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Making an Appa Towel-Monster

Maybe you love crafting and sewing. Maybe you’re a hard-core Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon show fan. Maybe you really want to make a unique holiday gift for your favorite grandchild, neice, or nephew. Or maybe you just love towels with hoods on them. Whatever the case, this is a quick and easy sewing project that will not only up your geek cred and impress your fan-friends, it will also dry you after a shower.

In the television show, the main character, Aang, is shadowed by his trusty sky-bison, Appa. Appa is a loving, fluffy, protective side-kick, and a beloved part of this wonderful show! Who wouldn’t want their own sky-bison?

So make your little Avatar happy (or embrace your inner air-bender) and tackle this easy sewing project! It’s an easy project, and you’ll have fun doing it!

What you’ll need:

  • sewing machine
  • straight pins
  • graph paper
  • scissors and/or rotary cutter
  • spray adhesive
  • ruler
  • 2 spools of off-white thread
  • 1 spool of black thread
  • piece of black vinyl or black fabric (less than 1/4 yard, so I would advise a remnant or a fat quarter from the quilting department)
  • off-white terry cloth (yardage will be determined in your first construction step)
  • Brown terry cloth (again, yardage determined in first construction step)

Planning:

  1. Get out your graph paper and pencil and make a few decisions. Decide how large you want your Appa to be. Are you making this for yourself, or for a smaller human? Take some measurements and estimate about how large you want the body of the towel to be. This will determine all other measurements, so choose wisely. Once you have decided how large you want the body to be, sketch it onto the graph paper to scale. If you can get 1 square to equal 1 inch, your job will be much easier. The Appa I made took 1 yard of standard-width (44 inches) terry cloth, just to make it easy to measure.
  2. Determine how wide you want the stripe to be. There’s a reason that we’re doing this second. You’ll see later. Anyway, decide how wide it should be and remember, it’ll be easier to measure if you use solid increments, meaning no ¼ inch or whatnot. My stripe was six inches wide. Appa has perpendicular stripes behind each of his 3 pairs of feet (1 at the base of his tail), 1 small stripe centered on his tail, and one at the base of his tail that traces the curved edge. On his head, the stripe tapers into an arrow. Once you have the approximate width of the stripe, you can draw it onto the graph paper body, then determine where you want the perpendicular stripes to be, how wide, etc. Mine ended up being about 5 inches wide at their base and varied in length from 4-11 inches.
  3. Now decide how large to make the tail. My tail was 20 inches long when finished, add about 2 inches to that for excess, and you’ve got the proper measurement. If your body is a different size, you’ll need to follow your own measurement, but here is a simple rule: the tail should end up being about half the length of the body and about half as wide or a little wider. I could go into all the measurements I made of photos or tell you all about the physics of ballast-effects in a universe that has flying bison, but I think it’s just easier to establish a ratio and leave it at that. Draw the tail onto the graph paper, overlapping your body by the seam allowance (mine was an inch but most patterns are ¼ inch). Make sure you draw that stripe in on the tail, otherwise you’ll have no idea how to match the curves.
  4. Determine the dimensions of your head. I eyeballed this. Appa’s head is somewhat wide and squat, so I just made it wide enough to incorporate the stripe and the ears and horns. There’s no hard number. Mine was about 18 inches wide and about 10 inches tall, and all of this came down to the stripe. You need to accommodate the arrow design on Appa’s face, so be sure to do that.
  5. Determine foot size. Appa has big feet, so this is completely up to you. I made his feet a bit small, about 6 inches square, but you may want to make them bigger so that they are accurate. I just didn’t want them to be big on my hands. Each foot should have a circular brown piece for the pad, and six triangular pieces that will form the toes. I simply made a square and used the corners as estimates. On a 6 inch square, the side midpoint is at 3 inches, so I just made my toes by cutting out 3 inch squares and then cutting them in half diagonally.
  6. Total up these numbers to get yardage. Some fabrics have directionality to their weave. Terry cloth does not, so determining how much fabric you’ll need is super easy. Once you’ve drawn your little graph paper Appa, just redraw each piece separately on another sheet. If you’re a visual person, you can cut them out and arrange them against each other to see how many pieces you can fit into however many yards. Once important note: I recommend that the entire stripe should be one piece except for the stripe on the head!This will make it easy to hide all your seams during the assembly process, and will give your Appa a smooth, realistic look. It will also make it easier to line up. Just imagine trying to get all those edges and seams to match up! Ugh. But if you cannot make that work, and have to cut the stripe into segments, ignore my ordering below in steps 6-8. Instead, attach the stripe to the body first, then attach the tail (with stripe already attached), then attach the head (stripe already attached).
  7. One final decision: Do you want your Appa to have a brown underbelly. In the show, Appa’s belly and the underside of his tale are brown. I like this look, as it is more accurate, but I am too lazy. It would hide all the embroidery marks, and thicken up the towel, but eh, I don’t care. So if you want this Appa to have a brown belly, you’ll need to purchase extra brown yardage equal to the body and tail, and I will tell you how to attach that too!

