When I set out to design the Pocket Critter Toy, I zeroed in on creating something that would give dogs a mental challenge — a problem to solve — in order to get a treat. Rather than handing a dog a biscuit for sitting, with this toy the dog would have to nose around until they discovered the treats, then figure out how to get the treats out.
The timeless-yet-cuddly materials
I wanted the interactive toy to be soft and cuddly. So with this in mind, I focused on choosing fabrics that would be thick and strong yet soft and cozy. The toys are made from a combination of wool (both reclaimed and from the remnants store), fleece, and flannel.
It was a lot of fun combining the fabrics and colors — there’s definitely an Ivy Leagues Classics influence there, but the combinations are a little more playful since it’s a toy. Well, a reserved playful. I’ll be upping the playful aspect even more with a new group of Mutt Love Pocket Critters, made from scraps and less “pure” (read: mismatched and unexpected).
The pocket has the most specific logistical requirements. After watching Pipsqueak chew threw some thinner pocket prototypes I chose a double layer of tough twill fabric for the pocket. Twill is a sturdy fabric (our jeans our made of a twill weave) that can stand up to some chewing.
Putting it all together
Once the fabrics for these little guys are all selected, I cut out all of the pieces, then start prepping the pieces for assembly. First I sew together the ears and the tails. For the tails, I use the freezer paper technique I learned about on whileshenaps.com. It makes the odd shape so much easier to sew around accurately, and then it’s a snap to trim them to size.
Then the tail gets sewn to the back piece and the bodies are assembled, with ears sandwiched in place. At this point, I feel a sense of anticipation as I turn the toy right side out — I get a kick out of seeing how exactly the ears came into shape. Each one is a bit different, which is one of the reasons I enjoy making this toy.
Next, I stuff them with polyester stuffing (it’s more sanitary than cotton and washes well) so they’re full but not firm, and stitch them closed. Then I stitch the pocket (which has already been sewn together, and pressed into shape) on by hand.
It’s fun to see them go from flat pieces to something with three-dimensional shape and character. I think they’re rather charming (and a little French-like), between the slightly bowed legs, the big ears, and the hand-stitched pocket. Someone who knows my overly-detailed tendencies well asked me if I count the stitches on the pockets. And perhaps the more surprising thing about that comment is that no, I actually don’t count them! I think it’s more playful and down-to-earth to eyeball it in this case.
The final step is to pop them into the washer and dryer to fluff them up and pass my quality control double-check. There’s nothing cuter than a dryer full of fluffed-up Pocket Critters, just waiting for their new doggie friend to play with them.