Starting these small series of posts, about what goes into creating a doll the way I do it, I thought to start by enlisting all the things I do. I am not setting down times, since it will be so hard for me to tally all these steps, but I will make a note of it and let you know a little bit later how many hours approximately takes me to assemble a doll, to do their hair or their face. I am not all about seeing how fast I can make a doll, or how efficient, or what exactly the cost per doll is. These things really have long ago disappeared from my immediate interest. Of course I do know more or less how much it costs me to make a doll, but the price varies due to fabrics, yarns and extras. Since I do not create a set number of dolls per week, I do not really know exactly how much supplies will those dolls require. I generally have as much as I can available to me, so I can get down and play with a calm heart, trusting that to the best of my knowledge I have everything I need.
I believe is very important to create with peace of mind. To create knowing that you have what you need, that you know what you will be doing, and to know what you want your doll to look like. Along the way surprises always happen. Sometimes I envisioned the doll with some asian flair and she surprises me after the first embroidered eye with a different expression. I always play along with what the creative moment brings me. And I am always pleased.
First I will enlist all the steps that I go through to create my dolls. On a second post I will address the why and how of the materials, and then a little of explanation on why all this is coming your way. First part of the series goes something like this:
Dollmaking Master To Do List
Dollmaking Master To Do List
Sourcing yarns for shoes, friends or knits for my dolls takes a considerate amount of my time. I do this collectively for a bunch of dolls, but I still have to look at colours, charts, weights, buy it, wait to receive it, and unpack it. Most of the yarn I buy comes in a skein, so I spend some time unwinding it into balls (sometimes I do this on a chair, sometimes my little one helps me, sometimes my gracious husband contributes by doing this while we watch tv). Needless to say, I need a yarn swift. I find that sourcing yarns is very exciting for me. To sit down and think the colours that I want on a doll, and write Jessica to work her magic, to browse online stores for the right colours and fibers, it is all very fun for me. And there is a dichotomy here, I find that I have to do things separately. Some days I feel like hunting for hair, other days my hands just want to knit and I go on a "knitting yarn" expedition. I can't try to buy yarns for both at the same time!.
I am always looking for fabrics for dresses, for underwear, for pants, for shirts, etc. I also buy the fabric for the skin of the doll. The hunt for fabrics is always appealing as what the doll is wearing creates such a strong impact, and "completes" the doll in a way that makes your heart skip a bit a little. I see my dolls naked all the time, but sewing and knitting clothes for them is a must. I hate to have naked dolls around. I feel very protective of them, and when they are naked they are not allowed to just hang around my sewing room. They are tucked away until I make them clothes. I bring them out for measuring and once I finish their outfit, then they can wait (on a top shelf along with the linens and the pretty cotton prints) with me while we discuss yarns for their shoes, or their hats. Sometimes I go through my magazines with them and we see things together that spark our creativity. I only use 100% natural fabrics, mostly linen, cotton, wool and hemp, with an occasional indulgence in silk. If I had to pick a favourite I would say hemp is the loveliest, by far, thing I have ever worked with. It just has such a nice feel to it. Second would be linen. I love how these two fibers grow stronger as time passes by, and how they soften little by little. Showing a slow aging process is very important for me when I choose the materials involved in my dollmaking.
I mean, elastic, bias binding, buttons, needles, ribbon, crochet edging, lace, etc. Now, I have a serious problem with buttons. I just can't stop looking at them and I am very selective of which ones I buy. Hours are spent drooling over buttons, and deciding wether they should come and live with me. So I am thinking that eventually my house will overflow with them and people will find me swimming on a squishy sea of buttons. I do have dreams about them. I spend so much time choosing buttons for the dolls is a bit annoying and is in strong competition to my ever-lasting love with passamanterie. Ribbons, lace, and all kinds of add-ons for the clothes are starting to take a very strong place on the design of the dolls' clothes. Some days I make a dress, and I just make it simple, something in me is not satisfied until I add a button or a little bow or a pocket. I just can't do it anymore.
