Linda Dawkins, creator of Natural Suburbia and a magical toy maker, sits down to discuss the joys of creating one-of-a-kind toys, the benefits of handmade toys, and where she finds her inspiration for each of her animals.
What makes each of your toys unique?
I feel that my toys are unique as they each reflect the true character of the animal I am trying to portray as a knitted item. I try to capture their nature within the design as well as their grace of movement and individual personality.
What do you believe is the importance of children having and using handmade toys?
It is wonderful for children to be exposed to natural, handmade toys because knitted toys are soft and mould into the child’s grasp and they seem to radiate warmth when held in their hands. Wool, generously gifted to us by the sheep, can be used in the creation of these natural handmade toys. Handmade toys are also often of a much simpler and less complex design, encouraging children to use their imagination more. These toys are open-ended, this simply means that they can be used for many different forms of play and not only one outcome in an imaginative game. The child’s imagination can soar and not be limited. Many plastic, mass-produced toys only have one purpose or use and once this has been discovered by the child, the toy becomes boring and is discarded. Finally, handmade toys are Earth friendly and kind to the environment.
What is the process that you go through when you are creating a new toy?
The first part of the creative process for me is inspiration. I need to feel drawn to a particular animal to design a pattern. Once I have made that connection with an animal, I search and find as many photos as I can of that animal from all different angles and study them. I study their movement, the way their form is shaped and how it changes when they move. I see their personality and try to translate that into the idea that is developing in my mind for that particular animal. I then start the sketching process. This gives me a more accurate idea of their shape and then I can really feel how I will encourage the stitches to move in a certain direction. Then it is time for me to cast on and start the process of knitting and writing. I write down the pattern as I knit. Each row is written as I progress through the design until the item is finished. Often my ideas come to me at night just before I go to sleep and then in the morning, I start the process.
Your patterns have amazing detail. How does your imagination play a role in creating your patterns?
In my mind, when I look at a particular creature, I convert the image I see before me into stitches and rows. The gentle concave curve of the animal’s back or the strength of their neck, I can see this in my mind’s eye in stitches and increase or decrease accordingly. I usually carry this image around with me in my imagination for a few days, going over it, making changes and then when I feel I am ready to bring it into reality, I start to knit…
Why do you believe that creativity is an important gift to give children?
I feel it is very important to encourage children to be creative and for us as parents to ensure that the necessary tools are available for them to nurture and grow their creativity. I encourage my little ones to be creative by sharing as many creative concepts with them as possible. As soon as I learn a new skill, for instance spinning or dyeing, I share it with my children, teach them how to master the process if they are keen to learn and they love it. Gifts like this, they will carry forward with them into their adult life and they will then have the ability to share these gifts with others, as I shared with them. I feel it will add wholesomeness to their lives and their character.
What motivated you to begin a business based on handmade goods?
I would say my family was my motivation. As we became more inspired by Waldorf education, I realized the importance of natural toys that were beautiful in their appearance and most importantly environmentally friendly for our Earth. From there Mamma4earth was born and I started designing and knitting toys and designing patterns as I wanted to share these treasures with as many people as possible.
What keeps you motivated to balance motherhood and business?
I love that we are a homeschooling family and I really enjoy learning alongside my children. Each day is a gift, it holds so much promise and I love that we are on this journey together as a family. This fuels my creativity in my business and brings out the most amazing inspiration for creating my toys and designs. My husband is very supportive, I adore him, he is encouraging and so full of love.
What have been your five favorite toys to create?
My five favorite toys are the Lion, Alpaca, Unicorn, Labrador and Giraffe.
What advice would you give to parents who use your toys in creative and imaginative play?
These toys allow your child’s imagination to soar freely, just give them the time to play; the toys will do the rest.
Linda has knit a special piece just for Rhythm of The Home readers. Her sweet Summer Cherry Knit is the perfect addition to any nature table or children’s kitchen.
Beyond being a talented artist, Linda is a generous soul as well, as she has many free toy patterns on her site. Below you will find a link to a few of them, and there are many more as well.
Linda Dawkins is a homeschooling mother of four amazing little souls, living in South Africa. She loves teaching her children and learning alongside them each day. She is a knitter, pattern designer, gardener, homesteader and is trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. Her children are her inspiration… and this inspiration led to her Etsy shop and blog, which is a visual diary of her family’s journey.