A Tale of Two Dolls

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

Ok, so I never set out to become a toy maker of any kind.  I sew clothes — isn’t that enough?  Well, after seeing Tara’s fab doll that she made for her daughter, there was no way I wasn’t going to try it for my girls.  I mean, how awesome?!

I must admit that this isn’t my first attempt at doll making.  For their birthdays last year, I made two Black Apple Dolls, after seeing Delia’s versions.  (For some reason, I never blogged about them.)

Black Apple Doll

These Black Apple Dolls are much less involved to make, and are very much loved by my girls.

Anyway, after deciding to take the plunge, I ordered Storybook Toys by Jill Hamor to learn the secret to creating this amazing doll.  I had a feeling that I’d be entering a whole new world with the project, and I was right.

My daughters’ birthdays are (two years and) two days apart, so there was no way that I could make only one doll here.  Of course, they both needed to have one!  I decided the best thing to do was to start way in advance and tackle this job bit by bit.  Luckily, this is the kind of project that can be done in fits and starts, while everything else in life swirls around.  I think I worked on them for a full month at least.  (This may not seem like a long time to the knitters and quilters of the world, but it seemed like forever to me!)

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

I will not lie, this was hugely labor intensive.  Just tracing out the pattern onto freezer paper and then onto the doll body fabric while holding it up to a window, as prescribed by the pattern instructions, was a bit of a trick.  Sewing the face pieces together required about ten million pins and very slow stitching.  Turning the hands right side out and getting the fingers through was pretty crazy making.  But, it was all worth it in the end.

Jill has you stitch all the body seams twice, since very intense stuffing puts a lot of stress on the seams.  This turned out to be a pretty crucial step.  My seams at the neck and in the places where I hand stitched the spots left open for stuffing looked so stretched after stuffing was done that I put on a liberal coating of fray check — just to be sure they didn’t open up in a horrible turn of events.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

I want to take a moment here to point out in the photo above the little spots on the doll’s left arm and back that look a bit like freckles.  Those spots, my friends, are my very own blood.  Yes.  Blood.  I was pulling so hard on threads while sewing on the hair that I cut myself on the thread a couple of times, mostly after midnight.  All I can say is — this is love, people.

One quick word to the wise on stuffing — I ordered this stuffing, from a website that was recommended in the book.  I followed the website’s suggestion and ordered one pound of stuffing for each doll, which turned out to be way, way too much.  1/2 pound is plenty for one of these dolls.  And this stuff is not cheap, so no need to buy more than necessary.

I have never embroidered before, so I was pretty nervous about the faces.  But, Jill Hamor’s instructions are very thorough, and do not assume vast embroidery knowledge or competence.  And, in the end, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.  She has lots to say about adding personality in the face, and specifically the eyes.  She has you use several different colors in the iris, as well as to add a little white highlight.  This is what really makes these dolls come alive, don’t you think?

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

I like to keep my husband informed of what’s going down on in my corner of the basement where the sewing happens.  As I showed him these dolls in each stage of creation, he hilariously pointed out more than once this project was a little intense, in that they seem to start out in an embryonic form and gradually become more and more human, in a spooky way.  It’s really true — a little creepy, but kind of cool, too.  Here’s an in progress shot to give you a sense of this . . .

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

You can imagine what they look like before they have their faces!

I think the craziest part of this whole thing for me was the hair.  Just choosing the hairstyle was tricky.  I decided to go with buns so that there wouldn’t be yarn hair hanging around loose, getting “brushed” by young ladies and becoming a tangled mess.  For variety, I made one with low buns and one with high ones.  You stitch each strand onto the head individually with upholstery thread, and you have to pay close attention to how tight or loose each strand is against the head.  My advice here is to not attempt this while enjoying more than one cocktail and chatting blithely with your other half about your day.  You may find that you have to scrap it all and start over.  I know I did 🙂

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

(Yes, you do stick the torso into a coffee cup while creating your coiffure.  Isn’t that fun?)

Also, I suggest following Jill’s advice and buying the chunkiest yarn possible for the hair.  I ordered thinner yarn at first, but quickly realized that if I didn’t find something much thicker, I’d be stitching strands of hair until the cows came home.  After an emergency trip to the local knitting store, I was better equipped to get the hair done more efficiently.

Once I finally finished these babes, the time came for the clothes.  The book comes with a couple of clothes patterns that are pretty simple.  If I had had the time or energy at this point in the project, I would have done something more elaborate.  But by this time, I needed to be finished with this.

I started with the no brainer idea of making doll dresses that more or less matched the girls’ birthday dresses in Cotton + Steel Vintage Floral Lawn.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

I used the simple dress pattern with the added collar option.  Instead of buttons or snaps, I sewed in some velcro as the closure in the back, thinking that would be easier for the newly three year old Lulu to manage.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

I was a little bit puzzled by the dress back pattern pieces.  They seemed to be way, way too wide.  I may have screwed up something somewhere — but I ended up folding up way more fabric for the placket at the center back than was instructed in the pattern.  But, no big deal.

For Kiki’s doll, I also made a little Briar Rose strawberry dress with buttons and elastic loops in the back.  She’s just mastered fastening buttons with loops, so I thought these loops would be fun for her to practice with.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

The bloomers are so cute, I think.  The elastic around the legs is just shirring with elastic thread.  I had to think back to past shirring experiences to remember that you have to steam it really well to make it gather up nicely.  (The instructions don’t mention that.)

Of course, they had to have nightgowns.  I used the Nighty Nites pattern by Olive Ann designs, which includes both kid and doll sizes.  Kiki has a matching nightgown I made for her just a few weeks ago during Kids Clothes Week.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

The shoes are a real kick to make, by the way.  This may have been my favorite part of the process.  But, mine turned out to be a bit too big somehow, and I ended up taking them in at the back of the top piece.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

So . . . the verdict?  Kiki loves hers and has named her Clara.  She has her own bed in Kiki’s room and has become a part of the family, occasionally joining us for meals.

Storybook Toys Jill Hamor Doll

Lulu could take hers or leave it, to be honest.  I think she’s actually more of a stuffed animal gal.  Maybe she’ll come around to this doll eventually.  Or maybe not.  In any case, I’m glad she has the option.  And, on the bright side, there is a pretty cute bunny pattern in the book . . .

4 responses

  1. They are gorgeous! I’ve never seen a breakdown of all the steps before and hadn’t realised how much work goes into each doll. I especially love how the hair turned out, it looks so smart. Great stuff!

  2. Beautifully made! Wow! I used a similar (but not as detailed) pattern to make my daughter a doll a couple years ago. I really enjoyed the process but her reaction was similar to Lulu’s- it’s never been a favorite toy.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. Yes, you never know whether they’ll go for the things we make 🙂 In these moments, I try to remember that I do this as much for myself as I do it for them. Haha.

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