An interview with Dawn Treacher – Author, illustrator & plush artist

Dawn Treacher is a children’s book author, illustrator and plush artist based in North Yorkshire. She has a love for anything whimsical and ten years ago began creating creatures in socks under the name, Treacher Creatures. Over the years she’s embraced all manner of materials to make creatures and has specialised in re-creating children’s book characters for authors to use in their promotion and at author events.


1. The book characters you bring to life are so realistic. The attention to detail, the intricate sewing and appreciation to get it right, shines through. Can you give us a little insight into your background and how you started?

I have always loved sewing and creating creatures, even when I was a young child and would make simple creatures from an old fur hat or pieces of felt. I started seriously making creatures in 2009 when I discovered you could make pretty much any animals from a pair of socks. So Treacher Creatures was born when I had a house full of sock creatures and I opened an Etsy shop in 2010. Since then I shipped over 2,000 creatures around the world but then my focus shifted when I started writing for children. In 2017 my first picture book, Mouse Pirate was published and as I had author events to do I created Mouse Pirate in plush and also made a whole suitcase for his little home which went with me to events. That’s when other authors in my SCBWI picture book critique group noticed and so my first author order for a book character came along and I haven’t stopped making them since.

2. What was the first book character you were asked to create? What is the process between you and the author/illustrator from start to finish?

My first book character commission was for Leonie Roberts for her picture book, My colourful chameleon. It was a complex character and not easily achievable to get the color changes. I spent a long while trying to find rainbow fabrics which would achieve the effect she wanted and sent loads of images to her but none really fitted well enough. Then it occurred to me that the best way to get the shape would be crocheting using the Japanese Amigurumi continuous spiral technique, making the chameleon in one piece so this gave me the idea to explore variegated yarns.  I found the perfect one and Leonie was happy for me to experiment with this method. I already had images from her soon to be published book so from this I then crocheted the basic body shape using these as a guide. I don’t use patterns or write down patterns when I crochet, I crochet on the fly, feeling where to increase and decrease as I go. By cutting and adding the yarn to make the best of the color changes the chameleon was born.
(I have included the pictures as attachments)3. As a painter, book writer and illustrator – can you give us an idea of what a typical working day looks like for you? Or do you approach each project in a unique way?

I don’t have a typical day as my life is structured by the needs of my husband. I have been his stay at home carer for over 20 years now. I never know what each day will bring so I have to be super flexible. All my hobbies grew out of needing something flexible to do whilst being at home and they were and still are my way of maintaining my own mental well being whilst supporting someone with severe mental health problems. So my week varies a lot. I try to write every week, draw when I can and take on projects that I know I can fit around life. I always have a creature on the go, making them really lifts me when I’m struggling.  When I have a new custom order this will usually be spread out in small bursts across a week. The first step is always to look at the images I have been sent, sometimes the physical book, or the pdf of the interior as I need to see the characters in as many angles as possible. Creating a 3D creature from a 2D representation on the page which was never envisaged to be turned into a toy can be complex. Frequently the illustrator has incorporated  textures, or patterns and colours that are tricky to reproduce and I have to decide which are essential to convey the character. Also you won’t believe how many times a character isn’t consistent across a book, the number of spots or spines or sometimes even the colours and scale of things change from page to page so I tend to match the image that best sits well with the cover of the book if I can.  I need to make paper pieces for some of the fleece characters I make, though these are pretty rough and approximate really as I tend to just work with the fabric and feel my way through a design. I can’t design without the fabric in my hands.

4. Your children’s novel ‘Pandemonium of Parrots’, a steampunk fantasy adventure published by Stairwell Books, is out now! Can you tell us the inspiration behind it and its fantastic cover?

