Thursday, January 9, 2014

Natural Fiberfill Comparisons - Part Three: Washability

Eight little dolls were filled with natural fiberfill: bamboo rayon, corn PLA, organic cotton, eucalyptus tercel, hemp, kapok, uncarded wool tops, and carded wool fleece. In my last post, I outlined what each one was like to use and what the material looked and felt like. But how would these fare in the laundry room?

Part One: Costs & Sources
Part Two: Ease of Use

I raised two kids who owned at least a dozen quality polyester fiberfill stuffed dolls that bunched and matted and got all clumpy and uneven after machine washing. So it's not true that plastic polyester fiberfill is the toy stuffing that dreams are made of.

Is the problem in the stuffing or in what we expect from products that were never intended to be soaked through and through,  roughly agitated, and then overheated? Well, in my opinion, the toy is going to lose the washer/dryer battle in most cases regardless of what kind of toy stuffing is used.

But just for giggles, I threw all eight little dollies into the washing machine with stinky synthetic liquid laundry detergent (SSLLD). I don't use SSLLD. I use grated Ivory soap and washing soda mixed together. But since wool shouldn't be washed in either washing soda or borax and because you probably don't make your own homemade laundry powder, I used a little bit of my housemate's SSLLD.

The dolls were washed in cold water in a top loader with a central agitator on a short but normal cycle. I don't own a dryer so I took the washed dolls directly to a local laundromat to dry them. The dolls were dried for 30 minutes on high heat. I have compared the overall results of washability to the end result of washing and drying a polyester fiberfill stuffed doll. 

Here's what happened:

I only had a large handful of this stuffing to work with. I filled the arms, legs, and head completely, but the body was super lightly stuffed. After washing and drying, it has just gone all wrong. It didn't dry completely and 10 hours later is sitting on the table still slightly damp. Overall - inadequate testing.

One day later, this doll is still wet. The hemp stuffing has shifted and bunched and if you squeeze the doll, it feels as though it has plasticine inside. And it has a moldy smell when wet or damp. Overall not recommended.

I think this stuff would be brilliant in a craft not likely to be thrown in the washer, like pincushions or doll furniture. It has a quality of being a good solid, old-fashioned stuffing. It would be a great product for a doll's faux horsehair filled sofa for example.

Corn PLA feels like bunches of very soft, fluffy steel wool right out of the bag. It's next to impossible to stuff the doll due to its slippery, oily nature. It's very difficult to work with. But it fills the toy really well and creates an almost seamless quality leaving very little puckering of the outer fabric shell. It washed and dried almost perfectly. The only problems seem to be that 1) the stuffing in the arms separated from the rest of the body so the arms are slack where they jut out from the body and 2) even when completely dry, the doll feels cold to the touch, much like linen fabric. It's cold! I'm not sure I want to give a child a cold toy to cuddle. Overall great washability - except for that armpits thing.

And remember that whole stinky synthetic liquid laundry detergent thing? This is the ONLY doll that smells of the detergent. The fragrance has clung to the corn like cat hair to a black skirt.

This washed and dried doll is brilliant! It retained its shape and looks great. The only drawback for some people might be its squishability because cotton is not a springy fiber. It's not hard as a rock or anything, just not as bouncy as what we normally think of when we use fiberfill. It's one of the two dolls whose stuffing didn't shift completely out of the neck and armpits. Overall great washability.

After washing and drying, this doll feels a bit slack in my hands. It has that cold quality, like the corn, even when dry though not nearly as frigid as the corn. If you squeeze the doll, the stuffing shifts inside. This was my favorite stuffing to use, but not my favorite results for washability. This doll came out closest to what happens when I have washed a polyester fiberfill doll. It goes slack due to bunching and shifting of the filling. Overall average washability.

This doll came out as lovely as the doll filled with cotton but the difference is in the texture of the fill. It's more bouncy and lighter than cotton. It has retained its shape and looks and feels wonderful. The stuffing shifted out of one of the armpits but was retained in the other which leads me to believe, it was how I stuffed the doll. Overall great washability.

Surprise!! This stuff started out looking and feeling like dreadlocks, remember? This doll looks and feels better after washing and drying than it did before. It's as if washing and drying has melded all the wool fibers together. It's full and well-shaped and has a warm, squeezable quality and the stuffing stayed in the neck and armpits. Wool warms to the touch so it feels more alive and comforting than other stuffing. Frankly I'm shocked!  Overall good washability.

