Category Archives: Dolls

Mice-making tutorial

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‘Tis the season for merry mice! Here’s how to make a four to five inch high mouse that will add a festive note to any tabletop or tree.

Supplies:

  • Felt or other cloth
  • Pipe cleaners for arms
  • Waxed linen for whiskers
  • Buttons or beads for eyes
  • Stuffing and small gravel
  • Scraps of cloth for clothing
  • Glue

Notes on materials:

You could make these critters out of any fabric at all — calico, for instance, or old socks. I use acrylic felt because I have a ton on hand from my days of craft fair booth-making. If you can afford it use wool felt, but fair warning, it’s pricey.

Also, I use pipe cleaners for arms because I like them to be bendable, but you could stuff the jacket arms instead.

Tools:

  • Turning tool (chopstick or knitting needle);
  • Doll making needle (not necessary but nice);
  • Wire cutters (if using pipe cleaners)
  • Seam ripper or awl for poking holes (not shown).

I’ll often start by making batches of components.

For the ears, cut outer layer out of black felt and inner out of pink (slightly smaller than the black). Sometimes I glue the pink on black. Other times, I skip the glue and rely on stitching.

Curved ears for mice. Pointy ears for cats. Drapey ovals for dogs.

If you don’t know this trick, you will be eternally grateful to me once learning it: for tough-to-open screw tops, wind a rubber band around the top and try again. Voila!


Once glue has dried, fold and stitch base tightly closed. This needs to be stiff enough to insert into the small holes that you’ll be poking in the head.

Make some heads. I don’t use a pattern but the shape is easy enough. Just be sure to create a long neck because it will need to be inserted into the body (longer than my diagram). Back stitch at tip of nose for strength. Clip seam at tip before turning.

Cut oval bases to size. They don’t have to match.

To make the body, sew up sides and then secure an oval base. It could not be easier. Only two tricks and one suggestion here:

  • Keep NECK OPENING WIDE for ease of reversing to right sides after base attached. You can always take a tuck or two later but (especially if using thick wool), too small an opening makes reversing to right sides impossible.
  • When sewing the base on, be sure to place the TAIL ON THE INSIDE and snake it up the inside. This way, when you turn it right-side-out, the tail comes out of where you want it. I usually center the tail between the base’s two side seams.
  • Lastly, make oval much larger than necessary so that precision is not required when attaching to the body.

Next, add features to the head.

Using an awl or another sharp implement, poke ear holes in the head and insert ears. Stitch, going back and forth between ears or down through the neck rather than sewing one ear first, then the other. It’s much easier. Don’t worry if your holes are too big. Felt is very forgiving.

I haven’t decided whether it’s more efficient to stuff the head first or not. Probably easier to stuff, then insert ears. Certainly by the time you’re attaching eyes, you want the head stuffed.

Attach teeny buttons or seed beads for eyes, again stitching side to side. You can also stitch the eyes.

This head exemplifies not just stitched eyes, but a short cut for when you’ve run out of ears: put a kerchief on. Or a Santa hat!

Cut small lengths of waxed linen, fold, and stitch in place for whiskers. Again, sew side to side. In a pinch, you can use embroidery floss. I usually have to trim the whiskers down after sewing them onto the nose.

Next, embroider nose and mouth, using a contrasting warm-colored floss. You can do this after the head is attached as long as you’re clever about hiding your knot.

Next, stuff the bodies. I buy pea-sized gravel and rinse it for the bottom of the body to give it ballast. If yours are meant to hang, you can use poly-stuffing only.

To make arms, take a pipe cleaner and make a loop at center, twist once around the loop for strength, then stretch arms out and stitch to the body at the loop. Cut arms to size.

This is my way of making arms and a hanging loop simultaneously, but you could use a straight piece of pipe cleaner and attach a thread as hanging loop instead. Also, you could make your arms integral to the jacket and skip the pipe cleaner altogether.

Making clothing and accessories is the fun part. This year, I’m crocheting wreaths and making teeny quilts. Doll making aisles at craft stores are a gold mine of miniature items — wreaths, garden tools, rolling pins — you name it. Good for customizing your mouse as a gift when time is short.

 

Polar fleece is great because it doesn’t fray and more, because I have a bin left over from when I taught third graders mitten and hat-making. (Note: the above mouse’s jacket is secured by straight pins. When I get a second, I’ll replace them with buttons, but I don’t have to, really. Be mindful of recipient. A child might be better with buttons).

Making felt critter clothing offers so many opportunities to reclaim cuffs, sleeves and portions of sweaters gone by! A whole post dedicated to the garbing of mice will follow.

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By the way, to say the obvious, these are SEWN FELT mice, not NEEDLE FELTED MICE.

For darling examples of felted mice, see pix from Instagram, here: MollyDollyNatural.

I plan to learn needle felting someday. It looks like so much fun, doesn’t it?

