Inspired by her ancestors with an attitude of “looking for the good stuff” when life gets tough, Catherine Giesbrecht of Chubbuck decided to develop a talent that is now a business called Darling Atelier Design after unexpectedly losing her long-time job in her mid-50s. Giesbrecht now spends over 30 hours a week sewing her Darling Dolls that she prays will bless the lives of each child/person who receives one.
In 2002, Giesbrecht moved to Chubbuck from New Jersey when she married her husband. The nonprofit company she worked for as an administrator manager allowed her to continue working remotely until 2015 when her job suddenly ended. Having extra time on her hands while deciding on a new career path, Giesbrecht had decided to try her hand at sewing again — something she had previously disliked.
“When I was growing up, my mother sewed her clothes and mine and hated every minute of it,” Giesbrecht said. “So she did not teach me to sew, but when my job ended, I had time to look around at things and there was something that appealed to me about working with fabric.”
Beginning with a quilt, Giesbrecht discovered that sewing was a mental outlet for her, and she began sewing dolls in 2016 as Christmas gifts for her young granddaughters. Positive feedback was immediate.
“Everybody kept saying, ‘Oh, they are so darling!’ So the name stuck in my brain,” Giesbrecht said. “Someone else told me that I should start selling them. … I had wanted to be in business for myself and I enjoyed sewing and especially making those dolls. So the Etsy shop was born in 2017 and I chose not to go back into the workforce.”
Giesbrecht decided to focus on dolls because she feels strongly that modern technology is replacing a child’s need for developmental play with concrete objects.
“Too many kids are spending too much time in front of their screens,” Giesbrecht said. “It’s not good for them developmentally. They need to be working objects that they can hold and play with and create scenarios with. That’s the way I grew up.”
A December 2018 article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics “warns families against using media-based gadgets as a replacement to traditional hands-on toys and games that fuel the imagination and aid in healthy development. … Research tells us that the best toys need not be flashy or expensive or come with an app. Simple, in this case, really is better. … Toys are key to developing children’s brains, language interactions, symbolic and pretend play, problem-solving, social interactions and physical activity – and are increasingly important as children move from infancy into toddlerhood.”
Giesbrecht said dolls can also supply a lot of comfort and security for children. She is currently developing a new doll dressed in a hospital gown and headscarf for children who have lost their hair because of illnesses and treatments or who have extended hospital stays.
Giesbrecht ends several of her Darling Atelier Design posts with the words of her Instagram hashtag: #andthatsthegoodstuff. The saying was inspired by her ancestors during her 40 years of doing genealogy work.
During the Civil War, Giesbrecht’s great-great-grandfather fought in the bloody battles of Vicksburg and Shiloh. He was captured, escaped and was wounded more than three times during the war. He came home to discover he was a widower with a toddler. He eventually remarried and had more children, but lost his family when he became an alcoholic who died destitute.
Another great-great-grandmother escaped the Ireland famine in 1851. Seven months pregnant, she spent several weeks crossing the ocean in steerage and gave birth one month after arriving in New York. She and her husband eventually settled in New Jersey and raised a strong family. Her obituary credited her with being a good friend and a kind mother.
“What a sweet epitaph that is,” Giesbrecht said. “I look at my great-great-grandmother’s story and I think, ‘What triumph!’ I look at the story of my great-great-grandfather and I think, ‘What tragedy.’ But isn’t what life is about? That variety of experience? In some ways, life is what you make of it. In some ways, it’s just what happens to you. … If we don’t look for the good stuff, we end up an alcoholic who dies destitute in a New Jersey poorhouse in 1910. You have to look for the good stuff or you’ll sink under it all. This is where my belief in Christ comes in. If you are honoring Christ and God in your life, it’s easier to look for the good stuff.”
Giesbrecht said that when she lost her job, she eventually saw the good that allowed her to recognize the flexibility her Darling Atelier Design studio now allows for her to care for family members who need her. She has also found her new career to unexpectedly be a way to honor God and Christ in her life and thus half-whimsically calls herself a “doll-whisperer.”
“When I make my dolls, I let them talk to me,” Giesbrecht said. “Dolls whisper their stories — rich and varied — to me as I put them together. Some remind me of my own childhood memories; some confide their sartorial needs (“please add buttons to me, please, please, please!”); some wonder what kind of home they will go to; some express the wish to be the best companion they can be to someone who needs one. I hear them. … I pray over each doll that goes out. … Our lives are given to us to fulfill His purposes. I feel that this business that I am engaged in is larger than just something to bring in money. … Sewing is part of my sanity and a way honor God with what He’s given me to do”
Though customers can request custom orders from her Etsy, website, Facebook, and Instagram sites, Giesbrecht especially enjoys selling them face-to-face. She will be at the Portneuf Valley Farmer’s Market, of which she serves as a board member, until Oct. 19, the ISU Women’s Club Craft Fair on Nov. 15 and 16, and the Dickens Festival at the Assemble Learning and Events Center on Dec. 6 and 7. For more information, visit darlingatelierdesign.com.