The Great Doll Caper

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May 12, 2007: The Great Doll Caper is a thing of the past. We put Kate on the plane early this morning. Nothing turned out the way I thought it would, of course. Kate had chaotic and tiring weeks before she came and we were hoping for her to be able to rest and relax. It didn't really happen. Kate settled on the porch in a rocking chair  with a cup of Sumatra coffee as soon as she got here (without her luggage that was lagging behind several hours), hoping to relax after her long travel day that started around 4 AM. Before long her eyes felt heavy and we thought it was fatigue. What it turned out to be over the next week was an allergy to Texas! She had an allergy reaction the entire week that kept her from resting and feeling her best and made relaxing moments  on the porch in the rocking chairs something to avoid.

Kate spent the whole week teaching me about making dolls. I am light years ahead in knowledge than I was before she arrived. She is a most generous, no-nonsense teacher who expected ME to work as well!!! She showed me how she  bead paints faces, how to make a mask from a bisque doll head, how to make a mask out of rigid wrap and use it in turn to make paper clay masks; she showed me how to cover a cloth head with paper clay and build up the features in clay, how to make a head back of fabric for such masks, and how to put it all together. She taught me how she designs simple clothes. I saw how she designs dolls. She taught me how to appliqué illusion clothing and other shapes on doll bodies, how to make, stuff, and appliqué features on a doll face, she also showed me how to make stuffed doll hair, and how to attach it and other fabric hair to a doll head I had made several months ago; she designed the body for the head, and then taught me how she chooses fabric for such a doll. I am to finish that doll. Countless other tidbits were conveyed to me as we talked about dolls. And Kate showed me what I was doing wrong when trying to turn fingers in woven fabric; other dollmakers will understand why I am so pleased about that.

The most important thing Kate did for me was to quite firmly encourage me to retake charge of my own doll making; to return to doing what I like and do best in making dolls, and she encouraged me to take a break from trying to learn all about making dolls and to simply make dolls for a while the way I like to make dolls, building on the foundation I have acquired this year. Later if I want to learn some new technique I can return to patterns and/or classes. Making dolls my own way is where the joy lies. She helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses and gave me pointers on how to handle each. Kate is a practical master teacher, and as I told her, at times I thought a kinder version of the stern Miss Stahl had gotten hold of me again, but did I ever learn tricks of the trade, new techniques, new resources, and I am well equipped with stacks of notes and the memories of her demonstrations in my head to develop loads of new skills.

Meeting Judi Ward was a total delight, as was meeting her vivacious sister, Carla. Judi generously gave each of us her beautiful new bed doll pattern. Rosie Rojas was unable to come, but she called and visited with Kate and me by phone during the week. I have pictorial proof that Kate, Judi and I met together, but we decided the picture did not flatter any of us so it will not be posted on the Net.

Speaking of gifts, I thought it was Christmas in May and that Kate was Santa Claus when her luggage finally arrived some ten hours after she did and she presented me with what she had brought me. The first was a beautiful beaded bracelet in square stitch that she had made for me:

Isn't it stunning?

Next she gave me Hester, an elegant  art deco bed doll that she had made using one of my signature digitally painted doll face heads I had sent her some time ago; the doll was made from one of the bed doll patterns in Susanna Oroyon's Art Deco doll book:

bed doll
Note the tiny beaded bracelet made by Kate that Hester is wearing. She also
is wearing a full sized silk scarf wrapped around her head, and the edge of the scarf is beaded all around with
the added drape of beads in the front. Gold thread was added to the silk fabric as it was being twisted.
This is a doll with a special air about her and I adore her and she will grace my bed from now on. Her
face is based on a photograph of a great aunt of mine named Hester; I used the features and painted it
on the computer. It is not a likeness of Aunt Hester.
Her dress is of  lovely super-soft "peached" fabric from Kate's stash. Peached fabric
is a soft feel usually obtained by sanding the fabric lightly; it can also be obtained by
chemical or laundry abrasion. The doll's body is made of cotton that I hand dyed and had sent to
Kate for her to use to make her own dolls. One's gifts to Kate have a boomerang quality with a whole lot added, did you notice?

