Thursday, July 31, 2008

Call for Quilters

About two years ago, I stumbled across a very vintage quilt block in the form of a peacock.  It was the most intriguing thing I had ever seen- and I knew I 'needed' a peacock quilt.  
Lots of people have these quirky "things" they collect obsessively- like cat lovers with 500 cat-related objects in every room, or people with 10 shelves full of tea pots (but who don't even drink tea) ... well I have a soft spot for peacocks and pomegranates.  So, I got myself into a bit of trouble....There is no photo of any actual quilt- just these crude black and white pictures of the layout of the quilt, and the block itself.  No instructions, nothing.  Just me and my wishful thinking.

Now tell me this isn't the most interesting quilt pattern ever?

I began collecting peacock fabric like crazy.  Mind you, this was when I was still living in Israel- I had to buy the fabric online and have it sent there.  I moved back to Seattle in June of '07, and brought it with.  (can you see where this is going?)

Once settled in Seattle, I was determined to figure out how to make this block.  I tried and tried and for the life of me, could not figure it out.  Finally I went to a quilt class and got some help. After a few sessions and about $50 later, I got my precious peacock block. 

The block is definitely on the challenging side.  The pieces go together like a little puzzle and 2 of them have inside / outside curves.  I made a few blocks and tweaked the template until it came out perfect.
I've managed to make a few blocks.  The "beak" needs to be embroidered with like-colored thread.  This block is an open palette for embellishing with beads and sequins!

Now the good part- I I have finally gotten a grip on reality- it seems highly likely that I will never finish this quilt!  I love to sew- I do it for my dolls- but I am a natural doll person.  making all these blocks is just too much for me.  I am 
despairing that I will never finish the project, especially since I also have a full time job.

Would any of my quilting friends out there like to lend me a hand?  I figure, if a bunch of you would make one block each, I could really do this thing...omg it would be awesome!   I would want to use up my fabric, which I will send you, along with the pattern and the instructions.  I would love to have help-  and I would cherish this quilt forever.  

Please leave me a comment if you are interested and I'll write you back!   Oh this would be so wonderful!
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Looking Good- Making Fabulous Eyes for Cloth Dolls

I have had multiple requests for this article, which appeared in Soft Dolls and Animals Magazine some time ago. This is probably my "signature technique"- I learned how to do it by trial and error and it's my favorite cloth doll face - making method. Here it is- unabridged, unedited and un-resistable! HAVE FUN!
One of the most gratifying parts of creating a on
e-of-a-kind doll is composing the face. That’s right- composing. Like a spectacular painting, an enthralling musical composition or any other work of art, a doll’s face is “composed” of many parts-which as a whole, makes for a composition. What makes a composition successful? That depends on whether the piece captivates the viewer and holds his or her attention. In the case of a face, what is more captivating than eyes? Eyes tell a story about the character. They are the focus- the window to the soul.Let’s learn one way to create eyes that will capture attention- and make your doll a masterpiece.
In classic sculpture, and in science for that matter, we are reminded that eyes are essentially round balls.

In this regard, cloth dolls need not be different. We’ll create our own eye balls, and carefully insert them into the doll face. We can create eye lids, too. False eyelashes, lots of make-up… by making “real eyes,” you’ll open up so many new possibilities that lend themselves to a distinctive look. In fact, I am willing to bet that the way you make eyes will become your “artistic signature!”Essentially, we will be making beads. The beads are strung into the head, secured by a strong thread that runs from ear to ear. What can be more stra
ightforward than that? It doesn’t sound complicated or difficult, and it isn’t. In fact, it’s fun!

1. White polymer clay OR air dry clay (if you use air dry clay you must wait until it hardens before painting)2. Long dollmakers’ needle
3. Tin foil
4. Paint of your choice- white and black, and a combination of colors for the iris, depending on what color you want your eyes to be:

· Blue eyes: blue, green, gray and maybe some yellow
· Green eyes: dark green, light green, yellow, maybe some blue or brown
· Brown eyes: Brown, yellow, green

(By all means, choose any color combination you like. These ar
e just suggestions).

