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Jennifer Strunge

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cotton Monster, www.cottonmonster.com

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."

Strunge's Go-To Resources:

Plush you!, http://plushyou.blogspot.com

Plush You! is "a great blog and book for those into buying or making plush," Strunge says. "This blog is written by Kristen Rask, who runs Schmancy, a shop in Seattle. She posts new plush work she has discovered, insightful interviews with other plush makers, as well as great resources for workshops and upcoming shows to apply for. I read it every day!"

Thrift stores

Thrifting is in keeping with the green spirit of indie craft -- and it helps keep costs down. Strunge heads to Value Village and similar thrift stores in Baltimore for shirts and other items to cut up for fabric. "Find colors you like and feel them, stretch them, get inspired and be sure to go on half-price days, " she says.

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