Hello. How has the start of April found you? We’ve had snow in Chicago (just 2 days ago), but today the light and birds are back.
I’ve sewn another felt doe. I decided, after the last one, to put a pause on the doll-making in order to focus on my other project, but I couldn’t resist stitching this one, very much driven by a vision and a feeling. So, I did my best to make time for her in the interstices of other goings on (Easter, a new academic quarter, and so on). Now the doll is done! As you’ll see, this one is a little under the weather, a little blue, and in need of general proximity to a blanket. It was only after I finished that I saw the doll as a kind of mashup between Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh and Linus of Peanuts (they share an emotional kinship, don’t they?). But, not to worry: this doe is in good company.
It’s been my habit, after completing projects, to write up a ‘process post’ and unpack some of the working-up from my (maker) point of view. This time, I thought I’d tell the hand-crafting story from a slightly different perspective and, in the process, create a short visual narrative about care — or, how I’ve come to understand the caring space that crafting creates for me. Craft is a space of openness, patience, generosity, and exploration; it’s a very good place to find one’s feet, heal from whatever is ailing, and support renewal and new directions. This supportive aspect of making leads me to believe that making is kind of like a second immune system (and one nurtured by continuous practice). 🙂 In this way, I’m coming to discover how the things we make quite powerfully (re)make us in turn.
Enjoy. And deer hugs!
Have you ever felt “crafted” by a project you were working on? In what ways?
In the first week of March, I started work designing and making a 2nd felt figure. After my first one, I was on a bit of a felt-doll kick and decided to run with it.
The idea for this doll came unexpectedly, but once it arrived, it didn’t let go. One night, while looking aimlessly at the faux-marble designs on our kitchen floor tiles, I saw the face and figure of a little doe in the marble-y striations (my childhood habit of cloud-gazing, it seems, is following me into adulthood). This little doe caught my imagination. I knew then and there that she would be the next doll.
On reflecting further, there was good reason for my little deer vision. My partner and I live near a forest preserve. Last summer, we regularly went on hikes through the more heavily wooded areas, off the path. There, one encounters many little worlds. There was, for instance, the place we called “Frog Central,” which was just that: a nutrient-rich pond covered entirely by luminous green, seed-sized duckweed leaves; its busy banks were always a favourite frog and turtle hangout. What I still remember vividly, though, were the encounters with deer: spotting a lone and roaming stag, twice and, several other times, crossing literal paths with a doe and her fawn, trailing behind. The city makes it easy to forget that we share our world with other creatures who, like us, are simply trying to go about their lives, undisturbed.
On March 4th, I started to draw out different paper templates. By the 5th, I was cutting out my pieces and threading my needles. I was driven by a lot of curiosity and helped by making a lot of mistakes (some which I kept on the FO, like the different stitch patterns on the doe’s arms, as a reminder for future dolls).
A Dress for Spring
By the following week, the deer was sitting for a dress-fitting. Coraline’s miniature-knits were still fresh in my memory (this dress is huge by comparison, of course).
I generated a very minimal design and, after knitting up the dress, I was reminded of the advice given by the instructor who taught my college class on painting fundamentals. She was a professional landscape artist who had an irreverent and humorous teaching style (and inducted us into painting by having us build and stretch numerous 16 sq ft canvases in the studio). Early in the course, she told us “When you find yourself ‘decorating’ your work, stop!”
I have never been good at following this advice. At my core, you’ll find an inveterate “decorator.” I learned this early on: in another art class, we were asked to make a simple “fetish object”; while the other students’ works were nearly all very interesting conceptual objects, I arrived to our critique with a glass bottle that I had fully bedazzled with multi-colored rhinestones and acrylic paint. I felt like I’d missed the point of the assignment! (and discovered, in that encounter, the presumed and often discouraging hierarchy between “art” and “craft”).
I’m recovering my love of embellishment, however, so I had to add a little something extra to this tiny dress. I tried to practice some restraint, though (no rhinestones!). The X’s and O’s on the yoke are my take on Fair Isle patterning. The dress is knit from bamboo yarn; I added sequins to complement the bamboo’s natural luster. The dress is designed to catch those Spring-time rays.
I hope that this week finds you like this doe – basking in the glow of a long-missed sunbeam.
To Spring! (and to unseasonable, un-Spring-like weather here in the Midwest. I’ll take the sun any day).
Maybe it was seeing doll-artist Mimi Kirchner’s doll-making tutorial on Purl Soho, and then being completely blown away by the dolls on her instagram feed. They are incredible.
