Unika Gujar displays her handmade crochet dolls. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Crochet toys are a hot item for students at Willard Elementary School. That’s what local artist and early childhood educator Unika Gujar discovered five years ago at the school fair, where she set up a stand and sold her handmade crochet toys. 

The Willard students loved the toys, and when Unika ran out, they begged for more. Realizing the popularity of her goods, Unika decided to start selling her toys more seriously. 

Although Unika doesn’t have a website yet, she does frequent local markets and displays her toys on Instagram. She primarily sells larger crochet dolls and small animals, like cows, mice or penguins, and her toys are washable, vegan and safe for kids. The materials she uses are natural, and she said they make very popular gifts for kids and young adults. 

Unika began crocheting when she was 12, but she didn’t start making larger toys until about 10 years ago. Her niece Ulrika, nicknamed Ulkis, was a baby at the time, and Unika wanted to challenge herself by making something special for her. 

Unika successfully crocheted a colorful doll, which Ulkis immediately loved. “The minute I showed it to her, she held it, and she slept with it,” said Unika. “It was something that made me so happy.”

Unika named her brand Ulkis Toys after her niece, and said that her aim is to make her crochet dolls cute and full of character. Unika said she never makes the same doll twice, and many of her dolls are inspired by people she meets. 

The most popular of Unika’s toys are her Black dolls, she said, because kids want to see themselves represented in their toys, and it’s much harder for kids of color to find toys that look like them. So children really appreciate these dolls, she said. 

Recently, Unika crocheted a Black doll who wore beads in her hair. Unika said she displayed this doll at a market, where a little girl came up to the stand and said, “Hey, that looks like me!” The young girl’s reaction made Unika realize she needs to add more details that help children see themselves in her dolls. 

Unika also takes orders and designs dolls that reflect the appearance and interests of her customers. Unika recalls an order placed last Christmas in which she made one doll that wore glasses, another that played hockey and another that liked to read.

Customers can request dolls that are modeled after specific people. (Photo by artist)

It takes Unika approximately three to four hours to make her small crochet animals, and about a day and a half for the larger dolls. The little animals sell for $15 to $20 and the dolls range between $50 and $80. 

Unika graduated as a textile designer and has also worked as a teacher. During that time, she learned the importance of pretend play, which she hopes to encourage with her dolls. Now, Unika teaches at an after-school crochet club and a calligraphy club for students at Willard Elementary School. 

During the pandemic, Unika was unable to work and didn’t sell many dolls, so she started an additional line called Unika’s Handpainted Facemasks, which are painted and customized facemasks. “I got an amazing response for my hand-painted masks,” she said.

She is still taking orders, and her line’s Facebook page shows several hundred designs she painted onto masks. 

Prospective customers can place an order with Unika, either for custom-made face masks or for her crochet toys, by emailing her at ulrikaaraa@gmail.com.

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...