Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hello, Dolly!

Before I launch into the next installment of Janel's fabulous (and rather neglected) blog, I would like everyone to congratulate my wonderful husband on passing his qualifying exams. (yay, Lee!) Now that that hurdle is behind him, he can regain a home life and we can regain a husband/father on a regular basis again. It is fabulous good fun, although life hasn't quite returned to "normal" yet. We're working on that. For now, we're just happy to have the worst over and Lee merely has to research and write his dissertation and he'll have a PhD.

OK, on to the blog...

I would like to announce we have added a new member to our family! No, I'm not pregnant, and no, I didn't pick up a free puppy from the grocery store parking lot. I have recently taken up doll-making. Yes, I know... I really should have at least 3 or 4 grandchildren before I head down THAT road, but what can I say? I have two daughters who have lots of dolly-playing years in front of them and I can't remember the last time I had so much fun on a craft project. So, a new hobby has been born. But back to our new arrival. She is a little 12 inch Waldorf doll named Mary Ann, and the girls love her.

What on earth is a Waldorf doll, you ask? They are soft dolls with molded faces and fairly neutral expressions so the child can imagine their doll to be happy, sad, sleeping, laughing, etc. They are made of natural materials and tend to fit children of certain ages and needs. Teething babies for infants, smaller sturdy dolls for toddlers, larger dolls with changes of clothing for little kids, heavy lavender-scented babies to sleep with, etc. They were developed as part of the Waldorf pedagogy, but to be honest I have no clue what that is beyond playing with these dolls.

So first off, I set out to gather materials. This was a lot more challenging than I originally anticipated. For most people it is easy as can be. Many sites such as,, and carry kits you can purchase that have all of your supplies assembled, you just have to pick your hair color and yarn type, skin tone, and eye color, and you will be sent a package with everything you need to create your doll, minus some basic supplies you can get anywhere. You can even pay for upgrades and have the wig pre-crocheted, the body pre-sewn, and the head pre-molded. With any crafting skill you should be able to finish your doll in a couple of days with all that work done for you!

Unfortunately for our family, one of the primary materials used in Waldorf dolls is wool. I am allergic to it and Ginny seems to be showing signs if it as well. Mohair yarn can be substituted, but I am only slightly more tolerant of that. So I began to collect supplies for a hypo-allergenic Waldorf doll. Amy Prentice at Dancing Rain Dolls recommended I work with bamboo as stuffing and cotton yarn for the hair. Thankfully Joann's and Hancock's Fabric both sell bamboo stuffing now as well as cotton and some bamboo yarns. I ordered a beautiful carmel skin tone fabric from Dancing Rain Dolls and stocked up on 5 new types of needles: 3 and 5" dollmaking needles, ball point pins, ball point sewing machine needles, and ball point embroidery needles, plus a thimble, a crochet hook, embroidery thread, some craft sand to weight the doll, some medical stockinette, and dental floss. I also purchased a pattern from Dancing Rain Dolls and would highly recommend it. It's simple to follow and is full of pictures and tips. Once your doll is done she also gives instructions and patterns for all sorts of clothes too. So with my mounds of new supplies in hand (that took over a month to gather after waiting for coupons, sales, and online orders), I finally got to crafting! Yay!

First off, the head. I sat down with my package of bamboo stuffing for a nice leisurely evening of head-crafting. No such luck. By the time I had a golf ball-sized wad of tightly-packed bamboo fiber I was sweating profusely and my hand was cramping up. One of my fingers kept locking in a most unnatural position for seconds at a time and I was sure I was giving myself arthritis. But I had read that first-timers always make their heads too soft and I was determined to get it right. My first mistake was using strips of bamboo that were too thin and would break instead of winding. I corrected that mistake about 3/4 of the way through and it was much smoother sailing from there. Finally, after 3 hrs of toiling over that ball of bamboo, I reached the right size and smoothness and shoved it in the stockinette. Phew. Then I just had to mold the face and I'd be set! Let's just say I did a good job packing that bamboo because I gave myself raw fingers trying to tie face-like dents in the ball with dental floss. When I finished I smelled vaguely of mint wax and was very proud of my little emerging face complete with chubby cheeks, chin and forehead. You would stitch on a nose at this point but mine didn't make it on for another couple of days.

