Embroidery · Sewing

Getting Stuffed

My introduction to sewing must have been the early ’80s. In the school holidays, I was looked after by my Grandma, a retired seamstress. There wasn’t much to do once I’d finished watching ‘Why Don’t You’ on her black and white brick of a telly. We’d often hop on the bus into town and buy a Minicraft soft toy pattern from John Lewis. The haberdashery was huge in those days, taking up a whole floor of the store and I loved looking through the colourful tubes as we picked eyes and noses for our latest creature. The next day we’d get on two buses and head for the market to buy the fur fabric and kapok stuffing because it was cheaper there. My hand stitching grew neater as my menagerie expanded.

Although I loved my soft toys, I never did dolls. Like many others, I found them rather creepy. I did have a Tiny Tears in the early years and quite enjoyed squeezing to make her do a wee-wee, but that novelty wore off and when one of her eyes kept getting stuck in a half wink, I was done with dolls. Later, like many of my friends, I entertained Sindy.  On reflection, it was her house I was actually interested in. Many happy hours were passed making curtains, bed covers and model furniture. Stacked up matchboxes made perfect bedside tables with brass split pin handles.

When ‘An Evening of Dolls’ appeared on our Embroiderer’s Guild program, I must admit the prospect didn’t enthrall me. However, what a fascinating night it turned out to be! Below are a couple of member Wendy Aldred’s creations.

Wendy talked about how her techniques have evolved since making her first dolls. Her construction is pretty technical from how she wires the fingers, creates the features and adds the stuffing. ‘When you think you’ve done enough, add more!’ A flat screwdriver with a notch cut in the end makes a good stuffing tool. A knitting needle does not (that’s us corrected). Some of the dolls’ outfits are made from fabric off-cuts from the Royal Opera House where Wendy’s daughter once worked on the costumes and we handled a sample of goat hair that apparently is good for dolls too.

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Next we had Lesley Tingle talk about her dolls and how she uses her antique notions and embroidery samples (like the stitched felt below) in dressing them. The antique textile fair in Manchester is a great place for treasures like hair slides, buttons and braids for jackets.

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Lesley extensively researches art dolls and brought a selection of books and dolls from her collection, like these in a primitive style below. For anyone also interested in art dolls she recommends (firstly being very careful of dubious websites!) looking at the exquisite work of Antoinette Cely, whose dolls are so realistic they look almost human and for superb doll-making resources, to see Patti Culea.

Below are dolls by yet another talented member, Jo Sykes. How adorable are those boots?

Other members brought their creations too. Margaret Walton’s doll won an award for creativity in one of the Guild’s regional competitions.

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One of the nicest parts of the evening was the childhood memories that dolls evoke and for those of those of us returning for a ‘playday’ the next day, loosely based on dolls, those conversations continued.

Now though I found the talks and examples enchanting, if a little disturbing, I am still not inclined to make anything remotely human looking and am far nearer the crafty than arty end of the creative scale! Some of us brought along the crazy creatures we made on a guild workshop with Raggedy Annie. Mine here are about as near to a doll as I’ll ever get.

Dressing up something was a possibility though and I decided to make a dress for that mouse I knitted over Christmas. Well the time it took to fiddle about on this tiny scale, I could probably have knocked up a dress for myself. Cute though? I hope she likes it, as I think it will be some time before she gets another. At least I can now say, I’ve made my first ever dress!

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