My Doll House
By Phyllis Irene Radford
What do you do when laid up for six weeks with a broken leg? I made dolls.
The 3 dolls I feature in this blog represent my first ever pay check for my writing. I wrote an article for Dollworld Omnibook on salvaging bits of old lace and preserving it on doll clothes.
This baby doll measures 9 inches. Every stitch on her is by hand, including the tea dyed linen body and needle sculpting, the embroidery on the face, her clothing, blue voile over more linen, and the lace. Actually I waited to make the lace until I went from the huge plaster cast to a walking cast (recovery stretched from 6 weeks to 3 months due to tendon trauma) and I could sit in a real chair for more than five minutes. It’s bobbin lace made with size 100 cotton thread. The pattern is called — wait for it — baby lace.
Then I moved on to this lady. She too stands 9 inches. Head, hands, and lower legs are glazed porcelain. I was deep into Highland Games, Scottish lore, and served as Regent for the Black Watch Chapter of the Daughters of British Empire the year I made her, so of course I had to incorporate plaid taffeta over blue satin. Her lace is all tatting. Again size 100 cotton. This lace looks more substantial than the bobbin lace in the same thread because it is knots built on a draw string rather than a delicate weaving of single strands. The doll clothing is fanciful, from no special period so I could use any lace pattern or technique. In Scotland one would more likely find Ayreshire Lace, an early form of eyelet embroidery but much finer. I hadn’t learned how to do that yet when I made this doll. Tatting is my preferred lace to make because it is very portable.
While the other two dolls were under construction, I lusted after the kit to make up this Regency Lady who stands a regal 14 inches. The sweetness of her facial expression drew me in. Eventually I got out of casts and back to work. I bought her with my first post invalid pay check. Same blue voile left over from the baby doll. Her lace is all tatting, including the medallions on her tulle shawl. Tatting was in the process of evolving out of the older threadwork called knotting during the Regency era and is appropriate. Her collar is sized down from an edging pattern and the rosette on her corsage is my own pattern. That rosette evolved into a larger pattern that I sold to a crafts magazine.
Remnants of dolls made of plant fibers have been found in some of the oldest archeological digs. I’ve made corn husk dolls and decorated them with lace. Dolls were used as replica humans in ritual pits. We’ve all heard about Voo Doo Dolls but the tradition is much, much older than the New World blend of African spirits and Catholic rituals. Dolls featured as children’s toys from the beginning of time. In the Colonial era, European fashion houses sent dolls dressed in the latest mode to the new world so wealthy women could order their custom clothing, or have their seamstresses duplicate them somewhat cheaper.
Dolls still fascinate children and adults alike. I’m working on a coven of Halloween Barbies. Antique and collectible dolls hold their value in resale markets even in hard economic climates.
For me, I just like to play with patterns and textures and come up with a small treasure to display my needlework and lace.