Heidi Rathbone is an Australian artist who releases highly detailed, macabre yet cute, hand stitched dolls through her ‘Rathbone Dolls’ brand.
Drawing from a wide range of inspirations Heidi’s intricately crafted dolls exist in the half remembered plane between reality and dreams. A world Heidi has filled with her unique creations such as possessed clowns, occult hippies, mermaids, tattoo covered punks, bespectacled rodents, ventriloquists, and voodoo dolls.
Coming to dollmaking after becoming burnt out with her work as a professional jeweller only a few years ago, Heidi quickly fell in love with dolls as an artistic medium and began crafting and learning at a furious pace. With Heidi elaborating,
“I used to be so passionate about making jewellery but when I was doing it purely for financial gain I found myself no longer making pieces I wanted to make, but rather making things that I thought would sell, and I didn’t love it anymore.
I had to do something creative just for myself with no intention to sell it, but once I started making dolls I couldn’t stop and there’s only so many dolls that one person can own (I realise some of you out there might disagree with that statement) so I now sell them and while I do currently take on some commissioned work and custom make dolls based on the client’s request, I only ever agree to work that is of interest to me and make sure I still have time to work on my own ideas to keep my passion for it alive.“
With Heidi quickly gaining fans and admirers all over the globe due to her beautiful and unique creations, we thought now was the perfect opportunity to sit down with Heidi to discuss life, her artistic process, toys, growing up in a small Australian coastal town, share house living, snakes, and a whole lot more.
Read it all in the interview below…
Name + D.O.B?
12th November 1988.
City, State and Country you currently call home?
Sydney, NSW, Australia.
City, State and Country you’re from?
Batemans Bay, NSW, Australia.
Please each describe some memories from key stages of your life: concerts, art, toys, romance, hunting, school, politics, crime, religion… ANYTHING really!
* Age 5 – beginnings:
I have a terrible memory but I’ll do my best…
My parents were already divorced and living about 4 hours drive apart.
My sister, Amanda (3 years older), and I were too young to get the bus to visit Dad so he would often make the 4 hour drive to pick us up, turn around and drive straight back with us and do it again a couple of days later to take us back home to Mum.
Dad was a prankster, he would call out “MR WHIPPY!” and the 3 of us would run to the gate and watch him go past, after which he would turn to us and say “Whoa! Wasn’t that exciting?!”
I remember him putting my sister and I in a shopping trolley and taking us down the lolly aisle, filling it with so many lollies and chocolates, our little eyes popping out of our heads with excitement, until he pulled it up next to an empty trolley and told us to “Get out, we’re going to do the real shopping now”.
I met my best friend, Emzy. She was a year above me and found me sitting under a tree alone. After deciding I was a similar strain of weird she took me under her wing. She was what, back then, we would describe as a Tomboy but she was very much gay from the day I met her. She was very popular but she was my only friend.
Mum used to cut my hair in a way that she would describe as “adorable” but everyone else would agree was a boy’s haircut, so much so that when I was being teased in the playground one day and Amanda stood up for me, correcting the kids that I was in fact a girl, a teacher grabbed her and said “Leave him alone!”, to which she yelled “That’s my sister!”.
I was very creative from a young age and always knew how to entertain myself. Dad built me a sandpit and fondly remembers watching me through the window as I would sit building and singing by myself for hours on end.
That’s probably way too much for age 5…..
* Age 10 – continuations:
I’m not really sure about age 10. I think I just ate lots of mulberries and a bully mashed a banana in my face.
Oh! One weird thing. So, when I lived with Mum I went to Mogo Primary School, but it was around age 10 that my Mum travelled Europe for 6 months so my sister and I went to live with my Dad in Wollongong.
Amanda started high school so it was the first time I was in school completely alone. My Dad was remarried and I had a baby sister, Hannah.
For the first couple of days in my new school I didn’t speak a word to anyone. I was so used to being teased for everything I said and did that maybe I thought it would be best not to bother, and so without saying a single word a rumour spread that my Mum was dead and everyone wanted to be my friend.
That’s not the weird part though. The weird part is that when I was at Mogo my handwriting was terribly messy, actually hideous! But during this year in my new school, my writing was beautiful, my teacher often complimented me on it.
