We’ve been dreaming this little dream for a while, and trying to bring the ingredients together to make it happen. Our vision is to move my home studio to a new public space in its own room at our bookstore. I thought I would be getting a job but I just keep having to fall back on this wonderful creative work I started to fill in what we thought was a temporary income gap. I guess it’s not going to be temporary so it’s finally time to go professional!
We’re asking for help because with all of our bookstore income going to operating expenses and bare minimum basics, we never have anything to invest! We keep waiting and waiting for our “better days” and it’s holding us back. We are just looking for a wee little boost to get this dream rolling. The sewing machines are especially important because what I’ve run into some technical limitations for what I can make. (I need more stitches for working with knit fabrics and a serger for doing a more professional finish on clothing.) I can hardly wait to get to work on this new project, and look forward to sharing my creative journey with all of you!
Here’s the link to my campaign where you can learn more. http://www.gofundme.com/8f6oys
I am always looking for ways to improve my designs, and sometimes ideas just come together perfectly. Caspian is my first Starhorse with weft hair (His hair is real horsehair!) that falls over to one side. I loved this so much that I plan to make some of my yarn hair horses with hair to one side, too. It looks more natural and it’s less bushy around the neck and rather graceful.
Updates were made to the legs, with darts that hold a better shape, to the ears that are no longer a flat triangle, and to the hooves. My hooves used to be round, and I carefully hand-stitched each little cylinder as I tucked it into the leg and added extra stuffing. A meticulous process! Actually, it’s still a meticulous process but the hooves are now an angled oval, so that they are both daintier and a little easier to manage. How realistic they are is a matter of opinion, but I think they really capture the spirit of the way a horse looks anyway.
These accessories are all experiments, too. I added reins with a beautiful natural linen cord and wrapped it in cotton floss to keep everything soft and pretty. My felt saddle is more three dimensional, and the wool blanket combines with a chest ornament to combine coziness and a parade look at once. And jingle bells! These are too fun and would make anyone want to start a parade of their own just to prance through it makes a happy noise! I decided these could be free–they are sturdily stitched but there are some thread ends that show on the red velvet elastic. There’s really no way to hide the threads… But later I figures out a way to do the nearly-impossible and now make the jingle bells with fewer threads to show.
Caspian, like my other Starhorses, is made of hand-dyed 100% cotton velveteen and stuffed with wool. He is a 13″ tall horse and great for dolls to ride on. This firm type of stuffed horses is made to stand tall and not bend or fall over easily. He’s made for travel and adventure, but may not squish and cuddle like other types of stuffed toys. For ages 3+ as loose hair is not recommended for younger children, and accessories contain a few small parts.
More bunnies too! The velveteen bunnies have sure kept me busy lately. And of course, I am always making improvements to them too. I am currently just trying to teach myself to make fewer mistakes I have to fix. I find that instead of making the bunnies faster and faster over time, I get pickier about details and try to make them better instead. I’ve definitely learned that hand-stitching has advantages over the machine when it comes to getting accurate placement in tight spaces. ETA: Named these guys Truffle Bunnies! They are 5″ tall and sit in the palm of the hand. I like how each one has a unique face and wee differences in the shape. Truly one of a kind, and velveteen is so friendly to touch.
It all started with my quest for the perfect stuffing material to add weight to some of my toys. Weighted stuffing give a toy substance and make a doll feel more real, or simply help it sit or stand or hug better with that bit of heft. Often children who need sensory therapies get extra benefits from handling weighted toys.
These pebbles are about the size of sesame seeds.
I prefer natural materials so I considered all the ones I heard of or could imagine. Sometimes millet or rice are used for weight, but I don’t want something that will deteriorate quickly especially if it were to get wet. Other commonly used options are sand and glass beads, and I did not like either option. I considered aquarium pebbles but that sounded clumsy. I was almost ready to purchase sand when I noticed the bag of shiny mother-of-pearl crushed shells. They were so tiny and clean and had the perfect weight. So for a while each little bunny and mini doll received a few spoonfuls of the shells at just the right time, and it seemed I had just the right solution. Then, when my supplies dwindled,
I discovered that the crushed shells were out of stock everywhere and also that no one sells them online! After many phone calls and internet searches I was back to square one again.
