Martha Boers is an immensely talented seamstress and doll costume designer. She was originally born in the Netherlands but emigrated to Canada when she was a child. Creativity was always encouraged in her family. Martha experimented with many media but she discovered she was most interested in costuming. She studied theater costume design, but left school before graduating to marry and become a full-time mother. In her spare time, Martha made dolls from cloth which became very popular, but eventually switched to sculpting with polymer clay. In the mid 1990’s she teamed up with her sister Marianne who had completed her studies in graphics and illustration. Together they created highly detailed art dolls.
From 1995 to 2005 the sisters made more than 250 historic and fantasy dolls. Marianne sculpted the dolls themselves, while Martha finished the figures; made their bodies, created their costumes and hairstyles, and made most of the props. Their OOAK creations soon developed a following, and they won many awards at doll shows and were featured in many doll publications. For a while the sisters worked on smaller dolls, but Marianne eventually lost interest in sculpting the figures, so in 2005 they decided to stop working together completely and develop their own separate projects.
Marianne returned to graphic design and Martha experimented for a time with natural materials. She toyed with some dolls on her own, but greatly preferred sewing to sculpting. Health issues with her parents overtook her, then personal health problems cropped up, and she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. At this point, Martha states that “it became clear to me that we are given just this one life – that it’s not a dress rehearsal for something “later” – that if there was something I always dreamed of doing, it was now or never.” At the time, Martha was working as editor of a doll costuming newsletter for her friend, doll artist Adele Sciortino. Through the newsletter she became reacquainted with fellow doll fashion artist Dale Zentner (Pink Grapefruit) who introduced her to Asian ball jointed dolls.
Martha was captivated by Dale’s lovely photos and beautiful doll models. Soon she was researching the dolls online, and at Dales’s suggestion joined Den of Angels and Zone of Zen. At that time, Martha said, “the costuming newsletter was in the middle of a Fairy Challenge based on the work of Linda Ravenscroft who had been our guest artist in the Spring 2010 issue. Linda had agreed to let us hold a challenge for readers to create a fairy doll inspired by her paintings. Reader’s were given half a year, and their submissions would be published in the Fall 2010 issue.” Not interested in sculpting a doll, Martha instead made a fairy costume for her Elfdoll Ryung. She enjoyed this so much that she created additional fairy garb for her doll. She then took her BJD along with her on a road trip, during which Martha states, “I had a wonderful time taking photos of Ryung in the different fairy costumes in our campsites, and was thrilled with the resulting
In the fall of 2010 Martha and her husband went on a four week road trip across Canada to the west coast. She took Ryung and two of her outfits along. “I photographed Ryung in the forests, on the beach, with waterfalls and lakes, and in the mountains. When we came back I downloaded all the photos from our trip, but it was the doll photos which excited me the most. I was determined that I needed a place to post them, and decided it was time to finally have a doll costuming website.”
Originally she wanted her son to create a website for her photos, but he instead steered Martha to an online web creation site. It took some time to master it, but eventually Martha succeeded in setting up her site and states, “Now I’m so glad I was forced to do it for myself. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of being able to change and update things whenever I want.” When it came to finally naming her site, Martha ” didn’t want my own name as my company name. I loved flowers so wrote down a list of exotic hibiscus and flower names, then one by one did a web search to see if they already existed. In the end there were three which weren’t already taken, and when I presented them to my son, he chose Antique Lilac.”
Whether collecting dolls for work or pleasure Martha comments, “My love is historical and fantasy costuming, so I’m drawn to the more realistically proportioned adult figures. Plus, there’s a certain aesthetic that seems to appeal to me. However, my Soom Cuprit was purchased purely as a “working girl” because I was getting so many requests for costumes that size. I’d like to do some fantastic historical and fantasy couples with my Iplehouse Tedros, and one of the two EID women who will be joining him this summer. My favourite periods are the Elizabethan, Marie Antoinette and Victorian, as well as “fantasy medieval”, and I’d like to recreate some of my favourite outfits from my One-of-a-kind doll days.” While her initial interest in purchasing dolls focussed more on finding models for costuming, the dolls of Kaye Wiggs touched a sentimental chord. “I had saved baby clothes from when my children were little, and even had some of my own baby dresses, but
none of them would ever be worn again, in fact they have all spent the last 25 years or more in boxes in the basement. When Kaye released Layla, I thought she would make the perfect little girl to remake all those saved baby dresses for – they’d come out of storage and be enjoyed again.”Before Layla even arrived, Martha fell in love with another KazeKidz doll, Miki, and they have become favorite models for Martha’s clothing and photos.
Currently Martha has been busy working on commissions from collectors, but for Martha the commission work “severely limit (s) the number of new things I can make. Many of the special things I’ve been wanting to make for some time keep being pushed back as a result, so I may have to stop doing commissions at some point, or at least not take any for awhile.” While Martha loves sewing, at this time she says “Photography is my passion. I consider the photos of my dolls in their costumes the final step in the creative process. I will often wait to offer an outfit up for sale until after I have some final photos I’m happy with.”
Photos Above: Rapunzel by Martha & Marianne (photo taken by Marianne Reitsma), KazeKidz Layla in outfit “Heirloom Chickies’
Antique Lilac – Martha’s website
Antique Lilac posts Free Patterns & Tutorials. They can be found HERE
Martha & Marianne – Website about the two sister’s OOAK dolls