Certain things never cease to intrigue us like seeing the first snowfall; hearing your favorite song; or riding on a swing. There seems to be a place in our hearts where memory and joy play and all of us, young and old, can appreciate the feelings we experience. For our newest Tula woven design, we wanted to explore those feelings and celebrate fantasy. We know that imagination, artistic details, and whimsical fun not only appeal to a child’s eyes but excite all of us. We asked friend and artist, Michelle Housel, of Dancey Pants Disco, to reinterpret her signature hooded dolls into a woven wrap design that blended these elements. Michelle created a fanciful party scene of disco balls, confetti, and dancing dolls that we fell head over heels for! As we prepare for the release of ‘Dancey Dolls’, we wanted to introduce you to the artist behind its design and learn more about her creative process. We asked Michelle some questions and here is what she had to share:
Baby Tula: Can you share a little bit about yourself and how you began creating the work that you do?
Michelle Housel: As a little girl first learning to read, the Babysitter’s Club was a favorite. I remember being about seven years old and reading the words on the front cover of the one I had just bought from our school’s book fair. I was in the back seat of our Astro Van and my mama was driving me home from school. I read the word “illustrator” and paused to ask her what it meant. She described it and I remember being so giddy that making art was actually a career path. I decided then that I was going to be an illustrator at that moment and the dream never really escaped my mind. When I was applying for colleges, there was only one that I really wanted to attend- Ringling College of Art. When I was accepted, I knew immediately that my major would be illustration. While there I played around a lot with my style and technique and learned that I really enjoyed making tiny worlds and making things that can be held and played with. My senior thesis was a paper toy world with a little circus, cloud children, a discotheque, and an underwater mermaid world. I’m now making rag dolls and other little toys in addition to planning my children’s book.
Baby Tula: Your artistic expression spans a variety of mediums: photography, sewing, and illustrations. What do you think is the connecting thread throughout these various mediums?
Michelle Housel: Whimsy. In my everyday life, I try to find the magic in the ordinary. It’s too easy for life to become routine or mundane and I’ve always sworn I wouldn’t let that happen. We always try to imagine stories when we go on our walks about gnomes that live in the nooks of trees and the squirrels that become their friends. Or when the dust flies into the air when cleaning in the early morning and the sun bounces off each speck, making them look like fairies. I like to catch those moments and recreate that same wonder or magic in my work.
Baby Tula: You have worked with Baby Tula before. Can you share how your relationship with Tula began?
Michelle Housel: The first time Ula and I worked together was with the babywearing illustration on the canvas totes. I had been making babywearing illustrations for some time and I think Ula found me through those. It was part of the release of the woven wraps in the beginning of Tula Woven and I was so giddy to be a part of it. Soon after we planned to make a couple mermaid wraps, so we made Naida and Lorelei. I have loved working with Tula and seeing my art turn into some of my favorite carriers. After making custom babywearing portraits for over a year I was excited to start something a little different, while still being a part of the babywearing world.
Baby Tula: Baby Tula’s new design is inspired by the lovely dolls that you make. Can you chat about how you began making dolls and what inspires you to make them?
Michelle Housel: I made my first rag doll when I was a young teenager. She was made from a sock and her name was Alice. I really enjoyed making her and made a few others for friends, but my passions quickly turned to making doll dresses. I got into the ball-jointed doll scene and started making little dresses for those types of dolls which sold really well. It inspired me to create my own html website at 16 and advertise my work. I think that time of my life was when I learned most about sewing. I still have a ton to learn and probably need to relearn a lot of what I’ve taught myself incorrectly, but it’s been a wonderful process and something I find a lot of joy in. I started making the hooded rag doll that I’m currently making in college about eight years ago. The pattern has evolved but overall they have been very much the same!
Baby Tula: Can you chat about how you approached the idea of taking your illustrations and doll creations and translating them into a woven wrap design?
Michelle Housel: Ula and I had been talking for awhile about collaborating this way. I’ve made dolls for her lovely kiddos and as a fan of Tula it seemed like it was bound to happen! I’m excited it finally did and am so happy with how it turned out. Seeing my little hooded dolls dancing on a Tula has been a little dream of mine for years.
Baby Tula: Why were you interested in creating a design/designs for a woven wraps?
Michelle Housel: I still have a lot to learn about creating work for woven fabrics. It’s an entirely different type of design and I love challenging my brain making things I’m not used to. As a huge advocate for babywearing, I’m happy to be able to combine my two passions. When applying for college, I had a very hard time trying to choose between art and early child development and I think it’s a dream to be able to combine them both.
Baby Tula: Your work lends itself to imaginative stories, do you find yourself developing a narrative while you are creating?
Michelle Housel: All the time! I love creating stories for my dolls and often imagine their backgrounds while creating them. Even with the DPD + Tula wrap, I imagined them having the best dance party and all of the characters being the very best of friends. Nothing makes me happier than having some quality time to work on a project and being able to make little details that help tell a character’s story.
Baby Tula: Most of your work is done at home with your son Odin present. Can you share how you feel your environment influences how or what you do? Can you briefly describe a day in the “studio” for you?
Michelle Housel: Studio time and everyday time tends to blend. I usually wake up before Odin and try to get some planning done for the day. Then we will go for a walk in the morning, I find inspiration in nature so taking Odin for a walk is also helpful for me. Then lunch and errands, followed by some quiet time which looks a little different every day. Usually it means Odin is in his room or beside me in the studio painting and drawing while I sew. On warmer days, I bring a basket of work outside so that Odin can play while I embroider or stick up doll limbs. Most of my work tends to happen later in the evening though. My fiancé Zak is a huge motivation to me and he is always so willing to help me out or take over when I need to get work done. He puts Odin to bed around 7 and then I head into the studio to work, once he’s asleep, Zak joins me to help stuff limbs and cut patterns until we go to sleep. I joke that he’s my unpaid intern!
Baby Tula: We know that babywearing has been something you have enjoyed. If Odin (your son) would cooperate for a ride in “Dancey Dolls”, where and what would you like to do?
Michelle Housel: It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to talk Odin into letting me wear him! He’s only three but he’s already over 45 pounds and very independent (don’t believe people when they tell you your babe will never walk if you carry them!), but if he would let me, we would probably head out to his new favorite place. We’d dance around the Bamboo Forest and look for treasure in the taller branches together.