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Waldorf Toys and the the free play fun over the holidays…

I love to see my children use their beautiful imagination while playing with free play toys and games. I enjoy watching the brilliant process of free-thought and spark cross their faces as they learn to think and be creative.
I want my children to be active in their play!
I want my children to learn through play.
I want to feel confidant that they are happy and engaged.

I also love to give these type of toys to other children and introduce the idea of simple and creative toys to others. I find that parents are very receptive to toys that promote independent thought and NO batteries. Give the gift of exploration and creativity this year!

Here are my top five Waldorf Holiday toys to give over the holidays and for birthdays:

Waldorf Dolls: ( simply beautiful and fosters creative play)
Found Here.

Play silks (Gorgeous!Anything! A Cape! A river! A tent! Clothing!)
Found Here.

Waldorf Wood figures (thoughtful and free play fun! Make up stories! Dream!)
Found Here.

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The Advent Spiral





The “Advent Spiral” or “Spiral of Light” as it is sometimes called is a thing to behold. It marks the lengthening of days and the journey we will all take into the darkness and quiet of winter. It reminds us to take our inner light with us on this journey through the long cold months and longest days of our year and to have a reverence for it.
The apple lanterns have been carved and are ready, the star shaped sugar cookies are warming in the oven, the pine boughs have been cut and layed just so, families gather in a darkened room on a cold December afternoon near to the Winter Solstice.
And so it begins. One at a time, the children walk along the spiral path of boughs leading to one large lit candle. Each holds an unlit candle, even the smallest hands are capable and ready! In the middle of the spiral the children light their candles and then retrace their steps out of the spiral, leaving their lit candle next to the last child’s. The room is hushed, sometimes there is faint harp music – light and airy.
As each child passes through the spiral something amazing starts to happen -the room brightens!
After all the children have made there way there is often singing and snacks of cookies and warm apple cider.
The hearts and souls of all who attended are warmed and the children go away with a sense of the light &warmth they have built candle by candle.
The advent spiral can also be done in your own home to prepare the family for winter and bring the cheer to your very own house!
FaerieWaldorf has a wonderful guide for sale in her etsy shop all about preparing and participating in the Advent Spiral!
Soltice Sun King pictured above from PaintingPixie’s etsy shop.
Needle felted apple’s by CozyCottageCreations
Wooden Spiral by DragonsandMermaids

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Music to craft by

What do you listen to when you are crafting? It is such a busy time of year and one does not have much time to relax with all the things that need to be done. So it is best to stay relaxed while at work.

My favorite things to listen to are :

1. KUNC my public radio station because, except for some local ads, it is commercial free. It is the most like German radio stations. I don’t know how people can stand listening to regular radio stations here. The roaring noise of commercials really hurts my ears. In Germany radio stations are not allowed to play commercials all day long. They are all clumped together in a 5 minute sequences right before the news come on. That way one can choose whether you want the news AND NOISY commercials. Or just skip the whole thing. =)

2. Pirate radio 104.7 is my second favorite local Colorado radio station. I love it because they play a lot of music from the Big Band era and music from old movies.

3. CDs from my collection.

My favorite CD at the moment is “girls and boys” by an artist named Ingrid Michaelson. http://www.amazon.com/Girls-Boys-Ingrid-Michaelson/dp/B000VBIGMM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1227705257&sr=1-2

But I also love listening to movie soundtracks. Back when I was living in Berlin, Germany I worked at a gallery. My boss was a great fan and collector of film music. Often I would know the soundtrack of a movie before I had even seen a film. It really gives you an interesting perspective and feel for a movie. You should try it some time. Get the sound track first and listen to it! Try to picture the movie. Then go see the movie!

One thing I don’t enjoy listening to is Christmas music. Sorry pals but the music played at stores really ruins it for me every year. I try to hide the “Frosty the Snowman” CD my kids own for as long as I possibly can. Once it comes out that is ALL they want to listen to.

So tell me: What are your favorites? What helps you relax while crafting marathon style?

I can’t wait to read your comments!