Kate has fulfilled two commissions for her Moody Boobs doll for me to give others and knowing how much I love this doll and that I am eagerly awaiting her appearance as a pattern, although I do not really qualify to have this doll designed to celebrate those who are struggling with and who have conquered breast cancer, Kate brought me my very own Moody:

art doll
Moody (she has not  yet told me her name) carries in her shoulder bag,
interchangeable breasts with such names as tantalizing tatas,
bodacious bloomers, and magnificent madonnas.

doll face
A close view showing the doll's beautifully bead painted face. This is a wall hanging doll.

beaded face
This is the face Kate brought in its beginning stage without
beads to show me how to bead paint faces. This is her demo.
I can hardly wait to design and bead mine!

This is the pin cushion Kate made and gave me
along with the beautiful pins; it is almost too pretty
to use; I may just keep it as an art object.

The next gift is a most special one. Knowing how much I love Art Deco dolls, Kate made a special effort to obtain a  rare 1930s art deco doll face mask which she presented to me.  I will have this special
treasure mounted in a shadow box for display.

doll face mask
Her neck curves forward a bit and I propped it on a book.
Isn't she beautiful?

What did I do for Kate? Well, she got the short end of the deal as of today.  I nearly drove her crazy the first couple of days asking questions while she was focused on designing or making something until she gave me a look that made me think it prudent to leave the room until she was ready to explain, and I exasperated her with  the anxiety I express when I am learning something new.  "These are just dolls, Rheba," she said. I soon learned the best way to learn from her and we settled in to a most profitable week for me, at least. She did get Peaches, one of the little Art Deco Dollyfriend Wands that I made to commemorate the meeting of the dollmakers and some yarn and a couple of crochet needles so she could make socks on her way home. Her allergies to the area prevented me from giving her the week of relaxation I had hoped to give her. What I will do is heed her advice, and take care to develop the skills she gave a whole week of her life to teach me. I have been given the most unique gift of all, a week of one-on-one study with designer, doll maker, teacher, friend, Kate Erbach. Another reason to call myself one of the richest women in the world.

I have some other things for show and tell from this week, but I will save those for the next entry when hopefully I will have finished the doll assignment I mentioned above.

April 07,2007: A lot of things have been happening. The American Goldfinches left overnight between March 13th and March 14th and the very next day the Lesser Goldfinches, Black Backed Race ( my favorites), returned to the thistle feeders in even greater numbers. They are so beautiful and are here year round, but do not like the crowded conditions when the American Goldfinches are here. The White Wing Doves, as they are inclined to do, have disappeared for a while and the mourning doves (my favorites) have returned to the sunflower feeders where they feed on the ground and to the platform feeder. Although they seem more pugilistic than the White Winged Doves, chasing each other away from the feeders, I love their mournful call, it is much prettier than that of the White Winged Dove.

I looked out the window one day and a huge wild tom turkey was strolling through the front yard. We have not see turkeys in a long time, it is nice to know that they are still here. Coming home from lunch in town this week we came upon a beautiful female Northern Harrier skimming the savannah and over the wildlife pond.

Speaking of the wildlife pond, we got several inches of rain last week and the creeks are flowing and the wildlife pond is overflowing. We are so grateful for the rain, and everything has turned green and the wild flowers are popping out. Bluebonnets, for which the Texas Hill Country is famous, are beautiful right now. The neighbor behind me has beautiful ones in her field and they are along the roadside. We don't have them; I have not been able to get them started in the patch of ground off the porch, and on the rest of the land we have allowed the tall prairie grasses to return, and when you do that you don't have bluebonnets. We do have some Texas Paintbrush blooming off the side porch and on the hill in back; hopefully they will spread. We had 18 bluebonnet plants year before last and I hoped they would spread but they didn't and we don't see them this year. But they are fickle. Once they get established, they spread rapidly so I am still hopeful.

The Ruby Throated Hummingbirds arrived here almost simultaneously with the Black Chinned Hummingbirds on March 18th. I like to track them during spring migration at this site. I can know just when to expect them in this area, in fact my report of their arrival here on the 18th got put on the map this year. I start tracking them when they arrive on the coast. We have a lot more Black Chinned hummers so far. The males arrive first and then the females arrive a week or two later--actually the females are still arriving daily.

