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.

Tutorial Tuesday — Antonette Cely

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One of my favorite cloth doll artists is Antonette Cely. A student of Lisa Lichtenfels, Cely is one of the few cloth dollmakers whose work is detailed and lifelike enough to go naked. She generously shares her knowledge with us on her website with tutorials about wefting doll hair, stuffing, and making eyes, hands, and shoes. You can find more tips in these excerpts from her dollmaking video. The excerpts are on Youtube here and here. The video and her books are for sale here.

I hope everyone’s having a good week; I’ve been a bit under the weather.

Judy Skeel’s Skeelhaven

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Judy Skeel is one of those artists who has probably tried nearly everything at least once. After fifteen years of dollmaking, she has focused her art into a style that is colorful, charming, whimsical and sometimes fierce. In addition to her work as a dollmaker, she is a popular dollmaking instructor and produces a newsletter highlighting doll clubs and events.

I really like her artist statement, so I’ll quote it here:

There is nothing more rewarding to me than creating something that speaks. When I create art of my own design I begin with an idea and let the process and the work itself tell me where it wants to go. I allow the art to take over, as if it were my subconscious, pulling from deep within me. When I complete a piece in this manner not only do I feel the ecstasy of completion; I also am enchanted by the creation. In some way, any new creation for me connects me to God as I begin to understand what joy He must savor in creating His works. I see my work as my children, and often find it difficult to let them go off into the world and speak for themselves. I wonder if the world will understand them as I do if I am not there to share for them. I must remind myself that just as in parenting, if we create and instill the concepts we require our children to have, when they go on their own our efforts will shine through for anyone that sincerely looks at our work.
When you view my work all I ask is that you view it with sincerity and an open mind, and then I believe that my art will speak to you as it does to me.”

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Take note of the way she styles the faces of her dolls, using a skillful combination of needle sculpting and painting. Additionally, every doll she makes just drips with beading, ribbon embroidery, machine embroidery and other textile techniques. These pictures probably don’t do them any justice at all.

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If you really want to know what’s going on in the dollmaking scene, check out her newsletter, The Association for People Who Play With Dolls (APWPWD), and be sure to check her schedule to see if she’s attending any events near you. You can also get to know Skeel better by reading her blog or dropping her an e-mail at her website.

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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