Wisdom Comes Suddenly

Just Your Everyday 32 Ft. Snake Tutorial

January 9th, 2012 · 13 Comments

I’d like to introduce to you to Jakarta.  Don’t be scared…he’s made entirely out of felt, and I made him…so I can break him if he gets frisky.  Now why on earth would I make a snake of such unusual size, you might be wondering?  That story to follow, along with the oddest crafting tutorial ever written.

Every year, the Pre-K class at the girls’ school studies “Habitats” in January.  On the Zoo field trip, the kids go crazy for a gigantic replica of the largest snake ever discovered.  It was found in Indonesia in 1912; a 32 ft. 9.5 inch Reticulated Python.  But the replica is coiled, and it’s hard to get a visual of a coiled snake.  So the Pre-K teacher, last January, knowing our little Kelly would be in the next year’s Habitat Unit, asked if I would be interested in creating an uncoiled version.  WOULD I EVER?!  Hello?!  And thanks for the 12 month lead time, because I needed it.


I started by going to the Zoo and taking pictures of the replica.  It was oddly colored, so I just did my best when picking fabric.  I cut 400 inches of 12″ black strips of wool felt, divided into 4 sections.  A Reticulated Python is covered with inter-connecting organic shapes, so I made as many as my sore thumb could tolerate.  Interconnecting these bad boys would have taken another year.  I free-formed them and laid them out.  Oh.  Nope.  Boring.  Back to the fabric store:

Isn’t that far more authentic?  To recreate the free-formed shapes in grey, I first traced their yellow counterparts onto the dull side of freezer paper:

I’m not sure if you can see a faint tracing on the right, but tracing is pretty Elementary 101, so you get the idea.  Next I ironed the shiny side down onto the grey wool felt:

With just an average heat, it will stick right onto your fabric.  In case you weren’t aware, wool felt can be bought on bolts at fabric stores, not just in those 30 cent sheets.  Those are mostly polyester, so the wool felt on bolts is a much higher quality, far more durable, and much easier to use.

Your tracing is now staring right at you.  Just cut into the form, giving a nice border around the edge for the yellow to show, and cut away, kind of tracing the original shape with your scissors, inside the lines.  I like the word “organic”.  It’s a nice way of saying, “I don’t like to measure things”.  It’s like when my dinners turn out messy; I say they are “rustic”.  Organic and Rustic…nice ways of saying “I’m winging it folks”.

The next step is to applique the grey onto the yellow, and then the full shapes onto the black strips.  DO NOT applique the yellow on first.  Then you’ll have to maneuver those 100″ strips through your machine twice.  In total, I think I appliqued something like 36 pieces.  Oh-so-boring!  I think I can hear the chunk-chunk-chunk of my applique setting in my sleep.  But there is just nothing cuter than applique.  Smarty Sara asked why I wasn’t just hot-gluing them down (she gets that from her Father)?  Because in a class full of 4 and 5 year olds?  That would last about 10 minutes.  STURDY girls.  We go for S-T-U-R-D-Y.

I’ve been asked how much fabric did this take?  Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t measure.  Which is WHY you can see my leftover pile would probably be enough to make a 2nd snake!  I bought the fabric months ago, and I’m guessing I bought 6 yards of black?  Maybe 2 yards of yellow and grey?  Black felt is dirt cheap in the summer months, and all in all, this was one inexpensive project.

So that brings us to my Opus…the head.  I knew I’d have to free hand the picture I had created in my head, and I’m embarrassed to even publish my sketch.  Not because it’s horrible, but because it’s so ridiculously sexual, to be quite frank, that it’s damn near Rated R:

If this picture doesn’t conjure up any images for you…you’ve lost your sex drive.  I’m just sayin’.  The curves on the edges were additional pieces I decided to make out of grey, because I knew I’d be using black eyes.  Black eyes on black felt?  What’s the point?

Using the same freezer paper method (for the grey sections as well), it came out looking like this (the bottom half is all black, and lying beneath the head):

Oops…glaring problem.  I know you know what’s wrong.  It doesn’t take an experienced Crafter to see the error with my snake head:

It was boring.  Fatal mistake in ginormous snake making, everyone knows this.  One more applique never killed anyone…yep…much better.

