Be here now for this sewing bee January 5

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There’s power in creative gathering. Join juicy Whidbey women January 5 from 10-5 to make soft life-sized baby dolls for rural Chiapas health providers. All skill levels are welcome to stuff, sew, embroider and crochet with a goal of making 30 or more dolls, which will be sent to Chiapas, Mexico in February.

Bring synthetic stuffing (it holds up well in tropical Mexican weather), black mohair yarn for crocheting hair, and learn skills from long-time doll maker Anne Zontine, known as the ‘Dolly Mama.’

Woman cuddles baby doll

‘Dolly Mama’ Anne Zontine models cuddling a newborn

“I am the Dolly Mama,” Zontine said, recalling her doll-making business with a catchy name, that closed in 2002 so she could travel internationally with her husband Don. “Using dolls in play and accessing our creativity represents caring for ourselves.”

Zontine was recruited by her long time friend Gretchen Lawlor who is ablaze with passion in making the dolls for rural Mexican health providers known as Comadres. Zontine and Lawlor were among the can-do pioneers in starting the Whidbey Island Waldorf School in the late eighties. Zontine taught kindergarten then and learned about the power of imagination and child development linked by the dolls she learned to make. Explore more about that link here: ‘A Waldorf Doll and its Role in a Child’s Development.’

Knowing how to hold and bond with a newborn flows naturally when a skilled someone models how it’s done. In Chiapas, Mexico life-sized soft baby dolls are used by the Comadres in educating remote villagers through pregnancy, breastfeeding and early infant care. Many rural women buy into using formula instead of breastfeeding. Healthcare providers Lawlor met encourage women to breastfeed to create loving bonds and healthy children.

Lawlor, met the Comadres while visiting with her niece, Jessie Standish, a doctor who volunteers in Mexico. While there Lawlor met Paula Samuelsen, a volunteer with Partners in Health or Compañeros en Salud.

“Paula hosted a day-long convocatoria/gathering of rural midwives and health care workers where they shared what they knew using soft life-sized baby dolls,” Lawlor said. “Many of the rural women don’t read and information was exchanged viscerally, like how to hold a baby to breastfeed.” 

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When Paula mentioned needing more dolls for the gathering, Gretchen offered, and quickly hand-sewed two more out of old t-shirts and cushion stuffing, tapping into memories from Waldorf school days with her own children. “When at the end women came up and asked if they could have one of the dolls to bring back to their village for teaching, I apologized, knowing we needed more than we had.  But then I thought of my friends back on Whidbey. I emailed Anne and a few other friends who I’d made dolls with so many years ago. The immediate response was –of course we could- so I told the women we would make 30 more dolls.”

The idea and collaboration of these two long-time friends led to getting donations of brown-skin-colored soft fabric, stuffing and yarn and having the space to work in at Create Space, housed in the former Langley Middle School.

Local community creator Peggy Taylor and two friends—Jackie Amatucci and Dorit Zingarelli—started the space last April as a community-led project of the non-profit Taylor co-founded, Partners for Youth Empowerment.

“Create Space Langley is a community studio for creative expression of all kinds—visual and craft arts, music, singing, theater improvisation, story telling, sewing and handcrafts plus more,” Taylor wrote in an email. “It’s founded on the philosophy that we are all creative and we have a birthright to express ourselves through the arts without having to be good at it. I love the quote by psychologist Rollo May: ‘Creative expression is most often accompanied by a feeling of shimmering joy.’ We see the space as a way to address social isolation and as well as to bring people together across generations. We  offer low-cost and no-cost classes and open studios. We also offer the use of the space at a very low donation rate for people to lead their own classes and workshops. Some of our current offerings include sewing and handcrafts studio on Tuesdays, open art studio on Wednesdays, an arts and leadership class for South Whidbey Middle School, a homeschoolers art class, and Wednesday evening events like music jams. We are most interested in fostering community arts projects like Gretchen’s doll project. We serve a wide range of ages. You’ll often find three generations working together in the space on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. People can find out about our current events at Create Space Langley.”

Woman with dog in basket

Gretchen Lawlor with Zephyr as supervisor, make dolls for a Chiapas health cooperative.

Meanwhile, Lawlor said there will be more opportunities to make the dollies in the days ahead: “If you cannot come on the 5th, we will be holding sewing bees at CreateSpace every Friday in January from 3-5:30, to complete the dolls for sending to our co-madres in Chiapas in February.”

And she has this to say about the auspicious day of January 5:
“I’m an astrologer, I follow the stars, and January 5th is such a good day for launching any brave intention that carries hope. January 5th is the eve of Epiphany and the end of the 12 Holy nights. In the energy of the first eclipse of the year, and New Moon. Come share your hopes as we sew, and re-ignite faith and possibilities for better times ahead.”

For more information, contact Gretchen Lawlor at 206-698-3741 or by email: light@whidbey.com.

Co Authors :

David Welton

David Welton is a retired physician who was a staff photographer for Whidbey Life Magazine since its early days. His work has also appeared in museums, art galleries, newspapers, regional and national magazines, books, nonprofit publicity, and on the back of the Whidbey Sea-Tac Shuttle!

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    • Hi Anne, I just updated the story to include the workshop times. I forgot to put them in. It was fun talking with you and Gretchen.

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