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Meet Keith




I said that I wasn’t going to post any more of the Laura Ashley consort dolls until they were all finished, but a small but firm petition on Saturday convinced me I was wrong.  So here is the magnificent Keith based on the sketch I made at the weekend:




Well, I decided to go with the Paul McCartney look, although I do fancy the idea of putting the Lennon glasses onto another doll.  This doll has a nice brown early Laura Ashley print shirt and has that sixties Carnaby Street look.  He has Chelsea boots and tight hipster trousers and a silk scarf and a fur jerkin.  I half wanted to make him an afghan coat, but to be honest it almost took longer to make and fit that jerkin than it did to make the doll.  He is a funny shape.  I spent ages making a toile and then found myself stitching amid a ridiculous amount of bits of fur fabric which shed from the cut edges.

I think Keith either went on the Magic Bus to India or pretended that  he did. He has got a very ethnic woven belt, probably from Nepal:




You can also see his little curls at the back of his neck.  I think that the sixties were the best time of Keith’s life.  He went to art school like John Lennon and Stewart Sutcliffe, and he once danced at a party with Julie Christie which he lets no-one forget.  Of course, he traded on the fact that everyone told him he looked a bit like Paul McCartney, and that did no harm with the ladies. Keith was very grateful for the invention of the pill:




I have really enjoyed making these male dolls and giving them faces.  I have experimented a bit with Keith here and given him rosebud lips and the suggestion of longer hair.   I like making the dolls but the real fun is in giving them accessories.

Keith, by the way, is named after people who had a great time in the sixties and early seventies: Keith Moon, Keith Richards and the Medieval Historian’s disreputable friend, Keith, who seems to have had a whale of a time all round.



Playing with moustaches


Today’s post might not be to everyone’s taste – it’s about sketchbooks.  As part of my production line of Laura Ashley consort dolls, I have been sketching for faces quite a bit and playing around with the moustache motif.  The picture at the top of the blog is one of the pages using a technique I really like but don’t use often anymore: printing with polystyrene plates.  These are the plates that you get food packed with, although not as often as we used to do given the move to biodegradable  materials.  I have a stack I have saved over the years.  Basically you draw into the polystyrene with an old biro, cut round it, and apply some nice thick paint or a stamp pad.  It gives a sort of woodblock effect.  This plate gave me two for one because the reverse was textured:


For this print I cut out moustache shapes from the plate with a craft knife and printed with a purple tube acrylic :


I really like the texture you get.  I haven’t incised any detail into these which I often do, but the brush strokes in the thick acrylic give a nice rough effect:


I also did a bit of collage:


I might print onto fabric with the plates at some point, but I was just having fun playing with the moustache shapes.

The sketches for the dolls are a bit more immediately interesting.  These are for Keith, my hipster doll, who had a great time in London in the  late sixties and early seventies and never really got over it:


The left hand fold-out shirt also shows the ideas for the ties of my last doll, Simon, with his kipper tie.  I had originally thought that Keith would look like John Lennon in the Yellow Submarine phase of the Beatles, but after making the sketches, I might go for Paul McCartney instead:


Or I might make two and have one of each.  Here’s another sketch to finish:


More sketches for potential dolls and faces.

Frida Kahlo Doll for Beatriz





I know I said that I wouldn’t post any more dolls, but this is a strange kind of Frida Kahlo doll that I made from my Grate Frend, Beatriz.  Beatriz sketches or paints Frida Kahlo whenever she is at a loose end or can’t get inspiration as a kind of warm-up or go-to.  She has several pictures of Kahlo on her wall and on her website (www.beatrizacevedo.com). I made the doll from a pattern in the book I recently bought which also has the male doll pattern I have been using, We Make Dolls:





I quite liked the pattern but it was a nightmare turning the tiny arms through. I don’t really like this trend for very spindly arms and legs on dolls.  They are everywhere, and there are lots of OOAK or One of  a Kind dolls with them.  They are very arty.  But I prefer my dolls chunkier and more robust looking.

