Books and Dolls: A Local Artisan Crafts Beautiful Heroines

By on 1 March, 2013 in Art, DIY, Fun, Heather Coleman, Shopping with 0 Comments

Lil lit chic is a locally owned business that creates handmade, one-of-a-kind dolls that are based on historic literary heroines. Mariah Reilly’s work can be found on etsy. You can also email her or call her at 334.269.1174 or follow her on Facebook. One of her Zelda dolls will be featured in the silent auction at the F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Gala on Saturday night.

When did you make your first doll? When did you start selling them? I started making dolls for the children of my friends sometime in 2009, but they were just your average (albeit adorable!) cloth doll. In October of 2010 I was laying in bed looking at my vintage fabric stacked against the wall and brainstorming ways to turn it into something wonderful. I knew that I wanted to work with vintage fashion and fabric, but making clothes didn’t seem very unique or lucrative. It wasn’t until I started thinking about combining my love of good literature with fabric, sewing and my love of all things vintage that it all fell into place and lil lit chic was born.  In late 2010,  I did a Holiday Market at AUM that was wildly successful, and that prompted me to open my own etsy shop.

Do you think that living in Midtown Montgomery has influenced your choice of literary heroines? When I was in the hospital having my son, a friend brought me a book of Zelda Fitzgerald’s paper dolls. It piqued my interest in her and I started to read about her life. Her time as a daughter and then a mother seemed some of the happiest in her life, and her story stuck with me. When I decided to do the dolls, she was one of the women who immediately leapt to mind, despite the fact that most of her writing is geared towards adults. So I would say that Zelda was probably inspired indirectly by my connection to Montgomery.

What materials are your dolls made from? How do you choose them? The dolls are made mostly of vintage or reclaimed fabric. I love the idea of taking things that are old or unused and giving them new life.  I try to look for fabric that is well suited to the doll, and the style of clothing. I want their dresses to look like something that they would actually wear!

How many hours go into each doll? I have streamlined the process and would say that at this point it takes me around 5 hours for each doll.

When did you learn to sew? When I was a little girl, my neighbors (who were in their 80s) used to keep me while my mom worked. I called them Granny and Pawpaw and loved them dearly. Granny supported their little family by sewing quilts on her foot-pedaled machine. As I grew and her faith in me increased, I went from sorting buttons and trim to embroidering samples. Those early lessons at their house must have made an impact on me because later when my mom brought home an old metal sewing machine, I quickly claimed it for my own and decoupaged it within an inch of its life with pages from magazines. I taught myself to sew by making dresses for my dolls and revamping outdated hand-me-downs. Once I got to college, my penchant for the dramatic quickly led me to theater.  I found my home in the costume shop, where I learned better construction technique and also a bit about the different eras of fashion.

I love the idea behind your dolls. Where do you find your muse? Any fun stories? Currently I have dolls based on Jane Austen, Zelda Fitzgerald, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Amy Tan, Emily Dickinson and Charlotte Bronte are coming up in the near future. It was my intent to bring to life famous literary heroines, whether authors or characters, for young children. Jane Austen is my favorite author, so she was a given. The others I chose because something about their story stood out to me. My son was a Montessori kid, and Montessori teaches that you can expose children to literature, art and music that is far beyond their years, and they will still be able to take things from it. I love the idea of exposing young kids to great works of literature, and I hope that in some small way lil lit chics can be part of that.

Are your dolls made for children or adults?  Can they be played with? I have had people buy them for newborns, toddlers, pre-teens, and for themselves. I try and make the dolls baby friendly, so there are no detachable parts, buttons, etc. There are snaps, but since each doll is made to order, I have the option of ribbon or Velcro closure as well. My dolls are absolutely made to be played with– I love to see little girls hold and play with and love on these amazing women of literature.

What’s next? Maybe lil’ lit chaps? I don’t want to leave the boys out! I have some ideas for boy dolls that I have been tossing around, I just need to draft the patterns.

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown. She is on Google+, Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest.

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