A Sewing Book Giveaway

"Sew Fun" by Deborah Fisher (interviewed in my last blog post) is a great book for sewing for and with children.

I've posted the Table of Contents so you can see the amazing range of projects, that are not only fun for kids to help make, but to play with after. The book includes two doll patterns and a quilted doll house. 

I will pick a winner in a week from the comments. Please enter your email when you enter a comment. If there isn't an email I won't enter that name.

Sew Fun
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Deborah Fisher: A Doll Maker with Many Missions

There are a lot of doll makers I follow and within that group there are a lot of doll-makers who I am impressed by.

And then there are the few that completely amaze me.

Deborah Fisher is in that amazing category.

These two lovelies were the winners of the details category in the SewMamaSew Spectacular Softies contest.. I love everything about them! And not just because the boy doll resembles my husband.

These two lovelies were the winners of the details category in the SewMamaSew Spectacular Softies contest.. I love everything about them! And not just because the boy doll resembles my husband.

Doll making can be about so much more than just making the dolls.

First, dolls can bring a sense of comfort to those in need. Doll-making can be about the craft of sewing and creating, or teaching that craft. And doll making can be about using those skills to create employment or a business.

Deborah does all of these things. She is a doll-maker who has taken the craft to a whole new level.

Deborah uses sewing, specifically dolls and quilts to both comfort and empower.

Where do I start?

She is the co-founder and director of Bright Hopes Collaborative Quilt Project. Bright Hopes is a non-profit organization that  gives quilts to those without the comfort of a permanent home, such as children in foster homes and homeless families.

They also offer on-site quilting workshops for people living in shelters and group homes.

Deborah did not know how to quilt when she started the collaborative with her mother (who did know how to quilt). Now she can often be found teaching quilting on site.

Bright Hopes Collaborative

Although Deborah learned quilting as an adult, she has been sewing since she was a child. She loved to sew dolls.

"I started sewing dolls when I found a Loretta Daum Byrne pattern in a magazine (probably Needlecraft for Today or something like that). I would make the same doll body over and over and make each one a different costume.

"I don't know why it never occurred to me to make one doll with a whole wardrobe of costumes. But it did make for quite a collection of dolls as you can see in the photo below.

Deborah's Childhood Dolls

"There is an Eskimo in the top left, a bride in the top right corner, Artemis and Aphrodite on the bottom shelf, etc. I never made faces on any of them because I didn't have confidence in my ability to do it right.

Deborah has more than conquered doll faces. Recently two of her dolls won in the details category the SewMamSew Spectacular Softie contest (photo at the top of this post). And the details are amazing—I am smitten with the shoes and hair.

Deborah sewing  Sewing Smiles Dolls

Deborah sewing  Sewing Smiles Dolls

Deborah started a second collaborative, Bo Twal. Bo Twal brings handmade dolls to children internationally. Bo Twal pays women in the community to sew dolls from the Sewing Smiles doll pattern and the dolls are distributed to children in the community. She raises funds for this through the sale of her doll and bunny patterns.  Bo Twal is currently working with women in Haiti and soon Indonesia.

Lastly, Deborah is the author of the book Sew Fun: 20 Projects for the Whole Family. The projects are all very creative and designed to be enjoyed by children. With each pattern there are suggestions on how children can help with the sewing.  

There are two adorable doll patterns in the book, along with many softies and other clever and fun sewing projects. And stay tuned, there just might be a "Sew Fun" book giveaway

Cover of Sew Fun Book
Sew Fun Table of Contents

Handmade Toy Makers: Minnie and the Monster

Over the last few years, as handmade has become more discovered and discoverable through the Internet, a whole new range of cool dolls is popping up. As a doll-maker I’ve been in awe of how other doll-makers have thought outside of the box. The result for parents is that in a digital age where parents are worried that their children’s imaginations could be languishing, there is now a range of toys and dolls that will spark imaginative play.

