Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Fruits of Our Labors

These stunning blooms are the result of all the blood, sweat, and tears (and poison ivy!) of the past few years. That is, with the exception of the focal blooms, those gorgeous hydrangeas. Those are a result of a trip yesterday to DeWayne's of Smithfield...the BEST store ever, and according to my husband, the instrument of his financial ruin! My mother, sister, nephew, and I made the trip yesterday afternoon and I had the hydrangeas in the ground by 7 PM. When I closed the blinds last night (I sewed the blinds about 9 years ago) I noticed what a perfect backdrop they are to the flowers. I can't get exactly the look I want in the photo, though. Those of you who read this blog often will know that a great regret of mine is that I am not a better photographer. If I painted the bouquet I could eliminate the light coming through the blinds and the folds and make the blinds a perfectly flat pattern. I'm thinking Cezanne...I think I feel a painting coming on! If only I could transmit the aroma through the computer screen or canvas. The gardenias are sublime! The entire yard and house are fragrant with them. It's a good thing I brought them IN, because when I left to take my daughter to school before 9AM today the temperature was already 85! That's way too hot for my Scandinavian blood. I am having fantasies of a summer house in Norway or Iceland, maybe!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How to Re-Wig a doll

The doll and wig are prepared.

The wig is turned inside-out and rolled onto the head.

The doll has a new wig!
The number one rule of North Carolina weather is that it is either 100 degrees or raining (or both) for most of the summer. As the past three days have been rainy and relatively cool, with temperatures "only" in the upper 80s or low 90s, I have been working in the jungle we call a yard and not creating much of anything or blogging. I have accomplished a lot, though. I got the vegetable beds weeded, sprayed, and fertilized. I removed a ton of honeysuckle and other brush from the yard, pruned the roses and trees, and cleaned out the clogged pond pump. We will be enjoying the fruits of my labors soon. We already have several tomatoes ripening on the vine, as well as a tiny pepper, and some minuscule cucumbers. It looks like the peach and apple trees will both have a prolific harvest as well. The gardenia and lilies are also blooming or close to blooming and are already starting to scent the summer air.

I was able to continue with the Mandy restoration I mentioned earlier. This is the second to last of my distressed My Friend Mandys I bought last year, and in almost the worst condition. Her hair had been cut to the head in the front and was not reparable. Her cloth body has several holes, which I plan to treat with Fray Check and then cover with sewn-on undergarments. She has some rubbing of her face paint as well, but it is minor enough that I plan to leave it. I did re-wig the doll, however, and am showing that step by step.

First, remove as much hair as possible from the doll's head with scissors or a shaver, such as a neck trimmer. Then measure your doll for a wig by wrapping a tape measure around the head just above the eyebrows. This measurement will be the size of the wig needed, either in inches or centimeters depending on the supplier. You will need to check your supplier's instructions for determining the size. My Friend and Sasha dolls typically wear size 8/9 or 9/10. If the wig is too small when it arrives you can cheat a little by making small cuts in the edges of the wig cap and pulling it apart slightly before gluing to make it a little bigger. The cuts are hidden by the hair. You can also take in the wig by putting a small dart or two in the wig cap so it is smaller.

When the doll's hair is removed and the wig is prepared you can apply glue to either the head or the inside of the wig cap. Here, I used Aleene's Tacky Glue, which I prefer because it tends to drip less. I applied the glue to the doll's head. Then I turned the wig inside out and carefully rolled it onto the head. This helps keep the glue from getting in the hair. When you have positioned the wig you may readjust if needed by pulling the hair a bit to slide it into place. Then wipe any excess glue away with a wet paper towel.

Allow the glue to dry for 24 hours before styling the hair or allowing a child to play with the doll. Now that I'm so close to the end of my box of Mandys I will have to get some more distressed dolls!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to re-root a vinyl doll's hair

A My Friend Nicky with missing hair plugs.
A My Friend Nicky with her hair cut.

The same My Friend Nicky after re-rooting.

After re-rooting her hair can be styled different ways.

Today's post was supposed to show the painting of another felt face. However, the face is not cooperating with me. The gesso is seeping through in front, meaning I didn't spray enough water seal inside the face, and the gesso is also refusing to dry in our heat and humidity. So, I'll solve that problem another day and give instructions for another frequent issue in doll restoration.

Shown in the photos is the rarest My Friend doll, Nicky. She originally came in her cheerleader outfit with lovely long curls. Unfortunately, as the curls were structured (woven into ringlets) and rooted in rows, if a child tried to brush the hair it would frizz and often the plugs would pull out. This seems to be the case with this doll. Her hair was probably shorn to remove frizzed out edges and the bald spot most likely came from several plugs being pulled at once, like knitting unraveling.

I made the difficult decision to re-root the hair, rather than use a wig, and to use straight hair. I made these choices in order to make sure a child could still play with the doll and style the hair many different ways. The hair I chose was synthetic braid hair intended for human extensions. It is high quality enough to even be curled with a curling iron!

When I tried to learn to re-root the hair I found a real dearth of information. A lady on YouTube made a video of herself re-rooting using a needle, but she had this like 8 inch needle and I couldn't find one anywhere! Also, the My Friend dolls have a turning mechanism in her neck that prevents rooting in that way (pulling a needle through the neck opening). I found with the My Friend dolls you need to use a mushroom rooting tool (purchase from eBay) or a tiny crochet hook (purchase from sewing or art supply store).

