Custom Characters: Rebecca Polizzi sells hand-knit plush figures at The Dark Side
Rebecca and Brian Polizzi have introduced the dolls to the local comic shop.
| 10:25 a.m. March 9, 2021
For a long time, Rebecca Polizzi knew what to do in her life.
The mother of three worked as a microbiology tech at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and took care of her children. Her husband, Brian Polizzi, continued to manage The Dark Side comics and game shop, a hotspot of geek culture in the city. It was a full schedule, but it worked.
That dynamic changed when Rebecca Polizzi was furloughed at the start of the pandemic, and the mother of three transitioned to homeschooling her children full-time.
Her new role has its joys, but there have also been plenty of frustrations. Spending time with three children at all times of the day can take a lot out of any parent, and she couldn't help but feel drained at times.
“It has its moments where it's fun and its moments where you want to pull your hair out,” Polizzi said.
Polizzi said she needed to try something new as a way of stress release — jigsaw puzzles weren’t cutting it — and she, like so many others, fell into a new hobby as the pandemic rolled on.
In Polizzi’s case, it has been crocheting and sewing. Homeschooling and parenting has taken up much of her time, but in those odd moments of peace, she takes up her needle and thread and creates colorful and detailed plush dolls out of yarn and sewing materials for fun.
What started as one early doll she knitted for her children has become a veritable collection of Baby Yodas, Pokemon dolls, Marvel superheroes, cartoon fantasy figures and more. It’s been an enduring and much-appreciated form of peace and stress relief for the new craftswoman.
What's more is she’s made enough plush dolls, and honed her craft, to the point that her husband now sells them to interested customers at The Dark Side shop every day.
“I needed something to do,” Polizzi said. “Some of the (dolls) I make you can’t really find toys for. So I thought I’d make them."
Rebecca and her husband said they haven’t pushed their kids toward the kind of geek culture they love, but the three kids all the same have become fans of Star Wars, Pokémon, Marvel and more. She saw her kids' interest in those colorful characters, not to mention their love of stuffed animals, and felt it’d be a good place to start when getting into her new hobby.
Her first plush doll design was of the Catbus character from the Hayao Miyazaki animated movie “My Neighbor Totoro”, a favorite of his children, who are 10, 7 and 5 years old. She learned the basics watching Youtube videos and joining crotchet groups on Facebook. It took around a week, but Polizzi eventually finished her first Catbus, complete with interior seating, an embroidered name at the top, and the character’s distinct smile.
“When I finished, I was very happy,” she said. “My kids were just amazed, which made me feel even better.”
There have been mistakes since, of course. Polizzi hasn't mastered every new character in one go, and often had to start from scratch when the sewing didn’t come together just right. She’s particularly enjoyed learning new sewing vocabulary — “frogging” is when she’s had to completely pull a doll apart and start over — from her hobby groups.
She’s figured out better pacing since then. BB-8 and Pokeball creations are the fastest to make, while the Catbus and Jawas from Star Wars take quite a bit longer. Polizzi said she’s struggled with getting the eyes of each character right, especially with the Bulbasaur Pokemon, but feels she’s slowly getting better.
On Brian Polizzi's side, he’s been updating and reframing The Dark Side comic shop to becoming more of an appealing retail space for customers looking to quickly get their comics, games and other items. It was Baby Yoda that gave Brian Polizzi the idea to sell some of his wife’s creations at the shop. After Rebecca Polizzi took over the store’s social media outreach to better attract customers, Brian felt was a good fit to have her plush dolls be part of the inventory as well.
“We used to sell (Baby Yodas) so quick,” Brian Polizzi said. “I told Becky about it when she started (crotcheting) and mentioned how we’d sell them and she said ‘Well I can make those too.’”
At this point Rebecca Polizzi makes what she likes and Brian Polizzi takes the new dolls to the shop if they seem like a good fit. She can’t feel like she’s going to the well by constantly making the same character, though, and has to move on to make a new figure after finishing the last one. Crocheting is always going to be a passion project for Rebecca Polizzi and she has plenty of designs she wants to sew into existence next.
“When I start, I just have to finish,” Rebecca Polizzi said. “... It grounds me and makes me feel like I’m contributing more.”