Introduction: Custom Plush Characters
Here's an all-purpose pattern I worked up for a human character plush toy. This will walk you through the basic body of the doll which can be dressed up into virtually any character. It's great for when the gift shop simply doesn't have anything that embodies enough personal significance.
Step 1: Getting Started
- Sewing needle (or machine if you prefer)
- Fabric shears
- Marker (something that cleans off fabric easily, if you can get it)
- Pattern (see above photos)
- Colored fabrics
- Thread (colored to match the fabric if possible)
- Fiber Fill
Step 2: The Running Stitch
For those of you unfamiliar with sewing there are two basic stitches that will be used for this project; The Running Stitch and The Slip Stitch.
The running stitch is a simple and common stitch that will be used for the bulk of this project. If you decide to use a sewing machine, you can use machine stitches anywhere I specify a running stitch. Unless otherwise stated, all stitches done up to page 7 are done with a running stitch.
Threading the needle
To start off, poke the end of your thread through the eye of your needle. Pull a fair length of thread through the eye, around a foot or two. Unravel enough thread from the spool so that there are matching lengths of thread trailing from both sides of the eye and cut off.
Tie the two loose ends together with a large knot, essentially tying several knots in the same place. This can be done easily by looping the thread around your index finger and rolling the loop between your thumb and finger, twisting it several times. Pull the loose end through the twisted loop and tighten into a knot. Now when you pull the thread through your fabric it should stop at the knot instead of pulling completely through.
The Running Stitch
When you are stitching you should have a line you're following, whether it is visibly drawn on your fabric or simply imagined. To perform a running stitch, start at one end of this line and poke your needle in through the fabric and out the other side and pull tight. Now find a spot further down the line and poke the needle back through it from the underside. Pull the thread all the way through and you should have one complete stitch. Continue down the line, trying to keep the spacing even.
If your fabric is thin enough to manage an even stitch you may find it easier and quicker to pierce the needle through both points on the line at the same time. If your are confident you could even hit several points along the line at once.
Ending a stitch
When you reach the end of a seam or start running out of thread you can anchor off the loose end of a seam by doubling back on the last stitch you made. Poke your needle back through the second to last point on the line you pierced. Bring the needle back out on the last point. This should create a loop with your thread. Bring the needle through that loop and tighten to form a knot. You may choose to do this twice to make sure it does not come untied at any time. Cut off the remaining thread and needle.
Step 3: The Slip Stitch
The slip stitch is used to close up a seam from the outside without leaving big visible stitches across the fabric. Here I use it to seal up stuffing holes and join limbs to the torso.
Start by aligning the fabric on either side of the seam and folding in the edges to the inside of the doll. After you've threaded the needle (directions on the 'running stitch' page) start your stitch from the underside of the fabric at one end of the seam. The best place you can put it will probably be along the fold from the inside. Pull your needle from the inside of the fabric to the outside on the folded edge.
Reach across the seam and poke the needle through the fabric on the opposite side. Make sure the point where the needle enters the fabric is aligned with where the thread comes out of the fabric on the starting side. Without pulling the needle all the way through, prick the needle back out of the fabric further down along the folded edge.
Pull the needle all the way through, drawing the thread behind it until the stitch pulls the two folded edges together. Repeat the previous step on the opposite side, pulling the needle across and poking in and out while staying aligned with the other side.
Continue this zig-zagging pattern until you make it across the seam or run out of thread. Anchor off the end the same way you did the running stitch.
Step 4: The Body
For this step trace and cut one panel of the body and seat portions. Do all your tracing on the wrong side of the fabric (the side that will not show on the finished doll). When you are cutting, do not cut along the line you traced. Instead, cut a fourth to a half inch outside the line. Being exact shouldn't matter here so long as you have enough seam allowance (space between the seam and the cut edge) to make the stitch without it pulling apart.
Clip out a second body portion roughly the same size and shape of the first, including the allowance you made around the edges. No need to trace again, just lay the first panel on top and cut around it.
Lay the two body panels on top of one another with the good sides (the side of the fabric you want to show) facing in. Pin them together to hold them in place and stitch down the sides. Keep the top and bottom open. Flip over to the side without outlines on it and draw in straight lines for the top and bottom.
Spread the bottom open and pin the seat panel in place. To help you get the idea, the straight lines at the bottom of the body should bend around to match up with the curve of the seat outline. Stitch all the way around the seat. Once that's tied off, you can turn the torso inside out through the neck.
Check to make sure there are no gaps in your seams. If everything is in order you can stuff the body with a handful of fiber fill and tuck in the extra cloth around the neck.
Step 5: The Head
The head is the most complicated part of this pattern.
