How I Started Making Dolls – A History of Bamboletta

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This is Lillian – she is my first ever doll and sits on the windowsill in our workshop.

See – I don’t think this stuff is interesting but I do get asked about how I got started making dolls quite a bit so I thought I’d write down how this all started. I know I’ve written this all down somewhere but I’m not sure where it is and it would be nice to have it somewhere I can refer people to when asked. So sorry for the long, long read…

About 8 years ago a few things happened that ‘ignited’ my dollmaking obsession. The first was reading and developing an interest in Steiner’s philosophy (Steiner is the founder of Waldorf education) – specifically around toys and dolls. Steiner believed that dolls should be made with natural ‘ingredients’ (as a child’s touch is very sensitive to materials, etc) and that the doll should have a neutral facial expression (so that it can reflect what the child ‘needs’ in his/her play – be it happy, sad, or somewhere in between). I don’t know why – maybe it was divine intervention or something, but I became obsessed with this idea – it just made SO much sense to me. I read everything I could about Waldorf dolls – sourcing books from Germany and Japan – I could not get enough info about these magical dolls. Secondly,  we found out my sister in law was having a baby and I was intent on finding her a doll – the perfect gift I believed – from her aunt and uncle in Canada. Well, I searched and searched and just couldn’t find anything I really liked. The dolls were really old fashioned looking (not what I was after) or looked (to me) commercialized and homogeneous – like they had no soul or something. It’s not like it is now – with a search on Etsy bringing up a myriad of dollmakers – back then Etsy didn’t even exist! So – armed with a book called ‘Baby Dolls and Their Friends’ I made my first doll and was hooked. I still remember making my first doll – my breath was shallow as this little doll came together and I worked into the wee hours until she was done. I still have her – lol – I remember how hard it was to figure out what to use for skin and my trip to the wool shop asking for stuffing. I was so proud of her – Lillian .. she sits on my window sill in the workshop. I couldn’t believe that out of fabric and wool and yarn this doll had been ‘born’.  Something was ignited that evening – I felt as though I was on a high – in a bubble where time and space didn’t matter – in the ‘flow’. It was pure magic.

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More of my first dolls – I wish now that I had saved more of them.

I then made one for my niece, and then for a friend – and another and another. Each time trying out different patterns – always tweaking and playing around with what I was doing. It has taken me years to develop my pattern. I wanted to stay true to the traditional Waldorf method of dollmaking but wanted it to have my own fingerprint on it – I love the outstretched arms .. like the dolls are going to give you a hug and their chubby little bodies! Same with the faces – my first few dolls went the ‘traditional’ Waldorf route – but then I experimented with the round eyes – you can see the progression over time on my Flickr site. It’s taken me years of trial and error to get the dolls where they are at and they will still continue to evolve and progress in the years to come .. I can’t see how they can’t! This is one of the most pleasurable things about making dolls – just how much I am continually learning.  So – dolls for friends progressed into doll sales at Farmers Markets and selling dolls at local stores in Vancouver. Then came Etsy.

Etsy started in the summer of 2005 and I joined up in the spring of 2006. When you’d enter in ‘Waldorf dolls’ in the search engine – you’d get something like 2 listings -the Waldorf dollmaking scene wasn’t what it is now! The look of Waldorf dolls then wasn’t what it is now either. I remember going to Waldorf schools selling dolls where the teachers would be aghast that I had made a doll with un natural color in it’s hair, and with funky clothing – it just wasn’t done. The fact that I combined yarns was a big deal too – it’s pretty much only ever been straight mohair. I’m sure there were other dollmakers doing things similar to what I did – especially in Europe and Japan – but it wasn’t anything they’d seen before. I remember feeling gutted when a teacher told me that my dolls looked too ‘happy’ (a true Waldorf doll is supposed to look neutral).. anyhow – it was then I decided that what I do isn’t a ‘Waldorf’ doll – it’s a Bamboletta and it made me happy. I knew that if I wanted a doll like I was making then there sure as heck would be other moms wanting the same thing. I then sold my dolls to online retailers – I had my first son Benjamin – and kept making them .. sort of as a side ‘project’. I was fortunate to get some great press – the dolls were in ‘Mothering’ magazine’s Best Toys a few years running and in various other magazine’s and blogs. I didn’t do that many Etsy sales as I mainly was focusing on store orders, custom orders and Farmers Markets.. then everything changed when I moved to Vancouver Island.

historyblog3She may not be pretty but my 1970’s house has a lot of space – space that is very necessary as Bamboletta grows. I can’t see us being in here that much longer but the basement has been great for holding all our ‘stuff’.