Love, Ulla

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Sankt Martin

If you should ever get the chance to visit the area in Germany where I grew up, you will notice one thing upon entering one of these small communities. As you drive into a small town you will notice a distinct feature on the horizon: two church steeples, one belonging to the Catholic church – the other to a Protestant church. Animosities and downright hostilities between the followers of either religious denomination have lasted for centuries. May God forbid that a Catholic girl should ever wed a Protestant man ( or vice versa), as my mother did, for she might become an outcast in her family…Despite the fact that most Protestants do not recognize saints and may even ridicule the Catholic practice of saint worship, there is one celebration in November they will not shun! On the evening of November 11, you will find Protestant and Catholic children alike going on lantern walks at night to celebrate the life of Sankt Martinus.
According to legend, St. Martin started out as a Roman soldier, was baptized as an adult, and became a monk. “It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised he has clothed me.” (quoted form Wikipedia)

Most of the lanterns the children carry they craft lovingly at home or in art class at school. The lanterns are usually made of paper with beautiful cut-out designs that look like the lead glass windows of a church. The lanterns are attached with wire to the end of a dowel. Little tea-lights are used to make them glow in the dark. The children walk from their houses and meet at the market place, or the school building. From there they follow a rider on a white horse, dressed like a Roman soldier, marching towards the outskirts of town. While walking the children sing songs about St. Martin and songs about their lanterns. The destination of their march is a huge bonfire. The children gather around the bonfire. After a dramatic reenactment of the most famous scene from St. Martin’s life, cutting his coat in half and sharing it with the beggar, all children receive a sweet treat. Each child gets handed a figure made of a yeasty bread dough with raisins for eyes.

I so loved this tradition as a child. There was always such a wonderful sense of community in this celebration. What better way to celebrate simple acts of human kindness?

Wishing you lots of light, human warmth and kindness for this season!
Ulla
http://www.germandolls.etsy.com/

 

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Life as a Waldorf “Short Order” Cook

The other day my daughter was asking me:”Mom, what are all those little sticky notes on the window behind your sewing machine?” I responded:”Oh, those are the custom orders I received and need to finish for Christmas.”

If you are an artist/crafter and offer custom work in your etsy shop, life in the months before Christmas can get pretty complicated and hectic.

You may find yourself worrying and asking the following questions:
How many custom items should I offer?

Do I have all the materials to make them?

Do I have enough shipping materials, and will I be able to ship it on time?

How do I keep my store stocked at the same time?

How do I balance the custom work with my desire to create new items?Should I just skip sleep and work 24 hours? Now is the time, right?

I have been struggling with these questions since August. I would really like some input from other crafters who offer custom work. How do you stay organized and make it through this busy season?

Sometimes I get so tired of the balance act I am performing that I want to stop taking customs orders altogether! But then I get some wonderful Feedback or a really sweet message from someone who received their doll, and I forget all about the stress.
I find, that the challenges of custom orders bring out the best in me. Often customers come to me with ideas I never would have come up with myself! Or they point out how one of my items sold previously was so great because of a certain feature and why don’t I combine it with this other feature…I think my customers make me a better artist. Even when I find myself grumbling at times about a difficult request…

My favorite kind of dolls are ethnic dolls. I made the Asian dolls you see in the pictures for children adopted from China. There is a great need for such items because it is hard to find dolls with Asian and other ethnic features on a regular store shelf. I feel that my work is important and appreciated by the children and parents alike!

But I am only one woman. I wish I had some elves to help. Maybe some day my daughter will be old enough to help. But for now it is just me.

Later I might post a picture of all my little sticky notes in the window of my “studio”. I feel like a short order cook at times. Which is a funny way to put it since my orders take hours to complete. =)

Hope to hear some opinions from all of you who do customs!

Love, Ulla

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Life as a Waldorf "Short Order" Cook

The other day my daughter was asking me:”Mom, what are all those little sticky notes on the window behind your sewing machine?” I responded:”Oh, those are the custom orders I received and need to finish for Christmas.”

