Give a vintage rocking horse a new lease on life by turning it into a unicorn!
With this vintage rocking horse makeover, we turn a discarded toy into a magical unicorn. You won’t need mythical skills to achieve the same results. See how we did it below.
Being the Vintage Kitty, I spend a significant amount of time in thrift stores. It’s the thrill of the hunt! You never know if you’ll find a pretty piece or nothing at all. So each week I make the rounds to my favorite thrifty places and sometimes I happen upon a treasure.
This vintage rocking horse was one of those lucky finds. Although I usually make a b-line for the dishes, I did a loop around the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Store and found this sweet little rocking horse in the corner. It was in sad shape with missing tufts of hair and scratches all over the finish but I sensed magic in this little horse. And I knew with a little love and DIY it could be the perfect gift for my niece.
I could see that this well-loved toy had good bones, so we set out to give this rocking horse a new lease on life. Kevin and I removed the hair, bridle, ears and eyes to begin the ultimate rocking horse makeover! Kevin did most of the hard work of sanding off the original finish and painting the rocking horse a cheerful pastel purple.
Then we added all new details. I really struggled with what to do with the eyes. The original ones were eye buttons but I wanted something more unique. In my collection of whatnots I found some furniture tacks and washers that did the trick. To make them coordinate with the color scheme, I painted the washers, but left the brass tacks unpainted and attached them with construction glue.
The original ears were made from brown pleather which didn’t go with our color scheme. To match our unicorn’s ears to the body, we painted canvas and cut the ears out once the canvas was dry. Then we stapled them on with a pneumatic staple gun.
We used three different yarns to make a colorful mane and tail. It’s all pieced together with masking tape with a serger stitch making a long seam that connects all the yarn. The technique we used was similar to this doll tutorial from Dried Figs and Wooden Spools, but instead of sewing down the middle, we folded the masking tape to double the hair. I hand sewed on the gold unicorn horn onto the mane seam and then we stapled the mane in place. This was the point that truly transformed our little DIY project!
We made a long tail too, which is much simpler than the mane, as it’s just gathered with several loops of yarn and then stapled to the back.
Finally, to hold back our rocking unicorn’s free flowing hair, I made two flowers with felt, tulle ribbon and vintage buttons. The overall effect is so sweet and quite magical and very happy with the result!
But the best part was seeing our niece play with her new toy on her first birthday. All the kids at the party wanted to touch and play the unicorn so I guess her magic was finally able to shine! Hopefully, she’ll provide years of fun before it’s time to make her over again!
HOW TO MAKEOVER A ROCKING HORSE INTO A UNICORN
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Vintage rocking horse
- Benjamin Moore Advance Paint- Color: Easter Ribbon
- Kilz primer
- Light weight canvas
- Red Heart Celestial Yarn
- Serendipity Highland Yarn
- Diamond Luxury Eclipse Color: 7109
- Unicorn horn
- Eyes (or paint)
- Liquid Nails
- Masking tape- one inch wide
- Clean cotton rags
- Paint brush
- Staple gun- pneumatic if your rocking horse has a channel for the mane
- Sewing machine or serger
- Nail set
- Embroidery hoop
- Remove all old parts from the rocking horse
- Sand down the old finish in preparation for painting
- Clean off the sawdust with a rag and mineral spirits for oil primer or water for water-based primer
- Prime the horse following the directions on your primer.
- Paint two top coats following the directions on your paint
- Stretch the canvas in the embroidery hoop and paint a section large enough to make two ears. (We didn’t prime the fabric)
- The eyes I used were made out of two washers and an upholstery tack. I painted the washers and sealed them with polyurethane.
- The eyes were attached using copious amounts of liquid nails which I squirted between the washers and into the tack head as well as onto the horse itself. I like liquid nails because it cleans up with water, so I was able to wipe off excess glue with a damp paper towel.
- As you can see in the before photos, the rocking horse has button eyes. You can do this too or simply hand paint on an eye.
- On a table, lay out a piece of masking tape face up. Make sure it’s a little longer than the length you need the mane to be.
- Take two more pieces of tape and tape the long piece of tape to the table.
- Cut pieces of yarn and center them across the tape, alternating colors and lengths a little.
- When the tape is full of yarn, place another piece of tape down the center, directly on top of the bottom piece of tape.
- Remove the tape from the table and fold the masking tape to double the mane. The hair should all be on one side if you’ve folded it the right way.
- Using a needle and thread, baste a stay stitch through the masking tape. This makes sewing it together easier.
- If using a serger, serge the mane, cutting off most of the tape.
- Repeat several times to make sure all the yarn is sewn together
- If using a sewing machine, zigzag on the edge of the tape closest to the yarn.
- Repeat several times and make sure to backstitch the ends.
- Cut off any excess tape beyond your seam.
- If your mane is not as thick and full as you would like, repeat the process above and then sew together the individual sections into one piece.
- Cut lengths twice as long as you need your tail to be.
- Group the yarn together and tie them with a few strands of yarn.
- Tie the tail tightly, leaving the tail end of the knot yarn.
- Test the mane to see where the horn should be placed.
- Hand sew the horn to the mane. Make sure to use strong thread and sew the horn to the mane’s seam. You’ll also want to part the mane so hair falls down on both sides of the horn.
- I’m no expert at felt flowers! LOL! I cut out individual petals and hand sewed them together gathering the petals to give them some shape. I made two layers, one with large petals and one with small petals and sandwiched tulle ribbon in between. To finish the flower I sewed on a button.
ATTACHING THE MAIN AND TAIL
- Staple the mane to the head. Our rocking horse had a channel cut into the wood for the mane so we used a pneumatic stapler. If there’s no channel, you may be able to use a hand stapler.
- If any of the staples don’t go all the way in, use a hammer and nail set to pound them in all the way.
- Attach the tail, making sure to staple through the tie of the tail.
- Test the mane and tail to make sure they will hold up to little ones pulling on them!
- Using the ears you removed as a template, cut out two ears from the painted canvas
- Fold them in half and staple them on at the bottom. If you want to, you can paint the staples to conceal them.
ATTACH THE FLOWERS
- Pull back the petals a little bit so you can staple near the center of the flower where it won’t show. Make sure to staple each flower in about 3 or four places.
- Shape the mane and tail by trimming the yarn. I preferred a natural look and just snipped the yarn that looked way too long.
- Give everything an extra tug and pull and make sure it’s safe for the kiddos!
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