December 3, 2007

toys without the tox


Has anyone else been bothered by all the horrible news about toys lately? With the holidays upon us, all the news about lead, phthalates and asbestos in children's toys seems particularly ominous to me. I've never liked the part of Christmas where kids are overwhelmed in beeping, spinning plastic toys and the city trash collectors have to do double-duty to haul away all the packaging and wrapping. But the pollution that's in our kids' toys is far worse. It's not that I ever thought that plastic doo-dads made in China were particularly good for kids, but lead, for crying out loud?

First, everyone should take action to let Congress know we need decent safety standards to protect kids from nasty chemicals. And after we've been responsible citizens, we can turn to being responsible consumers, and the toys we buy for the kids we love.

My suggestion? Let's make our own toys this year!

I love making toys, and Christmas is a great excuse for me to get Santa's workshop going on my kitchen table and make a whole bunch of them. So I thought I'd share some of my favorite resources on toy-making, and ask y'all to share yours, too.

bad kitty, a wicked but cuddly sock monster

My all-time favorite toy to make is a sock monster. All you need is rudimentary sewing skills, some old socks, polyester fiberfill or other toy stuffing, and your basic needle, thread, pins, scissors, etc. Sock monsters can be incredibly simple little goblins, or complicated animals with long, curling tails and embroidered features - kids seem to love all of them, no matter how well (or poorly) you can sew. The best book I know for sock monster instruction is "Making Stupid Sock Creatures" by John Murphy (read my previous post about this great book here).

knitted momerath village

There are oodles of resources on the web and in the library for knitting toys. This blog is devoted to toy knitting, and includes an index with lots of free patterns. I love Jess Hutch's toys, and her book is a gem (if you can get your hands on one). Lots of knitting books with kid and baby patterns feature toy patterns in among the sweaters and hats, especially books by Zoƫ Mellor and Debbie Bliss. "The Knitted Teddy Bear" by Sandra Polley is a great resource for knitters of all skill levels who want to make old-fashioned, cuddly teddy bears. I also really like "New Knits on the Block" by Vickie Howell, which includes not just softies but all kinds of neat costumes and accessories. "Family Circle Easy Toys" is a classic with both knit and crochet patterns - the copy in my local library has been well-loved in its decades-long tenure there.

toy books

For stuffed animals, dolls and doll clothes, a wonderful book I picked up recently is "Toys to Sew" by Claire Garland. Her toys range from ridiculously easy to not-very-hard, and the patterns are way cute.

And finally, puppets! You can make a puppet out of just about anything, and while you could make a puppet and give it as a gift, making puppets together with kids is so much more fun. I just picked up a copy of a beautiful book called "Puppets Unlimited with Everyday Materials," by Anushka Ravishankar & Gita Wolf. The authors include detailed instructions for making stick puppets, string puppets and many others based on traditional Indian puppetry, with regular junk from around your house. Their focus is on making the puppets together with children. Then you can make your own stage and celebrate Christmas Eve with a puppet show - a great gift for kids and grown-ups alike.

Have fun making some toys for the kids on your list this year... and don't forget to take action!


Jada2929 said...

Great post! I have the Toys to Sew book as well, cute ideas in it and the photos are super. I've made all the gifts for my baby, the bigger girl, it's a bit harder but she's getting a handmade dollhouse, a puppet theater (from Bend the Rules Sewing) and hand dyed playsilks.

crystine said...

Great post.
I am off to the libray!

There is a documentary out about the horrible environmental waste in China due, in part, to their place in the world marketplace. Really incredible pictures showing both the waste and the factories in which people work.
Yet another good reason to buy recycled, locate local and sustainable options, or make your own with quality materials.

Siel said...

So cute! Did you make the toys pictured here yourself? Love the colors --

Dawn Elizableth said...

I think one of my favorite parts of Christmas is making toys! I always want to keep them though! Thanks for the great book ideas!

Vickie Howell said...

Thanks for the shout out about my book. Happy holidays! xo, Vickie

f. pea said...

siel... yep, i made them. it was a bit embarassing to show off my poor sewing skills, but i did it for the good of the cause. thanks!

Marnie said...

awesome! get the word out :-) as a maker of things for children, i say the more the merrier - it shows our kids that the true gift is the time it takes and not just the actual product (i still remember when my Mom went to all the trouble of sewing a "Care Bear" for me one Christmas when I was little! :-)
thanks for the post and the references - i too, will be off to the library!

meg said...

I recently made some toys from the (translated) japanese craft book, "Sock and Glove." You can see them here. It's amazing what you can make from a humble pair of socks!

chik austin said...

I totally agree with you! Love the idea of the sock monster. Very cute!

Felicia said...

Cute creatures :)

heather t said...

Here is a link to some sock monsters I made:

sock monsters

must... knit... momeraths!

mosey said...

hooray for handmade and natural toys for the little ones. really enjoying your blog sew green!!!!

Voodookitten said...

I know this post is late, but with the new law enacted by congress last year due to the lead and harmful chemicals found in recently recalled toys, do you realize that the toys you all are making would be illegal to sell to anyone 12 & under?

I am all for safety and I am all for handmade, but the way the law is currently written, if you make something and market it to children 12 and under, each component of it (ie, material, thread, button, whatever) must be tested for the banned substances at a cost of several hundred $$ each. Sometimes the item is completely destroyed during the testing. A bummer for 1 of a kind hand made items....

This law that was created to protect our children was so poorly written that we are losing handmade items left and right. Soon we will only be left with big box companies that can afford to do all the testing needed to be able to market an item to children.

Please look into the damage this law is doing and contact your congressman. This law needs to be changed to protect handmade items and small business people.

Amend the CPSIA! Save Handmade!

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