Tag Archives: handmade

One Super Girl and One . . . Something Girl

So, this weekend, I went back to the books – or at least one book, We Make Dolls, an anthology of dollmaking edited by Jenny Doh.  This time around, I made a super cool character doll by Nichol Brinkman of Pink Cheeks Studios.  Nichol has three patterns in We Make Dolls, Mr. Strong, Mr. Grumpy and Super Girl.  I went with Super Girl.

How cute is she?


The face stitching on this doll worked out so much better than the stitching on the failed Frida – no ingrown hair problem here, since the muslin is backed with some batting.   Mine does looks a little different from the one in the book, though – I didn’t embroider the eyebrows and nose, rather I just used a sketch stitch on my machine.  I didn’t trace the template for the mouth, I just cut out a football shape, so mine’s more elongated, and I think, comparing it to the photo, my face doesn’t seem to be as long.  No matter.  My Super Girl seems a little more sassy in her bad self pink boots, and Nichol’s seems a little more bad ass.  Anyway, here she is hanging with the Tildas.

Could be the new Dreamgirls, eh?  Super Girl and the Tildas!

I made Super Girl on a whim.  What I was really jonesing to do was paint.  And, as I’ve mentioned I have a doll girl crush on DanitaArt, so I made my own little pattern, and went to paint town.

She started out looking like this:


And, ended up looking like this:

I like her face, but if this was the face I had intended to make, I probably would have put it on a different body.  I was really going for a more childlike, whimsical face a la Mindy Lacefield.  I started out with the big eyes, and the fingerpaint, and I ended up painting over the eyes at least three times, until I ended up with these.  Maybe next time I’ll paint the face first, since I really have no idea what I’m doing, or where a face is going, and do the body second, because I definitely would have put this face on a more proportional body.  But, no matter, she’s an art doll after all.

Here she is hanging with the girls:


I was really bothered by how long her neck turned out, so I gave her a fancy scarf.

She just looks like, “whatever.”

And, since we haven’t had  a gratuitous Lemon and Olive photo for awhile, here they are:

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Cloth and Clay Doll done!

And, here’s where we left poor Dolly – stuck in a bottle while I fought with the Gunnislake Pullover.

Since she was still hanging out in the bottle, I did clean her eyes up a bit, although there’s no getting around the fact that one eye is more smooshy than the other eye. But, no matter – no one’s face is perfect, right? Well, some faces are perfect, and I guess if you’re fabricating a face, it could be perfect, but this face, it’s not perfect.

But, she’s presentable enough that she deserves some limbs:

I had some trouble sewing the arms on because I really didn’t leave very much fabric around the arm area when I was putting down my first layer of clay.  Can’t sew into clay, that I found out.  But, I was able to get them attached, and I moved on to clothing the poor thing.

I took a little dive into the box of novelty/vintage/costumey fabric that I bought when I went through my crazy quilt phase (which, if you hadn’t noticed is so over), and emerged with a gauzy embroidered piece, and a scrap of velvet that was already cut into a semi-circle, perfect for a skirt.  For the shirt, I just traced around her to get the placement of the armholes, left a wide opening to get either her head or limbs through, and then gathered the collar with silk ribbon.

And, here she is – hanging out with the rest of the girls.

She does look so prim and proper,eh?  I’m thinking I might paint some boots on her, although I’m also thinking I’m pretty done with her.

And for my next attempt – I’m going a little smaller I think. I got my Poppet tutorial Ebook – so I think I’m going to go with this kind of body –

poppet

But, I’ll probably go my own way with the face – I’ve found that it is impossible for me to duplicate someone’s work – as you may have noticed when I scrapped the original face off of this doll when I tried to recreate Gritty Jane’s folk art doll.  But, we’ll see.  I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to get the eyes the same shape and size before I give up in frustration again.  And, I’m still totally jonesing to take Danita’s art doll class, but I just can’t justify the cost right now -maybe after I get some holiday cash in December.  We’ll see.

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My Low End High End Ragdoll – Making a Jess Brown Doll

As I mentioned, I decided that before I start winging it with my own patterns, I thought I’d make some tried and true patterns to get the hang of construction and popular aesthetic.  So, over the weekend, I downloaded Jess Brown’s Making of a Ragdoll.

Before I downloaded the book, I did check out a hard copy at Barnes & Noble.  It really is a beautiful hardback book.  The photos are lovely, and give the book a vintage, natural feel.  Much is lost in the digital copy, and if you’re at all interested in this book, I would recommend spending the extra $15 and get a paper copy.  Jess Brown intends her dolls to be “comfort dolls,” and much of the curl up with the book comfort is lost with the digital version.  Also, piecing together the patterns from the downloaded digital version was a total pain in the butt.  The digital version directs you to an online PDF.  The PDF contains instructions for printing, and which options to choose in your print menu for tile printing.  Then, the pattern prints like puzzle pieces, that have to be cut, and pieced together with small x’s as guides.  Cutting and piecing the doll pattern as well as the clothes and the accessories took well over an hour. Oy!


