Scaling up dragons

When I first posted the test dragon to Mastodon, I got some requests for the pattern. Now that I have some minky fat quarters in the shop, I need an excuse for people to buy them and so I remembered the pattern requests. This sounds kinda mercenary, but now that I have gone over the numbers I have a clearer picture of where I need to focus on things.

The current plan is for the printable dragon pattern to be open source, and for the in-the-hoop files to be sold in the shop. So I haven’t completely sold out to The Man. At least, not until I find out how big (or perhaps how small) the market for in-the-hoop plushie designs is.

Battling dragons

The art-doll style dragons are proving to be pretty hard on my wrists. I have both tendinitis and carpal tunnel going on, neither of them very serious (yet!) and turning tiny dragons, jamming stuffing in until they’re rock-solid, and then hand-sewing openings and wings and such through multiple thicknesses of upholstery fabric requires a lot of effort.

Of course, that’s not all: I have managed to forget to cut out the topstitching window in two or three wing sets. I finally gave up on the silver one and picked all the stabilizer out of the topstitching instead of redoing it).

At any rate, I am almost ready to start listing them again. As I’ve mentioned, I have two Etsy slots for them, so my plan is to get four finished (or nearly-finished) dragons, list two, and be ready to fill a slot as soon as it sells out.

The silver sparkle dragon just needs its wings sewn on (they’re just resting in place there) and its horns attached and it’s done. It’s probably the last dragon I’ll make that I have to turn.

The blue dragon started out as a sea dragon – the wings are based on a guillemot/murre, which uses its wings to swim underwater like a penguin as well as fly above it. But I didn’t care for the contrast of the first wings so now it has blue star-and-nebula wings, and its name varies between “lesser sea dragon” and “sea-of-stars dragon.” It’s done except for finding a glue that will work on the eyes, and for picking the white stabilizer out of its seams.

I reverse-sewed it like I did the silver dragon (remember the silver dragon? I’ll get back to it, I promise). I didn’t have to turn it, but I did sandwich the stabilizer in to act as interfacing in the crest, and it doesn’t tear away easily without shredding the raw fabric edges. It wasn’t as visible on the silver dragon, but it really shows up in the blue.

I have another silver dragon in the works, reverse sewn but with gray cotton as stabilizer. True D&D nerds will recognize it from its wing, in the foreground waiting to be cut out: a Dungeons and Dragons silver dragon has two “thumb” claws on each wing. This one won’t be quite as ornate as the earlier one; more on the order of the lesser sea dragon.

The fourth is the teaser on the right: an over-the-top six-hooping Greater Sea Dragon. The previous ones are all four hoopings: body, legs, head, and wings. I’m pretty proud of that one. The mockup went fine, but the real thing has required a couple of restarts. I’ve current gotten through three of the five hoopings, and only tackle them when I’m feeling particularly focused.

The longhorned dragon

The gold/floral dragon from Wednesday is upholstery velvet, but I made the test dragons in minky. Not ideal, since one is woven and the other stretch, but not bad at this scale and the minky is much easier to turn for quick-and-dirty tests of the rough shape.

I’ve been trying to hit the sweet spot between “not a blob,” and “not too hard to sew at this scale.”

I’m fairly happy with this one in minky; we’ll see how it comes out in velvet.

SO MANY PUGS

I’m gonna need a bigger box.

In addition to sewing more test pugs and color variations (I figure I’ll put a few on Etsy myself), I ordered some test pugs on Spoonflower fleece.

I… think I remember how this thing works? I am really unimpressed with my own (lack of) precision after watching the embroidery machine work, let me tell you.

I’m also a little disappointed in the, uh, creasiness of this piece of fleece. I’ll have to see if it irons out, but it’s polyester so we’ll see.

I was happy enough with the colors that I ordered another fat quarter, this one in minky and in different colors: a brown-point fawn, and an experimental brindle. I’ve been looking for a good brindle-substitute minky print, and haven’t even found a nice tiger stripe. Not even in fleeces at JoAnn or Fabric.com; apparently they’ve fallen out of fashion. We’ll see if my Inkscape/GIMP texture looks plausible; if it does, I’ll make it available as yardage on Spoonflower because come on, there are a lot of brindle dogs out there.

Standing dragon

There are still some tweaks to make (the neck join, the muzzle, the tail) and of course this is the less-horned Pernese variant, but I have successfully made a non-beanie dragon on a 4×4 hoop. Well, almost: I mirrored the wing and did them simultaneously in the 5×7, just to speed up testing.

It’s a fair bit smaller than the green 5×7-hoop one that made a guest appearance in the call for pattern testers, though I couldn’t really get an angle that showed it.