From specifics requests, to specific ideas I have in mind, I spend quite a lot of time choosing yarns for the dolls' hair. It takes time to look online, or write Jess an email, to order it, to wait for it, to unpack it and unwind it. To tell it stories of what he or she will be. Do you think of yarn as male or female? In spanish all words have a "gender" so I am always at a loss when I talk to my skeins of handspun yarn. Sometimes I think of them as girls, some of them are definitely boys. So I always try to be cautious when I approach a skein of handspun yarn, I dont want to offend it with my limited english!
I buy rather large amounts of wool, because it is the only way to work with peace of mind. So I order it, they card it, I then pay for it and then they ship it to me. I wait for it, we go to pick it up, I unpack it, and then let it breathe before I can actually use it. I like the wool to breathe a little and get all spongy again, before I use it to stuff the dolls. I used to dislike wool back in the day when I was young and stupid. To me, wool signified "the past", things that were made a long time ago, itchy things. Now, I can honestly say that wool and I are the best of friends. When I started making dolls and started using wool to stuff them, something within me started to appreciate very dearly using only (as much as humanly possible) natural materials, for everything!. I think this is what wool did to me, wool turned me into a nutjob. Working with it is heavenly. I see the little wisps of fiber and always think of the lovely animals that grew it on their bodies to keep them warm, and how they ate grass (hopefully) and romped around, and how the wool absorbed sun and air and muck and water, and their wool was with them. And now, this wool, this same fiber, is with me. And I am using it to make a doll for another living thing. I just love wool, and have such a strong appreciation for things made with it. I love all natural fibers, but wool is my favourite medium.
Sketch and match process.
Oh dear, this one is going to be a long one. When I started making dolls, three years ago, I would always make a rough sketch of the clothes, but they were never on an actual "doll drawing". These rough sketches were done on all kinds of paper, napkins, calendars, recipe books, accounting journal, etc. Then I bought myself a little notebook to keep all my notes and requests and design ideas. And the madness started. I got a second, bigger book. And the madness grew. I think I really, really started designing the dolls before I actually even made them, with the Fall faeries of 2009. After these dolls I have never made a doll without actually making a drawing first. It seems that is now very ingrained in me to design the doll first, then start to create it. And I see the dolls that have come out of this process much more cohesive, much more attuned or in close relationship with the idea that I had in mind for them. I dont buy handspun yarn and then see what I make with it. I buy the yarn knowing exactly what I will make and which doll it will be for. I make a sketch that takes me about 30 minutes, thinking of what she should look like, and what she should wear. I write down the particulars: hair colour (or skein if I already have it), eye colour, form of head (not all my dolls have the same head shape, I like to vary it), type of eye shape, etc. Then I draw her outfit the way I envision it. Most of the time, the outfit comes pretty close to what I drew the first time; sometimes there are variations as when I am sewing I allow room for inspiration to hit me. Then I match everything to the doll. I am always changing my mind as they day light progresses, or as I am working on the doll and realize some things are not right. Matching fabrics to the doll, plus yarns, plus notions I am going to use is quite intense and is one of the most fun parts of the design process. The dolls in the Nursery Rhymes collection have been the ones were the matching was grueling but felt like putting a puzzle together.
Once all fabrics are chosen, and I have decided what she will be wearing and such, then I cut fabrics. I have my "basic" patterns that I have drafted along the way, but lately I am into changing them here or there: I will use the sleeve of this one, and the back parts of this other one and add more fabric here, and flair it there...you get the idea.
Designing the knits doesnt take me that long because I usually decide the knit I will make with knitting needles in hand, so I am just winging it all the time. What I spend a lot of time into is dreaming new knits for the dolls, looking at vintage magazines, touching yarns, picking needles, that sort of thing that is not productive but that makes knitting so much more fun. When I feel very exact and efficient, I knit up a small gauge chart to not freak out later and then I sit down. I knit a lot when the girls are playing in the park, or when we travel to get our groceries (2 hour drive). Knitting is awesome way of spending time, and seeing tiny little stitches appear before your eyes. I always block all the knit items of the dolls, as they make my knitting look much more pro, and I am so not an advanced knitter.