Vibrations

A Short Tale of Transformation

I was taking a selfie to illustrate the kind of snarky talk siblings sometimes share. Moments earlier I put on the pants that my sister says ‘make me look like white trash’. Then I donned a shirt the same color as the one that inspired her to say recently, “We’ve gotta get you out of dirt colors.” As I dressed, there was nasty self satisfaction and full authorship of my own oppositional nature.

I continued this unpleasantness (really) by taking a picture to illustrate the outfit. And something happened. A halo of sparkles appeared in the background around a recently finished felt critter. Just look at those sparkles! They’re inexplicable, though given the mirrors, windows, and other reflective surfaces nearby, probably not miraculous. Nevertheless, the sight of them did something to me. They changed my mind. Isn’t that a little miraculous, the effortless shift from brute rehash to wonder at the nature of light?

I was reminded of a podcast about a researcher from MIT who was able to record his voice with high powered video off of a BAG of POTATO chips. No surprise (but total surprise) — it’s all about vibrations. (And by the way, all you have to do is google “MIT” and “potato chips” and you’ll find the story — which is another kind of miracle, one made no less spectacular by our taking such things for granted these days).

Using a blurry picture of Miss Mousy and the app PRIMSA, I fooled around to get a sense of her vibrations.She’s rather divine, don’t you think? She’s going to the ballet! She wears a tulle skirt in solidarity with the dancers, revealing an attitude of celebratory participation. You won’t find a hint of bitter defeat about our Miss Mousy, even though at one time she wanted to be a ballerina herself. More than anything in the world, in fact.Look at her polka dot pocketbook! Her anticipatory smile!

Look at her long legs — all the better for being unnaturalistic and sourced from New Hampshire woods.

So yeah, I’m wearing unflattering  jeans and a shirt my sister might condemn in irrational terms, but how comfortable I am! It’s a day I’ve claimed for myself! I’ve cracked one puzzle and another awaits. And do you want to hear the big decision of the day: what shall I make for lunch? Homemade mushroom soup or chicken salad with pecans, shallots, and dried cranberries?

Thank you for the cheer alert, Miss Mousy! What a sweet reminder! She’d never preach, but if she did, she might say something like: focus on polka dots and stripes, my friend — they make you smile.

Critters listening to the news



It was in the 20’s when I walked Finn this morning. I went back for my hat. I’m tired of the cold. And, I’m just tired. Slept ten hours last night and could barely get out of bed. Not feeling great.

These critters cheer me though. Some are waiting for collaboration for wooden legs (the windowsill crowd). Some are just waiting for me (chicken in the studio). The most recent one (at bottom) is raggier than usual and might signal a trend.

Is she a dog? Is she a mouse? Believe it or not, for a while, she looked like an elk. Whatever she is, have no fear — her hearing is sharp! She’s been catching the news and how could she not, pinned to a board 15 feet from the TV screen? I like to imagine this morning that she is cocking her ear to Adam Schiff. Maybe she’s whispering, “Did you say ‘not circumstantial’? Did I hear you say ‘direct’ — as in direct evidence of collusion?”

If her little legs weren’t indigo dyed strips of loosely hanging vintage organza, she might do a little happy dance.

A crowd gathering on the mantel

These creations have a way of taking over. Are they gifts? One or two. Do I plan to sell them any time soon? Nah. Never mind — they demand to be made.

I machine stitched that pink and white kitty head and soft mauve body (below). She’s going to be a gift for the girl I babysit one day a week. I love that her ears are different colors and that her face has that triangle of pink. Soft, old wools help. I was hoping she would wear that pink satin skirt (to the right), but she has other ideas. More sporty.


Today we went to a Big Box store primarily to buy nuts for baking (yes! Christmas IS happening) and (somehow) managed to buy $450 worth of other stuff while we were at it (not counting booze).

A case of wine and bourbon fell out of the hatchback and landed on my foot in the parking lot. Incredibly, five bottles survived the crash and luckily, one of them was the bourbon. Ironically, fifty dollars worth of wine met the pavement while I was making sure they hadn’t overcharged us $16 on a package of meat (still agog at the $500 total. I mean, seriously — batteries, men’s shirts, and frozen shrimp notwithstanding).

Last weekend, we gathered with K’s cousins. It was a surprise birthday party for two 60 year olds. Yes, it’s come to this — gag gifts for extra hair and bad joints, jokes about Medicare, and actually wanting to be in bed by nine. Here’s C with H. She moved to the West Coast at the end of the summer and C is moving there at month’s end.

Everything will be LESS this year. Less cookies. Less shopping. I may not even bring in the nutcracker collection this year. Fortunately I gave up card writing more than ten years ago.

This doll no longer looks quite so forlorn. I added more hair, closed up the sides of her head, hemmed her cowl. She’s being shaped and auditioned on a bottle, with a chop stick for stability. I am considering keeping the bottle, instead of creating a cloth body with gravel at bottom for ballast the way I usually do. These are not kids’ toys, after all.

These two felt doggies (below) are whispering behind the curtain. I’d love to know what they’re so giddy about.


