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Meet Bonnie Robinson Stewart of Huggable Koi in Azusa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bonnie Robinson Stewart.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I learned to sew about seven years ago and initially made quilts. I made about 60 quilts in about 3 or 4 years and got to where I had given one to everyone I could think of to give one to and decided it was time to make something for myself.

I have loved Japanese koi flags, know as koinobori, for years and to make a pillow version of one. At first, I just sewed a flag closed and stuffed it, but it looked odd. I kept playing with the design until I had something I liked. These were the first Huggable Koi. I never thought I would end up making so many or that it would turn into a whole plushie making thing, but the response I got to making them was very positive and grew into requests for other stuffed creatures. I have now made well over 100 plushies – including over 60 koi – and continue to make and design more. They are sold in galleries, online and at conventions.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest struggle I generally have is finding enough time to sew as I would like since I also work a full-time job. I also have rheumatoid arthritis, which does slow me down at times. I have designed my work to allow me to keep creating when I’m having an RA flare. I purposely work with a messy line quality, so even when my hands are stiff and sore and don’t have the best precision, I can make progress without the aesthetic changing. I like the loose working style for the sketched look it also gives to the stitching.

The single biggest obstacle I had I was when in my right thumb snapped and I didn’t have use of my right hand (and I’m right handed) for about four months – which included time running up to the first gallery show I was ever a part of. My left hand had to learn how to use scissors and thread a sewing machine by itself. I got to where I could still get some sewing work done, albeit much slower than I can with both hands. My right hand has never quite gotten back to normal, it’s at about 80%, but I’m very appreciative to have two working hands.

Please tell us about Huggable Koi.
It’s just me sewing plushies whenever I can. I have a lot of pride for making each piece unique and one of kind. I’m always making tweaks to my patterns to make them better. Looking for fabrics is always part of any vacation for me and purposely seek out blacklight reactive prints – which are incorporated into most of pieces. Each plushie includes a small talisman or “soul” that imbues the piece with a unique personality. These “souls” can be a figurine, stone, tiny toy or anything else small enough to fit inside the plushie. Only the new owner of the plushie will be told what the “soul” is and they can either keep it a secret or tell others.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
A favorite thing from my childhood that has influenced my plushies in a stuffed elephant my uncle gave me when I was a baby. It’s from Kenya, made from a flower print flour sack and stuffed with cotton and lint. I still have it.


  • Prices range from $45 to over $500 depending on the time and materials involved

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