Sunday, November 27, 2016

Busy Busy!...

...Or, December blessings!

Sorry to have been absent, but Cloth Doll Designs has been surprisingly busy.  Our third and final Craft Fair is coming up December 10 in Hagerstown, MD, from 10 - 4, and then immediately off to our THIRD baby shower of the year ... this one for my oldest daughter Becky.  YES! All three of my children had/are having BABIES this year.  


 And even NTSOG is enjoying grandpa-hood!<3 p="">

We're busy fulfilling custom orders - happily! - and the Doll Cave is starting to overflow with scraps and half finished Waldorf dolls.  Between times it's bee  a blessing to relax making LinusProject. Org  comfort blankets for hospitalized children.  As many of you know, this summer NTSOG's beloved German Shepherd suddenly reverted to his  K9 predator instincts and critically mauled our 3 year old granddaughter. She was airlifted to Johns Hopkins Hospital where it took a team of 5 surgeons 4 hours to put her back together.  The personal guilt and trauma will never go away - and obviously tensions between our families are palpable. But while visiting her in the hospital I learned that all children there are presented with a "comfort blanket"" made by volunteers in the area. The fact that a stranger somewhere had cared enough to make make a frightened child's hospital stay just a bit less traumatic was so touching I signed up to make these blankets as well...although it might be said that's I've become a bit obsessed lately.

the first 10 of thirty...
And finally,  it's time for our annual trip to Mexico!  My goal is always to find typical fabrics for Quetzalli, our Mexican-themed Etsy Shop. Mexican "tipicas" fabrics are wonderfully colorful and inspiring. Last year we brought back fabrics and  when my daughter's baby arrived, my awesome sisters-in-law sent me the beautiful rebozo pictured below.  And no surprise, whenever my grandson gets fussy, swaddling him the rebozo IMMEDIATELY calms him down.  We now call it "the magic rebozo..."

Telas Folklóricas from the village.

The "Magic Rebozo"
So, another Sunday night, Doll Cave fans!  Lots of appointments, substitute teaching, and of course, babysitting this week!  In spite of so many traumas this year has brought, it has brought so many blessings.  Living well is the best revenge, and life IS good. As they say at AA:

May your week be filled with living well, and may crafting fill your life with joy.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rebooting a craft business...

...Or, let me open a second Etsy shop because the first one has been so unsuccessful.

Back in the January doldrums, when crafters recover from the holiday rush, reorganize their craft space and rehydrate  their burned-out inspiration, I read a small book that gave me a welcome new perspective on on-line marketing:

Unlike most guides to on-line marketing, it offers some very specific advice about setting up your marketplace  by helping you think about your audience and potential clients.  I realized, for example, that I was trying to market two very different kinds of dolls: personalized Waldorf  "portrait" dolls and classic Raggedy Anns for grandmothers and suburban moms who appreciate high-end materials (mine are organic) and ) vs. Day of the Dead and bizarrely colorful dolls for  quirky Goth and Halloween-aficionado types who appreciate the Death-As-Artistic -Celebration vibe of the Day of the Dead motif.  Once I had this "aha" moment, my marketing and social networking goals became suddenly clear and realizable: no more a vague "some of this and some of that" to-do list; I could effortlessly envision a focused, audience-specific organization of strategies, venues and campaigns to address each of the two  disparate markets.

Grandma's Dolls are not  Day of the Dead Dolls
Most valuable to me, however, was the author, Dani Marie's, chapter on setting up and growing an online presence.  She gives explicit, step by step, task lists of how to establish a branded presence on social network sites. I found this "First do this; then do this" chapters especially helpful, especially to my attention-deficit addled brain.  It lays out how, in 15 minutes a day, you can effortlessly  reach out to the "internets"  to establish the kind of personalized conversation  with potential buyers that characterizes so many successful handmade marketing relationships.  A good example of this is the Waldorf-doll business Bamboletta  (, which probably produces several hundred unique and seriously adorable dolls a month, yet makes each and every social network interaction feel like the beginning of a long and beautiful new friendship.

