Knitting for dolls
Åse Bence learned to knit for her dolls as a child; now she passes the gift on to others
Åse Bence learned to knit in Norway when she was five years old.
“We had long winters. We didn’t have TV. It was just something everyone did,” she says. As a child, she would knit sweaters and other winter clothes, even creating patterns for her dolls.
In 2009, she took this childhood talent and turned it into a full-fledged U.S.-based small business along with her friend, and fellow Norwegian, Anne Harriman.
It was Anne who first came up with the idea for the business. After her grandchildren were born, she looked for patterns to knit their dolls sweaters and clothes, but she couldn’t find anything she liked. She contacted Åse, and together they put together a few ideas for patterns. The idea took off from there, and “Knitting For Dolls” was born.
Bence met her American husband in Norway, and moved with him to New Orleans, where they lived for 5 years. They then relocated to San Diego, where they lived for 35 years. Now Bence bases the business out of her home in Indian Wells, Calif., where she enjoys the warm, dry desert temperatures. In fact, she found herself in Indian Wells because Harriman also lived there, and the house next to hers happened to go up for sale. Being neighbors seemed like a positive idea for the business. “How convenient to be right next door! That was very, very nice,” said Bence. The two women brainstormed ideas and business plans from this home base, until Harriman decided to bow out to spend more time with her grandchildren. Bence has continued to run the business herself.
Knitting for Dolls is based online, and the patterns for the sweaters, dresses, hats, scarves and multitude of other doll clothes and accessories are easily downloadable to your home computer. This economical process saves both money and materials. “We can keep the prices quite low that way,” says Åse. Besides online, Knitting for Dolls sells patterns in yarn shops across the country, including “The Black Sheep” in Encinitas, north of San Diego, Calif., “Harriet’s Yarns” in Palm Desert, which is near Palm Springs (east of Los Angeles), Calif., “Knitting with Nancy” in Naples, Florida and “Ladybug Knitting Shop” in Dennis, Mass.
The patterns produced by Knitting For Dolls are for quite a number of outfits and accessories, from princess dresses to sailor suits to Norwegian-style sweaters. Bence keeps an eye on current fashions to get ideas for her patterns. “Especially what the little girls are wearing,” she says. She also draws inspiration from other cultures, and is starting a series of national costumes from different countries around the world. She is currently working on a pattern for a Norwegian bunad. “If anyone has pictures of the national dresses they were willing to send me, that would help me a lot in making the patterns,” says Bence, who is working on Chinese, Japanese, German and Russian costumes.
Her customer base is quite diverse, and despite the fact that Knitting For Dolls is based in California, her customers are largely from elsewhere. “Most customers come from the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, quite a few from Canada; the colder climates,” Bence says. “When it’s warmer, people don’t sit inside and knit as much, I guess,” she adds with a laugh. She has also gotten a few sales from Australia, New Zealand, and a handful from the U.K., Norway and Germany.
Bence is considering broadening the scope of Knitting for Dolls by selling her knitted outfits themselves – in addition to the patterns – but this idea is still on the table. For now, she says, “I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
To learn more about Knitting for Dolls, and to buy your own patterns, visit www.knittingfordolls.com. All patterns fit any 18-inch doll, like the popular American Girl doll. Price range $3.25 – $5.95.
This article originally appeared in the June. 15, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.