Soot Sprites, or Susuwatari, are among our favourite Studio Ghibli characters. These little gremlins are little black balls with big eyes and (sometimes) long, thin limbs.
Because of their simple shape and appearance, you can make a DIY Soot Sprite quickly and easily. All you need is to make a simple pompom!
My kids absolutely adore making these, and our house is becoming as soot sprite-ful as Mei and Satsuki’s attic…
If you’ve never made a pompom, or only know the old cardboard-donut method, never fear. We’ve got a much better method. In fact, it’s the best, quickest and most mind blowingly-easy way to make pompoms you’ll ever find.
So you’ll soon be able to whip up a few DIY Soot Sprites in a matter of minutes. Read on to find out how.
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As you may have discovered from my previous post, we’re big fans of Studio Ghibli movies. Two of our favourites are My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away. Both of these films feature quirky little creatures known as Soot Sprites, or Soot Gremlins.
But what exactly are Soot Sprites?
My Neighbour Totoro Soot Sprites
Well, according to Granny in My Neighbour Totoro, they are house spirits that can be glimpsed when moving from the light into the dark. And they love empty houses. So when Mei, Satsuki and their father move in, the Soot Sprites move out!
Spirited Away Soot Sprites
In Studio Ghibli’s oscar-winning Spirted Away, the Soot Sprites work in the bath house boiler room. These Susuwatari (Wandering Soot) will turn back into soot if they are not given a job.
And if you’re wondering what the colourful stars are, they are Japanese sweets, called Konpeito, that Lin feeds them in this film.
The Spirted Away Soot Sprites can unfold long, spindly arms and legs. While those in My Neighbour Totoro seem content to bounce around as big-eyed, fluffy balls.
We’ve made versions with limbs and without. If you’re making these DIY Soot Sprites with very little children, you may prefer to make them without, as the pipe cleaners needed for these can have sharp ends.
But either way, these DIY soot sprites are very simple to make and look absolutely adorable.
How to make DIY Soot Sprites
To make a Studio Ghibli Soot Sprite, you must basically make a pompom.
The do-not donut method of making pompoms.
You may be familiar with the old-fashioned way of making pompoms, using two circles of cardboard with a hole in the middle.
If you have ever made a pompom that way, you’ll probably agree with me that this way sucks.
It takes forever to wind the wool around the circle, poking it through that hole over and over again. And when you’ve finished that bit, you still have to slide your scissors (which turn out never to be quite sharp enough) between the two cardboard rings, and saw through the wool. And then, you’ve got to tie another bit of wool around the middle without the whole thing falling apart…
But pompom making CAN be incredibly easy if you use what I call a winder, rather than a donut.
And while we’ve used this method here to make our cute little Soot Sprites, you can of course use it to make pompoms for anything you like. Pompom garland? So easy! Pompom rug? You’ll make it in next to no time.
So without further ado, on to the tutorial.
To make your utterly adorable Soot Sprite, you will need the following:
- Thick cardboard
- Black wool / yarn (it’s the same thing, people)
- White felt (self-adhesive if you can) or small scrap of white fabric.
- Black felt / black fabric, or two small black buttons.
- Needle & black thread OR glue
- (Optional) black pipe cleaners
You’ll also need a sharp pair of scissors, and some old newspaper to put down under your pompom while you work. That trimming bit gets MESSY!
Incidentally, you’ll get very different Soot Sprites depending on what type of wool/yarn you use. We’ve tried out a couple of variations, so skip down to our finished soot sprites to see what kind of pompoms you could make with different kinds of wool.
Making the pompom
1. The first part of this tutorial is all about making a pompom.
To start with, draw two circles onto a thick piece of cardboard. Corrugated cardboard from an old box is fine. The circles should be roughly the size you want your finished pompom to be.
Once you’ve drawn your circles, cut them out. You’ll use them to finish off your pompom so keep them safe.
2. The next thing you’ll need to do is to make a pompom winder.
What’s a pompom winder? This, my friend, is where we throw out the two cardboard donuts, and replace them with one cardboard rectangle.
Making a pompom winder
Cut a rectangle out of the same, thick cardboard. Your rectangle should be a couple of centimetres/an inch wider than your finished pompom, and a bit more than twice as long.
You can use one of your cardboard circles as a guide to work this out. Simply place the circle on your cardboard and add a centimetre or two on either side for the width. Make your winder about twice as long.
The exact measurements don’t matter, so don’t stress too much about this stage.
3. To finish your pompom winder, cut a vertical slit to roughly the midpoint. This slit only needs to be about a centimetre/half an inch wide. Again, exact dimensions really don’t matter, so you can just eyeball it.
