I have just returned from a toy making trip to Tibet with Dropenling, a Tibetan handicraft group that I have been involved with since 2007. In only 10 days we managed to do a monkey toy, glove puppet and little purse, and a sheep toy, glove puppet and purse. Not bad going when you are bundled up in about 19 layers of thermals, the final one being a long wraparound skirt lined with fake fur. 

The tailors and I with our furry skirts. Lots of Tibetans have these on hand to wrap around them when they are sitting in chilly rooms. Then you take them off to go outside in the warm sun.

The tailors and I with our furry skirts. Lots of Tibetans have these on hand to wrap around them when they are sitting in chilly rooms. Then you take them off to go outside in the warm sun.

For the sheep toy I started with images from wall paintings in monasteries and photos of Tibetan sheep. Then I do some sketches and start making.

My initial sheep sketches

My initial sheep sketches

Then I make a series of prototypes of toys, trying out various shapes, decorations etc. Gradually, with everyone's input, the shapes and colours are refined. 

These sheep were developed a few years ago for the project in Shangri La in Yunnan province. There we worked with Tibetan women farmers on income generation for them in the winter months and between their farming work. A couple of years later we did the sheep in a variety of colours. We realised we were being just too realistic. And then this year I taught the coloured sheep to the Lhasa tailors. We are preparing for the year of the sheep, next year. 

Below are various incarnations of the sheep in Shangri La and Lhasa, first as a relatively normal sheep toy, then a family of sheep in Tibetan clothing, then glove puppets, purses and iPad cases. He is indeed a multi purpose sheep. But never a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Next week I will do the development of the monkey

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