Whale of a story

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Call me Ishmael. Or Doug.

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Call me Ishmael. Or Doug.

Wendi Kuarsingh, the Wendi in Wendi Whale, a home décor biz that’s been making a bit of a splash of late, says people who buy one of her cuddly, whale-shaped throw pillows commonly grant it a name, the same way they would a teddy bear or doll. For instance, one woman recently sent Kuarsingh a note to let her know how much she was enjoying her purchase, which she’d affectionately dubbed Doug.

“She told me she looks forward to going home at the end of a long week, sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and telling Doug all her problems. ‘Best of all, he doesn’t talk back,’ she said.”

Kuarsingh, a married mother of two, guesses if her former home economics teacher at Steinbach Junior High School reads this story, she’s not going to believe it’s about the same person who, some 20 years ago, couldn’t sew a straight line if her life depended on it.

“I really should have taken metal- or wood-working because I couldn’t even thread the (sewing) machine,” she says with a chuckle.

“At the end of Grade 9 I swore to all my friends I’d never sew another thing for the rest of my life. So yeah, it’s somewhat amusing how it all turned out.”

Six years ago Kuarsingh was hunting around for a “statement piece” for her son Noah’s bedroom. Unable to find anything that caught her eye, the stay-at-home mom decided to make something herself. She posted photos of the finished product – a metre-tall robot figure crafted out of felt – on Facebook. Afterwards she was inundated with messages along the lines of “too cute” and “I want one, too!”

Thus was born Felt Loved Felt, a home-based enterprise that offered an array of colourful, hand-stitched creations, primarily Christmas ornaments, curios and owls, “lots and lots of owls.”

OK, here’s a head-scratcher: why did Kuarsingh, who grew up on a farm near Blumenort, a rural community that doesn’t exactly conjure images of the deep, blue sea, decide to branch out into marine mammals, not to mention plush octopi, hermit crabs and jellyfish?

“Just under two years ago, a lot people were inquiring whether I made sharks and narwhals so I decided to research different fabrics and styles and work on some new patterns. Oddly enough, a whale pattern was the easiest for me to do,” she explains, noting if she had to choose which species of whale her standard, rounded design most closely resembles she’d probably go with the sperm whale.

Kuarsingh’s whale pillows, which are available in three sizes, quickly became her runaway best-sellers. So much so she made the decision this past January to ditch the name Felt Loved Felt in favour of Wendi Whale.

“I wanted something short and sweet that reflected exactly what I was up to and that was pretty much the first thing I thought of,” she says, adding it also no longer made sense to have the word felt on her business card as her two-tone pillows, all of which are one-of-a-kind, are made out of a combination of sweater fabric and faux fur.

Although there is a disclaimer on her website (www.wendiwhale.com) that clearly states her whale pillows aren’t meant to be toys, she was still fairly certain they were going to be a hit with the younger set. (If she knows the pillows are going to be used in a child’s room, she won’t include removable objects, such as eyes.) What she didn’t anticipate, however, was seeing the faces of men in their 20s and 30s light up whenever they spot her wares at events such as Scattered Seeds and next month’s Manyfest (Sept. 7 – 9), where she’ll be a featured vendor.

“Tomorrow I’m dropping off one of my jumbo pillows to a bachelor who apparently already has a spot in his living room picked out for it. I’ve heard about other guys who’ve bought multiple pillows in different colours and have what amounts to a pod of whales in their home.”

Kuarsingh’s pillows are for sale in a number of Winnipeg shops, including McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre, Tara Davis Studio Boutique in the Exchange District and Tharnzie in Osborne Village. If you happen to find yourself on Vancouver Island this summer, you can also pick one up at Backwoods Soap and Candle Co., located in Duncan, B.C.

“Wendi was attending a show in Vancouver I had to pull out of at the last minute (but) a friend of mine who was going to that same show bought a few whales from her,” says Christina Hanson, the store’s owner.

“Once we had locked in our retail spot (her shop opened in June) I messaged Wendi right away because I think her items are a great fit for our Vancouver Island location, plus I try to support mom-preneurs as much as I can. A lot of people have been surprised the whales come from Manitoba, where there are obviously no oceans.” (Given the Fort Garry Hotel is a popular stopover for tourists on their way to Churchill to view beluga whales, Kuarsingh’s pillows are also for sale at the Broadway inn’s gift store.)

Finally, Kuarsingh, whose whale pillows have surfaced on social media accounts belonging to Love It or List It Vancouver host Jillian Harris, Dragons’ Den cast member Michelle Romanow and HGTV Canada’s Tiffany Pratt, would like to take this opportunity to apologize to anybody to whom she’s ever replied, “No, but I’d love to one day” when they asked her if she’s ever seen a whale in real life.

After a scribe begins blubbering on about a whale-watching excursion he once went on in Maine, she stops him in mid-sentence and says, “Oh my god, I just remembered I saw a whale in Grade 8 during a school trip to Quebec, when we went on a boat-ride down the St. Lawrence.

“Not only was it swimming right beside our boat, the captain even cut off the engine so as not to scare it away. I can’t believe I forgot that and that I’ve been lying to people, all these years.”

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

History

Updated on Saturday, August 18, 2018 8:16 AM CDT: Headline tweaked.

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