Indie Artist Spotlight: Farida Dowler of Alkelda Dolls

red guitar (2)
Farida (pictured here on Orcas Island) lives in Seattle, Washington — land of evergreens, dreamy rain, good bookstores, coffee, music, and uncommonly gifted creative types.

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.

orange and bee
Orange Blossom Queen and Bee Boy (wooden trees and shrubs by The Enchanted Cupboard)

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.

blueberry and strawberry
Blueberry and Strawberry Dolls
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Dark and Light Purple Violet Root Children

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.

flower box babies
Adorable Flower Box Babies

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.🙂

red riding hood
Knights, Wizards, Red Riding Hood Set, Magenta Princess (wooden foliage by The Enchanted Cupboard)

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Rainbow Butterfly Fairies

Name of shop or business: Alkelda Dolls

Year established: 2009

Items you make: embroidered wool felt dolls

Studio Location: Seattle, Washington, USA


rose of lima with sewing box
Rose of Lima with Sewing Box

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:

embroidered overalls (2)
Farida’s husband “Bede” with their daughter “Lucia” wearing overalls embroidered by her aunt.

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.

Ribbet collage3

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.

Nativity Scene made in collaboration with Bossy’s Feltworks

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.

sunflowers w the enchanted cupboard (2)
Sunflower Queen and Child (wooden trees and shrubs by The Enchanted Cupboard)

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.

daisy with basket
Daisy with her basket

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:

seven ravens
Seven Ravens Set

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.

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Farida’s personal favorite: Springtime Wanderer among the forget-me-nots

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:

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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.

daffodil, fuschia, snowdrop, crocus
Daffodil, Fuschia, Snowdrop and Crocus

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.

chaos (2)
harmony (2)

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?”)

guitar dolls
Left and right handed Guitar Dolls

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.

3 root children
Bulb Baby Root Children (wooden shrubs by The Enchanted Cupboard)
gingerbread fairy (2)
Gingerbread Fairy
Bee lady and honey drop baby
Bee Lady and Honey Drop Baby

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.

queen and king of hearts
Queen and King of Hearts wish to help you make yummy tarts!
Rainbow Queen + Sunbeam Baby, Heart Fairies and Heart Baby

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ladybug child
Ladybug Child wishes you a fond farewell!

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heart tree edit
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Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

29 thoughts on “Indie Artist Spotlight: Farida Dowler of Alkelda Dolls

  1. Absolutely charming! The dolls have such warmth and serenity! I think bee Lady and Honey Drop Baby are my favorite- though it’s hard to choose. Oh and I covet Farida’s mountain view!🙂


    1. You’re so right — warmth, charm and serenity🙂. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Farida online for several years through her blog Saints and Spinners — and you couldn’t find a more beautiful person inside and out.


  2. The King and Queen of Hearts might be my favorites, but, oh, those sweet babies! I love that Farida is also a storyteller🙂


    1. Not only a storyteller, but a musical one! I think you’d enjoy listening to some of her videos at A Storytelling of Crows.

      I can vouch for those Flower Box Babies — sooooo adorable. Cornelius has one of his own🙂.


    1. They’re all wonderful, yes — and I think her prices are very reasonable for the labor involved in making these tiny masterpieces. Quality is superb!!🙂


    2. Cornelius has a flower box baby, and I’ve ordered a pink angel and strawberry girl as gifts (hated to give them away) — right now I’m trying to decide on what to order to keep (there are so many I love under “past sales” and on her FB page.


    1. Lucky to have a personal collection for your family. I agree that they are indeed expertly crafted. You can see the care and caring in every stitch🙂.


  3. Thank you, Jama, for this spotlight interview, and to everyone here for their kind comments. That lovely mountain view, by the way, is on Orcas Island (land of the Bossy’s Feltworks ladies), where I like to visit family in the summer.


    1. Duly noted. Orcas Island looks like a magical place.

      Truly, Seattle is home to many many amazing artists. Must be something in the water or the air.🙂


  4. The “land of the Bossy’s Feltworks ladies” is looking forward to seeing you this summer Farida! Lovely interview. We’ve so appreciated our creative connection with you.


  5. I love everything (words, pictures, people) here! Thanks, Jama and Farida, for making the world a more beautiful, magical place, with ample room for children, and childlike adults, to dream, play and wonder.


  6. Farida is one of my favorite people on this planet. I am fortunate to have a small collection of her dolls, which I treasure and which people who come to my home always notice and remark on.


  7. Aren’t these dolls beautiful?? And the thing is, even when I think I’ve seen them all, just scrolling through the pictures again knocks me over. I have a kid-friend who has stolen some of my Farida dolls, and I love to see pictures of her (in Estonia) with them clutched in a fist as she plays. They’re companions, not dolls. Indeed!

    Gorgeous. And so is that million-watt Farida smile. This whole post is a delight – the highlighting of a dear friend by a dear friend. ♥♥♥


    1. Oh, stolen Farida dolls! Can’t blame the little one at all. You’re so right about them being companions — they’re infused with such a vital, uplifting spirit. I like thinking about all the wonderful stories that have been created by kids playing with her dolls.


  8. Amazing craft! I assume we do get to choose a favorite, & I choose Rose of Lima with sewing box. These are the sweetest dolls. I think it’s possible that I will have to visit for some dolls for my granddaughters, the oldest of which loves to play with “tiny” things. This fits very well indeed. Thanks for so much display, Jama. And to Farida, they are magical companions indeed!


  9. Sooo magical. I love them all! (Especially that Honey Drop Baby.) Delightful to see that Nativity collaboration (and precious video) with the Bossy Feltworks folks. Okay, I’m off to favorite Farida’s shop, and then check out the storytelling links later too.
    Thanks to both of you for sharing!


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