Ginger and the Wild Horses

Ginger and the Wild Horses

The dolls from Minnie and the Monster are a very different type of doll. Like the company’s name, they are creative and extra sweet. The Minnie folk are carved out of sustainable wood. The dolls are then sanded, woodburned and then handpainted with nontoxic watercolors that are colored with lovely things like beetroot, wild mustard and black elderberry. They are then coated with an organic mix of lavender, beeswax and jojoba oil.

Minnie Folk coming into their own

Minnie Folk coming into their own

Jennifer Browning is the creator of the Minnie Folk. Although the Minnies are small, the name of her company is not from the word “mini”. Minnie was a childhood friend of Jennifer’s grandmother, who Jennifer enjoyed hearing stories about.

“Minnie’s family came to America from Italy and opened a pasta shop. And while Minnie didn't have much in the way of material possessions, some of what she did have found its way into my grandmother's treasure drawer. And that's how I knew her. I never saw Minnie's picture, but I could imagine her wearing the beautiful blouse my grandmother kept folded and wrapped with a note that read, "Belonged to Minnie." So Minnie and the Monster is a humble tribute to Minnie, to her loyal and lovely spirit, and to my indomitable grandmother whom I loved. “

A custom family of Minnie Folk

A custom family of Minnie Folk

Jennifer lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and three children. The whole family has some role in her company. The idea for adding the “monster to the name came from her husband. “ My husband is an ultra runner, specializing in 100-mile mountain races. He's often referred to as a beast for his epic endeavors. He also happens to be the grand cutter of all my pieces, so I wanted to include him in my shop name. Minnie and the Beast didn't sound quite right.”

Her husband also assists with the cutting of the dolls and her children help inspire ideas for characters.

The dolls are small sturdy and are often sold in sets. The sets are often families or characters from popular stories or books, such as Little House on the Prairie or Goldilocks and the three bears or a Nativity scene. Or there are custom sets, like Ginger and the Wild Horses,  was a custom request for a little red-headed lover of horses. Individual historical stars like Shakespeare, Amelia Earhart and Frida Kahlo also have become Minnies.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Minnies have backs!

Minnies have backs!

I imagine hours of playing and creating stories and scenes with Minnie characters since they can be perched on all sorts of landscapes throughout the house and yard. I can also imagine if my children were younger, collecting a few sets and expanding into a Minnie village.

Each character is drawn by hand, so no two are alike, so not only are Minnies adorable, they are works of art.

Minnie Folk can be found on Etsy.

And the Minnie and the Monster can be followed on Instagram.

The Shakespeares and their goose

The Shakespeares and their goose



Handmade Toy Makers: Willowynn Textile Art

First in a Series about Toy Makers

Foxes made from an upcycled cotton curtain, photos courtesy of Margeaux Davis

Foxes made from an upcycled cotton curtain, photos courtesy of Margeaux Davis

Bringing Nature into the Playroom

As a toy-maker, I love following the art and career paths of other toy makers. I covet glimpses into their studios and creative process. Each of our journeys is unique, yet we also often share similarities, too. My career background is an unusual mix of years as a graphic designer,  years of environmental protection and doll-making. An unusual mix, I know.

This is why I was especially drawn to Willowynn Textile Arts. Owner Margeaux Davis transforms the beauty of the natural world into cloth toys that are as captivating as the real thing. Her toy collection ranges from the more traditional owls and foxes, to blue and killer whales to species rarely made into toys such as moths, snails and mushrooms. Her depictions of these fauna (and one flora) are sweet but not unrealistically cute. The toys range from soft sculpture for gentle play to bunnies that can withstand the abuse of more intense play. These toys would be perfect for children already interested in wildlife. Or they could be used to spark an interest.

Custom Killer Whale

Custom Killer Whale

The Willowynn Label

The Willowynn Label

The Work Environment

Margeaux lives with her family in rural Australia among macadamia nut farms and cow paddocks. Before starting Willowynn Textile Art, she worked as a park ranger and environmental educator. She has always sewn, but through Willowyn she has been able to recreate the creatures that fascinate her. “Owls, snails, moths, foxes, rabbits and whales have such a gentle, serene beauty and I love trying to create that mood or feeling in them.”