5. Diamond Glaze or 3D Crystal Lacquer- to make a cornea
6. Micron pen in black
7. Very fine paintbrush
8. Red Sweater, yarn, or something with red lint
9. An enlarged photograph of the human iris (helpful as a guide but optional)
10. Eye sizing tools (optional)
Before we start, let’s talk about size.

If you buy eyes commercially- glass, silicone, etc.- then you know they come in different sizes. Some are flat-backed, some are round… whatever the shape, doll eyes a
re all sold by the millimeter. Depending on the size of the doll’s head, you know what size eyes to purchase.
Now let’s talk about classic sculpture and eye placement.
When sculpting a head in polymer or air dry clay, eyes are incorporated right into the sculpt. Eyes made from glass, silicone or porcelain can withstand the oven temperature needed to cure polymer clay. After the eyes are placed on the face, the artist will add eyelids and outer eye structures. It’s relatively straightforward.

For porcelain dolls, which require a mold into which liquid porcelain is poured and fired in a kiln, there is another step involved. Due to the extremely high firing t
emperature, eyes must be added later- after the firing is completed. Therefore, eye sockets (holes) are created. The eyes are adhered to the inside of the [hollow] head with glue or some form of putty.

Creating a porcelain mold is a very tedious process. First, a basic sculpt is made from molding clay, and later a mold is cast from it. In order to know the exact size of the eye sockets-and to make them perfectly round and precise every time, a simple yet precise tool is used. That tool is of interest to us.


These tools remind me of toy drumsticks! Made of wood, each one is a simple wooden stick with two different sized balls on each end. Like eyes, the balls are exact to the millimeter, and the size is conveniently marked for us on the stick. By pushing the correct size ball into the clay, a perfect eye socket is created with precision and ease.

For our purposes, we don’t need to sculpt eye sockets- we are working with a fabric head. A slash with an X-acto knife or a snip with embroidery scissors is our eye socket! However, these tools are particularly helpful because by using them as visual guides, we can create eyes that fit the “standard,” and eliminate guesswork. We’ll know exactly what size the eyes are, and won’t have to sit there and try to measure the circumference in millimeters. By knowing the size, the chance of accidentally making eyes that are larger or smaller than intended is reduced. (details to follow).

An extra perk: this can be helpful in case you want to sell your creations!
Note: The tools are completely optional. If you are making a OOAK, then you can gauge the size eyes you need by using your own judgment.

Now that we have the concept down, let’s go through the eye-making process step-by step.

1. Roll out a pair of polymer clay “marbles.”
2. Trim them with an X-acto knife as needed, until they are the same size. Do the best you can but don’t spend too long seeking perfection. The eyes are going to be beautiful and fabric is more forgiving for sockets than a clay sculpture!
3. When you are satisfied, pass a thick needle through the clay balls. You now have beads.

Note: if you want to create several pairs of eyes, then use a long dollmaker’s needle.
These beads are 14mm. They are perfect for a doll’s head whose standard proportions are suited to a 20 – 22” doll.
4. Simulate tiny blood vessels in the eyes by rolling them in a red sweater. The lint will stick to the clay and give the eyes a realistic look.
5. Support the eye beads so they do not touch the work surface. Do this by sticking each end of the needle into two wads of tin foil, or lay the ends on blocks of wood. Do what is convenient for you. The important thing is that your support mechanism be oven proof.

6. Place the supported eyes into the oven and bake according to the manufacturer’s direction.
NOTE : If you are using air dry clay, skip that step. Let your eye beads harden and come back in a few days!

This is the fun part. For help getting started, refer to the eye diagram for shading samples. It’s also a good idea to look at enlarged photos of eyes while you work. Magazines are great for that, or if you can work near a computer, search for clip art of eyes. Microsoft’s website has very good samples.

