in the woodshed with the french circus

handmade animal rag dolls in circus costumes

The circus has been rolling around in my imagination for a while. It got mixed up in the scraps and fabrics I brought back from France with me. It bumped into an obsession with bicornes and cats and became a collection of rag dolls, a french circus.

patched linen rag doll - circus elephant with ruffled collar and cap with bells

My friend Mickey introduced me to the term woodshedding – in a nutshell it means a period of intense creating, refining, practicing – you can find more here.

The woodshed is my favorite place to be. Completely immersed, making tons of mistakes, failing forward in relentless pursuit of what is already real in my imagination.

circus rag dolls and lacey scraps in a basket

They are rag dolls in their truest form. Simple, spare and playful with an inherent woebegone quality to them. I can’t wait to share them and plans for patterns and a circus workshop are already happening – scroll to the bottom for more on that.

I’ve been working on the mechanics, taking them from ideas to drawings to stitched and stuffed things and feeling for the vibe.

the vibe:  A box with a dusty lid, undisturbed for decades, “CIRCUS” scrawled on the top in pencil has almost faded away. You open the box and find them, sleeping in crumpled paper, frozen in time. All at once you get a full sense of the world they lived in as loved things until the box lid closed a century ago.


Everything I needed for my circus folk kept showing up – a friend sent me a scrap of red silk fringe a little while ago, another gave me a worn linen duvet in a remarkably elephanty color and a box of fabric and trim I got in France a couple summers ago all seemed like they had been waiting to be circus folk.

And the space between the idea and execution was almost nothing. I had the thought and started working. No one heard from me for days. It was glorious. It got me up early and kept me up late. There is so much there to play with – mood and color and sparkles and patterns…

There will be sewing patterns for all these for sure and we’re already putting together a french circus workshop in Los Angeles in October (stay tuned!). I’m looking forward to shopping for supplies in France this summer.

There are more circus dolls on my worktable now – I’m playing with a giraffe and more costumes.  I think the elephant is may favorite so far- how about you?


  1. Elizabeth

    Wow! This is an incredible “woodshedding” moment in your creative process. These rag dolls are absolutely mesmerizing, utterly fetching and fantastic. The monkey is my favourite but that’s only this moment, in another moment it will be the lion, and then the elephant. The visual of the box – – I’m just charmed and excited at the same time. Can’t wait for you to share patterns. I’m going to begin collecting my circus-y scraps now!

  2. Delightful, everyone. I’m leaning toward the lion, but the elephant… oh my. Can’t wait to see the giraffe.

  3. Loretta` Lewis

    They’re all lovely each with their sweet personality. Who could pick a favorite? Another wonderful idea Ann, thank you.

  4. Marcy Mahle

    Oh my but I love them all. I am so looking forward to your patterns of all these sweet animals. Yes the elephant is my favorite.

  5. These are adorable! I especially love the elephant, and the lion in the floral sprig get-up! You must be so happy with how they all turned out.

    • Thank you! I really am. So many drafts! I’m having such a great time figuring them out.

  6. Vickie Fickel

    Put my order in for the circus patterns when available. These are Ann-tastic!

    Love everything about them. You never cease to raise my awareness!

  7. Cynthia Penney

    I am so excited about the circus animals.
    Your creations inspire me. Thank you so much for sharing your talent

  8. HERVE MERLANE Marie Christinr

    Quelle belle idée: bravo ! Venez vite en France et soyez la bienvenue ! Chaque personnage a son caractère et son charme. J’ai hâte de voir les patrons et de commencer un cirque pour ma petite fille Ellana, 2 ans. Elle va adorer ! Merci pour toutes ces beaux ouvrages.

  9. Jane Miller

    Must have patterns. I love them all..a French Circus. Perfection!

  10. Celia Stapleton

    My faves are the Monkey and the Ele!! How about an Octo Ringleader w a Top Hat!!!

