Doll maker injects life and color into a child’s dearest possession
Nancy McLaughlin took an idea that originated in Germany after World War I and gave it more life and color.
She makes Waldorf-inspired dolls, but instead of giving them natural colors and expressionless faces like dolls used in Rudolf Steiner’s education system, she gives them brightly colored locks and facial features.
“It’s not true Waldorf,” said McLaughlin, the owner of Dragonfly’s Hollow.
The handmade dolls were created to allow children to use their imaginations, she said.
McLaughlin made the first Waldorf-style dolls for her own children, and her early creations were more natural-looking. Since then, she’s made more than 2,000 dolls.
The dolls, which come in several sizes, are stuffed with wool and have hair made of mohair yarn. McLaughlin’s husband, Robert, ties all the heads onto the doll bodies.
She calls her two youngest children her quality control team because they would play with dolls and McLaughlin would find what would work and what wouldn’t work.
Customers can custom-order the dolls, choosing skin color, hair colors, eye shape and gender.
“It gives them the ability to get what they want,” McLaughlin said.
Or they can buy dolls designed by McLaughlin, who finds inspiration in children she sees. When she spotted one boy with long, wavy brown hair at a Green Day concert, she decided, “I need to make him.”
So, she said, “I made a doll like him.”
She designs 10 “ready-to-go” dolls a week, in addition to filling custom orders.
About 30 to 35 dolls are sold each week, at prices from $100 and $300.
Because the business outgrew her home, McLaughlin is opening a store in Denton across from the Texas Woman’s University campus, on the corner of Oakland and Austin streets. But she will continue to sell online, where her business has grown over the past four years.
She finds it hard to believe she now has a physical shop.
“It’s almost like it grew in spite of me,” McLaughlin said.
It also involves more pressure because she used to make dolls whenever she wanted and now she has orders coming in each week, she said.
She sells on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items, and has also started an online store using Volusion’s e-commerce software.
Dragonfly’s Hollow has a large customer base in Australia but it also sells to people in Canada, Europe and Hong Kong as well as the United States.
Business grew through word of mouth, Robert McLaughlin said.
And Nancy McLaughlin takes customer input on her doll designs. Her dolls originally had no noses, but she added noses to her designs after a customer requested one.
“I began to alter and change things the people wanted,” she said.
Another suggestion from a customer was to name the dolls alphabetically.
Every week McLaughlin uses a different letter of the alphabet to name the dolls. After she’s made it through all 26 letters, she starts over. Last week was S.
“It’s a challenge every week to come up with names using the letter,” especially with Q, X, Y, I and U, she said.
She also gives her customers the option to make their own dolls through the “Mama Made” line of products. Customers can buy a kit and go through an online tutorial, McLaughlin said.
She plans to eventually have workshops for “Mama Made” dolls at the store.
With more work to be done in this new phase of her business, McLaughlin has hired about eight women, many of whom are stay-at-home moms, to help make the dolls.
McLaughlin and Lindsay Lee, a recently hired employee, dye a lot of the yarn used in the doll designs.
“I dye every week,” Lee joked.
McLaughlin met Lee after getting a dragonfly tattoo on her neck from Lee’s brother.
She said she was talking with the tattoo artist about needing help, and he told her his sister was crafty.
“It’s the best tattoo ever,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin enjoys seeing the dolls come to life each week. She likes making something with the sole purpose of bringing happiness, she said.
McLaughlin receives photos from parents about the adventures the dolls have with their children. For children in the hospital, she has made custom dolls with hearts located on the same place where the child has a scar.
“It’s more than just a doll,” she said.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 1429 Oakland St.
On the Web: www.dragonflyshollow.com