To start, you need to choose the hair you will use. You can buy human or synthetic hair from beauty supply stores or doll hair from eBay or doll parts retailers. I find a lot of braid hair and wigs at thrift stores for pennies! Now remove all the original hair from the doll's head. If the doll has molded hair you will need to sand the ridges off with a Dremel tool. Warm the doll's head under a light bulb or with a hair dryer. IMPORTANT: only warm vinyl doll heads; composition heads can explode when heated. If rooting a doll with molded hair you will need to use a rooting needle and make your own root holes.

If re-rooting a doll that had rooted hair you can use a crochet hook or rooting needle. Look at a doll around the same size as your doll if your doll has no hair left to determine how much hair was originally in each root hole. Take up HALF the amount used in each root hole on the original doll, because with this technique you are doubling the amount of hair rooted in each plug. Tie the hair in a knot in the center of the strand section you picked up. Using your rooting needle or crochet hook, push the knot through the root hole from the outside of the head into the inside of the head. Tug gently on the hair to make sure the knot is secure. If the hair breaks or the knot comes undone, just re-knot it and try again. Continue on until all the holes are filled or the doll has a full head of hair. Cut and style the hair as you wish. That's it! It's tedious, but as you can see from Nicky's "after" photos, it works well and is well worth the effort!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Paint a Pressed Felt Face

Fig. 1, Pastel is applied to the face

Fig. 2, The face is painted
Today's project was painting the felt face I've been working on. These dolls take more than one day to complete, so I am showing the process step-by-step. You'll be able to understand why felt dolls command higher prices than other dolls; they take a lot of hand work and time!

Once the face has been prepared as shown in the How to Mold a Pressed Felt Face post you are ready to begin painting. Start with the shading. I prefer Rembrandt soft pastels. Before you shade you will need to smooth down any flyaway wool filaments with starch. The book I have instructs you to use cooked starch (this is no longer available in the stores, so I Googled how to make starch); however, this is a long tedious process and doesn't work any better than heavy spray starch. Spray the starch on the eye, mouth, and cheek area and smooth the fibers down with your fingers. It is easier to let the starch dry and then apply the pastel, but if you do the shading when the felt is still damp it will set the pastel. If you shade when the felt is dry you can set the pastel afterward with starch or Crystal Clear. (Fig.1)

Grind the pastel into a palette and apply with a dry angled paintbrush. Apply beige shadow in the recessed eye area, such as along the eyelid crease and the corners of the eye to help the face appear more contoured. Then line the immediate eye area with light blue. Apply pink on the cheeks, chin, and nostrils. Look at your own face and see where you have pink areas and where your eyes are naturally shadowed. If you make a mistake you can "erase" it using a pastel the same tint as the felt. Blend  a shade slightly lighter than the felt into the raised areas to give the face more relief.

When the starch is completely dry you can paint the face. If you are making a play doll for children it is probably better to use acrylic paint. Any good artist's paint is certified safe (look for the seal), but acrylic is easier to use and to clean later. The antique dolls are painted with oils, so if  you are doing a collector doll and want that look use oil.

Use reference materials to start painting. For this doll I used the Lenci doll modified by Dare Wright for The Lonely Doll. Start with the whites of the eyes using pure white. Then shade the edges with Payne's Gray using a wet on wet technique. Next do the eye color. Use a lighter shade around the center of the eye and a darker shade along the edge of the iris. Be careful not too get eyes too bright so they look unrealistic. Even the bluest or greenest eyes have lots of other colors, like brown or yellow mixed in. I like to use colors that are not fully mixed when painting eyes. Do the pupil in Payne's Gray mixed with black next, and the highlights in pure white last. For the lashes line the eye with burnt umber mixed with yellow ochre and then pull the upper line up into lashes on the corners of the eye. Paint the brows with a series of dashes rather than one heavy line.

For the lips mix some crimson or red with sienna or burnt umber and white. Make the upper lip darker than the bottom lip. Highlight the center of the lower lip with white in a wet on wet technique. Mix blue and burnt umber with the lip color and paint the center lip line and corners.

The finished face will be ready to use as soon as the paint is dry. If you have concerns about durability you might want to seal the face with a coat of Crystal Clear. Be careful to retain the felt texture; don't apply too much. Your face is finished! (Fig. 2)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to Restore a Cloth Doll

Fig. 1, Edith restored, with a kneaded rubber eraser recommended

Fig. 2, Darning used to repair moth holes for a play doll

Fig. 3, fabric used to repair the nose of a collector doll
I have had a lot of success restoring old or antique dolls and reselling them online. I also have been able to provide my daughter with dolls which are no longer available. As in learning to make pressed felt dolls, I had to spend a lot of time and money teaching myself, as there just aren't many resources out there to show how this can be done.

In this particular post, I am showing a Rothschild Edith the Lonely Doll from 1985. I restored this doll as a play doll for my daughter. This doll came to me reeking so strongly of cigarettes, mildew, and mothballs that I had an allergy attack while unpacking the box! She also had extensive moth damage, had moth larvae casings in her hair and clothes, and was extremely grimy.

The first thing I did was carefully remove her clothes. You should evaluate the clothing to see how fragile it is. If it seems strong, then you can machine wash it with regular detergent and color safe bleach, use stain remover spray, in a delicate cycle and cold water. Then let it air dry. If it seems fragile, wash the clothing  by hand in water and Woolite, dish soap, or a very small amount of bleach. If using bleach, test first on the inside of the hem or other non-visible spot with a Q-tip dipped in the bleach water. Rinse and air-dry.

