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Polly had a Dolly | Lydia Stonely - doll designer and maker

Polly had a Dolly seeks to spark children’s imaginations and encourage creative play. Through her dolls, Lydia encourages families to engage with the rhythm of the year, the world around them and enter into a world of make believe! Based in Staplehurst, Kent, Lydia is the sole designer and doll maker behind Polly had a Dolly. Her work draws on traditional Northern European doll making techniques (as adopted by the Waldorf and Steiner schools) and uses pure natural materials with a focus on sheep wool.

1. What first drew you to toy making? I’ve made dolls as long as I can remember. As a child I was very resourceful and would create with whatever I could get my hands on. I remember raiding the kitchen looking for suitable materials and making very fragile dolls house people out of dried spaghetti and string. For my 10th birthday I was given a gorgeous, hand-crank, Singer sewing machine. I made a snazzy rag doll out of an old, very bright, orange pillowcase that I found at the bottom of the linen cupboard. The poor doll was all right angles as I hadn’t yet learnt to sew curves on my sewing machine! As I grew older I put away the child like, playful side of my creativity and studied design at uni leading to a career in design management. Fast forward a few years and I became a mother; the playful side of my creativity woke up. I learnt about providing a creative space for my children and the importance of play - I wanted my children to have access to wonderful handmade toys. I made dolls for my children, and sourced other unique toys too. This led to turning my passion for doll making into Polly had a Dolly so I can spark children’s imaginations across the world.

2. What's your favourite toy or part of a toy to make?

I have to say the head as the face is the most important part of a doll! A head is created using a sculptural process, formed from shaping sheep wool using a variety of techniques including tying and felting. The facial features are hand embroidered and as a last touch I add the beeswax blush - this really brings the doll to life. Having said that, one of the reasons I love being a toymaker is the wide variety of techniques you have to master. From designing, stitching, photographing and drawing through to safety testing and accounts. You don’t have time to get bored!

3. What does your typical day look like? My day starts early, with a 6am alarm. We live in rural Kent so my daughters have to catch an early bus to school. As dollmaking is so static I’ll get my body moving by heading out for a run, or doing a workout. Then I take my mini Schnuazer, Syd, out for a country walk, often catching up with fellow creatives in my village and enjoying being in nature. Returning back, my husband will get the coffee brewed and I’ll sit down with my Design Trust planner to work out the day. Orders always take priority so I’ll tackle them first. In the quiet times I’ll do photoshoots, write my blog and make ahead for Christmas. My day always comes to an abrupt end with after school clubs and dinner to cook. Homemaking and motherhood is my priority in the evening. I’ll return to my workshop after their bedtime - often to sketch ideas and dream - before getting an early night! 4. What's your best seller? My best sellers are my leaf baby dolls. Inspired by taking my children on family walks in nature looking for fairies and learning about the local woodlands. A teeny tiny baby doll is nestled inside a leaf shaped pod. Each one represents a British tree or plant - and comes with an information card with child-friendly facts. There are ten in the range at the moment and my most popular are Oak, Ivy and Rowan. I’m always adding more to the range!

5. What was your favourite toy as a kid? I just loved to play with my teddies, soft toys and dolls. They were my friends and all had characters of their own. My two beloved dolls, Laura and Sam, were hard plastic, mass manufactured dolls that I couldn’t cuddle in bed as it was too uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons my baby dolls are soft and huggable!

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