Start by tracing and cutting out a section for the back of the head using your fabric colored for the character's hair, in this case white. Again, keep tracing on the wrong side of the fabric. Cut out a second panel about the same size without tracing. Pin them one atop the other with the good sides facing in and stitch along the longer side of the shape leaving the shorter curve open. Turn the whole thing over. On the blank side you should see your stitch following the long curve from the tracing. Take the template for the back of the head and lay it on top, lining it up with that stitch. Trace along the short side of the stencil, completing the shape on the blank side.
Trace and cut the crown section out of hair-colored fabric. Match the point on the crown to the pointed edge of the 'back of head' section and pin them together. Now pin down the sides matching the lines as best you can. Use your pins to explore from one side to the other to make sure they match up. Stitch down the line and remove the pins.
Trace and cut the chin section using your character's skin color. Fold it in half to find the center and mark it with a pin. With the body of the chin section being tucked inside the head, line up the outer line with the open part of the 'back of head' section. Line up the center of the chin with the center of the open edge (where the two sides of the head meet). Tuck in the 'crown' section so it lays more or less flat against the inside of the head. Fold in the ends of the 'crown' section along the short angled lines. Stretch the chin up along the sides of the head, matching lines on each side of the fabric and pin in place. There will be some overlap with the crown section so don't panic if the chin seems to stretch up to the top of the head. Stitch along the line, you will go over part of the seam from the crown.
Turn the chin and the crown out. Cut the face panel out of skin-colored fabric and match up the outline to the open edges of the chin and crown and pin into place. Try not to get any wrinkles along the outline where you match them up, but if you end up with excess fabric, try to work it toward the forehead, the middle of the crown panel. Make sure the ends of the crown section are still folded in along the diagonal lines. Stitch along the outline of the face leaving about an inch-and-a-half open at the top of the head.
When you've recollected your pins you should be able to turn the whole thing inside out through the gap you left in the forehead. Check to make sure everything's sorted out and stuff the head through the same opening. When it's plumped out to your liking, seal up the forehead with a slip stitch. The sideburns should stay closed on their own, but if you want to seal them up, use a slip stitch there as well.
Step 6: The Limbs
Trace and cut two copies of the leg stencil on your fabric. For each of these traced portions, cut out an additional panel without an outline in the same general shape. For each leg pin the traced panel on top of the blank panel and stitch down the sides of the outline, leaving the top and bottom open. It works just like the torso from before.
Now trace and clip two soles from the pattern. Pin these to the bottom of each foot with the outline facing out. Try your best to match lines on each side. When they are properly matched up, stitch around the line to complete the foot. Turn it inside out and add stuffing. There is no need to seal off the top just yet, simply tuck in the excess fabric as you did with the neck on the torso.
The arms are by far the simplest part of this pattern. Trace and cut out two panels using the arm template, and an additional two blank panels around the same size and shape, just like with the legs.
Pin the traced panels on top of one of the blank ones and stitch around the lines, leaving the short, flat side open. Turn inside out and stuff before tucking in the excess edges just like the legs and neck.
Step 7: Assembly
This is where the slip stitch comes in handy (refer to step 3). Each body part will be stitched together from the outside, and it would be nice to avoid a big obvious stitch.
Start with the neck. Bring it up against the bottom of the head, trying to center it as much as possible. Do your best to pin it in place. Treating the bottom of the head as the last panel to close off the top of the body, stitch around the neck in a complete circle.
The arms and legs work the same way, just be careful to pin them together the way you want the finished body to turn out.
Step 8: Dress It Up!
From this point things will start to differ depending on what character you want to make. For this example I am making the Norse God Odin.
Clothing for the most part can be a simple outline of a shirt or a coat along which you stitch two panels of fabric together and turn inside out like everything else.
Hats can be a little trickier, but a little geometry can help you through that. This one here is an open ended cylinder (just the long edge of a rectangle stitched around the edges of a circle) with a brim added to it (a larger circle with the middle cut out).
For hair I simply cut out the shape of the hairstyle in fabric and stitched it on at a few points using the same color thread so it doesn't show.
Remember your slip stitch, It comes in handy when you want to add some extra features without loose fabric edges around them. I use a slip stitch to attach the eyes (eye in this case) to the head.
Get creative. Experiment with embroidery thread, beads or any other materials or techniques you happen to know. The character I made here is missing an eye, according to Norse myth. Rather than going the obvious route and slipping an eye patch over his face, I added a small pocket made with pink fabric to serve as an empty socket. Gruesome, but adorable in a way.
Simple props can help flesh out your character. I added a spear and a raven to this plush toy's hands, two symbols closely associated with the Allfather. When I unveiled the doll as a gift, the recipient immediately recognized who it was supposed to be.
Step 9: Diversify!
Now It's time to explore the versatility of this pattern. See what characters you can come up with and turn them into adorable little plush toys!
This project is all about personal touch. If you're making a gift, find someone (or something) that means a lot to them and materialize it into something they can hug whenever they feel inclined.