While the clothing dries, take a paper towel or soft, colorfast rag dipped in water mixed with dish soap or Woolite and gently rub the doll's body and limbs to remove surface dirt. DO NOT rub the face with water. If cleaning a silk doll, such as the one shown in the third photo, test the water on the bottom of the foot or other invisible spot to make sure the silk does not get water-marked.

To clean the face and continue to clean the body, use artist's erasers. I prefer the kneaded rubber type (shown in Edith's hand, Fig. 1) or the amber gum erasers. Do not use a colored eraser. Rub any spots VERY gently with the erasers. You may have to erase several times. Just be very careful not to tear any fragile cloth. When the face is clean, continue on to the body.

To wash the doll's hair, use liquid fabric softener as shampoo for mohair wigs or regular shampoo for human hair. Be VERY careful not to wet the face or head. You may need to brush out the hair before washing. For mohair, use a bamboo skewer or toothpick as you would a hair pick, gently detangling the hair. Mohair will get matted over time and this will get the mats out. For human and synthetic wigs use a wire wig brush.You will see some hair loss, so brush sparingly. While the hair is still damp you can set it on foam rollers, home perm rollers, or for very tiny dolls, pipe cleaners cut into rag rollers. (That is how I curled Evangeline's hair in the post Restoring Evangeline).

To remove tough odors not destroyed by cleaning, place the doll in a plastic bag filled with very strongly scented dryer sheets. Seal the bag and leave until the smell is gone. Only use Febreeze as a last resort, as it breaks down the fabric.

When the doll is clean and dry you can address holes or moth damage. In Fig. 2, I show how I darned Edith's large holes with matching embroidery floss. This method is recommended for a play doll, not a display or collector doll. I darned the holes so no stuffing would escape during play. I just left the small holes or partial holes. Because the doll is felt, the holes won't fray further. If restoring a cloth doll you may want to treat any small holes with Fray Check so they won't get bigger. Fig. 3 shows the type of repair for a collector doll, such as this 1920s Gre-Poir sik doll. You want to leave the doll as original as possible. This doll was restored by Virginia Gigure, who simply found a matching piece of fabric and inserted it into the hole in the nose. Because she didn't alter the doll, the fabric can be removed later if a die-hard collector wants the doll all original.

I hope this is a helpful article! As you can see, my restoration of Edith turned out beautifully, and she has provided my daughter with many hours of play. As always, check my eBay and Blujay stores to purchase many of the dolls features in this blog. Good luck in your own restorations!

Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Make a Pressed Felt doll face

Fig 1. The sculpted face

Fig 2. The mask applied to the face

Fig. 3, The felt seated for baking

Fig. 4, the "wrong" side or inside of the felt mask

Fig. 5 The finished felt mask

Given the interest in pressed felt doll-making, today instead of a new creation I am going to elaborate on the process of making the face. I will add photos as I can take some. First of all, I recommend a book called How To Make A Pressed Felt Doll by Alice and Lee Welpley 1984. This book is out of print, but you can still find copies on eBay or Amazon. I purchased several books, dolls, and articles to teach myself and I hope you are able to learn with less outlay of cash! This process will make a face the right size for a doll around 18 inches.

I am giving you the process of making the face with a mold you sculpt yourself; if you want to use a pre-made mold please check the book I mention above. After a lot of trial and error, I found Super Sculpey polymer clay was the best material for mold-making. Start by covering a 3 to 5 inch diameter Styrofoam ball with foil. You will use this as an armature. Using books and dolls you like as a reference, cover half the ball with a layer of Sculpey and build up as you want to form facial features. Put extra emphasis on eyebrow ridges, nose, chin, and lips for more relief when the felt is molded. Make the front of a neck about 2 inches long.You want to build your face up to at least a half-inch thickness. When finished, carefully remove the Sculpey face from the ball and gently press the sides of the face in a bit to make it less round. Bake according to the instructions on the package to cure the clay. (Fig. 1)

When the face is finished, baked, and cooled you can use it to make the mold. Cover the face with a layer of talcum or baby powder so you are able to release the mask. Cover the entire face TO WITHIN 1 INCH of the outside edge of the face (this is important so the mask will release) with a very thin layer of Super Sculpey, using your fingers to smooth the mask into the facial features. (Fig. 2) If you get an air bubble, pop it with your fingernail and smooth it over. Build up the Super Sculpey until it is at least a half inch thick. Build an extra lip around the edge of the mask to give you a place to grip when you pull the mask off. Set the head with the mask on a cookie sheet with the mask on top and bake in a very slow oven for 1.5 hours. Follow the instructions on your clay. Mine says not to exceed 200 degrees. When finished baking let the mask cool completely with the oven door cracked so the mask does not break from thermal shock. When it is COMPLETELY cool, remove from the oven and gently work the mask free from the face. This can be a bit difficult and this is where my first mask cracked, so be very careful and make sure the mask and face are not at all warm.

Now you may soap the molds to prevent sticking. Mix 2 ounces of melted bar soap or liquid soap with 4 cups water. If using bar soap, stir in a saucepan over medium heat until the soap is melted. When the soap is cool, apply it liberally to the face and the inside of the mask with a makeup sponge. Dry with a hair dryer. Repeat twice, drying in between coats. The mold will need to be soaped after a few uses. If you begin to notice sticking, then re-soap the mold. Before each use, spray the positive (front) of the face and the negative (inside) of the mask with Pam or cooking spray and wipe off any excess puddles or drips. This is very important to prevent sticking.

