Life did a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree flip when newly qualified chef Cayley suddenly fell pregnant resulting in her trading her cookbooks and wooden spoons for crochet needles and study guides.
When you meet soft-spoken, gentle-natured and all-round sweet Cayley Stevens, it is difficult to imagine this young mom in a high-stress kitchen environment – pots flying and head chefs screaming. Her adorable, old-world inspired, hand crocheted long-eared bunnies and ballerina bears however, seem to fit her personality perfectly.
“I enjoyed the crazy, high-pressure adrenaline of a restaurant kitchen, but when I had my daughter, Maddison, in 2013, I knew going back to 18-hour shifts was a no-go,” says Cayley who lives in Durban North with her family and two bunnies – Fofalooff and Moo Moo.
It was thanks to her daughter that she found her hidden creative talent.
“I decided to study teaching through Unisa and taught myself to crochet to fund my studies. I threw a couple of tantrums in the learning process, but after about three months, I started to get it right.” Cayley works as a special needs’ facilitator at Reddam House in Umhlanga and will graduate next year.
She perfected her skill while helping her 91-year-old grandmother complete her crocheted work. “My gran always crocheted beautiful square blankets for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She now has dementia, and so I helped her finish the items she started to give a piece of gran to the kiddies in the family”.
The hobby spiralled and soon went from blankets to toys, and Cayley made her first floppy bunny with a little tutu (named Maddison) in 2014. That was the start of Maddie and Moo – a little business that is inspired by making once-off, keepsake toys made to last and loved through generations.
“All my toys are custom made and my hope is that they will become heirlooms, passed onto the next generation and not just another mass-made toy you buy from the shop and when it is old, you chuck it.” Her favourite part about crocheting, she says, is that it gives her the ability to create something beautiful from scratch.
“I love starting with nothing – just a ball of yarn – and when it is finished, it is a little piece of art. It’s only taken me 25 years to find my talent and I think this is it,” says Cayley, whose favourite yarn colours are Marshmallow and Vanilla (how cute?).
The creation process is often carefully watched and admired by her fan club at school.
“I always take my crochet needles with me and crochet whenever I have some free time. The kids in my class get so excited to see what I am making. Right now, I am working on mascots for Reddam House – little stags in school uniform. Some of them are a metre high!” But her ultimate fan is her daughter, who also acts as the quality controller.
“Maddie has a whole menagerie of little beasts on her bed – from unicorns and vampires to bears and of course, bunnies. She never wants me to sell any of the toys. I love that she is so involved – it all started because of her after all.”
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Details: Follow on Instagram @ maddie_and_moo_sa
TEXT: ELANA WAGNER