The upshot of all this was that I am establishing a new store, Quetzalli (it means beautiful in the language of the Mayans), that represents the colorful and artfully quirky and colorful dolls inspired by my life in Mexico and my love for the Day of the Dead celebration.  One of the most difficult aspects of the last month was finding PATIENCE to wait for a logo to be developed and to design, create and prepare the new dolls for the shop. But it has truly been worth the struggle...and excitement, and instead of dreading it, I'm actually looking forward to marketing.

Because one Etsy shop is never enough
Within two weeks I hope to have finished two if not three of the new Quetzalli models and stocked the store ready to launch.  It is AMAZING how much better your creative juices flow when you have a clear vision - or brand - for your product. And when you get bored with sewing one product, there is a whole other product line to work on, like these little 10" Waldorf dolls..Still under construction, but they make my heart smile!

Sunday night, crafty friends.  Here on the East coast we're hoping for a break in three weeks of constant  rain,, and in the nations capital, specifically, anticipating the annual  flick of the climate switch that takes us from dank almost-winter to the hot and humid blast of summer almost overnight.  But where ever you are, may there be sunshine in your heart and the fresh breezes of inspiration flowing though your hands. Enjoy the seasonal changes and may they bring a fresh create perspective to what ever you do.  Spinners, weavers, knitters, crocheters, those who felt and those who paint....let your handmade flag fly high and be proud.

Craft on.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Craft Shows For Fun and Maybe Profit

...Or, the Importance of Finding Good Homes for Your Strays

Upfront disclaimer: I don't have to make a living from crafting. If I did,  the name of today's blog would be something like, "The Importance of Craft Shows for Meeting Your Customer Base" or some other marketing buzzword-loaded title. However, as a retired educator with the cushion of a small pension and some consulting gigs, I have the luxury of being able to wax poetic about the creative process instead of having to stress and scheme about making the next dollar. Nevertheless, exhibiting at craft shows and interacting with customers remains not only the best way to learn about your niche audience , but also, surprisingly, to learn about yourself.


In late October I received an invitation out of the blue to attend the Artisan Christmas Market in nearby Hagerstown, MD, the county seat of rural Washington County in western Maryland. The organizer explained that she had searched Etsy for local "real" artisans.  I figured this was a good opportunity to clear out the 2 bins of dolls taking up space under the sewing table. Hagerstown is a fairly conservative town  in a depressed area; I set my expectations low and readied the Raggedy Ann's and Waldorf-inspired dolls. Still, one of my bins was half empty from the last craft fair so I threw in some Day of the Dead art dolls that had been languishing on  my Etsy site for about a year.

Downtown Hagerstown, deserted.  Uh-oh...

The city was deserted and grey in the overcast morning when I finally found my way down a long dimly lit hall into the exhibition space.  At first a few finishers from the race wandered in sporting ugly Christmas sweaters or reindeer antlers, some pushing toddlers in racing strollers, other brandishing their finishing medals, but clearly none of them with wallets or money.  I mentally rolled my eyes and wondered who was going to be around  once the 50-odd race participants and their families had left downtown.

Let's run to the Christmas Market!

It turned out, in fact, that most of Washington County was around.  The poorly attended race was the mere kick-off to an entire day of downtown holiday promotions complete with outdoor music, a variety of "pop up" shopping opportunities: booths, food vendors, small shop activities and events. For six hours a steady stream of customers  came through, compete with "passports" and a map of the various holiday points of interest. Temperatures outside hovered at a global-warming 67 degrees. Restaurants threw open their outdoor street patios to a veritable festival of holiday spirit. Historical downtown Hagerstown, I learned, is experiencing a renaissance of  the arts and commerce. For six hours, a steady stream of happy Hagerstowners brimming with the Christmas spirit  streamed through looking to BUY.

We were barely 15 Artisans

Having assumed that the area was very conservative,  I had kept the Day of the Dead Raggedy Anns and Dia de Los Muertos art dolls packed up. But since I only had a small, one-table display, empty spots began to appear as dolls sold.  That when the "quirky" dolls came out to fill the gaps... and THAT's when I found out that I had totally misjudged Hagerstown, MD. 

My Calavera with Golden Roses
There must be an under-served Steampunk generation of young people in town because Day of the Dead items - a concept practically unknown and unappreciated by the stolidly bourgeois German /Scotch-Irish citizens of Western Maryland -went like hotcakes!  And when my quirky little stump doll calavera, a one-of-a-kind "stray"  who has been on Etsy forEVER sold, I almost cried.  That's her in the photo at the top of the blog. I wanted to get the buyer's contact information  and ask her to be my new Best Friend Forever!  She "gets" me!

