Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How I Learned to Make Dolls (Plus an Unsolicited Plug for Wee Wonderfuls)

For my daughter's first Christmas, I really wanted to make her a doll. I'm not sure why this desire was so strong (although it was probably partly because we were kind of poor and partly because my friend Becky had just posted some doll hair tutorials and some really beautiful dolls that she'd made, and I wanted to be as cool as she is).

The problem was I couldn't really sew. All the tutorials you can find require some kind of knowledge of special stitches and junk like that, and I just couldn't quite figure out what they were talking about. I finally settled on a tutorial for a Black Apple doll for that first attempt. She was cute, but if you looked closely, she was barely holding together. The seams were shabby, the limbs were sewn on badly, I didn't know how to do a ladder stitch so I couldn't make the stitches invisible, etc. I made her a scarf to cover up the mistakes I made sewing her head on. Luckily, CB was only 5 months old and not very discerning.

Despite my only sort of successful attempt, I really enjoyed the process of turning unloved fabric scraps into something cute and lovable. I really wanted to learn to do it well, and I wanted to learn in time for the day when my daughter would have opinions about how they should look. A few months later, after reading lots of reviews and doing lots of searching around for something that I thought would be easy enough for my skill level without being boring,  I ordered Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love because it had some tutorials on how to do the actual stitches and had lots of different patterns so I could learn some different skills and hopefully start customizing a little someday.

Over the next few months I pulled out scraps here and there and put together a few toys that CB really loves.

 I had to make this bear by hand because I was afraid of trying to sew this fuzzy stuff in my sewing machine. He was made from the leftovers from the less-successful crib covers that I made for my daughter's crib so she wouldn't chew on it. (She still does, but she likes this bear, and the covers make it less evident that the crib looks like a beaver got to it.) He was much cuter when he was new than he is now. She chewed off his nose as well.

Kitty's face took a couple of attempts and her tiny dress was a struggle, but she is well-loved now, despite her terrible seams. I have re-attached her head and legs once, and the head is starting to look a bit loose again. 

These sleepover pals have crazy wide-set eyes, but they get hauled all over the place. CB gives them to her bigger dolls so they can have babies. 

So after I'd made a few of these projects, I really wanted something I could customize a bit more. I downloaded another pattern (again from Wee Wonderfuls because I'd had good luck with her patterns in the book and had been drooling over her amazing doll hair for more than a year) and made a doll to match CB's Easter dress using the scraps. 

A side note: sewing round things (like heads) is hard. Now that I've done three of these dolls it's a little less intimidating, but good heavens it was scary the first time. 

The tricky part about making a doll for a toddler is that they know before you even make it into an actual doll what the parts are going to be, and then they steal the doll before you are finished. I've given up on hiding this baby until Easter. 

Doing the doll hair is fast becoming my favorite part of this process. It's lots of painstaking pinning and stitching (which took some time to figure out, especially the first time around - eventually I kind of sewed out from the center like spokes of a wheel to do the back of the head) but I love the results and the process of making it come together.

I used this brief tutorial and many others I'd been reading on this website and others to get this hair style.  I was going for this look. 

Faces are still a work in progress for me. I didn't like how the ones on the pattern were turning out for me, so I did my own. I want to play with the look a little more, but my limited embroidery skills make trying out anything fancy on a finished doll when a mistake could ruin the whole thing pretty terrifying. 

After finishing CB's doll, I made these big sister/little sister dolls for a friend who has a 5 year old and is expecting another little girl. Keeping them away from CB was extra tricky. 

Little sister's hair came from this tutorial, big sister's from this picture, because by then I had kind of figured out how to make it work. My doll's hair turned out totally different because the yarn was a different texture, but I think I ultimately decided I like it. 

I never could decide whether or not these ladies needed noses, so in the end I left them off. 

CB is now in the throes of major stuffed animal love, and she ADORES these babies and animals, especially the latest one. She makes them dance and hauls them all over the house, and I love the feeling of knowing I made her something that she enjoys - especially because I made pretty much all of them out of leftover scraps from various projects my mom and I have worked on over the years. I like using little bits of old projects to make something new. 

Mostly though, I love that I can still learn new things. Three plus years out of college, sometimes it feels like I am stagnating, even though I know I'm learning a lot about taking care of children, and I still read and learn things every day. It's nice to feel like I can pick up a new skill just because I decide to do it, and I can create something that makes me and at least one tiny person happy, and I can make actual, visible progress at something. 

What new things are you learning to do? (And if you decide to learn to make dolls and want to talk about it, shoot me a comment or an email!) 

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