I thought I'd create this in-depth exploration of my expenses as a better resource for my pricing on my shop
Why are Plushies soooo expensive?
I hear this a lot, and I see this a lot. I figure it’s past due to sit down and create a fairly comprehensive run-through that documents all the expenses and time involved. I fear this being interpreted as complaining – it isn’t! I wouldn’t create plushies if I didn’t genuinely enjoy it. It feels like a wise idea to clear the air a little, since not as many people are familiar with the process as I thought.
All of this is my experience. While I am sure other artists have similar expenses, I speak only for myself and the expenses I have faced! Perhaps others have found a better supplier or method of doing something…feel free to let me know if that’s so!
This is just a rough estimate. Some of these supplies will last me 1 pony, some will last me for the rest of my sewing hobby.
You can’t really plush without a place to plush. I live in a one bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and instead of a TV and lounge area, we have a sewing station! For about a year, I sewed on a 4’ folding table for $40 from Wal-Mart. Not only was this not enough horizontal space, I had no drawers to stick any of my haberdashery. There is a lot of haberdashery. We’ll touch that later, though. My mother and I really love Ikea, and I’ll fight anyone tooth and nail who says their stuff isn’t any good! We picked up two Alex drawer units ($79 each) and a Linnmon tabletop for $35, along with way too much other Ikea goodies for her house. $193 later and I have a working table – and boy, does it work. I have drawers for everything, they’re all labeled; no more searching endlessly for the other side of my embroidery hoop. One problem though – I’m still a little low on tabletop space. One more trip to Ikea, two more Alex drawer units and one more Linnmon later, I’ve doubled my space. So much room for activities!
“You don’t need a sewing machine or embroidery machine to make plushies.” - I hear this often. Perhaps not everyone does, but I certainly do. To produce consistent, strong, stitches or applique or lovely cutie marks and eyes, you better have a sewing machine and an embroidery machine. For my sewing machine, I have the Brother SE400 - $315 on Amazon. It’s a combination sewing machine and embroidery machine, which is fantastic for piddling around until you realize how long embroidery takes and you’re edging to sew, but you still have 3 hours left of watching your precious sewing machine be used for silly embroidery purposes…you splurge for a dedicated machine.
For my dedicated embroidery machine, I use the Brother PE770 - $586 on Amazon. I have zero complaints about this machine, to be honest. If I had to choose between this machine and my boyfriend, he better find another place to live.
Space: $386 Sewing machine: $315 Embroidery machine: $586 $1287 later, I have a lot of space, some machines and literally nothing I can sew or do. Whoo!
Minky is costly. I usually order from Fabric.com and pretend to be a ‘new customer’ for that 20% off coupon. Do I feed bad? No. Do I have a lot of email addresses? Yes. They cut this discount down to 10%, which nearly makes it useful to find another supplier. If Fabric.com doesn’t have what I need, I have to order from overseas. Plushaddict.co.uk has a lot of colors no one else does, but they’re $21.51 a meter (so, basically a yard) compared to the $12.48 I pay per yard at Fabric.com. Any color I need, it’s useless to get less than a yard. A yard from Fabric.com is $12.48 and a half yard is $9.36. Ponies with a little bow or tiny accent of a color sometimes require purchasing a full yard; I’ve tried hard to stock up on colors so this isn’t often a problem. I actually keep all my receipts from buying fabric. A quick calculation of all my fabric receipts put me at $493.01.
Embroidery is a lot more time intensive than one would think. Let us run through the process! Starting from square one, an embroidery machine is like a printer. You give it a picture and the right color thread, and it pops out that part of the design that requires that color. Sadly, the embroidery machine cannot just eat up a .jpeg and pop out a beautiful eye. There is a process called “digitizing” that enables the machine to read the new picture; and you’ve guessed it, this require its own program. I use Embird, which is $164 for the software plus $150 for the Digitizing Tools. These programs can run from free (they’re buggy and not very user friendly) to over $1000 (they’re over $1000!). Embird works great for me!
Now, it is ready to shove on into the machine. Or, I wish it was time to shove it on into the machine. You have to hoop the material first; and this requires some stabilizer on the front and back so the fabric doesn’t stretch during embroidery. A roll of Cut-Away stabilizer for the back is $12.95, and will last me awhile. For the front, a roll of Water Soluble stabilizer is $11.39. To get the Cut-Away to stay on the fabric, you need some temporary spray! For a regular sized spray bottle, that’s around $18. Now we can hoop the fabric. Alright – the fabric is on the machine…we press the go button…and oh wait, there isn’t any thread! Embroidery thread isn’t sewing thread. It’s thinner, decorative, and prettier. It mainly comes in Rayon and Polyester. I started with 2 sets of ~50 spools (that ran about $40 each) of Polyester off-brand thread. It looks fine, but it breaks too often and isn’t as shiny and textured as I’d like. It’s time for another investment! Madeira makes some great Rayon embroidery thread, but I need around 100 spools to have enough colors to be happy. I recently picked up a set of 40 spools for $99, and I’ll buy individual spools as needed for $2.25. On top of this, I use so much black, white and bobbin thread that I spent $21 to get some large, nice spools of these colors. Rolling bobbin threads takes a little long, and it’s easier to make the investment to just buy a pack of pre-wound bobbin threads. For 144 pre-wound bobbins, $29. The embroidery can begin. Of course, it doesn’t always turn out right. Sometimes the machine messes up, sometimes the design isn’t the right size, sometimes the world just hates you and wants to waste your time. That’s okay. Our embroidery is finally, finally done.
