Meet Your Maker
Riley Construction Toys

Something about the combination of care, detail, and imagination give toys from Riley Construction Toys a spark of real happiness. Looking at April’s dolls, you’re transported to your own childhood, each one could easily be a friend with unique details like glasses, hair styles, and stylish clothing. Not only are her dolls glowing with cheer, each unique stuffed toy, print, or pin carries her signature good-vibe. She also has a new business, RileyMade, for patterns and designs for the DIYer. Read on to learn more about this joyful creative!

1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?

I create handmade heirloom dolls and soft plush toys that speak to the child in all of us! From plush campfires and s’mores to mermaid and Unicorn Girl dolls, all of my toys are imaginative, charming, and vibrant. I start by drawing and painting silly illustrations that sometimes are converted into sewing patterns and sometimes just stay illustrations. I’ve also started a line of simple plushie sewing patterns for the craft-curious.

 

2| Why do you make/design things?

I’ve been creating and making since I could hold a crayon in my hand. For me, it’s a natural expression of my thoughts and ideas and a concrete way of making connections with others. I was a passionate collector of adorable toys and I remember designing my own toys when I was a kid!   I was convinced that Mattel or Hasbro or whoever would pay big money for my original designs! 😉

I love the way that the distance between the producer and consumer is lessened when we buy/sell handmade.  Connect ions and appreciation is what it’s all about.

3| Do you ever do custom work?

I used to – but I don’t any more; I work full time and it’s just so hard to keep up with.  I’m always happy to tweak something like a skin color or hair color tho, easy-peasy 🙂

 

4| What encouragement would you offer to first time sewers using your patterns?

Don’t stress – there are no “right” or “wrong” outcomes and your finished project  will be unique to you.  Don’t forget you have resources if you get stuck – YouTube is chock full of simple explanations and how-to’s.  Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the simple pleasure of creating!

5| What do you love about your job?

I get to be a kid again! I love when the adults who come into my booth at an art show get excited about my work and feel, even if it’s just for a minute, like they’re kids again, playing in their blanket forts. I love when kids bond with my toys because it is supremely validating –it means I’ve found that magical formula that makes the pretend play happen and that’s an alchemy you can’t force – the magic happens when it happens.

 

6| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?

That’s hard to answer! I always wanted to make and create interesting, colorful art. I wanted to design toys when I was a kid, then I wanted to be a children’s book author and illustrator… but this was pre-internet and nobody I knew did these things for a living and I didn’t know how to start doing these things, so I just went to school and did regular people jobs instead.

Somewhere in my twenties, my husband and I moved to St. Louis. I started making accessories to sell for fun, discovered the world of indie craft online, and started a St. Louis chapter of the Craft Mafia because I knew the crafties were out there and needed to band together.

When my son was two or three, I started making some stuffed animals for fun. I’d been longing to do it but I worried that I might not be taken seriously as an artist and designer. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. I started making rag dolls about a year or two after I had been making animals and objects. The very first batch of dolls was so magical and adorable – I still have my first rag doll – that I knew I would be making them for a very long time after that. I’ve been making dolls and stuffies ever since.

7| How do you work, and where?

I have a day job, so I work on evenings and weekends. No holidays for this maker! It’s craft season all year round for me. We live in a two bedroom flat, and the “dining room” is my maker space. I’m a champion at storing my materials, tools, and inventories in a small space.

I don’t like routine so I jump into whatever process feels right and gets me in a flow – designing new patterns, tedious routine work like embroidering faces, putting in safety eyeballs, product photography, whatever suits my frame of mind. I have several different projects going at once, so I have lots of interesting tasks to choose from. I can’t work in silence, so there’s either music or Netflix happening, and there’s usually a cat or two nearby.

I’m always sketching, writing notes to myself, thinking of new ideas… it’s hard to turn that channel off when I’m doing other things.

I love to draw and paint and I try to incorporate those other artworks into my product photos – sometimes I draw a scene on a big sheet of paper – there is almost always a cat that wanders by and sits on the paper. I also love to design original display pieces for craft fairs and art shows – it’s kind of like a giant grown-up version of a playhouse or blanket fort full of cute handmade props. I put my jigsaw and drill to good use in the month before a big show and I rarely use the same setup twice. It’s labor-intensive to decorate a booth or tent this way, but my philosophy is “go big or go home!” If you don’t want to be noticed or seen at an art exhibition, why else are you there?

 

8| Where do you go for inspiration?

I’m most inspired visually – I love looking at children’s illustration and fabric design – but I’m also inspired by music.  New music is like candy for me!  Somewhere where those two types of sensory input intersect.

