The robots were born not long before Barnard's son. While she was pregnant three years ago, she was making a felt book for him and filled it "with geeky pages and fun things" — including a robot page.
"I decided I wanted to make a 3-D version … a plush robot in his nursery," she said. "I put the book aside … and it turned out really cute, and everybody wanted one."
She opened an Etsy shop for the felt robot plushies, and "it's just been kind of a whirlwind from there," Barnard said. The robots have been so successful, crafting them has become Barnard's full-time job. By now, she estimates she's made between 800 and 1,000; some of them are sleepy, with bunny slippers and night caps; others are decked out for a wedding; and others resemble bunnies, pirates or both.
But of all her creations, her favorites are easily the limited-edition steampunk robots, decked out in cuddly cogs and tilted top hats. She only makes about two of them a year, with antique buttons and metallic threads she happens across at the store.
After years of stitching together a virtual army of felt robots, Barnard still has the first one she made for her son. In creating a handmade friend for him, she did what her mother did for her.
"My mother made toys for me when I was growing up. I had blocks that my uncles had cut and sanded. I think that there's a real quality to it," Barnard said.
She could standardize her creations and make sure their stitching lines up perfectly — but she's drawn to the messy quality of something handmade. That way, each robot turns out slightly different. "Only you are going to have [that one]."