Caron of Zuzu's Petals makes small pocket toys and decorative treasures using mostly natural materials. Many of her items are made from wool felt, which she imports from Holland and dyes or hand paints in small batches. She also loves to repurpose wool clothing, and is particularly fond of making little owls from tweeds.
Her aim is to make toys that have a certain intimacy and magic to them, with the hope that the size and softness of the toys will offer the recipient comfort.
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft, Caron.
When I started making dolls, I already had a background in fine art. When my son was little I made baby clothes from my own patterns as I couldn't find any good natural fiber baby clothes back then, and I couldn't follow a pattern to save my life. To my surprise people loved them and I started making some to sell. This was long before baby gap. Later when my son started school I made dolls and toys for the school store, and they were picked up by Magic Cabin and several smaller catalogs, so I spent a couple of years making dolls and bunnies and kittens from recycled felted sweaters. When I got the first contract I was thrilled, but what I imagined would be financial success turned out to mean working day and night to fill orders and meet deadlines in my little sweatshop of one, and the money was not good considering the time that I spent. I taught myself some great things though, among them how to prototype and manage my time better (I still struggle with the time bit, I have the attention span of a gnat and always have a dozen projects going at once). After that I spent a couple of years designing and prototyping soft toys for other companies and working with Chinese manufacturers.
I made some great friends and learned A LOT, enough to know that I needed to keep control of my designs. I found myself surrounded by business people and I missed my creative tribe. For the last several years I've been working with wet and dry felting, learning everything I can, and attempting to make a living passing on my love of the craft to my students. My store is a way to share the things I design and has become a great way to meet other creative people.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
MAKE. I never stop working with my hands, lately I love to felt. I also love to paint, sew, knit, and sculpt. Currently I'm learning to carve wood, and working on illustrations for my cards. Art is the center of my world.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
My biggest challenge is probably the business side. I've had some designs stolen and I don't have the money to fight it, often royalties don't arrive without emails and phone calls even when you have a contract. Its difficult to make a living when you make everything yourself and you are a bit of a perfectionist.
What item in your shop would you most like to receive as a gift if someone were shopping for you?
Probably one of the little Elephants, I know how much work goes into them, and how long it took to get the pattern just right.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Up until I was about six I wanted to be a bareback rider in the circus, then my father gave me an illustrated book of folk tales and I knew that I wanted to be an artist.
What other shops or artists out there do you love?
SO MANY but.......
I am in absolute awe of hansigurumi.etsy.com. she designs amazing knitting patterns for strange creatures.
and I love Sweetnellie.etsy.com her snoots are too cute! and her photos are charming
What does your future hold?
I'm hoping to get a line of greeting cards out by the end of the summer, and I'm working with a wonderful person I met through etsy to bring a little art magic into the lives of underprivileged children going through cancer treatment.
In addition to that, I teach illustration and craft workshops at Castle in the Air on Fourth Street in Berkeley, California all year round, you can check the class schedule at their online website, castleintheair.biz.
I also do one show a year, the winter faire at the San Francisco Waldorf School.
A wonderful event, Where I get to talk to my customers and catch up with other craftspeople.