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Designing a Plush Pattern: Part 5 - Writing Instructions and Other Tips

The final step I take when putting together a pattern is to write up the instructions.

I personally prefer instructions in 2 parts. First, written instructions and, second, photo instructions. Photos can be either illustrated images or photographs. Each has its pros and cons and different people will prefer different methods of explanation, depending on how they learn best.  Photographing the steps is easier for those without technical drawing skills and I personally find it faster and more accurate for conveying how something is done.

The best way I’ve found to write instructions is to start while you are working on the plush. This will also allow you to make a final test of your finished pattern to make sure no issues arose between your last test and your final pattern. So cut out another plush and get ready to sew. Keep a notepad (or laptop, tablet, etc) handy. You’ll also want a way to take photos.

Process photos look best when they are well lit and on a clean background, but you don’t have to get fancy. A piece of white poster board and natural light from a window can go a long way.

As you work, pause after each action to take a photo and write down what you did for that step of the pattern and any issues you ran into or helpful tips. Then take a photo of your progress. Make sure each photo is clear and not blurry or dark. It helps to lay your work in progress plush down flat so there isn’t any confusing twists in the fabric or overlaps that might block the important parts. Don't be afraid to take a lot of photos. It's better to have too many than to miss an important step.

Here are all the process photos I took for the cardinal pattern.


Now I move on to writing the finalized steps for my patterns, based off the notes I took while I was making the plush. I try to limit myself to 8 steps, 4 per page, though I may take an extra page for complex patterns. (This pattern will take an extra page due to the complexity of the feet). The reason why I set this limit is twofold. First, I am long winded (if you can’t tell from reading this) and limiting myself forces me to be concise. Second, I intend all my patterns to be printed and I want to reduce the amount of pages that need to be printed to save paper and ink.

Here are the instructions I wrote for the cardinal as I was working:

  1. Trace and cut all pieces out. Be sure to leave seam allowance when you cut.

  2. Place two foot pieces together and sew around them. Do this for the other foot. Cut a small hole in the middle of the foot and turn it right side out through that hole. Hemostats may help with this.

  3. Fold the leg piece in on itself and sew down one side. Turn the piece right side out.

  4. Fold one piece of pipe cleaner in half. From the middle, bend out the shape for the 3 front toes, holding it against the foot piece to measure the length. Insert this into the front 3 toes, then bend upward at the leg.

  5. Fold the second piece of pipe cleaner in half, then insert this into the back toe. Bend both pipe cleaners together, folding over the extra and twisting it back down.

  6. Insert the leg piece over the pipe cleaner. Using a ladder stitch, sew around the base of the leg piece to attach it to the opening of the foot piece. Repeat for the other foot and set these aside.

  7. Align the beak with the face mask and sew them together.

  8. Align the face mask with the body and sew them together.

  9. Place two wing pieces together and sew them, leaving the top open to turn. Turn them right side out and stitch the detail lines in. Repeat for the other wing.

  10. Place two tail pieces together. Sew them together, leaving the top open. Turn them right side out and stitch in the detail lines.

  11. Align the bottom of the black belly piece with the top of the red belly piece and sew them together.

  12. Cut a line in the body where the wing goes. Insert the wing. Fold the body in on itself and sew as close to the edge as possible to attach the wing. Repeat for the other side.

  13. Pin the belly gusset in place on one side of the body. Sew it on. Leave the space for the legs open.

  14. Repeat for the other side, sewing the rest of the way around to connect both body piece. Leave a space to turn your plush. The wings can stick out of here if there is not enough space in the body for them.  

  15. Clip a hole in the bum of the cardinal. Insert the tail and sew it in place.

  16. Turn the body right side out. Stuff and close with a ladder stitch.

  17. Insert the legs into the holes left for them. Ladder stitch them in place. Bend the legs if desired and if needed to balance the cardinal.

Obviously these instructions are quite lengthy and not all of it is clear. In some cases, I can clarify using images rather than excess explanations. In other areas, I can combine similar steps.

For my next step, I use my pattern template. This is a template I've created in InDesign and use for all my patterns. The template leaves space for a main pattern image as well as an image above each step. It also includes a page of printing instructions.
























My refined instructions are:

  1. Place two foot pieces together and sew entirely around them. Cut a small hole in the middle. Turn the foot right side out through this hole. Repeat for your second foot.

  2. Fold the leg piece in half vertically and sew down the long side. Turn the piece right side out.

  3. Fold one pipe cleaner in half. From the middle, bend out the shape for the 3 front toes, each should be a little less than 1 inch. Bend the second pipe cleaner in half for your back toe. Insert these into the toes of the foot pieces. Bend at a 90 degree angle where they meet and twist together.

  4. Slide the leg piece down over your pipe cleaners and ladder stitch it to the foot, making sure that no pipe cleaner remains visible. You may wish to fold your longer pipe cleaner down to even them out.

  5. Align one beak piece with a face mask piece. Sew from point C to D. Align your face mask piece with the correct body piece. Sew from point A to B. Repeat for the other side of your cardinal.

  6. Place two wing pieces together and sew, leaving the top open. Turn your wing right side out and top stitch the detail in where the dotted lines indicate. Repeat this process for the other wing and the tail piece.

  7. Cut the body pieces along the line marked wing. Insert a wing into this opening. Fold the body pattern in half at the opening and sew along it, as close to the edge as possible, to attach the wing. Repeat this for the other wing.

  8. Sew the bottom of the belly gusset 1 piece to the top of the belly gusset 2 piece. Align your belly gusset with one side of the body from the bottom of the beak to the tail. Sew them together, leaving the bottom of the leg area open.

  9. Repeat this with the other side of the body. Align the two body sides and then sew them together as well from point A to the tail. Leave a space open to turn the cardinal right side out.

  10. Cut the line in the rump of your cardinal marked for the tail. Insert the tail and sew it in place. Turn your cardinal right side out and stuff it. Use a ladder stitch to close the body.

  11. Insert the pipe cleaner of the leg into the space for the legs on the body. Ladder stitch the leg in place. Repeat for the other leg. Bend the legs as needed so your bird can balance.

  12.  You’re all done! Enjoy your bird. (I had an extra space to fill)

The final step to finishing my pattern is to add process photos. When adding photos to match the steps, I often combine multiple photos For all photos, I try to make sure there is minimal blank space and that the image is a large as possible to make it easier to understand. I also add lines to indicate where to sew, where to leave a space open, and otherwise clarify what is happening. I may also make changes to my text as I feel it is needed. If I find that I forgot to photograph an important step or that my photo isn’t clear, I will go back and make a new plush.

With the pictures in place, I export my file as a PDF for print and it's ready to share!

The finished instructions:




You can download a finished copy of the .PDF for free from Craftsy or for 50c from Etsy (to cover the fees).

I hope this blog series was able to give you a bit more insight into how I bring my patterns to life and hopefully it will help you with your own patterning. If there are any questions you’d like to see me address in future blogs posts, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at If you like my patterns, please consider supporting me and purchasing a paid pattern. As you can see, a lot of work goes into making each pattern!

Good luck and happy plushing! :)

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