Wednesday, 28 September 2011

What a Doll

Well well, who would have thought that sludge could cause a little disturbance? I had no idea sludge was not a widely known phrase. For those of you wondering what on earth I've been rambling on about, there's a rather grim description of sludge here (read at your peril). I suppose sludge is indeed a muddy, silty type substance which is generally fairly negative in its connotations. I use it to encompass a colour palette which is rather murky in tone. This is how I always viewed these Civil War type fabrics, to be fair I really didn't "get" them but I'm glad to say I've widened my tastes (and my stash!) It was probably a little unfair to dismiss my recent handiwork as sludgey. There is beauty in that there sludge!

I have been indulging in more sludgey quilting on a miniature scale and devouring books on the subject. I asked my sister to lend me this book (scared as I was by the second hand prices on the 'net). Any self-respecting Civil War-style quilt maker knows that you have to have a prairie doll to display with your quilts.

Now I will turn my crafty hands to just about anything but I've never made a doll. I've made soft toys, I've made dolly-like clothes (for Katie Kitty for example) but never a doll. Truth be told, I was a bit scared! I read Prairie People over and over, I've not been seen without that book for the past week and yesterday, I decided it was time to get down to dolly business. I chose my doll, "Purleyetta" (the book has a huge list of rather interesting names suitable for prairie dollies) and began tracing the pattern pieces onto freezer paper. I love this stuff. It has a paper side onto which you draw and the reverse is shiny and when the heat of an iron is applied is turns temporarily sticky so it is great for making pattern pieces and templates, you simply iron the pieces onto your fabric and cut round them.

So far so good. Purleyetta is looking a bit worryingly butch here?

The instructions directed for the doll to be made from osnaburg (duly ordered from The Cotton Patch) which is a very loose weave sacking-type material. Not the easiest to work with, I stay-stitched all pieces as instructed and double stitched all seams using a very small stitch size. Oh, the patience.

So I have sewn like a thing possessed (nothing new there) and I would say about 15 hours later, Purleyetta has been born. Not a bit of butchness in sight, out she goes to enjoy the glorious sunshine.

The sunshine is lovely but not handy for photos, it has to be said. I was most trepidatious about creating the doll's face. My sister has always said "But it's the faces. Getting those right. That's the hard bit". I was thinking going Amish might be preferable. But I set to with some permanent fine liner pens, some acrylic paint and a few brushes and it wasn't actually that bad. A bit of trapunto created the nose (oh my, was that fiddly and the osnaburg actually frayed a bit but never mind).

The attention to detail in the instructions was good. The head and body are one piece, then there are two separate legs which you stitch into the body and two arms to hand stitch to the torso. I loved creating the chubby fingers!

Of course, the body was only the beginning because then Purleyetta had to be dressed, lots more pattern pieces to trace onto tissue paper before sewing them up, including full under garments made from vintage sheeting trimmed with vintage lace.

Working on a small scale is fiddly but satisfying.

The book suggests that Purleyetta is a simple soul, without frills, and a true quilter, happy with her quilts. There are instructions in the book for creating Purleyetta's memory quilt so that's just what I did.

I don't have a lot of plaid fabrics in my stash but I had stockpiled some of the Munchkin and Mr HenHouse's old shirts and in they went! They were lovely to hand quilt being made of super-fine cotton.

And the sashing? None other than a reduced-price lady's top from Sainsbury's supermarket (it was even £3 when it went through the till!) It was a shocker to sew with, made with that rather flimsy cotton supermarkets like to produce cheap clothing with, and being gingham, always tricky to try to keep the lines straight but never more so than here.

The little quilt is backed with a decidedly pretty floral print in a calico style. I enjoyed the simple hand quilting which didn't actually take that long. I didn't hand baste this quilt but used a basting spray (505) to fuse the quilt layers which worked brilliantly. Using the thinnest batting you can find is the best tip for enjoyable hand quilting (Dream Cotton in request weight is good).

So there you have it. I'm pleased with the outcome but I will have to psyche myself up to make another doll. That will take oooh, at least a few days! But that's ok as I've got another quilt on the go. You probably suspected that.


  1. She looks gorgeous! I love the print on her dress. :)

  2. Dolly and quilt are gorgeous
    I love them
    Julie xxxxxxxx

  3. I love your prarie doll and her quilt and I am a fan of plaid and sludge too!!! x

  4. Wow, she looks amazing! I love the face, you've made her a proper personality haven't you? All that work, I'm very impressed. Well done Hen.

