Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sankt Martinus

If you should ever get the chance to visit the area in Germany where I grew up, you will notice one thing upon entering one of these small comunities. As you drive into a small village you will notice a distinct feature on the horizon: two church steeples, one belonging to the Catholic church - the other to a Protestant church.

Animosities and downright hostilities between the followers of either religious denomination have lasted for centuries. May God forbid that a Catholic girl should ever wed a Protestant man ( or vice versa), as my mother did, for she might become an outcast in her family...Despite the fact that most Protestants do not recognize saints and may even ridicule the Catholic practice of saint worship, there is one celebration in November they will not shun! On the evening of November 11, you will find Protestant and Catholic children alike going on lantern walks at night to celebrate the life of Sankt Martinus.

According to legend, St. Martin started out as a Roman soldier, was baptized as an adult, and became a monk. "It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised he has clothed me." (quoted form Wikipedia)

Most of the lanterns the children carry they craft lovingly at home or in art class at school. The lanterns are usually made of paper with beautiful cut-out designs that look like the lead glass windows of a church. The lanterns are attached with wire to the end of a dowel. Little tea-lights are used to make them glow in the dark. The children walk from their houses and meet at the market place, or the school building. From there they follow a rider on a white horse, dressed like a Roman soldier, marching towards the outskirts of town. While walking the children sing songs about St. Martin and songs about their lanterns. The destination of their march is a huge bonfire. The children gather around the bonfire. After a dramatic reenactment of the most famous scene from St. Martin's life, cutting his coat in half and sharing it with the beggar, all children receive a sweet treat. Each child gets handed a figure made of a yeasty bread dough with raisins for eyes.
I absolutely loved this tradition as a child. There was always such a wonderful sense of comunity in this celebration. What better way to celebrate simple acts of human kindness?Wishing you lots of light, human warmth and kindness for this season!

Monday, October 20, 2008

About me...

Years and years ago I made this "about me" page on ebay. I hardly ever go to "Feebay" since I found Etsy. Sometimes I will buy some fabric there. But I still like what I wrote back then about myself - so I thought I should put it on my blog today:

"Guten Tag!
My name is Ulla Seckler. I was born and raised in Germany and moved to the United States in 1996. I have been sewing and making things practically all my life.
Back in good old Germany children are instructed in needle works at a tender age. I still remember the old lady, named Frau Knebel, who came in with two gigantic knitting needles, the size of poles for pole vaulting (it seemed), and taught all the girls and BOYS how to knit in elementary school.
But sewing is in my blood. My great grandmother was the village seamstress and called in whenever somebody got married and needed custom-made, hand embroidered table and bed linens. She taught her daughters and my mother how to sew. Some of her work can be seen at a local museum. I watched my mother sew, crochet, and knit all my life. She did not have to make a living that way, but whenever she had a minute she was doing something. Her hands were never idle, and I grew up in a world where handmade sweaters, mittens, and scarves, appeared overnight. All it took was a snowfall. My dolls and I never lacked a new outfit and were dressed appropriately for the season . . .
After I had children of my own in the US I was worried that they would grow up without the same quality handmade items and toys that I had when I was little. So I started making dolls after my daughter was born. And once I started making the dolls, I began making clothes for them as well. "
It has been years since I wrote this. But I still make dolls and enjoy it so much. It gives me great pleasure when I receive pictures and wonderful notes from people who tell me how much their child loves a doll that I made for them.

Sometimes, when life gets a little rough, I like to look at them. It makes me pick up the needle and keep going...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why boys need dolls!

A few of years ago I had a rather strange encounter. I believe it was on a sunny fall day when I took the kids to the park to play at the playground. As usual when I go out, I had one of my projects with me. I am always crocheting, sewing, or have something with me to keep my fingers busy. As I sat there on a park bench a young woman approached me. People are always curious when they see an artist at work. So of course, I end up telling them that I make dolls.

The young woman had her 4-year-old son with her. As we got to talking she sighed and told me about her dilemma. A couple of weeks ago a toy catalogue had arrived in the mail, and her son saw a dollhouse in it. Now whenever she asked him what he wanted for Christmas he'd say: I want that cool dollhouse from the catalogue. To which I responded: "So, why don't you get him a dollhouse?" She said her husband would have an absolute fit. He thinks boys should play with trucks and "manly" toys and that "Dolls are for girls"! I was totally stunned and maybe even annoyed. After taking a moment I told her that her husband was so wrong. That there was no reason why her son should not have a dollhouse to play with.

Role play with dolls is very important for children. Why would we assign boys to play with inanimate objects such as cars, trucks, and building blocks only? Maybe we throw in an occasional plastic soldier or a plastic superhero. But why not give them a soft cuddly baby? Or a doll family? Some day this little boy will be a dad, have a family, and a real house. I told her to ignore her husband and get the boy the dollhouse anyway!
I get so frustrated when I hear such stories. Often I hear boys, big and small, talk derisively about the "Pink Aisle" in the stores and dolls being "for girls" only. I think this world would be a much better place if we gave boys dolls and allowed them grow up in a more loving and nurturing environment. Both boys and girls need to learn how to nurture and cuddle a doll because some day they will be a parent. I feel sad for this dad in my story who did not want to give his son the gift he so much desired. It made me wonder how he grew up...
I really wish more people bought dolls for their sons. I always keep one or two boy dolls in my store. Sadly they sit around the "virtual store shelf" much longer than the girl dolls...Sprinkled throughout the text please find some examples of sweet dolls that have found a loving home - nurtured by a boy who will, no doubt, become a great dad!

