One of my pocket saints

Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Confessions of an Amateur Dollmaker

(Published Dec. 14, 2022 as Newsletter No. 6)

Dear one, I’m looking around our great room. Every table is crowded with tool kits or supply boxes—clay-shaping, needle-felting, hand-sewing, doll-stuffing; clay, wool, cord, buttons, fabric scraps, reclaimed woolens from the thrift store.

Really, I just meant to wrap up a doll project I started last summer.

Everyone knows I have a doll problem. Over the course of nine years they have infiltrated shelves and quiet corners everywhere here in our cabin.

Once upon a time, my creative life was strictly online and audience-oriented—blogs, photography, drawing, audio production.

But back in 2013, cleaning out a closet made me suddenly want to make a quilt from Jim’s old cotton shirts. I hadn’t used my sewing machine since the 1970s, but quickly rediscovered the tactile thrill of fabric taking on shape beneath my fingers. In November that year, with the small quilt finished, I had a sudden urge to make a doll. Why?

Looking back at my notes, I see I was enjoying a period of intense spiritual inquiry. My daily entries started with invocations, addressed to YOU, whoever You might be. I was reading Rumi poetry:

:: “There is a sun within every person, the you we call companion.” ::

Interesting: an impulse to be inspired by a transcendent You, to channel a divine gift into my hands, to make “companions.” Sounds mystical, doesn’t it? I loved that sensation.

I called my first few dolls “pocket saints” and carried them around with me.

Making a doll is also an engineering project. A doll is complex. An invisible armature connects head, torso, and limbs. It has a face—eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. All its parts need to hang together with balance and proportion. One off-kilter eyeball and the doll quickly turns grotesque.

A doll is dimensional, so pinning one down for construction or repair is tricky. They don’t sit still. A good dollmaker has nimble fingers and then a nimble mind to find the right tool and to shift gears as the project evolves.

I would never call myself a doll “artist” or a doll “restorer.” I explore. I use thrifted and found materials.

  • I once made a doll with old computer cables, felted together with wool, just to see if I could.

  • I made a tiny pair of suede boots for a 12-inch doll, just to see if I could.

  • I made a polymer clay head to transform a wine bottle into the drinking god Bacchus, just to see if I could.

They aren’t masterpieces. There is no show or craft fair in my future.

But here’s what I love:

There are moments in every doll project when I feel like a real dollmaker, a real master craftsman. Something is perfect—the little fingers, a bulge of muscle, a sweet expression. A sudden thrill! Am I channeling some ephemeral YOU, something, someone not-me guiding my hand? Or, like a child, am I playing make-believe, wishing that were true?

How about you? How do you channel mastery, feel the gift of someone out there, not-you? Singing… sensing the heartbreak of Patsy Kline? Outdoor repairs in winter… sensing the raw-boned courage of a pioneer? Hiking… sensing the rush of an Everest climber? Gardening? Cooking? I want to understand more about this thrill, this moment of ecstasy in a favorite hobby.

Till next time,


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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.