A chat with Jen Murphy

A chat with Jen Murphy

Jen Murphy, teddy bear maker and founder of the Polka Dot Club. We (and our kids!) are long-term fans of Jen's beautiful creations, and are delighted to have another Apolina x PDC collaboration launching later this month.

 

We love that you are a second-generation teddy bear maker and made your first bear when you were a child. Did you always know this was what you were going to do?

I was very lucky to have a mother who modelled a unique way of living. She was stuck in a job she didn’t enjoy when she began making teddy bears. This stroke of creativity grew out of her love of antique teddy bears she couldn’t quite afford, so we thrifted old mohair coats, and she began sewing. Over time her hobby grew into a business which was sound enough for her to quit her uninspiring day job and sew full-time.

In the background of all of this activity was me- watching and witnessing her carve out a new occupation and feeling the better balance that emanated from her decision. My mom worked hard but she liked the work and I liked that so much of it we could do together. I began sewing and traveling for bear shows to sell my own pieces with her very early on. At the time I had no idea I would be doing this when I was her age, but now some 30+ years later I’m still sewing, making, and daydreaming about how to keep this work alive for me and my family.

What is your favourite toy from your own childhood?

I had two special toys in particular; each stuck me at a different age and both create a visceral sensation still - just thinking of them. The first was a family of tiny plush chipmunks that I carried around in their fabric log house. They were finger puppets and I could activate their arms by sliding my thumb and forefinger into their sleeves. The side of their log home had velcro which revealed the interior of a home complete with chairs, a table, mixing bowls, a broom… all perfectly closed up or opened out onto hours of imaginary play. The second was a big jointed teddy bear, Edison. My mom made him for me when I was about 10 or 11 and he was made from brown short mohair that was just a bit poky. When I cuddled and held him it was deeply comforting; not at all soft, but rather a tactile sensation which made me deeply aware that he was in my arms. These two toys, one with hours of tiny imagined play and one with a tactile comfort- inspire so much of what I make today.

 

Which part of the PDC process do you enjoy the most?

I love all of the creative bits about my job. I like designing new pieces, figuring out the colors and shapes for a new season, hand dying colors, embroidering each and every bear's face… the things I don’t love are the loads of bookkeeping, working on the computer, and tidying my very messy studio.

apolina, pdc, polka dot club

Is there an animal you haven't yet made a toy of, but would like to?

I made my first bear with my mom’s help at 11, but the very next thing I made was a tiny felt kangaroo. Next was a fairly unsuccessful fairy head. After that a few cats, more bears, a dog, an elephant… and the list goes on. I think over the last 30+ years I’ve made hundreds of patterns. The other day I was looking back at my old blog (www.andothersillythings.blogspot.com) where I posted some of the many mohair and felt animals I was making before I started the Polka Dot Club and I was struck by the sheer volume of pieces I’d made. The Polka Dot Club feels so very different from that work, but enough time has passed now, almost 10 years, that it all feels inspiring again. Perhaps it's an indication of how bad my memory is, but I had forgotten so many of the faces which popped onto the screen and made me smile.

 

Do you have any crafting or making traditions with your kids?

Both my husband and I are artists. We share a studio not far from our house; a big space which is divided into two separate studios with a shared entrance. As I write this, I can hear him working down the hall on a painting and listening to music. We come in and out of each other’s spaces all day and the kids are often here too. They come in to make things on the weekends or bike over after school. Your question gave me pause, “what are our traditions?!”. Hmmmm. As the kids have aged (they’re now 10 and 13) what we make together or alongside one another continues to change, but I think our truest tradition remains: We are makers at heart. That seed my mother planted led me to carve out my own way of being and seek a partner who has done the same. I hope our kids will take a little bit of perspective as they go down their own path - but in the interim one thing is certain - they make a stellar handmade gift which I’ll happily receive at any holiday.

apolina, polka dot club, pdc

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