Featured seller: Claire Leblond

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”.

cld01 Betty

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.

cld01 haberdashery

cld01 thread

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.

cld01 workroom

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.”

What are you currently listening to?
Ray LaMontageTrouble (an oldie but a goodie!)
The LumineersHey Ho
HemRabbit Song
Bruce SpringsteenHigh Hopes

Recommend an album: Anything by Ray LaMontage.

Your favourite childhood book? Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree

What are you reading now? EyrieTim Winton; the latest Mollie Makes

cld01 Edith

cld01 Eloise

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.

If you’d like to meet Claire, her range of Susie dolls will be on sale at the Auckland Art and Craft Fair on 28 June – and of course you can check out her current selection in her Felt shop anytime.

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.

cld01 doll group

35 thoughts on “Featured seller: Claire Leblond

  1. Hey Claire, Thanks for the shout out! Beautiful dolls – you are a clever lady. Well done one a lovely feature. Sx

  2. i love how these dolls are lovingly created from recycled/vintage fabrics, giving them a new lease of life. i really enjoyed reading about this featured seller, as i find her thoughts & philosophies on creativity/life very inspiring! *:-)

  3. I love the details on each doll and hopefully a Susie Doll would make a great companion for my 7 month old daughter (maybe for when she’s a little older – she’d probably try to pull off all the interesting buttons and fabric at the moment 😉

  4. What beautiful dolls. I love the way that upcycled materials are used to create these works of art. It gives each one its own unique personality.

  5. It is inspiring to see how much time, effort and love has gone into the construction of these dolls. They seem to be feminine and classy with a heirloom touch to them. It is equally inspiring to see a showcase of wonderful talent such as the makers. Never in my wildest dreams could I contemplate making such a treasure with my humble hands.

  6. What I love about these dolls is that you can tell that each one has been made with lots of love and thought into making them unique. The detail is exquisite and they are very whimsical with their different expressions. I also like the fact that vintage materials have been upcycled and made new, something I’ve been getting into lately.

    I dont’ have children yet but growing up as a redhead there weren’t many redheaded dolls (especially Barbie’s!) so if I were to commission or win a doll I would want a redheaded one that did not look like Annie! Thanks for your lovely work and for holding this competition.

  7. What gorgeous dolls, I love that they are all unique little ladies with their own personalities showing through in their clothes, hair and the expressions on their faces. They must be a lot of fun to make, and a delight for a little girl to have. I would love to see how my little daughter Maisie would look as one of these beautiful dolls!

  8. Wow your dolls are just gorgeous! I’ve made peg dolls and attempted fabric dolls using vintage fabrics with my two wee girls but they are very basic – these dolls are so inspiring with their beautiful detailing, lovely fabrics and love the use of wool too! One of these dolls in our household would be truly treasured!

  9. Love love love how everything is upcycled and made to look like new! Wonerful talent and beautiful dolls. You can just tell they are made with love.

  10. Just beautiful. I am getting into making cloth teddies but have never made a doll. As I have only great grandsons I will be keeping it for myself if I was so lucky to win one. She would sit on hubby and my bed and be Queen of the bedroom.

  11. I believe you are creating more than dolls, you are creating heirlooms. My daughters wanted cabbage patch dolls as littlies, a little more than the budget allowed, so bought beautifully made look a likes from a woman in Birkenhead. They are still treasured as is my walkie talkie doll now aged 59 years. Wonderful work

  12. I really like the uniqueness of each of the dolls, they are very beautiful. I also love her favourite childhood book, The Magic Faraway Tree – brings back lots of childhood memories!

  13. I have four wonderful daughters, all with very distinct looks. It is very hard to celebrate uniqueness and individuality if all the images girls see are of cookie cutter beauty. These dolls are wonderfully crafted, and something that would become an heirloom in our family.

  14. Stunning dolls, Claire! They have so much personality – I love the fabrics you have used and the crocheted jackets. Beautiful xx

  15. I adore Claire’s dolls! I feel like they all have a story of their own, personality picked up from all their various pieces that have come from so many different places, then fused together with Claire’s cleverness. Gorgeous!

  16. Claires dolls are just beautifull & I can see both children AND adults enjoying them as i would treasure one to sit on a vintage chair or my bed. What inspires me most is that she has taken vintage fabrics & trims & given them another life by using them in her creations … things that would otherwise perhaps be discarded. I love that aspect of them,. Beautiful work 🙂

  17. What a great crafter to feature! These dolls are just gorgeous! My mind’s ticking over what materials would best represent my daughter if we were so lucky to win one of these precious keepsakes. I’m thinking pearl, lace, crochet, tulle…felt, wow, endless options!

  18. Over many years I have accumulated a huge collection of vintage and beautiful fabrics, trims, doilies etc. Seeing Claires original dolls, has definitely inspired me to stop procrastinating and have a go, just do it and be creative. Thanks.

  19. I love what Claire is doing. I’m inspired because she breathes new life into pre loved fabrics, buttons, notions and craft. It saddens me to see disgarded embroidery, doilies and knitting . The handiwork of clever women from former generations can be found cheap in any op shop. Go you, Claire. You’ve encouraged me to have a go at adding some to my abstract paintings 🙂

  20. My husband is a ‘maker’ as well and our girls aged 4 and 7 seem to have his genes. We always encourage making presents for each other on birthdays and christmas and last Christmas my 7 year old (for the second year running) asked to make her sister a doll. I feel less capable when it comes to making then everyone else in the family but we did it together, learning as we went. Who knew hair is so fiddly! Luckily the 7 year old is a good hand sewer! The 4 year old loves it and is asking to do it again… well we will see. I can fully appreciate the skill, time, effort and artistic flair you must put in. Well done!

  21. The way you capture each of their personalities from the colours, expressions and attention to detail is truly remarkable, to be honest it makes me want to be a little girl again!

  22. What I love about these dolls is their delicate whimsy…the textures of the fabrics and materials used to create their hair, eyelashes, clothing…they are very heart-wrought and full of beauty. To look at, they evoke peacefulness and quiet. Just gorgeous xxx

  23. I love how every doll is individual. they are all beautiful. I can see how much work goes into these dolls. I wish I had your talent! I may even try to get to auckland to the art and craft fair to see them first hand.

  24. I love that they are all different but all beautiful in their gorgeous outfits. What pretty faces they have!
    If I won a doll it would be for me to have near my sewing space to inspire some creativity, although I’m sure I’d let my daughters have a little go now and then 🙂

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