Melbourne based designer-maker Cian likes to imagine her decorative dollies as a cross between a teddy, a doll and a jovial little creature that lives under your bed sheets but pops it’s head out for a chat every now and then! You’ll find us chatting away to all of them this Autumn / Winter as Gracie Keal joins us for her second Finders Keepers market! We got chatting with Cian modern craft and nurturing your imagination. Melbourne Finders Keepers is July 12 – 14!
It was such a joy to have Gracie Keal debut at last years AW18 Melbourne Market. Can you share with us your experience.
Debuting at Finders Keepers really felt like the beginning for me. Despite starting Gracie Keal in back in 2016, Finders Keepers was the first time I looked at myself and thought ‘wow, you’re doing it!’ It always felt like a dream that I was never going to quite be good enough for so I couldn’t believe it when I got accepted with a month to go.
Everything you see is created solely by me so I sewed my fingers off from seven in the morning until the early hours, to get together a collection that I thought was worthy. Standing on my debut stall knowing what I’d achieved to get there and meeting ‘my people’ was the biggest honour and I haven’t looked back since. Finders Keepers is such a rich community of professional makers, craft enthusiasts and people who just like to admire beautiful things- it’s such a pleasure to be part of.
Can you tell us more about the handmade, ornamental folk you make and what lead you to starting your own unique business?
Gracie Keal dolls came from a childhood surrounded by stuffed toys and an imagination that’s never faded. I’ve always adored pattern and bold colour as a form of expression and my degree in Textile Design taught me to harness that.
When I finished study I felt a real angst to create something that people would not just buy, but keep and treasure. When I started playing with soft figures it all made sense; toys are timeless, personal and powerful. My own fluffy companions brought me so much support and joy as a young girl and can equally now as a young woman.
I suppose I was always meant to do my own thing and I knew I needed to love what I did or I wouldn’t do it right. I love my business, everything that it represents and how it makes people feel. It is so much an expression of me and because of that I feel like I share a special connection with every person who buys something.
You’re a loyal advocate of modern craft, right? Can you share how this ties into your connection with your brand as a designer and a maker?
To me, modern craft isn’t about just creating more ‘stuff’; it’s about honoring traditional techniques but applying them to contemporary needs, and always considering your impact on the industry, community and environment around you.
I started Gracie Keal because in a world full of things, I wanted to give people something they could truly cherish, remind people to rethink how they feel about waste materials and to give a new face the age-old craft of dollmaking.
Every doll in my range is thoughtfully-designed, cut from recycled materials – donated and gathered- and sewn together by hand to make them utterly special and one-of-a-kind.
The time spent considering my mark on the world of modern craft of the last three years- whether it be sourcing locally or figuring out the most sustainable way to produce something – means that through Gracie Keal I can help to keep traditions alive and in my own small way influence the craft of tomorrow.
How do you nurture your imagination and what other designers and artists inspire you?
I’ve always had a wild and rambling imagination. Growing up the middle of three sisters, we would spend hours playing dress-up and making things from anything we could save from the bin. I’m lucky that my parents always fed my imagination and creativity and understood that that was me and that was where I was going to succeed. Now I’m older but much the same; my sense of humour is typically English and I love people-watching, all of which feed back into my work, particularly when I’m narrating personalities for my dolls.
In university we were directed to Designers at the peak of their careers but nowadays I really look a lot closer to home for inspiration. Through networks such as Finders Keepers I have met so many fellow makers with unbelievable talent and vision and its those that inspire me. Tuckshop Knits has such a fabulous humour and is a wizard with colour. Jess McCaughey of Squigdy and Wonky was a stall neighbour at last year’s FK and her commitment and precision, working with traditional techniques in bear-making is stunning. These are the people I admire and who inspire me the most because I know personally their dedication to mastering their skills and to creating an authentic practice.
Is there a favourite decorative dolly that you’ve made? How can you not want to keep them all?
I’ve got a soft spot for every doll I make, but I quickly learned that keeping them all wasn’t going work if I didn’t want to slowly cave myself into a room with make-believe creatures.
I’ve always been a go-big-or-go-home kind of girl so for me, my signature furry faces are a firm favourite. There’s something so perfectly not-pretty about them that I adore. In a world full of handsome and lovely things, it’s a gentle relief for most be able to befriend something that’s not.
There are a few I’ve set aside for any babies I might have one day, including a bunny made from this incredible vintage cowboy fabric I found in an op-shop years ago. You’re rarely lucky enough to find cloth like that twice!
I get a lot of joy from sharing them though, especially those that are made from fabrics donated by friends or picked up from my homeland, because they embody everything that’s wonderful about the journey of handmade.