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.


  1. I read on another site that hooping minky was not recommend. Have you had any problems with hoop burn with minky?
    How big the pony going to be with the pattern size at 800% larger and how did you make and print the pattern that large?

  2. Hoop Burn is caused by putting pretty much any fabric into a hoop. it is basically a compressed part of the fabric roughly the width of the hoop. Thick fabrics with a high nap like Minky are expectantly susceptible to hoop burn. There are several ways to mitigate this such as hooping another fabric and basting the minky to it though the hoop, spray ahesive, and other advanced techniques.

    The way I mitigate it is being careful when hooping the fabric and leaving it in the hoop for as short a time as possible. Once out of the hoop, you can 'massage' the compressed part of the minky and it will bounce back. As long as the hoop burn is actual hoop burn (compressed fabric) and not a bunch of pulled out fibers, then the Minky will come out fine after some use. Usually, there is a very faint ring when I get done, and after a few months of use, it completely goes away.

    On the size: Instead of printing the pattern on 8.5" by 11" paper, you can print it on other sizes. For example, Legal paper comes out to be 125% bigger. I printed on 11" by 17" (200%) then tiled the design to take up four 11 by 17" sheets (800%). I then taped all the pieces together and cut out the pattern while making my modifications to it. I have not put the plushie completely together yet, but it should end up being around 3 feet tall.

  3. Thanks for the reply.
    This blog has driven me to explorer something I never tought would be fun.
    Since reading it I have bought a SE400 and started learning on how to use embird to design and compile pes files.
    I would love for you to do a write up on how to use colums in embird studio.

  4. So what is the benefit of using Solvy? I was already planning to purchase stabilizer sheets, but if necessary I could buy Solvy as well.

  5. Great work. I'm just looking at getting into embroidery. You mention that you use two Brother machines: SE400 and a PE770. Does one work better for some things and one for other things? Is one easier to use.

    1. I have 4 machines currently.

      Brother SE400 - This machine does both sewing an embroidery. Max stitch speed is 350 stitches per minute and it can do designs up to 4" by 4". Costs about $350.

      Brother PE770 - This machine is embroidery only, it can't do regular sewing. Max stitch speed is 700 stitches per minute and it can do designs up to 5" by 7". It still sews 90% of stitches at 350 stitches per minute, only really close stitches are at 700. Costs about $700.

      Brother ULT2001 - This machine can do both sewing an embroidery. Max stitch speed is 1000 stitches per minute and it can do designs up to 10" by 6". It sews 90% of stitches at 650 stitches per minute, only really close stitches are at 1000. I usually run it at 600 max so that the design comes out better. Costs about $3000

      Butterfly 1501B/T - This machine can do embroidery only, and has 15 needles instead of just 1. This means you don't have to change colors int he liddle of the design, it will auto-switch colors. Max stitch speed is 1100 stitches per minute and it can do designs up to 12" by 18". It sews 99% of stitches at 1100 stitches per minute, only really far stitches (over a half inch) are under 1100. I usually run it at 700 max because it will shake my entire house at full speed. Costs about $8000

    2. Thanks so much for the awesome descriptions. I sure wish I could get a Butterfly 1501B/T, but I thinks I'll start with the Brother PE770. Take care and keep up the great work!

  6. Very nice blog you have here, E. Thanks for breaking embroidery down and linking your store.