I did enjoy experimenting with rouging the cheeks.  It was the first time that I had done this.  I used a bit of wadding to rub in some Derwent art chalk blocks.  They are water soluble and I really like them, but I suspect I had better tell Beatriz not to get her fact wet.  I also liked the loops of thick wool for her hair.  So I learned a couple of things.




Were I to make another Kahlo doll  I would make much fuller skirt and have a go at getting the traditional dress that Kahlo wore:




You have to wonder, though, an artist as serious and dedicated as Kahlo becoming as commonplace and robbed of context as Marilyn and Elvis and Che Guavara.  There is even a Frida Barbie doll.


Simon and his Laura Ashley shirt




I promise to stop posting these dolls as I can see that they are getting very similar and likely to get more so, but this is Simon, who has a Laura Ashley shirt on.  I drew in the collar and tie.  The tie was painted with Golden Fluid Acrylics, my favourites, but although they covered up the pattern with only one application, the paint is not as purple as I would have liked.  So, a learning point is that it is probably worth gesso-ing the fabric first.  I like his kipper tie,though:



I antiqued the photo to try and give it a bit more of a sixties look – and I’m not sure it really succeeded. I was pleased with his belt buckle, though:



He’s called Simon after Simon Dee and Simon Templar.  It was such a smart name for a while in the late sixties and early seventies.

I am aiming to make a consort for all the Laura Ashley dolls, probably with LA fabric shirts.  I couldn’t resist buying a remnant of fur fabric to make an Afghan for one of them.  I am rather hoping this frenzy passes quickly.  I was talking to Janet, a felt maker friend, today and she was saying that you might as well just give in and wait for the frenzy to pass.  The problem is that I can make one of these in an evening.  The hair dries overnight and then they are done.  So it is really quick to make a doll if I have an idea and this just seems to fuel the desire to make them rather than assuage it.

So, I will keep my obsession to myself concerning the Mr Laura dolls, and maybe have a grand unveiling at the end.














Marrakech Maurice


This is the latest Laura Ashley husband doll, Marrakech Maurice.  I wanted him to look a bit like Paul Getty in the famous photo by Patrick Lichfield of Talitha Getty on a rooftop in Marrakech:


I’m not quite sure where he came from, but he was great fun to make:


I had a couple of gos at his hairy chest.  I tried colonial knots but they just looked like he had a nasty skin disease, and I tried little ties of stranded embroidery cotton, but they looked clumpy like a different skin condition and so, in the end, I fell back on free machine embroidery over some black net to fill in the gaps.  Quite quick to do and a nice effect.

The reason that he is a Laura Ashley husband is that he is wearing trunks under his kaftan made from Laura Ashley fabric, with a belt made from the ribbon they use to wrap things up at Space NK and a small button with a Greek god or Emperor on it – which again seemed fitting:



The cotton fabric for his body was a remnant so I have no idea of the make, but gave him that toasty tan colour of a lot of peacock males, and the lovely green fabric for the kaftan, which I thought was just right is a  Kaffe Fassett print which I bought in a sale in Bristol because I couldn’t resist it.  Then it make the perfect fabric for Maurice’s kaftan with a good match of scale.

I am slightly troubled that I appear to be falling in love with these boys, and what that says about the state of my psyche, but they are really good fun to make.  The Medieval Historian rather likes them as well, which helps.  Maurice seems even more pleased with himself than Gorgeous George.  I think it might be the moustache.  I have another piece underway where there is no moustache (but a rather nice Laura Ashley shirt) and he looks a lot less smug.  I think Maurice’s love affair with himself is infectious, though, he makes me smile whenever I catch sight of him.

