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Friday Interview with Beneath the Rowan Tree

Today’s interview is with the NaturalKids team member, Beneath the Rowan Tree. Rowan’s lovely silks and toys are all hand dyed and hand painted and she has a wonderful eye for color. Come meet her….

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how and when did you get started with arts and crafts?
I always felt like the ugly duckling in my family! Thank goodness my grandmother was naturally crafty and saw the spark in me~ this forged a deep relationship between us and strong connection in a family of non-crafty types.
I have always loved to make things with my hands and to give them to others. Over the years I taught myself numerous crafts: knitting, cross stitching, sewing, scrapbooking and quilting to name a few.
With quilting my love of color and texture really began to blossom. For me the best part about quilting was wandering through the fabric store without a plan, just heaping on bolts of fabric until a vision emerged.
After my daughter was born, I dove into dyeing and painting clothing out of frustration about clothing available for kids. It turns out I *could* paint~ which was a real shock! Dyeing satisfies the need for color and adds the element of surprise and chaos which keeps me centered and reminds me that beauty emerges when we don’t try to control every outcome!
Most recently, drawn by the gorgeous colors and textures of fibers, I began needle felting and I am hooked~ it just resonates with me and draws together all of the satisfying and challenging aspects of craft and has pushed me along towards seeing myself as an artist.


What is the main thing you make and sell in your store? What else do you make and/or sell?
My core product has been my hand dyed and painted clothing for babies and toddlers, although with the holidays approaching and my mercurial interests, I am working much more on my natural toy offerings: wood, wool and lots of silk.

Who if anyone has been instrumental in helping you hone your craft?
I tend to be self-taught and a real grazer~ gathering tidbits of information here and there and generally running off half informed to work it out myself. I appreciate the needle felting forums and community for direction, challenge and inspiration.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Everywhere, my child, the skies (every skyline calls out for a flat felted landscape these days!), the seasons. I try to remain open (and keep notes). Since my crafting business is my ‘sideline’ to my full time vocation/ work I allow myself the freedom to follow my whims and do what I like.

What are your favorite materials?
Wool and silk. So pretty, so versatile, so dyeable!

What advice would you give to beginners in your main craft?
If you are dyeing, use quality chemicals, practice safety precautions, keep a clean work space and dye everything and anything you can to learn about color and fabric and results. Expect surprises. Be bold. You can always re-dye something, until you hit black, and then you bleach! Just kidding!

What is your Etsy shop address and name? Where else can we find you?
http://beneaththerowantree.etsy.com
http://beneaththerowantree.com
http://beneaththerowantree.blogspot.com
http://flickr.com/photos/beneaththerowantree



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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 Part 2


Two weeks ago I began this blog topic. It is such a powerful idea to me, that children should be allowed to play without parental direction or instruction, that I decided to do the article in two parts. I am focusing on only one of the ways parents can step back and let their children do what they do best and naturally: play. That is, to provide them with toys they can figure out, which are open-ended, meaning the child can use her or his own imagination to complete the toy. It is difficult for some parents to understand this concept and choose a natural toy when they are bombarded by advertising from so many big “name” brands. In the first part of “Instructions Not Included,” I gave several examples from my fellow artisans from Etsy’s Naturalkids Team. I’d like to invite new readers to start with my last post. In this current post, I will continue to offer suggestions in this area with additional links.

Here’s something to consider:I read somewhere that invention is not necessarily creating something new with a purpose, but giving a new purpose and way of using to an existing item. Take the item pictured above from Fairiesnest. Yes it is a wand…or is it? If so, is it for a wizard, a fairy a princess? The answers to these questions will be completed by the child. What new way of using this timeless toy will be invented, what enchanting scenarios may be created? And since it is not licensed or branded by a multinational corporate identity, the possibilities are truly endless.

“Waldorf dolls, such as those made by Bellawinter,
FaerieRebecca,
Germandolls or
Woodcreations’….convey little expression. Like the “Mona Lisa,” they are enigmatic and allow the child to decide their emotional state.

In imaginary play, this aspect of allowing the child to complete the toy by deciding if the baby is sleepy or awake, sad or exuberant, not only exercises the child’s imagination, but may also be therapeutic, allowing the child to work through emotional struggles. When Eva was 2, she slipped off the step in our pool. One second later, I lifted her out. This upset her nonetheless. The next day, she had her baby in the bathtub and was teaching it to swim. Clearly she was working out her feelings about water. Mommy’s only job was to wring the toy out later and allow it to dry!

Here is a gnome by Oritdotan. Who is he? Where did he come from? Is that a shell really a cauldron with stew? This playset does not offer any solutions to these riddle. Instead, it offers endless possibilities for the child to imagine.

Beneaththerowantree‘s gnome is quite different…almost a beehive…is he friendly or shy, abiding or mischievous? The child can decide what adventures to send him on, what his future in their present will be.



And who are the gnome’s or the doll’s friends?
Perhaps a needle felted bird, by Thesingingbird

…or some tiny hedgehogs…by Purplemoonfibers.

How about a snail from Woodmouse?

 

…or Freedomrainbow’s custom order cat…

Is it a really a cat or a woolly forest creature or someone from another universe. this is for the child to decide.

The conversations and adventures these creatures could have with each other are endless, because they come free of history, branding or any other known fact.

There are so many examples I could give from my colleagues on Etsy.com’s Naturalkids Team. But I hope these few examples will give readers a taste of the endless play their children could delight in with toys made from natural materials as they project their fantasies onto them. Like Cozycottage’s strawberries, the sweetness is there, ready to be enjoyed by all the senses, and it begins with the imagination.

In my next blog, we’ll explore another aspect of the playroom. Til then, be well.

By Rebecca Varon-Remstein
nushkiedesign

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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