One tradition in the Xochmilco borough of Mexico City is the giving of a “last” doll to a girl during her quinceañera, a way of marking the transition from child to adult.
The making of such a doll for her younger sister, set Ana Karen Allende on the path of becoming a full-time artisan.
Allende has had creative talents since childhood, painting, drawing and even modifying her toys to personalize them. Her grandmother taught her to sew using a Singer sewing machine from the 19th century, and it was on this machine that Allende made her first two rag dolls.
At first it was a hobby but the creativity of the dolls attracted attention, with many becoming gifts, with the making of the quinceañera doll a special request from her sister. The making of the doll and the reception it received spurred Allende to start researching rag dolls as well as launch her business in 2002, called “Retacitos” (little scraps).
Allende makes a wide variety of plush creations, such as various animals, mermaids, centaurs and even large renditions of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The materials are commercial, with Ana Karen spending much time scouring sale tables at fabric shops. looking for interesting fabrics, most of which are odds and ends. For this reason, many of her pieces have bright colors, sparkles, rather than realistic representations. Faces and other “exposed” body parts tend to be of muslin or other natural looking material. Faces are almost always painted on, with hair generally of yarn. These dolls and other plushes are made more for collectors rather than for children.
Much of the work, especially design is done in her home in the south of Mexico City. The apartment is a virtual museum of dolls, sewing machines and various antiques. Allende maintains creative control but demand for her works is now such that she employs several women to help with assembly. She prefers to hire single mothers and others who best benefit from the flexible work schedule.
Her work has been exhibited in various museums in central Mexico and even featured in a report on CNN. She won first prize in the toy category at the annual FONART competition, and has won various recognitions since.
All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia and Leigh Thelmadatter