Teaching abroad and finding space to grow.
Life takes miraculous paths, of that I am certain.
More than ten years ago, I made my first doll. I have mentioned before this was a special present for my soon-to-be three-year-old child. My first born. Having two small girls at home, running a restaurant with my husband, living in a different country than the one I was born, trying to find myself as a mother and wife, an expatriate, a writer…it was almost an insurmountable feat. How could I possibly even dream about it, let alone actually venture out to do it? Yet I did.
Naivety was on my side. Eagerness was on my side. The love for my child and that burning newly-fangled need to create fueled the late nights and the lack of knowledge, tools or materials. The doll was made. A new path discovered, though I wasn’t even remotely aware at the time.
Little by little I fell more and more in love with doll making. Such a vast field, full of possibility and intrigue. So many areas to cover, to dive into and manifest. How many corners can we turn, how many different ways to make the same thing. Donning the doll making apron helped with the dusting-off of other creative areas that were lying beneath the surface, mainly words and visuals. Photography was found and so was writing, but this time in the fantasy world where my dolls live and not so much of the introspection/biographical kind I was used to writing.
The years went by, we moved houses every so and so. New adventures for our young family, so many books read aloud. In the same way that my doll making skills were slowly progressing, so was the slow-ember-burning confirmation that I was becoming “good” at it. But never entirely satisfied, what with such vasts areas of knowledge to acquire and with so many dolls dancing in my head. No rest for the wicked I kept telling myself. One day we will be able to think about ourselves like that, for now let’s get to work.
Then one day, more out of fear than anything else (I always like to do scary things, to keep pushing my own boundaries) I decided to accept the age-old challenge of teaching. Transpire the knowledge, help others, guide them to make dolls. Why? Because the people, this world, needs more softness and it is my aim to help it that way.
We need those soft, round and welcoming edges of a cloth doll. We need more time spent in community, working in something that feeds our passion. We need to feel playful and young and go after our dreams. We all need to feel valued, important, necessary. Dolls do all that.
A doll will make you feel very needed. No one can see it or talk for it but you. No one will sew that arm, or play with her, but you.
A doll will give you wings. To dream adventures, to learn dressmaking, to invent new worlds, for you or for her.
A doll will heal you. Be it through its creation, or by consciously playing. There is so much healing in playing, especially with dolls. I am not entirely sure why but we do not need to know the mechanisms yet, we can just sit down, play with them and enjoy those benefits. Some things are really magical because we don’t know how they work.
Now, as part of my life, I devote hours not only to create magical dolls that heal me and others. I play with fabrics and yarns, images and words. I also teach what I know, sharing my excitement of new discoveries, ways of making things and take others by the hand as they sit and work this ancient magic of making onto themselves.
I have witnessed it through my patterns, I have witnessed it through my online classes but most importantly, I have witnessed it in person by teaching my intensive weekend workshops. It’s not just beautiful, it’s life affirming. I end up completely exhausted because my body really cannot take more happy. Seeing hands hard at work, hearing the constant inner-critics of my students berate the loving work of their own hands, watching those dolls grow, wiping blood off of pricked fingertips, tears of joy and sweaty foreheads, all in a day’s work.
In the end I have a bunch of people who beam and shine. Who hold their doll with respect, admiration and a wide smile.
The workshops are such a roller-coaster because I constantly fear they will walk away with an unfinished doll, I make them work harder, then I remember to be kinder, to them and myself. “It’s a path, let them walk at their pace” I tell myself all day. “If the doll is unfinished, it will teach them something. If the doll is finished it will teach them something. Either way they are learning and you are here facilitating that experience, let it be one of magic and kindness”. I watch them as they make and my heart expands at every turn.
I really do not need to stress my students more than they already stress themselves. They put such high expectations on their work, and I can totally understand the feeling. The magic really happens when they accept what they are making and see it for what it is: the culmination of two hard days of work, so many ideas still waiting to come to life, a new path opens. I see their dolls as physical manifestations of their own self-love. They probably don’t know this, but that’s just what those dolls are.
They have given themselves permission to grow, to learn, to experience new ideas, to be with others. They have traveled to get there, spent money and even lugged family or friends in order to attend. All that so they can be there. If that is not self-love I don’t know what is. The dolls then become the visual manifestations of that love, of that energy, of that intention. I love each and every one just because of that.
Yes, I could make a “more perfect” stitch here or there, but I wouldn’t change those dolls for the world. Because each one is a stitch in time in their makers’ journey. Just like the doll I made ten years ago was mine. My beginning. I was making that doll because I love my daughter and I wanted to make her a doll, and in the end I figured out that by making that sweet doll I reinvented myself. Given time and energy that little stitch blossomed into the life I live now.
Trying to define what I do in words that actually ring true and don’t sound too contrived, I realized that I am not just a doll maker. I help others in transition to a more creative life. I help them learn new ways, see the world with child-like wonder, I give them courage. If I was able to do it, then so can they.
I had nothing, knew nothing and here I am. Still making, still learning, teaching a bit more and finding space to grow.
The chance of taking this trip and witnessing all this beauty was only possible due to the invitation of the kindest of women: Debbie Poole at Little Oke Dolls in Devon. If you can attend one of the many workshops she holds in her home, then you will be rewarded with many new friendships. An international and local array of talented teachers sit at her dining room table, throughout the year, making magic happen.
Thank you Debbie and Marcus, with all my heart. Your generosity has filled my well.