While wool tops did beautifully, sadly, fleece does not wash and dry as well. It did much better than I expected though. Wool can be thrown in the washer and dryer, although it will lose much of its lanolin and it might shrink if you don't know what you're doing. These dolls were washed in cold after all which is 1) recommended for wool and 2) the only temperature we have hooked up to our washing machine. But it feels like it has indeed shrunk a bit within the doll shell. It's not terrible. It's not a doll I would throw away if that happened by accident. It has similar qualities to the eucalyptus and to my own polyester fiberfill results. It's just not the best result for automatic washing machines and dryers. Overall average washability.


  • Corn PLA, cotton, and kapok out-performed plastic fiberfill in washability.
  • Wool tops came in next. 
  • Wool fleece and eucalyptus looked just like dolls stuffed with plastic fiberfill and washed: not so good but no worse.


SPOT CLEAN YOUR TOYS. That's my best advice. The dolls filled with fleece, cotton, kapok, eucalyptus, and corn looked great after stuffing. If they are spot cleaned, I would recommend all of those for look and feel of the finished doll.

But if you are going to throw them in the washer/dryer, corn, cotton, and kapok (and maybe even the wool tops) look and feel better than similarly cleaned polyester fiberfill toys.


Thanks so much for sticking with these posts. It's been great fun to play with new fibers and see how they perform against the toxic poop of the oil industry: plastic polyester fiberfill. And yes, I will keep saying it with that bias because that's what it is. Waiter: reality check, please!

I have to thank Amanda Lerum of Corsetra Designs for sending me a handful of the bamboo stuffing just for fun. It was really lovely, but unfortunately, I didn't have enough to really test it for washability.

And many many thanks to Melissa of EcoFilling for the samples of the different natural fills she sells. She doesn't normally sell those smaller quantities and took the time to sort out and send 100gm quantities for me to test. I hope you'll avail yourselves of her business. It's small and mom-run and provides products that can't be found anywhere else.

Stay tuned. And please share your results in the comments if you use a natural doll and toy stuffing. We'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Natural Fiberfill Comparisons - Part Two: Ease of Use

Welcome to Part Two of the natural fiberfill comparison results.

If you haven't read part One: Costs & Sources click here.

I made eight simple cloth dolls from calico (US unbleached muslin) and filled them with 7 different stuffing materials (and two different grades of wool). Only those with an appreciable smell gets mention of odor. I began with 100 gm (3.5 oz.) of each fill except bamboo and the wool fleece which I grabbed from my own stock.

NOTE: When I speak of balling, clumping, or bunching while stuffing, I mean that as the fill is pushed into arms, head, or legs, it tends to pull together into a hard clump and as more fill is added, it merely sits behind the ball rather than meld with the fill already in the doll.

The dolls are identical. They are all 10" (25.5cm) tall and the hips are 3 1/4" (9.5cm) wide. The arms are 1 1/4" (3cm) wide mid-arm. All the dolls were stuffed to be about 1 1/2" (4cm) deep at the belly when stuffed. The exceptions are the bamboo because I had a very small amount to play with and the corn PLA which expanded to 2" (5cm).

These are my experiences with each one:

BAMBOO (Rayon)
Texture: soft and delicious
Sound: It squeaks when squished and kneaded.
Fiber length: medium
Ease of use: Easy to stuff with fingers or tool. Has some tendency to ball lightly as it is being pushed in but less than other fills. I was limited to a small amount of this fill and it did not fill the doll completely. The arms and legs and head were firmly filled, but the body is only loosely filled.
Amount of stuffing used: Started with just a good handful so I don't know how much I used. It was not enough to fill the doll.

NOTE: Bamboo habitats serve endangered species of animals. Be sure to question your sources to ensure ethical harvesting.

