Cossacks for Christmas


I can’t imagine that many of you  are interested in my Christmas decorations, but just in case you are, here we go.  This year they are minimalist to say the least.  I have had a lot going on and putting up trimmings seemed way down the list of priorities.  But I did get round to making and putting up these gentlemen.  They are dancing cossacks.  I would like to tell you that they are my design, but they came from a book called Homemade Christmas, (which is very cheap on Amazon):


It doesn’t seem to have an author, but it does have a number of surprisingly nice looking things to make.  The author, whoever it is, as no author is credited, made their cossacks out of old book covers, but I thought it would be a good way of using up gelli-printed papers that I had done myself:



I rather like the way that the printed paper for his face makes him look like he is rather keen on the vodka, or doesn’t use a good enough moisturiser in all that cold weather.

I also used some painted paper:


This one has jewelled brads or paper fasteners on his joints.  Finding paper fasteners, which are those split pin things with the round heads that you push through papers and then open out, turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project.  I had to go to the internet to find them.  Clearly the paperless office is becoming a reality.

After I had made a couple of cossacks, it occurred to me that this might be a really good use for some notecards the Medieval Historian gave me a couple of years ago.


So I had quite good fun fussy cutting bodies to get a good cover image on the chest:


I also liked picking the most un-Christmas-y titles such as this:


Nothing like a nice Ballardian dystopia to set you up the festive season.  We also have Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a nod to my home town.

Then I remembered that I had bought some Marimekko notecards as I love the graphic designs and clear colours:


Both of these worked brilliantly which makes me thing that you could do it with any postcard:


This one is decorated with washi tape.  This one is fussy cut:


In the book they are strung to work as jumping jacks, but I like them just as posable figures.

In the end I made twenty-five of them and they dance around the room suspended from the picture rail.  So quite a lot of cutting, punching, sticking and stringing, but I think that they make quite a smart decoration, even for people, mentioning no names, Medieval Historian, who claim not to like Christmas.



Concerning dolls and perfection


For my birthday, my very generous mother bought me a Mimi Kirchner doll.  I have wanted one of Kirchner’s dolls since I came across her work in a book on doll making and used it to create my Laura Ashley husband dolls.

There happened to be some for sale in Kirchner’s Etsy shop and my mother gave me the money to buy one.  They are expensive, and put customs and various handling fees on top and they become very expensive, but they really are worth it.

I chose one of her tattooed lumberjack dolls.  The minute I saw him with his tattoo of Washington on his chest, I knew that he was the man for me:


It was the time of Obama’s visit to Britain and Nigel Farrage called him the most anglophobic president ever, which made historians all over the land call out in unison: not as anglophobic as Washington.  This made it possible to choose between the lovely dolls on Kirchner’s Etsy page.  He arrived in a big box and was wrapped up in tissue paper.  It was love at first sight.  I decided to call him Richard after Richard Armitage, a splendid-looking actor with a big beard:


This is a great picture of him by the photographer Sarah Dunn.   I love the ‘here I am just back from the high seas’ feel of this picture.  Armitage has blue eyes and my Richard has brown eyes but otherwise they are peas from a pod.  I think Mimi loves him too as he appears on her blog with some pieces she took to a show:


I have, and this is a bit weird, fallen in love with him.  He is so perfect.


You can see in this photo quite clearly that he has beautifully embroidered fingers.


In this one you can see the embroidery delineating his ears.


This one shows the accomplished pattern matching on his flannel shirt.  Everything about him is exquisitely made.  As a doll maker myself, I know that this doll is a piece of perfection and I know how hard that is to achieve.  I love him because he is a piece of hyper-masculine protection (‘Step aside while I lift that tree trunk off your car, little lady’) but also because of his invisible construction and attention to detail.  Consider, for example, the way that his braces have the suggestion of loops in the above photograph.

Moving onto my own efforts, I mentioned in a previous post that I was following an on-line arts class with Carla Sonheim.  Part of the process is to make a series of work to develop a theme.  I was very taken with some pieces of children’s art, but at one point I thought my series would be dolls inspired by the work of Joan Eardley:


Eardley died very young and so never really reached the attention and appreciation she deserved.  She painted magnificent seascapes, but I love her pictures of Glasgow children living in slums.


They could be exploitative or sentimentalised, but I don’t think they are either.  I think she paints them with great gentleness, honestly but with love.  I wanted to make some dolls in the same spirit.  This is the doll that I came up with:


I love her.  She is made from my own pattern because I wanted a pronounced nose and proper feet.  Her jumper is hand-knitted to my own pattern.  I am so happy with this because it is the first pattern that I have ever written and it absolutely fits her.  I wanted it to look a bit small so that it looked like she was growing out of it.  Her skirt is made in panels and quilted:


Her hair is meant to look unkempt although it is made from quite upmarket double knitting wool.

