Saturday, January 16, 2016


A nesting doll family
Recently I was inspired to try a new project. My sister's family was visiting and her youngest had a wonderful time playing with my matryoshka dolls. My dolls, a gift from my mother, are not really made for play. They are thin wood and covered with metallic leafing. However, if someone sits right with a child then it's a good learning activity for them; they learn a lot about size order and fitting the pieces inside each other is good for fine motor development. Since my nephew just turned two (how can that be, already?!) I decided to make him his own set. Of course, the smallest doll is a choking hazard, so someone will have to play with him when he uses these. That's the nice thing about being the aunt instead of the mom; I can let his parents worry about that stuff! My nephew loves elephants, so I decided to make an elephant family.

Sketching the design

I looked at a lot of vintage elephant prints and toys to get the retro feel I wanted. My initial sketches were a little scary, I thought, but eventually I drew some I was happy with. I just drew the designs with regular old pencil.

The finished designs

I wasn't super thrilled with the matryoshka blanks when I first saw them because the bases hadn't been sanded down, so they still had little bumps on the bottom where they were attached to the lathe. They were also very hard to open and close because they fit together extremely tightly. So, I sanded the bases and interior edges down with my Dremel tool.

The blanks needed sanding.
Just in case one of these does end up in my nephew's mouth, I wanted to make sure the paint is safe. I used leftover low VOC latex interior house paint for the gray elephant skin and artist's acrylics for the details. I still don't recommend anyone chewing on these, but they should not have any harmful chemicals to rub off on a child's skin and get into the bloodstream. I looked into making natural paints, like milk paint, but I don't have a wide range of all natural pigments or any way to test the paint. Artists' paints and commercial house paints are all tested for safety.

I used low VOC latex paints.
It became apparent to me that I was a bit ambitious in my level of detail when I was sketching the designs. The littlest elephant is only about an inch tall, so I had to use a minuscule brush!

A tiny brush

In keeping with my child safe theme, I decided to use all natural homemade paste wax to finish the dolls, rather than polyurethane or commercial wax. I found Crunchy Betty's wood polish recipe perfect.

Melting the beeswax

Betty's idea to melt the wax right in the jar instead of dirtying a double boiler is pure genius!

The wax is melted right in the jar.

I doubled the original recipe and added 25 drops of lime essential oil (from Young Living of course!) because I just adore that fragrance! I have a bunch of wooden spoons I want to refresh with this polish, so I wanted a food safe oil option.

I used YL lime oil to scent it.

Once the wax hardened I just applied it like paste wax, rubbing it all over the insides and outsides of each piece, letting it sit, and then buffing it off. The polish leaves a smooth, buttery finish that feels wonderful, protects the paint, and makes them easier to open and close.

Applying wax
I tried really hard to make these cute and to include a high level of detail. I enjoyed these so much I ordered 10 sets of blanks from Russia so I can make some to sell in my Atelier Mandaline Etsy store. Look for them in the shop in about a month or so.

Papa Elephant

Baby Elephant

Baby's tiny tail!

I did have trouble deciding whether the elephants should have hair, and if so, what color hair. In the end I gave the mother and sister lots of hair but the father and baby didn't get much. I tried to add some textural interest using 3-D accents. Things like buttons and polka dots and necklaces are all slightly raised paint. My Russian set has raised details like that and I think they appeal to children and adults.

The family nests together.

Front view

Back view

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