Tell us little about yourself!
I am a musical storyteller and doll-maker who was trained as a children’s librarian. My husband and I live in Seattle, Washington, USA, with our 7 year old daughter. When my daughter was 2, I decided that I wanted to learn either to sew or to play guitar, and ended up doing both. I don’t work in the library anymore, but I cannot resist a reference question, especially if it involves trying to locate a favorite childhood book. In the beginning of our courtship, I impressed my future husband by locating a copy of the out-of-print book Dinosaur Comes to Town, written by Gene Darby, which had the refrain, “There’s a meat-eating dinosaur—and you’re meat!”
The meaning behind my shop name:
The name “Alkelda” is Old English for “healing spring.” Alkelda is an apocryphal saint, and her feast day is my birthday. When I decided to become a seller on Etsy, I elected to keep my username as my shop name and added “Dolls for Storytelling” to make it clearer what the shop offered.
What do you make and how long have you been creating?
I make embroidered wool felt dolls for storytelling through creative play. As a teenager, I would hand-stitch small dolls out of fabric remnants to give to family and friends, but it never occurred to me to seek out specific fabrics until I started making the little felt standing dolls like the ones in the shop. I started out with doll-making kits, and then developed my own patterns. I learned to embroider as an adult with the help of several embroidery books.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by plants, the curriculum in Waldorf schools, folktales, music (some of my dolls carry felt guitars), ironwork scrolls, and embroidered tapestries. My daughter loves dolls, and she often comes up with ideas for me, as do friends and family members.
A few years ago, I read her Sibyl Von Olfers’s The Story of the Root Children. She enjoyed it, but asked, “Why are all the root children blonde?” I explained to her that the author was Prussian, and she probably knew a lot of blond children, but that the majority of the Earth’s population has brown hair. When I talked about this conversation on my Saints and Spinners storytelling blog, friends of mine wrote about how they had longed for depictions of fairies and fairy-like dolls with dark hair and skin, and how rare it was to find them. Many of the dolls I make are for my friends when they were children as well as the people who are children now. I am glad that I can find cotton interlock for faces in a variety of skin tones.
Prior to using a book, my embroidery looked like a mess. I am the kind of person who needs specific instruction and guidance before free-form experimentation can take place. My first dolls (larger standing dolls with wire arms) were created with an embroidery book in my lap. I still consult my books quite a bit for new, complex stitches, but I’m glad that I finally have the basics “memorized” in my fingertips. Speaking of fingertips, it’s handy that I play steel-string guitar, because the calluses protect me from many of the needle-jabs I inevitably experience. (As a friend of mine asked, “Haven’t you ever heard of a device called a ‘thimble’?”)
How long have you been on Etsy and how has it been for you so far?
I started out as a buyer in June 2008 and became a seller in May 2009. When I started, I had no intention of starting a cottage industry business. However, when I started to make little dolls and people asked for commissioned work, it occurred to me that there might be a tucked-away corner of the market that would have room for my virtual stall. I was fortunate to have an online community already established for four years through my storytelling blog, and friends were willing to mention my new shop. Still, I was bowled over the first time I received an order from a stranger. I was glad to be able to join the Natural Kids Team because I liked the artisans and wanted a sense of connection with others who liked to create things that appealed to children.
What advice would you have for other Etsians?
Of course, I’m still learning from those who have been around far longer than I. What I would like for sellers in general to understand is that many people are inundated with data and noise to the point of saturation. Respect your potential customers by offering the best you have to create without getting into their personal space with a deluge of marketing. As a buyer, I went to Etsy to find well-made, handcrafted creations at fair prices, not mass-produced “bargains.” As a seller, I strive to make my shop a welcoming place to potential customers as well as people who simply enjoy looking at my dolls. Each listing ends with this mission statement: “I care about each doll I sew, and hope you will find a doll in the shop that you feel is yours.”
What do you hope to learn/gain/contribute from being part of the Natural Kids group?
I am a worker bee. I like low-profile jobs such as editing and organizing (although please, do not look at my desk as an example of order, as you will not find it). I hope those skills will help the team as a whole. What I really appreciate is
that when I have a question, people on the Natural Kids Team have perspective and can give guidance.
What thoughts do you have for parents on the importance of natural toys for creative play?
As an adult with experience, I prefer to give my daughter toys made out of wool, cotton, wood and clay. These natural materials are warm and living. When minimally formed, these toys allow for many layers of creative play. However, I can understand the attraction of battery-powered toys. Before my daughter was born, I bought a little fire-engine train that had a battery for the siren. I got a kick out of pushing the button every once in awhile to hear that siren. However, when my daughter received the fire engine as a present, she pushed the button repeatedly. When she wasn’t looking, I took the battery out, and then gave her back the fire-engine train. She pushed the button and looked at it quizzically when it made no sound. After a few moments, she set the fire engine train down on the track and said, “Chook-ca-chook-ca-chook” (her train sound). I realized that by taking the battery out, I was giving her imagination room for its own discovery.
Alkelda: Dolls for Storytelling
Interview by Beccijo of The Enchanted Cupboard