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.