Dolls

Dolls vary in shape, size, style, material and dress more than most other categories of toys. Basically they divide into baby dolls and those which are made to resemble children or adults in features, proportion and clothing. Thus in theory one can provide a baby, a companion or, for older children, something which projects an image of how they may look and dress in later years. Most dolls these days are strong, safe and the detail such as eyes and ‘real’ hair stand up to a great deal of hard wear. Faces and features vary and judgement is necessarily subjective but as a general observation it is safe to say that children prefer a pleasant happy face with eyes that appear to look at you rather than some of the stylized, almost characterless dolls’ faces produced for the international market. Those dolls which offer something extra such as walking, talking, feeding come into the category ‘buy only if absolutely necessary’. Their very gimmicks tend to limit what can be done with them and to stultify rather than stimulate imaginative play.

The younger the child the simpler the doll should be. First dolls are a progression from soft toys and are used in the same way – for hugging, patting, dragging around and pushing into a cot or pram. Clothes can be attractive but are not likely to be taken off or put on again except by adults when they need washing. For older children who can dress dolls the body needs to be flexible and limbs should move easily. For nursery-group use the type already described for family play is the most useful. A child at home will most probably have a selection of different types and sizes of doll. The cheapest way to enlarge a family of dolls or to create a set of graded-size dolls is to make them much as rag dolls have been made for centuries. Stretch nylon fabric for bodies and foam plastic for stuffing both speeds up construction and means the dolls can be washed when necessary, although they are not suitable for doll-bathing games by children.

They can be made either by sewing the necessary cloth shapes and then stuffing them before sewing together or if a block of foam plastic or rolled sheet foam plastic is cut to the basic shape the outer cover can then be stitched on to it. This last method of working from the inside to the outside is very useful because the material cover can be made really tight and the chore of tryinp to stuff the doll evenly is avoided. There are patterns one can buy which usually include both doll and clothes construction but it is possible to work out a simple pattern that barely needs a tape measure. The basis of this is to use a square of material to make one sausage to be divided by a tight band into head and body (the head part being one third of the sausage). Arms can be made half the width of the body and the same length as the body (not the body and head together). This allows for a hand to be simulated by drawing a tight thread round where the wrist should be. Legs are again half the width of the body but to the body measurement add enough extra length to allow for feet, making ankles in the same way as wrists. The body and head tube should be finished at the head end by drawing up with a gathering thread to give a rounded ‘crown’. The hip end of the body should be sewn straight across and then the corners poked in to give a ‘hip socket’ into which to sew the legs. Arms and legs are made rounded at the top and the limbs can be moved quite freely if they are attached by strong thread passing several times through right limb, body, left limb, and then through a four-hole shirt button on the outside of the arm or leg so that the strain is taken by the button rather than the fabric.

Features can be embroidered or felt-appliqued. Hair can be made from a skein of wool, soft string or anything else suitable. The skein can be held in place by a rubber band at both ends and centre until the hair is satisfactorily arranged and firmly stitched down. A ‘wig’, either knitted or crocheted in a loopy stitch, is more durable. Experts can probably work out something very Grand for themselves but non-experts should aim at a pudding-basin-type wig by measuring from the back of the top of the head to where the wig should end on the forehead. Knit a strip this wide which is long enough to go all round the head. Join together the cast on and cast off edges and gather up one of the other edges as tightly as possible to get the shape of a ski-hat without the bobble. The loops can be made while knitting by wrapping the wool around the needle eight times on each alternate stitch on each alternate row. When going back over these looped stitches knit into the first loop only and let the rest of the thread come off the needle. For people who prefer to sew, couching six or eight strands of wool at a time and leaving loops between each couching stitch is easy to do. If man-made fibre is used it is less likely to shrink during washing than wool.

The large toddler-size doll suggested for family play in the nursery group is also often a great favourite for individual children at home. They can be made by filling one of the complete cover-all baby suits made in stretch towelling by stuffing it with chopped plastic foam after all the openings have been sewn up. If it does not have feet, socks can be sewn to the ankle bands and mittens sewn to the wrist bands can be stuffed for hands. The head can be fashioned from a block of plastic foam covered with a slightly stretchy nylon fabric or several layers of nylon stockings or from a bag stuffed with chopped foam. This is stitched firmly to the neck band of the baby suit. Hair and features can be made as suggested for the small dolls. Because the baby suits are so stretchy this gives a rather floppy doll. Shape and firmness can be applied from the outside by dressing it in rather tight baby clothes. Once these’foundation garments’ are put on it can wear any suitable-sized baby garments from sou’wester to Wellingtons.