Introduction: Making an Upcycled Plush Kitten

About: I build props. I've built props for theatre, including Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, regional and educational theatre. I've also built props for opera, retail display and exhibitions.
I work in the props department at the Public Theater in New York City, and when a show closes, we often have piles of scrap materials that need to be disposed of. I try to save the more interesting bits for my own personal projects. On a recent production, we had to cut a piece off of a hotel bedspread, and we were left with a chunk of interesting, but fairly useless fabric.
We had also acquired our first sewing machine. My sewing and fabric knowledge is very limited, and I wanted to teach myself on this new machine. I decided I would take the scraps of fabric and make a stuffed plush kitten—kind of like a "memory bear" for a theatre show.

Step 1: Gathering the Materials

My first step was to take the bedspread apart and see what I was working with. The outer layer was a purple striped damask. Inside was a cornflower blue fabric and a green/blue plaid that was sort of quilted together with a layer of batting in between. 
I thought through a few options, and decided I would make a blue kitten with a plaid stomach and ears. I would use the batting to stuff it with.
Using a seam ripper, the layers came apart easily.

Step 2: Patterning, Cutting and Pinning

I drew a full-scale picture and cut the parts out into a pattern. I kept it as simple as possible because it was my first attempt.
I knew I had to trace the pattern pieces on the reverse-side of the fabric. It's a tricky concept to keep straight in my head; luckily, the fabric I was using was identical on the front and back. I had separate pieces for the arms, legs, and ears; the head and body were a single chunk. Each element had two matching pieces cut out for the front and back. I even remembered to pay attention to which way the grain of the fabric was running.
When the pieces were all cut out, I pinned them together to prepare for sewing.

Step 3: Ironing the Seams Open

My wife always presses her seams open with an iron, so I did that too. She says it strengthens them.
I stitched the ears, arms and legs first. I only stitched the outside parts, leaving open the side that will be attached to the body. This allowed me to turn the piece inside-out (so that it will end up right-side-out) and fill with stuffing. I kept it open, because it would eventually be stitched close when I sew the entire body together, which is coming up in the next step.

Step 4: Pinning It All Together

I live with two cats, so whether I liked it or not, this stuffed kitten was eventually going to become a cat toy. For that reason, I did not want to use buttons for eyes—the cats would inevitably chew them off and possibly swallow them. My kitten already had an anime-look to it, so I made the face by stitching two lines for the eyes and one for the mouth. I pulled the dangling threads left at the end to what would become the inside of the toy and knotted them so they would be less likely to pull free of the face.
This next part was tricky for me. I had to sandwich all the ears, arms and legs between the the two pieces of body fabric and stitch the circumference of the body so that when I turned the body inside-out, everything would be facing the right way and in the right places. Like I said earlier, it was hard for me to visualize this. Eventually I figured it out.
You need to leave one section un-sewn so you have a hole to pull the little guy inside out and to fill it with stuffing. Once it's all stuffed, your only option is to hand-stitch the hole shut. All the other tutorials I looked at suggest locating that hole in the bottom so that the final stitch is in the least-visible spot. I ended up leaving the hole in the top of the head. The head I designed was so absurdly large in comparison with the body—I thought it would be easier to fill it with stuffing that way.

Step 5: Stuffing

Once I finished all the stitching, I turned my kitty inside-out and swooned at how cute he was. I then proceeded to stuff him. As I mentioned toward the beginning, I was using batting, so I cut that apart into small pieces and added them until he was full.
I stitched up the top with a ladder stitch—this website explains the ladder stitch the best.

Step 6: Finished

Other than the thread, all the materials from this project were taken from a chunk of bedspread headed for the trash. Not only was it free, but it kept some useful stuff out of a landfill.
Finally, as I thought, one of my cats instantly took to this toy.
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