Doll maker Tammy Blunte knows firsthand how important it is for children — and even adults — to see themselves represented in dolls.
Growing up in Trinidad in the ’80s and ’90s, Blunte tells Yahoo Life, she had Cabbage Patch dolls and white Barbies, “but I could never find one that looked like me.” She adds, “It was pretty much difficult to find a Black doll. And if you [did] find a Black doll, it was never with an Afrocentric type of hairstyle. It was never the right skin tone. The representation was not there.”
Blunt shares that she comes from a “creative” family and learned to sew and crochet at a young age from her mom and aunts. As a child, she made her own doll clothes using a kid’s Singer sewing machine. In 2014, she ventured into making her first crocheted doll, but says, “I never thought that this would have been a long-term career.”
However, when Blunte started posting photos of the dolls she’d made on her Instagram, she received an abundance of positive reactions. “A lot of people were like, ‘I have never seen anything like this,’” she recalls. “‘This is beautiful.’ ‘This is so good.’ ‘I would like to have one of myself,’” adding that some people sent her messages saying, “Where were these things when I was growing up?’”
The positive reaction to her work “is what boosted me and encouraged me to tap into this market that I realized was being neglected,” says Blunte, who lives in El Paso, Texas, and is a mom of four. “This is where the birth of Tammy B Creations came about. So I can share my dolls [with] anyone in the world.”
Making sure that her dolls have a wide range of skin tones was important to Blunte. When customers order a custom Tammy B Creations doll, there are 21 different skin tones — “I try to match as close to your skin tone as possible,” she says — and about 10 different hairstyles to choose from.
Customers also get to pick out “the type of clothing you would like the doll to wear,” she says, “the shoes, the eye color, the lip color” and more. Along with glasses, Blunte can also accommodate special requests, such as hearing aids and birthmarks. “I put a lot of attention to detail,” she says.
If customers submit a photo, Blunte can “recreate the picture for you” so the doll matches exactly. “I want my dolls to reach homes [with] a little girl [who] doesn't have anything to look like her,” she says.
She also makes custom dolls based on people who have passed away, something that can be comforting for both children and adults who are missing a loved one. It’s a process that Blunte says is “extremely touching.”
It can take Blunte up to four to six weeks to make a single doll, and she makes the parts for different dolls — head, hands, feet — simultaneously. She estimates she’s made up to 300 dolls so far.
Knowing that there is still a “limited” selection of Black dolls at mass retailers motivates her to continue making her crocheted dolls. “Going to the store and to see a Black doll, that's still something that's a bit tricky to find,” she says.
Her hope is that bigger stores will see that having dolls with a full range of skin tones is something that’s “greatly needed,” saying, “It’s important for Black people to know that they are represented and that Black dolls need to be [as] important as other skin tone color dolls.”
She adds: “Until then, I am going to keep making my dolls just to get that representation out there because we need it,” she says. “We need it.”
Blunte shares that she’s received many heartwarming videos of kids who are thrilled with their custom dolls and that “this is what keeps me going.” She sees the dolls as something that can help give kids “confidence and boost their spirits and be like, ‘Wow, I’m beautiful.’”
Having a doll that looks like them is a “special gift,” says Blunte. “To say that, ‘Okay, this doll has my skin color and it looks like me,’ those are the words — ‘just like me’ — that I love hearing.”
She adds: “I need people to understand that having something to make them feel happy and proud, it can really do a lot for little girls and boys, even for adults to see that.”
—Video produced by Jacquie Cosgrove.
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