Sunday, August 30, 2015

Doll Chat.

"The little girl who has taken a part in making her doll's wardrobe, and then keeping it up to date, will find that the knowledge she has gained in this way will be invaluable to her in after life. The child who has helped to put together her doll's combinations will have no difficulty in making her own later on, neither will she be perplexed when she in turn has little people to sew for.  ... The next step is for the little girl to see to the household linen and general furnishings of the doll's house." 

---from Victorian Needlework Techniques and Designs

Mary Alice, the formerly bald doll, has found a new home with a friend of mine. I just couldn't warm up to her too-blue, intense features. But I still wanted a doll of my own. Rather than leave it to thrifting fate, I decided to spend a bit more and get exactly what I wanted. Yes, I comparison shopped for my doll, just like Consumer Reports magazine.

Ultimately, I decided on the My Life collection from Wal-Mart. Originally this line was manufactured by Madame Alexander. Now it's not, but they've kept the face much the same, but with a more natural look that I find very sweet. The hair is decent quality and doesn't tangle and mat when played with. The doll is jointed at the neck, shoulders, and hips, but also has a wire armature inside so you can bend the elbows, knees, and waist for more natural postures. Best of all, the body is half vinyl and half cloth, so she doesn't look strange in strappy dresses or tops. And the price? Only $24.99.  Except when I bought mine, she rang up at $13, no explanation, no sales signs, just magic.

She came in this outfit, along with a black patent leather vest and red glasses, meant to portray a "rock singer", but I just like her appearance, and her black maryjanes and grey t-shirt are things that can work with stuff I make.  I had a little toy terrier that seemed to go nicely, so now they're friends.

So please meet Everilda and Scraps. Yes, I said "Everilda" -- it's from an E Nesbit story called The Princess and The Cat. At home she is just "Rilla".

I had some old-fashioned looking print cotton, so I made her a little back-to-school style dress. Yes, those are tiny cartridge pleats at the waist. With her hair loose, I think she looks like a young Mary Tyler Moore.

See the resemblance?
Now to get to the quote up there at the top --talk about burying the lead, huh?  I've been thinking while I sew tiny hems. I bought Rilla from a long aisle of pink boxes, sided by every accessory you could imagine: kitchen sets, bedroom sets, pony stables, boats, campers, hairstyle salons, cupcake bakeries -- it seemed endless.

How far dolls have come from their original purposes! Little girls used to make doll clothes from scraps from mother's sewing bag, and in doing so, they learned and practiced hems, buttonholes, pleats, and other basics.

I got a load of free patterns from American Girl's website, amazingly. I can't believe they're giving away anything these days, much less patterns for 24 outfits and accessories! They work up into beautiful little things quite easily, but it says right at the beginning "The doll dress patterns and instructions in this portfolio are intended for an experienced sewer, not a young girl -- unless she works with and is directed by an experienced sewer."

I hope there are people out there who sit with their children and dolls and show them "This is how we place a pattern...", and "This is why it's important to..." and "Let me show you a trick about that..." because there is so much pleasure in creating things, and it's so powerful to learn I CAN MAKE THIS.


Oh. Sermon over, I guess, but I also wanted to show you my doll case that I worked up. Sometimes I want to take Rilla over to a friend's so we can sew and play, and this makes it easy and tidy. Just a old suitcase that I put cloth-covered foamcore board into. I ran a cord through one side so I can seatbelt Rilla in place -- less rattling around keeps her hair from getting messy. The little bags that came with the suitcase and snap in place were perfect for shoes and small things. I just lay her dresses out and there's a rouched flap that fastens down over each side to hold things in place when I close it up. Best part: the suitcase was free, just hanging around in the attic.

Now go make stuff with a kid! Go on! Shoo!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Something Completely Different: Mary Alice

“It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot 'do'; they can only be done by.”
Rumer Godden, The Dolls' House

Earlier this week as I strolled through a local thrift store, I saw a very desolate doll. She was heaped up with the tangled elbows and ankles of baby dolls all around her, and when I saw she had no hair, I thought, "That's tough luck. No little girl is going to beg Mommy to buy her the bald dolly." But neither was I going to buy the bald dolly, even for the price of the dollar they were asking.

