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]."