Crafty creations . . . Oamaru Cloth Doll Crafters tutor Sharon Mitchell can make anything come to life in the form of a cloth doll. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Cloth dolls have become Sharon Mitchell’s life passion, writes Kayla Hodge.

In times of darkness there is always light to be found. When Sharon Mitchell’s mother passed away in the early 2000s, she made a handheld token from cloth to carry around and remember her mother, helping with the grieving process and treating it like ‘‘therapy’’.

From there Mrs Mitchell realised just how much joy she got from being creative.

‘‘After a while I realised I loved doing that, I loved the process that you went through and that’s remained my thing — I enjoy the process,’’ Mrs Mitchell said.

After reading an article about New Zealand cloth doll pattern designer Jill Maas, Mrs Mitchell thought ‘‘I want to do that’’ and her fascination with cloth dolls began.

‘‘It really appealed to me, the quirkiness, the colour and the fact that people could recognise them and see themselves.’’

Raising five daughters, Mrs Mitchell said she was always sewing, making dolls and toys, and knew how to draw, so moving into the world of cloth dolls came naturally.

She started taking online classes, giving her a good understanding of the process, and once she was away she moved on to creating her first pattern — a female doll.

Her passion then became needle-sculpting, creating a 3-D effect on the dolls’ faces.

‘‘It took a wee while to learn how to do that and then I discovered not very many people could do that, so I thought, ‘I want to teach people how to do that’.’’

In 2009, she started teaching Oamaru community classes for making cloth dolls and then created her group — Oamaru Cloth Doll Crafters (OCDC).

‘‘Once community classes closed some of the people that had come wanted to do more, because once they try it they become addicted.’’

Prior to Covid-19 restrictions, the two-hour classes were held at Customs House Gallery, but now group member Raelene Guthrie hosted the sessions at her home.

Mrs Mitchell loved seeing the different styles people wanted to create, their visions, and watching their faces when they learned new techniques.

‘‘This is really a 3-D art — and that appeals to people. It’s a creativity that comes up when you get older.

‘‘Usually they start and they just don’t stop.’’

She hosted a two-day workshop about four times a year. The OCDC group made her fall in love with teaching, and she often got new ideas being surrounded and inspired by like-minded people.

‘‘Quite often on my own I would think, ‘I would like to make this doll for this reason’ but because I’m a teacher I want to hear what other people want to make. I find myself doing all sorts of things just because.’’

The group was about more than just physical dolls — it was a form of expression and and was a social platform for its members.

‘‘That’s why the doll group is important because people come and they talk about their lives . . . people share themselves and it just restores your energy.’’

She has created hundreds of dolls — ‘‘I have lost count’’ — from Harry Potter characters and drag queens, to steampunk characters, political statements, and pieces to fundraise for Breast Cancer Awareness.

‘‘Everything I do is different I don’t do the same thing twice.’’

In 2019, she started work on her largest collection — 14 pieces inspired by The Lion King stage show. It took five months to pull together, researching, designing and creating the dolls, which were displayed at Crafted, in Harbour St.

She also co-ordinated an online group, Cloth Doll Crafters. It had members from all over the world, who would show off their their work and help Mrs Mitchell ‘‘keep up with the trends’’.

To add to her workload, Mrs Mitchell also made online teaching videos, hosted workshops and regularly made new patterns which were sold all over the world.