Making a Tail

          If you're still new to sewing, making tails is the best practice you can get for working with fake fur. They're fun to make and wear, and with a little bit of careful observation, you can probably make any animal's tail! This tutorial covers the basic techniques of making a stuffed tail, more advanced techniques are further down this page.

Materials

 Needed Recommended
  • Needle and thread
  • Elastic or nylon webbing
  • Stuffing
  • 1 yard fake fur in the color of your choice
  • Chalk (or other non-permanent marking medium.)
  • Scissors
  • Razor knife
  • Sewing machine
  • Reference photos of your animal
  • Squeaker
  • Lighter (to melt edge of webbing)
  • Nylon stocking
  • Weighted pellets
  1. When making a tail, first decide how long you want it and buy the appropriate amount of material. You can estimate the amount by measuring from your belt line to the floor. 1 yard is 36 inches. Most tails will take about a yard of fur depending on your animal and design. 
      
  2. Make your tail pattern by folding the fur, with the backing out, nap pointing down. Just fold over however wide you'd like your tail to be. Draw with chalk the shape you want your tail to be, using the folded edge as the "top side" of your tail. Include a small tube at the base of your tail (this is where you'll stuff your tail and sew your belt loops). It can be from 2-6 inches of material before the main length and shape of your tail pattern begins. Make the tube 4-6 inches wide from the fold.
    1. Tails can be many shapes. Look at a profile picture of your chosen animal's tail, most tails can be made by referencing the animal and drawing the shape desired. 
    2. Cat tails are very easy, they are a narrow tube that is round or tapered at the end.
    3. Canine tails are quite varied, but you can usually accomplish them by making the tube section at the base, followed by a curved fuller middle section, tapering towards a rounded or pointed tip. How thick you'd like it to be is up to you.
    4. Curled tails are a little different and can be made one of two ways. This is one way (the other way is out of carved foam). Draw on your curled shape flat. You do not have to butt it up against a fold, but if possible it will reduce the amount of seams.
        
  3. Cut out your pattern using a sharp razor blade (using a razor knife to cut just the backing of the fur will reduce the amount of shedding compared to using scissors). Flip over your cut side and use the mirrored pattern to trace and cut the other side.
     
  4. Sew your pattern. First assemble any secondary color pattern pieces and sew those first. Then sew the main tail, lining up the colors. A sewing machine is recommended, but hand sewing is also possible. If using a machine, line up your pieces by the backing, and push any fur in between with your finger before running it through the machine
              Tip: Do not sew the very top (referred to as the "base"). That is where you will turn your sewn pattern pieces right sides out and stuff.
     
  5. Once sewn turn your piece right sides out. Sometimes it helps to use a broom stick if the hole is not big enough for your hand to fit. 
     
  6. Comb all the trapped fur out of the seams. Examine the shape and make note of any changes you'd like to make if you have any. If you are satisfied, you can go on to step 8.
     
  7. If your tail needs a little more shaping, or if you want to hide the seams a little more, or if you just had a little bit of excess material on the inside, you can turn it inside out again and make the changes. If you are using a sewing machine and want to further conceal your seams. Use a straight stitch and sew another line of stitches about 3-5 mm from your first seam. This really makes a difference sometimes, especially on thick or long fur! You can trim the excess seam allowance to about 1/3 inch. On the tip or tight curves you can cut notches out if the fabric puckers. Just be careful not to get too close to the stitching when notching your curves. 
    1. This is also the time you can sew in weights or other fun additions. Extra weight at the tip or bottom of the curve will help the tail wag as you move. Plastic pellets placed in a nylon sticking will work well. You can also place "surprises" like squeakers or grunters (found at pet supply stores) in the tip of the tail. Just place in a nylon stocking and sew into place along the seam allowance. 
        
  8. Once your tail is right sides out and all your fur is brushed out of the seams, its time to stuff it! I prefer using the cluster-type polyester stuffing, since it doesn't get flat and can be fluffed up easily. You don't have to use a lot of stuffing if you want a more flexible or softer tail. Or you can use more of it if you want a firmer and solidly shaped tail. You can use a tool to help you stuff if you hand does not fit, broom handles work pretty well in most cases. 
              Tip: Rolling your tail on a flat surface will help distribute the cluster stuffing if it doesn't feel evenly distributed.
     
  9. There is several ways you can close off your tail and add belt loops, You can use elastic, nylon webbing or just the fur for the belt loops. The elastic will stretch if the tail is pulled, the nylon webbing is stronger but has no stretch, melt the raw edge of your nylon webbing with a lighter to keep it from fraying. You can also attach your tail directly to your bodysuit at this time as well.
    1. Using just the fur for a belt loop, fold the top of the tail about 3 inches and sew it to itself to make a tunnel your belt can go through. This design won't work for pants with a center back belt loop, though.
    2. For "free" belt loops. Using elastic or nylon webbing, cut two sections 6 inches long. Fold each over and tuck into the top of your tail (about an inch). You can roll the edge of your fur inwards for a more professional look. Hand sew, or if your machine can sew through very thick material you can machine-stitch across. Either way, make sure this is firmly stitched. 
    3. For "hidden" belt loops. Sew two sections of 4-inch long elastic or nylon webbing into the top of your tail (rolling in the edge of fur if desired). Then take the two loose belt loops and pull them towards the underside of your tail. Fold the belt loops under about 1/2 inch and sew them on as well. This type is the more challenging way to attach belt loops, but you get the advantage of two elastic of nylon belt loops that are concealed by the fur. Great if you usually wear your shirts tucked in. Make sure that the loops are firmly stitched on in case the tail gets tugged.
       