If you are an artist/crafter and offer custom work in your etsy shop, life in the months before Christmas can get pretty complicated and hectic.

You may find yourself worrying and asking the following questions:
How many custom items should I offer?

Do I have all the materials to make them?

Do I have enough shipping materials, and will I be able to ship it on time?

How do I keep my store stocked at the same time?

How do I balance the custom work with my desire to create new items?Should I just skip sleep and work 24 hours? Now is the time, right?

I have been struggling with these questions since August. I would really like some input from other crafters who offer custom work. How do you stay organized and make it through this busy season?

Sometimes I get so tired of the balance act I am performing that I want to stop taking customs orders altogether! But then I get some wonderful Feedback or a really sweet message from someone who received their doll, and I forget all about the stress.
I find, that the challenges of custom orders bring out the best in me. Often customers come to me with ideas I never would have come up with myself! Or they point out how one of my items sold previously was so great because of a certain feature and why don’t I combine it with this other feature…I think my customers make me a better artist. Even when I find myself grumbling at times about a difficult request…

My favorite kind of dolls are ethnic dolls. I made the Asian dolls you see in the pictures for children adopted from China. There is a great need for such items because it is hard to find dolls with Asian and other ethnic features on a regular store shelf. I feel that my work is important and appreciated by the children and parents alike!

But I am only one woman. I wish I had some elves to help. Maybe some day my daughter will be old enough to help. But for now it is just me.

Later I might post a picture of all my little sticky notes in the window of my “studio”. I feel like a short order cook at times. Which is a funny way to put it since my orders take hours to complete. =)

Hope to hear some opinions from all of you who do customs!

Love, Ulla

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Versatile Playsilks

Playsilks are simple. So simple in fact that many adults balk at the idea of a toy that does nothing. Toddlers, however, revel in such toys! When people ask what to *do* with a playsilk, I always answer ~ give one to a child and you’ll see.Playsilks come in an endless variety of sizes and colours. No one is better than any other~ they all work in the hands of a child. You may want to choose your size and style based upon your space, planned uses (ie quiet play in the car vs. nature table backdrop or playstand canopy), and child(ren)’s age. Solid or mandala? Rainbow? You decide! At our house we prefer solids for imaginative play and multi-colours for dressup.The Natural Kids Team has a number of seller’s making or making use of gorgeous silkies. Be sure to search “Naturalkids Team” on Etsy for great finds! (Suggested keywords: playsilk, silkies, playsilks, waldorf, natural…)This article is revised from my blog, written on a dreary winter’s day when my daughter (then 2.5) and I were looking for some physical activity to beat the winter blues.I thought I would pass these along for the adults out there who may be looking for something to help them get into silkie play, or for some fresh ideas to get in some extra activity before spring releases us all to the outdoors!We had four of different colours, we could have done all this with one or two, too!1) Practice colours. Lay out various coloured silkies around the room. Child stands at center and runs to the colour you call. Add some more activity by having them jump on it, spin around with it, whatever!2) Practice counting. Lay silkies on the floor and have child step on them like ladder rungs, counting as they go.3) Literacy?! Our local literacy worker has told us that one of the big concepts children lack when they reach kindergarten is a sense of position/ relations. On top, beneath, beside, along, between… Use a silkie and practice! Put it on your child’s head ~ they are under the silkie, the silkie is on top of them. Have them place it in various relations to their body, or yours (put it behind mommy). Up, down, away, left, right…4) Throw and Catch. Bundle one silkie into a ball and knot a second around it and you have a lightweight indoor-safe ball with a handy tail to help novice catchers and throwers feel successful.5) Jumping and other Gross Motor Skills. Jump over the silkie river, walk along its bank (balance), crawl under a silkie thrown into the air, spin around with one in each hand, step over and crawl under one held up like a limbo stick.6) Fine Motor Skills. Weave two silkies together. Stuff them into a cup. Lay them down in a straight line.7) Imagination. Rowan wore her extra silkies as hat and snowsuit while we played. We hid one another and popped out to scare each other (she is at the stage where this is big fun!). She pretended to be a kitty curling up on a kitty bed. She made her big girl bed all up and climbed in to ‘sleep’.8) Rhythm and Body Awareness. We finished with dancing with our silkies~ feeling the music, moving our arms and legs in various patterns (flapping wings, waving in the sky, tiptoeing).Exercise for body, mind and spirit.All in about 30 minutes.Using only a couple 35 x 35″ squares of silk.It doesn’t get much better than this!Put a silkie in the hands of your child and watch the magic happen!Lori Campbell(http://beneaththerowantree.etsy.com)Revised, September 8, 2008.

