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Cozbi A. Cabrera and her family are new to Evanston, having moved here just before the pandemic from Brooklyn, N.Y. where she owned a women’s and children’s boutique full of her creations.
Ms. Cabrera makes art in three distinct forms: book authorship and illustration, community quilting and handmade dolls. All her art forms are inspired, delicate and beautifully unique.
Because of the varied processes and materials of her art forms, Ms. Cabrera says she must consciously create space and time for each. Her calendar is full of scheduled times for each project based on commitments to publishers, organizations and customers. She intermixes the three forms ongoing and even daily. For instance, she might schedule an eight-hour window to work on a book project, and then two hours to work on a doll. She is at her most creative in the early morning and then again late at night.
Ms. Cabrera’s studio is in her home, and the studio—her co-opted dining room—has three zones: one each for writing, painting and sewing. The writing area includes her notebooks, sketch books and dry media. The painting area has her wet media. The sewing area has an industrial sewing machine and a 6’ x 4’ cutting table. Wall to wall are bins of fabric and materials.
She has found that having a specific, set “place” to create each new work is critical to her process. Even if just a closet, the place enables her to leave the work undisturbed in mid-process, and, in turn, allows her to begin again exactly where she left off.
Her three art forms have disparate processes. For this article, the focus is on her handmade dolls, her muñecas.
After receiving a commission for a doll, Ms. Cabrera asks questions about the desired doll type, such as size, body shape and skin tones. With this overarching information, she applies her creative genius. The dolls are all made of tightly stuffed fabric. The smallest, at 12” tall, have no joints and may have hand-painted details, such as slippers. But the majority of dolls are 32-42” tall. Many have joints along with many handmade details.
Each part of a Cabrera doll has different materials: tones of linen for the head and arms with muslin or wool suiting for the thigh, knee and calf parts. The torso might be raw linen that she hand darts to get an emotive feel. A “sit pad” is added in back for shape and flow of the clothing. Each part is cut out and then stitched on either her sewing machine or by hand, depending on the area. She turns each part inside out and stuffs it tightly with fiber fill to get a very compact, structural feel to the doll. Small tools may be used to move the fill to each small part of the new doll. Then she uses tiny hand stitches to assemble all the parts into a complete doll.
After the doll is assembled, Ms. Cabrera adds details of facial expressions and sews on wool for the hair. Boots may be hand beaded with swirly patterns.
Next is the dressing phase. Ms. Cabrera’s storage racks include a wide range of material including many vintage pieces that give the dolls an exquisite feel. Laces from around the world and materials she was gifted from a Viennese tailor are just a couple of examples from her collection. All materials are washed prior to use to give them a soft, luxurious feel. She feels a certain reverence for these special materials, and it helps to inspire her while using them to create layers of clothing for the dolls. The style of the clothing is typically 18th century costuming with many hidden layers. Within each doll she hides a special surprise for the new owner such as the pocket of buttons on one recent doll.
With so many details created, she sometimes puts the doll aside at this point to “exhale” and to see if her instincts still tell her later that the doll is truly complete.
Ms. Cabrera says she loves her new Evanston life by the lakeshore and is looking forward to fully exploring the area.
If you would like to see samples of her art, access her website at cozbi.com. For her award-winning books, visit the children’s bookstore, Booked, on Main Street or other book sellers.
This article first appeared on the Evanston Made website.