Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mucho Interview

It's kind of funny interviewing your friend you hang out with all the time but I did. Mucho is my friend, the one I watch 90210 and Melrose Place with. We watch each other's cat's when we go out of town and we have craft nights which are my favorite. Pamela is really swell and a great crafting friend. Here's a little more about her. Leave a comment at the end of this post and you'll have the chance to win your very own Mucho Drumstick!

S- When did you start crafting?

M- I guess my mom taught me to crochet when I was in grade school but she only taught me the chain stitch so I couldn't really make anything. She taught me to use a sewing machine when I was a little older that was probably the real start. I got into crochet again in my 20's.

S- You sew and do a lot of crochet. Would you say you have a favorite?

M- Definitely crochet but that's because I can create in 3-D easier than in sewing. I haven't quite grasped that skill yet.

S- How long does it usually take you to come up with a new crochet pattern?

M- Sometimes it's a couple hours sometimes a couple days. I try to think it trhough in my head first and then do trial and error until I'm satisfied with the outcome. I realized that even if the design comes easily on the first try, I still need to write it down. I made things I haven't been able to recreate until after multiple tries.

S- You recently had to go to the doctor for tennis elbow from all your crafting and work. Did you learn anything useful other crafters might like to know?

M- My doctor fitted me for a wrist splint which you can just pick up at any drug store and I will definitely be wearing that every time I crochet. S- Also look at the new Craft magazine out on May 6th.

S- What is an essential craft supply for your work?

M- hmmm....Where do I begin. I can keep myself pretty happy and content with a crochet hook and a few skeins of yarn for days.

S- How often do you try and create a new design for your etsy shop?

M_ I definitely would like to more often. Maybe every couple months. I work 40 hours a weeek and like to have a bit of a social life. It's hard to balance it all.

S- What has been one of your most memorable craft experiences since you started Mucho?

M- Urban Craft Uprising was a pretty awesome time. It was my first craft fair, I was with good friends, met amazing crafters and saw tons of cool stuff.

S- What's your biggest source of inspiration?

M- Friends suggestions, Japanese advertising, mascots and Japanese products and old craft books and magazines. Oh and food of course!

S- What's on Mucho's horizon?

M- Well as soon as I rid myself of this stupid tennis elbow I hope to come up with some new amigurumi designs and fill my etsy shop a little more.

S- Anything exciting you would like to share with our Plush You readers?

M- You can learn how to make bacon bowls on Not Martha, I think that's exciting! I will also be in Kristen Rask's (that's me) new book and I will be participating in this year's Plush You show.

Leave a comment here for your chance to win your own Mucho Drumstick!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ariana Marinelli

I really try not to have favorites but I have to say, Ariana Marinelli is one of them. Ariana has participated in Plush You! every year and each year her work arrives there are gasps of delight from anyone that lays their eyes on her work. It's really a work of art with great attention to detail and the love that goes into each piece seeps out of the seams. Ariana is a true inspiration and I hope you agree. Leave a comment at the end of this interview and one lucky winner will receive two albino hedgehogs. Winner will be chosen on May 7th. At the end of the interview is another added bonus from Ariana.

S- When did you start making plush toys?

AM- I actually remember specifically what introduced me to the online craft/plush world. I was browsing the magazine section at my local library. I was thumbing through Budget Living (I still miss that magazine!) when I saw an article about Jill Bliss and her website blissen. I went straight home and looked up, which led me to many other online craft sites. These led to other craft sites, one of which was Loobylu’s Month of Softies.

I made a couple of small plush pieces and something about it just clicked for me. I believe that was sometime around the fall of 2004. Loobylu is how I found out about Plush You. Without the Plush You show I don’t know if I would have taken plush making to the next level. The show definitely inspired me to push myself.

S- A lot of your work are really small detailed pieces, do you mainly hand sew or use a machine?

AM- I would say it is pretty close to half and half. I sew what I can by machine, but I do a lot of hand sewing. I wouldn’t be able to make what I do without all of the handwork. I am actually kind of a hand-sewing evangelist! It might be a little more frustrating at first but it really can’t be beat in terms of the control it gives you over the sewing process. I am always so surprised that more people don’t start with hand sewing and then move on to the machine because it requires so few supplies. It also builds your skills and makes you a more versatile sewer.

S- As you have been in the Plush You! show all these years; I have been able to see your work change and progress. Last year you did awesome plaques which I own one of :) What do you think has influenced your work through the years the most?