1. Using a pencil, lightly draw a circle in the middle of each marble. This represents the iris (colored portion of eye).
2. Decide which color you want the eyes to be. Have two shades available- one lighter than the other. Since you are using paint, you can mix white with your color to obtain the lighter color.

Light source plays an important factor in shading the eye. If the light is coming from the Right side, then the Left part of the eye (and the rest of the face for that matter) is colored with a lighter shade. The white reflective dot in the pupil will be on the upper right, closest to the light source.
My light source will be on the Right.
3. Paint the entire iris in the lighter shade of your desired color.
4. Blend the darker color into the Left side (remember, my light source is on the right)
5. Allow paint to dry.
6. Paint a black pupil in the middle of the iris.
7. With a very steady hand, pull some paint out from the pupil and into the iris, to form spokes. If necessary, add a bit more paint to the iris after making spokes. Alternatively, use a micron pen. The nib on a micron pen is so thin, you’ll get more spokes. That means more detail!
If you use a micron pen, be sure the paint is completely dry or it will become clogged. HIGHLIGHTS

9. Use some green (for brown eyes) or gold (for blue or green eyes) to make dots between the spokes. Do this sporadically (not between every spoke.) This creates a bit of contrast and grabs attention. It really makes the eyes look very special!
10. Do a little more blending in the iris as needed. Remember, every person’s eyes are different, and you want to draw attention to your doll’s unique and beautiful eyes.
11. Allow the entire eye to dry. Outline in a dark micron pen, as with the pencil. If the eyes are brown, use black. If blue, use either navy, brown or black. If green, use a dark shade of green, brown or black.
12. Add a white highlight spot to “reflect the light.” Use a ball stylus or the back of a sewing machine needle. It’s round and will produce a nice “dab” that’s easier to control than a paintbrush. If you get a “peak, don’t worry.” Use your paintbrush to gently remove the excess paint.

Here’s the eye so far, super magnified so you can see the way the colors have been mixed.

And here is a pair. CORNEA
When the pupil is completely dry, use 3-D Crystal Lacquer or Diamond Glaze to create a cornea. These products are suprisingly easy to control and contain right on the pupil. It looks like glass! (By the way, you can use them to make fingernails.) WHITE OF THE EYE
If you are making a faerie or some kind of “enchanted” doll, then this might be just the thing.

There are paints out there with gorgeous metallic pigment, called ‘interference _ _ _’ These colors have a soft, subtle “glowing” look. For eyes, interference blue or interference gold are stunning. Try painting the white of the eye with these.
If you still want to use the red lint, try aggravating the sweater or yarn over the eyes, and let the fibers fall and get stuck inside the paint.
Another fabulous product is Pearl Ex Pigment powder. It also comes in these interference colors. If you have it, mix it into white paint or just smudge it on a cotton swab. Be careful not to let it stray into the iris. NEEDLE SCULPTING
If you are planning to make a head with needle sculptured features, do the sculpting before inserting the eyes. It’s a great idea to combine these techniques, since they are both add a third dimension. They look great together!
Don’t color the face until after the eyes are in, though. They have a great influence on the doll’s personality, and you want them to be your starting point.
The face will be colored after the eyes are inserted.

After you’ve done your needle sculpting, there is one more step. Create eyelids that will cradle the eyes, and make them look natural.

1. With the same fabric used for the doll, make a bias strip. Simply fold the fabric in half, leaving the rough edges alone. Don’t iron it. You’ll need two- one for each eye (so just cut it in half). The length needed for each eye is the diameter of the eyeball (from hole to hole), plus a seam allowance.

Cut fabric

Fold in half to make bias strip 2. Thread up a needle. Lay the bias strips on the topside of the eye, and attach the eyelid by bringing the needle from one side to the other. (Enter left, pass to right, re-enter right, exit left and tie off.
Repeat for other eye.