I was talking about her to someone in the week who asked me what was so wonderful about her.  I thought for a bit and then said, ‘She’s perfect’.  And this is the case.  It might sound conceited, but what I meant was, she achieved exactly what I wanted to achieve.  I have enough technical skill to be able to achieve the effect I want to get.  I can make a pattern, make the neck stand up, construct her hair so that she can have a side parting, give her rosy cheeks, give her dotty eyes, knit her a sweater, design a gored skirt that fits.  This is the 10,000 hours of practice which has been so popular as an idea.  It is a delight to know how to do something like this with my hands.  Perfection here is having the repertoire of skills to express an idea.  I am largely persuaded that we come from a gene pool selected to persist because its possessors know how to make things (shelters, textiles, food and so on).  Part of being human is to make, and making well is a great delight.  This delight comes through Kirchner’s dolls.  She clearly delights in the details like the french knot buttons down Richard’s shirt and keeping those checks running far more smoothly than they would in a real lumberjack’s shirt.  I delight in making a doll which captures something of Eardley’s treatment of the tenement children, something which witnesses with warmth and generosity but does not sanitise or sentimentalise.

Trio of dolls


These dolls are made from Jess Brown‘s book, The Making of a Rag Doll.  Her dolls are really ‘arty’.  They look like the sort of thing Miss Haversham might have sitting next to the crumbling wedding cake.  I have always really wanted one since I saw them featured in Selvedge, the arty textiles lover’s bible.  They aren’t ruinously expensive, but they would be an investment rather than a little self-present.  I was delighted, therefore, on a trip to my mother’s to find Brown’s book in the big branch of Waterstone’s in the middle of Nottingham.

Once I started making the dolls from the full-sized patterns in the book, I realised that these are designed to be heirloom presents for little girls and not playthings.  The dolls are pretty robust, but the clothes are very distressed (Derelicte, for Zoolander fans).  Because they are not finished, by which I mean no neatened seams or turned up hems, and the closures are almost all by embroidery drawstring rather than buttons, I think the average child would destroy them within weeks if they wanted to play dress up.  This is not a problem for me, my dolls are for display only, but I wouldn’t make one without modification for a child.

Having said all that, I loved making the dolls.  The artiness of the enterprise is reflected in things like the assumption that you know what you are doing and what you want to achieve.  I really wanted to achieve the arch expression that Brown gets with the straight-stitched eyes and pursed lips, but there are only the most basic instructions for how to do this.  Brown states that the face and hair for the doll is where you express your own ideas and personality and that is pretty much it.  She explains that she uses strips of wool for the hair but there are no close up photos to show you how to do it – there are, however, loving semi-sepia shots of her studio and piles of vintage textiles.  I used a really thick boiled wool jacket which shrank to Barbie size in the wash, and which I really loved and wore to bits.  It made great hair, and I liked the suggestion of hair for once rather than using wool to create strands.

I used a brilliant tool that I was sold at the Knitting and Stitching Show to turn the arms and legs which are really spindly.  You may well know what I mean by being sold something at a trade show.  I have a failsafe pompom maker which is totally useless but looked fantastic and I think most sewists (a term I am trying out) have got a draw full of useless gadgets.  This one, sold to me by a charming Frenchman, turns rouleau very easily and comes in three sizes for the various gauges of rouleau.  I understand that you can get the same effect with a crochet hook and drinking straw.



This is a Prym brand set, but there are lots of others.  Using this really made it easy and even fun to turn the limbs through as opposed to the usual frustration with a pencil or the chopstick that Brown suggests.  Seven pounds well spent for once.

As usual I made a sample doll before cutting up any fabric I was particularly fond of, and I began with a remnant of furnishing weight linen with a vague chinoiserie pattern:


You can also just about see the fun I had with her braids/plaits.  The other two dolls were tea-dyed white cotton.  I used three Yorkshire tea bags for three hours.  I really liked the mottled look it gave to the fabric, making it look vintage.  All the creases came out easily when I stuffed them:


I dressed her in cast off furnishing linen, and she ended up very faded, but quite smart because hemmed and finished for the most part.  The second doll was dressed entirely in Liberty Tana lawn and became a riot of colour with orange eyelash yarn which came from a lucky dip pound shop bag from out by the M32 motorway.  Her flower hat is from a bag of trimmings which was part of my Christmas present from my resourceful mother.  I loved her exuberant style.  The final doll is dressed entirely in silk.  I started with a printed silk dress which was so elegant I decided to make it a dupion silk coat and to give her a cocktail hat which is a large piece of costume jewellery.  The only problem is that it is so heavy she can’t really sit up.  But I loved the look with the bob hair do.