Maybe you know a boy who would love a friend like that for Christmas. My son still loves the doll I made for him when he was little. He is much older now but recently requested a new outfit for his friend...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Doll Clothes for Christmas

I have been working so hard on custom orders that I have not been able to make any Christmas themed dolls or clothing so far this year. That makes me kind of sad because I really enjoy playing Santa...
Last year I made a few angel dolls, but my Gingerbread Girl was the biggest hit. I am so happy I found more of that cute gingerbread men fabric. I am looking forward to making cute stuff with it!
If you have a spare moment please check out this supercute shop called
She makes the greatest wooden toys. She also has a contest for one of her fine pieces going on at the moment.
Hope you are having a very creative day!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sleeping babies

Oh to be to able sleep like that again....
I just received the cutest picture from a customer of mine. I love it! What do you think?
Maybe after Christmas I can get sleep again. For now I am "sew" busy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Childhood Memories...

For your information:
I wrote this article a week ago for the NaturalKids team. I am reposting it on my own blog because it really captures my mood this month!
October is a hard month for me. I love the fall season so much because it reminds me of Germany. Finally - a spell of cold - after a long hot summer. The falling leaves of the oak trees in front of my house serve as a reminder of the changing season.Who would have thought I'd ever miss the rain and cold, the overcast days, and the ever shorter dark days in Germany?

October is a special time in the little communities where I grew up. I was raised in the Rhineland-Palatinate or Rheinland-Pfalz, if you would like to try to pronounce that. It is a famous wine growing region in the West of Germany.This time of year , as a child, I would be helping with the grape harvest. Even young children would participate. Once you were old enough to hold the clippers for cutting grapes, you'd go out and help. I remember my infant sister being carried in around the vineyard in her bassinet. Every helper would receive a bucket and a pair of clippers You'd be assigned a partner and a row of grape vines to harvest from together. It was hard work. Often we would work in pouring rain. Filling our buckets with grapes, over and over again. Once your bucket was full, you would call out for the "Legelträger," a person carrying a special bigger bucket strapped to his back, and empty your grapes into the receptacle as he would kneel down in front of you. He then would empty his bucket into a giant green vat. And when that was full, we would all be called on to jump into the vat and mash down the grapes to make space for more grapes.
My husband always jokes about it. He says the only reason I survived was because of my long legs.
It was a pretty sticky business. By the end of the day, you'd be tired and covered in grape juice and have grape leaves stuck in your hair. The smell of the harvest would penetrate deeply into your skin. But the hard labor would be rewarded with a small sum of money - which seemed huge for me as a child.
Now that I am older I fondly remember those days spent outdoors, working and playing in the vineyards.
Some people say that children in the modern world have lost touch with nature. They spend most of their time in front of TV and computer screens. I recently read an article which claimed that the average American child spends between 4-6 hours in front of a screen of one sort or another (Nintendo, other handheld games, Wii) . The article also stated that many children are losing touch with nature because of it.
Why care about the environment if you never spent time outdoors?
I wonder if things have changed in Germany and my memories are just that. Memories. Maybe the modern German child does not participate in the grape harvest. My sisters don't live that region any more. Maybe machines do all the work now...
I guess what I am trying to say here is: It is important to teach children a connection to nature!" It is so important to play and to work with them outdoors! I am convinced that I would be a very different person if I had not spent so much time surrounded by the soft rolling hills of the German country side where I grew up.
So turn off the TV and computer and take the kids outside! I am sure they'd be glad to rake the leaves and jump in them!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Dollmaker's Dilemma at Christmas...

I started my blog in March and then sort of abandoned it. I was not quite sure what to do with the whole idea of blogging. But then I became a blog author for my etsy team: The NaturalKids team. I post there every Wednesday, and I have immensely enjoyed it. So I decided to come back to my own blog and give it a little love.
The sweet Native American girl doll from my first post (for those of you who were wondering) has found a good home. In the mean time I have made many other dolls. As we get closer to Christmas my hands have been so busy. Here are some pictures of new dolls. I am mostly working on customized dolls these days. There is such a great need for them I can hardly keep up with demand...
My favorite kind of dolls are ethnic dolls. I made the Asian dolls you see in the pictures for children adopted from China. I really enjoyed creating them and I am sure they will be loved very much by their new owners...
Christmas is the busiest time for the doll maker. One can hardly keep up with custom orders. I feel bad having to turn people away. But I am only one woman. I wish I had some elves to help. Maybe some day my daughter will be old enough to help. But for now it is just me.

The whole custom process is very difficult for me. It is a love-hate relationship. On the one hand the custom orders make me a better doll maker. My customers come with all kinds of good suggestions and challenge me to get better at my craft.

But sometimes the stress level gets high. Especially when you have to balance so many different orders and keep them straight. Later I might post a picture of all my little sticky notes in the window of my "studio". I feel like a short order cook at times. Which is a funny way to put it since my orders take hours to complete. =)