My experience in making rag dolls has been a long one. It started about ten years ago when I came across a book that had instructions for “How to Make a T-shirt Rag Doll.” The pattern was nothing more than a stretched out, gingerbread type of man – without a face or clothing. It was extremely simple and fun to do for my little girls. While I have expounded tenfold from that fun simple pattern, I know that if I never came across that T-shirt Rag Doll pattern, I wouldn’t be making dolls today.

As my daughters grew, so did their collection of handmade dolls. If I put all the dolls together, you would see doll evolution taking place. The first ones were made from (sure) T-shirts, but also things like linens, worn denim, scrap fabric and any leftovers I could get my hands on. At one point, I even ripped out the stuffing from the crib bumpers I had made to stuff the dolls. That was a long time ago, or so it feels, but as I progressed I realized two things: One, even though my daughters loved them, these were truly archaic rag dolls. Secondly, I wanted to construct a rag doll that brought about the authentic look of a rag doll combined with a modern, artisan touch. That would come years later…

In my journey to create a unique rag doll has been a long one. I have created more patterns than I can recall and unsuccessfully modified others to no avail. I have made many styles of rag dolls but I kept coming back to the solid body pattern – just like that first single T-shirt doll I created.

But then – that was just the body…

I have painted faces, used buttons and fabric for eyes, left noses in, left them out. I have tried multiple styles of faces, and even when I came close to thinking I found the right one, I would become unsatisfied again.

At one point, someone gave me needlepoint floss they no longer wanted. Honestly, I didn’t want it either – needlepoint looked like a lot of work – but my children were very young and I figured it would come in handy sometime. Then came that fateful day (I’ll explain) I decided to use it on one of my dolls faces. It was exactly what I was looking for the whole time. Even then, I didn’t know the precise face pattern I was going to use, but I knew I wanted to embroider them. While I love the embroidered faces of the dolls, they are extremely time consuming. I realize why hand embroidery has somewhat been a lost art in the doll making world, it’s labor intensive. I enjoy all kinds of dolls and faces, but for mine I decided I had to spend the extra time required to bring out the character I wanted for the little ladies.

Deciding on the hair for my dolls came from an odd experience. I was at a sale where an elderly woman sat tucked in the back crocheting long, fat pieces of fabric together. I couldn’t imagine what she was making – usually people crochet with yarn, but not her. So, I was inclined to ask. Coming up to her, I could see she had a few small different balls of fabric. The fabric was approximately 2 inches wide and where a long piece of fabric ended, a new one was tied to create a continuous chain. She was very warm and welcoming regarding my query, although she kind of laughed at me when I asked her what she made out of it. “Why, all sorts of things,” she told me; potholders, table runners, rugs, bags etc. I went home and tried making a few things crocheting fat pieces of fabric together myself. It was interesting in the fact projects using strips of fabric like this are faster, and heavier. But what I found really interesting was the thought of using densely woven fabric with a rough edge – it frayed a little but not much.

Somewhere, in my search for the right rag doll hair, came the idea of using fabric like this for the dolls. I think it adds an original touch while maintaining a quality ‘rag time’ look. It’s also fun to braid, swoop, crunch or straighten.

Fun fact: For some reason I can’t comprehend, the fabric hair doesn’t really tangle. Believe me, it’s been put to the test!

Through painstaking years of trial and failure, I was finally able to create the look I desired for a Handcrafted Modern Rag Doll.
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