Pandemonium of parrots began life as a small phrase a friend’s child said when she saw the local power station, huge chimneys pumping out what looked like clouds, but of course are water vapor. She called Drax power station a cloud machine and the whole novel grew from that one scene. It began with a small boy inside a glass orangery where his uncle had created an artificial environment with a cloud machine,  with speakers emitting the sound of running water and a flock of mechanical parrots, which was of course the pandemonium. I immediately saw the disparity between what we show the outside world and the reality.  Otto lives in a contrived beautiful mechanical paradise when outside lays a dirty steam filled dangerous world Victoriana style with a filthy factory, workhouse and a notorious steam pirate. I knew the story would be about well hidden secrets and of course a whole zoo of mechanical animals. I knew the stakes had to be high, hence the enormous mechanical octopus.

I was lucky enough to be published by a small independent press that I had already built up a good relationship with. They’d published Mouse Pirate and I’d illustrated a number of other books for them too. So, they allowed me to do my own cover art and 39 black and white illustrations within too.  I wanted a really eye catching cover and I wanted to really play around with the images, textures and images so I created sheets and sheets of painted card, in the colours of my book with different textures in the paint. Then I cut them all up and cut out all the pieces I’d need to construct the main elements of my book, the octopus, the parrots and the steam pirate ship at sea. Then I played around with all the pieces until I was happy, sticking them onto a sheet I had already painted. It is a wrap around cover, so there is more to see on the back too.

5. You have a writers caravan, with winter heading our way, do you write in it all year round? You live in a lovely part of the UK, do you get inspired by Yorkshire when creating?

We had to move to a tiny bungalow 4 years ago but we have lots of space outside so I bought a vintage, rather poor condition caravan for a couple of hundred pounds as an extra room and so Geraldine my writing caravan was born. She is so peaceful, with no electricity at all she is for daytime use only and mostly between April to November really, though I now have a sleeping bag suit to help prolong her use this year. I am very lucky to live in rural North Yorkshire and though it doesn’t inspire my stories it gives me a great place to walk and sort out the problems of my stories, walking is great thinking time.

6. Which book character from past or present would you love to create through Treacher Creatures?

My favourite book has always been the Wind in the Willows and I’d love to have the time to recreate this wonderful bunch of characters. I’m also really looking forward to recreating the carrot elves from Kringleset Chronicles in time for the round of Christmas library book events I have lined up this year.


Mini Monsters series by Caryl Hart & Tony Neal

Caryl Hart

Dawn is an incredibly talented artist who has turned several of my book characters into plush toys that I use for schools and festival events. In 2020 she made the four characters for my Mini Monsters series, which is illustrated by Tony Neal. As you can see from the photo they look exactly like the characters in the book. The children and educational professionals I work with LOVE them!

Dawn is now in the process of making characters for my Sonny Says books as well as for The Girl who Planted Trees and Thank you for the Little Things. She is one of the only people I’ve found in the UK to be able to do such a great job. She’s a pleasure to work with and obviously loves what she does. Dawn is a real treasure and I’m so happy to be working with her!

The Bear and her Book by Frances Tosdevin & Sophia O’Connor

Frances Tosdevin

Dawn has helped me out with characters for two picture books so far. Firstly, she brought to life the quirky lizard character from my debut picture book, THE BEAR AND HER BOOK, illustrated by Sophia O’Connor and published by UCLan Publishing. This lizard has a “dodgy eye” for which the cure is to wear a patch made from a flower. As you can see, Dawn has replicated this so well!

Secondly, she made two incredible dolls to represent the artist and child—  Mo and Jo —  from AN ARTIST’S EYES, illustrated by Clémence Monnet and published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. These are made using crochet and they also wear realistic clothes which Dawn has knitted and sewed. Her attention to detail shows her dedication to her craft.

For both books, I sent Dawn some images from the book, showing the character in a variety of illustrations—  and I also communicated via email any key features that she might need to include. We discussed things like skin tone and hair colour for Mo and Jo so that they would reflect the illustrations and the nuances depicted by the illustrator.

Dawn always lets me know when she starts work on a character, and keeps me posted with her progress. Receiving the finished characters in the post is amazing! These figures are popular at book events and of course, they look great in photos on social media!