Right sides together, sew the head underbelly to the top, leaving the mouth open, and it looks like this:

You may notice the extra grey pieces that appeared on the neck.  The neck was originally 12 inches around, to match the circumference of the snake.  About this time, Greg got involved.  When does he appear in my crazy projects?  About the exact time I yell downstairs, “GREG!  I’m stuck and I need your help!  Will you help me please?!”  When he joins the team, things change, but always for the better.  But I warn you: once he joins my team, he’s with me to the finish line.  My projects are like car wrecks: he simply can’t look away. He decided that a snake with a 12″ circumference would be way too small.  What?!  Then he rattled off something about Geometry, Radius…BLAH BLAH BLAH…more math….Blip and Blah.  He saw my mind wandering, as I desperately tried to recall anything from High School Geometry.  My teacher was really skinny, and unassuming as a person, really.  Until the day Dania had a Grand Mal seizure, right in the middle of a lecture on vectors!  He DASHED across the room, screaming the name of the fastest cross country runner in the class to get the nurse, cleared desks away using all of his available limbs, and THEN! She turned purple and stopped breathing.  He immediately started CPR, and thank God our school shared a yard with the hospital, because they had her in the ER in minutes.  Where she came to, and went on to live a normal and healthy life. THAT is what I remember from Geometry.  My nameless, dark-haired teacher was a hero, and there were numbers and shapes in a book I carried around for a year. But I digress.

Greg decided my snake should have a black underbelly, which now created the need for side seams and a pull through, which with 32 feet of fabric, I was far too squeamish to try.  He convinced me his plan would work.  I went about cutting 400″ inches of 10″ strips.  How is that leftover pile of fabric looking now?  Measuring is for suckers. With a new circumference, my head originally cut to 12″ needed about 10″ additional inches.  So I created the grey flanking pieces and added them to the neck.  I just threw the head down on freezer paper, drew in the missing pieces, cut them, did the whole ironing thing, and they slid right into place. Attaching the head was a neat trick.  The whole thing has to be inside out, pin the right sides together, and we worked it through the machine a few inches at a time.  I was really uncomfortable not being able to feed the body under and around my sewing machine base, but let’s face it…that wasn’t going to fit (special note: I was attaching the head to ONLY the first strip of black. AFTER attaching the head, you can attach the first strip the remaining 3, otherwise, you’ll be attaching a head to 400″…a much harder task.)  I had to hold the seam out and just be super careful not to catch any fabric as we gently attached the head:

With the head now attached to the body, I realized, this snake needs a tongue.  If you deliver a snake WITHOUT a tongue to 4 year olds?  Forget it; you’ve alienated your core constituency:

I used red felt, and just sewed it to the bottom.  No one is going to see black thread against black felt on the underside of a 32 ft snake.  I then sewed up the head, because apparently, we were going to attempt a pull through.  I started to sweat.  Greg then tied a climbing rope to Jakarta’s head, and we turned the right sides together, with the climbing rope stretching the entire length of the body and exiting at the open tail.  Now, the entire snake was inside out. I sewed up the sides (again, inside out, right sides together), which probably took no more than an hour, but sewing 800 inches of black felt together felt like an eternity.  How much thread?  Over 500 yards…there…I measured something.

Here is a picture of poor Jakarta’s head, being prepared for the pull-through.

With only the tail open, and the snake still inside out, with the sides sewn together, we stretched him out and with the end of the climbing rope sticking out through the tail (with the top of the rope tied to his head), I gently started pulling.  Greg was right.  It was as easy as pulling silk (see him smiling?  That’s his “I told you so” face):

I still can’t believe that worked.  Now with a fully right-side out snake, we were onto the crazy cool part: we had to stuff this bad boy.  Let the stuffing party begin!  I ripped a few inches on a side seam about every 8 feet or so.  Kelly’s teacher had done a great job of collecting stuffing over the summer, and I had a few bags too.  He’s stuffed with probably 6 different kinds of stuffing.  All in all, we probably used 6 or 7 bags.  I wanted to overstuff him, but Greg pointed out, oh so cleverly, that if he couldn’t coil, he would be impossible to store.  Ah…yes.  Practicality.  I didn’t get that gene. My cheerleaders took a break from their massive play-fest to help:

How I love my helpers.  You can see their pile of “please fix its”, waiting patiently in a bucket in the background.  Fixing toys and taking in pants and skirts is practically a full time job at our house.  Oh well, busy hands keeps me out of trouble.  Here is a picture of the stuffing holes:

NOW, if I were a “real” seamstress, I would have whip-stitched those holes together with a hidden stitch done by hand.  I fixed a tiny hole elsewhere on the snake with that method, and it looked amazing.  And would have taken me forever.  A) I’m terrible at hand work, and B) I have a bad thumb joint from overuse.  Go figure.  Those holes were going on the machine, ugly seams or not.  Plus…STURDY.  Remember…young children…gigantic stuffed animal.  This guy is going to see some hugs.  And pouncing.

