Thing-A-Day: Ramping it Up

I have already written a couple of posts about making one thing every day, but I think it’s time to ramp things up a bit. As I begin this learning experience, you readers will be my proctors. OR optionally, you will be my classmates.

Starting today I will make something NEW every day for one year. If you wish to join me on this adventure, I will be posting the instruction for the day on this blog and on my “lvenell” twitter account. I will post a photo of my completed project along with the instruction, and links to other people’s finished projects when I can find them.  Since I’m sort of a night owl, this project will also hopefully force me to learn to take better photos at night.

I will still post indie business news and tips, but now this blog will also have tutorials and/or inspiration on it every single day. Your inspiration for today comes from Brock Davis’ “Make Something Cool Every Day” project (via Ally Trigg’s blog). I will likely pull from his web site more than once for a future daily instruction.

Today’s instruction comes from this tutorial from The Creative Place (via How About Orange): Create a radial 3-D paper shape like these paper lanterns from A Creative Place:

Here are my successes (I experimented a lot with shape):

And here are some of my failures (one of them is actually pretty rad):

Tip: Use paper that is as thin and as smooth as possible.  I used construction paper for these, which was a terrible idea.  The paper did not like to turn, tore easily, and was almost too thick to put the brads through.

Epic How-To: Make a 3-D Plush Pattern from a 2-D Drawing (Starring Mitch from Neon Monster)

I’ve made some 2-D plush monsters in the past.  They can have a lot of character (like Aristocrates here and his little buddy Protegé).  They’re also the best place to start if you are new to making plush.  This, however, is not a 2-D plush tutorial, and it is not well suited to sewing beginners. If you are looking for such a tutorial, try here.

aristocrates plush monster

plushmaterials

Materials:

  • paper or cardstock
  • cushion foam
  • straight pins
  • safety pins (optional)
  • X-acto knife
  • fabric glue
  • paper scissors
  • fabric scissors
  • fabric marking pen
  • pencil
  • ballpoint pen (optional)
  • fabric similar to what you will use on your finished plush toys
  • seam ripper (not pictured)
  • chopstick (optional)

When the good folks over at Neon Monster approached me about designing a plush version of their logo monster, Mitch, 2-D was not going to cut it. In my opinion, most of Mitch’s charm comes from his shape — his long, dangly arms, his hunched back, and his slightly saggy belly — none of which can be adequately expressed in a flat format.

logomitch

Since Mitch has never existed in 3-D, and all I had was this single three-quarter view of him, I needed to start with an intermediate 2-D step, an orthographic projection.

Step 1: Orthographic Drawings

Orthographic drawings (or projections) are a series of 2-D views that give you a complete sense of a 3-D object when taken all together.  At minimum, you need to you draw your character from the front, side and top.  Since Mitch is not my creation, I was lucky enough to get this set of sketches from original artist Reuben Rude.

orthographics

When you make (or in my case, print) your orthographic views, you want to make sure that the dimensions all match up.  The height of the front and side views should be the same (C), as should the width of the front and top views (A), and the depth of the top and side views (B).  You can leave small details like surface decoration out of these.  You just need them for the general shape.  In my case, I erased the eye and the “spinal nodes” from Reuben’s drawings, since I would be adding them on later as separate pieces.

When you’ve got your sketches looking just right, cut them out.

Step 2: Foam Block

My pre-visualization skills are not the most developed, so I drape my plush pieces like garments.  That means needing a base of some kind to drape them on — a “monster form,” if you will.  I made mine from regular density cushion foam (I used the Airtex brand), which you can get in sheets or by the yard from most craft or fabric stores.  It comes in different thicknesses (1 inch is most common), but you’ll likely have to glue a few layers together to get a thick enough block to carve from.

