achievement unlocked: Little Ramona doll

If you visit this blog strictly for adult garment-sewing, turn back now! Because this particular post is about dollmaking, a new sewing rabbit hole I have fallen down.

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Meet Little Ramona! (Ramona named her.) When I was brainstorming my fall/winter sewing plans, I decided I wanted to do more sewing for Ramona. She’s still growing like a weed, but I think it’s slowed down enough that I can no longer use the excuse of an exponential baby growth explosion to justify not sewing clothes for her. She also loves it when I make other things for her–quilts, pillows, etc. She even goes crazy when I mend things for her, like slapping a patch on a hole in a pair of jeans from Goodwill.

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Ramona does have a few dolls, but she is more of a stuffie fan. (& let the record show, I never thought I would be the kind of person who used the term “stuffie”. I was gung ho on “stuffed animal” all the way. But one of Ramona’s favorite stuffies is actually a stuffed vampire, which is technically not an “animal”. & she calls them stuffies, even though I have no idea where she picked up that word. So…I’ve given in. But with God as my witness, I will never refer to her as my “little”. That is simply a bridge too far.) Personally, I like dolls, & I have fond memories of various dolls my mom made for me when I was a kid. So I decided I’d make Ramona doll for her upcoming fifth birthday.

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As with every new sewing endeavor I undertake, I did a mountain of research before I took a single stitch. I thought I’d just do your classic sock doll with a painted face, stuffed with polyfill. That’s what I remember having as a kid. But somehow I stumbled upon Waldorf dolls/natural fiber dolls & I went that route instead. Ramona does go to a play-based preschool, but it’s not a Waldorf school, & I actually don’t have a ton of patience for all the faeries & magic involved in the traditional Waldorf world. I’m all for imagination & play, staying away from the commercialization of childhood, not filling my house with noisy plastic toys, etc etc. But I do let Ramona watch TV (on the computer), to the point that one of her teachers gave me a drawing Ramona made at school & said, “She drew glasses on this person! I think she was drawing you!” & I instantly knew, no, it was Arthur, from the “Arthur” TV series.

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But, hey, no one ever said you have to ban all sugar & technology from your home before you can make a Waldorf-inspired doll. I got a bunch of dollmaking books from the library, queued up a bunch of YouTube tutorials, & ordered supplies from Weir Crafts. I got an early start (Ramona’s birthday is still ten weeks away) because everyone online was like, “Budget several months for your first doll. These dolls take forever!” etc etc.

I started stuffing the doll’s head on Wednesday & Little Ramona went to school for show & tell yesterday, less than a week later. I mean, I’m not claiming that this is a one-hour project, by any means. Stranding the hair alone took hours. But I think the fact that I already have so much sewing experience, both on machine & by hand, really helped speed up the process. The most time-consuming parts were mostly just a product of me over-complicating things. Like, when I made the head, I spent a bunch of time hand-tacking the neckline to cover the craft string, which was totally not necessary, because that whole area is covered anyway when the head is attached to the body. I also fussed with the face embroidery forever before deciding less is more. I probably spent a solid eight hours embroidering the face, only to rip it all back out to do just really simple satin-stitched eyes & a single strand of floss for the mouth. (& yes, ripping back the work I did means the doll skin on the face is less than perfect, but I was looking at the entire project as more of a learning experience than an exercise in creating museum-quality handwork, so whatever. Now I know for next time.)

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A traditional Waldorf doll is very minimalist. The facial features are more suggestions than anything else, with the idea that a child will use their imagination to project stories & emotions on to the doll during play. But you know me. I like to be fussy. So I did add some unnecessary detail, like ears, & eyelashes, & a dimple. Anyone who has ever met Ramona will know that her giant blue eyes & long eyelashes, big ears, & dimple are her stand-out features (eyes & dimple courtesy of me, ears & lashes come from Jared), so I wanted to incorporate them into the doll. I also added a belly button, the suggestion of bends in the elbows & knees, & I articulated the fingers & thumbs with chenille stems, so the hands are bendable, rather than just being mitts. (Though I did not make the fingers separate, because that look on a doll really creeps me out.)

