Tell us little about yourself!
My name is Mary Ann Hudson. I have been married for over 10 years to a nerd with horn-rimmed glasses and have a funny red-haired little boy named Gus. I have an MFA in poetry and am in school to be a pediatric nurse practitioner. I live for when the mail comes and for stolen time where I can read for pleasure.
I make playscapes from a variety of natural materials–wool, linen, cotton, and vintage. The construction is similar to quilts–except with 3D elements. I also make quilts, bags, and housewares (for a “grown-ups” shop auntierumpos.etsy.com), and lots of the stuff we need at home (clothes , housewares, and utility items). We’re the original “make do and mend” family and are highly resistant to buying anything new when we can thrift or make it. I also make poetry, which is necessary to life. I’ve been writing since I could, and I’ve been sewing for a few years (but have always had my hands in some kind of making).
What inspires you?
Nature, and how people and, especially, kids use things.
What got you started working with playscapes?
A friend’s magical daughter got me into playscape making. This little girl has the biggest imagination and sense of narrative play than anyone I’ve ever met (including some famous writers). She and her beautiful family are very inspiring, and my first playscape was created for her and in honor of her ideas for it. I think all the best things start with wanted to do something rad for someone you love.
What advice would you have for other Etsians?
Be patient with organic business growth. I started with a single, well-thought out listing because I didn’t have any other stock to photograph. When it sold, I had two sets of photographs and so another listing–and so on. Word of mouth (or word of blog) really does work, and often much better, than paid advertising, so treat every customer like they have the ability to communicate with 1,000 other eager buyers. Do only what you love, and would love to do for those who you love. Pay attention to what your people want–I realized, after creating a set of ready-to-ship stock that was slow selling (and so now, very much on sale in the shop), that what my customers really liked about what I offered was that it was so custom and could be created for them at a personal level.
That said, I did open a sister shop of housewares and bags that is all ready stock–but I did it to have fun and from a place and theme very dear to me. That experience is starting slow too, but it doesn’t matter because the process has been so rewarding for me. I know that I have kindred spirits out there and they will find my shop in time. It really does have to be fun or you’ll start thinking like a cigar-smoking, suit-y, business stiff. I don’t think they have fun when they raze farmland, cripple local businesses, and build big box stores.
What do you hope to learn/gain/contribute from being part of the Natural Kids group?
Some of the most loving and creative mentors I’ve ever had are business people in this co-op. I learn something everyday from the forums; I have changed inefficient business practices based on personal communications with partners in the co-op; I have
improved my skills and products based on inspiration I have received looking at partners’ products and trading and buying from partners; and I have, overall, become more professional and focused due to my membership in this group. I think it’s important that like-minded people with similar values in the world of commerce support and network with each other–it’s a kind of personal-level strength. I am always ahead of the curve in terms of practical considerations like labeling, sourcing, and documenting. My membership is utterly invaluable. More, the imaginative, kid-friendly, mama-positive vibe is perfect energy for creating.
What thoughts do you have for parents on the importance of natural toys for creative play?
Putting on my pediatrics hat, remember that when *you* think that a toy must be boring because it is gently colored with “only” the colors that come from nature, that children see a wider and much brighter spectrum of colors than adults. When you’re confused by a toy that doesn’t seem to *do* anything and doesn’t have a place to stick a battery in, understand that children’s sensory system is indescribably more sensitive than your own and that the grain of sanded bees-wax rubbed wood, and fuzz of felted trees, and the enigmatic face of a simple doll is incomprehensibly stimulating to the hands and face and mind of a child, who, after all, hasn’t been here so long and never expected to have to encounter and process hard, stinky plastic that makes loud noises with crazy light shows for no conceivable reason.
We don’t give children the credit and respect they deserve–their narrative understanding is deeply rich when given the barest of tools (a knitted donkey, a wooden boat), and has a greater reign when unconfined by pre-designed, corporate characters and specific uses for play. Natural toys have both breadth and depth–a well-made doll that feels good and warm in the hands is a companion, a co-pilot, a character to work out personal dramas, and a pillow. Honestly, kids don’t really *need* toys when they have daily access to loving people and the outdoors, but toys can be an important tool as they play their way through the lessons that they need to grow. The best tools, we know, are well-made and no more complicated than needed for the job at hand. Toys are not magic, children are magic. Toys are not the source for entertainment and learning, we are, people are. The best toys celebrate the normal, everyday magic of children and are easy tools for play between people. And you know, kids are totally impressed by handmade, love to see and touch things they know someone has made themselves, and are encouraged to make things, too.
Interview by Beccijo of The Enchanted Cupboard