A master trio: three custom dolls for a dear friend.
Where to begin with these three dolls? I guess, begin at the beginning, like Emma Jean says in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, right?. And so shall I.
Ryan, Isabella and Xavier are the culmination of a bit of a journey. Not just for me, but for their mother. It begun, innocently enough, with the meeting of two kind - slightly mad - souls. Their love for natural toys brought them together online, only to realize they lived in the same town and shared weekend homes in the same village. How wonderful is the world?. Doll Mother Number One brought to the “real life” meeting a very special doll (not just special to her, very special to me). Doll Mother Number Two fell in love with the work of my hands, right then and there.
Doll Mother Number Two kept trying to bring into her home one of my dolls, until the very lucky day where Marushka chose her as a mother. I was so happy to know that I would be sending this precious little wool child into her home, as from our interaction and chats, I knew she was a true lover of not just handmade, but of doll play. With great excitement, anticipation, pride and gratitude, I sent Marushka her way.
The years went by and she wanted a custom doll. But not just one, as from seeing the custom girls I made for Doll Mother Number One, she felt I could do her own children “justice” and create them not in a true likeness, but in essence and spirit. The way I am more inclined to work. Several custom spots were offered and she either came empty-handed or the spots had restrictions and she was unable to enter. But if there is something I can say about this mother, is that she perseveres and never gives up. Throughout her life story, which I was very blessed to be shared with, the one quality that has always kept her head up high is that: perseverance, and gratitude.
I guess Marie has so many things to be grateful for, and she knows it. That is the best part. We can go through life with so many blessings and only thinking ahead of the next thing, the future job, the bigger house, the next vacation. But not her. I sense in Marie a person who really enjoys the moments she is living now, the time she spends with her needles in hand, knitting away for her loved ones, which includes many lucky dolls. Marie became a mother to her first child quite young and I think that made her appreciate her second and third child much deeply. There is no denying the bond that happens with your first born, but no point in saying that you love your children unequally. It is just you are a different person with each child. So, looking after dolls from my hands had to mean I was to make three. And boy oh! boy. What a trio. Let me introduce you to them.
Ladies first. Always. Isabella is a bit of a firecracker, very deep into girly things, special details and pretty clothes. With a brother on each side we cannot judge her too harshly. I left Isabella until the end because I knew I wanted to capture more of her facial features and I need those images to really seep into me, before I attempt sculpting a doll face. Wanting to please her mother, who throughout the years has been such a kind and generous person to us, was centre front when I worked on her dolls. Knowing her doll collection and the things that make her giggle, I set to work trying to imbue her doll children with the same playful spirt. I hope I did her justice.
And because I know her mother just adores descriptions, let me tell you a bit more about this little girl’s clothes:
Isabella wears a long dress, with gathered skirt. The hem is trimmed in pleated design tulle, not the itchy stuff, the super soft and drapey one ( a first for me, I have never pleated tulle and it might just become my new addiction). The dress has two elegant pearl snaps on the back, self-facings for the neckline, set-in sleeves with elastic-gathered wrists and a very pretty linen apron, which I trimmed with pompon lace, topstitched for added pleasure. The dress is made with a very large floral heavy-weight fabric, which gives it a very elegant look. I know for a fact that her mother loves large floral prints and I hope she approves of my selection.
Under the dress? well, pretty cotton undies and a pair of cotton pin-stripe pantaloons with leg cuffs and elasticized waist. She wears a pair of cashmere/wool boots, lined with the same fabric as her boots, and velour soles. Two little wooden bow buttons add just the needed charm for this shoe concoction. I used the same knit fabric for her magnificent chapeau. Can we just stop and clap please? I love her hat. I have always had a *thing* for pointy hats, but Isabella didn’t want to look like a gnome, that is not lady-like. So we needed to turn the design a bit more girly and I think we achieved it with the rounded front sides, the tulle edging, and the hand-twisted rosettes. Isabella loved it and approved and wore it with pride.
Now, I am going to confess. I had every intention of knitting profusely for this set of dolls…but insecurity striked big time. You see? their mother is a most accomplished knitter. She actually gathered courage to try bigger and more intense patterns by starting with my super simple and easy ones. But then she moved on of course, and she knits now whatever her heart desires. I don’t need a pattern to knit, I just create what I want, but…the execution of those tiny stitches might lack the perfection that her hands produce. So I struggled and struggled with this insecurity, and every single thing I started knitting for them just did not speak to me, or them. I let go of this initial intention to knit for them, and focused the energies on sewing for them, and I am ever so glad I did. Isabella however is the only knitting recipient and I am very pleased with what I made for her. She has a cute wool cape, that closes with a wooden button and has one of my favourite lace edgings. I just hope her mom is not too disappointed for the lack of knitted stitches, I tried to make up for it with the sewing machine.
