Sew a Soft Sculpture Inspired by Nick Cave’s Soundsuits
So, what is a soft sculpture? A soft sculpture is a 3D form that is made from soft materials like cloth, foam, paper, or other flexible materials. Soft sculptures can range from fine art pieces in exhibitions to comforting toys.
Get inspired to design and hand sew your own soft sculpture with this lesson inspired by a series of sculptures called Soundsuits by fabric sculptor, performance artist, educator, and dancer Nick Cave.
About the Artist:
Nick Cave began working with fabric at a young age by manipulating hand-me-down clothing from his older siblings. His work is inspired by an array of things, from the experience of being Black in America, to African art traditions, to haute-couture fashion. Cave has created over 500 Soundsuits since he created his first one in 1992. The Soundsuits serve as a sort of armor that distorts the wearer’s figure and hides their identity.
“The Soundsuits hide gender, race, class and they force you to look at the work without judgment.”
• Paper & drawing utensil
• Fabric – Use something from home like an old dress shirt or linens. Choose fabric without much stretch because sewing on stretchy fabric can be challenging. If purchasing fabric, choose something cotton, as cotton is easily drawn and painted on.
• Polyester fiber fill – Alternatives include cotton batting, stuffing from an old pillow, rice.
• Needle & thread
• Straight pins
• Skewer or chopstick for filling
• Strong glue – Elmer’s Glue-All, Alene’s Tacky Glue, or fabric glue
• Embellishments (See optional supplies)
• Fabric markers/Sharpies
• Acrylic paints
• Embroidery thread
• Beads & bells
• Sequins & gems
• Pom poms
• Sewing machine
1. Plan your design and pattern.
Sketch out what you want your sculpture to look like, and then draw a pattern for your design. To create a sewing pattern, draw and cut out each piece of your sculpture onto any type of paper or cardboard. Then trace the cut pieces of your pattern onto the fabric to guide you in cutting your fabric. Keep in mind that this is a sculpture not an item of clothing, so you’re pieces of fabric don’t need to be perfectly symmetrical. You can even try to freehand draw the pieces of your pattern onto your fabric.
This simple, 4-piece Soundsuit pattern includes a front side, a matching back side, and two identical legs. Make the leg pieces twice as thick and a few inches longer than desired. Each leg will be folded in half and sewn together to create a cylinder shape when filled. The extra length at the upper end of each leg will be sewn inside of the body.
Tip: Limit the pattern to simple shapes. Details will be lost when pieces are sewn together. Also, make your pattern an inch larger than you want your sculpture because you will lose some of the size.
2. Cut the pieces of your pattern out of your fabric and pin together pieces where you will be sewing.
Mark a line along the edge to help guide where to sew.
3. Use a running stitch to sew together pinned pieces about a ¼ inch away from the edge.
A running stitch is when the needle and thread pass over and under. Keep the stitches tight to strengthen the bond between the two pieces, and carefully remove pins as you go. Leave the bottom edge of the body and the top of each leg open to fill.
4. Turn the stitched pieces inside out to hide the raw edges of the fabric and create a cleaner look.
Skip this step if you prefer to see the edges.
5. Fill the legs with stuffing.
Use a skewer, chopstick, or long handled utensil to help pack filling and reach small areas like the toes. After the legs are filled, halfway fill the body with stuffing, and then position legs inside the body before you finish filling the body. Be sure to leave enough space so that the bottom edge of the body can be stitched closed with the legs inside.
6. Pin the bottom edge closed and using a running stitch to stitch close the body.
This completes the structure of the soft sculpture.
7. To finish the sculpture, add embellishments and surface design.
This is your opportunity to personalize your sculpture. Use markers, paint, found objects, and fiber materials to strengthen your Soundsuit ‘s appearance.
Begin with markers and paints if you want to add color and pattern to the fabric. Once that dries, add the three-dimensional decorations using different embroidery techniques and glue.
Ideas for surface design:
• Couching using a chunky yarn. Couching is a type of embroidery where thread is laid down on the surface and then stitched over with small stitches to hold it in place. A thicker yarn makes the process go faster and gives the sculpture a plush feel.
• Thread long pieces of twine through the sculpture and then tie beads to the end. This makes a great clacking sound when the beads knock against each other.
• Glue sequins or any other small objects to the surface.
Challenge: Create your own pattern to sew. Think of ways to add more pieces and dimensions to the sculpture.
Simplify: Fill a sock with stuffing and sew it closed. Add embellishments to the outside.
There is so much to look at and learn about Nick Cave and his hundreds of Soundsuits. Check out the resources below to learn more about Nick Cave and his work:
This idea brought to you by Zoe Whiteside