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In today’s world of fast production to fast waste, it’s hard to envision what we could possibly pass down to the next generation 25 years from now. Consider the world of toys. I recently saw a friend’s picture with her toddler riding in one of those red and yellow plastic cars that were so familiar in the 80s and early 90s. Her parents had been saving it for their future grandchildren. It brought back so many great memories for me, as I adored those cars as a kid.

I wonder to myself what I would be able to give my grandchildren far in the future. Toys today are often of a trendy nature, the latest superheroes recently featured in a Hollywood movie, or pervasive cartoon characters who will be forgotten within the year by our fickle-minded children. Not only that, but the materials are often of a doubtful quality and origin, leaving parents with endless “what-ifs”.

So, when considering what you can pass on to your children and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, there are 3 primary factors to keep in mind: Materials, Craftsmanship, and Design. These elements will guarantee the longevity and relevance of the toy for decades to come.

Material. Children are tactile creatures. They crave stimulation, which can only be satisfied by fascinating textures. So why are we handing them smooth plastic, which does nothing to sate their need for tactile stimulation. Plastic can also be brittle and potentially contain harmful chemicals. Toys which contain fabrics are a good option in many ways, though their downside is that with repeated use, the seams may rip and fabric become tattered and stained. I believe that felted wool is one of the best materials for toys. It is very strong and durable, doesn’t have any seams or edges that can rip and fray, and the best part of all, in my opinion, is its unique and interesting texture. It also naturally repels water, so the inevitable spills which occur with children are not a big threat if treated within a reasonable amount of time, unlike with standard fabrics. It is washable for regular maintenance, although wool is also naturally antibacterial, so smells are typically not an issue, even if your child plays with it constantly.

Craftsmanship. If you want a toy to last for 25 - 100 years, there must be a high level of craftsmanship. Factory-produced toys will rarely reach this level, as their aim is to constantly sell you new toys based on the newest trends. If it breaks in a year, it only means that now you can update your toy to the new coolest trendy character. But of course that’s a waste of money and resources, and landfills are filled to the brim with chucked out toys. Wooden toys often exhibit a very high quality of craftsmanship and perhaps are the longest lasting of all toys. Cloth toys have various levels of craftsmanship with varying durability. One must be more careful with this style of toy that the seams are wide and strong enough to withstand active use without coming undone. Fabric is also created with differing levels of quality, so there are several factors to consider here. With felted wool, there’s little that can go wrong in the craftsmanship. The nature of felted wool is such that many loose wool fibers are forced together to create a cloth. There are no seams which can come undone, and even if one area is rubbed or worn more than another, the wool is many layers thick and much less likely to result in a hole than fabric, where if one thread gets broken, it can be the beginning of an ever-increasing hole. When felting, there is the possibility that the item can be under-felted, but even in that case, the felt is still considerably stronger than fabric and low-quality plastics.

Design. We all know that trends come and go, and, if lucky, sometimes return and fade back again into the background of history. In the history of toys, only a few characters, like Winnie the Pooh, have really stood the test of time, but I don’t see any contemporary classics out there on the shelves today. Take Power Rangers, for example. I remember when they were the coolest. Today’s kids would probably laugh in my face if I tried to get them to play with one now. And have you noticed how monsters have started to appear everywhere? Why do we want to expose our children and grandchildren to such ugliness, especially when the world has enough scary realities without adding to it.

So how do you plan for the next several decades? Choose what has already survived the test of time for centuries - reflections of the natural world. Kids have always and will always love animals and people. Choose classic or humorous representations of your child’s favorite animal. Your grandchild will appreciate having something which was loved by his or her parent. Or something as simple as a cat or a dog can be enjoyed by nearly any child in any time period, now or 50 years from now. While some things are always changing, some things always stay the same.

In conclusion, if you’re a long-term planner like me, and are thinking about what special contribution you can make to your family story in the future, consider the special act of passing down a beloved childhood toy from generation to generation. I make Kandinsky Studio hand puppets with this goal in mind, to create something from quality materials, using a high level of craftsmanship and classic designs that can stand the test of time. I value quality at all levels of production and strive to make items which will be cherished for many years, from childhood through adulthood and then onto the next generation.

Check out my hand puppets here and let me know if there’s a special animal or person who would fit the personality of your child or grandchild, and I’ll be happy to try to fulfill such requests.

That's right! In addition to my fine art practice, I'm also busy with Kandinsky Studio, where I create hand-felted puppets sold on Etsy. I was making puppet show videos for fun, but I've recently partnered up with a media firm to offer these shows as a product for companies or individuals looking to share something unique about themselves. Check out these promo videos! And please share if you know someone who will get a good laugh out of it, or find it to be the perfect solution for a business or personal need in their life.