I gave the Red Bell Pup to my sister on Wednesday. Her cat may think it’s for her.

Tomorrow, we get our tree. “Less” will govern there as well. We have high ceilings and have typically had gorgeous 8-9 footers gracing our living room. Not this year. I’m thinking small — not table top small, but maybe six feet, max. It’s not just that I continue to feel done in, anxious, and lost. It’s that LESS truly feels like enough.

Intentional and unintentional crucifixes

This one’s intentional. Hand pieced. Seams tacked open. Only frustration? That red, white and blue fabric (which happens to be from Africa) melts under an iron. Almost ruined the piece twice.

Went to BC library this morning again where I photographed another intentional cross. This is the church that K and I were married in (not by a priest). I see crosses everywhere. 
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rusty-cross

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I was thinking about Michael Brown when I took the shot of the telephone pole yesterday (the anniversary of his death). It’s not the first time I’ve viewed the black men being slaughtered in American streets as sacrifices.

These are not casual deaths. These are not unintentional deaths.
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african-christ-deemallonIs it possible that if Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin could look down on our streets and read BLM twitter feeds and watch the various federal investigations and reports about police practices coming out (Ferguson’s earlier in the year, Baltimore’s today), they might actually think that their sacrifices were not in vain?

The recurring discovery of crosses in my quilts stems partially and almost accidentally from a tendency to design in thirds. But not exclusively. It also arises out of an enduring resonance with Catholic symbols. It turns out that the rejection of Catholic culture, rites, texts, and even the Savior himself, has not meant a wholesale rejection of its symbols. This confuses me a little but maybe there’s some sort of internal logic there, even if only as evidence of genetic memory.

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That’s me on the left on the day of my First Communion. Nana is probably pinching me. Or maybe she has just scared the shit out of me by announcing that the bees that were floating in and out of the tulips behind us would go right down my throat if I ate any more grape jelly. (This from a woman who said the Rosary at least twice a day and attended Mass every morning in Queens, NY. Imagine what she might have said or done without all that praying). Look at my sister, being such a good girl for the camera. Gawd.IMG_1405

Keeper of the nest

Last fall, I found this nest on the lawn of The Royall House and Slave Quarters, in Medford, Mass., after spending a night in the quarters as part of The Slave Dwelling Project (blogged about here). How could I NOT pick it up? And how could I not feel a little ambivalent about picking it up? It spoke to me of fragile lodgings and displaced homes. The act of scooping it up as “mine”, referenced ownership, improper and otherwise.birdnest-deemallon But I took it. And housed it with care.

Last week, this bird doll and the nest and a reading of “The Logbooks – Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory” by Anne Farrow all came together. (I am almost done with the book and sooo wish I had heard Farrow speak recently at The Royall House. She authored another book called: “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery“). It felt proper to include some cloth that I dyed under Donna Hardy’s tutelage in South Carolina as part of The Sea Island Indigo Workshop (blogged about here and around there).  Afterall, the indigo we used had provenance to the time of slavery, and the land itself had been worked by the enslaved. I marked 25 places in the hem, so that I could stitch blood-red beads — with each one standing for a decade of slavery. I poked around my studio and found some rusty bits, too.
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IMG_1842To keep the nest visible, I selected a wide-mouthed jar for the base. (The white cloth was rejected).
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IMG_1869A certain somebody, who likes all of my cloth projects, seems to have an especial fondness for this one. He stole it off the table and chewed it down in the dirty back yard twice, and stole it from the living room coffee table once, and managed to eat three or four of the silk beads during yet another unattended moment (silly me! — I have more, beads that is, and well, also, unfortunately, moments of not paying attention). The doll will get made. Finn seems dedicated to calling HER ownership into question as well!
IMG_9446The next post will feature some content from “The Logbooks” and some ideas about dealing with this particular ambivalence.

loveability and usefulness

die-worn-deemallonAmong the things I can count as accomplishments this week: cleaning ten years worth of broken plates and pottery. In the mix, I found this worn die. I will admit that I love this small object. And it makes no sense. Does it have to?
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I picked out my favorite bits. I don’t know how to mix up grout or cement or how to rim these shards with metal so as to turn them into jewelry.
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I can thank them for reminding me that being loveable is not the same as being useful.

These shards showed me something else (this goes to the nature of clutter):  sometimes the acts of touching and sorting through a pile of things that have not been touched or sorted in years brings satisfaction. This is really true. And it’s really true even when it is done without the aim of making things neater or producing something.
ragdoll-handmade-deemallonI continue to make figures. Mice, girls, cats, rats, and boys. As soon as I finish here I will put together a pair of felt ice skates using paper clips as blades, because one of the boy mice has requested a pair. Doesn’t even have arms yet, but wants to go skating! He has no patience with parties or worse, girls getting ready for parties. Like Ms. Shoelace Hair, above. I knit the front of her bodice (on like, size 0 needles!) and machine embroidered her face. If she weren’t so shy, she might show a little more excitement, but make no mistake — she is one excited party-goer! I wonder who her present is for!