Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Hi All,
I have been making dolls to sell at a home & garden store in California, called Roger's Garden. They do "special boutique events" 3 times a year for Christmas, Halloween,  & Easter/Spring, where they sell one-of-a-kind art along side their seasonal merchandise.

They asked me to make dolls for the Halloween event last year, and this year asked if I would make 3 specific dolls to help advertise their Halloween event, titled "Malice in Wonderland" (An "Alice" theme with a darker look to it). I was to make the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, and Alice. I started working on this project in February.

So, I thought I'd share with you one of the character dolls I made, the "Mad Hatter".

First off, I started with a sketch of my ideas so everyone involved can see if I'm on the right track with their thinking.

They liked the sketch, but asked to make the colors darker (black, brown, & gray) and to make him a bit more shabby and raggedy.

The store also asked that the doll be about 3 feet tall. Making a 3-foot tall doll out of cloth, with legs, wearing a large top hat would be tricky to keep upright and balanced. I knew I had to have a strong armature inside, especially the legs. My plan was to use a thick wire armature that went through the legs, out of the bottom of the feet, and into a strong wooden base. I used a 9-gauge wire that I had to cut with bolt cutters and bend with pliers and a vice.

The next thing to do was to make the pattern. After several tests, I came up with a pattern with the height and proportions I thought would work. I stitched and stuffed all of the body parts and pinned the whole thing together, to see what it would look like. (I sent the store's art director a picture of me standing behind the doll to show the scale and height.--- I'm never happy when I have my picture taken.....)

After unpinning all the limbs, I started dressing the arms and legs as much as I could before putting them together. Each of the limbs had wire inside, with the ends poking out of the top of the legs and arms. I punched holes in the torso where the arms and legs attached and fed the wire from the limbs into the torso before stitching them together. (The torso also had a wire "spine" armature.)

Dressing a doll with a strong wire armature NOT made to bend, is tricky. Most of the clothing had to be made with seams open in the back that was hand-stitch together after it was on the body. To make it look ragged, I ripped most of the edges and did not finish them. I stitched patches on the pants and jacket and aged the fabric using stampers ink. On some of the clothing, I stitched yarn or chenille trim on the edges to make it look worn.

The jacket was made of several layers of different fabric and black gauze, all stitched together with free motion embroidery. To get it on the body after the arms were attached, I left the back seam open and put each side of the jacket on the doll separately. I hand stitched the back seam, then hand stitched the collar on. (Sorry, I forgot to take close-up photos of the jacket)

I gave the Hatter some props: a tape measure around his neck, and a tea cup in his hand. The tea cup is cobbled together using a small plastic bowl and the handle from a child's plastic tea pot (a child's size tea cup was too small.) The tea spoon is in his hat brim.

After sewing the Hatter's head together, I needle-sculpted the features. I even made ears! (I don't usually make ears, but the Hatter is always rendered with large ears). The face was colored with acrylic paint, colored pencils, and chalk. The hair is fake fur. His hair was going to be a pale gray, but was changed to black with gray streaks. (Without his hat, I think he looks like Jonny Depp as Sweeny Todd!)

I made the top hat base out of wired buckram, covered in an embossed velvet. Because the hat is so big, I wanted it to weigh as little as possible (but still be strong enough to withstand shipping and handling). A request from the art director was that the top of the hat be hinged so it can open. I decided to put a backward clock-face on the inside of the top of the hat with the dormouse curled up, sleeping (or dead) inside the hat.
Roger's Garden is in Corona Del Mar, Calif. The Halloween event runs from Aug 30 to Oct 31.

 I'll post more about this project, making Alice and the Queen of Hearts. Stayed tuned!


Anonymous said...

Your Mad Hatter is a real piece of work. You are soo talented. I love reading your blogs and how you do things. I have used some of your ideas and suggestions and been very successful. I live all the way across the United States in St Petersburg FL. Everyone who has seen your dolls are amazed at the detail you put into them. Keep up the good work. Carol Johnson

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully creepy! Exquisite detail! Love him!
~Nancy C.

Jeannette Lloyd said...

Just brilliant!!! Your work is amazing.

Cloth-A-Dollies said...

I have always loved your work and your sharing spirit. I wish I could see the final results in person. The Hatter looks wickedly handsome.

Arley said...

Wow! Thank you all for your lovely comments. I'm glad you enjoy reading my blog. I know blogs are going out of style, being replaced by Facebook and Twitter, but you can't write long detailed entries on those platforms. So, I'll still keep writing if you all keep reading!

Doug said...

I can’t wait to see your characters in person! I attend the opening of Roger’s Gardens Halloween Boutique every year and their themed displays are always amazing!!

Lynda Martinez said...

Wow, just found your blog Arley and it's awesome!! I also go to Roger's Halloween event every year and am excited to hear that your work will be there this year. Can't wait to see it in person. (I've been a customer of Gypsy Pamela's for ages at the Road to California quilt show and have bought many of your patterns from her there. And marveled at your finished dolls there as well)

I've just posted a link to your blog on the Facebook page of the doll makers group I belong to in SoCal--Orange County Doll Makers. They are going to love it too. Especially as several of the group are rabid Halloween fans, and love all things dark and creepy, lol.

Thanks for your generosity in sharing your tips and processes, it's a great help. And please DO keep writing your blog!


Windy said...

Absolutely awesome!! The detail is amazing and all the time and effort put into this piece really shows. I only wish that I weren't on the opposite coast so that I could go see the actual piece! Thank you so much for sharing the progress photos and how you went about creating the piece.

jenclair said...

Wow! Wonderful character!

Northbrook Designs said...

Hey Arley....just saw your amazing Mad Hatter. He's fantastic and as always your work is impeccable. I love the finishing touch of the mouse in the hat, brilliant.

I just finished a Jester, 31" tall and I'm submitting it for judging next week in hopes of putting it in the Fine Arts Show here in Sidney. I used brass rods for the legs and 1/8" aluminum wire in the arms. Tricking dressing is right when the legs don't bend, but at least it's sturdy. ;o) Can't wait now to see the other two characters... Romona

Arley said...

Thanks Lynda for your wonderful comments-- I'm so glad you like my patterns and art.

Arley said...

Hey Romona, I saw your jester on your blog (http://northbrookdesigns.blogspot.com/) and was very impressed! Hope you get in the show!