When faced with a stressful situation small sewing is good medicine. This weekend we made some big tech improvements to ann wood handmade that were sort of terrifying. I’m thrilled with the result – especially the speed.
While all the scary work was being done I lingered in the details of tiny felt jackets and hats and slow stitched talismans. Besides needing to distract myself from the website work it has been cold and snowy, all the more reason for cosy hand sewing and bundling the little dolls up. I sure do love to bundle things up.
Find the free little jacket pattern here and the tiny doll hat here.
The folky little winter ensembles make me curious about tiny doll world, the details and history. I’m going to investigate that over the next few weeks. You may recall I explored the world of a family of cosmopolitan ants a couple years ago.
It was probably the most fun I ever had. I’m looking forward to imagining a world for the tiny doll folk. Stay tuned.
P S – The owl pattern is coming soon – early in December. If you would like an email when it is available you can sign up for notifications here. I’ll also announce it on instagram etc.
One of the challenges in tiny rag doll sewing is getting a smooth neck. It is challenging when sewing any doll that has a torso and head as one piece, the stuffing wants to sneak out of the narrow part. I always recommend wool stuffing and that helps but stuffing still escapes sometimes. This past week I came across a great post on stuffing small dolls by Beth, author of By Hook, By Hand, that includes this genius tip for getting a smooth result, particularly in the neck. Spray a little water on the fabric before you stuff.
I gave it a try this week and the result is marvelous. It’s so simple. Also I was impatient so I used a blow dryer to speed things up after I stuffed, not sure if that made a difference or not.
I stuff most of my figures, owls, songbirds etc. as firmly as I can but rag dolls are different. I like rag dolls to be stuffed just enough to completely fill out the shape but not too firmly.
Sculpting from the outside with a needle helps refine the shape too – I mean moving stuffing into little cavities with a needle from the outside after a doll is stuffed and closed. I almost always do this with any stuffed thing I make. And I find it easier to feel the areas that need to be filled in more than looking for them.
While we are on the subject of tiny dolls, find the easy way to turn tiny parts here and tips for hiding knots here.
PS – the songbird print pattern is back in stock and ready to ship
A great way to get past the musts and shoulds and assumptions that can limit you creatively is to shift your approach. Even temporarily adopt a perspective that helps you follow impulses and bypass reasons not to, shake things up. Try starting with silly. Silly tricks you into trying stuff that might not work which is what it is to be creative. That is also how you get somewhere new. Ask yourself silly questions, mess around, be absurd. Absurdity is rich ground. Just sayin’.
You might end up somewhere unexpected, making a connection that you had not before. It might wake something up in you or push you past a block. Your creative muscle grows and you can apply that strength to all your work.
I spent time playing with the idea of silly bug dolls this week. I’m getting my imagination in shape to teach again in September in New Hampshire. Silly helps me unclench my thinking. I got pretty silly.
Play is creative. Clenching down hard on trying to make something awesome often isn’t and is not usually effective at bringing your personal magic into the world. Nobody is more creative than you. And absolutely nobody has what you have inside you. I’m a firm believer in exercising your mind to develop skills to get to all that. As much as you can. Play is an important part of that.
So I offer you this challenge, make a silly bug in the next week. Why bugs? Because they are a rich place to experiment, the huge variety of weird anatomies can inspire all sorts of possibilities. There are lots of places to start and they are ideal for improvisational thinking.
So buggy in here!
And for a little more motivation let’s make it interesting. Post your silly bug on instagram with this tag: #sillybugclub and I’ll pick somebody at random who wins their very own mosquito rag doll. Who doesn’t need one of those? And you don’t have to sew your silly bug. You can, but you don’t have to, it can be anything. Make it out of post-it notes and paper clips if you like, that would be great, the less you have to work with the more creative you have to be and that is what we are concerned with. Please post your photo before Friday with the hashtag and your name will be in the hat. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.
Do it! Get the benefit of a mini assignment, spend some time playing and trying stuff, and you might win a prize. Plus joy. There ended up being a lot of joy in making silly bugs for me. That’s nothing to sneeze at either.
The ridiculous humidity and a summer cold have left me with a stunning lack of ambition. I aggressively indulged the lack of ambition and it transformed into restlessness. I needed to put on some clothes and do something. Anything.
