Sunday, 26 February 2012

Arms & Legs, Paint & Varnish

It's been a while, but I've been a busy girl!

After finishing Hyacinth Plum and sending her on her way, I wanted to get started sculpting some new dolls so that I could make my next custom order, The Lady in John Waterhouse's beautiful painting The Shrine, from scratch to make sure I could get the details exactly how I see them in my mind.

I was running low on my largest and large size dolls as I've made all the ones I last sculpted apart from one (I'm waiting to find the perfect flat wire to make another crinoline), and I like to sculpt in batches as I always seem to have a long list of dolls that I want to make, and know who they will be. Sculpting one doll or 10 doesn't seem to take any longer because of the drying times needed on the layers of paperclay. So, after checking my doll making To Do list, I decided to make 9 of each size.

I spent a lovely evening doing one of my favourite things - Shopping for all the supplies I'd need to make these 18 dolls, add their hair and string them together. I also found the loveliest pale cream soft silk for my Lady of The Shrine's gown at one of my favourite fabric stores online - The Silk Route. I highly recommend them if you need silk for any of your projects as they have a great selection of textures and colours, and do lots of different sizes so you can buy just the amount you need.

As I had to wait for the wooden balls I needed to make the body armatures for my dolls, and the dowels to make their arms and legs, I started as I usually do and started making up a plan of work so that I could keep on top of what needs to be done each day. I've got a habit of forgetting to varnish things that I need to be ready next day. So have learnt that I need a list to keep me going when I'm making a large amount of dolls.

The dowels arrived very quickly so I knew my first task would be to cut all the pieces I'd need to make up the 18 pairs of arms and legs. I have to admit that making limbs is one of the most boring bits of doll making for me. It takes quite a while to cut each piece to the right length, sand and shape them, drill the holes that are needed for stringing the doll together, adding layers and layers of paint and three coats of varnish to each piece.

I have made lovely anatomical hands and feet in the past for my dolls. But they don't seem to fit with my style of dolls.
I like them to have the feel of old, antique, handmade dolls, which is why I make every layer of their costumes as well. And the simple down curved pointed toe feet and mitten style hands seem to fit much nicer.

I worked on getting every hand and foot sculpted to the ends of the leg and arm dowels. Setting them to dry on accordion folded corrugated cardboard drying boards that I stand on top of my living room radiator so that they cure slowly and evenly.

I hang each piece on the boards with large headed pins so that they touch nothing as they dry. I also find that this makes them easier to handle while I paint them as I can hold onto the pin instead of the wet paint.

Every hand always ends up different, each having it's own unique shape that adds character to the dolls. When they are finally strung together I always find there are dolls that just demand to have something to hold, or others that look like they are wringing thier hands together or waving at me shyly just because of a certain angle or tilt of a hand.

Every leg gets many thin layers of paint over a base coat to build up the leg colour, white stocking and lastly the shoes. Later, when the dolls I'm dressing tell me what they want I sometimes add stripes to thier stockings or a pretty spangle or bow to their shoes, or even repaint their stockings in a different colour. But for now I leave them all plain white.
I've spent a week of evenings after work, my hands covered in a sticky mix of paint and varnish getting each piece of arm and leg finished. And they're finally all done, and as you can see in the photo below all strung together at the knee and elbow joints with one of my favorite reels of strong vintage thread.

All they need now is some bodies to attache them too. Which is where I found a problem.

I was sure. I was positive that I had a large packet of paperclay in the dresser where I keep all of my supplies. I looked and searched and pulled things out all over the floor. I even had hubby digging around trying to find it as well, but no joy. I was a doll maker without the clay I needed to get on to one of my favourite parts of the whole process. Sculpting the faces.

As you can see my arms and legs hang in matched pairs waiting to be attached to bodies that I can't sculpt yet, making me sad. And my bodies all lay there with the armatures built up with foil covered in masking tape waiting to be covered and shaped with layers of paperclay, the tilt of thier blank heads already accusing me of not being organised enough.
It's been over a week since I ordered three new large blocks of clay, and I'm still waiting for it. All Saturday morning I sat listening for the postman to approach my door with my parcel, but by 1pm I had to give it up as lost. I'll be very disappointed if I can't work on the faces this week and get them done by next weekend. My fingers are itching to push and pull and shape that lovely soft smooth clay into the shapes that I want, and add the first little injection of life into my dolls. It's only then that I see who will be sad, and who will be cheeky, who will be shy and who will be demanding.
Soon. Please arrive soon!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A New Rag Doll Called Hyacinth

Last weekend I had a lovely e-mail from a lady called Neiau Shie asking me to make her a special rag doll called Hyacinth. So how could I say no. I started straight away.