Maybe it’s the long-going, all-garter-stitch project that I’ve been working on — like cloud-gazing, working its rows tends to lull me into daydreams about things to make.
Or, maybe it’s simply the slow seasonal shift out of winter (fingers crossed?) that’s bringing in a new light and, with it, some unexpected creative whims. Whatever the case and cause, I felt the strong desire to make a felt doll last last Saturday – it was an insistent and oddly specific feeling that a little felt creature of some kind had to happen, and for no discernible reason. I am not known to say no to a surprise visitation from the feltie fairy; I canceled my weekend movie-night plans, brewed a big pot of tea, andtook to the drawing board. Here’s the DIY story, in 4 parts.
(Note: I have minimal hand-sewing experience and near-zero needlepoint skills, so the following project is easy enough for absolute feltie beginners!).
1. Designing a Pattern
I started with a simple sketch – a brainstorm of how I wanted a potential doll to look. I was inspired by one of my favourite childhood drawings: a picture of a somewhat forlorn hippie-bear with vacant pools for eyes. My current doll-prototype has yet to approximate the truth and goodness of this bear; it’s one of my favourite things.
I translated the sketch into a slightly modified paper cut-out that would serve as the doll pattern. Having no experience with designing doll-arms and doll-legs that move, I decided to make a static figure. Very Gumby-like. I held off on the rabbit-ears (but this idea has been very much shelved for later).
2. Stuffing & Sewing Up
Two identical pieces of felt were cut from this template (one for the doll-front, the other for the back). That is about as easy as it gets. Pinning the two pieces together kept the edges aligned while hand-sewing. They were seamed using a visible whip stitch and stuffed using some poly-fill that we conveniently happened to have on hand from felties past. One trick that I found useful (though likely unconventional) was to fill each small section as it was sewn (a leg, an arm, etc.).Skinny limbs can be hard to stuff — the flat end of a pencil can help move the fill to where it needs to go.
I spent Saturday sewing and stuffing my way through the project, and by Sunday morning, the paper template had a marshmallowy, 3-D version of itself (with a tummy patch!).
Another lesson learned, here: once stuffed, the resulting doll will be a little thinner than its paper counterpart — something to keep in mind when designing a stuffable template of this kind!
3. Adding Features
Using Mimi Kirchener’s excellent Purl Soho tutorial as a guide, I gave the doll some hair: a simple cut-out from one of her “wigs” that adorably represents a neat little parted up-do. The hair was sewn on, again, with a visible whip-stitch.
I returned to my creature last Tuesday to embroider some features. This step made me pause: I have almost no thread/floss-needlepoint skills, and the closest I come was a failed 5th-grade cross-stitch project that never saw the light of day (coincidentally, this project was also of a bear, seated, holding a heart which ended up looking more like a deflated beach ball). In other words, not a good track-record to bring to a project that I thought was going well, and didn’t want to ruin in one fell needle-swoop!
Using a water-soluble ink pen to pre-mark where the eyes would go, I used satin-stitch to fill in the eyes, to make a nose on a ‘snout’ (using a contrast colour of felt), as well as for her tiny heart tattoo (because she wears her heart on her sleeve). Back stitch was used for the brows and mouth.
I’m learning that there’s good reason to wait until the doll is stuffed to add its features – it’s simply much easier to see how and where everything will actually be positioned on an already-fully-stuffed head.
4. Last step: some new threads!
This was the part I anticipated the most when I started the project — my imagination was set free by dreams of tiny sweaters galore. I decided, in the end, to start with a basic poncho in the round: after a basic neckline, I worked a few rows of raglan-style increases and kept on knitting rather than separating the stitches off for sleeves (worked on size 4 DPNs and some scrap DK weight from another project, more on that soon).
As in large-scale knitting, top-down construction lends itself nicely to work-in-progress fittings:
The mini-poncho’s colour work pattern comes from Andrea Rangel’s quite awesome AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs. It’s a great resource for fun colour work charts (you’ll find everything in this book from zombies and squirrels to bicycles and scarab beetles). So much colour work goodness here!
And that’s a wrap! I hope to do more of these. Felties are fun to experiment with, and are great for small-scale garment-making. Following the process from sketch to sewing up can, as you can see, lead to some quite unexpected results (which, I think, is where the joy in design and making lies).
Have a DIY feltie design query? Or any doll-making tips to pass on? I would love to hear them in the comments below.
Wishing you many moments of creative happiness this week!