Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to make a stuffed cardinal

December for me is pretty quiet on the growing front, outside chores are completed.  Even if I wasn’t done, it has been pretty much decided for me to be done, as we have a foot of snow and I don’t do cold well.  Inside, all I really have to do is water and tidy dropped leaves.  My amaryllis are still waking up and I haven’t acquired any new plants to play with this month yet. So instead of a tutorial on shoveling snow, I’m going to delve into one of my other loves: creating.

Introducing Chippy's new brother, yet to be named.

I have a pine tree branch on top of my hutch that is a part of my seasonal decorating.  My dad noticed it and told me that I needed to put a red bird on it.  Almost a year later I have finally done it.  While I did go to Pinterest and actually printed out a pattern of a bird, I wasn’t really satisfied with any of the examples there.  The nice pudgy ones I did like weren’t cardinals with the distinctive tuft on the head and mask.  The ones that were cardinals were flat and two dimensional.  So I made one up.  After posting my little guy Chip on FB, I had several requests for the pattern and instructions.  Thus, the reason for my non-gardening how to tutorial.

All the items needed to create one cardinal

The pdf for the pattern can be found here.

Collect all the items needed for the cardinal.  It is better to find out now what you are missing than when you are in the middle of making it.  Cut out the paper pattern pieces and trace them onto the felt. After tracing one side, I flipped the second side piece over so that I would have two “good” sides without pen marks on them.  I did the same with two of the wing pieces as well.  While I tried to cut just inside the tracing marks, there was still black on the edges, thus the “right” and “wrong” sides.

All the pieces cut out and laying “right” side up.

Match up two of the wing pieces and blanket stitch around each pair with red embroidery floss.  Start anywhere but the tip of the wing as it will be a tidier turned corner.   This will make them stiff and stick out from the body a bit to add some dimension.  Hide the knots in between the two layers.

Insert quirky mustache quip here...

Next, take the belly, tail middle and back and align the tail sections.  The belly should be on the bottom and the back on top with the tail middle in the middle.  Blanket stitch around the tail section with red embroidery floss.  The diamonds on the paper pattern show where the blanket stitch will start and stop on the tail, which is at the narrowest spot.  Again, hide the knots in between the layers.

The middle layer should be a little smaller than the belly and back.

Completed blanket stitch around the tail section and starting the tail lines.

Once the blanket stitch has been completed around the tail section, we now want to make two running stitch lines down the middle of the tail to help stiffen it and to add some detail.  After the last blanket stitch, put the needle between the back and middle layer to come out as you see in the picture.  You could tie off the embroidery thread and start with new for the lines but this was faster and tidier to do.  We will start the running stitch from the base of the tail and go toward the tip.

Running stitch toward the tail tip and beginning to come back to the base.

Upon going to the tip, put your needle back into the holes made on the outward trip to fill in the line going toward the base.  This will create a nice line.  Repeat in the same manner for the second line and tie off keeping the knot inside the layers of felt.

Completed tail section.

Now we work on the head part.  Take the two side pieces and put the “wrong” sides together.  The non-inked sides should face out.  With red thread do a whip stitch from the top tip of the crest, around the face down to the base of the beak.

Whip stitch from the tip of the crown to the base of the beak.

Now we are going to attach one of the sides to the belly / tail / back piece.  Match the point of the belly to the base of the beak.  Whip stitch from the beak down to the tail, matching the diamonds shown on the pattern at the tail.  Keep stitching around the back and up to the tip of the crest.  You will need to adjust for the curve as you sew to make the pieces line up correctly.  Continue sewing down the other side of the back until you reach the middle of the top of the back and stop.

Whip stitch the belly tip to the base of the beak.

Continue on around the belly to match the back of the side up with the tail as shown as a diamond on the pattern.

Stop sewing about the middle of the back to allow you finish the face and sew on the wings.

Before sewing the body closed, we are going to assemble the face and attach the wings.  Take the mask and fold it in half and whip stitch with black thread the two short edges to create a cone.

Sew the top two short edges together to form a cone.

This is how the mask goes onto the cardinal.  The paper pattern piece shows the orientation.

Use a hemming stitch to attach the mask to the body.  You should not be able to see the stitches and the mask will fit snugly onto the body.  Repeat the same steps with the beak using yellow thread and attaching it to the mask.

Sew the beak on the same way as the mask.  The paper pattern piece shows the correct orientation.

After sewing on the beak, I stuff the head area with scraps of felt before sewing on the eyes.

Once the mask and beak are completed with all knots and messy thread inside the body, I stuff the head area with scraps of felt left over from cutting out the pieces.  I try to shape and form the head as I stuff it and flatten the seams a bit.  Now, you sew on the two black beads for the eyes.  I start my black thread from inside the head and poke the needle out where I want the eye to go.  Thread the bead onto the thread and push the needle through the stuffed head to come out on the other side where the second eye will go.  Thread the second bead on and go back through the head out the center of the opposite bead.  Put the needle into the head outside the bead underneath it and poke it out the center of the opposite “eye”.  Repeat until you have at least three sets of threads anchoring the bead to the head and tie off the thread inside the head.

Next we attach the wings.  Match the appropriate wing to the correct side starting on the side that is already sewn to the back and belly.  It is easier to do this side first rather than second.  Make sure that you catch only the inside layer of the wing so that the stitches are not seen on the outside layer.  Sew in a circle in the middle of the wing so that the edges can stick out after being stuffed.  If you would rather your wing be flush with the body, sew closer to the edge of the wing.

Sew in a circle to attach the wing to the side.

Attached wings, eyes, mask and beak.  We are ready to sew the last seam and stuff with beans.

Another view of attached wings.

Starting on the back where you left off sewing the seam, whip stitch to the tail and around towards the head leaving an opening to fill with beans.

Ready to fill with beans.

I filled my cardinal with black turtle beans because they were the oldest ones in my pantry.  You can use any type of bean or stuffing.  The beans give the bird some weight which will counter balance the heavy tail.  If you fill it with lighter stuffing, it may tip backwards rather than sit up.  I also like the slightly slouchy look the beans give the bird.

Filled with beans and ready to be sewn up.

Finish the seam with a whip stitch and tie off at the base of the mask.  Now gently shape the bird a bit, flattening seams and straightening the wing tips.

Chippy’s brother is now done.   Hmmm… gotta come up with another cardinal name.  Suggestions?

There you go, something cute and not too hard or expensive to make.  Have fun and post pictures of your little guys so I can see what you did.  Fun fact for you: a group of cardinals has many collective nouns, including a "college", "conclave", "deck", "radiance", and "Vatican" of cardinals.


  1. Another name...Chippy and Dale. Not a cardinal's name, but a fond memory. Nice job with all the pictures, and the step by step.

  2. Wow Shannon great job explaining & showing how to make this happy little bird. I'm with my brother Mac, Dale would be a great name for the brother!