I had the opportunity to meet Alia in person and hang out with her a few days and I can tell that she is a very talented, sensitive, creative and good soul. Her work is divine and I bet you will enjoy this interview, especially if you enjoy dolls in tune with nature. She creates characters full of imagination, the color palettes are always exquisite and she uses natural fibers. One of kind dolls to be hugged and loved. I hope you enjoy this interview as well as the selection of her awesome work.
Thank you Alia, for sharing with us about your dollmaking journey. It is always a delight to admire your fantastic creations!
– What would you like to share about yourself?
ALIA: Making art has always been part of my life…. I grew up as an only child which may have propelled a lot of my creativity — with much time spent alone, I learned how to entertain myself and engage in imagination and creating — Art was always ‘my thing’. I’ve always loved animals and when I was a kid I wanted to be the next Jane Goodall… I thought I might find myself working with animals later in life. I was interested in all sorts of things (and still am), and art was just kind of a way of life and not something I considered as a profession. But when the time came, I wound up going to school for art and majored in fine arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Those were some of the most invigorating years of my life. I’ve worked both big and small and in a wide array of media. I think I have stuck with doll-making longer than any one thing, and I enjoy it because the possibilities are endless. I really enjoy fiber arts and sculpture and love working with fabric and textiles. I would love to create a body of work that is more sculptural and maybe have an exhibit of new work one of these days.
I came to the southwest several years back to learn about sustainable, off the grid building techniques and I now call New Mexico my home. I love the sunny days, and appreciate the rainy, cloudy ones more than ever. Now that I’ve lived near the mountains and heard the coyotes howl at night, I don’t think I would ever have it any other way.
My goal is to buy a piece of land, build a home, live simply. This dream may be coming closer to fruition.
– Can you describe your dolls in one sentence?
ALIA: My imagination come to life
– When did you start making dolls?
ALIA: I started making dolls in 2014… The idea came to me when I realized that it was a way to combine so many of the mediums I love to work in: Sewing, painting, knitting, beading… the possibilities are endless. It’s fashion on a smaller scale. Working on a smaller scale was also economical for me and practical as I was somewhat transient at the time and didn’t really have a space of my own or much space to work. I had no idea if there was even a market for handmade dolls, but I figured if I put enough work into something I could create my own market. Soon after, I was encouraged to join Instagram and found a small community of other dollmakers. Since then, the interest in making dolls and collecting dolls has grown. It’s been pretty cool!
– What motivated you to start your own brand?
ALIA: To be able to make a living and support myself doing what I love, is my dream.
– Which part of the process do you enjoy the most?
ALIA: Without a doubt, my favorite part is dressing the dolls when they are all finished. Making the clothes and and choosing the fabric and how they will dress is probably the funnest part, and finally dressing them is so satisfying because it is the last step and it means the doll is finished. It’s incredibly satisfying to have a vision, and then make it come to life in the third dimension. It’s like the feeling of setting a goal and achieving it. It’s wonderful. And then beyond that, I love boxing up the dolls and sending them off to their new homes. It makes all the love and time put into each doll incredibly worth it.
– What makes it challenging for you? / What challenges you?
ALIA: I’d say the most challenging part for me is the marketing involved with getting my work out there. I’m not terribly good at it and don’t always know how to do that. I would be very happy to just hide away and create with my hands… but then no one would see my work. So there’s a balance and I’m still trying to figure that out.
I also sometimes have to holdback from spending too much time on each doll. It’s in my nature to become very immersed in the details, but in order to create a doll that can still be played with and remain within a certain price-range, I have to stop myself from going overboard. That’s why I hope to create a body of work that is a bit more sculptural and less functional. I think I need a separate outlet where I can unleash my crazy obsession with detail and not worry about how much time I spend on a piece.
– Favorite materials/ tools/ fabrics/ suppliers, etc.
ALIA: Linen, wool, and cotton are staples in my work. The bodies are generally made of linen and their clothing sewn from linen or cute cotton textiles. I use wool to felt their spirit hoods and sometimes use it for hair. I’m kind of yarn obsessed and find myself drawn to the most luscious hand-spun, hand dyed yarns. I think I might drool over yarn even more than chocolate and nothing can stop me from purchasing an expensive skein if it’s perfect for the doll I want to make. I also am a fan of natural dying which I dabble in here and there, so I save a lot of kitchen scraps like avocado pits and onion skins, and collect other botanicals that make good natural dyes. I shop a lot for supplies on Etsy and I like to buy from other small shops, particularly for yarn and stuff like that. Ive been sewing on my trusty brother sewing machine for the last three years, and it has all kinds of quirks that sometimes drive me crazy. I’m way overdue for an upgrade and I’m pretty sure I would cut down on about a third of my sewing time if I didn’t have to deal with some of the malfunctions this machine gives me. It’s not a high quality machine, but I’ve built my whole business around it, so I have to thank it for getting me this far. Never let limited recourses stand in your way! Where there is will, there’s a way.
– What do you consider to set a fair price to your work?
ALIA: A yes, this is also one of the harder aspects of what I do. I consider the time spent making a piece and the cost of supplies that go into making it. I want to set a price that is fair for me and fair for the buyer. There are a lot of steps that go into making a doll and when added all up, it takes a lot of time. Sometimes I wonder if people really understand the amount of work that goes into making a hand made doll, but truthfully, it seems that most people who are fans of handmade dolls, and those who buy them, enjoy them for all the work and detail, and originality that goes into each one and this is very pleasing to me. It makes me feel good to know that my work is valued and appreciated.
– What´s the soundtrack to your doll making process?
ALIA: I enjoy different types of music… Sounds I like are: clapping, stomping, whistling, joyful singing… I like the banjo and love the cello. I enjoy instrumental music like John Fahey, the majestic sounds of Midori Takada, Yann Tiersen… New and old folk songs, old time, rag, Edith Piaf and others like her I enjoy… And a lot of the time I just work with the door open and enjoy listening to bird sounds and the wind rustling in the trees. Silence and stillness is calming to me and I need a lot of it.
– Any advice to other fellow doll makers?
ALIA:Do what comes most naturally to you! They say there is nothing new under the sun, but I truly believe each person is a portal through which something completely new and original can manifest. Just like each persons handwriting is unique, so is the art that comes from your soul. Sometimes I ask myself if I am truly making the art from my soul… and I dare say, I am probably not… there is probably a lot more that my soul is craving to make, and it may mean even moving away from dollmaking. But as far as dollmaking is concerned, I think the most success anyone can have is when you truly make something in the style that comes naturally and easily to you — that is when you will produce the most work and have the most success. Your art is like your fingerprint. It’s fascinating to see something completely new — it is exciting, and pleasing to the eye.
Extra: social media, online shop, email where people can reach you, etc.
You can find my dolls on my website: AliaGraceDolls.com
You can also find me on Etsy, Facebook and Pinterest under: AliaGraceDolls
Alia’s cloth doll collection: