Math and Cutting for the Topiaries

I sat down this morning to finish planning all the pattern pieces for the remaining 7 topiaries, then rolled out my paper and started drafting.

Between wrestling cats for the use of the rulers, maneuvering around the harp, and crouching on the floor for several hours straight, I decided to go ahead and sling one of my new 4’x8′ sheets of MDF onto a table base and spread out on a table in my cat-free studio.

There are a lot of things that need moving around and reorganizing, and I was postponing putting up the table until I got that done–that, and because it’s freaking heavy–but having a workspace this big is fabulous.

Several hours later and I’m down in the atrium again:

Okay, so the best-laid plans of mice and men. A lot of pieces had to be modified to fit the yardage available; Pooh’s shirt got longer, and he’s now wearing 3/4-length sleeves, instead of the cap-sleeved midi he usually wears. It’s his winter shirt.

I ran out of belly and inner-ears for Eyore, but they’ll be pink, and I think I can locate that locally. Christopher Robin has skin and hair, but no clothes. I had intended to make his shirt red without looking up a picture; it’s not, and I ran out of red anyway. I could have sworn I’d ordered some blue for his pants, but discovered upon looking at the pile of unrolled burlap that there is no pant-blue. So about 3 yards short. Not bad for guessing yardage to cover topiary animals before even determining the pattern pieces.

Luckily, burlap doesn’t have a nap and it’s wiggly enough that if you don’t cut it straight, no one will be able to tell–all the pieces just barely fit. I wound up with a tiny pile of scraps (many of them so small they’re only in the scrap pile just because there’s nothing else to use to solve emergencies) and an even tinier pile of trash:

Clothes for Plants

The Project:

Fitted, semi-decorative burlap covers for 9 topiary animals for Cook’s Children’s Hospital


The geometry involved in coming up with the shapes involved in this project is crazy. While there are some near-circles and so forth, every single thing here is an irregular shape. I’ve got formulas for circle areas and circumferences, for right triangle sides, and for rectangles, but what is the formula for Pooh’s ear?



How many pins does it take to cross the breadth of an angel? Even the angel looks a little embarrassed about being so complicated.


The most time-consuming part of this project is figuring out the shapes and closures then drawing up pattern pieces.

This was my first optimistic planning option. Pooh is not going to look like either of these. Well, maybe Pooh will–I haven’t gotten that far–but on Tigger, the head involves 5 separate pieces and the velcro is not nice and neat up the center back. The more I planned and started drawing, the more I would realize more and more pieces that cannot be sewn together; these animals will not move their arms or wiggle their ears to squeeze into their clothes.

If cats knew math, they would be more helpful when drawing up pattern pieces.

I found a great local source for every shade of burlap you could want, 60″ wide; they could have renamed “apricot” as “Pooh colored” . . . on second thought . . .

But it turned out burlap was one of the things they can only sell as 50-yard bolts, which would have amounted to about a thousand spare yards of burlap by the time I was done using everything I could possibly need AND made myself matching burlap suits to wear while assembling each finished animal.

I found two sites online that, between them, carried a good enough selection, about half of which was 60″ and half was 48″. I managed to meet both of their free-shipping-minimums, though I had to order a few yards of lining fabrics and some samples to do it on one of them.

The client had requested me to start on Tigger first. I decided to make rabbit at the same time to help me determine how much yellow would be left over from Rabbit to share with Tigger. Once I finished Rabbit’s pattern pieces and went to cut out the yellow and orange fabrics, I noticed this:

I also noticed this:

Thanks to the Atrium, I could spread out both fabrics and switch Tigger snout pieces back and forth while I debated:

Then I returned to the location to test.

Okay, so it’s my first topiary animal. Tigger’s left leg has a large wire at his foot that is not very plant-covered, but is not forgiving at all, size-wise. His head is a really weird un-circle, and I overestimated the length it would take to cover his snout liberally. A lot of people passing by really liked him, though, and several asked if I was “making it Tigger,” and their wording implied that they weren’t previously aware that it WAS Tigger.

He has slightly defined hands, and I thought I’d be so cute and put in a drawstring to give him little mitten hands.

Burlap, however, does not slide against itself easily. What it does do easily is come unraveled. Drawstring hands are going to shorten the lives of these covers by about 99%.


On to Rabbit:

I had made his stuff a lot broader, with every intention of doing most of the planning with pins on location, so that actually worked out pretty well.

Notice the XOXOXOXO fence in the background. I didn’t either, until D. pointed it out. It was interesting how many people didn’t even realize any of the characters were from Winnie the Pooh. One girl even said, “Oh, are you going to do Pooh? He’s my favorite.” “Yes, that’s him next to Tigger.” “Ohhhh!”

A lot of the the kiddie-inspired accents around the grounds were subtle, some more than I even thought they were. It was nice that someone put a lot of thought into adding background whimsy all over the place to appeal to the subconsciousnesses of people who have a lot of other things on their minds.


Two non-math-related things I learned from this fitting:

1. I have GOT to locate the rest of my pins that I keep misplacing.

2. I need to bring a stepladder next time.