I’ve been on the Island for just over 3 years. I was very pregnant with Jasper at the time and we bought a big old 1972 house. At the time when we bought there was hardly anything on the market and I felt that crazy 3rd trimester urge to nest and settle down. I often wonder about how we ended up with our home – it’s not a type of house that I’d ever be attracted too but it’s got a huge basement that has been perfect for our business and has been able to grow with us (although I feel as though our time in the basement is coming to an end). Again and again I’ve been amazed and have felt blessed that things come together like they have. Once Jasper was born – I decided to take the plunge and hire on a helper – I ended up hiring 2 – Julie and Gillian and trained them to sew on hair, sew bodies together and machine sew various things together. By this point I had Reggie making almost all my clothing (with help from the lovely Con from SillyCon – my good pal!) – I’d send her patterns and fabrics and she sends me boxes of doll sewing loveliness! This is about the time where I got my own website – I’d always had bamboletta.com but I hired Aeolidia create my online shop. Then Michelle joined us and sadly Gillian moved away and Julie changed professions (but I was lucky enough that she piece worked for me until she moved to Vancouver). Brandi then joined me in the afternoons once her shift at the post office was over. Brandi, Michelle and my website shopping cart was a major step for Bamboletta. Then things just snowballed – more press, more sales – uploads kept getting faster and faster and the Facebook numbers just kept climbing. By October 2009 – I had 3 sewing mamas (Michelle, Gwen and Krysta) and Brandi helping me in the afternoons. Before then I’d always have custom dolls spots open (it was just something you’d put in your cart!) I had clothes on the site – and dolls took about an hour to sell out! I’m not quite sure what happened – I think I hit the ‘tipping point’ where enough of my customers had told their friends who told their friends, etc. From then until now I feel as though I’ve been trying to get a handle on what’s going on and where I’d like it to go. I’m so lucky to have the ladies that I have with me (and John!)!!  I’m growing the business slowly , which may be annoying for those wanting dolls, but I know this is how it must be done for me. I’ve got soo many ideas and plans for Bamboletta – it’s exciting to think about how and when they may come into fruition! So far people and opportunities have come at the most perfect times so I trust this process entirely. It annoys my accountant and probably doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint but I feel like what we are doing here is something very different. More on this in another post…

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It’s been a long road with lots of trial and error, many cups of tea and many wonderful hands helping out  (Rachel, Brandi, Michelle, Miriam, Sherry, Deb, Shauna, Valdelia and Liz). And my customers – I can’t thank all of you enough – you are all beyond customers – you have been integral in creating Bamboletta – and for that I can’t thank you enough.

Still awake? 😉

xoxo
C

PS – Big shout out to Petra – the lady who is Bamboletta Helper on Facebook – how awesome is she?

Cassandra - June 20, 2010 - 8:18 pm

Still awake and what a lovely read! Thank you for sharing and must have been a “day” for me because I got all emotional and happy reading your post!
Yay for you guys and please keep doing what you are doing! All of you make us so happy!

Petra - June 20, 2010 - 8:19 pm

Of course we’re awake you silly woman!

Con - June 20, 2010 - 8:25 pm

I never knew that was your first doll on the window sill, I love it!

Amy E. - June 20, 2010 - 8:29 pm

What an amazing read Christina…….you are doing what you love. You put your heart and soul into every single doll you create and it shows. Thanks you so much for sharing this…..xoxo

Alison - June 20, 2010 - 8:33 pm

That was a lovely read! With a graduate degree in Entrepreneurship I have studied many a business, from the tiny tiny small to the multi-national corporation and I have been a business owner myself (of many forms and companies)… and I love to watch a business grown from the ground up, see it flourish and take on new life. I have met with, and sat in meeting with business owners, shareholders and stakeholders and I have learned that a successful business has two main ingredients… an owner with passion and good customers… the rest usually falls into place! Bamboletta, it seems, has both!