  11. oh my goodness gracious!! I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, I want to make them all and then figure out clothing for each. I especially like the elephant and the lion’s mane.
    I am currently obsessed with the frog and have developed a slightly altered pattern, giving them hips and a bit more shoulder, so they can wear shirts, vests, jackets, skirts and pants (not all at the same time, of course) and I want to donate some to a children’s foster/adoption agency. I always loved stuffed animals more than dolls…I am not quite retired yet and looking forward when I have more time to sew and create. Thanks, Ann, for continuing to spark our imagination and sharing the results of yours with us! Will be waiting none-to-patiently for French Circus Animal patterns 🙂

  12. Heather Smith

    It’s the dimpled knees on the elephant. That’s my most favorite. And all of the ruffs. And back to those knee dimples. Can’t wait to see the giraffe.

  13. Oh we love circus!
    The elephant is my favorite too.
    I’ll be watching for the patterns.

  14. Beyond adorable! You are amazing and I can tell you spend more time woodshedding than I. Would love to “help” you with the shopping for supplies in France! Don’t make me choose a favorite — I need the whole circus!

  15. You continue to create the most glorious imaginative stuffed creatures. Can’t wait for the patterns and the class! Thank you for sharing your world.

  16. What a fabulous notion! I love them and could get lost playing with them for hours!! Really appeal to my sense of the ridiculous. Can’t wait for the pattern. A circus box with them all asleep in tissue is truly enchanting.

  17. Ann, I think these are the best yet! I also love the elephant, but they are all fabulous, and their inspiration is just the kind of thing that makes them irresistible to me. Please hurry! We need these patterns! Thanks for all your inspiring ideas!

  18. Gail Hewitt

    ANN. You’ve done it again. My fav is also elephant…I think mine will have a tutu,,and love the ringmasrer tooo

    Of course we will need all of the animals….dreaming of my circus…can’t wait

  19. They are wonderful. For me, it’s your excitement, the “waking up early and going to sleep late”, that speaks to the dormant artist in me. It’s been so long since something creative made me so excited, mainly because something else always needs to be done (or so I keep telling myself). Your newsletters always remind me to take some time for creativity, and I’m very grateful for that. I can’t wait for the patterns!

  20. Susan Lee-Ying

    These are adorable! Love all of them and cannot wait for you to make the patterns. You have such talent and I love and appreciate your curious and adventurous mind.

  21. Luise Thomas

    I just can’t wait to make the cats! Thank you Anne – you have rekindled my stitching❣️

  22. Magnifique! I love them all and want to make them all! Beautifully done and merci for turning us onto the term “woodshedding” – parfait!

  23. Love all of it! The characters, the clothing, the idea! Eagerly awaiting patterns!

  24. Oh! They are wonderful. The elephant and the lion are tied for my favorites. And the cats!

  25. ‘Nette

    What can I say?! I think they are all fabulous!! I think you need to bring your horses into the circus too! Can’t wait to see the giraffe, I’m sure he’ll be just as wonderful as the others! The tutu on the cat is just standing out in my mind for some reason. Thank you for sharing your talents with us all!

  26. I can’t pick a favorite, they’re all so wonderful. They remind me of Alexander Calder’s circus at the Whitney Museum in NYC–one of my favorite art pieces. 🙂

  27. eva andrew

    Oh my goodness! Love them all! The monkey, the cats, oh my, can’t choose any as a favorite!

  28. I love them! I can’t wait for the pattern to come out. I’m loving that calico lion!

  29. Brandy L.

    Oh the elephant is leaving me a bit weak in the knees & my heart says that I must make one! The creativity & playfulness of these magical ragdolls is wonderful. Thank you!

  30. Sherry Considine

    These dolls are BEAUTIFUL!! I LOVE them so much! I can’t wait for the patterns and I will travel to CA from Texas for a workshop if the dates work for me.

  31. Debra Reed-Prewitt

    You need a horse of course, and where is Mlle. Fifi the French Poodle? Tres tragique! The monkey and the elephant are my favorites so far. Who will be the high wire act? A pretty pink flamingo or a flamboyant ostrich? Seals with flippers and ruffled collars, and tumbling chimps. So many performers possible. Who will be the clowns? And will there be a circus tent pattern to house all of these? Maybe a big tent shaped bag to carry them in? Food for thought.

