Interview with Sally Blood: The Art of Doll Making

-The doll is a symbolic homunculi, little life. It is a small and glowing facsimile of the original Self. Superficially, it is just a doll. But inversely, it represents a little piece of

Deftly weaving tiny pieces of fabric into mystical figures, textile artist Sally Blood creates otherworldly dolls worthy of any grown adult’s mantlepiece. Combining her passions for circus, belly dance and nature with a BA in Contemporary Textile Practice, Sally’s dolls make magically unique gifts for anyone in touch with their inner spirit.

I met up with Sally to find out what inspires her, why she enjoys working with fabric and how to get through the dreaded artist’s block…

When did you first fall in love with textiles?

Since I was a young child, I’ve always loved making things.  This ranged from cardboard box houses for my dolls, to simple clothing.  My auntie was a seamstress, she really inspired me to experiment with fabrics as a child and many of my early experiences of a sewing machine was through her.

But I became really interested in textiles as an art form during my GNVQ at art college.  My lecturers encouraged me to take the route of textiles as my specialist subject and it took off from there.  Back then it was all about creating interesting colour combinations and textures by simply painting onto plain fabrics with whatever paint I had access to.  My favourite technique was to build up the colour in layers using a dry roller.  I also played with appliqué which was either sewn by hand or machine.

Do you remember your earliest influences?

When I was really young, I just loved drawing.  However, it was not until secondary school when I became more aware of other artists work. During my GCSEs, I became interested in the great French Impressionist painter Monet.  I loved his use of colour and application of paint marks to build up an image and would spend many hours copying his work.  There was something very freeing about the way he painted and it helped me to realise that image making did not always have to be exact photographic replicas and that art can be used to express other elements within our world such as feelings or emotions about a subject.

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Handmade Dolls by The Crow’s Secret

Your handmade dolls are beautifully intricate. How long does it take to craft one?

They typically take around fifteen hours to produce.  However, that does not include the time taken to come up with a concept and designing time.

The process starts by drawing out the pattern pieces onto fabric, sewing them up and stuffing the body parts.  This is a fairly mechanical process and I am always happy to get this part completed so that I can move onto the most creative aspect of dressing the dolls with details and accessories.

Where do you take your inspiration from?

The beauty of the natural world is a real inspiration at the moment, particularly for the dolls.  I am particularly interested in the changing seasons, especially the transformation that trees go through over the year. This fascination has developed from regularly walking through Bournemouth Upper Gardens and watching the landscape transform month by month. You cannot beat the colours and textures that are generated so beautifully within nature.

I am currently working on a collection of dolls titled called The Crow’s SecretThis explores the deepest and darkest parts of winter and the curious nature of the inquisitive crow who observes many rituals within the natural and manmade world.

My other project, Vaudeville Hippie, which is a collaboration with my partner Steve, taps into our interest into underground subcultures and slightly offbeat movements.  We practice circus skill, which was the starting point for the brand.  Everything from the festival hippie vibe to vintage circus to rockabilly to tribal fusion belly dance and more.  This aesthetic has been used to create a range of printed images for bags and T-shirts as well as other handmade gifts and goodies for the discerning festival goer and hippie at heart.

Printed Bags and Handmade Poi by Vaudeville Hippie

Who are your favourite artists?

Anouk de Groot from Scotland and Lucy Brasher who is based in Dorset both make exceptionally beautiful and original handmade dolls but are very different in appearance.

Anouk’s Pantovola dolls have an old fashioned vintage victorian aesthetic.  Her colour palette is very toned down like a faded sepia photo from days gone by and the dolls are dressed in simple outfits, trimmed with handed down lace.

In contrast, The Cat in the Shoe dolls by Lucy are brightly coloured and intricately layered, often with tiny fabric pieces, to create feathered headpieces or a fur coat.

I also love several art journal artists. I particularly admire the bold, colourful and crazy images of Teesha Moore and the subdued intricately patterned imagery of Ingrid Dijkers.

Each of these artists have successfully created their own recognisable visual language.  I feel that I am still establishing my own unique look and style, but this can only happen over a period of time as the work develops.

How has your work developed since you first started your artistic journey?

Using colour and creating textures have always played a big part when creating work. More recently, I have started to include a lot more pattern and playing with line quality.  The dolls have helped me to explore working in three-dimensions, which is something I thought I would have struggled with a few years ago because I presumed I was strongest working with flat two-dimensional work.

Do you run any classes?

Not at the moment, but Steve and I have created several ‘how to’ tutorials on the Vaudeville Hippie YouTube channel.  Tutorials range from making a wallet to crafting a Hawaiian flowers necklace from up-cycled fabric. Producing video tutorials is something I hope to develop further, so watch this space.

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What are your top 5 resources?

  1. My sketchbooks are very important to jot down designs and notes about the theme, look and details about the dolls. They allow me to test out ideas on paper before committing to the doll.  The books also help to document a thought process that can be referred to later.
  1. Imagery to inspire shapes, details and mood of any piece I’m working on. I take photos all the time but I also use Pinterest too if I do not have a specific image within my own bank of photos.
  1. Art and craft books. I often refer to these three doll making books: ‘An Introduction to Making Cloth Dolls’ by Jan Horrox, ‘Creative Cloth Doll Collective’ by Patti Medaris Culea and ‘Designing the Doll: From Concept to Construction’ by Susanna Oroyan. Each book contains a wealth of information about construction, garment ideas and creative use of materials.
  1. Fabric offcuts. Like many artists, I hate throwing things away. It’s the ‘that’ll come in handy one-day’ syndrome.  However, it is amazing how a ‘happy accidents’ can occur when rummaging around with random pieces of material.  Sometimes a piece of fabric can inspire or enhance a particular detail to the work that had not originally been thought of.
  1. A needle and thread. Sewing machines are wonderful when they work and certainly save time. But for me, nothing beats the satisfaction of sewing fabric together by hand. There is something very calming and focussed about sewing by hand which you do not experience with a machine.  I get totally absorbed by the process, I believe it is just as mindful as the currently popular adult mandala colouring in craze!

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Handmade Circus Cats by The Crow’s Secret

Do you have any tips for getting through artist’s block?

Drawing and painting are the best resources I have found to unlock a creative block.  But I find this process is more effective if you just create for the joy of creating random work in an open intuitive way rather than using a critical eye.  The moment you start critiquing these pieces is the moment when self-doubt and creative block comes into play.  Art journaling with prompt words is a fantastic way to break through this.  The prompt helps you to focus upon creatively and visually answering a question or the ‘block’ you are experiencing.  Whereas the journaling process caters for your inner artistic freedom.

What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?

Truly believe in what you do and have the confidence to just give it a go, because you have to start somewhere. Avoid comparing your work with others, aiming for perfection and being too critical if things do not turn out how you expected.  Embrace “mistakes” and use them to your advantage to create your niche. Remember to have fun and enjoy what you do.

Thank you, Sally!

Feeling inspired? Head over to Sally’s YouTube channel for some great tutorials, or check out her Etsy shops: The Crow’s Secret and Vaudeville Hippie for perfect handmade gifts.

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