  10. Now you have a fun and silly tail to wear around! Put it on and have a good time wearing it places!!

     

Advanced Tailmaking

          This section discusses some of the more advanced techniques for making a tail. There are many other things you can try when designing your tail, but this section features a few techniques that I've done before and have been successful with.


Using Foam

          Making a foam tail is much like sculpting a head or footpaws. You can make some very unique self-supporting shapes that are still squishy and flexible. 

Materials

 Needed

Recommended

  • Upholstery Foam

  • 1 yard fake fur in the color of your choice

  • Scissors

  • Razor knife

  • Hot glue and/or Super 77

  • Permanent marker

  • Reference photos of your animal

  • Tape (to make a tape pattern)

  • Plain fabric

  • Elastic or nylon webbing

 

  1. Start with your design or reference art and a quantity of foam. Using hot glue or Super 77 spray-adhesive, attach larger pieces to make the general shape.
     
  2. Draw/Mark the areas that will need trimmed, so you have some guidelines to follow when creating your shape. Use a razor to cut away large portions of foam, then use scissors to refine and smooth the shape. As you progress, you can add more pieces to help build up the shape and smooth out the foam until you are satisfied.
     
  3. Solid foam can get heavy. You can hollow out solid pieces to reduce the weight of the foam. Periodically "test" the tail by holding it by the base near your back while looking in the mirror to see how it sits. You may have to add to the base to get it to sit at the correct angle, or lighten it up as needed.
     
  4. Once you are done carving, its time to start making your pattern. Tape patterns work great, tails with complex colors or tight curls may need to be broken into multiple pieces to make sure the fur goes from base to tip in the correct direction. Using hot glue you can apply the fur directly to the foam, or you can sew your tail, then slip it over the foam.
     
  5. For the tail base, use fur or regular fabric to cover the part that would rest against your body. Fur tends to mat in that area, but completely covering the foam will make the tail stronger and last longer. Belt attachments can be handled a few ways. You can also sew the fur of the tail directly to the bodysuit at this time.
    1. Loops sewn into the top edge of the tail, just like a stuffed tail, can be elastic or nylon webbing. Use two or more spaced apart for greater support. Leave extra seam allowance on the fur and the webbing or elastic, to attach your loops to the fur. 
    2. A tunnel through the foam works very well to attach a belt, but the belt often needs to be worn lower for the tail to look like it is coming from your spine. Sew a plain fabric tube that your belt fits through with a little extra material at each end. Cut a tunnel about an inch in from the top and base of your tail and slip in your sewn tube. Use the excess material to fold around the opening and glue down. Glue or sew the fur to the edge to conceal where the belt enters.
  6. Now you have a bouncy foam tail that will keep its shape! Try it on and wear it around!


Delrin Rod

        Delrin rod is a special order plastic used in supporting long, bouncy tails. You need a heat gun to heat it to be able to bend it, and the technique is to heat it slowly and evenly. The type of tail that works best is a thin tail, or a foam tail, thicker stuffed tails just don't work as well as thinner tails do. It works well as an armature for a tail and its reasonably bouncy, so makes for a really fun tail to wear. It can be found at stores such as Tap Plastics, or through online websites.

          When buying or ordering Delrin rod make sure you get a complete piece, I'd ordered 5 feet of it online once and received a 4 foot segment and a 1 foot segment, and couldn't figure out a way to attach it back together so I had to work with what I got. Measure your existing tail or make a tail to fit the length of Delrin rod you acquired. You'll need about 1 foot or more of excess Delrin rod to make the base of your tail. 

  1. Equip yourself with gloves (or hot pads or oven mitts) to protect yourself from heat, and using your heat gun begin heating a segment to make the base. Using slow, even heating raise the temperature of the section you'd like to bend until it is pliable. Make your belt attachment first. There's two ways I've seen it done, the first way being the way I had made it when I made a Delrin rod tail, the second being a way I'd seen another do it, and it didn't require a belt to be attached.
    1. Start at one end of the rod, heating the rod 2-inches from the end, bend it at a right angle "down", then heat it two inches from that bend and bend it at a right angle "up". Measured how wide your belt is (about another 2 inches) and bent it "horizontal" leave that about 4 inches long. Next bend "down" from there leave another belt-width segment, and finally bend a two inch segment until the base is a square. Using zip ties, tie it with a small zip tie at the top and bottom of the first 2-inch segment where it butted up against the main tail part. You can also zip tie a center segment if you have trouble keeping it square, it also works as a way to thread your belt through. This takes up about 12 inches of Delrin rod, and the illustration below describes the design:
    2. This is a curvier attachment, that just slips into the back of your jeans to wear. The design can be credited to Legend the Griffin, and I believe I learned about the design from a class he presented at a convention I attended before. It consists of two loops and two straight pieces, the straight pieces can be attached together at the base with shrink tubing (padded with felt, so it doesn't creak when it rubs), the bottom longer piece is the remaining segment of your delrin to curve for the rest of your tail. The illustration below describes the design:
  2. Once you have your base, from there, continue heating along the length of your tail so your tail is as curvy as you want it. Just remember to heat it slowly and evenly so it doesn't overwork and stress the plastic too much when you bend it, and risk breaking when you're romping at a convention.
  3. After you have your shape, slip the fabric of your tail over the Delrin Rod, or poke it through your foam and attach it at the base by sewing or gluing around it.

Drybrushing

          Most people don't have access to an airbrush, but want the look or transition of blended colors. This can be accomplished with a technique called drybrushing. A brush is used, and regular acrylic paint is loaded onto the paintbrush with a tapping motion until it is even throughout the bristles and "dryer" than just straight wet paint. Applied onto the fur in layers, the drybrushing can blend the paint softly between colors. Use a comb or a slicker brush between layers as you paint to make sure the fur does not clump together, comb through it as it dries as well. 
  

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