Doll Making

Jobs for the girls

There’s a popular series of Barbie dolls called ‘I want to be…’, all based on careers for girls to aspire to be. It where the astronaut and teacher Barbie dolls fit.

I was thinking about these Barbie dolls some time ago and wondering whether the idea of a career doll is useful to a child’s imagination. I was actually thinking about my own dolls and costumes.

Thinking back to when I played with dolls as a young child I remembered that my dolls didn’t have jobs, instead they went on adventures. I would get the duvet off the bed and scrunch it into a heap (pretend mountain) making a little hole halfway up for a cave and a place for Barbie to camp. The play was of Barbie hiking to the bed and using rope (a shoelace) to climb the steep side of the bed up to the top and the final climb up the mountain to the cave where she would set out her few belongings from her backpack and settle down for the night. Or she’d go to the pretend beach and swim in the ocean bathtub. Imagination I had in spades.

My parents bought me the super duper Barbie camper which kind of ended the mountain climbs but then came long distance driving to the country of “Living Room” and of course, being a big camper Barbie took friends.

If this is how kids play (and I only have my own experience to go on) then is a career Barbie any use?

Let’s be honest, an 8 hour shift is no adventure and someone only focused on earning money is quite frankly, rather boring to be around.

Imagine being one of Barbie friends…

On a nice hot Saturday we all decide to go to the beach, because in imaginary land we all live near the beach. We grab our towels, costumes, lotion, beach ball etc… and off we go.

We run onto the warm sand taking our shoes off to feel the grains of sand between our toes and turn to our best friend to tell her how great today is going to be… but Barbie isn’t there! Nope.

Barbie of course is the sodding lifeguard. Of course she is!

Her day at the beach is sitting in a chair watching people have fun and the only excitement is having a whistle to blow at people. Boring. And yet, that’s what toy manufacturers seem to base our play times on.

What is this obsession with ‘being’ someone?

I remember hearing a wee anecdote about a teacher asking her kids what they wanted to be when they grow up. One little wise one replied, “Happy”. So much of life and our place in life revolves around a job title and we know, when we meet someone new one of the first things they will want to know is our job title. But is that right?

What if, instead of forcing our imagination into an eight hour shift with Barbie is… we changed our thinking with Barbie goes…

Barbie goes to school and instead of having to stand for hours on end in high heels teaching a gang of obnoxious kids she attended an art class, or learnt to ride a motorbike. Barbie goes to the beach and catches a crab, real adventures rather than eight hour shifts.

Saying all this though, I remember wanting to be a shop keeper as a child. I remember getting everyone’s shoes, lining them in a row and pretending to sell shoes. Later when I was old enough to have nail polish I remember pretending to have a job painting nails. I had a notebook that I had drawn nails into and painted them with my polish, and wishing I could have a job where I painted nails but who on earth would be daft enough to pay someone to paint their nails?

On the other hand I was also looking at the Lammily doll ( an alternative to Barbie and her body size problems. I liked Lammily at first, or rather I liked that someone was offering up alternatives, but the more I look at Lammily the more I like Barbie. I know there are some folk out there (actually some are friends of mine) who think doll making isn’t art but I disagree. You need to be an artist to make a doll. Lammily though was made purely through mathematics.

A mathematician decided he would take the average measurements of girls and produce a doll based on those measurements. Great idea, but like I say, doll making is an art form not a science. Like all great brands Lammily also has a brand strap line, Average is beautiful.

So, Lammily comes onto the market, an average doll living an average life. Modern mummy’s flocked to buy the doll that wouldn’t make their child aspire to be skinny and long necked. Feminists applauded a less bimbo stereotyped doll. Her average life offers an additional pack of stickers to personalise your average doll. Sanitary towel stickers for when the doll gets a period, stretch marks (for when she’s had a baby or lost weight perhaps) acne stickers, bruise stickers (for when your average boyfriend punches you?) cut stickers (for when life is too depressing?)

I know, it’s not funny is it.

