This month we have a wonderful creator and shaker for our ‘Meet the Maker’! Ha I love a good rhyme. But seriously, this month we shine a spotlight on to a gorgeous handmade toy industry that I have long admired and even asked my mum to make one for my eldest when he was born. This month it is all about knitted and crochet toys and a Japanese art form called Amigurumi from US based maker Eliza Ryan from KnitSquid. I am super excited to be showcasing it on the blog as these handmade toys are just super creative and utterly gorgeous.
I first discovered crochet toys when I found the brand Anne-Claire Petit and I bought my eldest an awesome rainbow plane in London, we still have it and it is what started my appreciation for crochet and knitted toys. I know making them certainly isn’t easy, I think you need a whole heap of patience, skill and time! I wanted to find out more and when Eliza approached me about her fab brand, I was all ears.
Eliza has been a long time knitter and keen creative since she was a child and I took this opportunity to ask her a few questions about her passion, inspiration and where she sees KnitSquid in the future.
Meet the Maker : Q&A with Eliza Ryan from KnitSquid
Tell me a little about yourself? Do you have any kids? Pets? Where do you live?
I live in New Britain, Connecticut with my boyfriend, Chris. We have two cats, named Bonnie and Clyde, and a miniature dachshund named GoGo Yubari. No kids yet, but we hope to start a family in the very near future. At this point, however, I like to think of Knitsquid as my baby.
I love the name ‘KnitSquid’, what ignited your love of knitting and crochet, was it something you learnt as a child?
I learned knitting from my mom when I was probably seven or eight years old. I didn’t do much with it, aside from making several misshapen scarves. I picked it up again in my mid-twenties and started to really focus on learning technique and perfecting my skills. I only recently added crocheting to my repertoire, actually, because I was always a knitter and could never slow down and really take time to learn a new technique. Once I got the hang of it, of course, it’s all I wanted to do. I love knitting and crocheting because I have always been a fidgety person, trying to find something to do with my hands. I figured out that if I could look at this need to use my hands as an asset, rather than as a problem, I could put it to good use and make a lot of things.
I believe your sister gave you a book on Amigurumi, the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures a few years ago, how do you go about finding inspiration for each new creation?
Yes, that is absolutely true that my sister was the genius who gave me the book on amigurumi after I mentioned to her that making wearable things, like sweaters and scarves, was starting to bore me a little. I had trouble finishing projects after I began them and I had trouble figuring out yarn gauge and correct sizing for people.
Learning about amigurumi made the whole world open up for me: here was a whole subgenre of knitting and crocheting that was about small, simple projects that didn’t need to fit anybody!
I get a lot of inspiration for new creations from nature photography and documentaries, and for style inspiration I take a little from folk art dolls and modern animation like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. I love animals, so finding out about an unusual animal, reading up on it and learning everything I can, and then coming up with a design and a pattern for it is what makes me truly happy.
I adore your dragon, Stormborn Fire Dragon and your Sleepy Squid, what is your favourite creation to make?
I do love putting together the dragons, because I can get really creative with the color combinations and I am always finding new ways to add detail and character to them, trying to improve on them and make them more interesting. I like to experiment with using different fabrics for the wings and using needle felting and embroidery for the face, and trying out different stitching combinations to give them more texture. They usually end up being the centerpiece of my booth display at most maker’s markets and craft shows, and I know it is largely because I put so much time and attention into them.
Have you ever made a ‘KnitSquid’ you couldn’t part with? What was it?
I made a woolly mammoth when I found some amazing, furry yarn that actually looked like animal fur. Unfortunately, when I went to buy more of the yarn, it had been discontinued, so I could never replicate him. I had spent so much time working on him, and would never be able to make another one of him. Even though I pride myself on keeping my prices within a reasonable range, I priced the mammoth a great deal higher than my other animals because parting with it would be so difficult. A lot of potential buyers tried to negotiate the price with me, but I stood firm because he was truly one-of-a-kind. I came to think of the mammoth as a showpiece, an example of what I could make and not necessarily something that anyone would actually pay for, and carted him from craft show to craft show, secretly hoping that no one would want to buy him. Eventually, my friend Carrie’s little boy, Pilot, fell completely in love with the mammoth and begged her to buy it for him as a holiday gift. Knowing that the mammoth would be living with a family I was close with, I sold it to her, and it currently resides in Pilot’s bedroom.
What has been your most popular ‘KnitSquid’ creation, your top seller?
My top seller is either the elephant or the piglets. Both of those items are small and cute, and people like the fact that I offer both in an array of colors and styles. I like to have a knitted version and a crocheted version if I can, just to show the difference between them and offer multiple options. I even made a line of curly-coated pigs modeled after an extinct breed of pigs called Lincolnshire Curly Coats. Every time I have the curly pigs in my booth, they sell out! People love hearing the story behind them and the fact that the yarn I use is so different. Unfortunately, once again, I found the perfect yarn right before it was discontinued, but I bought every single skein I could find in stores.
I see that with some of your toys, you give a donation back to The Nature Conservancy which is awesome, tell me a little more about this socially responsible initiative?
I decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from some of the animals when I was looking up facts about golden monkeys for the item description and kept finding information about how compromised they are because of habitat loss. I knew that I couldn’t do much, but I wanted to do what I could, so I decided it was only right to donate a portion of the proceeds from each sale and hopefully raise some awareness for them at the same time.
I settled on The Nature Conservancy for the golden monkeys after looking up their statistics and their mission, and seeing that they have a very high rating as a charity. The bulk of their donations actually do end up being used towards programming and education, and they have a targeted interest in conserving golden monkeys and protecting their habitats.
I also decided to make donations to Greenpeace, Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Wildlife Conservation Fund from the sales of my whales, sea turtles, and elephants because I went back through my collection and found that a large number of animals I make are endangered or vulnerable.
As you have been creating handmade creations for the past 7 years or more, do you think there has been a new appreciation for handmade items locally as well as on a global level?
I think that awareness is growing. With a website like Etsy, there is so much amazing stuff to discover and people to connect with. It’s amazingly beneficial to have that as a resource. I have noticed a trend within the past ten years, locally, that more people I speak to at handmade shows and gift shows like to know what the product they are buying is made from, that it was made ethically, and that it has a story.
I know you do markets and gift shows, is ‘KnitSquid’ more than a passion project? Where do you want to take ‘KnitSquid’ in the future?
At this point in time, I want to see how far I can take Knitsquid. I feel very fortunate that I developed my skills in any area where a lot of curated handmade gift shows and festivals started popping up, and that I get to be a part of them. I love selling face-to-face, but my hope for the coming year is that I can strengthen my web presence, start getting more sales, and be in a position where I can give back and contribute more money to nature conservation efforts. I also want to do more markets outside of the Northeast United States, and put my animals in more homes all over the world.
I love sharing handmade creations that spark the imagination of a child and in this case create life long friends with them which KnitSquid’s toys certainly would.
I remember my Mum saying she never wanted to knit another toy again after her first attempt of the red monkey, I think her words were “fiddly” and she found it hard to get the tension right in the wool, so I have huge respect for you Eliza as my Mum is a master knitter, so these toys are totally next level awesomeness! Congrats Eliza and I am sure your knitted animals will travel all over the world!
Disclosure: I was compensated for this post; however I did receive a sample for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.