Getting a fully stuffed snake on my machine was a neat trick.  I had to sew him standing up, making ugly straight seams much uglier, but at this point, I was sprinting for the finish line, not pulling out sewing manuals.  I tucked and pinned the tail and straight stitched it shut as well.  Those seams actually worked out better, because they gave the tail a bit of shape, as opposed to looking like a pillow.  Wait…ORGANIC shape…let’s be clear.

One quick session with my lint brush, and voila!  Jakarta was ready for action.

As it turns out, 32 feet 9.5 inches is pretty long!  You see?  We asked the question, and NOW WE KNOW.  IT’S LONG.  We fit most of him inside a lawn and leaf bag and carried him into school this morning.  Within 30 seconds of his unraveling, I turned around and watched 12 kids descend upon him like Christmas had come again.  Screams!  Squeals!  Cameras flashing!  Yes…I knew it.  They loved him too.  How could you not love the world’s largest snake?  What’s more lovable than an Indonesian Reticulated Python?  Not much my friends…not much.

Tags: The Girls

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amie S // Jan 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Holy hell…..you are good.

  • 2 Karin W // Jan 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    We match geometry teachers (although I remember mine’s name)! – our (er – wasn’t Greg in my class? I don’t remember anymore but he’ll know who I’m talking about) geometry teacher was heavyset, had foot problems that caused her to wear Birkenstocks at our very conservative Catholic school with an otherwise close-toed shoe policy and belonged to a fanatic Catholic group for those with Charismatic gifts (these are very specific “gifts”, not charismatic=charming). She was much more likely to “lay hands” on you and make you pass out due to influx of the Holy Spirit than to clear a room and perform CPR on a kid (I do have a similar, although significantly less heroic on the part of the teacher, story from my Christian Lifestyles class involving a classmate having a seizure – I don’t think Greg was in that class with me – left me with a very poor impression of that teacher that was never overturned).

    Great job on the snake!! I was thinking that I’d never undertake something so massive (I don’t have the space – oh-so-jealous of your craft/sewing room) – plus it would probably come out +/- several inches which would irritate me to no end!

  • 3 Lisa @ What were we thinking? // Jan 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    That is one fantastic snake. Looks good as a scarf too.

  • 4 The farmers wife // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I love it! And the Lilly shirt makes it even better. Maybe the snake will eat the mean people that work there. 🙂 jk

  • 5 Pre-K Teacher // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Lori, you are awesome! Jakarta is a phenomenal addition to our class. He even has his own Cat in the Hat name tag. The middle school students (some former Pre-K’ers), that popped in the room this afternoon, fell in love with Jakarta as fast as Pre-K. Jakarta is scheduled for another photo session in the morning, then we will send you a few pics.

    I’m not sure who had the most fun with this project, you creating, Greg fixing, or the girls stuffing. Always remember you are one blessed Momma (and wife). I am a twice blessed teacher having your family as a part of our class.

  • 6 Jennie // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    You are the coolest mom around!!!!!!

  • 7 Pam Lewis // Jan 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    All I can say is… WOW!!!!!

  • 8 Chris Moon // Jan 10, 2012 at 8:04 am

    <> <> <>
    Bravo!!! Bravo!!
    Well done!

  • 9 Chris Moon // Jan 10, 2012 at 8:04 am

    (those little diamonds in my post above is applause!)

  • 10 Vbhusky // Jan 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    This is just such a fantabulous snake! I am so impressed! My daughter ran out of her classroom and pulled me inside to show me the COOLEST THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD!!!!!! She said there was no way to top Monday at school this week – it was all down hill from here.

  • 11 The Momma // Jan 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks everyone! I know it’s rather Hoosier of me to quote Vonnegut, but “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” I love fantastically crazy crafting ideas!

  • 12 Doug // Jan 10, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Whoa. Wait. Is Greg wearing an Excel Guru shirt? Where do I get one?!

  • 13 Mariam Khan // Jan 18, 2012 at 11:51 am

    WOW! Lori that is amazing, standing ovation for you! 🙂