Whatever hidden message people think Barbie is flogging it isn’t shouting average. Be average, don’t stand out, don’t make a scene, celebrate being normal. Don’t make a fuss. Let’s be honest, we’re not average people, we’re all different so surely a doll shouting how being average is cruelty at its worst. You don’t want to be different, you want to be like everyone else, different is wrong.

Being an astronaut sounds fun. Getting to spend a year aboard a space station sounds like a great idea, but into the third week I’d be bored. Same old view from the window (do they get Netflix up there?) even the novelty of peeing in zero gravity will eventually wear off. But given the choice, I’d rather aspire to be an astronaut than average.

Doll Making · Handcrafting · My Little Crochet Doll

Meanwood Valley Urban Farm

Today I was thinking about the Farmer doll so I took a trip to a local farm. Meanwood Valley farm ( is a charity run farm near the centre of Leeds. It’s a short bus ride out and a few minutes walk from the bus stop and it’s only £2 for adults and 50p for children.

It was lambing time so lots of wee ones to see, some of the smallest lambs I’ve seen so that was nice.

There was also alpacas, cows, pigs, donkeys, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The farm has allotments for local people and a cafe which was a bit pricey but since it’s only £2 entry I guess it evens out.

I did a few sketches in pen and ink, some better than others

It was quite a nice little trip out, I’m always happy to visit sheep and met a really friendly fellow who let me give his head a scratch.

Anyway, back to the doll… when I think about a farmer I imagine them wearing a waistcoat and flat cap so that’s a must. I’m wondering whether the dolls should have accessories. Perhaps this fellow needs a bucket of feed, but maybe not knitted or crocheted. I’d like to make something out of clay, but it’s all down to time at the moment.

What do you imagine as a farmers outfit?

Well, I’ll leave you with this lovely photo of wee piglets.

Doll Making · Handcrafting · My Little Crochet Doll

The Final in sight

Who’d have thought I’d get here?

After four years I’m near the end of my degree, and I think I’m ready. I’ve one project left to do and ten weeks to get it done. My final project… Dolls.

Yep, I started University loving making dolls and tried hard to do something else, but I’ve realised the thing I love most it doll making.

The plan is to make a series of dolls made with natural materials and as locally sourced as possible.

I’m looking at 8 dolls each based on a character in Yorkshire and representing one of the smaller attractions in our stunningly beautiful county.

The dolls are:

A train driver to represent the Middleton railway which is the longest running railway in the world and five minutes from my house.

A terrible knitter of dent for the terrible knitters (terrible meaning great!) and the dent museum

A Morris dancer and perhaps visiting a local Morris dancing team

A farmer from the Meanwood valley farm

A coal miner (hmmm, this is still to be thought out)

A cobbler, actually a clog maker from Wakleys clogs

A fisherman from Scarborough

That’s seven for those who are thinking I’m missing one! Yeah, I might make two Morris dancers ‘cos you can’t dance alone!

Today I did some initial sketches of the dolls, here’s one

I also started on the pattern for a flat cap…

Problems I’m having are:

Trying to choose the yarn I’m going to use.

I want a local breed sheep and ideally I’d like a yarn that’s produced in Yorkshire. I also wanted to keep with one brand of yarn, but so far searches haven’t brought up a wide enough variety of colours in what I’m after. Plus, since tradition is to make dolls out of acrylic yarn and scraps I can’t find a pale flesh colour in pure wool. I’m going to have to dye some of the wool myself.

Also finding the money right now to pay for the yarn I need, that’s a wee problem, but I’ll find a way.

So, I’ll try and keep updating everyone on what I’m doing, I’m terrible (as in terribly bad) at keeping written research so I’m hoping the blog will be my written research.

Feel free to ask questions or comment.

Handcrafting · Social Action · Textile Stories

Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people


Because I want to build confidence in homeless people


Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.


Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…


Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.

Church Life · Of The Cloth

A Bible study flag!

I’ve been looking at flags recently and the stories behind their creation.

At school we’re taught about our Union Jack flag and the joining of four countries in the symbolism (apparently the Welsh dragon, Yorkshire rose and Lancashire rose is just hidden from view!

