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Fuzzy-Felt is a simple fabric toy intended for young children. It was created in 1950 by Lois Allan of the United Kingdom. The toys consist of a flocked backing board onto which a number of felt shapes are placed to create different pictures. Felt pieces can be simple silhouettes or more detailed printed shapes. For a farmyard scene, for example, auxiliary pieces would typically be cows, sheep, chickens, horses, cats, dogs, a farmer, and a tractor. Other scenes might include hospital, pets, vehicles. Fuzzy-Felt is for children over the age of three years, as the pieces may present a choking hazard.
THE HISTORY OF FUZZY-FELT 1950 to 1996
There would appear to be little connection between a sixteenth century English cottage and a successful industry but, in fact, part of a thriving toy making business was carried on at Vine Cottage, Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire in the South of England.
It was not for this purpose, however, that Peter and Lois Allan bought the cottage just before the Second World War. At that time they were running a travel organisation and they wanted a home which would be within easy reach of London and Oxford. The attractive old vine covered cottage seemed ideally suited to their needs. Their business before the War had specialized in taking wealthy Americans round Europe. It also involved often escorting their clients across the Atlantic.
When the war broke out, Peter Allan went into the Armed Forces and Mrs. Allan was left at the cottage on her own.
Slough Trading Estate which is situated nearby had firms who were looking for people who had outbuildings which could be used for war production. Vine Cottage had a number of such suitable buildings in its grounds which could be used for this purpose.
Mrs. Allan and her friends in the village had small children and so they were unable to go into factories or join the Armed Forces but they were all eager to do their bit to help win the war.
Mrs. Allan had the idea of organizing the mums to come to her house to do work for the firms and soon the outbuildings were full of women workers' and the machinery needed to produce gaskets and filter discs for tanks, under subcontract for Coopers Mechanical Joints Ltd.
Mrs. Allan went into the factory to learn the job and then came back and taught all the other women. They would work at Vine Cottage for between three and five hours a day, if the children could be taken care of.
The living room was organised into a nursery and each day one mum would take a turn at looking after the children. The main problem was how to keep the children amused and Mrs. Allan, who had studied art, had a bright idea.
One rainy day when there were about twenty five children in the house, she thought of the idea of cutting the felt off cuts used in the manufacture of gaskets into squares, circles, ovals etc. She then discovered that the shapes clung firmly to the reverse side of some table mats which had fleecy backs. From this the children were able to make up pictures from the felt and they were amused by it for hours. Children aged from two years to ten years longed to play with it every day. This was the very beginning of "Fuzzy-Felt".
Gasket production continued at Vine Cottage for a while after the war and all the women wanted to continue with the cottage industry. Mrs. Allan thought Fuzzy-Felt might be a good idea to develop commercially, and when Mr. Allan returned home, he shared her enthusiasm and they eventually decided to market it under the company name of Allan Industries.
Mr. and Mrs. Allan's previous experience in business helped them a great deal when the company was in the midst of being set up. Another asset was Mrs. Allan's art training at college. This had included mechanical drawing, anatomy drawing and a study of colour, layout and design.
Mr. Allan was an accountant and during the war he had come home frequently to take care of the book-keeping. This meant that he could familiarise himself with various aspects of the company.
Together they had the necessary knowledge and ability in order to set up a company of this nature.
Allan Industries Ltd. has not always been a one-product firm. After the war, whilst still making gaskets, they produced cigarette cases for export all over the world. The cases were made of perspex and a picture of a ship was imprinted on the top of the case by silk-screen printing.
These were sold at the cigarette kiosks on board ships that they so frequently had used before the War and proved to be very popular with the customers.
The popularity of Fuzzy-Felt increased and finally it was decided that Allan Industries Ltd. would only manufacture the one product.
The first game to appear in the shops was Fuzzy-Felt "Pictures" in 1950 which consisted of shapes of felt out of which pictures could be made on the board. Later games appeared with animals and figures inside.
Other sets later became available such as "Cartoons", "Jungle", "Fantasy", "Noddy in Toy land", to name but a few.
Between 1950 and 1970 the company expanded continually, and the original work force of twenty employees has had to be increased to cope with the extra production. There were now seventy workers employed by the company. In 1966 their son, Richard Allan, by now a qualified accountant, joined the company.
In 1971 it was realised that Vine Cottage with its attendant small outbuildings was no longer suitable to house all of the production, because of the rapid expansion. So the hunt began for larger premises.
