April Maker of the Month: Aleks Slocum

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April Maker of the Month: Aleks Slocum

When most of us hear the word “maker”, we tend to think of woodworkers, blacksmiths, or other jobs involving sweat, grit, and dirty hands. While sewing certainly doesn’t conjure up such images, it is very much a creative endeavor with a product that can be held in two hands. Aleks Slocum of Aleks Handmade is every bit designer, seamstress, and maker of toys and dolls. As our April Maker of the Month, her work will be on display in our gift shop all April long. Plus, she’ll be here to join in the festivities of our First Friday opening reception where she will demonstrate some of her skills.

We had a chance to learn a little more about Aleks and her craft recently – keep reading!

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Tell us more about what you do.
I draft patterns and create children’s toys from fabric and other fiber materials.
How did you get started in this craft?
I started sewing when I was seven years old. I would watch my Granny sew all sorts of things when I was younger and one day she asked if I wanted to learn. I haven’t stopped since. I used to spend hours as a child using fabric from clothes my mom was throwing out to make barbie outfits. When I didn’t get into the design school I had my heart set on after high school I tool a break from sewing. I picked it back up after about a year. I began seriously making children’s toys in 2011 when the exact toy I was looking for wasn’t readily available for purchase.
What excites you about your work?
Whether I am designing a custom order or making a handful of pre-made dolls I get excited every time I walk into my studio. The ability to take many individual materials and use them together to make something beautiful is an amazing thing. The freedom to create and design without following a specific plan is also pretty exciting. I use patterns, yes, but most of the time my clients leave me with a few color and print ideas that they like. I just start mixing and matching until something awesome comes together. Most of the time I am just playing with fabric. I also get excited about sewing because for every doll I am creating it means I will later get to create another one for a special child somewhere in the world.
In your own words, what makes your work unique from others in your craft?
My work is unique from other doll makers in that I use a little whimzy and exaggeration in the features and we give one doll for every doll purchased. The legs are proportionally longer so that little hands can grab them and carry them around easier and they are a nod to my childhood. Every pattern I draft is created with small hands in mind. I consider whether or not the features will be easy for children to hold and if the removable pieces are easy for small fingers. Another thing that makes us unique is that for each doll purchased we donate one to an orphanage or foster home around the world. We work with the home to learn about the culture surrounding the children. This helps us create dolls that the children can see themselves in. In the USA we wouldn’t think twice about a blonde doll wearing a pair of shorts but during one of our donations the Director told us that they do not have blonde children nor is it appropriate for females to wear shorts. We learn a lot about other cultures just from making dolls. I think it is very important for each child to be able to recognize themselves in their community and at home. This is why I make sure all the dolls we donate are culturally respectful.
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Anything else we should know?
I have been sewing since I was seven years old. For most of my life I dreamt of designing costumes for theatre productions. While that isn’t what I decided to do with my time, I have always had a passion for expressing myself creatively. With a background in child studies, I understand the importance of play as a form of research for young children. I design and create toys that are easy to grasp for small hands, fun to play with, and evoke the imagination.

Alek’s work will be on display in our gift shop through the end of April – come in and marvel at her sweet creations during our normal gallery hours: Wednesday – Friday from noon – 5pm and Saturday from 10am – 5pm.

Rachael O'Dell
rodell@nickelplatearts.org