Margeaux has been sewing since she was a child, “I have honed my skills through trial, error and persistence. Each design has come about after countless hours spent stitching, unpicking and stitching again.’ When she was a child she made shorts, skirts and drawstring bags for her treasures. Her designs for Willowynn are made out of repurposed materials, linen remnants, second hand fiberfill, cotton napkins, vintage blankets, upholstery remnants,  Margeaux is drawn to reuse for environmental reasons and because she enjoys the story and romance of the repurposed materials.

Her boys sewing in the studio

Her boys sewing in the studio

Bringing all of her Passions Together

Although Margeaux loved her job as a ranger, she created Willowyn so that she could stay home with her two young sons while working with her favorite things--nature and cloth.

Willowynn Textile Art can be found:

On Margeaux’s Website


and in her Etsy Shop.

And this past week at FinderKeepers in Brisbane

Bunnies for more active playtimes

Bunnies for more active playtimes


Just what exactly is so special about a handmade doll?

Why buy a handmade doll? Handmade dolls are more expensive and harder to find than mass produced dolls. Yet, they have a growing loyal following. Why is that?

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As a maker of handmade dolls, I felt too close to the subject to answer. So I asked a few buyers, not just of my dolls, but of all kinds of handmade dolls. And I asked one of my favorite doll-makers--Jenny Marshall of Little Jenny Wren. I was sure she would have thought a bit about this, and she had.

The reason that I heard the most is how the dolls feel (not their emotions) but the tactile qualities. Handmade dolls can be made from all sorts of materials: cotton, wool, linen, muslin, yarn. They can be sewn or knitted. All of those materials are nice to touch. One mother said she heard about handmade dolls from others in her cloth diaper group, but could not understand why these other moms would pay $200 for a doll. So she decided to find out for herself and ordered a handmade doll. She said when she first held the doll, she understood.

“There was no going back to store bought dolls from that point on and I can see many more finding a home with us in the future"

Jenny Marshall: To me the feel of the doll is as important as the look of the doll and I feel the body reacts more tenderly and gently to the textures and warmth of natural fibres, there is a softening response, a need to care for the doll. 

If you have not held a handmade doll, then you have not experienced the feeling.

Handmade Doll tea party

Some handmade doll owners collect all kinds of dolls, handmade and mass-produced;  they are doll-lovers and appreciate all kinds of dolls. But there are many who are not keen on mass produced dolls. They value the uniqueness that is part of the handmade doll experience. They have the opportunity to create a doll that speaks to them, because the dolls are made one at a time, buyers can customize a doll. Hair, skin color, size and clothing can all be specified.

Because the doll took so many hours to make there won’t be many like it. Like those who hunt and collect works by a specific artist, when you find what you like, it is coveted. You cannot buy as many as you want. Handmade dolls are procured. Although with the internet, handmade dolls are easier to find.

One mom, with five girls described how hard it used to be to find handmade dolls,

"I've always bought my girls unique dolls, I hate the mass produced dolls. Years ago when my older girls were little, handmade dolls were very hard to find and the only ones they had were knitted dolls. I'm loving now that with my youngest, there’s all the gorgeous handmade dolls that are out there."

For some, buying handmade is part of supporting those who make them for a living, or the use of natural materials, or both. The purchase of the doll fits into a larger philosophy or world-view. One mother said, “I buy handmade because they are made with natural materials more often and are made with love by one person who is often a mother who is able to stay home with her family by making handmade to support their income."

Another mom said, " I don't buy too many toys for my children, usually waiting for special occasions and I always chose quality over quantity. I want to teach my children the importance of buying responsibly."

Others appreciate the relationship with the maker and the back-story. Doll-lovers can match themselves with doll-makers. A win-win for those who love to create and for those who love dolls. Doll-makers love to create dolls that they know will be cherished and doll-lovers love dolls that they played a role in making it special.

As Jenny Marshall so perfectly put it, “The fact also that the doll has taken so many hours to make and during that process has been touched so often by the maker, touched carefully so as not to roughen the doll, but touched and handled lovingly and you can feel that love and care when you hold the doll. Children feel it and adults too,” 

Doll Tea Party