I pre-ordered Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman as soon as I saw it on Amazon and was so excited when it arrived last week.
Mariska is the designer of the popular PDF softie pattern business, DIY Fluffies. She’s Dutch and has a master’s degree from the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands. Mariska worked for seven years as a 3-D model designer at Guerilla Games, one of Europe’s leading video game development studios, before becoming a mom of two boys and a softie pattern designer.
Mariska has self-published over 30 softie patterns since opening her Etsy shop in 2008. One of her first patterns, Yoki the Dragon, remains a best-seller. Others include a bunny, a lion, an owl, a kitty, a rhino, a girl doll, a monkey, and a monster. Here’s a sampling of DIY Fluffies self-published PDF patterns:
Sew Cute to Cuddle is her first book. I asked Mariska why she decided to work with a publisher to make a book when her PDF patten business was already thriving.
“This pattern book is something I wanted to do for a long time. Having a book that you can touch and feel, instead of the PDF patterns, is just something special. I have been working on it for 1.5 years before I contacted a publisher. Luckily they were very interested in my designs.”
She explained that her goal with this book was that “even a beginner sewer could make the most difficult patterns in the book. That’s why I explain every step with detailed illustrations.” Although English is not Mariska’s first language, her patterns and this book are well-edited and read very clearly.
Sew Cute to Cuddle is a softie pattern book, plain and simple, and I love that. There’s no gimmick. It’s not a few softies mixed in with quilt patterns and bag patterns and girl’s dresses. We aren’t told to try to sew these with our kids, or to create them for charity. There’s no over-arching theme besides softies. This is a toy book like we haven’t seen in a long time. Hooray!
I sewed Wooksy the Owl and found the instructions to be clear and the diagrams to be excellent. In the introduction Mariska explains, “My approach to my pattern instructions is based on the fantastic detail of Japanese pattern books.” I definitely see this influence and it’s effective. Here’s a sample of visual instructions from Nuigurumi Style, one of my favorite Japanese softie books, on the left, and Sew Cute to Cuddle on the right. See what I mean?
My favorite spread from Sew Cute to Cuddle is the table of contents where you’re treated to seeing all of the toys in the book together. I also love the line drawings on the title page. These are thoughtful design details that make this book really lovely.
I wish the publisher, David & Charles (a division of F+W) had hired some children to model with the toys. Hiring models for a photo shoot can be expensive and softie books don’t often have the budget to do it (my book included) which is really too bad. Toys should be pictured being played with.
The pattern templates are printed at full-size at the back of the book, though without seam allowances. At only 128 pages having just 12 patterns was wise because they all fit at full-size (again, softie books rarely have the budget for an envelope with pull-out pattern sheets).
I will say that one decision by the publisher bothers me. They’ve chosen to take apart this book and sell the individual patterns as PDF downloads on their site. Given that Mariska has a thriving PDF pattern business of her own, she’s now in the odd position of competing with her own publisher to sell her patterns.
I don’t know the details of her contract, but it’s fairly standard to for authors to get about 10% of each sale the publisher makes. At $6.61 a piece on the publisher’s site I’m guessing that Mariska will earn .66 cents on each sale in royalties. These a la carte sales are potentially undermining overall sales of her book, which retails for $22.99. They’re also potentially undermining sales of her self-published patterns, which she sells for $9 a piece. Given that many of the patterns in Sew Cute to Cuddle resemble the DIY Flufflies PDF patterns it would be tempting for a consumer to buy the publisher’s PDFs because they’re at a lower price.
I asked an experienced craft book agent to weigh on this decision by the publisher. She said, “It’s in a lot of standard contracts, but we negotiate it out. This is just the publisher’s way to maximize revenue streams.” One of the reasons I love craft books is that they stand as a single body of work, they are something more than just a series of patterns. I don’t want print publishing to die out, but I’m not certain that taking a book apart and selling it piecemeal as PDFs is the best way forward.
Sew Cute to Cuddle is great book for soft toy making and I highly recommend it. Here you get 12 cute and well-explained patterns accompanied by full-sized templates that are ready to trace, all from a designer with a fresh eye and a distinctive style. I’m hanging on to this one.
You can find Sew Cute to Cuddle on Amazon or in your local bookstore now.