Monday, January 5, 2009

Handmade Treasures

Usually, I try to let you know about toys we've tried out for ourselves. Today, I'm writing about toys that we have not had a chance to try, but the artisans who make these toys were willing to speak about their businesses and how they will be effected by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). These businesses may not be around after February 10th, so I wanted to let you know about them and to ask for your help.

Crafty Baby Clutch Ball ($16.50)

Jill, the owner of Crafty Baby, has been making an original design clutch ball for over ten years. The 7" ball is for children ages 4 months and up, and is divided into 4 sections for easy gripping. It is made from 100% cotton with polyester fiberfill. Light jingle bells are hidden inside. The ball is soft and durable, and designed to be safe for chewing, grabbing, and throwing at siblings and furniture. The ball is also safe for the washing machine and dryer.

She also makes a Nap Pack - an all-in-one, 100% polyester, fleece blanket. The pillow, which is stuffed with 100% polyester fiberfill, is permanently attached to the top, and the entire blanket rolls into itself for easy stowing and towing and trips to daycare. Her other products include changing pads, blankets and pillows.

Nap Pack ($39.99)

By Nana's Hands is an Etsy store that sells the creations of Melana MacLeod. Melana is a grandmother who had started sewing again after retiring last January. She made everything from diaper bags to clothes to tote bags and just fell in love with toy making. It seemed to her that everything out there was getting recalled, and two of her daughter in laws were refusing to let Melana's grandchildren play with anything that was made in China, so she started making her own toys.

I really like the stuffed tool set which is also available in a girly pink. The tool boxes have a fabric interfacing and the fleece tools are stuffed with hypoallergenic polyester fiberfill.

Tools for Tots ($20.00)

Linnea absolutely adores tools and is always "helping" when I assemble furniture or do home repairs. This would have been just perfect for her a year ago. Now, she's a girl who wants real tools - under lots of supervision! I learned my lesson when my son, 8 years old at the time, used the hammer from his Christmas tool set to conk his sister's head.... no worries with these tools.

By Nana's Hands is donating 15% of all sales in January to The Anderson House. The Anderson House is located on Prince Edward Island in Canada. The Anderson House was established in 1980 to provide a place of safety for women and children who are victims of abuse and to work towards the elimination of family violence. Fifty-percent of all sales of Tilly the Turtle are donated (Because Anderson House will help these women and children "come out of their shell").

Tilly the Snapping Turtle ($10.00)

By Nana's Hands stuffed toys are crafted with safety as the first priority. There are no removable parts, all decoration is machine embroidered and there are no hard parts on any of the toys, no plastics and no paints. That means no lead and no phthalates.

So, why will these toys become "Dangerous Goods" after February 10th? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), requires THIRD-PARTY lead and phthalate testing of ALL products that are used by children under age 12. Currently, there are very few guidelines about how this law is to be implemented, and it is not known if materials will be excluded if they do not pose any possible risk.

Artisans like Jill and Melana are hoping for component testing rather than third-party testing of finished products. They are hoping that if the materials they use to produce their products are third-party certified as safe for children, that products made out of these materials will meet certification. Testing of the fabrics, thread, and notions very likely means that they will go up in price, but it is still more economical then testing individual handmade toys. This is hard for those like Melana who says she tries to keep prices down so everyone can afford her toys.

Melana is currently working on a race car set for toddlers complete with racing cars, "big wheel" trucks and a roll up cloth race track.... she hopes she can offer it without fear of getting fined!

Unfortunately, component testing won't work for everyone. Beth Hempton, owner of The Snuggle Herd, makes wild beasts out of upcycled (thrift store) jersey-knit shirts and reclaimed wool stuffing. "Reclaimed wool" is wool from old sweaters and blankets that have been cleaned and shredded.

Elsa the Elephant

Ginnie the Giraffe ($24)

According to current CPSIA rules, it is very unclear what would become of those who upcycle. Beth says that clothing and blankets already have their own safety regulations and testing, and are known to not contain lead or phthalates if they are cotton or wool. When she buys shirts at thrift stores, they still have their tags on them claiming their materials. But would she have to keep the tags from the original materials on my toys in order to document that they are safe? It is unlikely that cotton t-shirts could be considered a component that she could have tested once, as she uses different t-shirts for each batch of her toys and they come from different manufacturers. Beth says that it seems impossible for her to comply with these rules. She is especially frustrated because the majority of artisans making children's products from natural materials (like cotton & wool) are doing so specifically to avoid using materials that might have lead & pthalates in them! Currently there are six stores around the country that are carrying her products, but soon it may be illegal for them to do so.

