Local Creations: The call of the wild backpacks

Jackie Fretz of Naugatuck makes plush animal backpacks, like the penguin backpack above, for children in her spare time. - LARAINE WESCHLER

NAUGATUCK — What do a lady bug, a penguin, and a purple monster have in common? Local artist Jackie Fretz has tamed these wild animals into plush backpacks for children.

Fretz said she started out making animal figurines for her son, Corbin, 3, and friends’ children when one friend suggested she make backpacks.

Now she sells her unique backpacks at craft shows and on her online Etsy store, a website for artists and crafters.

Fretz said she doesn’t make a lot of money on backpacks, which go for $39, but it’s enough to support her creative streak. Through her online store, Fretz sells to people all over the United States.

“My crafts support my other crafts,” Fretz said.

She had high praise for Etsy, a website for artists and crafters to display and sell their work.

“It’s just so neat to be able to get in contact with people from across the world, who are still making things themselves. It’s not mass-produced. Everything is unique and original,” Fretz said.

Fretz said she has always been artsy and loved learning to sew in her sixth grade home economics class. She also enjoys painting, drawing, and scrapbooking.

Fretz makes her brightly-colored frogs, finches, and sharks from fleece with vinyl lining. She said the most popular animals are the bumble bee and orca whale.

“The fun part is working out how you’re going to lay out the animal’s face and body in the backpack shape,” Fretz said.

Fretz’s backpacks are 15-by-13 inches, just the right size for a preschooler or elementary student.

However, it’s not only children that enjoy her fun backpacks. She recently made a larger orca whale for a 20-year-old.

Fretz said it takes her four to five hours to make a backpack, which she does one or two nights a week, after her son goes to bed.

For Fretz, creating backpacks is a way for her to decompress after a stressful day working as a research scientist in the Yale orthopedics department.

“It always makes me feel better,” Fretz said.

Crafting might seem like a strange pastime for a scientist, but Fretz said the creative process is very similar. She majored in biochemistry and minored in art at the University of New Hampshire, where the biochemistry department had an annual art show. As a scientist, Fretz designs experiments and comes up with novel theories to investigate, she said.

“They’re actually not that far apart, if you think about it,” Fretz said.

Local Creations is a series that will highlight the creative side of a local resident.

E F Gee! Handicrafts

Artist: Jackie Fretz

Medium: Animal backpacks

Website: www.etsy.com/shop/EFGeeHandicrafts