Business

Lil’ Bits of Awesome

If you think a plain piece of fabric can’t turn into something with a personality of its own, you’ve never met Taylor Triano.

Triano – a graduate from the University of Kansas’ textile design department and the creator of Lil Bits – is a maker of dolls. But these aren’t the kind of dolls you pushed around in a toy stroller as a child or that close their eyes when you lay them down. Rather, Taylor’s dolls are whimsical, lifelike plush portraits.

“I’ve always liked drawing, and I’ve always had a weird obsession with peoples’ faces and facial expressions, and I’ve always enjoyed sewing,” Triano says. “For some reason, sitting down with a piece of paper wasn’t as exciting as I thought sewing was. Eventually I thought, ‘What if I just start sewing faces?’

Personalized doll artist Taylor Triano began Lil Bits in 2004. Photo by Cameron Gee.

“Eventually, I was like, ‘What if I do a face and then I stuff it?” she continues. “And then it turned into a doll, and I don’t know why. It just started out like that, basically just a giant experiment that ended up being something really cute and kitschy, which now – 10 years later – is something that I feel is more than just a cute, kitschy sort of thing.”

The plush portraits—which Triano has made ranging from Bob Dylan to William S. Burroughs, from Ai Weiwei to Steve McQueen, from requests for peoples’ relatives who have recently passed and everything in between—start from a blank piece of fabric.

She then brings the fabric to life by sketching a picture of the person she is creating, sewing over the pencil lines first with black thread and later with lighter thread to give it definition, and then using watercolors. It’s as if Triano really is painting someone’s portrait— just on fabric.

“I ask [prospective clients] to email me as close-up of headshot that’s clear and exactly the face that they want—like your best driver’s license photo,” she says. “I need all those details because the details are what make it. If people send me a blurry photo from 10 feet away…I need those wrinkles, and I need to see what color their eyes are, and I need to see which way their eyelid creases, and I need all of that. I kind of need to get to know this person if I don’t [already] know them.”

Triano’s Lil Bits plush portraits—which can take anywhere from one to four weeks to create, depending on the complexity of the commissioned piece—start at $500. From there, she says there are almost an endless amount of possibilities to customize the doll even further, whether you want them to be playing a guitar, sporting a hat, glasses and a pipe; or even taking after Ai Weiwei and jumping naked in the air.

Although Triano says the price tag sometimes causes people to “run far away,” you’re not just paying for any old doll—you’re paying for a truly unique piece of art.

“I think I develop a really good relationship with the customer in terms of the back-and-forth, just to create this really unique experience,” she says. “It’s almost like they help me help them create this thing. It always sounds so cheesy, but it starts from a plain piece of fabric, and then it turns into this little thing with a soul, and it means something.”

To see examples of the work Triano has done or to commission your own Lil Bit, visit the Lil Bits Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lilbitstextilearts.

 - Nicolette Martin