The Salvation Army flag has significance in the trinity with the Yellow star being the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Red – the blood of Jesus and the blue – the purity of God.

One of my favourite flags is the Indian flag with the wheel in the centre. It’s was originally going to be a spinning wheel and hints at a time when we British were being idiots with someone else’s country and the wheel represented India breaking free and the fight over woven cloth, the story of Ghandhi spinning cloth as a protest is well worth a search and read.

Flags and banners are important pieces of fabric with meaning and pride behind them. 

I’ve been looking too at Tibetan prayer flags and think there is something in making a personal prayer flag or a series of flags. Each one with symbolic meaning, remembering a time of importance or pushing us towards a greater glory.

I sketch and doodle a lot, especially during sermons and lectures. It’s how I keep my mind focused. Recently I began showing some of the sketches to people and decided to take them a step further.

What if I turned these sketches, doodles and notes into textile flags, similar in size to a prayer flag?

Last week our church began a new Bible study titles Jesus at the centre. I went along and took my sketch book. This time, instead of simply doodling I would think about what I hear and try to put the message into a flag.

This is the result.

Part of me feels I shouldn’t explain it, people should ‘get it’ or not get it.

So I will simply explain how I made it.

It’s a piece of canvas, the type you use for tote bags.

I used Inktense sticks and water to paint the background, I saw something on YouTube about how the sticks can be used as a fabric paint if you iron it once dry.

In the centre I hand embroidered in gold thread the Hebrew word Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus, this took quite a while and the gold thread was a wee bit difficult.

Since everyone says I have neat handwriting I hand painted descriptive words for emotions around the edge.

I painted a small piece of ribbon with the words Lord of All, a reference to something said during the study and sewed this in place.

Then I frayed the edges, stiffened the top and punched two eyelets so the flag can be hung on a wall or joined to another with ribbon.

As for the meaning, I suppose it means whatever you believe it means. Perhaps you recognise an emotion around the edge and recognise a need to hand it over. Or perhaps you recognise that Jesus came as a man and experienced all these emotions so He truly understands us. Perhaps you see something totally different and it’d be interesting if you wanted to share that in the comments.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next Bible study.

Church Life · Handcrafting · Of The Cloth · Social Action · Textile Stories

Meaning in the cloth – rethinking the prayer shawl

I used to read the story of Cain and Abel and wonder what was Gods problem.

In case you don’t know the story here’s a little summary…

Cain was a farmer while Abel, his brother, was a shepherd. Both brothers came to God with a sacrifice. Cain brought some of his grown produce while Abel brought his best first-born lambs. Now God liked Abels offering of lambs, but, well… not too fussed with the veggies. The rest of the story can be read in Genesis chapter 4.

As a kid I didn’t get it, two guys brought a gift to God and God was a wee bit picky. 

Being British we’re raised with the ability to smile and look pleased whatever the gift, but God obviously isn’t British (where were his manners?).

Shouldn’t he be grateful that he’s getting something?

It’s not for me to argue with God about his reactions though, He wants the best, the first fruits and first borns. God wants to be the first thought on our minds and have the first portion of our gifts. In everything we do God wants first place.

I don’t think it was about making sure they gave 10% and perhaps it wasn’t even that the carrots weren’t the biggest. The meaning behind the gift is what riled God. You can imagine Abel looking over his flock, inspecting every animal for flaws and size, then picking the best of the best, as though this gift was for his beloved. Cain, watching Abels fussiness, laughed to himself while throwing a handful of the nearest veg into a basket, “that’ll do” he thinks.

You might know that feeling at Christmas when you give a gift that you’ve chosen especially and being aware that the real excitement is in the giving. Was Abel thinking of Gods face lighting up at the sight of God looking at his gift and seeing that most beautiful of lambs?

Similarly we might also know the feeling of giving a gift in politeness, those folk at the bottom of the Christmas card list who get whichever card is next in the box of 100. Who cares what the card looks like, its giving for the tradition and politeness rather than the Joy. That, I suspect is what riled God that day. He didn’t want a gift out of politeness but out of love.
When thinking about a prayer shawl what is our first thoughts?

Learning a new technique? Wondering how quickly you can get it finished? 

Do you have any thoughts on the reasons why you make the shawl? 

I know what its like to make something with royalty in mind (yep, I’ve kept quiet about that!). I chose yarn from a Yorkshire mill that could promise British only fleeces. I spent a couple of days hand dying the yarn myself. Every little bit of the item was made as thought the Queen herself would see it, no detail was missed, the stuffing wasn’t your average polyester, it was British wool, even the pipe cleaner arms that would never be seen were chosen by hand from a local pipe cleaner factory. The item was to be my very best work.

If clothing the naked and feeding the hungry is the same as clothing and feeding God then each prayer shawl should be made as though God himself was the recipient. Similarly, if each recipient is to see the shawl as a gift from God, then each shawl should be made with our best effort as though God himself had commissioned the gift.

Therefore, making a prayer shawl no longer becomes a second rate ministry but a valuable resource in the church.

Say what you like about the value of a church band, but someone in need has to come to church to hear the band play, they need to know the words to the tune and understand the poetry in the song. A prayer shawl is one of the few gifts that go beyond the church walls, beyond the boundaries of language and country. Giving a gift that has been made with so much thought and love, then given to be used when encouragement is needed is one of life’s most beautiful pleasures.

After the band have played the last note, the choir have sat down, the sermon done, the Amen said… the prayer shawl continues on and travels with the person in need.

The prayer shawl though, isn’t a magic cure. It isn’t a vessel to carry healing, and touching the shawl won’t turn around test results, if healing comes it comes through Gods choosing. It’d be romantic to imagine a physical prayer soaking into cloth, but the shawl, at it’s basic level remains simply a shawl. 

However, it still has something magical about it. In those moments when pain comes, when bereavement is unbearable, when loneliness surrounds, being able to wrap ourselves in a piece of cloth made by someone who thought of nothing but us in the making allows us to temporarily dwell in the presence of comfort, hope and fellowship.

I have two small toy bean bag cats in my home, financially worthless and commercially made, but given to me some years ago by a couple at church. Brian and Cathy were there in my darkest times, if I told you what they did for me, well, this blog post would never end.

Cathy died a few years ago from cancer and Brian has retired and moved away. There is nothing magical about the toy cats, but everytime I see them I’m taken back to a world where they are with me. I’m reminded that there is someone out there who loves me unconditionally, someone who values me as I am. I’m reminded of the many times Brian helped me quit drinking, of the times he let me sleep it off in his office. The years Cathy spent counselling me as a messed up young person, of the Joy in their faces at my baptism, the comfort when I lost my job, the worry when I moved to Leeds and the celebration when I went to University.

As I write this the tears flow and my heart hurts, but its a joyful cry and a blessed pain. Few people know unconditional love like that couple gave me and that is a real shame. As an alcoholic I accept the lifelong fight of sobriety, but I have two weapons, two soft toy cats that I look at and remember those who stand with me and I remind myself that this fight is worth it.

Nothing magical in the toys and yet something very magical.

A prayer shawl at its root is simply a strand of yarn looped together to form a piece of cloth. It is something that someone has taken hours to make and think about, but it is more than something to do with your time, more than a way of using up your yarn stash and more than a way to make something when you simply don’t know what to do.

To be called to the prayer shawl ministry is a powerful calling, it is listening to Gods commissioning, his choice of recipient perhaps without knowing why we are making the item. Being able to put our best work into a piece then hand it over without finanancial reward, personal acknowledgement perhaps even without knowing the outcome. Trusting wholly in the gift of giving for loves sake.

As I continue to look at this unique ministry I hope more and more people will begin to take up the call of this powerful ministry. I hope more and more churches begin to see the true value of a creative ministry in their church.

