As I am knee-deep into the design and write-up of my first doll pattern to be self-published, I have been pondering the ancient question of “form and substance”.
Designing a doll is a very subjective matter. Wether you are trying to convey playfulness, artistry, your skills, a story, a character, a cartoon, an emotion - all these play a part when it comes to putting pencil and paper together. What is it that you are trying to convey? Are you designing a doll to be a child, a little “alive” wool child? Is your doll to be slightly disproportioned to exaggerate aspects that might spark curiosity or whimsy? Is it the simplicity of the pattern and face detail necessary to convey a wider range of emotions? Are you trying to recreate bit by bit a human child, taking notice of nooks and crannies, and turned up noses?. All these questions dance in the head of the over-excited doll maker writing these words.
I believe form is extremely important. The form says so much about the intention, about your direction, and the overall grasp of the technical knowledge you may have and are wishing to share with others. The form of the pattern I am developing has meaning, each little curve is there for a reason- a simple reason, not to overcomplicate things. I want to take people on a journey, to show them what creating a doll like these feels, to hold them in my hands while they discover their doll. But, since I won’t be there, the pattern has to say all of that for me, and it has become extremely exciting and mind-boggling to put that much effort into it. I think this is the main reason it took me so long to accept the challenge of publishing a doll pattern. It has to speak for me, and when you don’t even feel confident enough communicating verbally with others, letting a written pattern speak for you is a bit unnerving.
As much as I understand that form is extremely important, and I am striving to write it in a way that will take anybody that ventures into the pattern to achieve results much quicker than developing their own style by themselves, I know that substance is king. There is no way to teach substance. I can of course share tips and give guidance but what imbues a doll with that special character is very hard to grasp, to understand, unless you have made dolls for a little while.
There are dolls with very little form, that speak volumes in terms of character and personality. There are dolls perfectly constructed, immaculately sewn, impeccably stuffed, with high quality clothing, extremely realistic proportions…yet the dolls are not alive. They have become almost an end in themselves, showcasing the brilliant skills of their maker, yet they don’t say anything about themselves.
It is my aim to imbue my book with a little magic, so that you too can make dolls of high quality, without losing yourself in the interest to achieve “perfection”. I want to give you the freedom to experiment, to test yourself, to take ideas to practice, while resting on the sounding board of working with a pattern that is well designed and instruction that takes you from point A to point B with simplicity in mind.
But above all, I want to share what substance means, why form matters. Because creating dolls for me is not a means to an end, is a form of self expression. It’s an exploration, a road I take on week by week, a book I am slowly writing and reading at the same time. So, instead of writing just the pattern and instruction for it, this is turning out to be a book. A bit of reflection and pondering. I know this may not be what people are looking for when they ask me to share my doll patterns, but I am not one just to churn out information. I am trying to reign it in, I truly am. But a big part of of my doll making journey is not just the clothes I sew or the little people I create, is the journey of self discovery I have stumbled upon while doll making.
"My story isn't sweet and harmonious, like invented stories. It tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves" - Herman Hesse
I sure hope you are along for the journey, giving me some guidance and bringing me cookies and tea when the road gets bumpy and I lose total confidence in what I am creating. I sure hope this doesn't break me. Like everything else I do, it is all or nothing. No comfy balance, no safety net. Just closing my eyes, and letting go.
*As for the lovely face that is staring at us, her name is Aoife. She is testing my patience, and helping me knit for her. She and her sister should be ready to find a home early this coming week.