Russian-born Valentina Karpenko is the mastermind behind the young small business Pink Basket, for which she creates a menagerie of distinctive, appealing, and personality-filled toy creatures. Valentina says “If you would like to see the face of cuteness you should have a look at my soft toys for sure!”
What do you make?
I make cute soft toys out of cotton baby socks. I create my own patterns for all my creatures – that makes them pretty unique and different.
How did you get into your craft?
I have been into crafts since my childhood. Mum taught me how to sew, my auntie gave me knitting lessons and lots of other crafts I have learnt myself. I can’t remember a day in my life without making something with my hands!
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I prefer natural materials – cotton socks that I use for my toys are perfect for this purpose. My favourite tool is my sewing machine which I love dearly, and I am very demanding as to the quality of my working scissors.
Tell us about some of the the techniques involved in producing one of your toys
Although I use a sewing machine for attaching some details together, most of my working process is good old hand-sewing. I find it actually quite relaxing to sit in the evenings with a needle and thread and making a little magic, turning ordinary socks into cute creatures.
What inspires you?
Most of my toys were inspired by customers. I really love to be challenged and feel very excited when people ask me to create something completely new. This is how the Sloth, Butterfly, Cow, Ladybug and many other toys were born. I even went so far as to try and made several toys based on children’s drawings – this project has been quite successful and I am planning to continue this experience.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I just want to make people smile. Nowadays we get too much information and too many causes to worry about. So if my sleepy, dreamy smiling toys give someone a reason to smile I believe it makes our world better, even for a tiny little bit.
I can’t remember a day in my life without making something with my hands!
Describe your creative process:
Firstly I create a draft for a toy if I make it for the first time. This involves thinking over how to place different parts and bits of a pattern using the sock’s shape wisely. Then all the parts need to be cut and sewn together. I stuff heads and bodies with a fluffy polyester filling (it requires some skills as I want the shape of the toy to be perfect). Then I add small bits like ears, tails, and embroider my ‘signature’ – a sweet sleeping smiling face.
Also the huge part of the process is searching of new materials. Sometimes I get very excited when I find new bright and funky socks and try to imagine what animals or characters could come out of them!
Describe your workspace:
My craft room is smaller than I would love it to be, though I try hard to keep it tidy and organised. Anyway I’m lucky to have my own space for work as I know how annoying it might be for the family to be surrounded by craft supplies all over the house. I am still struggling to find a perfect storage system for my expanding stock of materials and products.
Five words that describe your mind:
Creative, scrupulous, watchful, determined, positive
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I am lucky to have lots of loyal customers, some of them kindly send me photos of their babies with Sleeping Buddies and let me use them on social media. But the most lovely and memorable feedback I’ve got came from a mother of a toddler who was struggling to get into a new routine starting a daycare. She told me that she tried several toys to calm him down but nothing worked until Sleeping Bunny arrived. The child and the bunny have been inseparable since then and the mum was very grateful. Such moments make me believe that I’m doing the right thing.
What are you currently listening to?
I’m not into music much, actually I prefer to listen audiobooks. What could be better than a classic detective story (like Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers) while you are doing some needle work?
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I was a keen reader as a child (in fact as an adult I love reading too) so I cannot pick out just one book. All romantic and adventurous books like The Headless Horseman, Captain Grant’s Children, or Tarzan were my good friends and I can’t wait until I will be able to read them to my children (though they both are of a school age we still have a tradition of bedtime reading in our family).
A favourite quote:
Better an “Oops!” than a “What if…?”
Tell us about your pets:
I have just one cat – a fluffy tabby ball of fur who enjoys being the centre of attention. We adopted her 18 months ago and now she is totally our pet, sometimes I even think of her as of my third child. She is rather an outside person, wandering around the house a lot, though she is very social and loves to be with people. There is just one strict rule for her in our house – she’s not allowed to my craft room (though she does her best to seize the opportunity and slip inside)!
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Needlewoman – who can turn every single piece of cloth into a cute creature.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
I would recommend you to start your business adventure if you answer “yes” for these three questions:
1. Do you enjoy the process of making your product? Just imagine you do it day after day, several hours every day, not just when you are ‘in the mood’… how do you feel about that?
2. Are you confident about the quality of your product? Of course we are always learning but to start selling your stuff you must be 100% sure that your product is secure and harmless to use.
3. Do you have enough patience and persistence? It might take longer than you expect to start making some profit out of your business, be ready for that.
…if my sleepy, dreamy smiling toys give someone a reason to smile I believe it makes our world better, even for a tiny little bit.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I just bought a couple of handmade vases from my good friend and customer. She owns the pottery and makes the most adorable things! Keeping in mind that she’s the mother of baby twins I cannot imagine how busy she must be. I am going to use those vases for photo props and they also will look great in a bedroom filled with garden flowers.
What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
I think of adding a couple more Christmas related items and I have several new collections of socks that wait for their turn to become lovely critters.
Valentina has very kindly offered an adorable prize for one lucky Felt reader of this sweet Sleeping Buddy Bat, valued at $25.00 (see above) – just in time for Halloween! This little handmade soft toy bat is very soft, friendly, and not the slightest bit frightening. 🙂
Valentina’s Sleeping Buddies are perfect for kids, being soft but firmly stuffed to keep a good shape, with double hand-stitched seams for safety. They contain no buttons or beads which could be swallowed by young children.
To be in to win this cute prize, simply leave a comment telling us what you loved about Valentina’s story and her creature creations. The draw will be made on Friday 20 October and is open to New Zealand residents only.