostats back inside the opening and use them to gently push along the seam lines to completely turn the shape right side out. Don’t poke your corners too hard, especially if you are using squared corners instead.

Unstuffed catnip square and cigar, turned right side out, by Elizabeth RuffingNow your shapes look like this, above.

Spooning catnip into a toy catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingI poured my catnip into a bowl, so I could scoop it into my openings a little at a time with a spoon. I filled the cigars, shown above and below, on one end, then the other, and then filled in with catnip in the middle.

Fill your toys as firmly as you want with the catnip. Our cats seemed to prefer the ones that were more floppy, like bean bags, and weren’t filled all the way.

Sewing the opening of a catnip cigar closed by hand, by Elizabeth RuffingWhen you are ready to close your catnip toys up, pinch the folded edges of your opening together and sew them closed by hand with a slip stitch or a ladder stitch. Your closure will be neat and won’t be very visible, as shown below. You can even open the slip-stitching to replace the catnip with fresh catnip later.

Catnip cigar with the opening sewn closed, diy catnip toy tutorial by Elizabeth RuffingThe catnip squares are filled the same way, with spoonfuls of catnip. They are a little easier. You can fill them, and pin the openings together before hand sewing them shut. Just be absolutely sure to remove your pins!

Catnip squares pinned closed, diy catnip toy tutorial by Elizabeth RuffingThese are some recycled catnip squares. I bought these from Alley Cats and Angels, the local cat rescue, and after some wear, I emptied them, hand washed them inside out, pressed and sewed them using my 4 inch square templates, and refilled them. I liked the fabrics so much, I wanted to keep them going. They look almost good as new.

Catnip squares stuffed in assorted cat print fabrics, by Elizabeth RuffingBelow is one of my finished catnip kickers, which is wider than the catnip cigar, having a soothing effect on Bindi.

Black kitty cat playing with a catnip kicker toy, by Elizabeth RuffingI hope my free catnip toy tutorial is helpful to you and that your kitties will enjoy the catnip toys you make for them!

Santana the orange cat playing with a catnip square, by Elizabeth RuffingThey are popular here. Santana the Peeping Tom Cat, who is a visitor from our neighbors’ house, has his own collection.

Jojo the tuxedo kitten sneaking up on her catnip cigar, by Elizabeth RuffingHere is Jojo playing with her cigar. She loves to hide in the tub and sneak up on it. I call her a tub-shark:

I hope you enjoyed my catnip toy tutorial. Patterns and instructions are copyright Elizabeth Ruffing. Please don’t sell my patterns. You are welcome to use the catnip squares, cigars, and kickers patterns to make all the catnip toys you want. Please feel free to make toys to use for fundraisers, to donate to shelter cats, and to give to your friends!

Please buy some of Alley Cats and Angels’ catnip toys too! Cats love them!

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Ironing wrinkles out of fleece fabric

Ironing wrinkles out of fleece fabric by Elizabeth RuffingI usually avoid buying any fleece that has creases or wrinkles, because those are difficult to remove, if they can be removed. Sometimes I mail order fleece, and, occasionally, it arrives creased, whether from being in storage, or being in box. I thought I would have to give these two yards of dark orange fleece to the cats, because it was so wrinkled.

I looked online for some help, but the suggestions I found didn’t work so well. Thinking I had nothing to lose by experimenting, I worked on the fleece with a higher temperature, and steam. Both can melt fleece, which is synthetic, and so, if anyone tries this, be sure to test first for the right temperature on a scrap you don’t need. This is pre-washed and air-dried, anti-pill fleece. I would suggest pre-washing the fleece to remove any sizing or chemicals. I wanted the fabric to be damp, not wet. I used an atomizer filled with water to dampen the surface. I let the water sink in. I rubbed the water with my hand into the surface, and smoothed the fabric as much as I could.

Ironing wrinkles out of fleece fabric by Elizabeth RuffingIt is necessary to use a press cloth to iron fleece. Direct contact from the iron will leave marks, or melt the fleece. I used a cotton washcloth, the one that came with my iron-cleaning kit. It is fairly thin. I put the nubbiest side facing the fleece and smoothed the washcloth over the fabric.

I set my iron on the cotton setting with heavy steam, and pressed on top of the washcloth, being careful to avoid directly touching the iron to the fleece. Be sure to test this out first, because too much heat can leave you with a melted area.

Ironing wrinkles out of fleece fabric by Elizabeth RuffingRemoving the wrinkles takes patience. I lifted the washcloth several times over each area, in between pressing, to rub the surface of the fleece in different directions, to coax the creases out. You can use the washcloth to rub the surface too. Whether you use your hand, or the washcloth to work on the surface, be careful. The steam combined with the damp fabric can make the area very hot.

