Dollmaker Claire Leblond is the maker behind the range of quirky, unique cloth dolls she fondly calls “Susie Dolls”, after her sister Sue. Each doll is one of a kind, made out of a combination of soft cotton, vintage embroidery and upcycled fabrics, and Claire also breathes new life into vintage dolls clothes. She works out of a slightly chaotic studio in her home in Birkenhead, Auckland, with a dog at her feet, music blaring, copious amounts of coffee, and two gorgeous children “helping”.
What do you make?
I make cloth contemporary cloth dolls using vintage and upcycled fabrics and trims.
How did you get into your craft?
I bought my first soft doll years ago on a trip home to South Africa, and it inspired me to make more when my daughter Madeline was born and I was looking for a creative outlet. I couldn’t find anything I loved for her room, and so I decided to make one. I then started making them as gifts, and my obsession grew from there.
My creativity started at an early age as my family are creative too – my twin sister is a photographer, my dad builds incredibly beautiful model boats among other things, my mum makes jewellery, my grandfather was a carpenter, Gran was a knitter and sewer… and so on. It was inevitable that I would be a “maker”!
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Not specifically in sewing or needlework, but I went to the School of Colour and Design in Sydney. This added to my knowledge and love of colour, textiles and creative processes. Mostly I’m self taught, with the help of my Aunt Pat who patiently unpicks my mistakes and shows me how to sew things correctly! I like the idea of a craft being passed from one generation to another.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love anything fabric, embroidered, knitted or just beautifully handmade.
What inspires you?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. Colour combinations, the curve of a leaf, sunlight through long grasses…
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Firstly I want to create beautiful things, beautifully, and secondly I want to teach my kids that not everything has to come pre-packaged and made out of plastic, and that not everything has to be new. I frequently drag them op-shopping to find fabric, and they often come away with a book or something second hand. I want this to be part of them – that reusing and recycling is how we should live.
Describe your workspace:
A desk tucked into a nook between the kids’ playroom and the guest room. This way I can be with the kids but also do the odd bit of sewing while they play. I go through periods when it’s chaotic and piled with fabric and then I tidy up and all is in order… for at least a day! I love the fact that my workspace is whimsical and colourful and can act as a pinboard for things I love. I don’t have to worry about it being grown-up or precious.
Five words that describe your mind: Busy, creative, thoughtful, focused, quirky.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
This feedback from a customer who bought dolls for her nieces:
“Oh my goodness, the dolls just arrived and they are even more amazing in real life! Thank you so, so much for creating such beautiful dolls! They will be treasures for years to come. Beautiful packaging and thanks heaps for the wee extras.”
Recommend an album: Anything by Ray LaMontage.
Your favourite childhood book? Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree
Tell us about someone creative you look up to:
My Dad. He is incredibly talented with his hands, and used to make model boats out of driftwood while we were on the beach as kids. He has a wonderful hobby room at home where he makes model ships among other things. I love the fact that he is interested in such a varied range of “makings”.He is currently carving the most beautiful wooden spoons and knives… I even remember a macramé phase in the 1980s! I think when you’re a creative person, or someone who needs to make things with their hands, It’s great to have different strings to your bow.
A favourite quote: Creativity is not an option, it’s a way of life
Do you have any pets?
We have a Bearded Collie x Labrador called Scout. She is a handful but I love her dearly!
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
The Dolliverer! (Geddit?) It sounds like a cliché but I would like any scared, lonely or hurt child to have something to cuddle, something that was theirs to treasure.
What was the last handmade item you bought? What attracted you to it?
I bought some hand knitted jumpers for my dolls from an op-shop. They were just crying out to be loved again… Someone had clearly put a lot of effort into those! I also bought some gorgeous bits from the talented Sarah at Songbird Designs. She has a great eye for colour and design is amazing and her dedication to New Zealand craft is really admirable.
But wait, there’s more! Claire has generously offered one lucky Felt blog reader the chance to win a custom doll – that’s right, a doll made with you or yours in mind! Just leave a comment below, telling us what inspires you about Claire’s dolls and why, and you’ll be in the draw. The draw will be made on Thursday 24 April and is open to New Zealand residents only.