Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chosing Fabrics for dolls

This is one of the dolls I am currently working on. She started as a head I did as a demo in a class I taught quite some time ago. Then I found some legs I done (again as a demo for a class). I found the body fabric that seemed to work and when I sewed parts for the dolls I'm making for my mom and nieces, I sewed hers as well. I love how pale and soft her features are and for her hair I needle felted some mohair roving. Her skirt so far is two layers, a sheer handkerchief and then several panels of lace scrap underneath.
Here she is posed with some of the fabrics I'm considering using for her sleeves (rose and light blue fat quarters I picked up at my local quilt shop). I am also thinking I might make some long bloomers or a third skirt layer out of the fabric behind her. It was on sale and on an impulse I bought what was left on the bolt (a little over a yard). I will have lots left, and I don't know what I will use it for, but I just fell in love with it. Actually, this brings me at to a topic that I've thought a lot about in the last few years in terms of doll making. Fabric choice.

When you make cloth dolls, especially ones that are tightly stuffed so the body parts are firm and hold their shape, the fabric you use matters. I like to use a off white 100% cotton muslin with a high thread count for hands, heads and sometimes bodies (if I want the body to match the coloring of the face and arms.) This plus using a small stitch when I sew the doll helps keep the seams from fraying when put under pressure in the process of stuffing them. I set my stitch length to around 1.2 to 1.5 on my machine, which is very different from what I would need when sewing a quilt then my stitch length is set (depending upon the machine) at 2 to 2.5. Sometimes I will tea dye the fabric before I sew the doll, or use fabric already dyed to a certain skin tone, but often I use the plain muslin and then give the doll a skin tone after I've sewn and stuff the body parts and after I've needle sculpted the face. Not the most efficient method, but then its worked for me so far. It has its risks, however. I have dyed a face unevenly, or with a really strange skin tone and then had to throw it out because I simply couldn't fix it. I also, have run out of the textile paint I mixed for the head, before getting everything done and then had to try and remix the colors and make the other parts match. I would suggest if you don't like the risk involved in altering the skin tone after the doll is sewn, then either use a base fabric that is the color you want the skin already, or dye your fabric before sewing.
        In fact, if you don’t want to bother with dying the fabric yourself, there are some websites that offer good fabric dyed in a variety of skin tones. Not to mention, if you are working with other types of fabric (such as doeskin, doll-skin, robe velour, or craft velour, or knits) all can be found in a range of skin tones. For non-realistic skin tones, any fabric with a high thread count can be used, however some fabrics that tend to fray a lot might cause some problems.
   The doll pictured above has a much stronger skin tone which works well with the very bright body fabric. Behind her in the photo you can see part of a doll leg using a green batik fabric I just love. I painted the wooden bead that is the dolls knee joint to match the fabric. For this next doll, I had the body fabric selected already, so I knew that the skin tone shouldn't be too strong or too pale and I'm over all happy with how her face and arms came out.  For this doll I tea dyed the fabric and added additional color with a range of colored pencil, gel pens and a little acrylic paint. 

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Once I have a skin tone, it is much easier to find fabrics that go along with it. If I want to do the legs of a doll in a non realistic skin tone fabric, I often choose a batik (bought from one of my local quilt shops) as the base fabric they use in Bali batiks is of a higher thread count and stronger than your average 100% cotton quilt fabric. Sometimes, I will risk a print or a striped fabric if I like it enough, but it can be frustrating when the seams fail (i.e. start to fray) as I stuff the leg. For fabrics for the doll's costume, anything can be used. I often use cotton fabrics from my stash for doll clothing, but I also, have some silk, some polyester, some velvet, some upholstery fabrics, lace netting, old linens, feed sack fabric, scraps of rayon, scraps recycled from old clothes (pants, skirts, blouses) felted wool, whatever seems best for that particular doll. Often times I will gather together colors and textures of fabrics that I think might work and then let them hang out with a particular face for awhile before I decide on what I want to do. One thing to keep in mind though is that most fabric, especially thick or heavy fabrics are going to be harder to use with small dolls as the thickness of the fabric itself may to too out of scale for the doll, it would be like if we were to try and make an outfit out of a carpet scrap for ourselves. It could be done, but it would very bulky and heavy especially where there was more than one layer of fabric.
       Also, the scale of the prints matter a lot choosing fabric for outfits. You want any pattern or print to match the size of doll and a lot of what would look normal sized on a person, would be too large a graphic when put on a doll. In addition to pulling out fabrics that I think might work, I will also pull out trims I’ve collected and see what might work. One of my favorite dolls I managed to find a good use for some Kelly green silk from a bridesmaid dress. Now that I’m known in my quilt guild as being a doll maker, people sometimes bring me scrap fabric. At the last quilt show the ladies put together a bag of fabrics they felt I might find a use for (as it wasn’t very suitable for quilting). 90% of what was there wasn’t of use to me, but some of it was and it may show up in some future doll I make. Anyway, this is just some of how I chose fabrics for dolls and I hope this gives you some ideas. In Finishing the Figure: Doll Costuming, Embellishments, Accessories by Susanna Oroyan, she gives much more detailed discussion about fabric choice for dolls, from issues of color, texture, and of course scale for the doll. I have to get back to work on these now that the holidays have passed. Hope this was of interest and possibly a little bit useful.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Granny Square Afghans...I've made a few

