About Helen Layfield

After being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I started making dolls and soft, figurative sculptures. House-bound, I turned to my past, to a family tradition of hand sewing.

At the time, it was the one creative outlet I could physically and mentally manage. Simple, and requiring no special materials, sewing became my respite, which in turn became my healing, artistic transformation to a new creative process.
Initially, I turned to the slow-stitch movement. I welcomed the mindfulness of simple hand-stitching and benefited from its meditative and contemplative nature.

Stitching by hand, with no given structure, no judgement, and no specific goal creates an intrinsic awareness of the present moment, an awareness of the actual process of the work as you see it grow and develop stitch by stitch.

Intuitively, my slow stitching developed into the creation of three-dimensional figures.
I didn’t consider using patterns or following a style. I set no rules. There was no right or wrong, no “should be” or “must be”. I followed no techniques and no specific methodology. With no constraints or judgement, the figures materialised intuitively.
It became apparent that fabric, buttons, beads, and other components, as well as the psychology of colour were very important in the telling of the story: these created the physical structures, and they also bestowed symbolic significance. Considering society, culture and heritage alters the narrative for both the maker and the audience.

The making has a simplicity, yet the multi-layers of story, in colours, materials, and shapes, powerfully reveal the emotional and spiritual self, less so the physical representation. Woven through each figure is the Japanese philosophy of wabi–sabi; that is, to see and accept the beauty of imperfection and impermanence.

While making dolls is a common modality in Art Therapy, my dolls or figurative soft sculptures have identity at their core. The two processes have similar outcomes: the maker discovers aspects of self through the making; however, one is a therapeutic art modality, whereas mine is a creative art practice.

An understanding of self, of identity, brings healing, transformation, and empowerment.

Dolls provide a mirror to our souls, and in our vulnerability is our strength

Erica Cleveland


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