Gardening Season!

Mary Mary QUITE contrary . . . 

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(Oooh, just look at that disrespectful little minx! Her mama says if she’s not careful, her face is going to freeze that way!)

 

How does your garden grow? . . . 

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(Well, looks like some roses, salvia . . . maybe some monarda? . . .  Such pretty, traditional cottage garden plants . . . )

 

With silver bells . . . 

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(Wait, what?)

 

And cockle shells . . . 

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(What??? . . . Now hold on! Cockle shells don’t grow in gardens! Something strange is going on here!)

 

And pretty maids all in a row!

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(Ummm . . . this is a very unusual garden.)

 

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( . . . I wonder what you feed those tall plants. Compost and bone meal? Or chocolates and wine?)

 

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Ta-ta Darlings! Until next time!

 

My First Art Show!

Ohmigosh everyone — remember when I said there were exciting things happening around here? I wasn’t kidding. I’m going to have my first art show! Check it out:

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So here’s the deal: there’s this absolutely fabulous organization in Richmond called Health Brigade. (People who have lived in Richmond for a while remember it by its former name, Fan Free Clinic.) Health Brigade was formed in 1968 as the first free clinic in Virginia, patterned after similar efforts in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. Over the decades, this amazing organization has responded to contemporary health challenges, from women’s health and the prevention of transmissible diseases, to HIV/AIDS, to current issues in access to affordable health care. Its mission is to provide quality health services, especially to those least served, in a compassionate and non-judgmental environment. I simply can’t stress enough my admiration for Health Brigade and the dedicated people I’ve met there.

So last year, Health Brigade began a new initiative called Art Brigade. The idea is to have art on display in the clinic as a way to promote healing for patients, as well as to allow clients,  volunteers, staff and the public to experience community-born art. Art Brigade’s first show, featuring the gorgeous mixed-media work of Jill Powell, opened in November and will run through the rest of this week. My show will open next Thursday, March 23 and remain until May 31. It will include not only my art dolls, but also a fair amount of my past work on paper: graphite, colored pencil, watercolor, and collage. The truth is, I’m a little overwhelmed by the whole thing, but I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to share my work with the community! And the best part of all — a portion of any work sold during the show will go to Health Brigade. All of my dolls, except for Bernard and the Toymaker, will be for sale.

So . . . . that’s the latest news from FineHandLand darlings! Isn’t this just the best year ever?  Until next time, ta-ta!

The Toymaker

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He’s an old man now. He lives alone. At night it’s quiet in his little cottage. Maybe a little too quiet. Sometimes.

But mostly he doesn’t mind. His heart and his days are full. They are full of children. Boys and girls, small children, not-so-small children, and children who are almost grown. So many children.

He makes toys.

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All kinds of toys. Dollies.

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And painted villages.

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And wooden blocks for the littlest ones.

All of the children are his.

His, in the sense that he knows and loves every one of them. And they adore him. They come to sit at his feet, to beg for stories, to watch his old hands bring forth playthings for their pleasure.

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He is the Toymaker.

He hasn’t always lived in this village. He showed up one day, with a box of tools and a sack full of scrap wood, and he sat down under the wide branches of the oldest tree in the shire, and he started whittling. He gave the little wooden dog to the cobbler’s youngest daughter.

The next day he made a miniature sailing ship, with real sails. He gave it to the mayor’s son, who had sat beside him all day, watching.

After that, all the children wanted something for their own. He moved into an old cottage on the outskirts of the village and he made something for each and every one of them. He tells them stories while he works. Stories about queens and kings, witches and ogres, soldiers and maidens. He weaves magic into his stories and into the toys he makes for the children.

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He’s never told them about the little girl. About her big brown eyes and her soft, soft curls. He’s never told them about her beautiful mother and how much they loved each other.

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No, those are sad stories.

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He’d rather tell the children the stories with the happy endings. He tells them about how he’s travelled the world and the strange and wonderful things he’s seen. He tells them about fantastic humped beasts that can walk for days and days across burning sands, and about lands where the sun never sets at all at midsummer and never rises at midwinter, and about a great walled road that stretches across the mountains like a giant serpent. Their eager questions and bright eyes delight him. He laughs to see the games his tales inspire.