After that year I moved back with my, very much alive though now vegetarian, mother, went back to Mogo Primary School and just like that my writing went back to its original hideous state. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t write beautifully anymore.
* Age 15 – getting serious:
By age 15 I had already dropped out of school. I was tired of being unpopular, being called “Monkey”, “Gorilla” or “Dogbone” and I was constantly being pulled out of class for not wearing uniform, so at 14 & 9 months, the legal age for leaving school back then, I signed myself out and left.
I made some older friends, started smoking and drinking regularly and discovered weed.
So I became a big stoner and started what would become an 8 year long relationship with a boy named Sam, a boy who used to call me “Dogbone” on the playground in school and a man I am still friends with today. I moved in with him, his Dad and 2 brothers at age 16.
My Dad and my Stepmum, Wendy, had my little brother, Darcy, and the gang was now complete.
I was sewing my own wacky clothing by 15 and my older sister, Amanda, would never let me leave the house wearing it. It would have been so embarrassing for her but I had completely stopped caring about other people’s opinions.
Nothing I did made other people my age like me so why hold myself back?
* Age 20 – young adult:
I’d broken up with Sam for the first time but Amanda had moved to Newcastle and, since neither of us lived at home, Mum had moved to Sydney, so I got my first little flat on my own.
Soon after I moved in my cousin, Suki, had come to live with me.
The house was full of friends, too much wine and weed, but we had a lot of fun. Our friends often played gigs at a very intimate little venue and it was probably the most fun I’d ever had in that little town, but it was short lived.
I’d just completed a 3 year jewellers apprenticeship and shortly after was made redundant from my job, Suki had moved out and I was being evicted. Amanda had now moved to Sydney and was living with Mum.
So with no house and no job, my Dad put all of my belongings in a truck and drove me up to Sydney to join them. I cried the whole way.
Somehow Sam and I ended up back together but he stayed in Batemans Bay and long distance relationships never work.
* Age 25 – adult mode:
So by age 25 I had been in Sydney for 3 years and was starting to realise that it was the best thing that could have happened. Small towns and long term relationships from a young age have the ability to stunt a person’s growth, which is why I didn’t get out of the house sooner.
I started out working from home as a Jeweller which was basically a way for me to avoid going out and getting a real job in the city.
It was around this time I made my first doll. I was losing my passion for jewellery and decided I needed a break and to make something else creative that was purely for fun, not money.
So I made a rat.
I scavenged around the house for materials to make it out of and came up with a white face washer and a pair of fluffy baby socks, I wanted the rat to look furry. After I made the rat I decided I really enjoyed it and liked the result so more dolls soon followed and my skills developed quickly.
Tired of jewellery, I finally got my first job right in the heart of the city and began to really settle into Sydney life. I moved into a share house full of wonderful hoarders and conspiracy theorists.
The house was an overcrowded mess with 6 guys and me, the only girl. Someone lived in the lounge room and an Eastern European guy slept on our kitchen floor. I started letting Anton, a 3 metre long coastal carpet python, sleep in my bed with me.
That house is a whole story of its own, it was actually too insane to describe, but it was where I made my first alien doll and it’s when I met Tony, who I had nothing in common with but who would become my boyfriend for the next 2 years.
* Age 30 – fully formed:
Which brings us to now.
Let’s see, in the 6 months after turning 30 I shaved my head (something I had to do at least once in my life), I’ve moved into my own apartment which I only share with a cat, 7 fish and a snail, I put my vacant block of land that’s on an Island in QLD back on the market for sale (that’s a long story, don’t worry about it), and I’ve broken up with my most recent boyfriend, Phil, who I was with for 18 months.
I’ve got my apartment just the way I want it. I have a dollhouse to display my work and a beautiful, though usually messy, desk to work at.
I’ve recently made some great new friends after sadly losing custody of some of the old ones in the breakup, and I’m finally getting back on track to work on some new creations that have been in the back of my mind for years, as well as a few custom jobs in the making.
I currently work for an environmental charity called The Bower – Reuse and Repair Centre, which is great for sourcing materials, located in a community centre in Sydney’s Inner West, where all the cool kids hang out.
“I’ll try anything twice.”
Because you never know if you just had a bad experience the first time.
Art, Design, and Toy Questions
When and why did you first start making art!?
