Meanwhile, back at the ranch

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Here’s what I’ve been doing this spring.


My best friend, Sariah’s birthday is at the end of March, and I forget it EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. So this year I started thinking about what to get her at Christmas. I found this fabulous little merboy pendant from Green Girl Studios. Sariah loves mermaids and babies and I knew she’d love it. The only thing was, it was too big for her style of jewelry. So I decided to put it on a leather cord and add some seashells, and she could hang it on her wall in her bathroom, where she has a seashell theme.

Somehow, that spiraled out of control. I ended up making a beaded, seashell-encrusted environment for the merboy. It has two layers of felt for backing and fits in a six by four shadowbox frame. It was a lot of fun, and it looks a lot prettier in person than in this awful picture.

Besides, Sariah loved it, and that’s all that matters.


I know it’s weird, but I really love the back of this piece. I kind of have a thing for freeform needlework, though I don’t actually do any of it, and I love the rhythm of the stitches back here.

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Then I realized my niece’s third birthday was coming up, and I needed to make something for her. When I asked her what she wanted, she said, “Tinkerbell.” So I made her a pixie. I haven’t made a cloth doll in a really long time, and this one I made from scratch, so I’m very pleased with how well it came out. I angsted over the wings for a while but eventually went with felt for them, too. I used cable ties to stiffen the wings, and I inserted one in her neck because she wouldn’t hold her head up. The face is embroidered — which came out surprisingly well. From now on, I’m doing all my embroidery at 4am the night before — and the hair is sort-of embroidered and sort of… what would you call it? Appliqued? Anyway, the braids were made separately and sewn on.

I thought it was pretty cute but it kind of got lost among the other four thousand gifts she got that day. That kid has more friends at age three than I’ve had in my entire life.

I hope you’re having a productive summer. Thanks for reading.

Beruta’s softies

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Today’s artist appears to be Spanish in origin, but her simple, graceful, minimalistic figures make me think of some northern European tradition. They remind me of the simplicity of corn husk dolls, though these are made of fabric and have a tendency toward international subject matter.

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Visit her on Flickr or her web site.

Modern, simple, reserved. Except the monkeys.


Why not to write stories

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I recently discussed the art of writing stories to go wih one’s dolls with Kamila Mlynarczyk. Recently, Mimi Kirchner expressed the opposite opinion: she prefers not to write stories. She writes:

“I want to make characters that will inspire peoples imaginations- viewers will come up with their own stories. The dolls will be a catalyst for the imagination. No static story lines. I absolutely LOVE when people tell me who they think my dolls are- it always makes me feel successful when my work creates a spark.”

See the rest of the article on her blog. And I think the picture above is my favorite doll that she’s made so far. Love the dreadlocks, which she says are made by putting ropes of wool roving through the washing machine.

Hoffman Doll challenge

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Hoffman quilting fabrics has an annual contest that includes a category for cloth dolls. The challenge is to use their selected fabric and theme to best advantage, which can be especially challenging since they choose the fabric with quilters in mind, not dollmakers. This year’s fabric had a peacock feather motif that, although a gorgeous fabric, was way too big to be realistic in doll scale. (I know this because I contemplated entering the challenge myself this year.) This apparently didn’t faze any of the entrants, though, as you will see by the lovely results.

The winners are posted here, and you can read a blog post about the show that includes all the entries here. I may be going to see this show in a couple of weeks, if they have it at the Sewing Expo like they did last year. If so, I’ll take my camera and snap some more pictures for you.

The winning entries are fantastic, but I have to say my favorite is still Melisa Matkin‘s entry, Eleanor, seen here on her blog.

Jessica Acosta’s Ingenuity

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Here’s what my life is like these days: I’m looking at pictures of Asian ball-jointed dolls on Flickr, and I find this artist who’s making cute little costumes for her tiny bjds. Then I look at her other gallery and start thinking “this looks familiar…” So I look up her profile, and guess what? I’ve already seen her work on her own website. In fact, I think I’ve collected some of my featured artists from her old links page. Dollmaking is becoming a small world, at least on the Internet.

Now, where to start with Jessica Acosta. Her work kind of gives me the impression of a very talented person who has been allowed to develop her work without much contact with the rest of us. As a result, her work incorporates some influences from very popular doll artists, but then it also takes a variety of new approaches that I’ve never seen from anyone else.

Take her pin dolls, for example. They’re really hip, with their big-eyed, bjd-like faces and modern costumes, and their expressive hands and props are really charming. But the first time I saw them, I thought, those don’t look flat enough to be on pins. Then I looked closer and realized that her “pin dolls” aren’t pins as in brooches, but clothespins! Look at their legs! I never would have expected such a modern-looking doll to use a construction technique that was so traditional. I could wax on about the metaphorical angle of this — you know, how we’re all modern and sophisticated on the outside, but inside we’re the same kind of people as our great-grandmothers– but I won’t. You can thank me later.

The rest of Acosta’s work is equally edgy. Many of her pieces feel kind of deconstructed, like her pillow dolls wih felt appliques reminiscent of Mimi Kirchner’s work, which have hook-and-eye joints in the elbows. Or her steampunk doll bust with no arms or legs. Or her collage dolls, which have surface treatments like Marilyn Radzat’s fabulous mosaics but Acosta’s big-eyed faces. She makes fairies and mermaids that are gorgeous or adorable without reference to the usual pin-up styles you see on eBay. I’m telling you, she’s either a savant or a genius.

As you might have suspected from my introduction to this post, Acosta is a web-savvy artist and there are many ways to find her on the Inter-tubes. Definitely check out Her Flickr and her site, and if you have time, visit her blog and her Etsy.

