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Inspirational Yarn – Betty’s Doll Wool

Over the past seven days I’ve introduced you to seven names that make up the seven skin tones of my doll wool.

Last year I was obsessively making dolls for my final university project, these Northern Folk dolls were a challenge to me, a doll maker, in whether I could produce a doll that was locally sourced, naturally made and inspired by local folk.

The main part of the dolls was the yarn that I used to crochet them with, at the time I used an acrylic wool. This is pretty much what 99.9% of knitted and crochet dolls are made up of.

The only skin tones I could find was a few browns and the only lighter skin tone was Sirdar Hayfield which is a budget acrylic yarn.

Over the last few years, and with the introduction of amigurumi, crochet doll making has increased in popularity and yet the shades of yarn remained the same.

I think one of the problems was yarn manufacturers thinking only in terms of clothing and in reality, who wants a flesh coloured jumper?

Another problem was the use of acrylic, I’m not a yarn snob, not at all, but we’re in a situation where we need to take a serious look at plastic and it’s effect on the world.

It seems crazy that the Media seem obsessed with our use of plastic straws and yet celebrate Christmas jumper day, a day when we all buy a new acrylic ugly jumper which we’ll wear only a handful of times before discarding.

So, It had to be done, I had to make a wool yarn in skin tones, just for my final university project, and I admit, at the time I had the intention of continuing to use acrylic after university because, well, not only am I not a yarn snob, but I am very much against yarn snobbery.

After months of testing dyes and wools and turning my kitchen into a dyers studio I found seven tones that I liked.

I chose the Cheviot sheep as a breed for the wool, being a Northern sheep breed, I might not be a yarn snob, but I’m certainly passionate about Northern quality.

I found a family run mill helping me keep big fat-cat companies as far away from the project as possible, and a local small dye company with a similar family feel. I can’t trace my wool back to the sheep, but pretty close. The farmers take the wool to Bradford, it’s spun in Huddersfield and using dyes from Sheffield I create the wool in Leeds. Even the pipe cleaners I used for the armatures came from a small factory in Huddersfield.

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It seems a shame to keep such a great wool all to myself, so after university was over, and I spent some time sorting out my health (for those who don’t know, I’ve done all this whilst being quite ill – No they still don’t know what’s wrong, but the last time I saw the Cardiologist they were thinking about heart failure, but don’t worry, I’m on the up!) I decided to manufacture the wool.

Naming the wool

As many knitters will know, yarn comes in colours and each colour had a name. So, I spent a long time trying to work out what to name the tones (I call them tones rather than colours because they are skin tones and it keeps us thinking we’re all equal in tones rather than separate as colours).

I saw tones named after food (strawberry, chocolate, honey) and tones named after drinks (Latte, Coffee) but it didn’t seem right, in fact it felt wrong.

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The above tone chart comes from Windsor and Newtons felt tip range… Putty! Who on Earth wants to describe themselves as Putty? Isn’t putty that off-white stuff you use on windows?

Then there was my personal feelings about dolls and doll making. There was so much research about the effects of dolls on children and I decided the whole doll making process had to be one of inspiration.

I can’t remember the day it happened, but after weeks and weeks of searching for tone names and looking at images of people from across the world. I decided on using names of people for skin tones. Each person had to be a woman of that skin tone who could be an inspiration to doll makers, doll collectors and most importantly players of dolls.

It was important that when a child held a doll  of a darker skin tone, they knew that there was no limits to who they could be in life. People like Mae Jemison, who had dreams of going into space as a child, tell the young children of today that their dreams can become reality, that no one has the right to quash the dreams of the young.

No one can stop a plus sized young girl like Shelby from being an athlete. Sports companies might not make plus sized athletic wear, thinner people might try their best to body shame larger children into dieting, but size doesn’t matter in our dreams and Shelby, with her Princess attitude proves just that.

Coming from wealth or coming from poverty, having two parents or none, having the best paid education, attending funded courses or learning later in life makes no difference in getting where you want to be in life.

I have the privilege of being a doll maker, it’s a magical job where I have the power to inspire the next generation simply by making the dolls that will inspire their dreams.