And for the company I'm working with, Rsquare Media:

If you like what you've seen, go to my YouTube channel to see more or leave a comment!

detail, "Collision"

detail, "Collision"

This is the question I asked myself over and over again for over a week. For a month, I had gotten along quite well with this work until the point where I decided I was finished with it....then came the nagging feeling that in fact it was not finished. So what do you do when you've fulfilled your plans, you are out of ideas, but something remains "undone"?

In my case, I sat and stared at it...a lot, changed something, undid it, stared again, and so on, over and over. Though, allow me to start from the beginning.

Below: I've started laying out the wool for felting then I stitched the "back side" of the crystal as the first layer.

The wet felting process creates the strongest limitation of the dimensions of the work. Each piece begins at a 1.5 ratio, meaning that if I want a piece with a width of 30 inches, it begins at 45 inches. It is kind of back breaking work, as I have to work on the floor for hours. But I hope that over time I'll improve my strategy. Up to now, I've mainly felted smaller items, puppets, hats, etc. so I'm unused to the amount of labor such a large piece of felt requires.

Here's a stage where I'm about 75% finished but realize that the initial proportions in my sketch were not followed. So I made the man and the shadow taller. They are both needle felted - the man is black wool and the shadow is a mix of viscose and silk fibers. I understood that the crystal shape was also not in the correct proportion between height and width, but I wasn't able to successfully shrink the height in the felting process and I didn't want to cut the wool, as it would leave a different edge than the rest of the piece. I would later come to regret this!

After some back and forth with myself, I decided to use a silk gauze over the top of the piece. This was my plan all along, but in the end, it makes me a little sad to lose so much detail that is visible without it. But the softening effect also has its advantage. Here, I am closing up the piece with the gauze, kidding myself that the project was almost complete!

On the right, you can see how any stitched cloth will curl up from varying degrees of pull from many directions.

Shea Wilkinson artwork
Shea Wilkinson artwork

Well.....the process was not complete, I was to find out. There was something seriously lacking, which I couldn't account for. The piece didn't have the dimensional quality I had anticipated. But I didn't know what to do. I mostly feared that my mistakes were in the very beginning, in the foundation of the piece and too late to be changed. I tried doing things to the foreground, but none of them resulted in any improvement. I thought maybe I simply need to accept defeat this time around. But at the same time, if I simply forgot about this piece and threw it in a closet, how would that help me with future work? I'm realizing that not all the skills and perception I acquired with quilts translates to felted and embroidered work, so I decided that I needed to stick with this one and try to get to the bottom of my problem with it, to avoid repeating this situation later.

For starters, I decided that I wanted to fix the H x W proportion, so I removed part of the silk layer and trimmed the top point. With the silk overlay, the variation between the natural and cut edge is not so noticeable and I tried to make a wavier cut to mimic the original edges. I had to undo parts of the stitching, cut, and restitch to the new edge.

Back view of the work.

Then I needed to enhance the contrast for a better focal point. I added grey silk gauze to the man's outline. The fact that it's on the surface implies, I suppose, that he's somehow exited this system and is no longer trapped inside of the crystal. This change helped, but now it seemed more than ever like he was floating there. So I tried various things, adding gold around his feet like a platform, adding shadows, among other attempts. But this is really where I felt like adding to the surface was not the answer and this is an issue that really should have been planned out from the very beginning, lying underneath other layers of material.

I decided to move to the computer and digitally play around with the image in the hope of saving time. Digitally, I can try out a lot of ideas, undo them and compare them in a short period of time, compared to hand work. I had ideas for adding shadow "engraved" lines like a real crystal, which reflects light on only a few surfaces. This failed when I tried it with thread, and continued to fail when I tried it digitally. I just hadn't planned for it properly so it fit into the scheme of things awkwardly. At this point, of course, the composition was already basically frozen and no radical changes were possible.

I was trying out one last ditch effort to make an effective change, by adding another layer of white silk gauze behind some of the planes of the crystal (underneath the silk overlay). While trying this, the silk bunched up in such a way that it gave me the idea of using it to create a sort of "gateway" around the man. This was just the ticket, I think, because the piece was lacking a highlight. I felt myself finally satisfied, to an extent. In the end, I decided to tone down the contrast with the external lines of the crystal, and that was that. I called it good.

These pieces have definitely provided lessons for me which are different from lessons learned for quilting. I hope that in the future the process will generally be less fraught with confusion and go more smoothly.

Close up of the "gateway" around the figure.

"Collision", 2021, 20.75" x 16", wool, silk, silk thread, cotton and metallic threads, viscose, silk fiber

Contact me for purchasing information. Leave a comment if you'd like!

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