Interview with a Toymaker

Note: To switch between images at the end of this post, just click on them, 

What is it about toys that we find so appealing? I spoke to Rachael Carlson, Toymaker, to find out. “Kids never react to a toy the way you think they will.” Rachael loves to see what children (and everybody else for that matter) do with the toys she makes. “It’s such a rewarding feeling.” 

Get boinked by an Oink Doink

Last year, Rachael churned out clones of Chichester the Pig (Pattern is free from http://apocalypseknits.blogspot.com/2010/08/chichester-pig.html) as stocking stuffers, and watched, delighted, as nieces and nephews invented a new game.  “The kids threw the little piggies at us and each other, giggling and running, calling out Oink Doink! every time they scored a hit. The pigs were flying everywhere and we all had such a blast.” Yes, pigs flew. Time to get out those needles and make a toy!

What if there aren’t any kids to knit for? Personally, I think everybody should have an Oink Doink, but really. Here’s what Rachel suggested, “Make them for yourself or another adult, or to donate to a hospice, hospital, nursing home, or other charity. Animal shelters also love knitted and crocheted toys.” Ok. What are some of the other perks of toymaking? “Toys are small and quick. They don’t take much yarn so are terrific stashbusters. Also, each one takes on its own personality as you put it together.”

I asked Rachael to tell me more about that. “I love seeing the goofy expressions on their faces: it makes me smile, too,” she said. “Sewing them up is the best part. I laugh through little stories I make up as I put them together.” Rachael also thinks a lot about the recipient of the toy, as well as visualizing the finished project.

“I let the age and preferences of the recipient guide me when selecting yarns and patterns” Excellent point. What attracts her to a toy pattern? “First, its fit with the recipient, second, its Ravelry results, and third, it’s got to be cute, cute, cute!” How does Rachael use Ravelry to gauge a pattern? “I look at how other stitchers’ projects turn out in their pictures. If it looks like lots of people are having trouble making a toy look like the model, then I pass on the pattern.” Interesting. That sounds like good advice in general. What about yarn? “Acrylics and cottons are great for the youngest. Washability is the most concerning with the young. Try superwash wools for older children and adults. 100% wools and other such fibers are tops for felted toys. Also, I try to use several colors of one yarn when making a toy so the results are more predictable.” What weight of yarn is best for toymaking? “Usually worsted or DK, though I use whatever a pattern calls for in many cases. Patterns usually call for needles smaller than what you might be used to using for that yarn weight.” Good point. Why? “So the stuffing doesn’t show or pull through the stitches!”

Rachael finds most of her patterns in books and magazines. “My favorite designers are Jean Greenhowe and Alan Dart.” She also likes the patterns by Mochi Mochi. Once she finds a designer she likes, “Patterns can often be downloaded right from their websites.” 

“I love to customize my toys; it’s fun to have clothes to change.” Rachael’s favorite pattern is the knitted sheep by Flutterby Patch http://flutterbypatch.blogspot.com/2009/05/knitted-sheep-in-woolly-land.html These sheep are customized by knitting different fleeces…in any color you like. Read about Rachael’s flock of knitted sheep at http://adventuresoflenny.blogspot.com/ 

What’s the downside of knitting toys? “What downside? I love giving them away, I love making them. The faces are the best. Think of a goofy sheep smiling at you and tell me if you wouldn’t smile, too.” I can attest to this, as can the stitchers who frequent Kniticality. Every time Rachel is seen making a new toy, volunteers start queuing and voices peep, “Is that for me?”  It’s so easy to attach yourself to a toy…not the same at all as attaching to a sweater or hat!  Finally, Rachael says, “I know, even if my toys aren’t made over right away, they’ll never truly be set aside, because Auntie Rachael made them.” Wow. So I’m feeling the need to knit a flying pig right NOW (there’s a pattern for that, too). What about you?

Rachael teaches Knitting and crochet at Kniticality in Saluda, NC 828-749-3640. Her next class, coming up in October, is the Topsy-turnabout doll, designed by Jean Greenhowe. Don’t miss it!