If you cast your eyes on the lovely dolls, you just want to pick them up and cuddle them. You can’t help but wonder who their maker is.
Homemaker Lee Min Choo, 53, of Shah Alam, Selangor, says that she did not have any formal training in sewing although her mother, a former seamstress, used to run a tailoring shop. However, she only helped out during her free time, doing menial tasks like sewing buttons on clothes.
“She wasn’t too keen on me following her career path, which explains my lack of formal training. I guess watching her work day in, day out, sort of provided me the basic know-how of sewing,” says Lee, who helps out in her husband’s motorcycle business on a part-time basis. She left her previous job, in banking, some 20 years ago.
Aside from making dolls, she has other interests – reading, cooking, surfing the Net, and spending time with her dogs. “I also like to potter around the house, go visiting and take my mum out,” says Lee.
As our conversation progresses, it is obvious that she really has a thing for dolls.
“To say I love dolls is an understatement. What brings me greater cheer – a doll or a diamond ring? It’s the former, any time!” she gushes. “That’s how passionate and fascinated I am about dollies. That itself was enough to inspire me and get me started on doll-making as a hobby.”
This hobby came about after Lee’s sister-in-law showed her some beautiful felt craft made by her Vietnamese daughter-in-law. Lee adored her works, especially the Disney princesses, but felt they lacked originality as they were made based on online printed patterns.
So Lee began surfing the Internet for related information and guidelines, and finally came up with an easy way to make her own dolls.
“My basic doll is quite a breeze to make. I completed my first doll in December 2015. She’s quite ugly but I was confident about doing better, with practice. I still have her but I doubt anyone would want to own her,” she quips. “That aside, I’m keeping her for sentimental value.”
World of make-believe
Doll-making is a therapeutic hobby, Lee says, “especially for a chronic worrier” like herself. It helps her to take her mind off her worries, unhappy incidents and, in short, all negative thoughts!
“I’m glad to have found this craft. Whenever my feelings or emotions are adversely affected, I’ll just pick up my needle and thread, and embark on another creative journey,” she says.
She was surprised that the problem or whatever was irking her initially no longer seems that big an issue after that.
When she first started on this hobby, she was so obsessed that she indulged in it every single day.
Lee confesses: “I’ve sort of ‘mellowed down’ these days. So far, I’ve already made 155 dolls – from teeny-weeny ones (the smallest is around 3.8cm in height) to toddler size. They come in many shapes and sizes.”
Lee never sells any of her dolls for profit. However, she has donated 13 dolls to charity sales and gifted 90 to close family members and friends.
“My nieces received the most,” she reveals.
The mother-of-three says that her two sons, aged 24 and 20, and a daughter, 16, have not staked their claim to her dolls but she doubts they would. They are just not as enthusiastic about dolls.
Presently, she still has about 50 dolls in her possession; she intends to make more.
She says: “I don’t know how to put a value on these dolls – they are priceless, to me. However, I’m willing to part with them (save for a few) when there is an event for charity.”
Lee grew up reading books by children’s writer Enid Blyton, and she feels that “the little girl in me never left!”
Fairies, gnomes, pixies and whimsical creatures fascinate her. “I love to depict them in my work. I plan on making tiny whimsical dolls in tiny abodes that will eventually form a fairy town. I think that will make a wonderful family heirloom,” she quips.
She doesn’t have a favourite doll but there’s a tiny family of four which she’s going to keep because she doesn’t think she could make anything so minuscule anymore (age being a factor), she divulges.
There’s also a set of dolls depicting different careers, like gardeners, vegetable farm hands, pastry chefs, gourmet cooks, maids and waitresses.
When she was making them, she had only one person in mind – a mother figure.
The dolls, she thought, could project the roles mothers play at home or, if she put wings on them, they would be a much wished for “mummy’s little fairy helpers”.
She adds: “They still need some accessories but I’ve not gotten around to making them yet. I keep having new ideas and no spare time to start on them. My dolls are never actually complete as long as I still have them. There is always something I wish to add on.”
There are tell-tale signs when she’s hard at work creating her dolls.
“My house will be real messy,” she says. And she finds it “a real challenge” to separate the mixed-up materials such as laces, fabrics, ribbons, buttons, beads, rolls of yarn, threads, and tools for crafting.
Space constraints is another challenge because she has boxes and boxes of stuff for the craft.
She makes several basic doll bodies at a time. Accessorising them is done individually. She has different ways of making her dolls. Some need no stuffing at all, most require very little (only for the head) while some may need more. She uses common fillings like polyester fiberfill. She wishes there were more choices of materials but many things are not easily available locally, she says.
The time spent making each doll depends on the size and complexity of its attire and accessories. Some can be made in less than a day while others take several days to complete.
Lee doesn’t take orders or replicates her dolls. However, she once made an exception for a young lady who got her friend to convince her.
She says: “She saw a mermaid doll I donated to a charity bazaar but it was already sold. She liked it so much that she requested me to make another similar one for her. It takes a doll lover to understand another, and also for the sake of charity, I broke my rules.”
She adds that the amazing thing about handmade dolls is that no matter how hard you tried to be accurate in your replication, it will never be the same as the original.
She doesn’t display her dolls due to space constraints and the hassle of keeping them dust-free.
“Occasionally, I take them out for my own viewing and inspection. Apart from an unexplained surge of happiness and calmness, I also feel a sense pride,” Lee says.