My journey into doll making began long ago. This doll journey was a process as many things are. Think about lifestyle changes, occupations, religion, diets, etc.: they tend to have a journey with various curves along the way before arriving at their destination. We are constantly changing, and life’s experiences play a vital role in who we become. Let me share with you the details of this doll journey and why I now make dolls.
My Early Froggy
I grew up in a family with five of us children, and needless to say, life was busy; but Mom still tried to find time–not always a lot but bits here and there– time to teach us little things about life. One day as a young boy, my mom pulled out a small sewing pattern of a frog. It had been clipped out of an old magazine with instructions on making a beanbag frog. She then showed me how to make a simple sewing stitch. It was “in and out, in and out.” She told me all I had to do was trace the pattern onto some cloth and sew the pieces together, remembering to leave a bit unsewn in order to turn it inside out. Then turn it inside out and fill with beans or rice, which we did. (Today, most would use plastic pellets so as not to attract bugs.) After that, I sewed a couple buttons onto the froggy for eyes. (Mom showed me how to do this also.) I was so excited about knowing how to make my very own animal. I felt a sense of pride knowing I could make one. Then I played with it in the living room. Walking down the hall, I was filled with joy and self-worth, knowing with Mom’s help, I had created my own toy; and I wanted to show everyone what I had made. Amazing what can be done with just a few rags! I still have that old pattern and have made some of these beanbag frogs to sale as well as gifts for family and friends.
From Froggy to Doggy
A few years went by, and I found myself attracted to hobby shops. I would walk in and thoroughly enjoy walking around looking at everything. I just loved it all from model airplanes to styrofoam rockets, from cross-stitch to making stuffed animals. I began making little gifts for people from supplies I got there. One day, I walked into Hancock fabrics to get some stuffing for a frog I was making. On the packaging of the bag was a free pattern for Mr. and Mrs. Frog. The pattern included the bodies as well as the clothes for the frogs. The completed frogs were regaled in their wedding attire. Mr.frog had a black suit and tie, and Mrs. Frog had a white dress and veil. When my six grade teacher was married a couple years later, I attended the wedding and gave this frog couple to them as a wedding gift.
One day I was in the craft shop getting some more fiberfill stuffing to make some more animals when once again I saw a free pattern on the plastic packaging of the stuffing. This time it was a simple pattern to make a puppy dog. I could hardly wait. I took it home and began making one. Then I decided to make another. Then another. Each time I made one I used fabric with a different pattern or design. Some were striped, others polka dot; some solid, plaid, or gingham. I could hardly wait to make another, wondering how this doggy would look when made with a different pattern of fabric. A few weeks later there was an arts and crafts competition at my school. I decided to enter some of these dogs I had made. It was fun entering them and showing them to others. I was really surprised when I was awarded first prize in the handmade craft category. At the time, I just called them stuffed puppy dogs, but they are really hand-crafted rag dogs made from leftover fabric. Amazing what can be done with a needle and thread!
My Wooden-Head Puppet
As a teenager I was quite attracted to the craft section at Wal*Mart. I still am. Back then though, it seems the craft section was much larger than it is now; and it had a lot more of the wooden supplies than it does currently. I remember seeing wooden pieces that could be purchased in order to make human models or wooden dolls. Staring at the pieces I had an epiphany: I could make my very own Pinocchio doll!
So I purchased a few supplies from money I had saved, walked home, and began to figure out how I would create this whimsical doll. The wooden ball became the head and the dowel pieces/ wooden clothespin-like pieces became the arms and legs. They were attached with wire, creating a joint and making the doll flexible and adroit. Then I thought, “Why not make my own clothes out of felt?” So I did. I took a thin dowel rod and glued it to the face with wood glue, creating Pinocchio’s long nose. Later I attached fishing line to the arms and legs, and my puppet almost turned real as the marionette danced joyfully about the floor!
From Puppet Show to the Classroom
I grew up loving stuffed animals. Every time a birthday or holiday rolled around and asked what I would like, the answer from me was always, “A stuffed animal______.” Sometimes I filled in the blank dog; other times it was bear, mouse, seal, raccoon, etc. Over time, I acquired quite a stuffed animal pile. Then I started showing interest in puppets, and my brother and I would start performing puppet shows. Our house had one of those half-walls dividing the living room from the dining area. So we stood on chairs in the dining room with our arms raised high with puppets peeping over the top of the wall, while the rest of the family watched in the living room. Sometimes my sisters got in on the action too.
One day we visited Knott’s Berry Farm, and I saw the funniest puppets I had ever seen. They were strange fuzzy creatures with sunglasses over the eyes and a scarf about the neck. They were called Moppets (not Muppets). I used my own spending money to buy one. In sixth grade for our class program, we were to perform a song singing all fifty U.S. states. I used that puppet in the show, and a recording of a funny cartoon voice played while I moved his mouth to the rhythm of the song. These experiences truly did whet my appetite for dolls and animated stuffed toys.
As I grew older I never entirely stopped making dolls and puppets–though it was put on pause a bit when entering the world of academia and college life. I did make a few in between college semesters. I graduated and began teaching elementary school (I guess I never really grew up. I relate well with children and am perhaps a big kid myself.) Each year I taught, I found myself making dolls, stuffed animals, and other crafts such as handmade brooms on the side. Eventually, I even began teaching the children how to do simple sewing projects. From little pincushions to frogs, teddy bears, and penguins–even felt top hats! The children loved it all. It worked best starting about fourth grade though–when they have the maturity and dexterity to really do it well.
Let’s Go to Storybook Land!
One day someone said to me, “You could sell these dolls.” and offered to buy a pair–one boy and one girl doll. Later, parents of students bought dolls and stuffed animals–even pillows–from me. I began posting some of them online. I acquired many patterns (many of them free from elderly grannies who had them in their attic for years). Some of them are quite vintage now! An idea struck me one day (probably from teaching elementary school): Why not make a store centered around the fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and other classic tales? Most of the items could be paraphernalia related to that theme. Fairies, princesses, princes, castles, enchanted forests, animals, gnomes, elves, etc.! Alice in Wonderland dolls, the Three Bears, the Three Pigs, Jack and Jill, Cinderella, Snow White, Humpty Dumpty, The Velveteen Rabbit, Peter Rabbit, Corduroy the Bear, Paddington Bear, Pinocchio, and many more! And so came the idea that has led to this website, Storybook Dolls. Over time, I hope to develop it, improve it, and offer more services related to classic stories and their dolls. If you have any ideas as to what sort of things you would like to see here, please leave them in the comments below. So why not pick up a storybook and enter the world of fantasy, or read it to a child today? I believe it to be good for the mind, the imagination, your creativity–why even your youthfulness; for inside all of us I believe there is a child still lurking.