Alright, it’s over 1000 words into this and we’re just now taking a peek at our sewing machine…but not yet! First, we have to get our pattern pieces. Pull out that master pattern you have slaved over and trace out your pattern. If your fabric is light, you’ll use your handy-dandy disappearing ink pens ($6.94 on amazon) so your pretty white pony doesn’t have lines inside her. If your fabric is black or dark, you’ll use your tailor chalk ($3.49 on Amazon). Sometimes if you’re lazy, you’ll just use a pen. Let’s cut out that pattern! Since minky is furry, it’s a bad idea to use scissors; all that fluff will go more places than it would with an exacto knife. I probably have at least $20 in exacto blades, since fabric dulls them so quickly. We also can’t cut directly on our nice Ikea table…$18 for a cutting mat. It’s time to fire up that sewing machine! I can’t speak much for how much sewing thread costs – I’ve collected it at garage sales and largely from a deceased older lady that has a distant relationship to our family. Since we’re using minky, we have to have a walking foot, or else everything will slide. Tack on another $31.35 for a walking foot. Pins? We have to pin our fabric. Since I’ve bought so many pins over time, we’ll go a little low on our estimate and say $5 for pins. Our pony is sewn up! Time to clip the curves, with our $13 pack of two shears. We can’t use these scissors for anything but fabric, or they dull. Let’s stuff this pony. If you just shove stuffing in her feet, she won’t stand very flat or well. I use plastic sheet in her feet ($2.16 a sheet) to keep her feetsies flat, as well as some poly-pellets ($81 for 25lbs) To give her some flatness and weight. The polyfill I used to fill my ponies is around $10 for 2 bags (enough to fill 1 pony), although I can’t find it anymore. Finally, I use thick stabilizer in the ears to give them some curve. $6 a yard for this stabilizer. As well as some wire for wing or tail stability – I use around $4 worth of wire in each pony.
Some ponies have other stuff. Magnets are $6 for 12, and I use at least 2 for each magnetic item. Buttons, brads, hooks, snaps…I probably have $40 worth of weird haberdashery. Airbrushing? A $80 compressor and a $57 airbrush. Another $20 for a glue gun.
Cost Fabric: $493.01 Embroidery: $586.34 Sewing: $182.94 Other Stuff: $203.00 Total: $1465.29
The pony has to get there! It’s .68 cents for a box that I have to cut down, since most ponies are 14 inches tall and nearly 14 inches long, but not 14 inches wide! $16.88 for some bubble wrap, and $35 for some business cards with a misspelling on them, just for good measure. $10 or so at the post office to get the pony shipped.
Cost Shipping: $62.56
Time is money! I’ve timed myself on a few ponies. This time isn’t always involved time. I could be watching some Netflix while this time is going, and just maintaining the machine when it asks for some help. For my pony base pattern, I probably have 80 solid hours of pattern testing involved. I’m not very quick at drafting patterns.
Time Break-down: Embroidery Designing/Digitizing: 5hrs Actually embroidering: 2 – 6hrs Pattern Cutting: 1hr Sewing pony body/head: 5hrs Stuffing pony body/head: 2hrs Sewing pony head to body: 1hr Sewing pony ears to head: 2hr Drafting mane/tail patterns: 3 - 5hrs Sewing mane/tail: 5 – 7hrs Stuffing mane/tail: 2hr Attaching mane/tail: 3hr – 4hrs Accessories (each): 1hr – 7hrs
Most ponies end up taking me around 25 hours. My longest is around 65.
Total overall: $2814.85 + lots of time
So…what does this mean?
I believe it’s a little frustrating when people see plush makers as overly expensive or just trying to make some cash. It’s hard to turn a decent profit, let alone make a living. It’s more profitable to work at Mcdonald’s, for heaven’s sake. Mcdonald’s doesn’t let you work your own hours in your PJs, though. That’s my saving grace.
Moral of the story? I love what I do. I cringe when I ask for over $200 for what I do. I cringe when I look at other artists that I aspire to be like who charge over $400. Is that what the product is worth? Yes, perhaps more. Is it still a lot for a stuffed pony? Yes, yes it is.