Edit: added a part about fabric selection before 'where do I start'!
Ever since I posted Wolf Link and Midna I've been getting an influx of messages asking me to teach, reveal my secrets, take people under my wing, and so on. The sad thing is I can't spend all that much time one on one with everybody asking me to teach them. So I've decided to put together this massive block of text, relating some of my personal experience in plush making and listing off all my resources at the bottom. This will cover the very basics of plush and pattern making so if you are completely new to plush making this is for you, if you're not and you're just looking for resources skip to the bottom. I hope this will be helpful to someone!
First off, the reality. The big secret. The key to becoming a good plush artist is...
I can already feel the glares and exasperation but hear me out first.
One thing I've noticed with a lot of the messages I got were that a lot of people were scared of screwing up. Like, deadly scared. To the point that they would not even try anything. But here's one secret: You need to practice to get better. No one wakes up one day and sudently is a master painter, crafter, writer, whatever. You can't become better at something if you don't do it. That's not how progress works. Odds are that your first plush won't be the best looking. But you made something, and you'll learn from that something. My first plush was a Haro from the Gundam series. I free-handed some lines with fabric paint and they turned out wobbly and I didn't like it. But I learned that I should use guides to keep my lines straight. That's progress. It might seem minimal, but it's all those little things pulled together that makes you a better artist. Personal experience is your best teacher, because if you screw up something then you learn what works and what doesn't and why. You don't end up doing things just because that's how you were told to do it. You don't just use guides because someone told you to do so, you use guides because you know your lines will be crooked if you don't.
And because I feel this needs to really be emphasised, again, you're gonna screw up.
I've been making plushies for a long time now, but the people who watched my Wolf Link stream last week saw me screw up the head 4 times before I got it right. It's normal, it happens, sure it can be upsetting sometimes but you can't just hang up your sewing machine every time something doesn't work. You've just learned that something doesn't work, and sometimes that can be just as important as the finished plush.
Next: Even if all you have is a needle and thread with some fabric, you can still make plushies.
You don't need a $1000+ embroidery machine to make plushies. It can be nice, but it's not obligatory. A lot of artists have steered towards these machines in the past year, myself included, but some of the greatest plushies I've ever seen were made ages before these came along! There are many ways to add details to your plush. Let's take the eyes for example. They can be applique, top stitched, painted (I used to do this a lot, I'd cut out the eye shape in some good quality felt, not the 25 cents variety, and paint on that not directly on the fleece/minky then I'd applique them to the plush), satin stitched, safety eyes, etc. There are a lot of alternatives, and it's up to you to find the one that works the best for you.
If you're completely new to plush making you might want to hold out on buying expensive and hard to get minky. I would recommend fleece as a starter fabric choice. It has a stretch similar to minky(it's a little stretchier actually), it doesn't fray, it doesn't make a mess like minky does, it's cheaper(about $6-$10 a meter) and it's available virtually everywhere. I used to get a lot of my fleece in pre-cut lengths at Wal Mart. However, I know that another very appealing option is felt. It's dirt cheap(most of the time under 25 cents for an 8.5"x11" sheet), comes in a rainbow of colors, has a little stretch, and also doesn't make a huge mess like minky. I've seen some great things made with felt, but from my experience with it felt deteriorates at an impressive rate, even if the plush is never played with. So I do not recommend felt if you want to make huggable plushies. If you want to make display pieces that are treated like statues, then it would be an acceptable choice. Otherwise I wouldn't even recommend if for pattern testing, since it's not as stretchy as fleece and minky. If you really want to use minky, I recommend testing out your patterns in fleece or other similar fabrics before cutting into expensive minky. I test my patterns in microchenille. It's a minky variant that can be used in a final plush as well, but I get it for half the price of minky when it's on sale at my local fabric store.
Where do I start?
