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Made By Hand: Scranton Woman Sews Fabric Into Dolls, Rope Into Baskets

January 14, 2018 GMT

Seated at a tabletop sewing machine in her Scranton home, Aline Fernandes feeds cotton rope by hand along the needle bobbing colorful thread in a zigzag stitch. She steadily coils the beige rope while angling it upward to create a bowl shape. When it reaches the desired size of small, medium or large, she snips the rope with scissors, fashions the end into a loop and sews it onto the outer edge. The result: a brightly colored basket — one of Fernandes’ specialties of her home-based business called Handmade by Aline. Self-taught in crocheting and sewing, Fernandes also makes soft, stuffed toys, such as dolls, bears and bunnies, and various crocheted items. She promotes and sells her wares online, via pages on Facebook and the Etsy site that focus on handmade items, as well as her own website, www.myhabitatshop.com, and during local craft-themed outings. Such recent retail craft events in Scranton included the ScrantonMade Holiday Market at the former Globe Store and the Trim the Table holiday opener of the new Scranton Public Market at the Marketplace at Steamtown. After opening her first Etsy store a decade ago, she has gone from crocheting items to making sewn toys and baskets. Her first show was a ScrantonMade Arts on the Square event about four years ago. So far, making and selling her own products is a small venture that brings in some extra money for the married mother of two young sons. That’s the way she wants, for now, but also aspires for more. “I do dream of having a (brick-and-mortar) store someday, but my kids are so little. Right now, it’s really a side business,” Fernandes said. Individual prices can range from $4.50 for a crocheted baby blanket or sandals, to high teens for soft toys, to $30 for a girl doll and $37 for a plush kitty doll. Basket prices could range from the low teens into the $40s, depending on size. Fernandes moved 17 years ago from Brazil, from the coastal city of Natal on Brazil’s northeastern tip on the South Atlantic Ocean, to Scranton, where she lives with her husband, Fabio, and their sons, Douglas, 7, and Ian, 5, in the city’s South Side. She started handcrafting products out of a yearning to create something by herself. She read up on how to crochet and taught herself, but struggled at first. She stuck with it and improved and moved on to making stuffed dolls. “I said, ‘I want to learn to make something,’ because I didn’t know how to make anything,” Fernandes said. “I kind of changed from crocheting into sewing, which I taught myself how to sew, too.” In another enterprising move, Fernandes contacted the Willow Tree Shop craft store, formerly in Scranton, about four years ago and asked to be one of their vendors. The then-owner of that shop “took a chance on me,” Fernandes said. The store changed hands about two years ago, but Fernandes’ products have remained among the wares of the Willow Tree Shop, now in Clarks Summit. “The quality of Aline’s stuff is amazing. She really knows what she’s doing,” said current Willow Tree Shop owner Laura Moore. “The dolls that she makes are kind of my favorite thing. They’re real simple, but they have an attractiveness — the colors, the patterns, the fabric. They’re unique.” Fernandes recalled that Moore asked about a year or so ago if she made anything else besides her crocheted products and sewn dolls. Fernandes searched online for ideas and was intrigued by baskets made from coiled rope glued into a bowl shape. “I didn’t really work with glue, so I said let me try sewing them,” she said. She uses plain cotton rope and colorful threads to make baskets. The thread zigzag patterns give the baskets their eyecatching color. She also stitches lettering, words or phrases into some baskets, such as “Peace Within,” “Miracles,” “Pray” and “Good Vibes Only.” With no overhead to speak of, Fernandes converted a small middle room of her home into her workshop. A ‘Reliable’ brand sewing table — the kind with the machine flip-hinged on top and a foot pedal below — is stationed next to similarly sized table topped by a portable ‘Brother’ brand sewing machine. A rack nearby contains 33 spools of multi-colored thread. Shelves on opposite walls are packed with other raw materials of her trade — rope, thread, fabric and yarn — as well as several finished baskets and toys. Over the past decades, she estimates that she has made and sold thousands of items. “I would say I am an artist by trade, but I wasn’t trained to be an artist,” Fernandes said. “It’s definitely been an evolution.” Contact the writer: jlockwood@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlockwoodTT on Twitter