Alice Wood is a heritage toymaker, textile artist and illustrator. Little Toy Dogs are hand-made textile pieces, designed and sewn by Alice in her south London studio. Her work is inspired by her affection for dogs and combines her enjoyment of hand sewing and making with the problem-solving nature of pattern cutting. Using traditional toy-making processes Alice creates unique and characterful jointed dogs from beautiful mohair fabrics, which have been used to make classic Teddy Bears and toys for over 100 years. These tactile objects are intended to sit on a mantelpiece or bookcase as fun, appealing and playful décor for dog loving homes.
What inspired you to become a toymaker?
I have made toys since I was a child. I remember making simple toys from two pieces of felt at primary school, and moved on to much more complicated ones using the instructions in toymaking books from our local library. Jean Greenhowe's Miniature Toys was a particular favourite, and I believe she was actually a member of the Guild. I really enjoyed making puppets too. As I got older I started to make bears from mohair, with jointed limbs, learning all the processes of classic mohair toymaking before I started designing dogs.
What is your favourite part about being a toymaker?
I really love problem solving, so pattern making has always intrigued me. I studied pattern cutting at A level before I went to art school, and I really enjoy the process of making a 3D object from two dimensional shapes. I enjoy sewing very much and I like making clothes when I have time. I also love the quality playfulness, and how the simplest of objects can become a plaything. I think it's really important for children to learn through play, but it's also important for adults too. I do enjoy people's reactions when I tell them what I do, it usually leads to a fun conversation. As well as this I really love dogs, and I get to look at pictures of them, draw them, and talk to people about them, which is always a pleasure!
How long does one of your toys take to make?
That depends. Some have very many small pieces in different mohair fabrics, the fewest number of pieces would be 16 to make a simple child's teddy dog, but the more involved ones can have over 30 pieces, with internal wires or other supports. I'd say probably 5-7hrs for a simple one, and two or three days for a very complex one that needs a lot of scissor shaping and embroidery. I also make small toys like little mice, squirrels and hedgehogs but, although they are only small, they can take as long as a larger toy because they are so fiddly!
What is the most challenging part about being a toymaker?
That would be the wear and tear on my hands. The mohair fabric is quite resistant to being worked, and there is a lot of strength required from finger joints to turn small shapes inside out, to twist the metal cotter pins of the joints, and to pull strong threads tight when placing eyes and stitching noses. I use leather thimbles all the time, and have a lot of handy small tools to help me, but I can't do hours and hours of this kind of work at one sitting. I rotate the jobs that need doing so I might do cutting out for a morning, and then only sew or put legs on for an hour or two. Luckily there are lots of parts of the process so it seems to work.
What are some of the most popular toys you've made?
For a while my Wire Haired Fox Terriers were a big favourite, I couldn't make enough of them. Right now I have a string of orders for Irish Terriers. I think it depends what I post on Instagram, if I put up a nice picture of a dog I get a little flurry of enquiries about it and have to make a few more. I enjoy making small scruffy mongrel type dogs with tweed beds and felt toys, these are always popular.