Pattern testers needed

It’s approaching the time I will need people who aren’t me to test my patterns. People who have different embroidery machines, different experience levels, different stabilizers, different threads… whatever variables might be introduced, I’d like to run into them up front. Here’s what I’m looking for.

  • someone who has never made a stuffed animal
  • someone who has
  • someone who has little to no conventional-sewing experience
  • someone who has little to no embroidery-machine experience
  • someone who has a lot of embroidery-machine experience
  • someone who has a machine that doesn’t use PES files

And here’s what I’m offering:

  • a free version of the pattern(s) you test (I mean, duh. But also you get the final version)
  • a free version of any one of the other patterns (and if you decide you don’t ever want to make another stupid plushie as long as you live, it can certainly be Queen of Unfinished Projects or a custom design or something)
  • never-ending fame and fortune (okay, just credit in the pattern)
  • preferential “hiring” if this works out and I get to actually pay real cash money to testers down the road 🤞

And here’s what you’ll need:

  • an embroidery machine with a 4×4 hoop that can read PEC, PES, EXP, DST, JEF, VP3, or U01 files (if you have the wherewithal to convert from one of these to your machine’s HUS or whatever, that’s fine)
  • assorted threads
  • some minky or fleece or reasonably stretchy fabric; each critter takes anywhere from three to a dozen 5×5″ squares
  • possibly some bits of other fabrics (the test dragon’s wing membranes are quilting cotton, for instance)
  • fiberfill
  • a needle for hand sewing
  • a way to take pictures to send me (nothing fancy and nobody but me need see them; they’re just for “is this right?” or “look at what went wrong” or “look how it came out” purposes)

And here’s what I need you to do:

  • not flake (I mean, I get that life happens, I just mean don’t take a free pattern and run)
  • tell me what your skill level is
  • tell me what machine(s) you tried it on, what thread brand, fabric brand, stabilizer brand, etc. you use (as much as you’re able)
  • tell me how many tries each piece took and what caused any failures
  • tell me anything else you want to tell me about the pattern (“I got frustrated and gave up” is valid!)

The first test will be the orca, which is a simple little three-square critter and a good intro to how the three-dimensional ITH plushies work. The only hand sewing is closing up the tiny little turning/stuffing opening. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

Important tools: the hemostat

I decided to spent the afternoon cleaning the workroom because my hemostat got buried on the work table and I couldn’t stuff the horse test without it.

(I should probably put an Amazon referral link or something here, but just do a web search, you can find them all over including at the same places that sell doll- and bear- and plushie-making supplies.)

The smaller hemostat is one that a friend gave us years and years ago. He was a nurse, and showed up at one of our game nights with a whole handful of them, that his hospital was just going to dispose of. The sterile packaging had been damaged, and it apparently wasn’t practical to put them in an autoclave or whatever. Eh, they might be handy, we all said, and took one.

It’s turned out to be one of my most useful tools for turning and stuffing small plushie and bear parts. Many people use smooth needle-nosed pliers to turn parts. The hemostat works the same way but will latch so you can let go of it to adjust other parts of the fabric before going back to pulling it through. It’s also more consistently narrow and is less likely to pinch other parts of the fabric into its hinge.

They’re great for stuffing, too. Traditional bears, for instance, are stuffed as close to rock-solid as you can get (related: at least 30% of our bear-making guild had wrist surgery, or was told to give up bear-making if they wanted to keep the use of their hands, etc.) Some people use a tool that is a modified screwdriver, with a notch in it to grip the stuffing to get it where you want it. I pinch a bit of fiberfill in the hemostat instead, and can put it exactly where I want it. The rounded nose means I can slide it along the fabric around the outside of the rest of the stuffing to hit a spot that was missing just a little extra fill.

And that was needed with the tiny horse, whose legs have a lot of little nooks and crannies, and which relies on careful stuffing to stand properly.

Admittedly, once I got back to stuffing it this evening, it didn’t seem really worth all the work… poor goofy little critter. Such is the nature of first drafts, though.

Dragons!

A pair of dragon silhouettes embroidered as snap tabs.

We interrupt the mostly-boring stretch of fine-tuning patterns to bring you a new upload: a Pernese dragon silhouette, shamelessly swiped from the cover of Renegades of Pern.

Pernese Dragon Snap Tab files

The SVG source file is in the zip archive so you can edit it if you want, say, an eyelet version instead.

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.

Orcas!

I’ve been learning my way around Etsy, and have made a couple of sales (two plush dragons). I still think my future there is mostly in pattern downloads.

This one was another spur-of-the-moment: I made a black and white dragon (er, one of each), put a piece of black minky down on top of a piece of white minky, and for some reason it said “killer whale” to me.

As with the jumping spider, I had to do one in non-black to take instructional photographs.

Naturally, I made changes to the pattern while making the larger one, so I don’t actually have any useful instructional pictures yet. So it goes.

Embroidered Jayhawk face freebie

Embroidered Kansas Jayhawk mascot logo

My sister’s husband and in-laws are bigtime University of Kansas fans, so when I needed a little something for my brother-in-law’s Easter basket it was a good excuse to digitize a Jayhawk. The more usual full-body side-view ‘Hawk is a bit complicated for a quick design, but the minimalistic face view fit the, uh, bill.

The nickname for a Kansan is a “Jayhawker,” for not-entirely-clear reasons, and so the mascot for the university is the imaginary “jayhawk” bird.

It’s a pretty simple stitchout.

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