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Pretty Maids are Handmade

by Karen Booy
 as published in  CRAFTLINK Newsletter


Gayle Howard always thought it would be great to be able to shape her own destiny.  As a commercial artist and fine art painter, Gayle was introduced to the business world early in life -- there she learned that people were willing to pay for good work and design.  For years Gayle did freelance art work, sewing, painting, design and calligraphy, but it wasn't until she discovered cloth doll making that she found the business niche to put all her skills to use.  In 1996, Gayle knew it was time to start Pretty Maids & Co. Dollworks.

Upon entering Gayle's small studio, it is difficult not to be charmed by the many smiling faces and watchful eyes; every day Gayle is surrounded by dolls.  Her studio is filled with floppy, cloth figures.  Each unique doll is carefully stitched and stuffed and when Gayle paints the doll's faces, the doll's personality comes alive.  Some of the "Pretty Maids" are dressed in sweet country aprons and sun bonnets while others are elegantly dressed in lace and satin. 

Gayle's most popular product is the "Cloth Doll". "I have designed and developed lines of accessories to go along with the dolls and several lines of dolls have evolved as well. My newest endeavor is the "Painted Head Doll". She is constructed entirely of muslin, and her feature is the face and hair. I love to paint the face and hair on this doll and give her the look of the dolls made long ago. She has an antique finish over the entire head and is then varnished." The hallmark of Gayle's dolls are the carefully hand-painted faces and each doll is signed and dated.

From the beginning Gayle's goal was to make unique products. "I believe a handmade and hand-painted product will always have an element of originality and personality constituent to it. Manufactured dolls are seldom unique. I find ideas for new products everywhere. The research I have done about doll history has been the largest source of inspiration. Dolls are my passion. I have endeavored to reflect the kindness, love, and tenderness of the human face. i want people to fall in love with one of my dolls." 

Craft shows have been Gayle's main source of marketing. Recently though, she has included h9me parties, lectures, presentations and doll making lessons. It's clear to see that Gayle loves everything about this business, perhaps because she has combined her love of dolls with sharing that love with others. Gayle is kept busy giving presentations on cloth doll history, and sharing insights into the "doll makers' world". The people who attend my presentations really love them, and I always make time to further the hobby of cloth doll making by helping teach others." 

Custom orders contributed greatly to the growth of Gayle's business. "I have found custom orders fill a need." and as a result of doing custom orders Gayle has many happy custom orders Gayle has many happy customers that come back time and time again to add to their doll collection. "Another type of custom order I enjoy is to dress antique dolls. I have many books for reference, and I look up the age and date of the doll and design an authentic dress and hat that has the look and feel of the original. I love to find the proper fabrics and accessories, replacing the originals."

Gayle has found that the computer has become an invaluable tool to network and stay current on the "doll world" activities. "The Internet has been very educational and I honestly wouldn't be at this stage of my business without the computer". In addition to doing lots of research on the Internet, Gayle also frequents local libraries in search of information on doll crafting. Gayle enjoys studying books and publications featuring dolls from the Victorian age, and the early 20th century. Gayle receives as much pleasure sharing her doll making knowledge with others as she does creating her dolls.

While collecting and creating cloth dolls is extremely popular south of the border, it has yet to gain the recognition it deserves in Canada, however with Gayle Howard as our Canadian doll ambassador -- it won't take long! 

" In my opinion, craft show marketing has changed a great deal in five years. I see so many wonderful ideas and products in the recent shows. More and more crafters are presenting the public with high quality, innovative, and original work. Today's crafter needs to be flexible and keep up on trends, packaging and presentation. You need to catch people as they hurry by. Today people are inundated with stimulation and if you put yourself in your customers' shoes and evaluate the 'look" of your table, your brochures, your presentation of your product, you will get the answers you need. 

Gayle Howard and Pretty Maids & Co. Dollworks is located in Maple Ridge, British Columbia

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