Eye Eye: A Tutorial
Over the past year and a half of Mochimochi Land, I’ve received a number of requests for a tutorial on how best to put eyes on knitted toys. So here it is!
I’ve found that I repeatedly use three types of eyes for my knitted toys: plastic “safety” eyes, eyes embroidered with yarn, and eyes embroidered with embroidery thread or floss. They each have pluses and minuses.
(I can’t say that my techniques are the definitive way to make eyes—they’re just how I’ve come to do them. If you have different techniques or suggestions, please feel free to add them to the comments to this post.)
These are safety eyes.
They consist of a front and a back that fit together in the manner shown above.
Safety eyes are cute and super easy to use. They can be a little hard to find in craft stores, so I buy mine online from Harvey’s Hobby Hut. (I usually use the 9mm size.) To use safety eyes, position them just as you want them, then snap on the backs from the backside of your knitting. Once you snap the white back part onto the front, however, there’s no getting them apart, so make sure you’ve decided on your final placement before securing them!
What I usually do is stuff my toy first, leaving a small opening of some kind (in this case, the hole at the top of circular knitting), then place the eyes where I want them in the front, then attach the backs through the opening before closing up. Simple!
The main disadvantage to safety eyes is, ironically, their safety. When used in knitted toys, there is a chance that a small child could rip the small plastic pieces entirely out of the knitting and swallow them. Maybe it’s unlikely, but just to be safe, they’re not recommended for toys that you plan to give to a small kid with an oral fixation.
Yarn eyes are almost as simple as safety eyes. All you need is a contrasting colored yarn (I usually choose black) and a tapestry needle. I add these eyes after the toy is completely stuffed and sewn up, and I often temporarily pop in some safety eyes first (without attaching the backs) to figure out placement before making any stitches.
The size of your toy will determine how big you want to make the eyes (obviously), which will determine how many stitches wide to make your eyes. In the case of my sample critter (it’s the body of Looper, in case you were wondering), I’m going to make the eyes one and a half stitches wide. (So it’s OK to split stitches, but less OK to split yarn.)
Start by bringing the threaded needle out where you want the left side of your eye to be, drawing the loose end of the yarn up into the toy…
…then poke the needle in one and a half stitches to the right (without pulling the yarn too tight), and back out again in the same place you started.
Make several horizontal stitches in and out of the same two places.
In this case, I think I made about four stitches total for each eye. The more stitches you make, the more circular your eyes will look.
Once you’ve finished the eyes, simply weave the loose end of the yarn back into your toy.
Obviously, you can customize your eyes with yarn in a way that you can’t with plastic eyes. Add some small stitches around your eyes, and you have eyelashes. Or, make a sleepy or happy eye using backstitch. (If you’re not familiar with backstitch, you can see a tutorial here.)
One disadvantage to embroidering on eyes with yarn is that it can be tricky to make a perfect circular eye, especially if you’re using a bulky yarn. Another disadvantage is that the stitches can be pulled out by determined little fingers. So it’s child-safe, but not completely child-proof.
Embroidery Thread Eyes
Embroidering on eyes with thread or embroidery floss is the most time-consuming of the three techniques, but if done with patience, it can yield nice results that are very secure. Again, it’s a good idea to use safety eyes or pins as placeholders to decide where to place your eyes before making that first stitch.
In the case of eyes embroidered with thread, it’s OK to split the yarn. In fact, it’s best to just treat your knitting as if it were a solid piece of fabric. However, it’s important to be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or else you will warp the knitting.
First, use backstitch to “draw” the outline of your eye. (Again, you can see a tutorial here if you need a backstitch refresher.)
(This circle is bigger than I would normally make for a toy this size, but for the sake of clarity, I’m demonstrating with a jumbo eye.)
Don’t worry if your circle is less than perfect. It’s actually going to get even less perfect, but then you will smooth everything out.
Once you complete your circle, you begin to fill it in using satin stitch. To do this, start by bringing your needle out through the very top left corner of your circle. Poke your needle in through the very top right corner of your circle, and bring your needle back out just a little bit below and to the left of where you started, sticking close to the outline of the circle.
Then you’ll poke your needle in just a bit below and to the right from where you when in before, and back out again on the left side.
Continue to make these (not too tight!) horizontal stitches all the way down the circle. Even if you don’t pull the thread tightly, your circle will probably warp a little and become elongated.
Once you’ve filled in the whole circle with satin stitch, you can re-shape the circle a little by pinching it into a better shape.
You’ll probably still see room for improvement, so at this point you should smooth out the circle by going around the outside circumference of it with backstitch again, filling out the sides until you achieve a more perfect circle.
This may take several revolutions around the circle and extra pinching at intervals, but once you’re done, you can end up with nice, solid eyes that can’t be pulled out!
And of course, you can also embellish with eyelashes or embroider other shapes of eyes in the same way as you can when using yarn—though you’ll probably have to go over your embroidery a few times to get the lines to your desired thickness.
The disadvantage to the embroidery thread technique is, of course, the time it takes to do it. But with practice it gets much faster.
And that’s how I do all the eyes on my Mochimochi Land toys. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions of your own!
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