The hummers are having a hard time today, though. Much to my surprise we had sleet all morning and it turned to big fat snowflakes late this afternoon.
I took this just as the snow began; it snowed for a couple of hours.

This is taken from the side porch, showing the sugar kettle fountain and the hill behind the house.

 The little hummingbirds were acting in a way we have never observed before, flying up under the eves for shelter on top of the porch columns, on the stones and windowsills.

hummers in snow
I brushed off the snow from the feeder ports several times.
hummingbirds in snow
This is in a niche near the hall windows. I ended up putting out six feeders and they were
swarming all six of them until it got dark; I worry about them sheltering low to the ground during this cold spell.
Phantom managed to get one as it is, and that doesn't happen often; I walked out and he was licking his chops
and the little feathers were all over the porch. It breaks my heart to lose even one this way. And even though
Phantom was doing what cats do, I had hoped he would stay in their storeroom hideout under the pet lamp.

Some unusual  events are on the horizon. Judi Ward, whose classes taught me to make and design dolls, and who is presently living in Germany, is in the States on an extended visit and will be visiting her sister in Bandera, Texas in May. She contacted me to see if we can meet while she is there. It so happens that my cyber friend Kate Erbach, whom I consider not only a friend but a mentor regarding doll making, is coming to see me the first part of May and will be here while Judi is in Texas so we are going to drive over there and meet Judi. We also invited Rosie Rojas, a doll maker and teacher from San Antonio to join us, but Rosie will be returning from a doll convention that day, so she and her husband may drive up to Lampasas later in the week so we can play dolls. Kate's work can be seen here. This is a link to Rosie's web page. Rosie's husband, D.C. Rojas makes gorgeous pens and some pen-pencil sets of exotic wood and other materials and shows and sells  them at his web site here. Judi Ward's work can be seen here and at her online doll store at Doll Net Market here. I am going to take as much advantage as possible of all the talent and creativity that will be surrounding me during that week. Kate and Judi have collaborated on a class together to be presented at Crafty College later, but they have never met. In fact, none of us have met in person, we have just become friends through our mutual interest and courtesy of the Internet. This is just one more example of how being on the computer and the Net has enriched my life, a fact I owe to my son Mitch who dragged me kicking and screaming onto computers and the Internet.

I recently obtained a book by Susanna Oroyan called Dolls of the Art Deco Era 1910-1940 and after reading it also managed to get hold of an almost new version of a book now out of print that Ms. Oroyan recommended called The Magic and Romance of Art Dolls by Farago, Dennison and Farago. The latter book is also about Art Deco dolls. Both of these books document the absolute craze over dolls that occurred during the years mentioned in the title of Oroyan's book--a time when the flappers were popular and they exploded into the doll making industry, and these were dolls for adults. Lovely pictures of these surviving dolls abound in both books. While studying this history, I fell in love with Art Deco dolls and the bed dolls so popular during the era. There were a number of different kinds. I am going to make some for myself. Ms. Oroyan had two patterns in her book that I plan to use and Judi Ward's beautiful Millie is one bed doll I have already made, and she has a new pattern for another that I am itching to obtain; she may have brought it with her on this trip and I am going to try to refrain from grabbing it out of her hands if she did.

Dolls and doll heads showed up everywhere in the Art Deco era, on candy boxes, soap dishes, purses, hat stands, perfume bottles were made like dolls, and I read in Susanna Oroyan's book that they also had something called rally sticks or cheer sticks that were decorated sticks with an art deco doll's head on each of them. I decided this would be a great favor to make for Judi, Kate, and Rosie to commemorate what I am calling the Great Doll Caper Meeting. I didn't like the name sticks, though, so I renamed them Dollyfriend Wands. She who wields a wand has power, and I like that name much better. Using faces provided in Susanna's book, I painted some in the computer and printed them to heavy silk crepe de chine . Then I made the heads and the wands. They are not finished. I still need to get ribbons to stream from them and to add a few embellishments but I think they are so cute, I am going to jump the gun and show them here.

doll wand
This is Judi's favor; I had to make her small
because Judi's luggage is full and she has very
little room to take anything back.
This girl is named Henrietta but she is known as Goldie
because of her golden locks, made of nylon. Her face was painted on the
computer and printed to cotton. I further enhanced it with fabric
pens and colored pencils.
Goldie is wearing a little hat made of black felt with sparkles in it
and it is embellished with orange beads sewn over a guinea hen feather,
hence her name HENrietta.
The back of her head is made of blue/purple fabric that I hand dyed.
The wand shaft is wrapped in blue yarn with a sheen and a blue pom-pom is attached at the end.

