Hello! My name is Michelle Busl, and I make custom and personalized rag dolls for my shop, the Busl Barn. I live in Kafue, Zambia, with my amazing husband and our four children; when I’m not sewing, I enjoy quality family time, cooking, or going for a run.
I am a registered nurse by profession, and I worked in labor and delivery for five years before leaving to focus on my own growing family. While I was pregnant with my daughter, I began hunting for dolls that she could play with, but I was disappointed by all the mass-produced, makeup-plastered dolls on the market. That’s when I stumbled upon a few of my mother’s handmade pixie dolls that were tucked away in the attic. My mother is a master seamstress — she taught my sisters and me how to use sewing machines, read patterns, and embroider at a young age. From a simple pattern and some of my own drawings, I designed a larger version of my mother’s rag dolls, keeping in mind what I would want for my own little girl. And with that, The Busl Barn was born.
For me, doll-making is a fluid process. I’m constantly adjusting my patterns and working to improve the way I embroider, appliqué, or attach hair to my creations. I work with natural fibers like cotton and linen, and in an effort to reduce our global footprint and make a happier planet, I also use repurposed fabrics and eco-friendly materials whenever possible. Despite the fact that stuffing the arms and legs can be tedious, my dolls are so much fun to create; each one develops its own personality as I go. I also love inviting my customers to take part in the creative process by allowing them to personalize their dolls.
My family and I recently relocated to Africa from Chattanooga, Tennessee. My husband grew up here, as a missionary kid, and we wanted to pass on the same upbringing to our children. Income from my Etsy shop goes directly to support our life, our mission, and our humanitarian outreach here among the Tonga-speaking people of southern Zambia. We are stationed on a 3,000-acre farm, which grows mainly bananas, wheat, and soy beans and provides jobs and training opportunities for hundreds of Zambians. The farm also operates a primary school, health clinic, tailoring school, mechanics shop, woodworking shop and grinding mill.
Etsy is the bridge between me and my customers all over the world. I’m amazed and humbled at how small this planet really is, and how global my dolls have become. I’ve shipped to 11 countries so far, including New Zealand, China and Israel. In the near future, I’d love to expand my line of custom dolls to include more African motifs and fabric designs, and to hire a local apprentice to help with production.
All photographs by The Busl Barn.