Texture: Feels most like plastic fiberfill. In fact, it feels more plastic than real plastic. Has an oily texture and leaves a thin oily residue on skin. Fluffy and bouncy. Bounces back when compressed. Feels like tiny balls of fill when pulled apart, similar to wool bolus, but immediately bonds to itself and magically melds together magically without feeling like dozens of tiny bits.
Fiber length: Fibers are somewhat short.
Ease of use: This was the most cumbersome fill to use. Its slippery nature made it frustrating as my fingers and tools would just slide by the stuffing as I was trying to push it into place. It has this magical quality of melding together seamlessly avoiding nearly all clumping or balling, and it expands really well, filling the area well. But I nearly lost the will to live trying to get that little doll stuffed. The neck is a bit unstuffed as it was so difficult to get purchase on the fill to help fill it out and connect it to the body. The stuffed doll feels lovely, however, and if you want a doll that feels like a lightweight but well-stuffed plastic fiber doll, this is the one to use. This stuffing created the most depth to the doll as it expands after filling. If you have the patience, or maybe latex gloves, go for it.
Amount of stuffing used: 55gm (1.94 ounces)

NOTE: Some corn PLA fills are made from genetically modified corn and some is not. Nature-Fil and Mountain Mist use GMO corn. Innergreen uses non-GMO corn.

Texture: Cotton just feels wonderful to me. It's soft but dense unlike plastic or corn fills.
Smell: Very lightly fresh, like old fashioned linens dried in the sunshine.
Fiber length: short to medium
Ease of use: Cotton fills completely and solidly. Fills small bits and tubes well. Able to use tool to catch bits to shove into neck and armpits to create a solid feel and no sagging. Took no time at all to stuff the doll. Doll feels more solid than most other fills.
Amount of stuffing used: 65gm (2.29 ounces)

Texture: Soft as a cloud. You'll want a roomful just to throw yourself into.
Fiber length: Long fibers
Ease of use: Very pleasant to use. Stuffs easily without balling, bunching, or clumping. Fills neck and armpits well and seamlessly. I was hesitant that the long fibers would fold and create hard balls and clumps. It's softer than anything I've ever felt. But it stuffed well and was my personal favorite for ease of use and overall lightweight quality. Very clean product. Lovely to work with.
Amount of stuffing used: 70gm (2.47 ounces)

NOTE: Eucalyptus habitats serve endangered species. Be sure to question your sources to ensure ethical harvesting.

Texture: Take hemp string. Cut it into millions of 3-5cm/ 1-2 inch pieces. It feels like a cross between unbleached paper hairs and rope hairs.
Fiber length: short
Ease of use: This is terrible stuff for toys. Sawdusty. Must be stuffed a little bit at a time. Stuffs unevenly and feels like a series of (hair thin) straw clumps. Difficult to get it to fill small areas like the thumb of the hands. Does not bounce back when the doll is squeezed.
Amount of stuffing used: 70gm (2.47 ounces)

Texture: Soft, silky, and delicious to the touch.
Fiber length: medium to long
Ease of use: I was warned that you should wear a mask when filling a toy as the fibers become airborne in a heartbeat and make a mess of the room. I would cut that warning in half and say that grabbing it from the bag and stuffing the doll made some little bit of mess and yes, fibers were seen floating about now and then, and yes, it stuck to my jeans a bit and had to be lint brushed off, but it wasn't at all the exploding nightmare I thought it would be. It's a joy to use, except for the lint brush clean-up. It feels great in the hands, very soft. Stuffs mildly unevenly with a very little bit of balling and clumping next to some more lightly stuffed areas.
Amount of stuffing used: 60gm (2.12 ounces)

Texture: Like dreadlocks. Matted bunches of hair.
Smell: like sheep but only when shoved up to my face
Fiber length: long
Ease of use: Basically, you are stuffing the doll with lumps of matted hair. Must stuff small bits at a time or it lumps and clumps and hardens into small balls terribly. Does not feel like fiberfill; neither silky nor uniform. Hard to pull apart bits. I have no idea what this is used for normally. UPDATE: Melissa of explained this organic wool is mainly used in pet bedding.
Amount of stuffing used: 60gm (2.12 ounces)

Texture: Bouncy and soft, but not silky.
Smell: like sheep but only if shoved up to my face
Fiber length: medium long
Ease of use: I have used this stuffing for many years and I will continue to use it although I am moved to try out the eucalyptus in my next doll. This stuff is easy to pull apart. It shreds beautifully and creates a very soft bunch in the hands to stuff with. Pushes easily with fingers or tool and a tool will grab bits to stuff necks and armpits to create solid and seamless stuffing. The main problem with wool fleece is learning how to not shove more and more in and creating clumps and a hard doll rather than a seamless stuffing in a lightweight doll. It's not difficult, but it is a bit of a learning curve. Luckily, because it has more heft than most stuffings, it will stay in place and you can pull it this way and that, in effect shredding it inside the doll to open the fibers and soften the stuffing. I love the way a wool stuffed doll feels as wool warms in the hands creating a life-like feel between the child and the doll.
Amount of stuffing used: I grabbed a hank from my stash from Morningstar Crafts so I don't know how much I used.