To prepare the felt, cut a sheet of wool felt about 8 x 10 inches. The felt should be at least 30 % wool. Choose skin colors, like cream, peach, or beige. It can be helpful to put a dart around 3 inches long in the center of the short sides of the felt . Cut the felt close to the stitching line of the dart. (Fig. 4) Spray the wrong side of the felt (the side with the dart stitching) with heavy spray starch. Spray the right side with water. Sandwich the felt in between the face and mask, lining the darts up with the neck center just under the chin and the top of the face. Pull the felt up and out, smoothing out any wrinkles. Tap the face into the mask gently to make sure it's straight and fully secured.(Fig. 3) Place in the oven and bake for about 2 hours at no more than 200 degrees. I usually have my oven around 180. When done, cool in the oven with the door cracked until cool. Open the mold, leaving the felt in the negative side of the mold and let it cool.

To prepare the felt for painting, spray the wrong side (inside) of the felt with shellac or Krylon Crystal Clear, leaving the felt inside the mold. Let dry and spray 3 more coats, drying in between. (Fig. 5) Once dry, brush the inside of the felt with acrylic gesso, available in the painting section of art supply stores, or caulking compound. Concentrate the gesso in the nose and other depressions. Apply four coats of gesso. This will allow the face to keep its shape but retain some flexibility, preventing dents in the finished doll. (Fig. 6) If you have any gesso seeping through to the front of the face it means you did not apply enough water seal to the inside of the face. Next time make sure to spray on more.

When the gesso has dried overnight spray the felt with starch or brush with cooked starch and smooth the nap of the felt down. When that has dried, grind soft pastels into a rough surface to powder them. Apply light pink or peach to the nose, cheeks, and chin with a stiff paint brush, painting in the direction of the nap. Apply light blue or beige "eyeshadow" on the eyelids, and apply more pink underneath the eye, in the lower lid area. Lightly draw in the eyes with a pencil.

You may use either oil or acrylic artist's paints for the features. The original Lenci dolls used oil paint, which has a shinier finish. However, if you want the doll to be used as a toy it's probably safer and more durable if you use acrylic paint. If you want a shiny finish you can add a medium to create that or coat with a clear coat after painting. Paint the whites of the eyes first. Then paint the iris in the color you want. Add the pupil and upper lashes last. The original Lencis generally had eyelashes on top only. For the eyebrows, use a light brown. It is easier to apply the eyebrows and lashes as individual dashes rather than one straight line. You may add a light reflection in white to the eye when it is done to give it a more rounded appearance. Look at photos of dolls you like to see how they are painted. Ebay has tons of great photos of Lenci dolls.

Paint the lips next. Make the upper lip slightly darker than the lower. Add white wet on wet to the lower lip and blend out to create a rounded look. Mix a little blue in with the pink lip color to make the center lip line and corners of the mouth. In the same pink add two dots to the underside of the nose as nostrils. Once your face is painted and dry, cut around the outside of the pressed area, including the neck, leaving at least a quarter inch seam allowance around the edge of the pressed area.

Now you will need to find or make a body pattern. You can use an 18 to 20 inch doll body pattern or even a jointed teddy bear pattern. You can also make a pattern by tracing the parts of a doll you like and add a seam allowance to the tracing. To attach the head, cut the head pattern out, This should be a three-piece head: the face and two sides. Sew the sides to the pressed felt face, leaving the back open. Place a plastic doll disk joint in the bottom of the neck, poking a hole through the neck base for the joint stem. Then stuff the head with polyfill and sew up the back in a zig zag stitch. Finish the doll body as instructed in your pattern. Then you can apply a pre-made doll wig or make your own hair from wefted wig hair or mohair. For an antique look, use mohair.

I hope this has been a helpful tutorial! For more information check my Everything Old is New Again blog post and my How to Paint a Pressed Felt Face post. You can  purchase my handmade and refurbished dolls at Atelier Mandaline on eBay. I am planning to offer pre-made doll faces and pre-cut body patterns. Keep watching for those!
Fig. 6, Gesso is applied to inside of the face

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mountain Inspirations

Cloud banks mirror mountain peaks.

Mountain laurel in bloom

Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Dragon boat races on Lake Lure
The past few days presented a new opportunity for creativity: photography. I always have wished I was a better photographer, and the weekend presented the perfect venue in the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains near Lake Lure, NC. Though I didn't write over the weekend, I was busy with my camera and have been happy with the gorgeous scenes I captured. We really needed some time away after our stressful week. The serene blue mountains provided the tranquility we wanted, as well as the beauty our souls craved. The mountain laurel is in bloom just now. The sunsets were gorgeous. The Lure of the Dragons festival at Lake Lure was a riot of color and fun. Inside the lodge, we basked in the amber glow of peace. This might just have been the perfect weekend! Back to the grind tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Growing a beautiful day

Our daughter in front of the rose arbor several years ago.

The rose arbor this May.
Yesterday I was at my husband's office and bumped into a colleague of his who I haven't seen for many years. I was holding our baby, and she was surprised, as she didn't know we now have three children. She asked me, "How do you do it? I just had one and I could barely manage!"

Well, I don't always do that well! I told her that morning we were late to school because when I was getting out of bed I put my feet on the floor and...fell back asleep halfway out of bed! The IRS issue, my daughter's week-long illness, the re adoption, our oldest son's two projects this week, cleaning the carpets, and then all the regular stuff. The craziness is just unbelievable sometimes! This morning I had just dropped my daughter off at school (we walk up through a wooded park behind the school) when I got an email saying the school was on lockdown because a bear had been sighted outside at exactly the time we were walking there! Luckily the bear was across the street. We don't normally have bears around here, so it was a big news day!

