Sarah Burford


I got in touch with a fantastic maker called Sarah Burford, who creates these stunning dolls and drawings!  

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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in the Midlands watching a lot of old movies, sketching, reading and painting my way through childhood and my early teens.  I took a bizarre turn in my last few years at school and decided to study performing arts rather than illustration or textiles (which was what people presumed I would do) I was quite exposed to the theatre as a child and I loved the magic of it and showed natural flare for it in school – it gave me the confidence that I lacked.  After college and university I went on to work in professional theatre for the next decade or so (Its a tough business and I also spent an awful lot of time temping.)  

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I lost ambition after having my little boy and decided to create a niche for my still ever constant sketching and making.  I started a blog to keep me creatively motivated whilst bringing up my little boy but it started to turn into something very exciting when I opened my Etsy shop in 2011.  My little dolls and illustrations seemed to charm people – especially the vintage scene – so the rest is history.  I also wear and collect vintage clothes.  My favourite era for fashion was the whimsy yet smart 1930’s and I think I have enough vintage clothes in my wardrobe now to be able to wear a little vintage something everyday.  I like to mix up my eras with modern high street knits and separates, as I think all one decade can look a bit fancy dress.  I work from my kitchen table at home in Bristol with the radio or an old movie on in the background.  My life has taken a few twists and turns but I’ve never been more happy than I am now.

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Where do you get your inspiration from?

Anything that evokes nostalgia.  I’ve always been obsessed with fairy tales, vintage children’s books, the circus, and old classic Hollywood.  I consider myself quite the fanatic when it comes to old movie stars and vintage clothes, costume and glamour are also a huge part of what inspires my work.

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Can you describe your design process?

Anything can spark off a theme for me.. it might be the chorus girls in a 30’s musical, an interesting hat, or sometimes just a piece of fabric.  I then work towards creating a series of dolls and illustrations based on this initial theme.  I sketch lots of ideas then think about colours and collect the fabrics.  A lot of my dolls are tea dyed so I often have bits of fabric and tea bags in pots and buckets around the kitchen.  My aim is to try and make the dolls look old as well as carry a feeling of nostalgia, so I use a lot of vintage fabrics or stain and fray new material to make it look old.  I’m a bit like that with my own vintage wardrobe… I love a piece that’s still very wearable but may have a small stain or a few holes, it gives it history and I love that.  I rarely use templates for my dolls and prefer to just draw their heads and bodies straight on the the fabric – that way every doll is completely unique.  All of the dolls faces are similar but their expressions are always different.  I make everything by hand apart from their legs which I run up on my machine.  

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Who are your favourite designers/ makers and why etc?

I love the work of textile artist Mister Finch   I’m never quick enough to purchase any of his pieces when he lists them in his shop – they’re gone in a flash!  I’m also smitten with Susannah’s little dolls at  Her charming little handmade characters live on a lavender farm in Provence, how could you not be interested in her unique little world!?  I also love the work of Emily Martin at Her work makes me feel like I’ve woken up in one of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books.

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What is your favourite piece of work to date and why?

A little while ago I made a large doll (larger than my usual pieces) as part of the off duty chorus girl dolls.  I never sold her as I lost track of how long she took me to complete and this made her so difficult to price.  She now sits in various places on our shelves and we’ve got used to her being around.  She an element of rebelliousness about her, like she drinks too much gin and has the odd Lucky Strike smoke.

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I also have a piece I made a couple of years ago which is of a cat and it reminds me so much of my little boy at his first Halloween party when he was 2.  We have the doll next to the photo of him dressed as an adorable little cat. 

 Do you have any advice for new designers?

You have to get your creations out there in order for people to know you exist.  Like it or not social networking is a huge part of getting yourself noticed…  It does have its pros and cons but if you work it to your advantage it can generate sales and your audience.  I quite enjoy it because I work all on my own and its nice to feel connected with other artists who are also perhaps working from home and lack a bit of day to day communication.  Find your style, this can take a while – you need to play around in order to find out your personal design process and what ultimately makes people say ‘oh that looks like the work of so and so’.  Put into it as much as you want to get out of it.

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I would just like to thank Sarah for taking the time to give this we interview! She has a lovely blog which you can view here.  You can also follow her on facebook and buy items in her etsy shop.  All photo’s in this post are copyright of Sarah and I was given permission to use them in this post.

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