Designing a Plush Pattern: Part 1 - Building an Idea and Sketching

I’m often asked for advice on how to make plush patterns. The truth is, there’s no one way to make a pattern. It’s impossible to sit someone down and say, “this is how you do this,” and have it apply to every single plush pattern. For this series of blog posts, I’m going to go through the process of how I created my cardinal plush pattern.


The first step to creating any plush pattern is, obviously, to come up with an idea. For me, though, it’s not as simple as saying, “I’m going to make a cardinal”, and then doing it. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the creation of each concept.

First, I start by benchmarking. This is a process I learned in art school which can also be summed up as, “gathering inspiration” or “scoping out the competition.” In this stage, I gather images of products similar to how I want my end product to look. It helps me decide what I like, what I don’t like, and how I can make my product different.

For me, this generally involves a bit of searching around on Google, Etsy, and Pinterest. I usually just bookmark my images to look at later, but this time I’ve gathered them all and written a bit of my thoughts down. Sorry if it’s difficult to read my writing!



 Though this process I've decided a few things.

First, most cardinal or bird plushies either include simplified feet, no feet, or wire feet. None of those are ideal for me. Ideally I want skinny, semi-realistic feet and toes that can still support the weight of the bird. Options to make this work include designing the bird to hang or including wire in the feet.
Another option may be to pose the bird so the weight isn't resting on the feet.

Many plushies include fur tufts. I don't want to use fur.

Some include air brushing, I wont use using that.

I want to avoid overly rounded shapes for my bird. If possible, I'd like my wings to also be able to lift, but it's not a high priority.

The next step for me is to gather reference images of cardinals. While I have a pretty good idea of how a cardinal looks, being able to have references to look at will help me make sure my image actually looks like a cardinal. Again, this is usually just a quick trip to google.


Here's my quick collection of images.


 A few things I learned here. The face mask of the cardinal can vary a bit, so I have some freedom to play with that shape. Also the head feathers operate just like my cockatiel's crest and can lift and lower so there's room to play with the head shape as well. Finally, I saw just how skinny those feet actually are, which is much skinnier than I was thinking. No wonder so many plushies don't have realistic feet.

With all this info I, finally, get to work on a sketch.

Here's my first sketch. Some issues I'd liek to resolve here are moving the beak up on the face and fixing the shape. I'd also like to think more about how the wings will attach and the ever present issue of what to do with the feet. At this point, I think I will make them slightly thicker than my sketch and plan on using pipe cleaners in them for stability.


Here is my second sketch and the one I will be working with. It's a bit more of the shape I want. Moving forward, I will be using it to develop my pattern.

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