Sometimes I'm so tired I can't believe it. I am always trying to get my pre-childbirth waistline back (something my grandmother has assured me will never happen; we belong to the hourglass figure type with teeny waists that disappear post-pregnancy!) so I do a lot of exercise. I often wear a pedometer to make sure I'm moving as much as possible. Today I didn't remember to out it on until almost noon. When I took it off at 9PM I had over 18000 steps! Many of those were taken while carrying my 30+ pound toddler!

But no matter what is going on all day, there is still just so much beauty. It's really an art to remember to look for it. Other times you have to create it yourself. Besides my artwork, sewing, and writing, I also enjoy gardening. Like Claude Monet, I want to create a beautiful environment both to feed my soul and to paint. For the most part, my garden doesn't measure up to his. But I do have a really stunning area of the yard. Several years ago we planted New Dawn climbing roses on a trellis. I laid a flagstone path underneath. I wait every year for the first or second week of May when those roses just go over the top! The rest of summer they'll bloom a little, but they have just one week of really impressive flowering before the heat gets too high for them. But what a week! It's worth waiting a year! I make sure to take the children's photos under the arbor each year. Our youngest was too busy to stand still for his first portrait under the roses; he's waving and running away! It is wonderful to see the roses and the children grow year after year. Sometimes the main thing getting me through the day or week is just waiting for the newest bloom. Next up, my lilies! I missed them last year because we were in China, so this year will be even more special!

Thank goodness, after this hard week, we're off to the mountains for the weekend. We need the vacation!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another Lonely Doll

Fisher Price My Friend Mandy as Edith the Lonely Doll
A lovely letter arrived yesterday from the IRS--always exactly who you want to hear from! So, I spent the better part of two days documenting our adoption costs, translating sheaves of Chinese receipts, converting RMB to US dollars. I GUESS you can call that writing! We also stopped by the court house today to "re-adopt" our son so he can have a birth certificate here in America, instead of having to order it from China whenever he needs a copy. The records office is a happy place for us; we are always happy to add a new family member. Just trying to talk the husband into one more baby girl...

I did have a little time to straighten up our bedroom, now doing triple duty as my office and studio as well, since we couldn't sell our house. Our oldest is now living in my old office because our house is too small. I'm a messy worker, so our room gets REALLY messy. My husband has been incredibly tolerant, but after a while it gets so I can't work in there at all. I also started on a new My Friend Mandy redo.

I may have mentioned this before in my blog, but about a year ago I bought a box of distressed Mandy dolls and have been happy redoing them for about a year now. I have mostly stuck to storybook themes, though I did do one as Shirley Temple. They have been popular enough that people sometimes email me requests! So, the current Mandy is really messed up. She has holes in her body cloth and her hair needs to be replaced. This is exciting to someone like me, since I can change her hair color if I want. What will I do? I think I've picked a story!

One of my past Mandy makeovers involved my favorite theme. You guessed it: The Lonely Doll! Mandy made a great Edith and purchased and vintage bears served as her family well. She was dispatched to a young girl's birthday party, along with the stories, and I sincerely hope she is enjoying them as much as I would have as a girl.

So, keep looking for future Mandy makeovers. Let's hope the IRS has everything they need now so we can get our tax credit!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Evangeline Restored

I spent my Sunday morning driving 40 minutes (one way!) to the pediatrician with my feverish daughter. I was lured by the possibility of strep throat suggested by the nurse, only to get there and have them, without even doing a throat culture, tell me a fever virus is going around and she should be well soon! Sometimes I think if you have 2 or 3 kids and can pass an IQ test you should get a license to practice pediatrics! So I didn't do anything more artistic today than shampoo the carpets, color my roots, and help my son with his grasslands biome. A biome seems to be what we called a diorama in my long-ago school days.

I did want to continue the Everything Old blog from the other day with an example of the first small doll made with the small mold shown in that blog. I named her Evangeline. I was reading Madame Tussad by Michelle Moran at the time and I suppose I was influenced! That's a good book, by the way. It really makes you think about the revolution at all costs idea making the rounds since the Arab Spring. I'm not saying those regimes don't need to be overthrown; just that some thought should go into what will replace them.

Evangeline was made from an old headless doll body and wig, probably dating to the 1940s or 50s. It was almost certainly a Lenci copy from a competitor and, judging from the shoes, meant to look like a French Revolution era lady. She's sitting on a quilt I made my daughter from vintage hankercheifs, probably from the same decade as the doll body.

I pressed and painted the head and attached it to the body. I made a very detailed gown of pink bridal satin and organza and I was quite happy with the result. The only disappointment to me was the head. Since a broken turning mechanism was poking out of the neck I was unable to attach a new one and so had to sew the head on as a fixed head. I had my engineer husband try to figure out a way to make it turn, but there just was no way to do it without tearing open the body, and I just really didn't want to do that!

I have only one real reference to France, though I do really enjoy Mireille Guilliano's books. I also waited in a security line at the airport while on my way home from Italy, but that was just a connecting flight and I spent my time in the Paris airport sleeping on a bench! I must say, the Air France flight had the best food I've ever had on a plane!

I visited Paris in 1993 and was there to celebrate the dawn of 1994 on New Year's Eve on the Champs Elysee. It was the best New Year's ever, but then I had the worst year of my life! My impressions of Paris were of gray cobbles winding between tall buildings crowned by vine-laden balconies. I remember green shuttered windows and giant claw-foot tubs, whores sitting naked in windows, and one fabulous book store. We weren't staying in the best part of town!