The centre tie
4. Before you start winding your wool, you need to attach a piece of wool that will be used to tie together the centre of your pompom.
So, cut a piece of your wool / yarn. You are going to use it doubled for strength. Make it about 80 centimetres / 30 inches so that, once folded in half, you still have a decent length to use to hang up your soot sprite when finished.
Now, fold the strand of wool/yarn in half so that it is doubled up. Then thread one (doubled-up) end through the slit in your winder.
Tie both doubled ends together in a loose bow at the top of your winder (the opposite end to the start of your slit).
This is just to keep it out of the way while you’re winding your wool. So make sure you use a bow or knot that you can undo later.
Winding your wool
4. Start winding your wool around the width of your cardboard rectangle, covering the top of the slit.
Keep winding. And winding. And wind a bit more.
You’ll find you can do this really quickly – so much easier than threading the wool through the middle of a cardboard donut.
Wind your wool until you have a good, thick band around the middle of your winder. There’s no set amount that’s good, but if you need a guide, make it roughly a hundred.
The secret to a good pompom is lots of wool. The more you use, the thicker and fluffier your pompom will be, so don’t skimp! And if in doubt, add a bit more.
Tying the pompom
5. Once you’ve wound on as much wool as you’d like, cut your wool from the skein. Tuck the loose end into the band around your winder, just to keep it out of the way.
Now it’s time to tie your pompom up. You heard me – we do this BEFORE we cut. So much easier…
Undo the doubled-up length of wool that you tied onto the winder at the start. Bring the piece that’s tied around the back of the winder back through the slot, so you’ve got both ends at the front.
Then take the two doubled-ends and re-tie them together at the front, around the band of wool.
Pull them really, really tightly. This is the bit that kids might need help with, as a loose middle will make a pompom that falls apart.
Make sure it is secure by doing a double knot. Or, if you are as paranoid as me, a triple knot. You know you want to.
Cutting the wool
6. Time to cut your wool! Slide the blade of a sharp pair of scissors under the band of wool.
Then cut through the wool on either side of the winder.
Slide the wool off the winder and give it a shake.
You should now have a very shaggy and slightly misshapen pompom. Don’t worry, we’re about to fix that.
Are you thinking that those cute little stork embroidery scissors must be very sharp to have handled all this?
I’ll let you into a secret. I use those just for snipping threads. Something like my far-less-attractive-but-much-sharper-and heavier-duty Fiskars fabric scissors are what you really need.
They just didn’t look as pretty for the photos!
Perfecting your pompom
7. Sandwich your pompom top and bottom between those two circles of card you cut out earlier.
Make sure your long length for hanging is tucked under the circles, safely out of the way.
And then trim your pompom using the circles as a guide.
You’ll need to repeat this at least once more to get a proper sphere shape. Squash your pompom from different angles each time.
Top tip – the more you trim the pompom, the denser it will be. So if you want a really fluffy pompom, make it a good couple of centimetres/inch bigger on the winder than your desired final size. That way, you can trim it right down and still end up with the size you wanted.
Once you’re happy, give your pompom another shake, and trim any stragglers.
And you are done! With the pompom that is. To turn this fluff ball into a Soot Sprite, we need to add eyes, and maybe legs and arms.
8. Let’s start with the eyes. When we’ve made these in the past, we just stuck on some googly eyes. But times have changed, and now we’re all about avoiding unnecessary plastic. So these days we make our eyes out of a few scrap bits of fabric. Not only is it better for the planet, but it also (in my opinion) looks MUCH better. Win, win.
To make your eyes, simply cut out two ovals of white felt (or whatever scrap fabric you have on hand), and two circles of black felt/fabric. You could also use a couple of little black buttons for the pupils. Basically whatever you have to hand.
I happen to have a stash of self-adhesive felt that I often use for projects like this – you just cut out your shapes, peel off the paper backing and slap ’em sticky-side down onto your pompom. Easy peasy. But you could just use glue or a few stitches to attach them if you don’t have a stash like mine.
So, either stick or sew the black dots onto the white ovals.
And then finally (it’s really not taken that long), attach the finished eyes to the pompom. Personally, I think it looks more Soot Sprite-like if you make them slightly cross-eyed.
Arms and legs
9. The very last thing to do – if you want to – is add the arms and legs. To be honest, I think I prefer our DIY Soot Sprites Totoro-style, without limbs. But if you’re more of a Spirited Away Soot Sprite lover, then just use some black pipe cleaners to make your arms and legs.
