Mad In Pursuit Notebook


Meet "Jewel" (Doll #9)

5.28.2014. I wanted to make a special birthday present for my friend Pat, who has given me so much of her wisdom and her heart over the past few years. A doll. My shoulder pundits gave me a hard time about this: "You're too slow." "Your work is still too sloppy." "What if everyone starts expecting dolls from you now??" "She probably won't like it, anyway." I had to distract them with M&Ms and carry on with my plan.

After looking through my doll books, I decided to start with a pattern called "Beth" by Patti Medaris Culea, published in Cloth Doll Workshop. She would be a challenge, with moveable arms and legs and a separately attached head. But I loved her mop of hair. And I would ignore the instructions for clothing and design my own.

So I got out my muslin and started cutting. The sewing, turning and stuffing went smoothly -- almost. I was supposed to stuff pipe cleaners into her teensy hands so that all her fingers would be positionable. Well, her ring and little fingers were too skinny, so they had to go without. Rats.

The real issues came when I sat in my easy chair trying to hand-sew her head and limbs to her torso. I understod the instructions all right, but they just wouldn't work. Her neck was supposed to slide into the opening on the back of her head -- no way. Her arms and legs were supposed to be attached with buttons. Attaching the arms this way drove me crazy -- using long needles to get the thread through the torso but still match up to the little button holes -- just shoot me! The shoulder pundits -- stoked on M&Ms and several rounds of wine -- came back with a vengeance. "You should have picked an easier pattern." "This is going to look like crap." "Get Pat something else. She'll never know." I stopped working. The shoulder pundits were right.

"Don't you dare quit on me." What was that? The doll was speaking up now. "You finish what you started. I have work to do! I belong to Pat!"

Man, a demanding personality was showing through. Just what I needed. Quickly, I figured out alternate ways to attach her head and legs. Whew. Now for her face and hair.

Faces bring dolls to life. Doll #9 had already demonstrated her vital force, her determination to live. What her face showed me was her deep compassion.

Her hair was fun to make: lots of fibers wound around a coat hanger frame and sewn down the middle, known as a "wefted wig." It was 14" long and was supposed to be coiled on her little head (the whole doll is only about 18" long). I got out my needle and thread to do a proper job but it was beyond me how to get her to sit still for this job. After consulting a couple dollmaking pages on the web, I got out my Fabri-tac and glued it down. After too many bad experiences with glue guns and other "surefire" glue solutions, I was terrified that her wig would just pop off. But, whew, so far, so good.

I had many clever and creative ideas for the clothing. But first... you will note from the photo that she has no boobs. Why is that? Was the pattern-maker afraid she'd look like Barbie? I spent the better part of an hour fashioning a padded bra for #9. She insisted.

Onward. In my stash I had some light olive crushed velvet and some fat quarters of vibrant dupioni silk. In the end, what got made was what my hands decided they could do -- a "shabby chic" ensemble worthy of NYC fashion week. Her draped dress and cloak were embellished with couched sari yarn and other embroidery. Her shoes were painted with glowing copper.

Finally, the little fairie/goddess was done.

Usually, dolls tell me their story as I am dressing them. #9 was clearly strong-willed, bold (with a wild streak), challenging, and magical. She was connected to the universe. But she kept her story to herself. All she would say was that she came from the jewel tree of Tibet [where our mentor beings reside] and that she would only tell Pat her name. She would only tell Pat her story. And then she instructed me to make a beautiful box for her transportation to Florida.

Pat with her gift box:

Pat with her new friend:

And so the gift was delivered. I think Pat was pleased. Pat had a few preconceived notions about naming #9 but by the end of the day, #9 revealed her own name: "Jewel." Of course.