The Giant Totoro

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, January 05, 2010 | ,

One of the most hilarious parts of having younger children is that you can totally get away with making their Christmas presents yourself and not having them react with visceral disgust. In a few years, our boy will be pining for a Playstation 5 or an XBox 1080 or whatever, and even if we spend countless hours knitting him a protective koozie for his two-year-old Nintendo Yuu controller chances are he's going to spend Christmas morning pretty damn disappointed. But now, not so much. This year we went full hippie and made the gifts we gave the kids, buying only a few accessories and stocking stuffers. And they didn't explode with disappointment.

We spent WEEKS in our secret workshop making some stuffed totoros. In the past, I might have stuck my own nose up at handmade gifts made to resemble characters from a movie, but as I've written before, we think My Neighbor Totoro is just about the greatest kid's movie ever and I have no qualms about letting them watch it. There are some "official" Totoro toys, but the big ones are really expensive and don't seem that great anyways. The girl's favorite scene from the movie is when Mei first finds the Totoro and climbs up on his belly, so we wanted to make a GIANT stuffed one for her.

We bought our fabric at small chain in western Michigan that always has a really good selection of fur fabric (we bought the fabric for the Halloween costumes there). With the eyeballs, whiskers, felt, and stuffing the total came to about $33.00. The gray fabric on the right was for the big totoro, and the blue was for the smaller one. The plush fabric on the left was for the bellies, and it is so soft it makes your average baby blanket feel like sandpaper coated with shards of broken glass. 

Wood did all the cutting and machine sewing, I drew the patterns and hand-sewed the smaller pieces (like leather claws, noses, eyeballs, and the detachable leaf hats and smiles). The claws I cut from leather that was leftover from what some Amish guys used to upholster one of my dad's antique cars (it was hard as hell to hand sew; I had to use pliers to pull the needle through). The nose is from an old leather purse. The eyes, smile, and leaf hat are all 100% wool felt.

I may have drawn it, but Wood was the one who translated the sketch into the right proportions to make everything feel like a real stuffed animal. Now I'll turn this narrative over to the master crafter.

WOOD: Jim makes it sound way easier than it was. I've never made a stuffed animal before, not even a small one, and I have to confess that there were many late December nights where I was convinced that the whole idea --- making a giant totoro without a pattern -- was a horrible one. I spent one late night at the sewing machine muttering "harebrained idea" and "ruining Christmas" at him under my breath. [it's true, we had quite a bit of conflict before getting these done---jdg]

I go through that with a lot of projects --- that moment in the middle where you lose confidence in your ability and you're tempted to chuck the whole thing out the window.  It's a totally necessary, yet extremely ugly, phase I have to get through before I can deliver a project.

Jim was the brains behind this idea, yet he has less understanding of sewing and construction of stuffed animals than I do. He was confident that I could figure this out, even when I wasn't. As with more things than I'd like to count, he was right in the end, and the big totoro in particular came out almost exactly how we wanted it to (third time's a charm).

The kids were completely surprised and thrilled to find the totoros waiting for them next to the tree. The moment was pretty magical, and it made all the late night sewing worth it. On Christmas night, as Juniper was going to bed, my mom asked her what her favorite part of Christmas was, and she said it was coming down the stairs and finding the totoros under the tree.

She's pretty attached to it.

Gram calls the little one "my Totoro."

Jim also made another present for the kids (with some help from me). We'll post that one next.