Medium-sized Binding Babies. You can also order customized Binding Babies or Buddies (the male version), choosing different hairstyles, clothing and skin color.

Photos courtesy of Doohikey Designs

As Christmas of 2015 approached Shari Butler, 41, was grieving. Her hopes of having a child had been dashed by another miscarriage. An artist through and through, she turned to creativity for solace and decided to make a gift for a friend. Butler had been designing fabric for Riley Blake Fabrics for nine years by then and her friend, Jina Barney, was the design director at the company. In her studio she glued a wooden bead to a wooden spool and painted it to look like a doll. “I wrapped [quilt] binding around the spool and I wanted to give it to her for storage for a shelf,” she recalls. The resulting handmade figurine was an adorable and useful sewing notion.

Barney was enamored with the gift. “My heart skipped a beat. I knew she had come up with a brilliant idea,” she recalls. She encouraged Shari to make more, telling her friend, “You should take this to Quilt Market and see what you can do with it.”

Shari and Dan Butler

Butler’s spirits were raised and she decided to go for it. “I took it to Spring Market in Salt Lake City and I had it as a decoration on the shelf in the Riley Blake booth. I thought, ‘We’ll just see what people say.’ I really didn’t think of it as a product at that point, but people were like, ‘I want one.’” Another friend took one look at the spool doll and gave it a name: Binding Baby.

The Butlers live 20 minutes away from the convention center and they headed home after the show’s opening day with their heads full of new ideas for how to further develop Binding Babies into a product. “We took it home and used a saw to create a slot in the legs because we thought you needed something to gather and hold the binding,” Butler recalls. Her husband, Dan, who works as a technician for DirectTV, is handy with tools and got to work. “We wrapped the binding around it, put a clip and pin on it, and brought it back the next day. People were going even more wild over it,” she says.

That’s when the Butlers knew they were sitting on a product with potential. “We started trying to figure out what we were going to do for manufacturing, but that took a while,” Shari recalls. “We wanted to keep the momentum going so in October we launched the Binding Babies on my website.”

Each piece was made by hand and in the eight months that followed Shari, with the help of a local friend, made and sold over 9,000 Binding Babies online.

Meanwhile the couple filed for a patent on the product and, through a friend of a friend, connected with an agent overseas who had the knowhow to research and vet a factory on their behalf. Shari drew a CAD file indicating how the wooden bodies and heads should be made and painted.

Dan Butler carves the slot in the wooden spools to hold the end of the binding in place.
Over the course of eight months Shari Butler hand painted and sold over 9,000 Binding Babies.
A Binding Baby in action. Wrapped with quilt binding, it sits on your spool pin and unrolls as you attach the binding to your quilt.

She also got to work designing the packaging. Her first packaging concept was a box house the doll could sit inside, but that was cost prohibitive so she worked with the factory’s suggestion of using a round PVC print. “People love it because you can see the product without having to take it out of the box. Stores love that because then it just sells itself,” she says. A plastic insert that fits between the legs holds the Binding Baby in place and a sponge on top of the head keeps it snug inside the box. The medium-sized factory-produced Binding Baby retails for $15.95, the same price as the handmade version.

Last month Shari’s company, Doohikey Designs, had its own booth at Quilt Market for the first time. A few weeks earlier the couple had a booth at a consumer quilt show in Utah, an experience that Shari says was tremendously helpful in refining the layout of their booth for the trade show. “It was great to do our demo there first because then we were able to move the desk out so people could walk around and feel more comfortable in the booth.”

Shari asked several sewing machine companies to partner with her for Quilt Market and was grateful when Bernina offered to help. “They said what they had available was the Cotton + Steel one. I was able to go in on Thursday on setup day and grab the machine and practice before Quilt Market opened.” Demonstrations are imperative for a product that isn’t immediately self-explanatory, Butler emphasizes. “We did Sample Spree and you can’t really demo anything. Some people purchased without really knowing how to use it,” she said. “When they actually came to the booth they could see it live in action.”

“It’s an easy way for the binding to not be on the floor anymore, around your neck. It’s keeping it clean and tidy as you’re sewing on your binding,” Butler says.

After doing a consumer show Shari Butler realized she should pull out the desk used for demonstrations so that people could more easily get behind it.

While at the show several major distributors picked up the product and the Butlers wrote a slew of wholesale orders from shops. Their next task is to create a wholesale area on the Doohikey Designs website.

Thus far, the couple has financed this enterprise entirely on their own. “It is a risk, but from excitement we got at Quilt Market I don’t think it’s a bad risk,” Shari says. They’re considering launching a crowdfunding campaign in order to expand the business into other specialty sewing notions. Recently they added Binding Baby jars and a ruler holder and they have plans for more. “We’re really trying to do a lot of this on our own, but it is getting a little overwhelming with all the new products we want to do,” Shari laughs.

Shari is continuing to design fabrics and describes her style as “vintage with a modern twist.” Sweet Bee Designs, a new Canadian fabric company, will manufacture her next fabric collection. At the same time she’ll be working to grow Doohikey Designs into a specialty sewing notions company and talks excitedly about its future as well as her own.

Her friend, Jina Barney, the recipient of the first Binding Baby, says of Shari’s journey, “There have been many disappointments and people who believed in her and people who scoffed at her. I have watched Shari persevere and continue to believe in herself. She has not only launched a new product into the craft and quilting industry, but she has brought life and purpose back to herself. These Binding Babies represent so much more than the cute wood object you see. They are symbolic of everything that can give us a reason to continue living and working hard to make it happen.”

Binding Baby jars are a new Doohikey Designs notion.

Binding Babies: Floating a Prototype Prior to Production

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