Sunday, January 6, 2019

Stuffed, Embellished Creatures from Denim Jeans for Sensory Stimulation!

My beautiful, artistic, Aunt Ruthie is 94, and although her mind is  sharp, she's both visually and hearing-impaired, and has severe arthritis in her hands. Last month, we flew to Arizona to visit her and her daughter, my cousin Nina. By accident, I brought her the perfect gift, which she's holding here: 
What the heck is that? Why, it's a hairy, sensory stimulation, two-humped camel, of course! 
The "hair" is 6-strand embroidery floss. Thread it through a large-eyed needle, tie a knot about two inches from the end, bury the needle, bring it out 1/2" away, and pull the knot against the surface. Tie another knot right at the surface where it emerges, and cut the thread two inches from the knot. Repeat, then trim, until you've got enough hair to hint at this: 
Photo credit: J. Patrick Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Ruthie immediately loved the hirsute critter (By the way, I learned that two-humped camels are "Bactrian"). Later, Nina told me Ruthie is using it for hand strength exercises! This could be the most successful gift of my life! 

But, you may be asking, how did I happen to have a sensory stimulation camel lying around my house? 

The truth is, I have a whole bunch of newly-made stuffed animals, all made from old, clean blue jeans. Over the past months, I've been working on a complicated quilt, and needed to relax in the evening. I got hooked on "Madame Secretary" on Netflix, but still had my own sensory stimulation deficit - I wanted to make something that would require less concentration than my intensive-care quilt. So I started stitching denim animals, improvising the patterns, and cutting the pieces from my husband's old jeans' legs.  Like these elephants. (Embroidered details mean they can serve as baby gifts, without buttons, beads, or eyes that pose a choking hazard.) 

A seal/platypus: 
....which I liked so much that I made a seal team.

Ruthie's Bactrian  was the second of a series of three. Here it is with a friend:

...Plus a school of fish....
They're about a foot long. I think they make cool pillows. I gave one of them these vintage mother-of-pearl & metal shank buttons.
In Arizona, Nina gifted me with a bag of old family buttons.  Since my camel was such a hit, I decided to make one of the blank fish  into ANOTHER sensory toy for Ruthie - this one with interestingly-textured buttons, brooches, and other items from her buttons and my own collection (Button hoarding runs in the family): 
I decorated only one side of the fish, to make it easier to grasp. I especially loved the inexplicable "SILVER" pin  from Ruthie's bag. I hope she can feel the letters!
I mailed this whopper back to Arizona, and Nina sent me this  reward! 
So, in conclusion....if you know someone who might need hand exercise or stimulation*...and/or if YOU need hand stimulation while bingeing Netflix.....consider making simple stuffed animals and going to town embellishing them! These creatures were great therapy for me! 

UPDATE: A tutorial for making these fish is now posted on my blog, here

* Specifically, Nina said the button fish isn't as good as the bactrian for hand exercises - the buttons are harder to squeeze. But  the fish is more interesting to explore by touch.


  1. OMGoodness....those are so cute. You should make patterns for your little creatures. I’d buy one.

    1. Thank you, JoJo, one sale! If I get a few more, I'll write up the directions!

  2. I love these my favorite is the seal/ platypus. You definitely have a wonderful idea here. Not only for hand exercises but for comfort in the nursing homes.I was a nurse in a nursing home for over 25 years I know many residents who would enjoy them. Not to leave out my grandson who would love it.

    1. Joanne, thanks for your perspective! I have made lots of them by now, and am thinking I should bring them to an assisted living/dementia facility....