So here is the wool, ready to buy and inspire…

The seven shades will be available on my Etsy shop and on the shop on this website.

The wool comes in 100g skeins, plenty enough for one of my Crochet dolls which are 15″ tall. It’s a thicker side of DK weight yarn but works with 3mm-4mm needles to create a tighter fabric to help avoid stuffing showing through, this is vital for those who make dolls to sell since it’s a requirement of the EU safety laws.

So far only two tones (Shelby and Malala) have been tested to EN71 safety, making it safe for doll and toy making. and it passes the doll flammability tests. It’s going to cost a couple hundred pounds to have all the wools tested so I want to see if it’s popular before spending so much money on testing.

I’m going to boast here…

It’s the only wool of its kind in the world (I searched high and low but perhaps there’s another wool out there) which is made especially for doll making, produced fully in the UK (and apart from the sheep themselves) is produced in Yorkshire.

It’s currently priced at £18/100g although I will do an introductory price and wool shade cards for retail and large orders will be available very soon.

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Inspirational Yarn – Viola

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Viola Davis, the first black actor to have won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award in acting, named the Triple Crown of Acting…

…but more importantly, the name of our 7th and final yarn tone!

Born into poverty, with an activist mother in the civil rights movement, Viola knew the struggle of class, wealth and race. Much of her arts training came from state funded programmes.

But despite her poor upbringing, she managed to reach her dream and is now an actress and producer of some amazing films that tell of histories otherwise unknown.

‘Dream Big and Dream Fierce.’

Viola Davis – Actress and Producer

Her knowledge of growing up in poverty and learning through government funded schemes led her to be an activist against childhood hunger and free healthcare.

It seems shocking in both the US and the UK, where so many have so much, where we have laws preventing cruelty to animals and where activists will break the law to stop mistreatment of animals that we have so many children going hungry and yet I’ve still to see an activist breaking the law to feed a child.

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Inspirational Yarn – Mae

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Mae, tone number 6, is named after the first black woman to travel in space, Mae Jemison.

She was interesting in science as a young child but not encouraged by her teachers who suggested she didn’t want to be a scientist but rather a nurse. She says ‘the best way to make dreams come true is to wake up!’ Take your dreams as a challenge and a call to action.

‘It’s your place in the world; It’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it and make it the life you want to live.’

Mae Jemison – Engineer, Physician and Astronaut

Mae also wanted to be a dancer and aimed for both a career as a doctor and as a dancer. I love the attitude of her mother who said, ‘You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer.’

When Mae saw Sally Ride become a female astronaut she realised doors were opening and still with her original dream of becoming an astronaut, she reapplied to NASA and went into space in 1992.

She says her parents were the best scientists because they were always asking questions.

And she even got to appear in an episode of Star Trek (of which I am very excited about!).

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Inspirational Yarn – Michelle

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Michelle Obama, the inspirational woman behind tone number 5, now does anyone not know her as the first African American First Lady of the US?

It’s a strange thing (as a Brit) the idea that a woman is known by the job of her husband, (I think our Theresa May is married but no idea who he is!) if Barack hadn’t become president would she still be considered an inspiration? You bet she would!

Despite being known more for being married to a president (and what a president!) she is a lawyer, writer and university administrator. Passionate about poverty, young people and living healthier, but mostly I think of her attitude towards bullying.

Her aim high attitude, to not let the bullies get you down, to rise above them and concentrate on being the best you that you can be is what inspired me.

‘When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level, No! When they go low, We go high!’

Michelle Obama – Lawyer & Writer

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Inspirational Yarn – Malala

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Our fourth Yarn tone is named Malala after Malala Yousafzai.

Malala is known to most people as the fifteen year old Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot in the face for wanting an education. Surviving being shot in the face didn’t deter Malala from speaking out for girls education which just shows the determination of Malala and her family.

Perhaps not so well known is that Malala’s activism for girls education didn’t start on that bus ride home at 15, but started much earlier as an anonymous 11 year old blogger for the BBC Urdu website.