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Waldorf Wednesday is Back! Or why Boys need dolls!

It’s been a while since we had our Wednesday blog entry. From what I understand the original idea was to talk about Waldorf education, natural toys, and living a natural lifestyle. I will try to keep that in mind as I ramble on about my views and perspective of life as a German immigrant in the US. I have lived here for about 12 years now. Scary. I cannot believe it has been this long. But please, forgive occasional spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and a little bit of an accent bleeding through at times. I am still very much German at heart…


The subject I want to talk about today is: Why do boys need dolls?

It is really important to me, and I want to tell a little anecdote to explain why that is. A few of years ago I had a rather strange encounter. I believe it was on a sunny fall day when I took the kids to the park to play at the playground. As usual when I go out, I had one of my projects with me. I am always crocheting, sewing, or have something with me to keep my fingers busy. As I sat there on a park bench a young woman approached me. People are always curious when they see an artist at work. So of course, I end up telling them that I make dolls. The young woman had her 4-year-old son with her. As we got to talking she sighed and told me about her dilemma. A couple of weeks ago a toy catalogue had arrived in the mail, and her son saw a dollhouse in it. Now whenever she asked him what he wanted for Christmas he’d say: I want that cool dollhouse from the catalogue. To which I responded: So, why don’t you get him a dollhouse? She said her husband would have an absolute fit. He thinks boys should play with trucks and “manly” toys and that “Dolls are for girls”!

I was totally stunned and maybe even annoyed. After taking a moment I told her that her husband was so wrong. That there was no reason why her son should not have a dollhouse to play with. Role play with dolls is very important for children. Why would we assign boys to play with inanimate objects such as cars, trucks, and building blocks only? Maybe we throw in an occasional plastic soldier or a plastic superhero. But why not give them a soft cuddly baby? Or a doll family? Some day this little boy will be a dad, have a family, and a real house. I told her to ignore her husband and get the boy the dollhouse anyway!

I get so frustrated when I hear such stories. Often I hear boys, big and small, talk derisively about the “Pink Aisle” in the stores and dolls being “for girls” only.

I think this world would be a much better place if we gave boys dolls and allowed them grow up in a more loving and nurturing environment. Both boys and girls need to learn how to nurture and cuddle a doll because some day they will be a parent. I feel sad for this dad in my story who did not want to give his son the gift he so much desired. It made me wonder how he grew up…

Foto by JustynRebecca, a dear etsy customer of mine

I really wish more people bought dolls for their sons. I always keep one or two boy dolls in my store. Sadly they sit around the “virtual store shelf” much longer than the girl dolls…Sprinkled throughout the text please find some examples of sweet dolls that have found a loving home – nurtured by a boy who will, no doubt, become a great dad!

The boy doll below was made my dear friend and fellow doll artisan Rebecca. Steve is still available if you are looking for a cool boy doll to give to a boy you love.

Steve, a boy doll with spunk, available at Toys From Nature

Take Care! And see you next Wednesday!

Ulla, the German Dollmaker

Ulla Seckler  is a dollmaker who was born and raised in Germany. She lives in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two kids. You can find her Notes by a German Dollmaker on her blog where she shares some great German recipes, pictures of her sweet dolls, and life lessons learned.  Don’t forget to stop by her Etsyshop and take a peek at her wonderful doll creations.