This is where sewing saves me. As soon as my hands start moving my head starts to work again, I can feel the wheels turning. I spent some time making tiny doll things, little dresses and pinafores and bloomers with sweet little details. Peaceful, happy work.
Spending time on the tiny things with tiny details made me happy. And so did these floss winders. Am I the last person to know about these? Historically, I’ve stored my embroidery floss in the traditional way, in a maddening tangled mess. These solve the problem beautifully, I love the way it looks.
If you’d like to make a tiny doll find the sewing pattern here. I hope you make tiny dolls and if you do you can email photos to me at info at ann wood handmade dot com or use #annwoodhandmade on instagram. And send your songbirds and mushrooms and other things too, I’d love to see!
There is nothing wrong with sewing in bed. As long as it is your choice and pins and things are kept track of. I don’t do it often but on a cold snowy day it’s irresistible, the perfect place for sewing tiny things. Plus I got dressed which makes it even more OK. Not exactly going out dressed, more day appropriate lounge wear, but still.
I’m working on small things, mischievous cats, tiny ladies, bundled up birds and lamb folk among them. The lambs are made using the mr. socks sewing pattern with modifications you can find here. Some of these things will be in the shop tomorrow (if you are on the list for new artwork you’ll get an email).
I sure do love a lamb in pants
I’ve also been making some paper mache progress. Paper mache is good for busting out of stuckness. The paralysis and not knowing what to do that creeps in when there is too much to do. When my brain rebels and just won’t work properly. Paper mache has a magic effect. It does not require much thinking activity and progress is immediately apparent. Those little pieces of paper becoming something else. That part is satisfying and just getting my hands moving get’s my wheels turning again.
I always do all the edges first, using the littlest pieces of paper to negotiate the smalls curves. Once the edges are done the filling in takes no time. Each complete layer, the brown paper followed by the news print, take less than an hour to complete. These ships are all made from the paper mache ship pattern collection. I did modify the sides of the large ship. I do almost every time I make one, I like to experiment with the shape. This time I made it higher in the back and lower on the sides at the middle.
This little boat is made from the free boat ornament tutorial you can find here. My plan is to finish all the ships and boats this weekend. And to festoon the Christmas Tree (my beloved norfolk pine). I’ll show you next week.
This year it’s for sewing by the pool. I love a forlorn pool, all its summer sparkle and glory gone. It’s a contrast and a particular flavor of melancholy that I have always been attracted to.
I’ve temporarily relocated myself outside of NYC while my entire ceiling is replaced. It is a spectacular October and it’s good to be sewing again after a truly miserable week.
I brought a sewing machine, tons of fabric and projects to work on. Besides the pool I have a big sunny room to work in and a diligent helper. He loves the sewing machine. And thread, he really loves thread.
The first thing finished was another soldier – more a Wickham than a Darcy this time. He is handsome and beguiling, all poetry and romance, but don’t believe him when he says his heart is yours……..
I’m hoping to have the soldier sewing pattern perfected, drafted and converted to an illustrator file in a couple days. I’ll shoot the steps as soon as I get home. I’m also working on a collection of Fortuny animals (they will be in the NY showroom for the holidays) and lots of little things, small sewing I never get tired of.
Thank you for your thoughts and concerns since the big dusty crash. I’m still all turned around and unsure of what to do next but things are generally well enough and I am finding a rhythm.
Patched and mended, a little worse for wear, but good and happy sheep, sheep who persevere. I made mr. and mrs. lamb from the mr. socks pattern with just a couple little modifications. Their outfits and the satchel are made from the tiny rag doll clothing and wardrobe patterns with modifications detailed here.
The only changes are to the head. I made ears – gray on one side and black on the other – stitched with the right sides together. I left the last half inch open for turning right side out.
I closed the opening, whip stitched around the seam and then stitched the ears to the head. I cut a little circular head cover instead of the pointy mr. socks head cover.
I pinned the head cover in place and stitched over the ears and across the front. I added a tiny bit of stuffing before closing the back so his head would be smooth.
Here they are all sheepified – mrs. has got some seriously happy ears.
Mr. L’s tiny trousers are my favorite part – made from the tiny rag doll bloomers – I added about 1/4 inch to the pattern and they just fit.
Mr. L sports the always risky pants and scarf but no shirt look.
