Aleeza McCant’s in-home studio in Tacoma is bright, colorful, and filled with characters. A rainbow of fleece is stacked on shelves, cute plush bees hang from a chandelier, and a bag of pug loafs sits ready to ship.
What’s a pug loaf? It’s a stuffed fleece animal with a smiling face, floppy ears, and huggable body. It comes in fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand small to medium and even giant — the biggest loaf is two feet long, 15 inches tall, and weighs 11 pounds.
There are other plush creatures in her studio, too. Like a happy Loch Ness monster, a “baby burrito,” and sushi rolls with faces.
The sushi fleece creations are where it all began and inspired the name of the business, Sushi You Can Hug.
“I always thought it was really cute,” McCant said of sushi. “When I look at stuff, I tend to see faces on things.”
It’s a creative view that has led her to create thousands of plush items that are shipped all around the world.
The most popular item is her pug loaf, and sometimes in her studio she’s accompanied by her own real pug, Jasper, whom she’s had for about five years.
She also is often accompanied by Molly, a schnauzer, or black cats Shira and Binx.
McCant has always been a maker. Somewhere, she said, there’s a photo of her wearing a construction paper Santa outfit as a child — all of her own making. She got into fleece stuffed animals by way of graphic design.
Everything starts with a sketch. Notebooks are filled with pen drawings of pugs wearing different outfits, sushi with faces, and other animals she then crafts into stuffed and huggable creatures. She estimates she’s made thousands of stuffed pieces since she started.
“Once I have an idea, I figure out the pattern in my head. I really do trial and error,” she said.
On a shelf in her in-home studio are her first attempts. The origins of the pug loaf are obvious, with the tiny tofu pug that started it all.
McCant works assembly-line style. Some days she’ll have a cutting day, where she works on pug snouts and ears. Other days she’ll stuff creatures with the help of her partner, Brian. In a drawer are precut pug pieces that she uses to quickly make the plush.
Much like she’s always been a crafter, McCant was also born with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“The earliest thing I can remember selling is soda pop at a garage sale,” she said. “I’ve always had the entrepreneurial gene.”
Now she does Sushi You Can Hug full time, selling her wares on Etsy (find her under the name Cornstarch), on her website, and at conventions or events like SakuraCon and The Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
“I pretty much work all the time,” she said. “I don’t mind.”
Some days she’ll be in her studio working for 10 hours sewing. It’s really something to watch. She stands to sew in the middle of her studio. First, McCant does the seams inside and then — voila — turns the fleece out, and an animal or food appears. She doesn’t pin before sewing; it’s all about intuition. That makes each plush unique.
“Usually, it’s all just by feel,” she said.
Sometimes an animal-food mashup is made. For example, the pugnana — a pug sitting in a banana peel. Or there’s the ham and egg — a pig with tamago on its back (tamago is the Japanese word for egg; the sushi is similar to a sushi omelet).
McCant has also done commissioned work. Her first big order came from cartoon website The Oatmeal by Seattle’s Matthew Inman. McCant crafted a plushie of his dog featured in the comics.
Prices for plushies range from $12 for a small piece up to $175 for the 11-pound giant pug loaf. Available online at sushishirtsxd.com.