Inspired by the sight of some spectacular dolls in a shop window in Hamilton years ago, local Donna Read began her own journey with doll-making, and she’s won prizes at local shows for her work. Donna loves musicians, movies, fairies and mermaids … but the sky’s really the limit when it comes to creating new characters from cloth. Completely handmade, from the clothing, bodies, heads and faces, Donna’s characters are all one of a kind and made with love …
Hi Donna. What brought you to the Port Macquarie area … are you a long-term local?
Hi Jo. I moved here to Port Macquarie 11 years ago with my mum; we wanted to be closer to family and friends here. We used to spend Christmas here with my brother and friends.
When and how did you first become interested in craft and sewing?
I was taught as a little girl to crochet and knit by Nan and Mum. Eventually Mum had me experimenting on her old Singer sewing machine making Barbie doll clothes. Both of us love dolls!
How did you come up with the idea to start making cloth dolls?
Walking to work one afternoon in Hamilton (Newcastle), I saw some wonderful dolls displayed in a shop window – hippies, fairies, mermaids …
Immediately I went in to ask about prices, and the lady wouldn’t sell me one. The shop was Anne’s Glory Box I think, and she told me I’d have to make one! This was in 1997, and that’s where it began for me and Mum.
Your dolls are very unique! Some are inspired by celebrities, but they can take on so many different shapes and forms. How do you decide what/who you want to make next?
I get inspired to make dolls in many ways. I love movies, but I especially love music and musicians. Since watching Bohemian Rapsody, I have been designing two Freddie Mercury characters – one from the ‘70’s and one from 1986.
Given you make everything from scratch, each doll must take you quite some time to create. How long does it generally take you to finish a doll … and what’s the most difficult part of the entire creative process?
The process of making a doll is always different. On the average, it can take a month to complete a project. Other times, I may go a little crazy and produce one much sooner – when I’m totally inspired and things don’t need reworking, as I sometimes need to do. For instance, sometimes I’m not satisfied with a face or a head shape, so I may make two or three until I’m happy.
I’ve often shown other doll makers online things I’m not happy with though, and they say they would love to be doing a face that good!
I’m in awe of the detail in the hands and fingers of your dolls. How do you get this work so exact? Do you look at photos/people’s hands in real life?
I was lucky enough to take an online class this year with one of my favourite designers, Paula McGee. Hand sculpting was my first formal lesson since I started making doll all those years ago.
Detail is so important; it can mean first prize or no prize in a show or competition. Hands are a beautiful part of our anatomy, and I love making them.
Describe some of the dolls you’re currently working on …
I’m currently working on a Tim Burton Corpse Bride and a Mad Hatter – that’s been a crazy job! And, the bohemian fairies are still a favourite of mine.
Where do you source most of the materials you use to make your dolls?
All of my craft supplies come from Spotlight.
What prizes have you won for your dolls?
I entered the Wauchope Show, just for a laugh, and took out 1st and 2nd prize in the Handicrafts Section, Class: Cloth Doll.
Camden Haven was my last show, where I won 1st prize in the Handicrafts Section, Class: Christmas Decoraton (this was for a Christmas doll). I also won 2nd prize in Creative Stitchery and Fibre Art. That was such a surprise!
Where can we purchase your dolls, or see some more examples of your work? (And do you take custom orders?)
My dolls are now for sale at the Sunset Gallery in Murray Street, Port Macquarie.
I have a Facebook page called Cloth Dolls by Donna that I keep up to date with photos of new work all the time. Or, you can contact me online at email@example.com
If possible, I will make custom orders for the discerning customer.
Interview: Jo Robinson.