For customised toys and childhood companions this Christmas, the ‘It Girl’ of designer crafting is Janine Giles-Holmes, who makes dolls, teddy bears and mice following classic crochet patterns adapted and adjusted to her creativity.

Her teddy-bear-like mice have been around for a while and have been seen in all sizes and colours: “Mice are what I am instantly identified with by my clientele, after I was commissioned over one hundred in the run-up to last holiday season by a local bank to hand them out as prizes for their promotional competitions.” Janine recounts how the order was supposed to be double the quantity at first, but she replied that, within the short notice given to her, only half was to be produced, without quality being sacrificed to quantity.

She continues: “Crocheting and stuffing a large number of items in a short time made me realise that I am going to think twice before accepting commissions again, not just because the pressure takes the fun out of crocheting – which is my hobby and my passion, and not my livelihood – but also because crafting at my pace allows me to work on new projects or new twists on my trademark creations. And I never take up on requests to copying something someone else designed or made: I take pride in my crafts being truly my work.”

From mice to men, the leap of experimentation is brief, and Janine soon found herself mesmerised ‘hook, yarn and link’ by a doll-making pattern she discovered in a specialist magazine. She developed and improved it by trial and error, until she developed it into a new, more refined one, truly hers, bubbling with original detail, durability, stability, and flashy fashion.

“My first doll had droopy shoulders and no feet, she looked like she was standing ‘en pointe’, but after a couple of attempts, I realised I could modify the pattern and create more room for stuffing to her shoulders, and model her feet so that she could stand, and of course, wear shoes,” Janine explains. “Also, I added wire inside the stuffing to hold up her head, which becomes heavy once her hair is woven in, and tends to loll. Of course, this wire is padded, safe and malleable, and it makes all the difference to my dolls’ posture, or her response to children’s interaction.”

“I would spend time with her, watching her making sweaters.”

Hair and makeup is what really makes Janine’s doll stand out for originality and attention to detail. Janine weaves and knots each strand of yarn on the doll’s head as if she was crafting a Persian rug, and later styles it: “The head of hair is the part that takes the longest: being a hairdresser by profession, I must layer it as realistically as possible, and often it isn’t truly finished until I actually give her a haircut to ensure symmetry and volume to the hairdo.”

Unlike most rag dolls who usually sport braids or pigtails so that their cable hair is quickly stitched on at the back of their head in a simple vertical line, and then secured over the ears where from it springs out, Janine’s dolls like to let their hair down indeed! Embellished with highlights (the choice of thin, shiny yarn is quite realistic and stroke-able), their hair can be styled in ponytails with mini-accessories sometimes provided, like crocheted ribbons or flowery clips.

Janine’s very first doll had beady eyes, consisting in black buttons sewn on, and despite looking as cute as a button, she appeared slightly expressionless, so Janine mused about purchasing ad hoc eyes from the crafts store, until she noticed how embroidery would allow her to be inventive with shapes and colours of her dolls’ windows to the soul. The dolls’ big eyes individually stitched with thin cotton yarn are cute and lively, and have fast become Janine’s signature.

Leaving the best for last, Janine designs and crafts the dolls’ outfits, realised in vivacious colours, and alternately featuring formal wear, traditional doll-like style, casual wear, a bit hippie, a bit hipster, a bit fashionista but never one dull doll.

Gender equality is kept in mind and Janine is working on creating male dolls too. The pattern is similar, but the biggest challenge is making their hair funky and spiky, avoiding boring stereotypes in hairstyle as much as in apparel: “I am working on introducing bride and groom dolls in my collection, and hopefully I will have some samples ready soon, in time for next wedding season,” Janine says.

She already makes flower bouquets as wedding favours or flower girl ornaments, and her wedding line includes gossamer shawls that embrace the wearer as soft and light as a cloud. And if you want to look as stylish as your doll, you can browse Janine’s selection of shimmering Egyptian cotton long- or short-sleeved tops, or easygoing hippie fringed halter-necks that turn Granny’s bedspread into the must-have fashion accessory for musical festival season!

Janine describes herself as ‘addicted to crocheting’: “I picked it over knitting because I can take the material everywhere with me, hook and yarn fit in virtually any handbag, and work can progress as much or as little as possible in one day, without affecting the consistency of stitches or pattern. In fact, I dedicate most of my spare time to crocheting, and even take it on holiday with me – there is always time for it, unless we travel on our motorbike, when I really have to streamline my luggage!”

Being left-handed, she is self-taught by mirroring what a right-handed artisan does, and she is available to teach left-handed children interested in keeping up the tradition. “With knitting, left or right isn’t as relevant: I learnt how to knit from an elderly lady who had a shop on City Mill Lane where I used to live, and often I would spend time with her, watching her making sweaters.”

In this consumerist throwaway society, handmade clothing isn’t always appreciated for its true worth, for the painstaking hours of work gone into the sewing, knitting or crocheting it, which make it unable to compete with mass-produced machine-made items, but Janine claims that her fashion designs are unique in colours and styles, and she sells them at affordable prices, just to cover material costs.

Good-quality handmade clothing is frequent washing resistant and durable, which ultimately makes it good value for money and environmentally friendly, sparing rivers and oceans from an overflow of the chemicals used to die cotton or wool.

Janine, a habitué at the Artisans Market and the St Andrews’s Church Crafts & Collectors Fair, posts photos of her personalised dolls on her Facebook page, Janine’s Crochet Creations, where polls are run to name them – although once they’re named and on the shelf at her hairdresser’s salon, it becomes increasingly difficult to let them go, even to a good home!

Her self-confessed ‘addiction’ to crochet is not just about toys, clothes or accessories such as handbags totes, and bottle holders, but it is also aimed to promote handicrafts with youngsters.

To view Janine’s artwork, visit her Facebook page Janine’s Crochet Creations, or pop in to ShortCuts in Ocean Heights.