Handcrafting · Of The Cloth · Social Action · Textile Stories

Rethinking The Prayer Shawl

I’ve known about prayer shawls for some time now, its a simple idea, knit a shawl while praying for a person, then give the shawl to the person and let the prayers and blessings you prayed into the shawl continue to bless.

I heard that a local church held regular prayer shawl groups and I went along to see what it was like in practice.

The group meets once a fortnight at the church and were very welcoming, It’s very much like any other knitting group but where everyone is knitting the same item and there’s a lot less gossip!

They showed me a book that lists every person who has received a shawl (or scarf) and the centre of the small room had a table with recently finished shawls.

There were tales of people who had been given shawls and were pleased with the gift, tales of whole groups who’ve benefited, a Christian football team who had each been knitted a scarf in their team colours and a choir who each were given a scarf.

At the end of the knitting we held a short ceremony, a candle was lit, a prayer was jointly read and the prayer shawl ministry had ended.

As I came away I felt pleased that I’d seen the ministry in action, but something was nigiling me, something didn’t sit right and it wasn’t until later, when I was at my local knitting group describing the meeting that it started to become clear.

Actually, when I started putting it all down on paper I realised there were a few questions about the ministry. I hope to expand of each of these in seperate blog posts, but here’s a few of my thoughts.

Are we giving out best?

The shawls are made using the thickest, cheapest acrylic yarn, using thick needles (perhaps to knit up quicker).

For a long time I’ve believed the church see non-musical arts as a poorer relation and this was apparent in the choice of yarn used. Why spend £5 on a 50g ball of merino wool when you can buy a 100g ball of squeaky acrylic from the pound shop?

No reason at all if you’re not able to afford the £5 ball, but a church that has a grand piano isn’t scrimping on other creative ministries so why go cheap when giving a knitted gift?

It also makes me ask whether this is our best for God? Again, if your best is cheaper yarn then that is as acceptable to God as Vicuña (named the cloth of kings). This question of being the best for God leads me to my next question.

Are we mass-producing the blessing?

As I looked at the seemingly endless list of people who’ve received a gift from the group and heard about the groups who’ve each received a scarf I questioned how a small group could accomplish so much. Then I was shown a small knitted square, a pocket shawl to carry around when you can’t take your shawl with you.

There was something uneasy about the seemingly mass-production of the whole thing. Using thick yarn and chunky needles means you can churn out these things in no time and suddenly it no longer feels like a personal ministry blessing one person at a time. It feels like a trip to Jerusalem and the need to bring back an olive tree cross for everyone. It seems more about the mass production than the slow process of making and thinking of one person.

We knitters know the huge challenge of making something for someone, we are careful about colour, yarn, pattern, its a process that takes time and we need to know a bit about the person to be able to get it right. That’s why hand knitting can never be a mass produced business. It’s slow and personal.

Who is it for?

There is a whole jar of worms about knitting gifts for someone. For the knitter, we’ve put so much of ourselves into the gift, time, money and passion. 

The whole idea of giving that precious gift away is full of worries about whether the person wants what we’re making, do they like the colour?

Every time I leave my mums house I pass a cupboard with a small shawl in it, something I knitted for her some time ago but she’s never worn and most likely she never will. I’m not upset about it, it was my choice of colour and she isn’t the scarf/shawl wearing type of person. I often wonder whether I should just take it back and make something else.

When we’re making a prayer shawl, are we knitting for ourselves? Improving our skill, using up our yarn stash? Or are we giving ourselves wholly to the idea that this is a gift for someone else? A gift that they might not receive as we want them to?

What is it for?

Once the shawl has been given, what is our expectation?

Partly I ask this thinking about the choir, the thirty plus people who each received a hand knitted acrylic scarf. How many of those people liked the colour? How many liked the feel of the acrylic enough to wear it and make use of it?

Are we expecting people to use these items in their prayer life? And if so, How?

Are we expecting the scarf/shawl to heal? 
I know I’ve brought more questions than answers, but I hope to go into more detail later and perhaps come up with some possible answers.

If you’ve make a prayer shawl or received one I’d love to hear about it.