The Making of a Cloth Art Doll
By Amy Esry of Amy Esry Treasures
A beautiful fabric, bits of trim and lace, and a big wad of stuffing. And a few days of sitting at the sewing machine. In the end, a new little friend presents herself, unique and most likely not quite the way I had initially imagined.
There are countless ways to make an art doll, using all kinds of interesting materials. I make my dolls out of cloth. For me, it all starts with the fabric. Going into a craft or fabric store is dangerous. I never know when a beautiful new fabric is going to catch my eye as if to say “you could make something really cool with this!” And then I come home with a new project in mind, and more fabric for my already bulging boxes.
I do the head first, because for me it’s the hardest. Some dollmakers do the head last, once they get a feel for the doll and what kind of personality it should have. I have never been good at drawing, so I start with making the head and drawing the face. I mostly do needle sculpted heads, which means I use thread to create the shape of the face. My dolls have a seam down the middle. Some dollmakers feel this is a sort of traditional symbol of a cloth art doll. Others like to put a second layer of cloth on the face, or even clay or paint, to hide the seam. It’s really a matter of personal preference. I draw my faces using special ink pens and colored pencils. Some doll artists use paint, chalk, or even makeup.
Once I get the face mostly drawn, I set it aside to start on the body. I usually have an idea of what the doll will look like when I start, but it often evolves as I go. I start with fabrics and trims, and figure out the general concept for the outfit. Will she have sleeves? Will she have a full skirt, or a long slender skirt? As I plan the outfit, I need to consider how to do her elbows and knees (jointed or permanently bent), and do I need to make toes or will she wear shoes. But it doesn’t always work out just the way I plan. Perhaps the jacket I made just doesn’t look right on her, so her dress becomes a sundress. Or the skirt changes, and now she needs boots instead of shoes. Do I want the lace or the ribbon? Each decision takes me one step closer to my little friend.
My dolls are button jointed. I sew the body, arms and legs as separate stuffed parts. Then I sew the arms and legs to the body, using buttons to help stabilize the stitching, and make it more attractive if the buttons are not covered by clothing. This method allows some movement at the hip and shoulder, to make the doll pose-able. I don’t use a wire armature, so my dolls do not stand on their own.
Once all of the parts are made, I put her together, and add the skirt, jacket, sleeves, etc. I’ll add a few finishing touches to the face, then sew on the head. Time to start thinking about hair. I like using yarn. I can get a wide variety of colors, and it’s easy to work with. A lot of doll artists use natural fibers like wool or mohair, often dying the fibers themselves to get the right color. For me, getting the right hair color is a big challenge. I’ll drape different colors over her head, and maybe even take pictures (to get opinions on facebook). Eventually the doll tells me what she wants, and it’s often not what I had initially imagined. The hair is sewn on, and ta-da, my new friend is born. String some jewelry for her, make shoes, and she’s suddenly done. Don’t forget to draw on the fingernails! Now, what is her name? I often look up names to see what they mean and what suits her. Or I’ll go back to facebook to get suggestions.
Each new doll is my favorite. Some of them have gone to family and friends, some I sell in my Etsy shop. A few sit on a shelf because I’m just not ready to part with them yet. And when I run out of ideas for dolls to make, I just go back to the fabric store, until I find a new inspiration.
If you would like to see more of my dolls, please visit me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmyEsryTreasures
And in my Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/AmyEsryTreasures
Thank you for following me on my doll journey.