Ever made a gift for a child and worried that maybe it wasn’t as sturdy as it could’ve been? Maybe you’ve woken up at night wondering, “Were those seams really sewing tightly enough?” “Did I remember to double knot the embroidery floss when I stitched the eyes?” “Is that tail really securely attached?”
Anyone who makes softies for young children has these concerns. If a child really latches on to a toy you’ve made they’re going to be pretty rough with it. It may end up in the crib where a curious baby will pull hard on its tail and chew on its ears. Inevitably it’ll get dirty and have to be washed, probably multiple times over the years.
In many countries, there are government regulations about toy safety that dictate the kinds of materials toys can be made from, the quality of the production, and the size and shape of small parts that could be choking hazards. These laws generally only apply to mass-produced toys. But perhaps home-based softie businesses should be held to the same standards.
I chatted about this topic with Dawn Treacher, a softie-maker in York, England, who has made it her mission to comply with UK toy safety standards. Dawn’s business is Treacher Creatures. She makes adorable sock animals from her home studio.
Treacher Creatures by Dawn Treacher
Dawn opened an Etsy shop to sell her softies in 2010. A year later a wave a panic descended on UK-based toy makers as they learned that in order to legally sell toys, even handmade softies sold in an online shop, they’d have to conduct comprehensive safety testing on each design.
Treacher Creatures by Dawn Treacher.
Many closed shop altogether, but Dawn decided to comply with the new CE testing (CE stands for Conformité Européenne, a French term that translates as European Conformity). She joined a Facebook group of other softie makers who were going through the same transition, learned what needed to be done, and did it.
Safety testing meant lots of paperwork, but it also meant lighting prototype toys on fire,
hanging them from hooks with weights attached to test the seams
washing and drying them, and then testing again.
In our 30 minute talk, Dawn tells the story of how mandatory testing standards has changed her business, for better and worse. Learn how to make your own softies safer for young children and decide whether you think government safety standards for toys should apply to home-based businesses.
Learn more about CE Testing on the CE Support page on Facebook. You’ll find links there to the sock animals group, the knit and crochet group, the dolls group, and more. Find out about the home testing pack Dawn and others are using on the Conformance website.
And be sure to check out Dawn’s Etsy shop and follow Treacher Creatures on Facebook.
Dawn makes a great point that sometimes toys we buy at the store sometimes fall apart.
The photos of the softies that’d been lit on fire break my heart! I kind of wonder if all that’s necessary, or if there could be less stringent guidelines for home businesses that would be safe enough. Nothing ever beats supervising your small children, so if you’re smart about not giving babies and young toddlers items with choking hazards, and if you repair seams if you notice they’re weak (what safety hazard does a small seam tear pose… are we worried about them eating the stuffing?) then I think kids are very largely going to be fine.
I like the standards for huge businesses that are mass producing toys, after all, the percentage of work time and materials sacrificed in relationship to the number of toys they sell is much less than it is for a home business. And they’re more likely to be cutting corners since a few pennies saved for them adds up more than it does for a quality home business sewing or knitting many fewer items.
More power to Dawn for making the switch to compliance!
Me, I’ll just try to encourage my kiddos not to light their hand-knit stuffed toys on fire or rip them open to eat poly-fil.
I haven’t listened yet but I did go to the Facebook page. I am still wondering if it’s possible to avoid all this altogether by stating ‘not suitable for under 36 months’?
Unfortunately the Toy Safety Regulations in the UK are very clear that all soft filled toys designed for children must be suitable from birth.
You raise some good points here, Kelly. Nothing beats close supervision for sure. And the onus doesnt seem so large for a big manufacturer, whereas a small home-based maker really has to use precious time and resources to comply with these regulations. My bet is the majority of people simply arent complying at all, and Dawn seems to feel that this is true as well. And since there doesnt seem to be any enforcement for small makers, why would they?
True! I think if you buy a Treacher Creature you can rest assured that it will not only be adorable, but very well made!
Great interview. It is a really difficult issue though. When you say near the end, Abby, that Dawn is choosing to err on the side of caution by testing her toys, I’m not sure that’s really right. She’s not just being cautious, she’s abiding by the law. Those people in the UK who make stuffed animals and sell them as toys are breaking the law.
The difficulty, I think, is that many of them don’t realise this. When I was looking into making toys for children, I emailed several people on Etsy and Folksy to ask them how they managed to make their toys compliant. Those that responded simply said that they didn’t know anything about any regulations; they hadn’t done any special tests, but they believed that their toys were safe.
Regarding the selling of soft sculpture not intended for children, it is my understanding that you can do this within certain limits. (I sell collectible teddy bears.) You must make it clear that they’re not meant for children. This may include a label saying ‘not suitable for children’ but that, in itself, is not enough. Making an item look like it’s meant to appeal to children will count against you. As presumably, will a low toy-like price. With my bears, they are fairly highly priced – because they’re made in mohair, but also because they take a long time to make – they all have ‘not suitable for children’ labels, and I have further signs explaining that they have nut and bolt joints, and the eyes are only sewn in, etc, etc – all things to alert parents who might be considering buying them for kids.
I was one of the people who looked at the toy safety regulations and gave up before they started. But well done to Dawn for persevering. In the UK, we need more interviews like this – more information within the crafting community. It still irks me that craft magazines print patterns for toys, with no mention of toy safety.
Poop! Can I just amend my first paragraph in the comment above? Those people in the UK who make stuffed animals and sell them as toys *without testing them* are breaking the law.
Thats interesting that UK craft magazines print patterns for toys meant for children without mention of toy safety. I wonder what the law states about that. Thanks for listening, Ruth, and thank you for your thoughts on this issue.
very interesting thanks, however i wonder if you could tell me how you get the en71-3 regulation covered regarding the different socks and how do i go about getting the info i need from sock people do i write/email retailers in the first instance. i hope you can help as the rest of the tests have been covered and passed.
Denise I am a member of the CE sock toy support group. We have sent over 16 brands of socks to independent testing houses to test them for part 3 chemical migration. These socks cover a whole spectrum of sock compositions and colours sold in high street socks so include fluffy, metal thread, high cotton, high polyester, neon colours, welly socks etc.We have followed advice from the testing house that if we test a whole range of socks and none fail and in fact are way way lower that all set limits then we can use “due dilligence” to argue as small producers we have done all that is reasonably expected to comply with the Regulations. This is still very expensive, with tests for eadch brand being approximately £55 now but as a group we have clubbed together to cover these costs. Please feel free to pop along to the support group and join in. : https://www.facebook.com/groups/CEmarkedsocktoyssupportnetwork/
The new part 3 standard has just come into force from 20th July 2013 so we are now in the process of having all brands of socks re-tested to the new standard, Europe now requires us to test for 17 heavy metals now instead of the original 8.