He is off to wander among the woebegone pines. Find the free pattern for the trees right here. I’m working on some photographs for the holidays so I’m making a bunch right now.
This is a long post – with lots of dolls in it.
The details make me happy. The tiny details. Stitching the feathers and flourishes to his hat and the medals to his coat. I’ve been looking forward to those tiny medals since starting him. They are pretty much why I made him.
A note on his fancy hat – I’ve just learned it’s a Bicorne – that is what the Napoleon-ish hats are called. Now you know – in case it comes up. Let’s talk about the coat. It has a real working, very tiny, button and button hole. It is my first. It might be my last. But I do love it. I am turning him into a sewing pattern and the coat will be included – it’s very easy to make.
And I sure do love a front bustle. It looks so pretty on the hem and reveals a scandalous amount of leg.
I wonder what they talk about……. Lots of progress was made this week on the rag doll pattern. I’m planning on including a basic body, a clever and easy hair method and options for stockings, underthings and a skirt and, of course, the nude option.
Speaking of nude, I made Nora a frothy negligee – so when she wanders the moors in the mist she is not quite so entirely naked.
And finally dear mrs. spots. With lots of details, all her necessities. You can find more about how to make her wardrobe here.
The five day – doll every day challenge: I was great at starting them. Less great at finishing them.
They still aren’t done. I made the executive decision to go with “substantially, but not quite finished”.
Here is who turned up – the first was nora who you met last week. She didn’t get any happier but she did get more naked. I decided to give her all the lady details. She is a little smaller than the original immodest dolls and I also made a lot of progress toward turning her into a pattern.
A steady hearted Colonel. I like his turned out toes and expression – and I found a new way to make hair easily. I think I’d like him to be a sewing pattern too – what do you think?
Next – a lady with fancy stockings. Same pattern as nude nora. She and the Colonel both have expressive feet. I try to give everybody expressive feet.
And the last two were a mr. socks and a mrs. spots (find the sewing pattern here). I never get tired of making the mischievous little cats.
It was a good exercise for me in a couple of ways. My brain got moving again – I generated lots of ideas and found some energy. I made things I might not have otherwise – things I like. And containing projects in a day made me see more clearly how long things really take and how consistently I underestimate that. Still. The week ended up with too many things crammed into it- next time I do this I’ll clear some days completely.
I’ll put all the dolls above and a couple others in the shop next week. You can sign up here if you’d like an email when they are available.
PS – there are a few new paintings in the shop:
For the next few days anyway.
Doldrums. Who ever invented the word deserves a prize. It sounds like what it is, what it feels like: a warm inertia, an unpleasant stillness, listlessness. Apparently I am not a summer person – productivity wise anyway – I always find myself here mid July-ish.
Or maybe it’s coincidental. The mid summer almost always finds me working on larger – longer term projects – christmas – workshops for the fall etc. Projects that it can be hard to feel progress on.
And sometimes the stagnated feeling means I need a break. Not this time though – this is a restless stuckness. So I am busting out. Rowing hard until I can catch a breeze and some beautiful momentum. For the next few days I’m making – starting and finishing – a doll everyday. Experiments and some of the usual suspects like mr. socks and tiny rag doll. It’s the kind of sewing I feel like doing, the kind of thinking I’m in the mood for.
I began today with Nora. A mysterious dark eyed girl. Im still deciding on her degree of anatomical accuracy and outfit. I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon and evening finishing her.
Working on shorter term projects gives me a sense of forward motion and satisfaction. I can feel the shape of the day again. Hopefully I can bring some of that energy into the larger projects in a couple days.
Have a lovely weekend and check back next week to see who else appears.
P.S. There are a couple new small paintings in the shop.
Suddenly a billy goat appeared. A very distinguished goat. It was not my plan, he is not on my list or schedule and I probably should have been doing something else. But I felt a strong spiritual directive to make a surly goat. I had the impulse and I followed it immediately, that hardly ever happens and I think its a good thing to do. I usually have quite a lot of time between my ideas and when I do something about them. Sometimes they get stale – resistant to action. Maybe too much time lets doubt creep in or I get stuck in an endless circle of overthinking. There is huge value in diving right in, creating the first iteration, maybe making a mess but also getting a feedback loop going. I’m pretty sure there is some actual brain chemistry around this but I haven’t looked it up yet – I was busy making a goat.