Measure the widest point of your side-view drawing (B) to find out how many layers to glue together.  If it’s four inches wide, for example, you’ll need to glue together four 1-inch layers of foam.  Next, measure the height and width of your front view drawing (C and A).  This is the size of the rectangle each layer will be.  Mitch’s body was 10 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and four inches thick at its widest points, so I glued together four 10” x 6” foam rectangles and let my foam block dry.

foamblock

Step 3: Foam Model

In order to make my foam block look more like Mitch, I needed to do some carving.  I taped the orthographic drawings to each side of the block and traced around them.  For the side view drawing, I traced it on one side, flipped it over and then traced it again on the other side.

foamtrace

I wish I had a foolproof carving method to share here, but I don’t.  Maybe someone can post something in the comments.  I just sort of eyeball it while wielding a regular #11 Xacto knife, removing small chunks so I don’t overdo it.  The nice thing is that you can always glue the foam back on if you make a mistake, and your foam model doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth in its shape.

sideform

Here’s my finished model (see, not smooth).

mitchform

I decided to add on the arms as separate pieces (with straight pins) rather than try to carve them out of the block with the body.  I also made a completely separate piece for Mitch’s eye.  Depending on the number of appendages your character has, you may also want to carve and add these to your model separately.

Step 4: Draping

To me, this is the most fun part of making a 3-D plush, but it can also be kind of tricky. Cut a large piece of light-colored fabric similar to what you ultimately want to make your plush with.  It should wrap all the way around your plush at least 1-2 times.  I used polar fleece because it has some stretch but doesn’t misshape too easily.

Using regular straight pins, pin the center of your fabric to the most important part of your foam model — a part where you don’t want any seams showing.  For Mitch, this was his belly.

startdrape

Working your way outward from that first center pin, continue pinning the fabric to your model.  Start wrapping it around the sides, top, and bottom of your model, keeping it as smooth as possible.

continuedrape

At some point, your fabric will start to gather in folds.  Any place there is a fold in your fabric, there will have to be a seam, so take care in deciding where you want the folds to fall.  You may have to re-pin your fabric and/or stretch it in a slightly different direction in order to get the folds where you want them.  I made sure my folds landed in the least visible places on Mitch: under his arms, under his legs, and straight down his head and back (under the spinal nodes).

Pinch the folds tightly together and pin them as close to the model as possible (safety pins may be helpful for this).  Here is the fold that goes from the top of Mitch’s head down his back (he’s lying on his side here).  You can also see the drape wrapping around his right arm:

pinchfold

Once you have your fabric tightly wrapped around your entire model, cut away any excess, leaving an even seam allowance.  I tend to use a 3/8” allowance when I sew plush, so that’s about what I tried to leave around the edges.

cutseam

Here is a simple, finished drape of just the eye model (side, top and bottom views):

eyedrapeside

eyedrapetopeyedrapebottom

And here is a finished drape of the whole monster, with his eye pieces on top.

When I first draped the monster form, I tried to include his eyelids and his body in the same piece of fabric.

overeyedrape

This made too many folds to be workable, so I marked where the eyelids ended and undid the drape.  Using those marks I then cut a new piece of fabric to become the eyelids and re-draped the body, this time under the the eye piece.  You can see the neatly wrapped and trimmed body and eye here, along with the new eyelid fabric:

fulldrape

Step 5: Tracing the Pattern

Now that you have a finished drape, you can write notes directly on the fabric about any immediate changes you’d like to make, such as making the head rounder, the feet pointier or the arms longer.  Drawing arrows or cut lines in place is also helpful.

markings

Now the excitement begins!  Un-pin your drape(s) so that the fabric lays flat.  Remove it from the model and spread it out onto a large piece of paper (or several taped together).  Trace around it/them with a pencil.  These are what Mitch’s pieces looked like when I undid them — not something I would have been able to visualize beforehand.

flatdrape

**Tip: number each seam as you un-pin it.  Then you will know the (reverse) order in which to sew your plush together.

Step 6: Refinement

Now that you have your general pattern, you can make some adjustments with your pencil.  You can smooth out lines or fold your pattern in half to make sure things line up correctly.  If you’re more tech savvy, you can photograph or scan your pattern and then trace it in a program like Adobe Illustrator.  This is what I did, which is why my pattern is sliced up.  It was too big to scan all at once so I had to cut it into a few pieces.

patternscan

Step 7: Test

To test the accuracy of your pattern, cut out the paper pattern pieces and trace them onto a new piece of fabric.  Cut the fabric pieces out right on the line and sew them together in order (see step 5 tip), leaving your normal seam allowance.

