Saturday, May 28, 2022


 Hi All,

I was commissioned to make a "Jack Skellington" and "Sally" doll from Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" movie. These dolls needed to be large -- about 3 feet tall. 

Because these characters were already designed, I needed to be as accurate as possible when making the dolls. I decided to make a quick sculpt of each character to take a pattern from in order to make the cloth bodies. To make the sculpt look just like the figures, I used images of the figures as a model.

First, I found photos of the characters. I needed a photo of each, from head to toe, looking as straight forward as possible. I took these photos to a copy place and blew them up to the size I wanted. Now I had a photo of the characters in the exact size. I traced each body to make a simple line drawing. I drew a profile of the figures by hand next to the new photos. I now had a front and side outline of each body. Here's "Jack" next to his line drawings:

I cut out the bodies from the paper and traced the pieces onto cardboard. By cutting the cardboard in half, and gluing everything back together, I got a dimensional model of the figures. Adding newspaper and masking tape filled out the bodies. Here are some of "Sally's" body pieces:

Next, I used a technique I learned long ago in college when "draping" an outfit/costume on a dress form. I took muslin and pinned it to my cardboard & newspaper model. I pinned pieces of the muslin together where I wanted to put the seams. (This same technique is explained in Robert McKinley's books "Dollmaking, One Artist's Approach" and "Sculpting Dolls in Paperclay") This is half of the "Sally" torso:

I transferred the rough muslin patterns to paper and straightened everything out. With the new paper patterns of the dolls, I was able to make the basic dolls in "deerskin" fabric. (Fabric available at "Dollmaker's Journey" or on some Etsy sites) Here are some "Sally" body pieces stitched in muslin to check if the pieces match the scale drawing. You can see the (hand-dyed) light blue deer suede fabric for the finished body.

These dolls needed to stand by themselves, so the legs needed heavy wire armatures (9-gauge steel fencing wire found at a hardware store) that goes from outside the bottom of the feet all the way up to the neck of the body. I taped the armature wire to wood dowels in the legs for extra strength. You see the taped wood dowels sticking out of the tops of the legs (for some reason I used black tape on one, and white tape on the other!). I try to finish the legs as much as possible before attaching them to the body.

I joined the 2 leg armature wires in the torso, (with the back seam open) so both wires were taped together and went into the neck. I stitched the stuffed legs to the (unstuffed) body, so I could join the wires together to form a "spine". After the legs were attached to the body, I stuffed the body and neck as tightly as I could. The wire in the feet goes down into holes I drilled in the wooden bases.

I made the head, arms, and hands separated and stitched them to the body. "Sally" is meant to look like her body was hand-stitched together. I drew the "seam lines" onto the fabric body with a blue ink pen, then stitched over the seam lines with black thread.

Next came the costume. "Jack" has a very distinctive black & white striped suit. I tried to find stripe fabric in scale with the body and couldn't find anything. Also, I noticed the stripes are not straight up & down but looked more "sketchy" & wavy -- like a wood-grain pattern. So, I painted the stripes onto black satin, using a dimensional paint (Tulip brand) from a squeeze bottle. It went faster than I thought.


I sculpted the head of the "bat-bowtie" from paper clay. The bat wings that make the bowtie were made from thick black felt.

Sally wears a patchwork dress, made of specific colors, shapes, and patterns. I used craft-felt for the dress. I was able to find a close match to all the colors. I drew the patterns on the felt with a magic-marker. Some of the stripes and polka dots were made by appliqueing pieces on top of the main dress. All the felt pieces were fused to black interfacing and hand stitched together.

Sally has yarn hair, so that was easy. I needle-sculpted Sally's features into her face. Her eyes are painted on, coated with several layers of gloss gel. Her eyelashes were tricky. They are meant to look like pieces of black yarn tied into the eyelids. I used small pieces of cardstock heavily painted and coated, so they would stand in the right direction and (hopefully) not break.

And, back views:

Have Fun!


Saturday, March 19, 2022


 Hi All,

Once again, I am attempting to learn how to sculpt a polymer clay head. I took another (zoom) class with Maureen Peck Carlson of Wee-Folk (Maureen Carlson weefolk.com) This was my second face sculpting class with Maureen, who is a dear woman, a great teacher, and very funny. In the past, I've also taken sculpting classes with Jack Johnston and Mark Dennis.

In my first class with Maureen, I sculpted a small (2-1/2 inch) witch head. I struggled with sculpting a head that small. 

So, this time I sculpt a bigger head (4 inch) and the results were much better for me. The finished piece is about 15 inches tall, including candlestick and feathers. 

