My Journey in Doll-Making: A New and Incredible Challenge

Recently I have been trying other doll patterns. For several reasons. But mostly because I am on a mission. Some of you know a bit about the mission, because I have been asking for advice. 

I am sewing dolls to give to children in the foster care system. I have been working with a non-profit who assists the children with all sorts of support and services.

 I have a list of children who will be recipients. From the list, I know just enough to help me design the right doll for each child. For each child there is a different set of attributes I feel the doll must have. 

Two of the recipients are teen mothers. I have been thinking about them a lot.

The task of making their dolls has been a different sort of challenge. Like the other children, I want the doll to be a companion, but I also wanted it to be less about playing with dolls and durability, and more about something pretty, stylish and could be both a friend and a soothing decoration that also spoke to them. A doll for a more grown up girl, who still is a child and doesn't have a lot of pretty things.

And I wanted it to be a doll for a girl who probably wants to reclaim a bit of her childhood.

The challenge of making dolls for these children has led me to trying all sorts of doll patterns. I LOVE an excuse to sew different kinds of dolls. It gives you insight into your own processes and it pushes you in new directions.

For a few years now I have been obsessed with Jess Brown and her dolls as in Jess Brown Rag Dolls. First, what doll-maker is not a bit jealous of Jess Brown? The success she has had with her handmade dolls is staggering. She has been in Martha Stewart magazine, Sweet Paul, Courtney Kardashian just Instagrammed her daughter's latest Jess Brown doll. 

A few weeks ago, Jess Brown came out with a book, The Making of a Rag Doll. I love doll books (and also have that Jess Brown obsession) so of course I bought it. 

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

The book comes with a pattern. Not the same pattern that is used for the dolls that Jess Brown sells, but a smaller version with different arms and head. The more I thought about what the doll for the two teen mothers should be the more I thought this doll pattern might be the one. 

Sewing with this pattern was so completely different from sewing a Phoebe or an Egg doll. I found that oddly refreshing. 

I made the dolls out of a soft brushed twill.  There are only three simply shaped pattern pieces to the doll. She was simple to make. My biggest challenge was turning her tiny thin arms inside out. But it was so worth it, because those thin arms are key to the doll's elegance.

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

The doll body does not take that long to make. And her directions, which include clear line drawing diagrams, are great. I deviated a bit here and there. She uses felted sweaters for the hair, I used black polar fleece for hair, added bangs and I tweaked my faces a bit.

The real fun came with making the doll clothing. The clothing pattens are simple. The dress pattern is two pieces, the pants are one. But what I loved most was Jess Brown's approach. No time is spent on fussing with the traditional finishing details. Things are not hemmed, just some stay stitching here and there. No sleeves to fit into armholes, no linings, no gathering. Nothing to fuss with, nothing to mess up, and nothing to possibly redo. No fitting adjustments. No hand hemming.

This was so liberating. This allows you to focus on decorating the clothes. You can decorate them Jess Brown style or create your own style, which I did. 

I also gave each doll a handbag, which will have a second dress in it. Because I have a feeling these girls may want to play with their dolls, just a little bit. 

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

 Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll

Making my own Jess Brown Rag Doll