Clowning Around

These cute little clowns used to be really popular in the 70s and 80s. I remember making them with my mom way back then. Interestingly, we never used a pattern. We would just cut all the fabric pieces into different sized rectangles and these served to make the clown’s clothing, his arms and even all the ruffles. A cone shaped piece of fabric served as the hat and a 3.5 inch styrofoam ball plus a 2 X 4 block of wood served as the head and body respectively, these two pieces were then covered in a clean white cotton sock. Assorted felt pieces served to make the hands which were more like little mitts, and also the feet and facial features. But the REAL secret behind the lifelike positions of these little guys was: wooden clothespins! Four old fashioned wooden clothespins were what gave them the ability to cross their legs, bend over on their sides or put their hands on their hips. I remembered these clowns the other day and I had a sudden rush of nostalgia for the simple crafts of the old days, before the days of glittler glue and polymer clay and craft stores that you need a map to navegate your way through. Back in the day……crafts were made from common household items. Sigh. I decided to make a few clowns to see if they they were really as cute as I remembered them. I did have a pattern this time though. My mom had sent me one several years ago and I had never gotten around to opening it, so I decided it was about time. I didn’t even know clown patterns existed. It’s Simplicity pattern # 5259 BTW. I wasn’t surprised to see that pretty much all of the main pattern pieces were rectangular which is why these clowns are so easy to make without a pattern. Still I was grateful to have a pattern for the pointy clown shoes and for the facial features. Those can be a bit tricky to make freehand. I set out all my materials and got to work on the first clown.

The necessary materials. A 6 inch tall 2 X 4 piece of wood, A 3 inch styrofoam ball, colorful fabric for the clown's outfit, white fabric to cover the head and body, Clown pattern.

The cover that goes over the head and body is just a long rectangle made out of stretchy white fabric , sewn shut to form a sort of long tube. (or a large white cotton sock)  Make sure the stretch or “give” of the fabric is horizontal so that it can stretch over both the styrofoam ball and the 2 X 4 block of wood. I placed the styrofoam ball inside of the white fabric “tube” first.

Sew a tube shape from the white stretchy fabric and cover the styrofoam ball with it.

Next I stretched the white fabric over the 2 X 4 and pulled it taut on both open ends. Once the styrofoam ball and the 2 X 4 were encased in the white stretch fabric, I wound a length of doubled up thread very tightly underneath the styrofoam ball to form a “neck” and tied it. Now I had the head, the neck and the body. I stitched both ends closed making sure not to leave any sort of bulkiness or bunched up fabric under the 2 X 4 so that the clown wouldn’t wobble when it’s sitting up. I also stitched the fabric closed at the “crown” of the head, pulling the fabric up taut so that the face would be smooth and crease-free.

Tie a "neck" underneath the styrofoam ball and then stitch the "crown closed,

Stitch the bottom closed making sure not to leave any bulkiness

Now I was ready to make the clown’s outfit. I cut two rectangles for the arms (8.5″ long X 10.5″ wide)  and four rectangles for the suit (18″ X 9″)  This clown was going to be red and white striped on one side and polka-dotted on the other side. First I stitched two of the  18 inch long rectangles together down the center, leaving the bottom third unstitched as these would be the legs. Then I did the same with the other two 18 inch rectangles to form the back side of the suit. I next sewed these two front and back panels together  (placing right sides together to sew them) leaving a one inch opening on either side to pass the arms through. After the front and back pieces were sewn together  I stitched the two legs closed. Lastly, I machine sewed a loose running stitch around the top edge of the neckline as well as around each ankle of the pants. To make the sleeves, I sewed each sleeve piece closed into a tube shape. (the 8.5 inch is the length of the sleeve)  I then machine sewed a loose running stitch on both open ends of the arms/sleeves. All these running stitches would later be gathered and pulled tightly around the neck, wrists and ankles of the clown.

Rectangles form both sides of the clown suit as well as both arms.

Once the pieces for the body and arms were cut and sewn, I cut out the mitt shaped hands from white felt. The little hands need to be lightly stuffed with batting to give them softness. Now it was time to put in the clothespins. The ideal clothespin to use for these clowns are the old fashioned wooden clothespins with the round head. However, I haven’t seen those around in ages so I used the more modern shaped wooden clothespins and they seem to work just as well. In the 70s when I used to make these clowns there were no hot glue guns so I would just stitch the clothespins to the white felt fabric of the mitts and then use a bit of Elmer’s glue to hold them immobile. This step usually took several hours to dry completely. Today, I am always ready to cut corners whenever possible so I just hot glued the wooden clothespins into place and fixed them to both the batting and the felt….applying alot of glue so that they would not move around. Hot glue dries very quickly and it wasn’t really necessary to stitch them. It’s important to insert only the tip of the clothespin into the mitt. Otherwise the inside of the arm will be too short. Same goes for the legs.

