I mentioned how I loved the dolls I had made 25 years ago, despite the fact that their skin, hair and clothes have faded over the years, and they sport a stain or two.
So when I saw some lovely handmade dolls from Dalston Dolls on my Instagram I committed to attend a class to make a baby doll – one that resembles my youngest grandchild, Kit.
The deal is that for about £70 you get to make a doll in a day, all materials included (not clothes). The tutor is Mopsa Wolff who will also make you a doll for about £95 (through Etsy). So I guess you are working from 10 till 6pm, to save £25. But look at this way – you create a doll that you have filled with love, and moulded it to look like someone you love, and you have learned how to do it so you can make several more if you want to. So along I went to Fabrications in Hackney, run by the marvellous Barley Massey.
Six adults, one accompanied by her charming little boy, spent the day making dolls. Oskar is only six but he had already got one doll and wanted to help make another – he chose an Native American with long black hair. He was very patient and stuffed his doll very effectively while his Mum did most of the sewing. On the table you can see the stuffing – which is natural Yorkshire wool. My previous dolls have been stuffed, I think with kapok or recycled plastic beakers. Stuffing with natural wool is so much nicer. The wool comes in sheets that are pulled apart and fluffed up to make them soft and smooth for stuffing. We packed the filling into the arms and legs first.
Once the limbs are stuffed they are attached to the body. I used hand stitching throughout, although Mopsa uses the sewing machine which is available throughout. Then the body is stuffed and the small seam allowance across the shoulders and neckline is tacked down. This took us to our lunch break. The class takes place in Fabrications which is in Broadway Market so plenty of choice of delicious food. The second half of the day starts with making the head. We started with a “brain” a wound ball of waste yarn, then covered it with strips of wool. Once it is large enough the head is encased in a cotton bandage. In order the shape the head to make it come to life we bound it tightly with cotton thread, concentrating especially on the ey line and curve at the back of the head. There is a stem on the head to enable it to sit within the body cavity.
Now we covered the head with the cotton jersey and to stitch it closely to the head form, across the back and top of the head. All of this is eventually covered by the hair. And then the only really tricky bit – inserting the head into the body cavity and sewing it very neatly in to place. I started by sewing the neck at two places first, then sewing up the shoulders.
After that we created the features using embroidery floss. Mopsa had lots of great white people’s eye colour, but I had to try to mix a dark brown. The lip colours were varied and very nice. Making the features is a bit weird – you use a very long, thick needle and stab the poor dolly through the head. However the lightly defined facial features allow the recipient to project their own feelings onto the doll. Mopsa said many people make the dolls to look like their children, and she finds it funny that often the birth stories come out while people are making their baby dolls.
Creating the hair takes a further hour. I was able to make a start in the class, but I had to finish it at home. First I learnt to crochet using some natural brown organic wool. You make a little cap that fits over the head. For a little baby doll the crocheted wig is enough. But with the child doll you add hair to the base. I enjoyed this part the most. Once I had put lots of hair on to the doll I unravelled the wool to make it look more like Kit’s hair. I was quite pleased with the effect. I think the boy needs some clothes before he really comes to life.
I enjoyed the class very much indeed, barely taking ten minutes to eat the soup Nick had made for me. I worked hard to ensure I was nearly finished – I am hoping this might be a suitable Christmas present for Kit. I will clothe him too, if I can find the time. The opportunity just to take a day to sew, and spend time with lovely people, and to relax and switch off is great. I made a doll that I am proud of as Mopsa is on hand to make sure all the stages are completed properly.