Boston-based Mimi Kirchner invites us into an enchanting world, where fabric foxes go on hikes and smoke pipes, felt owls perch, and fibre dogs don scarves and ties. Bibelot joined Mimi to talk about her ideas processes and where she’d go if she had a time machine.
1. What is the first thing you can remember making by hand?
I have no memories of a time that I wasn’t creating. I came from a big family where making things and playing with tools and materials was part of life. I remember making lots of doll clothes including some using old and unmatched socks. I haven’t come too far from that! I have a little tin with doll clothes that I made at that age.
2. Tell us how the ideas process for each new doll begins. What inspired you to make (our favourite) the tattooed man?
It is very rare that a fully formed idea pops into my head that I can act on. There are typically many months of thinking, collecting, and incubating an idea. The idea starts as sort of a brain tickle and if it keeps recurring, it moves forward. With the tattooed man, I started noticing people with tattoos and wondered how I could make a tattooed doll. I began collecting images of tattooed people and tattoos that appeal to me. I had already made a man doll pattern and that was a good starting point. I was stumped on how to make the tattoos though. I tried embroidery but that was so labor-intensive that there never would have been more than one doll. I thought about drawing on the fabric with permanent marker and that led me to think about fabric that already had “drawing” on it and *inspiration* – Toile de Jouy! Of course there were still some challenges. How to make the toile a skin tone? I am no expert in dyeing – my first few attempts were terrible, but eventually I had something usable and I made a few fellows. I had no idea if a viewer would read the toile as tattoos but hurray for the internet. I posted my guys onto Flickr and immediately got positive responses – I knew I’d gotten it right!
3. Describe your working routine – studio, kitchen table, caffeinated beverage of choice, music, silence?
I start my day with coffee and the computer. Then I move up to my studio/workroom/taken-over-bedroom-when-my-kids-grew-up, which is chock full of all the goodies associated with a life in art and fabric. The computer is generally banned from my studio because it is TOO distracting.
I am in my studio as much as possible. The morning is the most important time for me – I try to reserve mornings for artwork only. Afternoons are interrupted by the other parts of my craft biz – packing boxes, walking to the post office, computer work, etc. I make an effort to spend at least an hour working in the evening – that is very helpful in getting me going again in the morning.
I listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I work. It helps me concentrate and quiets the talky part of my brain. The more engrossing the book, the more work I get done!
4. Describe your perfect day.
Ah, the perfect day. Get to my studio early and sit at my table with the sun streaming in the window. The piece comes together smoothly and comes out even better than I could have expected. Maybe a lunch with an artist friend and we talk about all the things we are excited about. Later, a nice long walk. Then back home and no emails to answer so I get to spend more time making things. Bliss!
5. You were originally a ceramic artist. Tell us about the transition from working with clay to wool. Are there any other craft skills you’d be interested in learning in the future?
I worked as a ceramic artist from 1978 – 1998, making illustrated, hand-built tableware. In 1999, I decided that I should take some time away from the clay and find my artist enthusiasm again. Then, the studio building where I was working was destroyed in a fire (4/99). It seemed to be a sign from the universe that it was time to re-evaluate and move on. I explored other media, taking classes in print-making, painting, wire-work, and got onto the computer for the first time. I was also helping my mother-in-law dress some family antique dolls and that got me started researching the doll world through ebay and email forums (Yahoo groups). I have always enjoyed sewing, knitting, quilting on a hobby level but at this point, it took over my life! I spent about 5 years (like another college degree) obsessively studying doll making, both traditional and contemporary. I experimented with all kinds of designs, making my own patterns, and playing with a range of fabrics. I view that time in my life as a re-start. I haven’t looked back!
I think I have tried most craft skills that I’ve ever imagined being interested in. I wish I was better at the online graphics programs like Photoshop and Illustrator. And maybe someday I will take the time to figure out what all the buttons on my camera are for. There is always something new to learn.
6. Do you ever find it difficult to part with any of your creations?
No, I love selling my work. I start to feel very dissatisfied with a piece if it doesn’t find a home. The only time I might have difficulty is when I am not quite satisfied with the piece and worry that it isn’t good enough.
7. If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I know this sounds corny but I would go back to when my kids were really little and hug them and tell them I love them!
8. Are there any textile artists/designers that are exciting you at the moment?
Mr. Finch – He does amazing things with fabric. I got to meet him last year when he had a show in New York.
Hine Mizushima – I love her Instgram photostream.
Horrible Adorables – Jordan Elise Another fantastic Instagram feed.
Sonya Philip – 100 Acts of Sewing – I am so inspired by Sonya’s approach to fashion which is all about embracing the body you’ve got and making your own wardrobe to fit it.
Skinny laMinx – Heather Moore – I love her fabric designs and have used them in my work.
9. What does craftsmanship mean to you?
Time, care, thought.
There have been active decisions made for why the object looks and/or performs like it does.
There is a learned skill involved.
It is functional for whatever job it is meant to do.
10. Do you have time for personal craft projects, if so, what are you making right now?
My personal projects usually involve sewing but not things I plan to sell. The last thing I made was a sleeve for my computer. Next will be some clothes for myself and I am having quilt fantasies.