I made my gray goat rag doll from an Edwardian skirt. I used the aristocratic lamb pattern with some adjustments to the head. I’m working on another in black now (and I do plan to release this as a sewing pattern).
Goats have been on my mind, turning up in my little paintings often (by the way I’m adding new small paintings every Thursday – including the goat above). And I’m working on some tiny goats for a project I’ll show you this fall. I love their expressive, humany faces. They always look like they are silently judging you.
This goat be in the shop next week – I’m thinking Tuesday – with some other recently finished things including some Sri Threads songbirds.
You can sign up here if you’d like an email when the new things are available.
Update: If you’d like to try making your own songbird you can find the sewing pattern right here.
Mr. socks is in print! My second print pattern is in the shop. It’s a 12 page booklet with 47 hand drawn illustrations. I’m starting another print pattern this evening while the mechanics of putting it all together are all still fresh in my mind. And while my drawing muscle feels strong. I love the little booklets – they are a giant amount of work but I love making them.
Maybe you’ll make a mischievous cat. Maybe he will have an adventure. I’m rolling around the idea of a photo contest for later this summer – more on that soon.
It’s such a mistake to let too many unfinished projects pile up. The weight of all that isn’t done can really mess with a person’s momentum and momentum is key. When it happens the only way through is to start finishing things – one at a time. This week I’ve been finishing stuff – big stuff and little stuff. A wooly edwardian owl was the first – he was nearly there so it was an easy win.
He’ll be in the shop next week with some songbirds and other creatures – you can sign up here if you would like an email notification when the new things are available.
Crossing just one thing off the list makes a huge difference, the shift is instant and it’s easier to tackle the next – as each task is completed momentum starts to snowball and replace the self perpetuating overwhelmed and stuck feelings. My next project was finishing up my improvisational doll experiments – also lingering in “all most done”.
He stepped right out of a Jane Austen novel, one of her steady hearted colonels. I love him. And he is excellent at guarding books.
A large project got finished too, creating a new workshop for this September. Come see me in Boulder!
That’s me – in my middle aged art lady uniform. The linen smock (by Cal Patch) really is my uniform – if you run in to me in Brooklyn or come to Colorado there’s a pretty solid chance I’ll have it on. This is my first 3 day workshop ever and it’s presented by the Makerie September 22nd through the 24th. 3 days to explore something with a small group sounds marvelous. The title of the work shop is Natural History.
I can share all the details with you next week and registration will open then too. For now I’ll leave you with this very little fly I made to bring to Boulder with me.
(you can find part 1 here)
The more time I give myself for play like this the better my thinking, my connection making and idea generating get. While messing around with these dolls I have had one million ideas. This kind of experimenting is like giving my imagination vitamins. It is not an efficient way to make a doll, and I get frustrated in the process sometimes (it takes a while to shift out of expectations and perfectionist thinking and into curiosity) but it never fails to get me to new places. In trying stuff – stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t – I make connections I would not have otherwise made and connections are where ideas come from.
I experimented with a bunch of stuff for making arms and legs and landed on something simple I like. I’ve made her arms and legs in two sections upper and lower from the paper covered wire. Each section gets covered with batting and then covered with fabric.
I left a little extra at the ends so they would be easy to join and nice and bendy. The legs are made the same way and I added a little lace to the top before attaching by whip stitching to the bottom of her torso with sturdy thread.
I like her spidery arms and legs. I’ll leave her for now and show you progress on the other girl who is no longer a girl. Read More
Its good to experiment – but not easy to let yourself, there is a powerful force that wants you to stay on the well lit path. Experimenting generates ideas and makes you ask new questions. It can shift your perspective, reveal connections and intersections. And maybe most importantly true experimentation helps you work with uncertainty and build a tolerance for trying stuff that might not work. There is no creativity without failure.
One way to make yourself experiment is to create conditions that force you to improvise. I’m going to show you one of the techniques I use. I’m making dolls – from the inside out. It’s a method that is imprecise and difficult to control – in a good way – there is lots of opportunity for happy accidents. It’s a spontaneous process – each action builds on the previous – you work with what shows up.
If you would like to try you will need:
* you can click on any of the images for a larger view
I start by making a simple wire form for the torso and head – I made three. Next cut strips of cotton batting and begin to build a shape by winding it around the wire form. A little bit of glue stick will help when adding or ending a strip.