Ironing wrinkles out of fleece fabric by Elizabeth RuffingThe whole process took a while, but with perseverance, almost all of the wrinkles disappeared. I was very glad this worked, because I have several fabrics I thought I would be unable to use. I haven’t yet tried this on the sharp creases that I find sometimes at the end of a bolt of fleece. I suspect those are permanent. And I have only tried this on the anti-pill fleece so far. The brushed fleece may flatten a little more, but I’ve had success pressing brushed fleece (the kind with the smoother surface) at lower temperatures before. I would be sure to test a piece first, if you plan to try it.

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How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machine

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineI now have a walking foot for each of my sewing machines, my Viking Sarah, and my Kenmore 19233. Sears has a set of feet for the Kenmore that includes a walking foot, which I bought for about five dollars more than the walking foot alone cost. I thought that was a good deal. I bought my Viking walking foot on eBay, but I see it is tricky to get an authentic Viking foot online. Some people post some confusing information. Be sure to check out the part number to see that it matches the one recommended for your machine on the Husqvarna Viking site. You can find your correct one here by looking for a “dual feed foot”, under the “Quilting” accessory category. Genuine Viking walking feet say “Husqvarna Viking” on one side of the feet themselves, and the part number on the other. They are available from dealers, and online. I’ve ordered miscellaneous parts from Sewing Machines Plus before, as well as from Discount Sewing Machine Service, with good success.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineTo attach a walking foot, the first thing you generally need to do is remove the presser foot ankle from your sewing machine. I’m showing this on my Viking Sarah. It’s the part that holds your presser feet. On some machines, the ankle and the foot are all one piece.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineUnscrew it using the miniature screwdriver that came with your machine, and take it off. I have this larger thumb screw (shown above) on my machine, and it’s the one I used to attach my walking foot. I got a spare here, Viking Presser Foot Screw #412 40 97-01.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineThere are two things you need to line up, when attaching the walking foot itself. You may need to use your hand wheel to raise and lower your needle so you can get that forked bar over the screw that holds your needle in place. This is important because this is what makes the foot go up and down when your needle goes up and down.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineOn the Kenmore, which is made by Janome (so many Janome machines will be similar), that bar on the walking foot rests on top of the bar that holds the screw for the needle (shown above). Either way, the bar goes over the part that holds the needle in place, the one that sticks out.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineOn the other side of the foot, is the part that accepts the same thumb screw that held your presser foot ankle in place. Attach it the same way the ankle was attached. There is a hole right in the metal bar. All you need to do is line it up where the indentation for it is, and make sure it fits snuggly in place. Tighten up the screw and you are ready to sew.

How to attach a walking foot to your sewing machineAgain, it looks a little different on the Kenmore (shown above), but the idea is the same. One side attaches like a presser foot ankle, and the other part rests over the needle screw. You might need to wiggle it a little to get it to pop into place, but once it is secure in its proper place, it doesn’t jiggle around. With some walking feet, there is also a hole, in the back of the walking foot, that accepts a metal guide bar. You can just slip the guide bar in the hole, if and when you want to use it, and slide it out to the correct distance from the needle that you want to use. You line the edge of guide bar up with your last row of stitching, as you sew, to keep an even distance.

Now you can sew through layers without so much shifting of one fabric over another. It helps too when you don’t have a presser foot pressure adjustment option, which some machines don’t have. I’ve noticed some newer machines come with built-in walking feet. I decided to try mine out for regular sewing too, and I’ve been having good results.

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Fleece appliqué how-to

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingI decided I wanted to try my appliqué throw pillow designs using polyester fleece, only I couldn’t find any tips or tutorials anywhere for doing this by fusing the fleece and using machine stitching, like I’m doing with cottons. I snapped photos as I experimented so I could put together my own tips and a tutorial on the basics.

For starters, you’ll want to cut your background fleece at least 1/2 inch bigger on each side than your pattern says. When you fuse, the fleece shrinks a bit, and machine stitching pulls it in a little too. You’ll also need a paper-backed adhesive web. I prefer Wonder-Under for this. You’ll need a press cloth too. A heavy piece of cotton sheeting worked for me. I find tracing my final design onto tracing paper is very helpful for lining everything up before fusing.

I did my machine stitching both with Sulky rayon thread and regular cotton thread. I used DMC embroidery floss, sewing with one strand, for the smaller appliqués because I was using a machine without adjustable presser foot pressure, which was distorting my smaller pieces. If you don’t have adjustable foot pressure either, and you do have a walking foot, that might work for this too.