That moment when someone buys the quirky doll you made because you couldn't help yourself.

As crafters, many of us are heading into our  "hibernation and rejuvenation" period of the year, after the holidays, when we clean and reorganize our craft spaces, experiment with new forms, and begin to restock our inventories. At this unassuming little craft fair I learned a lot about how I was going to spend the next few months.  Yes, the Raggedy Ann's continue to be a popular item. The Waldorf-inspired dolls, which are new to my inventory, sell well, but authentic ones with the embroidered eyes are a little pricey for craft fairs it seems.  That's a product to maybe push online.  Everyone LOVES the Grandma was a Flower Child series, and I enjoy it as well, so I'll look forward to more of them. 

Grandma Was a Flower Child, Commission

But what I'll REALLY do is savor the connection I felt with the folks who bought my "strays:" the Day of the Dead dolls and the quirky non-traditional renditions of the classic Raggedy Anns, Waldorf and Freaky Fairy dolls. "Strays" are those creations that come from some hidden reservoir of inspiration we all possess, the ones that feed our creative souls.   So while you are busy the next few weeks building a successful craft business, maybe  standardizing production or Instagraming  your market campaign, don't lose sight of your outliers, those spur-of-the-moment one of a kind "strays"  that are so unique that they would be impossible to recreate. Strays  are the truest expression of your creative spirit.

When we make inventory for craft fairs and online shops we are artisans, in the best medieval, skilled tradesmen sense of the word, but when we create our "strays," we are artists. Being craft artisans feeds our pocket book, and being artists feeds our soul.  As we go move into the new year, resolve to be both.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

'How to Survive the Holiday Craft Season,...

...Or, Please Don't Buy Anything from My Etsy Shop Or I Won't Have Any Left for the Christmas Bazaar."

I'm guessing I'm not the only crafter who has a love-hate relationship with the holidays.  On the one hand, it has the potential to be the most profitable time of year; on the other hand, between chasing the online sales and keeping up with craft fairs and Christmas bazaars I long for the peace of an empty evening drinking rum-laced coffee and munching on sugar cookies without feeling guilty about the small mountain of headless or naked dolls languishing in the Doll Cave.

For example, last week I was an interpreter at my daughter's elementary school for parent-teacher conferences, happily chatting with teachers during the break, chewing crappy pizza when my phone "dinged" a sale on Etsy.  Hey! that's GREAT, right!  But I'm so stressed from the season that the first thing I thought was, "Oh hell. Now I need to make another one for the holiday bazaar..."  Trust me, sales on Etsy are not so frequent that I can afford to have a attitude about them...but there you have it.  'Tis the season...

And here's a most crafters, I strive to grow and improve my skills,  and yet...not.  Most recently I sat down with a bottle of wine and a blank Waldorf doll head  to practice embroidered eyes. Nothing says "Not an authentic Waldorf doll" more than button eyes.  Also I didn't feel right selling them for small children.

I also worked on making the heads themselves...trying for a rounder more standardized shape from one doll to another instead of the haphazard oblong models that had been "good enough."      

Happily, all this intrepid-ness paid off:  dolls that could at last be marketed as "Waldord" dolls:


But now the dilemma is that now I'm not happy about selling the earlier versions, but it would be impossible to make enough of the newer versions in time to take advantage of  holiday sales. And anyway, I don't know about you, but sometimes ALL of my work looks crappy. Between imperfections and inconsistent photography it's sometimes a stretch just to dare to put things "out there" for sale. And when things do sell,  it worries me that the buyer will get it home and suffer buyer's remorse and write me a nasty letter demanding her money back.

Kinda kills the fun of making dolls in the first place.  As an antidote it's a relief to play around with the "earlier" Waldorf versions and create the "Grandma Was a Flower Child" dolls. Like the rest of us grandmas, they're by definition imperfect and quirky.  Ironically, they're also some of the best sellers (if it can be said that Cloth Doll Designs has ANY best sellers, given the small volume of sales..haha.)  The latest "Grandma" is an obsessive crafter, so she has a quilted skirt, a crocheted vest and a beaded peace necklace...and a lacy Wonderbra! The fun is back!

