Azores islands trip inspires Fleetwood grandmother’s unusual hand-made dolls

19 June 2016

UCLan textiles student Helen sharpens creative skills with cacti doll collection

A Fleetwood grandmother has used an once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Azores islands as the inspiration for a unique set of hand crafted dolls.

University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) textiles degree student Helen McGlasson has made three gender neutral ‘cacti dolls’ for her final year project that were inspired by her love of aqua botanical lagoons and tropical plants. The 58-year-old bespoke doll maker designed the dolls following a University trip to the Portuguese islands last year which she said had a big impact on her work.

Helen commented: “I like to channel my creative energies in different ways and alongside doll making I’ve written children’s books for the last 20 years. I went on the trip to contribute towards a children’s book the UCLan Publishing team is producing on the Azores islands and was overwhelmed by the amazing views and the feeling of being in the ocean. This has then fed into my textiles degree work.”

The grandmother of three has made her dolls from green velvet and hand stitched the cactus ridges on each one. She has deliberately made them to be gender neutral to appeal to children of both sexes. 

"I like to channel my creative energies in different ways and alongside doll making I’ve written children’s books for the last 20 years."

Helen commented: “The story behind the dolls it is that the cacti have been cut free and turned into little people walking amongst the plants. I want both boys and girls to enjoy them and for the dolls to fuel their imagination.”

Helen, who is originally from Hertfordshire, has lived in Fleetwood for the last ten years with her husband Andy after originally moving to the Lake District in 1998. After dedicating her time to bringing up four children, Helen then became more creative when her children were older and she “had more time and energy.” She wrote and published her own children’s stories called Frog the Dog before returning to education.

She said: “I’ve always been creative and used to make my children’s clothes when they were young but I never had the time to really pursue these hobbies until they were grown up. I’ve really enjoyed writing but I wanted a new career path and following an art foundation degree at UCLan’s Burnley campus, I signed up for the textiles degree and never looked back.”

Helen will now take her collection of dolls to the New Designers Show in London and hopes to license her idea with a toy manufacturer. She plans to continue making bespoke dolls and is inspired by Steiner style dolls, which deliberately keep facial expressions simple to encourage imaginative play.