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Tinkering with Toys:

Deconstructed, Reconstructed, Reimagined


SUNY Suffolk County Community College



Course Level

3D Design, Beginning Sculpture


Conversation points for instructors

This lesson has many steps that take students through a genuine design process. They learn to find inspiration in found objects and learn specific trade skills such as sewing. Having deeply studied a single object, they will be better able to work with it as a source of inspiration for designing a 3D printed object. 


This project is easily adaptable for face-to-face or home/online teaching. Also, Tinkercad is free!


Inspired by Ellen Mueller who has also worked with 3D printed reliquary objects, as well as posts to the FATE Facebook group about teaching students in 3D pattern making through sewing.



Project Prompt / Challenge

Taking apart a toy will show you that the inside parts can be just as interesting as the toy itself. First, you will deconstruct a beanie baby or stuffed animal, and then sew it back together (a FrankenPlushie stuffed animal mash up is totally welcome!). Then, using  investigation, observation, research, and your re-combobulated toy, design your own honored object to be drafted in Tinkercad!

  • What happens when your cherished object has changed? 

  • What is your object/FrankenPlushie referencing, memorializing, or honoring?

  • What do other cultures make to memorialize and honor things/people/experiences?

  • What connections to honoring things or making your own rituals do you have in your own life?

  • What is the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation?



PART 1: Toy surgery


1.  Read Chapter 2 from Design Basics and answer critical thinking questions.


2.  Select stuffed animal(s).

3.  Carefully use the seam ripper to open the seams. 

  • Remember: each time you successfully remove a piece, measure it and draw it. 

  • This process is used to create the template.


4.  For now, as best as possible, keep the object laid out intact with open seams.

Use pins to keep the pieces together to remember where or how they connect. 


Alternatively: YES, you can sew it back together in a unique way with intention and no malice (this does include morphs). However, you should consider if this new tinkered with toy will become the basis for your final transformation project.

5.  Fill the object with stuffing including beads, newspaper, or cotton batting.

6.  Sew together the stuffed animal using any hand stitch. We will donate these to a local shelter!

7. Read pages 170-175 Design Basics. Submit notes and reflection paragraph for homework.


PART 2: TinkerCAD and 3D printing your figure

1.  Complete the 5 lessons in Let’s Learn Tinkercad! Introduction to Primary Shapes. (see PowerPoint below)

2. For inspiration and awareness of figures from other cultures in history, look at the following examples:


Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. Consider idealized representation versus realistic recreation. With your peers, let's discuss what cultural appropriation ensues. Consider your own cultural experiences and rituals.  What objects and forms represent what you value and honor?  What kinds of objects  & figurines do you keep on display?

4. Next create 3 sketches of a reliquary figure inspired by your stuffed animal.  As you work, consider the possible implications of your tinkered with toy and invent stories for it:

  • What does your object represent?

  • Who or what are you protecting, memorializing, or honoring?

  • What changes do you need to make to visually convey the meaning you want to convey? 

5. Peer review these designs.

6. Create a draft of the figurine in play-doh or modeling clay.

7. Create your figurine using Tinkercad and print it.


  • At least one stuffed animal. Perhaps ones students already have, or they could be donated, or supplied by the instructor. Thrift stores are a supply option. (All should be washed before handling.)


  • Sewing kit


  • Play-doh or modeling clay



  • No access to a 3D printer?  Print A Thing is an affordable website


Three weeks total:

  • One week for deconstruction and reconstruction of the stuffed animal (including any sketches for morphing.)


  • Two weeks for figurine including research, sketches, draft in playdoh, tutorials and creation.


Student Examples:

Support Information:

Setting Up



Online / Video Resources:

Cultural Appropriation Conversation Support:

PBS: What I Hear When You Say: Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation

Episode 5 | 6m 38s 



  • Brian Jungen for found objects and their references: Art21, "Vancouver" episode, Season 8 (12m 41s)

    • "Brian Jungen draws from his family’s ranching and hunting background, as well as his Dane-zaa heritage, when disassembling and recombining consumer goods into whimsical sculptures."

  • Plantbot Genetics

    • Using humor and play to discuss sustainable agriculture and environmental and ecological issues.


  • KOTA Reliquary Figure, MFA Museum Boston for the figurines (see Part 2, above)


  • Jason Ferguson

    • 3D scanning and printing, using found objects and contemplating relics, and ritual.

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