Welcome to the July edition of ‘Mixtape Monday’, our last-Monday-of-the month burst of inspiration. This month, Suzy Small, by way of Justine at Mixtape Zine, brings us the fabulous story of Bianca Brownlow and The Toy Society.
(You can read previous Mixtape Monday posts here.)
Imagine trudging down a city street. It’s the end of the day, you’re tired. Maybe you’re thinking about work or what you’ll cook for dinner. Suddenly something catches your eye. A shiny bag, tied to a pole, with something colourful inside. On closer inspection, it’s a quirky handmade toy . . . with a tag saying, ‘Take me home!’ All of a sudden, your boring walk home has turned into something unique and special.
When Bianca Brownlow (of sadieandlance.blogspot.com) started the Toy Society in June 2008, she had no idea that her project would take off so quickly. Part of the appeal is its simplicity. Anyone who wants to take part can make a soft toy and then leave it in a public space for a lucky passer-by to find. Photos of the drops are posted on The Toy Society website (thetoysociety.blogspot.com), and finders are encouraged to email when they discover a toy.
For Bianca, The Toy Society is a way of combining her love of craft with a desire to add something to the city. ‘I really wanted to contribute something to the streetscape; I love the Melbourne alleys full of amazing
art amongst the garbage hoppers.’
Bianca also wanted to make people more aware of their surroundings. ‘I decided I wanted to use the toys to create a something-for-nothing experience that encouraged people to engage and take notice of their surroundings.’
At the beginning, Bianca thought she would just make and drop the toys herself, but as soon as The Toy Society blog was launched a steady stream of people began to make contact, wanting to be involved. There is now a rapidly growing The Toy Society mailing list, and toys have been dropped in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, Paris, Amsterdam, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
A wide variety of people have joined up, and not just those who already think of themselves as crafty. Christmas 2008 saw the biggest The Toy Society event yet, with 150 people taking part in a synchronised toy drop around the world.
One reason that The Toy Society has taken off so quickly is that it offers different things to different people.
As Bianca says, ‘Some people are really taken by the guerilla aspect of it, the secret society kind of thing. Others see it as a thing for kids and they love the idea of being a toy fairy, while some are really focused on leaving toys for underprivileged people.Some people want to experience the whole process – from making to dropping – with their kids to teach them about sharing and doing kind things for people “just because”. I really like that the project has morphed into a bigger purpose than what I initially intended. Overall though, regardless of the purpose people see for the project, I think it’s the “something for nothing” aspect that people love and are responding to, and the fact that they get to see someone enjoying their creations.’
Sydney-based Belinda Andresson (tuttifruiti.blogspot.com) has contributed three toys for drops, and for her, the best part is ‘when you hear that your toy has been found and the person has taken the time to respond.’
For another contributor, Meeka Stuart (meekascreations.blogspot.com) from Ottawa, the highlight is planning the perfect hiding place for dropping her toys. As well as making toys herself, Meeka has introduced a group of Canadian Cubs and Scouts to the Toy Society. She admits, ‘I was a little nervous at the begining, I wasn’t sure how the Scouts would react to the “sewing portion” of the project. But they loved it.’ The Scouts have even set up their own blog (thirdottawa.blogspot.com) to document the project.
It seems that no one is immune to the power of a cute little toy and sharing some handmade love. And in these turbulent times it’s more precious than ever to be able to spread a bit of joy with a something-for-nothing experience.
Anyone can be part of The Toy Society. You can make a toy and send it to Bianca, who will organise a drop. Or you can make a toy and drop it in your own city. The best way to get all the details (including files for making your own tags and letters) is to read the blog – thetoysociety.blogspot.com – or email email@example.com. There is also a The Toy Society Fan page on Facebook, and group on Flickr where you can see photos of some of the toys that have been dropped so far.
About Suzy Small: Suzy is a full-time mum and part-time graphic designer. She has a very short attention span and likes to move to different countries. In her spare time (ha!) she sews, knits and prints things. She is currently trying to grow tomatoes.
This article can be found in issue 8 of Mixtape Zine. You can buy current and back-catalogue issues of Mixtape here (the current issue is limited-edition hard-copy (currently only 20 copies left of issue 8!); back-catalogue issues are available in PDF only.)