Assembly Directions:

Okay, so you have your materials, and you’ve cut out all your pieces using a precision ruler and cutting tools. No? Oh well do that as per the measurements and layout you made with your graph paper. I recommend that you do all the cutting for the odd shaped stripe, tail, and head pieces with the fabric folded in half, so that your shapes are even on both sides. That will make it so much easier for you. I was smart enough to draw all of my layouts with this in mind, so be brilliant like me. The below picis an example of what I am talking about. It is not my final drawing, merely one of them. In the end, my terry cloth was 60 inches wide, which made it possible to make the stripe a whole piece, but this is what it might look like if you had to do your stripe in segments:

So now you have all your pieces. Now it’s time to assemble!

  1. Hem your towel body. Terry cloth unravels. You MUST hem. Do a straight stitch down each side, then roll and repeat, then roll and repeat again so that all the rough edges are hidden within the hem. It takes a while, but it is a finished look that will make your towel look professional.
  2. Hem the tail on all sides. I did the same as above, but keep in mind that the tail is wide and curved like a beaver’s, so you may get a little bit of bunching as you roll the terry hem around that curve. Don’t worry. You can press it if you need to.
  3. Assemble the feet and attach
    1. First, determine which side will be the bottom. Hem this in the “finished” fashion. The other three sides will need to be straight-stitched just enough to keep the fabric from unraveling.
    2. Pin the circular pad to the center of the top paw piece.(in this pic, you’ll note that the corners are notched. I did this to eliminate bulk and help line up the toes when i attached them)
    3. Stitch this in place using a zig-zag stitch. Get the right edge of the stitch as close to the edge of the fabric as you like, even over, if you wish. This will essentially seal the edges. Any excess strings of brown will come off when you wash the finished product. Be sure to set your zig-zag on the widest width and the narrowest length that your machine will allow. It will stitch slowly, but it will create an almost embroidered look. Stop stitching when you have about an inch of open space. Stuff a little polyfill batting into the circle, then finish stitching shut. This will create a nice little padded paw!
    4. Assemble the toe pieces. To do this, take each set of two triangle pieces and stitch them together along their short sides. Flip them inside out. Stuff them with poly fill. Stitch them shut along the long open side, trimming excess.
    5. Pin the two paw pieces with good sides together
    6. Make sure the toes are inside and pointing toward the bottom!
    7. stitch along the outer three sides
    8. flip right-side out and attach one side to the towel body, using the body’s hem as a guide. I put a foot at each corner, and then centered the third. You may want to press lines into the body so that this is easier. Make sure that the paws point toward the ground, pads to the floor! How do you know which way is up? Your body’s hem will roll one way, so make that the underside! Otherwise your Appa’s feet will be on backward.
  4. Assemble the head (Do Not Attach)
    1. Hem the face hole as you did the body.
    2. Hem the bottom edges of the 2 head sides as you did the face hole
    3. Assemble your horns
      1. I freehand drew my template, keeping in mind the shape of Appa’s horns. Then I traced this onto the fabric. Be sure to flip the template over for opposite sides (2 one way, 2 flipped).
      2. If you’re using a fabric, it’ll be easy for you to stitch these together and turn them inside out for stuffing, but vinyl is stiffer. So I stitched the curvy side together with the good sides of the fabric facing inward, turned it right side out, and then did a zig-zag stitch along the top edge. I used white thread for this demo pic, but you would use black, so that it does not show. I liked how this looked, because it made the horns seem sharp, but you can do as you see fit. I just found it too difficult to flip the vinyl inside out.