I prewash all my fabrics, except the 100% wool that is destined for coats and such and the silk. All cottons, hemp and linens are washed and hung to dry (I do not have a dryer). Depending on the project and fabric, most of the time I ironed them before cutting. I know there are different views on the subject, as some people like to make outfits that look "tight" with the initial stretchedness of the fabric. I do like how that looks, but read a while ago that fabrics are treated with all kinds of nasty chemicals during their process (except organic ones), as well as they get treated when they are in storage or in customs (as bolts directly moved from manufacturers). I dont want to work with these chemicals on my sewing table, and I dont want to send a doll to a little one that has some leftover God knows what. But not everybody does this, and this is just testament to my stubborness.
Well, I do have to have a reasonably clean sewing room for me to work in. I am not one to divulge the constant mess my sewing room is in, but I do clean up both the serger, the iron, cutting table, sewing machine, empty bins, re-arrange fabrics, organize yarns, and put supplies all back where they belong on a weekly basis. I promise!
Cutting and sewing body parts.
Well, first I trace the pattern onto the fabric, then sew it twice, then I cut it. My easier pattern involves 4 pieces, so it is not very cumbersome. Without considering changing to the right needles for the sewing machine, or threading a new bobbin with the right colour thread for this purpose. Or dealing with skipped stitches, tension issues and such. Sewing with the machine is something I look forward to, but sometimes I am afraid is going to be one of those days...
Sculpting the head.
This takes me quite some time to do. First I wind the wool, which takes me a rather large amount of time, to get it really tight. Then I needlefelted for a little bit to get it to compress even more. Then I cover it with the stockinette, sewing bits that need to be sewn, sculpting the actual head shape, tying nots and securing them, sculpting the nose and all that jazz. Then I cover it with the skin fabric.
Sewing the skin fabric onto the head.
I then cover the head, tie it, sew the bottom and top parts by hand.
I would say I spend about 45 minutes, per doll, embroidering the eyes and mouth. I make very small stitches for the eyes and the mouth is rather quick but sometimes I make one or two extra tries to achieve an expression I am pleased with.
All the assembly of my dolls is done by hand, so it takes me a little while to go from random parts with stuffing in them, to an actual chubby doll. I do the leg seams (so the doll can sit easily...I dislike dolls that dont sit! and i secretly wish my dolls could stand without having to be leaning against something...); then I do a foot seam so the doll can wear pretty shoes, add a belly button, attach arms and head, and make all seams twice.
Stuffing. I think that to stuff a doll you gotta be in a certain groove. Some days you are just not feeling it and you start stuffing and the dolls get all bumpy. So when I see this happen, I take it all out, drop the stuffing and do something more petite and dainty, like embroidery. To stuff the dollie full of sweet and fluffy goodness is very calming but is, in my opinion, a "strong will" activity. Dont get me wrong, I love doing it, you gotta make those feet round and gentle, the legs firm, the belly round and chubby. Those arms gotta stretch out in plumpy goodness and the thumbs show up for everybody.
Hair. I crochet a cap, then I sew it onto the head, then I cut hair (several different yarns usually) and then I attach it strand by strand. I am really fast at this now, it used to take me forever
to put hair on a doll. Now the fussy part is deciding which strands to use where, but the actual attaching goes pretty fast for my fingers now, but it is not done in one hour...oh no, dont be mistaken. I am fast but not that fast.
Sewing an outfit. Let's say I am making a dress for a doll, with her cute underwear. An outfit requested a lot. The pieces are already cut, so all I need to do it is get to it. Pinning, serging, ironing seams, gathering sleeves or skirt of the dress, adding maybe a pocket (that is usually bound), doing the neckline, adding a button or sewing velcro or buttons on the back, plus serging the underwear, attaching elastics and all of that! It is not a super fast thing to get one full dress hemmed and ready and one pair of underwear. I used, for time constraint purposes, to work on several outfits at a time. All serging done at once, then straight seams, press them, all necks, or all set-in sleeves, but it was getting pretty demanding to have 6 or 8 dresses or outfits in various states of unfinishedness and no actual clothes for the dolls to wear. So now, I try to do some "bulk" work when I work especially in the collections, but work on one at a time, so I can see a doll finished or semi-finished and so my heart can rest a little. If I took all the things that usually happen when I sit down to sew (like children needing a snack, or somebody needs me to wipe their bum, I need to put the shoes on a house doll, or go and see why are they screaming, the washing machine is about to explode or the fire needs stoking, the phone rings...you get it!) the length of time it takes me to make the doll clothes would be ridiculous. That is the main reason I dont necessarily tally up my time, as I dont want to be discouraged and I rather prefer to live in a dream where I think of myself as a highly efficient and organized dollmaker.