 

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Instructions Not Included

I’ll never forget one day at a neighborhood playground about two years ago, when I was sitting on the sidelines watching Eva, now four, play in the sand. Next to me was a woman who was on her hands and knees in the sand telling her two-year-old how to play with his toy. It was a complicated sort of gizmo the use for which, only the mother, evidently could decipher. It begged several questions in my mind; Who’s toy was it, really? How necessary was it to get using it correctly right? Was there really only one way to play with this toy.

I’ve said it before in my blogs, but every time I look around, I see how deep the truth of this idea of Rudolph Steiner’s is…that the child should be able in some way to complete the toy; it needs to be open ended. (Eva, pictured here, dresses herself and two of the needle felted dolls I made for her in silk. She has cast herself and the others in a “puppet” show.) Eva wears her play silk, or “Rainbow” as she refers to them, as a “wedding dress.” But her silks have become baby slings, rainbows, flags, vaccuums, ropes, etc…

There is no correct way to play with these; no end to what this simple square of color can become, such as with Birchleafedesigns‘s play silks shown
here. These are not only beautiful but processed with low-impact dye, making them and most of the other items featured environmentally friendly.

I’d like to explore the ways in which toys can be simple and open ended, using images from my Etsy.com Naturalkids Team colleagues for examples. With Winsomehollow’s endearing gnome play set, there are no rules. There is no “branded” personality for him…or her. The little island can be anywhere the child chooses. His or her story will be new and original.

Although Woolcomesalive’s toy set, pictured here is described on her site as a barn with sheep and bails, all of those pieces can have new identities in the mind of the child. For, they are not so specifically formed and have no back story created by marketing executives.

Oritdotandolls’ fairies are light and ethereal. Literally, faceless, the child can project whatever image they like onto it. Though Orit names this one a “blessing,” perhaps it is a “gifting” or “singing” fairy to the child…or just “Lucy.” Refreshingly, nothing about this fairy disproves any of the child’s notions.

We see that Littleelfstoyshop’s daffodil girl holds a yellow flower…but what is the rest of her story…and can that daffodil be a flag or a horn? Sure. And her expression, like most Waldorf-inspired dolls is enigmatic, leaving her attitude up to the imagination of the child who plays with her. Here is another example of that open expression from Auntboosbabies. One might think that this lack of expression may feel cold to a child. On the contrary it is inviting. When you combine that with natural materials, like recycled cotton and other natural fibers, as many of our Naturalkids Team team members use, the doll is even softer to the touch…even more loveable.

I would like to continue with these examples and feature additional sellers from our team in my next “Part Two of Instructions Not Included” next time. In the meantime, I invite you to click on their links on the blog site and visit the wonderful and creative worlds these folks inspire through their artistry.

I leave off with the image featured at the top of the page from Dosidough. This team member creates a natural version of playdough – a toy which defies all rules and for which instructions are neither included or requested.

By Rebecca Varon-Remstein
nushkiedesign

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Friday Interview with German Dolls

Today’s interview is with team member Ulla of the shop German Dolls. Her lovely dolls and sweet doll outfits have a wonderful old world feel to them and her shop is full of these simple childhood joys. I really enjoyed getting to know Ulla better and I think you will too!

Tell us a little about yourself…
Guten Tag!
My name is Ulla Seckler. I was born and raised in Germany and moved to the United States in 1996. I am married and live in beautiful Colorado with my husband and two kids.
I have been sewing and making things practically all my life.
Back in good old Germany children are instructed in needlework at a tender age. I still remember the old lady, named Frau Knebel, who came in with two gigantic knitting needles, the size of poles for pole vaulting (it seemed), and taught all the girls and BOYS how to knit in elementary school.
Sewing is in my blood. My great grandmother was the village seamstress and called in whenever somebody got married and needed custom-made, hand embroidered table and bed linens. She taught my grandma and my mother. And I watched my mother sew, crochet, and knit all my life. She did not have to make a living that way, but whenever she had a minute she was doing something. Her hands were never idle, and I grew up in a world where handmade sweaters, mittens, and scarves appeared overnight. All it took was a snowfall. My dolls and I never lacked a new outfit and were dressed appropriately for the season . . .
After I had children of my own in the US; I was worried that they would grow up without the same quality handmade items and toys that I had when I was little. So I started making dolls after my daughter was born. And once I started making the dolls, I began making clothes for them as well. Some of the patterns I use were handed down in my family. But most of the designs are a combination of the old traditional patterns and my own more modern spin on Waldorf.

