(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.