I may tweak the legs/feet a little more; they’re not much changed from the venerable Basic Standing Dog design.

The forelegs are a little shortened but once the wings are on the curve of the back is not that noticeable. (Yes, I’m seeing both a bat and an otter/ferret pattern happening there.)

I have experimented with a standing-on-hind-legs version but so far I only have a mutant kangaroo. 😂

Pattern testers, of course, will get versions of the pattern only after I’ve settled on a design, well past the mutant-kangaroo stage. The outside testing point is “I have a working pattern, now I have to see if other people can duplicate it with my instructions.”

Still more orcas, and a lot of testing

A pair of tiny plush killer whales, with a pen for scale.


This week, I’m finalizing patterns and processes and taking instructional pictures with the intention of putting a group of in-the-hoop plushie patterns on Etsy in a week or two. The orcas, I think, will go here on the blog so people can try out the technique and decide if it’s too fiddly for them.

I’m doing my best to minimalize fiddliness, with plenty of positioning stitches and tackdowns and so forth, and I think most of the patterns will be fairly easy to do, or at least will have easy options.

Tiny plush chihuahua work in progress.

For instance, the chihuahua’s body is very much like the Basic Standing Dog pattern, except there’s just no way to get a five-piece underbody going on in an embroidery hoop. I tried simplifying it to a two-piece, but really at that size a couple of French tacks will stand in for leg darts perfectly well and I don’t think that adds too much hand-sewing.

My plan right now is to shoot for a nice even ten patterns for the shop.

  • elephant (with variations for African, Asian, or mastodon) with flopsie body
  • pug (with variations for solid color or mask/ears) with flopsie body
  • French bulldog (with variations for solid, masked, or bicolor) with flopsie body
  • chihuahua (with variations for solid or bicolor) with standing body
  • fox with sitting body
  • raccoon with sitting body
  • cat (with variations for solid, points, or tuxedo) with standing body
  • horse/unicorn/pegasus with standing body
Test plush fox head
Fox test on the chihuahua’s body

I haven’t made a decision on any more patterns. I’ve thought about releasing the dragon but it’s not quite as dimensional as these patterns, so I don’t think I want to include it in this set. I might do a different dragon, though. I ran a test head last night that came out with a not-very-dragonish profile, but we’ll see what I can tweak it into.

Misshapen dragon head

Still open to suggestions!

Prototyping in the hoop

Three pugs, a fox head, a frenchie head, and a piece of fabric with some embroidered spots.
The body parts are piling up around here

Using the embroidery machine to sew plushies has had an unexpected side effect. My pattern drafting has always tended to be very geometric and mathematical, but the ease with which I can go “eh, let’s see what happens” and float some squares of fabric in a hoop means I don’t spend as much time carefully plotting out how each piece is going to go and pre-planning each dimension of the thing.

A blank green not-a-raccoon head next to a more finished fox head.

Instead, I sorta freeform in it Inkscape. Result? Oh, I didn’t think about how long the schnoz was going to be on that raccoon. In fact, if I change the ears up, it’s more like a fox. I mean, some of it is because I’m making less realistic critters, which is also fairly new to me. Normally if I was drafting a raccoon pattern I would have reference pics of raccoons, raccoon skulls, and so forth, and I would already know just how long that schnoz was going to *need* to be.

A different angle on the fox head.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a different thing, for me.

Doing things you shouldn’t do on an embroidery machine

I’ve been doing those things again.

Not things that might break the machine (probably!) but rather, “things that might be easier to do on a conventional machine,” or “things the manufacturer really didn’t consider you doing and so the user interface kind of works against you.” Those kinds of things.

An eyeless plush seal with a too-long neck.

Okay, some of them are things that just shouldn’t have been done, period. That seal pattern… whoof. The first draft is rough.

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Pachyderms!

The next in the collection of plushie patterns is a “flopsie” elephant — or in this incarnation, a mastodon. The embroidered face on this one comes from the cartoon mascot for the Mastodon social-network software, and its ears are smaller than the elephant version. At least, one ear is smaller… somehow the one on the other side is the large one.

The mastodon was supposed to have a yarn topknot that matched its braided tail, but I forgot to sew it into the seam. If and when I fix the oversized ear I’ll sew it on top.

I’ve also been experimenting with “puffy” embroidery. I don’t think the tusk is big enough to justify it, and the height of it gets lost in the minky pile. I’ll probably run another version with the black satin outline just to see how it looks.

It also makes alignment more difficult (I goofed this one up, which is why I didn’t finish it) so it’s time to work on a more foolproof system to line things up.