I tried, making Evangeline, to capture the Paris I remember, quirky and maybe a bit run down, but still utterly refined and beautiful. Here in the South they say being too polished is a sign you're trying too hard. The true gentry let themselves and their properties age a bit more naturally and gracefully. I think this is an essentially French idea, and I tried to capture that with Evangeline.

Chinese Dreams

Last year we embarked on our second adoption trip to China. In total, we have now traveled to Hong Kong (twice), Guangzhou (twice), Chongqing, Beijing, and Zhengzhou. It is fascinating to visit a country in such a rapid state of flux 5 years apart; the old China disappears a little more each time in the breath taking change. The Chinese people remain the same, for the most part. The men with their tame birds riding on their shoulders, the battling badminton couples dueling in the parks each night, the dancers and martial arts enthusiasts congregating in communal exercise each morning or evening. The sultry, slow-churning Pearl River is the site of my family's post-supper stroll each evening. We watch the light show and musical parade of floating banquet boats trolling the river. We have only visited China in July and always under threat of a typhoon. It is a vibrant and often stunningly beautiful place, though sometimes it is terribly squalid and sad. It seems to me that the Chinese do everything we do, only a more so! I am always grateful to China for our two youngest children. They are a blessing to us and the most wonderful gift we could ever receive. And I strive to understand the Chinese culture, both of the past and of today, so we can provide our children with a sense of their magnificent cultural heredity.

In Guangzhou this past summer I found an amazing silk dress in a children's shop. This store was a little off the beaten path, next to a Thai restaurant we really enjoyed called The Cow and Bridge. I bought a melon and cream version of the dress for our daughter, though it came in pink, purple, yellow, green, etc. Each color had unique embroidery. What attracted me to the dress was its apparently wide range of cultural influence. It looked America, Chinese, Korean, all at once. I thought it was the perfect reflection of modern China. On our previous trip I had purchased several different Mandarin-style traditional Chinese dresses for my daughter and a few kung-fu suits for my sons from the tourist shops, but this time I wanted to get a different one. A dress a Chinese girl might pick for a special occasion. The dress is a big hit and suits my daughter's dusky Sichuan coloring perfectly. I was inspired to create a tiny version of my own.

I also wanted a reflection of my memories of Guangzhou. I think if I lived in China I would want to reside on Shamian Island. It is just so weirdly beautiful, with its age-blackened European townhouses slowly decaying in the mist, its leathery tropical trees and flowers a dripping, shadowed canopy, its statues slick with humidity, all directly adjacent to the neon high-rise futuristic city of the mainland. It reminds me of the South I came to as a girl here in America, the languid, thick-aired, vegetation-choked universe that has all but succumbed to strip malls and highways. The Chinese designers must find Shamian as attractive as I; in Guangzhou, you regularly see models posing in front of the lovely French Colonial architecture.

My Chinese modern dress

The original dress, which was my inspiration, is shown in the background.

I tried to create a Chinese amulet.

Mandaline in Beijing, touching the double happiness character meant to ensure nuptial bliss.

A misty Shamian Island wedding.
I designed my "modern" Chinese ensemble for the vintage Sasha and My Friend dolls. Both the brunette Sasha and the Fisher Price My Friend Jenny can look quite Asian if dressed in a Chinese style. I like to try out my fashion designs on dolls first, since I don't waste as much fabric if I mess a new pattern up! I designed the patterns myself and used lime green bridal satin and gold organdy for the top and skirt. The outfit is embellished with sequins and wired gold iridescent ribbon, wired in copper to make the sleeves stand out. I wove the little macrame-style amulet with metallic elastic and sewed tiny bells to it. This was the closest I could get to the tiny amulets you see everywhere in China. I think I'd have to take a class to really capture the artistry in these miniature weavings. I really feel pleased with the result of this outfit. I do feel like I really was able to capture the eclectic Chinese fashion scene, especially that of Guangzhou.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Little Flapper Girl

A Debbie Richmond doll restored as flapper girl, Margie-Carol

This doll will stand propped or with doll stand.

Her face is hand-painted and shaded with pastel.

She is numbered 277/1000
Whew! I almost missed my goal of creating and writing every day today! First there was the Scotty McCreery madness, so close to our house. Then, our daughter, who has been running a fever since Wednesday, had her temperature spike to over 103 this morning! But due, again, to the Scotty parade our doctor couldn't get her in until early tomorrow and then all the way across town.

So, maybe tomorrow will be the harder day. I buckled down to finish my little flapper, "Margie Carol". This is a Debbie Richmond doll, originally numbered 277/1000. I THINK it was probably the baby boy, "Chris", but got the doll in such bad condition I can't tell. I cleaned her up and her sweet blond page-boy haircut spoke to me of beaded gowns and Gatsby, and also really reminded me of my grandmothers, both preserved as blond toddlers dressed like this in photos. Thus, her name; Margie and Carol are my grandmothers!

Margie had a rub on her nose and grimy fingers I couldn't totally clean, so I got my Lenci Bettina out and studied the pastel shading on her fingers, face, and elbows copied it. Now you can't tell she was ever dirty. Her outfit is handmade of gorgeous silk dupioni cross-woven to appear gold in one light and pink in another, left over from a flower girl dress I once made my daughter. I hand-embellished it with organza beaded rosette and guinea hen feathers. Even her bloomers are machine smocked!