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There is nothing quite as relaxing as crocheting a pattern that is simple, and that you have memorized. This is what the granny square is to me. It's comfort crochet, rather like comfort food. Simple, round and round they go, and whether made with lots of colors, or as a solid colored square, for me at least I can whip up a batch in no time. I also love doing crochet in odd moments at work (particularly in the evenings after everyone is ready for bed or off in their rooms doing their own thing).So I have made a lot of these crocheted objects, sometimes not even sure what I was going to do with them, just using up oddments of yarn from other projects.
However there is a downside to the granny square, loose ends as it were. Lots and lots of loose ends, especially those squares with multiple colors. That you have to weave in. In fact, I would say that working the loose ends into the project is one aspect that I have to have many TV episodes of a good series, say, Hotel Babylon, or Wire in the Blood, or In Plain Sight to watch while I sit and hide the ends in the crochet. (Some of my current series I've watched on DVD or streamed via Netflix). The other downside comes in having to assemble all the squares to make the afghan itself.
There are a number of ways to do this, and one of my favorites is to use single crochet to connect the squares to each other, sometime I will even use a contrasting yarn as a part of the look of the design.  As you can see here, it makes a raised grid work pattern between the squares, which I really like as a tactile element. 
For this blanket I had a lot small solid centers that I surrounded with s a variegated multi-colored yarn.   Once the center was together I increased the size by adding some more rows of granny square around the outside. 

One of my favorite aspects of this blanket was the soft variegated yarn that I started with as my blanket center. It was a wool, acrylic blend on sale and I just couldn't pass it up.  So, I have to say that two of the following lap size/child sized afghans were the best of the granny square, without a lot of the downside. Two of the blankets are what I think of as the endless granny square. Instead of stopping at four or five rows per square, you just keep going. To create bands of color you do several rows in a row in the same yarn. Easy as pie. Which reminds me, we had a lovely Thanksgiving this year, a work friend came over, we ate pie and the turkey dinner, watched a movie, drank a little wine and were warm and cozy. I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving too.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Ripple is done

