Metroidhat's sewing techniques and materials guide for beginners

This page is made for people who have never sewn before and wish to try making a plushie. For those who have sewing experience, you oughtta skim through this anyways before tackling one of my tutorials. I attempt to make my tutorials easy to understand with lots of pictures, and many sewing newbies have reported that they have successfully crafted a plushie from my instructions. I hope with the information provided here, you'll be able to make one too!

A general guide on fabrics

You will notice that most fabric has a 'good' side and a 'bad' side, the good side being the nicer side which you want to show on the outside of your project. When you sew pieces of fabric together, you usually put the good sides of the fabric together and sew on the bad side. That way the thread and raw edges are hidden on the bad side of the fabric. Another consequence of having good sides/bad sides is that you need to take extra care when cutting out patterns which are asymmetrical. That is, when you cut out a pattern piece and require a second one which is identical but mirrored, you will need to flip the paper pattern over before you cut the fabric. If you don't do this, the bad side of one of the pieces will show up on the outside of the final result.

Here's a brief description of the three most popular fabrics for plushie making: fleece, minky, and felt. All of them are widely available at your local craft/fabric store and come in a large range of colors at reasonable prices. Although I encourage you to experiment with whatever you want!

Fleece

Fleece is ideal for the beginning plushier, with a good balance of cuddliness and ease of use. There's a few varieties of fleeces. I tend to go for arctic fleece, polar fleece, or anti-pill fleece while avoiding micro fleece, which has hardly any fuzz.

Pros:
-Fuzzy texture and slight stretch helps hide sewing mistakes and gives your plushie a nice squish.
-Its edges do not fray very easily, so it can be acceptable to leave raw edges showing on the outside. This makes it good for applique and doll hair.
-Fleece was made for warmth. It's very good for scarves, hats, and blankets.

Cons:
-It has a tendency to 'pill', that is, balls of fuzz form on its surface over the years if it is handled a lot.
-It has a two-way stretch, which can cause complications in your plushie. You may find areas twisting or becoming fatter than you intend if you're not paying attention while cutting or sewing.

Minky

That shimmery fur, that gentle squish, those vibrant colors! This is my favorite fabric to work with! You can sometimes get fabric with a very short pile (length of fur) or a medium length pile. Minky is also sometimes called micro-chenille, especially in Canada.

Pros:
-Mildly stretchy and fluffy, plushies made of minky are a delight to the senses!
-As a lighter fabric than felt or fleece, sewn corners appear sharper when they're bagged out.
-Although minky fur can be caught within a seam, the fur can be teased out using a needle or a cat brush, which helps hide the seam.

Cons:
-Because minky has a 'nap', you have to pay attention to how the pattern is cut, or else the direction of the fur will be going all over the place.
-It has a two-way stretch, so often pattern pieces can only be cut one way. There will also be more fabric wastage.
-The raw edges of minky can shed and unravel, so all edges need to be encased inside a plushie.
-Minky can be slippery to sew on a sewing machine, resulting in puckered seams, raw edges that don't match, and areas that shrink and stretch undesirably. If this is happening, sew slowly and use a lot of pins to hold the fabric in position.
-Being so fuzzy, cut minky will shed a lot. Keep a lint brush nearby and use an air purifier if you have one. Shake out cut pieces over a table and brush or vacuum the extra fluff away.

Felt

While I personally don't use felt a lot, beginning sewers find it easy to handle. Most felt is made with a percentage of plastic, but the good stuff is pure wool.

Pros:
-Felt often comes in small squares so there isn't much investment in materials.
-There is no good or bad side to the fabric, or stretch or grain. So you don't have to pay too much attention to how you're cutting your fabric.
-Its edges do not fray very easily so it can be acceptable to leave raw edges showing on the outside. This makes it good for applique and doll hair.
-With a smoother texture than fleece or minky, small details that are drawn, embroidered, painted, or glued on will show up better.

Cons:
-Felt is relatively stiff and unstretchy. The material wants to remain flat, so seams tend to curl inwards when stuffed. Because of this, felt may not be good for small plushies or ones that require a lot of curved, complicated seams. Felt plushies tend to be flatter and more angular, since they don't stretch into roundness.
-Felt does not have much integrity near its edges so it can not be cut too thinly or sewn too close to its edges if the seam is going to undergo a lot of stress.

