We recently talked to Gwen Rucker, creator of HappyGwensday – a cute company that makes embroidered custom toys and keepsakes for all ages.
You make custom embroidered toys for “kids of all ages.” We love this and agree 100%! What is your favorite design so far and how did you come up with the idea?
My favorite design is probably still the first one I ever made, the Strong Man. After I began learning embroidery I really wanted a medium to produce it in. I just happened to have some red and white pinstripe fabric that I had been holding onto forever and the idea to make an old-timey circus weightlifter spawned. It took a long time to stitch the first one, I think a week and a half, but I was so excited to turn him right side out and stuff him that I knew right then and there that I had to keep doing it. Now that first doll, full of pen marks and bad stitching and lumpy from my first attempts at stuffing is my pin cushion. He’s my right-hand man and I use him every day.
Can you tell us a little bit of your background and lead us up to the idea and decision to start your business.
Does everyone always know what they want to be when they grow up? I never did, but I have always loved making things.
I lived work life for about eight years helping to run a lab for an orthodontist. I bent wires, poured and trimmed plaster models, crafted acrylic retainers, and generally helped save the smiles of North Texas (we really love teeth here, we’re made of all teeth and big hair). But after I learned all these skills I started to yearn for more, so I did the going thing: I went to night school.
I took up graphic design and found my creativity again. I began working for a large chemical company based in my town. I laid out all their product labels and helped run their print shop, I started campaigns to draw employees in to bring me their creative projects, “let me design your baby shower announcement” I’d eagerly email.
I made advertisements for our little print shop and put them in the corporate elevators, I did everything I could to stay creative, but it just wasn’t right, I couldn’t scratch that itch. Feeling very lost, I had quit my job after landing a new one– and then it happened–that new job opportunity fell through and there I was with no job.
I admit I had a pity party for myself, sitting around going why did I leave everything that was good and safe and came with a paycheck, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go back even as scared as I was. I decided to put a positive spin on it and dubbed 2017 the year of Gwen. I vowed to take up new forms of art I had always admired. Enter embroidery. I taught myself some basic stitches from tutorials online and that —was. It. Have you ever had a moment in your life where everything came together and the stars aligned and its like someone simultaneously offered you a hug AND a cookie?! I found myself remembering my lab mentor teaching me wire bending at the orthodontist: “each place the wire leaves the tooth mark it and make a small bend” and applying this muscle memory to stitches. I thought back to night school when we talked about colors and their relationships with one another and applied those principles to my pieces. I had found my place and I was determined to make it permanent, Happy Gwensday organically formed from there. Like I said, the Strong Man was my first doll, then a camel with a fez, then a llama. I started getting requests to make things for my friends and their kids so I opened my Etsy shop officially calling it Happy Gwensday, a phrase I have used since my high school days. My shop and dolls are full of color and texture and puns, three aspects that probably describe me just as well!
Was there someone in your family that inspired you and did they help teach you some of your skills?
I was an only child until the age of twelve so as you can imagine I spent a lot of time playing quietly alone. Every holiday and birthday was always filled with craft supplies or new project ideas and I would spend countless hours crafting. I come from a line of makers, my father and his brothers were all expert woodworkers in youth and my mother is an amazing baker, I have art and wood pieces all over my house made by family members of both mine and my husband. I remember my dad taught me how to do a running stitch and a back stitch to make drawstring bags when I was about eight.
Your designs – every single time – make us smile. What makes you happy?
So many things make me happy, I try to appreciate the little things in life. I love a good design that can still manage to be simple, I love LOVE colors (I don’t know if you’ve noticed) and the way they can influence you. I love places with history, we have some amazing museums in DFW and it is simply awe-inspiring to walk the halls next to paintings decades sometimes centuries old. Age changes things in a way you can never re-create and I think that is so beautiful.
Customers can request a custom item… what are some ideas or past items that people have requested.
I have embroidered matching bride and groom dolls for a wedding that featured the couple’s initials as tattoos on the dolls. Also, I don’t think many people realize it but I made a unicorn for Kacey Musgraves to give to her flower girl when she got married. After she contacted me I got the idea to design her a matching ring bearer pillow that utilized her wedding colors and featured the bride and groom’s names. I would love to make more monsters like my sasquatch and I also really love my Luchador wrestler and need to make a villain to fight him!
Describe your studio to us. Is there a certain feeling you get when you are there that help you create?
My workspace is my favorite part of the house, it is painted a relaxing faded sea glass and even though the room is a colorful feeling, most of the color comes from my work supplies. Just like the rest of my house, there is a healthy mixture of old pieces sprinkled into modern ones. One of my favorite paintings, a watercolor of a woman’s face, hangs in my sightline and a plush thick rug rests underfoot. Overall, it feels light and airy and welcoming, which is very needed because I end up spending most of the day there.
How long does it take to make a toy? What part is the hardest and what is the easiest?
The time it takes varies on the doll types but it can be anywhere from 10-20 hours per doll. The unicorns take the longest, usually a day to embroider the details (I pick a good show to binge on these days), then the next day I measure out the mane and tail and put those and the horn together, then sew and stuff. I purchased an embroidery machine at the end of 2017 and now I’ve written most of my designs into embroidery stitch patterns. Most people don’t know you can do this, but I purchased an embroidery writing software called Embird that I absolutely love! You can take any design and pull it into their studio software and convert it to stitches, and they have a lot of ways to customize, my background in working with design software has definitely paid off in that area!
It’s so hard to ever pick one song. Currently, I’ve been playing Ten Twenty Ten by Generationals and We Built This City by Starship when I need to get pumped up, Fantasy by DYE when I need to feel creative, and The Less I Know the Better by Tame Impala and At the River by Groove Armada when I feel mellow.
Favorite place to vacation?
I visited Palm Springs for the first time a few years ago, we stayed at the Parker for our honeymoon and it was amazing I couldn’t get over all the vintage 60s touches everywhere. Sadly we came during the hottest part of the season but somehow the backdrop of 60s elegance just made the heat feel like a dreamy haze. I still think of our honeymoon and that pool when I listen to At the River.
( My husband and I eloped to Brooklyn and got married at the Wythe off one of their stunning balconies. These photos were taken right outside the hotel on the sidewalk in the middle of the day. Sooooo many people stopped to watch a crazy bride and groom just casually taking a stroll and getting their pictures taken!)
Where is your quiet place?
At home all alone on my sofa with a cup of coffee, preferably early morning during autumn
Night owl or morning person?
Oh my gosh, I get so much flack for this, my friends call me an old lady. I’m a morning person all the way, partly because I’ve NEVER been able to stay up late and partly from working early morning jobs for years. Ortho started at 7AM and my job after that had me rolling in at 6AM, nowadays I tend to wake up around 7 and can finally stay up until a shockingly adult time of 11PM! Seriously though, the time right before sunrise is the most tranquil time of day, something about being up while the rest of the world is still sleeping is magical, it’s like your own little secret.