I need a jumping-off point sometimes – I might have a nebulous idea that needs fleshing out so I’ll go on Pinterest or Instagram and swim through the images until I see things that start to help me tell a story and then I’m able to put my pencil to paper and start sketching.  If I can fully visualize a design, I know I’m ready to move forward.

9| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?

Maybe a surface pattern designer – because their work has the potential to be seen in a lot of ways and because they are so prolific. I would especially love to create multimedia artwork that is digitally manipulated to become surface patterns from the comfort of a high ceiling-ed, well-lit studio full of coffee and cats!

 

10| What makes a handmade object valuable?

Scarcity – the scarcity of time and materials used to create it. The feeling it evokes. Its story and its journey paired with your story and your journey. The way that a handmade object is embedded into your everyday life, not hidden away behind glass. The way it’s meant to be enjoyed and used up.

11| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?

My vintage Strawberry Shortcake dolls. They’re out of production, they created a lifelong love of toys and pretend play, they inspired me to create and design. I spent many happy hours playing with them, creating with them. Oh, and they still smell nice!

 

12| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.

That my childhood idols were Elvira, Mistress of the Night, and Strawberry Shortcake. Those two characters combined pretty much sum up my personality. I am equal parts silly and dark.

13| Give us three more non-crafting-related details about you or your life.

-I write poetry, mostly for kids. I started writing poetry for kids when I was a kid, LOL. I think maybe it will end up in a self-published book of poems about weird, wonderful, angsty kids.

-I just teamed up with two other fiber artists to curate and sell fabric bundles – we are all three hugely passionate about quilting cottons and modern designs. Modern fabrics feature heavily in our own individual designs and products and we love curating new collections and coming up with creative ways to use the different fabric combinations. (Bundles + Bolts) www.bundlesandbolts.etsy.com

-I have a ferret. His name is Jack Bauer. He steals dry cat food, small potatoes, and earbuds and hides them behind the curio cabinet.

-I love planning indie craft shows and helping other makers tell their stories.

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Wanna feel like a kid again? We’ve got a whole slew of dolls in all kinds of designs that you won’t find online here at the shop. Come and check them out and get one for your favorite little- or maybe even yourself! And be sure to follow April and Riley Construction toys on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

 

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This Week at the Shop: July 17th

Lovely new items for you, especially if you have a little one on your gift list.

Cool down and spend some time browsing what’s new in our gallery and shop!

New

You need this shirt if you’re traveling this summer! From new vendor Cradlemade. LOVE these new wall hangings from artist Andria Green. Also these little onesies from Exit 343 Design are too funny.

Perler beads ya’ll! These gumball machines are so perfect.

Don’t forget about the cold brew coffee. This How-To post from last June is ringing true this week; the humidity is real, folks. Cold brew is easy and so satisfying, read my recipes here and grab some Tinker from the shelves now.

Around the Shop

Beautiful displays by our talented staff.

Gallery

Brand new work by yours truly! I make books under the name Read Write Books and Homespun is kind enough to feature them in their gallery for the next two months. And don’t forget my zine- a collection of security envelope patterns, because who knew there were so many?

Coming Up

Weaving Workshop: Saturday, August 5th, 1:00-3:00pm: We’re bringing our classes back with a bang in this new Weaving Workshop from local textile artist Ribbon and Roving! – Maybe you’ve seen some of her pieces for sale in our shop! Well, Karisa, the creative hands behind Ribbon and Roving, is a long time teacher and signature cocktail aficionado (yes this class includes a boozy component).

See you next week, friends!

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This Week at the Shop: June 26th

It’s been the most intoxicatingly perfect temperature outside. We hope you’ve been spending time porch-ing and hiking. Enhance your outdoor adventures with handmade swings, pickles, hats, or party supplies from Homespun!

Here’s a little taste of what’s new this week.

New

Love these uplifting new books from School of Life Design.

Top three pieces are from new vendor Weeds and Wonder, the bottom two are from Field & Forest.

Beautiful paintings (in print form) by Lucie Shearer.

Really fun questions for families and couples! Spice up your life!

Sweet shiny patches from Boonie Patch Co. and a lovely new assortment of stickers by Jean Elise Toys.

Around the Shop

Our shelf displays are ready for summer fun!

Coming Up

First Friday featuring Read Write Books: Friday, July 7th, 6-8pm: We invite you to join us for a new First Friday gallery opening in store featuring the hand-bound work of local artist, Lee Bennett, otherwise known as Read Write Books.
Bennett has been journaling since kindergarten and speaks of her work as “meaningful vessel(s) for you to fill with all your thoughts, drawings, bits and pieces that represent your current self.” In an electronics-ridden world, Bennett’s work literally reopens an era when pen took to parchment and cursive wasn’t dead. Each book is thoughtfully made and meant to last a lifetime. Bennett will be displaying her new series “Leatherforms” in our store during the months of July and August.

