Almost five years ago, Michelle Lyon turned some scraps of old chenille into a booming business making stuffed animals. Lyon, a mom of three in Raleigh, is next up in our Made by Mom Gift Guide.
Most people would have used the scraps to make a quilt, but Lyon wasn't interested in doing that. Instead, she she came up with her quirky creations that she calls Peculiar Pets.
"I draw a lot and everything I do is really cartoony," she tells me."So it was a natural."
Lyon began selling those first few Peculiar Pets at Knockabout, her store that featured handmade items and has since closed. But interest grew for the creatures. So Lyon began looking for more vintage chenille bedspreads to turn into stuffed animals, using only bedspreads that are torn, stained or damaged in some other way.
Eventually, Lyon went from selling Peculiar Pets at a handful of stores in the area to more than 100 stores across the country after hooking up with somebody to represent her at the major trade show New York International Gift Fair.
"They just really took off," she tells me. "It got crazy."
Peculiar Pets appeal to kids. The soft, worn fabric makes the animals particularly cuddly. Lyon still looks twice when she sees a child carrying one of her creations at the grocery store.
But there's something about the fabric itself, which dates from 40 to 60 years old, that appeals to adults too.
"A lot of people buy them for the nostalgia of the fabric. I'm sure I have more adults who have them than kids," she said. "It's amazing how many people will say that their grandma had that bedspread."
Lyon has had to scale back her business because of those very same bedspreads. They are becoming more difficult to find and more expensive. She now just sells at 10 stores in North Carolina.
"It's much more manageable now," said Lyon, who at one point was sewing 50 or 60 hours a week to keep up with demand.
Now that she has more time, Lyon is working on other projects, such as her Petite Pets line, which she creates using old cashmere or mohair sweaters.
Lyon is part of our Made by Mom Gift Guide. The guide features a dozen local moms and the products they create. Check back every Monday and Thursday through mid-December to learn more about them.