Spotlight: An Interview with an African American Doll Maker
Although I mainly cover African American quilts and quilters at this website, I decided to add a section to Spotlight stories about other crafts by African American women that are hardly touched on in other mediums. In this first Spotlight, I would like to share with you Petrece Craig, AKA Peaches, an African American doll maker from Fairfield, CA.
In my conversation with her, she revealed how African American doll makers are similar in their desire to be creative and impart themselves into their craft. Their drive is equal to, if not as intense as African American women who quilt.
Dolls created by Petrece Craig, PEWIRAGZ, Fairfield, CA
Petrece Craig, one of 7 children, moved with her family to San Francisco, CA from Alabama when she was 5 years old. Her father passed away when she was very young, and her mother worked as a Special Education teacher to support the family.
Coming from a long line of seamstresses and quilters, Petrece learned to sew from her mother and grandmother, and feels her creative spirit is infused in her dollmaking, “…like quilters and their quilts.” She believes her interest in doll making has always been in her from very young. She said, “When I was little, I would look at a doll or something, and say, “I can do that, and I know I can do it better.””
How many dolls have you made?
Petrece has made dolls for so long she has no idea what the exact number is. Her guess is she has made around 230 dolls for family, friends, and to sell. She says some of her first dolls are still out there and are over 35 years old. Her goal is to make heirloom quality dolls that last forever.
What types of dolls do you make?
Her first dolls were actually angel ornaments because they were her mother’s favorite. But Petrece mainly crafts cloth rag dolls. She also makes porcelain, clay and vinyl dolls by special request. Her dolls can be as little as 5”, like for Christmas tree ornaments, or as large as 36”.
You call your dolls “Rags”, or “Raggies”. Where did that name come from?
Her business name is PEWIRAGZ (Pee-wee Rags). Years ago she started working with the name “LOVE, HUGS, and KISSES” by making small embroidered bags of candy for her nieces and nephews. The name stuck and she started using it for her dolls. During the pandemic she began working on using the name “Love, Hugs, and Kisses”, while making changes to the way her dolls looked by digitizing their faces.
How long does it take to make a doll?
Petrece likes to have her dolls ready to sell. But if you want something different than what she has already created, like skin tone or color of clothing, she says it would take her about a week.
How much time do you spend making dolls?
Right now Petrece is on a mission to build her inventory. She’s up at 7am every day, and sometimes works until 2am. She prepares and cuts all the outfits and everything needed to make her dolls. The task that takes the longest amount of her time is the hair. Using heavy wool or yarn, she weaves the hair for stability, and spends time layering, cutting and shaping it until it is just right. Again, her goal is to make dolls that last forever.
Quilting was definitely a sticker shock to me when I started, with everything you need to really be creative. What types of materials and tools do you use, and is Doll Making a costly craft?
Petrece says she uses the same fabrics, batting and basic tools as quilters. She loves working with metallic fabrics and threads. The only special tools she uses are the ones for stuffing the dolls and the large upholstery needles she gets from Europe. She says doll making can get expensive, especially if she is using porcelain or clay.
As artist, we look within and outside of ourselves for inspiration. Do you belong to any Doll clubs or guilds, or collaborate with other doll makers?
Petrece is currently not connected to any doll groups. (I am hoping she’ll think about starting her own). She does however, collaborate with like-minded crafters and entreprenuers for specialized tasks and consignment. She has a friend who is an expert at pouring the molds for her porcelain and clay dolls. They trade skills to meet each other’s need. She also has another friend who can consign her dolls for sale and generate future contacts for her.
As an African American doll maker, what do you think is the biggest challenge confronting doll makers of color in America today?
Even though Petrece works independently, she feels the doll industry itself went bust years ago, leaving her with limited access to the materials she uses, such as varied or darker skin tones. There are also very few doll craft groups, events, or contests available she can participate in.
She says a lot of people are unaware of how popular, and rare, African American dolls are. According to Petrece, they sell better than white dolls. She states this can be seen at doll shows, as more and more white doll makers create and sell their version of African American dolls.
But Petrece also feels you are only limited by your own creativity. If you are out there crafting dolls, you need to have a good product that is presentable and of good quality. She feels it is just difficult to be a doll maker in general...It takes a lot of work and it is very expensive.
In what way (or ways) do you think dolls have special meaning in African American women’s history?
She believes dolls have always been a part of our African American culture. She says a lot of the ideas for rag dolls came from slavery, when the first rag dolls appeared as cornhusks with arms and legs, and something stuck on top for the head.
If someone wanted a doll made by you, how can they get in touch with you?
Petrece is working to get her website up and running by this November, just before the 2022 holidays. She is in the process of building an inventory of 100 dolls for a web-book where you can select and order online. But for now if you are interested having a doll made by Petrece, see her contact information below.