One of my most beloved Final Fantasy VII collectibles (and you can tell how much I love them by how dirty they’ve gotten) is a matched pair of hand-crocheted Sephiroth and Cloud amigurumi dolls hanging from the same key chain. Amigurumi are, for the unfamiliar, small crocheted or knitted dolls stuffed with filling to give them shape. Most amigurumi are cute animals and critters, but there are also amigurumi patterned after anime and game characters and even real people!
Deadcraft is an online amigurumi store run by Nissie, who designed and hand-made my dolls as well as a multitude of other character dolls from across the length and breadth of pop culture. Besides being handy with a crochet needle, Nissie is also a former cosplayer, an award-winning writer, and a tech blog girl-Friday. In this post she talks to us about her hobby-slash-business, and shares things about what it’s like to make miniature dollies for a living 🙂
What was the inspiration for Deadcraft? How did all of this get started?
An abject depression over my inability to sew. I collect plushies as a hobby, and I’ve always wanted to make my own, but my fear of sewing machines and crooked stitches made sure I was never able to come up with a halfway decent plush no matter how hard I tried. A couple of years ago though, I saw a crochet video on youtube, and realized I could probably do that instead. I took crochet back in high school, but since all they ever made me do were granny squares or coasters nobody really wants to use but are too polite to tell you otherwise when you offer them up as gifts, I never thought about going that route until then.
I started making my own dolls and came up with my own pattern after some trials and errors. They were initially supposed to be for my own personal entertainment, but a couple of people saw some of the dolls I made and asked for their own. Eventually, the demand grew enough that I realized I had to start charging for them before long just to keep my sanity.
What skills did you need to do well in amigurumi? How long did it take you to master them?
Patience, most definitely. When I first started it took me days to make one doll because I was still feeling my way around, literally, and did so for a month or so. Eventually, I grew more adept at it, and can now finish one in a couple of hours. Also, most amigurumi don’t look the way you think they should look until you’re actually nearing completion, so it’s easy to feel frustrated halfway through. A certain amount of creativity also has to be factored in; you have to have a good eye for detail and know how to translate that into yarn and felt from the initial photo or the actual character / person you’re basing it off.
Which dolls are your best sellers? What were your most unusual requests? Which was your favorite commission?
I have to say that the Mythbusters dolls are my bestsellers, and they’ve been featured the most out of all the other dolls. My Legend of Zelda dolls and Batman / Joker ones also sell pretty well. Right now, a surprise hit for me are the stitchpunk 9 dolls I make from Tim Burton’s animated movie 9. Usually when a particularly popular movie is released, the demand for characters of that movie also increases, so it changes depending on what’s in for that month. Some unusual requests I’ve gotten are Freddie Kreuger dolls, customized World of Warcraft dolls based on the customers’ own characters in the game, and even Metroid aliens and bloody crab creatures from Half-Life.
I’m also a geek at heart, so out-of-the-way commissions, the ones you don’t expect people to ask for, are always favorites. Lady Amalthea from the Last Unicorn movie is one, and an Albert Einstein doll is another. Some geek commissions from fandoms I love also take my fancy, like Watchmen’s Silk Spectre II and Wolverine. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice has to be my favorite doll to make, though. Every once in awhile I make my own dolls without any prompting, those slightly obscure dolls not a lot of people would think of buying until there’s one for sale, stick them in my shop from time to time to see if people like it, and more often than not find out that people do buy them. Right now for example, I’m making what I call my comedian collection – Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert. I made them without being commissioned to, but now people have asked to reserve the dolls for them once I finished. Not a lot of people would think of asking me for these kinds of commissions, but once they do find out I’m making them, they realize they love the idea, and buy them. I adore that.
What is the hardest part about the entire project? Have you dealt with any problem customers? What was it like?
Everything that involves money would always involve problem customers, I think. Early on, I used to make dolls for people without asking for money up front, and the customers sometimes bail out at the last minute, usually when the doll is already finished. I’m able to sell the dolls eventually, but it is pretty frustrating. So now I usually ask for at least half or all the money sent before making the doll, just to be on the safe side. Most of my main problems come with shipping abroad. Shipping via the Philippine postal office always come with a lot of delays, and shipments they promise to deliver in 2-3 weeks often wind up taking a month or more. I use tracking options with my shipment instead, so I can assure customers they won’t get lost at the very least.
What advice would you give to other crafters to start their own small businesses?
I do everything myself – I purchase the materials, do all the labor, do the initial promotions, personally talk to customers and sell the dolls online. I like that everything gets my personal touch, and I’ve been refusing to expand or hire other people because this has always been a hobby for me rather than a business, even now. I’m a ‘mom and pop’ sort of store, not a Walmart, and I like it that way. I don’t necessarily say that all crafters should do it the same way, but the thing about crafts is that it’s handmade and very personal, and that’s why a lot of people buy them instead of opting for more commercialized products. Expand your business if you’d like, take it a step above being a hobby and into an actual flourishing enterprise, but never take out that personal touch, because that’s what makes your craft unique.