Sunday, September 9, 2012

Embroidering Plushies

Excellent, you want to make your own plushie. There are lots of ways to put eyes and a cutie mark on your ponies; everything from buttons to paint to hand embroidery. I have always found that machine embroidery gives your plushie a professionally made look. on top of that, it is much more durable than other methods.

Embroidery is fun, but it can also be a pain if you don't plan ahead. So let's do some planning. First, some basics about setting up a machine and some of the mechanics and costs of embroidery. Read these first.

Making a new design (digitizing)

Stabilizer and Patches
Basic costs and materials
Recommended Cutie Mark sizes

First up, you need an embroidery machine. I use a SE400 and a PE770 from Brother for most of my embroidery. The fabric is put into a hoop (the grey square clamp that you can see later) and some stabilizer is put on the front and back of the fabric. This keeps the fabric from moving when being embroidered. You also need some thread. I recommend Marathon, though everyone has their own favorites. Sometimes, machines can be temperamental too and not like specific brands of thread. For example, my machine doesn't like Threadart or CTS thread (I think they have the same manufacturer). Both brands break a ton in my machines while Marathon hardly breaks at all. Isacord also works well for me.

Now, on to the setup! First, lay out your material and DO NOT CUT OUT THE PATTERN. I am using Minky for Rainbow Dash, and the grain is running from left to right. Just like a real animal, you want the 'fur' pointed in the right direction (from head to tail). So in the pictures I have taken, the pony's head will be on the left and the tail on the right.

This is the hoop; in this case it is made for a 100mm by 100mm maximum size design. The attachment point to the machine is on the left, and the part at the bottom is the clamp screw. The side with the clamp screw is also the bottom of the design for my machines. Check yours to make sure they match.

This is the hoop set on a piece of 200mm by 200mm 1.5oz tear away stabilizer. I use 2 sheets of this on the back and 1 sheet of water soluble Solvy on the top when I embroider on Minky. AS a note, the 200mm by 200mm also happens to be the minimum piece of fabric you can embroider in a 100mm hoop until you have to resort to not-so-good workarounds that I don't like employing.

Now lay out the pattern, DO NOT CUT IT OUT YET. Center the hoop on where the cutie mark will go. Once you figure out where to put it, measure to the center of where you want the cutie mark and put down some masking tape where the approximate center of the cutie mark needs to go. Then measure, and mark the spot like this. One arrow to the front, one arrow to the top with the bottom right point being the exact center. These are your alignment marks for putting the fabric in the hoop. If I am embroidering your fabric for you (or any other embroiderer for that matter) this is where you stop, fold up the fabric, and send it to get embroidered.

Next up, put the bottom of the hoop and 2 sheets of stabilizer under the fabric, Solvy on top, and use the top piece of the hoop, resting lightly on the fabric, to tell where the center of the design is. The green hatch mark thing is the alignment grid. The goal is to line up the center of the masking tape mark to the center of the hoop grid. In this case, I am a few degrees off. It is pretty much impossible to get this exactly lined up which is why you do not cut out the pattern until after the embroidery is done.

Once lined up, remove the tape and clamp the fabric together. Here you can see the top and bottom of the hoop with the layers in this order form top to bottom: Solvy, Minky, 2 sheets of 1.5oz stabilizer. Now you can put it in the machine.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eye and Cutie Mark Embroidery File Sets

I finally got enough time to start assembling and organizing the different embroidery files that I have. I have created 2 file sets, MLP Eyes, and MLP Cutie Marks, each for $35. Included with each is all the different designs for cutie marks and MLP eyes that I have created.

New or updated designs will be sent out when I create and organize them, free of charge, so you never have to worry about your set going out of date.

I will also be making a set for putting pony designs themselves on clothes, towels, and the like, but that will take longer to put together than this set. Those will take much more modification and work to be ready.

The sets are available here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Little Pony eye and Cutie Mark size

I get asked quite a bit what the correct eye and cutie mark size is for MLP stuffed animals.  There are honestly a ton of personal preferences and patterns, but in general, these are the sizes that I think work best. They have been tweeked over the past year based on feedback from different designers and makers.

Height is measured from the bottom of the hoof to the top of the head, not including the mane or ears. The size of the cutie mark and eyes is measured by width or height of the design, whichever is hit first when sizing. For example, for a 18" tall pony, the eye should fit in a square that is 101mm in width and height. In general, I round to the nearest 5mm size when I embroider. So an 18" tall pony would get an eye that is 100mm by 100mm.