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Gorgeous George



For some reason my fascination with dolls and doll-making continues.  I impulse bought a book on dolls and doll makers which arrived yesterday, and I couldn’t wait to get started.  The book is called We Make Dolls by Jenny Doh



I bought it because I wanted to find out about doll makers and what they think about their craft.  There seems to be a trend for these new craft books with some bios and projects and commentaries.  I would, as a academic, like a bit more in-depth and extended interviewing, but I appreciate that I am in the minority.  Anyway, this book is a delight, not least because the pattern in the back are full size and so there are no clandestine trips to the photocopier.

This particular doll really caught my eye.  The maker is Mimi Kirchner.  She makes wonderful dolls including a whole series of tatooed dolls made with toile fabric.  Such as this one which is very similar to the one in the book:




I thought the construction method of the tatooed man in the book with his legs formed by a line of stitching looked interesting and couldn’t wait to get started.

Of course, I had to wait, because it was a working day.  So I didn’t start until eight o’clock and I finished at eleven which isn’t bad for making a doll from scratch including producing the templates.  The problem was that I then couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing with ideas for other dolls.

First I want to make some husband dolls to go with the Laura Ashley ghost dolls.  Several people have asked me about them and I think that I now have a way of creating them.  I might make the doll a bit bigger or not, but I rather like the idea of giving them Laura Ashley shirts.  There is nothing scholarly about this; I just think it would be fun.

Second, making these dolls does have one scholarly application.  It allows me to think about making and the joy of making.  I have always been interested in the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a life-long theorist of happiness and creativiy.  I have mentioned him before.  He was the populariser of the notion of flow and being in the flow.  He says that this state can lead to happiness.  It happens when you are working on a task which is just difficult enough for you to have to concentrate but not so hard that it provokes anxiety.  When you are in flow you experience a kind of one-ness with the task and the world, you finish it with more energy than you started (hence, possibly, not being able to sleep) and you have no idea how long you have been in it.  Time seems to stand still in flow, so you don’t know if you have been working on your doll, say, for an hour or three hours or thirty minutes.  I experienced all this.   It is a blissful state for me.  And I also experienced that state where you have the exact things you need to hand.  In this case some seventies fabric with a very small print that my mother gave me which became his shirt, a scrap of curtain lining which became his skin, a length of the sort of plastic stuff that they put in strapless frocks to hold them up which I used for his belt and which looked a bit like leather, and a piece of broken jewellery which made a wonderful belt buckle.  Almost all this stuff, come to think of it, apart from his trousers and scarf, came from my mother and would have been in landfill if I hadn’t used it.  But everything was to hand and worked beautifully.

I used to be interested in how you could think about flow and creativity and motivation.  If people experienced flow in their paid work as opposed to their hobbies and recreations (Csikszentmihalyi says the most common form is reading)  then , I thought,  people would be motivated at work and happier and possibly more productive.  Now I am just a critic rather than a contributor my focus has shifted!

But, I do want to write about the sheer fun and delight in making George.  It was just delightful – full of delights – no other word for it, to put him together.  To see his toes turn out when I stuffed him, and to see him emerge with his character as I chose the fabrics.  He became a seventies hipster quite early on, but the scarf, which was my flourish at the end and the sideburns rather sealed his fate.  I know a very excellent doll maker called Joan who says that the doll’s personalities emerge as she makes them and that she doesn’t know what they will be like until she starts to stuff them and sculpt their faces.  I think this is quite common.  The doll tells its own story – which is likely to be the subject of a later post.

I think I might have been channelling Jason King/Peter Wyngarde



And I couldn’t get rid of Carly Simon singing ‘You’re so vain’ in my ear.  I really wanted to give him an apricot scarf (You walked into the party/Like you were walking onto a yacht/Your hat strategically dipped below one eye/Your scarf it was apricot), but the pink was the best I could do.



I also loved his Sergeant Pepper cartoony feel:




I would do his arms differently if I made him again.  He is quite muscle-y, and I would make them thinner and attach them more naturalistically, but all in all Gorgeous George is a bit irresistible, and even the Medieval Historian laughed spontaneously when he saw him.

