Bit of Whimsy Dolls–Lessons Learned

I’m not much of a seamstress. I’ve been able to sew a straight(ish) line since I was pretty young, but I’ve never really improved my skills too much beyond that. Nothing like my amazing friend, Alina, who has taught herself everything from upholstering to fancy dressmaking and has now moved onto making HER OWN JEANS (like, from start finish, and they look BETTER than professionally done…hashtag awe-inspiring).

Even so, I’ve managed to crank out window treatments–both short and long–pillow covers, a skirt or three, some easy tailoring fixes, some baby shoes, and other simple tasks.

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Still, when I purchased the Bit of Whimsy doll pattern–cough–three years ago, I knew that I would be using all of my meager skills. Not that it requires a great deal of seamstressing (made up words for the win). But–for me, at least–sewing feels a bit like the opposite of riding a bike. At least ’til I really get back into it. Every time it’s been a while since I’ve done it, I’m all: “Bobbin? What’s THAT? Oh, yeah.” And don’t even ask me to adjust the thread tension. Things start getting ugly fast.

ANYhoo, despite my various and sundry inadequacies, I decided that this (well, last…I decided it when it was still “this”) year was going to be the year that I finally whipped out those darn Whimsy dolls for my girls.

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Honestly, it’s a good thing I waited as long as I did. The twins would have been too little to fully appreciate them (they kind of still are), and, well, being 41 weeks pregnant like I was last year is not a good time to attempt to not put a sharp shiny metal object through your finger multiple times at high speeds.

Of course, in true Abbie fashion, I procrastinated a bit (in my defense, I got all of my supplies bought and in order the week BEFORE the week of Christmas and sat down multiple times to sew, but the distractions…I mean, the children…would have none of it).

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And, of course, in true Abbie fashion, I decided to sew not three but nine of those little buggers.

3 for us, 2 for my nieces, and 4 for friends’ daughters.

Did I finish all of them in time for Christmas?

Er, Nope.

Did I finish them all in time to give them to each little girl who needed them at that time? (Several of which were, mercifully, after Christmas?)

Yes. Barely.

How long did all of this doll-making business take?

I don’t honestly know, but I did a rough tally, and it was in the neighborhood of 30 hours, all told. A fast doll-maker, I am not. Although, I was feeling especially slow until I posted a pic on Instagram, and several people responded with, “Those take FORever!” (Lots of little steps).

So! Would I recommend making 9 handmade dolls on the week of Christmas? Not really. But I actually ended up enjoying it in some sort of perverse way, and the boys were able to help a bit one morning (with the arm and leg stuffing), so it was kind of a fun family project while we watched a marathon of Christmas movies + The Princess Bride (what??).

And the results?

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{In case you’re wondering, the girls’ shirts, and the twins’ skirts are from Old Navy–fairly recently}

Pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.

In case you’re wondering how I managed to keep all of this doll-making a complete secret from my girls, the answer is: I didn’t. I had planned to. But after staying up until 1 AM 3 nights in a row and feeling positively sick by day 4, I resorted to daytime sewing shenanigans, which definitely drew Della’s attention. She practically hovered over me asking questions that I refused to fully answer (I never actually told her they weren’t for her, but I never told her they were either).

But she’s no dummy.

The very first thing she did on Christmas morning was to hug me and say sleepily: “Merry Christmas, Mama. Thank you for making my doll for me. I love her.” Before she had ever even SEEN her doll, y’all. Or knew for sure she was getting one. Oh goodness. I just teared up. What a softie I’ve become. But it was pretty dang precious.

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{I feel like this is going to be one of those pics down the road where Nola–center– is like, “Really, mom? That one?” Sorry, girl. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad}

My biggest concern was that the girls would take one look at the dolls and then discard them for something “better” (after all, I could have bought them better dolls–in many ways–for $10 from Target), and the twins sort of fulfilled that. Which didn’t surprise or disappoint me too much. They’re only 3–too little still to really get how much love Mama poured into those dolls.

But Della? She has cherished her doll from the moment she opened her and christened her Elizabeth (Della’s and my middle name and what she names ALL her dolls). She sleeps with her, carries her around all day, and gets slightly panicked when she can’t find her (which is sweet, in a maddening sort of way).

And I’m not going to lie. I love it.

Now. Down to brass tacks. Or stitches and fabric, as the case may be.

After making 9 of these, I have a few tips for you, should you decide to tackle one (and only one, right?) yourself.

  • Use the right fabric. Part of the reason that I had all of my supplies in order “early” was that I mostly used what I had. Which…turned out to be a mistake. The muslin that I used for their bodies/faces turned out to be too thin, and I probably spent an unnecessary 4 hours, babying that fabric and restitching places where the seams pulled through the fabric on all of those little arms and legs. Even with all of that effort, I’ve had to repair Elizabeth multiple times already, and, while she’s been holding steady for a while now, with how much Della loves/handles her, I don’t know how long she will last. The twins play with theirs when they remember they exist or randomly find them in one of the toy bins, and they are fairing considerably better for wear.
  • Likewise for the felt for the hair. It calls for wool felt. I only had craft felt, but I did stop by Hancock Fabrics to get the wool…only to discover that they had none. What? Every fabric under the sun, and no wool felt??! So. I went with the synthetic, and it was a mistake. Their hair is pilling something fierce already, something that wouldn’t happen nearly as much with a natural fiber.
  • I don’t know WHAT measurements she’s using for the skirts that you make to go on the dolls, but it says to cut 21″ in length (if I remember correctly) to make them, and every single time, I only ended up needing about half of that.
  • It’s better to slightly under-stuff the arms/legs/torso. You don’t want them limp and saggy by any stretch, but if they have too much stuffing (as can happen with overzealous little boy help), then it puts a lot of undue strain on the seams and makes it that much harder to smoothly attach them to the body.

So! Would I recommend making these dolls as gifts? Strangely, yes. Even after all of that fight with the fabric and late nights. They’re just so sweet and cute and squishy. And different. You have the ability to customize them in multiple ways, but what I really mean is that they’re not the norm that you would find in a box store.

And, if you’ve got a little girl who is old enough to understand that all of that time spent at the sewing machine must mean that her mama really loves her, then it’s hard to imagine a better gift.

Just don’t call me when you have trouble refilling your bobbin.

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2 thoughts on “Bit of Whimsy Dolls–Lessons Learned

  1. oh what memories this evoked ! one that your girls might like the next time you are in the mood is the one with two upper halves with a double sided circular skirt to cover one of the dolls at a time. ours were awake and sleeping of the same doll and made a special hit at bedtime with the sleepy one showing. there were a lot of other dolls and doll clothing before the Mary Poppins doll. it was quite fulfilling even with all the details. even had a pattern for the heeled shoes made from felt… to get around a bedtime friend for boys the head had a sleeping face on one side and an awake one on the other side. MEMORIES. I hope your having done such a huge task will not stop your having new dolly making experiences…

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