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Posts tagged ‘dolls’

Brittany: Making a Mermaid

Sometimes, it seems like cruel irony that me, the doll maker, ended up with two boys. Sewing with little boys around presents some challenges, too. I was forced to guard my sewing machine and its accouterments from marauding pirates, save my straight pins from little doctors intent on giving “shots,” and watch the floor beneath my feet turned into a garbage dump, all the while listening to the following:

-The garbage truck is coming back. It’s my turn to dump it.
-Be careful right here, there are cans here, and you might slip and trip.
-Uh oh, it’s raining, but the garbage truck is going to work at his job and pick the garbage up in the rain.
-I picked it up and said, “Oh, no! Ow!”
-Did you pick up garbage and rain drops?
-Yes, and when I pick up the rainy garbage it will be scary.

As I poured my female, doll-loving soul into my newest creation, I took stock of the reality of my life and had to laugh. My boys couldn’t have been less interested in what I was making (although Sam had some strong opinions about the doll’s hairstyle — he was all for the Veronica Lake look), but they did want to be in the room with me, and were happy to cheer me on whenever things were going well (and clear out whenever they weren’t). Luckily, that was more often than not.

The last couple of days I’ve been in a work-with-my-hands kind of mood, and I’d seen this doll pattern online and wanted to try it out. I love Waldorf dolls, and after many years of doll making, I finally have the skills to make one. Plus, there was a special little girl having a 5th birthday, so the doll would be guaranteed a good home. I ordered the pattern from Margaret Lunn here, got started on it yesterday, and finished her up and got her in the mail this morning.

I’d never made a mermaid doll before, but she was a lot of fun to make. I was really happy with the way her multi-color hair turned out, and had a lot of fun designing her jewelry (with some of Sam’s left over beading supplies). I’m still not 100% happy with my dollmaking technique — I’m still learning and experimenting with machine sewing/type of fabrics to use (note to self — silky fabric is hard to work with!)/following a pattern. It’s considered an “easy” doll pattern, and it probably would’ve worked a little better if I had used the recommended materials for the body. I substituted polyfil stuffing for wool batting (since I am sooo allergic to wool), and some silky polyester fabric I had instead of cotton interlock knit because the cotton wasn’t available when I went to the craft store. The end result looked okay, but had I used different materials I think it would’ve handled better, and the end result would’ve looked a little more professional.

But this doll turned out much better than the last one I tried with the same materials, so hopefully someday I will be good enough to design my own dolls and sell them.

[Cross-posted from Re-Writing Motherhood.]

Brittany: Early Work

The other day I was going through some old boxes, when I found these:


I have no idea how old I was when I made these, but it was probably during elementary school. I would guess second or third grade. During that time, my great-grandmother babysat me in the afternoons after school. She spent her afternoons sewing, and often I joined her. I always loved dollmaking, and Mama (pronounced mamaw) gave me full reign over her fabric scraps, yarns, buttons, etc.

Sometimes, I would make the doll pattern, cut out the fabric, and sew the doll together myself. Other times, she helped. I’m sure she embroidered the face on the pink doll, and probably helped me make her long-lost clothes as well. I’m pretty certain I made the sock Pickaninny on my own, probably inspired by the episodes of Our Gang I watched with my grandmother. I made dozens and dozens of dolls with my great-grandmother.  I can still hear her voice in my head right now. “Honey, you just use whatever… You do whatever you want.”

It was around this time that I started writing, too. I’ve enjoyed books my entire life, and in second grade it dawned on me that I could write books for myself. I remember cutting out pictures from a magazine, pasting them to construction paper, and then writing a simple story (having to do with Mary’s little lamb) to fit the pictures. In third grade, a reporter from the Asheville Citizen Times came to speak to my class about being a journalist and writing for a living. I thought to myself, “You can get paid for this stuff???” and remember knowing, with complete certainty, that writing was what I’d been born to do.