What is the main thing you make and sell in your store? What else do you make or sell?
The main thing I make and sell in my store is dolls and doll clothing. Once I started making dolls I became a total addict. First I made dolls for my kids, then for all the nieces and nephews, then for friend’s kids. I just could not stop. The dolls began to clutter the house. My husband complained that there was never a place to sit down any more…He said:” Honey, why don’t you sell some on eBay.” I did – and “the rest is history” as they say.
Last Christmas I got a needle felting kit as a present. I instantly fell in love with this craft. I have a few needle felted items in my store and would like to expand in that area..

Who if anyone has been instrumental in helping you hone your craft?
The one person who has been most instrumental when it comes to my craft is my mother. See above. She did not teach me the art of Waldorf Doll making per se, but she taught me all the skills needed to make a beautiful handmade toy.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My daughter’s birth inspired me to make my first doll, and watching her play with all of her dolls every day is my greatest inspiration!
My German heritage is certainly very important and a great inspiration in what and how I do what I do. I miss the dark, green, Fairytale forests of Germany. But at the same time my life as an immigrant has given me a very unique perspective on things. I see many playrooms in the United States filled with gobs and oodles of ugly plastic toys. The main criterion in many households appears to be mass rather than quality. I hope that more people will learn about Waldorf and Natural toys.
If it had not been for coming here I don’t think I’d be a doll maker. I probably would have bought a handmade doll in Germany and let it go at that. I think my work is a great example of how the New World and the Old World come together to inspire wonderful art.

What are your favorite materials?
I still get excited every time a new shipment of supplies arrives at my doorstep, especially when it was mailed from Germany. I love Color! Cotton velour is my favorite material! And it comes in so many bright colors =)! I get sad whenever I run out of a color. I make my Wee Pocketbabies out of this wonderful stuff, but it is also great for doll clothes and other cuddly toys.
I love wool in any shape and color! Wool felt, wool roving, yarn, carded wool fleece. Wool is what my dolls are stuffed with, soft warm springy natural sheep’s wool. Who likes to hug plastic? This is my slogan.


“In an age when everything is made of plastic and synthetics and almost every toy says “Made in China,” my Waldorf Dolls are handmade with pure wool and cotton, natural materials that warm to body temperature as they are held. Have you ever hugged a cold, plastic baby doll on a cold winter morning? My soft, warm dolls are unique, huggable, and as individual as the children who love them.”

What advice would you give other Etsy sellers and those interested in opening up a shop?
Don’t quit your day job! It takes a lot of time and energy to build a small business. We are talking years – not months. Don’t expect to open a store and have a lot of sales right away. When I first started on Eb
ay it was very tough. I often sold my dolls for little more than the price of the materials. I am doing a little better these days but often wonder if it is possible to make a living being an artist. My husband brings home the bacon!
You have to love what you do to make it through the rough spots. My friends on Etsy, particularly the Naturalkids Team, have made my “crafting life” so much happier. I am immensely grateful for the sense of community and friendship I have found there!

7)What advice would you give to beginners in your main craft?
Patience, patience, patience! You cannot expect to make a first doll and for it look great. It took me many years to perfect all the techniques and come up with the perfect doll.

What is your Etsy shop address and name? Where else can we find you?

I recently closed my Ebay shop because of the impossible high fees. I have decided to put all of my energy into my Etsy shop. I hope to have my own website some day…
My Etsy shop address is www.germandolls.etsy.com
I also have a flickr account. If you would like to see pictures of old and new work you can check out my “archive” on flickr; http://www.flickr.com/photos/germandolls