Some artists are inspired by paints, and others find their muse in photography. For Rachel Hedges, owner and creator of Bebito handmade plush toys, it was a vintage minty green Electro-Grand De Luxe sewing machine.
After graduating from college as a music major, which Rachel jokingly admits was not exactly “a fast track to steady income,” she wasn’t sure what her next move would be. But whatever her plans, Rachel knew they would involve creativity. So when she received the old sewing machine from a friend’s mother, she began to create. Repurposing fabric scraps, she let toys from her imagination form under her fingertips.
Throughout her six years as a crafter, Rachel has continued to make these quirky creatures and has stayed true to her belief in repurposing and recycling. So most of her adorable toys are made from found materials.
Some of the materials she calls “guilt fabrics”—you and I know them as that taunting pile of rainy-day-projects that has been stuffed into the corner of the sewing room since 1993. Parts of these good-intentioned cloths become Dolores (above), one of Rachel’s first and favorite creations. Rachel and her friends have developed a story about this plush doll, and one day Rachel hopes to share Dolores’ story with her fans in the pages of a coloring book or children’s story.
Fabrics for Sweater Kitty (right) usually come from once-treasured ensemble pieces begrudgingly shrunk in the dryer. These are some of Rachel’s favorite materials because of the stories people share with her when they give up their beloved sweaters. And she makes sure that those precious pieces don’t go to waste. Rachel’s even developed a specific ritual for cutting up the sweaters to ensure that each part gets used—down to the sleeve inseams, which she stores in a box for her Sweater Kitties’ tails.
However, not all of the fabric is donated. Rachel buys scraps of new fabric from a friend who owns Crimson Tate :: Modern Quilt in her hometown, Indianapolis. And she purchases some vintage fabrics. “I don’t know why, but the older fabrics just seem to be better quality.”
All Bebito products are made by Rachel on her vintage sewing machine. And the toys and brooches are so soft and clean, it’s hard to believe any of the fabrics were once considered cast-offs.
When Rachel began making and creating, it was a climactic time for crafts, she says. She joined the then-97 people on Etsy, an online community of small business owners and crafters. Around that same time, Amanda Mauer Taflinger, founder of INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, was hosting her first Indianapolis craft fair. A friend encouraged Rachel to apply.
Seeing her newfound art endorsed by her community and with her success on Etsy, Rachel found encouragement. “And it just snowballed,” she says. “In the next two to three years, crafting grew exponentially.” To give you an idea, Etsy reported adding 654,501 new members in February 2012 alone.
When asked what she thinks about the recent surge and popularity of crafts, Rachel says the quality has improved. “There are more artisans making quality pieces. And with (crafts) becoming more easily accessible, people begin to trust (craft vendors) more.”
Even within the Handicraft Exchange, she has noticed crafters taking steps away from the “kitschy and funky.” Though Rachel’s toys could easily fall under this funky category, especially her neckties. “These are really popular, and I have no idea why.” She laughs.
Perhaps it’s because of the deep connection to the quintessential Father’s Day gift, but I have to say I agree with the masses. The ties are one of my favorite items in Rachel’s collection of handmade gifts.
To purchase Rachel’s handmade pieces go to bebitotoys.com.