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In the evenings, when the children have gone home to their suppers and their beds, the Toymaker’s cottage grows quiet again. He finishes his work, puts his tools away, and prepares his last meal of the day. He sits in the twilight until the stars come out. He remembers the little girl and her beautiful mother.

But there is a smile on his lips.

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The Toymaker has been blessed with many children. And he loves them all.

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A Tutorial: How To Make Realistic Jeans

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Ooooh, Darlings! I feel a tutorial coming on. Mercy, I’m rather woozy. Oh dear — whatever shall I do?

Well, I suppose there’s nothing for it but to give in to the urge. So — wanna see how I make jeans for my contemporary characters? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not by sewing teeny-tiny little flat felled seams and perfect topstitching. No way I could do that at the right scale for an 18″ doll. Heck, I can hardly sew perfect topstitching at any scale!

It’s all an illusion created with paint and glue. I’ll show you how:

First of all, let’s analyze what it is that makes jeans seams look like jeans seams (this is a picture of real ones):

2220797120_9f766ff2d0_oPhoto credit: Juli on Flickr

Okay, so first of all, there’s the double line of topstitching, which everyone associates with jeans. You’ll find it on all the seams that have been flat felled (those bulky seams where the fabric has been doubled over). It’s also on the pockets and the fly. But pay attention, and you’ll see that it’s not just the topstitching that makes this look like a pair of jeans. It’s the nature of the denim. Denim fades quite readily where it is abraded. (That’s why your old jeans have light patches on the seat and the thighs.) So the parts of the seams that are most exposed, like the edges, and where the fabric is pushed up by the seam allowance below, are strongly faded. Also, because of the thickness of the fabric, the denim buckles along those bulky areas, and develops those distinctive light and dark areas. Finally, there are shadow lines created by the folds of the seams and by the stitching itself.

So what we want to do, besides putting on the orange topstitching lines, is reproduce the effect of abrasion and shadows. Okay, here’s the front of the jeans, with the crotch sewn together in an ordinary seam.img_3030

 

The first thing I do is paint a white line along the very edge of the seam where the fabric would be faded by abrasion.img_3057

 

Next, I paint parallel white line where the fabric would be pushed up by the bulk of the seam allowance underneath. In this picture the lines look pretty sharp and crisp. After I took the picture I softened them up a little bit by brushing some water over them before the paint was dry.img_3059

 

Now I want to put in the light and dark areas where the fabric would have buckled. This is a little bit like stripes between the white lines, but irregular and kinda blurry. You can add some dark paint in between the light areas for further emphasis if you need it. In this picture I have completed that part and am starting to put in the topstitching for the fly. I have discovered that orange paint for the topstitching is way too bright at this scale. I use a rusty brown color instead.img_3060

 

Okay, I’ve finished painting the topstitching. Now, if it were real stitching the tension of the threads would create a slight ditch in the fabric. So there would be very faint shadow lines. Then the fabric immediately adjacent to the ditch to be ever so slightly more exposed and thus would abrade a little bit. So — to create that effect I add dark lines beside the topstitching, and white lines beside those. The important thing here is to keep the paint lines very, very subtle. You can’t even really see the dark lines in this picture, but they’re there, and in real life they do contribute to the illusion.img_3061

 

Now, on real jeans, the fly is a very bulky area. There are multiple layers of denim, plus the zipper tape here. So it’s going to protrude from the surrounding fabric a good bit. Where that protrusion ends, there’s going to be a shadow. So I put in dark lines on the outside of the fly, both adjacent to the topstitching and where the fly meets the other side of the pants front.img_3062

 

Soften out the edges of those dark lines, and you have a pretty good suggestion of three dimensions. See how the fly seems to protrude?  In this picture I’ve also added the reinforcement “stitching” near the bottom of the fly, and I’m starting on the pocket.img_3063

 

Again, you want a pretty strong shadow here because the edge of the pocket protrudes a good bit from the fabric behind it.img_3064

