When I had ferrets, I loved sewing for them. They were so enthusiastic about everything, they always made me feel like I’d made the coolest thing in the world. Granted, they could also spend hours playing with a toilet bolt cap, so the bar was not set particularly high. But still. You know.
They would always look for warm spots to take a nap, because ferret fur isn’t very thick, and they would get cold easily. So I’d make little tents, covered hammocks, tunnels, and things like that.
I had so much fun designing this ferret house. I love the spikes, and the springy tail that looks like a medieval mace and has a squeaker inside. The monster body is held open with poly featherboning, to make it easy for the little fuzzbutts to crawl inside and snooze. The details like the teeth and spikes on the tail/spine were both for looks, and so that the ferrets would have more things to tug on.
I will give the pattern away here as a free download to anyone who might want to make their own ferret monster, or if you would rather buy the monster that I made for this Instructable, you can do so on my blog. You can also use the methods in this tutorial to design a creature from your own imagination.
The completed sleeper is quite large (44" long, including the tail), and I'd imagine that a small dog or cat could also use this to play in. You could also print the pattern at a larger % and give that a try, if you wanted to make a tent for a larger animal. You would obviously need more materials if you increased the size.
Step 1: Materials
To make the monster, you will need one yard (or one meter) of fleece fabric that is at least 57″ (145 cm) wide. Most fleece in the fabric store is that wide, but check and make sure before you buy it.
You will need a small amount of fleece in a contrasting color for the teeth, claws, eyeballs, and spikes on the spine/tail. 1/4 yard of 57″ wide fleece is plenty.
You also need basic sewing supplies (thread, scissors, etc), and if you are using a sewing machine, you will need to use a size 14 ball point needle. (Depending on where you live, it might be called a size 90 stretch needle.)
I used a piece of 1″ wide elastic that is 15″ long, to make the tail springy. My ferrets loved boingy things. But if you want, you can omit the elastic and you’ll have a longer, flatter tail.
I used 2 yards of poly featherboning to hold the mouth open, so my little monsters could easily find their way inside the big monster. This is optional, but I think it makes the sleeping bag more practical. I chose poly because then you can throw the monster into the washing machine (machine washability is a must when I make a project for pets). (The link to the featherboning is an affiliate link, meaning that if you use it to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.)
I'm putting a squeaker in the tail, but you could use a rattle, or leave the noisemaker out entirely.
The monster eyeballs are open to interpretation, but make sure they aren’t made out of anything that the ferrets could choke on (buttons seem like a potential choking hazard to me). I have included a pattern piece to make eyeballs out of your accent fabric.
You will also need access to a printer to print out the pattern, and tape to tape the pieces together.
Step 2: Print the Pattern and Cut
Print page 1 of the pattern at 100%, and page 2 at 400%. Page 2 should be tiled onto 16 sheets of paper. You will need to cut out the pieces from page 2, and tape them together into larger pattern pieces. Using the original file as your guide, cut on the lines, match everything up, and tape the pattern pieces together.
Fold the large piece of fleece in half, right sides together, with the two selvages (the edges that were not cut at the fabric store) meeting each other. You should have a piece that is about 30″ by 36″. Lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric as shown: One piece will be placed along the folded edge, and the others will be spaced out across the rest of the fabric.
You will need to cut out the legs 4 times, which will give you 8 pieces (because the fabric was folded to begin with.) Just cut out one leg at a time, and then move your pattern piece over to cut the other 3 legs, spacing them out like I’ve shown in the picture. You should have plenty of fabric if you don’t make your cuts too far apart. It’s a good idea to pin the pairs of leg pieces together as you get them cut out, because you will sew them in pairs, and pinning them now will save some rearranging time later. Pin the tail pieces together, too.
Page 1 of the pattern is printed at the correct size already, so just cut out all of the paper pieces on the line. The oval shapes are to make the ball at the end of the tail. You will need to cut 6 of the ovals out of the large fleece piece (so cut out the oval 3 times on the folded fabric, which will give you 6 ovals).
The other pieces from page 1 (a circle and two triangles) will be cut out of the other fabric. Fold your 1/4 yard of accent fabric in half, right sides together. The circles are for the monster’s eyeballs, so you need to cut the pattern piece once out of your accent fabric (which gives you two eyeballs, because the fabric is folded).
Go on to the next step to use the triangle-shaped pattern pieces.
