I've had a lot of interest lately in weighted stuffed animals so I wanted to compile a bit of information on them.
What is a Weighted Stuffed Animal?
Like the name implies, a weighted stuffed animal is a stuffed animal with weight added to it. This can be achieved by filling the plush with any type of weighted filling like rice, plastic pellets, glass beads, and so on.
What's the Purpose of a Weighted Stuffed Animal?
Think about how it feels to get a really good hug, a massage, or even just a comforting hand pressed on your shoulder. It's calming and soothing and generally just feels good. Weighted objects are thought to stimulate that same sort of good feeling. Weighted blankets are what most people are familiar with and weighted stuffed animals are used similarly and are usually placed in the lap to help someone calm down. Think of it like the weight of having a cat in your lap.
Officially this is known as deep touch pressure therapy (DTP) and is often used as a calming tool for individuals who struggle to relax on their own such as people with anxiety, ADHD, or those on the autism spectrum.
It can also feel nice and soothing to squish the plush and feel the pellets or other weighted material move around inside the plush sort of like how you might play with a stress ball.
Are They Safe?
I'm not a doctor so I can't give you any official medical advice. But generally weighted objects aren't recommended for children under the age of 2 or for those with heart or breathing problems. My personal recommendation is to not give a weighted object to anyone who won't be able to lift it without assistance or anyone who may consume the filling.
You should always do your own research and bring any questions you might have about a products safety to your own doctor.
How Do You Make a Weighted Stuffed Animal?
To be very basic about it, you make a normal stuffed animal and you fill it with weighted fillings.
Think of beanie babies where the entire body cavity is basically just a bean bag. This is one option for weighted plushies and any type of stuffed animal pattern that is designed to be floppy will work well with this method. This is best when stuffing isn't needed for the plush to hold its shape. A good pattern of mine to use for this method would be my Fox and Cat Sewing Pattern which has a body designed to be filled with pellets. Enlarging this pattern would be perfect for a weighted plush to sit on the lap.
Another option for weighted plushies is to stuff a plush like you normally would, but leave space in the body cavity. In that space, insert a sewn beanbag filled with weighted material to add weight. (Socks can be great for making your own beanbags!). This would be a great option for my narwhal, crow, or penguin pattern for example. Each of these patterns requires stuffing to hold their shape, but have large body cavities.
A third option would be to make it more like people make weighted blankets by creating pouches inside the stuffed animal and filling those pouches with weighted materials or creating little beanbags of filling and attaching them at different points inside the body. Then you fill in the extra space with stuffing. It's a bit more complicated, but this is helpful when the plush is a more complex shape. For example, many people have shown interest in creating a weighted shoulder dragon and this is the technique I would personally use, attaching beanbags of weighted pellets along the belly of the dragon. Otherwise the weighted materials will all roll right down into the lowest points of the dragon, leaving the top flat.
Some Things to Consider:
Whatever weights you fill your plush with are going to want to roll and settle into the lowest point because of gravity so you'll want to take that into account when you are planning how to approach your plush.
Weighted plushies are going to be under more stress than a regular plush. You'll want to make sure all the seams are reinforced and the fabric is thick and durable. You may want to consider ironing on interfacing to the back of the fabric for more durability.
You don't want to stuff it too full of weighted materials or the plush will be more like a rock on someone's lap vs. a plush that will mold to the curves of their body.
What Sort of Weights Are There?
I tend to recommend 3 main materials to create a weighted stuffed animal.
1. Plastic Pellets
2. Glass Beads
3. Round Stainless Steel Shot
They're in order from lightest to heaviest. I recommend these because they are easily available, are resistant to damage by water so they can be washed, are generally non-toxic (though always check before purchasing), and they're small enough that if the item breaks open they shouldn't be a choking hazard. Though, of course, you should always want to regularly check over the seams of your plushies, supervise children with use, and remove any item once it becomes unsafe.
Other fillings I've heard of include clean rocks like aquarium rocks, glass marbles, and sand. These will work, but I find them to be less than ideal. Larger marbles and rocks could be a choking hazard. Rocks could also have sharp or rough edges which may cut your plush or harm a child if accidentally swallowed. Sand on the other hand can leak through at the seams or even between the weave of the fabric itself, especially after your plush has been stretched out a bit from use, making these holes wider.
I do not recommend any food item or any material that could rot, rust, stain, etc. I've seen lists of recommendations that include rice, popcorn, dried beans/corn/peas/lentils/etc, and even kitty litter. All of these are poor choices and won't be safe to wash without potentially ruining your plush and may even be ruined just from the moisture in the air or a spilled drink. Food items can also attract bugs and rodents.
Where Can You Buy Weighted Filler?
I buy my both my plastic and glass pellets from CRCrafts or just from searching on Amazon. Fairfield sells plastic pellets under the name brand Poly-Pellets which can be found at most major craft stores. If anyone has any other sources, I'd welcome them in the comments!
How Heavy Should a Weighted Plush Be?
This is up to personal preference, but for safety it shouldn't be so heavy that the person can't pick it up on their own in case they need to get out from under it. 2-5lbs seems to be the range I see most commonly. You'll have to experiment to find what works for you.
Here's a few suggestions for ways to make plushies extra soothing that I've heard suggested.
Add crinkle material. This is great for flat areas like wings or the fins of fish. To do this simply sew in a layer of material that will make a noise when wrinkled. The most common suggestion I've seen for this is a clean plastic bag.
Use textured material or mix up a variety of textures. Soft minky is a huge favorite, especially the embossed dot minky with the raised bumps which can feel nice to pet. Reversible sequins is another popular option. (Let's be honest, have you ever been able to walk away from a reversible sequin pillow in the store without flipping the sequins back and forth at least a few times?)
Add ribbons, lace, etc. It can be soothing to shake a plush back and forth and see these move. People also seem to love the feel of rubbing a satin ribbon and they can be sewn in loops like tags.
Add smell. Some people like to add scents to their plushies. Put a few drops of essential oil onto a cotton ball or makeup remover pad and tuck it inside the stuffing of your plush. It should last for quite awhile, but you may need to open your plush back up and replace it every now and then.
That's all the advice I can think of for now! As I said, I'm not a doctor, nor do I regularly make weighted stuffed animals, but I wanted to help out people who do wish to do so using my patterns.
If you've got any other advice to add, I'd welcome it in the comments below!
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Thanks so much for all the thoughts and suggestions. I received some Poly-Pellets but have not yet figured out what to do with them. I’m not sure how the plastic bag would make the wings crinkly.