This is how it all started.  I had seen some Ripple crochet afghans around on various craft blog and I loved the way the rows undulated across the surface of the blanket.  After making a lot of prayer shawls I wanted to make something new for my queen sized bed.  I also thought this would be a way to use up some odd, balls of yarn I had already bought.  Then I found the perfect color scheme inspired by a piece of scraping booking paper I had and got the yarn I needed.  My original plan was to follow the chevron blanket pattern from Vintage Crochet which I had checked out from the library. However, I kept having problems figuring out how to actually correctly crochet the blanket from the directions in the book, and this book only had text directions without a helpful pictorial stitch pattern (often when the written directions muddle me up the chart helps me figure out what I really should be doing).   
        Then I found the tremendously helpful tutorial by one Attic 24's blog.   If you like colorful crochet check out her blog.  Lovely pictures, great for inspiration, and she also has some very well done tutorials there.  http://attic24.typepad.com/weblog/2008/11/hexagon-crochet.html  Once I discovered that the way you make your row of double crochet (or treble crochet if you are British) to ripple like the waves on the shore was to repeatedly increase and decrease your stitches then the light bulb in my head finally turned on and I could see what the directions were telling me to do. Then I hit another snag. I had been rippling away and then my sweetie looked at I was doing and mentioned that it seemed a very long blanket. "Long" I said, "no, that's the width". See I intended for the rippled stripes to run across the bed not lengthwise. Then the doubts crept in. Maybe it was a bit "long/wide"? I went to check it on the actual bed. It was hugely too wide. What I had thought was a good length with my starting chain was too too much. By this point I had crocheted a goodly amount. (See picture below)
Then I realized I had to start again.  After some wailing and gnashing of teeth, I undid all my crochet.  Then to get a proper width, I did something I felt rather smart about.  I measured my bed.  I measured the sample swatch of ripple I had made to learn the pattern (from the tutorial).  My swatch came out at about 10 inches for two and one half ripples or as the ripple afgan is done in multiples of 14 + 3 for a turning chain my swatch started with 31 chain stitches (2x14+3).  So to figure out my starting row of chains, I figured out the width of the bed (X inches) and I knew 31 chain stitches = 10 inches, so figuring out became Xinches divided by 10 equaled the number if times I would repeat my swatch.  Then I simplely multipled that number by 31.  By the end of this little math challenge I felt pretty wiped out.  However, I tried it, crocheted the first couple of rows of the ripple blanket, took it and laid it out across the bed and lo, it was the right length.  Then all the head scratching and fiddling with numbers suddenly became worthwhile.  In fact, one thing I 've learned about crochet is that as you go along in making the blanket, the added weight from additional rows will stretch out your first row of chain stitches, and even make the later ripple rows stretch a bit to.  So, if after your calculations the first two rows of ripple seem a little short (say no more than 5-7 inches) go a bit shorter and see if doesn't stretch out a bit as you go.  At least that's what I  did.  However, your mileage may vary, so doing that intial guage swatch is really helpful in getting a sense of how many stitches equals what length. 
So more about Attic 24's blog of goodies.  Not only does she have a sense of color I totally groove on, but her crochet creations including the ripple afgan are very goregous.  I may just have to make one of these a zig zag blanket with itty bitty granny squares much like she has.  I'm thinking baby/doll blanket with this one. 
 So, now I have a new blanket for the bed and I can repair and retire the quilt we'd been using as some of the vintage fabrics are just not holding up so well.  Even the husband likes it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This picture's for you Mom

Well, I've been away for awhile. So a quick up date is in order. Above is the teapot that I painted months ago when my Mom visited and which she didn't get to see after its final glaze, so at last here are some pictures of how it turned out. In terms of my crafting life, since Christmas time I've been doing lots of crochet (pictures of this soon) some thought about working on dolls, but no progress, and some work on two new scrappy quilts. One of which I started a while back, and the other a new project inspired by Bonnie Hunter's website. However, to show all of this off properly I need some more photos, so this is to come, soon I swear.

What I've really been preoccupied with is our latest project as a family. Dagon and I are in the process of becoming certified to be foster parents. We are interested in expanding our family, beyond the cats, to include a young'un with the goal of fostering to adopt. What does that mean really? Well foster parents are temporary parents to a child who has been put in their care until they are able to be reunified with their birth family. In the past foster parents couldn't adopt a child who they had fostered, if the child could not be returned to their family and the parents terminated their parental rights. Now the laws have changed and in order to help children find permanent families faster and with less disruption of living situations foster parents can adopt children who they've fostered if that child becomes available to be adopted. So now 70% of all children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents.

So, what does that mean for Dagon and me? Well, when we feel we are ready to be foster parents, and have completed all of the licensing requirements and our home is set up and ready for a child we would work with our case worker to be matched to a child as foster parents. At this point in time, we are working our way through the class required as training for all foster parents and it has really be interesting and challenging to learn about how the system functions and some of the challenges we will face with any foster child. We still have a number of things to do before we will be ready to have a child in our home as part of our family. However, we are working our way through the process of licensing and taking it one step at a time. While it is hard to imagine our lives with a child in it, especially one who may or may not become ours permanently, I feel that we both have a lot to give a child and I want to see where this journey takes us. Ever since I stopped being a grad student, and dealt with the health disruptions stemming from my Graves disease, I have felt so frustrated about the fact that we don't have children (as much as I love my furry babies it’s just not the same). Now though I feel hopeful that one way or another Dagon and I will get to be parents.