So thanks for the blog post – it was truly wonderful! I wish you continued success and joy from your business! I hope and pray that you will continue to have passion…. we will all try and be good customers and I am sure the rest will magically fall into place! 🙂

Cheers to you all! 😉

Barbara Houck - June 20, 2010 - 8:34 pm

Thanks for the wonderful background story to your blissful little creations! 🙂

Alicia - June 20, 2010 - 8:38 pm

I loved reading about how it all started 🙂 It shows even more how much you love what you do and I truly believe that is what makes your dolls special!

christina - June 20, 2010 - 8:46 pm

So very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

Jennifer P - June 20, 2010 - 8:52 pm

What a great story Christina…it was really touching to read your journey!

Rebecca - June 20, 2010 - 8:53 pm

Thanks for sharing – loved reading about the evolution of your beautiful dolls 😀

Gina - June 20, 2010 - 9:18 pm

lovely post, fantastic journey … and you’ve only just begun!
Auguri, carissima!

Laurie - June 20, 2010 - 9:21 pm

And this is all why I love Bamboletta!!!
C, I’m sure you have thought about this… and not knocking any “more traditional” Waldorf doll styles. But I too have Googled until the wee hours of the morning hunting for “unhomed” Bambos, then “handcrafted dolls”, then “Waldorf Dolls”. And there are many sites to take you into the wee hours of the morning… Only to find that the charm that comes with your creations is unique and truly special. I am so glad (in a very selfish way) that those teachers blanched at your work as being “not-Waldorf enough” because without events like those you might have lost your personal style in the entire process. Hooray for you, for knowing who you are and and putting your own touch on these lovely beauties.

Ingrid - June 20, 2010 - 10:05 pm

For someone who is not very waldorf myself, I remember those early days of “brave-ing” the Waldorf school events so that i could peek in on your dolls. I have loved watching both you and your business grow together. And miss the days of bumping into to a Bamboletta friend in a new shop unexpectedly. I still remember a time when there were a table full of dolls on display!! We still have our first doll, a sleepy-eyed light purple pouch doll. Although our dolls don’t look quite as clean as the ones in your pictures. I look forward to the many adventures ahead for the Bamboletta family.

Ashli - June 20, 2010 - 11:03 pm

Your story is certainly inspiring! Congratulations on your success xo

Cassie Cardinal - June 20, 2010 - 11:44 pm

Christina – Thank you for sharing such a lovely story.

Rachelle - June 21, 2010 - 12:04 am

So interesting to read how you first started….I love seeing your earlier dolls…..Thanks for sharing this!!! It is obvious you love what you do……

Lea T - June 21, 2010 - 4:10 am

I loved reading the synopsis of how Bamboletta came about. It was definitely meant to be! I’m so happy for your success and look forward to seeing just how awesome and successful you continue to grow in the future!

Naomi - June 21, 2010 - 5:10 am

I loved reading about how you fell into dollmaking, thank you for sharing your story!

kate - June 21, 2010 - 5:35 am

Love you to pieces C. Really. Look forward to seeing how Bamboletta grows and changes and thrives and creates in the future. xoxox

Jamie - June 21, 2010 - 6:34 am

I just noticed as I finished reading this that I have a smile on my face that had obviously been there from the start because my mouth kind of hurts. Thank you for sharing, it was wonderful to read the growth of your passion through your eyes!

Teri - June 21, 2010 - 8:03 am

Your dolls are so amazing because everyone can feel the love you have for them! Thank you for ALL you do!!

Vira - June 21, 2010 - 10:46 am

It is truly amazing how things come together. I remember first coming across Bamboletta in early 2008 in one of the online shops based of of the island. I was pregnant at the time and fell in love with the dolls. I thought I’d come back once my DD was older, and here I am with my 2 year old 🙂 Hopefully by the time she is big enough to play with her own Bamboletta I will actually manage to get one 😉
I also think that since Waldorf dolls are supposed to be simply kids – it is normal for them to be happy. Childhood is a happy place, even if at times it is sad or grumpy. So it was a little shocking to hear that you were criticized for making them like that. And it is so great to see those dolls that really seem to have their own personality and soul. Thank you for all your hard work!

cheryl - June 21, 2010 - 1:38 pm

Love your first doll and the magic of Waldorf whatever it is…mine has a lot to do with the block crayons and love the beeswax. So glad you found inspiration as now we can share your vision of filling the world with the squishist Bambolettas that make me smile:) Thank you !