Lyle the Lion

Connie puts her own designs on clothing and stationery at the MiniMonster Baby Boutique.

Paper Airplane Monster Print ($15.00)

She had planned to introduce coloring books with her fun and lively monster drawings (and even bought individual packs of crayons to include), but has now put that on hold until she knows how her plans will work under the CPSIA. The CPSIA also effects children's books.

Christine, the mom behind For My Kids Happy Fun Dough ($4.99-$29.99) is also worried. The moldable dough is made from water, flour (or gluten-free rice flour), salt, cream of tartar, canola oil,and citric acid -- all perfectly safe and natural.

Christine started her business specifically because she was concerned about exposing her children to toxins. When she was pregnant with her first child, she began to research some of the products that she was using both for personal hygiene and around her home. She was horrified to learn of the long-term damage she could be doing to myself, her child, and the planet with these common chemicals. So, she started making her own products.

About a year ago, some friends convinced her to start selling some of these products so that other people would also have alternatives She started For My Kids. Her newest product is Happy Fun Dough. She started offering it after a store that carries her other products found out that she'd been making it for her own sons and requested that she add it to the For My Kids line.

At first, she used standard food coloring. Then, she realized what exactly was in the standard food coloring. Even though it is FDA-approved, she didn’t want her sons playing in it. So, for a while, they played with uncolored Happy Fun Dough. Fortunately, she was able to find some great alternatives. Instead of the common artificial colorings, she uses plant and vegetable extracts.

Our Happy Fun Dough is COMPLETELY edible. Christine says "I would suggest adding it to your families regular meal plan…after all, too much salt isn’t good for you. ;-) My youngest son has partaken on more than one occasion. " But she wonders, since food products are safe for consumption, wouldn't it just make sense that a product made entirely of food would be safe for play? Yet, as the law is currently written, even this mixture of edible food products must undergo testing for lead and phthalates.

Lawmakers are starting to realize that the rules might need adjusting. An exemption may be made for some natural materials, including cotton, wool, and wood. However, this wooden pig also includes leather ears held on by screws and a tail. Without component certification, the pig would need to be tested by a third-party agency, and this is not an affordable option for a small family business like Made by Ewe.

Pig from Made by Ewe

Stacey says about her family business, "...this is not only a business for my family, but something we love to do. There is nothing more affirming for my father than to see a small child run off with his or her new wooden toy. He knows it's safer than many of the mass market toys and the parents know it will last." That's another special thing about handmade toys, they are made with love.

Mark Nutcher of Wood Toy Shop also makes amazing, heirloom-quality toys from hard woods finished with non-toxic mineral oil. He is a stay home dad and says "Any kind of third party testing would likely lead me to discontinue most of my toys. I am a one person shop with very limited production runs." He hopes that his best-selling toys might be able to absorb the cost of testing, but does not know.

Wooden Train Set

The train set components are also available individually, so one has the more budget-friendly option of building up a train over time.

Locomotive ($35.00)

Mark also sells vehicles, blocks, puzzles, rubber band race cars, a tool set, a wooden robot and nifty gizmos, like a decoder that every imaginary spy might need.

Amazing Secret Decoder ($8.00)

Finally, Little Sapling Toys, is a family business belonging to Rich, Kimber and Baby Rex. Their wooden baby toys are affordable works of art. I think I'd keep the stacking toy on my coffee table even after it had been outgrown. Besides, I happen to know that teenagers enjoy stacking toys, too.

Maple/Walnut Wood Stacking Toy ($26.00)

Simple Pine Rocking Horse

I wasn't able to resist the column play set. Writing about toys is tough!

Free-play Column Set infant/toddler toy ($26.00)

They also make rattles and teethers. There are action shots on the website.

As I interviewed these artisans, the themes I heard over and over were concerns over safety and that these toys are not just a business, they really are made with love. What can you do to help keep these toys available? Please vote at for the Handmade Toy Alliance's proposal "Save Small Business From the CPSIA". The top ten proposals will be presented to the new President. Currently, ours is #9, so every vote counts. Also, write to your Senators and Representative and ask that amendments be made to the CPSIA to help small businesses stay in business and keep our children safe. There is more information available at the Handmade Toy Alliance web page.


igotmoxie said...

This is a really great blog post, may I link to it from my blog (


Sara said...

Definitely, feel free to share :)

Beth H said...

Wonderfully done, Sara. Thanks so much for your heart-felt post - I'm honored to be featured in it!

Pasifik said...

Great post and great pictures! Many options to pick for our children...thanks.

Happy blogging,

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