The making of a Ninja Turtle

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Hi, I hope everyone had a great New Year’s!

This weekend, my doll club is having a meeting with the theme of  “Superheroes.” As much as I’d love to make a Flash or Green Arrow costume, I don’t have time, so after surveying my dolls to see what they wanted, I decided to make Sebastian a Ninja Turtle costume. A dear friend of mine suggested a while ago that when I don’t have time to make a real costume, I can always have my little kids play dress-up, so we’re building a turtle shell out of cardboard.

The cardboard is actually pasteboard from a soda case. First I drew the shapes I needed on the cardboard. I cut an octagon out of cardboard and used it as a template to draw the shapes on the shell. This turned out to be a wasted effort.


Next, I cut the pieces out. I decided to give the back shell some texture, so I folded it on all the lines of the octagon pattern. This gave it an interesting texture and resulted in a curved shell, which was pretty cool. Okay, so I guess the octagons weren’t completely wasted effort, but I was sad that they completely vanished when I started painting. It all worked out, though.


Next, I painted both pieces with acrylic. Apparently, my artist brain took over, and I think I painted the back shell too realistically for a Ninja Turtle. But, hey, look, I figured out a really easy way to make a fairly realistic turtle shell. Expect some totally bizarre turtle-themed fantasy costumes in the future. Or, actually, I’ve been wanting to make some armor. Fantasy armor could involve turtle shells. Hmm…


If you’re getting the impression that everything I do is an experiment, there may be a reason for that. I am a mad scientist, except without the science. A mad artist. That doesn’t sound right. Hm. Actually, I’m pretty easygoing and hardly ever get mad.  Oh well.

After searching my stash for orange fabric (Sebastian would have to choose Michelangelo. I told him Leonardo is the hero, even though Raphael is always the most popular, but he doesn’t care. Michelangelo is funny.), it turns out that polar fleece is the only thing I’ve got that’s remotely appropriate, and I’m not buying fabric for this silly project, so if I can’t make the polar fleece work, he may suddenly become Donatello. It would be easier to make a quarterstaff than a pair of nunchuks anyway.

I wish I had time to make a doll-sized pizza box.

Stay turned for updates.


Designing a dress

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One of the things I’ve been working on lately is a new dress for Trixie (Luts Honey Delf Anko). I noticed recently that she doesn’t really have any dresses. She has pants and tops, but not many skirts or dresses. She’s so adorable, she deserves to have piles of frilly dresses. Well, okay, not too frilly, since that’s not really my thing, but frilly compared to the other things I make. Let’s put it that way.

Anyway, here are two versions of the pattern so you can see the progression. I really need to repaint my sewing table. I didn’t do it right the first time and the rubber feet on my sewing machine have ripped up the paint. Also, I don’t know what I was thinking with the lime green.


And here’s Trixie in a mockup of the dress. Sorry for the awful photo. I think my New Year’s goal will be to improve my photo skills.

Dress Mockup1 (2)

It’s a little wider at the bottom than a straight column, but it’s going to have a very structured a-line pinafore over it, so I didn’t want it to be too wide. The neckline stretched all out of whack; I’ll have to stay-stitch it next time. Or I might add a peter pan-type collar. I am going to add ruffles to the hem, and I’ve been dithering because I didn’t really know how to do them, but then I found a tutorial on Pinterest that shows exactly what I want to do, so I’m excited to try it now. I hope it works in miniature.

Next up: I finally got the nerve to dye a doll! I can’t wait to show you! Also, stay tuned because I’ll be adding some free doll patterns to this site soon. Nothing fancy, but I thought I’d share my patterns for tights/leggings/socks, underwear, maybe tee shirts. Oh, and simple bedroom slippers. Partly as charity for naked dolls, but also for my own nefarious purposes, which will be revealed at a later date.


A new year, a new project.

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This is the year of finishing projects, as far as I’m concerned. My stash of fabrics and craft supplies is completely out of control, so I have a couple of projects lined up to use scraps and stash items.

The only new thing I’m starting on is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’ve been sewing for dolls for a couple of years now, and I’ve been thinking that I’d be really good at making patterns. I’m pretty good at teaching and I’m a graphic designer, so the publishing part will be easy. I just needed the time to develop some patterns.

So the first pattern I’m doing is a bathrobe for big boys. I made this bathrobe so that my first big boy would have something to wear until I made him some real clothes. Bathrobes don’t need to fit very well, so you can make one to a doll’s measurements without having the doll in hand, and reasonably expect it to fit. I also wanted something for my dolls to wear while they’re sitting around waiting to try on something I’m sewing for them.