Polymer clay is a new medium for me. (In the past, I sculpted with Paper-Clay to make doll masks on cloth heads) I'm still learning about polymer and how to bake and paint it. I had a half brick of "Living Doll" Sculpey clay and a half brick of "Cos Clay" (both left over from previous classes). Neither was enough clay for the class, so (after researching to make sure these would work together) I blended the 2 clays together & had enough clay.

I started with a foil egg-shape about 3-1/2 inches long, with a wire neck armature (also wrapped in foil). It's easier to sculpt a face if you have a neck to hold on to. I used 14mm glass eyes (from HeartofaFairy) I spent the 2 days of class sculpting the face. I was using some photo references of older women to help me sculpt. Before I started, I had the concept of a grand older woman who wore too much make-up and living in the past. I hoped it would look slightly comical and yet a bit tragic.

I baked the face in a foil pan resting on a bed of quilt batting (covered in more foil). After the face cooled and hardened, I sculpted the back of the head and baked. Then the neck. And, after adding more foil to the neck armature to make shoulders, sculpted & baked the bust.

To get the bust set in the resin candlestick, I made sure there was enough wire neck armature to go inside the cup of the candlestick. Wrapping the wire armature in more foil, I mixed 2-part Apoxie clay and covered the foil armature & pushed the clay and armature into the candlestick, blending the Apoxie up into the polymer. The Apoxie clay sticks to whatever it's touching while it hardens (about 12 hours). Now I had a solid sculpted bust securely attached to the candlestick.

The next step was painting. To highlight all the wrinkles I had sculpted, I mixed extender medium with acrylic paint, just a shade darker than the clay color. I did a wash over the face and neck, wiping away most of the paint before it dried. This left the paint in the wrinkles. I continued to do thin washes of paint over the face, using darker colors and less paint as I went, wiping away the paint with a cloth. (This technique of painting then wiping away, leaving paint in recesses & cracks, is sometimes called "antiquing"). I used different shades of tan and pink. I went back and added some age spots here and there.


For the "make-up" blush and blue eye-shadow, I used pastel chalk, brushed on dry. I glued on false eyelashes, then trimmed them down a bit. I painted on black eyeliner around the eyes. I used red acrylic gloss paint for the lipstick. I even painted some red paint into the small wrinkles around the mouth. I noticed this detail of lipstick bleeding into the wrinkles in my photo collection. This reinforces the concept of an overly made-up older woman. 

I sprayed the face with a THIN coat of Krylon workable fixative to set the chalk so it wouldn't rub off. (Be careful of adding any kind of finish coating to polymer clay and AWAYS do a test first! -- many products make the baked clay sticky!)

I stitched a fringe of orange mohair locks for the wig. I glued the fringe around the hairline, with the locks going down over the face and back. Then, pulled all the hair up into a knot on the back of her head. I used a felting needle to felt as much of the hair to itself to help it stay in place. Then sprayed it with several coats of hairspray.

Making the costume top was tricky for me, as you cannot pin or stitch into the clay body (unlike a cloth body!). I was able to machine stitch one side of the purple taffeta top but had to hand stitch the other side after pinning it on the torso. Some of the embellishments & trim had to be glued on if I couldn't stitch them on.

Have fun! A.B.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022


 Hi All, 

This post isn't about a doll. It's to show you a textile wall hanging I made. I call it "Magical Scales". It took me about 2 years to finish it. I didn't work on it all the time -- just at times I didn't have anything else to do. 

The size is about 23" wide x 32" long. 

When I make wall hangings, I like to design something where I can use up as much material I already have and not have to buy anything. And, because I know I will be working on it over a long period of time, I like to design something that is made up of small pieces I can work on in my hand. (This is the kind of project I can carry around & do to keep my hands busy when I have to wait an hour with nothing to do).

When I decided to design something with "scales", my first thought was a mermaid. But, I wanted it stronger-looking so I thought of a "dragon". But, in the end it didn't look like either of those, so I just called it "scales". ---I added the "magic" part later.

To start, I made a sketch. This told me how big it was to be, how many rows of different colors I wanted, how many scales (53 scales total!) and, ultimately, what the size was of each diamond-shape scale. The sketch also told me that in every other row I would need "half-diamond" scale at each end.  (Sorry, I can't find that sketch to show you!)

I sorted out all my cottons into the color groups I wanted. 6 main colors: yellow, orange, magenta, purple, blue, and black, --going from very light to very dark. Each diamond scale is a layer of printed cotton fused to a backing of red heavy-weight twill cotton. 