Before cutting, piecing and taping, I did read Jess Brown’s narrative about the birth of the dolls and her love for all natural materials like corn fiber stuffing, bamboo embroidery thread, and non-plastic buttons.  I envied her that her job requires her to haunt flea markets for vintage fabrics and other textiles (as opposed to my job which requires weekly prison trips).  While the story of the dolls served as a nice introduction to the why of the organic materials, I had actually already heard the story told by Jess Brown on the While She Naps podcast, and the podast interview is really so much more interesting than the book.  For instance, in the book, she talks about how the first doll she made for her daughter was sewn from cashmere sweaters that had been destroyed in the wash.  In the actual telling of the story in chit chat way, without the formality of a book, it’s her husband who decided to do the wash that day, and destroyed the sweaters – this teeny tiny detail makes for a better story.  And, in the podcast, she goes into the effects of having Martha Stewart feature her dolls, working on a fashion week installation with life size ragdolls, and how she runs her business, including producing the dolls, pricing the dolls, and her thoughts on actually writing the book.

In this doll quest of mine, I’ve perused Etsy, looking at all sorts of dolls – art dolls, clay dolls, rag dolls, Tilda dolls, etc., and it’s was no surprise that there are a lot of Jess Brown knock-offs out there.  So, it was understandable when she talked in the podcast about how ambivalent she was about writing a book after being approached by Chronicle.  Why should she write a book, reveal her secret sauce to her pattern, and hand the keys to the kingdom over to these copycats when this is how she makes a living?  And, I’m really glad that I listened to this analysis of coming to the decision to write the book, and coming to a compromise of creating a new doll for the book that’s not THE doll.

Yes, the pattern in the book is not THE Jess Brown doll, but a Jess Brown doll.  The doll has all of the elements that make a lovely comfort doll – the simple body, instructions for her signature star eyes and felt heart shaped mouth, and cute patterns for a sun dress, a long sleeve dress, a coat, a hat, a duffle bag, and pantaloons.  But, if you were hoping for instructions on how to make her 22′ inch doll, with arms that are attached with buttons, this is not that pattern.  And, after listening to the podcast, I was totally ok with that.  It’s still a Jess Brown doll.

The pattern itself is pretty easy to sew.  I decided to transfer the 1/4′ seam lines to the backside of my fabric.  To do this, as you can see above, I used chaco paper, which is basically carbon paper.  The photo above shows the back of the doll.  I won’t go exactly into how this works – you’ll have to buy the book, but after sewing the two halves of the back together you have a more rounded head, and an opening for stuffing up the back.   This, apparently, is another departure from THE doll.  From what I can tell from online photos, THE doll has a pretty basic body – and if there’s any shaping of the head, I can’t tell.

Anyway, this chaco paper transfer was particularly helpful on the front of the doll, which does require you to transfer pivot points at the under arm pits of the doll.  If I had one qualm with the pattern it’s definitely these arms.  While the button shoulder arms may be one of the signature features of THE doll, it’s not original, not like the star eyes or the felt heart mouth.  I think she was giving away more secrets describing the eyes, than having separate arms.  But, in any event, having the arms attached to the body leads to a little kink where it joins the body.  Eh, so she has a wrinkle.  But, if you want to create a really simple, accessible pattern, I think it’s much much more simple to sew the arms separately and attach them to the body then sew around this really narrow area, and turn it seemlessly.

And, just in case you’re looking to make a doll like this, or any doll with skinny arms, here’s a good way to flip them rightside out.

1. First, stick a straw in the limb:

2. Then, turn it upside down, and stick a chopstick, or as I’ve used here, the stick that comes with polyfiberfil, into the tip of the outside of the limb, shoving the stick into the straw.

3. Then slowly, you don’t want to poke a hole in the end of your limb, roll the fabric down over your chopstick/stick and voila!

Limbs succesfully turned! Ownward. The next step in the book is to stuff and sew up the body, and do the face after it’s stuffed.  She gives you instructions to do the signature star, pulling the thread out through the back of the head, I guess to be covered with hair.

I opted not to do the star eye.  Confession time – I think the star eye is creepy.  So, what kind of an eye then?  I thought about buttons, but if this doll turns out ok, it’ll eventually be gifted to a 2 year old – buttons not so good.  While thinking about it, I happened to listen to another While She Naps podcast with Christina Platt of Bamboletta, and she talked about the theory behind Waldorf style dolls.  Apparently, the idea is that a doll should be fairly expressionless because this allows for the child to fully access their imagination when playing with the doll – they can imagine the doll to be happy or sad, and they’re not limited by a constantly smiling, happy faced doll.  So, while I didn’t love the star eye, I did want a neutral face, but a pleasant face.  So, after looking at a lot of doll eyes, I used this one, which I embroidered in a hoop before sewing the doll together:

I did go for the heartshaped mouth, because I think it’s sweet. THE Jess Brown doll’s heartshaped mouth is not red, it’s more of a dull yellow.

Anyway, so here she is so far.