Many factories were looked at and eventually an ideal site was found located on the Cressex Industrial Estate at High Wycombe. The fact that the factory had previously been used by a precision engineering firm meant that it let in plenty of light which was to be of immense value to the workers whilst carrying out the various processes needed to make the games.
Other points in its favour were that there was an office above the factory, stores for unused cartons and the fork-lift truck and also there was a warehouse building alongside the factory.
All these factors made this site an obvious choice and so during The Easter week-end in 1971, almost all of the production was moved to High Wycombe.
Here, extremely up to date equipment was used to manufacture Fuzzy-Felt. The same care and attention was given just as it was twenty years ago when it all started. Limited facilities were still used at Vine Cottage up to the time when Mrs. Allan died in 1989 but the women working there could concentrate on silk-screen printing. The design studios also remained at Vine Cottage and this is where Mrs. Allan thought up all the ideas and designs all of the new products.
In 1996 the company was acquired by Mandolyn Ltd.
Fuzzy-Felt is suitable for children aged between three and nine years. It is a harmless toy which they can play with on their own and is ideal if the child is ill in bed.
Most County Councils have used it for use in nursery schools and this created a demand for it from the children because they are only allowed to play with it for a certain length of time at school, and so they want to have sets of their own at home.
Even blind children could use Fuzzy-Felt because the game is very simple to do, and even though an instruction leaflet is supplied with each game, no instructions are really necessary.
Since its creation in the 1950s, more than 25 million Fuzzy-Felt sets have been sold internationally and although Fuzzy-Felt reached its peak in popularity sometime in the mid-1970s, it remains an iconic children's toy, still enjoyed by children who play with it and parents who nostalgically purchase it.
Many reasons have been attributed to Fuzzy-Felt’s popularity. Though seemingly simple, the various available themed sets allow for hours of creativity. Though the sets started out strictly as a collection of various coloured shapes, countless themes Fuzzy-Felt sets became available through the years. “Ballet, Farmyard, Circus, Hospital, and much later on Thomas the Tank Engine, Noddy, and My Little Pony were released to inspire [a child’s] picture-making” abilities.
Fuzzy-Felt was also a favoured toy in Sunday schools because of its “Bible Stories set, complete with camels and three kings.”
The quiet toy was, and still is, fairly cheap, can be played almost anywhere leaving little mess, save a few stray pieces of shaped felt behind, making it a popular choice among parents.
In popular culture
In 2008, fashion designer Stella McCartney used a “ 7-meter high, 14-meter wide” Fuzzy-Felt backdrop, created by artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, as a visual accent for the debut of her 2008 spring/summer collection in Paris. The backdrop was made up of “rainbow-coloured rabbits, giraffes and a particularly anxious ladybird”, all reminiscent of the 1970s child’s toy.
In Jeanette Winterson's novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the protagonist Jeanette uses Fuzzy-Felt to depict Bible scenes, one of which is a rewrite of Daniel in the lions' den. She depicts Daniel as getting eaten by the lions, and when confronted by the pastor tries to disguise this by saying that she 'wanted to do Jonah and the whale, but they don't do whales in Fuzzy-Felt'. The pastor then tells Jeanette that they should do the Astonishment at Dawn scene, and Jeanette remarks to herself that this is 'hopeless... Susan Green was sick on the tableau of the three Wise Men at Christmas, and you only get three kings to box'.
Fuzzy-Felt Folk is a collection of “rare, delightful folk oddities for strange adults and maybe their children too… The front cover imagery of the album is from the original 1968 Fuzzy-Felt Fantasy set.”
Fuzzy-Felt is sold by Toy Brokers Limited of Huntingdon. There is a UK registered trade mark (number 2461883) for "Fuzzy-Felt", registered to a non-trading UK company (number 03227732) "Fuzzy-Felt Ltd". April 2014: "Toy Brokers are now part of John Adams".
- Flannelgraph or flannel board - generic felt boards used for storytelling and education
- Colorforms - similar scene construction sets, applying vinyl cutouts to a vinyl board
- "Fuzzy-Felt > Toys". DoYouRemember.co.uk. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2014-02-05.
- Frankel, Susannah (2008-10-03). "Stella's very grown-up collection - News - Fashion". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
- "Fuzzy-Felt Folk". Trunkrecords.com. Retrieved 2014-02-05.