In desperation I searched for crushed shells on Etsy and surprisingly found some, ordered them, and then received them only to discover they were too big and wouldn’t work after all. Finally I ran across Janit Calvo who could ship me the tiniest clean white pebbles I ever saw — because she is a miniature gardener who even wrote a book about miniature gardening. Her website for miniature garden supplies is here: http://www.twogreenthumbs.com/ What a distracting discovery! I was so enchanted that I started feeling ready to take up a new hobby (that was a pleasantly delusional moment for this mama without spare time). After looking for Janet’s book, “Gardening in Miniature” I went on to find lots of other books are miniature gardening and fairy gardening and placed a little order… Yep, really distracting.
Once I got back on track I had to work on other toys and patterns until I could finally run these little pebbles through my fingers. After a thorough rinse and dry, the pebbles were tested and pass the bunny-bottom test with flying colors.
Ready for stories of tiny cuddles and gentle care, wee 3″ handmade pocket babies in cotton skin, wool stuffing, embroidered faces, and soft upcycled cotton blend velour.
My toys are constructed to nurture children’s imaginations, but where they first start to come alive is in my imagination. Here I picture each design component: the shape, the colors, the materials, the possibilities I envision for play. I am especially considerate of touch. Just as the child at play will squish and kiss and pet and taste their playthings, making toys in my home involves spending a lot of time touching the materials I use. Product testing is like playtime for me! I give attention to finding the right balance of softness and firmness, and a soothing weight and comfortable size for a child’s hand. When I begin to work I am always aware of the tactile qualities of each kind of fiber I am handling, and where they came from. I find it more difficult as a creator to handle plastics such as polyester fiberfill. My mind fills with images of great vats of bubbling smelly plastics. I can’t get such images out of my head, and it turns out that I do better work when haunted by images of (also sometimes smelly) sheep in green pastures instead of industrial scenes. I’ve learned that the story of wherever it came from and how it was created is forever and always part of a thing.
I suppose we all know that millions and millions of toys are manufactured with mold-made plastics, but did you ever consider the fact that almost every single soft stuffed animal or doll sold in stores is also made with 100% petroleum products? The fabric is polyester and the stuffing is polyester too– it’s all plastic. We live in a world where the story of plastic items–these things that come to us from real people and places and processes–stays forgotten as we go about our lives. I probably sound like I have radical beliefs about synthetics but I don’t. I don’t love plastic but I use it and am often thankful for it, but so often I do feel we (and our children) could use a break from the stuff.
Working with natural fibers and recycled materials is part of a good story. Everyone should be able to start their story with such a glad prequel, and to do their storytelling in the midst of smells as wholesome and warming as that of clean sheep’s wool. You might sense, also, that these toys seem basic–this helps them be open-ended with unfinished stories. Simplicity leaves space for possibilities because, for the toy that hasn’t yet gone home, the most important parts are yet to come. Each one waits for the stories the child will create, and holds all our hopes that their childhood will grow affectionate memories with treasured companions that will last a lifetime.
Breeze, an 11″ custom starhorse
My time–and my mental attention–have been so divided lately. I haven’t been behind the sewing machine in a while, but I’m glad I finally made something! How fresh and pretty is this mint green pony? I would not have thought to create this color, so I am so glad a customer requested it and challenged me. She just got shipped to her new family, where she will have the company of two of my other little horses. I can just imagine the fun!
The fabric in all of my horses starts as a plain white velveteen. Velveteen is not widely available in colors, and the choices are disappointingly few when I find it, so I create all of my colors and patterns myself. Pastels were hard for me at first, but this mint green turned out perfectly. I had to dye the wool yarn with a completely different type of dye and process while aiming for a similar color, and I cannot believe how well it matches! If I had a lot of time on my hands I think I could enjoy spending many hours just dying different fabrics and yarns.
Our family has had a difficult year. We have really struggled since my husband lost his job in 2011. That’s a long time in limbo trying to stay upbeat! I try not to let it take a toll on my creativity, but it does.
I’d actually planned to close the Etsy shop, but never quite crossed that bridge. Right when I’d think I was done, I’d get the most heartwarming appreciative communication from a customer and change my mind. Or I’d look at the little doll half done on the sewing table and know I’d at least finish him first anyway. (And I did!) Then the next thing I knew, I’d be sketching ideas and comparing fabrics while my daughter dug through the yarn making recommendations– then my heart would once again be the heart of a craftsperson.
Although toymaking isn’t be my number one focus right now and I don’t know how much or how long I can manage it, for now the virtual toyshop doors are still open and there are still at least a few more new Starhorses and dolls in our future. I just tell myself that a slow trickle is nicer than none at all when I look at one of those sweet embroidered smiles and bright little faces doing their part to remind us to enjoy the small blessings in life.