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Plush 101 Class! February 4, 2010

Filed under: diy,education,events,opportunities — bizmiss @ 10:29 am
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Do you live in the Bay Area?  Would you like to learn how to design and make your own plush toys?  You’re in luck, because I’m teaching an Intro to Plush class on Monday night at Workshop SF!  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, learn how to make a unique gift for your sweetie.  Hey, it’s how the Uglydolls got started….

Update: this class just got moved to the week of the 2/15.  More details when I have them….

 

NorCal SBDC Offers Small Business Classes Online January 25, 2010

Filed under: education,Starting Up — bizmiss @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve written before about how awesome the San Francisco SBDC’s accounting workshop series is, but it’s really no help to those of you who live outside the Bay Area.  Well today I discovered that the Santa Rosa SBDC is running a ton of classes online, so now you can take them from anywhere!  Unlike the workshop series, which was just four full days of instruction, the online offerings appear to be full six-week courses, but the pacing is considerably more manageable than the intensive workshops.  They put the full syllabi online beforehand, so you can decide which class (if any) is right for you.   Most classes seem to be really specific (i.e. Quickbooks 2007, 2008 and 2009 are all separate classes) and they cost under $100.  Sweet!

 

Happy New Year September 20, 2009

Fall is the beginning of my year.  It always has been.  In the first place, I’m Jewish, so I celebrate the new year in the fall rather than in January.  I take stock and make my resolutions in the fall.  Fall is also when school starts, and when people come back after having a long break.  Fall is when I naturally feel compelled to start in new directions and when the economy begins to ramp up again.

This year my main goal is to take those new directions and make them more, um…directed.  I’m trying to set clear, achievable goals for each of my current projects, which I am trying to cull and focus in service of a greater professional goal: an independent and sustainable career as a creative professional.

I’ve decided I need help with this, so I’ve been in contact with Lisa at the Renaissance Business Center here in San Francisco.  Renaissance is a non-profit dedicated to helping people start and/or grow small businesses.  What makes them different from SCORE, SBA and the SBDC is that they are much more focused on providing intensive, long-term assistance.  Two programs I’m currently looking at are their 14-week business planning course (which has been described as a mini-MBA program), and their 1-3 year business incubation program (probably the virtual incarnation).  I’ve got a tour and orientation on Wednesday.  Hopefully they can help me focus and kick my ass a little.

In the meantime, I’ve been applying for some holiday shows, and trying to create new wares for them.  The one I’m currently most excited about is DesignerCon in L.A. (formerly Vinyl Toy Network).  It’s sort of a combo trade fair/cash-and-carry for folks who make the kinds of things you see in designer toy and comic shops–plush and vinyl collectibles, limited-edition prints, and character-driven art of all kinds.  At $125 for a one-day booth, the cost is comparable to your standard craft fair.  I’m planning on showcasing/selling Sweet Meats on one side of the booth, and presenting samples of my plush design work on the other.  DesignerCon is on November 21st, which gives me a concrete deadline by which to have my new web site and business cards done, as well samples of next year’s toy line.

A little bit further down the list is a book proposal.  I’ve heard from fellow crafters that writing an instructional book is extremely difficult and takes about a year of full-time work to complete.  According to Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo, just writing the proposal takes a week.  Things being what they are in publishing, writing a book is often not very lucrative, assuming that your proposal even gets picked up a by a publisher in the first place, which is unlikely.  On the other hand, authoring a successful book significantly increases your profile as an expert in your field, leading (hopefully) to press, more clients and higher rates.  What doesn’t get picked up you can always publish on your own, so I’m keeping it as an option for now.

As for making a Thing-A-Day, I’m still doing it, though I’ve fallen back on the “work on an existing project for 30 minutes” net a couple of times this week.  Yesterday I made and decorated a cake for my friends’ 26th/30th birthdays, but I didn’t like it enough to photograph it.  Otherwise I’ve mostly been working on re-making my pieces for the Plush You show next month.

It’s going to be a busy fall.  I’ll keep you posted about what I learn along the way.  Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Worth Its Weight: Top Ten Typography Mistakes September 17, 2009

Maybe it’s because I just saw that “Helvetica” movie, but I thought I should share this with you: Brian Hoff’s “10 Common Typography Mistakes.” This is a great primer for anyone DIY-ing the design of their own marketing materials.  Even if you have no professional design training, using these tips will get halfway to having a professional-looking brochure or web site. via swissmiss

typographymistake

 

Epic How-To: Make a 3-D Plush Pattern from a 2-D Drawing (Starring Mitch from Neon Monster) July 31, 2009

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

plushmaterialsMaterials:

  • 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):

eyedrapesideeyedrapetopeyedrapebottom

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.

 

Crafty Business Questions: Etiquette April 10, 2009

Filed under: education,Feelings,networking,Starting Up — bizmiss @ 4:10 pm
Tags: ,

I got a lot of etiquette questions this week, so I’m posting all the answers below:

I’m just starting out, and I have lots of questions I’d like to ask successful business crafters. What’s okay and not okay to ask about?

In general, it’s okay to ask about process, not product, and it’s always best to ask for help from businesses that don’t compete with yours. For example, if you sell plush toys, it’s not okay to ask another plush artist where they get their fabric, who their distributor is, or what consignment stores they work with. Instead, try asking something like, “Can you recommend somewhere to start researching distributors/stores/wholesale fabric suppliers?” Then, instead of giving away their contacts/sources, they can give you the name of a trade association or web site where you can begin your own research.

It is also okay to ask a fellow crafter general business information, like if they can recommend any good crafty business books, marketing classes, banks, or bookkeeping software. Your successful accounting practices will not harm their business. Other things that are sometimes okay to ask about include who designed their logo/web site, and how they developed a good pricing structure. You can also ask non-competing businesses for general feedback on your Etsy store, packaging, etc.

If you are unsure about whether your question falls within the bounds of etiquette, try asking it by beginning, “Would you be comfortable sharing information with me about X? I totally understand if you’re not.” That way, it’s easy for them to say no and neither party has to resent the other.

I sell handmade toys with buttons that have clever sayings on them. Yesterday one of my customers told me she also wants to start selling (mass-produced) toys with clever buttons on them. She asked me for my button source and their pricing! I think this is really rude. How do I respond kindly without blowing my top?!

Again, this goes back to process, not product. How did you find your button source? How did you research pricing in order to comparison shop? It may be as simple as telling her you Googled the phrase “button makers” and then requested prices and samples from five local businesses. She still has to do the legwork, but you’ve answered her question helpfully, while insinuating that maybe it’s not so cool to ask a competitor for such specific information.

I’m thinking of applying for a particular craft fair, but I don’t know anyone who’s vended there. Is it okay for me to ask a random vendor (posted on their vendor page) how profitable it was for them?

This is a tricky one, but I would say yes, provided: you ask someone who does not sell competing products, you ask using the “Would you be comfortable sharing…” preface, and you don’t ask specifics, like “how much money did you make at that fair?” or “what were your best selling items?” Instead, stick to more general questions, like “was it worth your time?”, “did the customers generally fit your demographic?” and “would you do it again?”

Do you have thoughts about these questions? Do you have other etiquette questions? Ask them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!