Height in inches Height in milimeters eye size in mm cutie mark in mm
1 25 6 6
2 51 11 13
3 76 17 19
4 102 22 25
5 127 28 32
6 152 34 38
7 178 39 45
8 203 45 51
9 229 50 57
10 254 56 64
11 279 62 70
12 305 67 76
13 330 73 83
14 356 78 89
15 381 84 95
16 406 89 102
17 432 95 108
18 457 101 114
19 483 106 121
20 508 112 127
21 533 117 133
22 559 123 140
23 584 129 146
24 610 134 152
25 635 140 159
26 660 145 165
27 686 151 172
28 711 157 178
29 737 162 184
30 762 168 191
31 787 173 197
32 813 179 203
33 838 184 210
34 864 190 216
35 889 196 222
36 914 201 229
37 940 207 235
38 965 212 241
39 991 218 248
40 1016 224 254
41 1041 229 260
42 1067 235 267
43 1092 240 273
44 1118 246 279
45 1143 252 286
46 1168 257 292
47 1194 263 299
48 1219 268 305

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lyra Plushie Kit - Make your own Plushie

Kit is available here:

I have gotten a ton of requests to embroider eyes and cutie marks for folks who want a MLP plushie.  Sadly, a lot of the detail on embroidering eyes and cutie marks is lost when I try to make a patch out of them.  The only option while keeping quality is to embroider directly on the fabric.  If you didn’t have an embroidery machine, that meant sending me the fabric, I would embroider it, and then mail it back.  That back and forth took about a month, and shipping cost was very high. I have been working on different solutions with a few goals in mind.  The goals I had in mind were:

Realistic - The solution had to look like a MLP pony and be 'On Model'. They definitely had to be better than the new TRU plushes that frighten small children.
High quality - The solution had to be high quality.  Quality is in the details, so the details have to be wonderfully made.
Huggable - The solution had to be cuddly and soft.
Durable - The solution had to be able to take abuse and rough play.  Kids (and sometimes adults) are rough with their toys.
Inexpensive - The solution had to be easy to afford so that everyone can make MLP plushies.  My specific goal was under $50 total.
Fast - Turn around time of less than a week so that folks don't have to wait.
Easy - the solution had to be as easy as possible for the buyer.  Preferably a ‘one stop shop’

Pretty much everything I came up with failed several of those requirements, especially the inexpensive one.  Shipping fabric around several times is not the best use of money.  Then, about 2 weeks ago I was in a fabric store that I had not been to before.  I was just wondering around when I came across a few bolts of high quality polar fleece.  I stared at one of them for a while before I figured out why it had caught my attention.  It was Lyra’s body color.  That color is insanely hard to find, and here was 20 square yards that I ran across on accident. That fleece had to come home with me, and the idea was born.  A MLP Plushie Kit.

My goal was to be under $50 for a MLP plushie, so I sat down and figured out just what materials would be needed, how much they would cost, and how to get them to someone for the cheapest way possible.  I pared the list down to only those things that are harder to find, and put them all into the kit.  When I was done, I ended up with a cost well BELOW my goal; only 38 bucks.  Even a pony like Rainbow Dash with a bazillion colors would end up under $50.

The Lyra Plushie Kit is designed to give you nearly everything you need to make a Lyra plushie.  The kit comes with huggable soft polar fleece in the right colors that has been embroidered with Lyra’s eyes and cutie marks for a professional look.  The embroidery sizing is based upon Valley Violet’s MLP pony pattern, which makes a pony at around ten inches tall.  The eyes and cutie marks are each 65mm tall (about 2.5 inches).  The embroidery itself is designed to be durable, and is overlocked at several points.  This means that if something happens and some of the thread is cut (say, on a ceiling fan as you toss Lyra across the room) the embroidery won’t completely unravel. The black and tan grid that can be seen in the pictures are each one inch squares for reference by the way.

The main body of Lyra is made from mint polar fleece, and pieces of medium green and white polar fleece are supplied to make Lyra’s mane and tail. Polar fleece is soft, warm, and doesn't shed little bits all over like Minky or other microfiber fleece. This makes it a good fit for a plushie that will get hugged, and not necessary put in a display case on a shelf.

2 bobbins of thread that contain about 120 yards of thread each are also included so you can sew your plush together.  120 yards is enough for about 5 plushies, so you can test to your heart’s content. The thread is 40 weight polyester and is color matched to the mint fleece. As all seams are sewn inside the body and none is visible, the color isn’t all that important for most of the plush.  The exception is the hand sewing required on the plush’s head.  The thread comes on 2 bobbins, one is size L, one is size 15.  This is equivalent to Brother SA155 and SA156 bobbins.  About 99% of home machines use one of these 2 bobbin sizes.  That means you can use one bobbin as a bobbin, and the other bobbin for the top thread.  Most machines have a vertical feed that will take a bobbin for the top thread.  In some cases, a spool pin or something like it may be supplied with the machine to support a vertical feed from a bobbin.  Check your machine manual to see if it supports this type of feed.  Do not use a bobbin for the top thread on a horizontal fed machine, and do not use it if your machine recommends against it.  I have never had a problem with it on any sewing machine, but you know your machine best.

What you get:
Mint Polar Fleece - 58” wide by 12” tall, and embroidered
Medium Green Polar Fleece - 29” wide by 12” tall
White Polar Fleece - 29” wide by 12” tall
One class 15 bobbin with 120 yards of mint thread
One class L bobbin with 120 yards of mint thread

What you don’t get, but will need:
Sewing Machine (or lots of patience)
hand needle
Polyfill – Nearly every Wal-Mart caries this
Pony Pattern
    Or nearly any pattern where the end result is a pony roughly 10 inches tall.

The fabric is huggable soft polar fleece.  The mint fleece (Lyra’s body) is 58 inches wide by 12 inches tall.  For Lyra’s mane and tail, one piece of medium green and one piece of white is supplied, each at 12” tall by 29” wide.  The sizes I have listed here are approximate, and may be plus or minus several inches.  There is almost twice as much material as needed to make a Lyra plushie so you have lots of testing material.

Valley Violet’s MLP pony pattern is pretty popular, and there are lots of modifications to it that folks have done.  One common modification is making the pony sides from 1 piece of fabric instead of two.  The embroidered cutie mark locations support either one or two piece pony sides.

The cutie marks and eyes are directional.  This means there is a left and a right for both.  When you cut them out, make sure you cut them out on the correct side.  Measure twice cut once!

Make sure to sew the ‘wrong side’ together.  When you make a plush, you sew it inside out then turn it right side out at the end.  That means the embroidery will be on the INSIDE of the pony when you are actually sewing it.

I suggest not using the embroidered pieces for your first pony.  Getting the eye placement just right can be time consuming.  If the eyes are not lined up, your pony may look weird.  Well, with the exception of Derpy.  Pinning the pattern to the fleece then holding it up to a strong light can help you see how the embroidery lays out against the pattern.  Once cut, it is all but impossible to fix, so take your time.

Tested with sewing machine needle sizes 11, 12 and 14.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Start your own Embroidery Business?

I have been getting lots of questions asked recently about how much these patches cost to make, and that folks want to start selling their own.  Sometimes MLP, sometimes not.  I am more than happy to see folks start up their own businesses, that's awesome!  The only thing I ask is that you don't sell the same things I do, as I would like to break even at some point. Anyway, on to a business explanation!

For the first 6 months or so doing this, I was selling embroidered stuff for less than they cost me to make, and now I sell them for slightly more.  I used to sell towels, washcloths, and the like that was embroidered with MLP designs.  I stopped doing that when I was homebound due to a medical issue, and was unable to get to the store to buy blank towels.  Now, I pretty much only do patches, but I will do other things if asked.  The business model and expenses I have below are for the patch process at 100mm by 100mm maximum size. You will need to modify it if you have a different item that you want to sell.

I used to get thread from Linda Z's sewing and Joann fabrics, one spool at a time. A 500M (550 yard) spool of thread was $5, not including the gas to go get it and such.  On average, the patches I make use 400 to 500 yards of thread between the top and bottom.  The thread is spread out between several different colors, so you won't use a whole spool of the same color at once, but since all thread was the same cost, it doesn't matter when determining cost.  So the cost of thread was $5, nice and simple.

The thread was the biggest single expense, but a lot of folks seem to think that is the only expense. There's also a whole host of other stuff. I keep meticulous records, so I know every last cost that goes into making a patch, and I know that there is so much more that can be easily overlooked.  Here's a breakdown of my current costs. The biggest way I reduced expenses was that I changed suppliers and the quantity of supplies that I bought at once.  Thread, stabilizer, needles, etc.  For example: instead of paying $5 for one 550 yard spool of thread, I now pay $2, but I had to buy ten 5500 yard spools of the same color (same as 110 regular spools) to get that price instead of just one previously.

 Then you have the cost of stabilizer (about $2) needles (about $1), and other misc stuff (about $1).

Before I changed suppliers and started ordering in bulk, it cost $9 to make a patch or design I sold for $5.  Now, it costs about $3.80 in materials (thread for $2 & the different stabilizers for $1.80) for me to make a patch that I sell for $5.40.  That's raw materials, but that isn't all it costs.