Next up, crocheting the wig cap. Normally this would be put off until the end I guess, but I was waiting for my skin tone fabric to show up. I have crocheted a little in the past; just a simple chain stitch for hats and scarves. This time I got to learn a new stitch and caught on pretty fast. I had to frog it a few times (in other words, grab onto your yarn and pull hours of work out in seconds) because I kept making it too large for the doll's head. Also I used worsted weight at first, so it looked more like a Rastafarian beanie than hair. After about 6 hrs spent trying to get the worsted weight to work, I switched to boucle yarn and the cap was done in 45 minutes.

The skin finally showed up. Honestly, it was fast shipping, but I was anxious to see what she would look like with her skin on and start creating a body. I ran out to the store for some matching Gutermann thread and spent the evening tracing and cutting body parts. Then the fun part... discovering the stretch stitch! Who knew there was a stitch right on my (um... that is, my mom's) machine that you can just sew right across stretchy knit like normal! It takes way longer because the machine is actually doing some backward and forward pattern, and the tight turns at the thumb, foot, etc were tricky to handle, but I was pretty excited. Lee was good enough to not roll his eyes when I exclaimed "LOOK!! It's still STRETCHY!" I was surprised that the doll really requires very little machine sewing. Actually you can probably fore go it altogether, but that would be a lot more time consuming.

Next up, stuffing! It's relatively straight-forward but I added small pouches of craft sand to give her a little extra weight. I only added a half pound of sand total distributed between her legs, arms, and belly and it gave her a nice sturdy feel without putting stress on her limbs or making her difficult for Ginny to carry around. I still plan on making Ginny a "heavy baby" to sleep with, but I'm glad I took the trouble to weight Mary Ann a bit too, even if she's mainly for playtime. Once the legs were stuffed, I made sure they were straight and even and sewed them by hand onto her body.

Have I mentioned how fun it was to do something so hands-on? I will always love sewing on a machine and scrapbooking on Photoshop, but there's something therapeutic about plopping down on the couch with a mug of tea, watching a movie with the family, and see a project pull together at the same time. It would drive me crazy to take more than 30 seconds to machine sew the line of stitches that holds Mary Ann's legs to her body, let alone the hour it took by hand, but I enjoyed every minute of it!

I quickly realized as I attemped to stuff the body with my sand weights and plenty of bamboo fiber that my neck piece, while sturdy enough to support the head, was far too big to fit inside. At this point I remade the neck two more times and finished off a roll of dental floss in the process. To be honest, I was happy to be done with it because it smelled oddly of pickles when you flossed your teeth with it. Thankfully you can't detect it on the finished doll. Later that night, Lee pulled out a new unopened package of the same pickle-smelling floss from the cabinet. Sigh. I guess there will be lots of doll-making in the future. After much shifting and stuffing and shoving and grumbling, I managed to get the highly-reduced neck inside the body along with the sand and bamboo without the doll looking half-giraffe. I stitched up the head fabric, sewed the neck in place, and voila!... it looks like a doll! Sort of.

Next up, facial features! I was half dreading and half looking forward to this part. The dread came from so many sources saying that you really need lots of practice to make a good face. This theory was backed up by quite a few "first Waldorf doll" attempts I found online with crooked and mismatched features. But I was still looking forward to seeing her with eyes and a mouth and seeing if I could actually pull off a good face. I also had been itching to try out those 5" doll making needles. I used pins to mark her eyes and mouth, so she looked a little buck-toothed at first. I wouldn't want the word to get around to her dolly friends, but Mary Ann actually has about 7 or 8 eyes stitched on to the back of her head underneath her wig. I took the advice of Joy at Joy's Waldorf Dolls and practiced back there before I attempted the face, and I am very glad I did! I started getting the hang of it around eye five, but even for all that practice, her right eye is slightly smaller than the left. Thankfully, I am by no means a perfectionist, so it only bothered me for an hour or two.