P.S. I have a question for you. Yes, you, the one who reads this blog every week but never comments. I know you’re out there; Google Analytics can see you. I need your advice. If I were to interview these artists when I post about them, what kind of questions do you want me to ask? Do you want to know about their studios? Their work habits? Their education? Come on, this is your chance to let me ask them the stuff you’ve never had the nerve to. Post a comment with your suggestions.

Alarming Antiquities — Melisa Matkin

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Apparently I’m doing a series on paperclay-over-cloth dolls. :) Really, it wasn’t intentional. I’ve been meaning to blog about Melisa Matkin, the artistic power behind Coppermouse Dolls, for a while, and it just happened that she has some work-in-progress photos on her blog that detail her sculpting process.

But first, let’s talk about her dolls. Coppermouse dolls are very distinctive in style, combining primitive with creepy in a way that’s sure to make you grin. With their round faces and popping eyes, they resemble characters in some demented kids’ cartoon, or maybe an Edward Gorey illustration. But, like all really good abstractions, they have a firm basis in historical knowledge and technical expertise.

Coppermouse dolls wear costumes based on actual historical styles, only simplified. You can see the one above with her hairstyle and leg-o-mutton sleeves indicative of the styles of the 1830s, and most of her other pieces wear children’s styles from the age of the Addams Family, including black-and-white stripes, big ribbon bows and lace.

One gets the impression that there’s some kind of mythology behind Matkin’s work, and one wouldn’t be disappointed. The story involves the unlovable children of Mrs. Blatherby’s Orphanage, sometimes known by its acronym, MRSBO. Each piece made for the MRSBO group includes a story about its horrible background.

Visit Matkin’s blog, I Am a Dollmaker, for work-in-progress pictures that spell out her sculpting techniques pretty well. You can see more pictures at her Flickr site, but they’re not as well organized as her blog is.

Happy weekend everyone. Watch this space on Tuesday for a new Needle and Clay project.

Alabama Babies by Deanna Hogan

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Something about ODACA artist Deanna Hogan’s work reminds me of the nostalgic South. She lives in the northwest, so maybe it’s just the power of suggestion, since she has made several dolls based on the antique Alabama Baby, but to me her chubby play dolls and nostalgic adult figures are reminiscent of folk music and rural life.

Although her dolls are technically cloth dolls, many of them have fabric faces glued over polymer clay masks. Pictured above on the left is one of her Alabama Baby-inspired dolls, Viola Ruth. Viola Ruth has a polymer clay mask and cranium joined by paperclay over a cloth stump. Then Hogan glues cloth over the whole unit, gessos and sands it and paints it with oil paints. She has a tutorial for her process on her Picturetrail account.

Although she isn’t preoccupied by fairies and wizards like so many of us, Hogan’s work is fantastical in its own way, reminding one of childhood toys and fairytales. The seated doll above is from a pattern she sells called Averill, and includes bead-joined knees and elbows and button-jointed limbs. I wonder how many of her patterns are purchased by grandmas to make for their lucky little granddaughters.

Some of Hogan’s adult dolls are just a little bit bluesy, as exemplified by her Bob Dylan portrait above, and Delta Dawn, who was inspired by a song about a woman who was left at the altar. As you can see, they’re full to the brim of character, and I just love her choice of fabrics for Dawn’s dress. Check out Hogan’s blog and her website for more pictures of her work.

Have a great weekend. I spent all week trying to move this blog over. Yikes, what a chore!

Here there be pirate….dolls?

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In honor of Pirates of the Carribbean III (and in an unrepentant attempt to capture search engine traffic), I’ve decided to show you some pirate dolls today.

Pirate 1

This first one is an homage to Johnny Depp as the inimitable Cap’n Jack Sparrow, by Wendy Rinehart. Like all her work, Cap’n Jack is amusing, well-posed and well-costumed. He won an award from Jack Johnston, the creator of ProSculpt polymer clay.

Pirate 3 Spookbot Pirate 2 Spookbot pirate 3

My second offering is from a website called Spookbot. I haven’t found the artist’s name yet, but her adorable vintage-inspired dolls reveal a well-developed sense of style bordering on the modern spooky-primitive dolls I’ve blogged about before, but with a broader color palette. All her work is for sale, and at reasonable prices.

Megan the Buccaneer

Finally, my favorite of today’s offerings comes from a relative newbie to the doll scene. Coming from the world of 2-d fantasy art, Patrick Keith is a real Renaissance artist, producing digital paintings as well as gaming miniatures and larger poymer-clay figures. Megan the Buccaneer is possibly his best work in its genre to date, but check out his gallery on to judge for yourself.

Robin Foley

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Argh, I meant to do this yesterday, but I was crazy busy all day. Here’s today’s artist.

There are two ways to approach cloth doll construction. One is to shape the doll as much as possible by the arrangement of seams in the flat pattern, while the other is to use a basic pattern and do your sculpting after the doll is sewn together and stuffed. I’m very interested in the second kind of construction, and I’m even developing my own techniques along those lines.

Robin Foley is an artist whose work follows the second mode of construction. Her work is fabulously detailed, and I know at least some of you will look at it and say, “That’s cloth??” A couple of her pieces even made me look closer for seam lines. Her web page says she studied with Jo Ellen Trilling, and I believe Trilling’s practice is to sew a very basic figure out of very stretchy material and then to needle sculpt extensively.

I find her work to be further characterized by, well, character. Each of her figures has a personality and an expression all its own. She doesn’t limit herself to humans or elves, either, but explores a wide variety of animal forms both realistic and fantasized. There’s something for everyone in her work, so check it out.

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