Ready for stuffing!  The instructions in the book have you just sew across the front of the doll while attaching the legs, leaving a raw edge.  Since I’m not using any kind of special organic fabric, but kind of crappy but soft cotton from Michael’s, I think I’m going to turn a hem under.

The two year old I mentioned is one of my niece’s on Joe’s side, and she’s just learning to walk.  THE doll, the 22″‘er, came into being because Jess Brown’s daughter was learning to walk at the time she was creating the doll – so she measured from her arm to her feet, so that the doll would be a walking companion.  I like that idea.  So, if this all works out, I think I may make another one that’s more like Tilda – make the body bigger, get rid of the seam in the back, sew the arms separately, make them longer, attach them with a button, make longer longs, with maybe jointed knees.  We’ll see.

First, I have to figure out how to attach hair – because that’s not explained so well in the book.  Stingy on the secret sauce there. Eh, who can blame her?  Not me.

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Sewer Down!

So, here’s my little experiment from the other day.  As you can see, her head is just gigantic.

Here’s a close-up of the paint/stitching:

I posted on Instagram that I was going to put her away to hibernate, and someone  mentioned she did look tired.  She does look weary – as if she’s saying, geez oh man you forgot to give me a neck, and it’s going to be exhausting trying to hold my head up.

So, before I again make a forever doomed to be exhausted little person/creature, I decided maybe next time, I should have a pattern or a sketch or perhaps at the very least, a plan.  And, I thought before I wing it, and reinvent the wheel, maybe I’d make some other folks’ patterns.

I’ve had Jenny Doh’s We Make Dolls on my nightstand for the past week.  I’ve been studying the pictures, and getting ideas, but I wasn’t really reading the instructions, or thinking about construction.  The book is an anthology of doll designers, their stories, and their patterns.  Reading their stories, and their passions for the craft makes me feel better about “wasting” time making toys.  Now, hopefully, their patterns will get me on the right path to making dolls that are more my own.

So, I started with my latest craft crush, Danita.  As I mentioned Danita has a rather expensive online dollmaking class, A Doll Story, that I have managed to resist signing up for.  And, let me just say, “expensive” is relative.  $149 is expensive to me – but as far as classes goes, obviously if you took the class in person, it would probably be double, and there are 48 lectures and 5 hours of content – it’s a lot of stuff.  And for someone who has such a signature style like Danita, that’s a lot for her to put out there and share.  So, again – I’m not judging – I’m just saying I know I’m going to buy yarn today for a sweater for my 6’4″ husband, and I would rather put my craft budget there, than an online class.  Just me.
And that’s not to say that if I have a month when I’m still in doll making land (because as I explained a few posts ago – my crafting ebbs and flows through different mediums), and I have the $, and a glass of wine, and some sadness from the day that I think a big ticket purchase will do the trick to cure, I won’t go for it. But right now, I’ll stick to the book.

Oh, as an aside, I did mention that I was particularly enamored with Danita’s cloth and clay dolls.  So, I did a ton of googling, and Pinteresting, and deep dives into the internet to find a similar looking doll – at least the form.  The clay head, cloth body, jointed limbs – and I found this CD/Book – looks like the same construction, different face.  But, that’s all good because I’d never be able to carve a face that looks like Danita’s anyway.  So, that’s on it’s way, and I’ll learn the secret of attaching the paperclay head to the cloth body (which is different from Gritty Jane’s paperclay and cloth doll – in that, the doll’s head is part of the fabric body, and you cover the cloth with the paperclay).

But, back to the book I have, not the book that’s on it’s way.  Danita has three dolls in We Make Dolls – a Frida Doll, a mermaid and a wood nymph.  I decided to have a go at Frida.  I free motioned stitched the face,  much like I did with amazon doll above, but with amazon doll, I doubled the fabric.  I should have done that again – my muslin is really thin, and I think the stitching would have been easier had it been stablized with the thicker fabric, and I think the stuffing is going to show through this fabric.  Lesson 1 learned.

Once done with the face, I went on to the body, and for the big big Lesson 2.

Free motion fail guys – as I was trying to sew the collar onto the body fabric, my fabric kind of got jammed in the bobbin – I just couldn’t get the fabric to move, even though I have a free motion slippery plate thing I put on my machine – it was just stuck, and as I was tugging it, and my finger got a bit too close to the needle – well, not a bit to close – it was under the needle – ouch!  I didn’t take a full stitch through my finger, but I got a nice poke/jab/stab.  But, I put a bandaid on, and continued on.

What’s the lesson here – definitely to stabilize the fabric, and the area that needs to be stitched cannot be right on the edge – I should have cut a much bigger seam allowance to so that I could have guided the fabric better without getting so close (under) the needle.  Or, I should have used a Pellon interfacing that was bigger than the body to stiffen the whole thing up.

So, I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m ready to finish her up – drat that work thing – I’m going to have to wait the entire day!

Hopefully, when I get home tonight, and attempt to sew her limbs, I won’t repeat lesson 2. I’m going to cross my bandaged fingers!

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