By Tallitha Reese —
Jaali Parrish, fiber artist and doll maker, set herself a challenge for 2019: Create a new doll every day for the entire year—and so far, she’s done just that.
The purpose of Parrish’s “Doll a Day” challenge is to help focus her efforts on completing specific projects, and to provide content for her social media platforms.
“Making a doll a day and posting it on social media has been a way for me to be more consistent,” said Parrish. “I also tend to start a bunch of projects and then forget about them and start new things, so this challenge of making and finishing one doll every day has been good for me.”
The many dolls that Parrish has completed often go to stock the shelves of her shop in Viroqua, Jaali’s Dollies, which Parrish opened in 2016 as part of the Viroqua Chamber Main Street’s Pop-Up Shop program.
Her shop offers delightful handmade creatures and dolls made from a variety of materials and techniques, from needle felting with wool and creating sock creatures to utilizing materials like clay, faux fur and even upcycled sweaters. Parrish also offers classes at her shop, instructing in both needle felting and sewing.
Prior to the opening of her Viroqua storefront, Parrish was selling her creations online via Etsy and at a local holiday craft market.
She explained that opening her shop has been a “wild ride” and she is extremely happy to have found regular customers who often come to her with special orders.
Parrish finds inspiration for her creations in multiple places. Sometimes she feels a pull to make an animal she really likes, sometimes she’s inspired by a specific fabric, and sometimes she just starts working on something that develops as she goes.
Parrish said she enjoys working on intricate one-of-a-kind dolls, but that while those pieces are more interesting, they take longer and require more work, which results in a higher price.
For Parrish, one of the challenges of having a storefront is balancing working on those types of pieces with easier things like plush toys that she can sew on a machine. She also struggles with pricing her products.
“I want them to be affordable for everyone,” said Parrish. “But I also need to get paid for my time and materials.”
Parrish was first introduced to needle felting as a child in Chicago when her parents took her to a food expo.
“There was a booth selling vegetable-dyed wool, and the woman showed me how to make a duck,” explained Parrish. “I was always a very artsy child, and this was a new skill I was very excited to learn.”
However, that skill didn’t come easy at first, and 9-year-old Parrish was often discouraged but she persevered. Parrish’s family moved to Viroqua when she was 10, where she discovered a local yarn shop and saw a woman selling needle-felted dolls at a holiday market, which rekindled her own interest in needle felting.
The very first creations Parrish ever sold were simple felted dolls when she was just 11 or 12.
“It was the most money I think I had ever gotten, and it was then I realized maybe I could turn this into a business,” said Parrish.
Jaali’s Dollies is located at 207 ½ Main St. in Viroqua. For more information, visit www.jaalisdollies.com. You can also find Jaali’s Dollies on Facebook or Instagram.