  32. Kelli Kurtz

    Love the cats and the lion with the little crown — truly the king of the jungle! I can’t wait to see your patterns when available!

  33. Ann, you are killing me with the cuteness. I do not like monkeys but I want to make one now, and the elephant. Who would have guess that darling is made from an old duvet! The cats with his jaunty bicorn hat and her darling lace tutu (is that an antique fabric you used? It’s gorgeous!) I do hope there are horses or zebras in your circus- the horseback riders were always my favorite along with the ladies who were suspended in midair from ribbons and hoops. I’m looking forward to the pattern that will eventually make its way to my hands. ❤️

  34. Sherry B

    I can only daydream about coming upon the dusty box in the attic! These are exactly what my Grandma would have made and I wish she could see these beautiful creatures. Her “woodshedding’ was stolen hours in the afternoon or long winter nights in her favorite chair stitching way. What imagination you have, inspiration for all of us. Thank you!

  35. I love them all, but the elephant is also my favorite. It’s the dimples at the knees that got me.

  36. Kim Dickinson

    A French circus. Tres adorable, fantastique. That elephant has such a self satisfied and unapologetic smile on her face. Reminds me of the hippo from Disneys Fantasia. How do you make the time, the space for woodshedding? I am inspired and charmed!

  37. So so cute! I love when woodshedding happens! I am gone for days! My husband will say to me “Ah, I see you have returned.” Or something like that! Can’t wait to buy the patterns!

  38. Virginia Stevens

    They’re all wonderful . I love the whole premise of finding them hidden away in a box with Circus written on it. The elephant is a favorite of mine too with the lion a close second. So fantastical. A dream come true. Can’t wait to see the other members you create.

  39. Jackie Pitts

    Love them all. Especially the cats. And the Lion is a Cat. And the Monkey is so cute. And of course the Elephant! What about a clown of the Pierot type? Or an Agust? Someone to walk the tightrope and/or do bareback riding?

  40. Oh my goodness another winner! A French circus is just so….French! Cant wait to see where this takes you!

  41. Michelle

    Love Love Love !! I’m struggling with getting my head around medical issues at the moment, been told cant do this and cant manage that… but I can make French Circus characters 🙂 My day just got brighter !! Looking forward to the patterns. Love them all. Also enjoyed your photo showing the pattern making in process. Can see how much time and creativity go into your work.
    Thank you Ann you have no idea how much the new patterns has put a smile on my face. Off to get my woodshedding space organized in anticipation of what’s to come.

  42. Oh my! I have so many of your patterns to make……just add these to the list! The monkey is my very favorite, but I am a monkey collector, you see! I truly love ALL the others too so I can’t wait for the patterns! Thank you for being such a talent and sharing your creations with us!

  43. Catherine Wood Flavin

    Absolutely amazing! I can’t wait to see what comes next for them!

  44. Leigh E Tenkku Lepper

    Love them all. It is cool how this has all come together for you. I love when that happens. Can’t wait for the patterns. My one granddaughter loves cat, so I am really looking forward to the cat dolls in this collection. But all of my little girls, love animals, so I am looking forward to making all of them!

  45. Love, love them all, but especially the monkey, lion and elephant. Can’t wait to make them.

  46. Bethann Rome (aka BamBam)

    Elephant is adorable … but that Monkey! He would be my Ringmaster, for sure, removable pencil-thin mustache optional.

  47. These are so magical and enchanting Ann and fit with my mind’s theme at the moment as I am all consumed with reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Perfect!

  48. Amy in Texas

    Wonderful!! I too think the elephant is my favorite! Can’t wait for the patterns.

  49. Linda Mason

    You absolutely nailed “the vibe” you were going for! As a group, I love them all. I think they fit in so nicely with your other soft creations and accessories. I can just see an elongated version of your Bride and Groom birds as a dancing couple, and the little plates you’ve made in top of a stick being spun. just lovely….I do hope there is a set of patterns to come.

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