AM- Wow, that is a good question! Creative inspiration can be very difficult to pin down. I would say it is a combination of many things. Most of my ideas come from the process of making things. I make something and as I am making it I see how it could be different, or better. I then make something along the new parameters and the process repeats itself, so I guess it is literally the evolution of ideas through making. I am also inspired by my environment. Many of my ideas come from things I see on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, who isn’t inspired by the many talented plush makers creating great work?

S- Your work is very artistic. Did you study art?

AM- Yes I did. I graduated from the Oregon College of Art and Craft in 2002. This is where I shamelessly plug my Alma Mater! If you are looking for an art school with dedicated instructors, a challenging curriculum and a beautiful campus, this is your school.

I actually started out at the now defunct Atlanta College of Art and Design, where I was majoring in sculpture. I transferred my junior year to OCAC where I majored in metalsmithing. I don’t work with metal anymore (it’s very toxic) but it definitely prepared me for detailed handwork.

S- So many folks are moving to Portland these days. How has Portland fostered your creative side?

How hasn’t it?! I am from Portland and while I’ve lived all over the world I always come back. My parents moved to Portland right before I was born, they were attracted by the strong alternative medicine community that was just beginning to flourish in the late 70’s. I grew up surrounded by free thinkers; my parents had a lot of friends who were artists, they sent me to a Montessori school, we even lived in a communal house for a while. I think these experiences helped shape my creativity.

After living in Atlanta for a while I ended up moving back to finish my art degree at OCAC, which is an incredibly supportive community.

Outside of my personal experience, Portland can be both good and bad for fostering creativity. Portland is literally brimming with creative, talented people. This is good because there are always great shows to see, lots of inspiration, lots of creative thinking that ends up making the city a great place to live. The down side is that tons of people are competing for finite opportunities. Also Portland is a notoriously difficult retail market. People are tight with their money here. (I know I am!) There is even a saying,” If you can sell it in Portland you can sell it anywhere!”

S- Do you participate in any of the crafty events in Portland? Any favorites?

AM- I have been a vendor at Crafty Wonderland several times. It is a really well organized/publicized event. The ladies behind it do a really great job! I think it is a good event for getting the word out about your small craft business, as it tends to be well attended.

While it isn’t in Portland I think my favorite craft show on the West Coast is Felt Club. Since it only has two shows a year, they are really huge, massively attended, and tons of fun!

S- What is a must have for your studio space?

AM- My studio is located in an artist co-op. There are some fairly strict noise restrictions as the walls don’t go to the ceiling, so if you want to listen to music or the radio it has to be turned down really low, to the point where you can barely hear it. This is where my iPod saves the day! I am far more productive when I have something to listen to, it helps me concentrate and get into a productive zone.

Other than that, I have to have all the usual tools that most plush creators have: sharp scissors, sharp needles, sewing machine, and I really can’t live without my pliers!

S- You conducted a workshop for Plush You several years back. Is teaching something you do as well?

AM- OCAC has a really great summer camp every year for kids and teenagers. Most of my teaching experience has been for their Art Adventures program. I taught ceramics for an entire summer one year. I have also taught some teen painting workshops. I’m hoping to teach some teen workshops this coming summer.

S- I am so glad to see that you got yourself a website! I know a lot of people that will be overjoyed. Part of starting your shop is that you really have to promote yourself. Something that cuts into your creative time and is really time consuming. How have you approached this part?

AM- Honestly, I am still figuring this part out! I think a lot of it comes down to perspective. I try to approach all aspects of my business as a way to express my creativity. Looking at it this way helps me to be more engaged and prevents me from feeling discouraged or becoming resentful that self-promotion is necessary.

It also helps that the Internet is brimming with fantastic advice regarding self-promotion. So far I am working my way through all of the great articles on I am also looking into some of the classic crafty promotional tools like The Sampler, and sending media packets to magazines etc… Logistically I try to spend a day or two working on self-promotion, and my other free days are spent working in the studio. I will have to wait and see how this works over the long run.

S- What are your goals for your plush creations in the next few years?

AM- Other than keeping my website updated and participating in awesome plush shows, like Plush You! I would really like to create larger pieces that, when shown together, would tell a story. I have some ideas involving many plush Chihuahuas, and another idea involving disappearing figures. Ultimately I would see these being placed in a gallery setting.

On top of the awesome giveaway Ariana is providing, you can go here to download a pattern for these adorable hedgehogs!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jenny Harada Interview

If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Jenny Harada then you know how awesome she is. I finally got to meet her last summer at Renegade Craft Fair and then was lucky enough to hang out with her at the Etsy Labs this past December. And as cheesy as this might sound, Jenny is seriously like a ray of sunshine. She's passionate about her work, her family and helping Plush You to be a success. I think Jenny kicks ass and I think you will too. At the end of the interview are the details of her awesome giveaway! Don't forget to leave a comment.