Hannah had been fascinated with this dolly-making process since I first looked into getting supplies. She would sit in my lap at my computer and we would browse through the Steiner Doll pool on Flickr and decide what sort of hair, skin, clothes, face, etc, Ginny's new dolly would have. Hannah was particularly fond of the Waldorf dolls that were given mermaid tails instead of legs and thought Ginny should get an Ariel dolly. Other times she would just give me a running commentary on the photos. "Brown hair dolly, Mommy!" "oooh, pretty princess dolly!" "Blue eyes, Mommy!" After a couple of photo-browsing sessions, she decided this would be a daily game and would crawl into my lap, point at the computer screen, and demand to look at dollies. Seeing one come to life in her own house was just way too much fun. As soon as the head was sewn onto the body, Hannah started giving her hugs and kisses and frequent rides on the zebra bounce n' spin. We cannot seem to convince her that Mary Ann is Ginny's doll, so I guess I'll be making Hannah one soon too. Every morning this week she has found the doll to see what new improvement happened overnight while she slept. New eyes, pretty hair, or even "orms"!

This is the point when I finally gave up my worsted-weight yarn crocheted wig and switched to boucle. Despite the fact that you (or at least I) cannot see the holes due to the fluffy wispy yarn texture, it came together very easily. Maybe it's because I had been practicing the new stitch all week trying to get that darn beanie cap thing to work. In any case, I soon pinned the wig in place and started stitching it on. Hannah declared the doll to be a girl at this point, so I guess I must have been on the right track.

During Hannah's and my Flickr search, we had found a doll with the most amazing hair. It was made up of many different hand-spun and dyed yarns of various kinds and textures, made very thick and stylable. I decided to immitate the look, but had some problem finding hypo-allergetic yarns to substitute, so in addition to the cotton yarn in her hair, she does have a variety of acrylic/nylon boucle. I tested each boucle in the store to see if they would unravel and they all did. This one, however, kept its shaped after unraveling, so I decided to try it. Unfortunately, after I got home I realized that unraveled it was too fragile and broke. So I had no choice but to knot the ends of each boucle strand of hair to keep them intact. It took a while, but the effect was worth it. She has awesome hair!

Once Mary Ann had a nice wig to play with, Ginny got interested. Her favorite game in the world is giving people "love-bonks" to show affection, as proven by the lovely line of bruises across her forehead, and mine too come to think of it. Some days it's more of a gentle lean in the direction of someone else's head until they touch. Other days it's a WHAM!!!! right out of the blue. Sometimes Hannah gets into it and they sit next to each other saying "bonk bonk bonk" and "bah bah bah" respectively, and bonking each others heads and giggling in glee. I don't get it. So far, this love-bonking is Ginny's favorite way to play with poor Mary Ann, but I am thankful for everyone's sake that she's finally smacking her head on something soft that can't feel pain. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the dolly is missing both her arms and 2/3 of her wig. Her new mama doesn't seem to mind though.

I know it's a little strange to choose a brown skin tone since Ginny is a little Snow White, but I figured there will be plenty of white dollies added to the house soon enough. There will come a day when she'll want a dolly that looks just like her, but for now she doesn't know the difference and I absolutely loved every doll I saw in this mocha skin tone. Plus, around here Ginny only has a few baby friends that are completely white, so Mary Ann should fit right in play dates!

Finally, the poor dolly got some arms! It seemed cruel to leave her helpless for so long, but Amy's pattern was right... they would have just gotten in the way before now. But unfortunately, the hair got in the way of putting on the arms. I guess you just can't win! The last step was giving the cheeks a youthful blush. The primary method of doing this requires a red beeswax crayon, but I just pulled out a mineral blush and a buki brush and applied liberally. So cute!

Lastly, she needed a name (and some clothes!) so I searched my old list of baby names for ones I liked but would never use or got vetoed by Lee and picked three. Lee once again vetoed one (even for a doll! I guess he was serious about not liking it!) and I posed the other two to the girls for a reaction. Ginny obviously thought hard about it as she bounced around on her zebra, but never gave a definitive answer. Hannah, however, voted for Mary Ann immediately.

Total hours clocked: 39.5

Welcome to the family, Mary Ann!


Karah said...

That is SOOOOOOOOOOO cute. Seriously - she's AMAZING! I love crafting, believe me, but I would not have the patience for that. More power to ya! Aww, my baby sister is so talented :)

Mrs. D. said...

believable, Janel!!! So amazing! You always seem to surprise me with your talent, even though you're the best sewer I know :)

Erin said...

That is so neat!

Mandie said...

So talented!