Alt-Crafter Jennifer Strunge

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cotton Monster,

Specialty: Plush sculptures made of recycled fabrics

Price range: Baseball-size pieces are $25; other toys run $35 to $100.

Jennifer Strunge spends about eight hours a day in one apricot-colored room in her Baltimore home, snipping up old shirts and blankets and burning up her Bernina.

But the room looks more like a chimerical toy store than a crafting sweatshop. Everywhere you look, there is plush: sea creatures with striped bellies and droopy, bottom-feeder eyes; gummy snaggletooth monsters with polka-dot foreheads; baseball-size eyeball sculptures. In one corner, in fact, there's a pink plush mountain made entirely of eyeballs (that one is not so much a monster as an art piece, Strunge explains).

"I definitely grew up on 'Sesame Street' and 'Where the Wild Things Are,' " says Strunge, 27, who studied fiber at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where her thesis project was a big bed with monsters coming out from under it. "I had a really good response from that," she recalls. "I got the sense that people wanted them, but couldn't necessarily afford to buy a big, giant one, so I came up with ways to scale them down smaller and smaller."

By 2005, she had started her line of monsters. The colors and prints of the recycled fabrics she uses -- stripes and polka dots, bright pinks and greens and oranges -- reinforce her hope that the monsters are embraced as cute (or at least quirky), rather than creepy. And they are definitely all about the details: Every monster has handmade eyes. There are no patterns. Maybe it takes a little longer, Strunge says, but her buyers appreciate it.

"I think I caught it right at the verge, when people started to be really interested in buying handmade. People want to have something unique and individual," she says.

"I don't have a line of yellow monsters -- there's just one. Each one is one-of-a-kind."

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