Florence Aferi learned to crochet at the hands of her mother when she was around 12, but her adolescent years brought on a whole new adventure, so she traded in her hook (needle) for doing “teenage stuff.”
Years later, while pregnant with her firstborn, Solomon, the Eastpointe resident was motivated to revisit the age-old needle art and began making hats, booties, mittens, gloves and blankets. “I wanted to make something cute for him to come home from the hospital in,” she said.
About a year and a half later, while pregnant with daughter Sasha Faith, the stay-at-home mom began using her crocheting skills to make playful dolls with different skin tones. The idea was borne out of her childhood memories that centered around wanting a doll she could identify with.
“I began reflecting on my own childhood as a little brown girl and some of the experiences I had. My father is Ghanian and my mother is a black American. My siblings and I grew up in Ghana, West Africa, and back in the ’80s, there wasn’t much variety when it came to dolls of color. There was the Kenya Barbie and the regular Barbie. I remember asking my mom for a doll that looked like me because my sister’s dolls looked like her. My sister is a bit browner than I am. As an adult, I can understand why seeing myself in my toys was so important, and this became part of my mission.”
In just a short time, Aferi, 40, who along with her husband, Tony Gordon, is also a musician, found herself busy filling custom orders for the neatly-crafted crocheted dolls she taught herself to make just over a year ago. She sells the whimsical one-of-a-kind characters under the name Fancy Fancy Crochet in her Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/fancyfancycrochet, and so far has made almost 100 dolls. She creates each using her own original pattern, designing it as she crochets the body parts and clothes.
Her work is promoted primarily through social media. “People see them on Facebook and share, and sometimes I can get them to go to Instagram and see some of my work. Every order has shipping available. I do priority two-day shipping, and the majority of my sales are out-of-state and out-of-the-country,” she said.
Customers sometimes send her photographs and tell her the kind of things their child likes, all of which helps in determining the price. “My base price for an 18-inch doll starts at $125, and that’s for a simple outfit, like pants and a top, or a skirt and top. But it could probably go up to about $350, depending on the type of yarn, how big the doll is and if the customer has decided they want Swarovski crystals.”
To create the different skin tones, Aferi uses mostly acrylic yarn by Red Heart and Vanna’s Choice, but for their colorful attire, some of which is removable, she works with both acrylic and 100 percent wool yarns. The dolls are firmly stuffed with a polyester fiberfill, and many come with accessories, like earrings. It takes about two to three weeks for her to make a doll from start to finish.
In addition to toddlers and small children, Aferi, whose children were her “first testers,” also makes dolls for newborns, and takes great care in asking parents specific questions so the finished product is age-appropriate. For instance, she said, her 1-year-old daughter’s doll doesn’t have earrings. “For children under age 6, I do all soft parts – embroidered eyes and no earrings, so that the doll is completely soft. I’ve (also) done the Lovey Blanket, which is pretty much a blanket with a head and arms.”
Although her mother is a seamstress by trade who’s done sewing for a host of local celebrities, including John Salley and Kenya Moore, Aferi is only now starting to learn her way around a sewing machine. “I’m just getting into sewing for the sake of the doll clothes,” she said, “because you can’t crochet a T-shirt to make it look like a T-shirt.”
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Florence Aferi on Facebook at facebook.com/fancyfancycrochet, or visit her Etsy shop at etsy.com/shop/fancyfancycrochet. Email: email@example.com.