Tools and Terminology

Tools

  • Scissors-Good quality sharp scissors are essential for sewing anything. If your scissors go through fabric like a spoon through steak, then it's time to get them sharpened or invest in new scissors. Fabric scissors can only be used on fabric; never use them for anything else, including paper, or else they will dull quickly.
  • Thread-All purpose thread is the best choice for sewing plushies. It usually consists of a polyester and cotton mix. Just be careful not to buy embroidery thread or serger thread on cones. And try not to use old thread, since that tends to be somewhat deteriorated from UV radiation. Oh and when you cut thread, donít use your teeth; it frays the thread and damages your teeth.
  • Needle-I make do with any medium-sized needle. Just donít use a huge thick one thatíll make big holes in your delicate, tightly woven cloth. If you are using a sewing machine, it is very important to replace your worn needles regularly and to use the correct type of needle for the type of fabric you're sewing. Seriously, I struggled with tension woes and skipped stitches for years before I figured out it was my needles that were the problem.
  • Pins-Pins are used to hold pieces of cloth together as you sew and to hold down pattern pieces as you cut. Pierce the pin through all the layers, then pierce through them again a small distance away in order to hold them all together. There are thick or thin pins, long or short pins, and pins that are entirely metal or with glass or plastic heads. The plastic or glass headed pins are easier to see, but be careful when ironing or you'll melt the plastic or leave marks in your fabric. Thicker pins can be longer and stronger but they can warp delicate fabrics. Discard pins if they become bent.
  • Stuffing-There are many different brands of polyester stuffing. If you can, poke a finger into the stuffing and get a feel for how lofty or silky it is. Most stuffing will be okay, but you donít want to get one that clusters easily. I haven't tried it, but I heard wool stuffing is good, and if you're in a pinch, you can tear apart an old pillow for its innards or even use fabric scraps if you don't mind the heaviness and lumpiness.
  • Optional stuff

  • Sewing machine-If you know how to use one and what parts are appropriate for using it, then be my guest. All my tutorials can be made with hand sewing, but a machine makes things go faster and the result neater.
  • Needle threader-Ham-handed gamers might have a problem threading a needle, but this nifty tool makes the job easy. You first push the wire part of the threader through the needle's eye, and then take one end of your string and thread it through the loop of wire. Then you pull the threader back through the eye of the needle, and it will take the string through the eye.
  • Hemostats-These are scissory-looking things with blunt ends originally made for doctors to grasp things easily with. They are absolutely the best tool for bagging out and stuffing thin, hard-to-reach areas in your plushie. I can't live without one anymore! But for many years, I simply used chopsticks and elbow grease to bag out and stuff my plushies. Hemostats are definitely a great investment.
  • Seam ripper-When you use a sewing machine, you are likely to make mistakes. Use this tool to wiggle between threads and slice them with the blade at the base of the metal part.
  • Chalk/ink marker/Frixion pen-Use markers to draw things temporarily on your fabric. Always test the marker first, in case it doesnít come off your fabric. You should use it on the fabricís wrong side anyways. Chalk markers can be brushed off or come off in the wash. Varieties of ink markers may disappear after a while, or in the wash, or when ironed, or may even have an Ďeraserí for you to remove the mark immediately. Frixion pens are very popular because they are as thin and vibrant as a normal ball-point pen, but come right off of most fabrics as soon as it's ironed.
  • Terminology

  • Seam-The line along which you sew, or where you have already sewn.
  • Seam allowance-When you sew along the edge of a piece of fabric, that distance from your sewing line, or seam, to the raw edge of the fabric is the seam allowance. Most of my patterns have a 4mm or 1/4 inch seam allowance.
  • Dart-Instead of sewing two separate pieces of fabric together, sometimes a single piece of fabric is folded and a seam is sewn starting right at the edge of the fold. This is often shown by a triangular cutout on the pattern piece. Darts can be straight or curved.
  • Nap-Some fabrics, such as minky and fur, have individual strands that give them their fuzzy feel. And those strands will typically run in a single direction on a piece of fabric. This direction is called the Nap. On fabrics that are stretchy, it will often run perpendicular to the direction of the stretch. On some of my patterns, the direction of the nap is indicated by an arrow.
  • Applique-This is the technique of adhering one piece of fabric directly on top of another, as opposed to sewing pieces of fabric together such that their raw edges are hidden on the inside of the plushie. This is usually done to create details that are too small or too detailed to be sewn normally. Appliques can be applied by topstitching or by glue. Like a patch or a sticker.
  • Bagging out-This means to turn inside out. Plushies are basically 'bags' that we sew from the inside, and then we turn them inside out so the raw edges are not showing.
  • Hand-sewing Techniques

    Stringing your needle

    Cut about an arm's length of string and thread it through the eye of the needle. This is easiest to do if the end of the thread isn't frayed, and made even easier if you moisten the end first. Match up the two ends of the thread and tie them in a knot with about 1 cm of tail or more remaining. Tie another knot on top of the first knot to make it thicker. You'll need the knot to be thick enough so it doesn't pass right through the cloth.