I was always a creative kid, I would draw and sew and make anything out of whatever I could get my hands on because I just had to.
But like I said, I made my first doll to escape jewellery for a little while. I used to be so passionate about making jewellery but when I was doing it purely for financial gain I found myself no longer making pieces I wanted to make, but rather making things that I thought would sell, and I didn’t love it anymore.
I had to do something creative just for myself with no intention to sell it, but once I started making dolls I couldn’t stop and there’s only so many dolls that one person can own (I realise some of you out there might disagree with that statement) so I now sell them and while I do currently take on some commissioned work and custom make dolls based on the client’s request, I only ever agree to work that is of interest to me and make sure I still have time to work on my own ideas to keep my passion for it alive.
Any pivotal artistic moment(s) / influence(s)?
Nothing that really springs to mind. I think mostly just the support of friends and family.
Sometimes when something comes easy to you, you tend not to think it’s that special, but there’s a big difference between someone saying “Oh, you’re so talented” and “HOLY SHIT! You fucking MADE that?” and that’s very encouraging, it makes you want to see how far you can push your skills.
Describe the process of producing your hand-made designer dolls? – Dot point all o.k!
Well sometimes I have a character / creature in mind first and sometimes I have new body type that I want to try and the character idea comes after. Sometimes an idea develops so quickly in my head that I can’t even pinpoint what started it.
I now have a huge folder of original paper patterns so I don’t often have to start from scratch anymore. I can pick and choose pieces from previous works and slightly alter them to suit the new design, unless I’m doing something completely different.
The paper cutouts get traced onto the base fabric of the doll, sewn together, turned the right way around and stuffed super tight, I like them to be really firm. I often get secondhand fluffy toys from op shops because, not only can I reuse the stuffing in them for my dolls, but I can also use their fur as hair and sometimes even their eyes get reused.
Once all the pieces are stuffed I cross stitch all of the seams, it’s kind of a signature thing that I do. After that, I sew in the knees and elbows, and attach them to the torso with hips and shoulders (this is around the time I get that kids song stuck in my head, you know, “heads shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”)
That’s when I have to decide who they’re going to be, if I don’t already know. I start choosing eye and hair colour, and going through my stupidly large collection of fabrics to see what sort of clothing and accessories I can give them. If I don’t already have what I need then I start sourcing it. Always check work first (The Bower) then Reverse Garbage, which is located in the same community centre, and then any other local second hand shops.
Last, but not least, I embroider a little white bone somewhere on the body of the doll and put “RATH” in black letters over the top as my makers mark.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
Having to let go of something you’ve put so much of your time and energy into. Sometimes that really hurts.
That and pricing, there’s no real guide for this shit.
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
I guess holding in your hands that thing that a few weeks ago only existed in your brain, then posting photos of it on social media and receiving a bunch of messages saying “I want! How much?”
Favorite other artist(s)?
Definitely Hieronymus Bosch. I have a lot of his art on my walls.
As for current inspiring artists, there’s two textile artists I follow on Instagram, a guy called Mister Finch, based in the UK, and a woman called Lady Lillypot who does beautiful work using a lot of antique lace. Both of them create some really amazing anthropomorphic animals.
People usually think my work is inspired by Tim Burton but it actually wasn’t until people told me that my work reminded them of his that I started to really look into it and appreciate it. It’s obviously a huge compliment, the man is a genius.
Is the rise of art toys an indication of the changing nature of art? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much money and time?
There’s a rise? That’s good to hear.
I obviously don’t know anything about it.
I do what I do because I have to and if I can make some money out of it then that’s a huge bonus.
Thoughts on the current state of the Global Designer Toy Scene?
None, I don’t really have any.
Shitty answer, I know, but what is the current state?
Whilst we know you as a result of your doll and toy work – are there any other creative endeavours you are involved in? And if so, what are they?
I’m always full of ideas but it’s hard to find the time to play around with them.
It still involves my dolls but I’ve got a bunch of ideas for some stop motion animation. I’ve had a few cool ideas for some short films (not using my dolls), but nothing else that I’m currently involved in.
Odds and Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood(s)?
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so I don’t really remember having many toys that I was very attached to, besides my stuffed pig, I took that thing everywhere with me.
I had a few toys that my Great Granny had made.