So on that note, it's time to pack up the Doll Cave and the blog and head back upstairs.  The #@!@#! Pittsburgh Steelers ruined my Sunday anyway.  I'm not sure I even want to live in a world in which the Washington Redskins are in first place in their division.

Another Sunday night, doll fans.  The count-down to the holidays begins in earnest.  If you are a crafter, may your sales soar, your wallet fatten, and may you find satisfaction in sending your finished products out into the real world. But more than this, may you find the FUN and remember the reason you started creating in the first place. Carry on, creators; love what you do and do what you love.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weird sewing tools you didn't know you needed, or...

..time to blog because if I keep sewing my trapezius is going to knot up like a pretzel.

Four months post rotator cuff surgery and we're about right where we were before it, relying on liberal applications of ice and Chardonnay to keep the pain away...but who wants to talk about that! The Doll Cave has been going full speed since October. We geared up to prepare for the Urbana Craft Show, where the Waldorf-inspired dolls made their first real-life (as opposed to internet) appearance and proved to be a whole lot more popular than Raggedy Anns. As a result, pride being what it is, I hunkered down to perfect my craftsmanship.

Perfecting the shape and size of the Waldorf doll head.

It's also been a race to get my modest inventory up to my shop on Etsy. Apparently in the Etsy world, the month of November is the Black Friday of the online sales world. Sadly, updating my Etsy store is my least favorite part of making dolls, yet update it I did. Using the mobile photo app BeFunky helped with the photos, and the Etsy seller app also streamlined the process, but over all ...yawn.

I did discover that becoming active on Instagram is a productive way to engage potential buyers. as well as FaceBook,  friends and referrals. I was also invited to a local Artisan Christmas Show in December, meaning more dolls to make and clothe. And, to  be honest,  I am loving every minute of it!   So yeah, now is not the time to be slowed down by that pesky massive tear in my rotator cuff which hasn't healed completely, or as it currently feels, at all. Bring on the Chardonnay!

Meanwhile, down in the Doll Cave, the learning continues.  Sometimes the most productive learning actually takes place AFTER you've developed a little expertise. Thanks to the Internet and  Amazon,  I have been able to fine tune the parts of Waldorf doll-making that have been most difficult: embroidering eyes, for example, and defining the head.  Embroidering eyes professionally is just a matter of practice, practice...and more practice, but for the head, I turned to the Internet and also bought these two books. Probably I should have gotten them BEFORE this journey started, but even after having sold a few dolls,  I still learned from them. I recommend them - or at least either one of them - to future wannabe Waldorf doll-makers.

One of the most effective new techniques I learned was to needle felt the wool of the doll head as it is being wrapped into a ball. To do this, I used forceps instead of my fingers to keep the wool ball steady for the felting.  Having already liberally partaken of Mr. Chardonnay, I wanted to save my fingers from pain and mayhem should the felting needs drunkenly go astray.

This reminded me how useful those forceps have been for so many turning small tubes of fabric, pulling out stuck needles, and taking small inside out anything to the right side.  So as a public service to the sewing community, and in the interest of educating the new generation of dollmakers, here's the deal: go to now..don't try to be frugal and put it off like I did... and buy some forceps.  I use me 7" ones the most, though I do use  the big ones occasionally.

Speaking of stuck needles, I've also started using a curved needle to make those frustrating stitches that join yarn hair to scalps.  The challenge is always to dig the needle down far enough to catch the fabric of the scalp while staying close enough to the "part" of the hair style to come up close on the other side.  The answer to this is the curved needle.  Works great, and saves your finger tips from those random stabs and jabs a straight needle will give you as you poke around for a place to come through the fabric. You can buy curved needles at any sewing or craft store.  Don't be cheap (like I was). Go buy yours now.

Sewing yarn to doll head scalp with the curved needle

OK, doll fans.  The Chardonnay is just about gone, and the Bradly-Rios fight on HBO is beyond boring, although it is fascinating to know, according to the commentators, that Mexican-American fighter, Brandon Rios, "loves tacos..." Duh.  It's time to save, publish, log off the computer, and go to sleep.

