Alan Dart's latest exclusive design in Simply Knitting issue 147 is this knitted spaceman, inspired by the adventures of Tim Peake on the International Space Station. We've used this pattern as an example of how to make your knitted toys neat and professional.
We're amazed by the level of detail Alan captures in his designs. The spaceman is knitted on 3mm needles and you should cast on with the cable (two-needle) method to keep the smaller pieces neat; this gives a firm and less stretchy edge, so your pieces won't distort when you're sewing them up and your finished item will have a better shape.
Alan always works "inc 1" using knit into the front and back of the stitch. If you use a different method of increasing it can give you a different stitch count.
And when you're knitting with two yarns, you can avoid holes in your work by twisting the different colours together where they meet.
Take your time when you're knitting all the tiny parts – if they're really neat you'll get the best results on the finished toy. Alan's toys often have lots of components (such as his microphone, braces and cap on the astronaut), so it will take a while to make up – but the result will definitely be worth the effort.
It can be useful to label each small part as you finish it, so you don't get confused when you're making them up later. Or use a different coloured stitch marker on each piece, to help you keep track.
It's also a good idea to label parts on the right side, as it can be tricky to identify the right and wrong sides on some pieces.
Alan advices stitching your pieces together with mattress stitch rather than backstitch, and he includes a one-stitch seam allowance.
Alan finishes his toys with a spritz of hairspray to keep the pieces in place when they're on display. But if you're giving a toy to a younger child to play with, rather than as an ornament, leave this out.
For younger kids you should also leave out any stiffening pieces, such as the cotton bud inside the astronaut's microphone, or pipe cleaners or straws.
You may have trouble knitting Alan's toys with fingers, but Alan has produced a handy 6-page guide with photos, which you can download here. "If you follow these instructions exactly your knitted hands will turn out perfectly," says Alan. "Should it seem to you that the fingers are in the wrong place at the beginning, just trust the pattern instructions and continue to follow them to the letter and you will find that they are correct."