It'd been a while since I made a rag doll, and it's been really nice to work in all cloth and not have to wait while clay and paint dry for a change, although I know I'll always return to paperclay in the end. It's always fun to do things that I'm not used too.

I know she looks like some sort of strange alien now, but I promise she starts to look more normal in the photos below once she has hair. The pattern I use for my rag dolls is one I've worked out and refined myself over a few years. And I've pretty much got it the way I want it to be now. Made from two flat pattern pieces of strong calico with inserts added to the bottom of her feet to fatten them up, I sometimes make the legs separately like I have for Hyacinth to give them a better floppy feel.

I like my rag dolls to be stuffed quite firmly, and I reinforce their necks with a piece of small dowel so that the weight of their hair doesn't drag the neck back and make them stare at the sky.

Hyacinth has two black vintage button eyes attached to her flat head with a precious piece of the strong vintage linen thread that my Nanna gave me. And her hands have been sewn through to create her fingers. Her socks, shoes, facial features and tinting around her eyes are painted on with thinned acrylic, and I've stained the whole doll with a concocted mix of stuff to give her a more aged mottled look.

It doesn't really show properly here as the winter weather in Wales doesn't really provide the right light to take photos very often. But Hyacinth has a soft blush on her cheeks, and I've painted her lips in a deep purple red colour to match her dark outfit.

Hyacinth is to be a Regency Gothic lady with an empire line gown and pelisse or coat. Neiau Shie has asked me to make her in the image of the wonderful characters written by some of my favourite authors, Austen and Bronte etc., and showing the darker side of the lives these writings portrayed.

Women of the Regency era led very restrictive lives where the appearance of a calm serene gentle countenance was much more important than the true feelings they were made to hide away.
The wonderful Miss Elinor Dashwood of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a perfect example of how her proper behaviour ensured her torment over the man she loved. She had to watch him be claimed by another while being helpless to do anything about it. Her behaviour was considered proper and correct, even though she was considered cold and passionless by her careless younger sister. Elinor had to carry her pain hidden to herself, watching silently as her love seemed to slip further and further away from her.

There are so many written characters that have this darker tormented side to them, often in the midst of a much lighter tale. Not all of them as obviously troubled as Cathy in Wuthering Heights or Mr Dickens' Miss Havisham. But all of them showing us now how life was for women during the times they were written.

Making Hyacinth to fit with this image is making me think of wind-swept mores and rocky hillsides, driving rain and feelings poured into journals so the writer can manage to hold them in and carry on without showing them.

I gave Hyacinth very long dark brown wool hair by sewing on doubled lengths of wool in rows along the back of the dolls head. I always make sure that I add a lot of hair to give them a full thick look, and to give the dolls head a rounder better shape. I've tried making their heads round and not flat, but couldn't get the hair the way I wanted it then, so went back to the flat pattern again. I'm not too sure how I'll style it yet, if at all, but she's starting to have a very distinctive character of her own.

So far I've made Hyacinth her nightgown, but haven't trimmed it yet. And tonight I'll be adding a lace collar and ribbon trim to finish it off. Maybe a few buttons at the front too, before I go on to make her overcoat.

The reasons behind why Hyacinth will be wearing her nightie under her coat is something that I'm not too sure if her new owner would want me to share as it's quite personal to her. But I'm very touched that she felt that she could share her reasons with me. It's really helped me to make sure that Hyacinth will be truly unique, and as special as I can possibly make her.

I can't wait to see Hyacinth all finished and ready for her quite walk through the dark night contemplating her own thoughts. I'm really enjoying making a doll from ideas that have been given to me to play with in my own way. I'm not too sure yet how I'll finish her off. At the moment I'm thinking of giving her a shawl to keep the night chill away, but we'll see what she decides when the time comes.