This post is long. It is a long story of some ups, many downs, and a happy ending. You’ve been warned.
A few weeks ago I posted that a friend had approached me for my first commission. She and her husband were adopting a 9-year-old girl that they had been fostering for some time, and were preparing to throw her an adoption party. Their daughter is deeply entrenched in the Pokemon fandom, so my friend wanted to see if I would be interested in making party-favor-sized Pokemon plushies for the party. I agreed right off the bat. After all, I was sure there would be patterns available for such touchstones as Pikachu and Jigglypuff, and maybe some others as well! What could go wrong?
Turns out, quite a lot. For starters, I could find NO pre-made patterns that worked for what I wanted. I found one pattern each for Pikachu and Jigglypuff, but neither of them panned out very well when I tried them in felt (I decided to go with felt for the party favors, because the cost worked out better). So I ended up making the patterns from scratch myself. Each Pokemon took several tries before the pattern was really sorted out.
Pattern creation is not a quick process. I’m sure a more experienced seamstress could tell you that much quicker. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have my doubts as I struggled through figuring out the geometry of a Pikachu.
You know what? Pikachu is a PAIN to make. You wouldn’t think it. He looks so simple. Don’t believe his lies.
It was not all struggle though. I could practically feel my stitch-work improving as I went. Nothing improves your technique like hours and hours of practice, right? I also got to work with fabric paint for the first time. I was able to find fabric paint markers, which were lovely! The felt has a tendency to “string” out when you mark it, but such is life when working with felt.
I spent about two weeks in intense production on this project. That included constant tweaking of patterns. I will be honest, I spent most of the time quite discouraged. I was never happy with the results. I sent my friend progress pictures for each Pokemon to see what she would think. Every time, she had nothing but praise. She showed each one to her new daughter, and each one met with complete approval. Her encouragement often fell on deaf ears, I have to admit.
I wasn’t content with the plushies I was producing, but there just wasn’t time to make the kinds of improvements I really wanted.
The first thing that made me feel better about the project? That would be when I switched gears to work on what I dubbed the Grand Gift Jigglypuff — a larger plush made from minky material, to be a gift for my friend’s new daughter. I was so nervous as I started working on it, the chaos of the felt plushies fresh in my mind.
I had no reason to worry. As it turns out, apparently, practically ALL of the problems I had been having were problems inherent with working with felt. Once I started working with the minky, everything went smoothly. Seriously, not a single problem. Aside from the shedding.
Minky sheds when it is cut. A lot. Everywhere. It’s impressive.
The minky was a little difficult to pin properly, but that was about the only adjustment I had to make. Everything else was divine — it stitched beautifully, it hides seams it a wonderful way, it forms and shapes like a champ, and it is super easy to attach limbs and appliques. I had read that minky is the fabric of choice for plush making, and now I truly understand why.
Finishing this Jigglypuff, and being pleased with the results, gave me renewed hope for the rest of my party favors. I was still nervous (and growing shorter on time), but I was ready to press on.
The day of the party arrived. Filled with doubt, I took the fifteen party favors and the Grand Gift Jigglypuff to the party. My friend called over her little girl, and pulled out one of the Pikachus (and if I didn’t make it clear enough before, the Pikachus were easily my least favorite of the lot). And what did this girl do?
She grinned ear-to-ear. “Pikachu!” A gaggle of cousins swarmed over with a chorus of “Can we see? Can we see?” I held out the tote for them to investigate. And what did they do?
They dissolved into semi-controlled chaos. “Pikachu!” “There’s a Jigglypuff!” “I want a Poliwag!”
So I blushed for a solid half an hour while a gathering of kids absolutely SWARMED those fifteen party favors that I was just certain wouldn’t be good enough. They loved them. Totally, completely loved them. Their parents were pleased too — one of them was joking about snagging one and smuggling it away from the kids for herself.
I couldn’t believe it, and still kind of can’t. I never would have expected that reaction. After all the stress of working on this project, I’m so glad I got to see that response.
And what of the Grand Gift Jigglypuff? It was equally well received. Pulled out of its gift bag by its child, it was immediately hugged and cuddled, while all the cousins and friends asked for a turn to hold it.
But enough of the waxing poetic. I’m sure what you really want to know is what I took away from this project. This project was HUGE compared to what I expected it to be. It did not play by the rules that I set for it. And, as is the case with such projects, I learned a LOT.
First and foremost: I might never work with felt again, except for specific projects. I was pretty sure that I was just crappy at this. But after working with minky, I realize that many of the problems I’ve experienced are inherent with working with felt. In the future, I will probably always use minky for big projects (and certainly for any future commissions), and probably cotton for everything else. I have yet to try out fleece. We’ll see how that goes!
As I mentioned, fabric paint is a good thing. Fabric paint markers are a better thing.
Pattern creation is a pain, and it takes way longer than you think it will.
Projects that call for many plushies might be fine, but on a deadline they are STRESSFUL. No matter how much time there is, it will never feel like enough.
But perhaps most importantly: if the customer is happy, that’s good enough. I spent a lot of time stressing out when my client/friend was assuring me that I was doing fine. Am I totally happy with how the party favors turned out? No. I will always believe that, given more time and better fabric (ie, cotton instead of felt), I could have made a better product. But at the end of the day, the kids did love them. And seeing their reaction to getting those plushies is all the encouragement I’ll ever need.
And guess what?
I’ve got another commission, as of this morning.
Time to get to pattern making.
P.S. You may have noticed a lack of Zia and Mac pictures in this post. There is no lack of said pictures. On the contrary! Miss Zia and Mr. Mac supervised pretty much every step of this project, and I have lots of pictures to prove it. But since I figured this post was long enough, the pictures of their adventures will be coming in a separate post later this week. Stay tuned 🙂