    Running Stitch, Double Running Stitch

    The running stitch, or basic stitch, or straight stitch, is used when two pieces of cloth are placed together. Simply poke the needle through both pieces of cloth and slowly pull the string taut. Don't pull too tightly though; you don't want an 'accordion' effect on your cloth. Then, on the side which the needle emerged from, poke the needle through again. Rinse and repeat. Usually, you stitch following the edge of the cloth, keeping about half a centimeter of space between the seam and the edge. The smaller you make each stitch, the better the end results will be. It will also help to poke the needle halfway through the cloth pieces, and turn it around to look at where the needle is before you pull the thread through. That will help keep your stitches even.

    The double running stitch is when you finish your single running stitch, you go back over it again. Like, a single running stitch forms a kind of dotted line. Going over it again fills in the dots and results in a continuous line.

    Whipstitch, Overcast stitch

    The Whipstitch is used to applique pieces of fabric directly on top of other pieces. First make sure the top piece of fabric is positioned correctly and pin it in place. Pass the needle through the bad side of the base fabric so that the knot is not visible on the good side. Also pass the needle through the edge of the top piece of cloth. Then pass the needle through your first cloth piece, but not the second one. Repeat. It's important to keep the stitches small and neat because they will be showing on the outside of the finished plush.

    Ladder stitch, Slipstitch

    If done properly, this stitch it hides the thread within the cloth. It achieves almost the same effect as the basic stitch but instead of sewing on the inside of the plushie, you are sewing on the outside. It's perfect for sewing up openings that are used for stuffing. It is used when there are two pieces of cloth that are folded inwards, with their folds needing to be connected. First, poke your threaded and knotted needle through the bad side of one cloth, ensuring that the knot is on the inside of the plushie. Next, pass the needle partway through the good side of the other piece of cloth at the closest location where the pieces meet. Don't pull the thread too tightly; you'll need space to perform the next step. Now that the tip of your needle is on the inside of the plushie, pass it through to the outside and pull the whole needle out. Repeat. Remember to pull the earlier stitches tight at some point, once you don't need the wiggle room.

    Tying off

    When you finish sewing a section or run out of thread, you'll want to end the string in a knot. To do that, first find one of your previous stitches. If possible, try to choose one that is on the 'inside' of the final product so that the knot doesn't show on the outside. Now pass the needle through the stitch, but don't pull on it tightly. Pass your needle through the loop you just made, thus making a second loop. Now pull the strands of the second loop carefully, such that it shrinks the first loop, until that loop is all but gone. Pass the needle through the remaining loop and do the same thing to shrink it. Finally, you can just pull on the thread to shrink the final loop, resulting in a tight knot. Now snip off the remaining thread, leaving about 1 cm of tail. If your knot is on the 'outside' of the plushie, then you can hide the tail of the thread by poking your needle through the cloth near your knot and then taking it out at a farther location. Then snip the tail close to the cloth so that none of it is showing on the outside.

    Tips and tricks

    Cutting fabric

    Pattern pieces often indicate the direction of the nap or grain that they should be cut at. Nap means the direction of the fabric's fur, which usually flows one way. But even if your fabric has no fur, you will still need to pay attention to how you're cutting. Because many fabrics have a two-way stretch perpendicular to the grain and is stiff in the direction of the grain. If the stretch direction is incorrect, you will find your finished plushie too fat or too tall or it might end up twisted. So don't go cutting pattern pieces randomly!

    If your pattern calls for 2 pieces, one of which is inversed, you can fold your fabric in half along the grain, right sides facing, and cut two pieces at once. So long as you're careful and the fabric is not too thick.

    You can draw the outline of the pattern piece directly onto the back of your fabric or you can pin the paper pattern onto the fabric and cut around it.

    Sewing curves

    1. Imagine you're sewing a curve into a curve, kind of like piece A to piece B. (The letters A and B are flipped funny in this picture because you're looking at the fabric's backside) The inner lines represent the seam, and the outer lines represent the edge of the fabric. The red seam line on both pieces of fabric are equal in length and should fit together perfectly. But the outer blue line on piece A is shorter than on piece B due to their alternating curves.

    2. Even worse, when you flip B around so the right sides of the fabric are facing, the two curves run concave and convex in opposition to each other! How are you going to sew them together???

    3. You will need to clip into the seam allowance of the concave piece of fabric, which is A in this case. The more severe the concave curve or convex curve you're sewing into, the more clips you will want to make, and deeper, although you'll never want to cut beyond the seam allowance. Then spread A, forcing the curve to invert and the raw edge to be flush with the raw edge of B. Now you can sew it down.

    4. This is what the two fabrics will look like on their right sides.

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