For some reason my fascination with dolls and doll-making continues. I impulse bought a book on dolls and doll makers which arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t wait to get started. The book is called We Make Dolls by Jenny Doh
I bought it because I wanted to find out about doll makers and what they think about their craft. There seems to be a trend for these new craft books with some bios and projects and commentaries. I would, as a academic, like a bit more in-depth and extended interviewing, but I appreciate that I am in the minority. Anyway, this book is a delight, not least because the pattern in the back are full size and so there are no clandestine trips to the photocopier.
This particular doll really caught my eye. The maker is Mimi Kirchner. She makes wonderful dolls including a whole series of tatooed dolls made with toile fabric. Such as this one which is very similar to the one in the book:
I thought the construction method of the tatooed man in the book with his legs formed by a line of stitching looked interesting and couldn’t wait to get started.
Of course, I had to wait, because it was a working day. So I didn’t start until eight o’clock and I finished at eleven which isn’t bad for making a doll from scratch including producing the templates. The problem was that I then couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing with ideas for other dolls.
First I want to make some husband dolls to go with the Laura Ashley ghost dolls. Several people have asked me about them and I think that I now have a way of creating them. I might make the doll a bit bigger or not, but I rather like the idea of giving them Laura Ashley shirts. There is nothing scholarly about this; I just think it would be fun.
Second, making these dolls does have one scholarly application. It allows me to think about making and the joy of making. I have always been interested in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a life-long theorist of happiness and creativiy. I have mentioned him before. He was the populariser of the notion of flow and being in the flow. He says that this state can lead to happiness. It happens when you are working on a task which is just difficult enough for you to have to concentrate but not so hard that it provokes anxiety. When you are in flow you experience a kind of one-ness with the task and the world, you finish it with more energy than you started (hence, possibly, not being able to sleep) and you have no idea how long you have been in it. Time seems to stand still in flow, so you don’t know if you have been working on your doll, say, for an hour or three hours or thirty minutes. I experienced all this. It is a blissful state for me. And I also experienced that state where you have the exact things you need to hand. In this case some seventies fabric with a very small print that my mother gave me which became his shirt, a scrap of curtain lining which became his skin, a length of the sort of plastic stuff that they put in strapless frocks to hold them up which I used for his belt and which looked a bit like leather, and a piece of broken jewellery which made a wonderful belt buckle. Almost all this stuff, come to think of it, apart from his trousers and scarf, came from my mother and would have been in landfill if I hadn’t used it. But everything was to hand and worked beautifully.
I used to be interested in how you could think about flow and creativity and motivation. If people experienced flow in their paid work as opposed to their hobbies and recreations (Csikszentmihalyi says the most common form is reading) then , I thought, people would be motivated at work and happier and possibly more productive. Now I am just a critic rather than a contributor my focus has shifted!
But, I do want to write about the sheer fun and delight in making George. It was just delightful – full of delights – no other word for it, to put him together. To see his toes turn out when I stuffed him, and to see him emerge with his character as I chose the fabrics. He became a seventies hipster quite early on, but the scarf, which was my flourish at the end and the sideburns rather sealed his fate. I know a very excellent doll maker called Joan who says that the doll’s personalities emerge as she makes them and that she doesn’t know what they will be like until she starts to stuff them and sculpt their faces. I think this is quite common. The doll tells its own story – which is likely to be the subject of a later post.
I think I might have been channelling Jason King/Peter Wyngarde
And I couldn’t get rid of Carly Simon singing ‘You’re so vain’ in my ear. I really wanted to give him an apricot scarf (You walked into the party/Like you were walking onto a yacht/Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot), but the pink was the best I could do.
I also loved his Sergeant Pepper cartoony feel:
I would do his arms differently if I made him again. He is quite muscle-y, and I would make them thinner and attach them more naturalistically, but all in all Gorgeous George is a bit irresistible, and even the Medieval Historian laughed spontaneously when he saw him.