**Tip: use a contrasting color of thread and a wide stitch so that you can easily rip out and re-do seams if you need to.

paperpattern

Cut off any exterior corners, then snip into interior corners and clip into the seam allowance along any tight curves.  This will allow your seams to remain smooth and eliminate bunching inside your plush when you turn it inside out.

snipandclip

Open up a 1-2 inch hole in a central seam with a seam ripper and turn your plush inside out. Poke out any tight spots or corners with a chop stick, a capped pen or a high gauge knitting needle.

poekout

Stuff your plush with your desired material and take a look.

**Tip: Use smaller pieces of stuffing for narrow sections like arms and stuff them tighter than the main body.  Use larger, looser chunks of stuffing for bigger spaces to keep things cuddly.

If you like the way things look, you’re finished.  Sew up the opening with a ladder stitch and rejoice!  (Video here)

If you have additional pieces, you can drape them onto the finished body.  This is what I did with Mitch’s eye.  His “spinal nodes” are regular cylinders and didn’t require a pattern.  I just sewed those on by hand, again using a ladder stitch.

eyedrape

backopt

What happens if your plush still doesn’t look quite right?  In this case, you have a couple of options.  One, you can make slight adjustments by changing the amount and/or placement of stuffing in your toy, or two, you can adjust the pattern.  If it’s an easy/small change, you can make your alteration directly to the paper pattern, either by trimming some off, or by taping more on.  Otherwise, I recommend writing those “cosmetic surgery” notes directly onto the fabric again and ripping out the seams, essentially taking you back to step 5.

**Tip: the type of stuffing you use can go a long way toward helping you choose a desired effect. I stuffed Mitch’s legs, bottom and fingers with rice and everything else with polyester fiberfill.  This made him cuddly yet hefty, with a weighted swing to his long arms and that “dumpy bum” look I find so charming about him.  It also lets him sit upright without support, which is great for something that will live on a shelf.

Epilogue

I noticed that some of Mitch’s features were different in the logo (three-quarter view) image than in the orthographic drawings, so I made one side longer than the other and let the Neon Monster folks decide which one they liked better.

frontopt

They liked the left side features better, and also wanted a few other changes, like darker fabric, an outline behind the pink iris, and for Mitch to be 18” tall.  Glad that I scanned everything into Illustrator, I blew up the pattern by 50% and then cut it down the center.  I deleted the right side of the pattern (which they didn’t like) and replaced it with a duplicate of the left half (which they did).  Then I printed it out and sewed it up into Mitch #2.  Here he is:

Mitch-front-sitting

The Neon Monster crew really liked Mitch #2 (enough that he traveled to toy fairs all over Asia), but they also wanted to try out a version with longer arms and more eyelid folds.  I made another copy of the pattern and added those changes.  This became Mitch #3 (he’s not pictured here but he is on display at Neon Monster).

Mitch #3’s long arms were great for hugging, but they bunched up when he sat, so that idea was ultimately scrapped.  So were most of the folds of his lower lid.  Thus was born Mitch #4, the ultimate Mitch.  He used Mitch #2’s body pattern and Mitch #3’s eye pattern, minus half the lower lid.  Here is Mitch #4, gazing pensively out my window.  For more photos, you can see my earlier post celebrating his creation.

mitchquarter

Mitch #4 is now being reproduced as Neon Monster’s first exclusive limited-edition plush toy.  He is due to be released this October, in time for the holidays.  To cuddle Mitch #3 in person or to sign up for the release, you can visit Neon Monster at 901 Castro Street (on the corner of 22nd) in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.

Thanks to anyone who made it all the way through this massive tutorial!  I’d love to see what you make if you use the info I’ve shared here.  I will post any photos you send me (with your permission). Also, please feel free to post any questions or comments below.  I promise to respond to all of them.

