Red Bank resident helps others with life-like dolls

When tiny clay body parts began arriving at her home in Red Bank last year, Gail Raines’ kids told her it was creepy.

She is the first to admit that her most recent pastime is, at first glance, a bit odd.

Raines uses the clay parts to craft astoundingly life-like baby dolls through her small business Gigibeans. She first saw the dolls she would later recreate years ago on a trip to England where she was amazed at how real they looked.

A retiree of Unum, Raines has always kept busy watching over her grandsons and teaching fitness classes at the North River YMCA. But last year, she hurt her foot and was put out of commission.

“I’m not one who can just sit still and relax and enjoy my time off,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to take a thousand dollars … and I’m just going to try it.’”

So Raines tried and succeeded. The art of creating these dolls is called reborning, Raines explained. She buys the clay bodies from sculptors online, and then she, as the reborn artist, paints them.

It’s a complex process of painting and heat setting 11 layers, stuffing the felt pouch body with tiny micro glass beads and fiberfill. Finally, with a felting needle, she painstakingly attaches hair to the head.

“The paints are very translucent,” she explained. “I think that’s the secret to making them look real. I’ve been known to strip the whole thing down and start over if I wasn’t happy with the skin tone.”

After hours and hours of work, she completed her first doll. Then she made another and another, calling them Sprouts. She even began to sell them on eBay to help fund her hobby.

That’s when she discovered cuddle therapy, an opportunity to use her dolls to reach an often forgotten part of the community. An article online detailed how an Englishman gave some of his dolls to Alzheimer and dementia patients to help them in the midst of their disease.

“I just got to thinking how fascinating and how wonderful to think your hobby could be used in such a positive way,” Raines said. “What I’ve learned is the weight of the teddy bear or the weight of a doll is calming.”

So, Raines called Morning Pointe of Hixson and donated two dolls to the facility. She delivered the dolls herself, and saw with her own eyes the affect the “babies” had on the residents.

“Depending on what stage they are in they think they are real babies,” Raines said. “They sing to them, they talk to them.”

One resident hadn’t spoken in a complete sentence in two years, but when she saw one of Raines’ Sprouts, she gushed over how beautiful he was — in fully formed sentences.

And Raines’ interest in how these dolls can help people is only growing. After giving a doll to a little girl with ADHD, the girl’s mom called Raines and told her the doll helped calm her daughter. So now, Raines is researching the effect cuddle therapy might have on the ADHD population.

Learn more about Gigibeans Sprouts by searching “Gigibeans” on Facebook.