ZOO OF PLUSH PATTERNS: Clifton woman finds success with ‘Snuggables’
A visit to Sonja Kent’s Clifton studio requires a lot of self-restraint. This is because the impulse isn’t to walk inside so much as take a running leap.
You want to take a running leap and land on the day bed that’s piled high with a plush, rainbow menagerie. Landing, you’d wiggle down into all that fluffiness, snuggling with a buffalo and a triceratops, a monkey, a giraffe, an elephant, a unicorn.
But this is not what visitors to Sonja Kent’s Clifton studio do. They think about it, but then walk demurely inside and squeal instead: Eeeee! So cute!
She understands. She’s been making her Snuggables stuffed animals for the better part of 10 years, and she’s still delighted, too. And the delight has spread: Kent sold two sets of her patterns to Simplicity. The first, Simplicity pattern 2394, was released in February 2010 and the second, Simplicity pattern 1930, was released last month. Both bear the Sonja’s Snuggables logo.
What began more than 40 years ago with a “D” in home economics has become a business and a passion, and people around the world — wherever Simplicity patterns are sold — can make giraffes and elephants and dogs that she designed.
“I’ll just starting thinking about it, and I’ll think, well, if I do this and I do this and this,” Kent explained of her design process. Like a master musician who doesn’t read music, she is a master seamstress who doesn’t read patterns. She envisions the item instead, sees how they would come together.
“(Patterns) just never made sense to me,” she said. “I didn’t understand them.”
Which probably explains the “D” in junior high home ec. She took the class and made exactly one dress, but it turned out terribly. The pattern, to her, was mystifying.
She didn’t think about sewing again until the early 1980s, when she began patching her husband, Gary’s, clothes, as well as her two sons’ and two daughters’ clothes. She got frequent practice on the seats of her sons’ jeans.
The family moved to Arkansas in 1987, and Kent bought a used Singer sewing machine. Because her husband, a truck driver, was on the road for four to six weeks at a time, she had a lot of free hours in the evening. She decided to try sewing again.
After a visit to the Wal-Mart in Berryville, she had fabric to make two quilts — “I thought, it can’t be that hard,” she recalled, laughing — and clothes for her kids. The quilts, mirror images of each other, turned out OK, but the clothes ... “they wore some really funny clothes sometimes,” she said.
Once again, life got in the way and Kent packed up her sewing machine. It wasn’t until 2002, as something to help her through sleepless nights after a serious accident, that she started sewing again.
Inspired by a friend with a disabled child, she made buddy mats that were quilted flannel on one side and bright fabric on the other. Never one to do things halfway, she made about 100 of them. Then, she saw another friend was making big, plush floor animals, and Kent decided to try.
She downsized the pattern, made a few rookie mistakes (cutting out pattern pieces one fabric layer at a time, so they were identical rather than opposite) and ended up with a cute little cow.
“My mother just loved it,” Kent said. She showed it to other people and they clamored for different animals.
“I said, well, I don’t know, but I bet I could do an elephant,” she remembered.
She looked at photos of real animals on the Internet, and started envisioning how she could create them from fleece and Fiberfill. In her mind, she could see the measurements and see each piece that would be needed, which she drew on paper — sketching, erasing, redrawing and finally cutting.
She was making a zoo-full of animals and giving them away when a friend suggested she try selling some at the craft fair in Battlement Mesa. She sold out. More craft fairs followed and always she was met with enthusiasm. The physical burden of the Christmas craft fair season became too much, so she began thinking about marketing her patterns.
Research followed, and February 2009 she submitted her first batch of patterns to Simplicity.
“They contacted me right back and asked me to send photos and samples, and they loved them,” Kent said.
There were second thoughts, she said, because these patterns were her creations and she’d worked so hard on them, but finally she signed the contract. The first patterns were published in February 2010, and by June 2010 about 4,000 copies had been sold. Six months later, the total was more than 9,000.
Kent receives 7 percent of the wholesale price and initially got a $350 dressmaking fee, but the checks she receives from Simplicity are not huge.
“I’m not going to get rich doing this,” she said.
Instead, she does it because she loves it. Her studio is lined with hundreds of pieces of fleece, plus notions, thread and, of course, the finished animals. Working on one of her two Pfaff sewing machines, she can, on a good day, make six Snuggables. She still sells them for $25 at craft fairs.
She and her daughter, Brandy Hillman, are planning a craft fair April 27–28 at the Clarion Inn in Grand Junction. Called Passion for Purple, part of the proceeds will benefit Relay for Life.
“I enjoy trying new things,” Kent said. “I’ll have an idea, and I just can’t help thinking of how it would go together, how I’d make it.”
For information on Sonja Kent’s Snuggables, go to http://www.sonjassnuggables.com.