Keep winding until you are happy with the shape – you can also add bits of batting in some areas for rounder shapes – like in the center image above – I’ve given her a substantial bosom by adding a scrap of folded batting and winding over it. I stitch through the shape here and there to adjust it and help it all stay together and finally I cut pieces of batting to stitch over the shape.
Next I begin to add fabric – I’m using a very light cotton to cover her face and the front of her chest. I pull the fabric around – stitch it in place and trim away the extra.
I covered the edge of the face fabric with strips of cotton for hair – I’ll come back to that later – I want to make the top of her dress first. Also – you may notice another doll has appeared – I’ll be working on her as well.
Her face and chest are covered in a light ivory silk, I used black cotton for her hair and stitched super simple features. Now I’m adding a scrap of lace because it’s lovely and will also cover some edges and seams I’d like to conceal. Read More
Meet Mrs. Spots – a dear old friend of Mr. Socks. There have been a number of questions lately – and – I have wondered myself – if the tiny rag doll’s wardrobe could work for the Mr. Socks doll pattern. I spent some time experimenting with that and – with some adjustments – it can. And that is how I arrived at Mrs. Spots.
Beginning with the dress (the dress is from the tiny rag doll pattern) – it needs to be a little larger, Mrs. Spots is taller than the tiny rag doll and has considerable girth around the middle. There are two easy ways to do it – you can add a quarter inch to the dress pattern – the cut line becomes the stitch line with the exception of the back center seam – don’t add extra there.
Or just enlarge the pattern to 115% ( I have not tried this with the pinafore apron yet but I suspect enlarging it to 115% would work – if you give it a try I’d love to see).
For the coat – so easy – you can use the pattern at it’s original size but skip the hood and do not sew the back seam (step 3 in the pattern) – leave the full width. The little satchel works as is too. (The coat and satchel are both from the coat, bag and hat pattern).
And finally the free hat pattern – for days when a coat is just too much. I enlarged it to fit and you can download the larger size here.
And some small art news:
I’ll be adding the first of the small art series 2 pieces to the shop soon – either tomorrow or over the weekend (sorry that’s not more specific – I have a couple tech things to work out). I’m planning on adding about 24 little paintings. If you are on the artwork list you will get an email notification (not sure if you are? email me – happy to help) and I’ll also update this post and instagram.
Entirely nude, but for a threadbare whisper of a nightgown.
The gown is made from the sleeve of an Edwardian lawn gown – so simple to make. I just hemmed the top edge – gathered across the front side and added ribbon ties that go around her neck – halter style.
She is offered in the shop – along with a few other new things – as promised I’ve been adding at least one new thing every day and will continue to for as long as seems reasonable. For now she is happy here, she sits serenely, in her nightgown, silently judging that little ant who admires himself so constantly.
And something new on my worktable – an evolving rag doll creature. The texture thing is pretty ambitious and I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again, it’s labor intensive even by my standards. But I do like the effect on him.
The tiny rag doll pattern was not something I planned on or saw coming but I’m so glad I followed the impulse – it has been and continues to be a very happy thing. A happy thing for me to make and a happy thing to share. I think it strikes a cord – a point of connection so many of you that show up here have in common with me and each other. It’s the kind of sewing I grew up doing – slow hand stitching. There is sweetness, simplicity and nostalgia about it. I came across this thought from Dawn – a tiny rag doll maker – she puts it perfectly:
I love the quiet peacefulness of stitching by hand, using a thimble, putting the tiny pieces together just so. I feel a connection to countless other hand stitchers who came before me. I think it comes through in the dolls.
The doll above – forward looking and ready for adventure is by Dawn ( as well as the next 3) and below I’ll share some other wonderful tiny rag doll work by customers. You can find more and add your own to the ann wood handmade by you Flickr group – there are lovely things happening there – all sorts of ideas and details and variations being shared (including adorable crocheted wigs – a pattern from another fabulous tiny doll maker Beth – scroll all the way to the bottom of her page for the link).
I think it’s the perfect moment for a tiny doll revolution – the world needs more tiny handmade rag dolls – an army of hand stitched little ladies who mean business.
P.S. If you’ve made a tiny rag doll and have details, variations or tips you’d like to share please do in the comments or email me and I’ll add it to the post.
Below – tiny rag dolls by Karen: