On any given day, you might find musical storyteller and doll maker Farida Dowler training for a half marathon, homeschooling her daughter, writing and performing songs and stories, making Danish pancakes, or putting the finishing touches on a Pink Heart Fairy or Red Math Gnome.
Whether she’s picking guitar strings or embroidering french knots on fairy capes, Farida seems to thrive in an enchanted world of her own making — a kind and gentle one that harkens back to the days of wandering minstrels, exults in the magic of story, champions creativity and the imagination, and treasures the invaluable human connections that blossom in the name of art.
Her Mission Statement is:
I care about each doll I sew, and hope you will find a doll in the shop that you feel is yours.
One at a time, one of a kind, full of heart.
I like picturing Farida in her Seattle home, head bent over her work, humming to herself as she adeptly draws needle and thread through felt, creating a new violet or cherry blossom friend who’ll find her place displayed on a nature table, held in a child’s eager hand as an original story emerges, or peacefully resting on a writer’s desk, a friendly companion offering quiet inspiration.
A former children’s librarian, Farida became interested in making these tiny wool felt figures when her daughter was attending a Waldorf school. Since then, she’s fashioned hundreds of them (angels, fairies, box babies, root children, ladybugs, wee witches, daffodils, daisies, wizards), and each has a charming personal story of its own.
Alkelda Dolls are made with natural materials and celebrate the Earth’s beautiful diversity with a variety of skin tones, hair hues and eye colors. Faces are kept simple according to Waldorf tradition to encourage open, creative play. Farida’s dolls make perfect gifts — her work represents what I love most about the handmade tradition: a genuine joy of creating, a personal touch, a human connection, feeling her sweet abiding spirit in every piece.
Behold and marvel in her forest of once upon a time.
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♥ MEET FARIDA DOWLER ♥
Name of shop or business: Alkelda Dolls
Year established: 2009
Items you make: embroidered wool felt dolls
Studio Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
Three words that best describe your art: tactile, detailed, colorful
Self taught or formal training? Self-taught through books and observation of family members
Tools of the Trade: wool felt, embroidery thread, needles, wool batting
Inspirations and influences: Goldie the Dollmaker, by M.B. Goffstein, the work of embroidery artist Salley Mavor (Felt Wee Folk); the illustrations of Elisa Kleven; The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers; my maternal aunt, who embroidered my overalls with bucolic scenes:
Three significant milestones in your career:
1. In December 2008, my husband gave me several books on my wishlist: Feltcraft, by Petra Berger, Felt Wee Folk, by Salley Mavor, and Making Flower Children by Sybille Adolphi.
2. Joining the Natural Kids Team on Etsy several months after my shop opened was a great way for artisans to support each other’s work both professionally and personally.
3. In 2011, I teamed up with Bossy’s Feltworks to make full nativity sets together. They made the lovely felted animals, and I made the human figures.
Here is a little stop-motion film that showcases one of the sets:
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Food that inspires your best work:
Sometimes something edible will inspire the creation of a doll, such as the gingerbread fairy or Pi Gnome, but in general, the foods that give me focus and energy are related to my running life. I rely upon black tea with milk, coffee with milk, Justin’s maple-almond butter on toast, Honeycrisp apples, and spinach pies. Squares of dark chocolate are medicinal, and Middle Eastern cuisine makes me feel as if someone loves me.
Bestseller: Sunflower dolls sell really well, as do the butterfly fairies.
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
I used to write and illustrate books of poems and stories. The stories were always more vivid in my head than on paper. Inevitably, I’d get tired and end the story with, “And then they lived happily until they died and went to heaven.” With the exception of a glazed yellow clay alligator made in first grade art class, I think this board game is the oldest creative piece that survives.
You say at your shop that your dolls are “Waldorf-inspired.” Could you please explain what that means for those of us who may not be familiar with that particular educational philosophy?
Waldorf education uses dolls and animal figures made of natural materials like wool, cotton and wood to tell stories. The stories themselves are based on folktales, nursery rhymes, or come from the teachers’ own imaginations, but they inevitably take their inspiration from nature.
Tell us about your favorite creation so far, some of the challenges you overcame to make it, and how it influences what you’re doing now.
Most of my shop listings are individual dolls because I want to be mindful of my customers’ budgets. Even so, it takes me at least two hours to make one doll, and I have to balance setting a fair price for my work with making the dolls accessible to the people who want to bring them into their homes. Sometimes I am compelled make a story set for my own pleasure, and let the dolls remain together, as I did in this set inspired by the Brothers Grimm story The Seven Ravens, plus my lifelong fascination with outer space:
While I am always grateful and pleased when a set like this sells, I think of sets like the Sun/Moon/Stars ensemble as display pieces for people to admire before heading on to the fairies and flower folk.
Please select a favorite item from your shop and tell us what inspired it.
I am partial to this little snowdrop doll I made recently:
When my daughter was in a Waldorf kindergarten, each child received a plant-inspired “little one” from the Little One Meadow, to be his or her companion. (These friends were distinctly not dolls, as my daughter reminded me.) My daughter’s little one was named Snow Drop. For the next three years, I listened to stories of Snow Drop and her friends in the kindergarten. I have had a particular fondness for the galanthus nivalis and its variations ever since.
Describe your studio or workplace. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
My workspace is a desk in the living room. I try to keep it tidy, but entropy quickly takes over. I was brave and took a photo of my desk in chaos, and two days later, in a more harmonious state. As of this writing, the state of this desk is closer to photo 1. The items you may notice are: a Playmobil Victorian lady named Roberta, a Bossy’s Feltworks needlefelted pincushion of a sheep on a circus ball, and a couple of my creations including my “Springtime Wanderer” inspired by Snufkin of the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson.
What you don’t see in the photo are the three guitars in the living room. Two belong to me, and one belongs to my daughter. Often, I will take a break from sewing to stretch out my fingers on the guitar. Steel strings on the guitar give me calluses, which are helpful in regard to the inevitable needle jabs. (A friend of mine once asked me, “Haven’t you ever heard of a thimble?”)
How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?
I often don’t notice my growth as an artist until I look at photos of my older work. I welcome requests from friends, family, and customers. Sometimes my experiments work out differently than I expected, and sometimes those surprises are fun. My mission statement is, “I care about each doll I sew, and hope you will find a doll in the shop that you feel is yours.” Success comes with the pleasure of having created something beautiful, and sending that beauty out into the world. Getting paid for my work ensures that I can justify the time and materials to keep doing what I enjoy.
What do you like best about the creative life?
Sewing gives me the space to daydream while being productive. Sometimes, I’ll listen to a music mix or a podcast (Another Mother Runner is a favorite podcast about the running life), but I welcome the rare, quiet times when my thoughts are my own.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
My husband has requested that I make a “special-edition” Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game inspired set with the archetypal characters of a knight, a thief, a cleric, and a mage. That endeavor could be fun.
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♥ BRAVO! ENCORE! ♥
- Alkelda Dolls Etsy Shop: In addition to the current listings at her shop, Farida is accepting custom (not rush) orders for any of the dolls featured in this post, and any dolls pictured under the past sales link in her shop’s sidebar.
- Alkelda: Dolls for Storytelling Facebook Page
- Farida Dowler.com for info about hiring Farida for storytelling gigs at schools, libraries, and private parties
- Saints and Spinners Blog for more about her life as a musician, storyteller, artisan, parent, reader and writer
- A Storytelling of Crows Blog: an audio-visual resource of storytelling and music for parents, educators, caregivers, or anyone needing or desiring these materials. A place to hear Farida sing!
- Check out this article Farida wrote about Waldorf Storytelling at The Magic Onions.
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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.