Monday 22 February 2016

Where handmade toys meet the law.... is common sense enough?

I'm a bit later in writing a blog post, and it turns out i'm going to be writing about something I had never even considered until yesterday...

So you remember I shared my little dream about offering workshops to pregnant girls, and making some special soft toys? I wrote about it here.
Since then I've been looking for somewhere suitable to host the workshops but finding it tricky in this rural neck of the woods. 
Any how..never to be deterred, my calling to make the little woodland wonders continued and I have kept on stitching and refining, trying out different cotton fabrics and wool felt...and basically having a rare old time.
This is Luka... still very in tune with nature shown by the leafy details and mossy trousers, though he likes a little 'urban chic' too!

 As I stitched common sense told me that these toys would be too intricate for a baby/toddler, with potential choking hazards if any bits came loose....but I could see an older child (and my 7 year old demonstrated it well) incorporating the dolls into their wonderful world of imagination and play.

And so having already made 3 little dolls for my youngest, and gathering a growing collection on my shelf I felt the next step was to put these out into the world and offer them in my etsy shop. 
 Which is where it started to get interesting.......
As I chose the category toy/doll the words appeared:
Items in this category may be subject to legal and safety requirements.Learn more here.

There was a link which I clicked on, found the one relevant to the UK and started reading...
Basically it states what we all want..that toys for kids should be safe.
Yep to that.

It goes on to say that in the UK there are laws and standards which have been made to keep toys safe. Any children's toy being sold must have been assessed for safety and marked accordingly.(be it a machine produced teddy sold in large retail outlets, a handknitted animal by a Granny and sold at a craft fair or a handmade cloth doll being sold on etsy). I'm not sure about other countries but from the little I have read it seems the rules are just as stringent for everywhere else.

Eek! Gads.....
Ok. After a deep breath I read more to discover that this is actually do-able. Being a small business I can self certify my items and without much cost though it does requires a fair bit of time and effort (and experiments to test the toy you are selling..which might be quite fun for my 7 year old who is currently obsessed with 'experimenting'!). I am going to have to do this for any kids toys I sell and offer to make in the workshops.

This has also sent a spiral of questions running in my head...and effectively opened a can of worms....

Eva is a quiet and gentle soul, but don't be deceived by her sweet demeanour...she never suffers fools gladly.

The first thing is ...of all the toys I have bought over the last 16 years for my 2 girls I can't recall ever having questioned the safety of the items I have bought. Which has got me thinking as to the reason behind this intrinsic trust.... is it because the laws have been so robust and prevented me from ever getting my hands on a potentially threatening toy for my girls. Because of this I can rest on my 'every-toy-is-safe' laurels.
Or is it that knowing my own child's individual abilities and predilections, I've followed my own inner safety guide (along with that under-rated ability called common sense. hello?!) to steer me and my kids clear of danger?

Which leads me to the second question....what about all of the doll makers/soft toy makers which I have been drooling over on Instagram and etsy, who are making extremely beautiful items and also selling them very successfully.There are a LOT and they all sell toys designed specifically for children. Have they had their toys assessed for safety? There is nothing on the items description that suggests they are. 
Would I have ever considered what they sell unsafe before now? No.Definitely not.

Does this make it ok for me to join them, that I'm simply selling a handmade item not too dissimilar to what an aunt or gran would stitch and gift?
I'll be the devils advocate and say how dangerous can a cloth doll be?!

Grace loves to get spruced up and believes everyday is a good day to wear flowers. (she will happily get her hands dirty and dig up some soil but only once the fancy cowl is removed!)

When you are a self employed artist sitting stitching from your home studio or kitchen table fitting it in amongst the family and trying to eke out a living I can see how it is easy to feel that you're not running a 'proper business' , more of a hobby really...and I can also see how thoughts of legalities don't seem relevant....or are even considered.

Does it also make it wrong to be selling these dolls and toys, when it is assumed the buyer has to play some role of responsibiltiy ie. knowing what is age appropriate for their child. I have seen the disclaimer 'not suitable for under 3 years old' often on etsy shops. 

In the UK the law would say all of the above IS wrong. And so, I'm presuming from the fact that it is flagged up when you list a toy, would Etsy. I have disovered that in Scotland you could go to jail for 2 years for not assessing and marking your toy appropriately! And in the UK if a toy is considered appropriate for a 3 year old it is also deemed safe for use of a baby...which knocks that disclaimer out of the park. Though I'm no lawyer!


Much as I would like to bury my head in the sand and avoid any extra hassle, I know I have to follow through on this if I'm going to offer kids toys/patterns as part of my business.  I definitely do have mixed feelings about the over defensiveness that comes with any law (really loathed that part of Midwifery too.) And I do hate how it can turn the most innocent of things into something WRONG! 
I am also really curious as to how others who sell kids toys have grappled with the idea and what thought process lead to carrying on selling without doing any kind of test. Or maybe there was no thought at all...I mean up till yesterday I certainly hadn't.

I have listed the above deer dolls on etsy (shown in the photos) as decorative art dolls and unsuitable for children, because their safety has not been tested and assessed (though my 7 year old plays with them merrily and I am gifting something similar to my friend's daughter age 3).

I'd love to hear what your thoughts are....... how you buy items for children? Do you think handmade toys need safety tests?
Do you make toys and sell them? Have you had them safety tested?
Anyone better read up on this and can put me straight if I am wrong?
Is common sense not enough?!

UPDATE: found a great discussion on this topic by Abby Glassenberg. Although it is based on USA law, she talks with a Product Safety and Compliance officer and make things sound a little less overwhelming!


  1. I love luka. I love his keks, they're great. I looked into the whole toy making legal stuff a few years ago. It's a nightmare of long wordy pages of jargon. I was looking at sewing softies but I admit I was frightened away. I read somewhere that one of the tests is a test by fire! Ugh. The age of a child goes up to 14 too which means anything made that would grab the attention of a newborn-14 year old has to be tested -even if it's not intended as a toy unless you can make it really obvious that it's not a toy by putting it on a stand or pricing it over the average toy price. Common sense isn't employed for toys! I hope you don't give up though because your deer designs are lovely and I'm sure they'll be popular.

  2. Thanks Mokki, I agree with you it feels quite overwhelming, and enough to put anyone off! It's hard to get past the jargon and get clear on what actually is required...just working out how much I really want/need to do this before I give it a go.... it seems simply selling patterns does not require the same rigmarole.(though don't quote me on that!)

  3. blimming heck - my head hurts from just reading about it. Good luck with finding a way through - don't be put off x

    1. Hi Claire,thanks for the really is enough to put anyone off! Making kids toys is not for the faint hearted ;)x

  4. Soft Toys are the best as they are easy to make and safe for kids. Got to know much from your blog. Looking forward to visit again.