Who said crochet was boring?

John Lennon

John Lennon, Beatles collection

Everyone has a favourite toy from their childhood. If Miranda Saccaro had started her activity in the early 80’s this lovely John Lennon puppet would have definitely be mine.
Born in 1982, this unconventional italian designer I’m introducing to you, after a stop-motion animation workshop with illustrator and director Stefano Bessoni, started developing a passion for plushies and dolls, which she makes, like old grannies used to, crocheting and knitting. The results are cute, retro -and very cool- characters which surely will be a highlight on everybody’s shelf!

GM: First big issue: toys are for kids or nostalgic adults? Who’s your target customer?

MS: That’s THE question! Being a nostalgic adult, I would instinctively choose the latter option. I think children are able to turn almost everything into a toy, because they are like a bottomless abyss in terms of imagination, creativity and ability to daydream and build a world of their own. And I think that the nostalgia that drives people to toys is actually a sort of deep longing for that state of mind. So, to be short, I think I try to interact with nostalgic adults, bearing in mind that feeling of being a child and having the whole world as a big playground.

GM: Where does your passion for toys come from?

MS: The answer to the first question is, in general, what has recently been driving me towards them, this kind of nostalgia, I mean. Toymaking is actually quite a new discovery for me, but it basically comes from childhood memories, the possibility of creating small fascinating worlds with their own rules which can be very different from the rules operating in the world we live in.

Paul Mc Cartney

Paul Mc Cartney, Beatles collection

GM: We would like to know what inspires you to create your collections.

MS: Well, mainly music and funny images; like insights about funny stuff juxtaposed with creepy things; their contrast creates a kind of irony that really resonates with me.  And in this kind of mood, the main inspiration for a lot of characters, came at first from music (and I must admit the earlier projects are still on the go, I am extremely slow, as I like seeing how the characters develop in time, so for me the process would be virtually endless).  And also obviously the random thoughts and associations, what happens during the day, the people I meet, the things I see or admire: all of this somewhat leaks into them.

GM: Tell us more about your “Heads and Beheaders” collection and its paradoxical mix of toys’ innocence, creepy situations and vintage crochet.

MS: I actually do not remember exactly how it came out, this series of plushies showing famous beheaders paired with the heads they allegedly cut off. As I said above, I am fascinated by the sharp contrast between blood and macabre images on one side and cute things, the gentle softness of wool, etc. on the other, and above all the blurred line where the two merge. And all of a sudden this idea came out,  of having these big severed heads – like the terrifying ones  you can see in all those classic paintings – as being toy-like, soft and somewhat goofy. And the beheaders  which are much smaller than the heads. The first couple to be conceived was the one of Medusa and Perseus, which was then followed by other two couples (Goliath and David and Holophernes and Judith) – all coming from a sort of classical/biblical  iconography. I used to watch all the old paintings about those subjects, for reference: sometimes those images seemed to be everywhere around me. I love to put the ‘odd one out’ into this kind of  group, and so Marie Antoinette and Dr Guillotin sprung out. Their relationship with each other is quite different and more physically detached than the others’ ones, in fact he is not blood-stained unlike the others?. I can say making every one of them has been great!

Perseo and Medusa, Heads and Beheaders collection

Davide e Golia

Goliath and David, Heads and Beheaders collection

Maria Antonietta

Marie Antoniette and Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, Heads and Beheaders collection

GM: Your puppets are hand-made and limited edition pieces, and therefore simultaneously art objects and consumer goods. How do you manage to serve both creative and commercial goals?

MS: Well, at the beginning there is just me, aiming at making something, and then it’s the thing itself taking shape. So I am completely absorbed in the making process, and I honestly do not think about the commercial side of the matter. Crocheting, especially when you start from something that’s in your mind, having to deal with a prototype to be refined day by day, trying to reach the shape you want to reach, choosing the grain, the colours, the texture you want for your piece, and also dealing with something more subtle like the tension you give to your piece which is different every time you grab your work in your hand, is something really slow, and ever-changing, and unpredictable. So I would not talk about commercial goals, because it is not what I have in mind when crafting.

GM: Which toy or game do you like as an adult? And which one do you remember the most from your childhood?

MS: I remember having so much fun with Lego, plastic animals, small soldiers, cowboys and indians. I was mostly on the boys’ side of the playground, actually. I did not like dolls that much, I had a long-lasting love-hate relationship with them. When I was a kid I dreaded most of the dolls I had around, as I found them disturbing, and I somewhat came to terms with them as an adult, basically accepting  their being disturbing.  Instead I used to love drawing, coloring, cutting and pasting stuff, modelling clay. Later – much later, to be honest – I re-discovered toys’ quality of being characters with a fully devoloped personality. I love Blythe dolls, for example, because each one of them seems to have a personality of her own and a sort of melancholic aura. And I love the old Pin y Pon characters because they are so old-fashioned and cute.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, XIX Century Bearded Charles

Karl Marx, XIX Century Bearded Charles

GM: How can a toy be played with over and over again and always be considered a classic?

MS: If we can set aside for a moment an important factor like advertising, which is crucial but cannot work on its own, I think that a toy survives throughout different generations on the grounds of the possibility to build up stories about it, to the extent it allows or helps one’s imagination to grow freely. And this is somewhat passed on from parents to children, and so we are always emotionally linked to the same kind of things. Toys become a sort of icon, bearing a kind of collective memory.

GM: What are the lifelong benefits of playing in human development?

MS: They are countless, for me, first and foremost the fact that playing develops lateral thinking, helps you find unexpected solutions, but it is also fun and makes you feel good, which is the most important reason why people play. You can understand things better, because it gives you a sort of separate place in which you can put your mind, drain off the bad things,  and be distracted while you are actually focusing on things from a different point of view. It also gives you freedom to express feelings and emotions. And set also a different relationship with time, draws a dimension in which you can be as idle as you might want.

GM: What are the skills a toy designer needs and what advice would you give to those interested in undertaking such activity?

MS: I just think that a kind of fruitful and fulfilling approach, especially in something like that, would be never stop having fun with what you make and never stop learning and experimenting, both on the technical and conceptual aspects of your activity.

You can contact Miranda Saccaro by e-mail at miranda.saccaro@gmail.com