Thursday, August 7, 2008

Here is the history of my stuffed animal gift shop

In the Early 1980s My Gift Shop was Named
Flaming-Martin Gifts

I designed over 100 different stuffed animal patterns and created the beautiful, high quality stuffed animals and sold them in my store, Flaming-Martin Gifts. I designed and painted all the signs. I used to tell people that I made smiles for a living. People would come into my shop from their busy, harried lives, and soon begin to smile as they touched the soft fur of the stuffed animals and remembered how their own favorite stuffed animal had comforted them in their childhoods. I remember people coming back to my shop to buy more stuffed animals for friends and loved ones and telling me how much everyone loved my creations.
Sometimes people would pick up an animal and ask me if it had a name. I would always reply, "Ah, there's magic in naming things and that power must lie with the animal's final owner. Haven't you had a stray dog or cat come and beg for food and the moment you gave it a real name it was no longer a stray. That animal was now yours. If I named these little creatures they would belong to me. I am just their creator, their true owner has to find them, love them, and name them." My customer would smile, sometimes I know they thought I was a little crazy, but most of the time, I think they understood a profound truth: There is magic in naming things.

Fantasy Creations was Born in 1984

In 1984 I published patterns for 13 of my stuffed animal designs and wanted the new business to have a name separate from my gift shop, so in 1984, Fantasy Creations was born. I worked on selling the patterns in a variety of ways including through Crafts magazines. But, in the end, I packed them away in large cases to await a time when I could market them more cost effectively and 20 years later I now have several stores named Fantasy Creations on eBay, on Etsy and on the internet and I am gradually gaining more and more happy customers every day. I sell my stuffed animal patterns to people all over the world.

A Look Inside the Gift Shop
Beginning with My Magnificent
Bald Eagle in Flight

My most amazing design was the Bald Eagle in Flight. It had a three and a half foot wingspread. It was a limited edition soft sculpture with a signed and numbered card attached to the tip of the wing. I only made a few of them. It took 10 hours of agonizing work to finish one. This was never designed to be a child's toy. This design required a wire framework inside the wings. It sold for $100 over 25 years ago (I don't think I would accept less than $400 if I made one today), and was destined to grace a man's study. This creature put my male customers at ease because of its fierce, masculine, symbolic power.
Now, back to the gift shop, so I can explain more about how it worked. My husband helped me in hundreds of ways, like taking the professional photographs for the brochure, and painting and remodeling the front of the gift shop. I kept the sewing machines, cutting table, and the cases of fake fur upstairs. We rigged a system to ring the doorbell when someone entered the front door and I would drop everything and run downstairs to take care of the customer. Most of the time I brought stuffing and animals that needed to be turned right side out, and stuffed, downstairs with me, so I could make good use of my time. It is not easy trying to make a living when you have to do everything from buying supplies, to designing, to sewing, to selling, as well as accounting.
In order to make over 100 stuffed animal designs, I had to find fake fur that looked like the animals I wanted to create. I was thrilled when I bought the material for the bobcat and went to work, right away, designing a realistic bobcat pattern. Most of the time I got the pattern right the first time but I did have to go through two prototypes before I was satisfied with the final fierce, regal, wild cat design.

Dragons and Unicorns were very popular sellers in my gift shop. The Large Dragon was at least five hours of work. The open mouth with Rick-Rack teeth had to be stitched in by hand. This was another limited edition soft sculpture that came with a signed and numbered card. I made dragons in a variety of colors, black and silver, red and black, green and black, orange and black, blue and black (with silver down the back), and my personal favorite: purple with black and silver.

The Man in the Moon pillow made a great hanging piece for a baby's room or a bed decoration for a teenager. They sold so often that I made over a dozen, to hang up in my shop, in every color I thought a moon would look good in.

I filled the front window of my gift shop with lots of beautiful stuffed animals to catch the eyes of people passing by.

The Giant Unicorn Pegasus (two and a half feet tall and over 3 feet long; large enough to sit on to watch TV) was the one that really brought customers into the shop. Most people settled for a less expensive, smaller unicorn, or some other animal but if I sold one of these giant horses, you can bet I went to work on creating a new one for the front window, right away. One thing I learned the hard way though, was that stuffed animals have to be rotated out of sunny windows or the fake fur quietly sun rots and you can pierce your fingers right through the fabric! (a word to the wise).
I also created a variety of realistic horses, a giant elephant, a giant seal, and more. I really came to believe that there was a person meant for every creature I designed, and it was only a matter of time before they found each other. One of my favorite stories was when I had designed a lonely baby camel and it sat on a shelf, unnoticed, for over a year, until one day a woman came into my shop and picked it up and didn't put the little camel down. She said something about the little camel spoke to her and she had to buy him. She picked up one of my business cards before she left and a few weeks later I was surprised to find a post card, addressed to me, from the lady, telling me how the little camel was her traveling companion on a trip across country and that he had been a blessing to her. Well, that convinced me that no design was a mistake just because it didn't fly out the door every day.
I was often asked why I didn't make traditional teddy bears. My answer was that you could find teddy bears everywhere else, in every size, and shape, and color imaginable but where could you find a Loch Ness Monster (sea dinosaur) or a killer whale and its baby, or a cacomistle? I even designed life like, rare and unusual animals for the Portland zoo: a red panda, a ring tailed lemeur, and a Humbolt penguin. I loved the challenge of creating stuffed animals that you couldn't find anywhere else. I did make a cute bear puppet and a realistic polar bear cub, though.

My T-Rex was always fun to make and popular for tough little boys who would turn their nose up at most stuffed animals. I made them with those tough little boys in mind and reinforced all stress points thoroughly.
I give the bunny pattern for free to customers who buy more than one pattern from me and the pattern is also included with the Man in the Moon Pillow pattern, along with the rainbow ball.
The Canada Goose was a favorite decorative piece and was purchased by adult men and women. It carried a signed and numbered, limited edition card.
The Merhorse (one of my most popular published patterns) was always one of my favorite stuffed animals because when you held it the tail sliped around the back of your arm and pressed gently, like a hug, and gave you a feeling of comfort. I donated one to a counselor to use with children who needed to talk about things.
The puppy dog and lamb were so popular as gifts for young children that I made them available as patterns, so people who sew could make them to give or sell at craft fairs.
Eventually I had to close the gift shop in order to pursue career opportunities that would bring me more income. I can’t compete with the price of stuffed animals made in China so I don’t aspire to open another gift shop stocked with finely handcrafted stuffed animals. I have done many things that earned more money for me than my little gift shop but nothing has matched the satisfaction I got from the direct contact with customers and creating new designs every week. Selling on the Internet and reading positive customer feedbacks has given back some of that lost sense of “making smiles” for a living. It is my desire to continue to grow my Internet business until I earn as much as I did working for other people. I will accomplish that goal one happy customer at a time.

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