Every year I make a New Year Doll. I do this on New Year’s Day, and the only rule is that it has to be made on one single day. Last year I cheated a bit and assembled a doll from the arms and legs that I have already made in a bag for when I feel like making one, and she was really only dressed and accessorised on New Year’s Day:
She is a pretty glamorous example with her indigo-dyed silk skirt and elaborate hairdo:
I really just make the dolls for fun and a sense of achievement to see in the New Year, but this one did seem to herald a year which was to have some very glamorous moments.
This year’s is very different. She is very folky, and if anything she is about craft and going back to basics.
She is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t make her on New Year’s Day, mainly because I spent quite a bit of it on the M42 and M5 in driving rain hoping it didn’t all end here as I overtook lorries in a cloud of spray. So maybe this doll is about survival. She is made entirely of scraps, samples and leftovers. The fabric is all from a big bag of tiny furnishing fabric samples that my mother and I sat and sorted on New Year’s Eve. We pulled off the sticky labels which identified the fabrics on the back. My mother remarked that it was just like piece work which is what a lot of women did when I was growing up to make money to support their families. They mainly worked in the Nottingham lace trade, and did things like separating strips of lace with a hot wire mounted on a box to make edging lace from a large machine-made piece. There has been an awful lot written about exploitation and piece work and home work and women working for pennies, but that afternoon, and granted it was only one out of a lifetime and not something I had to look forward to all day every day, was really nice as we talked as we worked. I don’t want to sentimentalise all this, but I can see that working with your family at home rather than in a factory with a foreman might be a preferable way to earn a living.
Anyway, this doll takes on a very simple shape. I have been working with this pepper pot shape for a while and am enjoying exploring its versatility. I also like the wimple shape around her head, and the embroidery on her face is based on some of the tribal designs I have seen in years of sketching in ethonological museums:
The embroidery on the piece is mainly quite traditional. There is raised chain band around the face, and some herringbone, but mainly running stitch:
The thread is the wonderful perle cotton that Winifred Cottage sells. I was distressed this year to hear that there won’t be any more. It is my absolute favourite and I use it for everything. When I found out that it was coming to an end I asked them to send me a selection – it’s all beautiful so it doesn’t matter what you get:
I am really looking forward to using it, although a bit sad because it will be the last. I like it because it has such wonderful subtle random colour, is really strong and soft and glides through fabric. I wastefully use it on construction rather than just embroidery, as a real luxury.
For some reason I really wanted to leave the doll open so that she would stand up over a water bottle or a vase or some other receptacle. It rather makes me wish I were still seeing my therapist to work through some of this! I think, though, that she represents a year of solid, unshowy work, finally putting scraps of work into order and getting them published, and working at perfecting the craft rather than displaying the flash. Being my doll, however, she does have a bit of bling in the very ritzy upholstery trim sample stitched to her breast:
And the bit of silk among the cotton.
The final two pictures were taken with a very cheap clip on macro lens that I bought for my phone camera. I like to use the phone camera for the blog because the pictures load so much more quickly, but the phone takes ropey close-ups. These are a bit better. I still can’t find my fancy camera which I bought expressly to take close-ups, so this is a compromise. With luck the photography on this blog will improve next year.
Finally, and this might say something about what next year will bring, I prefer the back of the doll to the front.