I don’t know why I love making dolls so much, although a psychiatrist would probably have a theory, but one of the reasons is that I never know who will emerge.  I didn’t intend to do linen, cotton and silk, and I wasn’t expecting tasteful Liberty prints to come out quite so eccentric old lady-ish.  She also has a Klimtian hair do which you can’t quite see in these pictures.  Making them is quietly addictive, though, and I realised during the making that this is because I am making a kind of fashion doll rather than a toy or character doll.  That makes it feel much more grown up.

New Year’s Day Doll 2016


If you have read this blog fairly often, you might know that every year I make a doll on New Year’s Day.  The idea is to say something about the year that has passed or the one that is to come.  Last year I made a bonkers tall pyramid to celebrate the fact that I had found a lovely piece of theory about iceberg economies which had a lot to say about the invisible work done by quilters.

This year was a bit odd.  One of the rules of this practice is that the doll has to be makeable in 24 hours.  This year I knew that I was going out for one of my favourite gatherings of the year at a friend’s house, so I had to adapt.  The result is that this year’s doll is from a kit – a kit that I bought for £5 in the Hobbycraft sale when I went up to see my Mum over Christmas.

Making the doll was quite pleasant, as everything was cut out and the stitching holes were pre-prepared.  It is largely made of very cheap and nasty acrylic felt, which seems to be a recurring theme in the beginning of 2016, and while this was a bit grim to work with, the effect of the blanket stitch is very nice in places, particularly the hair.  I followed the instructions to stitch up the body in white which is odd as there was plenty of pinky brown thread.  I think, in the end, it improved it a bit.

The kit would teach you how to construct a doll, although why you would want to do it in blanket stitch rather defeats me as it isn’t the most robust stitch.  Backstitch would be stronger.  Anyway, it was pleasant not to have to decide on eye placement and so on.

One thing that did come out of it was about having the right tools for the job.  Last Christmas my mother gave me an inspired present: a set of doll-making needles.  Fantastic.  These really helped me to sew on the arms through the buttons quickly and easily.  I am imagining that it would have been much harder with the plastic tapestry needle which came with the kit.

I didn’t quite finish her in one day.  I had to glue on the sparkle white dots in her eyes and that took almost a fortnight to get round to doing.

I am not quite sure what she says about my life at the moment, but a few ideas are:

  1. Never prioritise a personal tradition over a great friend’s New Year’s lunch. Grate Frends, as Molesworth knew only too well, are far more important than work of any sort.
  2. I am really busy and shortcuts are okay occasionally.
  3. Having the right tools for the job really helps, but so does having a great supplier like my mother on the case.


Big smiles all round.

Black Dogfish


Sometimes I just want to make things for the sake of making and this is a case in point.  It’s a fish cushion.   I had great fun making it, to the point where it almost made itself.  The pattern is by Mimi Kirchner.  I love her patterns.  They always have just a little something that lifts them out of the ordinary.  This pattern has funky fins which were a pain to attach.  This particular fish works, I think, because of the fabric.  The body is a remnant of cotton from IKEA, much lighter than the usual furnishing weight.   I think it suggests scales.   The head, tail and fins are made from a fat quarter which I bought at some point over the summer, but I have no idea where.  I can’t resist these big graphic prints:



These are very lightly stuffed and then quilted.

The eyes are buttons over little felt discs.  I used doll making needle that my mother gave me last year for Christmas.  Exactly the right tool for the job so the eyes are a bit recessed:


The orangey throw really sets off the colour scheme.  It’s a very cuddly fish

New Year’s Doll 2015


Every year on New Year’s Day I make a doll.  I either make something which reflects how I am feeling about the past year or something that I want to work on in the coming one.  Here are the links to the last two New Year Doll postings:

Very often I just sit down and see what sort of doll emerges.  My rule is that it has to be made in a single day and be recognisable as a doll.  This year I had an idea what I wanted to make, which was a Gibson-Graham doll.

This is where we get into academic quilting territory.  J. K. Gibson-Graham is actually Gibson and Graham, two feminist economic geographers, who are/were interested in alternative economies.  Sadly Julie Graham died in 2010.  Katherine Gibson continues to work in this area.  Essentially they tried to imagine what sort of economy we could have if we decided to end the inequalities of the capitalist economy.  One of the things that I like about their work is that they recognised that even trying to think beyond capitalism is fiendishly difficult.  They begin with a quotation from Frederic Jameson to this effect:

‘It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.  (1994: xii, quoted here: ix)

They published a scholarly work, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy, and then a much more accessible field guide about how to change the economy and bring about change in communities in Take Back the Economy in 2013.