 

There. Just follow the same process for the rest of the front of the jeans: topstitching with very slight shadows and abrasion on either side, lights and darks where the denim buckles between the lines of topstitching, subtle shadow lines where the fabric falls away from the seams, and stronger ones behind the pockets. Also notice that I have put in some distressing where the hipbones would rub against the inside of the fabric.  After this picture was taken, I also painted the crotch seam, using the same process, to look like it had been flat felled. img_3065

 

Do the back of the jeans the same way, creating the illusion of a back yoke and a flat felled crotch seam.img_3066

 

Okay,  now for the back pockets. You could do them the same way, creating an illusion of pockets entirely with paint, but it’s pretty easy to do them separately and glue them onto the back of the jeans. It makes the piece just a little bit more realistic. Notice the shadow lines along the decorative topstitching? Because there’s no extra bulk of a seam allowance under this stitching the abrasion is minimal, but the stitching still creates a little bit of a ditch.img_3072

Now stitch the front and back of the pants together and “hem” the legs by gluing the edges under. Paint the hemlines and the inseams, but notice on your own jeans that the outseams are just regular seams. I don’t know why it’s like that, but it almost always is. So don’t paint them.

The waistband is a strip of fabric with the edges turned under and glued. The belt is glued over the top of that, and the belt loops go on last. I just do a single layer of fabric for the belt loops, with seam sealant on the edges. To try to turn the edges under is just too bulky. They look a little rough in this close-up photo, but when you are looking at the finished doll I think they look okay. Glue the waistband to the top of the pants.img_3296

 

I used a link from a chain for the belt buckle and some little jump rings to look like eyelets for the belt holes.img_3297

If you want, you can make the jeans look worn by “distressing” them with some more white paint where the fabric would fade: the seat, thighs, knees, etc. Keep this paint pretty thin so it will sink into the denim and look like the fabric has faded, not like you’ve painted it. You can also add stains, rips, etc, if you really want the jeans to look broken in.

And there you have it! Jeans that look like your doll has lived in them forever!

Bernard is Famous!

Ooooh Darlings — such exciting things are happening in FineHandLand! For starters, check out the current issue of Art Doll Quarterly:

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Isn’t that a beautiful doll on the cover? It’s by an Italian artist named Elisa Fenoglio. Check out her website — she’s crazy talented.

There are lots of other fabulous dolls in this issue. I absolutely love Leslie Molen’s Tiger Moth:

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All of Leslie’s work is spectacular. Check out her website and blog.

I’d like to share some of the other dolls from this issue with you, but I keep going to the artists’ websites and not being able to find pictures of the dolls that are in the magazine. I guess you’ll just have to go out and buy it yourself if you want to see them. (It’s available at Barnes & Noble and Joann Fabrics).

Oh, but wait — I said that exciting things are happening here. And while being inspired by other artists is always tremendously exciting to me, I actually have something concrete to share with you. Just look at who’s on page 85:

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That’s right! It’s Bernard! Remember him? My very first art doll!

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Oh Bernard, I’m so happy for you. You’re such a handsome fellow, and now you’re a model in a magazine. But you won’t let it go to your head. You’ll just keep on being your same sweet old self and stitching away at that stocking.

I think I’ve come a long way since I made Bernard — I’ve definitely developed more skill at sculpting, and my costuming is a lot more sophisticated. But Bernard has a very special place in my heart. After all, he introduced me to the beautiful world of art dolls. He sits right on my work table and keeps me company in the studio. I’m just so tickled that the editors at ADQ decided to publish him.

There are other exciting things happening here too — there’s a website in the works, and something really big (for me) on the horizon that I’ll tell you about soon. So don’t go away!

Ta-ta until next time Darlings!

Oh — and one more thing — I’ve actually entered the 21st century and opened a Twitter account. You can follow me at @herfinehand. I haven’t tweeted much yet, but you know: baby steps.