Making a Cross-Stitch or Needlepoint Pattern in Photoshop

Instead of doing my taxes like I was supposed to, I spent all day Tuesday working on a cross-stitch/needlepoint pattern of Amy Sedaris.  This is the first in what I hope will be a series of “Hipster Hero” patterns.  Amy Sedaris is definitely one of my hipster heroes.  She’s hilarious, ballsy and crafty.  What more could you ask for?

In order to make this pattern my own (since I’ve never gotten to take a picture of Amy Sedaris), I started by making a photo collage in Photoshop.  This image uses pieces from six or seven different photos.  Amy’s face is from one photo, her hair from another, the cake from another and so on.  Most of the body isn’t even hers.  It belongs to a halloween costume model.  The writing is from her book cover which is (I assume) her handwriting, but I rearranged the words and adjusted the letters. I won’t go into the specifics of how to combine images in Photoshop, but this tutorial will give you a basic idea.

amycollage

Once the collage was finished, I checked the pixel count by looking at the image size (788 x 600 pixels) and figuring that about a third of the image would actually be stitched.  That meant 157,600 stitches.  Ouch.  So I shrunk the image by half, which was as far as I could go before things started becoming splotchy and unrecognizable.  The pixels now numbered 118,200.  Still too many.

I wasn’t going to be able to finagle this image much smaller, so I had to zoom in on just a small part of it.  I decided to focus in on just her head and shoulders, which left a little bit of the nice blue color in her dress.  But now I just had Amy’s face, which — while distinctive in it’s Jerri Blank-ish expression — didn’t really capture her domestic side.

amytiny

Back in went the cake, with a new arm that I got from a photo of a waitress.  To add a little more humor, I made the cake slide down the plate, leaving a little trail of chocolate behind it.  Then I remembered that Amy also really loves rabbits, so I put a rabbit on top of the cake.  He is also sliding down precariously and covered in bits of frosting.  Lastly, I drew in sparkles using a star brush in Photoshop.  They reminded me of a 60s magazine ad for cleaning products.

This new image (look how tiny!) requires closer to 5,000 stitches.  Still kind of intensive, but doable.

amysmallpattern

Now it was time to tackle colors.  The more colors a pattern requires, the harder it is to distinguish between them.  This makes the pattern harder to follow and means more skeins of emroidery floss to buy so I was ultimately shooting for as few colors as possible.  After zooming in to 500% so I could see each pixel clearly, I switched to Image — > Mode — > Indexed Color.  I started with a Local (selective) color palette using 24 colors.  This was the minimum number of colors I could use before things started looking weird to me.  I also made sure to set the Dither to “none,” which keeps the colors together in larger blocks, rather than scattering the pixels to imitate shading.  Here are the before (RGB Mode) and after (Indexed Color Mode) screenshots:

amyrgbamyindexed

Not too bad, but I wanted bring down the number of colors even more.  I find that the easiest way to do this is by using the magic wand tool and the eyedropper.  First, I chose the magic wand tool, setting the tolerance to 1 and unchecking the “contiguous” checkbox.  I wanted to select only one color at a time, but I wanted to pick it up everywhere it existed in the image.

magicwandNext, I looked for two colors (usually next to each other) that appeared very similar.  I clicked on one of them with the magic wand tool, then clicked on the second with the eyedropper tool.  I selected Edit — >Fill and chose “foreground color” from the drop down menu.  This filled in all instances of color #1 with color #2, essentially eliminating color #1 from the image.  If the image didn’t look notably different, color #1 was gone for good.

I repeated this process until I got down to eleven colors, which was as far as I could go while still keeping most of the detail in the image.  I made a couple of individual pixel changes using the pencil tool, but then the image was finished. Using the same magic wand, eyedropper and edit — >fill sequence, I made a rectangle for each color, so it’s easier to match and buy thread for it. Here’s the 11-color image with its matching color guide:

amycolorboxes

My last step was to add the grid.  I went to Preferences — >Guides and Grid, and set the grid to “every 1 pixels with 1 subdivision”.  I don’t know why they use this lingo, but it bascially makes a one-pixel grid, separating each stitch individually.  There’s no way to print the grid that I know of, so I took a screenshot of my finished pattern and printed that instead.  Et voila!  Finished Amy pattern, ready to stitch up!

amyfinishedpattern