goobster, nexto, it’s done. After a little over twenty hours of cutting, stitching, mild cursing, unstitching, restitching, more mild cursing, unstitching and restitching, it’s finally done. I want to give both of you, and Dala of course, my sincerest thanks for the advice and encouragement on this little project of mine. I gotta say, what I finally ended up with is so far and removed from the idea I originally had in my mind, I’m pleasantly surprised with the results, and I learned quite a few things in the process.
But before I go on, lets get one thing out of the way. This doll came out creepy. Unintentionally so, but creepy none the less.
This is the face of a lagomorphic psycopath. Sweet dreams.
The Materials and Techniques
The patches are made out of 100% cotton twill with 100% cotton embroidery thread. The main body pieces are made out of 100% linen and everything is sewn together with 100% cotton thread. Chances are you’re seeing a theme here. I like natural materials, partly because I want any scraps that I have to be biodegradable, but mostly because I associate in my head “natural” with “pure” and “traditional.” Unfortunately, the stuffing is made of polyester, because that’s what we had on hand left over after we re-stuffed our couch. It needed to be used, there’s no point in it going to waste, but at least I can take comfort that it’s all from recycled content.
Pretty much all of the stitches at the seams are your basic backstitch. It’s basic, it’s easy, it gets the job done. In fact, the only stitching that I can think of that isn’t backstitch is where I sewed the head into the body, where I basically used an exposed ladder stitch to make things work.
Overall, the thing is pretty floppy at all of the joints. Talking to my mother, she warned me against over stuffing it because she knew that my noob, hand stitched seams would probably be pretty weak and that too much stuffing would put too much stress on them. So I need to work on my seams, so for future projects, I can be a bit more liberal with using stuffing.
Things I Learned: The Philosophical and Artistical Stuff
When I first told Dala that I wanted to try my hand at making a doll, she wanted to know if I wanted to get a sewing machine. I said “no” as a practical response because we don’t really have a good place to put it and I don’t want to spend the money on something if I don’t know if I’m gonna enjoy the whole process of making something or not. I also said “no” though, because on a philosophical level, I don’t like the idea of working with machines to make things quicker and easier for myself. I feel that making things by hand is supposed to be a journey, filled with mistakes and discovery, learning and developing new skills and techniques, and most importantly, an exercise in patience and joy and accepting mistakes. If I knew starting out that this little thing was gonna take me over twenty hours to make and that I would screw up a lot, I probably wouldn’t have started. But the whole thing from start to finish has been a genuine joy and now I find myself trying to figure out what I want to make next and how. As much as a sewing machine might have made things easier for me, I think it would have robbed me of more, so I’m glad I didn’t use one.
When you haven’t done something for well over a decade, in this case embroidery, you’re gonna suck when you pick it back up. But after a bit of practice, you get the hang of it again and suddenly you wonder why you ever stopped doing it in the first place.
I really, really enjoyed patching the twill pieces to the linen. I love having exposed thread, with contrasting colors, and stitches that stand out. It looks nifty, it gives the piece a rustic feel, and it accentuates the whole “hand madeness” of the piece. I think if I do future projects, I’m gonna embrace exposed threads as much as possible and while I understand why people want to use matching color threads and stitch techniques to help the threads blend in and hide in created pieces, I don’t think that’s for me. If anyone ever asked me outright, I wouldn’t claim to be a huge wabi sabi kind of guy, but if the subject matter is explored in general conversation, I think it’s pretty easy to say I’m a pretty big wabi sabi kind of guy.
I re-learned how important it is to quit while I’m ahead.
Lastly, and most importantly, I learned how refreshing it is to try to learn things from talking to other people about what I’m making than learning from books, articles, and youtube videos. I love bookbinding, but it’s pretty niche. As a result, learning stuff is all a matter of self teaching. This doll though? Through the course of it I got advice and tips from about five or six different people and the whole experience was not only a refreshing change of pace, but it was genuinely encouraging. I always knew why, on a logical level, why sewing circles exist. But now I really know why sewing circles exist. I should join one.
Things I Learned: The Boring Technical Stuff
On the practical end, I learned that, when a template is designed with felt in mind, the template shapes are going to be way too small to work with if I’m gonna be using fabric instead. So basically, I gotta blow everything up by at least 130%. Additionally, I learned that when seems are added, every piece kind of becomes elongated so the final product is gonna be distorted height wise. This is something to keep in mind when working with templates for future products.
I learned that Fray Check is expensive, but worth every penny. It’s a magical concoction that not only keeps pieces from fraying while still allowing them to be flexible, but it’s actually lightly perfumed once dry, which is nice.
I learned that as far as fabrics are concerned, 100% linen and 100% twill are both expensive but texture wise, oh so very, very nice. I also learned that linen is slightly fragile to folding and that folding an area too much will cause the fibers to break, but this property also allows linen to get a charming wrinkle effect when bunched up. Thanks to Wikipedia for that lovely fact.
Additionally, I learned that the thread count for linen is low enough that polyester filling will kind of leak out between the threads and if I want to continue to use linen down the road, I’m either gonna have to line it with another fabric to keep that from happening or try using a different stuffing material. I talked about that with Dala yesterday and we’re looking at a few options, from using scrap fabric and yarn as filling to maybe using cotton or wool. I’m kind of curious about giving wool a shot and there’s quite a few places we could potentially get some from, from a fair trade fabric shop here in town to a friend of ours that lives out in Amish Country who could probably buy some and ship it to another friend who lives near both a goat farm and an alpaca farm who could also probably buy some and ship it to us. My only hesitance with using wool is that I know some people are allergic to it and I honestly don’t like the idea of making something only to not be able to give it to someone due to an allergy. That said, I also know that creating additional lining is a lot of extra work, so, we’ll see.
Just Because Today is Mother’s Day
I enjoyed the conversations I had with my mother while making this. She’s where I got my love for art in general, but more specifically, folk art. I think it’s one of the best things she’s ever passed on to me and I’ll always be thankful for that.
Sorry for the wall of text.
Have a beautiful week everyone.
Love all of this. Congratulations on completing it!
For practice, you might want to check out what my friend Eric Edwards is doing. He has a vintage shop on Etsy. He has been buying old clothes with significant problems (holes, etc.) and repairing them with fabulous embroidery patches. Making the "defect" into something beautiful, unique, and interesting. Look through his Instagram, and you'll see a number of his pieces that have been modified and made glorious! https://www.instagram.com/eseartstudio/
Finally, the fabrics you are choosing to work with are very loosely woven. That's what makes their "hand" (the feel and drape of the fabric) so loose and 'watery' feeling.
It also means they don't have much structural integrity.
Maybe go by your local Goodwill and buy some old jeans. Denim has structural integrity, and old denim has been broken-in and has a wonderful hand to it.
Anyway... enjoy your adventure! And please let me know if you have any questions.