1. Using an X-acto knife or small embroidery scissors, cut a slit for each eye. Better to make them slightly small, so you can cut them a bit more if needed. Turn the raw edges under.
Prepare yourself to insert the eyes!
This part is very tricky. Sometimes you can attach the eyes in with a long dollmakers needle and thread- by stringing them like beads from ear to ear. Sometimes it won’t work, and the eyes tend to “sink” too far in. It depends on the size of the head, the fabric you use, and sometimes luck. If you have a hard time with the following technique, get your glue handy and just glue the eyes into the head.

1. Enter the needle at the ear area. Bring the needle through the head and through eyes, bias strip “eyelids” included. Exit at the opposite ear. 2. Re-enter and repeat; exit at the ear you started from and knot off.
At this point, the folds or eyelids probably need adjustment.

3. Using a sharp needle, manipulate the eyelids and folds until they sit over the eye and in the socket properly. This takes patience, but it works!

Pull the eyelids out as desired, like an awning on a sunny day.
Give the doll eyelashes. Just stick them right onto the eyeball, under the eyelid and out of the line of sight. If they don’t stay so well, carefully appy a drop of crazy glue with a pin.
Add make-up, false eyelashes, etc. as desired.
WALLA! A beautiful face.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sarah Pearl

Please meet Sarah Pearl, named by my daughter. This is the porcelain doll I have been working on for some time.

Her head is mounted on a breastplate and is completely movable.

An awful lot of detail went into the making of this doll, including the non-so-friendly handiwork of my Israeli cat.

My cat (whose name is Pebbles because she is a red-headed cutie) discovered the doll when she was still being constructed. Her hair had been applied to her head and she was covered with something to protect her from the elements... but Pebbles is sly and cunning and probably smelled the wool a mile away. She had a great time and I had to take it all off and pain stakingly re-do the whole procedure. Of course I had *exaclty* enough the first time around, and the second time was a big problem. Can you tell? I can't... that is why God made ribbons !!!

Regardless of the fact that the cat got to her hair at one point, it's still worth mentioning. It's a special mohair called Suri Alpaca, which is extremely delicate but looks absolutely natural. One day I will probably want to replace the hair but I am as stubborn as any sheep or goat or mule for that matter, and so this little girl is going to have this hair (at least for now)!

Sarah Pearl's dress is something I am actually proud of. I made it with the best fabric I own and dared to do it with no pattern and no patience to try a muslin first (that is just my personality I guess). The underdress is made of a soft metallic peacock blue/green fabric from India. I had it for a long time and always thought it belonged on a mermaid or something. (Ain't that a kick in the head?)
I really used the fabric to coordinate with what I was making the rest of the dress out of....the apron and bloomer pants are made of very soft, delicate silk that used to be a beautiful wrap around skirt I got in Israel but which tore. I cut it up and saved the silk for a special occasion because I could not throw such beautiful fabric away (shouldn't have been meant for real people clothing, I guess!)

Look what I decided to do on a whim: smocking.

This technique is simple and very easy to do:
Using a needle and thread, hand baste 4 or 5 lines and then pull all the thread to gather. Bring each thread to the back - you will need to thread your needle 10 times if you have 5 rows- once for each end of each thread. Secure them all so the gather will not fall out. I had the idea to smock simply because I didn't use a pattern to make the dress and the bodice turned out to be too big. Happy accidents do happen sometimes!

I beaded the bottom edge of the apron, using a picot stitch. I learned this technique from Patti Culea's book, Creative Cloth Doll Beading.

I am especially fond of these little shoes! The beads are from an old collection. They are made from cobalt blue glass and were just the right thing!

This doll was definitely a challenge. One thing I will recommend: if you are working with fine mohair like alpaca, be sure you have a display case to keep the doll in before you put the hair on. I didn't, and I ended up having to store her in a plastic bag to avoid having my cat or other family members do any [further] damage. That really makes the hair get mussed up and I'll definitely plan a little better next time!

All in all I think the doll came out rather nicely.
Just one problem... I have a feeling she does not like my cat!
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