Step 3: Make the Spikes
The triangles are for the teeth, claws, and spikes. You are going to sew them before you cut them out, because that’s easier when you’re working with small pieces like this. Cut out the paper pattern pieces for the spikes, and trace around them onto your folded accent fabric.
You will need to trace the large triangle 20 times on the folded fabric, and trace the smaller triangle 19 times. Leave some space in between the long edges of the triangles (about 1/2″, or 1 cm will work fine) so that you can cut them apart after they’re sewn. But you can trace the short ends right next to each other, or against the edge of your fabric, because the short side will not need a seam allowance.
Sew a V shape on the line, so that you’ve sewn the long sides of the triangle, and left the bottom unsewn. Now cut all of the triangles out. Cut right on the unsewn line (the shortest line, the bottom of the triangle), but leave a small seam allowance on the two sewn sides. Flip all of the triangles right-side out so that your seams are on the inside. The spikes will get sewn into the seams of your main fabric when you put the monster together.
Step 4: Sew the Legs
For all of the sewing steps, you will be using a 3/8" (1 cm) seam allowance, unless otherwise noted.
Start assembling the monster by sewing together each leg. Take a pair of leg shapes that you cut out and pinned together earlier. The leg pieces should be right-sides together already. Now take 3 of the small triangle shapes, and place them between the pieces of leg fabric, one at the end of each toe. The unsewn, short end of the triangle should be lined up with the cut edge of the leg fabric, and the tip of the triangle should be pointing in towards the foot. (Remember that the triangles should all be right-side out at this point!)
If you’re new to sewing, or if you’ve never used fleece before, then put plenty of pins in. I have oriented the pattern pieces on the layout so that you shouldn’t have too much trouble, but fleece does stretch some, and it’s easy for the stretch to get away from you when you’re working with long pieces like you’re using in this project. So more pins is better, unless you’re a seasoned seamer and feel like you’ve got this.
Sew, starting at the shoulder end, all down one side, around each toe, and back up the other side towards the shoulder. Take out each pin right before you sew over it. Do not sew the short shoulder end, because you’re going to use that opening to turn the whole leg right-side out. Trim the seam allowances on the curved areas, and then turn the leg right-side out. Repeat the process for the other 3 legs.
Step 5: Make the Tail
Next, sew the tail together, sewing only the two long sides. When you’re done, you will have one long tube. Stitch one end of the piece of elastic to the end of the tail, and then turn the tail right-side out. It helps to turn the tail over a ruler, or you can fasten a large safety pin to the sewn end of the tube and push the pin all the way through the tube. Feel around to make sure the elastic isn’t twisted, then sew across the open end of the tail and the elastic to hold the elastic in place.
Step 6: Sew the Spine Seam
You will sew the two top halves of the monster’s body to each other next. Place them right-sides together, and sandwich 16 of the larger triangles in between, along the straight edge. Position them with the unsewn ends of the triangles lined up against the cut edges of the fabric, just like you did with the claws, so that you will sew over the open sides of the triangles when you sew the seam. Leave 2″ unspiked at the wide end, and 1″ at the narrower end, so that you can sew those edges later on without spikes in your way. I think it looks cool to have more of the spike showing near the monster’s head, and gradually have the spikes lower as you get towards the tail. If you like that look, just leave more of each spike sticking out of your “sandwich” as you go towards the tail end.
Sew only the long, straight seam with the spikes in it. Don’t turn the corner and sew any other sides. Now trim the extra spike fabric, if you tapered the spikes as you got towards the tail.
Step 7: Prep the Featherboning
Next it’s time to work with the featherboning. This might seem a little bit tricky, but don’t worry. It’s not as hard as it looks. Cut the featherboning into 5 pieces: two that are 8″ long (20 cm), two that are 11″ long (28 cm), and one that is 34″ long (86 cm).
You will need to push an inch (2.5 cm) of plastic out of the fabric casing of each piece of featherboning and trim it off. Now trim the corners off both ends of the plastic, so that the tip of the plastic is rounded. (Trimming the inch off is so you can fully encase the plastic in the fabric casing, and rounding the ends is so that the corners of the plastic aren’t sharp enough to poke their way out of the casing later on.) Now push the plastic back into the casing, and stitch 1/2″ from each end of the casing to hold the plastic inside. Be careful not to stitch through the actual plastic, just the fabric casing.
Join the 34" piece of featherboning into a circle by folding the ends of the casing under, overlapping the plastic by about an inch, and stitching the casings together like I’ve done in the picture. Set the circle aside for later.
Step 8: Attach the Featherboning
Featherboning is stiff, yes, and that makes it a little wonky to put in place, but you’re really only stitching through fabric, just like any normal seam. Don’t let it get in your head. ;-)
Pin the 8″ pieces of featherboning to the upper half of the monster body. Place them against the wrong side of the fabric, with the convex side (outside curve) touching the fabric. The pattern tells you exactly where it goes. Fold the ends of the casing under, and pin it with the pins jumping over the plastic. (You can see how it's pinned in the first picture.) Then add the 11″ pieces of featherboning. They will cross over the 8″ pieces at one end.
Sew through the fabric casing to attach the featherboning to the fleece. Use the stitching line on the casing itself as your guide, because if you sew on the original stitching line, then you know you won’t be catching the plastic with your needle. Sew slowly, and hold down the featherboning with your fingers as you guide the piece through the machine. Remove your pins as you come to them, and stitch both sides of all 4 of the casings.
I did stitch through the plastic in one spot, and I’ve done it plenty of times in the past, too. The goal is to hit the original stitching lines on the casing, but it’s not the end of the world (or even the end of Nebraska) if you don’t.
Step 9: Assemble the Monster
When those 4 pieces of featherboning are attached to the top of the monster's body, you’re ready to put the monster together. Put the bottom piece of the monster’s body on the table, right-ride up. Now put the legs on top, where the pattern piece indicates. The cut edges should all line up, and the legs should be laying across the monster, pointing away from the center of the monster's body. Roll the legs up, and pin them to themselves, to keep the toes from being caught in the opposite seam when you sew. Put the tail in the same way, at the narrow end of the body. Now lay down the top of the monster body, right side down, and pin the two long sides together. Stitch all the way down one long side, across the tail end, and up the other side, sewing over each leg and the tail as you come to it. Now you can turn the monster right-side out.
Shape the mouth by folding the edge of the fabric over the large circle of featherboning that you set aside earlier. Stitch all the way around the mouth hem, enclosing the featherboning as you go.
Step 10: Make the Spiked Ball for the Tail
Take the oval pieces for the tail, and stitch 2 of the ovals along one curved edge, right sides together, catching one of the little triangles in the seam just like you did for the claws. Your stitching line should start and stop at the edge of the fabric, right in the middle of the short sides of the oval (just like in the picture). I put some of the spikes higher and some lower in the seam, but you can do what suits you.
Add one more oval and spike, so that you have 3 ovals sewn together with 2 spikes. You will need to hold the first seam to one side while you stitch the second seam. Now repeat the process with the other 3 ovals, so that you have two halves of a spiky sphere. Place the two halves right-sides together, adding three more spikes in the seam, and pin. Now you can sew all 6 ovals together into a ball, but start stitching about 1/2" away from the short end, so that you are leaving about an inch (2.5 cm) unsewn. There are a lot of seams converging at the tip of the ball, but just spread them out and then run over them, keeping with your 3/8" seam allowance. Now turn the ball right-side out through the 1″ opening.
Take some small scraps of fleece, and stuff them inside the ball. I'm adding a squeaker, but that's optional. Push the end of the tail inside, and hand-sew the sphere to the tail. I would use a doubled length of thread to make it sturdy, because if your ferrets are anything like mine were, those little stinkers are going to try to pull the tail off.
Step 11: Add Teeth and Eyes
Fold in the cut edge of your last 4 large spikes, and hand-sew them to the inside edge of the mouth to form teeth. You can place them closer together, like fangs, or farther apart for a goofy, gap-toothed look.
Grab the two circles of accent fabric that you cut out for the eyes. Take a doubled length of thread and hand-sew a large running stitch (just a basic in-and-out stitch) around the edge like I'm doing in the picture. You should use matching thread, I'm just using contrasting thread so that you can see it better. Make one stitch past the point where you started, grab both ends of the thread, and pull the thread to draw the circle up into a gathered, 3-dimensional shape. Poke the raw edges of the fabric to the inside, and tie the thread ends to each other. Now you can use the same length of thread to hand-sew the eyeballs to the monster’s face where the eyes should be.
And there you have it! A cozy ferret sleeping bag and unique playhouse in one. You can machine-wash your monster, but don’t put anything too bulky or heavy in the washing machine along with it, or you might crease the featherboning. And don’t put it in the dryer, just hang it up to dry. Enjoy watching your ferrets snuggle up inside their cozy new playhouse!