NEXT: Part Three: Washability

You'll be amazed at the results! The results of washing alone surprised me. Add the dryer and....well, you've just gotta come back. Safe to say, the results were NOT what I expected at all.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Natural Fiberfill Comparison Results - Part One: Costs and Sources

As promised, I have made a number of test dolls each stuffed with a different natural plant or animal stuffing and have been putting them through several tests for ease of use, feel of the doll, weight, and washability.

This is the first of a three part comparison of the stuffings.

Part One - Costs and Sources
Part Two - Texture/ Ease of Use
Part Three - Washability

In 1965, Victor Danberg filed for US patent for a stuffed toy filled with polyester fiberfill. He made claims about its washability and lightweight durability. At this time many stuffed toys were filled with kapok which according to the file tended to mildew. Mr. Danberg also compares the plastic fiber to other natural fills which tend to absorb wash water and remain wet for a long period after washing.

Space age, clean and sterile, plentiful, factory produced: these were highly regarded qualities born of the post-war boom years. With a growing middle class came a growing household appliance industry. Automatic clothes washing machines were more the norm than the luxury although it took automatic driers longer to become a household standard. The toxicity of plastics manufacturing was not yet known. And the toxicity of their use was not considered.

These days, consumers are better informed. We are well-aware of the toxicity of plastics, both in their manufacture and in their use. Polyester fiberfill, while considered inert in its final form, is registered with the US Toxic Substances Control Act for, although it is considered unlikely to be inhaled or ingested, inhalation and ingestion are not without serious health risks which are clearly stated in that registry.

Natural craft stuffings tend to be more expensive than plastic fiberfill. In many cases, however, less stuffing can be used per item bringing the final cost of use closer than expected. 

The list below is not exhaustive. If you know of sources for natural fills, please leave the information in the comments below or email me and I will add the source to the list.

Where to buy natural fiberfill:

(when based in the US, listed in US$. When based in Australia, listed in AU$)

     Based in the US -
     Hancock's: Nature-Fil 12 oz. $15 (current special at $6.74)
     Based in the US -
     Amazon: Mountain Mist 12 oz. 12.83/ 3 lbs. $29  GMO product
     Fairfield: Nature-Fil 12 oz. $13  GMO product
     Based in AU - 
     Innergreen: Corn Toy Fill 5 kg $95./ 10 kg $150 Non-GMO product Corn Fibre Fill 500 gm $20/ 1 kg $40 Non-GMO product
     Based in the US - Organic cotton fill $11.40 per lb.
     NearSea Naturals: $10.48 1.88 lbs.
     Based in AU - Organic cotton fill $17.50 500 gm/ $35 1 kg
     Based in UK:
     Mohair Bear Making Supplies: 200 gm 3 pounds/ 500 gm 4 pounds/ 1 kg 7.42/ 2 kg 12 pounds
     Based in AU - Eucalyptus toy fill $20 500 gm/ $40 1 kg
    Based in US -
    NearSea Naturals: Hemp fibers .13 lb $2.57
    Based in AU - must contact their retailers for prices 500 gm $20/ 1 kg $40
    Based in US -
    Amazon: 5 lbs. $40
    Based in AU - 500 gm $40/ 1 kg $80 100gm $10/ 1 kg $79
    Based in US -
    NearSea Naturals: bolus 1.13 lbs. $19.25
    Based in AU - 500 gm $15/ 1 kg $30
    Based in US -
    West Earl Woolen Mill: 1 lb. about $7 very soft and clean
    A Child's Dream Come True: 8 oz. $11.90/ 1 lb. $21.90
    Amazon: varies - 8 oz. $10/ 1 lb $23 - $32
    Based in AU:
    MorningStar Crafts
        250 gm $10/ 500 gm $20
    Virginia Farms Woolworks: $22 1 kg Merino carded fleece 5 kg $170/ 10 kg $320

Part Two of this comparison will compare the textures of the fills and ease of use in stuffing the dolls.

Here is Part Two and here is Part Three of the comparison results.