When my son was a little over a year old, we attended an arts collaboration between photographer Davina Zagury and the DUMBO kid’s store, Pomme. Kids were encouraged to bring along their doudous (French for ‘security blanket’) in order to be photographed. As I stood on line observing all of these kids tugging their heirloom soft toys, I suddenly felt that my son’s toy was sadly lacking. Instead of a plush doudou, he carted around a vintage umbrella his mom owned as a little girl. This memory came to mind while I was reviewing the items offered in Samantha Cotterill’s shop, mummysam. Each plush item in the shop is handmade and has that expertly crafted, yet instantly classic aesthetic. Had I come across this shop sooner, it would have been a mummysam creation that my son would have posed with for his first official photo shoot. I recently had a conversation with Samantha, during which she explained exactly what goes into each mummysam creation.
Please introduce yourself and what you make.
My name is Samantha Cotterill, and I am the creator of mummysam. Mummysam came about as I began to reintroduce art into my daily life after having set aside my painting career to start a family. Two very active boys later, I came up with mummysam in order to tap into that part of myself that was ready to show itself again. After a few sketchy (well, very sketchy) attempts at creating some felt toys, I finally got a handle on the new medium and set out on creating pieces that were completely unique to my own sensibilities. I now have a line of houses (mainly town homes), dolls, wall hangings, and prints that are all made out of 100% wool felt and stuffed with pure wool.
Why 100% wool felt?
It’s a natural fiber, it’s pure, free of chemicals, and just amazing to work with. It adds a quality to the work that suggests more permanence, that the piece will be around long after I am done creating…
What inspires you and your craft?
The combination of influences may seem puzzling, but it works great for me. Richard Scarry has been a part of my life since childhood, and I have fond memories of sitting for hours just absorbed in his “scenes.” I am very much attracted to any work with a great sense of line work, and the simplicity with which he draws images has always inspired me. This can’t be expressed without also mentioning the work of Shel Silverstein and Jim Dine (yes, seems a bit strange to mention both in one sentence?) It’s all about the line work… lines that exist in the background and foreground. I try to implement this into my sewing, and create pieces that appear more drawn by hand than done on machine.
Shel Silverstein was introduced to me by my wife and now serves as a great option when at bedtime my son asks for “Just one more story… Please?” When all of these influences are combined I can definitely see the connection to your characters.
The dolls – if I dare call them that – are all one-of-a-kind. How connected do you feel to each one? For example, do you ever think about the homes they travel to once purchased?
As much as I have tried to do multiples of one object, I find it nearly impossible to do them the same. The cut out pieces of felt may all start out the same, but once I start free-motion stitching the pieces, each one takes on its own identity. Certain windows need panes, others need shutters… they become very individual. It’s through this process that they develop a personality and consequently get their name. I had a very hard time sending off the first piece I had made, especially since he was traveling overseas to France. It was then that I realized an emotional connection had been made, and this was no longer just a piece of felt and cotton manipulated into the form of a doll.
I imagine them all being members of some rural backyard clubhouse. Do Teamus, Lilly, Lindsey and the rest of the mummysam gang know each other?
You would think so, but if I am being honest, my son likes any name that has an “ee” sound at the end, hence lilly, tilly, milly… the other names given are ones axed by my husband when we were coming up with names for our own two boys. I guess this is one way to get the last word in. I do picture all of these dolls having met each other at some point in their childhood, whether it be the playground or school, local bakery, etc. Many of the boys’ figures have a schoolboy feel, and that has been a main focus of mine since I started painting.
Since kids are the end-users, what considerations were made in designing these items?
Well, I first need to mention that each doll has to be approved by the 5-year-old man in charge. He is very quick to point out what works and what doesn’t, and will often “suggest” what I should create next (as well as pricing, yet I haven’t quite been able to commit to charging 19 coins for each piece). Ultimately though, my goal is to create something that is simple enough in design for kids to understand visually and tough enough to last a lifetime of play.
The muted earthen tones take me to a wooded shore at dusk. Do you find yourself creating these characters in the mornings or evenings?
With two very active boys in the house, work is nearly impossible to complete without constant interruption until the evening after the kids have drifted off into deep slumber. With a strong cup of tea in hand (then two more to follow immediately), I am able to retreat into my studio and sew into the wee hours. It is definitely a compromise to my body clock, but well worth sacrificing some sleep in order to have a few hours of complete concentration. As for the color choices, there does appear to be a relation with the time of day I create and the colors of my pieces. I have never thought about that before. I do know there is a conscious decision to choose colors that bring a European sensibility to each piece. Having been born in England, I have a strong sensitivity to a certain aesthetic that you can only find there.
When you’re not busy conjuring new friends and environments what are you doing?
I am a busy stay-at-home mum trying to give the boys the growing experience I had as a child. Days are filled creating, playing, and communicating with each other. We have traded the T.V. for puppet shows and simple play. Of course these ultimately lead to my other pleasure… sitting on the couch in the quiet of the evening with a glass of red wine and some good chocolate embedded with blueberries and walnuts.
My closing question is always: Who will you pass your craft on to?
Well, I think that has already been done to my five year old. I wish I could say my soon-to-be three year old as well, but his only interest in crayons is seeing how many pieces of furniture and rugs he can mark before mummy notices. My five year old, on the other hand, has already sewn houses of his own. He loves picking out the colors and fabrics for his designs, and has expressed very strong interest in setting up his own etsy shop (appropriately named “wheat boy,” as according to him, he likes everything wheat). Grandma has already purchased two sculptures for $11. Now that he has pretty much finished napping, we like to spend that time one-on-one creating together. He loves learning anything related to crafting and art, and I love sharing that with him.