Michelle - June 21, 2010 - 2:23 pm

This just reinforces my need for one of these beautiful dolls. I don’t care how long it takes, I feel like the correct doll will come into my (and my daughter’s life) when the time is right. I’ve looked at other Waldorf dolls but none of them speak to me like these darling dollies. I’m so looking forward to the day when I actually manage to get one.

Hillary - June 21, 2010 - 2:41 pm

I know when I recieved my doll in the mail last week and I opened her it was MAGIC… if we could all be so lucky to be passionate about our careers. Thank you all for what you do and in a way youve added a measure of happiness and joy to my life! and introduced me to some very wonderful people all because of the admiration we share for these dolls.

Thank You C…
Hillary

Brenda Bell - June 21, 2010 - 5:31 pm

I am so glad that you wrote this Christina! It shows that you put so much heart into each one of these dolls! I love how you still have little Lillian sitting in your window to remind you of why are do this everyday! Thank you for making the most wonderful doll for my little girl! I can’t wait to see where you go from this and hope that you allow me to go with you!!!!! Love.

Inga - June 22, 2010 - 9:25 am

I heard a friend mention your company yesterday, and I quickly found myself enchanted by the family of dolls you have created and the obvious joy they have brought to so many families. Thank you for sharing the story of how you began and how you reached where you are!

Amber Strocel - June 22, 2010 - 11:46 pm

I love your story. I love that you are doing your thing, YOUR thing, totally, and growing it that way. It inspires me and makes me think that I can do it, too. If only I can figure out what MY thing is.

Shelly - June 23, 2010 - 11:52 am

It is such an HONOR for me to witness your growth, C & Company! You have mentioned ‘hiccups’ and ‘growing pains’ in the past, but I see it more like a musical staff … with different tempos and chords, rising and dipping, and all lovely, loving music along the way. Big hugs to all of you who make Bamboletta so, so special 🙂

Jan - June 29, 2010 - 5:54 pm

While your first doll were wonderful, lately they are just getting better and better! Worth missing a few uploads, and waiting for the ultimate bambo – LOL

Vera - July 3, 2010 - 1:50 pm

Thank you for sharing!…

Monica - July 8, 2010 - 12:41 pm

I just loved reading this….and love that I’ve “known” you from so early on….it’s been thrilling to watch you grow Christina!

Heather - July 28, 2010 - 2:49 pm

I really enjoyed reading your story. Kudos to you for following your heart and waiting for the right time to make changes. It is no coincidence that the right people, circumstances, etc. came to you when you needed them. That is very inspiring to me.

Kate G - May 21, 2011 - 7:10 pm

Wonderful read- I am so happy to learn about Bamboletta, you, the Mommas, & now I want to learn about Waldorf 🙂 Thank you for sharing your passion, your life with us

Ang w - May 21, 2011 - 8:27 pm

What a lovely story! You have a gift, we are all so lucky you followed your heart and stayed true to yourself. Bamboletta is truly wonderful and unnique and I’m very greatful for what you and the rest of the Bamboletta team do. The smiles and joy to the little secrets my daughter shares with her doll are truly priceless. I will cherish those memories aways and i have you to thank for it. I’m happy to be a small part of the community that supports your shop. It’s a win win situation in my book and i hope to support the Bamboletta Team any way i can as a thank you for all the little giggles your doll brings ro my little one. Hugs! Ang

Holly Jean Donovan - May 21, 2011 - 9:08 pm

This is a great story! You have enough fans to fill a small stadium, lol. All for the love!! Your dolls indeed have little spirits all their own :)Thanks for sharing.

