The dolls by Allison from SweaterDoll are just bursting with adorableness. These high-quality dolls would make such great Christmas gifts—not only are they insanely cute, but they are also eco-friendly, made with recycled material. Each doll has its own charm—Tomten Gnome, Knee Hugger Elf, Red Head Lumberjack and Circus Strongman are just a few of the playful characters in the SweaterDoll shop.
All these lovely dolls are creatively designed and painstakingly handmade by Allison, an American who has been living in Sydney for the last three years. The cheerful and down-to-earth Allison was a joy to talk to. A self-proclaimed perpetual nomad, she has lived all over the US—Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Alaska, California and Arizona—before moving to Australia. “I was living and studying in a Buddhist retreat center in Arizona. The retreat had some building going on, and volunteers from all over the world came to help. One of them was an Australian who came with his brother. We fell in love. Then I moved to Australia and we got married.”
Making hand-sewn items has been an important part of Allison’s life. “The sewing sort of came down from the women in my family. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a seamstress for the Broadway scene. My father’s mother gave me a cross-stitch potholder, and that was the first sewing project I’ve done. I just loved it. It was easy to do and fun to create something. I was a small scrawny kid who read all the time. I wasn’t good at painting or drawing. I couldn’t really sculpt anything but I loved texture. I just loved material and fiber. It was a hobby I could do. I could create things and give them to people. I felt like a little god. I felt free when I was sewing.”
Nowadays even though Allison could use a sewing machine, she chooses to sew by hand. “I do almost everything by hand. And a lot of things I make are small. Yes, it takes four times longer, but it’s really not that long. And there’s this connection that extends you into the work. And when you give it to someone, you are giving them some of your life. You are giving them something that is you. It’s very profound and relationship making, which I really like. I got this because I grew up seeing midwives and quilters in my community. Midwives tend the birth; they don’t force it. Quilters do the same. Take your time and there is magic.”
Not only a lot of care goes into the hand sewing, but sourcing of the material also takes lots of thought. Allison needs to scout for the right material to make a perfect doll. “I get sweaters based on what characters I see out of them. I repurpose material; if I don’t have the material, I can’t make it yet. In fact, a friend ordered a bat doll and he wasn’t in a rush. It took me six months to find the right pieces. I found the red scarf for the inside of the wings. It’s like a process of creating an art.”
Her handwork is exquisite and she only stuffs her doll with wool. “Initially I gravitated toward wool only out of personal preference. I really like the way wool feels. It has a little more weight than the polyester fill. Then I discovered exactly how the plastic industry affects us ecologically. It makes a huge island of plastic flowing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Little animals come by, eating them, dying from them.” It makes Allison sad that even high-end dolls out there are stuffed with polyester fill. “Infants suck on these fibers daily, breathing and ingesting fake fur and leaking fiberfill, which are coated with silver colloid and Triclosan antibacterial agents.”
When it comes to the future plans of SweaterDoll, Allison hopes to continue to develop more character- and animal-based dolls. The witty Allison also said she wished “Mattel or Hasbro will buy her patterns for a million dollars.” But joking aside, “I have learned a lot from other people, responding to the incredible desire to make their own things, which was how I started—making things for my own children and friends. Pattern making becomes very exciting to me, which is how I see SweaterDoll’s future.” One thing that is unique to Allison’s patterns is that she provides multiple pattern pieces to cater to the different material the crafters use. “You can use new material, repurposed material, stretch material or woven material. I want make it easy for people to create something.” The third part of her future plan is to teach people to sew and make dolls.