The Debbie Richmond dolls are going to be the Lenci dolls of tomorrow, I think. This one is very detailed, with hand-painted face and weighted to feel like a real baby. The body proportioned well and tightly jointed. I encourage you to check out Etsy for more about Debbie Richmond.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

New doll face molds & pressed felt faces with their inspirations, from left to right Lenci Carmen 1995 felt, French 1920s silk, Lenci Bettina 1930s repro, Gre-Poir unnamed silk 1920s .
If you've been following this blog, then you will have noticed that yesterday Blogger had to remove all the posts written after a certain time in order to perform maintenance on the Web site. This included my painstakingly and, if I do say so, beautifully written third post! The site was down for some time, so I was a bit hesitant to start a project I might not be able to post. I reminded myself, however, that the goal is ultimately to work a little every day, whether I can blog about it or not. So, I got to work!

Shown in the photo are two head molds and a head sculpted as practice for another mold. The cloth faces are felt pressed from the larger mold. This is the replacement mold used in the Edith doll shown in earlier posts. The original mold cracked during baking. Actually, this is the THIRD mold, because the first sculpture was made from a  natural clay that, although the package promised it didn't need firing, fell all apart when dry! So, as in all of life, it's important to be flexible as an artist! It definitely takes a lot of trial and error.

Shown behind my molds and faces are the dolls used as models and the inspiration for my trying to learn this skill. I don't know if you are as blown away as I am by the fact that each one of those dolls is made from cloth! Specifically either felt or silk. They are also articulated, so their heads and limbs move and are able to be posed.There is NO form under their faces, as is commonly believed. The cloth has been pressed to keep the face shape. I was unable to fathom how cloth could be pressed to resemble plastic or porcelain from looking at photos online, so my wonderful husband bought me the Lenci Bettina (in the blue dress) in order that I might see one in person. Bettina was originally made around the 1930s by the Lenci doll company of Torino, Italy. This doll is a reproduction from the 1980s. The other Lenci is Carmen, a modern doll from 1995, the year I worked in Italy, so of course I had to have her! The dolls are posed atop a copy of The Lonely Doll, which features a Lenci series 109 doll from the 1920s. That doll was reworked by Dare Wright, the author, who repainted her eyes, replaced her wig, and made her new clothes.

The French dolls are probably both Gre-Poir from the 1920s. The one in tweed was in terrible condition and missing her nose until restored by the talented Virginia Gigure. She wears her original clothes. I love her little Chanel-style suit and ostrich feather! What a French fashion plate! I could hardly imagine how silk could be employed as a pressed doll, but here they are, nearly 100 years old, to prove it makes a great material! Most of these (besides Bettina) were purchased with the intent of re-selling them when I was done studying their construction, so check my store in future to see if I can bear to part with the little beauties!

The process of making the dolls is really pretty simple. You take a sheet of wool felt or other cloth, wet it on the inside with starch and the outside with water, press it in the mold, and bake it in a very slow (less than 200 degree) oven for a couple hours. Then you let it cool and dry. When it's dry you coat the inside with several layers of shellac or water seal, and when that's dry you coat the inside again with gesso. The you can paint the outside! The instructions I have say to use felt that's at least 70% wool. For my first dolls I used 100% wool. I could only find flesh tint in 20% wool, 80% viscose, and so I tried one face and, as you can see, it turned out fine. In fact, it's smoother than the 100% wool felt and so I think will be easier to paint. So, that's it. The bodies are constructed with joints like a teddy bear. Someday I would like to get hold of a Maggie Iacono felt so I can try the ball-jointed style, but first I am working on perfecting these.

I think doll artists really don't get the recognition they deserve from the art community. The process of converting sculpture to articulated cloth and making sure it is sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of play is no easy matter! When you consider that some of the dolls shown endured for nearly a century it's almost unbelievable! Some of the most famous doll artists were fine artists first, like Sasha Morgenthaler. They are almost always women and mothers who were unable to find a suitable doll for their child. Elena Scavini (Madame Lenci), for instance, sought a doll that was not made from breakable porcelain for her young daughter. So, she recreated the fragile doll in cheap, durable felt! If I can eventually reach the level of expertise of either of those women I'll be a really proud artist!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inspirations from The Little House on the Prairie

The other day I was listening to NPR while cooking dinner and heard a story about a woman who traveled to every place the Ingalls family lived and wrote a book about it. She went to Laura Ingalls look-alike contests, watched every television adaptation of the  show, even foreign and Asian ones, and cooked meals from the cookbook. She said that ultimately she thinks her obsession with the books and show were a way to return to her childhood after the death of her mother.

I thought it was funny that segment aired that day, as I had just listed a Little House doll set in my store. It's strange to me how sometimes things you haven't heard about or even thought about for ages are suddenly "in the air" and many people are thinking of them at once. I must be around the same age as this woman as I too had a Little House saturated childhood. I remember reading the books until they fell apart, being read to from the books at school, wearing long calico dresses, and having many Holly Hobbie dolls and branded items. The Little House franchise seems to have been strangely unmarketed, as I don't remember having any dolls or lunch boxes or figurines from the books or the show. Maybe there were such items but they weren't available in my small town.