After cutting and fusing each scale, I fused some metallic and glittery fabric to the center of each scale. To hold down this little collage of fabrics, I machined embroidered over all that with some metallic threads.

I wanted to edge the scales with some lace. So, next step was to dye all the scrapes of white venice lace pieces & trim I had. I made a bath of pale yellow, dyed a handful of lace, then added more yellow to the dye bath, and dyed more lace. To that dye bath, I added some orange dye, and so on and so on..... Some of the lace was more polyester than cotton and didn't dye too well. With those pieces, I painted over the dye with some Dye-Na-Flow ink to get the color I wanted. I used a variety of shades of each color for the edges. I glued the lace pieces onto the edges (knowing I would stitch it down when I stitched on all the beads).

I added some texture to the center of each scale by couching down some thick yarns and adding silk flowers and large beads & gemstones of whatever I had. 

Next, I stitched down small rows of pony-size beads in a random pattern over all the lace.

The last embellishment to each scale were the beaded dangles and swags on the edges.

With the scales finished, I could assemble the piece. I used the same red twill for the backing. I knew I couldn't get this under the sewing machine, so I glued each row on, careful that each row overlapped the row under it, and that all the points were straight. After all the scales were glued on, I went back and hand-stitched each scale down to the backing fabric.

I hemmed the backing by hand, then added a black cotton lining to the back of that. I added a loop of fabric for the hanging bar, and it was done.

Have Fun!

Sunday, February 20, 2022


 Hi All,

I just completed a new cloth doll pattern, called "DIVA!". 

She stands about 18 inches tall and is a "stump" doll (no legs). This is a simple pattern, good for beginners, and can be made into a variety of characters and easy to embellish.

This pattern is available on my Etsy site for $15.

This doll is made with DEER SUEDE knit fabric for the body and "skin" of the doll. You can buy deer suede on-line from doll supply stores, (mine is from www.dollmakersjourney.com) The dress is made from micro sequins on red knit fabric. The fingerless gloves are red spandex.

This is another version of the pattern. 

This is how the basic pattern looks without the dress. The body is already posed for you. Notice the bottom of the body is glued to a wooden base, so she can stand upright.

Here are the finished arms. You can choose to use a straight arm and a bent arm, or any combination of arms. She has fingerless gloves made of purple spandex.

The head, colored with acrylic paint, pastel chalks, colored pencils, and gel marker pens. If you have trouble drawing eyes, you can choose to keep the eyes closed. (Later, I added eyelashes, after I attached the head.)

The dress is made of an iridescent taffeta ("iridescent" because it's woven with blue threads in the warp and pink threads in the weft.) You need to hand-stitch most of the back seam after it's on the doll's body.

The pattern comes with a dramatic shoulder drape. This was a popular look in the 1950s and 60s.  You can make it out of the dress fabric or choose another fabric. In my stash, I had a crinkle sheer fabric with the same weave as the dress, so I used it for the drape.  I also added a large ruffle to the bottom of the dress (this is called a "mermaid" style dress -- also popular in the 1960's)

This pattern comes with a turban -- so you don't have to make a wig. (I'm not very good at styling hair or making wigs.) But on this one, I felt she needed a wig (or, at least part of one). After I got the ruffle on the skirt, I was reminded of the characters from the movie "Dreamgirls". I cut the top off the turban so the wig would show. Here's the wig stitched to the head. This wig was bigger than the head, so I cut the hairline off the wig (since you would only see the top.)

This is Beonce in the lead role from "Dreamgirls".

Here's the finished look with a partial wig and cut-off turban (now a headwrap). Notice the eyelashes I added. A nice effect for closed eyes. I like to add lashes to all my dolls (so easy to do -- instructions included in pattern).

Here's another variation of the pattern. This doll is made of Kona Cotton (because Kona has the most stretch of all the quilting cottons). I don't like the look of the cotton face or hands because I get a lot of wrinkles -- but I rarely use it. She turned out a little taller and a little skinnier than the dolls made with Deer Suede.

 On this doll, I used a black jacquard satin for the skirt, black spandex for the gloves, and a black satin for the turban. This doll has 2 bent arms. I didn't use the shoulder drape. Instead, I made a chiffon knit stole to go over the shoulders. (Simple to do -- just drape a measuring tape over the arms to get the length and make it wide enough to stay on the arms. The knit fabric doesn't need to be hemmed.)

Of course, I added lots of jewelry, rhinestones, beads, and trim (instructions in the pattern) for all the dolls!

Have fun!  A.B.