Walnut Animal Society creates unique and huggable stuffed animals, handmade with natural and locally-sourced materials in Los Angeles. Designer Lauren Bradshaw began the brand with a knack for needle-felting and a flair for evoking illustrative imagination. We had the opportunity to ask her a little more about her Walnut Animal Society world and are excited to introduce you to this Dreamer, today.
Darling Magazine: How did Walnut Animal Society begin?
Lauren Bradshaw: When my son Henry was five months old, I quit my job of six years in order to stay home with him. I knew I wanted to supplement our income with a creative business at home, since I previously had success selling things I had made on Etsy. At one point, I remember wanting to buy Henry a fox stuffed animal. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find one that I liked enough to purchase. Since it was tough to actually find a good looking fox at the time, I decided that maybe I could make a sewing pattern for a fox stuffed animal, and sell the pattern.
I told a friend about the idea, who actually connected me to a lady who sewed professionally. That’s when I decided to make the stuffed animals and sell them finished, rather than as a sewing pattern. My husband and I came up with a set of characters, each with a very distinct personality. From there, I worked countless hours perfecting the animal sewing pattern until I finally got it how I wanted it. Then I came up with clothing for each animal, and launched the company in December 2011.
DM: Tell us about the current collection.
Lauren: The first animal I made was Henry the Fox, named of course after my son Henry. I love his vest and bow tie ensemble. Eleanor the Bear is named after the first bear I had as a little girl, who I named Eleanor when I was about seven years old. Ruthie the Deer came along inspired by my sister, who was always wearing tutus growing up. We knew the group needed a rascal in the bunch, so Chester the Raccoon was a perfect fit for that role. Magnolia the Bunny is more of a wandering adventurous type, wearing a hooded cape. The most recent addition to the collection is Margaux the Kitty.
DM: What inspires you the most about making stuffed animals?
Lauren: The most inspiring part of creating these characters is seeing a child really bond with their new friend. I did that as a kid with my own very special stuffed animals, and they often filled a role of being friends with me in my imagination. The animals I create are a slightly larger scale than a typical stuffed animal, which lends itself well to playing pretend, having tea, and carrying on that aspect of friendship. I’m especially excited to take this concept and expand on it in a children’s book, which is scheduled to be published late 2015.
The most inspiring part of creating these characters is seeing a child really bond with their new friend.
DM: What’s the process like for creating an animal?
Lauren: Usually, I’ll get an idea in my head for a specific animal, maybe even with a specific name. From there, my husband and I talk at length about the personality of the animal, and then I come up with clothing to fit the personality. I spend a lot of time selecting the right color of fabric for the body, prototyping the ears, tail, and facial embroidery. Once I get it right, I search for the clothing fabrics and then experiment until those feel perfect.
DM: Were you a maker as a child?
Lauren: It’s pretty much the only thing I was! I hated playing outside if I could help it. Florida was way too hot, so why spend time outside when you could be indoors crafting?! I taught myself to sew on my mom’s sewing machine, and remember always being so annoyed when I had to thread the bobbin, since it was hard for my little brain to comprehend. I loved sewing though, and would lay awake at night thinking about how I could make patterns for my own stuffed animals that I loved so much. I tried creating patterns for them, but at age eight that was quite difficult (it is still difficult at age 32!). I sewed my first stuffed animals from a pattern I found; it was a goose, which I gave a mate, and made them into a bride and groom set of geese. On the bottom, I dated them “1993″ and I still have them.
DM: Do you have a favorite animal you’ve created?
Lauren: Each one has been my favorite at one time or another. I suppose it depends on how I’m feeling or what I’m going through in life–if I need some adventure then I tend to favor Magnolia the Bunny. If I am feeling very proper then my favorite will be Eleanor the Bear. If I need to be smart and inventive, then it will be Henry the Fox. So it changes all the time! I’ll always have a special place for Henry the Fox, since he was the first we created, and the reason behind starting Walnut Animal Society.
For a limited time, Walnut Animal Society is generously offering a 20% discount for Darling readers with the code: SODARLING! Offer available until December 21.
For more, check out Lauren’s cute creations featured in Darling Issue No. 6.