So once your eyes are in place, gently push a black pipe cleaner half-way through the middle of your pompom. If you wiggle it gently, it should go through fairly easily. Bend the ends to look vaguely hand-like, and repeat for the feet.
Ta-da! One utterly adorable Soot Sprite.
An assortment of Soot Sprites
To make the DIY Soot Sprites, we used a bog-standard acrylic wool (yarn). Easy to get hold off and very cheap.
However, if you feel like making a bit of extra effort to get hold of different types of wool, you can make some pretty special pompom Soot Sprites. You may have noticed these cropping up in some of the photos.
The photo below shows you the difference. From right to left, we used:
The faux fur wool made a beautiful, soft and fluffy pompom, while the eyelash wools were fabulously spiky – just right for a Soot Sprite.
But I’ve got to say, I do love the ordinary wool too. It also seemed most like the drawings of the Soot Sprites, and was plenty soft too.
The eyelash wool was also great for a soot sprite, and was also very soft. And the tinsel wool was a fuzzy glitter ball of fun.
So there you have it. The easiest possible way to make a pompom, and adorable DIY Soot Sprites that the kids can make themselves. Now all you need is a cup of tea and an afternoon curled up with Totoro…
More from Rhubarb and Wren
Are you a newcomer to the wonderful world of Studio Ghibli? These fabulous animated movies are a pure delight, and beloved by both children and adults.
The kids and I (and my other half) are all big fans, so we’ve put together this list of our favourites and the best ones to start with, for anyone new to Ghibli.
Click through to see what each film is about and for links to trailers for each one. If you want to see more of the creatures that inspired our DIY Soot Sprites, check out My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away first.
Looking for more fun things to make and do with the kids? Check out these other great activities on Rhubarb and Wren.
Pin these DIY Soot Sprites for later!
Want to bookmark this for later? Save this post to Pinterest!
Quick-Read DIY Soot Sprites Instructions
For when you just want to get right to the point…
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●Black wool / yarn
●White felt (self-adhesive works best) or white fabric.
●Black felt / fabric, or two small black buttons.
●Needle & black thread OR glue
●(Optional) black pipe cleaners
1. Cut two circles of cardboard that are the size you want your finished soot sprite pompom to be.
2. Cut out a rectangle of card that is slightly wider than your circles (approximately two centimetres/an inch) and roughly twice as long. This will be your pompom winder (click to skip up to a picture!)
3. Cut a narrow vertical slit up the middle of your winder, to about the midway point.
4. Thread a doubled-up piece of wool/yarn through the slit and then tie up loosely out of the way at the top of the winder (the end without the slit).
5. Start wrapping your wool/yarn around the width of your rectangle, at the top of the slit. This should be at a right angle to the wool you tied on through the slit, and should partially cover this doubled-up strand.
6. Continuing wrapping your wool around the winder until you have a nice, thick band. As a guide, one hundred wraps should make a fairly thick pompom.
7. Once you have enough wool wrapped around, Snip off the end and tuck this in to the wrapped wool band.
8. Untie the original, doubled-up piece of wool. Re-tie this around the band of wool. Make sure this is as tight as you can possibly make it.
9. Slide the blade of your scissors under the band of wool and cut it along the vertical edges of your winder.
10. Pull the wool off the winder, and give it a gentle shake. It is now a rather misshapen pompom.
11. To trim the pompom into the right shape, sandwich it between the two cardboard circles you cut out originally. Be sure to tuck the long thread out of the way if you wish to use this to hang the pompom by later. Using the circles as a guide, trim the pompom down by about a centimetre/half an inch all around.
12. You’ll need to repeat this at least once more, squashing your pompom between the circles from the side this time, to get a proper sphere shape. Once you’re happy, give your pompom another shake, and trim any stragglers.
13. To make your eyes, simply cut out two ovals of white felt (or whatever scrap fabric you have on hand), and two circles of black felt/fabric. You could also use a couple of little black buttons for the pupils. Attach these to your pompom either by sewing them on or sticking them with glue.
14. Once your eyes are in place, gently push a pipe cleaner half-way through the middle of your pompom. If you wiggle it gently, it should go through fairly easily. Bend the ends to look vaguely hand-like, and repeat for the feet.
15. Your Soot Sprite is finished! Treat it gently, or it may just vanish in a cloud of dust…
Hints and Tips:
● Tie the centre of your pom pom as tightly as you can – this is the bit that kids may need help with!
● Use different types of wool to get different types of pompom! Check out our examples using faux fur wool, eyelash wool and tinsel wool to see how different these can be.