Sometimes button eyes or even safety eyes aren’t safe enough. For example, toys for babies should be as safe as you can make them. And sometimes you just don’t have anything but some embroidery floss on hand. Here’s my approach to putting eyes on knitted toys.
You’ll need 6 strand embroidery floss, a needle (mine is a tapestry needle but that isn’t essential), and something to mark the halfway point (I used a dpn).
I like to do my embroidery when I have the most access to the face area. So here I’m doing it before doing the three-needle bind off at the top of the head. That way I can come in from the top and have lots of room for my hands.
Step one: find and mark the halfway point on your face. Decide how many stitches to either side you want the eyes. You can use buttons or pennies to try different locations.
Step two: you’ll go from the bottom of the eye up, so secure the floss at the bottom of the area you want the eye. Here I’ve run the thread through the yarn (not under it) and tied a simple knot. Leave that end with at least 5cm (2″) for later.
Step three: bring the thread to the front of the work, then work satin stitch centered on where your thread came through. I wanted an oval shape to my eyes, so I’m planning to start with the stitch covering half of each stitch centered on where the yarn came through, and then increasing to at least a full stitch on either side, and then tapering again back to half a stitch.
Step four: satin stitch is always worked as horizontally as possible. So where you place the needle on the right should be as nearly horizontal as possible across from where you bring it up on the left. You can see here that I’m starting to widen my stitch at this point. Sometimes you’ll want to pierce the yarn, as I’ve done here. If you limit yourself to only using the natural holes on either side of the yarn, your eye is going to look pixelated.
Also note that satin stitch is worked almost entirely on the front of the work. You can keep your hands at the front of the face and don’t need to spend much time behind the fabric of the face. This is really convenient for working with toys knitted in the round.
Step five: here’s what it looks like after one pass of stitches. It’s a bit jagged and lacks the smoothly rounded edges that characterize most non-zombie eyes. So a second pass of satin stitch is needed, this time from the top-down (since that’s where the thread is waiting for us).
Step six: here you can see how I’m coming up in a location where the thread forms more of a corner than a curve.
Keep your stitches horizontal, and cover the whole eye a second time so that the surface is smooth.
Step seven: Using the end from your knot at the very beginning, tie another knot to secure both ends. Then clip the threads, leaving about a 1cm tail.
Result: a nice plump eye.
Not perfect, but perfection is terribly boring. Besides, perfect toys are a play-room tragedy. You know the drill: the perfect doll with fabulous eyelashes lords it over the other toys at night, only to discover that children are children and within a few days she’s got scuff marks and they’ve cut her golden curls into a fashionable flapper bob. The rest of the toys relish her downfall. It’s all a passive-aggressive mess and the narrator of the story is sure to point out a Valuable Moral.
There’s more Satin Stitch information here if my explanation is leaving you a bit in the dark.