It's Saturday night live in the Doll Cave, fellow crafters.  The Steelers are nationally televised tomorrow, so I get to watch their humiliation on the big TV instead of on my tiny iPhone screen via NFL Ticket.  It's all good. Here in the Doll Cave we bleed black and gold, no matter what.  May Sunday (or Monday) bring victory to YOUR favorite NFL team (unless, of course, it's the Raiders, ...or the Patriots. God, I HATE the Patriots.). More importantly, may the week to come find you continuing the learn and grow in your own craft.  There's always something out there to learn, and always something to teach.  Be learners, crafters, but resolve as well to be teachers, too. Pass on the crafts to another generation.  Don't let the creativity die.

Craft on, courageously.

Monday, August 3, 2015

You Lose Yourself in the Things That you Love, Or...

One Step Back but Two Steps Forward!

The last three days marked a return to the Doll Cave with a vengeance, designing and beginning to decorate the Day of the Dead dolls. These calaveras will feature primarily gesso and painted skulls, using a technique I developed with the big girl stump models: gesso, dry, and sand times three. 

To adapt to the different colored fabric I designed a "Jack O'Lantern" skull with orange tinted gesso and a cartoon-y skull with purple tinted gesso.  The white fabric heads will become Kiss dolls, like the ever popular Ace.

Little scary maids all in a row

Remember Ace?- 2012

As  you all know,  it's thrilling to be absorbed in creativity, and the new and improved Doll Cave - light, spacious, and well organized-  lends itself to the process.  HOWEVER, the  Shippensburg Corn Festival is only 24 days away. My Facebook "Moments" came up today with a photo of me packing up the Doll Cave three years ago -  dragging sewing machine, fabric and stuffing up to the lake - trying to whip up enough inventory to not embarrass myself at my  first craft fair.  And THAT was supposed to be my vacation.  Flashbacks...and not good ones. There is still so much - too much-- work to be done on the Day of the Dead dolls, not to mention the Waldorf-inspired ones that my sister-in-law is working on now...which will still need heads, hair and clothes.

I remembering regretting every moment of the vacation I had to miss.
It occurred to me that I am enjoying exploring my best ideas and efforts too much to want to rush the process and stress myself out again this year like in 2013.  The aching and throbbing of the rotator cuff repair hasn't helped. Despite my best efforts to maintain the shoulder in position, the marathon of painting and sanding gesso has truly taken its toll. I took a "rest" from the skulls and began measuring the Waldorf children and paging through the Doll Dressmaker book for ideas..which began flowing like a waterfall. Ideas lead to implementation and I found myself stumbling through the Doll Cave Stash Closet for fun fabric....adding yet another layer of shoulder pain.  

Drawings, fabric, and accessories!

SO ... It would appear that I was way overoptimistic about being able to attend the Corn Festival with a respectable inventory. And so, despite my best intentions and with a heavy heart, I will be writing to withdraw tomorrow.  Apparently there is a long waiting-list of crafters eager to take my place, but still, it's a kind of failure.  On the other hand, the good news is that the past year of whining, navel-gazing, and exploration of craft has actually given me the direction I was seeking for these retirement years. Knowing how good the doll-in-progress COULD really be when the creative process takes over, as it has the past few days, inadvertently provided the unexpected commitment I've been lacking  to carry on.

Don't know if it is part of our female DNA, or just the legacy of 1950's-era girls who were reared to be insecure in our own abilities,  but I wonder why it is so hard for many Boomer women STILL to take ourselves seriously? The cookie-cutter mold of education in public schools didn't help: if you have a talent for drawing, you are artistic.  If you "just" doodle, you're not.

Another Monday night in the Doll Cave, Cloth Doll Design fans.  May the rest of the week keep you exploring your own craft until the courage to believe in yourself overwhelms you.  Lose yourself in the craft that you love,  until you find yourself there, too.  Craft on.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Are You a Doll Artist or a Doll Artisan? Or...

I need to finish this blog so I can get back to sewing.

I read somewhere that bloggers should organize their content into easily digested bullets because the average Internet reader has the attention span of a gnat. As a graduate in creative writing and linguistics, I find that to be disheartening not to mention condescending, but as luck would have it, my own attention span is pretty insect-like as well these days. As a result, this episode of "Cloth Doll Designs, The Blog," will be composed of bullets as well, if only to try to knit together the various strands of my rapidly unraveling mind.

