We started the year with a great feature of my friend Robyn of Maryke Dolls. She makes the most tender dolls in the world. Each of her creatures is made with very beautiful, natural and sometimes vintage fabrics. Besides being very beautiful, they have a loveable texture and character. I bet you will fall in love with her work and will enjoy this interview with her.
1. What would you like to share about yourself?
ROBYN: Hi! My name is Robyn; Maryke is my middle name. I chose it as my shop name because it’s also my Dutch maternal grandmother’s name. It fits with my love of family, history, and the tradition of beloved heirlooms being passed from one generation to the next. In that same vein, I’m one of four sisters, and funnily enough, I myself have four daughters. (My dad and husband have a lot to commiserate about. 😉) I have loved dolls since I could barely hold one, and I played with them for far longer than I would admit to my friends. I even wrote stories about them (which I still have!). Even so, I never thought I would end up making them. My family is a creative one, leaning to the artsy literary side of things. We all write a little bit and read a lot. My parents own a used bookstore. So when I was younger my career aspiration was to be writer, with English teacher as a back up plan. Neither of those has really worked out–yet! But there’s still time. Right now I’m staying home with my girls and still have an opportunity to be creative, which makes me very happy.
2.Can you describe your dolls in one sentence?
ROBYN: Earthy, nostalgic, character-filled dolls made with an emphasis on texture and story-telling.
3. When did you start making dolls?
ROBYN: I was always making cute things when I younger–paper dolls, ornaments, little pillows for my barbies, but I didn’t venture into sewing dolls until much later. I made my first rag doll years ago, just to see if I could, and I loved it immediately. But it would be a while before I would convince myself that this could be a business. I didn’t even know how to use a sewing machine back then; I sewed it entirely by hand. The feeling I experienced when I held the finished doll was something special–It felt like coming home. I finally learned to sew by machine on a 1970’s Kenmore workhorse that I paid $40 dollars for. I invited a lady into my home to show me the ropes while my toddlers played around us. It was the one of the best decisions I ever made.
4. What motivated you to start your own brand?
ROBYN: I spent years making a wide range of things and selling them on etsy, first by hand and then machine, and I made a doll here and there alongside whatever else I thought might sell. Last year I came to the realization that dollmaking made me so much happier than any other craft. I had been afraid to really go there because it seemed there was already so much competition, but I couldn’t deny that it was what I needed to do. I decided that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a doll artist, I would have to start over completely. I wasn’t going to just add some more dolls to my existing shop; I had to get a new shop, a new name, and a new social media handle. I’ll admit, I was a little embarrassed–not to be making dolls, but to say that I was doing something new, again. I went through three handmade business re-brands prior to Maryke Dolls. I didn’t want to do that again, so I practically went under cover when I first started this account. I blocked all my friends and family from following me (here’s the part where I sound crazy haha) and worked very intentionally to make my feed look different from what I had done before. Of course when I finally did tell everyone they were very supportive! It just felt good to be out on my own for a while 😊
5. Which part of the process you enjoy the most?
ROBYN: I love the thrill of dreaming up something new and making it work. I don’t think I have a signature doll that people can pick out of a crowd, but that’s okay. Waking up and saying, “Today I’m going to make a fox (or sloth or hedgehog or lamb)” and having it done by the end of the day is the best feeling. Designing the outfit and stitching the face is the icing on the cake.
6. What challenges you?
The balance between work and family is a big one, especially since my work doesn’t feel like work. I want to be doing it all the time, so it tends to creep in everywhere, even when I should be focusing on other things. I also find that comparison to other artists is still a struggle. Social media makes it very difficult to kick that habit. It’s not just that there are so many people out there with better skills and more talent that I could ever have–that’s always been the case, but now there is also a kind of “artist persona” that I feel increasing pressure to live up to. I follow all these lovely makers who appear to always be out in nature, growing their own food, sewing all their children’s clothes, and all the while making and selling these gorgeous things. They’re living these beautiful cohesive lives that tick all the “artist” boxes. And while it’s true that I do some of those things, I also shop at big box stores, order pizza, let my kids have too much screen time, and occasionally go days without really venturing outside. So I sort of feel like a fraud, like, if people really knew what I’m like they wouldn’t support me or take me seriously, and that sort of thinking gets in the way of doing my best work.
7. Favorite materials/ tools/ fabrics/ suppliers, etc.
ROBYN: I love wool fabric, especially the thick heirloom stuff, so I pick it up whenever I see it in second hand shops. The feel and weight of it, the little bit of stretch and the scratchy softness just work really well with my vision for my dolls. For doll clothing, I have bits and bobs of everything–new, vintage, upcycled, organic. Recently I’ve started shopping more on spoonflower.com as a way to support surface design artists and find prints you can’t find anywhere else. I have not been disappointed!
8. What do you consider to set a fair price to your work?
ROBYN: I don’t have a formula. I know I should, but I’m just not a structured person that way. I take into consideration my time and materials, but that’s hard to do that faithfully when you get your materials here there and everywhere, and you sneak sewing time in at weird intervals while constantly being interrupted. So I also just go with my instinct–I ask myself, will I be content if I sell this doll at this price? Will I feel that my work is being appreciated and that my skill is being recognized? Does this price tell my customers that they are buying something special? It’s not an exact science but it’s what I’m comfortable with. The truth is that making art and selling art are two very different things, so I think it must be hard for almost everyone to figure it them out simultaneously.
9. What´s the soundtrack to your doll making process?
ROBYN: When I do get the odd block of uninterrupted time to sew and listen to “grown up”music, I tend to stick in my comfort zone, which is basically the bands I listened to as a teenager: U2, Third Eye Blind, Radiohead, Beatles, and folk albums my parents had. And I belt out every word. I also do a lot of hand-stitching while watching my favourite shows. A good story really keeps my going when I would otherwise fall asleep with sewing in my lap (again). Currently on the new season of The Crown!
10. Any advice to other fellow doll makers?
You have nothing to prove to anyone about who you are. Just make what you love and do it as well as you can. Dive in to new skills and styles and see where they take you. When it comes to worrying about your customers or recognition for your art, I like what Steve Martin said to aspiring stand up comedians: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Robyn’s cloth doll collection: