I met with Cloth Doll Maker and Embroidery Crafter, Carol Wellard a couple of weeks ago. Carol makes gorgeous embroidered creations as well as some truly stunning dolls which are handcrafted right down to the very clothing they wear. She takes unwanted and eclectic little vessels into vintage style pin cushions and adds her own little details to complete each piece. We had a great chat about the wonderful creations that she makes and what inspires her. She’s passionate about what she makes and about increasing the use of and the popularity of Arts and Crafts within the community. Here’s how our chat over a cuppa went:
How long have you lived in the area?
I’ve lived in Conisbrough over 30 years but I am Doncaster based. We came right in the middle of the miners’ strike. It was devastating. Even living in Doncaster, to come to Conisbrough to see it full on was horrifying really.
So I expect Conisbrough has changed a lot for you since then? Yes it has.
Is your art/craft also your job?
It’s more than a hobby, it’s never been a job but it’s been my life-saving. Its more than a hobby and it’s something I’m quite passionate about. It’s not something I’ve used it as an income until coming here (The Ministry of Craft 35) other than the odd market, Christmas Market.
I’ve done several jobs, I’ve never had a career, I’ve never focused on any one thing. From being very very young the only thing I ever wanted to be was a potter and I think that’s why my stuff is quite 3D because I find 3D things are more easy for me to manage than 2D
Describe what it is you do:
I don’t ever set out to do one particular thing. I get more pleasure out of a process than I do the finished product, so from scouring jumble sales, antique shops and charity shops I’m finding bits , whether its material, fabrics or whatever. I will see something in that that will trigger something that I will then make. So I don’t go out thinking I’m going to make a doll so I need some fabric, wherever the fabric comes from it’s the fabric that stimulates me. It’s like a process and that process is what I find most stimulating because I don’t often know where it’s going to end up. I’ve started on a new doll and I am really excited about her because I’ve actually drawn the face in charcoal and sealed it and used embroidery as well. She’s in between the voodoo dolls and the other dolls I make so she’s like a combination of the two. She’s not a pretty little doll she’s got something about her. But that just happened.
So there’s a lot of mixed media in your work and it seems quite investigative?
Yeah absolutely and I do get quite bored if I’m doing the same thing over and over.
How long have you been crafting/creating your pieces?
I would say I’ve always done it from being a girl. I’ve always made things, whether it’s been a little village out of cornflakes boxes or…but it’s always been 3D. I’ve never sat and painted…
So it’s always been something that’s been quite tangible for you?
It’s something that can evolve and it’s not set in stone so it can be whatever it wants to be and half the time I don’t know what it’s going to be until we get closer to the end.
You use words like evolve and process when you describe your work and it feels like you are describing a journey that you are going on with each piece.
Each one is a journey which is why I’m still stimulated by it all. I think if it’s a repetitive thing that you are doing….
…If I’m not stimulated by it I can’t do it. I can’t just turn it on.
It’s got to excite you?
Yes! And it’s got to be like “Ooh I wonder what this is going to be” It’s almost like I’m as surprised as the next person.
Your dolls are unique and quite indescribable in that they aren’t like anything else…
Yeah, so if you say “What are you making?” I’m making a doll but it won’t be like anything else I’ve made.
So each one is different. How would you describe them?
Well they’re not rag dolls are they? But they are cloth dolls.
Talk me through some of the materials you use.
I’m nuts about organic fabrics. I don’t work well with Synthetics. The nearest I’ve got (to synthetics) is to use fibrefill and even that kind of upsets me on occasion. I like to use wool batting.
Do you recycle materials as well?
Yes, massively! In fact most of the stuff I use, It’s all recycled which is part of the joy I think.
Describe some of the ‘tools of the trade’ to us.
I do use a sewing machine when I’m making the larger dolls because I stuff them to within an inch of their life! And they’ve got to be sturdy and strong and hand stitching won’t always do that. The smaller dolls I’ll hand stitch because they’re not stuffed in the same way.
The tools that I use for the larger dolls to stuff them are… my husband made this tool. It’s like a screwdriver handle and a piece of square wood. I get wool batting and I wind the wool (around the tool) and I shape the leg and then insert it into the material, then pull it out. That’s why they (the dolls) aren’t bobbly or bumpy.
Do you have a name for this special tool?
I don’t know really, ‘The stuffing Tool’ (Laughter) I don’t know. It was just “What can I use to get this in there?!”
I do make Waldorf dolls on occasion and those are very lifelike so I get the shape of the leg, they have to have calves and they have to have thighs, the shape of the arms and if you’re using this tool you can put extra wool and bind it so when you insert it, it’s actually got the shape. It’s same with the face. I felt all the face and put a skin over it.
You’ve already said that often materials inspire the project. But is there anything else that inspires you to do what you do?
Oh, I think what other people do. I find that inspirational. I find that their take on something will trigger something off in me. It’s probably not even related but some small part of what they’re doing, I’ll take a fragment of that and it becomes something.
What do you get from doing this style of craft/art?
Apart from I find it very therapeutic, I love the skills that I’ve developed. Apart from the embroidery, I’m pretty much self-taught and I’ve acquired certain ways of doing things.T hey might not be conventional, they might not be the right way but they work for me. It’s like finding a tool that’s not around that does something for me (like ‘The Stuffing tool’). So it’s very much self-taught apart from the embroidery and that was something that I fell in love with at a very young age.
Is it something you find relaxing?
Some of it’s very relaxing. I think it’s the focus that’s required and I think while you’ve got that focus then whatever else is around you seems less invasive. Especially with embroidery, it’s not something you can do while watching TV, it’s not like knitting. It’s got to be so precise so you have to put your attention on whatever it is that you’re doing and that I find very therapeutic. It can be a repetitive stitch but it still requires the same focus at the end as it did at the beginning.
They say repetition can be very comforting and I guess in the same way it can be escapism too?
Yes, it is and without that I don’t think I would function in the world very well because it’s something along the years that I’ve realised is very good for me and my mental health and my physical health.
I think there’s a lot to be said for creativity and well-being. I think the two go hand in hand well, So that said, how do you feel about your finished products? Are you always happy with what you’ve made?
No! (Laughing) Like I say, it’s the process I enjoy more than the finished thing and I don’t have trouble parting with what I’ve done, but I do have trouble parting with the odd button I’ve acquired along the way, or a hanky or a piece of wool and I’m thinking I can’t part with it.
So that’s the materials before they’ve even become anything?
Yes, and there’s certain fabrics that I think “Oh that would be so wonderful on something” and then it’s like no! It’s too beautiful, no! I’ve got pieces of fabric that are 40/50 years old and I can’t part with them.
I did a Voodoo doll and she was a bride and I’d had, as long as I can remember, this lace handkerchief and it’s followed me everywhere and I didn’t have anything for the veil for this Voodoo bride. I thought I’m going to have to use it and it was perfect. I brought the Voodoo doll in to the shop and she sold and that’s the only time I’ve thought “(gasp) Oh no, what have I done?”
Usually I’m not possessive with the end product but I am possessive about the process. I don’t like interference.
Are you confident about the end product?
Um, I wouldn’t say confident, I would say more accepting. I think I accept that that’s how it is. That’s as far as its going to go and sometimes I’m really pleased and sometimes I’ll think “next time I’m going to try this”. So even then it’s leading on to something else. I don’t think I’m ever upset by the end product but I don’t ever think “Wow, look at that”.
So what about when you put something in the shop and it’s out in the public domain. How does that make you feel?
Oh it’s Scary!! Sometimes I get quite…I don’t know whether it’s protective or defensive or whatever it is, it’s something and I think “these are mine and I don’t really want someone telling me it’s crap or…”
Is it a bit like putting a little bit of your soul out there especially as you are using it as a cathartic thing as well?
Its part of me and I think that’s why you can tell it’s the same person (that makes each of items) even though they are very diverse you can tell it’s the same person. There something that connects them all.
You can read the second part of Carols interview in our next Blog Post coming soon.
Thanks for reading,
(Louisa-Jane Dyson for Ministry of Craft 35.)