The additional costs on top of that $3.80 are electricity to run the machine (28 cents, measured with a kill-a-watt meter), Paypal/google checkouot fees (63 cents), waste of ruined patches (8%, 32 cents), and misc costs like propane, hobby knife blades, cutting boards, embroidery machine repair and maintenance ($150 minimum to get a tech to fix a machine plus $18 in gas), other minor things (about 28 cents per patch), and sales tax (44 cents for those sold to residents in my state, but only 4 cents per overall patch).  If you add all that up, it costs $5.35 to make and sell a patch, which does not include the time spent doing it, or one time costs (An embroidery machine, a table, storage, etc).  It could be about $2 cheaper (less waste, less materials, less electricity per patch) if I could afford to outlay about $20,000 for a professional embroidery machine with a hot knife, but that is too much to bet on making patches.  I would need to sell at least ten thousand patches to pay for the machine by itself.  Also, those machines can't handle the number of colors I have in all the designs.  Some MLP designs have more than 20 colors, even the most expensive commercial machines only support 15.

There is the shipping cost as well.  The $2.18 in shipping covers the envelope, postage, paper, printer toner, the cost of replacing patches that get lost in the mail, and labels. Overall, it works out to me making about 9 cents on shipping. Therefore, if you sum the money made on shipping and on the patch itself, I make about 14 cents per patch.  This amount is in constant flux, but now that I have made quite a few patches, I can say with pretty good certainty what my expense & profit is. If I use 3 machines at once, I can average 1 patch per hour, so I make about 14 cents per hour profit.  Definitely not a good business model if you want to make a profit.

Remember, this 14 cents doesn't include the cost of an embroidery machine, storage, or any other one time costs.  I have spent more than 4 grand on machines and hoops, which I am not including in the costs I have above. (8 hoops, 2 PE770's, 1 6800PRW, 1 ULT2001, $700 for a desk and thread feeders, and other mic stuff)

Here's the reason I ask you don't make and sell the same designs I do: In order to break exactly even with what I already spent (use up all the thread I have, stabilizer, etc) assuming the same waste and materials I use per patch now, I need to sell 1,579 patches.  I sell about 4 a week, though recently, that has gone up to somewhere around 8.  Assuming the same growth that I have seen since I started, it will take between 120 and 158 weeks to sell those 1579 patches.

I know several people that run their own embroidery businesses, and they all think I am crazy when I tell them what I sell stuff for.  Believe it or not, each of them has the same price for doing embroidery, which is one dollar for a thousand stitches.  That doesn't sound too bad, and a thousand stitches sounds like a lot.  But it isn't.  Guess how many stitches Rainbow Dash has?

If you guessed 19,186 stitches, you are correct.  A 4 inch patch of Rainbow Dash would cost $19.18. I sell Rainbow Dash for $5.40.  That is a much better business model, but still not going to make you retirement money.  Assuming the same speed, that means they can make about $14 an hour doing embroidery.  Much better than my 14 cents.  The $19.18 cost doesn't include digitizing, which is turning a design into stitches.  The people that I know that do it charge either a flate rate by hour, or by how many stitches.  The person who does it hourly charges $34 an hour (it takes me between 1 and 4 hours to do a design) and the others charge $5, $6, or $9 per thousand stiches.  It is a one time cost though, so the cost is less per patch if you get more patches.  But that would still add between $68 and $171 dollars to the cost of doing a patch.  At an hourly rate, that is much better from a business standpoint.

So there's my business model with some examples from 3 other folks who do this for a living.  Hopefully that will answer the questions I have gotten, and help you start your own business.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Plushies Coming Up

Sorry that I haven't posted any designs in a little while, I haven't had time to upload the files and do the writeups of them.  They will be coming shortly, along with a bunch of different sets of plushie eyes (Derpy, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie, Twilight, & Lyra).

So far, I have embroidered designs for a few different My Little Pony plushie makers like Hoppip, but I haven't made my own. Well, I am going to try making a MLP one, hopefully next week.  I am not positive who I will do, but for the first one, I will do somepony with an easy mane, and probably a female earth pony so I don't have the horn or wings to deal with.  I'm thinking of doing Applebloom, but not sure yet.

I just ordered a pattern to make a plushie.  Know what the best part is?  YOU CAN GET A PATTERN.  RIGHT HERE.  For $15, you get a physical pattern, and for $20, you get a physical pattern and a PDF so you can make more patterns for your own use.   The ponies above were made with the pattern.

Valley Violet is the one who made the pattern.  She put lots of time into making it look awesome and in writing the instructions, so you should totally get one.  Right now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Professor Coltbalt as Patch

Professor Coltbalt is looking Stylin'.

You can download the embroidery file here.

White - batch back
Midnight Blue - 2092 (body)
Light Maroon - 2053 (Mane)
Gold - 2021 (leg)
White - 2149 (teeth)
Dark Maroon - 2058 (Mane outline)
Dark blue - 2070 (body outline)
Dark Gold - 2162 (Front Hoof Outline)
Lime Green - 2015 (Cutie Mark)
Black - 2150 (Glasses)
Dark Blue - 2072 (Cutie Mark).