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.


  1. I want this doll please! I just felt an immediate connection when I saw her! Can I purchase it, is it possible?

    1. Hi Aya, I'm so sorry but Hyacinth went to a new home a long time ago. I'd be happy to make you a rag doll like her if you'd like. I still have the pattern I drew up to make her. My e-mail is Xxx