Her father was an educator and encouraged Malala to get her education because he remembered growing up in a world where his sisters unable to be educated. He wanted more for his daughter and put her name forward to write the anonymous blog which would describe life under Taliban rule.

Malala wrote anonymously until the end it seemed freedom had come and girls were allowed to attend school again.

After the Taliban returned her family were split up and Malala ended up living with relatives, then the New York Times made a documentary about Malala and as she became more known her anonymity began to end.

With the news that again the Taliban had been forced out of their home the family returned, but now the death threats arrived. Both Malala and her father received death threats for their support of women’s education.

The eventual shooting happened as Malala travelled home from taking an exam. A gunman got on the bus and asked Malala to identify herself otherwise all the girls would be shot. She was then identified and shot in the face.

‘I want every girl to know that her voice can change the world’

Malala Yousafzai – Activist

I don’t think there is need to say more about why Malala is an inspiration, although there is a lot more that can be said. To be as young as eleven and knowingly put your life on the line to make the world better for yourself and others is courage beyond measure.

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Inspirational Yarns – Shelby

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Shelby is the name of our third yarn tone and is named after Shelby Sinar.

Shelby is a women’s wrestler for UK Womens Wrestling, perhaps not the most popular of sports and Shelby might never be a household name or olympic medal winner.

However, it takes real courage to get into a ring and use quick thinking and athletic skill to win matches. To do all that whilst being in a created personna too, which I think is a skill that’s not given enough credit for.

But what makes Shelby inspirational for me is her courage to do this while being a larger woman than the stereotypical athlete. Shelby fights under her characters name of the Plus-Sized Princess.

‘For years they told me I wasn’t an athlete, that I couldn’t do sports. I find certain things difficult, but I will never let someone tell me that I can’t do it.’

Shelby Sinar – Female Wrestler

As a plus sized woman I’ve experienced the bullying, the comments from strangers who feel it’s acceptable to comment on my size or perceived lifestyle. The fear that someone is just waiting to put me down, even as I write this blog post I’m aware that someone most likely is going to make a comment about larger people because it’s a bullies last stand.

To be a larger woman and put yourself out in public is one of societies last taboos, but let’s be honest, I don’t know too many thinner women who can throw a full sized person around like Shelby does which just proves size isn’t everything.

To be a female wrestler is a tough enough sport, but to do it with the courage of Shelby Sinar, to be the powerful woman she chooses to be, is why she is an inspirational woman.

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Inspirational Yarn – Emma

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Our second Tone colour is named Emma after Emma Watson.

Most recognisable as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films who had the brains, skills and looks to be the best at what she put her mind (and spells) to.

Emma Watson is in many ways the girl who has everything, the looks, the talent and the brains. Attending prestigious private schools, Landing her first professional acting role as Hermione, getting a professional career and attending universities in both the US and UK, then gaining a successful modeling career with campaigns for companies like Burberry and Lancôme.

I think, when most people think about inspirational women we don’t often think of people like Emma. We imagine people who have overcome hardship, who’ve had to fight for their dreams, who didn’t have it all.

‘You have to go out there and make your own mistakes in order to learn.’

Emma Watson – Actress & Activist

Here’s why I chose Emma as one of the seven inspirational women.

Emma could have taken the privilege of her life and bought herself a nice mansion, done her films and modeling and said thank you very much and no one would have complained. Many celebrities do just that and we celebrate them and award them for it.

Emma though has spent much of her time speaking out for women and girls who were not as privileged. She is an active goodwill ambassador and a speaker for gender rights. She speaks on feminism not as a women’s movement, but as a fight for equality that affects men as much as it affects women. Her determination to raise awareness on equality for everyone os why she is an inspiration and named after one of our skin tones.

Being an inspiration isn’t reserved for the overcomers, it’s important to recognise that everyone has the ability to reach out to others.

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Inspirational Yarn – Sue

Dr Sue Black is best known as a computer scientist, a University lecturer and researcher. The leading force behind the renovation of Bletchley Park, the World War II centre for decrypting enemy messages and the woman behind #techmums, teaching women computer skills in the belief that teaching mothers computer skills in turn teaches their children and eventually teaches the community.

