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.