There’s no research confirming a link between the classic yo-yo string toy and the fabric yo-yo, but they are both round, both peaked in popularity in the 1930s-40s in the United States, and both are pretty, dang fun! So, we’re happy to link them together as two points along a playful continuum. A fabric yo-yo is a small, ruched rosette. It’s most often associated with quilting, and antique yo-yo quilts can be quite stunning, but it’s a fun bit of dimensional embellishment that can be used on any number of projects. At it’s simplest, the yo-yo is just a small gathered circle. When cinched up tight it produces a smooth “button” effect on one side and a pretty rippled confection on the other. You can make them by hand, and we summarize those steps below, but we prefer to use the Clover Quick Yo-Yo Makers. These small plastic devices are incredibly affordable, and make the job of stitching yo-yos easier and more uniform.
We’re outlining the steps here for using the standard round Yo-Yo Makers. Clover also offers clever shapes.
Of the round options, we selected the standard Small Yo-Yo Maker that produces 1¼” yo-yos, a Large Yo-Yo Maker that produces 1¾” yo-yos, and an Extra Large Yo-Yo Maker that produces 2⅜” yo-yos. In addition to these three round options we tested, there is also an Extra Small that produces ¾” yo-yos and a Jumbo Maker that produces 3½” yo-yos. In the photos below, the Extra Large Yo-Yo Maker is featured. See the selection at Amazon.
Even if you’re a sewing beginner or someone not used to hand stitching, this tool allows you to create perfectly spaced stitches that turn into perfectly shaped yo-yos.
Yo-yos are great for using up scraps or small pre-cuts. And, it’s a perfectly portable technique – make them anywhere, anytime.
Simple steps for the classic round yo-yo
- The two discs that make up the Clover Yo-Yo Maker are perfectly sized so you know the size of your finished yo-yos will be uniform. And, since your stitches follow the precisely-spaced holes around the outer edge of the tool, your gathers will also be even and tidy.
- You need just your fabric scrap, all-purpose sewing thread, a hand sewing needle (a shorter needle is easiest), and the tool itself.
- Take apart the tool into its two pieces: the disc and the plate.
- Your fabric scrap or pre-cut should be about 1” larger than the disc all around. Place the disc on the wrong side of your fabric.
- There are raised diagonal lines on the discs, like the wedges of a pie. Pick up the disc and fabric in one hand and place them into the plate. Align the diagonal lines of the disc with the corresponding small raised bumps on the plate.
- Keeping the lines of the disc aligned with the bumps on the plate, push the disc down into the plate. Push all the way around the outer edge of the disc to make sure it is flat and properly seated.
- Trim back the fabric to approximately ⅛” – ¼” all around the plate.
- Make sure the disc is nice and flat inside the plate.
- Cut a piece of thread that is about double the length needed to stitch around the circle. For our Extra Large example, it would take about 7-8″ to sew around the circle and leave enough for a tail. Start with about 16″ of thread. Remember, extra is always better than not enough.
- Thread your needle. Pull the thread all the way through to create a double strand and knot the ends together.
- Fold the raw edge of the fabric towards the center of the circle. To start, insert the needle from the disc side, going through one end of the curved slot.
NOTE: These curved slots run around the perimeter of the plate and are what allow your to keep your stitches even and precise. Make sure your needle is going in and out at the outer points of each curve not through the center.
- Pull the thread all the way through (until the knot catches) then push the needle back down through at the opposite end of the curve. This in-and-out pattern is one completed stitch.
- Continue this up-and-through then down-and-through pattern around the entire plate. When you get back to your starting point, make one additional stitch in the first curve.
- This is the ONLY curve in which you have a double stitch.
- After you pull the needle through, you can just let it kind of dangle off to the side for now. Do not make any kind of knot in this end of the thread at this point. You will use the needle and thread at the very end, once the yo-yo is gathered, to knot and secure the stitching.
- With the needle at the back (on the disc side), push gently through the center hole…
- … and pop out the disc with the sewn fabric in place.
- Flip over and gently lift up the hem to remove disc.
- You now have a perfect circle with a narrow basted hem all around.
- Gently pull the thread to gather the circle into its yo-yo shape. You can help it gather by gently folding in the creases with one hand as you pull the thread to gather with the other.
- When fully gathered, pull the thread tight at the center.
- Use the needle to make a knot. Pass the needle into the center hole to hide the knot, but be careful not to catch the front of the yo-yo.
- Trim the thread close to the folds. You can even push the tiny tails down into the folds to hide them away further.
- Here’s our finished test yo-yo from the back and the front:
Making yo-yos without a tool
- For those of you who are DIY die-hards, you can certainly make yo-yos by hand. It’s also a nice skill to tuck away in case you want a yo-yo in a very specific size for which there isn’t a tool.
- First, decide how large you’d like your finished yo-yo to be. On average, the fabric circle for the yo-yo should be twice as large as the finished yo-yo, plus ¼” for the small inside “hem.” If you want the finished yo-yo to be 3″ in diameter, start with a 6¼” fabric circle. You can use a compass to draw your circle, or check out our tutorial on making circles without a pattern.
- As above when using the tool, cut a piece of thread that is about double the length needed to stitch around the circle.
- Thread the needle, double the thread, and tie a knot in the ends of the thread.
- Folding in the edge of the fabric about ¼”, and staying close to the edge of the circle, make a running stitch around the circle. Don’t try to press this little hem with your iron – it’s just too tiny. You can use a seam gauge to help you eyeball a starting point of ¼”, then just keep folding in, using your thumb and first finger to hold the hem as you stitch.
- Sew, using consistently sized stitches, until you’re back around to where you started. It is very important to keep your stitches as consistent as possible so the yo-yo gathers evenly.
- Gently pull on the ends of the thread to gather the sides of the yo-yo, tie a knot with the ends of the thread and clip the thread tails.
- Flatten the yo-yo to finish.
- You can control the size of the hole in the center of your yo-yo by adjusting the width of the stitches you use. Shorter stitches will result in a looser gather on the yo-yo, leaving a larger hole in the center. This is fine if you are planning to embellish the center of the yo-yo with another fabric or a button or similar as the hole will be covered. If you’re looking to make a blanket or quilt out of yo-yos stitched together, you will probably want a smaller hole in the center. Longer stitches will allow you to pull the gather tighter, resulting in a smaller hole in the center of your yo-yo.