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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
& 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.