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingTo start, using an appliqué pattern of your choice, trace the individual appliqué shapes onto the Wonder-Under, on its paper side, reversing your shapes when necessary. Your final shapes will be in reverse when you fuse, and so you need to keep that in mind. I use a mechanical pencil to trace my shapes. You’ll need to leave an additional scant 1/4 inch of fleece around any area that will be tucked under another shape, and so keep that in mind too as you trace, leaving marks where necessary, as reminders. Usually, these areas are indicated by dotted lines on appliqué patterns.

Once you have traced your shapes onto the Wonder-Under, cut them out leaving a scant 1/4 around the outer edges. Lay your Wonder-Under shapes on the wrong side of your fleece, if you are using fleece with sides that are different. I found the low-pile fleece, the non-anti-pill kind, worked better for this project. Fuse the Wonder-Under shapes on to your fleece, using the synthetic setting on your iron, without steam. This is enough heat for this part of the process.

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingCut your shapes out of your fleece, and then trim by cutting on the lines for shapes that will be on top of other shapes, and leave the scant 1/4 inch where shapes need to be tucked under other shapes. This bunny head goes on top of my design, and so I cut directly on the line.

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingNow to fuse the shapes onto the background fleece…This got tricky, and so be sure to do a trial run on some scrap first to get the right heat setting on your iron. You will need a press cloth because you will need to use a higher setting than is safe for ironing directly on the fleece.

Start by peeling the paper off your shapes, now that they have cooled. Arrange them on the right side of your fleece background, fusible side down, using your traced design, if you made one, as an overlay to line up your pieces. I recommend fusing only one layer of fleece at a time to the background. For this design, I started with the body, collar, and head. Then I added the details, like the eyes, buttons, and heart, once I’d fused the first parts down. It’s hard to get enough heat through the layers to get them to stick. They just need to stick enough to hold them in place while you sew.

When you are ready to fuse your shapes in place, lay your press cloth over the entire background. I found I needed to set the heat on my iron to the minimum temperature that would allow me to use steam, in order to get the shapes to stick to the background. For me, that was the lowest cotton setting. On other irons, this might be the wool setting. Test this temperature on scrap fabric first! Do not put the iron directly on the fleece at this temperature. You will want to keep your iron level as you press, using as little pressure as possible. You may need to hover the iron just over the surface, and use the steam to fuse, so you don’t make pressing lines in the fleece. It takes some experimenting.

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingOnce all your layers are fused onto your background, you’re ready to stitch. I used a machine blanket stitch. If your machine doesn’t have this, a zig zag stitch will work. Again, you’ll want to try this out on scrap first to see how condensed you want your stitch to be, by playing with the stitch width and length. I used a stretch needle for knits. Mine was 90/14 size. If you have adjustable presser foot pressure, you are lucky! I have it on one machine but not the one with the blanket stitch I wanted to use. It helps to lighten the pressure for fleece, even to a “1”. Once again, experiment to see what works best. A walking foot is another alternative (mine fits my other machine that has the adjustable foot pressure. I’ll have to see if I can use an adaptor to fit it to the machine that has the blanket stitch next time).

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingWithout the presser foot adjustment, I was able to sew around all the larger shapes. I used an open-toe foot so I could see what I was doing. With a blanket stitch, be careful to pivot at the right times. My machine went over each stitch twice, and so, if yours does this, you’ll want to pivot after the second pass the needle makes, or the machine will back stitch right into your background fabric, which looks messy.

I tried to machine appliqué the small parts, but my foot kept shoving the little pieces out of whack. I did a lot of complaining over this! I believe there was just too much pressure from the presser foot to do this right, and so I used a single strand of embroidery floss to blanket stitch all the small pieces. I have a tutorial on doing a blanket stitch by hand here. The entire design could be done by hand, if you preferred to do it that way.

Hug Me! Bunny applique by Elizabeth RuffingAnd finally…all appliquéd! I’ll need to trim and square this later, since it pulled in somewhat in the middle areas. In all honesty, this was a difficult project with the machine I used. It took a lot of trial and error, but next time, I will be so much more ready!

Some day, I hope to again have a sewing machine with all the features I wish I had, and did have on my poor ill-fated Viking. But, again, hand stitching works fine for this too, if you aren’t making a lot of appliqués, which I hope to do. I’ve been checking out the various sewing machines on the market, but the the ones that are equivalent to what I had are all so expensive. I’m not done looking yet though. Hopefully, one will have my name on it.