When I was eight or nine, it seemed like the grown-up thing to do to know my own mind. But now that I’m an adult, I marvel at my elementary-aged self, and my ability to zero in so early on two of the three creative pursuits that would bring me most joy.  (At eighteen, I discovered embroidery.)

I look at my boys in wonder as their interests begin to unravel. John is extremely tactile and loves to manipulate small objects. Sam loves nature–waterfalls, rain, trees, animals, insects. He loves trains. He loves music and dancing. He has plenty of time to discover his passion in life, but I try to encourage him whenever he finds a new love. I know how important a little encouragement was to me and how it has sustained me all my life. I hope I can do the same for my children.

Brittany: A New Focus

Once upon a time I made dolls. It started when I was little, maybe even before elementary school. My great-grandmother, a seamstress, often babysat me and her house was a treasure trove of fabric scraps, spare yarn, and mismatched buttons. One day I asked her if I could make a doll. She showed me how to make a pattern, supervised as I hand-sewed the body, and basically left to my disposal her arsenal of craft supplies.

I made dozens of dolls after that. Long before I was able to write, I used dollmaking as a kinetic activity to tap into my creativity. As I got older, writing supplanted dollmaking as creative hobby #1, but I still made dolls whenever I needed a jumpstart. I have made a number of different types of dolls over the years, but my favorites are made of cloth, with faces sculpted with the needle. I was working on my face-sculpting technique when life intervened. I graduated from college, found a job, had two boys who cared little for needlecraft and even less for dolls, and before I knew it, it had been years since I’d attempted a new project. I kept saying I wanted to make dolls again, but always put it off.  There were only so many hours in the day and if I was going to indulge in a hobby, writing always won out.

But lately, I haven’t had much interest in writing. The final push to finish my novel, combined with my months-long recovery from whooping cough and pneumonia have left me stripped and bare and uninspired. John is also becoming more curious and isn’t happy to sit idly by anymore while I type page after page. I’ve been through this before with Sam, but this time, instead of trying to fight it, I just put the writing aside. It’s no longer an all-consuming fire for me. I’m still writing, never fear, but only in a piddling manner, writing in fits and starts, and only when the mood strikes me.  My life is chaotic right now, and to force yet another to-do on myself would be counter-productive.

Which brings me to Saturday…

It was Valentine’s, and aside from the usual card exchange with Tom, was an ordinary day in every regard. We got up early to take Sam to his gym class, ran a few errands before lunchtime, came home, put the boys down for naps, Tom got to work finishing the last of the tile in the powder room and entryway, I went to my novelist’s critique group. It was a good time, we all laughed, I got excellent feedback, drove home. And yet I found myself totally overwhelmed with angst. There was no reason for it, but nonetheless, it was there — this undeniable feeling of anxiety and dread.

In the meantime, my brother-in-law got engaged, and posted the news on Facebook for all to see. I got online as soon as I got home, hoping I would be comforted by the familiarity of my laptop, and saw his change in status. I couldn’t be happier for them. But I also felt like it was about time he proposed to her.

An image popped into my head of Cupid, wearing oversized boxing gloves, hitting slowpoke boyfriends upside the head on Valentine’s Day. My fingers began itching to sew him. I went upstairs and found the perfect fabrics in my long-neglected stash of craft supplies. I got to work on him right away, and slowly the anxiety began to fade.

He was a quick project as far as dolls go. I finished him Sunday afternoon. Unlike a novel, where train of thought matters, I could pick him up and put him down as needed. Sam sat beside me while I sewed, entranced with his train videos, and I was able to escape a bit more deeply into my sewing than I ever could have with my writing. I’ve needed that — the ability to shut out the rest of the world like that — and having that time in my own head was just what I needed to shrug off the funk I was in.

Since then, I have felt a bit of my spirit revive. I am a little bit happier now that I have reclaimed a bit of my former self. My writing life is still on the horizon, but for now, my new focus is on the dolls.

[Editor’s note: Brittany’s cupid doll won this week’s creativity contest!]

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