After an endless heatwave, autumn has arrived! The vivid curling leaves and the hint of smoke in my neighborhood always fill me with a quiet yearning. Every year, I have at least one moment when the brilliant colors and hint of winter make me cry.
Eloise also loves the shift into fall, and last year I dove into a project celebrating our bond and the seasons. It was a complete departure from my typical handmade offerings, but I felt compelled to make something inspired by her. So I did.
When I was a child, I had 2 cloth dolls with stories printed on their dresses. You flipped up the “pages” to read, and this also changed the doll’s expression. At first, they really weren’t more important than the other dolls lolling about my room, but they became a symbol of one of my fondest friendships.
I used to have an afternoon snack with our elderly neighbors a few times a week, and the dolls always tagged along. The elderly woman would bring cups of tepid water and a dish of candy out to the porch, where her husband and I played with the dolls. He’d read the stories and talk to the dolls as if they were also 4 year old girls on a quest for candy or some cookies. I considered Maynard my best friend. My mom let me walk to their house alone, and this sense of independence and the way Maynard sat on the porch and chatted just like he did with older neighbors made me feel so grown up. He listened to me, and he acted as if the dolls had important things to say, too. He didn’t rush. He didn’t get distracted. He made me feel valued.
Maynard was also the first person I knew who passed away, and when I visited the church to pay my respects, I put the smaller of the dolls in the casket with him. I didn’t exactly fear death, but I worried that he might be lonely. Plus, he really seemed to like the dolls. I paused and watched him in his deepest sleep. I didn’t rush. I didn’t get distracted. I valued our friendship, and I wanted to remember him.
This poignant moment made those dolls linger in my mind. While talking about how much toys have changed since I was young one day with my daughter, I brought up these story dolls. I tried to describe them to Eloise, but she was totally lost.
“Don’t just tell me about the dolls,” she suggested, “Make me one.”
The stories on the dolls I had were like Cliffs Notes for classic fairy tales, and I wanted to make something more meaningful to both of us. So, I adapted some watercolor paintings inspired by her curly-headed beauty to the doll pattern shape. Then, I designed and printed the fabric at Spoonflower. Instead of the bland tales, I wrote poems to celebrate the changing seasons and my darling daughter.
I made the dolls to sell, and at first a lot of customers didn’t understand them. Occasionally, someone took the time to read the poems and connect with me as an artist, and that was the most satisfying feeling. Watching a customer pause and handle the soft dolls, savoring the moment to meditate on the seasons, meant more to me than all the cheap necklaces I knew would make up the bulk of my earnings for the day. These few customers infused meaning into what sometimes felt like a shallow and endless sales pitch. They didn’t rush. They didn’t get distracted. They made me feel valued.
Eventually, the 18 pattern pieces became tedious to cut, and I abandoned the dolls. One of each design still sits on my daughter’s bookcase, though, reminding us both to slow down, enjoy the world around us, and follow inspiration just because.
Here’s the poem about Autumn…I thought I’d share so you could take a moment to enjoy the changing seasons and the delicious chill in the air, too. Don’t rush. Don’t get distracted. Just feel valued.
the cottonwood leaves are brilliantly gold
as we wait for the school bus on mornings grown cold
we collect yellow leaves that shine like the sun
and toss them and kick them in bright sprays of fun
glowing orange leaves light up oak trees so grand
and make fiery carpets wherever they stand
we jump in the piles that smell damp and sweet
and laugh as they crunch beneath our kicking feet
the red maple leaves make everything glow
and they swirl to the ground as the cooler winds blow
we look out the windows as we sit at our desks
dreaming about which bright color is best
it’s time to read books and write out our names
as we trade school assignments for summertime games
we dive into learning and ideas come to light
as our minds like the leaves grow brilliantly bright