Shoes. I usually crochet them, now I am adding straps with buttons, so first I do the bottom, then the tops, then crochet the ties, then weave all ends, then sew on buttons. The felt ones or sewn ones, are more time consumming for me than the crochet ones. My hands know now what they are doing, and any knitted fabric has a give and elasticity that sewn shoes dont have. So, it is much easier to send the dolls into the world with wooly crochet shoes, than to sew them...at least for now.
Extras. Most dolls come with extra things. A scarf or a needlefelted doll. A crochet hat with ties. a crochet turtle. A knit sweater. A papoose. A bike helmet. A headband or a tiara. Sometimes they have a cape or a hoodie. I mean, some dolls have an entire extra outfit, or a bag with trim and ties full of crochet play food. Needless to say I can assure you that all these extras take as well a considerable amount of time to bring to fruition. But is in those little extras, and the little details of their outfit, where I believe the extra magic comes to play. Those extra details, most of the time unique to that specific doll, are the ones that bring a twinkle to my eye when I think about that doll, and that separate them from other dolls.
Dolling up. A very important part of dollmaking is the dollying up sessions. I mean doing the cheeks, trimming hair, ironing clothes for a photo shoot, and all that jazz. You might think that after all the work abovementioned, nothing would go missing if you didnt add rosy cheeks, or if you took photos of dolls in badly wrinkled outfits, but let me tell you, you would be sorely wrong. It is the final presentation of the doll and is very important.
I love to take photographs of my dolls and is one of the parts of creating them that makes me feel very warm inside. The photos stay with me, the dolls leave. Taking photos of them "in action" makes them come so much alive for me, that I am always giggling and talking to them as I do it (I actually talk to the dolls a lot while I am making them). My husband just shakes his head and as soon as I grab the camera he wants nothing to do with it. It takes me about 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the doll and her extras, to take photographs and download them. My little helpers are always stealing dolls, or outfit pieces and it becomes quite challenging to do it, but its always lots of fun.
Editing. I edit all my photos, and take some time considering which of the 65 takes I should publish!. I take a lot of photos, and only maybe 5 or 10 make it to the public realm.
I like to wrap the dolls for their departure. Even though that means that all the previous work is coming to an end, I feel happy envisioning the smiles people will have when they open this box. I write a note, wrap everything, add a ribbon or a tiny cute present. If the dolls have extras, I usually pack them individually as well. It is lovely to sit down, wrap a doll and write a card. Check the address and all of that. Seal it all up and voila. We then go to the post office and wait for the ladies to weight dollies and send them away. I need a scale so I can know exactly what the shipping charges are and so I can print everything at home.
It takes time to talk back and forth with expectant mamas. To list items on etsy, to pay bills, and transfer money. It takes time to write blog posts, and answer comments. It takes time to send care instructions by email. To order labels, boxes, shipping supplies, and network a little. To design business cards, to update the blog appearance or create a new banner. Even though I tried to be very mindful and include as much of the process of creating the dolls as I could, I know there are many things that I left out. I am almost always trying out new things and I need to read and prep and try. Deciding on a button seems to me to be a life threatening decision, even though its totally not. And all this, every single aspect of it, all the stuff that I just wrote above, is done by yours truly.
Now, since I have become quite tired writing it all down, I must go and sit down with a big cup of tea, and give myself a break by reading a lovely book. I will be back shortly to write Part II, I do hope you enjoy reading this, and if you are a new dollmaker, do not be haunted by my visions of never ending process. I enjoy it immensely and it brings me much happiness to do what I do. Creating dolls is not only a huge opportunity for creative development, but is also a lot of fun and it has turned for me into an inner road of discovery.