Come into my workshop : making Milly

This is the first of a new series of blog posts about the art of dollmaking. This one focuses on my daughter’s birthday doll – Millicient Mabel.

Me in my dollmaking studio!

Up to now my daughter has had a couple of Waldorf baby dolls to play with (she loves playing parent and baby) but as she was turning nine I thought she would love a more grown up doll.

During Milly’s creation the schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic – it was impossible to make her in secret. My daughter saw her being created and inputted into the process of doll making, without knowing that Milly would be hers. It was such a surprise when she opened the box on her birthday!

As a trained designer I always start with a sketch. I find it helps me collect my ideas together and gives me a framework to build around. My inspiration was my daughter, a Mabel Lucie Attwell figurine, and my doll that I made with Maria – see Meeting my role model : Maria Asenova.

The doll I made with Maria, my sketch book, and the figurine.

Then I set to work on the head, I always start with the head. Using Maria’s teaching it’s a slow, steady process with lots of needle felting, building up to form the facial features step by step. I used the figurine to help me with the shape I was trying to achieve. This process took about 24 hours work. Then I covered the head with a skintone that closely matched my daughter, and embroidered the eyes. I added a touch of beeswax blush to bring her to life. I was already feeling like green would be her colour!

The finished head!

The hair was the next step. I used Dolly Mo yarn from Little Oke Dolls. First I carefully crocheted a tight fitting cap to fit her head – I don’t use a pattern for this but simply make a chain, form a ring and double crochet into the chains, increasing and decreasing as necessary.

Mohair is tricky to crochet with as with each stitch you have to brush the fibres to the outside of the wig to get the really fuzzy look, it also loves to tangle around the end of my hook!

I chose the colour to match my daughter’s hair and we sat on the sofa watching a family film whilst I formed the wig. I then used the hook and loop technique to add in longer strands. I felt having hair that could be gently styled into a pony tail, bunches and plaits would be important to my daughter.

Work in progress – I just love her hair!

For her body I used the pattern from Maria, but chunked her up a little – as a studier doll would better reflect my daughter. This doll is assembled differently, with the legs and arms applied after the body is stuffed. I do like this technique as the doll can move easier – and I planning to use it in my new Emily and Joseph dolls.

Once she was all together I felt something was missing and my daughter agreed – she needed freckles like her! These were applied using a fabric paint and a pin.

A pink bonnet, a Liberty dress and a dress twirly skirt!

Now she was ready for clothes. We got the fabric box down and looked through – trying to decide on a range of colours that matched her cheeky, determined character. Milly declared that she didn’t like red (despite it being my daughter’s favourite colour) and wanted a wardobe of pink and green like nature. We used a piece of Liberty fabric as the palatte to build upon.

Her cardigan, felt boots and an awesome wool coat trimmed with ric rac!

I really wanted Milly to have a wardrobe that was specially for her as she was such a different size to any of their other dolls. Designing and making the tiny doll clothes is one of my favourite parts as I used to work as a dressmaker. She ended up with:

  • a Liberty fabric pinafore dress
  • a white cotton and lace blouse
  • a swirly polka dot green skirt
  • a pair of pretty white socks and matching tights
  • two pairs of comfortable jersey knickers
  • a soft cream alpaca cardigan and pink pixie bonnet
  • a beautiful green wool felt coat with polka dot lining
  • practical but pretty wool felt boots
  • and finally a cotton lawn nightie made from an old hankerchief
My daughter loves to do puzzles whilst I work – Milly watched her!

After all the hours of stitching clothes for her, dreaming of her outfits, and (to be honest) playing with her, getting her ready to leave me was quite hard. I knew I had to let her go as it’s no life for a doll to never be played with and sat in my dollmaker’s studio forever, plus my daughter had already fallen in love with her and kept coming in to see what the latest addition to her wardrobe was! At least she is still in the house and I get to see her still.

Wrapping her up to say farewell – I added in a pair of glasses as my daughter has just been prescribed some for reading.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into my workshop and what goes on in my head whilst I am creating. I will be sharing more of these stories in the future!

You can also view the whole story on Instagram if you prefer videos!

The birthday girl and her dolly!

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