Since making basic shapes only is boring, start with simple characters that use those shapes. I find that learning how to make a sphere is particularely important because a lot of more complex shapes can be derived from a sphere. In training Digimons, Kirby, some Pokemons, etc. Anything that is mainly a sphere. And simple. I know everyone wants to make epic complex plushies but believe me start with something simple and work you way up to the complex plushies. There are two general ways to make a sphere: using two dumbell shaped pieces or 4 football shapes. I use the footballs, because I never understood the dumbells but use whatever works for you! When drafting a pattern you have to remember that what you're drawing on a flat surface will become a 3D object so it will not look exactly like your pattern piece. You have to keep the stretch of your fabric in mind, and remember that everything will get rounded with stuffing. So for a sphere, you want your pieces to look something like this i14.photobucket.com/albums/a30… . So how do you know if your sphere is going to turn out the right size? Measure it at the midpoint(the red line) then multiply that by 4. The result will be the circumpherence of your sphere. Also remember that you will need seam allowance. It's up to you wether you add it around your pattern as you're cutting it or if you add it to the pattern itself. If you add it to the fabric as you're cutting, you'll want to trace your pattern onto the pieces so you can follow the right lines. Personally, I add it to my pattern because it's an old habit, and probably a bad one too. I add a presser foot's width all the way around my patterns so the line I have to follow is the edge of my fabric.Again, whatever works for you. The simplest way to sew a sphere together would be like this i14.photobucket.com/albums/a30… . Once you can make sphere characters you can start moving on to characters with sphere heads and simple bodies or extra accessories. And then just keep trying out new things. Before you know it you'll be an acomplished plush artist
edit: a little more about drafting spheres, as well explained by xSystem in the comments: To make a sphere your pattern will need to be half as wide as the length, so if your pattern is 5" wide it needs to be 10" long. The points should also be 90 degree angles so they meet nice and square.
And finally here you go, my master list of resources;
-Minky shopping list by PlanetPlush fav.me/d4xb16v (my personal favorites are fabricdepot and theminkyboutique)
-CR's crafts: for suede, doll joints, some fur, and a whole lot of other things www.crscraft.com/Lobby.asp
-Glass eyes online: plastic eyes, safety eyes and noses, doll joints glasseyesonline.com/
-Mendel's: Fur (though I've never ordered from them they have quite a selection and I've head good things about them from others) www.mendels.com/creativity2.sh…
-Pheleon's pattern drafing lesson part 1 fav.me/d2ub2to and 2 fav.me/d36fxy2
-babylondonstar's sit plush tutorial www.members.shaw.ca/plushie/pa… (the pattern that really got me into plush making. She also has other patterns, sometimes with instructions, available here www.members.shaw.ca/plushie/pa… )
-Simply-Plush's patterr/tutorials colelction simply-plush.deviantart.com/fa…
-Plushie-Database's pattern/plush collections: plushie-database.deviantart.co…
-My own chibi human (pattern only, tutorial hopefully to come at a later date. I recomend printing it full page, but the size is up to you) i14.photobucket.com/albums/a30…
-Voodoo-Tiki's beginer pony tutorial: fav.me/d5ah55b (she also has a few other tutorials check them out! )
-valleyviolet, need I say more?
-cute patterns nuno-runo.blogspot.ca/
-Kirby pattern by Kat-Aclysm: kat-aclysm.deviantart.com/art/…
Other useful things
- plush forum plush.yuku.com/
-satin stitching tutorial by usako-chan www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMAog9…
-My Tribble tutorial, which is really a 'how to work with fur' tutorial fav.me/d5gegt5 Something I forgot to mention in the tutorial though: if you have an exacto knife, it makes cutting fur a lot easier because it will only cut the backing, not the fur. This way you only have a fur mess when you're trimming the seam allowance.
-pheleon's human hair tutorial fav.me/d1hsuzh and her painted eye tutorial fav.me/d1eylls
ThisUsernameFails's needle sculpting tutorial fav.me/d3jh5qd
- nfasel's polymer clay eyes tutorial fav.me/d5nqi0w
- dolphinwing's eye tutorial fav.me/d54d0t8
If you have any other useful tutorials, patterns, website to shop from, let me know and I'll add them to the list!