Now let me introduce the youngest of the three, the little ball of mischief: Xavier. I fell in love with this little boy many moons ago. His smirk, the eyes he turns on whenever he wants something, his little voice. I knew I would fall in love with him as a doll and I was not wrong. Xavier is gentle and rough, a very boyish boy. I look at him and he is smirking, then I look again and he is quite serious. Then I look again and he is laughing. I know all these emotions play on his face because of my own projections but I cannot help thinking it is the dolls acting this way. There is something quiet but boisterous in his face. Playful and endearing. I love him.
I wanted to dress him just likehis human counterpart. So we chose a linen shirt and linen pants with nice up-turned leg cuffs. His shirt has a proper collar and he wears his bow tie like a man. I used my very special Donegal tweed to create his boy cap, and lined it for added support. Xavier loves wearing hats. So much so that in all the photos his Mom sent me, he was always wearing a hat and so I never had a chance to look at his hair colour closely, which almost ended up in a total catastrophe when I gave him black hair! At the very last minute, after spending six hours crocheting a cap, I asked his Mom for his “real” hair and lo and behold…another six hours were spent on the proper colour. I tell you!. After all these years making dolls, you still make silly mistakes.
Xavier also wears proper boy undies and socks, however those are unspeakables so we won’t mention them. Let’s talk instead about his shoes. I used the same pattern for both boys, but I decided to change the closure method. Xavier’s close with a velour band and hand-sewn snaps. I know his Mom is going to change their shoes a lot, so I tried to do both sets of shoes in similar fabrics so that the boys can exchange footwear. I also made matching velour vests, because boys with vests win my heart. They just add so much charm to their outfits.
And now, for the eldest. The first born. The quiet fellow, who doesn’t put up a fight. Ryan. I never knew much about Ryan until his Mom posted a photo of a toque she knit for him. I was quite surprised to see this young man proudly wearing his knitted creation. When I saw all his childhood photos, I was very taken with the smile of Ryan. He has such an ‘old soul’ attitude about him, maybe is because he is the eldest of two sibling sets. Being the eldest in my own family always gave me an affinity with other children like me, who understood what a pain it was to put up with little brothers and sisters, who took no care of your things and messed up your bed!. I know for a fact that out of these three dolls Ryan’s is the one I connected more deeply with. Also, is the one I had the hardest time with.
You see, his mother requested to make him in what she called my “classic style”. I had no idea what that was, so after questioning her, she described it with the sculpting style of faces I was doing around 2013, before I started needle-felting everything. I won’t lie, my hands did not want to cooperate. I made quite a few heads before I was entirely sure that I was making what she wanted. I am so used to creating the dolls differently now that to revisit my “olden ways” was a bit of an awakening. And I was so surprised when Ryan smiled at me, this was the perfect facial construction for him, and I knew why his mother requested it. She knew better than me on this one. She knew what spoke to her heart about my dolls and I can only humbly agree with her. Thank you Marie, for allowing me the chance to see one these simple doll faces again on my hands.
Ryan wears clothes reminiscent of my “olden ways” too, with the added bonus of my latest quality thank goodness!. He has a cotton tunique with a kangaroo pocket, and a little bit of cotton twill ribbon with the number three. The tunique has long sleeves with wool ribbing, same used for the collar, and it closes on back with pearl snaps. His pinwhale cotton corduroy trousers have side leg pockets with oversized buttons, I made them large enough so he can stick his hands inside. He does have a hat, but I am leaving a few surprises out for his mother. We can’t reveal every single thing, now can we?. The thing I am most proud of when it comes to his outfit are his shoes! Those have got to be one of the cutest things I have made in a long time, with the elastic ties. Total score.
There were many “firsts” with this set of dolls: the kind of wefting I did for Isabella’s hair (using tulle to bind the suri alpaca). I couldn’t find a suitable lenght/colour for her in washed fiber so I had to purchase raw locks and let me tell you, it is quite an adventure! I washed the locks one by one, conditioned them one by one, gave them many rinses, flat dried them, and then brushed and pick all the hay out of them by hand, and then ironed them straight one-by-one. I can’t even tally the amount of hours it took to create this little girl’s hair, but it was worth it. I have never given dimples to any of my dolls and all three of them sport a dimple or two on their faces. The boys shoes are also unique, even though I used one of my patterns I had never accomplished their particular style. Isabella’s hat is a new design, her cape, etc. I always strive to create something original and unique with each of my dolls and in this case I think I succeeded. My only hope is that their mother is as satisfied with them as I am. One can dream.
So, here they are Marie. All three of them made after your children. All three of them imbued with all those motherly words you spoke about them, each one of them forever imprinted in my heart. Thank you for all the years of support, for falling in love with my work through the eyes of Amelia, for your perseverance and for the opportunity to see Ryan through my hands. The journey with them ends here for me, but it just begins for you and them. May you welcome them with open arms, and may they keep the memory of your children’s magical childhood alive for you. With sincere gratitude, Fabs.