Shop: Peter's Puppets: http://www.etsy.com/shop/pkfridley
Name: Peter Krueger
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Peters-Puppets/102411313193991
VKC: Tell us a bit about yourself and your shop.
Peter: It might be self-explanatory, but my name's Peter, and I make puppets. I've always been interested in puppets -- I've been a lifelong Sesame Street, Muppets, and Mister Rogers fan, and I've attempted making puppets here and there in the past -- but last January, my wife and my son and I went to the zoo, and my son found a lemur puppet in the gift shop and was playing around with it. I started thinking about how I might try to make a lemur puppet of my own for him. That night I found a pretty good puppet pattern online that I adjusted a little bit, the next day I got some fabric and supplies together, and I made a lemur puppet. Needless to say, that puppet didn't look ANYTHING like the puppet at the gift shop, but it was still pretty cool in its own way.
Over the next few weeks I kept picking at that pattern -- adjusting this, enlarging that -- which meant that I made more and more puppets as I experimented with it. I now have several different patterns that I use, and that original pattern would be pretty unrecognizable in them. But by last November, my stack of puppets was getting out of control, so I dusted off the Etsy shop that I created and forgot about a couple years earlier, and put eight of them up for sale. Within about three weeks, I got an order: someone bought three puppets at once! The holiday season was generous, and since then I've gotten a modest but steady stream of orders, at least enough to keep me obsessed with checking Etsy every time I open my laptop.
VKC: Why are you drawn to vintage?
Peter: There wasn't any conscious decision on that; "vintage" and "retro" are pretty basic categories of my aesthetic sense. Grunge hit when I was starting high school, and the other kinds of music I was into skewed towards 60's and 70's -- Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton -- so I was definitely into a vintage style. Ragstock was just getting popular here in Minneapolis, and it was inexpensive at the time. I got a Ted Nugent shirt, one with the picture of him from the Cat Scratch Fever album cover, for maybe $2.50, and just wore it all the time. Now of course it would be at least $30. So between grunge and retro, my basic look in high school was Chuck Taylors, old jeans, a goofy vintage t-shirt, and an old grungy flannel shirt. I've got a shirt of Morris the Cat, from the old cat food commercials, that's absolutely in tatters because I wore it so often.
When I started moving away from doing straight-up animal puppets, and began making shirts and accessories for them, my first batch of fabric was an old bin from my house growing up, so it was mostly scraps of old fabric my mom had. I'll occasionally buy half a yard of new fabric from the fabric store, if it's interesting enough, but I'd much prefer using vintage remnants I picked up at a church basement sale, or cutting up pajamas I bought at a garage sale. There's a thrift store called Angel's Dance in Aitkin, Minnesota, where I found a bag absolutely stuffed with old fabric for about $6, and I was in puppet-supply heaven. Even though I couldn't really use half of it, just opening up the bag and revealing layer after layer of weird vintage fabric was really fun, like opening a treasure chest and digging through it. Buying new fabric just feels like cheating compared to that.
My wife and I share an addiction to thrift stores and garage sales. If one of us finds a really good or really bad garage sale, like on the way home from work or something, recounting the tale to the other is on top of the list of things to talk about. We basically have our own rubric of rating thrift stores and garage sales. She's more into finding vintage dollhouse and miniature stuff, but we're both huge Muppets fans. When we moved in together years ago, our stashes of vintage Muppets toys got mixed together and now it's out of control. We have to rotate what's on display in the hutch. There's very little out there that we don't already have, and of the common items we've probably got at least two of them. And now we've passed all of this onto our son, who has requested to go to "frift stores" on the weekends.
Anyway, I think my vintage leanings have given me a niche that I haven't really seen in any of the other Etsy sellers who make puppets. One of my early sales was to someone who was doing a play with kids; the play was set in the 60's, and one of the characters makes puppets, and she needed a couple puppets to use as props. The two puppets she bought ended up being perfect, because -- except for the fur fabric I used -- every bit of them was made from materials that were probably about 40 years old!
I love the fact that I once made a yellow bear dressed up like 80's Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, and that I used fabric that says "Copyright 1988" on the selvedge edge. You can't get much more authentic than that!
VKC: What is your process when creating/working?
Peter: I make one puppet at a time, and I never exactly repeat myself, so each puppet is one-of-a-kind. Sometimes I'll have a specific idea, like a cowboy or a Christmas elf or the Grim Reaper, but usually I take a gander at my pile of fabric and supplies and just start matching them up to see what goes together.
Early on I considered using a sewing machine, but I've settled into a good routine of hand sewing them, while watching TV or whatever after my son has gone to bed. A sewing machine would need to go into the other room, and I'd have to be motivated enough to go in there to work, and that just wouldn't happen. This way, I just plop myself into my red vinyl chair, turn on the Twins game or whatever show is new that night, and sew as much or as little as I have energy to do, even if it's just an ear or an arm. On weekends I can get a little more done, especially if Ezra is playing somewhat independently and he doesn't need our constant attention. I'm quick enough with sewing now that I can get a puppet done from start to finish on a Saturday or Sunday.
VKC: How do you promote your business?
Peter: I don't do much of that, because I realize that I have a pretty small niche, and I'm not cranking out multiple items of the same thing for big sales. If someone searches for handmade hand puppets, I'm out there for them to find. I do put a lot of effort into my blog, and I try to post at least every couple of weeks, but it hasn't quite gotten off the ground with followers yet. I wish it would, because it's exactly the kind of blog I'd want to read! I do reviews of vintage puppet-making books that I've found through the years, and I profile the weird handmade vintage puppets I've collected. I do Shop news on there if it's more involved, but quick bits of news, along with new blog post alerts, go on the Peter's Puppets Facebook page.On June 2nd I'm doing my first face-to-face public selling: I've been accepted as a vendor at Johnstock, a craft fair in Minneapolis. I've got a big stack of business cards to pass out, and a big stack of puppets to sell, so we'll see how that goes.
VKC: What is your favorite item in your shop or that you have sold and why?
Peter: My favorite puppet is whatever one I've just finished, or whatever one I've just posted on Etsy. I always think it's the coolest one I've done. There's one, though, that I'll never sell -- a Wizard of Oz flying monkey, with a vintage monkey doll face, and you put your fingers into the wings to flap them -- just because it was the one I finished and thought, "Now I'm really good at this." It's sort of like it was my masterpiece, a milestone that took me from being an apprentice to a master.
VKC: What giveaway or discount would you like to offer our readers?
Peter: The winner will receive a special coupon code that gives you 13% off your order!
Thanks so much, Peter!
If you'd like to enter to win a coupon code from Peter's Puppets, please leave a comment below.
There are a few other ways to enter - please leave a separate comment for each.
1. Favorite Peter's Puppets on etsy!
2. Tell us which item is your favorite at Peter's Puppets!
3. Tweet about this giveaway!
4. Become a fan of Peter's Puppets on Facebook! (link at top of post)
5. Blog about this giveaway! (Please include a link.)
This giveaway will be open until Friday, May 4, and a winner will be selected randomly. Good luck!