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.

1 comment:

leah said...

Your work is gorgeous! Thanks for the comment on my blog! It really means a lot to me, since I designed it myself, and a clean uncluttered look was one of my goals! ^_^ Have a lovely day!