Sometimes, inspiration is found in strange places.
There are some children’s books that are so dull and obnoxious that every word irritates you as you read it to your wide-eyed kid. These are usually the same books that your kid is madly in LOVE with, and therefore insists you read them over and over and over again until the grumble inside your head starts to show on the outside of your face. But there are good ones, too. Sweet ones with beautiful drawings and lovely stories and poetry, charming and funny and endearing.
And then there’s Calef Brown. He’s a different sorta bird.
We discovered “Polkabats and Octopus Slacks” quite by coincidence, but the fact that the poems are so strange and lovely, combined with the use of the words “polka turds” cracked the Kid up, and we were hooked. I had never seen a kid’s book like that before. I’ve read them all tons of times, and I have yet to be bored by them. He’s a whole lot of funky, a little bit full of one of those giggles you cover with your hand, but all kinds of fun.
One of my daughter’s favorites (especially, I think, since we like to combine animals and people in our own doodles), is in a book called “Flamingos On The Roof.” I was reading one of her favorites, called “Allicatter Gatorpillar,” when she said, “I sure wish I could see an Allibutter Gatorfly.”
You know what? I would, too, kid. That sounds like fun.
So I decided to sew one. Challenge accepted.
I’ve made a few dolls before…..thing is, I can only follow a very simple pattern, and can’t really do anything fancy. But this shouldn’t be THAT difficult, right? I’ll walk you through what I did for your own amusement, but I’ll have you know I’m no perfectionist when it comes to this sort of thing. With things like this, I sort of frantically jab and tie and cut everything together and glue it and tape it and bandage it up and say (dusting my hands off), “whelp, that should just about do it.”
So I sketched out a little shape of the gator part, and just sewed the top seam, from the tip of the tail to about the bottom of the…”chin?”
I wanted the wings to be bendable, so I dug in my wire drawer for some very flexible wire I have used in sculpture before, and laid it out on two separate wing shapes. There was a front & back to one side, and a front & back to the other. I sewed them together without the wire, right sides together with the end open, and turned them two make two top wings. Then I did the same for the bottom wings. (PS, from the looks of my desk, I should probably make better use of my cutting board.)
I wanted the wire to go all the way across to span the top two wings for strength and the bottom two wings the same. I pushed the wire into the open wings, and held the wire in place with machine stitches. I also stitched the top set of wings to the bottom set, so they’d sort of stay in place. Now I had a pretty cool pair of wings…with no way to attach them together. I decided to at least get some embroidery floss and sew the open ends to each other to sort of hold the wire in place and keep the wings from just sliding off. This is where all hell broke loose.
So now I’ve got all these exposed seams on the wings. How the heck do I get it on the body? I can’t sew through wire. So I made a little green “belt,” wrapped it around the open seams (which covered them fairly well) and then stitched that onto the back of the gator’s body. Pretty sloppy, and if you look at it closely, the wires will pop out. Good thing I bent the edges so they don’t totally cut you like a brassiere underwire.
So with the wings shoddily attached to the gator skin from both the outside and the in, the time for stuffing had come.
After what seemed like 18 hours of hand-sewing the bottom of the gator’s body (a good tutorial for hidden stitches here, by the way), it was time to paint the eyes. I got out my acrylic paint, and risking my daughter’s critique for putting both eyes on the same side of the head (it’s like that in the illustration!!), I painted them on. I wanted to add some antennae as a final little touch, and found some bendable wire floral rope that I had lying around that I can’t for the life of me remember why I own. Do I have any clue how to attach it to the head? No. In hindsight, I probably could’ve just used embroidery floss to tack it to the back (Yep, I probably should’ve done that). Instead, I cut a couple of tiny snips in the back, threaded the wire through, and glued a fabric panel down with fabric glue. This did actually keep the antennae standing upright, but I suppose a few good stitches could’ve accomplished the same effect without making this fella look even MORE strange.
And so here is the final result in probably the weirdest little doll I’ve ever made. The thing is, though, I think he sort of matches the style of the one in the book, which is sort of what I was going for. I mean, an allibutter gatorfly’s not SUPPOSED to be “cute”…right?
Well, it’s okay if he’s a little creepy. When I picked my daughter up from school and presented her with it, she sighed with delight. “He’s so BEEEAAAUUUUTIFUL!” she said.
And that’s all that really matters.