That alone is a reason to name a yarn shade after Sue, but there’s so much more to her that I think has seen her being awarded an OBE and many awards for computer science.

Her passion for empowering women to understand technology and social media, especially in some of the more deprived parts of the country also helps encourage women who perhaps will find self confidence in learning skills they might have felt surpassed them.

 

‘Get out there and do the things you want to do.

You’ve only got one life so

Go for it!’

– Dr Sue Black OBE, FBCS, FRSA

 

But for me, what really inspires me is that Sue comes from humble beginnings.

Sue left school at 16, got married at 20 and by age 23 had three children.

By the age of 25 she was a single mother of three children living in a women’s refuge in Brixton.

She enrolled in night school and then university, eventually becoming a university lecturer. Education was her transport for getting the career she wanted and the ability to change her life for the better.

For myself, as someone who came late to appreciating education, I found university often very difficult, but to do a day at university while caring for three children is just an example of the strength Sue must have had. She overcame difficult challenges and proved that just because a person doesn’t succeed in high school, doesn’t mean education has closed its door.

Sue inspires those of us who have felt ‘less than’ because we didn’t have the right start. Her determination to get an education and then to work so hard to make sure that she passes on her education to others is what makes her an inspiration.

Click here to hear Sue Black Speaking at the Inspirefest conference.

In a similar way, dolls can be used to inspire children through play and can transcend all restraints of society. No one ever tells a doll she can’t be a scientist because she didn’t get the right qualification, a doll simply becomes a scientist. Through the dolls limitless career choices a child can dream dreams beyond the realms of her community or family status.

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Meet the dolls 3 – The Knitter

Betty, our knitting doll has been named after Betty Yewdale who, with her friend Sally, were sent to a knitting school in Dent to learn to knit. They hated the school and ran away. Their story is well told here Betty’s tale

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The knitters were often known as the terrible knitters of Dent and like me, they knitted during church services (Hooray!) but unlike me they knitted very fast.

One of the many items knitted in Dent are the fine gloves, knitted similarly to Sanquhar gloves in a fair isle style pattern.

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So, my doll had to have her own knitting and is currently up to the fingers of her second glove. The first one (which took me 6 hours knitted on five 1.5mm double pointed needles) is in her basket along with her balls of wool.

She has a hand knitted plain shawl and a hand carved knitting sheath tucked into her leather belt.

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I think the hardest part of making this doll was remembering to stop making the second glove so Betty could hold the knitting.

Betty has been made after visiting the Dent Village museum and falling a wee bit in love with the people in the museum. Dent Museum

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Meet the dolls 1 – The Fisherman

You’ve seen pictures of him already but let me officially introduce you to William, the fisherman.

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As with all my dolls in my uni project he’s made from all locally sourced materials. He’s 99% wool (a wee bit of Alpaca and a pipe cleaner). He’s filled with British lambswool and a pipe cleaner (made in Huddersfield, 30mins from my home, but I picked it up on my home from Uni, so technically carbon footprint is as low as it can be.

The pattern for the doll is the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that I wrote some time ago and is available on both Etsy and Ravelry. I searched worldwide for a 100% wool in flesh tones, but couldn’t find any, so I had to dye my own. I used a small dye manufacturer a little less local (Sheffield), about a 45min drive away.

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The yarn is Cheviot, a Northern sheep with hard wearing but mid softness, not scratchy, but will stand up to whatever a child puts dolls through. The wool is from British sheep but is spun in Huddersfield.

All the white, greys and brown clothing on the dolls is using a commercial yarn, Illustrious, by West Yorkshire Spinners, I used this to show off wools variety of natural shades. Each doll also has a dyed wool item of clothing.

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William has a blue traditional Gansey and a matching cable hat.  The gansey includes the tradition underarm gusset and a pattern based around the Scarborough and Whitby ganseys.

He is linked to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, a small museum near the seafront in Scarborough but is an amazingly friendly place to visit, They even have a Scarborough Gansey on display and several examples of gansey stitches.

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