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Stuffed Animal Repair 101: Giving Plush Pals New Life

Despite our best efforts, accidents will happen, toys will be injured, and tears will be shed. So, what to do when your little one’s beloved seems beyond repair? Don’t give up. Do a thorough assessment before calling is quits, and see if with a little TLC, your little one and her plush love can get back to snuggling, saving the world, dancing, or whatever it is they do when we aren’t watching.

As a parent, there are few things in this world I dread more than my daughter’s beloved stuffed bunny sustaining a life-threatening injury. Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but anyone who has loved a child knows that not much can send a little one into a spiral of tears and panic like knowing that their best friend may be beyond repair. Of course, people will tell you there are ways to prevent this from ever happening in your home. For one, there is the backup toy plan. This is a great option if you know that this toy will be a favorite at a time when purchasing a backup is still an option. We didn’t. Once you have said backup in hand, you are supposed to routinely switch out the toys so they become one and the same in your child’s heart. But does this really work? My nephew has two of his favorite giraffe, but is in NO WAY fooled as to which one is his and which one is “Grandma’s."

 

Another way to prevent damage to the toy is to insist that it not leave the house except on special occasions. We do this, but still I worry -- sometimes the greatest dangers for the doll are at home.

 

Take Olive, for example. She's the toy in these pictures. She was snagged by a dog and taken on a backyard adventure. As you will see, the repairs did not make the bunny look like new, but she is back to fine snuggling form and ready for many more years of love. Not all of these tips may work in your case, but I hope some of them help, and I hope that your plush catastrophe has a happy outcome.

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Involve your child

 

This is scary stuff for a little one. And like any new experience, knowing what to expect, and being involved in the process can help to make it less mysterious and a little bit easier. I find that foods that my daughter wouldn’t normally touch are gobbled up at dinner when she gets to help with cooking and food preparation. I figure that plush repair works sort of the same way.

 

So, get out the doctor kit, let your child take charge and diagnose the problem, talk about ways you could fix it, talk about what you will do if it can’t be fixed. Just talk...and listen if that is what they need. Friends help friends feel better, so let your child help their friend.

Don’t panic

Any repair you do will likely not be perfect, but perfection probably isn’t what your child loves about their toy. A favorite bear with a missing arm is still a favorite bear, hold out hope that the toy can be salvaged. "The Velveteen Rabbit" has always been a favorite story of mine, and I figure a little extra wear on a toy just brings it closer to being “real.” Plus, battle scars add character!

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Assess the damage

Find any missing pieces (no matter how small, these may help with repair later). Figure out if a good cleaning is necessary (even if this isn’t injury related, what well-loved toy couldn’t use a good cleaning?). Collect any lost stuffing. Find a picture of the toy in good condition for reference. Your child can be a great help on all of these tasks and having something to do might help them worry less about the problem.

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Unstuff and wash

You may not need this step, but washing can be much easier without the stuffing, and replacing or rearranging the stuffing can make a mangled toy look 100 percent better.

 

Most toys have a spot several inches long (usually along their back) where they were turned, stuffed, and hand-stitched closed. The stitching here will often look different from the rest of the seams and will be looser and easier to remove. This can be well hidden on fuzzy toys. Once you find the thread, snip it carefully with scissors and open up the seam a little. If you can’t find any point that looks like the right spot, you can remove stuffing through the injury site, or if you must, cut along a seam and carefully hand sew it closed later (this may alter the shape of the toy slightly). My daughter calls this toy surgery--she thinks it is pretty cool.

 

Next, get out a big bowl, call it a bubble bath, fill it with warm water and a gentle detergent (I like Woolite). Swish the toy around in the suds, brush gently if necessary, let your kids have some fun in the bubbles. Rinse well with fresh water until it runs clear. When you are done, feel the satisfaction of lots and lots of dirt being washed off your child’s favorite snuggle buddy. Hang outside to dry.

Reattach any missing limbs or ears and restuff

Now is the time to reattach any limbs or ears that have become detached. These parts will be much easier to attach properly before you stuff. Don’t be afraid to turn the toy inside out for this step, it will make for a much cleaner attachment. Use the other limbs as a guide for your repair. Depending on how they were originally attached to the toy, a simple straight seam on the sewing machine might do the trick, or you may want to use a whip stitch by hand for trickier bits.

 

At this point I like to gently restuff the toy. This will help reestablish the general shape and will make repairing some of the holes easier. I suggest buying new stuffing rather than trying to repurpose the old stuffing you removed, as it will give you a better shape. Work gently around any tears so that you don’t make them worse, but try to re-form the animal into its original shape.

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Patch and repair

I use a ladder stitch to close small straight tears. Make sure both ends of your seam are well secured and hide the knots inside.

 

For larger holes, I like to find a matching fabric (since I make toys I often have this) or a cute complementary fabric to use as a patch. Let your child choose a fun fabric they love to repair their toy’s injury (felt, felted sweater scraps, and flannels work especially well). Depending on the location of the hole, and the fabric you choose, either place the fabric into the hole gently tucking the edges of your patch under the lip of the hole and secure it with a whip stitch, or applique the fabric on top of the hole. (If you are using a woven fabric, tuck under the edges of the patch as you go so that the raw edge won’t fray later. This isn’t a problem with felt or felted sweater scraps, as they won’t fray.) You can make the patches in fun shapes too if your child prefers this (a heart shape is a great way to cover a boo-boo).

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Adjust stuffing and close

Once you have patched all the holes, adjust your stuffing and add more to firm up the toy, especially under the patches and then sew the opening you made closed -- I use a ladder stitch for this too. Make sure both ends of the seam are well secured and bury your knots inside the toy.

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Give the toy a checkup and health certificate

My husband is a veterinarian so I get a kick out of having him and my daughter give each animal we repair a checkup and health certificate. It is a great time to reassure your child that their friend is feeling better and let them assess the repairs. Get out the bandages, medicine, etc., and make it a game. In fact, my daughter likes this game so much that most of the animals in her room have some sort of bandage on them and she often spends hours nursing them back to health.

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I hope that some of these tips helped you if you have experienced a plush toy trauma. I’m happy to offer tips, suggestions, a shoulder to cry on, or fabric scraps if you are in need! Please share photos of your repairs or tips you came up with! Contact me here.

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About the Author

Ashley McCally

A biologist with a love of sewing, imagination, and all things vintage, Ashley McCally has turned these passions into a business creating one-of-a-kind toys for children. Ashley and her daughter (and chief toy tester), Lily, spend their free time hunting for forgotten fabric treasures in thrift shops, estate sales, and friends' closets. Lily & Gus customers often send in beloved...

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