Mia Mueller is a maker living in Berlin, Germany. She is the owner of MossFactory, a shop which features whimsical eco-friendly soft toys. Her soft toys demonstrate a lovely attention to detail and a rich palette. Her shop's minimal and playful photography drew me in. I wanted to know more about this maker, who like myself works out of her apartment and makes limited edition productions. She was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions. In the interview below, Mia tells us about her personal creative process and her business values. She also recounts how backing led her from studying in Madison, Wisconsin to making soft toys in Berlin and gives us a glimpse into the crafting community of her new home.
What inspired you to start making soft toys?
"What resulted in me making soft toys was a long and serendipitous evolution. I began University determined to become a paradigm-changing painter. However, due to the nature of the education system at University of Wisconsin-Madison, very cleverly, I was forced to take 3D classes such as metalsmithing and woodworking, and breadth classes like anthropology and the history of material cultures. I fell in love with objects and their sanctity. I fell in love with craft. After college, however, I was faced with “real world” challenges, which included getting a 'real' job. At this I failed, with my lowly art degree and the US economy in ruins, so I began traveling by backpack, working for room and board.
I quickly fell in love with this lifestyle. I was determined now to be a traveling artist. However, more challenges came and space became and issue, so I had to downscale. Materials became too heavy; I had to improvise. Cloth is everywhere. Cloth is nearly free. Cloth is green is many ways—biodegradable, of plants and animals, and upcyclable. As I moved around I collected cast-off garments, materials with history, and wove tapestries, made clothing for myself and for friends.
Traveling, while it began as my last resort, became my awakening. I met my partner, and he was the one who picked up a little sample toy I had made, just a few days after we moved into our new Berlin apartment, right after our marriage, and said, 'people will totally buy this.' Yes, I make toys because I find them whimsical, colorful, satisfying, and functional, but I also make them because I want my artwork to exist in the world with real people, outside of the gallery, tucked gently into the little nook of a child’s arm."
What is the crafting community like in Berlin? Please mention your favorite crafters or artists.
"I am “ganz neu” in Berlin. I have only moved here since the beginning of October. So for this I don’t have the best answers as I am just learning all this myself. However, I do have to say that we moved to Berlin in large part because of the art scene here. I am finding that this is one of the best places in the world to be an artist! The rent is cheap, and the market for art is huge. There are many artists here renting out storefronts, to display their work, with a nice little workshop in the back! This is dreamy! Flea markets, too, are very big here, and artists sell their work alongside second-hand jackets, etc. This is a very nice time of year because of all the Weinachtsmärkte, Christmas Markets. The Germans really know how to do Christmas… these markets aren’t like I’ve ever seen in the US! With craft fairs, food markets, rides, shows, etc. It really drums up excitement and opportunities for handmade crafters.
It’s difficult for me to be concise with what artists are influencing me, because there are SO MANY! But I’ll try to give you a variety. First, small-business extraordinaire and all-around awesome person—Roxy Marj, who I believe is constantly challenges what toys are, and gives kids fresh, exciting options that are artistically designed and look beautiful everywhere they exist. I’m trying to learn from her limited color palette, as well (but, colors!). Second, Jess Quinn, whose softies are never limited in color, but work with poetic saturation. Very subtle at points, strong in others. And the patterns, well, the patterns! Finally, from the fine art world, I’ll say Paul Klee, who has been a long-term inspiration to me since I learned about him in high school. I’m particularly interested in the freedom of form in his simple pencil-and-paper sketches, and I keep one such drawing above my workdesk.
More notables: Rebekah Bogard, Harem6, Mount Royal Mint, the wabi sabi movement, Japanese woodcuts"
What is your creative process like? Do you start with a sketch? Are you inspired by story books or the materials you use?
"My creative process is somewhat circuitous (as I write this I’m realizing this is true for so much of my life!) But I find the seed of creativity to be in looking at other artists’ work. This can be toymakers like me, or a biblical etching from 1490. I generally wait until a form, pattern, or color arrangement touches me in such a way, and then I start freaking out and asking WHY? HOW? and drooling all over my computer (which is more socially acceptable than drooling in a museum or whatever). I soak it all in like a sponge. And then, often in the middle of the night, I have an idea, and the whole piece is already there. I avidly use my sketchbook, but this is primarily just so I don’t forget my ideas. Most of the work is already completed in my head.
I am terrifically inspired by my materials. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m about to start a bunch of new pieces from the muslin I originally just bought to line the inside of my Wooly Mammals series. My supplier has the most beautiful off-white creamy and soft muslin that is just beautiful on its own. Stay tuned."
I see that recycled materials are very important to you. What do think about small editions and one of a kind items?
"I am all about the small editions. I can’t keep my attention span on one thing long enough to keep a static brand. In addition to my own sanity, I find limited-edition objects have more inherent value, and are more meaningful to their owners. A huge part of the Handmade Movement is a rebellion against mass production and the status quo of the toy market, the clothing market, etc. Have you heard? There’s a revolution going on!
As for one of a kind items, I’ve been doing this for years as an artist and I find it incredibly hard to make work available to the masses this way. There is so much time that goes into developing each individual piece, that prices would grow too high for the everyday person. For example, I made 7 samples of my Red Elephant before I finally found a pattern that I liked. It would be crazy to only make one elephant after having developed this pattern for so long. So maybe I make about 10, and then move on. I don’t believe that artists have to 'starve.' Unfortunately, they just don’t teach business strategies in art school, so we have to figure it out as we go."
Thank you so much for sharing Mia!