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Gainesville woman crafts soft, beastly and cuddly critters
Megan Noble uses her art skills to create stuffed animals in her home studio
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Megan Noble makes a variety of stuffed animals to sell at area arts and crafts festivals. Here a small sample of her pieces sit in her crafts room Friday at her Gainesville home. Noble started making the stuffed animals from thrift store clothes, which have evolved into pieces of hand-dyed fleece and patterned pieces. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In Megan Noble’s line of work, the more misshapen, wacky and strange, the better.

Noble creates stuffed animal creatures out of her home studio in Gainesville and always sells out of the oddly shaped beasts first.

“The lumpiest and weirdest ones go the fastest,” said Noble, owner and founder of Rag City Dolls.

Noble sells most of her beasts at arts and crafts festivals and fairs. She prefers the in-person sales method compared to the impersonal of websites such as Etsy. She said her way is easier, plus she can guarantee her customers face-to-face the product will be in stock.

The stock in her workshop includes everything from “knuckle-dragger” monsters with one eye to soft fleece-covered bunnies and ponies. On an average day, she can stitch together six to eight of her creations. Each can take from 30 minutes to two hours, making it her full-time job.

The Gainesville woman starts off with an idea. Some of the ideas come to her naturally and others are by request.

Then she sketches a cartoon drawing of her idea, whether it be an octopus or a flying eyeball. She has even made customized ones in the past. Then, if she doesn’t have one already, she will create a pattern for the critter.

“People ask me, ‘Oh, do you have a hedgehog?’ And I don’t, so I will make one,” Noble said.

Once she has the pattern cut out (usually she uses cereal boxes), she chooses from her hand-dyed bamboo fleece colors. She acquires the bamboo fleece in 50-yard rolls and places fleece pieces in a vat with colored dye inside.

“It’s basically glorified tie-dye,” she said.

Next, she matches the pieces to her stockpile of various patchwork and embroidered textiles. Her textiles come from various sources, mainly a thrift store, Community Helping Place in Dahlonega. She worked there for about 18 months in the clothing department.

During her tenure, she collected and kept boxes full of different patterns but didn’t know what to do with them.

“I wanted to make something out of them,” Noble said, noting now she does.

Once she selects a pattern and dyes the fleece, she sews the pieces together and stuffs them.

“I think the UPS guy hates me,” she said, describing how she usually gets at least four big boxes of stuffing when she needs it, which take up a lot of space.

Her studio space is where she paints and draws when she’s not working her fingers to the bone, using her art degree from North Georgia College and State University. She graduated from the Dahlonega-based campus in 1999.

When she first started her animal creature designs, she began with creating 100 stuffed creatures in 100 days back in 2013. All were different shapes and sizes. She even created one shaped like Mr. T (the actor from the TV show the “A-Team”), and her stegosaurus with spikes made out of ties was born during this time as well.

It was tough then. But looking back, it was easy compared to what she does now, Noble said.

“My fingers were so soft (back then),” she said.

Her frugality and creativity became what is now known as Rag City Dolls, after several name changes. The original name, Frankencritters, didn’t stick.

“They could be as horrible as I wanted them to be (with that name),” she said.

Queen City Handmade didn’t stick either, since she was often asked if she was from Charlotte, N.C., which shares the same nickname.

The current name came from her “rags everywhere” mess that her husband, carpenter Steven Noble, gets on to her about.

It’s not the only growing pain Noble has faced since officially starting the business back in 2013.

She used to use buttons for eyes, but now she paints them on herself. She said people were worried about the choking hazard buttons can present for young children and babies.

“Now they’re baby safe, they can rub them on their faces if they want,” she said.

Noble herself doesn’t have any children, but neither do a good percentage of her customers, she said.

“People without kids, and even men, buy them,” she said.

Whenever she attends a festival, she usually sells out of 75 percent of her products, which range from $30 to $50 per creature. And while this is her main source of income, it combines her imagination and artistic talent.

The next festival she plans to attend will be the Decatur Arts Festival on May 27-29 in Decatur.