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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”