Cat

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She should be studying. Cat knows that. She said she was going to the library, and really, she meant to go to the library. But somehow she ended up in this coffee shop instead. Of course, she could pretend she’s studying here. She could tell herself she’s writing her paper for Econ, that in just a minute she’s going to start working on it, that actually it’s better to work on it here and not get caught up in that jittery half-manic, half-despairing angst that pervades the library right about now every semester. In fact, she’ll probably do a better job on her paper now that she’s writing it in a coffee shop instead of in the library. She could tell herself that.

But she’s usually pretty honest, at least with herself, and she doesn’t tell herself any of this. The truth is the coffee’s better here than in the library cafe, and what she really feels like doing is zoning out on Facebook tonight.

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She knows she’ll have to confess to Gabby later. “What were you thinking?” Gabby will wail. “Don’t you even want to do well in this class?” And Cat will hang her head and be regretful and promise not to blow off her work any more. But they both know she won’t be able to keep that promise. Because Gabby is the responsible one and Cat is the lazy one, and that’s the way it’s been the whole time they’ve been dating.

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No, Gabby is definitely not going to be pleased. But a little smile is tugging at the corner of Cat’s mouth.

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Because she also knows something else. She’s going to bring home some ice cream. Butter pecan, even though she really prefers mint chocolate chip. But butter pecan is Gabby’s favorite. And Cat knows exactly what’s going to happen. Gabby’s going to roll her eyes and give an exaggerated sigh. And then she’s going to smile. And Gabby’s smile is Cat’s favorite thing in the world.

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And so, even though she really should be in the library studying, Cat’s just going to sit here for a while. And sip her coffee. And scroll through Facebook.

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Don’t Spill the Coffee!

So in a couple of conversations with Firstborn Son about my work, he has urged me to do some blog posts which describe the process of creating a doll. At first I resisted because I am still pretty new to this field, and I do a LOT of experimenting. And some of my experiments make me feel a little bit foolish afterward because in hindsight, well DUH, obviously THAT was never gonna work! And why would I want to put all my vulnerability out there in the world for everyone to see and laugh at? But Firstborn Son says no, really, I should try it. People will find it interesting, he says. No one is going to judge you. And Firstborn Son is a pretty savvy guy.

So okay. Even though I feel a little bit like I’m standing up here in my underwear, I’m going to share some of my recent experiments. Let me know what you think!

Here’s what happened: after I finished Contemplation I realized I wanted to do some more contemporary figures. I thought it would be fun to depict some of the sort of people you might see in a coffee shop. I sculpted a couple of heads (more on those later).

Once I got the heads done, I was ready to move on to the hands. But in order to do the hands, I need to know how they’re going to be posed and what, if anything, they’ll be holding. Well, obviously, they are going to need some coffee.

So I made a coffee cup. It was pretty easy. After a little experimentation, I had the right shapes. The cup is made from a sheet of Bristol board and the cardboard sleeve from a pizza box.

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I glued the sides of the cup together (I didn’t take a picture, but you can probably figure out how that worked!), then put glue on the tabs for the bottom.

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I inserted the bottom:

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And pushed it around and fiddled with it until I had it where I wanted it, let the glue dry, and — voila! — a paper coffee cup!

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As I said, that was pretty easy.

But then I had to figure out how to make a lid. And that was the hard part. Coffee cup lids are really complicated!

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I puzzled over it for a while, and then headed out to A.C.Moore for some inspiration. (I wonder what they think of me when I go into a craft store and then just wander s-l-o-w-l-y up and down the aisles like a zombie!) Anyway, I was pretty pleased when I found these little jars of paint that had lids that were almost exactly the right size for my coffee cup. They were really cheap, too — something like 99 cents for five of them.

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I cut the lid off one of the jars and trimmed off all the little protrusions that were sticking out of it, made a hole with a needle I had heated in a candle flame, put a coat of white paint on it, and it was perfect!

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There was just one teeny, tiny little problem.

It didn’t look a thing like a real coffee cup lid. And that just wasn’t going to do.

So next I tried making one out of polymer clay. . .

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It sucked.

Maybe if I made it a little bit simpler . . .

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Nope. Still sucks.

