When it comes to creative pursuits, I’ve always preferred to work in three-dimensional media. Drawing and painting are fun and all, but as far as artistic skill and confidence are concerned, I’m never happier or more grounded than when I’m working with both hands, coaxing shapes out of clay, wax, wood, or stone.
I didn’t have much opportunity to sculpt after I left art school, as the cramped quarters I lived in didn’t really allow me space to fling supplies around. There was also the fact that I needed to work about sixty hours per week to make ends meet, which didn’t leave much time for creative endeavours. Drawing and writing were more portable pursuits, as I could fit a sketchbook or journal into my bag and park myself in a cafe to work, and over the years, visual art took a back seat to my writing work. Don’t get me wrong—I love to write, and I am beyond delighted that I can make a living by playing with words and coaxing stories from the ether and onto paper (or screen), but in the quiet, in-between hours, you’ll always find me making something with my hands.
My mother taught me how to crochet when I was five or six years old, and I started knitting a few years ago, so I’ve been playing with yarn and various hooked or pointy instruments for over thirty years now. I’ve found that I’m happiest when making things that are as utilitarian as they are beautiful, so items of clothing, blankets, embroidered pillowcases and the like make me smile because they’re useful and beautiful. What was it William Morris said? “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Right. Couldn’t agree more. In retrospect, that’s probably one of the main issues I had with art school: “prettiness” for its own sake doesn’t do anything for me; things I make need to serve a purpose beyond just being “pretty”.
In the vein of useful prettiness, I decided to venture into a realm that I’d never explored before: doll making. Many of my friends are new parents, and one of my dearest, closest soul-sisters recently gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Since she’s a crunchy granola mama and will be homeschooling her little one, I thought I’d make him something sweet and cute in the form of a Waldorf-style doll. These dolls embody everything that’s beautiful and wonderful about Waldorf education; a style that I’d have chosen if I’d had kids of my own. Gentleness, imaginative play, natural materials, and softness, all rolled into a soft, cuddly friend.
For this doll, I ransacked my closet for fabric bits and clothing items I’ll never wear again. A super-soft cotton/silk blend white tee shirt was dyed with tea and cabbage for the doll’s skin, and a snagged silk stocking became the tubing for the doll’s head. Wool roving that I’ve been spinning into yarn was appropriated for the stuffing, and bits of yarn left over from knit socks and hats became hair and a crocheted toque (or “beanie” for the American crowd). An organic cotton tunic was repurposed as yoga pants for the wee doll, and his sweater was created from a piece of cotton arctic fleece. All were sewn by hand, which is so much more fulfilling for me than just running something through a machine: every stitch is a meditation, and the tactile experience is so enjoyable.
I’m immensely fond of this little guy and can’t wait to start the next one.