How To: Get started at plushie making

Interested in making plushies or fabric toys? Here are some really useful pointers on what you’ll need to get started (on a budget) and some tips on what to watch out for.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Your first plushies wont be perfect, some skills take some trial and error to get right, but with this guide you’ll be able to skip some of the mess, save yourself some time and have your first creations looking that little bit more polished and presentable.

FYI, my first plushies were a Paopu fruit (just like hundreds of teenage girls) and Chiyo-chichi – the father-cat-orange thing from bizarre anime Azumanga Daioh. They were flat and they were a bit crap, but they were something.

First, I’ll start with some really important tips. Then, I’ll get to a list of items you’ll want to start with the minimal amount of spend.

Top tips

Start small, but not too small – Keeping your creation small will help with fabric costs and time spent – but if you go too small then it’s impossible to get a good level of detail on your plush. Also, there is a minimum tolerance in fabric to bend to shape. This depends on the fabric, but generally if you make something too small you either wont be able to turn it inside out and any joins between fabric wont be smooth. Make sure nothing is less that 15mm across (including small items like the diameter of tails, etc)

Avoid felt like the plague – Felt is cheap and easily available, but it’s terrible for making a 3D plushie, especially the cheap stuff you get from craft shops. Felt has it’s uses in professional plush and teddy bear making as material for footpads, etc. It’s also great for eyes, noses and clothing. For flat items it’s a fine fabric. This is anything gingerbread-man style, cutouts/scrapbooking, or flat animals/people (I’ve seen loads of cute fox templates like this). However as soon as you try to create anything 3D the fabric wont lay flat at joins and the stitches are really obvious. Instead, opt for minky/plush fabric or fleece. It’s surprisingly cheap – about £2.50 for a 50 x 50 cm square which is more than enough for most projects. It has a much better visual finish and your plush will be much more cuddly.

Stitch inside out – It’s amazing how many times I see plushes where the stitching is on the outside and I’m sorry but it usually looks awful. Any exterior decorative stitching is usually not structural and really in there for the visual effect only. It’s also usually completed in embroidery thread. Any regular stitching of two pieces of fabric should always be done on the reverse and then turned out. Otherwise the stitching is unsightly and causes the material to pucker.

What you’ll need

If you find you really like plushie making then you can certainly buy a whole lot of tools to get a professional finish and make your life easier. But if you’re just starting out and want to keep spend to a minimum the following will let you get started on a budget. Here’s what you’ll need on top of your plushie fabric:

Sewing needles – You can’t get away without these. Get a selection box for a relatively cheap price. You”ll usually get a selection of needle sizes along with an embroidery needle or two (they’re much larger than all the other needles with a massive eye). Start with the larger needles if you haven’t done much sewing before.

Thread – I would advise buying a multipack of thread that comes in a variety of colours. It’s the best option in the long-term. You can buy only the colour you need which is cheap but if you only buy the thread as you need it it can work out more expensive quickly. You’ll also be tempted to use the wrong coloured thread for your task, rather than waiting to buy the right colour, which will compromise the quality of your work.

Stuffing – The cheapest way to stuff your plushies is polyester stuffing. And honestly, the cheapest way to get this stuffing is re-using old pillows. Give the pillows a quick wash in the washing machine and allow to dry, then cut open at one corner. The filling will have clumped together so will need to be pulled apart but if perfectly fine to use. If you don’t have any old pillows, even buying new pillows is cheaper than buying polyester stuffing purpose made for soft toys as is usually exactly the same material. Once you get really into your hobby you can get into experimenting with more expensive and higher quality stuffing like Poly Pellets or heavier fibre fill.

Fabric scissors – You might think normal scissors will do the job – and I suppose they will – but it’s a bad job. Regular paper scissors have a hard job cutting fabric but you’ll eventually get there. Fabric scissors are really worth the investment. You’ll be cutting your fabric at 5-10X the speed you were before with nice smooth lines  – not horrible frayed ones like before. When cutting fabric with a pile, the smoother cut means less mess too.

That’s all you need. With this you can make a ball, a dragon head, a giant squid, whatever you fancy. Just remember that practise makes perfect and even the experts on DeviantArt making magical creations all started making something small and simple – and it was probably crap.