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I get asked this a lot so here is a re-post! Under a cut cause it is long.
Also here is a master post on fabric I use for plushies! (From how they sew, stretch, where to get them, and where I use them when).
I give a lot of advice here on how to do things based on my experiences, but the only way to get good at making plush is to DO IT! You gotta try, fail, experiment, try again, fail better. And while I only talk about general construction here, a lot of a quality looking plush besides design is quality materials (and getting used to how to sew them!) and sewing neatly by hand / machine.
»>1.) Working off a sketch is the best way to get your proportions how you want! Draw it LIFE SIZE, from a simple front / side view. (You can also draw it on the computer and print it out) If you are doing something for a character (like this image below) I printed out various character reference.
After I have my life size schematic, I trace off this with tracing paper for simple parts like arms and legs to get the scale/proportion right, and simply add seam allowance. (You must alter them a little usually, adding bulk where parts need filling, or perhaps darts, combining into once piece, etc…but this is often a good start).
»>2.) There is no wrong way to have your pattern pieces.
Most people make them including seam allowance for the final pattern pieces, be it 1/4” or 1/8” seams,…(I’m never 100% consistent on seam allow, it kinda adds other uniqueness of each plush. I myself sew kinda tight too). but for complex parts I often have pattern pieces that are cut to FINAL SIZE, meaning I trace the pattern pieces I’ve made off my drawing or reference, then cut around with an extra 1/4” for seam allowance. Then I sew on the drawn lines (from my pattern) so it ends up that size and has the specific curves and corners I want.
If you are machine sewing TINY parts…sometimes you may need to cut pieces with a ton of excess, which you cut off after you sew the seam you need. See below for example of this:
»>3.) You add darts and gussets to flesh out parts.
See the ‘forehead’ part? That is a GUSSET. It’s a strip of fabric that tapers on both ends and adds 3D poof to parts like arms, legs, faces, etc. Technically the underbelly is a gusset too.
This tutorial I found is AWESOME in illustrating gussets and darts. She also recently released a book (I should do that hummm >u> ) This part talks about underbellies of animals, and this part deals with gussets! Learning about how much a gusset fills something out and where to put them takes experience so EXPERIMENT and make some test plush!
»>4.) Making Tests of your pattern if it is especially complex, before going to the final (often expensive) fabric.
This plush below was a test of a new pattern that turned into this! Here are 2 more tests of the head. Check out my in progress tag to see some of my process in general if you need inspiration!
Try to use fabric similar or the same to the final fabric (like similar in stretch and density) or else your final may turn out a lot different! Adjust the pattern where things look weird in the test (adding fabric, subtracting, adding darts). You may need to go through 2 or three tests (altering the pattern each time) to get what you want.
»>5.) For complex parts like heads, try making a mini clay model if you are have trouble visualizing in 3D [x]. You also can draw on the clay head where seam lines would be and this can help you make the shapes of those pattern pieces on paper better for a start to a lifesize test head (then you tweak from there). Sometimes you can even use tracing paper to sorta trace these areas, make mini pattern pieces, then blow them up on a copier. As you get good at pattern making you most likely will no longer need this.
Also you can look at plush you already own, and see how the patterning is done in them! It can give you ideas and insight on how they made complex shapes.
There are many ways to joint. A jointed plush is made with the limbs as separate entities. If your plush is going to be jointed you have to plan this as you make the design / pattern! Then you can move their legs and.or arms to sit and stand, and more! You can use internal joints like these:
They can be used to make a floppy or very stuff plush. Classic bears use “cotter pin joints” which are like the plastic ones above but are done with metal rods and cork washers.
My favorite kind though is button jointing! This is a tighter way to joint, it creates synced areas where you tug the jointing snug, and is only for firmly stuffed plush. Here is a basic tutorial [x] Though I personally do it all in one step, so the stress of the tight thread is on the button not just the fabric - also I use upholstery nylon thread on larger plush, it is strongest!
There is also a loose art doll style of jointing called “Hidden button joint”, illustrated here [x].
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