S- Were toys the thing that got you into sewing or had you mastered the art of sewing before?

JH- I wouldn't say I have mastered sewing yet, even though I have been sewing for 28 years. The first things I ever sewed were clothes for my dolls. Stuffed toys soon followed because my dolls (and me) needed little friends. I pretty much started sewing because my mom was doing it and I wanted to do whatever she was doing. It was fun, so I stuck with it.

S- What drew you to making toys in the first place?

JH- I was a kid when I started making them, so it was just natural that I wanted more toys! What better way to get more toys than to make them yourself? I never really stopped since then. I don't want to grow up. Then I studied toy design in college but decided to persue animation instead of toy making. Is wasn't until years later that I began seriously making lots and lots of my own toys all the time.

S- A lot of your work uses a lot of recycled components such as doll
heads and limbs, jewelry parts, etc. Is this something you try to
incorporate in all your work or is it more of a organic process when
you find something cool?

JH- It is a result of being a collector. I collect things. I have a hard time throwing things away. I will save something thinking, "Oh I could make something out of this!" It may be years later that I actually use it. Lately I try not to save things anymore because my collection of stuff is seriously out of control. I am trying hard to whittle down the accumulation of stuff, and that is how I started using doll parts in my plush. I had a handful of them that I wanted to use so I sewed them into some plush. I had so much fun with it that I ended up buying more doll faces! Now I have twenty times more than what I started with. A friend of mine just sent me a box of super crazy old doll heads too. I can't wait to use them.

S- When we did the Etsy Lab Plush You! book party, you said that 2008 was going to be your year of organizing and getting back into your groove. It seems like you are doing it from my end of things! How is that going?

JH- Things are going along much better than last year, that is for sure! When I was pregnant with my second child, I was nauseous almost all the time, so it was really hard to get anything done. Then when she was born, adjusting to having two kids was rough for a while too. I can't complain, it's great in so many ways, but it left no time for plush making. Now that she has grown up a little, I can give more attention to my art. Getting organized has been a challenge because of the stuff collection habit that I mentioned in the previous question. I have so many ideas that are waiting to come to fruition. Not actively creating stuff for over a year meant that all those ideas have been just circulating in my mind, festering, oozing, waiting to break free. I feel like I have the energy to bust out some good stuff right now. If I can conquer the organization thing, I think I will be able to create some great things. When my space is organized, it makes it so much easier to sit down and make something without any distractions.

S- A few months ago you taught a class at the Etsy Labs for making a
little monster. How did it go? Is this something you would like to do more?

JH- It was tons of fun. I had a great group of students and it was a relaxed and happy atmosphere. Everyone at Etsy is so nice! I am going to teach another class there in June. It will be about how to sew a stuffed animal from a pattern, and how to customize it to your own liking. Watch the Etsy Labs shop or my blog to find out when sign ups become available.

S- You also paint. Is this something you would like to do more of?
Do you balance your time with
both or concentrate on one more than the other?

JH- I don't paint as often as I would like to. There are so many things I would like to do that painting is low on the totem pole right now. I do think about it often though. I like working with fabric in 2D as well. I call it "soft painting" but some people might call it patchwork or quilting. I think maybe I am a little intimidated to paint more. I definitely have not come anywhere near mastering paint, so I get frustrated that I can't get the paint down how my mind envisions it. With fabric I know what I am doing a lot more, so it is easier to just forge ahead. I also feel like I have just begun to explore the possibilities of working in 2D with fabric, so my ideas for 2D art tend to materialize in the form of, well, material! I haven't painted in months actually. Hey, now I have a strong desire to get out my paintbrushes! Perhaps some kind of paint/sewing combo is in order. I will add that to my totem pole.

S- You have been doing plush for a long time now. As a
veteran of plush making, do you have any advice for someone just
starting out?

JH- Sew sew sew! Just keep making stuff and your skills will improve. Have patience. Rip some stuffed animals apart to see how they are put together and what the pattern pieces look like. Try sewing things from commercial patterns and other crafter's patterns. Make some plushies from the Plush You book! When you start designing your own plushes, make them your own. Don't try to copy your favorite plush artists. You will shine brighter if you do your own thing. Start with your favorite materials in your favorite colors. Making something based on your favorite animal is a good place to start. Learn from your mistakes and most of all have fun!

S- What is a favorite tool you have that is a must for any craft room?