So this time I went to Michaels for inspiration, and wandered s-l-o-w-l-y up and down the aisles. I came home with a whole bag full of stuff and did some more experimenting. And here’s what I ended up with:

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Not perfect, but definitely the best one yet. Wanna know how I did it? Okay, I’ll tell you. In fact, I’ll write a whole tutorial for you!

Ahem. My first tutorial on art doll and miniature making. (Since this is now a tutorial, I’m obliged to use the imperative case.) Pay attention!

———  COFFEE CUP LID TUTORIAL ———–

 You need two round templates. One needs to be exactly the same diameter as the rim of your cup, and the other slightly smaller. It’s easiest if you can find templates that have an edge, as you will see. In my case, the little paint jar from my first experiment was perfect for the larger template. I ran a Sharpie around the edge:

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And made a print of it on a piece of Bristol board:

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If you can’t find something with an edge, you can use a button or a coin or whatever you can find, and just trace around the outside of it.

Cut that circle out just outside the lines. You want it to be slightly larger than the rim of your coffee cup.

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Now you’re going to use the same template to cut a circle out of a piece of craft foam. Again, having that edge made it easier, because I could use it to impress the circle into the foam:

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But again, you could trace around the outside. This time cut right on the line.

Now center the smaller template inside the foam circle and either impress it or trace around it. I used a pastry nozzle for my second template.

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Make two of these:

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And use a sharp craft knife to cut them as in the photo below. (I know, they’re a little rough. I could spend the next two hours trying to make perfect ones, or I could go ahead and write this tutorial. You get the idea):

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Glue the one with the D-shaped cutout to the Bristol circle, and glue the ring on top of that. Then trim away most of the excess of the bottom circle, leaving just the tiniest little lip:

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Now measure the height of the two foam pieces, and cut a strip of paper that size. Mine was just over 1/8″.

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Glue the paper around the edge of the foam pieces to disguise the seam and make everything look nice and smooth:

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You might want to put some weight in the bottom of your coffee cup to give it some stability. I squirted a little bit of hot glue in mine. Then I hot-glued the lid onto the cup.

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And it was done! It’s not perfect — the lip on the bottom is simpler than the one on a real lid, and I haven’t figured out how to make the hole in the top. But the overall impression is pretty good, I think.

Whew! Look at that — I survived standing up in front of everyone in my underwear! Maybe I’ll do this again!

Contemplation

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Have you ever read something that was so beautifully written that you had to stop reading for a moment to just think about it? I love that. Sometimes it’s the idea behind the writing, and sometimes it’s the writing itself — the way the author has put together sounds and syllables and meanings. It’s that moment that I’ve tried to capture with my latest piece, “Contemplation.”

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This is a departure from my earlier nursery rhyme and fantasy work. I wanted to make a more realistic figure, and I wanted the expression to be more nuanced.

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I spent a day or two drafting a full-size guide (she’s about 18″ tall, by the way) so I could to ensure I got her proportions right.

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I was able to lay the armature right up against the drawing to be sure I got her limbs the right length, and I could compare the sculpted head and hands and feet to the drawing. It turned out to be a good system, and she came together pretty well.

Until  . . . .

. . .  it came time to dress her.

Oh boy.

Did she ever turn out to have a mind of her own!

See, having been focused on historic costumes for all of my other dolls, I wanted this one to have a more timeless feel. I was strongly influenced by dolls like this one by Tamara Pivnyuk:

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And this one by Tatiana Baeva:

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And this one by Victoria Minenko:

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And I just love this one. I keep seeing it on Pinterest, but I don’t know who the artist is. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can give credit:

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Anyway, I was thinking the costume for Contemplation would have some of the same sort of dreamy, lost-in-time, not-quite-of-this-world feel to it.

But I was wrong.

I made her a skirt. A beautiful, multi-layered dupioni and velvet skirt in shades of rust and burgundy and muted green. With pleats and raw edges.

But when I put it on her, I swear she refused to wear it. Okay, I realise most of you are giving me a virtual side-eye right now. And I promise, I didn’t actually hear her talk. But honestly — this doll had already taken on a personality of her own, and she wasn’t having anything to do with the beautiful silk skirt.