  • The Doll Cave is officially renovated and open for business! At some point last week I wrestled the last piece of furniture and shoved the last stray craft supply into place. Rather than rejoicing, however, I was now in considerable pain from having aggravated my shoulder surgery and actually feeling pretty sorry for myself.  The deadline for my one and only craft fair of 2015 is less than two months away and all I have for inventory is maybe a handful of Waldorf and Raggedy Ann dolls. Meanwhile, my surgeon  had already warned me sternly against raising my arm up or forward  for the next 6 weeks, and specifically no using a sewing machine!  Here I was with the most amazing craft room I had ever imagined for myself  - and I couldn't use it! ...Or could I?
Doll Cave Panorama - Before
Doll Cave Panorama- After
  • My husband says I get obsessed with my dolls (like that's a bad thing); I just call me passionate. If you are a sewer, or a crafter, you know what I mean.  Love will find a way. So I pulled together fabric and patterns for a a dozen Waldorf doll bodies, and drove - one-handed, of course - down the interstate to deliver them to my most talented seamstress sister-in-law,  a stay-at-home mom who is happy to help me out for a fair wage. At least she can get a head start for me and take care of the boring stuff: sewing bodies, until I am cleared to operate my machine.  In the meantime, because I had specifically interrogated the surgeon to clarify that the arm and hand movements of hand sewing would not prejudice my shoulder, I attacked a mountain of Day of the Dead dolls whose bodies were stuffed but still needed a swarm of little ladder-stitch closings and other finishing touches to get them ready for decoration and costumes.  It was wonderful to be making dolls again.

Enjoying some hand-sewing on the deck

Finished and eager to become Day of the Dead calaveras!
  • So, there I was, doing my dollmaking happy dance in my head, until few hours later fate threw the summer issue of Art Doll Quarterly in my path and, as we used to say in the 70's, totally  harshed my buzz. (Groan.)  Soon I was falling down the rabbit hole of staring open-mouth in admiration at cloth doll sculptures that rivaled the detail and finesse of porcelain. Good Lord! Who was I to think I had any talent at making dolls?  

This is NOT a porcelain doll.  This is a CLOTH doll.  Of course it's by master doll artist Lisa Lichtenfels.

How do you react when you see photos or real-life exhibits by true doll artists? Most of the time I admire them greatly, "Wow! That person is a true artist!" but sometimes, occasionally, more often than I like to admit, I'm jealous, and then discouraged.  Despite being inspired by true doll artists, I know after so many years that I will never ever become as expert, an artiste, on the same level.  And that, well, sometimes starts a downward spiral of...oh, why even bother! Who do I think I am? I am just a second rate wannabe, fooling myself by marketing my Etsy Shop and stocking my booth at craft fairs with my amateur, awkward little home-cooked dollies.

Fortunately, though, I looked over  at my growing pile of future Dia de los Muertos skull dolls and I realized, well, OK, maybe I don't spend weeks at a time plying my finely honed talents to create one perfect masterpiece like the ones featured, but I DO get a kick out of churning out a series of one-of-a-kind yet serially quirky little Mexican skeleton dolls.  Each one is a surprise even to me. 


I guess we never know where our inspiration comes from, but like most accomplished artisans, we delight in producing our little armies of imaginative crafts that can be enjoyed by a variety of new friends,  delighting some, inspiring a few,  bringing comfort or at least a smile to most.  When I go to Mexico, I can select from a veritable legion of folk dolls, all eerily similar with braided, beribboned black yarn hair, and hastily stitched approximations of indigenous dresses made with colorful woven scraps and yarn.  Yet it doesn't matter which one I choose; it just makes me happy. Same for my dolls. None is a masterpiece of artistry, yet each brings a unique joy. I need to lighten up.

So that's where I will leave you. Doll friends.  If you are a fellow crafter,  do not judge yourself or others. May you simply give yourself to and delight in your creative processes. We each of us have our own small place in the vast and infinitely creative universe.  It really isn't a competition (she reiterated to herself). May you go forth and be part of that universe always.

More photos of the new and updated Doll Cave.