Bambo lover - May 22, 2011 - 12:18 am

OMG only just saw this

Bamboletta Team Rocks

Megan Benson - May 22, 2011 - 7:24 am

It is always fascinating when passion, commitment, vision, hard work, and good business sense combine. It is my impression that it doesn’t happen very often. Your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing this.

belajar bahasa inggeris - October 13, 2011 - 5:00 am

belajar bahasa inggeris …

[…]bamboletta: natural, handcrafted companions for little ones – » Blog Archive » How I Started Making Dolls – A History of Bamboletta[…]…

susie - October 19, 2011 - 3:21 am

Well, not sure how I missed this wonderful story, but I feel I am still a newbie in so many ways, although I got my first doll in January of this year, sweet Sally. She was a gift for my first granddaughter, and since then, I have been able to find our other 2 girls a doll, and one for Mimi too:) I have fallen in love with your company, and every doll I see each week, just keeps that magic real and fun for me. Dolls have always had a special place in my life…lots of wonderful Christmas memories where a doll was all that mattered under the tree. I loved them all:)Thanks for sharing your story, and so happy I found Bamboletta! My grand girls and MiMi are making sweet memories with your special dolls:)

Theresa - November 24, 2011 - 2:27 am

Oh, I loved reading this and finding out more about the origins of the happy dolls 🙂
I grew up with Steiner dolls, but yours just exude joy and make me smile. oh, the cuteness!
Thank you for inspiring me.
Theresa xx

Kathy Hoy - December 3, 2011 - 12:26 am

amazing story and very inspiring =) thank you. I always believe that things work out even when you dont expect them to. You moved in a house that allowed you to grow and you didn’t even know it =) Love stories like this.

Amy Lynn - December 8, 2011 - 6:16 pm

Thank you for sharing your story! As a Waldorf parent I just want to say that I absolutely love your dolls and cannot wait to get my hands on one! We have other Waldorf dolls but there is just something ‘magical’ about your bambolettas or the elusive bamboletta as we call them lol. Waldorf education seeks to spark creativity and imagination within the children and your dolls are clearly born from that, as they are all works of art. <3

Hillary - December 11, 2011 - 11:31 am

What a lovely natural story…..everything just truly flowed for Bamboletta. Thanks for sharing!

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sahara Goulet - December 12, 2011 - 7:57 pm

i can tell how mutch you have workedhard to make them look this good.

Erica Eley - December 14, 2011 - 11:51 pm

Awesome, my first time reading how it all started. You’re an inspired woman and I am so happy to be getting to know you through Facebook and blog posts and I will forever be supporting you and the team. Someday I hope that every child in the world will be blessed with their very own Bamboletta doll, the most special doll in all the world. xoxo Thank you for following your heart!

Victoria - January 12, 2012 - 11:51 am

It is so refreshing and inspiring to read a great sucess story, keep making Bamboletta dolls I’m certain they are every little girls dream to be a proud mom to one of your dolls. When you do decide that you want to grow bigger I’m sure the Dragon’s would be right behind you on this one. Are you familiar with the American Girl doll (cute but plasic), Bamboletta has the potential to be as big and I might add is a much prettier doll – go for it!

Kelly Paquet - May 7, 2012 - 3:49 pm

Thank you for sharing how you got started making your lovely dolls! I wish you all the best in the future!

[…] We are over the moon about having over 10,000 fans on our Facebook page, can you believe it?! For those of you who are new friends of ours, having 10,000 fans is so crazy exciting. Bamboletta has grown so much in the past decade and we cannot tell you how much we appreciate all of you. From farmers markets to our most recent expansion at the studio, everyone at the shop and the women who work from home are all honoured to be doing this for you!..and you!…and you!! If you are interested in reading about our history, go here! […]

The Heart » Bamboletta Blog - June 1, 2013 - 7:44 pm

[…] get asked why I started making the dolls from interested people. I go on about this in length on this blog post about the history of Bamboletta but tonight I felt it important to write about the heart ,or the spark, of what got me […]

Naomi - April 13, 2016 - 10:36 am

Oh! I love this, it wasn’t long enough! I love stories and yours is so magical. I don’t know you and you me, except I’m Frumfabulous on snapchat and I think you follow me but I’m giving you HUGE HUGE hugs because your so inspiring. We have one baby doll and I want more. I haven’t found another that’s ‘us’ yet. And I’ve been considering making one *gasp* and *gulp*

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