  5. Purleyetta turned out beautifully and I love her quilt. I wonder how badly you will get the doll-making bug?

  6. I just love the doll you made! I have my great grandmother's high chair and I wish I had a doll like that to sit in her chair. I adore the little quilt too, what precious things! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  7. Hen,you really have got the sludge bug, BIG TIME!
    Nice plaid brushed cotton weaves are really hard to find- when I asked one fabric supplier why they are almost impossible to find ( but bliss to hand quilt) they said that a bolt of flannel takes up more space than two bolts of 'normal' cotton,so just not economic,sadly.

  8. Ever since I was little I wanted to make dolls (not the china sort - fabric ragdoll types). I had a go about a year ago, in my usual fashion. I made a pattern, which was brilliant, if I may say so myself, but I decided to embroider her face before sewing her up. BIG mistake. She has the most awful expression because her mouth ended up too low and she looks horribly surprised, probably because she realised that she has no chin. I loathe her face, but now she has one I haven't the heart to dispose of her. Your dolly looks great - with a sweet wee expression. I rather like the term sludge. Perfect description of the muted tones. XXX

  9. I have always wanted to make rag dolls too, but never got around to it. And having boys, there were no dollies to dress. I have made lots of one in twelve scale soft furnishings and bedding, curtains and so forth, for my dolls house (which belongs to Mr. Bartholomew, a retired Bank Official), but that's about it. I am, as ever, inspired by your work to 'have a go', so it's gone on my 'things to do list'.
    Beautiful work, as ever.

  10. Ahh, now I know what sludge is I can confirm I was already a fan. I always just say I like mucky colours!
    Love the doll, my Mother used to make really great ones like this.

  11. Great to see others discovering cloth doll making.
    There is a yahoo group that is about the antique and vintage style cloth dolls You might like it.
    Your doll and quilt are lovely.Her face is perfect.It is what makes the doll come alive.
    I only discovered little/doll quilts in the last few years(found Kathleen Tracy's books) but have been making dolls for a very long time.
    judy j

  12. I was wondering what sludgy meant also. I know what sludge is, but thought it had another meaning for you! I am a dollmaker, have been for years. I used to sell doll, quilt, and seasonal patterns many years ago. I am getting the bug again to design, so eventually will get going on my patterns again and put them on Etsy, probably after the holidays. But, until then, I am so happy to see that I am not the only one who loves making dolls, or at least enjoys the dolls! And by the way, I think you did a wonderful job! Good for you. Love your blog, I am a follower. I actually have been checking in your blog for a long time before I knew about the follow button. I really enjoy seeing what you have been up to and your pictures!! If you ever get a chance come visit me at my new blog, Ric Rac and Polka Dots. I am pretty new but have lots of fun things planned to share! I hope to see you there!

  13. And by the way, there are still many of us who enjoy making dolls out there, so if you just google it I think you will be able to find lots of blogs and designers, etc., who would be more than happy to give you any advice needed on doll making. I think you did a great job!!!

  14. Now, quilting and patchwork I love, and get more and more into as I get older (funny that!). But doll making, I just can't do... too fiddley. Your patchwork is fabulous. Men's shirts work so well for this sort of thing.
    Love your decision on my post - you are so right. The brown is going! x

  15. Your doll & her quilt are charming! I have that book & enjoy looking through it. Maybe someday I will jump in and make a doll too!

  16. Sweet little doll i love her clothes and the quilts are gorgeous too , your so talented all your homemakes look so well made x

  17. She has a very benevolent expression on her face - I feel that she has seen a lot of summers out there on the prairie. I have always worried about the faces - supposing you ended up with a spooky one? - and perhaps this is why I have never made a doll, but yours is very sweet.

    Pomona x

  18. My comment hasn't appeared, so you may get two ... just wanted to say I think your dolly and quilt are really cute!

  19. Yeah, think I have solved my 'unable to comment' problem, adjusted my 'cookie' level!
    Wanted to say how much I love your doll and quilt. She has such a beautifully wistful face.
    Carol xx

  20. Purleyetta and her quilt are lovely!
    I've just looked back at Katie Kitty and she is adorable too.

  21. Love your deviation into the world of doll making! Good to see you on saturday.. sadly no time to chat as usual the fair was very busy & bonkers (another word that will not be widely understood!) Have a super week. Lizzie xx

  22. Well done, she looks gorgeous! I haven't sewn a doll for years and I'm not even sure what happened to the couple I did, it was so long ago. A definite heirloom for the future though, but will you make her a friend?

  23. She is wonderful and I was glued to your description of the step-by-step guide of how you made her.

    Please, please IF you have a minute come and see my doll which I just completed a few days ago. I adore making small-scale items so dolls clothes are the thing for me. I guess it's the attention to detail.

    I really enjoyed this post.

    ps I'm still a little afraid of painting the faces on.... Maybe you have inspired me to do so... soon!


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