Just what exactly is so special about a handmade doll?

Why buy a handmade doll? Handmade dolls are more expensive and harder to find than mass produced dolls. Yet, they have a growing loyal following. Why is that?

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As a maker of handmade dolls, I felt too close to the subject to answer. So I asked a few buyers, not just of my dolls, but of all kinds of handmade dolls. And I asked one of my favorite doll-makers--Jenny Marshall of Little Jenny Wren. I was sure she would have thought a bit about this, and she had.

The reason that I heard the most is how the dolls feel (not their emotions) but the tactile qualities. Handmade dolls can be made from all sorts of materials: cotton, wool, linen, muslin, yarn. They can be sewn or knitted. All of those materials are nice to touch. One mother said she heard about handmade dolls from others in her cloth diaper group, but could not understand why these other moms would pay $200 for a doll. So she decided to find out for herself and ordered a handmade doll. She said when she first held the doll, she understood.

“There was no going back to store bought dolls from that point on and I can see many more finding a home with us in the future"

Jenny Marshall: To me the feel of the doll is as important as the look of the doll and I feel the body reacts more tenderly and gently to the textures and warmth of natural fibres, there is a softening response, a need to care for the doll. 

If you have not held a handmade doll, then you have not experienced the feeling.

Handmade Doll tea party

Some handmade doll owners collect all kinds of dolls, handmade and mass-produced;  they are doll-lovers and appreciate all kinds of dolls. But there are many who are not keen on mass produced dolls. They value the uniqueness that is part of the handmade doll experience. They have the opportunity to create a doll that speaks to them, because the dolls are made one at a time, buyers can customize a doll. Hair, skin color, size and clothing can all be specified.

Because the doll took so many hours to make there won’t be many like it. Like those who hunt and collect works by a specific artist, when you find what you like, it is coveted. You cannot buy as many as you want. Handmade dolls are procured. Although with the internet, handmade dolls are easier to find.

One mom, with five girls described how hard it used to be to find handmade dolls,

"I've always bought my girls unique dolls, I hate the mass produced dolls. Years ago when my older girls were little, handmade dolls were very hard to find and the only ones they had were knitted dolls. I'm loving now that with my youngest, there’s all the gorgeous handmade dolls that are out there."

For some, buying handmade is part of supporting those who make them for a living, or the use of natural materials, or both. The purchase of the doll fits into a larger philosophy or world-view. One mother said, “I buy handmade because they are made with natural materials more often and are made with love by one person who is often a mother who is able to stay home with her family by making handmade to support their income."

Another mom said, " I don't buy too many toys for my children, usually waiting for special occasions and I always chose quality over quantity. I want to teach my children the importance of buying responsibly."

Others appreciate the relationship with the maker and the back-story. Doll-lovers can match themselves with doll-makers. A win-win for those who love to create and for those who love dolls. Doll-makers love to create dolls that they know will be cherished and doll-lovers love dolls that they played a role in making it special.

As Jenny Marshall so perfectly put it, “The fact also that the doll has taken so many hours to make and during that process has been touched so often by the maker, touched carefully so as not to roughen the doll, but touched and handled lovingly and you can feel that love and care when you hold the doll. Children feel it and adults too,” 

Doll Tea Party

Five Decades of Beloved Doll Dresses

This also could be called my life as seen through doll dresses. There is one for practically each decade and stage of my life. Maybe I'm sharing too much and I will definitely date myself. 

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Dress Number 1: Sewn for my childhood Sasha doll. The ultra-hip fabric was left-over from the ultra hip halter top I sewed to bring to sleep away camp. Both my doll and I were the coolest. I was especially cool for bringing a doll to camp.

Marcie Street Doll Company

Dress Number 2: Made for the same doll. I am a teenager now and should be done with dolls. But I'm not.

Sasha doll dress

Dress Number 3: I have gone to college, done the yuppy thing and worked in graphic design in the city, married, moved out of the city, and had two of my three kids. Sewn for the same Sasha doll that was now my oldest daughter's doll.

Ellowyne Dress

Dress Number 4: I now have three children, the youngest a daughter. Took a day off from work to sew a wardrobe for her Ellowyne doll (an Uber-Barbie) and this was one of the dresses. The doll and the wardrobe were well-loved but very un-PC.

Also at this point I can easily buy fabrics on the internet. A good and a bad thing.

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Last Dress: Made two weeks ago for one of the toddler Phoebe dolls. I am now definitely older, maybe wiser and my two daughters no longer play with dolls. But I do have a doll-making company, which so far is almost as fun.

Looking forward to seeing some of your dresses!

Click through the link below to the Beloved handmade Doll Dress Contest.


The Fine Line Between Inspired and Overwhelmed

I am easily inspired. I am also easily overwhelmed. And the two often go hand in hand.

Some of my inspiration comes from real life.  Some comes from the internet. The unexpected juxtaposition of two fabrics in the wastebasket can be the inspiration for my next outfit.  

But, with a limited amount of time to sew and create, I really only need a limited amount of inspiration. Too many ideas and possibilities and juxtapositions can make me feel immobilized. I am unsure which idea to start on, which is better, will I remember all of them and...oh no.. time suddenly starts to squeeze me. I can waste time figuring out where to start.

I love Pinterest and it is great for inspiration. But it offers too much--an infinitude of gorgeous images and how-tos. The visual stimulation can be inspiring, or overwhelming. So many projects and so little time.

The trick is a small amount of inspiration, balanced with a good deal of focused craft time. It takes some discipline and planning to achieve that balance. Something I will always be working on.


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My Button Obsession

I have a small obsession...buttons. Small buttons. The more the better. I started collecting small buttons before eBay and Etsy were around to offer "lots" of small buttons. And as eBay and Etsy came into existence, my obsession was just further enabled. 

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What exactly is it about buttons? I like just the right amount of realistic detail on my dolls' clothes. Too much is "twee", too little is "blah". The right buttons on a doll cardigan or shoes makes it feel finished. Or if it doesn't, there is still the possibility of playing with the  color of thread used to sew the button on. Perle cotton of course.  

But buttons can turn a plain grey cardigan into classic vintage, or classic modern, or girly, or rustic. If you don't like the look, you only need to change that last step, the buttons.




Part of my button collection.

Part of my button collection.