The Cat and the Rat and the Hat by Em Lynas & Matt Hunt

Em Lynas

I commissioned Dawn to make Matt Hunt’s characters, the cat, the rat and the bat, to coincide with the launch of our picture book The Cat and The Rat and The Hat in 2021 (pub Nosy Crow). I was so happy with the finished toys and they featured in the window of The Book Corner in Saltburn for launch week and beyond. They are now on their own shelf in my writing nook, guarding the books.

I could only send a few pictures to Dawn because the book was still a publishing secret so she didn’t have a lot to go on. We discussed size and materials and she got to work. She made sure they were child friendly, no wires in the tails etc, so my granddaughter can play with them. When the box arrived I was so excited to see what she had produced and they were amazing. It was like Matt’s characters had come to life. So, thanks, Dawn, one day, when my granddaughter stops chewing on things and swinging toys around by their tails, they will be hers.

King of The Swamp by Catherine Emmett & Ben Mantle

Catherine Emmett

I’ve known Dawn for a number of years as we are in a Critique group together, so I knew she was the right person to bring McDarkly from King of the Swamp to life.  Dawn needed no guidance from me, just a couple of images and she was off.  The character she made was absolutely perfect and children love him!  A slightly unexpected side effect has been that I now spend a lot of time talking to ‘McDarkly’ in videos and school visits! In all seriousness though, the character hugely helped my marketing for King of the Swamp as I made lots of videos with the character – it really helped me get the book out there and get it noticed.

Dawn is so professional and has an amazing ability to really capture a character when she makes them.  She can create in so many different mediums it is incredible – I also have a crocheted flamingo that she made, which is a character from a future book –   she really is a marvel.


All The Animals Were Sleeping by Clare Helen Welsh & Jenny Lovlie

Clare Helen Welsh

It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Dawn. I haven’t given her the easiest of tasks in the past – creating a banded mongoose and a mini colony of Arctic terns to go alongside my narrative non-fiction animal books with Jenny Lovlie and Nosy Crow – but Dawn is so talented and knowledgeable, she has been able to recommend the perfect techniques and materials (fleece for the banded mongoose and amigurumi crochet for the terns, in case you were interested!) leaving me with choices such as colour and size.

As you can see, the likenesses are fantastic, and all the props have gone down extremely well at events. It takes the pressure off me a little when everyone is so inamoured with the characters. As soon as they are revealed from a suitcase or a nest or from under a midnight sky blanket, the audience are fixed. I can’t thank Dawn enough for her incredible work, bringing illustrations to life, and I can’t wait to commission her again! A little advice – do get in contact with plenty of time. Dawn’s characters are (rightly!) so popular you won’t want to miss out.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons series by Andy Shepherd

Andy Shepherd

I was really impressed by the way Dawn brings so many book characters to life and decided last year to see if she could do the same for the dragons from ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ series. I sent her some of the wonderful artwork that Sara Ogilvie did and a brief description of the dragons from the text. She gave me options for the sort of fabric and then sent little updates as they grew as well as checking in on some of the details like the crisscrossing silver threads that flare on the blue dragon, Zing.

I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the final Flicker and Zing. They are wonderful to take to events and love a good photo opportunity! They are robust enough to put up with a lot of cuddles too!


Slug Love by Cath Jones & Craig Shuttlewood

Cath Jones

 I had seen pictures of some of Dawn’s wonderful creations and thought what a wonderful idea it was to have soft toy versions of characters from books. When Dawn contacted me and asked whether I would like her to make Slug from my new picture book Slug Love, I jumped at the chance. When the finished character arrived, I was really wowed by it. Dawn had clearly studied Slug with great care and created a perfect plush version of him. He was delightful!
He is very admired and loved whenever I produce him at book readings. He is perfect for acting out the story as I share ‘Slug Love’. The only problem is that everyone wants to hold him. It can be quite traumatic watching him being handled by rather enthusiastic young children! I would recommend Dawn whole heartedly to any picture book authors.

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