 

See you next week, friends!

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Meet Your Maker: Megan Lee Designs

Megan Owdom-Weitz is the Megan behind Megan Lee Designs. She creates quirky, state themed, hand-printed goods that are classics here at the shop. Read on to learn about her passion and her process, and stop by to check out some of her lovely (and funny) creations in person!

 

1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?

This is actually really hard for us — we are constantly trying to figure out a way for people to understand what we do. We often say that we are a screenprinting company, but really we are a design company that chooses to print our designs using silkscreens. I like to also think we could use the terms fashion and illustration to describe our business.

 

2| Why do you make/design things?

I have always been a maker since I was young, I’m one of those weird people that likes to put together IKEA furniture. In college I got a design degree at Kent State and learned so much about the importance of negative space and many more design concepts like training your eye. It took me awhile to realize that I was happier making and designing by hand than just moving objects and type around on a computer.

3| What do you love about your job?

I love the flexibility most of all, but seeing smiles on peoples faces when they are shopping in person and finding shoppers that “get” my designs is the best feeling.

 

4| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?

In college I had decided that I was going to work at a design firm and work on things like Annual Reports — which I did for awhile, and then I discovered the DIY movement in Chicago and began selling things that I had just been making on the side as a hobby. This was all before I learned to screenprint, but it planted the seed that I could possibly work for myself and started to change my ideas about what success could mean to me.

5| How do you work, and where?

This is always changing — we have a studio in Berwyn, but we actually just moved to Ohio (Westerville just north of Columbus) a few months ago and will eventually move our studio here. I used to do all of the printing and now I do almost none of it. I would like to do a bit more, but right now I am focusing on design and lots of day to day business tasks, along with taking care of a new baby and a toddler.

 

6| You are the maker behind our popular “I’m IN Love” tees- do you make a design for all 50 states?

I DO have designs for all 50 states, and a few of the states have more than one option. I started with the Midwest and then branched out when Nordstrom picked up our line and wanted to sell all 50 states online.

7| Tell us about your design aesthetic. What words would you use to describe your drawings?

I would say fun, quick, sketchy, whimsical…I try not to try too hard because I feel like that’s when they don’t work for me. Often its my first go at a new subject that looks the best.

 

8| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?

I think it would be fun to be a “REAL” fashion designer for a bit — maybe Betsey Johnson? She always seems like she is having so much fun and I love her style.

9| What makes a handmade object valuable?

I think just the intrinsic fact that it IS handmade — I am obsessed with handmade plush and cute art that almost always involves animals or everday objects with a face…I know there’s a word for that but its not coming to me (I need more coffee).

 

10| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?

Hmmm…I don’t know that I could narrow it down to one, but I love all of the items that I have gotten from craft shows over the years, whether its jewelry, clothing, art or even food.

11| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.

People probably would not believe that I can deadlift more than 200 pounds.

 

12| Give us three more non-crafting-related details about you or your life.

Well in the same vein, I am an avid crossfitter and LOVE to lift. I also love to cook, especially Mexican food. I love to dye and cut my own hair, its a bit of an obsession.

13| Where do you see Megan Lee Designs in the next 5 years?

Wellllll…we moved to Ohio recently to be closer to family, and actually just signed a lease on a new studio space that has a retail component. Its located in Westerville, Ohio, where we bought our house, so we are super excited about finally having a location where people can shop in person. If you ever come to Columbus be sure to look us up, there are some surprisingly hip bars/restaurants/shops in Uptown Westerville — I’m proud to now call it home!


Need more Megan Lee? Come check out her goods right here in the shop, or check her out online, on Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! Thanks, Megan!

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This Week at the Shop: June 19th

Our sunny, colorful shop is waiting for you to discover all kinds of great handmade goods this week! We’ve got a lot of new things going out on the floor- we’re freshly restocked from the Handicraft Exchange this past weekend. Shout-out to everyone who made that such a great day!

New

Squeeeeeeeeee!!! Need I say more? Mini planters (in monocles, no less) from Scavenge & Bloom.

Bag by Bad Knees Tees and Indiana wall art by Inspired Woodcrafts.

New goodies from Hart’s Handmade! That shampoo and conditioner smell amazing.

Around the Shop

We’re ready for some summer adventures, how about you?

Or then again, maybe we’ll just stay in and read all day… We have the most beautiful, unique books for your kiddos.

See you next week, friends!

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