Return of the Strong Heart

Since I’ve been back in Memphis where most of my friends and clients know me as a fabric artist,  I’ve been strongly urged to get back to making dolls and fabric sculptures.

The reason I quit was because in Portland I moved into a small apartment with my then partner, and I no longer had the space for all the materials it took to make 3D work from fabric and found objects.  I was also having trouble with pain in my hands, and I wanted to learn to draw and paint better.

I have one friend in particular who wanted me to make start making Strong Heart dolls again. I made my first one for her when she was going through some life/love difficulties about 20 years ago.  The story that goes with the doll:


Sometimes we all feel that our hearts are weak and easily broken.  I believe the heart is strong and will always lead you back to a place of contentment and happiness.  There is a bit of whimsy, wildness and adventure coursing through every human heart.   So it’s only natural to sometimes get into situations that are uncomfortable and painful.

This Strong Heart Doll was made to remind you of the heart’s true nature.  It’s a one of a kind unbreakable work of art – shake it up, squeeze it tight or throw it across the room.  When you’re ready to hold it close again, it’ll be there for you – strong and unbroken and ready for the next adventure.

After making hers, I found a lot of people needed reminders of their strong hearts.  I made a lot of them for people going through tough times and illness.  They became medicine dolls, something to hang onto and a bit of humor to help hearts heal.

Some of the dolls I made in Portland:

Joy's Dolls, Gallery and Show 009
This is two Strong Hearts, a fox doll, a heart doll with limbs, a floppy doll, and a sculpted one
Survivor front
I also made sculpted figures from cloth and armature.  This one is called The Survivor, for  breast cancer survivors.
I did this one for the Works of Heart auction for the Memphis Child Advocacy Center
blue bird woman
I made a series of bird women that were metaphors for mobility impairment.
Daphne-Tree Woman
And a series of Tree Women that also dealt with mobility impairments

I also did pieces you could hang on the wall, but they are very hard to photograph.  I also wasn’t very good at photographing my art.  A lot went unphotographed, and a lot are on old small files that show up as thumbnails when I try to put them online.


Not Out of the Woods Yet

I made hundreds of pieces in fabric.  All hand-stitched, with my hand-knitted and beaded embellishments.   I felt I’d said all I needed to in that format.  And in fabric art, you are limited in how much you can do, how far you can push the fabric, what expressions you can make on the faces, what position you can pose the figures.  I wanted to do more.  Looking back now, though, I think these pieces expressed a lot.

So, last week, I took my first commissions for Strong Heart dolls.  It’s a slippery slope back to an old love.  I feel a tingling in my heart and hands.  Something forgotten has come home and needs an outlet.

My first Strong Heart in 6  years:

These dolls don’t stand on their own.  They rest on a a pillow or are propped against something sturdy.  They are made for embracing.


The hand-stitching is visible, a reminder we’re all stitched together from the scraps of life
My client was delighted and it made my heart happy.
My friends with their Strong Hearts. The pink one was the first made about 20 years ago, the other made two days ago.  We’re still sharing our strength.

It’s already had a positive effect on my own heart.  Time will tell where that leads.  I know in these troubled days, we all need to be reminded of our own strength, and the power of love.

If you’d like to read about when I became a drawer instead of a sewer, you can read that here.  There are a few more pictures of my fabric art in that post.

If you’re interested in commissioning a Strong Heart of your own, I am selling them for $50.  You can email me at joyzmailbox @ and I’ll give you details.  I hope to have a few to sell on Etsy or Ebay soon, but have already gotten a few commissions to finish in the next week.

Thanks for reading my blog, and stay strong.  Your heart is stitched together from very strong material.


Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at  Please email me at if you’d like details.


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