JH- I always like to have an old hairbrush on hand. When working with plush, especially long shaggy plush, it is handy for getting the hairs to do what you want them to. Not everyone works with the fuzzy stuff though, so my second answer is a good pair of scissors. Dull scissors suck the joy out of cutting. I got a fancy pair from my mother for Christmas a few years ago and they are so special to me because they cut like a dream!

S- I find it a little difficult to use all the furry fabrics. It
seems messy and harder to work with. You use a lot of it! Any advice
to cut down on messes and to make it easier to use?

JH- Keep your dustbuster nearby! I am constantly sucking up fuzzy bits. It's true, it is messy. There's no way around it. I just deal with it because I love the look of it so much. It does take patience to work with it. I am not sure what advice to give on making it easier other than just using it a lot to get accustomed to it. After I finish a project, I do a big clean up before starting something new. Masking tape is great for removing furry fibers from your clothes. Or you can wear Bill Cosby style sweaters so noboby will notice.

S- The Dali Lama is here this week in Seattle. He has driven by Schmancy numerous times and never stops by to say hello. If your plushies could help him save the world, what ideas do you think they would have for him?

JH- Keep your smile on. Even if you aren't feeling like a smile, just force it. Very soon you will be smiling sincerely and it will spread to other people. It is very easy for stuffed animals to give this advice because their faces never change. I saw the Dalai Lama speak in Central Park in NYC many years ago. It was very inspiring but he didn't say hello to me personally either. Also, the plushies have this advice: hug bigger and more often!

Giveaway details are:
Jenny will make a custom plush for the winner based on their two favorite colors and two favorite animals, so leave your choices in the comments! The rest is up to her. It will be a surprise! Winner will be chosen April 30th

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An interview with Abby Glassenberg!

Abby Glassenberg is an incredible soft sculpture talent and a favorite of ours over at Schmancy. She has been making plush pieces since 2005, and if you read her blog (and you should read her blog), then you already have an idea just how much she's accomplished in that time. Her new website is launching this Friday. She was kind enough to do an interview with us, and had some inspiring and helpful answers to our questions. Thanks again, Abby!

S- From what I observe, you’re an incredibly prolific plush talent.

AG- Thank you! I actually work more slowly now than I have in the past because each piece takes longer to complete.

S- On average how many pieces do you finish in a week?

AG- I usually make one complete sculpture every four or five days, depending on how much time I have to work. On most days I can squeeze in about two hours in the studio, but that can totally go out the window if one of my children is sick or school is canceled or something.

S- How long does it take you, from the initial concept to the finished product, to complete a piece? Can you give people a little bit of an idea of that process for you?

AG- If I am drafting a totally new pattern, starting from some photos and a sketch, it probably takes a few days longer than if I am making a bird that I’ve made before.

S- Your work seems startlingly accurate at times! Your attention to detail is incredible. Do you do a lot of research for your pieces?

AG- I enjoy the research process. I usually look online and in birding books for some images of what a real species looks like in nature. Then I look at commercially made soft toys of that particular bird and I look at other artists interpretations, too. This helps me to get a sense of how the body form has been broken down into basic shapes and exaggerated for effect. Finally, I create a sketch as close to the size of the finish piece as possible. This sketch becomes the basis of the first draft of the sewing pattern.

S- One of my favorite parts about your work is your use of mixed media! You create fabrics out of unlikely sources and often enlist the help of found objects. What are some of your favorite materials to work with?

AG- I really like to find fabrics in unexpected places, like the labels sew into clothing or flour sacks. Those bits of fabric that sneak into your life and you don’t even realize it. Most of the other found objects that eventually get incorporated into my sculptures I find at the Wellesley Town Dump. I pick up things and take them home and then think about them, sometimes for a very long time, before I figure out what exactly they should become.

S- Where do you find most of your materials?

AG- Most of my birds are sewn from Kona cotton that I buy at commercial fabric stores either locally or online. I love Kona cotton because it is strong and I stuff very firmly. The rest of my fabric I have collected over many years for all over the place. It’s an addiction.

S- A large part of your sewing skills are self-taught! Are there specific tools you could not live without or you wish you'd known about sooner? Do you have any tips or books you'd recommend to someone looking to hone their skills on their own?

AG- Yes, I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economics. I bought my sewing machine then, too, and it is a very basic machine (a Bernette 330) and I love it. The manual had gone missing for over a decade, but it recently was found and that was a big help.

Learning to use my machine to my advantage was a long process, but has really cut down on my initial frustrations. The first big milestone was figuring out that I needed to use a very short stitch length! Then, changing from a regular presser foot to the running/quilting foot. This keeps the tiny pieces that I sew from getting sucked down into the machine! Using very thin needles (I’m fond of size 10) helps a lot because they make smaller holes in the fabric. Most recently I have switched to wool stuffing which I am loving.