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I also cut out a felt heart in Ramona’s current favorite color, blue, stuffed it with rice, & blanket stitched around the edges. I stuffed it into the torso to create a little extra weight. It gives the body a little extra heft for hugging & cuddling.

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& of course, she needed clothes before she could go to show & tell. Ramona requested “pink & green undies, a black t-shirt with a shark on it, & blue overalls.” I drafted everything from scratch & couldn’t quite accommodate all of Ramona’s requests, but I did my best.

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The undies are pink cotton jersey trimmed with teal 1/8″ elastic (the closest color I had to green). The t-shirt is a pretty simple dolman sleeve, also in cotton jersey. Somehow, I don’t have any fabric with sharks on it, so I subbed in a picture of a cat instead. I just zigzagged it for a more casual effect, & didn’t bother hemming anything because jersey doesn’t ravel.

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I fully intended to make overalls, but the legs I drafted were too tight, so I turned them into skinny jeans. They were kind of a rush job–I finished them literally ten minutes before we had to leave for school, & I still had to grab some lunch, get dressed, wash my face, etc etc, in that ten minutes. But they definitely fit Ramona’s aesthetic, the pockets are all 100% functional.

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Making the clothes was so much fun! I often make little paper or cloth mock-ups of garments I am making for myself, just to get a sense of how certain treatments work, to solve order of construction conundrums, etc. So this was totally in my wheelhouse. & as much as I love frills & bows & lace & ruffles, Ramona DOES NOT, & it was actually really satisfying to make doll clothes that are more contemporary & modern-looking than a lot of what you see out there. I’m also wondering if knitting doll clothes might be the solution to my knitting woes. I have yet to finish a project because I am slow, & the bigger my project gets, the more tension issues I have. I have a tendency toward overly tight stitches, so maybe a smaller project will enable me to work out those kinks. I know, I know, I should just make a scarf or pot holders or something, but ugh. I like to make real things! Not just squares & rectangles! Doll clothes might be the way to go!

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I’m not sure if dollmaking will become a “thing” for me, because the materials are not exactly inexpensive, & the process is definitely time-consuming. In a perfect world, people would commission them from me, so I can afford the materials & make more dolls without being a weirdo whose house is filled with dolls, you know? I mean, I only have one kid. But who knows, we’ll see.

PS–I finished stranding her hair while Ramona was at school today. Now she has pigtails! I used cotton yarn & two different kinds of mohair, individually stranded on to a braided wig cap made from boucle & mohair. Honestly, this volume is not all that dissimilar to how my hair looks if I wear it down.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Elizabeth Neal says:

    That is superb. Beautiful work and a really characterful doll.

  2. Mal says:

    My 4 year old calls them stuffies too! He told me it’s because Daniel Tiger falls them that. Maybe that’s where it came from?

    1. Ciara says:

      Mine has never seen “Daniel Tiger,” but maybe she picked it up from other kids at preschool? It’s all a blur at this point, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t start using that word until after she started school.

      1. Mal says:

        I always called them stuffed animals until he pointed out that his stuffed dolls are not animals and started saying stuffies. I’m sure the first of many times he will outsmart me. My niece is super into dolls and the subtle detailing on yours is great!

        1. Ciara says:

          Thank you so much! I am really interested in tweaking the pattern & making more.

  3. kathleenbenitez says:

    Beautiful work! I made a boy Waldorf doll once, and put on his hair so thickly that he’s pretty top heavy, so I love your rice heart idea.

    1. Ciara says:

      Yeah, this doll’s hair is super-thick. I think I’ll dial it down a bit on the next doll, & also give it a more generous butt so it’s a little more bottom-heavy. It’s a learning process!

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