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