I didn’t really own any Barbies until I was a little bit older and that was because I liked making clothes for them. I’d make something in Barbie size and if I liked how it turned out then I’d try to make it for myself.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
I think I was about 3-4 years old, there was a boy named Mikey who lived across the road from me, I think he was a year or two older than me. I only remember that he had black hair.
Why? Well because he lived across the road so he was right there.
I have a vague memory of hiding in a wardrobe with him and doing the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” thing.
Does sex change everything?
Everything? That’s a big statement.
No, I think sex changes your relationship with that person. Even if it’s a friend and everything is mostly normal afterwards, it’s still there that you had sex that one time.
I like to throw a joke about it into conversation from time to time just to keep things awkward.
I guess there are certain influential people who their sex could change everything. Who knows, maybe if Hitler was getting it on the reg the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened, but that’s just speculation.
My sex doesn’t change everything.
Please describe what you think the Australian psyche / zeitgeist is today?
I find this one difficult to answer. Like I mentioned, I currently work for an environmental charity and I think it’s very easy to get confused and think we’re heading in a positive direction when you surround yourself with like minded people.
But then you open the internet and realise that Pauline Hanson still exists.
Sure, we’re getting better with equality, mental health, and environmental issues but I have blood relatives that are racist homophobes so shit’s still fucked.
Which cartoon character, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
[Please draw a prototype of your design!]
I don’t think I need to say why.
It’s marketing genius too, additional attachments sold separately.
He would need to be hot though, Inspector Gadget is not hot. I might have gotten a bit carried away with my drawing… I like men with ponytails.
Who would win in a fight and why: Gill-man (classic monster) Vs. Ursula (from the Little Mermaid by Disney)?
[Please draw the battle in all its violent beauty!]
I’d go for Ursula.
I don’t really know much about Gill-man but he’s just man-size. I don’t know a lot about Ursula either but I think she can get big, like Kraken big… Maybe I’m wrong about that but she definitely has two minions, Flotsam and Jetsam, Gill-man doesn’t have any back up.
What are the top 3 items you own?
[Please include photos or drawings of them!]
This is tough. You’re asking someone who is a bit of a hoarder to choose only 3 items.
Okay, I have 2 creepy old prams from the 1940’s, they’re pretty cool. One of them looks more like a kids wheelchair from an asylum or something.
My new Fish tank set up with my skeleton taking a bath is pretty cool.
I recently brought home a pink mannequin torso from work and had no idea where I was going to put it, but then I had a stroke of genius and put my cat’s food bowl in front of it, creating “Cannibal Cat – The Pussy Eating Pussy”.
I’m pretty proud of that.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
For me, personally? Bit of both.
I’ve had some fantastic ideas while high but I don’t get anything done. I’ve also found notes the next day that I’ve written for myself that don’t make any sense.
I’ve had an out of body experience where I split in two and by the end of it I’d learnt to accept myself for who I am, the good and the bad. That’s not a waste of time.
But at the end of the day, nothing is a waste of time as long as you’re having fun, you learned something, or you came out with a good story.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
Oh man, I went from having dreams like I’m fleeing for my life in a go-kart that runs on shaved ham that I have to keep shoving through a tube while I’m driving it except I’m eating the shaved ham at the same time until eventually I run out of the ham so I have to get out and run while screaming “ Why was I eating the ham?!”.
To having really boring and realistic dreams that I struggle to separate from reality, like writing a shopping list and putting tea bags on it and then in the morning I’m making tea and realise there’s heaps of tea bags so I look for the shopping list wondering why I wrote them on there only to realise there is no list, just the world’s most boring dream ever!
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
For being gutsy and unapologetically me.
And, my art, I guess.
If people wanted to work with you or buy something – how should they get in touch?
I’m on Instagram @RathboneDolls, you can follow me and message me through there, or you can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Well, I am hoping to work with someone I know on a short film animation with the dolls but who knows when that might be.
Mostly I just work alone.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I don’t really like talking about things I’m working on until they’re basically finished. You never know when something might never get finished or didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to.
I’ve always wanted to make a life-size doll of Dwayne & Wayne, the inbred, redneck, conjoined twins, or a life-size version of one of the magnetic dolls but that might never happen.
Just watch this space.