Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Elephant No. 227: Plastic Canvas

This is not the type of craft to which I normally gravitate, but I saw plastic canvas in a discount store last week, and it occurred to me that this might be a relatively quick thing to try for an elephant. I know how to do needlepoint, and this looked more or less the same—or that was the hope, anyway.

Plastic canvas—also known as "vinyl weave"—is a lightweight plastic material with grid similar to embroidery canvas. Because of its rigidity, it is often used to create three-dimensional objects such as boxes, purses, and even dollhouses. Most of the plastic canvas things I've been given are flat fridge magnets.

To embroider plastic canvas, you use many of the same stitches as needlepoint. Because the holes in plastic canvas tend to be larger than in needlepoint canvas—7, 10 or 14 holes to the inch—a heavier wool or acrylic yarn is used. The canvas can also be cut into stiff shapes that don't fray, making it ideal for building complicated constructions.

Plastic canvas gingerbread house.

In addition to embroidering plastic canvas, the material is sometimes used to build the heads of animal mascots. The rigid plastic mesh provides a lightweight structure onto which fake fur or fleece is then glued.

For today's elephant, I bought a small sheet of plastic canvas for $1.29 at a discount store. This piece has seven holes to the inch. I also bought a skein of grey acrylic yarn for $1.00.

For a pattern, I originally thought I would just make a flat elephant outline in plastic canvas. Then I came across something called "squeezies"—also known as "kissies" and "squeezums". The idea behind these is that, when you squeeze the sides of the face, the mouth opens to reveal a wish, a small gift, or a treat—most traditionally, a Hershey's chocolate kiss. This made me decide that, if I was going to be making something with plastic canvas, it might as well be something that is pretty much made only with plastic canvas.

The hard part was finding a pattern for making one of these. I didn't have time to find a book, and I couldn't figure out how they worked without some sort of template. Luckily, I came across a simple bird design on the Craft Elf website. This great little tutorial told me everything I needed to know about making the basic structure.

Next, I needed to figure out how to make an elephant. The bird is a very simple three-sided figure; adding large ears and a trunk might prove more difficult. Then I saw an elephant squeezie made by Kathy Cook, which gave me enough visual help to allow me to figure it out on my own.

Following the instructions on the Craft Elf site, I cut a small square of plastic canvas measuring 10 holes by 10 holes. Because the instructions said that I would have to sew things onto this, I cut a lower jaw that was 10 holes by 10 holes at the top, tapering longer after that, since it didn't have to attach anything.

To make the front of the elephant's head, I laid the jaw piece on the plastic canvas, and traced an elephant-head outline that was large enough to match the lower jaw, while also accommodating the piece for the back of the head. The instructions said that I needed smooth edges on the outside for ease in binding, but that would have made for a strange elephant outline, so I figured I'd just deal with the edges later.

To cover the plastic canvas, I cross-stitched grey yarn over each intersection in the grid.

The photograph below shows what it looked like when all three pieces of canvas had been covered with cross-stitching.

I was now ready to begin construction. I started with the easiest join, attaching the lower jaw to the back of the head with three simple stitches in each hole.

When that was done, I bound the edges of all pieces that would remain structurally unattached. I did this now, because I figured it would be a lot harder when everything was attached.

Next came the most challenging part of this whole thing: attaching the back of the head (with jaw attached) to the front of the elephant's head. I think this is probably relatively easy when you don't have ears and a trunk to contend with. It's probably a little less so when you have to force—and hold—stiff pieces of yarn and plastic canvas where they don't necessarily want to stay. To secure this, I whipstitched through the white edge in the back piece, then through the front of the elephant's head, and back again.

This is what it looked like when finished.

Of course, it wouldn't be a "squeezie" if its mouth didn't open, so I tried it, just to be sure. It has a surprisingly firm grip when closed.

When I started this activity today, I didn't think I'd like it. I also didn't think I'd care for the final result. But this little guy actually appeals to me. At nearly four hours, it took me longer than it would have done if I'd just made something flat and small; however, most of that time was spent on cross-stitching, rather than final construction.

To give this a more finished look, I may embroider some eyes, and add a bit of pink inside the ears. I would also need to cover up the back of the ears, since all you see at the moment is the untidy underside of my cross-stitching. But for now, it looks just fine to me.

Now that I know how these are made, I may even make a few more. I kind of like the toy-like mechanism, and it's such a silly object that it makes me laugh.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants are quite adaptable, and will quickly become acclimatized to the presence of people in the wild. Unfortunately, this also means that they can also become a little too familiar.

Just as bears can become accustomed to the easy food available around campsites, elephants in areas frequented by safaris can also become bold and destructive. Throughout Africa, there have been numerous incidents of elephants sniffing out fruit and other foods left in tents. To get at the tasty treats, an elephant will sometimes try to reach in and extract what it wants. More often, however, it will push at the tent with tusks and trunk, destroying the flimsy structure in its frustration.

Wild elephants will normally smell humans and avoid them; there are, however, many elephants that have grown accustomed to snatching food from farms and campsites. In North America, bears that become too used to human food at campsites are often euthanized. I'm not sure what the policy is about elephants that become accomplished tent raiders, but it can't be good for either elephants or humans.

The video below shows an African elephant making its way methodically through a small safari campsite, exploring everything in a quest for food—even the coffee cups held by a couple of campers.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)


  1. Hi,
    I m waqar in Karachi Pakistan .
    I make different types of plastic canvas of hand embroidery .
    I can make any pattern and size and count for anybody any design at very cheap price and send it to u directly .
    My skype id is wikiebhai1 and .
    Please tell me where can I sale these items to your friends and clients etc.

  2. Hi Waqar,

    I don't really have a place to offer things for sale that way, but why don't you set up an Etsy site? It's free to start, and I think it's only a few cents to post each item for sale. You can see all the instructions here:

    Good luck! And, if you do it, send me the link when you have your shop up and running. :)