My New Year Doll


Every New Year’s Day I make a doll (although last year I was pressed for time and finished making some birds that I had started earlier instead).  This year I went back to making a doll.  I thought I would only have a limited time and so I cheated a bit and made the body earlier, although I know from experience I could have completed the body in the time allowed if I had had to.  My rules are that it has to be completed in one day, and that day has to be 1 January.  I also like either to think about the previous year, or to think about the year to come and make the doll symbolic in some way.  It’s  been interesting to see how the dolls have developed over the years, the first one is really crude and uninspiring, a gingerbread-man type construction which sits on a shelf in my work room and frankly doesn’t get any more appealing with the passing years.

This year I decided to use the pattern of my Laura Ashley dolls.  I wanted to make something about some of the qualities that I want to have this year.  I also wanted to use some natural linen that I had acquired at some stage.  In the event, of course, I got something quite different.

I started by making the doll a pair of knickers in Liberty lawn trimmed with edging lace.  She has blue and white striped legs.  I remember a couple of dolls from my childhood that had sawdust-stuffed blue and white striped fabric legs, and I associate them with dolls.  One of my New Year dolls also has these legs so it is a theme I return to.  Anyway, I was expecting quite a folksy-homesy doll, but she turned out to be very sophisticated.

I started digging through my fabric to look for something to make a dress from.  I wanted to make the dress and then attach the linen as a kind of overskirt.  I tried a variety of things, but the pale fabrics that would have worked with the linen all allowed the blue and white legs to show through.  In the end I came upon a batch of indigo-dyed fabric that I made on a beautiful day with my lovely friends Alison, Ceri, Ruth and Becky.


That was such a great day that it was lovely to remember it through the fabric I used.  I found a strip of white silk that I had dyed which happened to have a smaller piece of yellowy-gold silk stitched on the end.  The two colours took the dye differently and gave an interesting effect.  I put some loose pleats into it and make it into the skirt.



Then I needed a top.  I tried a nice piece of batik with my favourite pomegranate symbol on it, but once I had ironed out the wax it was too stiff to work.  I thought I would just try the end of a huge piece of lurex jersey fabric that my mother had given me, and it worked really well.  I made quite a stylish wrap top:


The finishing piece was the rather nice piece of shisha braid that I bought from Liberty’s years ago and have never wanted to cut into.  I quite liked the vaguely Japanese obi effect I was getting.

Then I got to the hair, which I always do last.  I have a surprisingly small stash of yarn for someone who used to do Kaffe Fassett style knitting, but I do have a weakness for Noro wool and have several balls of that.  Unfortunately, we had a leak caused by a loose tile on the roof and the major casualty was my lovely blue and yellow basket, a present from my mother, that I used to keep all my wool in in the cupboard under the eave.  I have been meaning to sort it out since we discovered the leak but haven’t, so I took the plunge and looked in the basket.  There were some heart-breaking write-offs, but the Noro Aurora I had bought in a sale was in a plastic bag and not covered in black mould (the leak had been going on for some time).  It does smell a bit musty but I am hoping that will go off with exposure to the air.  It made perfect hair:


Then I made the little bracelets and then I thought I would break with my own usual practice with these dolls and give her a face.  I am still not sure that I don’t prefer them faceless, but she could be worse!  I used a very old black felt pen and just drew her a face on.

Thinking about the doll in a talismanic way, I wonder what she has to teach me.  I would like to be elegant with fabulous hair, but this is unlikely.  What strikes me about looking at the actual doll in front of me is that although she is very stylish, she also looks ready for work.  Her sleeves are rolled up and her hair sort of tied back ready to get on with it.  I suspect that 2013 will be full of hard work for me; like all professions, universities are having to do more with less, so it seems unlikely that I will have less to do.  I just hope I can wear wrapover shibori silk skirts and lurex while I’m doing it.

Happy New Year, and I hope that you don’t have to work too hard.