I do know that in many ways our lives seemed similar to the Ingalls. We lived in Ohio on the very edge of Indiana, where the great plains begin to stretch out flat and endless, seemingly beyond any imaginable horizon. Several years at that time were record-breakingly cold. We had moved from California when I was three because my father had died and I, who had never seen snow, was greeted by a blizzard. We lived with my grandparents and I can still remember sitting by their picture window while the snow was falling so heavily the window seemed to have been painted white. Later, we moved to a house with no central heat. It was too cold to go to bed after our baths with wet hair, so we would sit by the Buck Stove in our living room combing our hair dry while my mother read to us from the Little House books. I don't know why we didn't seem to have a hair dryer. We did have one of the bonnet dryers you sat under, but it took forever and there were too many of us. We had a big garden in the summers and preserved a lot of food, and my aunt had a farm we would visit to have hay rides and pick apples in the fall. The whole family would participate in making cider and applesauce. I had a lot of homemade toys. Our Hollie Hobby, or Prairie-style dolls, were handmade by my aunt. My grandfather made the wooden barn shown behind the dolls. That was my absolute favorite toy; when he first made it I could climb inside! My husband has a lot to say now about having to store a 4 foot by 5 foot barn! So I could relate to the many stories of Pa in the blizzard, or the descriptions of the family preserving their food. Most of those stories were in the Little House in the Big Woods book, as I remember. The first time I read that story to my son (he was about 5 at the time), he said, "This book teaches you to survive!" It's very true, I think; you could use those books as a manual for homesteading.

Recently I have attended several classes at the Church of the Latterday Saints on food storage, budgeting, making your own soaps, etc, and it is really amazing how many people are still utilizing the frugal practices of Ma and Pa. I guess this was what got me thinking of the Little House theme when I was working on my latest My Friend dolls. The My Friend dolls are my favorite vintage dolls to remake. Probably this is because they were my main play dolls when I was a child and I spent many hours imagining them in various roles. They are also relatively cheap and plentiful and come with several hair colors. They are easy to clean and repair since they are washable.

My Friend Mandy and Jenny as Mary and Laura Ingalls with Nettie and Charlotte

They sit and stand alone.

They have clean faces.

They have nice hair.
For this set I used a Mandy doll for Mary. I bought a box of distressed Mandy dolls last year and have been working on them ever since. This Mandy had to have her head removed so I could re-stuff her torso. She doesn't have the central armature inside her body. The later dolls have them, but the early ones don't, so their heads are prone to flop around. You have to stuff the torso really tight to stabilize the head. This gave her a rather pigeon-breasted appearance, but she's still a cutie. The Jenny I used for Laura was in great shape and just need a wash and hairstyle. Their dresses are made from vintage calico prints, probably period to the dolls--late 70s to early 80s. My mother has amassed such a collection of fabric in her attic that I always "shop" there first!

Nettie and Charlotte are made from a very detailed vintage dollhouse doll pattern. They have floppy rag joints and felt clothes that are removable and have tiny Velcro closures. They even have teeny shoes! I had such a good time making them!

Making the storybook dolls is such a wonderful break from the monotony of the housewife day. I love my children and I love being a mother and wife, but I need something to think about during all the episodes of Curious George, the endless housework, and the hours spent sitting in the bathroom with the 2-year-old I am potty training! Writing this blog and my eBay descriptions also gives me some much-needed practice in writing daily again. I wrote and sketched daily throughout college and until I had children and then it fell away. I am trying to make it a habit again.

When I look at these dolls I see myself and my sisters, ensconced in the voluminous nightgowns preferred by my mother, warm by the stove in the seventies orange glow of our living room, our wet hair dripping on our shoulders as these stories unwound.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chasing the Lonely Doll

Edith & Little Bear read The Lonely Doll

Edith & Little Bear garden.

Edith & Little Bear bake cookies.

My initials and the number 1 to show this is the only doll made from this mold.

Edith prepares to bathe, so you can see her jointing.
The new obsession? The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright! Actually, this is a very old obsession. When I was 10 years old we moved to the South from the Midwest. I felt very out of place and lonely and turned to books to replace the friends and family we left behind. I came to know the library in our new town better than any other place. It was in the new library that I discovered The Lonely Doll books. I don't think they had the original book; the ones I remember are The Gift from the Lonely Doll and Edith and Midnight. I had them checked out so often I doubt anyone else near my age ever got to read them. Then I forgot all about them!

About a year ago I happened upon a copy of The Gift from the Lonely Doll at a consignment sale and memories of the book came flooding back! I bought it for my daughter, who wanted a doll like Edith, just as I did as a girl. I got on eBay where I discovered there were many Lonely Doll books and also discovered Lenci dolls (and their high price tags!) Much careful searching yielded a very moth-eaten and abused Rothschild felt Edith from 1985. If only my parents had known about that doll at the time--I was the perfect age for it! I was able to purchase and restore the doll for my daughter. She was as thrilled as I hoped! In a stunned voice she said, "A real Edith doll!" Now we have several of the books and my daughter has named all her dolls Edith!

I can't get those fantastic Lenci dolls out of my mind, though! How did Elena Scavini create dolls, who look so alive, out of felt? A long-ago ambition of becoming a doll artist resurfaced and I had to try to make my own Edith. I spent many hours studying the Lenci doll photos and acquired a pattern book. I sculpted my first head and pressed the felt...

The result? A cute little Edith! She's not perfect because the mold actually broke while the felt was baking. The side of the face on the unbroken side was pressed more than the other side, so she has a tilted-head look now. I am also not thrilled with the body pattern; the arms and legs seem too small to me for the body, so I am revamping it. I am pretty impressed with my first effort, though. The disk-jointing went well, so the arms, legs and head are articulated and pose able, just like the original Lencis, and the face I sculpted and painted is really cute. I had a fantastic time posing and photographing Edith and a purchased Little Bear. Edith and Little Bear read their favorite book (of course you know which one it had to be!), cook, garden, and Edith gets ready for her bath. I can see why Wright had to be a professional photographer to capture that life; it's really hard! If only I had done better in photography in school. But I had such a blast I already have more dolls in the works. Keep looking for updates on  the new ones!