In order to develop the pattern, I figure I’ll need to make several bathrobes (which I’ll probably offer for sale in my Etsy shop), and this week I finished the first one. I wrote the instructions for the pattern while I was making it. I probably need to make a couple more, one for each of the “views” I’m going to include in the pattern, and then another example using the pattern to make sure it all works.

The  finished robe is pictured below. My previous version was shorter, but I like this length. What do you think?


I made his wig. Isn’t it awful? Turns out it’s a lot harder to trim short wigs than I thought it would be, lol. I’d make a new one, but I don’t have any more black mohair.

Tutorial update– Magic Sculpture sculpting forum

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Since I missed my Tuesday update this week, you’re getting a double feature today.

MagicSculpture is Esther Marker van der Spek’s website with a sculpting forum and a library of digital figures you can use for photo reference. I think you have to get a paid membership to use the complete library or post, but you can read the forum for free.

Van der Spek also offers some tutorials on her gallery site, mostly intended for dollhouse-type dolls, but she has a very unique style of creating fairy wings. Also, check out her freebies page for designs for miniature fabric and fairy wings.

Tuesday tutorial — Pattern drafting

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I took up historical costuming as a hobby a few years ago. I had never sewn for people before, but I had sewn for dolls since I was in high school, so I found that I lacked some really basic skills, like buttonholes, but I had some really advanced ones, like designing and drafting patterns. Since handmade dolls are rarely of a standard size, pattern drafting is a necessary skill for any doll artist who isn’t satisfied by draping a little cheesecloth on her fairies and calling them dressed.

If you haven’t already developed this skill, here’s a tutorial to get you started. Lee Menconi-Steiger’s tutorial, From Image to Outfit, takes you through the steps of creating a pattern and designing a costume for a 1/12 scale doll. I have found that 1/6 scale (also called Play scale, because Barbie dolls are in this scale) is about the limit for making real clothes; any smaller than this and you really have to start faking things to make them look right. Menconi-Steiger’s tutorial covers some of these “faking” techniques, which will be very valuable to those of us who tend to work in smaller scales. But even if you generally work larger than 1/6, you will find the first page of this tutorial to contain a really easy technique for creating a basic sloper pattern from your handmade doll. And if you like historical patterns, the second page includes instructions for draping a bustle skirt, which has always been a mystery to me. :)

If you’d like to learn more about dollhouse scale, I recommend 1/12 Scale Character Figures for the Dolls House, by James Carrington. I have to admit that the first time I thumbed through this book (it was a gift), I didn’t think it had any information I didn’t have anywhere else. Then I started actually making some very small dolls, and I realized I was wrong. A lot of the book is devoted to facial proportion, which has been covered by many other artists; and how to make molds of your work, which didn’t interest me; but there are also some very good sculpting tips in here. I particularly like Carrington’s technique for hands. If your doll is too small to have an armature in its fingers, try this book; I like it even better than Katherine Dewey’s technique.

Update — Butterfly wings, ball joints

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Hi, just a couple of things for you to check out.

I have a confession to make. I found out about Adele Sciortino’s doll costume newsletter way back when it first started up last summer, but I never really got around to reading it until this week. Boy, was I missing out! Each issue takes a specific topic in dollmaking costume, whether it’s a genre like fairies or clowns or a historical period, and gives you specific instructions for making such a costume, illustrated with the work of other professional artists, like Marianne Reitsma and Martha Boers or Charie Wilson.

The first issue, Summer 2007, included general instructions and patterns for no fewer than eleven types of doll wings, including flower-petal angel wings like the ones seen in my report on Sleetwealth Studios. So, for those of you who are following my search for fairy wing tutorials, go and sign up for the newsletter.

The newsletter is free; you just have to sign up. Go take a look, it’s worth the trouble of signing up just for the fabulous pictures of Reitsma and Boer’s work. There are also book reviews, articles about organizing a studio, using silk flower petals in doll costumes, and more.

Finally, while surfing today, looking for the next doll artist to feature, I discovered a pattern on CD for what seems to be a ball-jointed cloth doll. The artist is Allison Marano and the link is here — scroll down to Henley the House Gnome. The description says his hips and shoulders are button joints but his elbows, knees, wrists and ankles are “bead joints.” I’m not sure if bead joints are the same as the ball joints I’ve been working on, but it sure looks like it. If anyone has made this pattern, can you leave us a comment about how the joints work?