Category Archives: Sewing

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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Project Elephant Update: A Slipcovered Ottoman

Well, to say that I’m a bit off the pace for finishing my (admittedly ambitious) Project Elephant list from last week in time for this weekend’s party for the twins’ birthday is a weeeee bit of an understatement.

But it hasn’t been for lack of trying.

I blame all of these small human that live with me. If only they would stop making extravagant demands for things like food and water and diaper changes, I would be free to cross things off my list at will.

I guess that’s what I get for birthing 6 adorable, fun, maddening, needy, awesome children.

Anyhoo, I have been plugging along steadily when I’m able and have found that–just like my desire for productivity comes in waves throughout the year–so my actual productivity waxes and wanes from day to day.

Monday? AH-mazing! If I could manage to do what I did Monday–homeschool, cook, clean, project, read to my girls, feed/play with a baby, exercise–all with a minimum of fussiness and fighting and a maximum of energy, I would probably opt to play that day on repeat–Groundhog Day style–just to experience again and again the feeling of my head hitting the pillow that night with a thwump of satisfaction and accomplishment.

But then, there was yesterday, which felt like jogging through quicksand. As soon as I got everybody fed, another round of “HUNGRY!” cries began. Which meant another round of cleaning afterward. I hauled almost everything out of the craft room, but that just means that our big room, which started the day clean, now looks like Hobby Lobby’s fabric department got in a cat fight with their scrap-booking aisle.

And there were entire hours fraught with fussy meltdowns over scenarios such as: toddler asks for juice, mother hands her juice, toddler proceeds to wail as if mother has served her a scorpion with a side of razor blades.

I literally got into bed last night thinking: “Well, I hardly sat down, but I’m not sure what I accomplished or where the hours went.”

ANYhoo, as I comfort myself with the (quite possibly faulty) reassurance that, “It gets worse before it gets better,” I thought I’d show one thing I did manage to check off the list.

And that would be this recovering this sad little ottoman.

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{Pardon the ugly yellow pic; I completely forgot to take a before pic when I had light}

I think I bought it at Ross for something like $30 4ish years ago. Clearly, it has been well-loved by my kids. And their apple juice.

I’ve been meaning to make a slipcover for it for aaaaaages, but it just never was a priority until I finally plunked it on my Project Elephant list (there’s the beauty of PE for you).

Do you remember my lampshade recovers from a little while ago? Well, I had juuuuuuuuust enough of that gorgeous Waverly Santa Maria fabric left (seriously, it was sufficient by maaaaaybe an 1/8″) to make my slipcover, so, using a modified version of this super-simple tutorial, I whipped up this cover, which took it from sad, stained, and lumpy to this:

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I reeeeeeeally like it.

I’m not usually into matchy-matchy fabrics in living spaces, but I like that I can move the ottoman around the room so that it plays more or less off of the mirroring pattern in the lampshades.

And now I’m off to attempt to stuff all of my craft supplies in a somewhat organized manner back into the craft room (which, considering that it was piled practically to the ceiling and is clearly insufficient for the amount of stuff I have, could be…interesting).

Happy Hump Day, y’all! If you have any trouble chomping through your elephants today, I suggest eating an appropriately shaped animal cracker. You’ll feel accomplished immediately. Or at least, less hungry.

 

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