Insert the tips of the clothespins into the mitts/hands and hot glue them into place.

Then I inserted the other end of the wooden clothespins into the sleeves and pulled the running stitch tightly around the top of the mitt to form “wrists”. I also dabbed little bits of hot glue here and there to secure everything in place. Once the sleeves were gathered tightly around the wrists, I tied the thread tightly and cut off the ends. Now I was ready to sew the arms on to the body. This required lightly gathering the “shoulder” of the sleeves, again by pulling on the running stitches that I had placed there earlier. Once it was loosely gathered I stitched the sleeves to the white stretchy fabric at the shoulder level.

Once the hands are glued and sewed securely into place, the two sleeve are sewn onto the fabric of the body at shoulder level

These same steps are repeated with the shoes. The pointy shoes that this clown is wearing with jingle bells on the tips do require a pattern as they are very tricky to sew and need three precisely fitting pieces. However, it is very easy to make kidney shaped felt shoes without a pattern and it’s also much faster. I made a couple of clowns with simple shoes. I just cut four kidney shapes and machine stiched them together in twos and gently stuffed them. I cut a small X shaped opening on the top of each shoe close to one of the ends and inserted the wooden clothespins, securing them with hot glue. Then I inserted the other end of the clothespins into each suit leg and pulled the drawstring (running stitch) closed around the clothespin forming an ankle. I secured the fabric of the suit to the top of the felt shoe with hot glue.  I always attach the shoes  to the pant legs after the suit has been sewn on to the wooden body.

The little pointed shoes have bells sewn on the tips and wooden clothespins inserted in the tops which are fixed into place with hot glue

To attach the clown suit to the wooden body, I just slipped the 2 X 4 which already had the two arms attatched to it’s shoulders, into the suit and passed the two arms out through the one inch openings on either side. Then I pulled on the running stitch that I had previously sewn along the top edge of the suit and closed the neckline until it was neatly tucked under the “chin” of the clown and closed securely around the entire neck area. I stitched it in place so that it would not open up and I also used a few dabs of hot glue for reinforcement.  I next did the same thing with the ankles, pulling on the thread of the running stitch to gather it up and close the bottom of the pants leg around the wooden clothespin that formed the ankle. I then sewed the pants leg fabric to the top of the shoe to hold it in place and also used a bit of hot glue as added reinforcement.

Pull the running stitch and gather the fabric around the neck and the ankles

The next step was to attach the ruffles to the wrists, ankles and neck. These are all just long rectangular strips in different sizes which are hemmed on either edge or cut with a pinking shears. I added a bit of rik rak and ribbon trim to the neck ruffles. They are then sewn or hot glued into place around the hands, feet and neck. The ruffles that go on the wrists and ankles have the running stich sewn right down the middle so that when it’s pulled and attatched to the clown there will be a ruffle above and below the stitching. The hats came on next. These were just hot glued on to the top of the styrofoam ball head and effectively covering up the stitching on the crown area. The clowns with the cone shaped hat have pompons sewn onto the tip and the front of their hats, the clowns with the Jester shaped hats have bells on each tip. The final step is the facial features. I cut tear shapes, diamond shapes and heart shapes out of colored felt as well as small circles for the eyes and nose and then hot glued everything on to the faces, to give them different expressions. Then I sat them down to check out their surroundings. I keep getting the urge to name them. Perhaps something very retro would be nice. How about, Parsley….Sage…Rosemary and Thyme……You can never go wrong with Simon and Garfunkel.

Red clown with pointy shoes and a jester hat

Lavender clown with pointed hat and kidney shaped shoes

Red ruffled clown

Pretty in Pink

The Fab Four

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4 thoughts on “Clowning Around

  1. SO beautiful clowns really they r soo pretty and of lovly colours
    and designs , i always loved clowns since i was kid till today
    thx for ur instructions about how made it , but still i feel cant make it so pretty as the ones u made
    we name it in arabic Belyatcho بيليتشو
    thxxx for this beautful post and for the istructions

  2. So glad I found this site…they are so cute. You did a beautiful job. I like your suggestion of Simon and Garfunkel. Fab 4 good too. 🙂 I was given my clown in the 80’s. I recently reintroduced her to the kitchen…she adorns, and rules her kingdom with constant changing positions while seated on my microwave. She now (hopefully) will have a friend; fabric stores here I come. Thank you for sharing the Simplicity pattern and the very nicely done pictures and instructions.

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