NI crafters making heirloom gifts – from being commissioned by Daniel O’Donnell, to making teddy bears for luxury US yacht owners

Three local makers talk about their creations which are ideal heirloom presents to pass down to future generations

‘Our toyboxes are made to last’

“My stepdaughter had seen a toy box in England and wanted it. I said I could make it and she laughed at me,” Jason says.

“So, I made her a toy box. The stepson seen it and he said, ‘I’d like one too’, so I made him one.”

The joiner then crafted boxes for his daughter Maisie (7) and son Albie (2), before launching Traditional Toy Boxes NI six year ago. He later added more items to his range including wooden wall signs, bookcases, sleighs and dress-up clothing rails.

Jason’s creations make the ideal heirloom gift as they are durable and can be customised:

He says: “My deluxe toy box range comes with a solid oak lid and the rest of the box is made with timber.

“They are made to last. They are made with good material and with no corners cut in the making of it.

“They come personalised with names, different colours and designs. It’s just down to the customer’s preference. You can get a keepsake message on the lid which is engraved, so the child will never be able to hoke at it and destroy it. It will always be there.

“The world is your oyster when it comes to personalisation; you can go for animals, tractors and cars, unicorns… whatever more or less the client wants, the client gets.”

A Traditional Toy Boxes NI product

Jason’s customers have frequently told him they have bought his toy boxes with plans for them to be passed down to future generations.

“Nearly everybody that gets it will say it will be an heirloom gift: ‘My daughter will be taking it out of our house whenever she is getting married,’” he adds.

“It can also be for sons, but you don’t really hear of a son taking a toy box out of his da’s house, but you will hear about a daughter bringing the toy box out.

“The engraved range would be the most popular at the moment, because they’ll not date.

“An engraved toy box 20 years down the line in someone’s living room, nobody would bat an eyelid to it.

“However, with a 3D toybox it will not date as well.”

By 3D, Jason is referring to designs that are wooden cutouts or embellishments that are attached to the box.

“What we’ve noticed is that the grandparents will buy the toy box,” Jason says.

“They will get it personalised. They will get a message put on the lid stating it was from nanny and granda, and it’s nice for the child to have something from them.”

A Traditional Toy Boxes NI product

Jason’s wooden sleighs are sought-after this time of year and he’s delighted to have Daniel O’Donnell as a customer.

The Co Donegal star purchased a sleigh last year with ‘Christmas at the O’Donnells’ carved into the front.

Daniel shared a video of his grandchildren in it, which can be viewed on Jason’s business Facebook page.

“The sleigh makes an ideal heirloom gift, but what you’ll find is a family put a surname on it, so for example they’ll have ‘Christmas at the Glacks’, so that covers the whole family and not just one child,” he says.

“That’d be very popular at the moment, obviously coming into Christmas time.

“Although I haven’t really publicised it much this year because I’ve been concentrating more on the toy box end of things, but we do them.”

A Traditional Toy Boxes NI sleigh

​Jason Black’s toy boxes start from £170, and the sleighs and dress-up rails start from £150. The turnaround time for orders is usually three weeks. Visit traditionaltoyboxesni.com or see @traditionaltoyboxesNI on Facebook or Instagram

‘I love creating bears and making people happy’

​Antrim artist Carol Conley has been making teddy bears for more than two decades. Using her trusty 1932 Singer treadle sewing machine and hand stitching techniques, Carol handmakes teddies that range from 12 inches up to 3.5ft.

The manufacturing process takes anything from six to 30 hours, depending on the size and level of detail involved.

“I have made hundreds of bears for customers who want to have a gift that will be kept for many years to come,” Carol says.

“Emerald Bears are created using only the finest quality faux fur available to me.

“I use super carded polyester filling and the bears are fully jointed using metal cotter pin joints; this means the bear is fully movable and poseable. Each bear is hand-stitched, then machine stitched for strength.” Teddies can be customised and Carol can incorporate clothing, fabric or personal items such as jewellery into her creations.

“All of my bears are one-of-a-kind bespoke designs,” she says.

“Lots of customers ask me to design bears from their own fur coats which were worn by their grandmother or other relatives.

“I also add initials to a paw, or a necklace with a first name on. I have even inserted personal possessions to the tummy of bears; little keepsakes that mean something to my customer.

“I make lots of bears for baby showers with maybe a year date on the paw. Wedding bears in white are also popular.”

Christmas Bear by Emerald Bears

Carol has worked on an array of commissions over the years, including one from a Ballymena couple for a miniature bride and groom that sat at the top table on their wedding day, and one from a luxury yacht owner in Florida.

She has designed Game of Thrones, character-themed, sports bears and a myriad of other styles.

Carol adds: “I absolutely love being a teddy bear artist. It is so wonderful to create a bear for someone and make them happy in the process.

“It’s especially satisfying if it has a personal connection to my customer.

“I am delighted to have just celebrated my 1,820th design, of which no two are the same.”

Carol Conley with one of her creations

​For more from Carol see @emerald.bears on Instagram and Facebook, or EmeraldbearsShop on Etsy. Her teddies start from £40.

‘Reuben took his role of product tester very seriously’

​When engineer, entrepreneur and mother-of-two Rosie Hughes spotted a gap in the market for indoor climbing frames that had “that wow factor”, she decided to make her own.

“When my first son Reuben was starting to climb everything in the house, I built a triangle frame similar to our current frame,” says Rosie who is also mum to newborn Fabian.

“After it generated interest on social media from other mums wanting something similar for their kids, the business was formed and grew from there.”

Reuben and Fabian with the Compact WeeUN

Based in Crossgar, Sawdust & Rainbows now includes Rosie’s husband Aidan and a small team of employees. The company makes activity toys that are designed to “grow with your child”.

“For example, the Hump makes a fantastic baby gym when you hang suitable toys from the rungs, and will later support your baby as they progress to sitting, walking and eventually climbing,” Rosie says.

Environmental values are at the heart of Sawdust & Rainbows. All of the timber used is sourced from FSC- or PEFC-certified suppliers. The business uses planet-friendly, water-based paints, and ship products in recycled cardboard boxes using carbon neutral courier services where possible.

The activity toys are designed to last.

“All of our products have originally designed and used by Reuben who took his role of product tester very seriously,” Rosie says.

“I have produced customised frames in the past and enjoy getting to be a bit more creative.

“A lot of our customers purchase our products with the thought of future siblings or other children using the frames in the future.”

​The current turnaround time for orders is between two to three weeks. Visit sardirect.co.uk or see @playtimeisclimbtime on Instagram or @sawdustandrainbows on Facebook

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