Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio
Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio

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Pistiolas:Customers Leave With Smiles

It’s been 38 years since Maria Pistiolas made her first rag doll for her then four-year-old daughter Nikki. That little rag doll with a white eyelet apron and red hair turned into a family business called Little Friends Cloth Dolls.

Maria was born and raised in Ambridge, Pa., where her mother taught her how to hand sew at a young age. Her dad was a barber and his customers would leave newspapers behind, which Maria used to make patterns. Later, when married and living in Brunswick, Ohio, she inherited her mom’s antique treadle sewing machine.

Maria taught Nikki and son Michael how to sew and stuff body parts. She gave most of her early creations to family, friends and charities to raise funds for children and abused women. She recalls being told, “Those little dolls of yours make me smile.”

In 1980, a local show promoter convinced Maria to sell her dolls at a show and to her surprise all of them sold! The fourth bedroom of her home became the official sewing room. A newer and faster sewing machine was purchased. Husband George built shelves for storage. And she started collecting fabric, lace and buttons, baskets for the dolls to hold, along with small bears, rabbits and cats for the dolls to carry, and anything that might make each doll unique.

When traveling, Maria found new treasures for the dolls, including colorful fabrics, vintage children’s books, hats, American flags, antique jewelry and different color yarns for hair.

No two of the whimsical folk art rag dolls are the same. The range in size from 12 to 36 inches and have a raggedy or little girl’s face. Different color yarns and threads are used for hair.

Customers often give Maria cherished “hankies” handed down from a grandmother or a keepsake piece of jewelry to create dolls in memory of loved ones or for gifts.

In 1993, Little Friends Cloth Dolls became part of the Shaker Woods family. During those three glorious weekends, Maria sold every doll she made. She promised Sue Ferguson she’d be better prepared the following year for her new customers.

Maria says most of the dolls are purchased by ladies who love collecting and decorating or to give to daughters after they grow up, go to college and get married. Many customers stop by the booth to chat and carry on the tradition of purchasing her handmade rag dolls.

Customers began asking Maria to start a website. In 2014, her son Michael helped design www.littlefriendsdolls.com. Thanks to the website, Maria has formed many friendships throughout the U.S.

Today, Maria designs dolls for every holiday, season and show. She welcomes special requests.

“It’s been a great journey and as long as my hands can keep sewing, I’ll continue,” Maria said. “I now have two granddaughters, and of course they have my handmade dolls. Evgenia, our five- year-old granddaughter, has claimed the sewing room as her favorite place in our home where she plays with unfinished and finished dolls, helping me decide what necklace this one should wear or whether the dolly should hold on tight to a teddy bear.” Maria will be at booth 50 at this year’s show.

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Shaker Woods Shakerwoods Festival Columbiana, Ohio

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