      3. Stuff the horns and then stitch them shut.
    4. Assemble your ears
      1. Cut 2 small white circles and 2 small brown circles. Mine were about 3 inches in diameter
      2. Stitch these together, leaving a gap so you can flip them inside out.
      3. Flip inside out (leave the gap open)
      4. Fold them in half (white side out) and stitch along the gap. This will give you the “ear” looking ears seen in the picture.
    5. Place the ears and horns inside the two head pieces (hems facing outward) and pin. Then stitch along the top of the head, drawing all the pieces of the head together. Reinforce with several rows of stitching. Turn right side out. You should have a fully assembled head, minus the central strip!
    6. Lightly spray-adhere (or pin) the stripe so that it is centered and runs down the back in a way that looks even then using the same zig-zag edge stitch as you used on the paw-center, embroider the edges of the strip. You can leave the bottom edge of the stripe (at the “neck”) unsewn. It won’t matter.
  5. Attach the base of the back stripe to the tail (Do Not Attach To Body). You may ask why, but don’t. You’ll see later. Just lay the tail (hem facing down) on the ground or workspace. Line up the curve of the last perpendicular stripe with the hem. Now at this point, you can pin, however, I recommend you use spray adhesive to affix the stripe. This prevents puckering and if you just do a light little coat and press it well, you won’t have to worry about residue. Then just stitch the stripe down with the embroidery zig-zag, leaving the rest of the stripe dangling. Don’t stitch across the butt side of the tail! You don’t need to and you’ll just make an extra seam. It’s ok to leave that open.
  6. Attach the tail to the body. This is easy. No really it is. First, lay the body on the floor so that the hem and paws face downward. Line up the stripe (with tail now attached) and pin (temporarily), when you get to the butt end of the tail, flip the tail back and pin so that you can line up the butt-edge of the tail with the hem of the towel-body. Stitch this is place using a straight stitch reinforced a few times. Then unpin and fold the tail flat.
  7. Attach the stripe to the body. Now that the tail is affixed, the stripe will be anchored in place at one end. Unpin the stripe and put it exactly where you want it. Then, folding back each section, do a light coating of spray adhesive to affix all the perpendicular “teeth” stripes. Pin to double-secure. Then do your little zig-zag embroidery stitch around every edge. This will take a while, but when it’s done, you’ll see how good it looks!
  8. Attach the head. Using the two stripes as reference points, pin the head back on the body  (Face hole downward like you did for the paws) and then stitch, being careful to reinforce many times!

If you want to attach a brown tummy to your Appa, perform all the above steps in the exact same order. Make an extra body and tail piece out of brown terry cloth, and hem these exactly as you did the white ones. Attach the brown tail to the brown body exactly where you attached the white tail to the white body. Once the entire topside of the animal is assembled, then attach the brown and white halves together like a sandwich, hems facing inward! A light coating of spray adhesive should anchor the two halves together and prevent puckering. A simple straight stitch, reinforced at the corners, should suffice!

At this point, your Appa should be complete! Trim large threads and rough edges. I recommend washing it before you gift it or use it, as you’ll want to remove the adhesive and any markings you have made! If your horns are made of vinyl, I suggest drying it on low or medium heat, or even hang-drying while towel is still semi-damp. This will prevent the vinyl from heat-fatiguing, warping, or even melting.

Enjoy!

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