I have to admit that the earlier and more scholarly book has me sound asleep after roughly three pages and so took a long time to read, but the popular version is much easier to read and is full of examples and pictures!  They are well-known for their insistence that there are already alternatives to the capitalist economy up and running, but we do not value them because they are not paid work – this is the old and familiar feminist argument that housework should be waged because otherwise it does not ‘count’.  They argue that the economies are like an iceberg: the waged work we do in capitalist institutions is the only bit that economists see, but underneath the waterline is a mass of unseen economic activity.  This is my version of their well-known diagram:



Now, the reason that I am interested in their work is that it describes very closely the phenomenon that I am fascinated by in my work on Laura Ashley.  The women whom I study and who have very freely contributed to my project are not considered interesting by conventional social science because they are not in that bit of the economy that Gibson-Graham show sticking up above the waterline, but I argue that they are strong economic actors in the economies below.  They are carers, which makes a massive contribution to the waged economy because it allows their children to work while the grandchildren are looked after, and they care for elderly parents.  They do all sorts of community service, they give their dependents gifts of money, time, things, support.  They donate.  They serve.  They are the invisible glue which holds things together to allow the mainstream economy to function.  But like the invisible glue, no-one sees them.

This is an area that I want to work on this year so I made it the subject of my doll.

I had the triangular doll pattern that I bought in Stoff og Stil in Copenhagen.  I had naively thought that as I am fairly accomplished at following patterns I would be able to follow it.  Sadly it seems that Norwegian patterns – which is the country of origin of Stoff og Stil – have instructions rather than diagrams and I had to trace off the pattern.  So, I made it up in my own way, but it was pretty straightforward.  It could be a cushion really, but I put the face on so that it would be a doll:



I decided that I wanted the top to be shiny and gold like money, and that the bottom would be made up of all sorts of things chopped together and then burnt back under organdie.  I used only either gifts or things that were salvaged and saved from landfill which I thought fitted well with the Gibson-Graham ethic.  So here are some photos of the fabric.  I took them in my dining room which has great strong light in the morning on a sunny day and makes nice crisp shadows:


This one has a lovely piece of embroidered William Morris fabric which I was give as a sample when I went to the launch of a curtain shop.


When this piece was in the whole it looked like the masonry in a stained glass window.  You can also see some of the paint I patted onto it to accentuate the burned back synthetic (a bunch of curtain samples my mother gave me).

Purely by accident when I was taking the photos, the sunlight hit something and caused this fantastic prism effect.  I think it was the bevelled edge of a mirror:


Here are some more:


IMG_0764 IMG_0763

This last one is some of the offcuts from the fabric I cut the doll shapes out of, as is this:

IMG_0767 IMG_0766




This last one is the sample piece I made to try out the various techniques – mainly to check that the machine needle would stitch through all the layers.

I put some marbles that were a Christmas cracker prize in the bottom to get the doll to sit upright.  I didn’t quite do it in one day.  We were invited to a New Year’s day lunch with very good friends to share leftovers.  It struck me that Gibson-Graham would be much more in favour of that activity than sitting alone making pedagogic dolls.

Happy New Year.


Gibson-Graham, J K (2006) The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gibson-Graham, J K, Cameron, J., Healy, S. (2013) Take Back The Economy.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jameson, F. (1994) The Seeds of Time.  New York: Columbia University Press.


How I came to make my husband an Anna Calvi doll for Christmas


Oh dear, it’s nearly a month since my last post.  This was the result of a lot of travel and a lot of work before I packed up work for Christmas.

I am writing today about a doll that I made for the Medieval Historian for Christmas.  In the middle of December we went to see his favourite singer in the entire world, Anna Calvi, at St John’s, Hackney.  It really isn’t my sort of thing, but he is totally besotted with her.



We stayed in a really ludicrously trendy hotel in Shoreditch and I bought the MH a bar of the hotel chocolate as a souvenir, but it didn’t look like much of a Christmas present as it stood, so I initially thought that I would make him a Shoreditch hipster to hold it.



Then I suddenly had a brainwave and decided that it would be a better idea to make an Anna Calvi doll.  So, I made one of my usual rag dolls and dressed her in the same sort of thing that Anna was wearing at the concert:



I made her a top with embellishments down the sleeves:


And put the red flowers in her hair:


Finally, I made her a rather smart bag to live in, out of a remnant of fancy furnishing fabric:


I also gave him the toile that I made for cutting the silk blouse, but for some reason he didn’t want to get into playing dress up dolls:



In the end, I think it was his favourite Christmas present.