The other two are for Kate and Rosie.

peaches wand
This is Catherine Dopplemeyer, better known as Peaches. The back of her
head is made of peach hand dyed cotton fabric and strips of that fabric also wrap the shaft of the wand.
Her face is painted on the computer and printed to heavy silk crepe de chine. It is lightly needle sculpted.
I crocheted a little cloche hat of silk/polyester yarn and made a little flower that is attached by a peach colored bead.
The silk yarn also wraps the shaft. Peaches' hair is dyed curly wool.
She captures the attitude and flirty look of many of the dolls of that era.

violette wand
This is Violetta, better known as Vi.
She is no shy or shrinking violet, believe me.
Her head is made of pink/lavender hand dyed cotton and her face
is of heavy silk crepe de chine, painted on the computer. Her hair is
dyed curly wool. I crocheted a head band for her of
a blend of soy/wool yarn in purple, green and red-violet. The same yarn
wraps the shaft of the wand. Her headband is boldly
beaded all the way around, and she has a pink flower on the side.
violetta side view
This side view shows her hair of dyed curly wool, the flower, and
the hand dyed fabric to advantage.

Da' Girls all together.
One feature of some of the Art Deco dolls is that some were made by companies and given to preferred customers as advertisement; usually the advertisement was printed on the body of the
doll under the clothes. One particular kind, known as the flapper smoker, had a cigarette in her mouth (women first started smoking freely in public during the flapper era) and a cigarette company
made what were called Cubeb cigarettes, a medicated or mentholated type cigarette that was advertised to help cure asthma, sinus problems, etc. (!) They gave out Cubeb dolls, and each had a cigarette
in her mouth. I really would have loved to put a cigarette in Vi's mouth because of her bored expression and in Goldie's, since Judi says a lot of people still smoke in Germany, but given that these doll wands have to travel by plane or by car, I felt it best to leave off the cigarettes lest they get broken. I do plan to make one doll that is smoking, just to recreate a doll that was the rage in a different era. 

My latest experimental project is learning to hand dye my own fabric for my dolls. I am using Procion MX dyes that require additional chemical additives so there has been a small learning curve. I am using a book by Ann Johnston called Color by Accident that teaches low water immersion dying and ways to get unexpected splotchy results. I am still in the beginning stage, just learning what each dye will do, and have not even completed my tests with all my colors, but I love to do it. Eventually I will settle on two or three kinds of fabric and I already having a good palette of dye colors with which to mix my own colors. Here are some of my first experiments:

hand dyed fabric
One of my blues on pima cotton, and I couldn't resist dropping
a bit of red into the beaker to see what would happen.
hand dyed fabric
This is on mercerized cotton. I am testing to learn the looks of each color and later will
tone some of the colors down a bit similar to the swatch above.
hand dyed silk
This is dyed silk, dropping a different blue into yellow. It reacted quite differently
than the same colors used in the same beaker at the same time but with a different fabric
as you can see below:
dyed cotton velveteen
The same colors as above on cotton velveteen. This is a a combination of yellow with
a bit of blue poured on to see what would happen. I did not buy any green dye.
color gallery
These are the colors I have tried so far. I can hardly wait to experiment with the rest of my colors and then start mixing my own.

I am also learning to crochet socks. Here is the first of a pair I am making using some yarn spun and dyed by my cousin Joyce in Michigan.

crocheted sock
Joyce named the yarn Pleasant Lake. I think the colors are beautiful and I like the way they striped.
I love making something with yarn made by my cousin, I smile the whole time I am working on these.
Farris thinks I am crazy to be making socks when one can purchase socks anywhere. I just told him
it is a woman thing.

If you have stayed with me this far, you are a loyal reader; perhaps I am am making up for skipping an entry last month with this long entry.

Last revised August 12, 2007

Copyright © 2001-2010 Rheba Kramer Mitchell. All rights reserved.