Freezer paper is an invaluable tool. I draft all of my patterns on it and then iron it onto my fabric and sew around it before pulling it off. This allows me to be very accurate in sewing tiny shapes.

Surgical forceps are also a tool I could not live without. Great for turning tiny things inside out, for stuffing firmly without poking a hole in the fabric, and even for clamping fabric together.

Coating hand-sewing thread with beeswax to prevent tangles is a great tip, too. And tiny sharp scissors, of course. I could go on, but I’ll stop there!

There are some great books out there for people interested in learning techniques. I recommend Good Design in Soft Toys by Rudi de Sarigny, Anatomy of a Doll and Designing the Doll, both by Susanna Oroyan. Interestingly there really doesn’t seem to be a book specifically about creating soft sculpture. Maybe I need to get to work on that!

S- Reading back entries in your blog, it's amazing to see how your work has come along over the last three years. To me, it really seems you've found your own style within the genre of plush. In retrospect, do you think there are certain things that stand out as having inspired changes in your work?

Last March I had a wonderful show at the Wellesley Public Library. I made 53 soft toys for that show and afterward I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to make toys anymore! I knew I needed some time to focus on making more complex, sculptural pieces and that is what I did, without any real goal in mind. As I started to post them on my blog and on Flickr they started to attract interest from galleries and retail stores and things just took off from there.

AG- Your business actually began as a creative outlet/way to occupy your time while your first daughter, Roxanne, was napping. I find a lot of people in the crafting community are mothers as well, and I imagine it would be a definite struggle to balance the two. Do you have any advice to other mothers looking to balance attention to their craft with attention to their kin?

For me it has always been important to have a balance in my day-to-day life. I feel so thankful that I am able to be at home with my two daughters, Roxanne and Stella. Being here each day, teaching them and watching them grow, is the most important thing in my life right now. But I need to have something else going on at the same time, something that connects me with the adult world and give my mind another area to focus on. Sewing soft sculpture has become that other area. The combination of being a mom and being an artist is really a good one – I can work from home, my work is quiet, I can pick it up and put it down at any time. My blog keeps me connected to this wonderful community of creative people who inspire and motivate me every day.

S - I love the shift you’ve made from cute softies for kids, to more detailed pieces, collage, and now mixed-media sculptural pieces. Do you envision yourself as ever branching away from soft sculpture, or continuing to branch into other forms of art?

AG- Soft sculpture is my true love.

S- I was talking with someone the other day about how plush seems to have changed in the last few years. He was describing fabric and stuffing as "the new sculpture." -- the materials are more accessible, and they can be cheaper and easier to recycle than more ‘traditional’ forms. To me, the evolution of your work embodies that shift from "plush toys" to "plush sculpture". As your audience widens, do you find you’ve met any resistance to the concept of plush as sculpture/art?

This is a good time for plush. The market is growing and there are lots of galleries and stores interested in indie fine artists. I am so happy to be able to participate in this new interest in alternative, affordable art-making.

S- Speaking of which, you’ve been doing a lot more gallery shows! How do you feel the experience differs from craft fairs or selling your work on your own? Is there one you prefer?

AG- I am really enjoying showing my work in galleries. I love thinking about how to create a cohesive body of work and then plowing away over several months to make it happen. And there is truly nothing like arriving at an opening and seeing all your hard work on display and watching people interact with it.

S- You have a gallery show opening on April 4th at the Paperboat Gallery? Can you tell everyone a little bit about it?

AG- The show is called “Feather Your Nest” and I will be showing with the amazing Amy Rice. I will have ten soft sculptures in the show which opens April 4 and runs through the month. There will be an opening party on April 18 if you live near Milwaukee. All of the work will be for sale through the gallery. I’m totally excited to be part of this show!

S- Has anything in particular been inspiring you lately? Books, songs, other artists, blogs, etc?

AG- I know I’ve said it before, but I am continually inspired by the work of Tamar Mogendorff. She is my soft sculpture hero.

S- Any other up and coming plans we should know about??

AG- I have a few shows booked for the winter of 2008-2009. My website,, is launching this Friday, April 4, so come check it out! And otherwise I am busy experimenting with new designs and new materials and having a lot of fun.

Thank you so much for interviewing me! Plush You was my very first show and I think it is awesome.


Thanks again to Abby for her great responses. Make sure to visit her blog, etsy and flickr to see more of her work and show your support. Also, if you're in the Milwaukee area, make sure to check out Abby's latest show at the Paperboat Boutique and Gallery. It runs April 4th through the 30th!