It was a whole day later when suddenly my brain announced "You have doll hair. You got it three years ago because it was cheap and you thought you might use it for something someday. It's in the third drawer down in your stash."  

Funny, the things we pick up.

And then my brain started telling me how fun it might be to use up the smaller pieces in my stash to make little dresses and whatnot, just as a lark. So I went back to the thrift shop and of course she was still there, looking as awful as ever...

I think originally she was blonde. Her eyebrows are very pale. But I've never cared for blonde haired, blue eyed dolls; they always look a bit creepy and precious. A quick search on the internet turned up a how-to on doll wig making, and I was glad to be able to use my crochet skills to whip up a wig cap while watching Dr Who.

Stitching the hair on in layers only took about an hour, once I got the hang of it.

There were some moments when she had a distressing resemblance to a drunk goth chick. (There's a sock over her face to keep the hair from getting caught up in her lashes and tangling.)

It's not perfect, and I don't think I'd give her to a small child, but even with a minimum of styling and brushing, she looks very nice. 

I cut up an old plaid shirt to make her shirtwaist dress, with a bit of ribbon at the waist for a girly touch. Look how long her hair is in the back -- plenty to work into pretty styles. 

Dave was next to me on the couch watching that episode of Dr Who while I crocheted the wig cap. He asked me what I was making and I just dithered something about playing around, because I was kind of embarrassed to admit that I was playing with dolls. I don't even know any little girls to use as an excuse. When I mentioned my project to a friend earlier today, she said lots of women in her crafting group have dolls, and they get together to swap patterns and show off things they've made. Can't leave all the fun to the kiddies!

I've named her Mary Alice, and she'll probably show up in future blogs as I make other things for her. And in case you're wondering -- yes, I fully intend to make her a 14th century outfit and accessories like mine! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Kid stuff.

My nephew came to visit for two weeks, and while he was here, I thought we could make some gifts for his mom and dad.

I had to think hard and do a little Google searching to find projects that were in the scope of a four-year-old's abilities and interest. I also wanted something that would be a real gift, not just a token. A project that showed creative work, was beautiful, and was useful. This is what I came up with.

For his dad, a picture frame made from leather. I did all the cutting, of course, but there's a lot for a kid to do in this project. Louis used the sponge to wet the leather so it could be stamped, and he chose the stamps himself from my collection. At first, I held the stamp (to keep the spacing even and straight) and he hit it with the mallet, but after he hit my hand a few times, we switched. I'd help him set the stamp and then he'd hold it while I used the mallet. Much less painful. I really should have thought that out better. Once the stamping was done, we let the leather rest for the day.

We continued the project the next afternoon. Louis used the swab to put a somewhat even coat of brown dye on the front and back of the leather. Once that had dried, we punched holes along the edges. Then he rubbed in the leather conditioner and put on the topcoat, doing a very nice job for a first-timer! With a little help, Louis laced the front and back pieces together with some twine. We congratulated ourselves on a job well done.  A picture of him making the frame was the perfect final touch.

For his mom, I found an online tutorial that looked too easy to be real. Dying a silk scarf with just tissue paper and water? That can't possibly be a thing, right? And to be fair, a lot depends on your tissue paper. Most of the common stuff you find nowadays is colorfast -- even the cheap stuff. I thought about using pieces of paper party streamers, but those too are made to keep their colors now. I was beginning to despair, when we found a packet of cheap cocktail parasols in the pantry. A spritz with water showed they bled like crazy! Perfect!  I removed the sticks and flattened them out. We laid out our silk (I've only read about this done with silk. Other natural fibers might work, but yield different results) and Louis sprayed it with water from a spray, getting it good and wet. Then he pressed down the colorful circles however he thought they looked best and gave everything another good spray.

We ate dinner while the colors ran, and then I hung the silk up to dry in the sunshine, which took about ten minutes. I pressed it with a warm iron to set the colors, and we were both very pleased with the results. 

So was his mom, when she wore it to work and was mobbed with coworkers asking where she'd bought her beautiful scarf. I imagine she was very proud to say, "Oh, my four year old made this. Isn't it lovely?"

We had a great time making things together. Have you got any winning projects you've done with your kids? Share them in the comments, or give us a link so we can see! I need some ideas for when he visits again next summer!