So I took the skirt back off her and decided to start with the top. I made her a bodice. It was a deep, rich iridescent silk chiffon. It had tiny little pleats across the bosom and intricately cut sleeves. It was gorgeous.

She hated it.

She wanted to wear denim cutoffs. And a black tee shirt. And thigh-high stockings. Seriously.

So, after a couple more failed attempts to do something timeless, I gave in and made her thoroughly contemporary. She got her cutoffs and her tee shirt and her stockings. I gave her a pair of ankle boots. She seemed happy.

Then I made her a perfectly nice cardigan. You know, long and slouchy and maybe a little bit hipster. And you know what happened next.

She refused to wear that too. She wanted a scarf.

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Who knew an 18″ doll could be so bossy?

But she turned out to be right. Now that she’s done I can’t imagine her being anyone other than who she is. And once I accepted that she was going to be contemporary, I actually enjoyed working on the costume. I liked making the shorts. I cut up a pair of toddler jeans and I was able to use the flat-felled seams for the side seams of the doll’s shorts.

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But the original seams were too bulky for the crotch seams, so I faked the stitching with paint. I think it came out pretty well!

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I also liked making the boots. This was definitely the most complicated footwear I have attempted so far, and while they’re not perfect, they’re not too bad.

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I also kinda like her hair. It’s really messy, but that seems right for her.

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It’s a lot like my own hair. A whole lot. In fact, it is my own hair. Early in the summer I had several inches cut off, and I asked my hair stylist if I could take it home with me. She didn’t bat an eye (she knows me). She just swept it up and put it in a bag. And now I’ve finally had a chance to use it!

So there she is. Contemplation. I hope you like her. I do. In fact, I like her so much that my next doll is going to be contemporary too. Stay tuned!

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Something Crooked This Way Comes

Hello again darlings! Ready? Here we go!

 

IMG_2622There was a crooked man . . .

 

IMG_2615Who went a crooked mile . . .

 

IMG_2614And he found a crooked sixpence . . .

 

IMG_2610Upon a crooked stile.

 

catHe had a crooked cat . . .

 

IMG_2613That caught a crooked mouse . . .

 

And they all lived together in a crooked little house!28027834155_aee58d99cd

(Okay, I didn’t make the house. “Dammit Jim, I’m a doll maker, not an architect!”)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/28027834155″>Leaning To The Left</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

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‘Til next time, ta ta!

 

Rub-a Dub-Dub

Rub-a-Dub-Dub . . .  c’mon, say it with me. You know it:

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, three men in a tub . . .

But do you know the rest?

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, three men in a tub, and who do you think was there? The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick-Maker, and all of them gone to the fair!

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Oh, this one was so much fun! These three guys have all spent the day at a fair, and now they’re making their way home with all their stuff!

The Butcher bought some livestock:

IMG_2511_picmonkeyedBut the piglet and the chicken aren’t too happy about it — they’re both doing their best to escape.

The Baker bought some apples.

IMG_2514I wish I could taste some of whatever he’s going to make with them!

He also won first prize for his cherry pie!

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The Candlestick-maker apparently was trying to sell his wares at the fair, but wasn’t able to get rid of all of them, so he’s carrying them home again.

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And look: he bought some toys for his children! A ball-and-cup game for his son, and a corn husk dolly for his little girl. What a good father!

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But the candy apple is just for him. (He just couldn’t resist!)

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Someone also bought something that’s wrapped up in brown paper. It sure is crowded in that tub!

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But here’s the strange thing about this nursery rhyme: why on earth are they in a tub? That makes no sense at all!

Well, there’s one rather titillating possible explanation. As with most folk literature, there are variations on this poem. There are a number of different versions of the last line. But I have read that one early version of the poem had the ending I quoted, but with a very important difference near the beginning. Instead of three men in the tub, there were three maids in the tub — suggesting that the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker were looking at a peep show at the fair!

What naughty boys!

But that can’t be right. They don’t look a bit ashamed!

The Butcher:IMG_2525

The Baker:IMG_2524

And the Candlestick-Maker!IMG_2523