Wednesday, June 12, 2019

New Baby, Old Doll

One of the display-only dolls recently

Thirty-some years ago, my two sisters and a friend of theirs bought three handmade dolls from a vendor. These dolls, with long curly hair and dressed in prairie dresses with lace trimmings, sat on display in their homes for years until my elder sister's little boy C. discovered her doll Dessa* and made her his own.

Poor Dessa, NOT display-only...

Fast forward to last Christmas, C., the now grown-up man was expecting his first child. Wanting his daughter to inherit his old pal, he rescued Dessa from the basement crawl space in which she'd been living. No longer pretty, she now had less-than-bouncy curls, barely attached limbs, and her dress was severely faded, the gingham pattern on it barely recognizable. By the end of that visit, we needed a Ziploc bag to hold all the loose strands of her mohair yarn hair. This doll needed vital reconstruction.

That is where I came in.

My job was to rehabilitate this doll for the next generation. Through the process, I would find that I don't like working on projects that I did not initiate.
I was tempted to change so much, from her hair, her facial expression, to the construction of her clothes even. However, I wanted to honor my nephew's childhood memories by handing over a doll that he still recognized.

Deep Cleanse

First steps: knowing she was in a basement crawl space for the last twenty years, I knew I was not going to hand this doll over without a deep cleanse. But how was I going to do that? She was in horrible shape, her limbs were barely stitched on, and the hair was falling out.

Reminded of how one washes fine lingerie, I decided to use a pillowcase, folding her up inside, and tying a knot down near the bottom. After a machine wash, I put her through the dryer several times to avoid any possibility of mold developing inside. It worked like a charm.

Visible Wear n' Tear

Over the years, my sister did little fixes to Dessa by putting in stitches when she noticed some wear and tear. However, the stitches were not the same color or uniform in size, and in the end, were not sustainable. Now it was time to secure and reinforce her limbs --- by first taking them off!

Poor Dessa!


When I was ready, I threaded my needle with matching thread and got to work with a slipstitch reconnecting each limb fresh, tucking in the fabric and polyfill stuffing as I went along.

State of the Hair

Original condition was similar to this.

Um, yeah...

Dessa's hair seems to have taken the brunt of his love obviously. He had loved her fiercely or perhaps one of the families' dogs spent some time dragging her around?

I tried to source her hair but didn't try too hard. Internet research made me think it was mohair, but I eventually decided to make do with her existing hair and the contents of that little Ziploc bag. I was tempted to remove it all and replace it with a clever felt "wig" but I wanted her to be the same doll my nephew remembered. My process was to apply the longest strands at her forehead, and some underneath her temples down to where her ears would be. Following tips in some dollmaking reference books, I stitched her hair down at the back along her nape to achieve some control but still allowing her hair to have movement. In the end, I added removable ribbon bows at her temples.I

If I hadn't kept her original hair I would have tried to make her some new hair using this link from The Project Lady.

Best Face Forward

Perhaps the most noticeable and visually important step, Dessa's tiny dot eyes were too small, insignificant, and unwelcoming. I decided to boost their size...the better to watch over my grand-niece.

A little creepy, right?

Great improvement!

I'm proud of this rehab job and hope she lasts another 30+ years and in better condition. Of course, I made her some new clothes. A post on those are coming up soon...but right now I'm making a special something for my grand-nephew who is turning 1 in two weeks. Stay tuned...

*Dessa - short for Odessa, my late mother's name