Meet the Crafty Mama
Michelle of Babus Toys
is an ex-fromagier (aka the head caretaker of a cheese shop) and still dreams of munching her way through the cheese regions of France, Italy and Switzerland. She has a three year old son and a 19 year old step daughter and lives and knits in Silver Spring, MD.
What lead up to starting Babus?
I knew, during my pregnancy, that I didn't wan't to return to my profession. Being at home with my son for the first years was the highest priority to us, and we had planned for it, but I still wanted to do something else on the side. At the same time, I had been knitting toys for Nicky while he was in utero, and began experimenting with felting my knitted toys. Once Nicky started to use his hands, I started to make simple, wool felt chains for him to play with and he loved them. At one point I thought, why don't I try to sell them on Etsy? So I took them to my son's pediatrician for inspection, and with his green light and some positive feedback from my mom's group, I began in earnest to sell.
What was your goal when you started out and have you reached it?
I had two goals: one was to make it into some of the craft shows and markets in the DC area. The other was to be a profitable, if tiny, business. On the latter, I'd say every year has been a big improvement over the previous one, and I have learned a lot along the way, but I'm not quite there yet. On the former, I have met and even exceeded my goals: Babus Toys has now found a home at DC's historic and bustling Eastern Market.
What is your favorite part of your creative process from idea to completion?
Since I knit and then felt my woolly creations in the washing machine, I'm never 100% sure how things are going to turn out. So, every time I open up the pillowcase and see what's inside, it's like Christmas morning. Keeping with that simile, I don't always get what I expect and sometimes there's a fruitcake or two. But usually it's really exciting and so cool to see what yarn turns into with a little water and a lot of agitation.
What is your least favorite part?
Definitely, shaving the fuzzy bits off of the final product. It's an important part of the process, like sanding and buffing, but it is pretty dull. I like to do it at craft shows or while riding in the car, thought the fuzzies do get everywhere.
When do you find the time to create?
Initially it was during naptime and in the evening. We started Nicky in daycare twice a week so that gave me a little more time and now he's in preschool 3 days a week. Plus, I steal time whenever I can...the laundry baskets can attest to that!
How do you attempt to balance business and family?
The balance is the trickiest part. My son has ensured at least some balance because he's completely intolerant of me working around him. He doesn't see much of Daddy during the week so my Saturdays at the market is boys' time for them.
How has becoming a mother influenced you as a creative person?
Motherhood has completely transformed me creatively. Who grows up with plans to be a toymaker? It never crossed my mind until he was three months old. I feel like all of the homeless creative impulses I've had have finally found a home. Also, my ideas spring from what my son and other children are interested in, or what I remember loving as a child. One very specific influence that motherhood has had is increasing my interest in environmental responsibility. The wool yarns I use are not only natural, they are sustainably produced, some even organic, and I only use wool batting or organic cotton for stuffing. I just can't conceive of starting a business, especially one devoted to the new residents of the planet, without thinking of the long term.
What is your one parenting related luxury that you allow yourself?
Buying handmade toys. That probably sounds odd calling it a luxury, especially when I consider how strongly I feel about kids having handmade toys, but time is fleeting and handmade things are not cheap. My husband often says "The Shoemaker's children have no shoes" when I cry that I haven't had time to make anything for my son lately. But we do invest in handmade toys and instruments. He gets mostly plastic toys as gifts from others. This is my chance to ensure that he gets to enjoy, for instance, the feeling of well-sanded wood shapes in brilliant colors and original designs. Plus, I adore them too and I have to admit sometimes I just want them for myself!!
What is your main source of inspiration?
As I mentioned before, watching my son and other children, what they are interested in and like to play with. But I grew up with a mother who painted and loved art in many forms and that had a huge influence on me. The playfulness of Calder's mobiles and wire sculptures, the intense colors of Matisse, Kandinsky, and countless other artists are all back there somewhere in my brainpan. And I've always, always loved animals of all kinds. I was a total Actual Factual bear when it came to critters.
What skill have you not had time to develop?
Sewing. I have a machine and I've made a few things, but sewing is not so forgiving as knitting, and there just isn't the mental space available for that kind of discipline. I hope to change that this year!
Thanks Michelle! Visit her shop at Babus and support a fellow crafty mama!!
To read more Crafty Mama interviews or to learn how you could be one of our featured mamas, go to our Crafty Mama section!