THEY have been called weird and even creepy but, to Tammy Pickford’s customers, her ‘babies’ are coveted collectors’ items.
They come complete with a name and birth weight written on an ankle ‘hospital’ tag and are filled with a sweet perfumed sachet to recreate that distinctive newborn smell.
Mrs Pickford, whose stock ranges from premature infants to toddlers with teeth as well as ‘animals’ in nappies, said that even she found herself talking to her placid creations.
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“When people come in for the first time they think they are real babies and are really shocked when I tell them they’re not. They hold them like they’re real because they are weighted. You can’t help but rock them or pat them.
“It’s definitely a woman thing. Men never understand it. A lot of men say they are weird but they are never going to like a doll,” she added.
After buying doll kits earlier this year, the mother-of-two from Yarm launched her Expressions website business, but she said business had boomed since she recently opened a retail unit in Stockton’s Enterprise Arcade, an initiative to let fledgling firms test-trade risk free.
“The reaction I have had from people coming in has been fantastic. The shop has given me credibility as I used to get abuse on internet selling sites, men especially would be nasty online.
“My customers are not people who can’t have babies or have lost a child, not that I am aware of, anyway,” she explained. “A lot of people collect them and it can get addictive. I have regular customers from as far away as Essex, with ages ranging from young children to an 87-year-old.
“An older lady I know has bought one as she loves to walk but feels vulnerable doing it alone,” said the 31-year-old. “So she now pushes her doll in a pram which gives her security and makes her feel that she is less likely to be approached.”
As well as stocking baby clothes and vintage prams, Mrs Pickford is planning to expand her range by producing Vampire and Werewolf babies to cater for fans of the Gothic genre.
Transforming the dolls from plastic body parts into lifelike newborns complete with ‘stork’ birthmarks, creases and discoloured veins takes four days on average with commissions taking around two weeks to perfect. Her dolls cost about £230 with the ‘animal ’ versions selling for about £110.
Despite not being a trained artist, she skilfully uses heat-set paint to create the strikingly life-like details. Between the subtle layers of colour the ‘babies’ are baked in the oven for eight minutes.
“I root all the hair by hand too,” she explained. “Sometimes I’ll go home carrying just a head which attracts plenty of funny looks on Stockton High Street.”