I have been extremely fortunate in my travels to meet a variety of people who share my love for all things creative and one whose work I very much respect is my friend from Montreal, Barbara. Not only is she an extraordinary designer of the cutest knitted toys with her brand, Fuzzy Mitten but she is also a jolly nice person to boot.
How we met
Barbara and I first met in 2014, would you believe it, in a knitting shop when I lived in Montreal. Whenever I move to a new place, I try and find out what there is in the area that would provide me with the opportunity to meet like-minded folk who could then become friends. When researching Montreal’s West Island, I discovered a small yarn shop called Le Coin Artisanal which offered a slot in its busy schedule for knitters to come in, sit on their comfy couch with other crafty individuals and chat. Oh, the heady social interaction of pre-Covid days! Barbara was there alongside me as well as an old lady called Alice (whatever happened to her?) and that was the start of our friendship.
On that day, she gave me her “business” card so that we could meet up subsequently and I knew that we would become firm friends and I was right. In my opinion, anyone who has a beret wearing mouse on their business card has to be in my circle of friends – it’s a given.
We soon discovered that we had lots in common: thrifting, knitting, sewing, baking, and a love of growing things. Barbara loves a bargain and we would often spend a happy morning, trawling through the racks at Village des Valeurs, looking for treasures. As mentioned, Barbara is a knitted toy designer but also knits other things including the delightful rainbow cardigan in the picture heading this blog, an adaptation from someone else’s pattern to provide the perfect fit. Barbara often sews her own clothes and I can testify to the fact that she makes the most delicious chutney. Having visited Barbara’s garden, I know that she is passionate about growing both flowers and vegetables, having a space in her garden for both.
Barbara has been designing knitted toys for a long time, long before I knew her, beginning to create them in 2006 as a filler activity in between gardening jobs. Her first toy was a little teddy in a sweater and by her own admission, she has come a long way from her initial days of designing and even further from when she learned to knit as a grad. student. Like me, she comes from a long line of knitters but was pretty much self taught at a later age, rather than learning from her relations.
Once her designs became more accomplished and her confidence grew, the finished toys made their way onto Etsy and before she knew it, knitters began asking if she would sell her designs, instead of just the toys. She was and is so obviously talented and skilled at this that she started to dedicate more attention to it and it was only a matter of time before she was noticed by other parties and soon, she was approached with more interesting opportunities to design for knitting publications like Knit Now magazine and was even featured on a TV show called Knit and Crochet Today.
I know that when we met for a nice cup of tea and a chat or some thrift shopping, she would have deadlines to meet for some publication or another and would welcome the chance to get out and about.
Above is what Barbara considers her favourite pattern, the unicorn, which whilst not being one of her more popular designs, was one of the ones that she found most enjoyable to design, knit, and photograph – consequently, she made four of them! Rather generously, she gave two of them away albeit reluctantly but to worthy children who needed a cuddly unicorn to love.
She has even turned her hand to more popular characters like Olaf the Snowman, completed for Knit Now mag. Having usually designed her own characters, trying to design something based on an existing character was far more tricky and took many tries before the design fit the strict guidelines. It was a success but it made her realise that making her own characters is where she is happiest.
And what an array of characters there are! Barbara has just recently designed a new website and shop called fuzzymitten.com with a view to better show her work and serve her customers, where you can purchase her patterns. She has tutorials that she has put together to help you in your creation of her toys. You will find the creatures of the world there in knitted form as well as some more mythical characters likes elves and mermaids. I have to admit that I have never knitted a toy before although I am sorely tempted when I see Barbara’s designs. They are so cute to look at and have a vintage quality to them that will stand the test of time, some reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s creations.
And if you fancied having a go at knitting design yourself, below are some pointers that Barbara is keen to pass on:
- Do not undervalue your time and skills. Free patterns are a nice treat to give your customers once in a while, but you deserve to be paid for your hard work.
- There are some great resources available now on how to write good patterns, and many options for selling online. (I wish they’d been around when I started!) Time spent on research is never wasted.
- It may be useful to sketch a lot of designs, and look at examples of similar work, in order to figure out your personal style.
And that is my friend, Barbara in a nutshell. It has been a long time since we’ve met up, having not seen her since 2017, but hopefully, Covid permitting, it won’t be too much longer before we can knit and chat again. In Canadian terms after all, Montreal is just down the road.