Design-A-Toy Project


For an introductory sewing and design course, the students build their own plush toys. Using a simple given pattern, they must design their own toy and alter the pattern or create new pieces to accomplish this. They must utilize the sewing techniques taught in class and decide what types of hand or machine stitch will be best as they plan their project. The successful student creates a sewing plan to organize themselves, but allows room for creative experimentation as they go.

Length of Activity

Month Long Project

Activity Objectives

The main goal is to give the students something to be attached to. The semester is full of samples, sewing on production garments, and working in the costume studio, but by using lab fees to purchase the needed supplies, the students get to take this project home at the end of the semester. They use the skills learned in class, and expand beyond those depending on what each student needs (IE. Specialized embroidery or patterning techniques). Each student can express their creativity differently, and can embrace the project as little or as much as they want, so long as they have met the minimum requirements. But many exceed those in order to get the toy they want. There are minimum requirements for hand sewing and patterning techniques, and they are encouraged to plan progress and note when to use hand or machine sewing (IE. If you sew the body together first, you will mostly likely have to hand sew the facial feature and appendages, but if you plan to trap body parts in the side seams, then you can machine sew them, etc).

Activity Goals

The main goal is to allow the students a creative and self-expressive project. Many of the class assignments are teaching a skill, and they need to follow instruction to get the grade. This project gives them a vehicle to use those skills in a new context. When teaching the sewing samples, I emphasize how they relate to their production sewing and to their plushie. I want them to own this project and to build something important to them. Many work hard on this because they are attached to the content, IE. Building a childhood hero, or something they consider all their own.


The project outline is below. When I assign the project, the students and I examine the amorphous patterns I provide, with slides that show how different animals could be achieved.

Depending on the semester, I change the parameters (IE. Space creatures, animals, anthropomorphized objects, mash-ups) or incorporate a theme, but each semester holds the same content:

-preliminary research and discussion on their choices

-a planning sheet in which they outline how they think it will go, describing their pattern alterations and division of hand vs. machine sewing. They are to update this before submission if they did make changes

-labeled pattern pieces

-the finished toy

-a character description of who they have decided this toy is- what design choices were made and why

Project Assignment Sheet:

THTR 1015 Stagecraft: Costumes

Design-A-Toy Final Project

• Your final stitching project will combine many of the technical skills learned this semester, your design skills, as well as basic patterning skills introduced with this assignment.

• You will choose between 2 basic patterns, as seen below, or from a commercial pattern.

• I will provide a selection of fleece, but fabric is also available locally at Joann Fabrics or Hobby Lobby if you want something more specific.

Option 1- Taking this basic pattern, you will alter it (in at least 3 ways) into the plush toy of your choice (!). These alterations will depend on what your toy is and will be discussed in the Pattern Manipulation demo to come.

Option 2– Trace out and use a commercial pattern. You will still need to create (or alter) 3 extra pattern pieces (think of decorations, other appendages, etc) to complete the assignment. You will have class time devoted to altering your individual patterns, cutting the fabric and stitching your project, but count on working on your own time as well. Remind yourself of your sample stitches.

To be successful in this project, you must:

• Alter (or create new) the pattern in at least 3 ways (give a neck, reshape paws, decoration)

• Hand sew on at least 4 appendages -nose, eyes, beak, muzzle, nose, tail, tummy, etc.

• The goal is to utilize the techniques learned in class this semester and the most successful student will use the various techniques appropriately and effectively, not just using the same one.

• Plan out your project clearly from beginning to end- in what order you stitch your pieces together will help dictate hand vs. machine sewing. The more organized you are, the smoother this project will run. Think before sewing.

Due Date #1:

Decide what kind of plush toy you want to make and type up a preliminary planning sheet. Provide clear research images (& if you want, sketches) of different perspectives of its body.

Final Due Date:


1. The finished Toy

2. A short presentation about the Toy character

3. Labeled pattern pieces (see PowerPoint for required titling, etc)

4. The updated typed project planning sheet

5. Your research images of various animal angles

6. A character description about this toy character


Pattern Examples:

Time Required

I generally donate a few weeks to a month on this project depending on the semester, and what else is happening in the department at the time. I dedicate class time to introducing the project, demonstrating pattern manipulation and sewing techniques specific to toy building, but also leave class time to work. The students have benchmark due dates to force them to not procrastinate on the project, but the time is dependent on how ambitious each student chooses to be. Some work 8 hours on the assignment, some more. This project could be shrunk down, with less time in class being dedicated to it, but it is difficult to get all the individual questions answered in that time. But that’s I why I require a preliminary planning sheet, so that I can anticipate what each student will need. I also leave the option to use a commercial pattern, which could speed up the process, but I have rarely had a student choose to do this as they usually want to create their own.

Required Materials

-Anti-pill fleece, animal eyes & noses, buttons, general fabric stock, polyfil, general trim stock—since the toys are usually small, this is a great way to get rid of fabric and trim remnants.


With large groups, one could limit the project to commercial patterns, or to one base pattern. My class is usually 12-16 students and while it is a challenge to answer everyone’s individual questions during the class work time, if I notice that certain students will be employing similar techniques, I’ll pull them together for a mini group demonstration. I have also brought in upper class costuming students for certain class periods who can help answer questions. The main goal is to allow the students a creative outlet, and regardless of class size, each student will embrace it to their own capacity. Even students who remain uncomfortable with sewing embrace the creative/design aspect of the project. So I enjoy that while it challenges each student as a final project, it can have a sliding scale of difficulty depending on their individual abilities.


I have pasted the rubric I use below, and one of the main things I push is attention to details. All of the components listed below are reflected in the original assignment sheet, and is meant to show them that they need to complete/submit all parts to get a good grade. So, if they miss the first deadline or do not submit a component, then they cannot get full points. Each section helps to create a well-rounded assignment for each student. The different components of writing, speaking, designing and sewing are meant to either challenge or cater to their existing skills, and provided that the student at least finishes the toy, they can pass the assignment.

THTR 1015 Stagecraft: Costumes

Toy Grading 20% of total grade


Total: /100

Toy name: Component Notes Points

Deadline 1: Images Prelim Plan /5

Presentation Time: Notes: /5

Finished Toy 3 pattern alts: 4 hand sewn pieces: Notes: /60

Labeled pattern pieces /10

Updated planning sheet /10

Research images /5

Character description /5


-Jennifer Sheshko Wood